Thursday, April 12, 2007

First Chapter

I suddenly realized that if I want feedback on the WIP's first chapter, I'd better toss it out QUICK! So here it is . . . . and what do you think? Would you keep reading?


Chapter One

The aortic arch, I’ve convinced myself, resembles the squealing monster that exploded out of a man’s chest in the first Alien movie. The brachiocephalic veins look more like an upside down cypress tree.

I grimace at the color photograph in my anatomy textbook, then close my eyes and try to commit the multi-syllable words to memory. Here I am, near the end of my first semester of mortuary school, and I’m still having trouble keeping my veins and arteries straight.
Behind me, an irate mother in the carpool line is honking, though we have a good three minutes before kindergarten dismissal. She probably has to pick up her child and get back to work before the end of her lunch hour. While I sympathize with her impatience, I wish she’d lay off the horn so I can concentrate.

I open one eye and peer at the book propped on my steering wheel. The right internal jugular branches off the right and left brachiocephalic veins, which lie outside the brachiocephalic trunk. Bra-chio-ceph-alic . . . sounds like some kind of dinosaur. Bugs would like that word.
I turn the book sideways, but the photograph on the page looks nothing like a prehistoric animal. I find it hard to believe, in fact, that anything like this jumble of tunnels and tubes exists in my body, but skin covers myriad mysteries . . .

I snap the book shut as the bell at Round Lake Elementary trills through the warm morning. The kindergarten classes troop out into the sunshine, their hands filled with lunch boxes and construction paper cutouts. The tired teachers stride to the curb and peer into various vehicles, then motion the appropriate children forward.

My spirits lift when my red-haired cherub catches my eye and waves. My son, Bradley “Bugs” Graham, waits until his teacher calls his name, then he skips toward me.

“Hey, Mom.” He climbs into the back seat of the van as his teacher holds the door.

“Hey yourself, kiddo.” I check to make sure he’s snapped his seatbelt, then smile my thanks at his teacher. “Did you have a good morning?”

“Yep.” He leans forward to peek into the front seat. “Do we hafta go home, or can we stop to get a snack?”

My thoughts veer toward the to-do list riding shotgun in the front passenger seat. I still have to run to the grocery store, swing by the dry cleaner’s to pick up Gerald’s suit, and stop to see if the bookstore has found a used copy of Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Second Edition. Textbooks are usually pricey, but medical textbooks ought to come with fixed-rate mortgages. Still, I need to find that book if I’m going to complete my online course by the end of the semester.

“I’ll pull into a drive-through,” I tell Bugs, knowing he won’t mind. “You want McDonalds?”
He nods, so I point the car toward Highway 441.

“Mr. Gerald make any pickups today?” Bugs asks.

I ease onto the highway, amazed at how easily my children have accepted the ongoing work of the funeral home. “None today.”

“See this?”

I glance in the rear view mirror and see Bugs waving his construction paper creation. “Yes.”

“It’s a stegosaurus. Can I give it to Gerald?”

“I think he’d like that.”

I force a smile as an unexpected wave of grief rises within me. Like a troublesome relative who doesn’t realize she’s worn out her welcome, sorrow often catches me by surprise. Gerald, the elderly embalmer at Fairlawn, has become a surrogate father for my sons. Thomas, my ex-husband and my children’s father, has been gone for three months, but in some ways he’s never been closer. He lies in the Pine Forest Cemetery, less than a mile from our house, so we can’t help but think of him every time we drive by.

I get Bugs a vanilla ice cream cone at the McDonald’s drive-through, then we run to the grocery and the dry cleaner. I’ll call the book store later; no sense in going downtown when a simple phone call will suffice.

Finally we turn into the long driveway that leads to the Fairlawn Funeral home, where we’ve lived for the past five months. Gerald has poured a new concrete pad next to the garage, and as I park on it, Bugs notices that the call car is gone.

“Uh oh.” He looks at me. “Somebody bit the dust.”

I press my lips together. A couple of months ago I would have mumbled something about the old station wagon needing a wash, but now I know there’s no reason to shield my children from the truth—we are in the death care industry. The squeamishness I felt when we first arrived vanished the day I walked into the prep room and gloved up to help Gerald lay out my ex-husband.

“Come on in the house,” I tell my son. “I’ll pour you a glass of milk.”


Anonymous said...

I would definitely keep reading! What's the release date for #1 again?

Anonymous said...

Love it, love it already! I will be watching for this one and grab it up quick when it's released.

Dana said...

Wait. Her husband died? I thought they were divorced. Why did I think that? So the ex-husband - wait - he's an ex-husband. So they are divorced AND he's dead...okay... And he's been gone 3 months but they've lived at the funeral home 5 months... Hmmm.... He died shortly after they got divorced? I assume all that happens in the first one... Sorry... taking me a while to get caught up.

Okay, Angie, even with the veins and other body parts I didn't get sqeamish! Yay! :)

It's good. I'd keep reading. I'm used to something "big" happening pretty quickly in a story so hopefully something happens to press us on - but I'm sure something does. Problem is, we're all going to be biased because we've read your work before and realize it's going to be good so, of course, we'll keep reading. :)

Bottom line I'd keep reading but I'd want "something" to happen soon.

Anonymous said...

Okay I'm interested!

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked, but like Dana, I'm waiting for that "something" - you know, expect the unexpected. After 35 or so books, I know it's coming and won't put the book down until it hits me. Looks like another great read in the offing; thanks for the sneak preview.


Anonymous said...

P.S. I gave my younger (5) granddaughter "If I Had Long, Long Hair" for Easter. She LOVED it, as did her mother. Clyde

Anonymous said...

Personally, I bogged down on the first paragraph. Then, the ex-husband/dead husband, 3-month/5-month questions stopped my forward progress again. Normally, your books immediately hook me. I'm not there with this one.

Dana said...

Oh yeah, that's true. That first paragraph is a doozy. Usually when I'm in a bookstore browsing books, if the cover/title catch my eye, I read the first sentence/paragraph. That said, if I didn't know the author and read that first paragraph I'd put the book back on the shelf. Makes me wonder how many good books I've passed over. But anyway... Anonymous has a point...

Anonymous said...

Ok I just have to say something here - the 3 month/5 month thing is something I LIKED - because you're giving us hints at the story without telling us! That was the thing I found intriguing, that made me want to turn the page - putting those two dates together and then realizing - oh my goodness, she had to work on her ex-husband's body! how did that come about, and how on earth did she feel?

And I liked the first paragraph because I'm one of the people who wish 'er' would get back to medical stories and forget the interpersonal nonsense already.

Kay Day said...

I'm ready for the next chapter.

I had to do a little thinking about the husband/no ex-husband dead 3 months, too. But it was intriguing to me, like it was for AP. Also, I figured that I wouldn't be confused at all if I had read the first two books. And that you are going to answer those questions soon, so I would be satisfied even if I accidently pick up this book and read it before reading the others.

Asking questions is what you teach us and as far as I'm concerned, it works.

Brian Reaves said...

You hooked me on the first line! I would definitely keep reading this one.