Welcome back to First Page Friday! Ms. Shreditor is back today, so let’s get right to it.
Trista the Swamp Princess
By Melanie Jacobson
Jolie fingered the remnant of soft gray corduroy in the moldy pile of fabric and wondered about her odds. Could she yank it out without toppling the massive stack on top of it? With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, she jerked it and ducked, ping ponging her way between a wall of newspapers on one side and precarious piles of nearly everything else on the other.
She cleared the crash behind her by a yard before she tripped over the tail of a stuffed fox and scrambled back up to assess the damage. The fabric tower lay in a tumbled pile looking like the orphaned child of a mudslide and a laundromat, making the narrow walkway between the junk-lined walls impassable. Jolie's heart sank to her orange Chuck Taylors. Aunt Delphine would kill her, most likely death by long, boring lecture.
She glanced over her shoulder to see if the ruckus had summoned Delphine from her recliner in the den. The thud had shaken the house but once her aunt settled in for her Wheel of Fortune fix, little short of Pat Sajak showing up to whisk her away for an illicit weekend in the French Quarter would come between Delphine and her shiny flat panel TV.
“Jolie!” Delphine hollered from the den and then coughed, a nasty rattle that wore on Jolie's nerves.
“Yes?” she called back, hoping she sounded innocent. Of what, she didn't know. A massive breach of hoarding etiquette?
“You ain't getting in my stuff, are you?” Delphine's gravelly voice betrayed her two-pack a day smoking habit.
“No, ma'am.” Technically, she was standing in front of it and making only eye contact with it. That didn't count as “in.”
“Where are you?”
Jolie rolled her eyes at Delphine's suspicious tone. “The library. I'm putting away the morning paper.” A beat went by with no response, and then another beat. Jolie breathed out, relieved, and nudged the fabric muddle with her toe. This would take a few hours to clean up and she'd have to do it when Delphine went shopping, or her aunt would freak out about Jolie touching her stuff. There was nothing Jolie could do about it now. Inside the house, Delphine rarely broke her orbit between the TV and the bathroom. She even slept in her recliner. But if she heard Jolie rustling around Remy's room, she'd stump back with her cane and chew Jolie out for a solid hour. At least.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
Before I begin my critique, I would like to start by announcing that I am doing away with the Eastwood-ian good/bad/ugly format. It is clunky and restrictive. It backs me into a mental corner, and it stacks the deck in favor of the negative. So, for the time being (i.e., until I can devise some other gimmicky format), you all will be privy to my unstructured editorial rambling.
Now, the sample in question:
This story is smart, and it’s not just the writing. It’s the choice of topic. Hoarding is hot right now. We have Hoarders on A&E, Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC, American Pickers on the History Channel, and Extreme Couponing on TLC. (If Extreme Couponing seems out of place on this list, try watching an episode. You’ll see what I mean.) This story taps into an audience that consumes hoarder-related media in droves, so it would look very attractive in a proposal or query letter.
It doesn’t hurt that the writing is also very strong. There are some grammatical hiccups here and there, but this writer, to quote my significant other, “has the funny.” Some turns of phrase, particularly the Pat Sajak bit, made me laugh out loud.
On this first page, we learn a lot about the characters involved without tedious information dumps. We follow Jolie through her aunt’s hoard and learn a lot about both women in the process. I do wonder how this story will treat hoarders. Will Delphine be a one-dimensional eccentric, or will there be further exploration of her current state and how she got there? It doesn’t have to be a DSM-IV-TR exploration of hoarding psychology, but if this story is going to attract the hoarding audience, it needs to do more than write off Delphine as a “crazy hoarder.”
That said, there are countless storyline possibilities for Jolie. I like that the author chose to tell the story from her point of view. There is a memoir entitled Dirty Secret (Jessie Sholl, Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books) that explores hoarding from a loved one’s point of view. The dynamics between hoarders and their loved ones are often complex, so the idea of where this story might go is intriguing.
Watch for my nemesis, the misused participial phrase. Jolie can’t duck and ping-pong through the rubble simultaneously. There needs to be some indication that this is a sequence of actions, and a participle like “ping-ponging” doesn’t quite do the trick. You might try revising like this: With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, she jerked it, ducked, and then ping ponged her way between a wall of newspapers on one side and precarious piles of nearly everything else on the other. It isn’t the best of edits, but at least the sequence of actions is clearer now.
Just as an aside, one thing that jumped out at me was that a lot of the paragraphs started with, Jolie fingered, she glanced, she cleared, Jolie rolled her eyes. It seemed a bit overdone to start so many paragraphs on the first page with Jolie's "actions" and I wonder if you could change that somehow and work the actions in. Just a thought anyway. It was a great entry!
As always, I'd like to thank Ms. Shreditor for her time and efforts, and thank the person who was courageous enough to submit their page for critique. I always look forward to First Page Friday and hope that it is helpful to everyone.
See you next week!