Monday, October 03, 2005
Juan Nakai's black Yaqui eyes flashed in anger as he watched his mother mixing the tortilla dough in the shade of her guamuchil tree. It wasn't exactly clear why he said, "How'd we get this casa, mama?"
Not a great opening paragraph. Eyes flashing in anger is cliche, and 'It wasn't exactly clear why' is weak and fuzzy. (If you're going to have someone do something for no apparent reason, don't draw attention to it!)
Perhaps he asked about the house because he wasn't sure how to go about asking about his father; that fuzz in the first paragraph is actually making this unclear. If we had a better idea of that, an expression on Juan's face for instance, the conversation about the house wouldn't feel like a false start. I think the one-sentence paragraphs are rather clunky, too.
Rosa looked like the kind of woman who had four kids to raise. She was plump and brown from the Sonoran Desert sun, with arms strong enough to embrace or cuff a
cranky child, her long dark hair tied in back with a piece of sisal string. She glanced at the house of upright mesquite poles tied together with jute.
"This casita? Your father built it." She frowned. "You want to know about your father?"
Something she had never said before.
Juan hadn't said anything about his father.
"I like to know where is he now."
Rosa picked up the lump of wheat-flour dough with both hands and slapped it down hard on the rickety plywood table. She said, "He went to Mexico City to make some money right after you was born. He said when he made enough money he's coming back and build us a big house."It's not bad. Juan decides he's going to Mexico City in seach of his father, which seems like a pretty promising setup for any number of stories, and I'd want to have a look to see what happens next. The style is fine - Gary needs to guard against cliche, which creeps in now and then, and to find more elegant ways to blend in the little bursts of social and geographical information that he needs his readers to know:
"I'm going to be fourteen in two months. Did he die--" he didn't want to say it, "or what?"
She sighed. "I don't know. He changed after you was born, started drinking. It took him over."
"Started drinking after I was born?"
"Oh, at first he was proud. I never seen a man as proud as your father the day you was born. When you was three weeks old he took you around the pueblo, showing
everyone his own little Yaqui warrior." Her hands stopped kneading. She looked toward the silent Sierra Madre in the distance but her eyes did not see the mountains.
"You think he's still in Mexico City?"
"I don't know. Maybe, maybe not."
She pinched off a ball of dough and patted it into a tortilla, keeping her thoughts private, and her visions. She had taught Juan to look for signs, that was good, but visions, seeing things that hadn't happened yet--no.
To make money Rosa made tamales with sweet potatoes and chilies from her garden. Rolled them in cornmeal from her plants grown in the hot earth, wrapped each one in the corn husk, tied the ends with a strip torn from the husk, and then steamed them.
For as long as he could remember Juan Nakai went around selling his mother's tamales on the streets and in the cantinas of Alianza. He'd say, "You want to buy tamales? For you--almost free."
On Saturdays he'd drive his uncle Teofilo's pickup truck loaded with fruits and vegetables to the public market to sell them. Then sit on the tailgate drinking coconut juice through a straw and practice reading comics. Capulina the chubby clown was his favorite, always dreaming up new ideas, like selling Pancho Villa's sombrero to the tourists.
Late afternoon Teofilo would put the unsold vegetables in a box and say to Juan, "This's for your mother."
Juan picked up Spanish from his customers. Most of the Yaquis spoke only Cahita. The pueblo isn't much different than it was a hundred years ago. Dogs and pigs and chickens run free. No school. No electric lines or running water or telephones. Cars or trucks parked in front of one out of four houses. A third have a bedroom. Most houses belong to a woman, more than half don't have a husband. But no orphans. Every child is part of the community.
Doesn't quite jell, does it? But for the most part, this looks fairly promising.
Thanks for posting Gary's words. All of your posts have been really helpful.
One trick might be to put these little dumps of information in to the argument of the narrative; eg 'he would have done this, but for the fact that...'. If they're part of the scenery, rather than part of the story, they stick out more. Of course, you still need a light touch with it.
If Gary was in line Aug. 17, that must mean I'm next. Goodie, goodie.
Annoyingly, the 17th and 18th of August were my two biggest-ever days, so you're still five or so back. Sorry.
Although, having said that, Juan might be a bit young for this particular YA, depending on what topics and conflicts are in the body of the book. This reads to me like middle grade and might fit better there. Seems to be a good U.S. market for multi-cultural MG these days.
The other thing that concerns me is the use of inappropriate grammar to indicate accent or dialect or position. I would skip that, since in my experience, it's a flag for editors and it's hard to make it hold up throughout a novel.
I do think this has lots of potential and with revision, could be a good read.
(Wah, five back? Oh well, that's not so bad)
By the way, sorry if you're being anonymized. I was getting comments from people with exciting LASER HAIR REMOVAL SACRAMENTO websites, but this word verification thingy doesn't seem to like anonymous people. The first two Anons on this page are Ian.