Wednesday, May 6, 2009

22 Drop the Needle


In this scene, the primary character is Grandma Jenny who is in the midst of whipping Cleo, her granddaughter, with a switch for being insolent. Cleo had, in fact, sucked her teeth at Grandma Jenny (a no-no in the 1940s) in an attempt to distract Grandma Jenny from whipping Hattie (Jenny's 12-year-old daughter) so badly with a switch. What brought this all on was when Hattie, in a fit of anger, struck Cleo's brother in the head with a large object. And Grandma Jenny feels if they are not "disciplined" properly this behavior (as African-Americans)will get them in severe trouble during this Jim Crow era.

Grandpa Lum grabbed Grandma Jenny as she started to swing out again at Cleo.

“Lum, let go now!” she ordered. “Get away from me!”

“Jenny, Cleo ain’t done nothin’ wrong here, ” he said, loosening his grip on her arm.

“Nothin’ wrong my foot!” Grandma Jenny snorted. “No child gonna suck their teeth at me.” She nodded toward Cleo. “And get away with it.”

“Now Jenny I heard Cleo trying to apologize. Why don’t you leave her be?”

“And why don’t you go on in the house, Lum?” Grandma Jenny said, her nostrils flaring.

He started to say something back but, catching Grandma Jenny’s piercing gaze, ambled on toward the house, mumbling about how it was useless to argue when she was in such a state.

“Cleo, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you goin’ to hear this, too.” Grandma Jenny turned to face Hattie.

“Cleo, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you goin’ to hear this, too.” Grandma Jenny turned to face Hattie.

“Girl, you can’t be haulin’ off and hittin’ people just because they say somethin’ about you. Shoot. They talked about my savior, Jesus. And guess who came out on top anyway? She closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to erase a bad memory. “Before I know it, you’ll be done hit some white person upside their head. And then whatcha gonna do? Huh? Them white folks don’t play around, Hattie. They’ll just as soon lynch a colored woman as well as they would a man.” She wiped her forehead. “I better not catch you raisin’ your hand to your cousin again.” Her eyes narrowed. “You hear?”


  1. I like the voice--both the grandmother's voice and the narrator's. Switching kids to teach them not to hit each other seems a little ironic, but it's the sort of thing people do.

  2. I think you've done an EXCELLENT job of catching the flavor of this time period and the culture of the characters. Your dialect is well done; not overdone at all, but enough to let us know how they speak (without confusing the reader!).

    Really, really good on those counts!

    The big, fat dialogue in the last paragraph was a bit confusing and probably just needs some tightening. I think you may have some punctuation errors in there that are adding to the confusion; that's easily fixed.

    You can tell exactly who wears the pants have done such a good job of "showing" this instead of "telling" it.

    Keep going! Great work!

  3. This is going to come out of left field but your lead in to the piece. I can just see how bogged down you are going to get writing your synopsis. I almost didn't read the piece but when I did I found it delightful.

    Not sure sucking teeth would be a good idea because the average modern kid would barely know what it is.

    Last para should be broken up. You can do that easily by just going a bit deeper into POV or dialogue... Ouch! or other things like "no Granny no!" But granny wasn't about to stop! kind of things.

    I think it is an interesting piece.

  4. I have read the earlier verson of this before, I think. I still liked it.

    I love the voice of the grandmother, and I really loved the "No child gonna suck their teeth at me." I think kids will just eat that up. They might even start to use that themselves.

    No nitpics from me. I liked all of it.

  5. This is very well done. Strong voice. Great characters.

    I like the inclusion of teeth sucking. I didn't know about it, and I'm 43; but part of the reason I love to read is that I learn from it. And I want that for middle graders. I think they can figure it out. Its what makes a period piece- those new details.

    I think you do a good job of making it a timeless situation, a kid trying to help out another kid against authority. (I wonder if this is foreshadowing. And I tremble for them.)

    Just be sure as you lead up to this, you show that Cleo knows teeth sucking is disrespectful and does it anyway.

  6. Thanks SO MUCH everyonefor your helpful and encouraging comments! They are greatly appreciated. I always learn from these critiques. That last paragraph will definitely be tightened before this goes out on query.

    Thanks again!

  7. I've loved every piece of this I've had the chance to read.

    I had just a tiny bit of trouble following who was talking in a place or two, but that could just be me.

    Loved the teeth sucking! And I love Grandma Jenny. I think she was my grandma, actually. She ruled the world with a rolling pin and a look, but her heart was pure gold.

    Great job!

  8. The lead-in blurb was very awkward and I wasn't expecting much from the piece, but it was one of the best I've read in this DtN. Well done!