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Elias Tate

Ramshackle Sojourn: first chapter of a novel

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Hello everyone. I'm working a fiction project of mine, and I wanted to try a different style of writing for this one. The story is centered around 3 teenagers, Flint Coal, Mally Tate, and Errm Kladson, from a small town in America in the near future, on their pilgrimage through the wilderness in search of a place that holds the mysteries of the past. This project in particular is heavily inspired by Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: an Oral Biography of Buster Casey. It's a great book, and it's formatted as a series of interviews with people who know the main character, and as more and more people are interviewed, you begin to put the pieces together and unfold the plot. It also has a similar rural Americana flavor for large sections of the book.


So anyway, this is the first interview, let me know what you think. Does it make sense? is it intriguing? Is it overdone?

Thanks and enjoy.







Josah Huff: 58 years old, Sherman Town Sheriff

“The guy’s named after rocks for Christ’s sakes. What’d you ‘spect from a guy named after rocks? Flint Coal.”


He spits.


     “Wasn’t never good at nothin’ - growin’ up i mean. Never went huntin or fishin’ much. Never liked workin’ on the farm or helpin’ with the irrigation or reconstruction or nothin’ like that. Think when he was younger his mom tried to get him involved in the church, thinkin’ that... well, i don’t know, that it’d bring him outta his shell or somethin’. You know, all the grandeur, and the guidance of Elias an’ all. Look, I love Epsy, her family did so much for me back durin’ the End, and she’s very dear to me, so i could never say this to her face, but, truth is, if ya ask me, Flint Coal is all shell. What you see is what you get, and you ain’t seein’ very much neither.”


     “I don’t know what to say about him. He wasn’t exactly an open book, since he’s a mute I mean. Though I ‘spect that even if he were an open book, there wouldn’t be much to glean. The only thing he ever really did was look at rocks. Rocks an’ pebbles and such, rocks for skippin’, on the water i mean. he’d spend hours doin’ that, just skippin’ rocks. Weird right? Well, what’d ya ‘spect?

He just never seemed present. What I mean is, most of the time whatever he was doing it felt like he wasn’t really there, ya know? He quit his schoolin’ pretty early on, and was never the life of the party at town get togethers if ya know what I mean. Schiff and Beck Kladson even offered to teach him how to help out with keepin’ the bees, seein’ as that was one of the few livings you could make ‘round here if you didn’t never talk to nobody. But 'cordin to Beck he was unteachable

     Elias said he was ‘disengaged’. So i guess the only thing he ever did, only thing he was ever engaged in, besides rocks, was with those trucks he and his uncle Goose found down by the lake. We were all surprised to see the black one drive up that morning; it’s been along time since anyone had seen one of those in workin’ condition. Impressed is probably the wrong word, no one was really sure what to make of it. ‘Specially since it was in the middle of Sunday Church and that truck was loud as hell. ‘Sides that we didn’t have much use for ‘em - the trucks I mean... well same is true for Flint i guess.

     Just puttin’ it out there, I don’t care much for Goose neither, I mean, he’s a nice enough guy, but he’s... Well Elias says he’s ‘eccentric’. I prefer the term, ‘screwball-and-a-troublemaker’ personally. But those two got along for some reason, Flint and Goose I mean. I don’t intend to explain it, much less understand it, but it’s the truth. He is probably the only real friend Flint had, growin’ up I mean. You’ll hear rumors that Goose is Flint’s real father. This is absolutely not true. Epsy is a respectable woman, an’ anyone who thinks she would do wrong and mess around with her own brother, as much of an oddball as he is, and then make up a story to cover it up? Anyone claimin’ that just doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I’m not interested in adding fuel to that fire to let’s move on.”


     “No i guess. No one predicted it. It wasn’t foretold in scripture or written across the sky or nothin’. ‘N fact, I remember when I visited him on his eleventh birthday, I had given him this old uke -I played ukulele I was younger- and he, well, he didn’t know what to do with it. I sat there with him for an hour tryin’ to show him basic chords, bein’ all encouragin’ and whatnot, and he just gave me this look like - like he was sayin’, ‘what’s this for?’ like he didn’t get it, or that he didn’t like music. He didn’t even try. Anyways, that’s when i figured, ‘well, he’ll replace old Toab as the gravedigger when he grows up’. That was my prediction, and I was completely wrong. Flint Coal is good for nothin’. Not even’ grave diggin’. Well, to be fair i guess, he has turned out to be great at causin’ a big mess. Not just for me an’ his family, but for the whole damn town. Biggest issue we’ve had since those looters from Oak L’oma came up here. But it’s like I said earlier: What’d you expect?”


     “Elias had said  -he told me a few weeks back-  that he heard him talk once, and I trust Elias. Seems to me it’s a good sign if it means Flint can talk, even if he don’t ever show it. Then again, I wonder if that really gives Elias any comfort- knowin’ his daughter ran off with Flint I mean. But how much comfort can one really find in a trauma induced coma? ‘Course Mally says Flint talked to her too.

     Some people think that if someone’s quiet and odd, someone who just don’t fit in, that deep down they’re really a good person just waitin’ to be coaxed out. Seems to me, if someone seem off, if it seems like they’re hidin’ somethin’, it’s ‘cause they are. More often than not, what’s different is harmless, but this is an exception to that rule. No, no one saw it coming. We all thought he was just a oaf. No one would’ve guessed he was- that he would do something so... extreme.  Elias and I had talked about all this before, and he said that he saw somethin’ special in that boy, even though they didn’t get along, and that one day we’d all understand Flint’s purpose in this world. But, bein’ that he’s a preacher an’ all, i mean, ain’t he gotta say that?

It’s all a big mess. I can’t make heads or tails of it. Elias might be the only one who knows what Flint and Mally are up to, but I can’t wait around until he wakes up. Fern says it could be days or even weeks if - God forbid - if ever. Ask me again when i’ve tracked down and killed Flint Coal. Then maybe I’ll have some answers for ya.”

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You have a problem, but it's a common problem, so take heart!  You are taking the reader's interest for granted by dumping a lot of information at the beginning without giving the reader a reason to care.  Dialog is generally a good way to bring a reader in, but here we only have a monologue so there's not even tension between two talkers to get us going.  It appears there's another participant, but (s)he's silent so it's just frustrating.


Try to think of another way entirely of opening this.  Don't tell me all about all the characters: I don't care, trust me.  Maybe some action? 



Josah Huff spit on the ground and looked over at the girl (boy).  "I ain't talkin' to ya as the sheriff now, this is just some words from a guy that's been around 58 years and seen enough to know what's goin' on, K?  I for sure don't know everything, but I can tell ya that Flint Coal kid ain't worth a shit."


"But I like him!" she said.


"I know you does, that's why I'm tellin' you this."



Now you've got some tension and you've got my interest.  Gradually drop in all the other backstory as the dialogue proceeds.  See what I mean?

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Wanderer is right. You can keep the interview-monologue style but you need to suggest that something has already happened in the first few sentences of the interview. Sheriff Huff drops hints that there is a mess but he should do it in the first paragraph, if not, most readers, with their short attention spans, will get bored, and quit before getting to the hint of a mess. Flint Coal also sounds a bit too boring, in the "normal" storytelling style you can compensate for this more easily, but with the interview style you have to make Coal more interesting so that readers will have more incentive to keep going. I haven't read Rant by Palahniuk, judging by the description on GoodReads, his main character is without a doubt interesting, interesting enough to keep people reading, even with the unusual format, and that is how he pulled it off. Palahniuk is well known, a luxury you don't have, so readers won't give you as much benefit of the doubt.

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