The first novel is definitely the hardest! You think you have internalized how a story works as a reader and then you discover there is so much more to learn.
In this article, Natasa Lekic from New York Book Editors takes us through five problems that are common in first novels and how to avoid them.
The experience of writing your first draft can be a roller coaster.
However, once you write that final page, you’ll relate to Zadie Smith:
“It’s a feeling of happiness that knocks me clean out of adjectives. I think sometimes that the best reason for writing novels is to experience those four and a half hours after you write the final word.”
For most first-time writers, this is followed by a straight dive into the publishing process.
After all, you did the work, now it’s time for your story to get out into the world – right?
Not yet. A crucial second phase is involved: the editing. Today, many novels go through an editor before they even reach a literary agent.
At the company I founded, NY Book Editors, we specialize in the editing phase, so we’ve worked with hundreds of first-time novelists. Our team of experienced editors—which has worked with authors ranging from Stephen King to Paulo Coelho to Haruki Murakami—say writers often stumble on the same things.
Here are the common issues writers deal with in their first outing:
1. Where’s the conflict?
Stories must have some form of tension, or conflict, at all times. First novels often start with long descriptions of place or character. The exposition may be beautiful, but prose is never enough to keep your reader interested.
Take even a quiet novel, such as national bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. In the opening scene, it’s an ordinary morning in Harold and Maureen’s household, but something seems wrong.
He’s sitting at breakfast, she’s vacuuming, and then, “The vacuum tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter.”
The letter is for Harold. As he absentmindedly reacts to Maureen’s request for the jam, she says:
“That’s the marmalade, Harold. Jam is red. If you look at things before you pick them up, you’ll find it helps.”
Harold discovers that the letter is from an old friend, letting him know she has cancer. Maureen changes her tone. She says she’s sorry to hear the news and tries to make a positive remark about the weather.
It seems she’s not just a crabby old woman. Her attitude is more complex than that.
On the surface, we’re reading about an ordinary breakfast and the delivery of a letter. But from the beginning, the reader can see there’s much more going on. This is what keeps us interested.
As an author, you know the central conflict of your story, the main arc, but remember it’s built up gradually through every little scene.
Your novel should never become a catalog of events. Instead, it should always include tension and conflict, which continue to engage the reader. This is the engine that drives your story forward.
2. Are your characters interesting?
As a reader or a movie goer, how frustrating is it when a character doesn’t turn out to be more than they seem? It means the writer didn’t have any insight into the inner life of this person or their world.
When a character has depth, we want to spend time with them – regardless of whether they’re good or evil, sympathetic or not – we’re drawn to their story and compelled to find out more.
One effective way to make sure your character is rich and multi-dimensional is to write their backstory.
This backstory is written outside your novel, and it should tell the character’s individual story—where they come from, what drives them and why—along with details about their life.
You can think of it as a mini history, and ask yourself what you might write if you were doing it for a family member or friend. You might include details about where they were born and who their relatives are, along with defining moments in their life, and tidbits about what they like or dislike.
In other words, you would include the big things, along with quirks that make them unique.
You might scratch your head and wonder why this is necessary. It’s not going to be in the book after all. Who cares about their backstory?
Jenna Blum in The Author at Work explains:
“Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction—your reader will see only what is above the water—but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.”
The intimate understanding you have of your character will bury its way into your novel without you even noticing it. The reader, however, will be able to tell the difference.
3. Is your prose too beautiful?
Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.
Georges Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.” Simenon went on to say that he learned, after working with one editor, that sometimes style can overwhelm a writer’s content.
“When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”
Or, as one of our editors put it, overuse of things like descriptors can bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning of a sentence and continue reading.
4. Has someone else read your manuscript?
Every writer should reread their own work and self-edit repeatedly – until they feel they’ve done everything they can for their manuscript. But at a certain point, a writer losses the ability to look over their own work honestly and objectively.
When he was younger, one of our editors completed a Master’s Thesis. Once he felt it was as good as he could possibly make it, he sent it to a friend to edit.
The document was returned in a sea of red marks. The most distressing edits, however, pointed out sections in which he had left out entire sentences.
“I knew exactly what I was trying to say, and so when I read it, I wasn’t reading the words on the page. I was reading what should have been there. My brain was filling in the gaps.
If I hadn’t had that person read it, I would have turned in something that in no way represented what I meant.
There comes a time when your writing is just too familiar to you. It all makes sense to you, so you can no longer see the flaws.”
That’s when a beta reader or a professional editor can really help. They’re approaching the manuscript for the first time, and they’re going to pick up on things you would never have noticed.
5. Be original
I know what you’re thinking—this is from Captain Obvious! But unless you have a masterful command of how to write in your genre, you run the risk of being predictable.
Consider Adele Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.; it’s about the romantic relationship between a man and a woman and has been compared to the work of Jane Austen. However, unlike Austen’s work, Waldman’s novel is written from the point-of-view of a man.
At its core, the story is familiar. There’s nothing original about the concept of this book, which became a national bestseller. However, because Waldman took the unconventional approach of telling this tale in the first person from the perspective of the man, she made something old feel wholly new.
Having a woman write a romance from the perspective of a brilliant young man gives rise to psychological observations that make the book feel revelatory.
In your genre, ask yourself how your story differs from other books. Even though you need to meet your reader’s expectations for their genre (Nathaniel P. is, after all, a novel about relationships), you also need to surprise them.
Keep in mind that fans of sci-fi read a lot of sci-fi, fans of chick lit read a lot of chick lit, and so on. They’ve seen many variations of the same story. You don’t need to recreate the wheel, but a fresh voice or a new approach to a tried and true formula will delight the reader.
As a bonus, if you’ve done this well, it will also be much easier to describe your novel to readers. Everyone gets excited by discovering a fresh approach to a genre they know well.
The last piece of advice is – don’t stress!
Writing a novel is an immense undertaking. By taking the time to craft your story, your unique perspective of the world, you’re embarking on a difficult but endlessly rewarding journey.
When you make mistakes, don’t be too hard on yourself. Every author you’ve ever admired (alright, alright except Shakespeare) has lagged here and there, learned from their hiccups, and gone on to write the books that shake you to your core.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and your craft. You’ll get there.
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. But the secret to successfully getting a short story published is to add something special to your storytelling mix…something that captures the attention of editors and readers alike. While there are no hard and fast rules for creating a great short story, here are a few industry secrets that will help your writing stand out:
Identify The Heart Of Your Story. Explore your motivations, determine what you want your story to do, then stick to your core message. Considering that the most marketable short stories tend to be 3,500 words or less, you’ll need to make every sentence count. If you over-stuff your plot by including too many distractions, your story will feel overloaded and underdeveloped.
See Things Differently. Experiment with your short story’s POV. A unique, unexpected voice can provide the most compelling, focused experience of the central story. Just be careful that you don’t inadvertently give the story to a nonessential character. Narrating the story line through a character who’s not central to the action is a common mistake many new authors make, often with confusing or convoluted results.
Opposites Attract. Elements that work against your character’s central desire will keep the reader intrigued and prevent your story from getting stuck. You can also try approaching your core idea from an unusual direction. Dialogue, setting, and characterization are all areas that will benefit from an unexpected twist.
Craft A Strong Title. This can be one of the most difficult—but one of the most important—parts of writing your story. How do you find inspiration for a great title? Have friends read your story and note which words or phrases strike them or stand out. These excerpts from your text just might hold the perfect title. Try to stay away from one- or two-word titles, which can seem to editors as taking the easy way out.
Shorter Is Sweeter. Resist the urge to go on and on. With a shorter short story, you will have more markets available to you and thus a better chance of getting published. Here at Writer’s Relief, our submission strategists and clients have noticed that editors consistently prefer short stories that are under 3,500 words over longer ones.
Use these simple tips to polish your prose and assess any potential short story shortcomings. With these insider guidelines, you can increase the odds of your short story being selected for the pages of a literary journal. That’s the best ending any author could devise—or even better, a great beginning to your future success!
By Angela Booth
One of the most popular questions I receive concerns the writing process. It may be phrased as: “how do I write every day?”, or similarly. I always respond with another question: “what’s your goal?” Writing every day won’t help if you haven’t set any goals. So set some goals for your writing first.
Now let’s look at several tips for creating a writing process which helps you to make money, no matter what your writing goals happen to be.
What’s your current writing process?
To be able to change something, you need to know what it is that you want to change. Perhaps you procrastinate so that you write very little, or you feel that you don’t have enough time to write anything, or you’re frightened of writing because when you do write something you think that it’s rubbish… It doesn’t matter.
Grab a sheet of paper, or a sticky note (write on paper, so that you can paste the paper onto your car dashboard, or onto your bathroom mirror), and write down your current writing process in a sentence or two. Be honest. If you’re writing for ten minutes on a Sunday, or 20 minutes during your lunch hour at work, write that.
Try these tips…
1. WRITE ANYWAY. Because… Guess what? You’re probably never going to feel like writing every day
I love Mel Robbins’s book, Stop Saying You’re Fine: Discover a More Powerful You. She suggests that in any area of your life that you want to change, you must do the things that you don’t want to do.
Simple… But far from easy.
Whenever you don’t want to write for whatever reason — write anyway.
Over the past few months, I’ve moved myself and my business across the country, and I’ve found it very hard to write. I’m always suggesting DDT (do, don’t think) to my students, and it was time to put that into action myself.
Writing’s such a habit for me that I always write. However, without my comfy office, and a proper Internet connection, it was all too easy to convince myself that I had other things to do which were more important than writing. When I did get around to writing, instead of working on client projects, I amused myself by writing what I wanted to write (novels), rather than what I had to write.
Basically, I didn’t feel like writing, so I wrote for fewer hours than I normally do, and much less than I normally do. I had to remind my self to DDT, and to convince myself to write what I didn’t particularly want to write.
2. CREATE A WRITING SPACE, and close the door
If you don’t have a space that’s just for writing, choose one. Put some thought into it. This will be your “writing” space. You’ll train yourself that this space means writing to you, and nothing else.
Ensure that your chosen space has a lock on the door, good lighting, a comfortable chair, and a desk. You may not have these essentials (yet). Make do with what you have. Always go to your “writing” space when you want/ need to write.
If you’re easily distracted, turn off your Internet connection, so that you’re not tempted with Facebook, or online games, or whatever your favorite online activity happens to be.
Set up your space exactly the way you want it. Then, when it’s time to write, go to your space.
Perhaps you can only write during your lunch hour at work. In this situation, you’ll need to create a mental oasis. Imagine yourself in your perfect space: a large library, with lots of shelves, a huge desk…
3. MODEL A WRITER YOU ADMIRE: see yourself writing successfully
Which writers do you admire? Find a writing hero — someone who’s doing what you’d love to do, and then model that person. (To model someone is basically to do what they do.)
The Internet is amazing. Writers share their stories, and their processes, so you should be able to find any number of models who successfully write what you want to write.
Obviously, you can’t model your model’s successes. Your successes will be different from your hero’s successes. You’re modeling what your hero does.
Back to your sticky note…
Did you write your current writing process on your sticky note? If not, do that now.
Next, find your writing model. You may find that your model spends four hours every morning writing his books, and the afternoon hours reading and researching.
Don’t quit your day job to model this writer.
Instead, pay attention to the overall process: writing, reading, researching. If you follow that process, sooner or later you’ll get results.
Write “writing, reading, research” on your sticky note. All three (or however many elements there are with your model) are important. Include all the elements in your writing process.
When you don’t feel like writing, write anyway
It’s easy to become distracted — I’ve discovered that. If you find that you’re distracted, and you don’t feel like writing, sit down in your writing space, and write anyway. Within ten minutes, your mood will pass. On some days, it won’t pass. You’ll be very distracted — the same applies. Write anyway.
Over time, your writing space will have a Pavlovian effect on you. You’ll start writing as soon as you sit down and open your computer.
Your next step
Grab your sticky note, and choose a model. Then… write..
A year had almost gone by and Toney was doing quite well. During the past few months, he was able to acquire sufficient money working at Mr. Chin, so that he was able to make renovations to the house.
Jason was now approaching eighteen; doing so in a couple weeks. He still missed his old home back on Dow Island, but at least his complaining got less and less in the ear of his parents.
Merry too had settled in nicely in the village. From time to time she stitched draperies and sold. The village women really grew to love her designs. With almost any type of material Merry got her hands on, she was able to make artistic miracles happen.
Village life was quiet. A bit quieter than what the family were used to on Dow Island, but, all in all, the few month were excellent.
About 8:00 pm on Sunday, Mr. Chin and his two daughters had already gone to bed for the night.
Toney and Merry had also turned in. Toney lay in his usual position on the bed. His back rested slightly against the wall. Merry’s head in his arms. Her ear listened to each thump of his heart. Like the swings of a pendulum, the sound sent her sailing to the world of sleep.
Jason had asked to stay out a bit later and trusting him, Toney agreed.
The breeze gently ruffled the trees outside.
As Toney lay in bed, he imagined the life he wanted for his family. A life filled with peace and unity, a life with ease, a life which will have been difficult, had he stayed on Dow Island. He knew his upbringing was not the ideal but at present, he had done all he could to bring a measure of happiness to his family and so far, he was managing to do this.
As he too began fading into sleep, he heard the howls of his dogs. His eyes widened. He knew the call of his dogs signals and knew how to listen between their calls. They did not let up.
Toney knocked his fingers gently on the window sill above his head. He was hopping not to wake his wife, who by now was fast asleep. Yet, with the howling outside, Merry did not even budge.
In the distance he heard a faint crackle, and then a slightly louder one. He found it strange, as beaming on the window ledge appeared a bright light. It was a brilliant glow, one that he could not ignore. For a moment, he thought to himself that he had left the lamp on in the kitchen, but the light was not coming from inside the house.
“Merry, Merry wake up, I smell smoke!”
“What’s that Toney, why do you need soap?” Merry groaned as she wrestled to open her scarlet shot eyes.
Toney rolled her off his arms and pulled himself to a seating position.
“Light,” he said.
“I am tired love, come back to bed,” she protested.
As she said those words, Toney brushed aside the cotton curtains and pushed his head out of the window opening. By then, he knelt on the bed next to Merry’s head. His eyes, squinting, narrowing his vision; feverishly he tried to get a fix on the location of the disturbance.
The cool air that was evident during the early evening, was converted into a great furnace of gray smoke, churning among the trees. The skies were a red and orange blanket.
The teak trees along the footpath leading to the main road, became ghostly figures, creatures seeking shelter, bending in one direction but not able to take cover.
“Fire, fire Merry, something is not right out in the trees!” Toney shouted.
“What? Where is Jason, Toney?” Merry, fully coming to her senses.
“I’m not sure Merry, I am sure he is alright though,” Toney jumped over her and grabbed his jeans from the corner of the room where it hung on a nail driven in the wall.
She threw a shirt at Toney as he ran out of the bedroom towards the kitchen. As he moved passed Jason’s bedroom, he looked in but his son was absent. Merry ran after him but stopped short at the kitchen table, her heart racing. Her fingers and toes, cold. Toney forced opened the front door, breaking the handle in his haste. In the confusion, he did not realize his shoes lay tucked neatly beside the kitchen sink; jumped down the flight of steps and into the night.
Hurriedly, he moved through the track leading from his house, to the main road. The air, chocking. His toes, like claws propelling himself through the air, they seem to barely touch the earth. His arms flapped clumsily as he tried to gain his balance. He stumbled out of the track and onto the stone road. He then stopped in horror.
On the western side, just before the street took a sharp turn, he saw the terrifying flames. He thought to himself, something must have ignited in Peter’s bar, and the presents of alcohol, fuel for the flames.
He made his way down the street, racing once more.
A sole man, running as fast as his legs could carry him.
But nearing the flames, he beheld he is not alone. About fifty or sixty meters away, the street, filled with residence, buckets in hand. But as they threw water on the raging beast, this only served to infuriate the creature further. The damage was already done, the structure, gutted.
Toney moved closer to assist, however, as he came about forty feet of the commotion, he made a grimmer discovery. For it was not Peter’s bar being consumed, but Mr. Chin’s grocery, the place of his employment.
Toney ran to the side of the structure. A chain of residence about ninety or maybe one hundred strong, snaked their way to the river; which passed a little less than quarter mile off the main road.
Mr. Chin’s house was almost attached to the grocery, with just about five feet separating the two. Toney joined the line and started passing buckets of water.
After about five minutes into his arrival though, efforts turned from, trying to save the grocery, which by now was lost, to saving the closest structure. As the beast of fury showed signs of ending on the skeleton of the grocery store, the famished dragon turned its head to the house of Mr. Chin.
Thick smoke engulfed the house, attempting to blind all who will venture to predict which section of the house to guard.
A faint cough could be heard, emanating from within the belly of the dwelling, it is Mr. Chin, but he is all alone. His two daughters Clara and Ping are missing. As he struggled to burst through the front door of the house, he heard a voice shout at him.
“Move away from the door, Chin!” Sharp and commanding the voice.
No sooner had Mr. Chin dropped to the floor, a loud smashing sound came. It was Jameson, chopping into the cedar door relentlessly. It was as if he had rehearsed these movements over and over in his mind, waiting for this night to test the agility of the ax.
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
All rights reserved.
Inside, the two men went passed the other patrons and straight to the counter. Only a few minutes had passed though. But to Toney, he felt as if it was hours. He was not the kind of man to sit still for any lengthy periods. Being asked to sit still was like asking him to serve a lengthy prison sentence, for a crime he did not commit.
For those moments in the bar, he did sit; but rock back and forth, and tapped his fingers on his lap. Then again, he was not much of a drinker. So being in a bar was unnerving.
He felt the walls of the bar closing in on him.
The countertop, the only area of safety for him, a few times he rested his elbows on it; it sparkled.
The constant wiping on the countertop, by Peter, offered a welcoming distraction for Toney’s eyes.
The cream coloured walls, flaking, offered no beauty to the already dreary room.
It appeared, in every inch of the room, the mixture of sweat and liquor dancing violently in the air. Toney’s stomach churned. Glued to the countertop; he meandered his way in telling a bit about himself to Deo.
“Well, that is a little about me. Nothing much too this man before you. I am like a child in this place, brand new.” Toney looked at the glass of whisky, twirling the last bit.
“I see…I see,” Deo shook his head, he too looked at the countertop.
“But, you have not really said much about yourself, who are you around here?” Toney shrugged his shoulders.
Deo looked at Peter with a quick side glance. Peter on the other side of the counter, with a white cotton cloth in his hand, had about six wine glasses in front of him. Not in the conversation, but certainly close enough to hear the two men. And maybe he did. For as soon as he heard Toney’s question and got the glance from Deo, his countenance changed.
Peter moved away and tended to other customers.
Deo glanced at Toney, and then surveyed the bar on either side of his shoulders. He appeared to look for something, something out of the ordinary.
Toney became concerned, but did not venture to speculate.
He waited for Deo to decide to answer, or at least process a response.
“Toney, all men are not build up equal,” Deo muttered in an undertone. He peered into his glass of whisky, his eyes ferocious; more so than what it was outside a while ago.
Deo gulped the last bit of the drink then continued, “Toney, I could sense you’re a good man, your heart, pure. An adventurer, but your heart is pure.” He gripped the glass closer in his fist.
“Over twelve years,” Deo bent his head back and closed his eyes, his breath is slow and deliberate; he dragged his words, “Toney, you tell me, what kind of man leaves his wife, his daughters, girls Toney, girls, and allows himself to go away!”
Toney bit down gently on his tongue, then attempted to fix himself on the bar stool, “Deo, you—”.
Deo interrupted him. Toney acted surprised, but was relieved to not make a comment. Really not knowing what he would have said.
“Toney, a ruthless man, I am a ruthless man!” Not wanting to draw attention to himself, but apparently not realizing his strength, slammed the glass against the counter.
“That is okay Toney you could say it,” Deo jumped off the stool, stood, then pushed the glass away from him.
The two raised their heads recognizing Peter had moved closer to where they were.
“Deo, I think you had enough,” Peter said, as he reached for Deo’s glass.
Deo looked at the glass in Peters hand; he became pensive, hypnotized by something, “Yeah well…,” he mumbled.
Peter cleared his throat and turned to Toney’s glass. Toney slid it to Peter’s reach, he too stood, frozen; waiting.
Then Peter spoke, “Ruthless men do not feel shame and guilt, but conscious men do. You have returned, Deo, you are here now. Shelly is happy, the girls are happy. You have matured and I am sure that no one really treated you badly since your return.”
Deo bent his head, placed both hands in his pocket and turned away from Peter, leaving the bar.
Toney looked at Peter. His both hands, palms opened, moved closer to his chest. His eyebrow closed in to each other.
Peter though will have no curious question. “And, please, am…,” he waved his finger.
“Yes you, Toney. Don’t ask me anything about the man’s past. Just leave it alone. No one around here wants to remember. You hear me stranger?.”
Toney awkwardly moved the right side of his face. He shook his head as a child being scolded for an unlawful act.
Peter attempted to walk away to attend too another customer, when Toney called out to him. “Peter, I am looking for work, do you…, or do you know of anyone who needs someone to employ? I am good with my hands.”
Peter stopped, held his hands over his mouth, then tilted his head as he close one eye. “Well I needed someone to help around here, but already contacted a person. Actually, she is expected today, come to think of it, haven’t seen her yet though.”
Toney nodded and gave a little smiled. “Well if you hear of any opportunities let me know,” he said and turned to leave the bar.
“Oh, wait,” Peter jerked his index finger in the air, signaling Toney.
“Yes,” Toney stopped, clasped his hands behind his back and bended slightly forward.
“You know, Mr. Chin Soo Chow asked me a few weeks back, if I knew any handy man. At the time there weren’t any willing to take the job. But I really didn’t hear him say anything about finding anyone.”
“Alright, I guessed that’s good news then. I will check him out sometime this morning,” he smiled.
Urging Toney to go see Mr. Chin, right away, he waved his palms at him, then pointed, allowing Toney’s head to follow in the direction of his hands. “He is next door, he owns the grocery store.”
Toney, became spirited, thanked Peter and headed for the door.
A young, tall, gorgeously looking woman entered the bar, passing him on his way out, he nodded at her and proceeded to push the swinging doors and exited.
He brought his steps to a halt, turning. Behind him he heard Peter vocalized something. As he tiptoed over the swinging door, he saw Peter moved from behind the counter and stood in the middle of the walk way.
“Men, stop what you’re doing for a moment, and yes, Dennis that means you too,” Peter said. He was quite assertive. So much so, that every man in the bar stopped, raised his head and listened. “Let me make this very clear—.”
But before Peter could continue, he was interrupted by Dennis.
“My goodness, Peter, who is that sweet girl?” Dennis yelled, while he rose to his feet.
Some of the men chuckled.
Peter quickly made his voice overpowering once more, “Yes about this girl,” Peter suspended his words for a few seconds to glance in the direction of Dennis, “Dennis, I think you should remained standing, because when I am through with what I have to say, you will leave. I will see you tomorrow, not today again but tomorrow, right!”
Dennis appeared to ignore Peter, pulling his stool closer to him to sit back down again. The stool made a scraping noise against the rustic floor.
About twenty, or so, men were in the bar. With horrid stares on their faces, they turned to look at Dennis. His body arched to sit.
Peter’s toes itched to move in Dennis direction.
There was a silence, overshadowing the bar’s misty air.
Toney, still stationed at the door, heard an influencing tone from the other side of the bar.
“Dennis, you heard the man, we’ll see you tomorrow!” The voice, assertive as well, but friendlier than Peter’s.
“That’s find Zig, I was leaving anyway,” Dennis responded.
Peter came back into the conversation, appearing to not be overly sidetracked by what had just happened. “Now this is Candy, she’s my niece. She’s now staying in the house just right around the bend, after the cemetery. I think most of you will have remembered my older sister, Miss Joanna, who lived obliquely opposite the primary school.”
“Oh, yes man, I remember her, Miss Joanna, boy. I for one sorry she gone,” Zig said nodding.
A few men chattered quietly among themselves about what Peter’s sister had taught them at school.
“She will be our waitress from today, she is to be respected and I ask that she shows each of you the same. So are we are clear?”
Like a choir after the orchestra played the introductory piece, the men harmoniously bellowed, ‘yes’ to Peter’s request.
Peter now focused his attention on Candy. He hugged her tightly, and kissed her on the forehead.
Dennis made his way out of the bar grumbling something to Toney as he brushed passed him.
Toney chuckled to himself. Unto the streets, he entered the blazing sun and glorious light which emanated from the heavens, upon Kiskadee village. As he walked in the direction of Mr. Chin’s grocery he squinted, trying to adjust his eyes to the brilliant light. By now the sun was directly overhead.
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
All rights reserved.
He came back onto the main street and continued walking westward, passing a few houses and small shops along the way. On his left, there were more structures along the length of the road, but on the right, there were punctuation of small gardens, farms and empty lots.
He saw a bar. The sign stood imposing. Written in a style he had once seen in a cow boy movie on an old black and white television back on Dow Island.
Toney saw a crowd of about fifteen or twenty men, surrounding five others. The five sat around a small circle, metallic coloured table, on weathered stools, frantically engaging each other. They slammed on the table little white wooden blocks with black dots on them, lining them up in a formation.
The crowds cheered louder as Toney approached, making a pathway for him. He hesitated to join the space now created for him. But the noise infectious. Cries like that of a coliseum. Encouraging any who will venture in the centre. He moved in cautiously, rubbing his toes against the inside soles of his shoes.
“No one can beat you now, Lamont,” a voice shouted from behind Toney’s head. It startled him.
A few more then joined in the chorus shouting the name, “Lamont…Lamont…hail king Lamont.”
A dejected looking East Indian man got up from his seat at the table. He tilted his head to one side, eyes fired red. He looked at the men sitting under him. He said nothing, just stared. His eyebrows seemed to join each other over the crease in his forehead. He panted. His sideburns dripped with sweat.
For a moment, the crowds too grew quiet and backed off from the two men as if to give them space. This was no longer a game. Feelings were hurt, and the man standing wanted nothing more than revenge.
Toney felt compelled to stay. He thought for a instant, if trouble were to erupt he will be in the very centre of it, and so, he should move away. Yet flirting with danger, as if to prove himself a part of this new world, he stood his ground.
Still, the man standing said zilch. His breathing became shallower and his palms made tight fist. The rest of his body stood motionless.
Pushing his way into the little crowd came another man, a little over six feet tall. Although, to Toney he looked more like seven feet—and Toney was five feet eight inches. He was well over three hundred pounds. A giant of a man. A white apron hung silly around his neck; his belly pushing it aside as he moved. He came to the table and stood, towering over the now quiet throng.
“Lamont, you good, you really good at this domino game,” the man shook his head left to right as he spoke.
“You could say that again,” Lamont said.
The man seemed to pay little attention to Lamont’s words. “Everybody just cool it.”
“They better,” Lamont said, as he finally got to his feet. “Like people around here don’t know who is me or what?”
The large man fold his arms, turning his attention to Lamont. Although his folded arms looked more like him resting his forearms over a dinner table; his huge belly. “What is there to know, tell me, please?”
“Like this washed out old barrel confused,” the man who just got to his feet continued.
The little crowd giggled and a few chattered among themselves.
“I think you should hush now,” the large man said, pointing sternly.
All went silent once more.
Lamont eyeballed the man speaking to him.
“Are you serious, boy,” the massive man slowly removed the apron from around his neck, placing it over the table. He moved in closer to Lamont, pushing the table to the side. He now stood between Lamont and the clenched fist man.
“Come son,” someone from the crowd pulled Lamont from the centre of the commotion.
“No, please, leave the lad.”
“Come on Peter, you know how stupid youth can be,” the man holding Lamont by the hand said, as he took him away.
Peter now turned his frame to the East Indian man, who at no time moved an inch; except to narrow his eyes lids, fixing his attention on Lamont better. “Now Deo, welcome back. But a lot has changed around here. Lamont is a man now, still loud, but changed. So is Zig, Jah Jah and Dennis,” he pointed at the other men who were still sitting.
“Let me be the judge of that,” Deo said.
The man continued, holding the attention of the onlookers. “And you will be. Now, come inside everyone, one drink for each man, it’s on the house. Deo is back, remember guys, Kiskadee village is changed.”
The crowds moved. A few men left, including Lamont, but the majority moved in the direction of the bar’s swinging doors.
Deo stepped away from his chair. He looked at it momentarily. He became pensive for about a few seconds. But shook his head as if to say he was satisfied with how things turned out this morning. He tucked his shirt back into the waist of his pants; loosened, as he rose quickly from his seat during the altercation. He dusted himself, cleared his throat and presented a smile.
His eyes now fixed on Toney. “And you are?” he said, nodding childishly.
“Toney, Mr. Deo.”
“Ah! Drop the Mr., is Deo for you,” he chuckled. “Well, you heard Peter, come in and take one with me, Toney boy.”
Deo, tapped Toney on the shoulder, and gently nudged him to the opening of the bar door.
“Well, okay…why not.”
“It’s nice to see what Peter and them did with this place,” Deo looked at the eve of the building and to the side.
“Well, it doesn’t look too bad.”
“Toney boy, not too bad, you should have seen this place before. This place was a real work of art. A lot used to happen right here, a lot.”
“I guess every place needs to change, and even the people who live here.”
“If is one think, you right about that. Alright, let we come out this sun.”
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
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