The first few words…

 

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What I wish to write about today, actually happened a couple of months ago, just as school was ending. It was my last day to assist in the middle-school library of my son’s school. It was also a scheduled testing day for many students, so the library’s book section was closed.

My job was to man a mobile book site: table, computer/scanner, and a rolling cart full of randomly, librarian-selected books. I was ready. Yet, as the minutes ticked by the halls remained silent with only an occasional squeak of shoes or hushed whispers, but no customers. I tried reading the book I’d brought along, but alas, I was bored. And that was when I had the great idea to conduct an experiment.

I had seventy-nine books on the cart: all fiction books, and all middle grade or young adult in content. My testing method was simple: pick up a book, look at the front cover, skip the synopsis and/or any prologue, and then read only the first paragraph. If the book caught my attention in that opening paragraph, it earned a spot on the top shelf of the cart.

At one point the librarian came out into the hallway to check on me. I noted the quizzical uncertainty on her face and felt compelled to explain why there were books stacked on the table, and an oddly empty book cart, especially the top rack.

What did she say? She gave me a furtive high-five as only a librarian could, and with a conspiratorial  smile claimed that I was, “a girl after my own heart.”

With the seal of approval upon me, I quickened my pace–an hour and a half passes quickly when you have a timed goal to complete. I can’t describe what I thought I was looking for, but I knew that I’d know, or feel it when I read it. I finished with literally minutes to spare before my shift was over.

My top shelf was full, and overflowed into the second tier of the cart. It was difficult, but I narrowed my list down to the top twenty-one titles, those that most precisely grabbed me from the first few lines. IMG_1748

Here’s my list:

1)Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

“The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up.”

2)The Lightning Dreamer(written in verse–added commas to note line breaks)by Margarita Engle

“Books are door-shaped, portals, carrying me, across oceans, and centuries, helping me feel, less alone. But my mother believes, that girls who read too much , are unladylike…”

3)The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

“The first time I seen her, I got a bad feeling inside.”

4)The & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.”

5)Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“It was April and all Monticello was stirring, but in their cabin Mama had just put baby Maddy down to sleep and she told Beverly and Harriet to be still.”

6)Positively by Courtney Sheinmel

“When my mother died I imagined God was thinking, ‘One down, and one to go.’”

7)Taken by Edward Bloor

“Once you’ve been taken, you usually have twenty-four hours left to live.”

8)Number 8 by Anna Fienberg

“I think the best number in the whole universe is eight. The way I see it, eight has everything going for it. It’s even, for a start.”

(The first eight are in ranking placement, however the remainder are not in any order of preference.)

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Spitting Image by Shutta Crum

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

by Erin Dionne

Kill Switch by Chris Lynch

Gone by Michael Grant

The Looking Glass War by Frank Beddor

The Battle of the Labyrinth

by Rick Riordan

Door in the Woods by James Dashner

London Calling by Edward Bloor

So what did I learn?

IMG_9826Those first few lines are so important, but they don’t have to be complicated. They are the gatekeepers into the story, and only need to stand tall, firm and singular. Be inconspicuously vague in the everyday details, but uniquely brazen in the precision of telling the tale. Don’t hold back. Make me extremely curious!

Keep the words simple, but the thoughts so precisely complex so that they belong only to this story, this character, and the moment in time that you are revealing to the reader. What you say must ring true, and if you try too hard, add too much, too soon, you’ve lost me.

The first paragraph, or the story’s beginning, should offer a promise. The promise: It’s that connection between the reader and the writer(narrator), the invisible, timeless contract of whispered truths to come.

Personally, I prefer first-person narration in stories(and my writing). Less than a handful of the above mentioned books were written in third person.

 

Personal updates:

Obviously, I’m not too good at keeping up with this blog. However, I do “write” blog posts, but mostly in my head–although I’ve taken notes and at some time in the future plan to share them. Right now it seems more important to write, and finish my current project, Sky.

Speaking of Sky, I’m in the process of its transcription into computer files, as well as editing/revision along the way. My goal is to be done with this process around the time school starts, and then move on to a second hearty round of editing. I’d love to be done with the entire project by October/November. Eh?

The poem I posted last year on this site, “Shame,” will be published the week of August 24th via a great site: http://www.thevoicesproject.org! Oddly, I receive the most random traffic to this blog because of that poem, so I wanted to have it officially accepted/published somewhere before someone tried to plagiarize it off of my site. (Not that this would prevent such things, but still, makes me feel better regardless.)

I have one non-fiction short story and one new poem out there in the world, awaiting either rejection or acceptance. At this point I still have naive hope that both will be given the latter.

One of my planned, upcoming/someday blog post will be about my writing group. I started the small group at the beginning of the year, just for local moms. It’s been such a great experience and a wonderful way to promote more writing in my life, as well as to encourage other moms.

I’m still reading as much as I can, to improve my writing. I’m almost done with Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home–there’s hidden wisdom between the lines.

That’s all, folks! For more frequent, less loquacious updates, please like my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/ShermieRayne?ref=hl

The End!!!

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This is my completed rough draft of, SKY, an upper-middle grade novel about a young-teen girl contemplating the burden of living, in a world that is not too kind.

Well, it is sort of “the end,” as I’ve completed my first novel-length rough draft!  Yay! And, high-five super duper yay!!! I’ll admit I’ve been smugly smiling to myself the last couple of days with this accomplishment bubbling inside.  🙂

stock-vector-colorful-vector-runner-silhouette-background-with-butterflies-152366162It is emphatically wonderful to announce this news, especially since I slowed my writing pace towards the very end of the story.  There was a vague sense of uncertainty plaguing me, despite knowing the ending and what needed to be written, there was an unexplainable fear to cross the marathon’s finish line.  Thankfully,  I pushed past that  foggy fear and made it to the other side of completion.

 

stock-vector-vector-illustration-of-transparency-of-start-and-finish-in-cartoon-style-158473007 Humbly, I begin another long marathon*.  Now my task at hand will be to transcribe my handwritten draft into computer files.  This step will not be nearly as exciting, or free flowing  as creating the story, and thus I anticipate many grumpy moments ahead at the laptop.   However, I’m equally impatient for the editing and rewriting/realigning to begin.   I’m not sure if this is a realistic goal or not, but I hope to have all of this accomplished, and a completed 1st/2nd draft by July 1st, so that I can rest the draft, and my memory of the story for a couple of months before nitpicking the heck out of it when my kids return to school.

*I suppose I should clarify that analogy and say half-marathon, for my book is an upper middle grade novel of roughly 45-50K words in length.

Everything is awesome…

Seriously, the new Lego Movie theme song has been continuously looping through my head for the last day.   YIKES!  So, here I am riding in on that awesomeness wave of optimism to reconnect with my blog.

Alas, lonely little Blog, I’ve been neglectful for far too long.  (Wow,  exactly 100 days to be precise!)

I’m happy to report that even though my blog has been void of words, my writing has not.  I didn’t finish November as a first-time,  National-Novel-Writing-Month(NaNoWriMo) “winner*,” but I did finish the month with a solid, and completed outline and well over 15,000 words “carved” into my current project, SKY, which currently stands at around 27K in words.

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My “Wonder-Mom” Lego keychain figure…

My 2014 writing goal is/was to write everyday, and for the most part I’ve been following through and connecting in some tangible way with writing everyday.   There are a few poems that I’ve been fiddling around with,  that desperately need a lot more thought and time.  I’ve even come up with the very great, yet very naïvely awesome idea to submit to  Writers of the Future (http://www.writersofthefuture.com/) at some point during the year.

In January, I submitted two, equally “awesome” flash-fiction pieces.  So far, I’ve received one rejection, but no word on the other yet, so I’m hopefully and totally awesomely stoked either way.   Why?  Because it means two important things: I’m writing and I’m trying!!!  In the end that’s all I can do–try and put myself out there.

 

How’s the writing year going for you so far?  Awesome, yet?  There’s still time!!!

P.S. I know I used an awful lot of adverbs in this blog post, but really inserting the word “awesome” just seems to require heavy usage of LY-words.  🙂

*I’ll post more on this in October, if I can remember to do so. 😉