1.06.2007

HH Com Rd 2 -#8 (119)

Hook here


When the file folder hit the floor, Caroline Brister had three thoughts.

Her third thought: They didn't pay her enough to care about putting the file back together in proper order.

Her second thought: She'd dropped the folder because her hand had stopped working.

Her first thought: The splattering of the papers on the floor, the arc and fan of the invoices and envelopes and depositions reminded her of red and black blood sprays on the wall, which reminded her of Rorschach inkblots. It's a puppy! It's a flower! It's the guy from Accounting's brains! (your rhythm goes off in the last sentence. Read it aloud. It should be "it's the brains of the guy in Accounting")

The second thought stuck. Her left hand had stopped working. She looked at it. Ratty fingernails, wedding and engagement rings, and a scar from when she'd had a cyst removed. She couldn't feel it. Caroline tried wiggling her fingers. Nothing.

Well, this was odd.

A gentle knock at the door. Why would anyone knock on the door of the company file room? She glanced at the empty file folder cabinet.

"Hello, Caroline? Can I talk to you for a minute?" It was the head of Human Resources, Beth Something. Beth came into the room, closing the door softly behind her. "Oh, what happened here?"

Beth would have tried to smarm her way out. She would have identified the predicament of a disgruntled office shooter, and looked for a solution that was amicable to everyone.

"Let me help you with that," Beth said, stooping down to pick up the one piece of paper that was next to her. Her good deed for the day done, Beth straightened up and pushed a stray hair back into its shell-shiny helmet. (oh yes!)

"The agency told me... about your... situation. It must have been very traumatic for you."

The "situation". The "event". The "tragedy". No one ever said "slaughter". No one said "twenty-six people in an office and only one emerged alive." (this is good exposition)

"If there's anything we can do to help, just let us know." Beth smiled and twisted the gold rope necklace she wore.

Caroline thought to actually take her up on it. She'd ask to change her hours so she could take an earlier bus back to the apartment and get home at a reasonable time. But Caroline knew Beth would sigh and say that the company had standards to which it must adhere. There were a number of actual employees who would love to change their hours. If Beth allowed Caroline, who was just a temp, to change her hours, it would be a slippery slope. And so on.

"I'm doing fine, but thank you for the offer," Caroline smiled.

"Well, okay then." Beth turned towards the door. "Have a good rest of the day."

Beth wouldn't try to talk her way out of being shot. She'd push other people out of the way to get to the exit.


The temporary agency had told Caroline that the position was for a legal assistant. However, something had been lost in translation. "Legal assistant" actually meant "trained monkey."

Caroline photocopied. She photocopied thick stacks of documents, some on legal sized paper (so she'd have to stop and change the paper size), some stapled together with tiny staples she didn't see until the copier had jammed and crumpled up the document into an ugly fan, like she imagined a headache to look. She had to use the copier access code of the secretary for whom she was doing the work.

Caroline filed. Each floor's file room was tucked in the corner of the floor with the pop machine, the snack machine and a printer that no one used until the toner was just about out, and then everyone used it. Occasionally she would hear the bang bang bang of people upset that their Doritos were stuck in the curled wires of the machine. Many of them would swear.

John McKinley had sworn, though not for as long as the Dorito people usually did. "What the fuck is going -" was what he'd managed to get out before Tom had shot him.

Then, he'd switched to screaming.


"Most of these were here when I started," Blaine said as they regarded the file room on the 17th floor, "fifteen years ago." She shuddered.

Blaine was Caroline's supervisor at the company. She was Director of Records Management - inputting new clients in the computer system, running conflict checks, sending old files to off site storage. Blaine would have taken one look at the shooter, said "go ahead" and gone back to her coffee. Caroline liked Blaine.



This works. It's consistent voice that gives backstory in a way that meshes well with what's going on. It gives us a sense of character. Hell yes I'd be reading more.

37 comments:

diane s said...

Yeah! I LIKE IT so far. Good work!

judy merrill larsen said...

I really like this. The voice rings true, the narrative zips along, and the way you've introduced the minor (or not) other characters gives me a sense of them.

Nice work.

Anonymous said...

I liked the voice, and the writing is clean and tight. I did have problems following the transitions from the present to the shooting and back again. The only real lacking that I see is, there's no premonition of where this scene is going, but I'd keep reading to find out.

Nice work.

j.c.

Anonymous said...

I liked this at first, but then I got completely lost between past and present. Several times I found myself reading and rereading a section to figure out where and when we were, and I couldn't pinpoint it.

RT

skybluepinkrose said...

Really good. I'd pick this up. Just for my 2 cents, I did not get lost. Keep going!

Anonymous said...

Didn't get lost, really liked it.
This is the only one that has potential at the moment.
Clean up that blip Miss Snark discovered about Accounting man's brains & send it out.

Anonymous said...

I like the way Caroline judges the people she now works with by the way she imagines they'd have reacted to the shooter. I'm also wondering how she managed to be the only survivor and looking forward to finding out, which would keep me reading.

One question: Early on, you say Beth would've tried to "smarm her way out," then later, you say "Beth wouldn't try to talk her way out of being shot. She'd push other people out of the way to get to the exit." This felt inconsistent. Even if Caroline has changed her assessment of Beth, why has she?

Like another anonymous, I had trouble with the transition to backstory. For me that was because the transitional sentence, about the temp agency, could apply to her current job as well as her previous one. I only got up to speed at the end of the flashback, when Tom was shot. That made me stop and reconsider what I'd just read: "Oh, this is backstory. So the photocopier and the Doritos and all that were in the past." Having to readjust my understanding like that really throws me out of the story--also, it made me not trust my sense of where we were when the narrative moved on to Blaine.

Strong writing and intriguing situation.

Anonymous said...

The idea is great and the movement from past to present is fairly slick, but the writing sucks! I can't believe that Miss Snark actually likes it.

roach said...

"some stapled together with tiny staples she didn't see until the copier had jammed and crumpled up the document into an ugly fan, like she imagined a headache to look."

For whatever reason, this bit really stuck with me. But the whole excerpt is really engaging. Good luck with getting your book published.

Virginia Miss said...

Great voice, but I got lost with the John McKinley paragraph and had to go back and re-read it. Could just be that I'm tired...

I like the touches of humor.

Congrats on hooking Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

I liked this a lot. It moved well. But for the life of me, I can't buy that she would be back at work, or that anyone would expect her to be there, "temp" or not.

Lisa Hunter said...

Me too. I want to read more. I thought the interweaving of past an present worked fine.

Zany Mom said...

I like this. Something I'd pick up in the bookstore. Good luck with it! Not confusing at all.

And, anon, the writing sucks? Not in my opinion. I don't get that comment at all.

Anonymous said...

The idea is intriguing. The execution isn't as good. I find the POV character annoying and judgmental, which ends my desire to read more.

Dave said...

The transitions to the past and back to the present are hard but that may be just the way hypertext formats. Be careful not to add unnecessary words.

Your style is so sparse and tight, look at all the words and be sure you want them where they are.

I love the character details. They hit the point and leave everything else.

Let us know when it's a book, please.

McKoala said...

I loved the way that her past was interwoven with the present. However, like some of the others I had when I wasn't sure if you were in present or past. If it helps, this is where it happened to me:

'The temporary agency had told Caroline...' - I thought that we might be stepping back into the past.
John McKinley
Blaine - again I thought we might be going back.

I also didn't really get the bit about Doritos being in the machine - I would have thought that that was pretty rare?! Oh, and you don't mention how her hand is going beyond the first mention of its numbness (why doesn't she tell Beth? Knows she would get no sympathy?). The hand might help to keep us located in the present. Rub her hand, wonder what's happening?

I liked the writing; I thought that it was taut and carefully planned. I felt that you were going to continue to tell me the story of her past in a subtle, satisfying way. I know that some might like you to start with the big shooting match, but this works well for me.

McKoala said...

Oh, tiny nit pick that jumped out at me - you use the word 'fan' twice in this section. Man, that's one tiny nit pick. But it did catch me.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Very cool. I like it a lot. Very fast. Perhaps actual flashbacks could be in italics or something in your novel! Good job.

katiesandwich said...

The flashbacks were a hare confusing, I agree, but it didn't take me long to figure out what was happening. I agree with Roach about the fan-headache thing. That was awesome!

Anne said...

I'm afraid I got lost, too. I wasn't sure what was up with her hand. I agree you've given us a good sense of the characters.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it a lot, and had no trouble following it. And having been in the situation (still am, for that matter) of working with people who don't care about your problems but like to pretend they do, I could really relate to the PoV character.

xiqay said...

Congrats on getting Miss Snark's thumbs up.

I love the opening--saying Caroling had three thoughts, then starting with her third thought and backtracking and then settling on the middle one. This was an important clue to how the narrator's mind is working, how the writing is coming at us readers.

I also thought her assessment of Beth was inconsistent. Is Beth smarmy and likely to talk her way out, or pushing to get to the door?

"Carolyn thought to take ...She'd ask..." Your construction is correct, but I first read this as "She'd asked..." then realized you meant she would ask (or she could ask).

I found the temporary agency paragraph a little jarring. I had trouble following the transition. Same with the "Most of these were here"-Blaine paragraph. (Also, I thought Blaine was a man's name since the only Blaine I've ever met was a guy.)

Thanks for putting this out there. Good luck.

Rhease said...

I didn't get lost. I thought it worked really well and I'd definately read this one. Well done.

soaraway said...

The transitions are confusing and make this a difficult opening to read/follow. This confusion is perhaps due to lack of context. You may need a larger flashback to provide this context, and explain her state of mind and the way she is reacting to things.

heidi said...

Yup, definintely better than mine. You so deserve to hook Miss Snark.

Good luck with this in the real world.

Helen said...

I didn't find the past/present switches confusing at all; I liked the way you'd set things up!

Beth said...

Wow. Love the way the backstory is worked in--and it characterizes as well as informs.

(oh, and Miss Snark is right about the rhythm of the brains sentence.)

~Rebecca Anne~ said...

Congrats on keeping Miss Snarks attention *Twice* !

The only transition that required a second read for me,

..was what he'd managed to get out before Tom had shot him.
Then, he'd switched to screaming.
"Most of these were here when I started," Blaine...

I needed a read back to decipher whether Blaine was past or present.
Otherwise, great job!

writtenwyrdd said...

I liked this, but I also got lost big time. The transitions are too weak for my taste. I never felt, even with rereading, that I was entirely sure whether I was in past or present. Not in each transition, but in several of them.

That said, I truly did enjoy this. I don't know if I could continue if the writing kept confusing me, though.

Obviously, I am in the minority here. But I wanted you to know that not everyone can follow you that easily.

Zappadong said...

"Caroline liked Blaine."

And I like Caroline. Most of all because there is no self-pitty in her voice. When it really gets down to feelings, that's exactly how good writing works.
I would definitely the book.

Zappadong

Nora said...

Wow, this really works. If I picked it up at a bookstore and read just this bit, I would definitely buy it.

The transition was a little awkward, but loved the idea of Dorito people cursing a lot.

Nobody said...

Good luck with this - I'd certainly buy it and hope I will one day.

Leah said...

I kept getting lost in the flashbacks. It was a pain; I was enjoying the writing, but I had to keep stopping to check the time period.

thraesja said...

Well done!

Xopher said...

I got lost occasionally too.

But I liked it.

I think it's part of the point. Have any of you ever lived through a hideous trauma? When events in the present make you flash back to it, it can be very hard to distinguish past from present. I always thought that "memory freeze" that people are always doing in movies was sheer Hollywood bullshit, until it happened to me (starting September 2001, hint).

I think you're supposed to be confused, and I would be disappointed if this passage is any less confusing when I buy the book and read it, which I certainly hope I'll get the opportunity to do.

Twill said...

I love the feel and the concept, and I thought the execution had some great moments. Fan / headache and how characters would react to the shooter work really well. So does the interleaving of past and present, since she's still kind of stuck in it.

However, and this is a big one, I would probably not buy the book if it kept drifting back and forth without proper notice. It is too much work for me as a reader to try and piece what paragraph was past and what was present.

Hopefully that's jsut a polish thing. Great job!

Anonymous said...

fantastic. Total congratulations.