James Curtis & McKenzie Morton on River Run
CHAPTER 1: ON THE ROAD
What a relief to escape from my life and take refuge in your book, a traveler arriving in an exciting new city, checking things out, meeting new people. No gorgons lurking in the shadows. Just doing the job that I love. Like the building inspector, making sure everything’s up to code. Or something like that.
I see you’ve done your homework regarding our unnamed protagonist’s medical issue. Understand your desire to keep the story accessible. Thus the use of a familiar trope that contains its own built-in dramatic engine and attendant questions: Who is he? Will he find out? What will he learn? But again, the second person is troubling, if only because I wholly agree with your desire not to put obstacles in our poor mal-educated reader’s path. Nice to see the narrative voice settling in to the familiar and comfy third person and past tense. I’m sure you have your reasons for all this, and that at some point it’ll all make sense. Right now, not a whole lot does. You go on from year to year, and suddenly—boom—all your assumptions turn out to be mirages. You look around and don’t recognize things that should be familiar. It’s like those disturbing dreams where you’re supposed to be in, say, the town you grew up, but it doesn't quite look the same—and everyone is a stranger. Your book reminds me of that. How for a moment you have the ability to see just beneath the surface of life, and what’s striking is how different things are from what you thought: more complicated, more uncertain, more mysterious.
Pay no attention to these ravings. I’m afraid I might be on the verge of becoming a basket case.
Katheryn, herewith my comments.
Terrific opening. Everything set up on the first page. The reader baited and hooked. I’m totally on board with keeping the surface clean, making it easy for the reader. Plot and character right up front.
But I wonder about the second-person narration. Also, although not as much, about the present tense. It’s a barrier right out of the gate for a lot of readers. Also hard to sustain. My guess is you’ll switch at some point. Need to discuss this further. Reminds me of a tense conversation I had with Lauren. Suddenly, we had both switched out of the second person into the first-person plural—we. We this, and we that. A way of talking about our relationship, the past, the future, our marriage. About things shared, but also about so much that isn’t shared. So much and more every day—like a wasting disease. Lots of mournfully expressed concern, but it goes on, goes on. Nerves are frayed, patience exhausted. Like hauling nitroglycerine in a truck over a bumpy road. Every moment fraught with danger.
We hold our tempers. I go out to mow the lawn. She goes to the mall.
That sort of thing.
Love the scene with the clerk. Who hasn’t been in a dicey situation, and the only person who can help is a moron? What seems to be missing, though, is the protagonist’s inward perspective—or, I should say, MORE of his perspective. It’s gotta be a hugely terrifying situation—suddenly finding yourself unmoored from life. But I hear what you’re saying—the implication he’s the type who can handle it, who doesn’t panic. I quite understand. Feeling somewhat unmoored myself these days.
Second point: it drags on a bit. You don’t need an elaborate scene. It’s gotta move faster. Try this: go through it again and cut out every nonessential detail. Make it spare, make it cinematic. Be ruthless! Just enough dialogue, just enough description. Not a trace of exposition. Good practice for when you’re hired to write the screenplay.
Not sure about calling the truck driver Kate. Making her female is enough. I think I see where you’re going with this, though. Very au courant.
So, now our unnamed protagonist has a name. Nice scene in the restaurant, with all those lurid retables (sp?). Love how that segues into the seedy motel and Kate and Darren finding themselves in the same bed. Finally some decent chunks of description and some wonderful prose here that suddenly goes very deep with Kate’s question, “What’s wrong?” We all have been asked that question, or posed it. Life’s more unendurable moments begin with it. Just yesterday, I asked it myself, dreading the answer but knowing it was the only way to go—all the other exits being blocked, feeling like it’s all a vast labyrinth, and there I am, no hope of escape and a madcap, improbable minotaur on my trail.
“It cometh to pass, and unto my lap all manner of abominations shall fall as bitter rains upon the hills of Judah.”
Lauren regurgitated, in great detail, all my slights, insults, impositions, and depredations. I already knew some things. But some I didn’t. Then it was my turn to unpack my own beat-up cardboard box of accumulated wrongs.
Darren recognizing someone—our first clue that things will be getting more complicated. I like the intimations of derangement and dissociation that are creeping into the story. Nice condensed bit of magic on the essence of San Francisco.
Re: On the Road
See attached for line edits. You way overuse "that." Need to clean those suckers out! My attention nicely grabbed in the opening. Too bad: the protagonist is mainly a blank, so there's not much you can do with him at this point. Always a good idea to get the Protagonist out the gate with a positive, vivid impression. The store clerk is crisp and vivid. But why make her so obnoxious? There are enough of those types in real life. Why not make her helpful and attractive? Get a little bit of back-and-forth flirting in with your nameless, identityless Protagonist.
What’s with all the POV and tense shifting?
The truck driver. Not quite so crisp or clear. I know you've got to get the exposition in. Basically it's small talk, which you know I hate, till they get to the restaurant. Snappy dialogue keeps things moving. Again, lost opportunity here to set up the motel scene. Need to see how the fires are being stoked. Good opportunity for some repartee—something I know you’re good at!
The restaurant scene is nice but the heat should be getting turned up. Lots of talk, not even a spark! The weird paintings nicely mesh with the P's addled brain. I like how he gets his name. The whole thing reads like mother and child. Maybe that was your point.
At the motel, things get a bit surreal. No doubt he's got more than memory issues. I really expected fireworks when they hit the sack. My reaction was: that’s it? Lacking specificity, it’s all a bit over-wrought, the language straining. Not to mention it’s kind of a downer. You might want to bring in those weird paintings again—stuck in his head and getting mixed up with his thoughts and feelings.
Not so sure about the gal taking control. I know you're trying to handle this the way your typical male writer would, but they don't usually make their guys wimps in the sack. Women writers steer clear of this as well, unless it's for comic relief or involves secondary characters with issues. OK, the P’s got issues, but if he’s going to carry the narrative load, he’s got to be someone the reader can identify with. Again, think about your reader!
I can hear the gears grinding in the background. I’m all for subtext, but the story’s the thing. Go back and take a look at some early Hemingway. Those plain-faced sentences he got from writing news copy slowly but surely add up to something. Not sure what you’re getting at, so I can’t offer any suggestions.
More aimless dialogue once they get back on the road, but now there’s lots of tension as the P realizes what he has to look forward to. I guess you need to tend to the plot, but it’s kind of a letdown that their relationship just goes poof! All that buildup for an angst-ridden copulation and then a sudden case of guilty conscience. I’m guessing you’ll be bringing her back later.
Hope this helps.