Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Masks opening

After receiving a rejection from the wonderful Nelson Literary Agency, I've decided that it would be a good idea to solicit some opinions about my opening.  Anyone dropping by is of course very welcome to comment.  I'm especially hoping to see some opinions from folks who haven't read further into the novel, although comments from INKers and anyone else who's read Masks would be great as always, because I have no perspective left.  Readers who haven't read anything prior of Masks are particularly valuable to me right now because they're in the same emotional space (or pretty close) as agents and editors who are looking at my partials.  

The contest had us submit the first 500 words, but I think I have less time than that to capture someone's imagination.  I decided to go with the cleanest break near 250 words and ended up with about 280.

Here it is:

Mark stared at the robin egg blue ceiling while lying in Lord Argenwain's bed.  He checked the ancient clock that tocked at the far wall in the golden master bedroom.  Almost three in the afternoon.  He had to be at his history lesson soon.  His tongue felt furry and an unpleasant pressure thickened around his mouth and eyes.  Thirst tightened his throat.  He didn’t want to be here, but he didn’t want to leave either.  Bainswell might be bored, or in a mood, or waiting.

The old man stopped snoring.  His fish-like mouth with its stained, long teeth gaped open.  Mark caressed Argenwain's papery skin, concerned.  Still warm.  He held his hand near the old man’s mouth.  Warm, moist breath.  Relief eased through him and he sat up.  Mark worked his hands through his hair.

If the old man died he’d grieve, but it would be a complicated sort of grief.  He didn’t want to think about that, or anything complicated at the moment.

Mark forced himself out from under the covers and padded across the fur carpet into the cobalt tile bathroom, his feet curling from the chill.  Wheat-colored lengths of hair curtained his face as he bent to wash his face in tepid, jasmine-scented water in a marble sink.  He settled his bare bottom on a mahogany chair, grabbed a comb from the vanity, and combed his hair out with his head bowed.  Tension burned in his belly while resignation bowed his spine.  Maybe it just seemed like he’d had one bad day after another because he was exhausted, but a superstitious part of him wondered if a morbai watched from the spirit world, waiting to satisfy its malice.  

As an aside, I hopped over to LitLotRS and found that my good friend had posted a great poem.  Check it out.


Carissa said...

I've commented on this opening scene maybe longer than anyone so I will abstain.

Except to add that I like the name change to morbai. Looks and sounds more malignant. Good choice!

The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm not sure if I'm really in a position to comment, but I know you'd be disappointed if I didn't...especially since I always invite your criticism of my work.

If I were to offer any critique, it would probably be with regard to rhythm. Yes, I know, I'm speaking as more of a musician than a writer, and it's hard to explain...more of a gut feeling than anything. The rhymic cadence to me feels kind of like a be-bop jazz solo, i.e. lots of notes (syllables?) going on and on and on without much articulation. Of course, I'm only seeing a tiny excerpt, so I have no idea how it progresses from there, but if it continues in the same vein (vane? veighn?) I could see how it could be tedious to some people.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed other works of yours, so I know what you're capable of. I can also sense that I would enjoy the rest of this story. I'm only talking about that initial impact in the most superficial sense, but that can have the most repercussions as far as holding reader interest.

(Do I need to put the helmet on?)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Oh, and after having written that, I'll add a rather sheepish:

"Thanks for the compliment and the plug!"

Kami said...

You don't need no stinkin' helmet!

Actually, the rhythm comment helps. I suspect that part of the problem is that I have played with this opening quite a bit and it's becoming patchworky and losing a lot of smoothness as parts get yanked and other parts get put in. Also, I went too far with the description of a place that isn't that important. We go back to the bedroom, but not in a bedroom-important fashion.

What I may need to do is to blue-screen write this opening and see what happens. There's a great writing technique where you write something you've already written, but from memory. Then you look at what stays, and what got left out (probably nothing important) and what new little tidbits show up from your subconscious. Writing it from scratch will also help with the rhythm issue. I'll be hearing it as I go along instead of editing. Editing is necessary but problematic because editing too much has the same issues that overpainting does--it turns all your colors to mud.

Kami said...

Oh, and thanks Ris for the thumbs-up to morbai. I was worried it might be too heavy-handed.