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Merchants in Ivory; aimed at Publication

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Merchants in Ivory; aimed at Publication

Postby SirJill » Fri Dec 08, 2006 8:59 am

Hey guys...I'm back. I have a story which I'd really, really like comments on (anything, and I'm serious!) because I'm going to try and get it published.

So. Here we go. Please, don't be afraid to be mean, I would love you forever if you ripped my story apart, because then I can make it better.

Thanks,

Jill


Merchants in Ivory

The young man out on the balcony drew a deep breath, staring down at the gardens below him. They spread out in the vast darkness, topiary and bushes curling like demons in the night. He let his eyes caress the shapes, finding little elegance, or, if elegance, elegance which could not be put into words. He saw soft curves and hard edges, the contrast as striking as if he had been slapped. It was nearly as painful. Still, the youth leaned his weight on his two braced arms, out of the light cast by the two torches.

There were murmurs from inside. He heard the gentle cadence of conversation, the occasional trill of laugher; grating on the ears by birdlike ladies, full, rich and mellow from portly gentlemen. He smiled, listening to a long rolling serenade of the latter and closing his eyes, accepting the sound into his being. It was the women he hated most, those with their powder and pearls, and their flighty high voices. They flitted from one guest to another, bored easily and exchanging conversation partners as soon as they lost interest. There was a reason that it looked as if a dance were occurring in the big room, the music the rise and fall of birdsong.

Silk and velvet rippled as the figures moved, the movements of all graceful and unearthly. This was an assembly of gods, women, too beautiful, men, to alluring for the usual mortal to withstand. They would lure those unsuspecting mortals into such a trap. But not the one who had seen this dance every day for five years.

"Audrey! Where is dear Audrey? He must play for us!"

The young man closed his eyes and drew in a deep, petulant breath, allowing a bittersweet smile to cross his lips. Turning, he reached up to brush back the smooth auburn hair which was gathered at his neck with a black, silken ribbon. Fingers brushed down over the fabric briefly, absorbing the cool texture before he removed it, stepping out of view of the balcony doors for a moment. Then, when he was ready and the ribbon had been retied, he stepped forward, into the light, and threw himself to the lions.

Immediately he was swooped upon by a crowd of women who hustled him to a harpsichord at the center of the room. They flung him down upon the bench and pressed him forward, forcing his hands to the keys. Audrey drew a deep breath, calming himself briefly before rising of his own accord and sweeping back the tails of his long, green riding coat. He did not wish to wrinkle the silken material or damage the silver embroidery. Not that it mattered, but it was something which had been drilled into him for the past five years. It was proper.

His eyes again swept the ivory keys and he reached forward, linking his fingers together in the classic pianist’s stretch. Then, rather anticlimactically he began to play a scale.

Audrey progressed slowly, leisurely, intentionally baiting the crowd which had clustered around the harpsichord. Yet as he began to play, the scales took on a different meaning to him. He moved up the keys, stretching to higher and higher notes, and suddenly his hand dipped down to a miraculous harmony in the lower, deeper notes. The gentlemen’s laughter paired with the tittering of the women. The music began to flow, to take on the cadence he had heard from the balcony, and suddenly Audrey was no longer chained to this wretched situation, forced to endure those who put on facades for the sake of society manners.

The ladies paired with lower notes, the sound eerie with the gay waltz above it: a party, but something was wrong. His fingers crawled up the keys, low to high, fluctuating at the top, having lost steam. This should be a triumph, but something was wrong; not very wrong, but nagging, the high notes a façade for the true melody underneath. These weren’t the motives the guests bandied about—they were business deals, enemies being marked for death. It was anything but the frivolous party it pretended to be.

A chord. The wave of sound bowled the auburn haired young man over, freezing his fingers on the piano. There was a painful instant of silence before music began to fill the room again, a brisk melody—quite different from what he had been playing. It was something he had composed before, easily his most famous piece. He progressed through it quickly, yet elegantly finishing with a flourish and escaping from the piano before the crowd realized he was done.

Applause thundered throughout the hallway and Audrey fought his way through a mass of smiles and claps on the back, his eyes moving around the room in a reserved and panicked fashion. Finally, finally they alighted on a figure standing in the back, smoking. He met he youth’s eyes calmly, a slight smile turning the corners of his mouth.

Audrey parted the dissipating crowd, wedging between praise and more high pitched babbling. He arrived to stand in front of the other and stood looking at him for a long moment before dropping his gaze to the floor and tugging at the bottom of his vest.

"You played well—why did you stop?"

"I feel like I’ve soiled myself in front of everyone." Audrey blurted, his eyes raising to the casual black pools in front of him.

His remark coaxed a smile from the elder’s mouth and finally a laugh. "Do you need paper to write it down?"

"I don’t want to write it down."

"Audrey." The man’s voice turned colder and he tapped his cigarette into a nearby ashtray. "I know you don’t like these parties, but really, you must at least try."

"I feel dirty," Audrey pleaded, taking a conspiratorial step toward the other, his hands clenching. "I don’t want to write it down—do you know what I was playing? Do you have any idea?"

"No, I don’t. Audrey, if you insist on using the ‘they’re not good enough for my work’ speech, at least pick a few people who are not quite as powerful."

"It’s not…power." Audrey continued, half glancing over his shoulder to the crowd behind him, "Listen, Andrew, I’m not..."

Dark eyes pierced him as the other tilted his head and gave him a dark, knowing look. He reached out and set a hand on Audrey’s shoulder, exerting a slight pressure. "What you just played it something you need to be writing down. I’ll repeat my question. Do you need paper?"

"No. Andrew—"

The hand on his shoulder tightened, effectively stoppering his words. "Do not address me in that tone." He said softly, "Now, shall I send a servant, or can you remember what you just played?"

"I can remember it." Came the defeated reply. Audrey dropped his gaze to the floor again. He had lost the only ally he possessed.

"Good. Now—ah, Karthago," Audrey heard the smile in Andrew’s voice as he seemed to have made eye contact with someone else, someone whom he found entertaining enough to converse with. "My, it is good to see you."

There was a pause and Audrey felt the hand drop from his shoulder. He straightened, preparing to leave, but suddenly found his hand seized and pumped by a rather bulky man who grinned cheekily at him. "Such a wonderful pianist. I’m sure Andrew must be pleased to have you attributed to his name. You certainly catch the eye of the average, uninterested person—I must say you’ve given me quite an obsession."

"Thank you, Sir." Audrey muttered. He allowed his hand to be flailed by the other.

The man—Karthago, apparently, turned his attention back to Andrew. "Andrew Bellari, my friend, it has been too long."

Audrey drifted silently away, leaving Andrew to speak with the colossus, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. He pulled his lower lip into his mouth and escaped to the entry hall, dropping into a sprawl on the grand staircase. He had been in Andrew’s service for years now, his pet musician, creating what Andrew wanted, what he called for and occasionally allowing himself to create his own pieces. If Andrew had liked what he had heard, that meant that Audrey would continue to write it, which was something he didn’t wish to do. There were certain pieces which he memorized quickly and then burned the music. They were not fit to be shared with the world, or, at least the world in which he currently lived.

It was a world which he had paid for. Not with money, for Audrey had never possessed any noticeable amount. No, Audrey had paid for his life with his talent. He’d been soft, unwilling to take the road of a struggling artist, unwilling to suffer hunger and cold, if only to keep his piano. It was a choice he felt he had been forced to.

Why? The question was not 'why' but 'how much'; how much power did Andrew Bellari possess? How much wealth? How many souls did he have at his mercy?

Andrew Bellari was a shadowy, empowered figure in the political and social community. He pulled strings. He was the social climber against whom Audrey had rallied in his piece. It had started quietly, and grown as he had continued, making the young man long to slam the cover on the harpsichord and storm from the room. It was a luxury he was not allowed. The one irony in a world where he was allowed everything he desired.

Audrey had given up his soul by playing for Andrew. By now the other knew him well and knew his moods, and would likely send a servant to drag him back into the ballroom. It was good propaganda for him and would spread Audrey's—and Andrew's—name around. It simply made the red head another possession of the vampire’s and an increasingly valuable one. He bit his lip, trying to fight back the bitterness. He had this fight occasionally with himself and usually lost, leaving for his quarters to brood for a few hours before returning, ready to sell himself like a whore once again.

Hours passed. The party continued. Audrey was not interrupted on his position on the stairs, except for the occasional servant who scurried past him, carrying a cloak or a tray. It was at nearly five in the morning that he was shooed to his feet, shifting to lean against the banister, his forearms extending onto the stairs, his hands clasped and elbows locked. People were starting to filter out now and he watched them silently, nodding to those who bothered to recognize him now.

Eventually two figures strolled from the ballroom’s golden opening. The first, Andrew, the other, Karthago. Audrey’s eyes narrowed slightly as the two shook hands and both began moving toward him. Karthago paused, setting a hand on Andrew's shoulder to restrain him and moved toward the musician.

"Audrey, I don’t believe I saw you in the ballroom after you played."

Audrey nodded warily. "I wasn’t there."

"You were certainly missed."

"What do you want from me?" Audrey flinched and let forth an embarrassed smile. "I’m sorry, sometimes my tongue gets the better of me."

"Quite understandable, don’t trouble yourself about it." Karthago dismissed the remark with an idle wave. His hand drifted upwards, combing back his dark hair over his head. "I spent quite a long time talking to Andrew, and he had many things to say about you. I must admit, I have been an avidly following your career, quite a study of success--"

Here Audrey was forced to bite his tongue again. He’d heard this a thousand times, it was nothing new, but perhaps a little more elegantly phrased.

"And, well," A sly smile claimed Karthago's mouth. "Andrew and I have made a little arrangement." His eyes flicked to the top of the staircase and slowly Audrey's eyes followed the trail, to his dismay, discovering a servant carrying a small carpet bag. His mouth opened slightly and he turned, his eyes darting around the hall for Andrew.

The brunette was standing across the hallway, his arms folded, lighting a new cigarette. Eventually his eyes flicked up to Audrey and gave the other an expectant look before flipping the small flame in his palm closed. The lighter went back into his pocket and his eyes traveled markedly to the vampire standing beside Audrey.

"My carriage is waiting outside."

Audrey’s mouth closed with a snap. He ripped his eyes from Andrew and directly them firmly toward the door. It was then that, with those words, he knew he’d been betrayed. No, betrayed was not the right word, not the right word at all. He had been sold.
"I want to sit down, every day at my piano and write a song that people will listen to and remember. And do the same thing--for the rest of my life."

--Johnny Can't Decide, Tick, tick...Boom! by Jonathan Larson
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Postby Merle » Fri Dec 08, 2006 2:46 pm

Comments in your PM box, SirJill. Nice job!
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Postby codlaim » Mon Dec 11, 2006 7:38 pm

I don't know if I got used to it or if it changed, but where the style was a times awkward in the beginning, it smoothed out after a little. To be honest, I don't know that it's ready for publication. I don't mean to say it isn't, but that I really don't know. I'll point out the few problems I had with it, though.

He heard the gentle cadence of conversation, the occasional trill of laugher; grating on the ears by birdlike ladies, full, rich and mellow from portly gentlemen.


This reads a little awkward to me. It becomes clear what you mean in the following sentence, but maybe it's the punctuation and style here that obscures for me.

There was a reason that it looked as if a dance were occurring in the big room, the music the rise and fall of birdsong.


This is not entirely clear to me.

Like I said, it is mostly in this early part that I had a problem. It cleans up well shortly after this. There are things I would have done differently in word choice and order and punctuation and that sort of thing, but I'm not so good a writer that you ought to listen to me. I'm probably wrong. But it is because of these differences in preference that I am unsure about how I feel about the piece as a whole.

Also, I don't like vampires. This is a good story and the vampire thing is incidental, but you should be aware that certain things like that can turn readers off. You shouldn't change it, just know that some people might not dig it.

Hope this helps.
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Postby Knuckles » Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:29 am

I agree with the above poster, in that the beginning was slow and awkward, but after people start talking it flows better. I also don't really feel anything for the character. Maybe its because the very wealthy people don't interest me. The character really had no drive to me and seemed stuck with Andrew, but is than hurt when he is sold even though he said that he was just whoring himself out anyway.

Anyway I thought the writing was good, after the very beginning it flowed better. The conservations were good and realistic. You have a very descriptive style, which worked for this piece.

I did notice one small spelling error that I can't find (that's how small it was), but it was you missing a t for the. Something like he was he musician. The bold should be the, I think.

Hope this helps.
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Postby Bmat » Thu Dec 14, 2006 12:36 pm

To me, the piano player comes across as petulant, whiny, and self-important. If he wants a life of being able to be a musician, he has to hire out his services, and playing at parties may be a part of it.

If his employer/master is really a vampire and this wasn't just metaphor, then there was still no internal conversation about how awful it was to be the victim of a vampire and so forth.

I don't understand what really is going on in the story. Is he a slave? Is there no other employment and so he is forced to allow himself to be given or sold? Why didn't his employer ask him about the move?
Last edited by Bmat on Wed Dec 27, 2006 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Grand Evander » Tue Dec 26, 2006 9:07 pm

PM'd my comments... sounded like a neat idea.
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Postby Chaeronia » Wed Dec 27, 2006 6:43 am

Hi Jill,

Before I offer my comments I'd just like to ask (and it's a question that has been raised before), when looking to publish a piece do you know if it's good etiquette to offer it up to public view beforehand, on a forum such as this or Myspace etc? The way I understand it, publications usually like to have first and unique rights. I was wondering, therefore, if posting here on SV might be a detriment to getting this published before you even begin.

So down to business then! And as an overall comment I must say I enjoyed reading this. The mechanics are sound: grammar, meter and vocabulary. All done well, so that your more creative styling can come through with your characterisation and dialogue as it's all built on good foundations.

What we have here is a situational piece based on the characters; little in the way of (traditional) plot but plenty in the way of action, which seems like a contradiction but it really isn't. When a writer can portray grand emotions and strong feelings with small, casual, indifferent (but obviously the ramifications of which are the exact opposite of these) expressions, I see it as a sign of skill. It's always a trait I enjoy in peoples' writing.

Some examples, then:

Audrey progressed slowly, leisurely, intentionally baiting the crowd which had clustered around the harpsichord.

This tells us much about Audrey, his streak of rebellion, but only a streak as he's clearly not strong enough to fully escape the trap he finds himself in: otherwise he wouldn't play at all. I would get rid of 'intentionally', though.


The ladies paired with lower notes, the sound eerie with the gay waltz above it: a party, but something was wrong.

I love this. The subversive incorrectness of the setting comes through very well here.


Much of the narrative, too, is very well crafted. I especially enjoyed the second paragraph:

There were murmurs from inside. He heard the gentle cadence of conversation, the occasional trill of laugher; grating on the ears by birdlike ladies, full, rich and mellow from portly gentlemen.

This is great imagery and word usage, my favourite section of the piece.


They spread out in the vast darkness, topiary and bushes curling like demons in the night.

This is perhaps a little suggestive but the aesthetics still rang a chord with me.


Immediately he was swooped upon by a crowd of women who hustled him to a harpsichord at the center of the room. They flung him down upon the bench and pressed him forward, forcing his hands to the keys.

This is important as it sets the scene of Audrey's helplessness, a theme that continues throughout. I like the imagery of him being manhandled and cockled by these women whom he detests. It's a fine visualisation.


The subtleties and imagery you initially portray perhaps lessens as the piece develops, and, in the case of the imagery in particular, I think that is a slight shame. One area that might remedy this is an embellishment of the influence of Karthago, the effect of his colossal appearance especially. You show very good craft early on (and don't get me wrong, it never disappears) that I think you could make more use of it in the story's second half. The idea of grotesquerie simmers nicely below the surface throughout, but it would be nice to see it fully come to the surface in a spouting rush of (possibly verbose?) description. I think you could do this with Karthago (super name, by the way) and have some real fun with him.

The only segment that didn't flow for me was the exposition regarding Andrew. I didn't think it was necessary.

Whilst I laud the style and subtlety you display, I did at times feel you weren't subtle enough, leading the reader too forcefully in what you wanted to portray:

deep, petulant breath
conspiratorial step
grinned cheekily
Andrew Bellari was a shadowy, empowered figure
an expectant look
A sly smile claimed
traveled markedly

There is a feeling of trying a little too hard with the above statements. A petulant breath? Travelling markedly? I don't really see how such things work, and in fact they just get in the way. I certainly know what you are trying to say, but you're force-feeding us here rather than letting the writing do the work. And with what you have already explained to us, through very good writing, it means you don't need these misplaced adverbs and forceful pointers. The best example of this is when you describe Bellari as a shadowy figure. We already know this. We know because you have told us through his actions and traits, in the way he treats Audrey (the hand on his shoulder, the dialogue). We gauge so much from the small things that 'shadowy, empowered figure' becomes irrelevant, too confirmatory.

This is my only real suggestion, then: cut out the adverbs, reduce the leading words in your narrative, and let your otherwise very good characterisation do the work. You know, a 'smile' from Karthago is much more effective than a 'sly smile'.


Small errors:

the contrast as striking as if he had been slapped.

I see the contrast but I don't see the simile. We need a 'by' here, no? As if he had been slapped by... a lace-gloved hand?

This was an assembly of gods, women, too beautiful, men, to alluring for the usual mortal to withstand.

I like this sentence a lot, but I think it's somewhat clunky. Perhaps: This was an assembly of gods: men and women too beautiful, too alluring for the usual mortal to withstand.

He ripped his eyes from Andrew and (directly) them firmly toward the door


Anyway, enough from me. I enjoyed it a great deal, Jill, and all the things I've highlighted that didn't quite ring true for me are actually small matters, and don't detract from the menacing, gothic undertone you offer us. I enjoyed all the characters (and yes, Audrey was perhaps whiny and I didn't sympathise with him, but you don't always have to), the milieu, the easy dialogue and the generally good narrative.

Well done, and good luck with the publication. (Do you have any update for us?)

Kind regards,

Chaeronia
'There's a vampire, dad. It's trying to get me.'
'I know, son,' he said softly. 'I saw it.'
'You saw it?'
'Yeah. I broke its bloody neck. I won't have no vampires in my house.'
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Postby SirJill » Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:18 pm

I would like to thank everyone for their comments, both good and bad. I'm still working on it...and kind of banging my head against the wall in a few places, but I'm glad those of you who enjoyed it...enjoyed it and those of you who didn't...well, I'm sorry. Thank you for reading, nonetheless.

Jill
"I want to sit down, every day at my piano and write a song that people will listen to and remember. And do the same thing--for the rest of my life."

--Johnny Can't Decide, Tick, tick...Boom! by Jonathan Larson
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Postby clknaps » Sun Jan 28, 2007 3:34 am

Before I offer my comments I'd just like to ask (and it's a question that has been raised before), when looking to publish a piece do you know if it's good etiquette to offer it up to public view beforehand, on a forum such as this or Myspace etc? The way I understand it, publications usually like to have first and unique rights. I was wondering, therefore, if posting here on SV might be a detriment to getting this published before you even begin.

Mods, Master, what is the final word on this? I've seen this referred to in a few posts, but I don't think it was resolved in anyway. Is it illegal, or perhaps just not a good idea, to post stories here you might want to publish later? Thanks!

Jill- How is this going? Please update us and let me know if you still want critic on this piece.
Thanks, CLK
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