1.06.2007

HH Com Rd 2 - #10 (173)

Hook here


"I don't like you, Lucy Campeon," Mrs Handine said to me, her wrinkled hands gripping her walking cane. It wouldn't surprise me if she chose to whack me over the head with it. She'd certainly whacked me enough with harsh words during the interview to make me want to crawl out the door. Over the past half-hour I stopped feeling guilty about deceiving the old woman; everything from the catnip on my fingers to the letter of recommendations my friend Alexandar Andrew, Veterinarian. I needed this job and Alexandar owed me a huge favor.

"But it's not up to me," her voice softened, "is it, Beaker?"

I dropped my gaze to the cat in my lap. Beaker rolled her face around and over my tainted fingers and I obliged her with a good scritching. The long chocolate fur, which had already shed itself all over my interview suit, would drive me nuts, but I would accept it if it meant money in my pocket.

And money Mrs Handine had. The old lady lounged on a beautifully carved couch, upholstered in striped silk. I sat on a hard little matching chair. And were those fresh flowers on the hardwood coffee table between us? Billowy curtains draped the windows and spilled out along the floor. Beaker must love those, I mused.

"But I will be having very little to do with you," Mrs Handine inhaled sharply through her nose, "as I will have my own concerns." Her hands tightened on the cane as pain flickered through her gaze. I turned my attention to the cat until the paroxysm passed. Alexandar told me she hadn't long to live. "Your job will be to keep Beaker happy, and that you seem to do."

It's amazing what kitty pot would do for a cat. Beaker's purrs made the ends of her long fur quiver. She'd hooked her paws around my wrist and rubbed her face vigorously against my fingers.

(Start here)
Mrs handine let out a little grunt. "I will be honest with you. You were bottom of my list, despite Doctor Andrew's recommendation, but you are the only person that Beaker has liked and for that reason alone, I will hire you."

Yes! The job was mine. I confess I dreaded the thought of having to take a McJob just to stay in graduate school, but this was perfect: time to study, a place to live and a paycheck to boot. "Thank you," I replied, as genteely as I could while giving Beaker a good snuggle. Beaker gave me a mouthful of fur and continued to rub against my hand.

Mrs Handine rang a bell. "Charles will take you to fill out the paperwork."

As Charles, her butler, appeared at the door, I rose and put Beaker on the chair.

"No, no!" Mrs Handine spat, waving her arthritic hand at me. "Take Beaker with you. If I'm going to hire you, you might as well start today."

I retrieved Beaker, surprised at the suddenness of my employment. "Oh," I uttered. As the old lady raised an eyebrow, I amended my comment so it didn't sound like I was contrary. "Okay." Beaker kept her head buried in my hand as we left the room.

Charles, dressed in the suit I expected a butler to wear, closed the door softly behind us. Aside from the clothing, he was not what I expected a butler to be. He was youngish, possibly early thirties, in possession of all his mousy hair and rather bland of features. His voice was a light tenor. "Come on. I'll take you to the office."

I fell in step behind him, but he waited for me to catch up so I walked next to him. "Since you're going to be working here," he began, "I hope you don't mind me being blunt, Lucy."

"Hmm?" I looked up at the sound of my name. Beaker was trying to chew my knuckle off. How long did this catnip last?

"Why you?" Charles asked. "Why did Doctor Andrew recommend you?"

That was blunt! I stopped and gave myself the once-over. "Why? What's wrong with me?" I'd dressed neat and clean, and while I felt uncomfortable in my rarely-worn interview suit, it fitted nicely. My hair was brushed and I even wore makeup.

Charles didn't stop until he reached the top of the stairs. He laid a hand on the rail then turned to me. "You're single, for one, and you are well-to-do."

Well-to-do. Maybe once. Not now.


I liked this hook you'll recall for the premise of the novel, not the actual hook. One thing I notice here is a LOT of description and a lot of set up. I really prefer to get right to the point or get started in a much more energetic fashion. Contrast this with #8 below. They both start in the voice of the main character. There's actually a lot LESS information in #8 than there is here, but the effect (at least to me) was much more electric. We didn't get a lot of description, but what there was said something about what was being described AND about the describer (shell shiny hair).

Here we have generic description. We have generic responses. What's missing is what made me want to read the book...

26 comments:

jamiehall said...

To me, it felt like you retread the same ground twice. The narrative is split into two parts, marked by Miss Snark's "start here." The second part is more dynamic and self-contained.

I like some of the material before "start here," I just think it is kind of slow, and altogether that section doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

The dialogue tags are wrong, and in the very first paragraph is an unfinished sentence. ("letter that my friend, Alexandar, Vetrinarian.")


I like the voice, though. And the characterization is pretty good.

Anonymous said...

I really thought this novel was going to start in the middle of things, not at the beginning of everything. That is, I thought that it was going to open up where the hook implied--old lady dead, people out to kill the cats, with one or two already dead, and the protags scheming how to keep their jobs.

wavybrains said...

I liked this alot--trim the repetitive stuff and you've got something a lot of fun here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with jamiehall and miss snark. It reads okay, it just doesn't move very fast.

In your hook, the pivotal action was the old lady's dying and willing her fortune to the cat. If this were mine, I'd toy around with opening the story there, and bring in the duplicitous characters as they're needed.

It's a clever premise. Good luck with it.

j.c.

soaraway said...

I like the idea of her being sneaky and it has a good dark feel particularly at the beginning. It needs to stay dark and slightly bitter to be funny. In comparision I found the opening of '8' simply confusing and rather hard work to read.

J.A. said...

Just for the record, have you ever tried putting catnip on your hands and petting a cat? I'm not saying it won't work, but when my friend did it, my normally calm cat attacked her and cut her hands open with his claws while he bit her. He's a cat that usually plays with velvet paws too.

skybluepinkrose said...

Most "not quite there" writing is overwritten in general and has too much background in particular. Study the one about Caroline and the shooting for how much it accomplishes in a clean, clear style. Don't stop or delay present story to give background; weave it in as you go, and only as needed to avoid confusion. That gives a sense of the story unfolding and tempts readers to read on to find out more.

Zany Mom said...

The Caroline Story (#8, I think) drops you right into the action, not having her apply for the job post-surviving shooting. No 'will I get the job' angst. Just in the file room, dropping files.

Here, I'd be tempted to start with finding the cat dead (however that happened) and then weaving in the backstory about the inheritance and the cat and the angry relatives as the story unfolds. Maybe the angry relatives show up before the protag can even hide the cat's body. Action, right up front.

I like the premise, though I hate dead cats, and I'd hope people really, really aren't killing cats.

McKoala said...

I really did like the hook and I think that I anticipated that the opening would have more zip to it. I can see why you start here, but would you consider starting further in? I would probably read on if the blurb had been like your hook, anticipating that some action would start pretty soon. But if there were too many chapters of her settling in, getting to like the cat, writing assignments etc. then I might stop.

Virginia Miss said...

Great hook and premise, and the writing is almost there.

Here's a suggested truncated opening:

"I don't like you, Lucy Campeon," Mrs Handine said. I flinched as her wrinkled hands gripping her walking cane. “But since you’re the only candidate Beaker likes, you’re hired.”

Amazing what kitty pot would do. In this case, it had secured me…


go easy on the description and backstory, and give us some conflict asap

Good luck

LindaBudz said...

I liked the very beginning. I think you could cut from "The long chocolate fur...." through "... and that you seem to do." That part slowed down a bit for me.

I love dark comedies, so I think I'd like this story! Good luck with it!

Anne said...

I liked the character and her use of deception to get the job. I agree it was long on description. Some of the writing seemed awkward to me. "The long chocolate fur, which had already shed itself all over my interview suit" for example.

A Paperback Writer said...

Gee, I rather liked it. But then, I seem to be liking the ones that Miss Snark doesn't -- which does not bode well for my own 750 word shredding which is soon to come..... (shudder).
Keep working with this, author. I think you've got a great idea.

Anonymous said...

"Well-to-do" stuck out as an odd phrase to me. Old-fashioned. Maybe it works for the butler character, but then our heroine echoed it. I had expected her to think it old-fashioned too. Maybe this is a southern thing? I'm sure not southern.

Crystal Charee said...

You have a nice voice, but it seems like you get confused about what you sound like as opposed to what you think you're supposed to sound like. I have the same problem.

And if the butler is going to be her boyfriend, he needs to be sexier.

Anonymous said...

j.a.'s point is valid. The author should replace the catnip with something else if it doesn't work as described.

the author herself said...

Alas. I never was very good at beginnings.

I thought it interesting that a few of you mentioned that it was slow in pace. Maybe it is.

Does it help to know that Beaker is dead by the end of chapter one?

Yes, I have put catnip on my hands. I had a cat with a serious attitude, and catnip was the only thing that would calm him down.

wordver: Oh, griz!

Anonymous said...

Author, I read your comments on your blog. I still think you can start with the dead cat. Backstory can be dribbled in. Of course, we readers would want to know just WHY she's freaking out over the dead cat (and not that she's lost a beloved pet, which she hasn't, it's not hers). I think it will work. Trust your readers to follow you, and resist the urge to tell everything up front. Drop the readers smack into the action, and let them watch it unfold. The protag's angst will help propel the story.

Rhease said...

Our cats go bonkers for catnip - in a good way - too. It all depends on the cat. Drool, glazed eyes and deep purrs all round in our house when there's a 'nip session going down!
I think you probably could have started this one after the interview, but it depends on personal taste. Good writing.

jamiehall said...

I've never had cats attack me because of catnip. There are problems with this piece, but I don't think the catnip idea is one of them.

Anonymous said...

Writers: Do not feel compelled to walk in lockstep to snark's admonitions! She caters to a very narrowly defined category of writing, thus don't get overly hungup with HER need to have blood and flames from sentence one. If snark standards were the law, 90% of the great novels of the past century would never see the shelves.

There is nothing wrong inherently with some backstory, some description, some set-up, just do it well, very very well. Not every agent feels the need to be tasered from the first sentence. Feel free to draw your reader in gradually, just do it well, very very well. Not all agents cater to the ADD crowd.

In fact, it IS your art, do anything as you want. Just do it well, very very well.

Anonymous said...

Writers: Do not feel compelled to walk in lockstep to snark's admonitions!

Sorry, anonymous, but when Miss Snark is right, she's right. Who she is doesn't make her more or less right. Sometimes she is wrong, just like anyone. However, when almost all the posts are telling the author what is wrong with the piece, it's quite possible that they are identifying the flaw in the piece.

It doesn't matter who says it, if it's true, it's true. When you ask for advice, and it's not the advice you want, the instinct is to ignore it. That doesn't make the advice wrong.

Give it a few days to settle, then look at the work again.

Advice, even anonymous advice, if sincere, is usually given with a desire to help, no matter how snarky. No one is simply saying "this sux! lawl." We are giving constructive advice to a flawed piece that needs help. I, for one, like the idea and would like to see it succeed. It won't in it's current incarnation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anon who reminded us that Miss Snark's opinion is not the be all and end all. I was appalled at some of the hooks she liked - and learned after a few score of them that her tastes tend to the highly commercial - no matter what she says about "good writing trumping all." (There's good and there's good.) If she herself does not have ADD, then she is choosing for the reader who does. I must say that such a preference on her part is erring on the side of caution, since music vids, TV, and so on are decreasing collective attention spans, making us more and more impatient with things just to "get going, already." BUT, that said, it does not mean that "slow," less commercial, work sux - assuming the writing is otherwise solid. The pity is when solid writing is tossed away because it requires some work to get into!
Some of the best books I have ever read - and not all pre-MTV, either - took focus and commitment to walk into. The rewards were life altering. Few first-page wonders have lasted with me, afraid to say. But maybe my taste explains why I'm still in the slush pile: I'm behind the times!!

Twill said...

I liked the writing and the pace. I also think you don't have to give up all the goods in the first paragraph.

If you start where Miss Snark recommends, then *don't* tell the answer to the questions the butler asks - bribery and catnip. Let the reader wonder about those things while you are going on about some other stage business.

Unless you plan on this being a gonzo slam-bang thing, it doesn't hurt to play out line before reel them in.

Anonymous said...

I am heartened to hear the two "ADD" lamenting comments here. I get so discouraged by the prevailing defacto requirement in art to slam your reader/viewer/listener etc on the side of the head. Its not just here but in our culture in general.

Its a pity that snark would feed that machine as well, since I hope that literature is the final bastion of art.

There is nothing wrong with commercial art, I just wished Miss Snark would just come out and say that that is what she focuses on and not be discouraging to those who aspire to a different standard. Once, she remarked that literary work was akin to "navel watching" or something or another. So that tells you a lot about her taste. So judging ALL writers here by that first page "taser" standard (I love that description) is unfair and misleading.