Monthly Archives: September 2010

Do You Have Any Favorite First Sentences? Send Them My Way in the Comments!

In my attempt to improve the first few pages of one novel, today, I had a fun foray with first sentences.  Instead of tearing my hair out and screaming madly because first sentences and pages are so difficult, I looked through numerous books on my shelves and read their first sentences.  I was shocked at how many books, both old and new, begin with the weather.  None of them were bad, mind you, but they weren’t particularly compelling, either.  Here is the one I thought was best (by a modern author):  “Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu” (Waiting, by Ha Jin).  The book, itself, depressed the heck out of me when I read it, but the first sentence is perfect because it sets the tone and subject and characters and creates a conundrum. 

Jane Austen, of course, always wrote hooks into her first sentences or first pages; she may have been the first master of the hook, so I have to mention her in this discussion.  And then I have to giggle at one of my favorite authors, John Mortimer, because the first sentence in my Rumpole Omnibus is an entire paragraph long–and I’m talking about an old-fashioned length paragraph that is dense with words.  Oh, my, what splendid clauses Mortimer is capable of.  Hats off to the man who created Rumpole and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed!      


Update on Life

I read a fascinating book last week, Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalson.  I love travel books and memoirs and when put together, they make fantastic reads.  Ultimately, this book is a true-life love story, which makes it all the more exciting.  The author is a New Zealand woman who fell in love with a Bedouin man and married him, embracing his culture and even living in a cave.  It is also a sad story because–and this is no spoiler, as memoirs do not usually have surprise endings–she’s now a somewhat young widow in her fifties.

I also read a book called The Edge Effect.  I am always reading books about health and medicine, but I prefer them to be of a somewhat natural/alternative persuasion.  The doctor who wrote this book is clearly a traditional western doctor, due to the way he embraces pharmaceuticals as being an integral part of healing–if they are the right drugs for the patient.  Oh, I also discovered that I have a serious serotonin deficiency, but that is neither here nor there, since I don’t think reading a book is effective for diagnosing illness.

Our lovely Mediterranean house is nearly finished.  The stucco is on–a lovely lemony yellow for the porch and dormers, and a soft reddish fawn tone for the rest of the house.  The work crew is currently putting on the bright red metal roof.

My life is passing me by. 

I have drunk coffee in the mornings and wine in the evenings and passed my days with school books stacked high on my desk and longed to go anywhere, do anything but what I’m currently doing.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about and planning to go to grad school for some time now, and it seems an impossibility.  I live in a town that is an hour away from the nearest university and two hours away from the next.  Granted, I completed my undergrad degree at UNM, the university that is one-hour north of me.  The difficulty is that I can’t earn a BA, an MA and a PhD all at the same school.  Plus, my life is different now.  My husband no longer works shifts at the firehouse, and my parents, who used to be my default babysitters when my husband was on shift, are running the local art gallery.

I know my goals aren’t unattainable.  I simply haven’t worked out how to achieve them yet.  If anybody has any advice for me, let me know.  Maybe I should convince my husband to become a cave-dweller.  Then I can live in a cave and not worry about the rest.  Sadly, the Bedouin people who used to live in the caves of Petra no longer do so.  Van Geldermalson’s adventure is one that could only have happened in the past.        


Red Marks are Gorgeous

Aren’t they?  Red marks all over my manuscript, or, in this case, all over chapter three of my manuscript, mean that I have something to focus on.  Let’s face it.  I’m busy.  Right now, my desk is piled high with school work to check, plus 3X5 cards with notes to myself, plus bills and other business correspondence that need to be paid or filed away.  Underneath the stacks of schoolwork, however, sit those marked-up pages of chapter three, which means that I’ll have something to immediately work on when I have a few moments to spare.  Without the red marks, I would be like a little, lost sheepling wondering what to do next and, consequently, choosing to do nothing.

Several years ago, I attended a writing workshop taught by Anya Achtenberg.  Because it wasn’t a university workshop, no grades were recorded anywhere–hence, some of the participants didn’t turn in their weekly work.  In one class, Anya handed back the story I’d turned in to her, but with red marks all over it.

The lady sitting next to me sighed wistfully and said, “I wish I had a manuscript with red marks all over it.”

To which, Anya replied, “You have to turn in work to get red marks.”

Red marks are a badge of honor, you see.  They are a badge of the hard-working writer.  If a writer doesn’t write, she isn’t going to have any beautiful, raw stories that are crying out for improvement.  If a writer isn’t brave enough to hand over those beautiful, raw stories to an editor or teacher or critique partner, she isn’t going to be seeing red.  And seeing red is a good thing.  Viewing the world only through the black and white filter of one’s own story is severely limiting.

So, although I haven’t had much time to write or post blogs, I have been able to turn my work over to my friendly neighborhood editor, who in turn gave me something to work with in those few spare moments that I have.  Being a sheepling has never suited me.  Thanks, Editor!

***Painting of Alexander Pope by Michael Dahl.  Yes, I’ll use ANY excuse to post an image of Pope.

****POST-EDITING to add this exclamation: Holy Guacamole!  I just threw chapter three into its own document in order to begin revisions and realized for the first that this chapter, the one my editor spent less than a week line-editing, is 10,000 words long!  The mind reels.


The Housewife’s Lament

What is it about the housewife?  She toils from dawn to dusk and nobody respects her.  If she’s lucky, she’ll catch a few hours of sleep at night, but most likely, she’ll lay in bed mourning the loss of yet another day before the next one falls upon her.

This housewife decided there wasn’t much point to life, after all, if all she did was cook and clean and teach and run people around.  So she stared at her bookcases for a while until she unwittingly pulled Robert Burns from a shelf.  What he was doing up there, she’ll never know, but that’s not the point.  She pulled him down.  And he sang her this lament:

O Thou pale Orb, that silent shines,
While care-untroubled mortals sleep!
Thou seest a wretch, who inly pines,
And wanders here to wail and weep!
With Woe I nightly vigils keep,
Beneath thy wan, unwarming beam;
And mourn, in lamentation deep,
How life and love are all a dream!

Well, what else is he supposed to do?  The silly woman was being a little melodramatic.  All she needed were a few of his exclamation points to put an end to what she couldn’t express, anyway!!!

Thank you, Rabbie.  Now she’s run off to finish folding the laundry.  That wasn’t really the point; was it?

He looks like such a rake.  Image stolen from Sophia Wellbeloved Poetry

I suspect I should add that the above stanza is the first in Burns’s The Lament, a poem I discovered in my Everyman edition of Poems in Scots and English (1993).