Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Do You Think: The Interactive Novel

I'm hijacking the blog for my literary endeavors. Without permission.

Sunday's New York Times had an article on the unpredictability of the publishing industry:
The Greatest Mystery: Making A Bestseller. The jist of the article is that publishers aren't good at guessing in advance what will sell, and the industry has surprisingly little feedback and interactive responses from its market.

So I thought, what if I try to see if I can get some feedback on Double Billing, my novel-of-the-moment, either use the feedback, or let prospective agents know that 50 million people read the first few pages and now want more? So here goes, the first chapter, the set up for the rest of the novel. If you want to make suggestions on how it would be better, please feel free to comment. If you're not a regular commenter, just click on "post a comment" at the end of the piece. If you're not a blogger, sign in under "other" so you can give yourself a name, real or fictional. If you must be anonymous, please end your post with a distinguishing signature (i.e. "Anon-1") I will also stick a Poll below. Please, please, vote on the poll. If it helps the cause, the protagonist is a psychiatrist.

After this, I'll be back with a case of SSRI withdrawl, after I find out the answer, and get permission.

Double Billing: Chapter 1 (it's only 2 pages):

She emerged from the subway to an assault on all her senses. Cars, buses and taxicabs honked their horns, black exhaust puffed in her face, pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming, the wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go. She studied the streets signs, glanced at a map and unable to get her bearings, finally just picked a direction and started walking.
Emily Mason came to New York City that day, in part, to see The Gates in Central Park—the display by Christo and Jeanne-Claude of monuments lining the footpaths of the park. Each one was a huge metal portal topped with an orange curtain flap that billowed in the wind, looking a bit like a giant puppet theatre. There were thousands of them, literally 7,503 Gates, each standing 16 feet tall, lining 23 miles of walkways.
Emily made her way to Central Park and once there, she walked for hours, stopping only once to buy sugar-coated nuts from a vendor. The Gates were the oddest of sights, magical and magnificent, and Emily felt compelled to follow their trail. Was it art, she asked? What did it mean? Here and there, in the northern, quieter parts of the park, Emily would leave the paths, climb a boulder to look out over the landscape, and find herself giggling out loud at the bewildering sight of the orange fluttering canvases.
Eventually, the sun set and the temperature dropped; after all, it was February. It was suddenly quite dark and a stranger to New York City, Emily found herself a bit disoriented and unsure of how to get where she wanted to be. Chilled, tired, and no longer able to appreciate anything but her own discomfort, she left Central Park on the East Side by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and walked over to Third Avenue. She wanted hot soup or coffee, or both, and ducked into a diner.
“Emily,” A man said. She glanced at the stranger reflexively; she didn’t know him and Emily is such a common name-- obviously he was talking to some other Emily. He was sitting alone, though his table remained set for two and he’d been careful not to let his belongings— his black leather gloves, house keys, an unopened envelope-- spill onto the other half.
There was no hostess and Emily searched for a clean table—the ones closest to the door had dirty dishes on them.
“Emily!” The man’s voice was more insistent. She spotted a table for four; the restaurant was nearly empty and she was certain it would be okay to sit there alone. She’d have room to give her bag its own seat and spread out with a street map. Emily settled her coat onto the chair beside her though, still chilled, she left her scarf draped around her shoulders.
The man was suddenly there, having gotten up from his own seat to approach her. She could have been frightened but he had a gentle face, a cultured presence, and nothing about him was threatening.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “I got us a table over there. I ordered a drink for you.” She was confused. I’m sorry, sir, she wanted to say, but you have the wrong Emily. Before she could speak, his expression changed. His eyes grew wide, maybe his skin blanched a shade.
“Emily, what did you do to your hair? And where did you get those clothes?”
And so my identical twin met Jules, my husband-- her brother-in-law-- just moments before I, also an Emily, arrived.

End of Chapter One.
Please Vote Below-- you may need to scroll down a bit to the poll.

If you'd like to keep reading, I'll be posting in segments at:
Double Billing: The Interactive Novel Project
Come visit. Read another version of Chapter One. Comment! Vote!
Thank You all for your input, I love reading everyone's opinions.

Thanks everyone!


NeoNurseChic said...

Hi Dinah,

Thanks for sharing that with us! Seems intriguing! I know this is just chapter 1, but I'm wanting to know....were these identical twins separated at birth or something? Why do they have the same name? I'm sure this gets answered as the story goes along - but a good setup for questions in the reader's mind!

I'm going to leave a couple comments here for constructive suggestions, but you can take them or leave them. Just don't take them personally! (I always worry about something I write being taken too personally because it's very hard to determine inflection from the written word...)

The following sentence: "Cars, buses and taxicabs honked their horns, black exhaust puffed in her face, pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming, the wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go."

I would do something with that to make it a little bit easier to read. That is, unless you are trying to create the overstimulating feeling of emerging from the subway. I would either make it separate sentences or perhaps throw in some semicolons instead of commas. One suggestion would be to do the following:

"Cars, buses, and taxicabs honked their horns, and black exhaust puffed in her face. Pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming. The wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go."

Just a thought!

My only other comment is that you use commas quite a bit throughout the entire chapter. This is fine, but you may want to vary the sentence structure a little so that there are areas where commas aren't being used quite so much. It depends on the reason for the commas in each sentence - are they for conjunctive (is that even a word?) purposes, for multiple subjects, or for using a varied sentence structure where you have to put in commas because things aren't flowing in the typical subject-verb fashion? Again, just a thought.

Overall, I thought it was very good, and I'm interested in reading more!!! Once again, I hope you do not take any of my comments in the wrong way!! Just throwing out my 0.02!

Take care and thanks for sharing it with us!
Carrie :)

NeoNurseChic said...

Oh and if you don't like my first suggestion of breaking that one sentence into a few different sentences, then my other idea was to use semicolons. I forgot to put an example of doing it that way, but I figure it's probably stating the obvious. Here it is, just the same:

Cars, buses and taxicabs honked their horns, and black exhaust puffed in her face; pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming; the wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go.

Dr. A said...

Great descriptive setup. Sounds like you know your way around NYC.

The only other first impression I had was this: You had me until the last paragraph. The entire thing is written in the third person - until the last paragraph when it's written in the first person when the character refers to herself.

Maybe that's what you intended to do and beginning there is where the character does self narration. But, on initial read, that was confusing to me.

Other than that, great stuff! When does the evil duck get introduced into the plot. Or, did I give something away.

I'll also post something on my blog to try to get you more feedback. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The last sentence is way too jarring. It has the sense that you're slamming the reader over the head with a surprise ending rather than gradually unfolding the plot twist. I'm reminded of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors where he let his characters play with the confusion for a bit while everyone gradually figured out who was who. The audience was allowed in on the secret in a way that wasn't obtrusive to the story flow.

Anonymous said...

My only real complaint is the sentence structure in some places. For example, the last sentence caught me off guard too, but not because I minded the surprise. For such a departure, I needed something simpler that I reread because of the surprise, not because it was confusing. Maybe more like, "And that's how my husband met Emily, my homonymous [err, use better word] twin sister."

- First two paragraphs had me rereading due to sentence structure
- typo: quite dark and [as] a stranger
- Emily settled her coat onto the chair beside her though[?], still chilled, she left her scarf draped around her shoulders.
- Oh, and how many painkillers was the Emilys' mom on when she gave twins the same name? I hope there's a satisfying explanation (to be fair, I had a name change just after birth for that exact reason).

That said, it's got a good hook and I personally would read more.

HP said...

It had me hooked and wanting to read more. I liked the sense of overstimulation. For me, as a non-NYer, it conveyed the hustle an outsider might feel. One thing I didn't like much was the use of hyphens but then I am no literary critic!


NeoNurseChic said...

I'm sorry but I'm going back to the opening again. If you want to really connect the sense of overstimulation to the 2nd sentence, maybe another idea would be to stick in an actual colon at the end of the first sentence and do this:

She emerged from the subway to an assault on all her senses: Cars, buses and taxicabs honked their horns; black exhaust puffed in her face; pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming; the wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go.

I changed the commas to semicolons. I would probably still do that - but I like that effect there.

Sorry to keep playing with that part!

Emy L. Nosti said...

Okay, so upon reading that article and remembering Stephen King's experiment with The Plant...let me just throw out an idea here--even though you probably just want to focus on your current manuscript. How about something like a serialized novel (easy to do, I'd guess, as patients can move in and out of the story) that begins and generates interest and a following online and then moves into print? From the article, it sounds like a crapshoot and that you just need establish yourself and prove there's a market for (all of) your writing.
Then again, what do I know?

ClinkShrink said...

I found myself wanting to know more about the character rather than wanting to follow the surprise. My first thoughts were: Why is she in the park? Is she an artist? Is she taking the day off work for some fun? Is she from New York? Why is she going to a restaurant alone? I know this is just the first chapter and you probably explain all that later on, but I think I'd like more of taste of who she is before you bring in the surprise.

I'll bet you've gotten tons of conflicting input about this too.

Keep this on Shrink Rap; it's a nice change of pace.

ClinkShrink said...

I like your use of commas. I like your sentence structure---and I don't mind hyphens.

Anonymous said...

You blog well. You sound like you are a good shrink. You have coffee with the judge. You have a family. The novel? It's not going to happen unless you first become famous for your blog, appear on Oprah, or self publish.


Anonymous said...

The first sentence does not grab me and make me ask questions to which I want to find the answers. Why not make the first sentence
She had no idea which way to go. ???
It makes me want to know where she is, thus allowing you to give the description of the place. It makes me want to know why she is confused which allows you to tell me how she is feeling and why.

And I have to agree with one of the other commentors, the change of voice was jarring. I once read you should only change voice at chapter breaks if you are going to change voice at all in a book.

Just some thoughts.

DrivingMissMolly said...


Although I love the premises you have shared both in this post and in a prior post about your novel ideas, I found that I lost interest in this piece by the third paragraph.

It did not grab me and pull me in. I stayed on the surface, reading words.

I think your sentence structure is fine. Even if it could use some tweaking, you should work on what is in those sentences first.

If anything, you need more description, but more intense adjectives. I found your piece to be too wordy and lacking adequate descriptions.

In the first paragraph, I would dispense with "she emerged from the subway..." to, lets say,

"She escaped the confines of the over-crowded subway, disgorged along with a sea of people, only to be greeted by a cacophony of bleating horns and choking black exhaust"

A good book should be sensuous. I want to see, smell, taste and touch the characters and their surroundings. I want to immerse myself in them. I want to care about them and maybe even cry!

Have you read about those Gates? I encourage you to go to their website and learn about their visions for public art. They have a passion for public art, which they fund themselves, which is admirable.

Could you use the Gates as a conceit throught the novel? Those Gates could pop-up throughout the novel. I mean, can there be a better transition than a gate?

I admire your efforts. You have great ideas and the courage to see them through and I think that is a great place to start.

Read alot. That will help!


Anonymous said...

Love it Dinah! Why twins both named Emily, the suspense is killing me.
Thanks, M&N

Anonymous said...

OK-here I go. It pulled me just in a mediocre way. But, your idea of getting our opinions is just superb. Some tweaking and your first chapter will be superb!
My problem is that it has to be believable....you say that she does not know the City. If one doesn't know the City, they would not stay out in Central Park until dark. Not believable.
I would change the first paragraph to first person.
"The aroma of black exhaust stung her nostrils. Her ears were assaulted by the constant blare of the honking horns of cars, buses and cabs. Her sense of balance was skewed by unaware faceless pedestrians bumping into her as they rushed down the street drinking their coffee on the run. The cold wind chilled her to the bone as she realized she had no idea which way to go."

N=1 said...

You are brave, Dinah. I, too, have about 1/2 a novel posted on my blog (Division 70). I, too, asked for feedback. It garnered some oohs and aahhs for the pacing, and nothing else.

Maybe there is a market for a niche press: nurse and physician writers.

I'll be back for more Double Billing, but I don't think I want to influence the writing - the discovery is part of the adventure for me....

Dinah said...

Wow! I love it, keep commenting, keep voting.

The book is finished, though this is the second version of the first chapter. I'm setting up a side blog: Double Billing: The Interactive Novel project, and I hope you'll all come visit. The next step will be to give you the option to vote on this version of chapter one vs. another version.

Thanks everyone!

Anonymous said...

I voted. I'm sold. I think if I just read the first chapter I might ask myself whether this was going to be a literary beach read, or whether this was going to seriously explore the conclaves of the human heart. (Whatever that means...will it be a 'thriller' or not?) With some of these lovely sentences, though, not sure I would ever care.
--A Shrink Rap Groupie

Roy said...

I loved the twist at the end. Without it, I would have stopped reading.

Also, I'm surprised Dinah has not pointed this out (or, maybe I missed it), but there was not a change in voice at the end. The entire chapter is consistently first-person. It starts out referring to "she", which is the narrator's twin sister.

Finally, I (like Clink) don't mind her use of commas and hyphens -- which I like to use abundantly, myself. I also like to use ellipses... but just in my informal writing.

Dinah, thank you for the glimpse into the book. I like the idea of the interactive novel.

Catherine said...

You use strong verbs and I like that; however, your abundant use of commas detracts from the writing. I think it is because of this that the descriptions seem stiff instead of flowing. There is also little variation in the bulk of your sentences - maybe add some more sentences that are shorter and to the point?

I also agree with the other comments that the shift from third person to first is too abrupt. Is there a way of keeping it in third person without losing the element of surprise?

Out of curiousity is Emily a common name for the age of the character that you are writing? I am a reader who actually pays attention to those things!

Hope this helps (and doesn't hurt)

Midwife with a Knife said...

I love your complex sentence structure. I find that as I read, I imagine the scene. I also enjoyed your description of central park. :) I haven't read the other version yet, though, so I haven't really compared them.

Midwife with a Knife said...

Oh, I forgot to mention my little bit of "constructive criticism". It's really got nothing to do with the novel. It's just that the red typing on the blue screen is kinda hard to read.

fiftyfinally said...

I'm intrigued, but I usually only buy books that I've already read. I know I'm wierd, but I always request a book from the library first. I look forward to reading the next chapter