Okay . . . I’ve found another potential market for Camille. I’m supposed to send it right away.
I’m wondering whether the pacing is fast enough in this opening, though. Don’t want to blow it. The ONLY two people who have ever had any interest in it have said it’s a good opening and that it has voice and charm (I’m talking about SuperAgent whom I chased away and the other agent who didn’t think it could sell because people want to sympathize with the protagonist–and at the time I had the word “trick” in there to denote someone she’d slept with on the road, but that has now been changed.) The two places I worry a bit about are the “inventory” (when she looks into her backpack) and the “teenaged poet” thing. The inventory is a standard device for sneaking in some things that your character will need on short notice later. (It’s the gun over the mantel in Chekhov, introduced in the first scene and fired in the final scene.) The “teenaged poet” thing lets us know how old she is and that she used to be idealistic, but is now disillusioned and has had her perspective changed. But . . . y’know, I may have to sell out, so if you think those slow down the pacing, I *could* change it. (The SuperAgent said not to change the first line, that it was a grabber. And I need to orient readers to where we are, and thus the description of the small town.)
Here’s the opening again. Comments are fine, or e-mail, or a public screed on wherever. . . .
By the time Camille MacTavish stepped off the bus in Texas, she was beginning to regret stealing the dragon. But there wasn’t much she could do to correct that at the moment.
As the creaky Greyhound pulled away from the curb, exhaling a cloud of diesel smoke, Camille visored her hand and peered after it. She briefly wondered whether Philip knew she was gone yet. He was probably still sleeping peacefully under the icy motel air conditioning, snoring and dreaming of California.
This town was a lot smaller than the ticket clerk had said. Just her luck.
But maybe her luck would take a turn for the better. Way down at the bottom of her left-hand jeans pocket she could feel the dulled vibrations of the netsuke she’d stolen, a Japanese dragon carved out of a knot of burled rosewood to fit in a palm. Impulsively she shoved her hands deep into her pockets. When her fingers touched the dragon, they tingled.
She glanced both ways and started across the deserted intersection. From here, she could see just about the whole of the downtown business district.
A billboard claimed that the Chamber of Commerce welcomed her; from another next to it, the churches of Christ saluted her. Street lights clicked audibly off as lamps flicked on in a few windows. At the edge of her consciousness, she noted the sunrise painting the eastern sky with what she would’ve called (back when she was still a teenaged poet–only three-and-a-half weeks ago, but it already seemed like forever) “vainglorious translucent shades of apricot edged with peach and gold.” The same sunrise she had so optimistically called “the colors of freedom” when she was that ignorant kid. But now that sun had set. Three weeks ago, when Jimmy Cline had jumped her and ruined her life, she’d abandoned that kind of rhetoric to preachers and poets. She’d finally come to understand that song lyric about freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose.
Her stomach rumbled, sending up a splash of acid to urge her on to–where? Not the Salvation Army again.
Rifling through her backpack just in case she’d missed something, she took inventory: journal, teddy bear, CD player and six CDs, set of colored pencils and sketchbook that she’d gotten for her sweet-sixteenth birthday three months ago, sewing kit with scissors, first-aid kit out of her mother’s Caddy’s glove compartment, her late daddy’s pocketknife and his dog tags, matches, flashlight, mini photo album, that coin purse she’d found, and her makeup bag with the usual girly necessities. And of course the remnants of her vast wardrobe: one pair of cutoffs, three wrinkled T-shirts, four changes of underwear, two sad-looking pairs of socks, four orange kerchiefs currently tied to form a halter top, and spare jeans that were getting a little loose. Everything else she’d thought to bring had been in the gym bag that some lowlife had ripped off when she’d turned her head at the last bus station. The peanut butter and crackers she’d brought from the pantry at home were long gone.
She had to be frugal. With Phil’s money and what she had left over from before–minus the cost of the bus ticket and a bag of chips and a Coke at the station–she had two hundred and twenty-seven dollars.
Back when she’d baby-sat and mowed lawns, that would’ve seemed like a lot–a boatload of CDs and a handful of movie tickets. Now it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough to get her to California. She couldn’t handle the bus nonstop, even if she could afford it; her legs were already stiffening up from riding overnight. She’d have to find someone else to ride along with, someone not quite as . . . eccentric . . . as Phil.
Across the street, an older woman wearing a gingham housedress was propping open the glass doors of a good-sized mom-and-pop grocery.
Camille sat on the bus stop bench, her stomach crawling with crawdads from hunger, until a few customers had gone inside so she wouldn’t be so obvious. She fought down a few pangs from her already-guilty conscience, but hunger urged her forward. She wouldn’t take much, only something to eat. “Shrinkage,” they called it, and planned for it. The girls at home did worse during their initiations into the cool cliques, and they weren’t going hungry.
The scent of small-town store, a mixture of disinfectant and rotting produce, hit her in the face as she walked in. The place had an air of genteel shabbiness, but it was busy enough already. She wheeled a squeaking cart up and down the aisles, dropping things in at random.
And then she gets arrested for shoplifting and her adventure begins in earnest (because the dragon/netsuke helps her escape, but then she has the problem that it has knocked out the cop and she’s now a fugitive, and then she has the sorcerer chasing her to get the item back. . . .)