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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » The Old Mountain Home

   
Author Topic: The Old Mountain Home
M.J. Larsen
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My contribution to a local anthology by a group of area writers:
For me, one look at the home on First Street West in Snowflake, AZ conjures up a myriad of memories. Horses in the corral. A little boy with a flashlight. Thanksgiving dinners when the house, porch and lawn were filled with family from toddlers to the old folks.
By the late1800s, the home was owned by Evan Larson and his wife Zella. It passed to their son Ivan in the mid-1900s who remodeled the house at the desire of Ivan's wife, Erna. Ivan thought it had been just fine the way it had always been. At least, the exterior remained the same. It remains in the family to this day.
Grandpa Ivan enjoyed sitting with the family on the front porch. Back and forth the porch swing moved beneath the weight

[ February 10, 2017, 11:02 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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extrinsic
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An essay about the family folk who lived in a rough and rowdy, boisterous house?

I'm not sure; the title cites a house, yet the fragment blandly describes the generic sweep of people who lived at the house. Yet more attention called to the house, lack of a description, that is, by the standout of the fragment, that Erna wanted the house remodeled and Ivan thought the house fine as it was. That's an artful feature that works for me, character development-wise.

Infill, or backfill additions, description of the house is warranted, in such a way that the house reflects the folk. What kind of house, mechanically, an adobe, or clapboard, or log beam, brick, what? What about the roof? Tin, board and batten, or wood shingle? How many floors? And a description of what Ivan did that changed the house. Aesthetically, what does the house express and imply about the people who lived in it? And vice versa, what do the people who lived in it say about the house? Maybe not their words so much as, for example, what Ivan did to change the house.

Not to suggest that all of that needs to be in the fragment, pieces that start development; some few little specifics' amount will do, like a simple architectural label. Two-level rustic clap house, wood shingled? Ivan might have added indoor plumbing, electricity, finished wallboard? More civilized a house and home? Women tamed the West, not the six gun, despite the rabid range violence thereabouts at the time of the house's first construction. If women's role in taming the West were a subtext or foreground part of the essay, and men's stubborn resistance to being tamed, or a similar effect, I'd be hopelessly hooked.

Likewise, the people lack description. Like the "little boy with a flashlight," is he happy? Afraid of the dark? What? My child kin love flashlights and wear through them like they don't know the value of money. Those types of little idiosyncrasies work more characterization and appeal magic with less words than bland and emotionally neutral mentions. Specific, personal, and emotional sense impressions are key.

The rushed description of the many people who enjoyed the house becomes a white statue tableau, similar to a white room mistake, from the "Turkey City Lexicon": "White Room Syndrome. An authorial imagination inadequate to the situation at hand; most common in the beginning of a story. 'She awoke in a white room.' The white room is obviously the white piece of paper confronting the author. (Lewis Shiner)" White Statues, or Marble Statues, is a correlative of White Rooms, personas posed as still life statues of little or no tension expression. Artful statues pose in physical and emotionally expressive tension.

Likewise, confronted with a broad summary swathe of events, time, and people, a population explosion of bland events, settings, and characters occurs -- non-specific, uninteresting. "Population explosion," per Jerome Stern, how to recognize and manage its arts in Making Shapely Fiction is apt for creative nonfiction and essay generally, includes journalism and history accounts, etc., the general principle of which is personal and personable specificity of standout individuals, events, details, etc., that represent a whole, emotional texture in particular specifics, and from, say, a narrator's emotive, private, and subjective viewpoint.

The term "myriad of" is correct grammar, means innumerable or, specifically, ten thousand; however, that cultured term is at odds with the plainspoken language of the fragment. That term itself stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fragment, nor does it hold any evocative or rhetorical value.

The "For me" opening words establish the narrator and mechanical narrative point of view, first person, though not in and of itself narrator identity, the aesthetic aspects of a narrative point of view. The above about "say, a narrator's emotive, private, and subjective viewpoint" is how essays establish narrator identity without the narrator self overwhelming a narrative, stealing the scene.

"dinners [-- ]when the" warrants the dash, part for apt emphasis, part because, after the previous two sentence fragments, the sentence is itself a sentence fragment. A dash defuses sentence fragment reading ease and comprehension challenges.

"were filled with family from toddlers to the old folks." Unnecessary passive voice. Note the to be auxiliary verb "were," the past participle "filled" main verb, and the preposition "with" of the object "family from toddlers to the old folks," all markers of passive voice. The doers of the action "filled" are the folk, not the acted upon, clause subject and object inversion: passive voice.

//when family, from the toddlers to the old folks, filled the house, porch[,] and lawn.// Prose uses the Harvard, or serial comma, inside the brackets, to separate all serial list items, includes separate the next to last item from the conjunction word "and" (or other conjunction word) and the last serial item. Periodical publications vary widely about whether the serial comma is necessary. Only periodical publications optionally omit the serial comma and most usually newspapers.

"in the mid-1900s[,] who" Nonrestrictive terminal dependent clauses take comma separation, or other punctuation, like a dash; semicolon, if the dependent clause is a related complete sentence; colon, if the dependent clause is a serial list or of an "as follows" nature. The "who" subordinates the dependent clause to the main clause.

"the home was owned by Evan" another unnecessary passive voice clause. //Evan and his wife Erna owned the house// or //two-level rough clap and shingle fortress// so that further house description timely contributes appealing, vivid, and lively details to told ownership: "fortress," an apt "telling detail" metaphor. Or some such to similar effect that is evocative narrator present sense impression of the house's appearance. Hospitality home?

"wife[,] Erna." Stray comma. Ivan's wife Erna is a restrictive idea; not any wife, Ivan's. "their son Ivan" is the correct punctuation of a restrictive idea, none; not any son, their son.

"At least[,] the exterior remained the same." Another stray comma. The apt expression is //At the least//, which a dash could follow for emphasis, not the comma. //At the least -- the exterior remained the same.// However, a best practice is timely and judicious emphasis use: less is more, such that intended emphasis stands out when most relevant. The sentence is a fragment anyway, subordinated to no other sentence or clause in any way by the attributive phrase, "At least". Sentence fragments' function is emotional emphasis, likewise, timely and judicious use for less is more emphasis. Three fragments in the first paragraph, one in the second, too many, maybe?

"It remains in the family to this day." "It" pronoun-subject antecedent error. The proximal subject of the pronoun is "the exterior", not the house intended.

Knowing somewhat of Snowflake and Navajo County, Arizona rabid range war feuds, I'm curious about the house's relationship to that scandal, an event of considerable note, how the Larsons came by the house, and its relative and absolute location and event standing to those events.

Some little piece about, perhaps, the Larsons settled later, bought the house as is from a prior owner, who might have been someway peripheral to or involved in the feuds. Like that the Larsons came to Snowflake after the notorious feuds trickled to a conclusion. After Arizona achieved statehood, delayed due to the feuds? Mention the feuds sooner or later to place the house and family's relationship to it?

This is a rhetorical figure labeled apophasis: "brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up." ("Apophasis" Wikipedia) //Never mind the Pleasant Valley War, the Larsons settled into Navajo County after that rabid cowboy rancher feud.// Or some such to similar effect. The points of that are development of the house's setting, time, place, and situation, plus, in a context of significant and influential events of note, and narrator identity development.

This fragment, and the essay overall, are apt for the narrative type vignette, which is a dramatic account of a setting. The essential dramatic movement of such a narrative is depiction of a place as time and people, as it were, move through it. Outcomes of vignettes best practice entail a transformative observation of a moral or maxim nature, like that So-and-so tamed the West, or to a similar effect, related to the house's life span.

More vignette focus would work for me.

The first two words, "For me," in an absence or narrator identity developments, the empty use of "myriad of," lack of house description, any at all, and missed context related to signal events of note and their potent interest potential, overall lack of specific, evocative, personal present-sense impression details, those leave me unenthused enough to read on as an engaged reader. I can do without essays, personal or impersonal, that resemble bland history texts, unless I need to for research or must for work.

[ February 11, 2017, 05:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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