Monday, February 11, 2008

In Honor of SCBWI Writer's Intensive

Posted by Lisa Marnell

Last year I went to SCBWI (Society for Book Writers and Illustrators) New York City conference. This year I didn't. It was held this past weekend. Though it would have been delightful, real life got in the way as it does.

In 2007, I participated in a writer's intensive on the day before it started. It's frightening, this experience: complete strangers critique two pages of one's writing. In honor of that process, I am tossing my work out onto this blog; I swore I'd never do this. But you, blog readers, are hardly strangers. Here goes ... the start of a novel, not YA. Constructive feedback, in the spirit of our writer's group, is very welcome.

The Harmonica Lady switches street corners, but she doesn’t stop playing. In, out, in, out. White puffs of breath float away in the cold air, the same as her notes do. Her tune is the predictable rhythm of a child dragging the instrument back and forth over her lips; there’s nothing remotely musical about her playing today.

Some days there seems to be.

The woman hobbles across Prince Authur Street, not checking for cars (even she knows the street is cordoned off: pedestrians only). In front of the liquor store, she drops her harmonica a moment and mutters half in French, half in English, mixing in broken and forgotten Italian from her childhood, maybe.

It is a day for change; the Harmonica Lady has ditched the worn army blanket she wrapped tight around her shoulders since snow fell in November. A new shawl, a light blue as soft as the veins at the old woman’s temples, has taken its place. It’s either a gift from some do gooder – not me, I learned my lesson two weeks ago - or a lucky trash find.

The Harmonica Lady was actually a selling point when I considered this apartment. The second floor walkup is a renovated brownstone. Expensive? Sure. But a pied a terre in this part of Montreal? The real estate agent with her chain smoking, hard sell monologue was stuck on the word charming: Cet apartement est charmant, n’est pas? Et regarde la femme, elle est charmante.

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1 comment:

Mary said...

Lisa, I really love the tone of the passage and I'd definitely want to read more. You caught my interest immediately with the first line and then again quickly with the line "some days there seems to be". That's such a contrast to the previous line that I'm pulled in even more. I do think that line (some days..) doesn't pack as much punch as it might. I had to stop and think what was important: the fact that it's not musical today or that it is on other days. That happens again a few lines later with the line "not me, I learned my lesson two weeks ago". That's a great hook and links the narrator with the lady. I wonder if it should somehow stand out a bit more. It feels a bit buried in the description to me– great description but somehow shadowing the importance of the "lesson". I don't mean I need to know the lesson or any more about it, just that I almost missed the phrase. Perhaps because it's in the middle of the sentence? I can also see where you may well have intended it that way and after reading more, it would fall into place. And again with the line about the lady being a selling point. It's really hard to give constructive criticism on a short passage because you have to assume the author has chosen the order and emphasis of the words but the reasons may take a while to unfold. At any rate, it's lovely writing and certainly sets up what will undoubtably be an intriguing story. Good luck! And thanks to you all for the great blogging.