Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Would You Read on hosted by Joyce Hart

Welcome to the next installment of First Pages. We welcome your comments.

Professor Grossmayer shook his head at Alex’s senior art project, closing the portfolio with a soft thud. In the professor’s hands was the power to approve or disapprove the hours upon hours of intensive work Alex had put in, the power to approve or disapprove his graduation from art school. Alex found himself holding his breath. He felt Grossmayer’s filing cabinets and messy piles of paper closing in on him.

In the silence of the professor’s small office, he heard the echo of his father’s voice when Alex had showed him his first pen and ink drawing. “Are you even right, Boy?” he’d said with disdain, scowling down at the rendition of the train tracks that ran through their town.

The professor replaced Alex’s art in the leather portfolio. “I had hopes your senior project would bring the art out in you, but it didn’t. I won’t be recommending you for graduation.”

“I, uh,” Alex’s voice croaked and he cleared his throat. “I don’t understand, Professor.”

Grossmayer stood and retrieved some papers from a filing cabinet in the corner. “You remember Martin Rankle’s alumni lecture last month?”

Alex nodded. Rankle had given the annual alumni lecture in Alex’s freshman year, too. He had held them all spellbound, talking about finding inspiration and looking at the world as an artist.

Grossmayer tossed a print of some artwork on the table. “Take a look at this.”

Alex looked. The art was not amazing or anything, but the promise of talent was absolutely there, leaping off the page. He’d always had a sense of these things.

“This is some of Rankle’s work from his freshman year here.” Grossmayer announced. Then he slid another art print across the table. “This is a piece from his senior project.”

Alex looked. This time, instead of the promise of talent leaping off the page, the trees, the river, the light and shadow, the colors themselves leaped off the page.

“Look at what he accomplished when he attended here,” Grossmayer boomed. “Look at the depth, the heart of his work. You have obviously not learned here what Rankle did. Mr. Carmichael, not only do you have no talent, you wouldn’t know art if it bit you on

Special thanks to Anne Schroeder for stepping up and offering us her First Page for critique last week.


Anne Love said...

I'm pulled into the scene. But I got stuck on the believability of a professor holding that much power, sway, and crassness. If the premise of the story depends on the MC not graduating, then take more time to develop this. So far, I have only disdain for the professor, is that what you wanted from the reader? I hold many and most of my professors in my memory with admiration and respect, but I can't find any of this for this one. Perhaps as you spend more time developing, you should bring out more admirable qualities, because I don't know any students who want the approval of professors and teachers they can't respect.

Timothy Fish said...

Yes, but the author would be on probation.

Mechanically, this one seems okay. It begins with conflict. It gets to dialog fairly soon. We're given enough information to form a mental picture of where they are. Those are certainly good things to do.

Still, there is something that seems a little off. I noticed it first with the first sentence. I get the feeling that the author is trying to give us too much information all at once. I think it would help the first sentence if the phrase "at his senior art project" were deleted. I'm sure this information is important to the story, but it isn't important to this scene. That goes for the backstory about Alex's relationship with his father as well. What the reader needs to see here is that this is important to Alex. We've got a whole chapter or even a whole book to tell them why it is important. I think the first paragraph would work better as:

Professor Grossmayer shook his head, slowly flipping through the portfolio, one image at a time. Alex found himself holding his breath. The filing cabinets and messy piles of paper in Grossmayer's office were closing in on him.

In the latter part of the page, I got a little lost in the stuff about Rankle. My first thought is that there is too much Rankle worship, but as I think about it, the real issue is that the conflict has died. Professor Grossmayer is saying "Look how great this fellow Rankle is" and Alex is saying, "Yes, Rankle is a great fellow." It reminds me of a couple of scenes from the Book of Job. To paraphrase Satan appears before the Lord and the Lord says, "Look how great my servant Job is." But unlike Alex, Satan doesn't say, "Yes, he's a great guy." Instead he says, "yeah, but he wouldn't be if you didn't protect him from so much." It would greatly help this first page if Alex would find a way to call Professor Grossmayer's opinion into question.

Sheila Odom Hollinghead said...

I agree with Anne. I don't know how one professor can decide the fate of a student. Why wasn't Alex told long before now that he had no talent? The scene is not believable.

No, I would not read on unless we were given more information to make this more believable. A few sentences would probably be able to accomplish that. Perhaps Alex has reached this point by the skin of his teeth and has persevered even in the face of doubt and criticism.

But, that would be very unusual for someone to persevere with a constant barrage of negativity. If Alex persevered, he would almost have to be an egomaniac, delusional, and highly competitive. He wouldn't be holding his breath. Instead he would be angry at the professor, wondering how the professor failed to recognize his immense talent. He would think his work was as good as (or better than) Rankle's. Otherwise, why would he have wasted years of his life pursuing it?

Now I'm interested in knowing why. LOL

Timothy Fish said...

I didn't spend much time in the art department when I was in college, I took one class, got my A and got out, so I don't know if this scene is realistic as is or not. Perhaps the nature of it needs to change for this story, but I do think it is realistic for one professor to stand between a student and graduation. For me, that would have taken the form of a professor giving me less than a C in a class required for my major. In the art class I did take, that could have come down to scene similar to this one, since he graded us on only three things. For the scene, a simple fix to the realism would be for the professor to say he's going to give a low grade on the portfolio and then for Alex to react by saying that he needs a higher grade to graduate.

Linda Glaz said...

I have to agree with Tim about too much information. We see that the guy's project is for graduation if the very next lines. So to just say art project is probably enough. Also, a grammar glitch right away that pulled me out. Sorry, they make me crazy. And I thought, at first, that we were in the prof's POV. I had to go back to reread and convince myself that it was actually the student's. Little things, but enough that I'm not sure I'd read on. I'd rather see this open with lots of conflict/action. (but then, I always like lots more conflice and action)

Linda Glaz said...

Don't think I could have spelled more words wrong if I'd tried. Good grief, time for coffee!

Millie Samuelson said...

Ah, that Carmichael last name near the end caught me. So of course, I want to read on -- this may all be true! A week's a long time to wait to find out. . .

Katherine Hyde said...

The situation pulled me in—what writer could not identify with Alex waiting to hear his fate decided? But the writing needs tightening and smoothing out, and the voice didn't strike me as very distinctive. I also wondered whether this professor would really have the power to keep a student from graduating—and how Alex would have made it this far in art school if he's really that bad. Plus the dad's remembered comment didn't make sense to me.

Cindy Sproles said...

I like the idea behind this first page. I'd probably read a second.
The tension is there for the reader who identifies with those times we all feel we wait in judgment.

I like to see tight sentences. Sentences that begin with prepositions could be written...
"In the professor's hands"..."In the silence of the professor's office"...

Perhaps by saying, The professor held the power to approve or disapprove his graduation from art school...

If you're in the silence of an office how do you hear an echo. Often we try so hard to set the scene, we fail to simply say what we mean. "His father's voice echoed in his memory."

Having said that, I think there's a good story here. I'm curious what this is all about. I wonder if one professor can a graduate make? Somewhere grades come into play.

I do really like the the ending paragraph. Swizzled a bit, it would be nice to have seen that as the first paragraph. Start the story there and it draws me in a bit faster. As a reader I'd want to know exactly what's going on.

Overall, nice. I'd read another page or two. Just a little tweaking and things would fall into place.

What one of us as writers couldn't use a little swizzle? Nice job. Good potential here.

Kathryn J. Bain said...

I might give it another page or two before I made up my mind.

I agree about the professor having too much power. There would probably be three or more who made the decision. (That's how it was in my daughter's art high school. I'm assuming college wouldn't be too much different in that regard.)

That said, it seemed to me there was a lot of telling, not showing. "He found himself", "he felt", etc. It's his POV, we know he's feeling, seeing, thinking, etc. Put us in the action. "Filing cabinets and messy papers closed in on him." It's more active than "he felt".

I would also start your story with "Mr. Carmichael, not only do you have no talent...". It would really grab a reader much better than where you began.

Linda Glaz said...

Totally agree, Katherine. That would grab the reader much quicker. Also, you are spot on about the telling. Way too much.