The last word in the ms so far is “coward”
Too many good things happening! 1) My former student/current friend Jonathan Harper‘s debut collection, Daydreamers, has been nominated for the Kirkus 2015 Fiction prize. Check out the full list of nominees here–it’s amazing. 2)ARCs of Art Taylor’s debut novel On The Road With Del & Louise roaming around in the wild, and you may be able to get your hands on one via a Goodreads giveaway that ends June 28.
On the horizon, we’re expecting Erin Fitzgerald’s novella, Tara Laskowski’s second collection, Steve Himmer’s third novel, and of course, my second. We all started this journey at different times, but it feels like we’re reaching important benchmarks together. This leads me to wonder if, as a writer, I haven’t been laboring under the wrong metaphor all this time–maybe this stuff is less path-oriented than event-oriented–like doomsday only way better–and we’re the best preppers.
That time of year again came even later this year, but the Wigleaf Top 50 (very) Short Fictions 2015 is live, and once again I’m really happy to have been on the reading team. This year, Mel Bosworth ran a tight ship as the Series Editor, and scored a real coup with Roxane Gay as our Selecting Editor.
Congrats to all—
I know we have lots of anxiety about those first ten pages, especially when we’re looking for an agent or a publisher, so this may seem like counter-intutitive advice:
You’re first 10 does not have to be high energy, crowded, or chaotic to “hook” your reader. Hooks are for yanking fish out of water just before you kill and eat them. Your reader isn’t a trout.
How about assuming your reader has picked up your book quite willingly. She’ll probably want credit for that. A little respect, even. You know what would be nice? A particular and focused moment. Something to care about and some ground to stand on.
Consider the opening to Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked:
Welcome to Sunny Florida! A sunburnt man in a Crocodile Dundee hat poses in front of the Citrus Travel Shop. With one hand on his waist, the other raised and dangling a shellacked baby gator, the man in the postcard grins unnaturally and beckons the hapless tourist to come and visit beautiful Crystal Springs.
James turned the postcard over.
Your daddy’s dead.
You might want to
Come on home now.
That’s about as focused and singular as you can get, a man reading a postcard. But it’s an important damn postcard, and there is no way that Post’s reader is going to put her book down. Tree is a thrill ride of a book, but Post doesn’t need to start with the beer brawls or the car chases. She starts with a moment, the moment the postcard is turned. A moment that is easy to understand and yet compelling.
Another example is in the first pages of Steve Himmer’s FRAM. The job of his first chapter is to introduce the ridiculous secret government entity that is The Bureau of Ice Prognostication, and like all spy novels, comic or otherwise, FRAM‘s plot is wild. So how does it start? With a lightbulb. A single lightbulb that has lasted far too long:
That bulb had crackled and hissed through his years in BIP’s office, hanging from the same few inches of cloth-wrapped cord it had in the early days long before Oscar’s time. It persisted despite losing some luster, despite ancient filaments fraying and sizzling and threatening to snap.
What a simple image, full of portent.
Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Sure, the first chapter ends with the killer plowing a car through a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair, but it doesn’t start there. It starts with a careful and intuitive study of two characters waiting in that line–people with all too real economic problems, who–after we get to know them and care about them–will be run over.
I don’t have anything very sophisticated to say about this. Just putting it out there that sometimes it’s a good strategy save the noise for later and use those opening pages to establish a relationship with the reader. Try centering her first, then knock her off her pins.
As I’ve mentioned before, Pandamoon Publishing (the folks who will be putting out my next novel, and with luck, my next-next novel) are big fans of #pitmad and its offshoots. In an eyeopening post on her newly launched blog, P’moon CEO Zara Kramer offers some tips for participating in Twitter Pitch Party Season:
While Zara’s #MSWL is eclectic, I want to point you to an earlier post in which she amplifies her interest in seeing pitches for novels grounded in American History and the West:
Though she tagged that as her wish for the week of May 21, I know this is an ongoing interest, and when I read pitches for last March’s #Pitmad, I was surprised that there weren’t more titles in this category.
So tickled–Pandamoon Publishing has totally refurbished/rehabbed their site, and these are my pages!!! Because The Juliet is still in early production, some of my areas aren’t complete, but you get the idea. Under the 20 Qs (which is just the Top Ten for now), I panicked when asked about my favorite sport. I’m think of adapting the blog to be a better match to the main P-moon site, color and arrangement-wise.
I woke up this morning thinking of my mother’s roses. Or rather, I woke up remembering the two times her roses were destroyed. One time was when my sister was in the throes of breakdown, so she ripped up the roses, oblivious to the thorns that were shredding her arms and hands. Another time was when my great aunt, on the edge of dementia, plucked and destroyed every perfect bi-color bloom, convinced they needed dead-heading.
One act was an attack. The other a service.
There is actually a lot of mental illness in my family, and maybe one day I will write about the subject in a nuanced, sensitive way. In the meantime I write about madness, a fictive, gothic condition that too often may be the blackface version of mental illness.
Right now I am writing towards a tenuous but plausible connection between the murders that begin my novel and the fractured psychology that had to precede them. I have placed a grieving young mother with an ever-deepening depression in a Dark, Cold House with another young woman whose own mental disorder (marked by narcissism, amorality, and false beliefs) is poorly diagnosed and improperly treated. What could go wrong, as they say.
I’ve become very aware that my fictional urge is to exploit the darkness, to blow it up and exaggerate it, rather than explain it. However, to write the relationship between these women I’ll need to stretch. I’m planning to use irl experience as a grounding (though in the end it won’t be recognizable, I’m sure). It’s not responsible research, but it’s a start. In a generation’s time I don’t want to be that old lady who defends her writing by claiming “it was a different time” as she clings to the rickety scaffolding of genre conventions.