Our next First Impressions post comes from Mark Koopmans. His manuscript, REVIVAL: THE DONALD BRASWELL STORY, is the memoir of a Welsh Opera tenor whose promising career was almost destroyed by the hit-and-run accident which robbed him of his voice. Mark is co-writing this memoir with Braswell.
Chapter One: Waiting for the Horse
“… People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”
– Hebrews 9:27 NIV
February, 2008 – Dallas, Texas
In the long, empty restroom, my reflection waits for the answer to my supposed nugget of inspiration, but I’m cautious in case the door opens and I’m pegged as a weird old guy in a dark suit.
You realize this isn’t your second chance; it’s your last chance, right?
Glancing at the door, I shake my head as the statement in the form of a question repeats itself. Leaving my unanswered reflection in ponder mode, I wave at the automatic towel dispenser, which releases a sliver of coarse, brown paper.
A little annoyed at the cheap cost-cutting measures of the swanky hotel, I wave my hands like a demented monarch until the reluctant machine parts with enough paper to mostly dry my hands. I add my small offering a grey trashcan that’s erupting like Mt. Recycled, pull the door open and head toward the busy conference room.
America’s Got Talent had called and thousands of us descended on Dallas for this, their latest round of auditions. The guy in charge of our loose group had said we were “going up at about noon.” Looking at my Timex, there was still an hour to burn. Relaxed, I straddled a chair, with an annoying rock – changed it for another – and went through possible answers to whatever questions the three judges might throw at me during the introduction. I wanted to be ready because if I beat the infamous buzzers, I planned to use every second of stage time.
I like the idea of opening in the restroom, with Braswell steeling himself for the coming audition, wanting to give himself a pep-talk in the mirror but afraid someone will walk in and think he’s a nut. However, I’m not sure what “the answer to my supposed nugget of inspiration” refers to. Is it the Bible verse above? But that’s not a question. Is it the line below: You realize this isn’t your second chance; it’s your last chance, right? If so, that needs to come first. But I think a simple rephrasing would help. He’s staring at his reflection, hoping an inspiring thought will come to him – but instead his inner voice taunts him by captioning the obvious.
There are some places where the narrative voice can be streamlined by cutting unnecessary words. (Annoyedinstead of A little annoyed and cost-cutting measures instead of cheap, cost-cutting measures.) Sentences can be simplified, advancing us to the action sooner. For example, the sixth paragraph could start: Thousands of hopeful stars had descended on Dallas to audition for the next season of America’s Got Talent.
Overall, I think the page does a great job of placing us right there, on the spot. There are plenty of wonderful sensory images that convey the setting and the anxious waiting of the narrator – for instance, straddling the chair with a feigned relaxed air, then having to switch it out for one that doesn’t rock. But there could be a little more polishing of the sentences. Pretend an agent or editor told you that 10k words must be slashed from the manuscript. (Ahem. That might have happened to me.) You’d be surprised how many sentences suddenly spring out at you as excessively wordy! I am someone who writes bloated first drafts. Then I put on my Grim Reaper robe and bring out the scythe. My most recent work, which topped 98k in the first draft is currently down to 78k, and I know there is still more that will have to be cut.
Thanks, Mark, for sharing your first page with us! This is my first memoir on First Impressions. Readers, please give us your thoughts and be sure to say aloha to Mark at his blog, Aloha! Mark Koopmans Says Hi from HI. And, of course, be sure to see what Marcy Hatch has to say about this same page over at Mainewords. (Maine and Hawaii. Can’t get too much farther away than that in the U.S., huh?)
Thanks for letting me be a First Impression and my initial take is that I agree!
I can *so* tighten up some sentences without losing the meaning and will look at the overall structure.
(Jumps on the back of a Jet-ski…)
Heading to Maine… see you and aloha!!!
I agree with Diane’s comments too and…I was so captured in the moment you’ve described that I felt a little gypped when it ended. Really well done.
I’m just here to stalk Mark.
Amazing how I can read a piece and thoroughly like it, then read the critique, and it’s like “a-ha” that would be better. Great advice Dianne.
AloooooHA, Mark! Nice to see you again.
I agree with what Dianne mentions. I’d totally keep reading. What kept coming in my mind, though, was an expectation that this had to do with the death reference in the scripture. When it ended up being a guy getting ready for a AGT tryout, I was surprise. Intrigued, but surprised.
This is great stuff, Mark. Thanks for giving him a great first impression, Dianne. 🙂
The story this memoir will be telling sounds fascinating and inspiring, and like one I would enjoy reading. Starting the story in a restroom is unusual, but on the plus side, all readers could immediately relate to the setting. However, I found the opening sentence a little awkward and confusing, and can’t help but wonder about the relevance of the quotations from Hebrews. (I assume the relevance will be revealed in the rest of the chapter.) I have to agree with Dianne about dropping some of the superfluous words and tightening things up a bit, but I think you’re off to a great start. I’d continue reading. Good luck with it.
Mark, I agree with the above comments, that the writing here could be more straightforward. Maybe the MC could be staring at his reflection, and then he thinks, “You know this is your last chance?” I like how you set off the thought with italics, no tags. Also, maybe the statement shouldn’t repeat itself, maybe the taunting inner voice repeats itself, as annoying inner voices often do. Good luck, and thanks for sharing!
I love the juxtaposition of someone on their last chance with a show that’s designed to give first chances.
And agreed with your suggestions Dianne. The tightening up makes it…well…tighter.
I agree with Dianne’s suggestions. It wounds like an interesting story. You pulled us into the setting really well.
Hey, Mark, Hi, Dianne,
Nothing really to add except, it sounds like a fantastic opening. WIth a bit of spit and polish it will be awesome!
Good luck Mark.
Excellent suggestions Dianne. For my first book I cut it in half … seriously. The second I went in the opposite extreme and went minimalist. Had to add… LOL. But I trimmed it down a bit more and Now I’m happy with it.
That naysaying inner voice is really powerful. I liked that.
I love the voice of this! I can definitely envision Donald in this position. I agree with Dianne’s comments and there were only two other things I’d note.
It was a little difficult to believe he would feel “Relaxed” as he straddles the chair, since you’ve just shown us how nervous he was in the bathroom.
Also watch the tenses – you start in present, but switch to past in the last paragraph.
Great comments, Dianne. I was a bit more critical on Marcy’s blog. I hope Mark isn’t too mad at me. O.o
But honest feedback’s important.
Good luck with the Grim Reaper robes, Dianne, and cut that thing down to size! 🙂
I love the voice here. This is a guy who thinks like I do. The paper towel dispenser had me thinking “totally.” Good job.
Like some of the other comments said, I have to say that I was a little confused at first. Maybe you could rearrange this to set the scene, then ask the question before he mentions the nugget of inspiration.
Go for it with the scythe, but some of these sentences, like this one, “America’s Got Talent had called and thousands of us descended on Dallas for this, their latest round of auditions.” beg for more detail. That was an exciting call, but you just segway (LOL, you know why I spelled it like that) into the thousands descending on Dallas after that. Perhaps make it more personal here. It doesn’t have to be more wordy. That just sort of threw me out of his head for a sec.
Anyway, this is a great first page. Good luck!