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Strangedays410
June 22nd, 2013, 06:42 AM
Another member asked that I post the beginning of my novel, to help put into perspective the other excerpt I posted. Sorry for the length, but the book actually tells three storylines (from three points in the main character's life). It takes a bit to get all three going. I think of this as the naive portion of the book--the main character is still fresh and stupid. That doesn't last long. Anyway, all comments are welcomed.





Suddenly it was real. I already knew I’d miss the warm winters...that endless sunshine that taunts you inside. I tried to think ahead to what else. I didn't want any of it to go the way of those yellow memories from childhood—that feel so good now, you wish you’d known to take a bigger piece. It's hard to know what will make a good one—what moments to study the most…and which, on the other hand, are likely to bloom into terrors as they ripen. I wished that I could hold them all like a scarf full of seeds in my lap, and see which to toss overboard with the others. I was not the first ghost that town had spat back up onto the floor of LAX.

My electric hung behind me, and my acoustic sat with me in the chair, balanced on my right foot. A woman smiled on me—that awkward, half-choked type you give to people in wheelchairs to let them know they have your support. I knew her type—young, married...rich—probably a soccer mom. A year ago, she may have stood for three hours in the front row, smiling like I was her solution. Ten years ago, I may have pretended to be. I didn’t smile back. She didn’t know me, and I was certainly not her friend. I’m not a cripple—I’m a guitar player.






Chapter I




I guess it was during the year after college that I decided to goof off for a living. Of course, I didn’t just come right out and say that—what grown man would? And I certainly didn’t present the notion to my friends and family as a motive for suddenly quitting my slick, new job, breaking up with my perfect girlfriend, and then driving 3000 miles from the nearest person who cared in the least whether I had food or whiskey for dinner.

I’d started as a writer at an investment firm—and not just any old investment firm. Mine was one of the two largest in the country. The prestige alone was worth twice the salary—itself, not too bad…for Philly. My family couldn't have been prouder. My girlfriend, Tina, was tickled. I had a steady check, with benefits and everything else a grown man is supposed to have. Sure, I was back living with my parents—I had been since graduation—but that was nothing a few paychecks wouldn’t fix.

I’d spent the first two on work clothes—suits, shoes, and crisp shirts that don’t wrinkle when you sit on them for 10 hours. I was certainly starting to look the part. A few months later, my old rattler, which had delivered me faithfully through school, went out of style—as did living with the folks. Some Saturday, I moved into a new apartment and, that Sunday morning, bought a brand-new car to match—a hot little import with all the options. I was on my way…and no one could tell me a thing. Tina thought of something though. She told me she wanted to get married.

I loved Tina. We knew each other real well. She was a part of me I couldn’t imagine amputating. I’d met her in math class our first semester. Her friend, Stacy, had a real big mouth. My buddy and I would sit a few seats away, heckling Stacy before class. Tina wouldn’t say much—mostly just sit there and giggle. I never paid her much mind.

A semester later, in the cafeteria line, we had our first proper conversation. I liked her right away—bright, blue eyes, an easy smile—nothing-but-calm and pleasant. There was something else though…something very different about her. At first, I didn’t know what to call it.

For the next two months, we hung out every day. She was a quiet, little thing—not shy, really…just gentle, with a voice like piano music in another room. She’d say things that were funny only because of the pretty way she said them, and then grin as though she knew that were why.

She was beautiful—doe-like, with long legs and a slim torso and neck. Her arms, slender, with tiny wrists and delicate hands that moved elegantly when she spoke. She’d been a dancer all her life—ballet, jazz, modern—and moved gracefully no matter what. I guess what pulled me in was a purity—a child-like clarity—that made me trust her completely. It took me seven years to leave her.








Chapter ii



Mom sat in a seat next to me—a real seat—rummaging her carry-on. We’d made it—30 minutes to spare. In a moment, she produced a nutrition shake and stuck it in my hand. Having no gall to argue, I opened it and took a tiny sip…then dazed out the window, watching planes do what they do. I started to wonder what stories the people inside might have to tell, and it occurred to me that someone watching me watch them may have been trying to piece together my story. Had I wept into this life attached to a chair…or met some spectacular misfortune along the way? I hoped they had better things to worry about.

It’s always strange to look back on some life-altering moment, and then consider the exact sequence of events that had to all file in neatly before it. What if I hadn’t gotten off work early that day, 12 years ago, back in Philly? Or what if I’d gone straight home, and spent that night drinking Tina and watching movies with tea? Even having missed one green light that afternoon—my babies would have never been born. Vertigo is the best one can hope, from imagining such things.

See, one Wednesday, the computers had gone down. After my team sat around for an hour looking at each other, the boss had decided to let us go. I was grateful; I’d not been feeling well that day. That morning, without one good reason, I’d stashed a guitar in my trunk. I hadn’t played a gig in months.

The sun took me when I stepped into the parking lot. I leaned against my fender catching a smoke, watching my co-workers file out of the lot and span out on different trips at the light. After a long time, I got in…fully intending to go home.

Twenty minutes later though, I was in the city. On Chestnut, I squeezed into the first spot I could find, then got out and grabbed that instrument. The instant I slammed the trunk, a woman shouted. “Hey!” I spun around, to see only folks about their habits. “Hey! You…with the guitar…up here!”

Stepping away from the building, I looked up to see a pretty red-head leaning from an old window. “Me?”

“Yeah, YOU! You any good with that thing?”

“Uh…” I should hope so. “…yeah.”

“Well come on up…tell them Max sent you.”

As I stepped off the elevator, the thing bled through from the end of the hall. I made my way toward it, browsing heavy records and pictures of rockstars and rappers along the walls. I should have been nervous…or excited—something. At the end of the hall, a door buzzed. I pushed it open and stepped inside.




Chapter iii



I learned to read before kindergarten. Apparently, I’d wanted to. My father was an English professor at Virginia State and, in his spare time, an author of sorts. My mother was finishing a human studies degree 500 miles north at Penn State. I’d done it before—she'd go away for what seemed like a childhood, and then come back and everything would be normal again.

I still remember how good it felt when they were both home. The sunshine seemed somehow thicker and sweeter—yellower. It saturated everything; you could smell it. The trees were greener, and somehow more real—like when you meet your friend’s mother, and she looks more like him than he does.

It was a man’s world when Mom was gone. Some nights, Dad and I would stay up late, eating animal crackers and watching The Muppet Show. Others, we'd hang out with his friends. Things were a lot different back then.

These were the coolest cats to ever pull up on two legs—in tall, plaid pants, and jagged collars. They’d jive on for hours, smoking and telling loud stories—insulting each other just for fun. As a five-year-old, up way past his bedtime, I studied every word…every gesture. I wanted to be funny too. I wanted to be cool. I knew to laugh when everyone else did. They thought that was pretty funny, I guess.

Dad was the coolest of them all. It always seemed like he was somehow running the show—like he knew things they didn’t. He always seemed to say the right thing at just the right time.

His friends all wanted his ‘bad ol’ car’—a brand-new, 1976 Corvette Stingray, cream-colored, with t-tops. I knew this because, on some other night, up way past my bedtime, I’d helped him pick it out. Life felt good back then. Maybe it was because I didn’t know yet.

One summer break, Mom came home, and it all felt different. A few nights later, I lay watching the stars shine through my bedroom ceiling. Mom and Dad were in the other room, having trouble agreeing. I knew they’d get it together soon, and everything would be okay. I tried to stay awake for the good part—where they’d come get me, and Mom would make popcorn and we’d all sit on the couch laughing at the TV.

Later, she lifted me gently from sleep. I settled into her shoulder and, drifting, asked where we were going. She said we were leaving for a while.


We moved to the countryside of Pennsylvania, into an apartment complex surrounded by corn and fields with creeks winding through. Mom had carefully explained that she and Dad needed some time apart. I still didn’t know what that meant though. So I’d ask her to explain it again—just so I could explain to her again that they’d already had some time apart, and that now it was time for Dad to come home.

It felt like my brain was tearing any time I thought about it. He was gone, yet we were the ones who’d left. I didn’t know who to be mad at—and Mom acted like she didn’t know if he was ever coming back, which made me furious. He was my best friend. We’d been everywhere together. He loved me—that’s why he’d been teaching me what to do, and how to act. That was real...and it meant everything to him. Mom just didn’t know that.




Chapter iv



The room was a rectangle, dark-yet-loud orange carpeting creeping up the walls—70’s, yet brand new. On the wall to my right, a large window leered into a wide room set up for a big band. Through it, along the back wall, stood three glass isolation booths. In one, a young singer berated a microphone which, out here, cried from speakers hidden around the room, over a bass-heavy pop-rock rhythm. Facing the window, a dreadlocked engineer sat behind a ridiculous mixing board, surrounded on three sides by towers of equipment. Behind him, in front of me, a horseshoe-shaped sitting area fell 3 feet into the floor…on one end, a ramp leading down inside. Seated-in hot-tub-style, folks passed bottles and joints…apparently having a morbid fashion show of some kind.

Against the back wall, two black, leather sofas crashed, each with a body on it. Save for these two, everyone in the room—maybe 20—bobbed heads to the tumbling groove.

In a moment, Max emerged from the back wall, in a gray business suit—a young Julianne-Moore-thing happening—clearly dis-enjoying a phone conversation. I could only see her lips moving. As she passed the pit, an arm popped up to pawn off a joint. Mid-sentence, she took a long pull and continued, smoke pulsing from thin lips. Behind the engineer, she cradled the phone to snap fingers behind his head. Instantly, the room went silent. “It really doesn’t matter, at this point,” she continued. “We’ve got three days—let’s get it done.” She tossed the phone onto a chair, and took another big pull.

“Dem not gwan sind anyone?” the engineer asked, staring into his computer screen.

Max exhaled and dazed, expressionless… “It’s nobody’s problem. Two-billion-dollar company, and we’re snatching players off the street.” …and then passed it to the engineer, and started calmly toward her office.

“So whot we gwan do, bas?”

“I don’t know.” Pitching a thumb over her shoulder... “Check this guy out, would ya?”

“Yes, bas.” Richie spun his chair to face me, hands folded behind his head, and froze me down the bridge of his nose. The whole room turned to look.

“Uh…I’m Miles,” I managed.

His smile blazed… “Well that’s nice…Miles.” …and went out. “So whatcha gwan do with dat ’ting beside we-ust me time?”

“Right!” I blurted, laying my case on the floor. I brought out the instrument, and then stood up and slung the strap over my shoulder. A man appeared two feet beside me, holding the end of a cable. Startled, I took it and fidgeted it in. Murmurs and snickers rose from that pit. Ritchie rolled his eyes and pressed buttons on the board.

I don’t know what I played—I really don’t…but when the song ended, the room broke loose. Ritchie jumped up and hurried over, grinning violently. “Fucking brilli-ant!” he boomed, shaking my hand. “Mi breddah, how’d ya like to me-ick some cosh?”

“Sure,” I shrugged, like it was just another day.

“Jimmy!” he shouted. Like vapor, the man with the cables appeared next to me. “Get dis man seh’up in boot two.”

I followed Jimmy inside, where he began yanking cables from the walls and shuffling things aside. “Nice playing, man,” he called over his shoulder.

“Thanks—but what’s the panic?”

“Well, you may have just saved our asses.”

I edged onto a stool in the corner. “Oh yeah?”

Jimmy shook his head. “Guitar player kept showing up ripped…could hardly stand up—was all over the place on the tracks. So he comes in this morning and wants to punch in and fix everything…but it’s all fucked up. Richie tells him he has to redo the takes, and the cat just flipped—cussed everyone out, and quit. So Max was trying to get a sub, but…well, you know how that goes.”

I had no idea how that went, but nodded anyway.

Soon, Richie’s voice came through the headphones. “Okee, Miles. Gwan plea de track. Jus’ leeson. Tee-ik ya time, and let me know when ya ready far a tee-ik.” I listened—three times—then said I was.

Later, Richie explained that they had nine more songs needing guitars, and that he’d pay me $150 per song—if I was interested.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, I made my way to the phone across the street, and called Tina. She was happy with anything that made me happy--even more so. I loved that about her.


At 5:50 the next morning, Max called me into her office. Scribbling in her checkbook… “You’re pretty handy to have around.”

“Glad I could help,” I replied, still trying to guess her age. 28? Thirty, maybe—yet somehow twice that. I produced my card—the first one I’d actually handed out. “Call me if you ever need more tracks.”

Matter-of-factly... “If you were in L.A., I’d hire you on the spot." She stashed it in her top drawer with no trace of emotion.

“What’s in L.A.?”

“The studio." Max glanced at her walls. "This is just an…afterthought.”

Reading the check she’d handed me… “Well, I guess I’m moving to L.A. then.”

“Call me, if you do,” she said plainly, extending her card. I was sure she'd not yet smiled.

Outside, the sun rose on a clean frost covering my car like velvet. I climbed inside, and drove straight back to the office.


I deposited the check straight after work. By night, Tina itched for details. I tried to match her excitement in my telling of them, but it was little use. Nothing made sense. The concept of waking up the next morning to go sit behind my computer seemed akin to stepping over a lawn mower to tweeze blades with my fingers.

By lunchtime though, I’d gotten an awful lot of work done. I went out to eat with some coworkers, and had a great time talking trash. Everything seemed to be falling back into focus. As I hung my jacket on my hook, the phone rang. I hated answering it.
“Miles Thomas, Individual Retirement Plans. How may I help you?”

“Hi Miles, it’s Maxine…from the studio.”

“Hey Max!” I blurted, in an oddly high voice. “How are you?”

“I’m doing ok. Hope you don’t mind that I called you at work”

Folcro
June 26th, 2013, 07:52 PM
You need some help, so I'm going to be a little rough with you.

Firstly--- this chapter structure? It works. Readers eat these tiny segments like potato chips. Make them addicting, the reader's hooked and you win.

But you're not there yet.

That little monologue before the first chapter starts--- some prologue or something--- it has to go. If there is some deep significance I'm not seeing yet, then put it somewhere else in the book.

What I would do is take the first paragraph of your opening chapter and make that my prologue. (It doesn't seem to fit the course of the chapter, causing confusion). Include, in the first chapter, something deep that will make me feel sorry for this guy. Since you like to jump out of order in this guy's life, what's to stop you from starting at the point where he is at his absolute lowest? Make us yearn for a solution, then go back to the good days in the next chapter. Throughout, there will be that underlying darkness of fear as we churn in our minds the impending struggle.

VERY IMPORTANT--- I understand this story is about various phases of this guy's life. But if each chapter is a jump to a different time, you have to start with that. Start with where I am, not a clever anecdote or some philosophical conundrum. CURB YOUR WIT AND PUT ME IN MY PLACE.

I don't know if this Tina is going to play an integral role in the story. If she's not, why should I be bothered with knowing the name of her friend?

MOST IMPORTANT--- Guitars. They appeal to a tight audience. That is, a tight audience will buy books about them. And when they do, it will mostly be how-to books, guitar manuals and magazines. MAYBE an autobiography on their favorite artist. I'm a diehard NFL fan--- I had no interest in Blind Side or Saturday Night Lights or Remember the Titans. Now, everybody OUTSIDE the guitar realm will look at your title and say "I'm not that into guitars." And where does that leave you? Is it fair? No. But I strongly suggest you change the title.

And once more, ease up on the dialogue. Nobody likes reading plays--- no, not even your English teacher who swore she read Shakespeare every night. BUILD the scene, SHOW me what the characters are doing as they speak. PAINT the setting more and more as the conversation continues. Make birds fly overhead to symbolize your character's need to escape--- do SOMETHING.

Now, the weakness I find most writers have, especially on this forum, is overwriting: particularly with adjectives. You do not possess this weakness. You give us a man with a very crisp, very discernible and relatable voice. Very well done in that regard. Use it. Breath more life into this guy. He's not writing an essay on someone else's life. He's telling his own.

Few quick notes to end on:

Chapter One: The more you talk about Tine, the less I care about her. You may have been aiming for this, as he broke up with her for a reason. But at the time he cared. So make ME care.

Watch out for the word "Then." You don't do it often, but you need to know that I know that what happens at the end of a sentence is happening after what happens in the first part of the sentence. Therefor, sentences like "I opened it and took a tiny sip…then dazed out the window..." do not require the "then." You are not writing an instruction manual.

Description in a story is like packing your bags--- take ONLY what you need for the journey. If Tina is not important, leave her in the drawer. Otherwise, blow a little life into her nostrils. (I know I keep picking on her... so who knows, maybe you have something after all. But still, she needs more.)

Strangedays410
June 26th, 2013, 09:12 PM
Folcro, I'm going to examine every element you've just raised before nightfall. A couple months ago, I did some work at improving the opening, and was actually urged to do so by an agent who'd been willing to read a rather long sample, and then take the time to comment. Her critiques were targeted largely at the opening. What you've read is the second incarnation of it. My general issue is that I feel I've taken too much time setting the story lines up--in various ways--before grabbing the reader.

Beyond, I agree with some of what you mention--and am intrigued by your thoughts regarding the title; you may be onto something there. As they sit, I'm not happy with the first ten pages in general; they belie the qualities of the rest of the piece...possibly in ways that coincide with the issues you've raised. I'm glad that you've taken the time to provide insight. I'm going to read the pages again, consider all of what you've said, and comment later. Thanks again, sir!

Bradley
July 2nd, 2013, 12:34 AM
where is this going? It's pretty cool that it is set in Philly. It seemed a little juvenile at times, like we were being told things that didn't really matter. It moved real quick, too. I guess it was supposed to. Maybe spend a bit more time shining the important parts. Going on and on, all flowery, is a joke. That's not what I'm saying. But don't totally abandon style. Like an above poster stated, you aren't writing a manual.

When I asked where is this going, I guess I meant is it genre-writing? It almost seems like science-fiction or something. Like something really messed up was going to happen, or had happened. "American Guitar Player" is a great title for the right type of novel. It sounds apocalyptic.

Strangedays410
July 2nd, 2013, 08:50 AM
Thanks for the replies, gentleman. Folcro, sorry for the late reply; I got sidetracked over the weekend. Just some further info as to what I'm doing here, as this excerpt may not be long enough to show the pattern of narration. Again, thanks for taking the time to help me work through this.


You need some help, so I'm going to be a little rough with you.

Firstly--- this chapter structure? It works. Readers eat these tiny segments like potato chips. Make them addicting, the reader's hooked and you win.

But you're not there yet.

That little monologue before the first chapter starts--- some prologue or something--- it has to go. If there is some deep significance I'm not seeing yet, then put it somewhere else in the book. The purpose of the prologue was to do what you described in your next paragraph: to start at a rather telling point near the end, briefly describe his predicament and mindset, and make the reader wonder, for a good deal of the book, how he got there (crippled, being rolled out of L.A. by his mommy, fixated on memories). I've considered some other ways to do that though, and will think more about the value that prologue. Glad to know that it didn't grab you though; that's important.

What I would do is take the first paragraph of your opening chapter and make that my prologue. This is actually a fantastic idea. I'd been considering just opening with that whole chapter (ii), but your suggestion of isolating that first paragraph solves a few qualms I had with that idea. I think you're on to something. (It doesn't seem to fit the course of the chapter, causing confusion). Include, in the first chapter, something deep that will make me feel sorry for this guy. Since you like to jump out of order in this guy's life, what's to stop you from starting at the point where he is at his absolute lowest? Make us yearn for a solution, then go back to the good days in the next chapter. Throughout, there will be that underlying darkness of fear as we churn in our minds the impending struggle. That's what I was aiming for. I intend to make that happen more effectively.

VERY IMPORTANT--- I understand this story is about various phases of this guy's life. But if each chapter is a jump to a different time, you have to start with that. In the book, there are three story lines. These first chapters establish the starting point for each. The narrative starts to feel a lot less like jumping around beyond this point; each story line proceeds in a linear fashion, timewise--and hopefully in satisfying proportions to the other two. The airport scenes are actually the "current" time--the point from which the narrator is telling the other two stories. Start with where I am, not a clever anecdote or some philosophical conundrum. CURB YOUR WIT AND PUT ME IN MY PLACE.

I don't know if this Tina is going to play an integral role in the story. If she's not, why should I be bothered with knowing the name of her friend. Good point. Tina has no physical presence in the story. The main character's memory of her, and the innocent simplicity of their relationship, has meaning when juxtaposed to the relationship(s) in which he winds up later. I walked a fine line in deciding what to include about Tina. I'd initially written a couple pages on her, and then selected what I thought was appropriate for her role/significance. I may well have misjudged that though; it's hard to decide.

MOST IMPORTANT--- Guitars. They appeal to a tight audience. That is, a tight audience will buy books about them. And when they do, it will mostly be how-to books, guitar manuals and magazines. MAYBE an autobiography on their favorite artist. I'm a diehard NFL fan--- I had no interest in Blind Side or Saturday Night Lights or Remember the Titans. Now, everybody OUTSIDE the guitar realm will look at your title and say "I'm not that into guitars." And where does that leave you? Is it fair? No. But I strongly suggest you change the title. This is definitely worth considering. The book is hardly about guitar playing; musicianship is merely the vehicle by which the main character arrives at the conflicts he does, and an antagonism against the person he is forced to become. If guitars turn people off, I'd be willing to change the title though.

And once more, ease up on the dialogue. Nobody likes reading plays--- no, not even your English teacher who swore she read Shakespeare every night. BUILD the scene, SHOW me what the characters are doing as they speak. PAINT the setting more and more as the conversation continues. Make birds fly overhead to symbolize your character's need to escape--- do SOMETHING. Duly noted. I've been thinking a lot about your feeling on that. As it is, I only focus on description when I think it makes sense to, and where there is room to. I very well may need to more often though. I'll consider that during my next edit of the book.

Now, the weakness I find most writers have, especially on this forum, is overwriting: particularly with adjectives. You do not possess this weakness. You give us a man with a very crisp, very discernible and relatable voice. Very well done in that regard. Use it. Breath more life into this guy. Agreed, particularly in the opening. Hopefully following some of your other suggestions will help with that. He's not writing an essay on someone else's life. He's telling his own.

Few quick notes to end on:

Chapter One: The more you talk about Tine, the less I care about her. You may have been aiming for this, as he broke up with her for a reason. But at the time he cared. So make ME care. I'm still equivocal as to how much the reader needs to care about her--maybe more; I'm not sure. I think it's most important that the reader know that she was safe and pleasant, and that their relationship, albeit boring, was good. By the end of her role (scarce, yet later standing in stark contrast to other predicaments), the reader should also know that the main character failed to appreciate her at the time. Her rendering was very deliberate, though I do wonder if I could have handled it more effectively. I'm glad you brought her to my attention. Thanks again, Folcro, for taking the time to provide all this insight. I'll update with a new edit soon; hopefully you'll let me know if it addresses these concerns.

Strangedays410
July 2nd, 2013, 09:30 AM
Hey, Bradley. Good to meet you, sir...and thanks for reading and commenting on this. Some thoughts:


where is this going? It's pretty cool that it is set in Philly. It seemed a little juvenile at times, like we were being told things that didn't really matter. I'm glad you said this--at least, I think I am. The main narrative (of the three I've described above) covers a 12 year period. During this period, the main character evolves from, essentially, a boy to a man, to a ghost, and back to a man again. His voice, as well as the narrator's, was written to reflect these changes (see my other excerpt for comparison to a later point, to see what I mean). If you mean "juvenile" just in the sense of discussing things that don't matter, that's different. These opening chapters should only contain information that matters--that is their only purpose...possibly at the expense of being continuous with the voice of the rest of the story, and maybe to the degree of being awkward. They're utility chapters, setting up a structure that I found a bit tricky to get rolling. I'm hoping to hone and strengthen them. It moved real quick, too. I guess it was supposed to. Maybe spend a bit more time shining the important parts. Going on and on, all flowery, is a joke. You may be right...but I sure hope not. That's not what I'm saying. But don't totally abandon style. Like an above poster stated, you aren't writing a manual.

When I asked where is this going, I guess I meant is it genre-writing? It's a literary novel, hopefully having some virtues of more commercial works. It almost seems like science-fiction or something. Like something really messed up was going to happen, or had happenen. This is definitely the case. I wouldn't call it science fiction though, but some bits may seem to behave paranormally. "American Guitar Player" is a great title for the right type of novel. It sounds apocalyptic. It's interesting that you say that; that hadn't occurred to me. The main character spends a span of time in a wasteland of sorts, albeit figurative, and in "paradise." It's all very real-world though. Anyway, good observations.

David Gordon Burke
September 30th, 2013, 04:53 PM
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."
One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to realize the limits of his talent and when a story idea is a good one or when it should be dumped.

I've messed around with music all my life - it seems natural I would want to write about it.
Not going to touch it with a ten foot pole.

David Gordon Burke