Friday, November 29, 2013

(21) Mystery: THE BIG UGLY

TITLE: The Big Ugly
GENRE: Mystery

Since he was left alone by his wife's death to raise their two young boys, Jerry Fulks has been sleeping through life. When he finds a corpse in his estranged mother’s dining room he’s forced to wake up -- the dead man is a brother Jerry didn’t know he had and Jerry’s about to be arrested for his murder.

It was only June but both my boys, warmed to a simmer by the stuffy morning heat in our small house, were already whining about spending another day running feral under the hot sun at day camp. They wanted to go to their grandmother’s house instead.

I wasn’t having it but then John brought up their dead mom.

It’s been three years, but even when I know it’s a cynical ploy to get what they want, I can’t trump dead mom. The boys used to pull it out only in emergencies, but recently they’ve been slapping it down over deuces and threes and I don’t have the energy to fight it. Someday I’ll have to stand strong, but not today. Today was just too damn hot.

Today I dropped them at their grandmother’s. “They’ll go to the rec center for the rest of the week,” I explained to her when I pulled up to her driveway.

“Boys need a boss,” she explained back to me, “not a negotiator, Jerry.” Then she kissed my head and herded my boys through her gate.

Someday she's gonna to say no. It was a familiar thought about rubbing her love thin from overuse and I clipped it before it was even completely thought. I was running late and my reliable failure to stand my ground already had me feeling like a terrible parent.

My phone buzzed as I pulled away from her house. I looked at the number.


  1. I know the pitch isn't the most important thing, but wanted to point out that "Widower" might be a better way to describe the protag--the first bit here feels cumbersome as is (especially since you've got a lot going on in that pitch) and "left alone by his wife's death" seems like a really strange way to approach the situation.

    I'm not sure if it's a voice thing, but I'd tighten a lot of this. "She explained back to me" could be "she explained" instead, for instance.

    I do like "slapping it down over deuces and threes" and think it's an interesting idea to have these boys who are running a bit wild because their father still feels so guilty.

  2. Some of the language of this piece is very clever. Deuces and threes I very much enjoyed.

    But other parts just seemed clunky to me.

    "Someday I’ll have to stand strong, but not today. Today was just too damn hot.

    Today I dropped them at their grandmother’s"

    The third "today" there just doesn't work for me, and I couldn't tell if it was intentional or not.

    Same with "“They’ll go to the rec center for the rest of the week,” I explained to her when I pulled up to her driveway.

    “Boys need a boss,” she explained back to me"
    The double "explained" dialogue tag pulled me out of the narrative.

    Also: " It was a familiar thought about rubbing her love thin from overuse " I think you could cut altogether. It's very telly and the meaning of his thoughts were clear without them being explained.

    Otherwise, though, good job and good luck!

  3. I like this one. The voice is good, the tension clear. I felt hot just reading it. Consider squeezing in the location. For example, "...running feral under the hot NV sun at day camp." That helps situate where the action will take place for the reader.

    The way the poor guys day is going so far, I know that phone call is going to be trouble.

  4. Like the title! Also enjoyed "...warmed to a simmer..." & "...running feral under the hot sun..."

    Otherwise, things I suggest fixing are similar to the other commenters, but I will also add fix the typo on "Someday she's gonna to say no." Take out the "to".

  5. I felt the descriptions of heat, and of the boys playing their father were well done. I also liked his mom. I feel "someday she's going to say no." is powerful without the rubbing her love thin line, all by itself. If it is a line you want to keep maybe you can use it later on!

  6. The best part of this entry is how much the Main Character comes to life, his personality and his background. He is very relatable.

    Good dialogue, and the ratio of description to dialogue seems right.

    The only concern is that the title doesn't feel like a mystery per se as much as just a grabby title for a novel and there is nothing hinted at so far that has to do with solving a crime, it's more psychological and domestic.

    But if you've got a mystery foreshadowing coming up soon, then you are fine.

    Nancy Bilyeau

  7. I like the voice, there are some unique phrases here. I also would like a hint of where this takes place; I'm thinking the US south given the heat and the flavor of the language.

    The verb tenses changed in the third paragraph to 1st person present, from 1st p past in the other sections.

    The line "then John brought up their dead mom" doesn't quite work for me. I think saying "dead mom" in the next paragraph does, but that first instance could be handled more delicately to show how your MC feels about it. Saying "dead mom" twice sounds cold and uncaring. Maybe just saying her name, and also describing who John is since we don't know yet:

    "I wasn't having it but then my youngest John brought up Carrie, their mom."

    OR show it in dialogue. Have the kid actually say what he does and show Jerry reacting. It could be a powerful moment and a great way to show how the family interacts by what they say and what they don't say, especially dad.

  8. Not much to say here. The logline really grabbed me and I thoroughly enjoyed this narator's voice (maybe it's because I'm an often tired dad who could totally relate to this guy on many levels :-). So I'd read on, no question.

    I think the only thing I would suggest reworking is the opening line. With such a great narrative voice I think there's a gotta be a better line to grab the reader with out of the gate.

    Best of luck with it!

  9. I was drawn in from the start. I feel for your protagonist and want to read on. I echo the earlier comments on tightening a few lines so you don't repeat words, however I really enjoyed the line about wearing grandma's love thin and how you phrased that. To me it showed me his fear of losing this support system.

    But I was a bit confused as to whether grandma is his mom or his mother-in-law? You say he's estranged from his mother, but these two characters aren't. Are the boys going to stumble onto the dead body that day while there? I want to see what happens next, so you've done your job. I'm hooked.

  10. I like your logline--it sets up the promise for an intriguing read.

    The writing reads well, with a great narrative voice jumping right off the page. I had a concern with the tenses. At times, the present tense read jarring. I was also a bit confused about the role of his mother. In the logline he refers to his 'estranged' mother. If this is the grandmother who he drops the boys off to see, this seems inconsistent. I'd also suggest adding more subtext with your dialogue tags. You have 'he/she explained' echoed. Yet you have the opportunity here to put more of how the interaction is taking place. How do they say these things? What tones are used? This allows you to use the dialogue to set up the relationship dynamic from the start. You can add additional flavoring to how the MC is reacting to the conversation.

    Good luck!