Thursday, April 29, 2010

Continuation of The General

Thank you for so many helpful comments! If you're not comfortable critiquing in comments, you can always email me at lisahgolden at gmail dot com.  

So far what I've posted here are excerpts from the manuscript. Actually, you've got the beginning of the story -   the Intro and the beginning of Chapter 1.  I'm seeking specific help on this one.  The transition between the Intro and Chapter 1 has confused some of you.  Would it help if there were a date on Chapter 1? (See below) (Also - suggested edits have been included below.)

Also, I've been reminded that editors/agents are not fond intensely dislike of flashbacks and maybe I should consider switching some things around in the arc of the story.  While I mull that over and continue working on the last few chapters, please tell me what you think with the added info.  Also, would it help if I gave you a synopsis?  It needs work so I've been reluctant to share it with you, but if it might help, perhaps we can all bat it around and see what to make of it.
Funny, in my career, I dreaded working with committees.  I got out of that line of work and what do I do?  Write a novel by committee.  But funnier still is that it's helping me immensely.  Your input is making this a better work of fiction piece..  You're making me think look hard at about what I write, to consider my each words, how I use them, etc.  I know I should be in a writers' circle, but the truth is, I don't feel like this piece is ready yet.  Plus I'd actually have to see people.  The horror.

Right then.  Thank you, a million times over, thank you for your feedback.  Shall we?

Getting My Wish
You know how you wake up with a start and you’re in that hazy place between dreaming and fully awake and you’re not sure what’s what and what’s not?  Well, I was right there, but I was also face down in the grass and there was all this shouting going on somewhere behind me.

I lay in a daze looking at feet through slender green spears. I suppose they could have been blades, but the way my forehead, left knee, elbow and palm were feeling, I was quite sure they were spears.

A pair of large hands grabbed me by the waist and hauled me up from my nest. As I arced like a ragdoll through the air, I saw a bicycle lying akimbo in an island of leafy clover.  Its front basket was bent sideways, the kickstand poked up like an accusing finger at the blue sky.

“Oy, Miss! I thought I’d killed ya!” The big man with the red mustache and massive shoulders turned me around to face him. “Aye, that’s a nasty bruise on yer forehead,” he frowned.

I reached up and touched the goose egg blooming from my noggin.  It was throbbing enough so that not quite touching it made me say “ouch.”

The man appeared even larger at this close range. He was so near to me that I could smell the cigarettes on his breath and when I looked up I could see that his mustache hairs were darker at the roots. On the tips they were the color of a nicely done pumpkin pie. Near his skin, they were the color of bricks. Funky.

“I di’ not see ya comin’ til it was too late. Ya should be more careful.” He was holding me at arm’s length, inspecting me for damage. He was clearly a person used to being in charge. “How ya feelin’ now?”

I smiled and the goose egg throbbed double time.“I’m okay.I uh…”l

“Well, I thin’ we ought to get ya to the quack just to be sure. Felix! Grab ‘er bike and put it in the lorry,” he pointed as he issued orders to the lanky young man who’d been standing quietly by smoking a cigarette. Felix took a last drag off his cigarette, dropped it and stepped on it as he went to retrieve the bicycle which was, according to the apparent boss, mine.

Now this was all well and good except that just a moment before I found myself lying on the ground in a place that was unfamiliar to me, next to a bicycle I’d never seen before and presumably having been knocked off said bike by a vintage delivery truck driven by a big man with a quaint accent - possibly British, I was driving a 2006 Toyota Corolla south on Austell Road near Atlanta and wishing for something different.

As you can well imagine, the bump on my head and skinned body parts were the least of my worries.

Chapter 1: We Just Go with It and Call Him General

May 2008
“Hello?” I held the cell phone between my ear and shoulder as I dug through my purse, a common pose for me.

“Mrs. Rhodes? This is Dr. Goodling from Davis Middle School,” an officious, but softly accented voice said the words that make my stomach sink. Damn. What now?

“Hi, yes, how are you?” I sounded so silly. Dr. Goodling was calling because something was wrong, not to discuss how she was doing.

“I’m fine, thank you, but I’m calling about Aaron,” her words came out in a rush. I knew that she was afraid I’d interrupt her, wasting more of her valuable time with silly questions.  She was probably worried that I’d try to discuss the weather next.

I blurted out, “Oh no, what’s he done?” Okay, so it wasn’t a brilliant thing for a supportive mother to say, but it was out and I couldn’t take it back.

“Well, I’m afraid it’s more of the same.  He’s been talking about General Patton again.  You know, Mrs. Rhodes, I know that he’s a very bright boy, but this joking about Patton is going a little too far,” she paused. I remained silent.

“We need you to work with us to explain to him why it’s upsetting to his social studies teacher and why we want him to stop telling these tales about…about….well, about reincarnation,” she took a deep breath and waited.  She was conditioned to expect me to either defend my child, denying what she knew to be true or to explain away his behavior.  I wasn't going to do either.

Frankly, I thought she was being generous.  Aaron’s ongoing goof about being General George S. Patton reincarnated had gotten on my last nerve a couple of weeks ago.  He was such a good actor that it was hard to tell if he was joking or not.

“Mrs. Rhodes?” Dr. Goodling was still waiting for some kind of defense or concession from me.  Would it be cool to simply tell her that I took responsibility for being a failure as a mother and that we’d made an appointment with Aaron’s therapist to talk about this Patton issue?

“I know, Dr. Goodling, it’s really annoying at home, too.  I’m trying to balance my concern with the knowledge that Aaron is the kind of kid who enjoys a good prank,” I paused, not sure what else to offer. “I, um, we, Aaron’s father and I, have discussed it and we’ve made an appointment for him to see his therapist,” I decided that a blunt pronouncement was going to end this call quicker than anything else. I was struggling to keep the frustration out of my voice. Not only did I not want to be dealing with Aaron’s nonsense, I was late for a meeting.

It had started to sprinkle and I still had a long walk through the parking lot to get to the country club where I was responsible for a large luncheon.

Dr. Goodling let her breath out slowly. Perhaps she was relieved that I hadn’t been defensive or dismissive? “Ah, well….that’s, um, that’s very good.I think that it would help us to find out if Aaron actually believes he’s Patton or if perhaps we can call his bluff,” I could hear a slight smile in her voice.

“Exactly,” I said a bit too loudly. I looked out the car window and saw that some of the luncheon attendees were already arriving. “Dr. Goodling, I have to go now. I’m late for a meeting, but if anything else comes up, please call. You can also call my husband Michael.”

We said our goodbyes and I made a mental note to talk to Aaron that evening.  If he was goofing, it had to stop.  If he wasn’t, well, I wasn’t prepared to think about that right now. My boss was circling the block in her BMW, looking for a close parking space and I wanted to get into the banquet hall before she did.  I scrambled out of the car and rushed away, aiming the key fob over my shoulder, listening for the beep beep indicating that the car was locked.

I clickety clacked in my heels through the parking lot and mounted the stairs up toward the country club’s main entrance. It was an older club, built in a posh neighborhood of turn of the century Queen Annes and bungalows, and it sat near the road. I could see the BMW making another sweep by, still angling for a good spot. Why didn’t she just go to the valet stand? I wondered. The parking attendants, who recognized me from the number of times I’d been there before greeted me as I hurried up the steps. I said a quick hello then scanned the parking lot for more attendees.  That’s when I noticed a parked car with its lights on. I paused for a second knowing instinctively that it was mine. My shoulders slumped, I turned on my heel and stomped back as fast as I could.


"Mom! Mama! Tell Aaron to stop it!” Fiona’s pleas had finally tugged me from my place in front of the computer and launched me to my doorway my face like thunder.

“Stop what?”  Through gritted teeth.

“Tell him to stop making that noise!”  Whining.

“Aaron, stop making that noise.”  Still talking through my teeth.

“I’m not making any noise!”  Innocent as a lamb.

“Mo-om!”  Shrill.

Shoving and yelping, they returned from whence they came.  I put my hand over my eyes and rubbed them.

Children fighting over the horror of sharing DNA and air molecules was just what I needed to top off my day. I stalked into the living room where the two of them tussled over the remote.  I shouted louder than they did.  Take that, you parenting books. You can talk all you want about self esteem, but bellowing shut the hell up has its advantages, as long as you don’t do it too often.

“Look, you guys. I’m trying to get some work done and I don’t have time for this. We have multiple t.v.s! Why are you fighting over this one?” The minute the words left my lips, I knew I’d simply invited more nonsense. Applying logic to sibling rivalry was a waste of time.

I held up my hand, waiting for the squabbling to die down. After a few seconds, they sat blinking innocently at me.“Okay, here’s the deal. Aaron you come with me. Fiona, you get the t.v. for one episode of Full House. After that, Aaron gets it for half an hour,” I turned and walked back to my bedroom, Aaron grumbling behind me.

“It’s not fair!” he shouted and slumped into his father’s office chair across from mine.

I looked at him and waited. I had to speak to him about the Patton stuff, even though I wasn’t in the mood.

“Hey, you know what Patton said about swivel chairs?” Aaron gave himself a push and the chair spun around.

“No. What did he say?” I was trying to keep my voice even and calm. At least when he talked of the General, he wasn't consistently using the first person. I took that as a good sign and an opening.

“He said ‘No good decision was ever made from a swivel chair.’” He gave himself another spin.  I wondered how he read my mind sometimes.

“He was full of clever things to say.”


I picked up a squoosh ball from my desk and gave it a couple of squeezes while Aaron swiveled around some more. On one of the turns, I threw the Nerf-like ball at him. I missed. He reached for it and went crashing to the floor. This was classic Aaron.

I watched him flail about then in a single move, he whipped the ball back at me. I ducked just in time and heard it make contact with the high back of my leather chair.

“Speaking of that, General, I got a call from school today,” I said as offhandedly as I could while I fished the ball out from behind me.

He rolled over on the floor, his face planted in the Berber carpet.

“I hope that carpet doesn’t stink. I’m sure I saw Daisy scoot her butt right there the other day,” I prodded him with my toe.

He turned over, but kept his eyes closed. He wasn’t any more in the mood to discuss this than I was. Michael was tutoring after school and wouldn’t be home until nearly seven. There was no point in waiting for him to address this.I was the one who’d gotten the call from Dr. Goodling so I would deal with this now or risk forgetting about it until I got the next call. I knew my limitations as a mother. Whether I believed it or not, I still relied much too often on the idea that things ignored would just go away.

“Aaron, honey, the stuff about Patton?” I threw the ball again and this time it connected, hitting him square in the chest. He remained motionless except for a slight twitch in his jaw. “Look, I don’t know why you think this is so funny,” I reached down and plucked the toy from the floor, “but it seems that some of the teachers don’t like it.”I waited, watching him for some kind of sign. Was he upset? Laughing on the inside? What? "I just don't want you to get in trouble for something so trivial."

"It's not trivial." He spoke under his breath, but I was pretty sure about what he'd said. I chose to ignore it.

“Okay, well, I’m not going to make a big deal out of this…”

“Too late.”

“Damn it! This isn’t making a big deal! This is having a conversation. Grounding you, screaming at you! That would be a big deal!” He turned his face toward me as if to say Uh huh. Sure. “Look, I don’t care if you tell people you’re Patton!  I don’t care if you tell them you’re Hitler! Wait, yeah, don’t get any bright ideas. No.  That would be offensive…”

He pulled his lips in, stifling a grin.

“Aaron! Just don’t talk about it at school, okay? Just stop. I hate getting calls from school. I feel like I’m the one who’s done something wrong.” With that I was done. I’d completed my task to the best of my abilities. There was no need to punish, no need to delve deeper. He was playing an annoying joke and I was being a parent and setting his limits.

Sensing that I was ready to move on to something else, he sat up, grabbed at the ball I was still holding and tapped me on the head.

“Okay, mama. I won’t talk about it at school. Geez!” He ran back down the hall. I got up and closed the door behind him. Whatever fighting he and Fiona would engage in next, I didn’t want to hear it.

As I crossed the room, I craned my neck to look out the window at the garden. Perhaps I should detach from the computer for a while and go outside. Work could wait, couldn’t it?


  1. once again I sell comic books so i have no authority in this area
    but i would drop the word "crummy" from this line

    "just what I needed to top off my crummy day"

    i think it is already apparent the day was pretty shitty

  2. Wow... This is so good Lisa, so good!

  3. Love it!

    And, I thought the scene with the kids, etc. - you had to have just lifted that from your life. And changed the names to protect you from getting sued by your kids someday when they're smart enough and rich enough to hire a good lawyer.

  4. Lisa, this is excellent!

    who recognized me from the number of times I’d been there before greeted me struck me as a bit verbose. You might try greeted me by name making the recognition a given.

  5. Lisa, I like the transition from the weird, time-travel accident scene to the dated chapter which is clearly a flashback. It tells me we're headed toward the really weird stuff -- and then it tells me some more weird stuff (I'm fascinated by the Patton reincarnation) so I wonder how the heck it could possibly all come together.

    The juxtaposition of the two reminded me of the opening of one of Diana Gabaldon's novels, but I cannot now remember which one. If you want, I'll look it up for you so you can check it out. Of course, the topic and writing are not at all the same; I refer merely to the way of setting up the novel to begin farther back in time.

  6. Safari, sagoodie, but I must admit you did frighten me a bit by mentioning Full House.

    Given the dominant position of dialogue these days (you know, 99.9% of all text in a novel), I sure hope some prospective agent doesn't kindly infer that you chop out the details. Really gives the speech flavor and context.

  7. BRAVO Lisa!!

    Dayum, you have some serious talent!
    Do not self doubt again.
    I read it and I liked it.
    Keep after it, I am serious, you have a gift.


  8. I like it, Lisa, I do. I was definitely confused with one after the other, although now I get it. I don't know if you've read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, but I feel like it's got that kind of flavor.

  9. Love it! Your writing is so REAL. :)

  10. OK, so . . . is Mom the character in the prologue who is getting an object lesson in her son's reality, as played out in Chapter 1? Is her mundane reality suddenly set to one side with the realization that there might just be more things than are dreamed of in her philosophy?

    If so, I like it. If not, well, I still like it. In either case, I want more.


And then you say....

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