Friday, December 2, 2011

#10 Literary Fiction: The Actor's Daughter

TITLE: The Actor's Daughter
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Patrick Winters, Broadway’s biggest sensation in 1952, began his career for only one reason: the hope that his voice and his success might bring his long-estranged wife Julia back. But his whole raison d’etre is thrown into doubt when he discovers that Julia has sold their story to the press – and that she has a daughter who may be Patrick’s child.

Seven minutes and thirty seconds before curtain-down, Patrick Winters committed his first murder of the night. He held a woman in his arms, and around them music flowed, a violin straining forward with vibrato and retreating to a quivering sigh, the accompaniment to a kiss of kisses. As the violin faded, Patrick’s hand made a quick movement. In the silence, the woman fell back without a cry, a red stain already spreading on the bosom of her gown.

The silence sustained a long moment of perfect grief.

When Patrick lifted his face to the mezzanine, a thrill passed through the hypnotized Manhattan audience at the sight of the first tear that ran down his cheek, catching the silver gleam of the spotlight. Nobody noticed when the music started again, but then he was singing to it, his tenor quiet and low:

One blood, one flesh
One knife, one death-

A dagger glinted, and he stabbed himself to the heart and yielded up the spirit without a sigh. The hero was dead, but patrons in the more expensive seats could see that his body still trembled, for the performer was crying. He wept until the curtain fell over his body to the mournful note of a cello.

His tears were not less genuine for being an exact science. He knew to the second exactly how long he should weep; he could have counted the tears, night after night, and would not have been more consistent. Yet he meant every one.

12 comments:

David Barry DeLozier said...

Very nice! My only edit suggestions are in the logline - not sure we need to know the year at this point, and the "raison d'etre" puts a translation "pause" in the flow of reading. Great job. Love the "first murder" foreshadowing.

Writing Jo Lawler said...

The logline definitely needs to be stronger. By the end of the first page, I was totally gripped by the story. That's something, because I rarely read anything of this nature.
If you can capture that sense of torment and perfection in the logline, it would be killer.
Best wishes!

Lorena said...

Great opening line. Love the drama of it, the descriptions. I could picture it clearly in my mind. Would definitely read more.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ack! I want to read more!

This is one of my favorite entries--it's gorgeously written and so full of tension I just want to read more. The logline could be tightened, but the writing here certainly makes up for it.

Good luck!

K. Cooper said...

More please! This is great. Excellent voice, beautiful prose, and a clear literary construction. Your character has a lot to deal with, and even if he is expressing his emotions on stage through tears cried as part of a script, I thought the parallels to his life were beautiful. He murders a girl, he murders himself...kind of like, I'm assuming, the loss of his dear Julia stabs him in the heart. Well done.

Kate Larkindale said...

The logline didn't grab me especially, but the writing more than made up for that. Gorgeous prose. I'd definitely read on.

Gabrielle Harbowy said...

Very dramatic prose, and a great first line. It leaves me wondering how long-estranged Patrick and his wife are if she has a child who might be his. A general timeframe would be helpful.

Grounding the logline with the date makes me wonder if he was only a sensation for one year, in the past, or if you mean that the novel is set in 1952 when he's a sensation, but that's simple to rephrase.

I'm intrigued. I'd read on!

Tara said...

Nice to see some lit fic in the auction--and set in the NYC theater world, no less! Right up my alley.

My issue with the logline is that the first sentence made it sound like Patrick decided one day to become a Broadway superstar and the next day he accomplished it, while I know that this kind of journey usually takes years. So maybe something more specific--maybe like, "Patrick Winters has toiled for a decade to become a Broadway's biggest star, but only in the hopes that success might bring..." etc.

That said, I really, really enjoyed the sample and would certainly keep reading.

Lots of luck with this!

Nancy Bilyeau said...

The premise of the book is seductive--the theater world in Manhattan at its height. Very All About Eve. I love actors as characters in fiction.

It works to begin the book with Patrick on stage, "murdering" another person. My only quibble is the writing is a touch soapy in the first section. I realize when I get to the last graph of the section that that's not the true tone of the story, the breathless corniness of "He held a woman in his arms, and around them music flowed, a violin straining forward with vibrato and retreating to a quivering sigh, the accompaniment to a kiss of kisses. As the violin faded, Patrick’s hand made a quick movement. In the silence, the woman fell back without a cry, a red stain already spreading on the bosom of her gown."

The true perspective of the story is "His tears were not less genuine for being an exact science. He knew to the second exactly how long he should weep; he could have counted the tears, night after night, and would not have been more consistent. Yet he meant every one." I really really like the writing here!

But if I read the first few graphs I wouldn't be as entranced. Is there any way to make sure the reader knows from the very beginning of the perceptiveness of the author's voice?

Michael G-G said...

Some powerful writing here. I love the "first murder of the night" idea--thinking that perhaps another murder is not going to be a stage one! And your final paragraph is very nicely calibrated indeed.

I'm playing hookey from the YA/MG crowd, where my entry is. My attention was caught by your title, and the fact that this is literary fiction. I love stories about the stage.

Well done, and good luck.

Cheyenne Hill said...

As everyone else has noted, the tension and the emotions evoked from your excerpt are palpable - and fantastic! I wasn't particularly drawn in by the logline, though I do like reading about drama behind the scenes so I think this would really appeal to me. The only thing that sticks out to me is the bit in the logline that says Patrick's wife has "sold their story to the press". Since we don't know what their story is (good? bad? completely scandalous?) it sort of lacks something for me... I need to know why to care about their story and that she sold it. Is he angry with her for doing so? I'm sure all this and more is answered if I were to read on.

I'd love to keep reading! I'm on the edge of my seat! :)

Josh Getzler said...

50