Cicatrix

Where does it start? What is it about?

Cicatrix is a story originally written pre-1987. I dug it out because I’m thinking of including it in Tales V2. I’ve always liked the idea and concept, I’ve learned so much about writing that I realized I started the story 1) in the incorrect place and 2) with an incorrect conflict.

What follows are the first ~1,000 words from the previous version and the new version. Let me know which is better. If you can give me an idea why you prefer one over the other, excellent.

Original

The cool, early April evening air, heavy with the damp and salt of the craggy New Hampshire coast, wafted through the open windows of Paul’s rented house. His attention shifted from four hotdogs in a pot of boiling water on the stove to a pad of equations on the table. He sat between the two, against the wall and away from the door. He was within reach of both hotdogs and notepad, but he favored the notepad. One foot rested on the back of a large, black Newfoundland, Maschaak. Occasionally Paul would wiggle his foot and the dog would lick its chops and let out a satisfied growl.

A sudden hiss pulled him up from the equations to see a bobble of water dance on the heating element. Another bobble, somewhat greasier than the first, leapt over the edge of the pot and joined in the dance. “Tyndale effect.” He smiled and went back to the notepad. Both he and the dog looked up when a car door slammed outside. Paul’s gaze took in the rest of the first floor. The kitchen was separated from the living room/bed room by a transition from peeling, brittle, yellowed linoleum to frayed, puce purple rug. The house was clean but drab and spent the summer months as a beach cottage. During the school year it was rented to whatever student or students could afford the off-season price. The wallpaper looked and felt like a K-Mart Blue Light Special, heat came from a kerosene burner. Some earlier occupant had taped over the ON/off switch with DEAFENING/cold and Paul couldn’t argue. The place settings were a mix of yard sale Corelle, 1960’s gas station giveaways, and jelly jars, and no two pieces of flatware matched. There were no chairs, only couches with springs which long ago had sprang their last sprung. Each couch pulled out into a bed and Paul knew from experience they were equally uncomfortable. The woman who rented the house to him said, “This is just meant as a place to sleep after you’ve been on the beach all day.” Paul agreed after the first two weeks.


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Man and Boy; Tennessee, 1932

It’s better to be wise than rich

“Boy, what you straining with?”

“Don’t know, pa. It’s fighting me, though. It’s fighting me.”

“Look at that pole bend. Ease up a bit, boy. Give it some slack. See? Your pole’s not twitching. Whatever it is, it’s not fighting you, it’s dragging. Maybe something crawling on the bottom.”

“But it’s coming, pa.”

“Want me to take her for a spell?”

“I’d like that, pa.”

“Give it some slack before we switch poles. Something that heavy, you got to work slow, might have to get upstream of it to pull it in without snapping the line.”

“Look, pa. There it is. I see it.”

“Damn thing’s in the glare of the sun. What is it? Can you see? Feels like some bottom grass. Pity if we can’t loose the line.”

“It’s a man, pa. A black man.”


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What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?

It’s what they don’t tell you that’ll ruin you

Almost every writing-how-to book I’ve read has something about having to read, read, read and write, write, write to be a good author. Few books (nor any classes I’ve taken in classrooms, workshops, online, et cetera) include the two pieces of information without which all the reading and all the writing are…well, maybe not worthless but definitely worth less: How to Read and How to Write.

Reading
Read anything and everything. Read omnivorously. Read trashy novels. Read pulp. Read magazine articles, newspapers. Read onlines. Read prizewinners. Read in and definitely outside your genre.

Here’s what nobody told me; Read for craft, not content.

Pay attention to what you’re reading.

 
Pay attention to how characters are developed, pay attention to how scenes unfold, how things are foreshadowed, pay attention to how mood, atmosphere and tone are constructed to create specific effects. Pay attention to how the author does everything they do to get you to read their story.

Especially pay attention to what they do that makes you stop reading their story.

An example of the former is from Fritz Leiber’s A Pail of Air. I read this story mumbledy-mumbledy years ago and remember literally feeling cold after the first few paragraphs. No idea why and continued blissfully ignorant for ever so long. Take a moment to read the opening and enjoy the chill:
Continue reading “What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?”

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Jan 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

Salinger and Atwood make the list

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“If you really want to hear about it,…” – J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
First, the full opening line is “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

You have the entire book in that opening line. The protagonist’s – Holden Caulfield’s – entire self-concept is revealed, the narrative voice established, you know and understand the main character and what you’re in for. Caulfield is talking to you directly, is reluctant to share anything about himself, and tests the reader’s level of interest before revealing anything. Salinger is essentially setting the reader’s expectations in the opening line. Nicely done!

“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.” – Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
The subtlety of that line overpowers me. It’s passive voice about a hopeful image. Talk about a killer emotional combination! Combine it with the complete first paragraph – “Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, there buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.” – and you have the entire story presaged in a few short sentences, all of which echoes the passive-hopeful promise.

Nice.

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)

No one gets to change your work but you

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).
Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts dealt with extracting actionable information from test audiences.

An important part of improving one’s writing is knowing whose suggestions to pay attention to. Notice, not what suggestions, but whose suggestions. Some people don’t have opinions – they’re not making suggestions – they’re opening onions – their goal is to make you cry, to make you suffer.
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)”