Monday, January 28, 2013

Talkin' Heads #39

TITLE: November
GENRE: Literary

Amelia, a widow, recently returned from a solo trip through Europe, is struggling to reconnect with her college-age son and to sort out her feelings for Henry, an old flame who wants a second chance.

She jiggled the hook, dialed “0” and gave the operator a Minnesota number.

“How’s the weather?” she said, when Henry picked up.

“Partly cloudy and sixty degrees, believe it or not.” He chuckled. “How is it there?”

Amelia peered at the thermometer on the garage. “Sunny and seventy-two.”

“Just another day in paradise.” The hiss on the line sounded like a slow breath. She felt him waiting for her to state her business.

“It doesn’t look like Thanksgiving will work.”

“No?” He didn’t sound surprised.

“It’s a bad time for Josh, with school.”

“What about Christmas?”

“I don’t know.” Suddenly every cell in her body screamed for a whiskey and soda. “I’ll have to talk to Josh,” she said, pulling a ginger ale from the refrigerator. “He might want to come home and see his friends.”

“Joshua is a grown man.” Henry’s voice had a sharp edge. “You don’t have to plan your life around him.”

“I know, but I’ve been away so long. I missed his birthday.”

The line crackled. “Look, Amelia,” Henry said. “If the answer is no, maybe you’d better come out and say it. Neither of us is getting any younger.”

“It’s not.” She leaned her forehead against the cupboard. “It’s just… how would you feel if I asked you to leave your job and your home and your family?”

“I'm not asking you to do that. All I want is a few days. If it’s like I think, we’ll figure the rest out.”


  1. Nice job. I think the dialogue is crisp and realistic. You also have done well with adding nice accents with the dialogue tags. They don't feel cumbersome at all.

    The only line I questioned was: "It’s just… how would you feel if I asked you to leave your job and your home and your family?” Just wondering if there is a more interesting and direct way of saying this. I do get that she is over thinking the visit, so it works as is on that level.

    I really liked this line: "The hiss on the line sounded like a slow breath."

    Best of luck with this!

  2. I really liked this. The only thing that tripped me up is the description of dialing at the start. I haven't had a landline in years, I think we/readers are very cell phone centric now. When it's "jiggled the hook" can you maybe add "of the wall phone" or "of the old rotary phone on my desk" or something to that effect? I think little details like this might show more about your character as well if you intergrate them in the story (my mom has a landline but her phone is a modern cordless and I can't picture the "jiggle the hook" when it's a button she presses to turn it on).

    Not every character has to be texting and on twitter, but I think details about technology that is being phased out might need more of an explanation. (I'm not exactly young either--I actually grew up with a rotary dial phone).

    The other commenter mentioned that one line--maybe a stronger word choice than leave, like "abandon" will do the trick. Something with more emotional impact.

    Nice work!

  3. Great job with tension and dialogue. And I love your tags (especially 'her body screamed for whiskey and soda')
    I would agree there's a more interesting way to do that line about leaving job and etc. That was the only moment that felt anywhere near cliche to me.
    You're talented enough a writer, as evidenced by what comes before it, to bump it up. I also think Henry's response could be more dramatic as well.
    Great work. I hope it all works out for Amelia!

  4. Thanks very much for the helpful comments!

    For Steph (and anyone else who is thrown by "jiggling the hook") - I should have mentioned in the intro that the story is set in the 1950s. I guess a little context would help!

  5. I like this, but the guy is a bit rough at the end. Personally, I'd hang up with that kind of pushy/threat. If he wants her, shouldn't he try to be a bit more gentle? Just my 2 cents.

    At first I thougth from the "She jiggled the hook, dialed “0” and gave the operator a Minnesota number" that this was a historical story... then they were opening fridges and drinking soda pop. just something that caught me

  6. I figured this was in the '60s, so I felt you did a good job. Felt right in the moment with the telephone description. I think it depends on the reader. I though this was well done. I got the feeling that Henry is growing tired of being put off and Amelia isn't quite ready for the plunge. Good tension, IMO.


  7. This dialogue reads a little like social chitchat. Maybe if you added more internal dialogue that indicates conflict or guilt over calling him, that would elevate the conversation and interest level.

    “No?” He didn’t sound surprised.
    How did he sound, if not surprised?

    Most agents and writing instructors say to avoid using adverbs, especially suddenly, so maybe delete this word. It reads fine without it.

  8. I think your dialogue works just fine here. I like the way you avoid tags by putting in actions and inner thoughts. Very nice.

    I guess I don't have enough background to wonder why she attacks him at the end about turning her back on everything, when he turns right around and says it isn't.

    But overall I think you do a great job with it.

  9. The dialogue begins with "how's the weather?" which sounds like a strange way to begin a conversation - particularly since the difference between 60 and 72 is nothing. Now, if it was snowing and freezing, it would seem to more properly motivate the "another day in paradise" line. Josh is not present in the scene except by reference so I wanted to know more about what this was really about - from Amelia's POV. What is it that she is really avoiding? I think there is the chance that much of that would have been answered in previous chapters etc but I don't see it here. I did not get a literary feel from this exceprt but more of a romance with perhaps a woman's fiction leaning. I was not drawn into or compelled to read more.