The hills above Paradise were burning the day the man with no heart came to town.
Some reckoned it was dry lightning; the rains hadn’t come yet even though the clouds built over the mountains every afternoon. Some reckoned it was ranchers, trying to burn off the scrub so’s good grass would grow when the rains came. And some reckoned there was still a few Apache up in the hills, and they was trying to burn the white man out.
But whatever started it, the hills were burning, and the smoke rolled down, and you couldn’t see from one end of town to the other, and it was hotter than hell.
It is well written (as your stuff always is) but doesn't work for me, I am afraid.
You tell us about the man 'with no heart' and the burning hills, then you go on to give three potential reasons for the fires. These reasons no doubt help with setting, but they fizzle out. I guess I was expecting the three reasons others thought followed by the narrators best guess/knowledge. It seems like you are lacking a natural progression in the narration, e.g.
Some thought he was good, some thought he was bad, but everyone feared him. I, however, knew he was the devil incarnate.
My point is I can see why as an author you have those three guesses, but it doesn't compute in terms of the narration. The three guesses need to be followed by at least by the narrators opinion/actual retrospective knowledge. You dismiss the guesses making it feel like a waste of time having read them.
Also for first person (isn't it? 'So's'), I feel a distinct lack of the word 'I' to establish it.
To be honest, a fire doesn't really interest me; the man with no heart does. I have forgotten about him by the end of the intro as he is never mentioned again after the briefest of mentions in the first line. I think you hooked me, but lost me by the end of the intro by talking about how the fire could have started.
I would recommend mentioning him again to re-hook. Perhaps ditch the line 'But whatever started it...' and replace with a reference to the man himself.
Edited to add: I probably would read on because of the flawless prose, but not because of how the story unfolds so far.
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited February 13, 2010).]
I thought it was fine. The only suggestion I'd make is to consider swapping the elements of the first sentence, which I found a little ungainly, to give it a little more punch. Ie, swap
[The hills above Paradise were burning] and [the day the man with no heart came to town].
The day the man with no heart came to town, the hills above Paradise were burning.
First, it more obviously sets the object of the sentence to the man, which is what made it clunky to me (I assume The Man With No Heart is important to the story). Secondly, it sets the end of the paragraph at burning, which ends it with a bang and makes it that much more memorable.
(The same could work for ...hills were burning above Paradise, depending on which is more important)
Of course, since I have no clue what comes next, all this may be completely inappropriate
Thanks for the input. I'm still working on both the voice (there is a narrator but I'm not sure exactly whow "present" - both in the narration and in the story - he needs to be) and the structure, so the feedback is valuable.
Inevitably, the next line DOES get back to the man with no heart. The fire and smoke and heat are all important which is why I wanted to establish them up front, but I probably don't need quite so much uncertainty established right up front.
More comments still welcome; it may be a little while before I get back to this as I've got a couple of other rewrites that need attention first.
I like it and its well done, but a little lacking in atmosphere for me. Maybe some similes or metaphors when describing the fire and overall enviroment? Maybe a theory about what it is thats less mundane?
Not bad at all, I just think it could be spiced up a bit.
The setup/approach was interesting. The "western" dialogue didn't ring 100% authentic. It might be interesting to omit all the "trying". Along with "reckoned" in same sentences you lose some of the confidence that characterized the times. I was reminded more of a rural Southeastern US dialect than Southwestern in that sense--more indirect. Of course depending on who the narrator is, that might be what you want/need.
Overall it has that eerie feel of the start of "The Gunslinger", and if that's what you intended, you got it.
I almost feel like you could keep the first line and then jump to the description of the smoke rolling through town. Maybe shorten the speculation and put it after the description if you really need it.
And I agree with dee_boncci that the dialect felt off. To me it seems a little forced, like it was tacked on to define the setting.