This is topic Route 66 in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=11;t=004741

Posted by pidream (Member # 9544) on :
Sheriff Louis ‘Big Lou’ Ziffer licked the envelope’s sticky edge and savored the bitter taste on his tongue. He placed the envelope on top of a chipped and scuffed four-drawer filing cabinet, and patted it as if it was his dog. He whistled contently as he made his way up the basement steps into the kitchen. Lou’s wife of forty-six years stood her back against the sink and admired her new dinette set, a slice of apple pie in one hand, and a chocolate milk shake in the other. He sat heavily, and rested his elbows on the table. His reflection stared back at him off the almost mirror finish of the red Formica. A silvered haired man with strong features softened a by age and an extra twenty pounds gazed back at him. He’d had always considered himself handsome, and many of his girlfriends

[ January 21, 2015, 09:55 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Sorry, pidream, but, "Welcome to Mayberry!"

The opening, per se, isn't cliche, the 1950's atmosphere is. I'm expecting bug-eyed, plastic monster suits scaring scantily clad, curvacious, 'hot' young ladies.

Am I missing something?

Personally, I'd really like to know, and I also know you may want to kill me right now if I'm wrong in my next question: Are you writing a farce? Cos, if you are, you need a better title.

Posted by Bent Tree (Member # 7777) on :
While I felt the writing inspired a slight sense of nostalgia which I enjoy, I would not turn the page.

As an avid reader, I seek trust in the narration. I think my first thought process involves acceptance into the milieu and character. Even if fiction, I feel the need to know that I am not being taken into a place which doesn't make sense.

I found my mistrust in the opening line and instantly squinted in frustration.

Sheriff Louis ‘Big Lou’ Ziffer licked the envelope’s sticky edge and savored the bitter taste on his tongue.
I know it may sound trite, but I have never tasted an envelope that was bitter. Perhaps they are out there but I thought that they were all somewhat sweet. If this is a device is a metaphor then it was lost. If it said, "The envelope tasted like tangerine custard, then my mind would have allowed me to trust in that I could not trust the MC's senses in the way that I trust my own.

That being said, the MC brought nothing to the scene that stirred me. I felt I was briefly introduce to a fading, vain, and perhaps vindictive Good ol' Boy Sherrif. Not once in my life have I ever wanted to go on an adventure with someone meeting that description.

A speculative event might have softened the impact for me, but I did not find one present. This left me with a dull, yet slightly nostalgic, sense of time and place. It was certainly not enough to keep me interested, not in a speculative fiction piece.

I did have the sense that the inciting moment was right. I did feel the letter was a symbol of beginning a story. Stronger POV may have helped me be certain.

My advice is to start by deepening the POV. Put yourself in the minds seat of the MC. What does he see/feel about the letter? What does it mean to him? Why does his story begin here? You don't have to reveal everything, but the readers need clues, and it is the writers job to lay them carefully.

I hope this helps.
Posted by Smiley (Member # 9379) on :
As a person who, through the ages of six and ten, personally licked hundreds of Christmas cards for my parents, definitely know the bitter taste of envelope glue. Never did I taste anything but bitter ones.
So, I can't understand how Big Lou could savor that taste. Maybe it's an adult taste thing like my father with overly spicy foods, I don't know.
They've been married for forty six years, you say. If they were married at eighteen that would make her about... eight plus six, carry the one... sixty four years old. And if married at sixteen, as was done in the old days, then she could be at least sixty six, and Big Lou potentially older than her. That being said, I'm having a hard time accepting that he'd have only put on an extra 20 lbs as a small town (I assume) Sheriff. It just didn't ring true for me.
I did like the description of the kitchen as that brought back memories of my own.
But as Bent Tree pointed out, the envelope got lost in the shuffle. It would have done well to stake down a definite interest in the story if we saw some hint as to why the letter seemed important to him (if it actually did).
I can see this story going in any number of directions but it needs a focal point in this first 13 liner.
This opinion from a reader POV.
Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
The first thing I want to say is there is a clear setting and feel to this. But, there is no promise of tension, conflict or an interesting enough (out of the ordinary enough) character to hook me.

Does he think of himself as "Big Lou," Louis, or Lou? If others call him "Big Lou" but he doesn't think of himself that way, it doesn't matter until someone calls him that.

I'm sure he thinks of his wife by her name, so if this is in his PoV, it wouldn't be "his wife of forty years" but Jeanie (or whatever her name is, or he thinks of her as).

I don't think I'd *savor* anything bitter, BUT, the change from a normally sweet envelope glue to something bitter might be a hook in itself--if he tasted poison, or its like.

Everyone from Sol Stein to David Farland advises never to have a character "content". It's a story killer. Since story is about overcoming obstacles and adversity, a static opening offers nothing compelling for the reader.
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
I agree with most of what everyone else is saying. Really, the first line would have stopped me cold, as any short story beginning with a person licking an envelope is as boring as it could be (except perhaps if the person is looking at paint dry or water boil).
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A sheriff in a reflexive mood seals an envelope in his basement and goes upstairs to his wife in their kitchen where he appraises himself in a table reflection.

"Route 66" is an iconic highway that could symbolically represent most anything positive or negative or both.

The sheriff sealing the envelope in the basement is ominous. Like he has a secret he might not share with his wife. A suicide note comes to mind, or a last will and testament given before he goes to a hazardous situation, or letter to be sent later when no one who matters to him is around, etc. Keeping the envelope secret, for now, from his wife gives readers a feeling of being in on the secret, which is an appeal opportunity of great value. Secret knowledge known by readers though not by other characters is dramatic irony, which greatly appeals to readers' curiosity.

Note that the envelope motif is an event, for now, the event of substance for developing the plot, other events, the setting, and the characters. Consider deep drilling into the envelope's meaning. That matters.

The letter's import matters before Ziffer goes upstairs. He knows its import. This is withheld. The envelope's meaning development is warranted.

Ziffer is a Jewish surname. A mid-Western Jewish apple-pie sheriff named Ziffer is not unlikely, though an idiosyncrasy that also warrants development soon.

Apple pie is a symbolism motif that warrants development immediately.

The opening's static start signals offhandedely a routine about to be interrupted. Stronger signals the routine is about to be upset are warranted.

Foreshadowing, as in an ominous envelope, motifs generally, alongside an otherwise dramatically static sequence of events warrant development so readers are cued and clued into the central dramatic action of the moment. This is labeled mythology development by writers generally.

As is, this start is somewhat a meld of character sketch and vignette (setting sketch). Both of which when artful develop interest through idiosyncractic contrast at least, if not a contest of passionate wills.

A savored bitterness signals an irony, though unclear that it is ironic or sardonic (sarcastic). More development of Ziffer's attitude at least is warranted.

"and patted it as if it was his dog" "It" pronouns here connect to antecedent subject filing cabinet, though vaguely and ambiguously signal Ziffer patted the envelope. If he's meant to pat the envelope, that is more revealing and immediate a place than if he pats the filing cabinet. In any case, a clearer subject is warranted to replace the pronouns. If he pats the filing cabinet, that motif's development is warranted. The filing cabinet in the basement might contain his personal sheriff files, and his pat then signals his farewell to a lifetime of police work.

"Lou’s wife of forty-six years stood her back against the sink" evokes an image of a woman standing her detached back like a broom against the sink.

"milk shake" is now and only recently a compounded word. One of a few or more words a dictionary is little guidance with deciding two words or one word "milkshake." Conventional usage considerations may find guidance on the Internet. More often contemporary "milkshake" than "milk shake." Comprehensive and current word compounding dictionaries list the term as one word. Wordprocessor spell checks mark the one-word term as an error. Again, non-useful guidance.

"silvered haired man" two simple past tense verbs used as adjectives are conventionally separated by a conjunction or comma. In common usage, a compound adjective description is of a color-verb form, for example: silver-haired.

"softened a by age" "a" revision artifact? stray article (adjective) in any case.

The rawness of the draft signaled by several grammar glitches signals this is a first draft. First drafts rush through and summarize and perhaps explain the action. This fragment has an above average amount of scene setting development, a few static events, a degree of character development, though little to no dramatic development.

Drama, which reveals events, settings, characters, places agonists in contention with others or self. This fragment's strongest dramatic signal, the envelope left in the basement, implies Kiffer is in a contest with the self.

Therefore, consider lingering on the envelope and what the contents mean to Kiffer so readers at least have an idea about the contest with self to come. Contest not emotionally content. One letter changes the meaning of that word. Similar small adjustments to the opening will develop essential meaning.

[ January 21, 2015, 04:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by pidream (Member # 9544) on :
All good comments. I suck at the the first thirteen-- I admit it.

Phil- Mayberry, yes and no.
Bent- Yes, adding a more of the POV would be nice, but it won't be his exactly in the rest of the story.
Inarticulate- Thanks for the Big Lou and contented comments.
Extrinsic- As always spot on, thank you.

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2