The Coming Storm – Part 2

Powerful Opening Hooks

After reading how important a novel’s first page is, I decided to check out a few. Using Amazon’s “Look inside” and Libby’s, “Download a sample,” I checked out half a dozen opening paragraphs in various genres. Some piqued my interest enough that I’ve borrowed the book.

I’ve never read anything by John Grisham; my impression from reviews is that his books are thrillers, and definitely on the darker side. However, the title, A TIME FOR MERCY, sounded fairly hopeful. His first page starts with a such a compelling hook that I couldn’t quit! He’s layered a number of issues into his first chapter, all with powerful hooks.

The writer starts with a picture of domestic abuse – something I’m familiar with. My birth mom was beaten severely at times by her father; she and my dad led an Andy Capp & Florrie life. My one sister got many beatings from a drunken spouse; when he started choking her, she finally left.

Opening scene:
Almost 2am, Josie’s waiting for her boyfriend to come home. Stuart’s a sloppy, violent drunk so she needs to be awake; she may need to protect her two teens who are upstairs, barricaded in the girl’s room. Brought up rough herself, living in an old camper before Stuart took her in, she knows she and the kids have nowhere to go if they can’t stay here, so she puts up with the escalating violence. But she won’t have him hurting 16-year-old Drew–who’s small for his age – and 14-year-old Kiera.

Finally he staggers in, angry that she’s up. She tries to placate him; he accuses her of cheating, starts slapping her around. She tries to keep things toned down for her kids’ sake but she really has no chance. Stuart’s been a street brawler all his life. Finally he gives her a pile-driver punch that shatters her jaw and knocks her cold.

Then he thinks of the girl upstairs and fancies a sexual encounter. (He’s abused her before–and threatened to kill her if she ever told.) But they’ve barricaded the door well. After several clumsy attempts to force his way into her bedroom, he gives up, goes downstairs, and passes out on the bed. After awhile the teens creep downstairs and find their mom out cold; they’re sure she’s dead. Drew calls 911, says, “Stuart killed our mother.”

Drew checks on him. Passed out now, but if he wakes up they know he’ll beat them for being downstairs. He has no use for Josie’s kids – nothing but white trash – won’t buy them food, treats them like slaves. He’s Somebody in the community; his family’s big here; he owns a house and land, has lots of friends. When sober he’s Mr Nice Guy; everyone likes him. Stuart’s a deputy sheriff, the officer with the friendly wave and cheerful smile who gives talks at schools about the dangers of drugs.

When his violent side shows, his fellow deputies cover for him. He’s been involved in drunken brawls that never get reported. Two other times when Josie called for help because he was beating her, his buddies came and settled him down; no other action was taken; if reports were even filed, they disappeared.

So Drew knows they’ll get no real help from the police. He’s at the end of his rope emotionally. He goes into the bedroom and takes Stuart’s police gun, always kept loaded, from the holster. Terrified that the man will wake up and start abusing them, filled with hate for this murderer, he sees no hope ahead. A few minutes later Stuart moans, shifts on the bed – and Drew shoots him.

Cops arrive; an ambulance comes and takes Josie away; the teens are taken to jail – for their own safety as much as anything. Now Sheriff Ozzie learns about Stuart’s domestic violence. “Why wasn’t I told this,” he asks his men. “Where’s the report on those incidents?” (Later he learns that Stuart’s blood alcohol content when he died was 3.6. Raging drunk.)

The sheriff, a newly-elected black man in this redneck Alabama community, is basically a good guy but knows he had to tread carefully. Drew’s under arrest for murder, but he asks Kiera if she has any family she can go to. Josie and the kids have gone to church a few times though Stuart didn’t like it at all and was rude to Pastor Brother Charles when he came to call. But Kiera asks Ozzie to call Brother Charles. He comes and takes her to his home.

A kind young man, Brother Charles is also fairly new in the community. He doesn’t notice the spiteful looks directed at him by the deputies present. He’s here for the killer’s family and in their minds their buddy was the innocent victim shot by this young punk. Stuart’s family likewise is gathering together, murmuring about revenge. Sheriff Ozzie will have his hands full controlling their reaction. And he’s up for re-election next year, a good time to show himself tough on crime.

Jake, one of the main characters in this drama, being the only reliable defense lawyer around, knows this will be a very unpopular case. He believes that everyone has the right to a fair trial, but the last time he’d defended someone in a high-profile, controversial case like this, he got nasty looks everywhere he went, was harassed by phone calls, even threatened, for up to three years after.

As he attends church that morning he senses the mood among his own Presbyterian church people. A minor or not, he’s killed a cop. And for sure the fundamentalists down the street, Baptists and Pentecostals who favored the death penalty, will be out for blood. This boy has no chance to escape the gas chamber. And if Jake acts as this boy’s defense, he’ll be universally loathed. As word gets around that he’ll be defending the boy, he starts getting threatening phone calls. “If you get that kid off…!” His wife even gets one at her job.

At the jail Drew curls himself into a fetal ball, wrapping the thin blanket around him. In the eyes of friends and family, Stuart has become a hero, a martyr almost. The media, with no official word, is distorting the picture big time: “Officer killed in the line of duty!” Folks are talking of skipping the trial, dealing with this cop-killing thug right now. Meanwhile Brother Charles and his Good Shepherd church rally around Josie and her family.

You can just see the thunder-heads building in the sky! Grisham has put so many issues on the plate, all compelling hooks:
Is there justice and a fair trial for the poor in America?
Will the defense be able to prove the threat Josie and her children were facing?
Will the relatives take justice in their own hands?
How will the family and predominantly white community react to a black sheriff if he allows the truth about Stuart’s violent character?
Will the area’s fundamental churches attack Brother Charles’s group for standing by the killer’s family?
Will the community lynch the defense lawyer?

Atticus Finch, where are you?

Warning:
I’ve no clue how this will end and can’t give it a rating at this point. But if you choose to read this book, don’t start it later in the evening like I did!

The Coming Storm – Part 1

In an earlier post I said my husband and I have been following a writing course given by best-selling author Jerry Jenkins. The last lesson I did covers how important the first sentence and the first paragraph are. No time for rambling here; that opening scene has to grab the reader. Even if the story doesn’t start out with a bang (on someone’s head, in some building or some universe) the reader must get a sense of a fascinating storm just ahead.

I’ve tried to do that in my response to this week’s Six Word Story prompt over at GirlieOnTheEdge’s blog, where the prompt word is BAND. I’m cheating on the prompt, though, since this isn’t a complete story. 🙂

BETTER NEVER LATE

Herb glanced out the window, checked his time again, then snapped the band of his watch in frustration.

“If she isn’t here in three minutes, I’m leaving,” he silently vowed. He had an important meeting with one of his shareholders and he dare not be late.

A moment later he heard a knock and rushed to open the door, snarling, “What…!”

“What am I doing here, you were going to ask,” Jonathan said, shoving his way inside. “Can’t you guess, Herb?”

The Neighborly Man

Recently I started reading a book titled EMBRACING OBSCURITY. The author, Anonymous, writes about how, in today's society, we're apt to feel we must be a SOMEBODY if we want to count at all. I haven't read far, but I gather he's saying we need to abandon dreams of being Big Names and settle for  being ordinary people. As Edgar Guest aspires to in this verse...
The Neighborly Man

Some are eager to be famous, some are striving to be great,
some are toiling to be leaders of their nation or their state,
and in every man’s ambition, if we only understood,
there is much that’s fine and splendid; every hope is mostly good.
So I cling unto the notion that contented I will be
if the men upon life’s pathway find a needed friend in me.

I rather like to putter ‘round the walks and yards of life,
to spray at night the roses that are burned and browned with strife;
to eat a frugal dinner, but always to have a chair
for the unexpected stranger that my simple meal would share.
I don’t care to be a traveler, I would rather be the one
sitting calmly by the roadside helping weary travelers on.

I’d like to be a neighbor in the good old-fashioned way,
finding much to do for others, but not over much to say.
I like to read the papers, but I do not years to see
what the journal of the morning has been moved to say of me;
in the silences and shadows I would live my life and die
and depend for fond remembrance on some grateful passers-by.

I guess I wasn’t fashioned for the brilliant things of earth,
wasn’t gifted much with talent or designed for special worth,
but was just sent here to putter with life’s little odds and ends
and keep a simple corner where the stirring highway bends,
and if folks should chance to linger, warn and weary through the day,
to do some needed service and to cheer them on their way.

From his book,  Collected Verse of Edgar A Guest
© 1934 by The Reilly & Lee Company
Image from Pixabay

Travel By The Book

I subscribe to BookBub so this morning I received my daily list of suggestions for possibilities that might interest me. Frank Zappa once said, “So many books; so little time!” I can definitely identify.

The book suggestions completely crossed the planet, going from Fatal North by Bruce Henderson–about the 1871 Polaris expedition–clear down to Antarctica by Gabrielle Walker. Everything you ever wanted to know about the South Pole explorations. Then we have The Art of the Compliment by Christie Matheson. probably something everyone should read. 🙂 And Peter Singer writes about The Most Good You Can Do.

The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy by David Halberstam would be a book for US political history buffs. The blurb says: “An in-depth examination of the political career, personal life, and untimely demise of Robert Kennedy.” Like most everyone during those years, I heard & read about the Kennedy family tragedies but now it’s “water under the bridge” and not high priority reading for me.

One writer has decided to time-travel, literally, to Victorian England. The Victorian Life by Sarah A Chrisman. Blurb: “Fascinated by the 19th century, one couple decided to fully commit to a Victorian way of life. From tending oil lamps to wrestling with corset laces, this charming and insightful read chronicles a modern exploration of a bygone era.”

Have these folks chosen an upper class lifestyle or do they give glimpses of life for the rest of society in that era? I have a book of written records made by various people back in Victorian England, describing the living conditions they observed among the working class and the destitute. The average George Brown, victim of the Industrial revolution, who had only a cup of tea yesterday, nothing today. Homeless men spending nights in a poor-house. Women doing men’s jobs–cheaper labour costs, you know–working hard in a factory for twelve hours a day, with a nursing baby strapped to their chest and a toddler or two beside them. Or a family in London’s East end in a slum where landlords rented by the day and if you couldn’t pay, your belongings–what few you had–were thrown out in the street so your apartment could be rented to someone who could. Corset laces were the least of their worries.

I’ve noticed that people who claim to be reincarnated weren’t, in their former life, an average Joe, Pedro the galley slave, Lizzy the overworked scullery maid, or Piers the crippled soldier. History is full of unknowns barely surviving, but the folks who claim to remember a past life were usually a famous/notorious SOMEONE. Biblical character, prophet, Rajah, Prince or Princess, doctor or scientist. I don’t know as anyone’s ever claimed a past life as a writer. 🙂

Time travel books work the same. The traveler’s dropped into an intriguing time in history and accepted by the locals. These from-the-future visitors always have the means to keep from fatal accident, starvation, or execution as a heretic or witch, until they head home again. Well, I suppose that’s fiction for you: writers have complete control of their character’s fate.

I believe that now and then we all need an accurate picture of life as it was way back when. Last night I was listening to the audio-book about Nicholas Nickleby and his life at Dotheboys Hall. Kudos to Charles Dickens, an author who gives us a realistic view of life for the lower classes of his day — and through his novels actually managed to change society’s attitude toward the poor. If we only knew it, we still benefit very much from what he accomplished.

BookBub, Book Cave, Reading Deals and various other outlets are ways for writers to advertise and get their books out to readers. There are lots more book deals but I have a very restricted list of interest. Subscribers can tailor their selections to their own interests when they sign up.

Gifties

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is EGGS. So I’ll post this little collection:

Eggs image by Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay.
Quote from the poem “To a Louse” by Robert Burns

For those of you not familiar with “To a Louse,” Bobby Burns was sitting in church one Sunday morning taking note of the fine Jeanie sitting ahead of him. She was dressed to the nines, with fancy gown and lovely Sunday-best hat and putting on airs like quite the elegant lady. But then Bobby noticed a tiny louse crawling along the edge of her hat brim. Wouldn’t she be mortified to know that, for all her pride in dressing to the nines, folks behind her could see she had lice in her hair? If she only knew what others were seeing! And how dare this ugly little beast reveal the flaw! So the poet concludes in his last line, “If we could see ourselves as others see us, it would from many a blunder free us, and foolish notion.”

So do others see me as a good egg, hard-boiled, usually scrambled, or even seriously cracked? Hmm…maybe I’d best not know? What do you think: would it be “a gift” to get a glimpse of ourselves through others’ eyes now and then? Or would we be apt to think, “Well, that’s just their opinion/attitude.”

Capricious Climate

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is SECURITY

The calendar may say Spring starts March 21st, but here in the northern clime we have no security in that. Today is gray, gray, and a frigid blast from the northwest is driving small snowflakes past our window, sometimes lots, sometimes less. My phone tells me it’s -9 C at 11 am. So not spring!

As I looked out this morning I thought of a poem I read in an old IDEALS magazine. Apart from the autumn sky it fits well. This poem, full of personification — at least I think that’s what it’s called — was written by Oliver Herford. (See bio below.) It was included in a poetry book titled An American Anthology, 1787-1899:

BELATED VIOLET

Very dark the autumn sky,
Dark the clouds that hurried by;
Very rough the autumn breeze
Shouting rudely to the trees.
Listening, frightened, pale, and cold,
Through the withered leaves and mould
Peered a violet all in dread—
“Where, oh, where is spring?” she said.
Sighed the trees, “Poor little thing!
She may call in vain for spring.”
And the grasses whispered low,
“We must never let her know.”
“What's this whispering?” roared the breeze;
“Hush! a violet,” sobbed the trees,
“Thinks it 's spring,—poor child, we fear
She will die if she should hear!”
Softly stole the wind away,
Tenderly he murmured, “Stay!”
To a late thrush on the wing,
“Stay with her one day and sing!”
Sang the thrush so sweet and clear
That the sun came out to hear,
And, in answer to her song,
Beamed on Violet all day long;
And the last leaves here and there
Fluttered with a spring-like air.
Then the violet raised her head,—
“Spring has come at last!” she said.
Happy dreams had Violet
All that night—but happier yet,
When the dawn came dark with snow,
Violet never woke to know.

And here’s one I think we can all identify with:

To Music
Here's to Music,
Joy of joys!
One man's music's
Another man's noise.

This bio comes from publicdomainpoetry.com

Oliver Herford, 1863-1935, was a British born American writer, artist and illustrator who has been called “The American Oscar Wilde”. As a frequent contributor to The Mentor, Life, and Ladies’ Home Journal, he sometimes signed his artwork as “O Herford”. In 1906 he wrote and illustrated the “Little Book of Bores”. He also wrote short poems like “The Chimpanzee” and “The Hen”, as well as writing and illustrating “The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten” (1904), “Cynic’s Calendar” (1917) and “Excuse It Please” (1930). His sister Beatrice Herford was also a humorist.