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

Last-minute NANO participant…eyeroll at self!!!

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This project will be written entirely in longhand using notebooks(on purpose). Can you guess my favorite color? 😉

I had no intention to sign up for NANO–really!  In the last couple of years, I considered it briefly with the same intrigue someone might consider eating a basket of fried Oreos.   Interesting concept, but probably a really bad idea, that could lead to unpleasant distress.

November is the kick off to the holidays, right?  My kids have five scheduled school days off this month.   There are several birthdays and end-of-season sports parties to plan/attend.  And, let’s not forget the twenty-pound turkey that needs cooking with all the fixings…let alone the Christmas crazy haze that has already began in haste.   Whew!  That’s overwhelming!  But, you get an idea of why November is one of the worst months to immerge oneself into writing 50,000 words.  http://nanowrimo.org/

Unfortunately for me, I often don’t listen to the rational left-hemisphere of my brain.   I’m actually looking at this as an auspicious occurrence that was possibly meant to align at this very moment.  There is a trio of elements that flourished the NANO seed:

  1. The new project that I want to see in rough draft ASAP( https://shermierayne.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/when-the-dogs-bark-listen/  )
  2. I honestly can’t remember, too much coffee does this to me! Darn!  Ha!  How could I forget!  A major age-related milestone is coming up.
  3. A conversation hubby & I had Wednesday afternoon.

Without any doubt, it was that conversation that not only shone brightly on that little seed of NANO consideration, but soaked it until the roots were spreading quickly.   The conversation?  Well, it was the basic we-need-more-money lament.  But, when hubby finished with, “Why don’t you hurry up and finish that book and make us a million dollars?” I felt a belief in his words(maybe for the first time).  Perhaps it was merely desperate, temporary dreaming on his part, perhaps, yet I heard in his voice an undercurrent of hope and belief.  I needed that.  In that moment I knew I would push harder, try harder and struggle more.

I have been treading lightly; my footfalls have barely left an imprint.  I’m committing to the long hours and unrest of struggle, relenting to its beauty.   “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” Frederick Douglass

There y’aIMG_8786ll go, that’s my “why” in a nutshell.  I don’t plan to blog this month unless something truly remarkable happens(fingers crossed).  If you’re curious enough to want to follow along with my month-long journey, please like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ShermieRayne?ref=hl .  I’ll update my word counts there sporadically throughout the month.

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I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween!

When the dogs bark: listen!

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Art sculpture is titled “Muddy Dog” and produced by a local artist that I’m rather fond of.

I started a new writing project last night. I know I had promised myself to stick it out with only one big story at a time–one novel and not to hopscotch around further dividing my limited writing time. But, the water began boiling many days ago. I honestly tried to put a lid on it, or ignore the flash of ideas, yet before I realized it– she had a name and a face and a heart full of pain.

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So when I sat down to declutter the ever-growing paper mess at my writing desk, and casually retrieved a legal pad from the floor, in an instant I knew the only question was whether I’d use pencil or pen. The lid popped off the pot, the steam released.

When I finished the first entry(epistolary format), that pad literally vibrated in my hands. It held me as much as I physically held it. I didn’t want to go to sleep, afraid I’d lose that connection. No worries! In fact, or in spite of spending a rushed day out and about navigating everyday life(including work on a tooth’s crown), I’ve garnered a nice collection of napkins, receipts and Post-its scribbled with written material.

Back to the odd blog title: listen, don’t suppress! (Has anyone ever heard of such a saying before, or did I actually make it up?) Perhaps everything does have its own season and time, and moment of birth.  This could be the very right instant in time to write this one particular story.  I must listen!

The naming game…

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Last week my writing hit a wall!  That wall was made of colorful Post-its, pinned to the cork board above my writing desk.   I had come to the point in the story where I could no longer get by with general, generic names–those given out in the initial pursuit of practicality and momentum.

As I introduced my leading character’s sidekick, this became painfully obvious.   The words were stifled and lacking, because an element of liveliness was missing.  My character was ready to live and breathe–yet could not!  Hence, he needed to be named, like all things that are created.  (Actually, he still needs to be named.)

From this fantasy story’s earliest conception, he has been called simply: “Red man”.   (Rest assured that this is not an ethnic reference, more of a literal observation.)  Similarly, other characters had/have temporary pet names, take Yoda-like man for example(short, wise and speaks his mind).  So, I pulled out the baby-naming books and my overflowing “name” file, which holds scraps of papers scribbled with various names and words.  Those names are found(stolen) from books, magazines, movies, the shoe boxes at Kohl’s, name tags of workers and even the yearly unclaimed money/property register.  Names are truly everywhere–you just have to be open to receiving them.  I do, however draw the line at searching the obituaries!

Again, I’m at a standstill.  I need the name.  A solid and strong name, perhaps a name from long ago that can be resurrected and recycled.

I’d love to hear from other writers!  What is your character-naming process like?  I’m especially curious as to the naming process for fantasy and/or other uncommon world genres.

…the difference between a hobby and a calling?

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For the longest time my husband has considered my writing to be a hobby, and has often referred to his enjoyment of fishing as a comparison. This infuriates me, for I perceive it as so much more.  I believe it to be my calling–something I don’t necessarily want to do, but rather it calls out to me, constantly nagging and berating me into its devotion.

Anyway, after recently considering the matter, I’ve realized that perhaps I was the one not fully understanding the comparison.   I took the time to get over my own indignation, and had quite an epiphany. I realized that I was applying my own assumptions or perceptions of what fishing meant to me, yet I failed to understand what his perceptions might be.  So, I thought about it…

He loves the act of throwing a line into stilled water, watching the undulating ripple dissipate, while anxiously awaiting that pull of power from the unknown at the other end of the line. He calls this his time of peace–where the mind is free to roam and relax against the calm embrace of nature.  I get that now, that was the intended comparison.  I was simply hung up on that single word: hobby!  I wanted a more precise and elegant lexicon to acknowledge my efforts.

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Don’t get me wrong!  I do consider writing much more difficult than fishing, of course. I mean–writing is a very internal process, it requires lots of synapses to snap and flick just right, in an often frustrating attempt to conjure up new worlds, and characters that actually think and feel and act in all sorts of crazy ways. It is truly exhausting, and arduous and rarely easy. Whereas, fishing is an external interaction in a living, tangible environment. Yet, in the end, both could or should provide the same result: that Zen-like trance, that feeling of unawareness to all those walls that otherwise enclose us.

Sometimes, I think we all get so hung up on the words and their meanings, and our own (mis)perceptions, that we don’t stop to realize that not everyone shares the same definitions and interpretations.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung

Adding words into your child’s daily life…

A couple of years back, I decided to add a “word board” to our already cluttered kitchen wall, sort of a visual prompt to gaze upon over a bowl of morning cereal. Although, I was still reading aloud nightly to my children(and still do!), it wasn’t enough to combat the increasing infiltration of electronics that were insidiously creeping not only into our home, but the school as well. So, with a discarded, glass-less frame and a purchased roll of dry-erase backing, I made the board you see here for less than five bucks.

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I began by adding or updating two or three words weekly. It wasn’t long before I was adding meaningful quotes, mantras or Scripture in an attempt to foster kindness, empathy and other attributes amongst my children. (For a short time I added a Spanish word-of-the-week, but this didn’t go over so well.)Their level of philosophical contemplation and discussion is not mind-blowing, but it is often engaging and sometimes near the mark. Regardless, they are thinking!

Honestly, my kids seem indifferent to the board, but have come to expect it to be updated regularly, and do go along with me sporadically asking for an explanation to a word’s implication, or the underlining thought behind a quote. Of course, they do not recall the meaning of every word that has been presented(I don’t expect this), but many words, especially those words that we’ve made everyday connections with, have become part of their vocabulary. And that, makes it so worth it!

What’s the all-time favorite word-board word? Insolent: it is heard quite often 😉

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Sizzling bacon…

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It’s funny how the little things in writing can make you stop mid-sentence and ponder what you really know about life. The other day, I started a new chapter with my character awakening to the smell of frying bacon. Of course, I wanted to show and not tell what was happening in the scene. Alas, that’s when I had to ask myself: what the heck does bacon really smell like as it’s frying into crispy strips of heaven?