26 May 2013

Pick-up Lines

If asked, I would probably say my favorite opening line to a book would be from Charlotte's Web. I mean, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" has got to be in a great many top ten lists. It says so much, with so little.

The last few weeks I've been doing a lot of reading about writing and a lot of thinking about the art of storytelling. I'm still working on the opening of my novel and have yet to settle on exactly the right way to start the book. So I keep playing. I keep exploring. I keep dreaming.

After a morning of adventuring and yard work, I decided to settle into the library for an hour or two of reading/writing/thinking. I pulled The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel off the shelf where I keep my books about writing and decided to draw a card and see where it took me.

study opening lines

Ah, a bit timely and appropriate. I was instructed to pull some favorite books of the shelf and look at their opening lines. I pulled five favorites (from childhood to present day) off the shelf. These are their first lines:

"The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself." (from the prologue of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere)

"The circus arrives without warning." (from Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus)

"Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobblestones, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day." (from Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone)

"Once there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy." from (C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

"Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting in her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof." (from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables)

Looking at first lines all on there own is an interesting adventure, especially when they are from a story that is so familiar you to you it feels like one of your very own. (like Anne or Lucy) Some people argue that the opening line should be, in some way or another, tied in to the story's end, that the essence of what the book is about, from beginning to end, should be represented in that first line. Talk about a lot of weight resting on only a few words!

In addition to looking at some of the opening lines to some of my favorites, The Observation Deck also challenged me to "brainstorm a list of twenty-five spontaneous opening lines."

Here are my unedited opening lines:

1) Recently divorced, Penny sat alone in her new apartment, looking at the blank walls, wondering where and when, exactly, she had taken the wrong path.

2) When Esperanza was twelve years old, she had a dream that one day she would own her own gas station.

3) Paul held his breath and listened to the crowd roaring as loud as the Pacific, waiting for him to make his entrance, wondering if everything had been worth it.

4) After sleeping until noon, I finally woke up and went into the kitchen where I found my grandmother working on yet another puzzle.

5) "Because," my mother said, "and that is the only answer you deserve."

6) "Tell me," Jeremiah said, "how it is you ended up here, at my door in the middle of the night, when you are supposed to be on a plane to the other side of the world."

7) I wanted to say yes, and yet, I couldn't believe it when I heard myself say no.

8) There is a certain freedom that comes from having lost everything.

9)  Allison didn't even know she was nervous until she looked down and saw that she'd chewed her nails all the way down to the quick.

10) Susan sat back in her seat, the air of the plane already stale, and waited for that moment when the wheels left the ground.

11) Nichole hadn't opened the yearbook from her senior year of high school since the day she'd brought it home from school.

12) Sometimes the truth is more ambitious than a lie.

13) After being a parent for 4 years, Andrea was convinced the only purpose she played was to answer the question, "Why?"

14) My grandfather always said, "You go up or you go down, those are the only two choices you get in life or in death."

15) Patricia learned the hard way to never say never.

16) Standing on the edge of cliff, one that was both literal and figurative, Amy thought about the time her father took her to the zoo.

17) As soon as Georgia opened the refrigerator, she knew that there was something she had forgotten long ago.

18) After 12 years of piano lessons, Andy decided he would never play again.

19) There have been many times I have wished for a time machine, a way to go back and make the smarter choice, but never a time when I have wished for it more than the night my best friend married the only boy I had ever loved.

20) "Imagine," I said to Andy, the boy who'd been my neighbor and best friend since we started kindergarten, "Imagine if there actually had been a body inside."

21) It wasn't until my phone rang that I knew I was going to be in some serious trouble.

22) Once upon a time there was a girl at a party when she should have been home, snuggled beneath the covers of her childhood bed.

23) The room was dark and lined with bookshelf after bookshelf, each one stacked with books both vertically and horizontally.

24) If it weren't for the fireworks, with their booms and cracks, I would not have known that today was the 4th of July.

25) It was unusual for Vivian to be caught by surprise and so I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to make her appear so out of sorts.

The second part of the exercise involves taking one of the 25 opening lines and writing the paragraphs that follow. I'm curious to know which, if any of these opening lines were intriguing to you, dear reader. Are there any that leave you wanting to know the rest of the story? Give me a number in a comment (on the blog or on Facebook) and we'll see what happens!

19 May 2013

When the Sandman Visits

Last night I dreamed of Neil Gaiman. The truth is, I have a lot of Neil Gaiman dreams. He has held more guest appearances in my dreams than any other person. Occasionally Amanda Palmer is in them, but most of the time it's only Neil.

I met Neil Gaiman (in real life) almost 15 years ago, not long after I started working in my first bookstore. He was touring for Stardust and at the time, I had yet to read Sandman or any other of his brilliant works. To me, then, he was simply a nice looking, nice sounding British gentleman. He was kind and witty. And because I wasn't yet a fan, I wasn't nervous or self-conscious.

After that meeting, he began to appear in my dreams. Sometimes I'll go months and months between these nocturnal encounters and other times I'll have several in a single week. They are, without a doubt, some of my favorite dreams and I often wake up feeling inspired. A year and a half ago I had one in which I was taking a writing class with Neil. In it, we didn't talk about writing, we talked about the importance of saying thank you. Odd, and yet somehow it seemed to make complete sense. I ended up writing a thank you email to a former writing professor who had taught me many important things about writing, about life.

Sometimes Neil and I simply hang out and the conversations we have don't have roots deep enough to hold on to the morning's consciousness. Last night, we were in my store. We were all dressed for a wedding and Neil was wearing this amazing black suit. The down escalator had been transformed into a slide. I grabbed my Neil-Obsessed-Co-Worker, and took a picture of him with Neil using one of the teen endcaps for a back-drop.

While I was at work yesterday I picked up the Chip Kidd designed book of Neil Gaiman's, Make Good Art. It is the physical manifestation of the speech he gave last year to Philadelphia's University of the Arts. When I got home, I sat down and read it. If you're on the internet at all, odds are you saw at least bits and pieces of it passing by. There were quotes almost everywhere I wandered. The speech struck a chord me as well as, it seemed, a million other people. (You can actually watch Neil deliver the speech by visiting here.)

Watch the video. Find the written speech online. Buy the brilliantly designed little book. Whether you are a creative type or not, there is something there for everyone. There were words held within those pages that I needed to find, right now and for always.

As I've talked about before, I've been scraping up my shins on the stumbling blocks of fear. The fear of failure, to be specific. Making good art isn't about creating something you know is going to work, something you know is going to be "good." That's boring, and so often misses the mark. Instead, I think Neil Gaiman is right. We should go and "make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes."

01 May 2013

Too Many Trees in the Forest (Too Many Places to Hide)

Last Sunday, I was supposed to really dig into the revising of the manuscript I've been working on for a little over two years now. And I tried. I did.

But if I'm completely honest with myself, I'm feeling lost. Lost and maybe a bit overwhelmed. I can't see the forest for the trees or the trees for the enormity of the forest. So instead of digging my heals in and getting to the tough work of editing the words that are so close to my heart, I cheated.

I'm not sure how it happened, but my fingers slid and clicked their way to the document on the screen titled simply "NaNoWriMo2012," a document I hadn't once felt tempted to open since completing my 50,000 some words during the last days of November. I can't even say what I expected would happen when I opened the file, but before I even realized what I was doing, I was reading. I was reading words that I had written, for the first time ever.

And they weren't so bad.

Before I knew it, I'd read the first twenty pages, fixing a few typos, adding and deleting the occasional sentence. And I was enjoying the story. Reading about Henry felt a bit like catching up with an old friend. Sometimes I found it hard to believe they were my words and my ideas (and a few times I was embarrassed that they were my words and my ideas).

Since then, I've been picking away at NaNoWriMo2012, reading a chapter here and a chapter there, continuing my procrastination of the work I know I should be doing. I feel less guilty than if I wasn't editing at all, but I still feel guilty. It doesn't help that Henry is a character with a certain vulnerability and charm that just draws me in...which is probably why I wrote a book about him in the first place.

The truth is, I think there is a part of me that doesn't want to ever finish Something Worth Holding On To because when I finish it, I have to send it out into the world to see what happens, for better or for worse. Right now it's in a safe little space. A few people have read versions of it and pieces of it, but I'm the only one who knows where the story stands. I've discovered there is a shield that comes with a "Work In Progress" that protects your pride and right now I'm a little too comfortable there.