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.

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!

My first interview(kinda)…

Well, I was interviewed once, by a very rural newspaper when I won first place in a recipe contest.   That was cool, but my writing Q & A interview was a surprisingly awesome experience.   Feel free to check it out, there’s a lot of writing tips and ideas included, and perhaps more personal insights than I should have divulged.

http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2013/09/shermie-rayne-second-place-winner-in.html

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The above books I ordered with some of the winning-prize money!

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

So, I won my first writing contest…

http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/57-FE1-Spring13Contest.html
Well, I should say that I won second place. However, it feels like I won the entire contest, because you see, the competition was within myself. I have been intermittently dabbling in writing for the last two years, unsure and uncertain, basically fearful to immerge myself completely. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was wasting time that could be more productive elsewhere? Thankfully, the biggest “what if” held steadfast: what if I don’t try?

This spring, after months of abandoning my writing and mentally beating myself up for not writing, I had an honest discussion with myself, which boiled down to one statement: either commit yourself or quit. I could not accept the latter. I just couldn’t let it go(I’m a bit stubborn). I had heard the promised whisper of what should be, which had to come to me when I needed it most. Alas, I was neglecting that purpose–and ultimately me. That had to change. Banishing faithless comments and doubtful looks, both those personally contrived and received by others, to the farthest reaches of comprehension released my productivity.

I also made the dynamic decision to start with just one of my several stories(all in various stages of development) and stick with it until the very end. No more daydreaming between various characters and worlds(unless something just happens to pop in my head). I’d be resolute and dedicated. I have to say, this obvious method is working, much to my chagrin.

Anyway, it was also around this time that I was Googling “writing contest” and happened to stumble upon Women On Writing’s website and their quarterly contest. My inspiration: “The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation…” ~Francis, Lord Rawdon. I had recently heard/read of that famous British Army quote from the Revolutionary War. It bothered me, or more precisely the story behind the quote’s meaning…it angered me. Not because atrocities of that nature didn’t happen, or don’t still happen, but because it had occurred so freely on American soil. I envisioned being a mother with a young daughter to protect, and from that place of desperation, Revolution was born. And, may in fact become a full novel someday.
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Falling off the wagon…

Yes, I have fallen from the novel-writing wagon! It is not such a far fall, really–and is quite easy to accomplish. It only takes a proverbially small bump in the road or a tree blocking the way. I could list a zillion reasons: kids, my first dental crown (ugh!), keeping up with cooking, cleaning and household duties, launching this blog and a Facebook page, other commitments and kids (I know I said that twice). However, in the end these reasons are but glorified excuses.

So, for ten days or more, absolutely nothing has progressed in my novel, Faye. My characters are frozen in time, trapped and awaiting the keystroked words to come and carry them forward. Thankfully, I’ve developed the awesome habit of outlining and with the help of many, many Post-it notes, their story is safe and ready for the telling.

Did I feel a pang of guilt last night when my nightly morsel of Dove dark chocolate was unwrapped to reveal the following message: “Keep the promises you make to yourself”? Yeah, a little, I have/had promised myself to write every single day. But then I have to allow myself to look at those myriad of excuses and realize that I did accomplish something. I even wrote a little poem that I feel a bit proud of, as it relates to an issue I feel strongly for (human trafficking). In the end, I suppose we all have to decide what to do with the time we are given. (Wow, I think I just re-worded my favorite Gandalf quote!)

Today is a new day, and I begin again!

“Man starts over again everyday, in spite of all he knows, against all he knows.” ― Emil Cioran

Fighting the fear…

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I took that sage advice today– I spent the morning and afternoon at a writer’s workshop. Although I had attended a similar event last summer and enjoyed myself greatly, I had mentally worked myself up into a great frenzy recently. So much so, I had to have ongoing debates with myself as to why I should take the class and not cancel—this seemed ridiculous to me, considering I had stayed up past midnight waiting for the moment online registration was active weeks ago.

I believe my angst was stemming from the workshop’s description: a writing workout to “tap into memories for inspiration.” That last bit subconsciously echoed in my thoughts all week, causing my heart to race and my belly to flutter. The fear of what disclosure would be required petrified me. I’m an introvert, peacefully quiet and shy. Reticent I am to reveal my own deep thoughts. How could I possibly open up in such an intimate way with a room full of strangers?

Thankfully, through affirmations of positive thoughts and fear- pulverizing quotes, I pushed through the week of dubious thoughts. I’m happy to report I even arrived for the workshop on time, with a full one minute to spare (Ha-ha). And, as is often the case, reality never measures up to disserving expectations.

I loved the writing workout! The teacher was excellent. The prompts were varied and didn’t necessarily need to originate from one’s own memory. Surprisingly though, I did tap into my own consciousness for several of the pieces. Best of all, there was no forced sharing or reading required. Perhaps, this is why I felt comfortable to read aloud a solid piece of flash fiction. When it was all said and done, I’d spent three of the four hours writing: my hand ached and my mind was numb as I drove home, but I was content. I had conquered the day.