Friday, December 21, 2012

First Page Friday

In my last minute Christmas shopping, I was at a women's department store and saw a very hairy man wearing a Kermit the Frog knitted hat and a low cut spaghetti strap dress, shimmying his way down the aisle.  The funniest thing was no one seemed to think much of it and went about their shopping.  I really want to put that sort of a character in one of my stories one day.  Maybe that was something on his bucket list, since the world's going to end today and all  Of course, if it is the last day of the world, I think it's important that we get another installment of First Page Friday, don't you?

(If the world doesn't end, then we'll see you next week!  As always, thank you to our authors and our amazing editors.)

The Entry
Effin' Albert
by Karen Edwards

The first time Albert had a episode—the first I know of, anyway—he was about three-and-a-half years old. I must’ve been eight. It was spring, I remember, because we was out back after one of them April showers.
Before it happened, we was squatting on the grass watching a worm poke his head out of a hole, grabbing blades of grass and pulling ‘em back in. I never saw nothing like that before in my life. I didn’t even know worms had heads, let alone mouths. I guess they got both.
So me and Albert’s watching this crazy worm and Albert says, “Mikie, feed it.”
“Huh?” I say.
“Feed it some grass,” Albert says.
So I pull up a blade of grass and dangle one end right over that hole, kind of like I’m fishing. We’re squatting there, me holding that blade of grass and Albert just watching, real quiet-like. I didn’t think nothing of it then, but now I think it’s weird he was so quiet, watching a worm like that.
I’m holding a piece of grass real close to the hole, trying to hold it real steady, and I glance over at Albert because he’s so quiet and I see he ain’t squatting no more. He’s kind of kneeling and swaying a little bit and his eyes’re wide open but he don’t see what I see, I can tell that right off. It’s like he’s watching something far away.
I say, “Albert. Hey. You all right?”
Nothing. He’s just staring and swaying on his knees.
So I grab hold of his shoulders—they was bare because he wasn’t wearing a shirt—and I pull him close and say, “Albert, hey. Wake up.”
He don’t though, and that scares me so I start jerking his body back and forth, you know how people do that when they’re holding somebody’s shoulders like that? I jerk his body and I’m saying, “Albert, wake up you hear me? Wake up right now you effin weenie, c’mon.” Then I see the life come back in his eyes. Just that fast it’s like the kid comes out of a trance or something. He looks right at me and he says, “Timmy V.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Before I address the text itself, I should mention that this sample is longer than one page. It’s important to follow submissions guidelines to the letter, not because the three extra lines of text will take long to read, but because editors want authors who can follow instructions. Before you submit a manuscript or partial manuscript to an editor or agent, make sure that you haven’t broken any of the submissions guidelines. Submitting is hard work, and you don’t want to lose out on a technicality.

Writing an entire story in dialect is challenging. You have to present both exposition and dialogue in the narrator’s voice without confusing the reader. I’ve seen some lively debates about novels written in dialect; some are adamantly against it because it’s distracting, while others enjoy narratives that remain true to the character’s voice. I’m of split mind on the issue. I think that it works generally well in this story, but I found “a episode” in the first sentence to be jarring. As I continued reading, I quickly understood that this was dialect, but it still reads as an error to me even now. Perhaps rework the first sentence to eliminate this reference so that the reader’s first reaction isn’t, “There’s an error on the first line.”

What I hope doesn’t get lost in the dialect is the fact that the writing is really good. It flows well, and it works in vivid details in a way that feels organic. Overall, this piece has a childlike feel—from the narrator’s surprised reaction to the worm’s head to the “effin’ weenie” insult. If the intended audience is the middle grades (perhaps ages 9 to 12), I think this book has hit its mark.

There’s also a fair measure of suspense here. The reader is left wondering what is causing Albert’s episodes and who “Timmy V.” might be. These unanswered questions will motivate the tentative reader to continue beyond the first page.

Overall, I think that the voice in this piece is distinctive—not just because of the dialect, but because of how observant Mikie seems to be. He notices minute details, and a narrator with an eye for the little things is bound to weave a vivid story. He stands out in a lineup of other narrators in young adult or children’s fiction. 


Jordan McCollum said...

Like Ms. Shreditor, I'm torn about using dialect in narration, but I do think it works here. For me, the dialect made me think this also took place several decades ago (1930s-1950s), so the "effin" felt very out of place to me.

I could also see this working for an adult audience (perhaps along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird), or YA audience, depending on the age of the character in the main time of the story, though some readers might have a hard time starting with a child character.

I definitely want to read on. Great job with the suspense!

Debra Allen Erfert said...

I've had to read a few short stories in heavy dialect in college. They weren't my favorite. I had to go back and re-read too many passages in order to understand them, but then if the authors hadn't written in the dialect, the stories would've lost so much flavor they would've been bland. I think the dialect adds to this story too.

Janice Sperry said...

My children are in the middle grades and I don't think they would pick up a book entitled Effin Albert. They are sensitive about swearing and while this isn't exactly a swear word, it hints at it.

I enjoyed the voice on this sample. I too wanted to read on and find out who or what Timmy V is.

Stone Girl said...

Thank you for your comments, folks, and thank you very kindly, Julie, for posting my loooooooong first page. My sincere apologies for that.

This story is actually being written for a mature audience. I'd like to compare it to "To Kill a Mockingbird" but I don't dare, on the grounds that, frankly, it just ain't that good.

But it's shaping up to be a decent novel. Suspense. I'm very happy that those of you who have so graciously commented say you would like to read on. I know the dialect is strong. That's probably not the word. I don't know what the word would be. It's a factor, that's for sure and I have to be certain it sounds authentic. I shall be looking at that first little thing that tripped up Julie. It won't be the last. The novel's first draft now, not edited yet, so. . .

Anyhoo, thank you again. Happy holidays, too. I'll check back just in case anybody else wants to slip in a comment or two. Oh, btw, "Timmy V." is Timothy McVeigh.

Karen E.

Stone Girl said...

Oh, I just noticed I said Julie was tripped up. My apologies to you, Ms. Shreditor! Thank you for your thoughtful comments. This is a great treat for me, I appreciate having this opportunity.

I'll shut up now.

Karen E.