The first few words…

 

IMG_8285

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 surely 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 brazenly unique in the special stuff. Intrigue the reader into the tale. Don’t hold back. Make me extremely curious!

Keep the words simple, but the thoughts so precisely complex and revealing that they belong only to this story, character, and/or moment in time. 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 beginning, should offer a promise. A timeless connection between the reader and the writer (or narrator) should offer an invisible contract of whispered truths to come.

Personally, I prefer first-person narration in stories (and most of my writing). Less than a handful of the above-mentioned books were written in third-person POV. But maybe that’s just me. Interesting though!

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 drafting my current project, Sky.

Speaking of Sky, I’m in the process of its transcription into computer files, as well as drafting and expanding the story along the way. My goal is to be done with this process around the time school starts, and then move onto a hearty round of editing.

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 plagiarized it off my site (It happens!).

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 naïve 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, for fun and 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
or
Twitter @ShermieRayne

 

Advertisements

The End!!!

 

IMG_0411

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 unkind.

Well, it is sort of “the end!” 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 acquired accomplishment bubbling inside. 🙂

It is emphatically wonderful to announce this news, especially since I’d slowed my writing pace toward the end. There was a vague sense of uncertainty plaguing me. Despite knowing the ending and what needed to be written, an unexplainable fear held me from crossing the marathon’s finish line. Thankfully, I pushed past that fogginess and made it to completion.stock-vector-colorful-vector-runner-silhouette-background-with-butterflies-152366162But in reality, I just began another long *marathon. Because now my task will be to transcribe my handwritten draft into computer files. This step will not be nearly as exciting. Let’s just say I hated typing class in high school. A lot! I anticipate many grumpy moments ahead at the laptop. However, I’m equally impatient for the editing and rewriting/revising 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 draft, by July 1st. I want to rest the files a few months before nitpicking the heck out of them when my kids return to school. Plus, summers are so important to me. I cherish that time with my kids.

 

stock-vector-vector-illustration-of-transparency-of-start-and-finish-in-cartoon-style-158473007

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

Last-minute NaNoWriMo Participant!

IMG_8810

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 NANOWRIMO. In the past, I’d considered it briefly with the same intrigue someone might consider eating fried Oreos. Interesting concept, but probably a really bad idea that could lead to unpleasant distress.

November begins the holidays, right? My kids have five scheduled school days off this month. There are several family birthdays and those end-of-season sports parties to plan/attend. And, let’s not forget the twenty-pound turkey that needs cooking with all the fixings. And that Christmas craziness that the stores started pushing before Halloween. Whew! Overwhelming! November is one of the worst months to delve into writing 50,000 words. Or, is it?  http://nanowrimo.org/

Often, I don’t listen to the rational hemisphere of my brain. So, I’m actually looking at this as an auspicious occurrence, that was possibly meant to align despite difficulty. I’m always looking for signs. And there have been a few that watered the NANOWRIMO seed:

  1. A new project that I want to see in rough draft ASAP! https://shermierayne.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/when-the-dogs-bark-listen/
  2. 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 growing seed, 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 actually felt belief in his words (maybe for the first time). Perhaps it was merely a desperate, temporary dreaming lapse on his part. Yet, I heard in his voice an undercurrent of hope and confidence. I needed that. In that moment, I knew I would push harder, try harder, and struggle more. And not for the possible selling of a book that might someday make a little money, but because I had a believer.

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

There y’all go, that’s my “why” to NANOWRIMO. I don’t plan to blog this month unless something truly remarkable happens (fingers crossed). If you’re curious and want to follow along with my month-long NANOWRIMO journey, please like my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/ShermieRayne?ref=hl . I’ll update my running word count there! @ShermRayneIMG_8786

IMG_8826

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween!

When the Dogs Bark: Listen!

IMG_8600

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—and not to hopscotch around, dividing my limited writing time. But, the pot of thoughts began boiling many days ago. I honestly tried to put a lid on it, ignoring the flashing of ideas. Yet before I realized it, my main character had a name and a face and a heart full of pain.

IMG_8612

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

After I’d finished scribbling out the first entry (epistolary), the paper literally vibrated in my hands—holding 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, in spite of spending a rushed day running about, including work on a dental crown, the story is still strong. I garnered a nice collection of napkins, receipts, and Post-its scribbled with written material.

So, when the dogs are barking or the pot of water is boiling, pay attention. Listen, don’t suppress! Perhaps everything does have its own season and time. Maybe this is the very right moment in time to write this one particular story. I will listen and write!

My first interview (kinda) . . .

Well, I was interviewed once by a very rural newspaper. I’d won first place in a national recipe contest. That was a cool experience, but my author Q & A interview with WOW! was surprisingly awesome. Feel free to check it out! There are some writing tips included, and perhaps more personal insights than I should’ve divulged. Here!

IMG_8003

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

The naming game . . .

weird

My writing has hit a wall! One made out of colorful Post-its, carefully pinned to the corkboard above my desk. I’m at that point in the story where it doesn’t feel right to continue calling the characters by generic names. That worked in the beginning for practicality and momentum. Not now.

This became painfully obvious when I introduced my lead character’s sidekick. Dialogue was stifled and lacking. Liveliness missing. He needed to be named, like all things created.

From this fantasy story’s conception, he’s been called simply, “Red Man.” It’s a literal observation. Similarly, other characters had/have temporary names, e.g. Yoda-like dude (short, wise, and speaks his mind). So, I pulled out the baby-naming books and my overflowing “naming” file—full of scraps scribbled with cool-ish names that I’ve come across. I find them everywhere: books, magazines, movies, the shoe boxes at Kohl’s, name tags of service workers, and even the yearly unclaimed money/property register. I do, however, draw the line at searching the obituaries. (That’s actually a story idea in the making, hmmm . . .)

But nada. Again, I’m at a standstill. I need the perfect name and it eludes me. A solid and strong name, perhaps one from long ago that can be resurrected and recycled.

I’d love to hear from other writers! What is your character-naming process? I’m especially curious how fantasy and/or other uncommon world genre writers come up with character names.

 

Difference Between a Hobby and a Calling

fishsun

For the longest time, my husband has considered my writing a hobby, and often refers to his enjoyment of fishing as a comparison. This infuriates me, because writing, to me, is so much more. I believe it to be my calling. Something I don’t necessarily want to do, but rather its nagging and berating calls me to respond. To act, to write.

Anyway, after considering the matter, I’ve realized that perhaps I was not fully understanding the comparison. Indignation aside, I had quite the epiphany. What if I was only applying my own assumptions/perceptions of what fishing meant to me? I failed to understand what fishing meant to hubby. So, I thought about it . . .

He loves throwing a line into stilled water, watching the undulating ripples, anxiously awaiting that pull from the other end. He calls this time his peace. Mind roaming, relaxed, and embracing nature. So, I get that now. Maybe that was the intended comparison. I was simply hung up on the word “hobby.” Maybe I expected a more elegant lexicon to acknowledge my efforts.

writing

I mean, writing is a very internal process, requiring lots of snapping synapses to flick just right. It is hard, frustrating sometimes, conjuring up new worlds, or characters that actually think and feel and act in all sorts of crazy, human-ish ways. It can be exhausting. Whereas, fishing is an external interaction in the living, tangible environment—outside of self. Yet, in the end, both can provide the same result: a feeling of unawareness to the walls of everyday life that otherwise enclose us.

Sometimes, I think we all get hung up on the precise meaning of words, adding in our own (mis)perceptions too. We don’t stop to realize that not everyone shares the same experiences 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…

Contest Winners

Well, I won second place. However, it feels like I won it all, because, the true competition was within myself. See, I’ve been dabbling in writing for the last year and half, or so, unsure and uncertain—basically fearful of immerging myself completely. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was wasting time that could be more productively spent elsewhere? Thankfully, the biggest “what if” unwavered: What if I don’t try?

This spring, after months of abandoning my writing, and then mentally beating myself up for not writing, I had an honest discussion between my heart and head. It boiled down to one statement: Either commit yourself to writing, or quit. I could not accept the latter. I just couldn’t let it go (I’m a bit stubborn). I’d heard the promised whisper of what should be, coming to me when I needed it most. Writing helped me through a very difficult time. And there I was, neglecting it and its purpose—and ultimately, myself. That had to change. I needed to banish the doubtful, self-contrived comments to the farthest reaches of my comprehension.

I also made the decision to re-start 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, dedicated. I have to say, this obvious method is working, much to my chagrin.

Anyway, late one evening, while goofing off, I googled “writing contest.” I just happened to stumble upon Women On Writing! (WOW!) and saw that they had a quarterly flash fiction contest ending soon. From nowhere, a vision played out, a flash. Immediately, I wrote it down.

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 did. It angered me. Not because atrocities of that nature didn’t happen, or still don’t, but because it had occurred so freely on American soil. So, I envisioned being a mother with a young daughter to protect, and from that place of desperation, “Revolution” was born. And, in fact, it may become a full novel someday. 😉 Revolution
57-LHS-FE1-Spring13Contest

Falling off the Wagon

Yes, I have fallen from that bumpy, rickety novel-writing wagon! It’s not such a far fall, really. It’s quite easy to accomplish when you’re not holding on. Just a small bump in the road or a tree blocking the way, that’ll do it. I could list a zillion real-life reasons: kids, my first dental crown (ugh!), keeping up with cooking, cleaning, and household duties, this blog/social media, kids, and kids. However, the reasons are but glorified excuses. I should’ve been holding on, keeping at least a pencil in my hand or a finger on the keyboard.

So, for ten days or more, absolutely nothing has progressed in my current novel. My characters are frozen in time, trapped, awaiting the keystroked words to come save them, 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.

I felt a pang of guilt last night when unwrapping my nightly morsel of Dove dark chocolate. It revealed the following message: “Keep the promises you make to yourself.” Yeah, I had promised to write every single day. But then, I have to allow myself some softness. Because looking at the myriad of excuses, I did accomplish a lot of somethings—just not writing. Although, I did write a little poem. In the end, I suppose we all have to decide what to do with the time we are given. (I think I just re-worded my favorite Gandalf quote!) 😉

Today is a new day, and I will begin again!

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

Fight 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’d attended a similar event a while back, and enjoyed it, I was in a nervous frenzy, having ongoing debates to cancel. Turn back, go home! These thoughts also seemed ridiculous, considering I’d stayed up past midnight waiting for the online registration to open weeks ago.

My angst was stemming from the workshop’s description: a writing workout to “tap into memories for inspiration.” That last bit had subconsciously echoed through my thoughts all week, causing my heart to race. Belly to flutter. The fear of disclosure petrified me. I’m an introvert, peacefully quiet and shy. Reticent. It takes a lot to reveal my own deep thoughts aloud. So much easier on paper! How could I possibly open up to a room full of strangers in such an intimate way?

Thankfully, through positive thoughts and fear-pulverizing quotes, I pushed through the week and didn’t cancel. I’m happy to report that I even arrived for the workshop on time, with a full two minutes to spare. And, as is often the case, reality never measures up to expectations.

I loved the writing workout workshop! The teacher was excellent. The prompts were varied and didn’t necessarily need to originate from one’s own memory. Best of all, there was no forced sharing or reading required. Perhaps, this is why I felt comfortable enough to read aloud. A little piece of flash fiction. When it was all said and done, I’d spent over three total hours writing. My hand ached, while my mind was numb, as I drove home. I was content. And I’d conquered the day.