The overhead lights in Winslow’s Liquor Emporium flicked off and on, off and on, off and on… The loudspeaker shrill whine startled the store’s remaining customer. The wintery weather, and the dire forecast of more snow sent the others scurrying to pay for their purchases and leave.

Mrs. Patty Donavon continued examining the label on the bottle she was holding, a cabernet sauvignon—her favorite red wine.

“Attention, customers. Proceed to check out. We will be closing in ten minutes,” a testy male voice announced over the loud speaker. “Whiteout conditions are expected later this evening.”

Alright, alright. Hold your horses.” Mrs. Donavon glanced out the storefront window. Falling snow, whipped by the blowing wind, whirled, and the parking lot, deserted and blanketed in white, seemed an alien landscape. Better hurry, she thought and rearranged the other bottles in her cart to make room for the cabernet. She wheeled the cart through the aisles towards the checkout counter. The glass wine bottles clinked against one other.

“Evening, Mrs. Donavon,” said the clerk. Everyone in town recognized the former mayor’s wife. “Getting prepared for the holidays, I see.” With deft fingers, he placed each bottle in a large partitioned, cardboard box. “Big party planned?”

Mrs. Donavon waved her black Mastercard in front of the card-reader. A party for one, she thought. Hell, was it her fault her husband chose to spend New Year’s Eve at Myrtle Beach? Without her? She refused to think about the plans her son, Richard, had made.

“Expecting half of Smithers, seems like.” The clerk handed her the receipt. His lips twitched.

Mrs. Donavon’s face turned scarlet, and she tugged at the collar of her fur coat. Sarcastic bastard. This insignificant little nobody knows I’m all alone. Alone and friendless. And an alcoholic.

 Mrs. Donavan pulled the car keys from her alligator purse and handed them to the clerk.  “Please,” she said, “have someone take the box to my car.”   Her son was waiting in the Cadillac.Too stoned to be of any assistance. Too stoned to be seen in public.

“Sure, I’ll call Victor.” The clerk nodded to the thin man leaning against the doorframe of the stockroom.

Victor picked up the box. Snow dusting his jacket drifted to the floor. His snow-covered boots left droplets of water on the floor.

The clerk set the security alarm, switched off the lights, and followed Mrs. Donavon and Victor outside.

Covered with snow, the Cadillac, the lone vehicle in the parking lot, looked like a white behemoth.

The clerk pressed the key-fob once. The  driver side door lock clicked opened; the dome lights illuminated the car’s interior.

“Richard?” Mrs. Donavon opened the car door and saw the blood-covered passenger seat. “My god, what’s happened? Where’s my boy?” She sank to her knees in the wet snow and sobbed.

The clerk looked at Victor.

Victor jerked a thumb at the car’s trunk. “Punk didn’t have the money owed us. Like he promised,” he whispered. “Goddam belligerent. And loud. No choice but to kill him.” He reached behind his back, flipped up his jacket, and pulled the silencer from his belt.

The clerk clicked the key fob twice. The trunk opened.

   Mrs. Donavon heard the double click. She struggled to rise, slipped, fell forward, and crawled on her hands and knees to rear of the Cadillac.

She raised her head and looked in the trunk. Her son, curled in the fetal position appeared to be sleeping—except for the hole below his left temple. And the blood. “Noooooo! Oh, no. You killed my boy.” Tears froze on her cheeks.

Victor scanned the parking lot. They were alone. “Shut up, bitch.” He aimed the gun at her chest. “I’ll shoot you like a rabid dog.”

“Money? You want money?” Her stiff, cold fingers tugged at the clerk’s pant leg. “You know I have money.”

“Should have spent it sending your son to rehab,” said the clerk.

“Or given him enough to pay what he owed us.”

‘Victor. Please, please, Victor. You look like a man with good sense.I have enough money to. . .” She swirled her head searching for her pocketbook.

Victor pulled the trembling woman to her feet and shot her between the eyes.

“Guess mama paid her son’s bill,” the clerk said. “In full.”

#

Dr. Cole, please read the addition (below) I would have used pre-Cole enlightenment. (LOL)

Does the allusion to the O’Connor story have any merit, or is it simply tacky, of little literary value, and just doggone amateur doggerel?

Cathryn

“Money? You want money?” Her stiff, cold fingers tugged at the clerk’s pant leg. “You know I have money.”

“Should have spent it sending your son to rehab,” said the clerk.

“Or paying off his debt.”

‘Victor. Please, please, Victor. You look like a man with good sense.I have enough money to—”

“Had to read a story in high school about a murderer,” Victor said. “A cold-blooded killer. Told the old lady pleading for her life something about undertakers don’t take tips from corpses.” Victor pulled the trembling woman to her feet and shot her between the eyes.

“Guess mama paid her son’s bill,” the clerk said. “In full.”

 

Instructor Response

Cathryn–

Very well done. I’ve made some suggestions as alternatives to consider, not as corrections.

Bill Coles

1/7/19

The overhead lights in Winslow’s Liquor Emporium flicked off and on, off and on, off and on… The loudspeaker shrill whine startled the store’s remaining customer. The wintery weather, and the dire forecast of more snow had sent the others scurrying to pay for their purchases and leave. [Good paragraph. You carry the reader through with great images, suspense, and action!]

Mrs. Patty Donavon continued examining the label on the bottle she was holding, a cabernet sauvignon—her favorite red wine.

“Attention, customers. Proceed to check out. We will be closing in ten minutes,” a testy male voice announced over the loud speaker. “Whiteout conditions are expected later this evening.”

Alright, alright. Hold your horses.” Mrs. Donavon glanced out the storefront window. Falling snow, whipped by the blowing wind, whirled, and the parking lot, deserted and blanketed in white, seemed an alien landscape. Better hurry, she thought and rearranged the other bottles in her cart to make room for the cabernet. She wheeled the cart through the aisles towards the checkout counter. The glass wine bottles clinked against one other.

“Evening, Mrs. Donavon,” said the clerk. Everyone in town recognized the former mayor’s wife. “Getting prepared for the holidays, I see.” With deft fingers, he placed each bottle in a large partitioned, cardboard box. “Big party planned?”  [This is nice. Lots of information. a touch of sarcasm, and key images that contribute to the story.]

Mrs. Donavon waved her black Mastercard in front of the card-reader. A party for one, she thought. She refused to think about the plans her son, Richard, had made. [The use of italics is good here but I would always limit it to present tense in first person, as if in the brain of the character speaking. Therefore: Hell, is it my fault my husband chooses to spend New Year’s Eve at Myrtle Beach? Without me?]

“Expecting half of Smithers, seems like.” The clerk handed her the receipt. His lips twitched, holding back a smirk. [Trying to make the “twitch” mean something for the reader.]

Mrs. Donavon’s face turned scarlet, and she tugged at the collar of her fur coat. Sarcastic bastard. This insignificant little nobody knows I’m all an alcoholic alone. Alone and friendless. And an alcoholic.  [Consider: Sarcastic bastard. He knows what I am.]

 Mrs. Donavan pulled the car keys from her alligator purse [good characterization] and handed them to the clerk.  “Please,” she said, “have someone take the box to my car.”   Her son was waiting in the Cadillac.T too stoned to help be of any assistance. Too stoned to be seen in public.

“Sure, I’ll call Victor.” The clerk nodded to the thin man leaning against the doorframe of the stockroom.

Victor picked up the box. Snowdusting from his jacket drifted to the floor. His snow-covered boots left water droplets of water on the floor. [This suggested change has to do with relative weight and importance of sentences and paragraphs and the need to keep the prose tight. The important images are snow and water on the floor. Can you say it in as few words as possible? Are both boots and jacket necessary? What you have is not wrong and may be the style you want, but learning to be effective with fewer words and crisp ideation is                        helpful to almost everyone’s style.]

The clerk set the security alarm, switched off the lights, and followed Mrs. Donavon and Victor outside.

Covered with snow, the Cadillac, the lone vehicle in the parking lot, looked like a white behemoth.  [You’re carrying the action very well here. Good momentum!]

The clerk pressed the key-fob once. The driver side door lock clicked opened; the dome lights illuminated the car’s interior.

“Richard?” Mrs. Donavon opened the car door and saw the blood-covered passenger seat. “My god, what’s happened? Where’s my boy?” She sank to her knees in the wet snow and sobbed.

The clerk looked at Victor.

Victor jerked a thumb at the car’s trunk. “Punk didn’t have the money owed us. Like he promised,” he whispered. “Goddam belligerent. And loud. No choice but to kill him.” He reached behind his back, flipped up his jacket, and pulled the silencer from his belt.

The clerk clicked the key fob twice. The trunk opened.

   Mrs. Donavon heard the double click. She struggled to rise, slipped, fell forward, and crawled on her hands and knees to rear of the Cadillac.

She raised her head and looked in the trunk. Her son, curled in the fetal position appeared to be sleeping—except for the hole below his left temple. And the blood. “Noooooo! Oh, no. You killed my boy.” Tears froze on her cheeks.

Victor scanned the parking lot. They were alone. “Shut up, bitch.” He aimed the gun at her chest. “I’ll shoot you like a rabid dog.”

“Money? You want money?” Her stiff, cold fingers tugged gripped at the clerk’s pant leg. “You know I have money.”

She sobbed. “Have mercy.”

“Should have spent it sending your son to rehab,” said the clerk.

“Or given him enough to pay what he owed us.” [Seek credible dialogue for the moment. Maybe here, no response from the killers.]

‘Victor. Please,” she moaned. Please!, Victor. You look like a man with good sense.I have enough money to. . .” She swirled turned her head searching for her pocketbook.

Victor pulled the trembling woman to her feet and shot her between the eyes.

“Guess mama paid her son’s bill,” the clerk said. “In full.” [This seems to work as is. Good!]

#

Dr. Cole, please read the addition (below) I would have used pre-Cole enlightenment. (LOL)

Does the allusion to the O’Connor story have any merit, or is it simply tacky, of little literary value, and just doggone amateur doggerel?  It’s a nice “practice rewrite.” For me, O’Connor’s story is strange as the academic community’s example of one of the great stories. I assigned it as an exercise for contemplating the use of violence. Shock value alone doesn’t do it for me. In lectures and interviews, O’Connor spent time explaining her use of violence as an exposure of the evil in her world at the time, for instance the gesture the old woman makes when she sees the Misfit as one of her own, a gesture of “grace” that triggers her death. The misfit’s reaction has never been meaningful to me, and that the gesture of grace, a reaching out toward him, as a credible revelation of the woman’s forgiveness and moment of grace doesn’t seem significant enough to call it great storytelling.

You’ve written the scene well. Violent action is hard for most writers: the prose needs to be tight, the images sharp, the dialogue exact and succinct. Lingering on crucial images and action with calm objectivity can heighten effect, but has to be done carefully. At any rate, you did very well; you have a natural ability that will serve you well in your writing and storytelling.

“Money? You want money?” Her stiff, cold fingers tugged at the clerk’s pant leg. “You know I have money.”

“Should have spent it sending your son to rehab,” said the clerk.

“Or paying off his debt.”

‘Victor. Please, please, Victor. You look like a man with good sense. I have enough money to—”

“Had to read a story in high school about a murderer,” Victor said. “A cold-blooded killer. Told the old lady pleading for her life something about undertakers don’t take tips from corpses.” Victor pulled the trembling woman to her feet and shot her between the eyes.

“Guess mama paid her son’s bill,” the clerk said. “In full.”

Great work. All the best, Bill Coles

  1. Deat Dr. Coole,
    Thanks again for sharing your expertise with me. I will hone in on writing dialogue in a more lucid, crisp style: your next assignment will provide the perfect opportunity.

    I agree with your opinion of O’ Connors tale;validated my feelings about that abhorrent story.

    My friend on a creative writing site asked if your site was friendly (as in “social” with critiques by fellow-writers). I explained “friendly” is neither my aim nor yours. Developing one’s literary writing style is!

    Thanks for having Susanne Howard respond to my request.

    Cathryn

  2. Ah, an Eureka! moment. Rewriting my piece utilizing your suggestions, I discovered major plot flaw: Mrs. Donavon could not have known her son owed these two men money–your suggstions helped clarify that for me. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome. Glad to be able to help. And keep up the good work!

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