Friday, November 02, 2012

New Beginning 976


The Briscoe Prison van pulled up to the bus stop at the Shell station off Interstate 35, the West Texas sun hanging just past noon.

Joe Fane and the guard got out, the guard saying, "You got your ticket, your gate money, your parole certificate." He presented a clipboard. "Sign here." Joe signed.

The guard kept up his chatter: "You get to Houston, you check in with your PO. Twenty-four hours, understood?"

Joe understood.

"Else your name goes on the fugitive list."

Traffic rushed by on the interstate. Joe squinted across the desiccated prairie toward Laredo, eighty miles to the southwest. He pictured the bridge there, the border. Cross over, hitchhike to the coast. Sign on with a boat crew and beach himself on a Caribbean island. Charley Shyler would never find him.

"One more thing--don't blow your money on pussy." The guard tossed his clipboard into the van. "You got family there?"

"Not anymore."

"That's not good. What about friends?"

Joe shrugged. "Guess I'll find out.

The bus hove into view, exiting the interstate onto the service road and up an incline. It lumbered onto the shoulder and stopped, brakes exhaling. The passenger door whooshed open. The driver appeared. "Ticket."

Joe handed it up, waiting as the driver rifled through the flimsy sheets, tearing out parts.

"San Antone through to Houston, one way."

Joe boarded the bus.

The guard called after, "Six months, Joe. That's all you gotta do. Don't fuck it up."

The guard sighed in chorus with the closing door. Another one ready to venture out on his own. But he knew the odds were not in Joe's favor.

He waved at the receding bus, unsure whether Fane could see him, or even cared to look. Maybe for the best they didn't get too attached, anyway.

"Go, my friend, run. Be free. Be free."

Barely had the bus trundled back on to the highway ramp, when a giant hawk swooped out of the sky and grabbed the vehicle in its sharp talons.

"Noooo! Not again!" The guard's heart fell. Why was it always so difficult, so risky, to release them back into the wild?


Opening: jcwriter.....Continuation: anon.

23 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


Joe still felt wired and ill at ease as he settled into his seat.

He'd made it. But it was only through a combination of wits and occasional violence, that he had kept most of the violations of prison life at bay. His muscles still twitched dangerously when his mind replayed the worst of those encounters.

Almost in sympathy, the bus sighed and slowed to a stop outside the mall. Joe looked out at a sign he didn't recognise: "Bed, Bath and Beyond."

A man climbed on laden down with shopping. As he picked his way down the aisle, a package feel from his load. "Hey, dude," he said, fixing his gaze on Joe. "Pick that soap up for me, would ya?"

And that was when Joe fucked it up.

--anon


The bus inhaled, closing its doors. “You got gas, you got your GPS, and your driver,” the guard said. “You know what to do.” Diesel engines rumbled and headlights stared down the hot black asphalt ahead. “Don’t screw up.” The bus wouldn’t. Buzzards wheeled overhead in the metallic sky. “Hey, Van! Briscoe Prison Van!” the guard called out. “Quit flirtin’ with them fuel pumps.” The Interstate 35 Shell Station was a notorious hustler. The guard gazed at the highway. Imagined stretching out face down to feel its firm warmth. “Ain’t nothing on the level out here in the West Texas sun except you, highway. Rosebud.”

--anon.

150 said...

Hey, there's a lot of good stuff in here.

I found "the guard saying" and "The guard kept up his chatter" awkward and intrusive.

I'd keep reading, though.

Evil Editor said...

This place strikes me more as southern Texas than West Texas. It appears to be hundreds of miles closer to Corpus Christi on the east coast than to El Paso on the western border. And not so far from Mexico to the south. I guess if the people consider themselves to be in west Texas, that's what matters.

Why is he dreaming of going to Laredo and crossing to Mexico and hitchhiking to the coast when he'll be much closer to the coast when he gets to Houston?

Apparently Charley Shyler is in Houston. So why didn't Joe tell them he wanted to serve out his parole in San Antonio or El Paso or Dallas? Or somewhere he could sign on with a fishing boat? Are all Texas prisoners on parole required to live in Houston?

Mister Furkles said...

It reads well. The voice is strong and promises a good story. The only things I might change are (1) you could drop “The guard kept up his chatter:” which you don't need and (2) I'd change “Joe understood” to “Joe nodded”. Very minor and neither change necessary.

Oh, yeah. You could add “Detective Zack Martinez watched from his unmarked Texas Ranger's car. Zack knew two things ...”

As regards the story from the query, you could change 24 gold bars to bearer bonds. One of James Kirkwood's novels uses this.

Mister Furkles said...

EE,

I thought the reason to go to Mexico's coast is that he could get a job crewing without having papers.

Evil Editor said...

Possibly, but it seems the kind of boat you're talking about would be fishing or running drugs, not cruising out to the Caribbean. Besides, I'll bet it's not that hard to get on a crew in Texas without papers. There's always a demand for cheap labor.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...


I'd cut a lot here. HTML won't accept my strikethroughs, so asterisks below for what I'd cut:

The Briscoe Prison van pulled up to the bus stop at the Shell station off Interstate 35 ***. Joe Fane and the guard got out ***

*** The guard presented a clipboard. "Sign here."

Joe signed.

*** "You get to Houston, you check in with your PO. Twenty-four hours, understood?"

Joe understood.

"Else your name goes on the fugitive list."

Traffic rushed by on the interstate. Joe squinted across the desiccated prairie ***. He pictured the bridge there, the border. Cross over, hitchhike to the coast. Sign on with a boat crew and beach himself on a Caribbean island. Charley Shyler would never find him.

*** The guard tossed his clipboard into the van. "You got family there?"

"Not anymore."

"*** What about friends?"

Joe shrugged. "Guess I'll find out.

The bus hove into view. *** It lumbered onto the shoulder and stopped, brakes exhaling. *** Joe *** [climbed aboard]***.

The guard called after [him], "Six months, Joe. That's all you gotta do. Don't fuck it up."


Basically, the only interesting things we learn in this scene are that Joe's getting out of prison and that he wants to avoid someone who spells Charley in an unusual way. The guard gets a lot of lines for someone who I assume we're never going to see again. Ditto the bus driver. Joe, by comparison, gets practically none. That's okay if Joe's not a talker, but we need to stay focused on Joe and his situation.

jcwriter said...

Author here:

Dolph-Briscoe prison is located in Dilley, TX, about 85 crow-flying miles from Laredo, and maybe a100 from Corpus. I lived and worked in Texas and married a Texas gal; my experience is that West Texas encompasses pretty much every place west of Dallas-Ft. Worth (which is considered by people in, say, Midland as “back East”).

Joe’s dream of making a break for the Mexican border is just that, a fantasy. Later, in Houston, the Caribbean island escape fantasy recurs when he sees a freighter docked in the Houston Ship Channel. (This is a set-up: In the end, a tropical island is where Joe ends up.)

As to Joe’s returning to Houston to serve his parole, my research indicates that the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice returns parolees to the jurisdiction where they were convicted. I could be wrong.

Zack Martinez?... Oh, no, I feel rewrite number 26 coming on. (Thanks a lot, Furkles.)

Mister Furkles said...

EE, Well, it's what's in Joe's head that matters as to where he goes.

I've seen much bigger logic holes in the last books I read by Lee Child and by Fred Forsyth. 'Course if'n you're selling a million copies every year, nobody care about holes.

The other things are that Zack Martinez can't follow him into Mexico and the Mexican didactic alligators speak Spanish -- which isn't as annoying.

But you're the professional editor and I'm not. It isn't my book so I'm not going to defend it any more.

khazar-khum said...

I'm loving all the continuations.

I'd keep reading, if only to see how long it takes before Joe screws up.

khazar-khum said...

Come on, people. Zack Martinez can't follow Joe because he's based out of Los Angeles, not Dilley. Unless, of course, Joe killed someone in LA--but then he'd be getting extradited. But then again, if there's bad blood between judges in Laredo and LA, maybe he could run free...on a bus to LA. But wait! He'd get busted right away, and turned into a human ping pong ball between LA & Texas. So it's probably best for him that he never encounter the redoubtable Zack.

BuffySquirrel said...

This scene is just an infodump. Start with story.

vkw said...

Some of this dialogue doesn't ring true to me. I don't think a guard would talk about using money to a prostitute like this and probably would ask about family before making that comment anyway.

I don't think the guard would say, "don't fuck it up." This is an authoritarian statement made to an inferior and the guard no longer authority.

I already talked about the six months prarole. In my state, usually prisoners are released to a half-way institution so they can work and save money for an apartment about a year prior to release. I am sure there are many variants but they are not "paroled" to the re-entry program, they are still considered inmates and if they walk away they are considered escapees.

I think most states parole their inmates back to the jurisdiction from which they came and then the parolees can work out a possible transfer to another jurisdiction with their parole officer - though, this is rare because the jurisdiction often says no thank-you.

I think the guard would shake Joe's hand, wish him well and add, Hope we never see each other again. chuckle chuckle. Joe saying he hopes so to.

It sounds like the author is trying to make it gritty in order to make it interesting.

This may not be th eplace to start the novel, if this is the case.

Dave Fragments said...

I think it's too long for what it needs to do and not what it is trying to do.
Perhaps a few words less and consolidate the dialog. Remember, the guard isn't important other than to reveal Joe Fane. Also, all that description of the bus is filler. Unless there's someone important is on the bus or something significant will happen on the bus, it isn't worth a huge explanation.

This does leave me with a question as to why the guard is so solicitous to Joe Fane's welfare?
I wouldn't use the word "hove" but that's only personal preference.

Just past noon, the Briscoe Prison van pulled into a bus stop on Interstate 35.
Joe Fane stepped out. A guard followed with a clipboard.
"You got your ticket, your gate money, your parole certificate. Sign here." Joe signed. The guard continued. "You get to Houston, you check in with your PO. Twenty-four hours, understand? Else your name goes on the fugitive list."
"Yeah," Joe answered. Traffic rushed by on Interstate 35. Joe squinted, staring across the desiccated prairie and daydreamed. Eighty miles to Laredo and the bridge. Cross the border. Hitchhike to the coast. Sign on with a boat crew and hide on the beach of a Caribbean island. Charley Shyler would never find him. The guard interrupted his meditations.
"One more thing--don't blow your money on pussy. You got family there?"
"Not anymore."
"Not good. What about friends?"
"Guess I'll find out."The bus hove into view, lumbered onto the shoulder and stopped, brakes exhaling. The passenger door whooshed open.
"Ticket," the driver yelled. Joe handed it up, waiting as the driver rifled through the flimsy sheets, tearing out parts.
"San Antone through to Houston, one way."
Joe boarded the bus. The guard called down the aisle: "Six months, Joe. That's all you gotta do. Don't fuck it up."

jcwriter said...

Author again:

@Anonymous 2:43
@vkw

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, the parole part was a problem. For story purposes, I needed Joe to languish a few years in prison (long enough for his wife to divorce him, remarry, and have her second marriage go sour), and yet spend some time (but not too much) in parole stasis once he got out. To achieve this, I have Joe plead guilty to five counts of perjury; he’s supposed to get a suspended sentence, but the judge drops the hammer, sentencing him to the maximum one-year on each count, to be served consecutively. Thus, he’s not eligible for parole until he begins that fifth year. (Does that work?)

As to the halfway house, it’s more of a homeless shelter, not a supervised living thing; I’ll change that.

Regarding the parole itself (e.g., whether Joe is supervised or not), I studied the subject of Texas prisons and paroles on countless sites, forums, and articles. I believe the way it’s presented it in the manuscript is close enough to the real thing so as to pass the suspension of disbelief test. Thanks for pointing out your concerns

------------


@AlaskaRavenclaw
@Dave

These are good suggestions and I thank you for them. I’ll shorten the scene.


----------

@BuffySquirrel

An early draft of the novel opened with Joe stepping off the bus at the Houston terminal; he’s jumped by Charley’s hoodlums and taken for a ride. For that scene to work, I had to estabilsh certain back-story beats, not only that Joe was fresh out of prison, but also his frame of mind—wanting to run, fear of Charley Shyler. Every time I wrote that scene, it kept bogging down with “As you know, Bob” dialog. A true info dump.

This scene, particularly when shortened as Alaska and Dave suggest, will run less than a printed page. It’s not all “dump”. The main character is getting out of prison—a major change in his life. I need to do a better job of it, particularly in expressing his bewilderment at the life that faces him.

Thanks

jcwriter said...

@Buffy

Here's the problem I had with my original bus station opening: Joe gets off the bus, he's roughed up, thrown in the back of a car and off they go. This was pure action with little opportunity for main character development--besides using flashbacks (yuk) to impart the very information I now reveal in this new first scene.

I know what you're saying, and I've wrestled with it, but after multiple rejections in which that bus station scene led off my sample pages, I arrived at the feeling that my main character was essentially a stick figure.

Hence, a different opening.

Does that make sense?

Thanks for commenting.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree w/vkw in re what the guard would say, with the caveat that I've never been in prison (not yet, anyway). But read Ted Conover's Newjack for what I assume is authentic prisoner/guard conversation, since it's a first-person account. The book is full of such gritty street-talk as "Step into your cells, gentlemen, please." "Gentlemen" is what the guards call the prisoners throughout, and nobody ever cusses unless they're in the process of losing their @#$%, which the guard in your scene is not. Both guards and prisoners have a vested increase in keeping the discourse civil whenever possible.

Of course, that's New York, not Texas.

Mister Furkles, you should know this already: A writer who's trying to get published doesn't have to be as good as already-established authors. S/he has to be a helluvalot better.

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, I wasn't sure if my comment went through yesterday. It hasn't appeared, so I'm assuming I refreshed the page prematurely. Eh.

Sadly, the fact that a previous opening didn't work is no guarantee that this opening does.

Your primary aim should be to engage the reader and keep them reading. There's no need to give them all the backstory, or indeed much backstory at all. If the fact that Joe is fresh out of prison is so vital you can't do without it, you can inform the reader in one line.

And if Joe is coming across as a stick figure, then flesh him out through his actions and emotions, not info-dumps.

khazar-khum said...

This didn't strike me as an info
dump.

I did, however, wonder when it took place. It wasn't that long ago when they were simply put out the door.

jcwriter said...

Info dump is two characters exchanging information they both already possess, for the sole purpose of informing the reader.

In this scene, Joe and the guard exchange information which presumably the other does not know: Joe has to serve a six-month parole, he has 24 hours to register with his PO, he has no family in Houston, possibly no friends.

These are story beats delivered via dialog (which is action). Whether a reader finds it engaging is another matter. But it’s not an info dump.

This is info dump:

Guard: “Joe, you’ve been imprisoned at Brisco State Penetentiary for four-and-a-half years and now you’re being paroled.”

Joe: “Is it true that I have twenty-four hours to register with my parole officer?”

Big difference.

Evil Editor said...

If Joe does have his ticket, receipt and parole certificate, telling him he has them is infodumpish. Better would be to have the guard hand Joe these items, or at least to make it a question rather than a statement.

And there's no way a prisoner would not know how long his parole is until he's boarded the bus. (Although I can see the guard telling him in the way he does here, even though they both know.

BuffySquirrel said...

jcwriter said... Info dump is two characters exchanging information they both already possess, for the sole purpose of informing the reader.

No, what you're describing there is "As you know, Bob" dialogue, a specific form of info-dump. Info-dump is a more general term for dumping information, whether through dialogue or narrative, and that's what we have here: a scene that exists solely to provide the reader with Joe's backstory.

The scene has no conflict. Joe's goal of getting on the bus and returning to Houston is achieved with no obstacles. All we're getting from the scene is backstory, most of it redundant.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Info dump is two characters exchanging information they both already possess, for the sole purpose of informing the reader.

Nah, that's only the subspecies of infodump called "As You Know Bob." Alas, there are many kinds of infodump, and there's no point in arguing with critiques. If the readers perceive infodumping, then infodumping occurred. You're not going to get a chance to argue the point with agents, or with the interns who read the query letters. If your book gets published, you're not going to be able to stand beside bookstore shelves and say to each prospective reader "Wait, it's not infodumping because..."

In this scene, Joe and the guard exchange information which presumably the other does not know: Joe has to serve a six-month parole, he has 24 hours to register with his PO, he has no family in Houston, possibly no friends.

There was no conversation before Joe left the prison in which he was told where he was going, for how long, and under what conditions? It's left to a guard right before Joe hops on the bus?That seems awfully slapdash.

And is there some reason for the
guard to know or care about Joe's family and friends, other than to inform the readers about them? If not, then it's an infodump.