Sunday, November 12, 2006


The dark and stormy night was not dark and stormy, exactly; in fact the night in whatever manner it would procede to manifest itself had yet to arrive. At this cherished moment in the sprawl of time, the present hour effortlessly hovered between a magical sunset and sensuous twilight like a slightly bipolar dragonfly, not certain if it might fly up in manic glee into the golden-fleeced clouds or plummet with withering depression into the purple depths of coming darkness.

Beneath these lovely if indecisive skies, a large and impressive house rose from an abundant carpet of well-tended grasses of many shades of green and flower beds spilling like rainbow pools at their precise edges, a stately house that many square, uneducated hands had masoned out of brick and mortar and low-income sweat. An eminently suitable house that served an appreciative master whose flaws, aside from some very poor taste in wallpaper color, were as scarce as the teeth of feminine chickens.

A house of houses, that waited for the unexpected visitor that it sensed would come driving like Mario Andretti down the dusty lane winding out from the huddle of the quaint little town not five miles away, waited with the resignation of the immovable, always waiting as it had been since it had first gazed through its some thirty-odd windows at the blazing globe of its first post-construction dawn, although not with eyes, as it was simply, beautifully, completely a house.

And so Marcia, she of the exquisite taste in wallpaper, came. She came in a cloud of raw sienna dust, came in her lovely green dress which she knew would clash horribly with John's library, or at least its expansive walls and their unfortunately-chosen coverings, came with her blue eyes flashing like sapphires and her sweet red lips compressed into a slashing line, came to the door of this magnificent house and hammered on it with a white-knuckled fist that moved with the vigor of a rainbow trout in the vicinity of a winter-starved, golden brown-furred grizzly bear.

The carved oak door slowly swung in, framing the man within, the man with whom Marcia had shared so many hours of appreciation of the unassuming, thirty-odd-windowed house, and those mellow, lazy if somewhat waffling sunsets that hinted at the possibility of an unprecedented rollback in time, much as the happy yellow smiley faces in Wal-Mart ads often precipitated rollbacks in prices, but perhaps not with as much avarice and sunny indifference to the dire straits of those forced to make the bulk of their purchases within its prefab, anonymous, unnoticed walls.

"Marcia." John looked past her slim, green-clad shoulder to gaze upon the last flicker of buttercup radiance sending its beams through the thick green lace of the leaves on the oak tree in the very front of the house. The tree of his youth, the tree under which he had first kissed his second-grade girlfriend Gertrude Hicks, who had tossed her carroty curls and screeched with the venom of a banshee before punching the seven-year-old version of himself in the belly. Or perhaps it had been Marcia; she had never taken his decision not to remove the deep, serene, soothing pea-colored wallpaper in his study with anything resembling understanding. "How lovely to see you."

"You're not looking at me, John," Marcia said, turning slightly so that more of the last of the ebbing day's light could bathe both of them in a gentle, luminescent glow that would have made round-cheeked cherubs with purest alabaster wings sigh with envy from their perches in the endless vaults of heaven. "You're looking at the sun."

"It is glorious, isn't it?" He smiled at the horizon, captured by the enchantment of the moment when day met dusk, when the long afternoon hours drew to a silent close, when he could draw the curtains and listen to the crickets sing to him from the depths of the small woods behind his modest dwelling, which--

"John." A hand waved in front of his face, a small but strong hand, a hand that promised as much pain as it did delight. "I've been standing here for thirty minutes. I'm cold, my feet hurt, and I'm bored."

"Wait, darling." John encircled her waist with his arm, gently turning her toward the magnificence of the yellow star that warmed their planet, that shed its power and glory over the fields to coax tender green shoots up from the rich soil, shoots that would grow into fine, sturdy stalks of yellow and white corn, the kernels of which held the sweetness and warmth of its touch, especially when liberally soaked in the rich, melting creaminess of butter, with perhaps just a tiny sprinkle of sea salt from the shores of faraway, exotic India, where--

"Snap out of it!"

Marcia's hand slapped his cheek, and so stunned was John that all he could do was gaze down at the face of his beloved, that delicate oval now tinted a light pink, a pink that rivaled the inside of a conch shell--

"I mean it," Marcia said, raising her hand in a menacing gesture. "Quit it, or so help me God I'll get the duct tape."

Her threat so unnerved John that he couldn't imagine how to better illustrate how menacing her gesture seemed. "Quit what, dearest?"

"The sun?" She pointed to the horizon. "Is setting. That's it. Get over it."

"The sun?" He smiled wistfully as he leaned over to gaze around her at the light symphony that danced over his retinas with the feet of tiny ballerinas in tutus made from the down of newborn chicks. "The sun is setting, darling, it's setting like a soft, lemon-colored feather drifting to the glassy surface of a silvery lake at--" his head snapped back as she hit him a second time. "What?"

"Inside. Now."

Marcia marched him in the same manner a drill sergeant might to his library. John tried to envision the interior of his home in a poetic and enlightening fashion, but she hurried him too much for him to compose the proper expository phrases.

"Darling, if you would just slow down, I could show the reader--"

"Every freaking inch of the inside of your house with more adjectives than Webster's prints? Spare me." Marcia shoved him into the library. "The readers are already in a description coma from the setting sun stuff." She gave him a furious look, a glare, a stare with lethal intent, a gaze that chilled him down to his bunions, and added, "Don't you dare start on me, either."

"What would you have me do, darling?" John asked, closing his eyes so that he would not be tempted to compare her to Blake's rose, or Faulkner's Miss Emily, or one of Viehl's diminutive, slime-coated alien slaver beings.

"I don't know." Marcia began to pace around the room. At least he thought so; he heard her footsteps thumping but his eyes were still squeezed shut tightly. "Talk to me? Do something to me? We're supposed to be in love. Not with the setting sun, not with this house, not with anything but each other. So say something. Do something!"

"You mean, use dialogue and action instead of setting?" He shuddered. "Sweetheart, how can I stoop to facilitate such vulgar prose? Our readers deserve to know my world as I know it, and see it, and feel it. I just bought the newly revised and expanded edition of Roget's, too. You're so beautiful. The sun is so incredible. This house, this wallpaper--"

Marcia grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "If you even think one nice word about this hideous wallpaper, I will strangle you with my bare hands. Which, by the way, do not move like rainbow trout."

"Very well." John swallowed and opened one eye a fraction of an inch. "I'll talk to you. I'll . . . do things to you. Are you sure I can't tell you how inspiring I find your--"


"Not even when your hair and eyes remind me of--"


"Oh, very well." John sighed. "Best get out the duct tape."


  1. Not quite Michnerian, but with a little more work, you'll get there. I would have really appreciated capturing this scene from the moment the boiling gases coalesced to create the sun. I needed to see the rock formations press up from the formative shifting plates that were formed as the gases cooled from the center of the earth. And the amoebas drifting through the oceans before they evolved and slithered from the soup to crawl on land, eventually learning to walk upright to spawn the ancestors of John and Marcia.

    Only then could I fully appreciate the frustration Marcia felt as John dawdled with the sunset one more moment. Of course, then the NaNo novel would be complete before completing the opening scene.

    This method was much more concise. Thank heavens I wasn't drinking anything.

    Cutting and running back to the drivel that comprises this year's NaNo.

  2. That's a coincidence. The last thing I typed - just seconds ago - was a post on Absolute Write telling someone the childhood book they were describing was Michener's 'Centennial'
    Help, I cannot escape.

  3. Anonymous2:59 AM

    Wow, that post sounds surprisingly like 2/3 of my NaNovel so far. Except, I don't think you used enought adjectives. Rather, I do not think (more word count from non contractions). Ah, the fun of November... ;)

    p.s. I love John and Marcia. I really really do.

  4. You are, sans doubt, disgustingly brilliant.
    And I think I'll scratch the post I was going to do on description tomorrow...

  5. I can't stop laughing.

    And that Marcia is one heck of a heroine!

  6. Bwaaaaaaaa ha haaaaaaa I want to find out what comes after the duct tape! woohooo

  7. Ouch, what book, probably thrown against a wall not decorated with green wallpaper, at page two brought this one on? ;)

  8. Anonymous12:07 PM

    "The readers are already in a description coma from the setting sun stuff."

    She's mistakenly assuming that we read it in the first place. =P

  9. I started reading this and thought, "What the hell..." But I kept on reading. It was hideously fascinating, like a train wreck.

    What's really terrifying is that there are some published books like this. Annie Dilliard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," anyone?

  10. Anonymous12:29 PM

    There are reasons my editors swig Mylanta before they ask me to add in a little more setting to my stuff. :)

    Bernita, you are truly description-gifted. Don't you dare delete that post.

    Gabriele, I had no particular book in mind when I wrote this. I think it's that I've been smothered in setting so often in every genre that it's become a permanent writer tick of mine. Especially descriptions of sunsets. Every time I see one in a story, it gives my left eye an uncontrollable twitch.

  11. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Have you been reading Faulkner again?


  12. Ok, if you're tired of sunsets, how about a nice bit of rain? And mud. *grin*

    "Curse the German rain," Varus muttered and drew his sagum closer. The path was slippery with mud, and an icy north-west wind drove the rain into the faces of the men plodding along with their heads bowed. A creak and curses told Varus that one of the mule carts had got stuck again. He considered sending the pioneers ahead to build a log road, but it would slow them down even more.

    "How long did Arminius say this difficult part of the way was?" Lucius Eggius rode up to the general. "Decurion Adgandes sends word the train is no longer in contact with the main column. Those ox wagons get stuck even worse than the mule carts. And his cavalry can't flank the train any longer, with the Hunta river flooding the meadows; he says he keeps his squadron to the rear of the wagons."

    "He is that far back? That won't do," Varus said. He and his staff had passed the area in early morning when the rain was but a drizzle and the grass no worse than lying heavy with wetness. Now it was less than two hours to dusk and the sky low and leaden, with clouds bursting in windswept torrents. "Gnaeus Numerius," he called over his shoulder, "get your men back and help the train along. Cut some of those damn trees and cover the worst of the mud holes."

    The chief engineer saluted and turned his horse. Further back in the column was a commotion as another rider pressed through. Varus recognised Cassius Chaerea. What was the matter now?

    "Publius Quinctilius, my general," Cassius called, "the Nineteenth is under attack!"

    "What do you mean - under attack?" Varus lifted his arm, commanding a halt.

    "The Bructeri shoot arrows and javelins from out of the trees. Several men have fallen, among them the primus pilus Titus Ulpius; and the tribune Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus is wounded."

  13. OMG, PBW, you're channelling Dean Koontz!!

  14. er, no disrespect to Mr Koontz, whose preponderance of creativity, abundance of literary craftsmanship, and inexhaustible vocabulary has left me fatigued in all previous attempts to read for any extended length, the lyrical, flourishing, emotional, metaphorical, textual, touching, chilling, moving, exquisite, prose that is the result of such amazing, gifts.

    ps. Sorry, Amie. heh

  15. Heh.

    Heh heh.

    I think I'll save a link to this, and when someone wants to know why to avoid excessive adverbiage, I'll just point them here. It's a mini-lesson, a literary 2x4 alongside the head.

  16. Oh John.. look into my sapphire eyes and sing my praises...

    Ooops... gosh dang so what was the point???? I have been looking at some of my drivel and I have cut, cut, and cut some more... I really liked those orwellian phrases and complex sentences.


  17. Bwahahahahaha, I just luv this, PBW! What a great way to show how too much description can make one...glaze over and start to skim (no matter HOW beautiful the prose). In today's "must be satisfied NOW" society, the sooner we get on with the story the better! :) Thanks for the fun reminder.

  18. Anonymous3:22 AM

    I;ve never had the patience for much more than bare bones description but I do love dialog and action.

    At casa Nico, the running joke is KSR's Mars Trilogy and the endless pages of decription of red rocks, red dust, red mud, red boulders....

    Unless it's active to a scene, I tend to give stuff a pretty basic flyby, because if I wanted to read of the lavish descriptions of the carpet the hero's pacing on, i'd get a carpet catalog.


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