Monday, March 28, 2011
Today's critique focuses on two particular maxims of the publishing world - show don't tell; and it's all about the voice. I think today's entry, Cold Summer, aptly raises both these issues...but more about this in my comments after the piece...
Sammy Davis Jr. was no relation to the famous twentieth century performer. For that matter few people he knew even had regular jobs, at least not legitimate jobs. Anchorage Alaska's Sammy Davis Jr. made his living as a small time drug dealer, primarily marijuana and ecstasy. He dabbled here and there with other drugs but being afraid of the stiffer penalties for cocaine or methamphetamine, neither of which he used himself, he avoided them as much as possible.
As a supplemental source of income Sammy committed the occasional burglary. For the most part he stuck it to businesses, alleviating a great deal of the guilt that straddled his conscience. He hated the thought of leaving a family’s children crying from nightmare images of a bad man breaking into their home. And he certainly didn’t want to crush a woman’s heart by stealing her wedding jewelry or some keepsake. He may be a professional criminal but he still had morals, even feelings. Hell, he even cried at movies sometimes, like when that girl died in Bridge to Terrabithia or when the farmer said "Well done pig" in Babe.
While he didn't rob the homes of families, that moral barrier didn’t include people’s cars. Wallets, purses, laptops, even an occasional gun, were all for the taking if some idiot left a car unlocked, or not locked enough. That Saturday morning though, Sammy Davis Jr. made a slight change in his routine. He'd never robbed a church or a synagogue. Sammy had always felt that while he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make it to heaven he didn’t want to totally blow whatever chances he had by burglarizing God’s house.
Both of his parents were religious people, Messianic Jews (that is Jews who hold to Christian beliefs about Jesus). Sammy had been both Bar-Mitzvah’d and baptized as a teen. He hoped that somehow those actions and his parent’s prayers might redeem him. Churches and synagogues were out of the question. But a Mosque, that was different. Or so he had told himself.
My Critique: First off let me say that I did like the tone - a distinct voice is starting to emerge (particularly re: crying at the movies and the morals of this small town drug dealer) but at this stage it isn't quite strong enough to carry off what is essentially a first page of exposition. Starting off with nothing but narrative is a tricky thing to pull off but in order to succeed the voice must be amazing - it must be enough to lure a reader in and keep them turning the pages.
This is an incredibly difficult thing to do and I would recommend that the writer consider starting this story off with a Sammy in a compromising position which can enable the exposition and voice to come through in smaller chunks. Perhaps Sammy is trapped in the mosque he is trying to rob (?), or he is facing an angry accusatory cleaning woman there...some kind of situation (possibly farcical given the satirical edge to the piece so far) which reveals to the reader who Sammy is and also gives some action that can help draw the reader in.
At the moment the piece feels a little too stiff and forced (too much telling and not enough showing), and maybe a situation with characters, action and dialogue all in motion will help give it greater momentum. As for the voice - I think, again, some action and dialogue may help strengthen this.
The juxtaposition of Sammy's inner voice and what is happening around him could add further humor as well as tension to the piece. Voice is one of the hardest elements to explain (you kind of know it when you see it) but I do see strong glimmers here - though at the moment it seems constrained by the lack of action. My recommendation? Brainstorm some scenarios that allows this background information and voice to come through to greater effect.
So what do you all think? any other suggestions for the author of Cold Summer?