Sylvia’s Sentence: A Contest

April 28th, 2008

In response to something I wrote in the book roundup for April (about my once having eaten lunch with Cary Grant), Sylvia wrote the following sentence:

I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool.

Lisa Kenney, who doesn’t miss much, immediately wrote to say that this was a GREAT opening sentence for a novel. I had thought the same thing; in fact, I’d figured out what the basic setup for the book would be. I’ll show you mine in a minute, but first, a contest:

I’ll give away four autographed copies of my new Bangkok novel, The Fourth Watcher, to the four people who come up with the best ideas for a novel that opens with Sylvia’s sentence. If there are more than four good ideas, I’ll sign and mail more books. Here are the rules:

Entries should be sent in the form of replies to this post.

No entry should be more than two paragraphs long.

Entries should be received by Monday, May 12.

The beer-in-the-dirt-pit scene can NOT be a dream sequence, just because I hate books that begin with dream sequences.

Okay. Here’s mine.

It’s 2050. Fifteen years earlier, in the first documented act of Divine Intervention in 2000 years, God destroyed Hollywood. In the aftermath of the conflagration, church attendance has risen by 500% and all administrations since have claimed power on the basis of their access to God’s latest whims. But a secret opposition has arisen, bent on rediscovering the past of American popular culture, and the foot soldiers in this hidden war are rogue anthropologists who are sifting through the ashes of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, which was destroyed two days later as a Divine Afterthought. The narrator — she who drank the beer in the pit — is an anthropologist named Helen Mayer, who is also the great-great granddaughter of Louis B. Mayer, the founder of MGM. And she has a secret personal agenda, one that can only be realized by the rediscovery of nine minutes in Shirley Temple’s incinerated classic “Wee Willie Winkie.”

Now, come on. Anyone can do better than that.

23 Responses to “Sylvia’s Sentence: A Contest”

  1. Kerryn Says:

    That is such a cool idea! I love that the narrator-anthropologist has a personal link with the past that was destroyed. 🙂

  2. Sylvia Says:

    Oooh, a contest where I have an in with the judge. I can’t miss this one!

  3. Larissa Says:

    hehe. too funny.

    Ill get one posted…Im in Lausanne right now and this internet is waaaay to expensive to buy more…(c:

    Hope all is well.

  4. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I’ll post a link to this contest my place later tonight. You have certainly set the bar pretty high!

  5. Carol Says:

    Did you really eat lunch with Cary Grant? If so, where and when?

  6. Greg Smith Says:

    Tim

    Is it the latest Clive Cussler novel?

    Dirk Pitt drank a beer and thought about Cary Grant, his swimming pool, and the good times they’d had watching Shirley Temple reruns in the cabana.

  7. Greg Smith Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. No, not the famous Cary Grant. Me, the one who got to take all the shit at school from the other kids. The pit is all that’s left now that I bulldozed the house and forklifted the doughboy vinyl liner out of the ground. First I pulled down that sign the folks had stuck out front. No more guided tours of Cary Grant’s Mansion with it’s wall to wall one sheets from all of his movies. Okay, so the folks had met THE Cary Grant- more than met him- shared a few tabs of acid with him days before I was born. They told me that’s why I got the name. I suppose I’m lucky they hadn’t been partying with Lassie.
    But the folks are gone now. Took their final trip compliments of the Hemlock Society. Their moto: “drugs till the end, drugs for the end.” Yesterday I leveled the shrine and finished up with the pool. I celebrated with a can of Bud. My folks wouldnt have approved. I can still hear them, “Cary, beer is so pedestrian.” But screw their hippie ideas. It’s my life. Right now I’m on my way to the courthouse to change my name. From now on you can call me George Clooney.

  8. Sylvia Says:

    “I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool.”

    All Rebecca wanted was to be famous – despite that niggling little issue that she didn’t have a good reason. She wasn’t pretty enough to be an it-girl and not talented enough to lead a rock band. She didn’t know anyone who could give her a big break and her family socialized with accountants and librarians instead of movie moguls. Trying to get noticed took up all of her time – her mother insisted that if she put that much effort into anything else, she wouldn’t be stuck in a dead-end job as assistant manager of the Disco Dog food-stall at the Buena Park Mall. But she was convinced there was a solution to her dilemma.

    It finally seemed she found it when she recognized hot teen super-star Anthony Harris and waved him over to her. She’d just made him a double-onion mustard dog when he collapsed at the counter. She rang the long-since memorised phone number of the local gossip mag and then an ambulance, convinced she was finally at the right place at the right time. But when it turned out he had been poisoned, Rebecca found herself a lot less happy about being in the limelight. And then the death-threats began…

  9. bets Says:

    Ok. I’ll play. Sheesh, I never win anything, so I don’t know why I bother. But OK. I’ll play.

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. I wore this flirty white bikini with a ruffle on top, designed to make me look like I had any kind of chest. The restaurant owner’s nephew appreciated it. “More than a mouthful’s a waste,” he said all summer. I was paid well to tolerate his loud indiscretion. He was even kind of hot, until the fucker died.

    Somebody laughed overhead when he said it this time. A couple of Glock-armedVatos–they must have stole them from somebody with connections–hovered over the pit’s edge. They didn’t look the type to savor the moment with shit-talk. I lifted the silver can up to my lips and gulped. I had nowhere to hide a knife or a Walther PPK in my bikini, and I knew by then I was going out with full belly of beer or not at all.

  10. Mitch Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. Or at least that’s what they screamed at me under the glaring fluorescent lights in the emergency room. You see, I have this…problem. Again, this is only what they tell me, and I don’t think I have a problem, but people tend to take notice when you supposedly “exhibit irresponsibly erratic behavior on an episodic basis” – that’s how my full time personal psychiatrist puts it. I started seeing (against my perfectly sane will, mind you) Dr. Kristi Greenwater after my third and all too explicit sexual encounter with the fire hydrant on Wellchester and Third. She says that it might be a rare sleep walking disorder, or an emerging case of schizophrenia, since I never seem to remember much of what I’ve done after I’ve done it. Except for the voices, that is.

    But what do I know? I never went to college. Never had the peace of mind for it. I’m just the guy who wakes up hugging the mechanical pony outside Jon’s Grocery every other Monday. Let me tell you, it’s hard enough living life as it is, holding down my job as Copy Expert at the local Krinkel’s, thank you very much. And then suddenly I’m the chosen one, the discoverer, the acceptor, the bearer of catastrophic…no…apocalyptic news. Jubey (short for ‘jubilation’, because he tries so hard to make me happy) told me to go to that stinking pit, told me to go sit in the dirty remnants of joyous summer fun, told me to eat the dirt in heaping handfuls. It’s filled with the magnetic dust that will help us communicate with the destroyers, he said. They’re everywhere. Among us and waiting. I washed all the dirt down with my warm beer and it felt good, and then I tore the can to shreds with my teeth and ate every last bloody bit.

    And as I was being wheeled into the operating room to have emergency gastrointestinal surgery, as the aluminum violently tore its way through my lower abdomen, I heard Jubey laughing. He cackled and coughed and wheezed, and as the anesthesia pumped unconsciousness into my veins, I smiled.

    I know mine ended up being a little on the long side, but I hope you can look past it. Thanks Tim!

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    ERROR ALERT!!! ERROR ALERT!!!!

    I attributed to Sylvia the very first actual entry in this contest/collaboration, when in fact it’s by Cynthia Mueller. I’M SORRY, CYNDY. Here it is again, correctly attributed this time:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. After the coroner drives off and the unis take down the tape, they don’t care so much with the scene. Don’t look at me like that. I got, what, 18 almost 19 years in. What are they gonna do, fire me? Think they can just pull some guy off the street, do what I do? I tell ya, it ain’t easy. It ain’t rocket surgery, ya know. But ya gotta know what you’re doing, see? Like that night. They been at it almost two full days, even through the night – with the lights and all. But I waited. And when the tape come down, I got in there. Right in the pit where they found her, I did. And when they was gone, I cracked a beer. So sue me. I’d tell you about it, but I got a meetin’.”

    Joey Fisher has always wanted to be a cop. He wants the uniform, the gun, the badge. The whole package. Every year he takes the test and waits three days for the letter to come. Maybe next time, the sergeant tells him. Tells him the same thing every year. “Joey-the-Fish” cleans up the scene after the investigators go home. When he’s not working, you can find him at a meeting in the basement of St. Joseph’s. Either there, or maybe Ski’s – down at the end of the bar, close to the TV.

    Apologies to all.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    AND I have to say that I’m loving all of these. They all take full advantage of both the plot possibilities and the tone of Sylvia’s sentence.

    Some gems:

    Greg Smith: Okay, so the folks had met THE Cary Grant- more than met him- shared a few tabs of acid with him days before I was born. They told me that’s why I got the name. I suppose I’m lucky
    they hadn’t been partying with Lassie.

    Sylvia: Trying to get noticed took up all of her time – her mother insisted that if she put that much effort into anything else, she wouldn’t be stuck in a dead-end job as assistant manager of the Disco Dog food-stall at the Buena Park Mall.

    Bets: I lifted the silver can up to my lips and gulped. I had nowhere to hide a knife or a Walther PPK in my bikini, and I knew by then I was going out with full belly of beer or not at all.

    Cyndy: And when they was gone, I cracked a beer. So sue me. I’d tell you about it, but I got a meetin’.

    I’m loving this. So far, everybody gets a book.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Mitch —

    This is absolutely hilarious. You should write the damn thing.

    But what do I know? I never went to college. Never had the peace of mind for it. I’m just the guy who wakes up hugging the mechanical pony outside Jon’s Grocery every other Monday.

    And the rest of it is just as radically skewed as that.

    By the way, is that the Jon’s Market on La Brea in Hollywood? I know that pony better than I care to disclose.

  14. Sphinx Ink Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. It was a swimming pool no longer. The house and the pool had slid down the Hollywood hillside in the wake of heavy winter rains. All that remained was the aforesaid dirt pit and some discreet palings of the iron fence that had once edged the property. Cary was long gone from the estate by that time; he moved on to bigger and better properties later in his life. But he had lived here in his younger days–back when he and Randolph Scott were the best of friends and shared a home.

    I’d been hired by the current owner of the property to see what could be salvaged from the landslide disaster. I sat in the pool pit, sucking down my beer, and gazing out over the canyon below. Not much could be saved. Damn little. I tried to feel those Cary vibes. The man had talent, and a sense of humor. Or at least the characters he played had a sense of humor. How would he have handled this? Hmmm. Hell, why don’t we turn this place into a bungee-jump? Use the drop into the canyon and make money, too. That’s a real Cary solution: funny, yet financially sound. (I read somewhere that he died a very rich man, because he knew how to pinch pennies and wisely invest the bucks he earned in his career as a movie star.) “Yep,” I decided, “bungee jump site it is. Won’t have to spend much money on building that.” … I hadn’t counted on the ghosts, though.

  15. Steve Wylder Says:

    Here’s mine. The paragraphs are a bit long, but I did make it two paragraphs:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. It was a strange place for a protest meeting, but it was appropriate. It seemed a perfect way to embarrass the Americans for a Classless Society. The ACS has nothing to do with Karl Marx. In fact, it doesn’t even call itself that. Something about progress. But it’s all about a classless society–a society without any class. I don’t know how long the ACS has been around–at least since 1964, when its operatives tore down New York’s magnificent Penn Station and replaced it with the unspeakably ugly Madison Square Garden. Since then, ACS has been hard at work, demolishing anything with class. If ever there was a poster boy for class in America, it was Cary Grant. Even when he played a millworker and fugitive from justice in “The Talk of the Town,” he had class. And the ACS was out to destroy everything connected with him. Including his swimming pool.

    My wife and I got involved when the ACS decided to tear down the Blackhawk Hotel in Davenport, Iowa and replace it with a garish Las Vegas-style palace. We had spent our wedding night at the Blackhawk; Grant had stayed the last night of his life there. I had come to California to meet with others who were fighting the people who wanted to replace class with crass. The dirt pit was chosen because it symbolized just how far the ACS would go. But it turned out the ACS was ready for us. We were like the French at Dien Bien Phu–stuck in a valley and surrounded by the enemy. The cops dragged us out of the pit, just as we were finishing our refreshments. The media people, whom we had counted on, were nowhere to be seen. Round 1 for the ACS.

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    This is wonderful — all you guys writing my blog for me. These are all terrific — isn’t it amazing how many directions we can go in from the same starting point?

    Sphinx Inc and Steve are upholding the level of quality. I love Sphinxy’s definition of “. . .a real Cary solution: funny, yet financially sound.” That’s exactly how he was. And Steve’s ACS — ” . . . it’s all about a classless society–a society without any class,” explains so much of what’s happened in this country over the past couple of decades.

    At this rate, I’m going to use up all the copies of THE FOURTH WATCHER Morrow sends me.

  17. Joyce K Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. The house and pool were being razed to make way for a new residential development. When the excavation began the dirt movers surprisingly uncovered bones; human bones. More than just one skeleton…..

  18. Bill Clark Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. The new owner of the house had decided to put in an Olympic-size pool for his trophy third wife and their two young kids, just to keep up with the Jonses and the other parvenu families that were flocking to the area as the old Hollywood stars died or were carted off to nursing homes. I once heard the new owner boast that he never had to buy a drink at his fat-ass golf club anymore – as long as he was willing to describe Grant’s bedroom and attendant fixtures in lurid detail.

    But I was in the pool, not the bedroom. I didn’t belong to the FAGC, so I never did learn what the bedroom was all about. But the pool…ah, that was my turf, for tonight at least. This was where Cary had seduced Grace Kelly, then the hottest young star in Hollywood. What a laugh it was to think how he and Grace had managed to convince Prince Ranier that nothing had ever transpired between them – but then they were both excellent actors, so no suprise there. Those two could spend the entire night at that pool in rutting debauchery, and still look like perfect angels in the morning. I hoisted my beer and took a swig in a silent toast to them. As the new owner might or might not ever learn, bigger was not necessarily better….

  19. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Welcome, Joyce and Bill — great stuff from both of you. Real skeletons (whose????) and virtual ones, and the “bigger is not necessarily better” line.

    I think it would be hilarious if we all wrote our books and submitted them for publication, and then let the reviewers freak out about the first lines. Might be a doctoral thesis there somewhere.

  20. Craig Larson Says:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. The beer was a Singha, an obscure brand I’d always wanted to try, ever since reading about it once in a long overlooked series of detective novels I’d once read. The sun was hot, the beer was ice cold, and the blonde lying in what had been the deep end was getting deader by the minute…

  21. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    That’s great, Craig. Your literary skills have undoubtedly been honed by reading only the very finest, if unjustly obscure, literature. The last sentence is exactly right — I sometimes think the final sentence of a paragraph (or a chapter) should be shaped like a whip, with a nice long curve and a CRACK at the end.

    Boy, those Simeon Grist books were great, weren’t they? What a guy. What a beer.

  22. Laren Says:

    Damn — I wish I had known about the contest. That’ll teach me to not visit Tim’s website more often. I’m sure I could have come up with something better than Greg Smith (who was a friend of mine until he read this post).

    I would have said something like:

    I once drank a beer in a dirt pit which had previously been Cary Grant’s swimming pool. I don’t know why he swam in dirt, but it probably explains a lot about him. There’s probably a lot of dirt around Grant’s Tomb, too. Maybe they’re related. I mean, how may people do you know named Cary or Ulysses (well, except for THAT Ulysses)? It is a little known fact that there were very few swimming pools, dirt or otherwise, in Ulysses S. Grant’s day. Nonetheless, after having the beer in Cary Grant’s previous swimming pool, I began to wonder if maybe Cary was actually buried there and that’s why it was filled with dirt. Which is why I am in this hole surrounded by Cary Grant’s bones, waiting for Greg Smith to dig me out.

  23. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Ahhhh, Laren — What a heartbreaker to learn that you don’t read my blog as part of your daily routine (as millions do). Here I am, doing my all to empower and inspire, and people persist in trying to fumble their way along without me.

    But since it seems unfair that you should both lead a life of diminished quality AND not get a copy of the book, I’m adding you to the list. It’s a shame you got rid of that ferret, though, because it’s the perfect size to swat a ferret. Not that I’m advocating cruelty to animals, of course.

    And the image of Cary swimming in dirt made me laugh out loud.

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