TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

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GeeGee55
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TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by GeeGee55 » July 11th, 2010, 11:50 pm

Any comments on anything to do with craft much appreciated.

The young Canadian couple waiting for the bus in front of their budget hotel doesn’t know that two prostitutes are riding on the tour to Mexico. If they knew, the young man might shrug and smirk; the young woman might balk, refuse to board, but they don’t know.

The long clumsy bus turns the corner, comes to a stop curbside, sending a rush of the warm March air of San Diego over them. A navy-suited, smiling-faced woman emerges onto the sidewalk. She flips a page on the clipboard she is holding, then steps closer.

“Are you the Nortons?” she says.

“Yes,” the young man, Darren, says.

“The dog races or the shopping tour?”

“Races,” Darren says.

“Welcome aboard.” She steps back and points at the interior of the bus as if she is Vanna White pointing at a particularly helpful letter of the alphabet.

The young woman, Emily, enters first. She prefers to sit at the front because of a tendency toward motion sickness, but they are the last pickup on the scheduled route and the bus is almost full. She has waited all her twenty-one years to make a trip to another country; she doesn’t want it ruined by an upset stomach.

She moves down the aisle, searching for two empty seats, the reassuring pressure of Darren’s hand on her waist. What a diversity of passengers: a pair of white-haired females who both look up and smile, a thirtyish woman in tight jeans leaning over her seat into the row behind her and scolding a scowling boy, a pretty black girl seated beside a fortyish blonde man. Then, a stroke of fortune: two empty seats side by side. She slides across the plush purple fabric and settles next to the window. The tour guide grasps the pole behind the driver, the motor revs and the bus shudders forward.

Emily doesn’t pay much attention to the tour guide, she looks out at the concrete and pavement and high buildings, at the multitude of other tour buses until the countryside opens up and the palm trees fade away to desert on her left and the endless shifting blue of the Pacific on her right. She holds Darren’s hand in her lap, occasionally turning the new gold ring on his finger.

“You ok?” Darren says

“Yes,” she says and turns her face towards the window, watching the ocean. “It’s so beautiful.”

Emily was born in the small prairie city of Saskatoon which emerges out of the grain fields of Saskatchewan like a shy smile on the face of a plain girl. She was raised on a street where newly-planted poplars grew in the boulevards, poor but happy her mother used to say. On summer afternoons, she roller skated down the cracked sidewalk, the wheels humming against the concrete, the sound carrying into all the yards in the neighborhood and soon she was joined by Tammy and Brenda and Linda and Jim.

Four doors down from her house was the Blackburn’s. Disgraceful was how her mother described it; shacky was how Emily thought of it. She imagined it cramped and smelly, dark even on the brightest day, though she had never been inside of it.

Often when she rolled by, her skates singing on the cement, one of the four little Blackburn girls would be outside in her panties, no blouse or undershirt, perhaps digging with a spoon in the dirt by the narrow walk leading to the front door, perhaps peering through the slats of the rotting wooden fence.

Sometimes, when they were still little, the Blackburns, one of them would escape the yard and join the other children, but as they grew older that stopped happening. And over the years, Emily became aware, without knowing how she did, that their mother was a prostitute.

Emily once heard the word at school, when she was nine or so, while following a group of older students up the stairs from the basement. Her best friend, Tammy, didn’t know what the word meant either, but something in the older boy’s tone made Emily think it was an interesting word, a good word to use, maybe, if she only knew the meaning. So, that night she asked her mother.

“Where did you hear that?”

“At school.”

Her mother would not lie to her, but she did not immediately reply, then she said, “It’s someone men pay to sleep with them.” And she turned her back to Emily.

That night, with the TV voices sneaking into their room, Emily lay side by side with her sister in the bed they shared and confessed the word she had overheard and their mother’s reply.

“Why would a man pay a lady to sleep with him?” Emily whispered.

“I don’t know. Men are weird,” her sister said.

As the tour bus carries her closer to the border crossing and Tijuana, Emily is not thinking about Sheila Blackburn, about her thin, stooped body, or her pock-marked complexion, or her face that never smiled. She does not remember the many times she walked with her mother down the street and they met Sheila Blackburn and said hello, because they said hello to everyone, but it was a cool, strange hello her mother said to Sheila Blackburn. She does not need to recall these experiences to know what they have taught her; she carries them inside of her. She knows that she should avoid thinking about or talking to prostitutes or even looking very closely at them because they might contaminate the clean life she has made for herself. To associate with them might be to become like them, living in their little island of a house in a sea of disapproving faces that sometimes tossed the imaginary life raft of a strange and distant hello. She knows this as surely as she knows that the placid ocean and the dome of sky over it, and over everything, are blue.

The tour guide rises, smoothes her navy suit. The U.S./Mexico border is about five minutes ahead, she says over the microphone. The Mexican authorities will board the bus; please have your passport and identification ready to display should the officers request to see them.

Darren flashes Emily a quick false grin. Going through borders makes him nervous. Police officers and border patrol tend not to like him, to give him a hard time, to question and re-question him even though he has done nothing wrong, not for a long time. He was only sixteen when he got the .08, just a kid. He did not have Emily’s childhood. He grew up poor and unhappy.

He has given up pieces of himself, bad pieces Emily thinks, in order to be with her. He no longer drives after he has had a couple of beers; he has quit moving drugs for his former boss, in fact took a job tending bar at the Legion where he says nothing ever happens, where old men get quietly drunk and go home. Emily is his only woman.

Now, he looks straight ahead at the ugly purple fabric of the seat in front of him, as the Mexican authorities in their pale brown suits advance down the aisle. She can almost see his heart thumping; his hand, resting in hers, becomes sweaty.
Last edited by GeeGee55 on July 19th, 2010, 9:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Sea
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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO - short story

Post by Sea » July 12th, 2010, 1:43 am

Hi. I think you've got some really good descriptions and details here, that make me picture what is happening (always a good thing!) and some of them show an interesting and unique voice too.

For example 'clumsy bus', 'shy smile on the face of a plain girl', 'occasionally turning the new gold ring on his finger' and so on.

I did feel very distant from the characters because of how it was narrated - it felt like it was observed from a distance without emotion. That is quite possibly what you're intending, but I thought I'd mention it.

Another thing I noticed is that you tend to 'tell' instead of 'show'. There are plenty of helpful articles on this topic if you haven't heard of it before. I feel like showing what was happening,'She moves down the aisle, searching for two empty seats, the reassuring pressure of Darren’s hand on her waist' instead of telling us what's happening 'She prefers to sit at the front because of a tendency toward motion sickness' would make your story more powerful.

Also, the first line is a bit confusing 'The young Canadian couple waiting for the bus in front of their budget hotel doesn’t know that two prostitutes are riding on the tour to Mexico.' I think 'doesn't' should be 'don't', and you're missing a few commas, but I think you might also be trying to put a bit too much information into that once sentence. Just a thought, as the opening sentence is very important!

Hope this helps. As I said, you're showing some original and powerful descriptions with a unique voice, so plenty of potential there!

WilliamMJones
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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by WilliamMJones » July 18th, 2010, 3:51 pm

GeeGee55 wrote:Any comments on anything to do with craft much appreciated.

The young Canadian couple waiting for the bus in front of their budget hotel doesn’t know that two prostitutes are riding on the tour to Mexico. If they knew, the young man might shrug and smirk; the young woman might balk, refuse to board, but they don’t know.This sentance could be split into two to make it more readable.
The long clumsy bus turns the corner, and comes to a stop curbside, sending a rush of the warm March air of San Diego over them. A navy-suited, smiling-faced woman emerges onto the sidewalk. She flips a page on the clipboard she is holding, then steps closer.
“Are you the Nortons?” she says.
“Yes,” the young man, Darren, says.
“The dog races or the shopping tour?”
“Races,” Darren says.
“Welcome aboard.” She steps back and points at the interior of the bus as if she is Vanna White pointing at a particularly helpful letter of the alphabet. This line made me laugh.
The young woman, Emily, enters first. She prefers to sit at the front because of a tendency toward motion sickness, but they are the last pickup on the scheduled route and the bus is almost full. She has waited all her twenty-one years to make a trip to another country; she doesn’t want it ruined by an upset stomach.
She moves down the aisle, searching for two empty seats, the reassuring pressure of Darren’s hand on her waist. What a diversity of passengers: a pair of white-haired females who both look up and smile, a thirtyish woman in tight jeans leaning over her seat into the row behind her and scolding a scowling boy, a pretty black girl seated beside a fortyish blonde man. Then, a stroke of fortune: two empty seats side by side. She slides across the plush purple fabric and settles next to the window. The tour guide grasps the pole behind the driver, the motor revs and the bus shudders forward.
Emily doesn’t pay much attention to the tour guide, she looks out at the concrete and pavement and high buildings, at the multitude of other tour buses until the countryside opens up and the palm trees fade away to desert on her left and the endless shifting blue of the Pacific on her right. This could also be broken up or shortened, in my oppinion. She holds Darren’s hand in her lap, occasionally turning the new gold ring on his finger.
“You ok?” Darren says
“Yes,” she says and turns her face towards the window, watching the ocean. “It’s so beautiful.”
Emily was born in the small prairie city of Saskatoon which emerges out of the grain fields of Saskatchewan like a shy smile on the face of a plain girl. She was raised on a street where newly-planted poplars grew in the boulevards, poor but happy her mother used to say. On summer afternoons, she roller skated down the cracked sidewalk, the wheels humming against the concrete, the sound carrying into all the yards in the neighborhood and soon she was joined by Tammy and Brenda and Linda and Jim.
Four doors down from her house was the Blackburn’s. Disgraceful was how her mother described it; shacky was how Emily thought of it. She imagined it cramped and smelly, dark even on the brightest day, though she had never been inside of it.
Often when she rolled by, her skates singing on the cement, one of the four little Blackburn girls would be outside in her panties, no blouse or undershirt, perhaps digging with a spoon in the dirt by the narrow walk leading to the front door, perhaps peering through the slats of the rotting wooden fence.
Sometimes, when they were still little, the Blackburns, one of them would escape the yard and join the other children, but as they grew older that stopped happening. And over the years, Emily became aware, without knowing how she did, that their mother was a prostitute.
Emily once heard the word at school, when she was nine or so, while following a group of older students up the stairs from the basement. Her best friend, Tammy, didn’t know what the word meant either, but something in the older boy’s tone made Emily think it was an interesting word, a good word to use, maybe, if she only knew the meaning. So, that night she asked her mother.
“Where did you hear that?”
“At school.”
Her mother would not lie to her, but she did not immediately reply, then she said, “It’s someone men pay to sleep with them.” And she turned her back to Emily.
That night, with the TV voices sneaking into their room, Emily lay side by side with her sister in the bed they shared and confessed the word she had overheard and their mother’s reply.
“Why would a man pay a lady to sleep with him?” Emily whispered.
“I don’t know. Men are weird,” her sister said.
As the tour bus carries her closer to the border crossing and Tijuana, Emily is not thinking about Sheila Blackburn, about her thin, stooped body, or her pock-marked complexion, or her face that never smiled. She does not remember the many times she walked with her mother down the street and they met Sheila Blackburn and said hello, because they said hello to everyone, but it was a cool, strange hello her mother said to Sheila Blackburn. She does not need to recall these experiences to know what they have taught her; she carries them inside of her. She knows that she should avoid thinking about or talking to prostitutes or even looking very closely at them because they might contaminate the clean life she has made for herself. To associate with them might be to become like them, living in their little island of a house in a sea of disapproving faces that sometimes tossed the imaginary life raft of a strange and distant hello. She knows this as surely as she knows that the placid ocean and the dome of sky over it, and over everything, are blue.
The tour guide rises and smoothes her navy suit. The U.S./Mexico border is about five minutes ahead, I think this needs quotations she says over the microphone. The Mexican authorities will board the bus; please have your passport and identification ready to display should the officers request to see them.
Darren flashes Emily a quick false grin. Going through borders makes him nervous. Police officers and border patrol tend not to like him, to give him a hard time, to question and re-question him even though he has done nothing wrong, not for a long time. He was only sixteen when he got the .08, just a kid. He did not have Emily’s childhood. He grew up poor and unhappy.
He has given up pieces of himself, bad pieces Emily thinks, in order to be with her. He no longer drives after he has had a couple of beers; he has quit moving drugs for his former boss, in fact took a job tending bar at the Legion where he says nothing ever happens, where old men get quietly drunk and go home. Emily is his only woman.
Now, he looks straight ahead at the ugly purple fabric of the seat in front of him, as the Mexican authorities in their pale brown suits advance down the aisle. She can almost see his heart thumping; his hand, resting in hers, becomes sweaty.
This excerpt has really good descriptions and shows the setting pretty well. I'm guessing the story of her childhood neighbor has something to do with the prostitutes on the bus, but it might be better to have that after they meet each other. Jumping to her childhood that quickly felt like an inturupption to the story, rather than adding to it.

EvelynEhrlich
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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by EvelynEhrlich » July 19th, 2010, 12:52 am

Aw, GeeGee55, your comment on WilliamMJones' thread about your excerpt being ignored made me sad. I think it would help if you hit "return" after each paragraph, so that the post doesn't look like a gigantic, daunting block of text. Then maybe more people would comment? I did that below, and I think it makes it easier on the eyes.

I read your excerpt a few days ago and thought it was good, liked the voice and the style. I also thought something about it needed to be tweaked, but I couldn't put my finger on it, so I hadn't gotten around to commenting on your piece yet. But let's see what I can do. :)
GeeGee55 wrote:Any comments on anything to do with craft much appreciated.

The young Canadian couple waiting for the bus in front of their budget hotel doesn’t know that two prostitutes are riding on the tour to Mexico. I like this opening. I don't read many stories written in present tense, but I like the feel of this one. It's distant, but in a good, observant way. If they knew, the young man might shrug and smirk; the young woman might balk, refuse to board,. bBut they don’t know. I like your style. You use run-on sentences purposefully, and it flows well. Still, I'd cut this last bit into a separate sentence, both because the rhythm doesn't feel quite right, and it adds more impact if you chop it into another sentence.

The long clumsy love the description of a bus as "clumsy" bus turns the corner, comes to a stop curbside, sending a rush of the warm March air of San Diego over them. A smiling, navy-suited, smiling-faced didn't like the string of two hyphenated descriptors in a row, and "smiling-face" read a bit awkwardly woman emerges onto the sidewalk. She flips a page on the clipboard she is holding, then steps closer.

“Are you the Nortons?” she says.

“Yes,” the young man, Darren, says.

“The dog races or the shopping tour?”

“Races,” Darren says.

“Welcome aboard.” She steps back and points at the interior of the bus as if she is Vanna White pointing at a particularly helpful letter of the alphabet. Cute.

The young woman, Emily, enters first. She prefers to sit at the front because of a tendency toward motion sickness, but they are the last pickup on the scheduled route and the bus is almost full. She has waited all her twenty-one years to make a trip to another country; she doesn’t want it ruined by an upset stomach. I like this. While some might say this is too much "tell," I think it works here. You don't want to spend too much space "showing" that she's prone to motion sickness because it would interrupt the pace of the opening scene, and this quick background (of the motion sickness, "all her twenty-one years" and "doesn't want it ruined") gives snappy insight into her character: practical yet self-centered.

She moves down the aisle, searching for two empty seats, the reassuring pressure of Darren’s hand on her waist. What a diversity of passengers: a pair of white-haired females "females" feels forced - would anyone really describe someone like that? who both look up and smile, a thirtyish woman in tight jeans leaning over her seat into the row behind her and scolding a scowling boy good imagery but I feel it could be shortened because my eyes got lost halfway through the clause, a pretty black girl seated beside a fortyish since you just used "thirtyish," maybe say something like "middle-aged" instead blonde man. Then, a stroke of fortune: two empty seats side by side. She slides across the plush purple fabric this sounds clean and posh and new... but the scene you set before this, with the budget hotel and the clumsy bus made me think it would be a bit more rundown or threadbare and settles next to the window. The tour guide grasps the pole behind the driver, the motor revs and the bus shudders forward.

Emily doesn’t pay much attention to the tour guide, she looks out at the concrete and pavement and high buildings, at the multitude of other tour buses until the countryside opens up and the palm trees fade away to desert on her left and the endless shifting blue of the Pacific on her right. Run-on sentence, but like I said earlier, this works for me because it's not an accident. (Right?) Seems you know what you're doing with it. She holds Darren’s hand in her lap, occasionally turning the new gold ring on his finger. Newlyweds? Nice detail without saying "honeymoon" outright.

“You ok?” Darren says

“Yes,” she says and turns her face towards the window, watching the ocean. “It’s so beautiful.”

I have to agree with WilliamMJones that the backstory in this next part seems out of place. It's good, but it takes away from the forward motion of the opening scene. Maybe it's okay here, depending on the overall length of the short story, though. I'm judging by novel standards.

Emily was born in the small prairie city of Saskatoon which emerges out of the grain fields of Saskatchewan like a shy smile on the face of a plain girl. She was raised on a street where newly-planted poplars grew in the boulevards, "poor but happy" need a comma here, and quotes around it would help the readability her mother used to say. On summer afternoons, she roller skated down the cracked sidewalk, the wheels humming against the concrete, the sound carrying into all the yards in the neighborhood and soon she was joined by Tammy and Brenda and Linda and Jim.

Four doors down from her house was the Blackburn’s. "Disgraceful" was how her mother described it; "shacky" was how Emily thought of it. She imagined it cramped and smelly can you describe a smell for us, rather than saying it's "smelly"? Let the reader smell it, too? Dank? Moldy? the smell of stale beer?, dark even on the brightest day, though she had never been inside of it.

Often when she rolled by, her skates singing on the cement, one of the four little Blackburn girls would be outside in her panties, no blouse or undershirt, perhaps digging with a spoon in the dirt by the narrow walk leading to the front door, perhaps peering through the slats of the rotting wooden fence.

Sometimes, when theythe Blackburns were still little, the Blackburns, one of them would escape the yard and join the other children, but as they grew older that stopped happening. And over the years, Emily became aware, without knowing how she did, that their mother was a prostitute. I don't love this sentence, although I'm sorry I can't figure out why not.

Emily once heard the word at school, when she was nine or so, while following a group of older students up the stairs from the basement. Her best friend, Tammy, didn’t know what the word meant either, but something in the older boy’s tone made Emily think it was an interesting word, a good word to use, maybe, if she only knew the meaning. I like the preceding sentence. The second half of it has great musicality. So, that night she asked her mother.

“Where did you hear that?”

“At school.”

Her mother would not lie to her, but she did not immediately reply,.Break up into two sentences so that the suspense lasts a bit longer. tThen she said, “It’s someone men pay to sleep with them.” And she turned her back to Emily.

That night, with the TV voices sneaking into their room, Emily lay side by side with her sister in the bed they shared and confessed the word she had overheard and their mother’s reply.

“Why would a man pay a lady to sleep with him?” Emily whispered.

“I don’t know. Men are weird,” her sister said.

As the tour bus carries her closer to the border crossing and Tijuana, Emily is not thinking about Sheila Blackburn if she's not thinking about her, then why did the reader just read the backstory? Be careful with this - if you're going to insert backstory so early on, the reader will want it to be worth it, and it's a hard sell if you come back right away with an explicit "but what I told you doesn't matter right now" (even if it does), about her thin, stooped body, or her pock-marked complexion, or her face that never smiled. She does not remember the many times she walked with her mother down the street and they met Sheila Blackburn and said hello, because they said hello to everyone, but it was a cool, strange hello her mother said to Sheila Blackburn. She does not need to recall these experiences to know what they have taught her; she carries them inside of her. She knows that she should avoid thinking about or talking to prostitutes or even looking very closely at them because they might contaminate the clean life she has made for herself. To associate with them might be to become like them, living in their little island of a house in a sea of disapproving faces that sometimes tossed the imaginary life raft of a strange and distant hello. She knows this as surely as she knows that the placid ocean and the dome of sky over it, and over everything, are blue. This paragraph is mostly "tell." Although I thought the earlier "tell" worked, I feel like this is too much of it. Also, it wouldn't be necessary if you moved the preceding backstory later in the story. Then you'd have time to "show" these things.

The tour guide rises, smoothes her navy suit. The U.S./Mexico border is about five minutes ahead, she says over the microphone. The Mexican authorities will board the bus; please have your passport and identification ready to display should the officers request to see them.

Darren flashes Emily a quick false grin. Going through borders makes him nervous. Police officers and border patrol tend not to like him, to give him a hard time, to question and re-question him even though he has done nothing wrong, not for a long time. He was only sixteen when he got the .08, just a kid. He did not have Emily’s childhood. He grew up poor and unhappy.I think you can do without these sentences. You build up tension with this paragraph, so don't answer the reader's question about Darren right away. And the last two sentences can be moved to later in the story.

He has given up pieces of himself, bad pieces Emily thinks, in order to be with her. He no longer drives after he has had a couple of beers; he has quit moving drugs for his former boss, in fact took a job tending bar at the Legion where he says nothing ever happens, where old men get quietly drunk and go home. Emily is his only woman. Great, punchy sentence. The word choice says a lot about Darren's past and character, without using many words at all.

Now, he looks straight ahead at the ugly purple fabric of the seat in front of him, as the Mexican authorities in their pale brown suits advance down the aisle. She can almost see his heart thumping; his hand, resting in hers, becomes sweaty.
This is good stuff. I think some people might be thrown off by the long, often run-on sentences, but it works for me. I think you have a beautiful sense of the rhythm of the prose. Hope my comments helped. Good luck!

GeeGee55
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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by GeeGee55 » July 19th, 2010, 9:59 pm

Thanks very much Sea, William M Jones and Evelyn Erlich. Your comments are all helpful and I appreciate the time you put into helping me make a better story.

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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by sarahdee » July 25th, 2010, 2:05 am

GeeGee55 wrote:Any comments on anything to do with craft much appreciated.

The young Canadian couple waiting for the bus in front of their budget hotel doesn’t know did not? that two prostitutes are riding on the tour to Mexico. If they knew, the young man might shrug and smirk; the young woman might balk, refuse to board, but they don’t know.

The long clumsy bus turns the corner, comes to a stop curbside, sending a rush of the warm March air of San Diego over them. A navy-suited, smiling-faced woman emerges onto the sidewalk. She flips a page on the clipboard she is holding, then steps closer.

“Are you the Nortons?” she says.

“Yes,” the young man, Darren, says.

“The dog races or the shopping tour?”

“Races,” Darren says.

“Welcome aboard.” She steps back and points at the interior of the bus as if she is Vanna White pointing at a particularly helpful letter of the alphabet. Who?

The young woman, Emily, enters first. She prefers to sit at the front because of a tendency toward motion sickness, but they are the last pickup on the scheduled route and the bus is almost full. She has waited all her twenty-one years to make a trip to another country; she doesn’t want it ruined by an upset stomach.

She moves down the aisle, searching for two empty seats, the reassuring pressure of Darren’s hand on her waist. What a diversity of passengers: a pair of white-haired females who both look up and smile, a thirtyish woman in tight jeans leaning over her seat into the row behind her and scolding a scowling boy, a pretty black girl seated beside a fortyish blonde man. Then, a stroke of fortune: two empty seats side by side. She slides across the plush purple fabric and settles next to the window. The tour guide grasps the pole behind the driver, the motor revs and the bus shudders forward.

Emily doesn’t pay much attention to the tour guide, she looks out at the concrete and pavement and high buildings, at the multitude of other tour buses until the countryside opens up and the palm trees fade away to desert on her left and the endless shifting blue of the Pacific on her right. She holds Darren’s hand in her lap, occasionally turning the new gold ring on his finger.

“You ok?” Darren says

“Yes,” she says and turns her face towards the window, watching the ocean. “It’s so beautiful.”

Emily was born in the small prairie city of Saskatoon which emerges out of the grain fields of Saskatchewan like a shy smile on the face of a plain girl. She was raised on a street where newly-planted poplars grew in the boulevards, poor but happy her mother used to say. On summer afternoons, she roller skated down the cracked sidewalk, the wheels humming against the concrete, the sound carrying into all the yards in the neighborhood and soon she was joined by Tammy and Brenda and Linda and Jim.

Four doors down from her house was the Blackburn’s. Disgraceful was how her mother described it; shacky was how Emily thought of it. She imagined it cramped and smelly, dark even on the brightest day, though she had never been inside of it. I'm not sure about the passive voice here - would it work better as 'her mother described it as disgraceful, Emily preferred to think of it as shack?

Often when she rolled by, her skates singing on the cement, one of the four little Blackburn girls would be outside in her panties, no blouse or undershirt, perhaps digging with a spoon in the dirt by the narrow walk leading to the front door, perhaps peering through the slats of the rotting wooden fence.

Sometimes, when they were still little, the Blackburns, one of them would escape the yard and join the other children, but as they grew older that stopped happening. And over the years, Emily became aware, without knowing how she did, that their mother was a prostitute.

Emily once heard the word at school, when she was nine or so, while following a group of older students up the stairs from the basement. Her best friend, Tammy, didn’t know what the word meant either, but something in the older boy’s tone made Emily think it was an interesting word, a good word to use, maybe, if she only knew the meaning. So, that night she asked her mother.

“Where did you hear that?”

“At school.”

Her mother would not lie to her, but she did not immediately reply, then she said, “It’s someone men pay to sleep with them.” And she turned her back to Emily.

That night, with the TV voices sneaking into their room, Emily lay side by side with her sister in the bed they shared and confessed the word she had overheard and their mother’s reply.

“Why would a man pay a lady to sleep with him?” Emily whispered.

“I don’t know. Men are weird,” her sister said.

As the tour bus carries her closer to the border crossing and Tijuana, Emily is not thinking about Sheila Blackburn, about her thin, stooped body, or her pock-marked complexion, or her face that never smiled. She does not remember the many times she walked with her mother down the street and they met Sheila Blackburn and said hello, because they said hello to everyone, but it was a cool, strange hello her mother said to Sheila Blackburn. She does not need to recall these experiences to know what they have taught her; she carries them inside of her. She knows that she should avoid thinking about or talking to prostitutes or even looking very closely at them because they might contaminate the clean life she has made for herself. To associate with them might be to become like them, living in their little island of a house in a sea of disapproving faces that sometimes tossed the imaginary life raft of a strange and distant hello. She knows this as surely as she knows that the placid ocean and the dome of sky over it, and over everything, are blue.

The tour guide rises, smoothes her navy suit. The U.S./Mexico border is about five minutes ahead, she says over the microphone. The Mexican authorities will board the bus; please have your passport and identification ready to display should the officers request to see them.

Darren flashes Emily a quick false grin. Going through borders makes him nervous. Police officers and border patrol tend not to like him, to and give him a hard time,. They to question and re-question him even though he has done nothing wrong, not for a long time. He was only sixteen when he got the .08, just a kid. He did not have Emily’s childhood. He grew up poor and unhappy.

He has given up pieces of himself, bad pieces Emily thinks, in order to be with her. He no longer drives after he has had a couple of beers; he has quit moving drugs for his former boss, in fact took a job tending bar at the Legion where he says nothing ever happens, where old men get quietly drunk and go home. Emily is his only woman. Confused about the 'bad pieces', sounds like he has given a lot up for her when in fact he's better person for knowing her?

Now, he looks straight ahead at the ugly purple fabric of the seat in front of him, as the Mexican authorities in their pale brown suits advance down the aisle. She can almost see his heart thumping; his hand, resting in hers, becomes sweaty.
Very descriptive, I really like. The telling rather than showing doesn't bother me at all but thats a personal thing. I think it works well here and you can prob get away with it for a short story.....

I do agree with Evelyn's comments about the back story. You tell us all about it then say she's not thinking of it which is a bit strange? Perhaps mention it later, when she is thinking about it.

Also not sure where you might try to get published, but there was some bits I didn't get like the .08 - I guess this is a Canadian juvenile caution or something?

Good luck!

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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by Username » July 25th, 2010, 1:07 pm

I'm an unpublished novelist, so take this comment with a grain of salt (I mean, who am I to be dishing out advice?) - but presently, with my own writing, I'm trying to avoid ANYTHING that's going to cause an agent or an editor to stop reading.

So here's my chief concern: There just aren't a lot of novels being published in the the third person present.

I would argue that unless you have a very, very good reason for writing in the third person present tense - then don't. I just think that doing so is going to cause a lot of agents to reject your work instantly. Unfortunately, there are tons of rules that unpublished writers have to follow. Another person, here at this forum, was distraught to learn that novels written by unpublished authors have to be limited to 100,000 words. His novel was 250,000 words, and he couldn't understand this rule.

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Re: TOUR BUS TO MEXICO, 1982 - short story excerpt

Post by hulbertsfriend » July 27th, 2010, 11:59 am

I like the storyline. Your use of Vanna creates an easy "minds eye" visual. One thing I find is your third person/narrator seems rather rigid, a tad clinical. Keep up the good work!
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