For Tom Jaglom, it began on the November afternoon when the Mafia killed Alfredo Blasi. He didnt know it, of course -- we often dont know when things begin until after theyve 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) hadnt 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 hadnt 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 didnt care. He saw children and he wanted his own. He hadnt said all this to Amy yet. He wasnt sure how to do it. He didnt want to scare her; and he was a little scared himself.
Im 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 dont know ... everything I do is just a little bit wrong. Its like theres some abstract version of me in their heads and I dont measure up.
Tom smiled. Whats she like?
Well -- for one thing, she accepted that Juilliard scholarship. Music is the whole world to her. Shes not recklessly throwing away her God-given talents.
All she wants to do is practice. Its great -- she makes them so proud. Shes 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.
Dont hurry, he whispered. Dont 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.
Whats 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 Im 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 dont really ask questions later. Except for stuff like, Where are the body bags? and Whos 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.