As you may know (I can’t remember if I talked about it before), summer months bring along Camp NaNoWriMo, a less demanding version of the National Novel Writing Month. My Twitter feed lit up with Camp NaNoWriMo-related tweets on Monday, and I finally gave in to peer pressure (which I asked for) and decided to do it. Two things though: I have to edit the beginning of my old story first (editing being typically a NaNo no-no) and I’m travelling this month. So, all things considered, I’ve decided that my Camp NaNoWriMo word goal (which I am free to choose for myself) is 30k.
*moment of panic and doubt* I’m okay. I’m okay.
I’m back working on The Phoenix’s Wake and the outline has undergone a significant overhaul (read: I threw 90% of it away). When I read back the opening, I felt it was flying by a bit too fast. I have a whole world to build and the information weaved into the action was just too much. The main character came off cold and uncooperative, instead of mourning and oh-so-not-ready-to-handle-this.
So I rewrote the whole thing basically adding about 1k to ease into the story. This way, when we get to the body (yes, it’s an urban fantasy mystery), I don’t need to wedge world/character building info in there to make it understandable, I can focus on the body and the crime scene.
But then, everyone keeps saying we need to start a book straight in the action.
*moment of panic and doubt* I’m okay. I’m okay.
So, if you feel up to it, I would like your honest opinion.
Read the original 500 or so first words. Then read the new opening. Which do you prefer and why (the ‘why’ is very important)?
(Note: I’ve provided the whole portion I added up to where it meets with the reworked original opening. It’s a fairly long read so feel free to stop when “the elevator dinged” if you only want to compare the first 500 words. )
I folded my arms over the top of the steering wheel and rested my head, just for a second. The caffeine had yet to kick my lack of sleep to the curb. Or maybe I hadn’t drunk enough water last night to avoid the hangover. In any case, one too many people died today, and I had to walk up to a crime scene. Funny how being short-staffed and barely tolerated by her captain could rob a girl of a decent time to cope after her partner’s spontaneous combustion.
“I can do this,” I muttered to myself. Pulling my head up, I wedged my sunglasses on my nose before I opened my eyes. My car was parked in front of an east-facing apartment building white enough to reflect the morning sun — quite a feat in this part of town. A police squad and the coroner’s van flanked me. “Please let this be a crime of passion or a vampire fest gone wrong.”
I took a deep breath and gulped the rest of my coffee. Wedging the leak-proof mug back in the cup holder, I outstretched my hand toward the passenger seat. The absence of a saltine dropping in my palm broke my heart anew. Force of habit dies hard, I thought as I leaned to reach my glove box and fumbled for a cracker. Rammey, my partner, would have known I needed to cleanse the coffee’s aftertaste if I wanted to smell the crime scene right. But Rammey turned to ashes around dinner time yesterday. Suddenly, memories crowded my car, and pushed me out. There might be as many devilish hurts waiting for me at the crime scene but at least, the coroner and his team would be there to distract me.
Munching on my saltine and turning off my phone, I made my way up the stairs. The steps hadn’t been swept in ages and the paint peeled off the wall in a truer-to-the-neighborhood way. I reached the seventh floor where part of the team waited in the hallway. One of the coppers gave me a pained half-smile and a pair of plastic slippers to cover my shoes. Another squeezed my shoulder, whispering: “He will rise again.”
“And remember what he ought to,” I replied, per proper etiquette. To me, the saying sounded like a cheap attempt at making people feel better if their Phoenix loved one came back without a clue who they were. No use swallowing a coworker’s head for that, so I slalomed my way through the reminder of the crime scene team and the door that opened straight on a tiny living room and a dead body.
“Crap.” No way this case was a slam dunk. To my left, Jeffrey, the coroner, shot me a glance and a nod of acknowledgment before returning to his remote study of the corpse. He leaned in the hallway leading to the rest of the apartment while the crime scene photographer placed his markers and snapped his shots. Between the furniture and the body, the space was too tight for us to work until all the pictures were taken.
The elevator dinged further down the hall and I slipped by Jeffrey’s side, out of sight from whoever just reached our floor. Buzzards and distraught relatives always latched onto the person in a suit to demand answers. Rammey had multiple lifetimes of experience to deal with that. I lacked the patience, especially today.
“Sorry, Sir, this is a crime scene,” I heard one of the copper say.
“Then I’m at the right place,” a smooth unknown voice replied. It sounded nice, except for the chill of apprehension it sent down my spine. As if life had made a list of all the things I couldn’t handle today and checked items off one by one, there was a ruffle of fabric, and a “oh!” from the copper, followed by: “There you go, detective. Your partner is already in.”
Thanks for the heads-up, Captain. I watched, powerless, as a broad-shouldered six foot something man used the door frame to steady himself while he slipped on his plastic slippers. 6 foot 3, I remembered, and his name was Keith Russo.
A couple of months ago, the state signed a bill forcing every team of the supernatural police to be half myth, half norm. They didn’t go as far as to break working partnerships — they would, given the time and the chance — but the law was to be applied for every new pairing. Plenty of reasons justified the law: the helplessness of the norm when it came to handling us, the insufficient staff in most supernatural precincts, and, of course, the norms need to piss us off since we got out of hiding. As soon as the law passed, the captain asked us to review the files of several members of the Wilmington Homicide Department.
The dawn on the nape of my neck raised, warning me of the new telepathic connection. Looks like the captain had the paperwork all ready to go, Jeffrey’s voice mumbled straight into my brain. The tickling vanished as soon as Jeffrey finished his comment, telling me he wasn’t spying on my reaction. Good. I didn’t need anyone witnessing my internal hissy. The captain had made us fully aware that his hands were bound by the law and that any delay to obey it would cost him his job, but come on! They hadn’t worked through the paperwork to get Rammey’s calls forwarded to my phone yet, but they had the first ever norm partner ready to show up at a moment’s notice on a day we shouldn’t even be working!
Damn it all to demon central!
“Hi!” I stepped forward to block Keith in an angle where he couldn’t see the body and offered my hand. The detective gave me a once offer, cocking an eyebrow before finally shaking my hand. He looked down on me from a height and a reputation standpoint. And he stunk of cigarettes, thereby canceling any handsomeness I might have conceded. “Detective Gael Waaks.”
“Yes, the captain told me.” Keith ran a hand on the nape of his neck. I stopped myself from glancing at Jeffrey. Telepaths didn’t initiate contact with norms, except to pick their brains.
Reeling from the fact that Keith had known more about our first encounter than I did, I held on to his hand. I wanted to release it, but all I could manage for a few seconds was to not crush it. By the time the awkwardness settled, my recovery was complete and I freed him. “Would you mind joining me in the hall please?” There was no manual for handling the smooth introduction of a know-naught norm to the nitty-gritty of the supernatural crime unit. The smartphone/YouTube combo may have caught an increasing amount of myths red-handed and forced us out of the closet, the norms still only brushed the surface of our identity. I’d be damned if I let my new partner trample all over my crime scene without a ‘shut up and don’t touch a thing’ pre-agreement.
Keith squinted in annoyance. “Five years of experience don’t make me a rookie.”
I silenced my initial “in my world, it does” retort and just stepped aside. Mister Arrogant could puke his insides for all I cared, and I would throw his ass in the hall before one drop of vomit contaminated the scene.
Keith rounded the door frame. His face froze and distorted into a grotesque expression. It had never occurred to me that there might be a wrong reaction to a first encounter with a supernatural crime scene, but Keith’s mix of bewilderment and disgust was way off. He looked at the victim without compassion, as if she was an oddity, a misshapen fetal pig on display in the house of horror at the carnival. I wanted to choke him so bad that my breath accelerated and a tear streamed down my cheek as I forced myself to stay still.
He doesn’t know, I repeated to myself until my anger and the flow of memories receded. I had prepped myself for a few emotional assaults on my way over, but I hadn’t expected my youth to flash back to me in shining colors. Keith had millenniums of ignorance to overcome and at 25, he was just a kid. A kid whose parents hadn’t even been conceived when the ringmaster etched trauma into my brain. A kid I couldn’t expect to act properly all the time. As if confirming my assessment, Keith pinched himself. My head bowed and my fingers rose to my temples to massage the upcoming headache out of existence.
Are you okay? Jeffrey was staring at me, his fuzzy gray-strewn eyebrows pinched. I answered him with a quick nod. He nicknamed you ‘the slob’.
I chuckled. It’s impolite to listen in on a norm’s thoughts. But thanks, I added as the tension eased out of me. Jeffrey shrugged and pulled away from my brain.
The crime photographer looked like he was about done. I pulled the pen out of my pocket and spun my hair into a loose bun that shouldn’t encourage the headache. Jeffrey flashed me a crooked smile. I huffed. I had drunk too much, hadn’t slept enough and it wasn’t my fault the hazards of the job forced me to wear trift store suits to avoid spending all my measly pay on work clothes. Keith had no right to judge me or the victim. At least, while the norm was stunned speechless, he couldn’t mess up my investigation and was easy to ignore. Props to him for not puking.
Thanks everyone who will take the time to comment! I’m sure your input will be priceless!