I’m getting back on the Tuesday Teaser bandwagon with a question: How do you react when you’re reading a novel and come across a word you don’t know? Are you annoyed? Are you thrilled? Do you reach for your dictionary with a grumble or a trill of excitement? Or do you just ignore it?
I ask, because the excerpt for today’s teaser was the source of a lot of disagreement in my writing group. Some members insisted that putting in a word that your average reader was unlikely to be familiar with was just WRONG. That was how they said it, like I was thinking of robbing a bank. Other members of my writing group countered with fond memories of books that taught them new vocabulary. Like me, they cited the work of Lemony Snicket as some of the best vocabulary-building children’s books out there.
Besides, they pointed out about my word choice: it’s the punchline. Without the word, the chapter isn’t as funny. Those opposed to strange words in their fiction countered that it wasn’t a punchline if you don’t know what it means. The lag time involving the dictionary would rob the chapter of its humor.
In the current draft, the punchline remains. I hope it will make it to print that way.
So, enjoy the teaser, and tell me in the comments how you feel about learning new words when you read a novel.
After a grueling day at my accountant’s office, looking at indecipherably occult spreadsheets, I drove by Meda’s house hopefully. I never would have done it, considering the embarrassment of her walking in on my act of self-pollution, except for that smile. Just as easily she could have been shocked or too appalled to speak, and I never would have stopped at her house. Her old Datsun sat in the yard, but I got no response when I rang the doorbell. I knocked loudly and a woman I’d never seen before came to the door. Her hair was still dark, but her face was lined and rough, like she had lived hard. Her sunken cheeks hinted at missing teeth. She looked at me strangely when I introduced myself, but she let me in.
Old Miss Amos was sitting in her usual spot and Annadore was in her playpen, arranging plastic farm animals and chewing contemplatively on a cow. For several uncomfortable moments, we were all quiet, and then the woman put out her hand.
“So, you’re Bernie Raleigh? I’m Muriel Amos. I’m Cathy’s–Meda’s mother.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Meda’s in the shower right now. She’ll be out in a little bit.” Muriel said it as though they’d been expecting me, so I sat down and waited.
“That’s Bernie Raleigh,” Meda’s grandmother said to Muriel. “He was abducted.”
“I know, Mom. I know that’s Mr. Raleigh. You interested in alien abduction?” Muriel took my uncertain shrug as an invitation to continue, leaning toward me over the coffee table. “You know a lot of people are starting to use hypnotism to find out they’ve been abducted. A lot of times the aliens will cause people to forget that they were taken. They suppress the memories. I remember my own experiences, and my mother has been able to since she had her stroke.”
“It’s like that whole part of my brain got opened up, where I had the memories hidden, since I had my stroke,” Miss Amos said, nodding to herself.
“I was just reading an article a friend of mine got off the Internet.” Muriel indicated some papers on the coffee table. “About this woman who got hypnotized as part of a program to stop smoking. While the doctor was hypnotizing her, she had a flashback of being abducted. The doctor never believed in it before, but he says after that, he thought it had to be real, because he did a bunch more sessions with her and she remembered all kinds of things. It turned out she’d been abducted like fourteen times.”
Down the hall, the sound of running water stopped.
“He’s here,” Muriel shouted.
At that same moment. I added up the intricate web of alien abductions and multiple Miss Amoses. Parthenogenesis.