Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holding my breath and jumping off the high-dive ...

That's how I feel about what I'm about to do. I just sent out the first third (possibly fourth) of my untitled WIP to my trusted Brilliant Editors (or Beta Editors ... whatever their official title, they're the "BE"s I'm always referring to). But I don't plan to stop with them. I want YOU ALL to read it too. Okay, not 15 chapters (36,000 words)-worth, but the first chapter, at least. I'd love your initial reaction, or if you're more of a minutia-oriented reader, feel free to pick it apart line-by-line. It's your call.

Stay tuned for my next post, which is going to be about good v. bad feedback. Like everyone, I've had my share of both. (Actually, that's not true - I have only ever had one experience where I felt the critique was so off the mark that it truly jarred me. I later learned from industry professionals that this person - an editor - went completely against Literary Editor Etiquette 101. But that's a story for next week ...) Can you tell I'm stalling? Alright ... *sucking in breath* ... here goes ... *BIG SPLASH!!!*

Chapter 1

That September morning had been so eerily bright and blue that Marcus would later wonder if some cosmic force had been trying to warn him, and everyone else ambling along Wall Street that day, to be on high alert. He would chastise himself for running early, for once, that morning. His grandfather had made a luncheon reservation at Fraunces Tavern, just around the corner from his William Street office, but that was for twelve-thirty. Had Marcus arrived closer to the appointed hour, they would have gone directly to the restaurant by way of South William, instead of strolling up William and down Wall Street to kill time. However, these thoughts did not yet occupy Marcus’s mind that day when he met the tall, commanding figure whose dark eyes and thick, wavy hair - no longer chestnut but ash-colored - looked so much like his own, add forty-seven years.

Even though he had been to his grandfather’s office at least a dozen times over the years, Marcus still found himself awed and humbled by the grandiosity of it all. His eyes darted from intricately molded ceiling to gilt and mirrored wall as the two men walked from the office of Torrington Wilke Baker to the elevator bay. They stepped into the elevator and Marcus’s grandfather nodded to the short attendant wearing a crisp red suit. The operator punched and pulled the cage’s brass buttons in a deliberate way that made him appear very proud of his role in controlling access to and from this megalithic granite tower.

“I feel honored you decided to spend your day off down here with me, Marcus.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day.”

Oliver Marcus Torrington the First laughed in that low, rumbling way that had always made Marcus feel safe and secure as a child. “The last thing I would have wanted to do on a day off from my first week at Yale would have been to spend time with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my father. But he never seemed to want to stray more than half a mile from the Edenbrook campus.” The creases around Oliver’s deep-set eyes multiplied as his lips tightened. “Seven years at that damn place was enough for me.”

Marcus and his grandfather rode the rest of the way to the lobby in silence. Marcus knew better than to make some glib comment when his grandfather brooded about the past. Oliver’s peers at Edenbrook had made it clear to him at an early age that the son of an Academy history teacher was not, and never would be, one of them. Marcus suspected that graduating top of his high school class, going on to Yale with many of them, and then building a financial empire, had not, at least in his grandfather’s eyes, completely erased this hierarchy.

The elevator arrived in the lobby and the man in red opened the cage door and bid a good day to his two passengers. Marcus admired the swirling Japonica designs on the mirrors which paneled the lobby. This was the third office building Oliver had been based out of in his almost forty years as founder and chief financial officer of the ever-growing Torrington Wilke Baker. The brokerage firm had moved into this turn-of-the-century tower just days after the last stone had been laid. It was the only one of his grandfather’s offices that Marcus had ever been to. The building itself had long been branded in his mind as an appendage to his grandfather’s hearty physique.

As if reading his grandson’s thoughts, Oliver said, “I hope you’re prepared to say good-bye to this old girl.”


“This building – she’s been good to us over the past two decades, but I don’t know how much longer she’s going to be able to hold us. Torrington Wilke Baker is expanding.”


“Yes sir. We hired six new accountants over the past few months, and right now they’re sitting two to a cubicle.”

Marcus and Oliver passed through the brass and glass revolving doors and out onto the damp, narrow street. Marcus inhaled the pungent odor of seawater, freshly-washed stone, burnt coal and just a hint of horse manure, any combination of which would forever trigger thoughts of this day in his mind for years to come.

“So when might you make this move, Grandfather?”

“That I’m not sure of. Winston has been looking into office spaces in the area, but has yet to find one that meets all our needs. Hopefully sometime next spring.”

Marcus wanted to ask his grandfather whether he himself would follow his firm to the new location, or might he see this as a good time to retire. Oliver was, after all, about to celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday in a few weeks. But Marcus thought better of this question. Mortality – even slowing down – was not a topic of conversation ever entertained by Oliver Marcus Torrington the First. So as the two men turned left onto Wall Street, Marcus decided to steer the conversation to something light and inoffensive.

“I’m getting hungry. What do …” The reverberant gonging of Trinity Church’s noon bell absorbed the last part of Marcus’s question.

“Yes, me too. Fraunces Tavern has the best …” The church bells swallowed the dish which Oliver proposed to Marcus.

As they continued ambling down the cobblestone street, Marcus was struck by the larger-than-life quality of the view before him. Straight ahead was the pink spire of Trinity Church, one-time spiritual home of Alexander Hamilton. And coming up on the right was Federal Hall, where the country’s first president was inaugurated, and where the Bill of Rights was passed – the spiritual home of democracy, one could say.

Marcus mused that, were someone to drop down out of the sky in front of this impressive structure, they might think they were in Ancient Greece, but for the austere bronze face of George Washington peering down on them from his pedestal on the steps. And finally, Broad Street came into sight on Marcus’s left, and with it, the Corinthian topped columns and highly-ornamented pediment of America’s temple of finance – the New York Stock Exchange. Across the street stood the temple’s high priestess - the office of J.P. Morgan & Company.

The twelfth and final gong sounded, and the low hum of busy bankers chattering on the street could be heard once more. Marcus glanced at his grandfather, whose brown eyes danced as he took in the neighborhood that had nurtured his ambition all these years. Marcus was about to comment on their good fortune at having such lovely weather when a deafening noise, unlike anything he had ever heard, roared through his head. And with it came a strange new odor, one that was acrid, thick, and just a little sweet.

In years to come, Marcus would not be able to remember with any clarity the order of events which ensued. They became like items for sale in a retail catalogue – detached from one another, adorned with romanticized illustrations. Because Marcus’s eyes were soon filled with scratchy bits of dust, he would have to rely on his imagination to create these pictures.

First there was the sound of metal shrieking and crunching. He saw this as a steel-jawed giant waking from a long slumber, bearing its teeth as it half-yawned, half-screamed itself into consciousness. Then there were the shards of glass which cut into his back as he doubled over in the street, trying to stay small. The catalogue illustration for these would depict tiny prisms hailing from heaven, drowning in an ocean of dust and debris. And then there were the chunks of hot metal which beat all around Marcus’s feet. These were pictured as sunbursts shooting from the sky.

And then, when an object (which Marcus would later learn was nothing more than a two inch lug nut) made contact with his scalp, he added the final picture to his catalogue. A wash of bright white, followed by black.


There ends the first half of Chapter 1 ... I'll include the 2nd half in my next post ... ;-)


  1. I believe the official term is "beta reader," but whatever suits you works. ;)

    If you're ever looking for another reader, just shoot me an email. I like what you have here - definitely am curious enough to read on.

  2. Thank you Weronika! I may definitely take you up on that offer, and same here re your work. ;-)

  3. Hi Cammie!
    I think you have the beginning of something really good here, however, I think it needs to start with some more action. The first few paragraphs are what seems like set-up, but I think this is where you could start-

    First there was the sound of metal shrieking and crunching. He saw this as a steel-jawed giant waking from a long slumber, bearing its teeth as it half-yawned, half-screamed itself into consciousness.

    That's where it really started to peak my interest. There's some good description in that paragraph. I'm an action kind of gal- so please do not take my words for gold, only my opinion, of course :o)

    You and I share the same issue- that is the cursed "had." Make sure you watch the use of those- as they can indicate passive voice.

    I think if you embedded the first few paragraphs as the story moved on it would be more effective.

    You ended with a boom- which I love. That's what would keep me reading. Keep it up :o)

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Erica! I may contact you for more "beta-ing" in the future, if you would do me the honor ... ;-)- That's EXACTLY the kind of feedback I'm looking for. I have a real dilemma with verb tenses, namely, when I'm sticking a kind of flashback or reflection within a scene. I never know when to use had and when to just write in past tense. This may be something I explore with you further at some point ... thanks again!

  5. It's my pleasure. We're all going through it! I know I have issues with my tenses. I'm constantly getting dinged on it :o)

    Let me know if you have any other questions :o)

  6. I agree with Erica. I have this same issue myself - I write chronologically. But I found myself skimming over the passages until the end, when something happened in real time.e The ending's so great...it may work as your beginning. Marcus can reminisce as he needs later.

  7. Wow, you guys are really giving me something to think about. This blog beta-ing is turning out better than I'd imagined! ;-)