Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Beginning 552

In the crisp, clear, moonless night, the quiet majesty of the stars mocked the firework's feeble imitation that had welcomed the New Year a few hours earlier. Now, natural beauty reigned in the tranquility of the rolling Central Texas landscape, except at the angry chancre of light pollution that was the Seguin Unit. The ugly, yellow-orange lights of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maximum-security prison obliterated even the brightest star.

Located miles from the nearest town on a small farm-to-market road a mile or so from a main highway, that orange glow made passing motorists uneasy even before they saw the lighted billboards warning drivers that stopping, or even slowing, would result in a ticket.

Motorists who turned off the farm to market road into the prison's two-lane driveway were confronted by a new string of ominous yellow warnings. Not only would carrying firearms or tobacco into the prison result in criminal prosecution, but anyone who passed that point would now be subject to strip searches.

Officer Mark Clotell gave a sardonic glance at the ever-increasing speedometer as his flashing brights shattered like rubies off the rear light clusters of the Cadillac in front of--



Murdoch picked up the phone and dialed. "Dammit, Merril, whose freaking idea was it to get Bill Shatner to voice-over the new series of America's Worst Offenders?" --anon.


Opening: Reb Bacchus.....Continuation: Anon.

22 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Some Unchosen Continuations:


Eva chuckled, naked in the backseat of a convertible Bel-Air with Billy, having a helluva good time in the crisp, clear, moonless night and waiting for dawn. Her plump, love-bruised lips smiled in anticipation of the coming fireworks, when the farm-to-market road would glow bright as stars exploding and Chris, her beloved and unjustly imprisoned ex-husband, would start the New Year right: a free man.

--Meri


Unfortunately for the Texas DoCJ prison, strip-searches were the primary form of entertainment in this little, isolated community. On Friday nights, you might as well park your John Deere on the side of the road because the line of cars into prison was a half-mile long.

--Bill H.



Jim tugged on the waistband of his smooth, black track pants and inspected his boxers. Shaking his head in disgust, he scanned the desolate landscape and saw no cops waiting to ambush suspicious vehicles from the murky shadows of the billboards and brush. Without slowing, he whipped the car around to the opposite lane of traffic, spewing a plume of sienna dust into the black air over the farm-to-market road.

"Billy can wait 'til tomorrow," Jim said into the emptiness. "But I will not be strip-searched in my duckie drawers."

--Jared X


As they bounced down the ill-maintained road, slowing to read each sign, the two occupants of the car didn't speak. It had all been said previously, and each was still gnawing the bone of contention until the argument broke out again.

The orange glow grew brighter, sodium lights acid eating the moon and stars until the concrete walls and barbed wire loomed high before them. A last sign warned them to surrender all handbags and items and prepare for a patdown.

"Are you sure they'll have the answer here?" one asked the other.

The guard eyed them both suspiciously. "What answer?"

"Um, who shot J.R.?"

The guard's eyebrow raised. The first man cleared his throat and shifted, looking down at his feet. The guard eyed the second guy, who's face was red. "Really?"

"Okay, um, how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?"

Both eyebrows hiked upwards. "You're kidding."

Fidgets and shuffling feet. "Would you believe what's the secret Busch's Baked Beans recipe?"

"I'd believe you're lying to me, bucko."

The two eyed each other and then the guard. The taller one sighed, defeated. "Tell him."

"Well...we came to see the zombie."

"Is that all? What is it with you tourists? Can't you wait until his term is up?" --writtenwyrdd

Evil Editor said...

The author sent a comment stating:

It had been so long since I really looked at this that I gagged and re-wrote it... who knows how many times that makes.

Whether this is the verson that caused the gagging or the rewritten version isn't clear. but it does sound like one of those overwritten America's Most Wanted scripts. Or a parody of one.

Gotta tone down the flowery language in the first paragraph. Or just start with the second paragraph, making a few minor adjustments.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the voice. I can see why you're getting somewhere with the pages. Now to get that voice into your query!

I'll read it again later and see if I have any suggestions.

Whirlochre said...

It's atmospheric, and there are some nice touches, but it's almost like a documentary.

I don't mind backstory at the start of a novel or chapter, but if it's there, it has to be about somebody.

I can't see anybody in this. I can't even see that the matter-of-fact delivery is narrated by anyone other than the author.

You need to get someone into these first three paragraphs, even if only fleetingly. I see the quality of light but have no idea who's witnessing it other than me and thee.

writtenwyrdd said...

You have some lovely phrasing in this opening, but the first paragraph works too hard. I would begin something like this so you have the readers' attention pointed at the salient fact, them approaching a prison:

"The angry chancre of light pollution that was Seguin Prison blotted out the stars in the moonless night. The ugly, yellow-orange lights obliterated even the brightest star."

The original first sentence has one too many adjectives and is too romantic. I see you are going for contrast, but generally the first line of a description opening is what the reader will automatically assume is most important. The fact that this assumption is overturned in a couple of sentences throws readers out of the story.

The first lines are a promise to the reader. You have to really think about what they are saying and make them promise what you are planning to deliver.

Overall, I really liked your use of language and would have read on.

Dave F. said...

If you've seen my comments before, I almost always say - too many words.

I'd reduce all of this to:
New Year's arrived with the stars of the Milky Way framing a burst of fireworks. None of the inmates of the Sequin Correctional unit saw the fireworks thanks to the yellow-orange security lights.

I know, it's a little bleak. I find it easier to start out this way than to edit down to two sentences. Once I put words on paper, it's hard for me to give them up.

Another short version might be:
In the moonless night, the stars mocked the New Year firework's of a few hours earlier. Tranquility reigned in Central Texas. Except for the yellow-orange lights of Seguin maximum-security prison that obliterated even the stars.

Again bare, but more your style than mine.

BTW - I'd use the bucolic location and the signage later in the story. There's really nice details there but I'm not sure it belongs on the first page of the story.

Scott from Oregon said...

I agree with some sentiments here. The first paragraph-- a bit too over-cooked. Like bad poetry trying to hide as prose.

The details of the lights are good, you've just mixed them in too small a cup.

I like the mystery of the second paragraph better. THE LIGHT, THE SIGNS...

"What is this place?" could lead one right into your story.

Anonymous said...

Beware of the love of the words getting in the way of the story/meaning...

In the crisp, clear, moonless night, the quiet majesty of the stars mocked the firework's feeble imitation....the yellow-orange lights of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maximum-security prison obliterated even the brightest star.

BuffySquirrel said...

I can see how one firework wouldn't make much of a challenge.

Too flowery. Not enough information.

Anonymous said...

First, I must give you credit for crafting original images with your prose. Compared to postings which contain only generic descriptions and/or cliched wording(and therefore evoke generic images) this is a good thing. You absolutely have a voice.

That being said, kill the first paragraph. Or, if you love it too much, stick it in a file and work in pieces of it, in SMALL doses, later on.

A few adjectives = reasonable. Too many suggests you aren't reaching for enough precise nouns. Same with adverbs/verbs.

We know that "motorists" see the "ominous yellow warnings" but is there perhaps one in particular you could tell us about up front?

Anonymous said...

Para 1, too much to fix. Cut majorly.

Para 2, nice.

Para 3, don't repeat farm to market, just say road. Replace "were confronted with" with an active verb like faced. After warnings, consider a colon. Get rid of the word "now."

McKoala said...

Author may be right re the toningdown, but, you know, I don't hate it. I think with some work the idea of moving from the wonder of the stars to the horror of the jail is a good one. It's a filmic image and I like those.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Oddly enough, my favorite words are usually cut, cut, cut. Here I'm feeling the southern drawl from the pacing, the easing of the description into the story. You and Robin have a similar voice in that respect.

Your descriptions are not as tasty as Pat Conroy's, but they have a similar style.

Perhaps you could cut a bit and rearrange a little. I'd still read on until I got tired of the descriptions. I did the same with Pat Conroy - loved his descriptions when I first started reading the book, then got annoyed with how many there were about 1/3 the way through. Kept reading it, but I skimmed a lot of the descriptive parts.

Beautiful voice and descriptive language. I suggest you use it in moderation.

Reb said...

Once again I'm behind the curve. I didn't see this until just now. I did re-write the passage to tone it down.

In the crisp, moonless night, fifty miles from any major city, the carpet of stars provided a far better light show than any Fourth of July display. At this hour, nothing marred the peaceful Central Texas landscape, except the angry chancre of light pollution that was the Seguin Unit. The ugly, yellow-orange lights of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maximum-security prison obliterated even the brightest star.

Located on a narrow farm-to-market road several miles off the main highway, that orange glow made passing motorists uneasy even before they saw the lighted billboards warning drivers that stopping, or even slowing, could result in an arrest.

Motorists who turned into the prison's long paved driveway confronted a new string of ominous yellow warnings. Not only would carrying firearms or tobacco into the prison result in criminal prosecution, but anyone who passed that point would now be subject to strip searches. A quarter mile beyond the signs, visitors topped a small rise, and for the first time, saw the squat, two and three-story concrete buildings that held 2,982 of Texas's most dangerous offenders. The relentlessly undecorated facades of the buildings were broken only by horizontal strips of windows resembling arrow slits on a fort. Yet this place had none of the charm of the old castle-like prisons. Instead, this modern facility looked like Dante's version of a military school.

Locked behind a double line of concertina-topped chain-link fences, even the interiors of the buildings were drenched in glaring light, a game attempt to level the uneven balance between the 137 mostly unarmed officers on duty and the 3000 offenders. The only sanctuaries from the hellish cauldron of light lay deep in the empty administrative offices, the classrooms, and other places barred to inmates at this time of morning.

Inmate M-6402564, Patrick William Slane, paused in the doorway into one of those enclaves to appreciate the dark. Just ahead, Lt. Wilkins turned on a small reading lamp over a cramped study carrel in the law library. With a soft "good luck," he left, locking Pat in, alone. Pat took a deep breath, trying to identify the source of his unease. He realized he hadn't been alone in a room this size in years. His mind created monsters in the shadows worthy of any teen slasher movie. Snorting, Pat dismissed _that_ image; he knew real monsters here that would make those movie characters look like choirboys. Unable to shake his unease, Pat opened the big double doors into the main stacks, letting in the light from the Chapel in front of Ten Building. Sitting down in the small circle of light, he began searching the book of TDCJ regulations for some way to avoid killing his fifth man...


It's still overwritten, but setting atmosphere isn't my strong suite, and I am looking for contrast. I hope you can see the "tone" change as the hero enters the scene.

Reb said...

McKoala said...
Author may be right re the toningdown, but, you know, I don't hate it. I think with some work the idea of moving from the wonder of the stars to the horror of the jail is a good one. It's a filmic image and I like those.

I love those telescope shots that you see in movies, but I just don't know if it works here.

There are some ideas that I do need to convey. The first is the the contrast between the the peace of dark and the oppression of light. I know it the flip of the images of good and evil, but it is also reality in prison.

I hear over and over again how hard it is not to be able to have real dark, and never being able to be alone.

Frankly, I've spent way too much time on the opening. I cut it then put it back.

Whirlochre said get someone into the first three paragraphs. That's good advice, but in this case I'm not sure. The prison culture is one of the protaganist, and this is where you meet him.

A large precentage of volunteers freak out when they find out they are agreeing to be strip searched. I remember the impact that had on me. I'm not sure I've done a good job of getting that across. I know that it is not uncommon for visitors, especially females to turn around and leave when they see that.

Of course it's been years since I've paid any attention to it and I've never even close to having it happen.

Reb said...

writtenwyrdd said...

The original first sentence has one too many adjectives and is too romantic. I see you are going for contrast, but generally the first line of a description opening is what the reader will automatically assume is most important.

Have you been talking to my wife? She's had 35 years an English teacher and she's murder on adjectives... but I stood my ground on the opening... until I re-read it with the idea of posting it here. It's one thing to have it as part of ten of fifteen pages, but standing alone? It reminded me of why I don't read many 19th century books.

Thanks to everyone for their imput and if anyone is looking, I'd love feedback on the new version too.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Your word count - 454
My word count - 276

So I am coming back to cut, cut, cut.

Fifty miles from any major city, nothing marred the peaceful Central Texas landscape, except the angry chancre of light pollution that was the Seguin Unit. The ugly, yellow-orange lights of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maximum-security prison obliterated even the brightest star.

The prison's long paved driveway held a string of ominous yellow warnings. Carrying firearms or tobacco into the prison would result in criminal prosecution, and there was always the possibility of strip searches. The squat, two and three-story concrete buildings held 2,982 of Texas's most dangerous offenders and 137 mostly unarmed officers. The relentlessly undecorated facades of the buildings were broken only by horizontal strips of windows resembling arrow slits on a fort - Dante's version of military school.

Locked behind a double line of concertina-topped chain-link fences, drenched in glaring light, inmate M-6402564, Patrick William Slane, paused before entering the law library - one of the few sanctuaries from the hellish cauldron of light. Lt. Wilkins turned on a small reading lamp over a cramped study carrel. With a soft "good luck," he left, locking Pat in. Pat took a deep breath. He hadn't been alone in a room this size in years. His mind created monsters in the shadows worthy of any teen slasher movie, but he knew real monsters here that would make those movie characters look like choirboys. Unable to shake his unease, Pat opened the double doors into the main stacks, letting in the light from the Chapel in front of Ten Building. Sitting down in the small circle of light, he began searching the book of TDCJ regulations for some way to avoid killing his fifth man...

stick and move said...

Reb, I like the new version much better. You toned down the adjectives without losing any imagery. A couple of choice adjectives is all you need and it leaves plenty of room in the reader's mind to paint the rest of the picture with their own experience.

Hard as it is to cut some of your favorite lines, be relentless. I know from my own experience that some of my precious, clever lines are cluttering up the prose and the story reads better without them.

Reb said...

Sarah said cut, cut, cut!

Very well done! I do need to keep the stars in, they are a theme I return to repeatedly.

I'm also a bit surprised you kept the "hellish cauldron" I thought that was a bit over the top. I think I'll drop the hellish.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Sounds good, reb. You know best what you need and what you feel is over the top.

Things to consider while editing:

Saying the same thing twice in a short space. Ex: You say Pat was locked in alone and then say he hasn't been alone in a long time. One's enough and the second makes more sense to keep.

Tell and then show. Ex: You talked about Pat being uneasy and then showed Pat being uneasy. Drop the tell.

I compressed the description and got rid of the unidentified 'motorists'. I don't think that POV is helping your description. I don't know if you have that elsewhere. Removing it also tones down how many 'uneasy' people you have packed in this beginning.

My last point, for now, is looking for favorite words and doing some judicious cutting and thesaurus checking. Uneasy would be a good example here.

writtenwyrdd said...

I like your revised first 2 paragraphs so much better! But you have me going hurry up hurry up get to the point blah blah skim skim skip to something interesting...Aha! A person at last!!!

Cut to the salient point. It's too much still. You write well, but modern readers to not have the patience for Fielding or Elliott or whomever else has those extremely long and drawn out openings.

I agree with Whirl: Get a person in there sooner. You can do it by having one of the guys in the car be the narrator. Or you can have all this as a prolog (which will make a lot of the minions squeal seeing as many folks hate prologs.)

Anonymous said...

There's a saying: Kill your darlings. It's good advice.