3rd SR Crapometer #19

Dear Miss Snark:

Below you will find my submission for your pending Crapometer, a very short story: The entire piece is only about 2000 words. It has not been submitted elsewhere. This query and the story fragment total 736 words.

I have no published fiction. I have published approximately 150 articles under my real name, with and without a co-author, most of them appearing in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, although I have had one in the Loyola Consumer Law Review; two in the Illinois Bar Journal; and several in the CBA Record, the magazine of the Chicago Bar Association. The vast majority of these concerned new court opinions. And for each of these pieces I received exactly zero dollars. On the other hand, judges before whom I appeared were often familiar with my articles. It gave me an 'edge' coming in, or I thought it did – which is much the same thing.
(there's no point to this..why waste words?)

Although my protagonist is drinking vodka, I want to assure you that this e-mail was thoroughly soaked in Tanqueray before being launched into the ether.

Thank you for your consideration.

The Curmudgeon

The New Associate

I was complaining about the loss of a new associate. He'd been with our law firm for only three months, but had announced today that he was moving on. More money. Fewer hours. That's what he said; I'm sure that’s what he was told.

I was skeptical that these promises would be kept. But this guy's future was no longer my concern. Still, I mused to my companion, three months was an awfully short time for anyone to stay with a law firm, even in this mobile age.

George laughed bitterly. Of course, he only laughed bitterly. He was a very bitter man.

He twirled his finger in the tumbler in front of him, watching the lemon peel swirl in the vodka and ice. "That’s nothing," he said.

"It was in the mid-90's," George began, looking up now and smiling that nasty smile of his, apparently relishing the recollection. "1994 maybe. Matt and Tony were going to hire someone to work exclusively for me. I wasn't unhappy about it; I could have used the help."

Matt Clifton and Tony Clark were the founding and managing partners of Clifton & Clark, the 17-lawyer firm in which George was a junior partner. Of course George and his three fellow junior partners were only a few years' junior to either Clifton or Clark, and now that George's head was entirely gray he was looking less junior by the day. I often theorized that this minimal age difference may have been one source of the continuing friction between the two partner groups.

George hated Clifton and Clark with a passion came across as truly frightening until you learned to appreciate George's gift for exaggeration. In our few social encounters, for example, I'd always found Matt Clifton pleasant, even charming. He may have been somewhat short and a little pudgy, but he was neither ugly nor deformed. George, though, called Clifton "The Evil Dwarf" – you could hear the capital letters when he spoke somehow – and that was one of the nicest, least profane things he called him.

Trying to see past George's odium, I had long ago concluded that Clifton and Clark, like so many lawyers, must be control freaks. I found it understandable that two people who'd formed a business would want to thoroughly control it, but these were not opinions that could be discussed rationally with George. He insisted that Matt Clifton's real ambition was to be the firm's office manager. He claimed that only Clifton or Clark could open the mail in the morning unless special dispensation was first obtained. George claimed that Clifton personally approved every vendor invoice on every single file in the office – not just his own – every court reporter bill and every record copying invoice, and if it took him 60 or 90 days to get through any one stack, that was the vendors' own tough luck. Like I said, George was quite an exaggerator.

And he was warming up, now: "Moses and Elijah" -- i.e., Clifton & Clark -- "didn't do any billable work for about six weeks while they sifted through the résumés and conducted interviews. They'd huddle together for hours before and after interviews, too, comparing notes, I suppose. Who could tell? Their office doors were always closed." George took a swig from his glass.

If you want me to dive into a story quit telling how blue the water is, how sparkly the tiles are and how hunky the lifeguard is. Push me off the diving board. Get me IN the damn water.

I realize that this is foreign to someone who makes his living with billable hours but in fiction less is more.


Anonymous said...

Holy cow. The whole story is less than 2000 words and we're seeing what? 500 of them? That doesn't leave much room for something to happen.

Anonymous said...

The writing is solid and I see hints that George is going to be a fun character, but this is aaaaaaall backstory and telling. Show more; describe the setting and make it vivid. Chop out the backstory and let the reader fill in the details from the hints dropped into conversation.

I liked the paragraph that started with:
"It was in the mid-90's," George began, looking up now and smiling that nasty smile of his, ...

You could have started the story right there, and then continued with more dialogue. I would have kept reading, wondering about George and his nasty smile.

There's promise here, but it's buried under a lot of "telling". Dig out your editing razor and good luck with it, Author.

class-factotum said...

Yes! I was excited in the first couple of paragraphs. I especially liked, "More money. Fewer hours. That's what he said; I'm sure that’s what he was told."

Then I thought the story was going to get started with "'It was in the mid-90's,"' but all I got after that was a bunch of details about Matt and Tony. I could have figured out who they are if they are important to the story. Otherwise, tell me the rest of the story!

Anonymous said...

Hard to know where you might place a story like this. It's just not working. In a 2000 word (about 8 page) short short, you've got very little discourse time (pages) to get the thing done. You need to be approaching crisis action almost from the beginning. Before you even establish a story you move into back and fill. But in a piece this short there's really no time for back and fill. Moreover, what do we care about someone leaving? Will he come back later in the story? That's the only reason to start with something like this.

Anonymous said...

Go to library. Read Ellery Queen short stories. Read LOTS of short stories.

Get to the freakin' point.

So many character names, so little space, so unable to finish the 500 words. I've enough eyeglaze here for a BBQ.

Evil minion #667 said...

And what is the point of querying an agent with a short story anyway? Hasn't MS said, repeatedly, that she only handles books?


Termagant 2 said...

Holy cow. The query letter sounds like s/he's channelling Kurt Vonnegut: "...and here is what they paid him: doodly squat."


Anonymous said...

Second the length comment. Why are you bothering to query a novel-agent with a blathering short story? 2,000 words? That's about how many I write daily when I'm writing a novel.