River Race: A Prequel Excerpt

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some 14,000 words into my prequel to Dangerous Neighbors, I stop to share a fragment from an early chapter.  The scene takes place in 1870, but I wasn't alive back then. To imagine the moment fully, you have to take this photograph of the Schuylkill River, Boat House Row, and the Waterworks, and dial it all back by 140 years.

The crowd is on its feet—the hats and the veils and the kerchiefs like flags in their hands.  William fits his hand over his eyes to block the sun and looks to the tugs behind the rope lines, the crowds along the bridge, the carriages that have pulled up short along the river’s west bank. There’s not an empty back of granite in the cliffs, not an empty square in the stands, and when the holler goes out, Francis leans in close.
“Schmitt’s got the lead,” he says.
The sculls cut the river’s blue.  They turn the bend, and the roar builds; the roar is a mighty wallop of sound as Schmitt and Street and Brossman and Lavens dig the river hard—Schmitt ahead and every single person yelling, every hand pumping the flag of something white or red or yellow or blue, so that it seems to William that an entire nation of birds has swooped in and is testing its plentiful wings. Francis yells loud as the best of them. He throws his broad, white hand to the sky like the finest bird of all, and now, beneath the Girard Avenue Bridge, Brossman and Street mangle their oars into each other's, and the crowd calls out, “Foul! Foul!”


Amy said...

What a wonderfully written post. I can see this scene in my mind and it's exhilirating! Then I skip to my college days rowing on various rivers including the Schuykill...not as good as the scene you've written but still fun!

A fantastic photo, too.

herbie said...

What a fine foto, Beth. I am convinced that you most likely would row as splendidly as you rite :)

septembermom said...

Imagery is fantastic in this excerpt Beth. Loved it.

Mandy said...

oh, I'm getting excited! :)

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