1.07.2007

HH Com Rd 2 - #14 (240)

Hook here


For Tom Jaglom, it began on the November afternoon when the Mafia killed Alfredo Blasi. He didn’t know it, of course -- we often don’t know when things begin until after they’ve ended. The moment when forces that are going to change the world assem¬ble and begin moving together is a question for hindsight and historians and college kids playing the ‘if’ game -- if the Arch Duke Ferdinand (Archduke is one word, and it's Franz Ferdinand) hadn’t been assassinated in Sarajevo, if Hitler had attacked the British before they fled at Dunkirk ... or, in this case, if a reporter named Jim Gramble hadn’t been on the steps of the Criminal Courts Building that day, standing in the raw wind, asking questions -- what might have happened?

The question would have bored Tom Jaglom. He was a practical person. He had no interest in speculation; besides, on the day in question he had something much more important on his mind.

He was falling in love.

He was walking in Central Park with Amy Elwell, holding her hand inside his coat pocket, watching the wind scatter her long red hair, feeling truly happy for the first time in years. He felt too large for his skin. It was almost painful. The park was deserted in the bitter cold and it felt like their private estate.

He had gotten to her apartment early, and sat in the kitchen sipping coffee while she changed. Intruding on this ordinary part of her day gave him a sudden vision of what life might be like if he lived with her, if he were really at home in this little kitchen, as if he had awakened beside her in the pale sunshine, made coffee while she showered.

These were not fantasies he could have imagined himself inventing even two months ago. But everything was different now. He saw beautiful women and he didn’t care. He saw children and he wanted his own. He hadn’t said all this to Amy yet. He wasn’t sure how to do it. He didn’t want to scare her; and he was a little scared himself.

“I’m just not sure why I even bother at this point,” she was saying now, as they strolled through the Ramble, under the bare branches of the sycamore trees, between miniature cliffs of jagged granite. “They like the idea of me being home for Christmas, but it always turns into a nightmare.”

“Why? I mean -- what happens?”

“I don’t know ... everything I do is just a little bit wrong. It’s like there’s some abstract version of me in their heads and I don’t measure up.”

Tom smiled. “What’s she like?”

“Well -- for one thing, she accepted that Juilliard scholarship. Music is the whole world to her. She’s not recklessly throwing away her God-given talents.”

“Oh boy.”

“All she wants to do is practice. It’s great -- she makes them so proud. She’s going to be the first woman Concert Master (concert-master or concertmaster) of the New York Philharmonic some day.”

“She sounds like a bore.”
(here's where I'd want the story to start)
Amy laughed, and at that precise moment, Tom realized they were being followed. Under normal conditions he would have figured it out much more quickly. But he was distracted. Amy kept talking, but he was counting pairs of footsteps now, estimating weight from foot falls -- three, four, five altogether. Jumbos. And they were speeding up. Amy finally sensed that something was wrong and started moving faster herself. This was the worst possible response. Tom tugged on her arm, pulled her back into a casual stroll.

“Don’t hurry,” he whispered. “Don’t turn around. Just keep talking.”

The group was dividing behind them. At the moment he knew the gang was going to attack, all he felt was embarrassment —— this kind of situation made him feel like a freak.

Two gang members trotted ahead of them, blocking the path while the others caught up.

“What’s your hurry, pal?” the leader asked conversationally. He pulled out a double edged hunting knife and held it out and turned it to let the sunlight glint on the blade.

“Hold on a second,’ Tom said. “This may be hard to believe, but I’m the son of the President of the United States. Really. And wherever I go, these Secret Service guys follow me. Big guys. With guns. They shoot first and ask questions later. Well, okay -- they don’t really ask questions later. Except for stuff like, ‘Where are the body bags?’ and ‘Who’s going to get the brains off this wallpaper?’”


As we all know by now I'm not much on set up and backstory. That preference gets over emphasized in smaller samples--750 words is about 3 pages. When you've got 5, 10, or 50 pages, the windup (as a percentage of the whole) takes less space than it does here at 750.

Based on the hook, if the writing didn't totally suck (and it doesn't), I'd probably ask for 50 pages, because the entire premise of the novel will take a while to unfold. That's why this hook is so important. Without it, I have no sense that this isn't crime-novel-as-usual.

And those spelling errors bug me a lot cause it says I'm going to be copy editing your manuscript....blchhh.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like it. You write well, and it moves--even the build-up part that M.S. isn't so keen on. Still, I think a truncated version of that would serve you better.

I love love love the idea of the gang members surrounding this easy mark and his girlfriend and hearing this lame-ass story about being the son of the president...
only to have it be true.

The careless mistakes are an interesting thing. You couldn't have arrived at such a good piece without a lot of careful re-write, so how'd you miss the hiccups? That is the case, isn't it? Please don't tell me that there was no edit and this is the way your first drafts roll off the keyboard. Because I'd just have to shoot myself.

Nice job, author.











Because it's so good,

dana p said...

They shoot first and ask questions later. Well, okay -- they don’t really ask questions later. Except for stuff like, ‘Where are the body bags?’ and ‘Who’s going to get the brains off this wallpaper?’”

LOL. Love it. Although this appears to be of a genre I don't normally read, between the excerpt and the hook I'm convinced I want to read it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I gonna say this for the typos (I'm not the author; I'm an editor): It is very, very, very easy to overlook typos when you're revising because you *know what the words are supposed to be*. It takes a fresh read or a fresh set of eyes to see typos. It's not a mark of a first draft or a lack of attention to craft. That's why we have copy editors and why they *get the last read*.

Get over it, snarklings.

Michele said...

I liked the very opening and the start about falling in love with Amy, but would agree with Miss Snark on cutting out most of the conversation before the gang appears.

Anonymous said...

I like this. I would like it a lot more without all of the mistakes- Im instead of I'm, its instead of it's, etc... What do you have against apostrophes?

Fuchsia Groan said...

I don't mind backstory unless it's clunkily written, so this seems fine to me. I like how you jump from the still-unclear pivotal event on the courthouse steps to the park to the surprise revelation of Tom's identity. It keeps me wanting more as a reader. I'm curious to know how you're going to pull off the big twist (as seen in the hook) after setting Tom up as a practical guy who's easy for the reader to identify with. But from this sample I've got hope you can do it.

As a copyeditor, these spelling errors don't freak me out, because they're the type that are based on cultural literacy more than basic English skills. Get a good dictionary and check it often, even when you think you know...

Elektra said...

Actually, there's already been a woman concertmistress for the NY Phil: Sheryl Staples.

Elektra said...

"woman concertmistree" grrrr! as opposed to those pesky male concertmistresses, I suppose.

McKoala said...

That first para nearly stopped me in my tracks. I don't need lecturing in the first para of any novel.

After that, I was interested! Loved the 'too large for his skin' idea and his little fantasy. But...maybe it did move a little slowly. Who was the 'she'? A sister? Tom's comments to the leader of the gang seemed a little too clever and went on a little too long for the situation. Wouldn't the Secret Service have the big guns out by now?

But with this and the hook I'd be reading on.

Leah said...

I agree with MS. The last section was quick and interesting, but I had almost lost interest by the time I got there.

My English teacher says her least favorite opening line is: In the world, there are people. Don't start with a broad discussion of causality unless you're wickedly funny and Terry Pratchett.

thraesja said...

I liked this idea too. The hook made me want to read it.

But I agree with the others. Lose the opening two paragraphs at least, and cut most if not all of his conversation with Amy. I did like the fantasy segment, as it gives a glimpse of the normal life he wants to have before his brain starts playing evil games with him.

I loved the line where the Secret Service officers are wondering who cleans up the brains from the wallpaper, but I question whether he'd have a chance to talk to the gangers, or even really notice them, before his guards swept him and Amy out of harm's way. Perhaps you can have the bit about his embarrassment and the typical (over?)-reaction of the SS be in his head as he's being hustled into the black sedan of safety?

I think a thriller where I'm not sure what is real, what is not, and who the bad guys are could be great. Hope you work it out.

Twill said...

The sentences and clauses in the first paragraph sounded redundant to me. I would probably drop the book when it got to the alternate history ifs.