According to a few query rejections from literary agents (helpful ones, with comments, the rarest kind), and according to my copy editor, and what I’ve since learned is common wisdom, you never start a novel you hope to sell with a character waking up in bed. A silly shibboleth, because there must be instances where waking is the best possible start to a story, but the game of literary agency has rules that players ignore at their peril.
Here’s my try at a fix, a new top for Chapter One of Ghost Walk, the 3rd story in the Ellen and Geoffrey Fletcher Mystery Series, the one set in Charleston. You can follow the home-page link to the rest of the chapter.
The question is, does this insertion undo the auto-rejection curse, or just postpone it for a couple of pages?
Ellen watches Geoff bump down the gravel drive, ‘the roughest part of the trip,’ he’d said, last night. Thirty yards out, he disappears entirely into the trees. If she waits a minute longer she’ll see a last quick flash of his diminishing figure where the drive crosses the power-line cut. Okay. There he goes, going, gone. Bon voyage, husband.
His gear is state-of-the-art, self-built, idiosyncratic, but top-grade. From his helmet, his slick reflective lycra top, padded patent spandex shorts, to his custom fitted biker shoes—all well worn in—he should be okay. His franken-bike, heavy-duty components, way too hefty for a racer, is solid and comfortable for touring. Stuffed into his saddle-bags, panniers, are expertly rolled civilian clothes, repair tools, travel food, weapons. He’ll be fine.
She turns back into the house. It’s 7:15, time for a second cup of coffee. The day will be soft and lovely. But the damp chill of the morning hasn’t yet burned off. When she ran her loop, an hour ago, it had been a struggle to breathe through the blanketing mist. It’s better now; it will be all gone by the time Geoff gets to the city limits. That will be the real ‘roughest part,’ crossing Roanoke through early traffic until he gets to the trail. US Bike Route One, from Roanoke to the coast at Charleston is almost 400 miles; it’s supposed to take 35 hours. Geoff plans to make it in 25, in two days of riding. He probably can, if he avoids accidents and injuries. Which he probably will. He rides to work every day, 14 miles down the mountain, 14 miles back up, often 5-10 miles across town. Just like commuting, he said, except you keep going. Charleston is not his longest nor his first solo ride. He’ll be fine. She wishes she could summon a force field to repel chasing dogs and aggressive angry drivers.
She will join him at Riverrun next week, as soon as she wraps up her current TravelAmerica assignment; not in time for the bridal shower, but a couple of days before the wedding. She’ll drive the car, to spare him having to bicycle back. It’s nearly eight hours of highway driving. He’s flat out crazy, Geoff is, every once in a while.
Riverrun is Savion Gage’s plantation, half reconstruction, half new-built. It’s perched on uncommonly solid ground, at a confluence of rivers, in the coastal swamp. She spent two days there, several years ago. Geoff gets down every year, pretty much, except he’s missed two in a row. Outsize people engaged in a strange and outsize enterprise. Geoff will enjoy a long stay, probably she will, too. Nah, for sure she will. Savion’s a bit of a blowhard, but his three-quarter brother, Gordon is gold. Lottie’s awesome capability keeps it all together. The boys, the older one gorgeous and bad, the younger one sweet and shy. And the lovely Alicia. Two girl children now, besides Carrie, the one who’s getting married. All the kids were kidnapped into adoption, according to Geoff. The names will come back to her. Lots of blanks to fill in, and fantastical tales to deconstruct.
She’ll be happy to see the family. She’s not so sure about dealing with dozens of hangers-on and hundreds of strangers. Carrie’s wedding will be the social event of the year in Charleston—Gage is Low Country royalty—a media circus will jumble up the family sacrament. The groom, not a local guy, a rap star, is no doubt hauling down an entourage of his own.
The coffee helps. Her head is clearing, like the vanishing tendrils of mist down the valley. Geoff will be fine. Probably make his time. Probably walk funny for a week. She does like what the stretchy shorts do for his butt. Worry be gone!
Gratuitous flower shot;
sometimes the first amarylis of the season goes all out.
Currently showing off at the Earth Guild store.