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Thread: Bus Riding

  1. #1
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    Bus Riding

    This is the third chapter of a novel in progress called, Kids in America. I would appreciate any feedback on your general impression and thoughts on the prose.

    Start:

    Stanley did not live in Isla Vista, the town adjacent to the campus, with the rest of the UCSB student body. He rented a room in downtown Santa Barbara from his Religious Studies professor who lived in a house described on a department-wide email as quaint and cozy. It was built in the 1940s completely out of wood. The floors creaked with every step. The appliances were so old that when Stanley used the microwave, he left the room as a precaution for his sperm count. There were dusty books on every surface, and their smell drifted perpetually in the air, propelled by drafts from gaps in the walls. And although the temperature was cold year round because the sun coming through the window was filtered into meager coins of light by the overgrowth of green life surrounding the house with all its hair and tentacles, Stanley cherished how the asceticism contrasted with the alcoholic ways of his peers.

    He did not know how to drive so he took the bus to school everyday. He enjoyed this thirty minute ride. It provided a safe interaction with the kaleidoscopic community of Santa Barbara while his headphones maintained a facade of obliviousness. There was a strange etiquette that all bus riders followed: You could stare and be stared at without feeling self conscious as long as you looked away when someone threatened to return your gaze and they were nice enough to avert their heads when you swiveled yours around. Eye contact of any kind was prohibited.

    He took the 7:10 in the morning and returned with the 6:30 in the evening, sitting next to the crustier levels of academia, people of surprisingly stereotypical appearance, male graduates with long hair and scruffy beards, female graduates with oval frames of vibrant plastic and short hair in dull natural colors, both wearing a variety of sports coats, a trendy cut one day and a GoodWill treasure the next, dusty-smelling tweed coats donated by the families of recently deceased professors, those whose colleagues also rode these buses because their own deaths and donations of tweeds and cardigans were imminent, naturally they would be a danger to others on the road, their eyesight was failing and their hearing was shot, combining into something resembling consciousness, rising and falling out of mental slumbers, lucidly talking of Michelangelo.

    But they weren’t the people he spent his time watching. These academic types and their doppelgängers only made up about twenty percent of the bus riders. The rest were a snapshot of lower class Santa Barbara. The Mexican ladies going to their janitorial positions at office buildings all across town and their minimum-wage campus jobs at places like Wendy’s and Panda Express. They wore heavy jackets despite the season and pigtails despite their age. They outnumbered their male counterparts, whose work clothes were splattered with drips of paint and frayed at the hem and collar. Stanley took notice of their callused hands of stone and his admiration for their work ethic grew to a patronizing degree. The men always stood, displaying a lost chivalry, hanging on the steel rods, swaying back and forth with their joviality, hovering over the ladies wearing enigmatic smiles that Stanley forcefully interpreted as a colossal will in the approaching tide of delirious exhaustion. On the 6:30 when the day lay behind them and they sat silently in their seats, Stanley thought of telling them of how they could improve their lives but he was impeded by the bags of groceries on their knees and the kids gathered in their arms. As their tiny brown eyes stared back at him, he thought of handing these little children dollar bills and felt very pleased about thinking this.

    On the margins of whiteness were the vagrants, the lame, and the living dead. Stanley feared the vagrants would one day rampage through the aisle with bloody sharps of steel. He reminded himself to prey for their souls. The mixture of sympathy and disgust he felt for them made them his favorite riders. He would write mental histories for their lives, tell of how they came to ruin: drugs and booze and drugs and booze and somewhere in there mental illness.

    The living dead were the medicare patients never pictured in campaign commercials. He imagined years had passed since they had last spoken to their children. Just as they had long ago said their farewells to keeping up appearances, wearing comfort clothing formerly reserved in their middle ages for Saturday mornings, but now the sweatpants and sweatshirts with silk screened skyscrapers and cartoon characters were so often worn and laundered that they began losing their vibrant hues of pinks and baby blues.

    The lame were the real life Forrest Gump’s with none of the strength of will and all of the struggle and anxiety worn into their mongoloid faces. Their eyeballs bulged out of their sockets, held back from dangling free by thick lenses in oversized frames. The only times Stanley had seen someone give up their seat to the elderly involved this handicapped group. Which only made it harder to witness the lack of sympathy they were given, the sympathy that was so profusely given to them in human interest pieces, the gooey feelings that could only be spurred on by TV sets and cinema screens when it did no good.

    One day, Stanley was shocked by the sight of a hideous woman struggling to climb onto the bus. He was sitting in the front section where the seats faced each other. She sat opposite. Her face looked liked a Barbie’s after a brief spell in the microwave. She was mostly bald with a few tufts of wiry hair swelling out at desolated spots. She had been in a fiery car accident. Or she had woken up to a burning house, trapped by flames where it would have been much easier to die. As passengers came in and promptly proceeded to the back, he could see what she would always have to endure. She lived in a world that would never let her forget the furnace of pain that had defined her life.

    He asked how her day was going. The words came out as soon as they entered his thoughts, if he had not done so, he knew he would not have said them. Her answer was barely audible. He asked her where she was going, and this time her voice was clear, she had merely been surprised before. She asked where he was going, and he began telling her about his test and how nervous he was. The bus arrived at her stop. When she got up, he thought of offering to help her off the bus but decided not to acknowledge the furnace. It was nice meeting you, she said.

  2. #2
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    This is well written and I enjoyed reading it. I'm curious how it fits into the whole because it reads more like the opening to a novel - though with so much scene-setting detail and internalised dialogue that it's unlikely to hook many readers.

    One typo stuck out:

    He reminded himself to (prey) [pray] for their souls.

    H

  3. #3
    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    I found this to be a pleasant read because it reminds me so much of my public transport experiences, studying the other passengers. I especially enjoyed the line:

    As their tiny brown eyes stared back at him, he thought of handing these little children dollar bills and felt very pleased about thinking this.

    I wondered about it being chapter 3 and how the book is supposed to get off the ground as a whole if this your writing style from the beginning. As a short story, I enjoyed it.
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillwalker View Post
    One typo stuck out:

    He reminded himself to (prey) [pray] for their souls.
    On the other hand...

    He reminded himself to prey (for) [on] their souls.

    ...could also make it interesting.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  5. #5
    Registered User miyako73's Avatar
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    Although I'm a newbie in writing a novel, let me comment. I think that alone is too malnourished to be a chapter of a novel. You have plenty of space; make that bus an interesting setting. Make the homeless man who smelled of urine and alcohol mumble nonsense or do bizarre things. I want to see and hear individuals who make the bus full of life and strangeness.
    Last edited by miyako73; 12-18-2012 at 05:52 PM.
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  6. #6
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    Not having read the first two chapters of your work, it's difficult to wrap the passage you've posted in context; therefore, I read it as a stand-alone work.

    It seems to take a long time to get off the ground --I'd prefer a more compelling opening that grabs my attention. A paragraph describing the protagonist's living quarters seems to go nowhere (and thus, the narrator abandons the topic.) The following sentence tries to knit unrelated elements together and as a result little in the way of useful information:

    And although the temperature was cold year round because the sun coming through the window was filtered into meager coins of light by the overgrowth of green life surrounding the house with all its hair and tentacles, Stanley cherished how the asceticism contrasted with the alcoholic ways of his peers.
    I'd recommend dropping that opening paragraph (which could be revised and placed in a different chapter)and start right with the bus ride--a passage full of lengthy descriptions of the protagonist's fellow travelers on the bus until the narrator finally zeroes in on the lady with whom your hero (almost involuntarily) strikes up a conversation:


    He asked how her day was going. The words came out as soon as they entered his thoughts, if he had not done so, he knew he would not have said them. Her answer was barely audible. He asked her where she was going, and this time her voice was clear, she had merely been surprised before. She asked where he was going, and he began telling her about his test and how nervous he was. The bus arrived at her stop. When she got up, he thought of offering to help her off the bus but decided not to acknowledge the furnace. It was nice meeting you, she said.
    The reader wonders why this material isn't set in dialogue rather than merely relating what he said. (Incidentally, skip a space for a new paragraph with every change of speaker.)

    From this reader's perspective, I would say that this chapter could be brought to life with less telling and more showing.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 12-18-2012 at 05:49 PM.

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    Thank you. It's immensely gratifying to hear that someone enjoyed reading this.

    You've both expressed curiosity of how it fits to the whole. Right now I only have four chapters in 20 pages (plus another chapter in progress) so it doesn't all fit too great yet. I posted this because it's some of my most recent writing and the most polished. I wasn't going to post the rest because I wasn't sure people would read 20 pages but if there is enough interest I'm willing to do that.

    This is not the first chapter because this isn't my main character. I introduced him very briefly in the previous chapter and started a broader description in this one.

  8. #8
    The Wolf of Larsen WolfLarsen's Avatar
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    My favorite part is where you prey on their souls. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    Well written. At first I was bored actually. But then the writing got my interest.

    A good bus story, I think somebody else said that too.
    "...the ramblings of a narcissistic, self-obsessed, deranged mind."
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  9. #9
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    I agree that this is well written. And since it doesn't have a final climax (even a little one) we may assume it's only a chapter. I relate the writing of a novel to the orchestration of a symphony . They are both long works. In music you are led along from one point of interest to another, (are these crescendos? what the hell do I know about music anyway)
    Finally at the end you give the listener coup de gras (how do you spell that? Word don't know it, I don't know it) and it's the end. Same thing with chapters of a novel. But there's the problem, and you have it here, of a slow start. As you say it's not an opening chapter. But consider the advice the people about gave you, and it will stand better alone by itself. A novel is only a progression or continuing series of short stories anyway.

    Have a look at Montebello Bus or Pull Cord for next Stop or Bus Stop, a couple I've done, for perspectives of buses in the L.A. area. They're short and here on lit net. It may give you a push-start from a different angle.

    Well done.
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 12-20-2012 at 12:28 PM.

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