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Thread: My Turn

  1. #1
    Rogue Mutt

    My Turn

    OK, this is the revised beginning to the novel I'm working on. What do you think? Do you want to turn the page or just chuck it in the trash?
    Chapter 1

    My mother never drove on highways. In her entire twenty-five years of life, she left the county only once. She preferred the gravel roads of the county, where three cars in a row was considered a traffic jam and she only had to pay attention enough to not drive off into the ditches on either side of the roadway. Not that my mother couldn’t pay attention—she had graduated high school, which was a first in her family—she just liked the freedom of being able to watch a flight of ducks or stare at trees changing color in the fall instead of following the dull gray path of the road.

    Ever since getting her license at sixteen, and at least three years before that when no one was paying attention, my mother drove her brother-in-law’s battered Ford pickup truck. The vehicle had been red at one time, though little of that paint remained; mostly the truck was mud, rust, and soot smeared into intricate patterns. By the time I was born the Ford already had two hundred thousand miles on it and almost four years later it showed no signs of quitting anytime soon.

    Nevertheless, my mother opted to buy a “new” car solely for her personal use; a new car to her meant one she hadn’t owned before. Given that she had driven only one vehicle in her life, she didn’t know much about other cars, nor did she put the time into finding out. My mother simply went to Cordell Ford’s used car lot and picked out one that still had all its original paint, less than two thousand miles, and a sticker price in her range. She was a blessing and a curse for the salesman in that she didn’t know—or seem to care—about what she bought, but she was unmovable once she made a decision.

    The car that fit into her matrix of parameters was a yellow 1973 Ford Pinto with only five thousand original miles. The salesman assured my mother the previous owner had been a nonsmoker who didn’t drive outside the county anymore than my mother did. He had to practically throw her over his shoulder—or at least attempt to since my mother was a good six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier, all of it muscle from working at the plant—and stuff her into the Pinto to get her to do a test drive. “A car’s a car,” my mother said.

    “But don’t you want to make sure you like it?” the bewildered salesman asked. Customers who came to the used car lot didn’t simply point to a car and buy it on the spot; they wanted the complicated dance of haggling to feel they had outsmarted the salesman. My mother wasn’t being sporting.

    “It’s fine.”

    Flustered, the salesman finally said, “Look, why don’t you take it around the block and by the time you get back I’ll have all the papers drawn up?”

    At this my mother nearly gave the salesman a heart attack by pulling the necessary cash out of her purse. “Can’t we just do it now? I’m in a hurry.”

    “Well, no, there are licenses and things to type up,” the salesman said feebly.

    My mother stuffed the money back into her purse. “All right, I’ll take it around the block once. You best be ready when I get back. My baby’s waiting back home.”

    “Of course, Mrs.—”

    “Miss.” The term ‘miz’ had yet to reach the backcountry of Iowa. “Marlene Devereaux. You want me to spell it for you?”

    The salesman forced a smile onto his face, wishing this hulking farm girl would hurry up and leave so he could get back to more reasonable people who kicked tires, examined undercarriages, and took test drives. Those sorts of people he could understand. Someone as simple, determined, and fearsome as my mother worried him; what would she do if she decided later she didn’t like the car? He had a terrible vision of her driving the Pinto through the plate glass window into his office out of spite. “No, ma’am. That won’t be necessary. Here’s the keys.”

    The test drive did not take long as my mother did not like driving on the town roads anymore than she liked the highway. The smoothness of the pavement and the presence of other cars parked alongside the curbs forced her to concentrate too much. She did like the Pinto’s handling better than the old pickup, though she liked the height of the pickup better. From the truck she could see over everything except other trucks, whereas with the Pinto she was constantly looking up at or trying to look around other vehicles on the road.

    Despite this, she bought the Pinto in cash and then took it over to Forton’s Hardware to get a car seat installed in the backseat for me. In the pickup on the back roads my mother was content to let me ride in her lap or in my Aunt Enid’s lap if my mother could coax her sister away from the television long enough to go out. My mother figured the height and weight of the pickup would protect me from any kind of trouble. With the Pinto, on the dreaded highway to Iowa City, she knew she needed added protection to keep me safe. Not safe enough.

  2. #2
    Joe Zeff

    Re: My Turn

    I like it. It still has some rough edges, of course, but you really get the feel of the character. Well done.

    One, very little nitpick: when you say that your mother only left the country once, I wasn't sure if you meant it in the sense of going to The City, or out of the US. Of course, within a sentence or two it was clear what you meant. Not sure if it need changing though, because the phrasing fits in so well with the rest of it.

  3. #3
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: My Turn

    Thanks, Zeff.

  4. #4
    Matt Austin

    Re: My Turn

    It's really good Rogue

  5. #5
    Karen Campbell

    Re: My Turn

    It's excellent, Rogue. It drew me into the mother's world, with just enough detail to make it breathe. And yes--I would turn the page.

    Two nits--shouldn't it be that the ex-owner didn't travel out of the county "any more" and not "anymore"? And while the salesman stuffing her into the car is a creative way to work in a little background (she works at the plant), the idea of him having to "practically" "attempt" seemed to me as if you were trying too hard to fit it in.

    I already feel like I know your characters. I do love small towns. Very well done.


  6. #6
    Tracy Carpenter

    Re: My Turn

    Yes...I would turn the page.

    "Hulking farm girl"...brilliant.

    "She just liked the freedom of being able to watch a flight of ducks or stare at trees changing color in the fall instead of following the dull gray path of the road."
    I love this image.

    “But don’t you want to make sure you like it?” the bewildered salesman asked. I think that this dialogue could be a little more realistic, since I just bought a car and remember vividly how the salesmen spoke to me. They have a rough job...trying to be friendly and approachable, yet want our money...I know its small, but that stuck out to me. Maybe throw in a corny joke, one only a car salesman would say.

    Great start!

  7. #7
    Paul Harris

    Re: My Turn

    You have some POV shifts that you might want to revisit. POV switches back and forth from the child to the salesman making the child seem to be an accomplished mind-reader.

    Also, if I'm correct the original POV is that of the child (four years old?)but it reads like an adult is relating the events particularly since it is the voice of an educated adult and there is what seems to be first-hand knowledge of events that preceded the child's birth.

    Another thing to beware of is expressing emotion outside of dialogue - the salesman said feebly. Make your dialogue expressive enough and it will stand on its own.

  8. #8
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: My Turn

    but it reads like an adult is relating the events

    Because it is.

  9. #9

    Re: My Turn

    You've got around 800 words here--about three pages. The voice is consistent, the characters are engaging, but there's no tension--until the last three words: "Not safe enough." I don't know your story, but the business about momma buying a car sounds like backstory to me. I'd focus on those last three words, and show us whatever you mean by "not safe enough".

    Thanks for posting. Good luck with it.

  10. #10
    Debra Storky

    Re: My Turn

    I agree. Nice writing. But no tension. Mom buys a car. We don't know whose story this is and what the conflict is and what the narrator is like.

    Just thinking of some of the young adult books I've written, in the first few pages: a boy tries to make himself talk to his crush, but he's too shy; a nerdy boy worries about starting high school the next day; a hormonal boy discovers a naked girl in his bathtub. Your story needs some tension and narrative voice too.

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