August’s short story will be up tomorrow!

It just needed a little more time to come together. But it’s almost there! We had a busy weekend, and I think my brain just needs a little rest before putting on the finishing touches. I’d rather take some time, get some sleep, and come back with fresh eyes than post something I know I’ll want to edit later. So, thanks for bearing with me!

And in the meantime, enjoy this sweet picture of Gatsby enjoying his favorite sunny spot. 🙂

The Power of the Opening Line

I’m working a little bit on my August short story today, and I’ll probably work on it a lot more over the weekend. It’s slow going – I have a spark of an idea, but it’s not really a story yet, and I’m waiting to see where it might go.

And that got me thinking.

Back when I was in college, I took a creative writing class. One of our in-class assignments was to write a story around an opening line provided by the professor. We had fifteen minutes to write as much as we could. This was the line:

“When we saw the headlights coming, we ducked.”

I can’t remember what I wrote, but I remember that opening line. And I remember some of my other favorite opening lines, too.

How about:

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed it when caught by her charm…”

Or:

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Also:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Or, the old favorite:

“Call me Ishmael.”

Whether I enjoyed these books or not (I resolutely hated Gone with the Wind, and surprisingly loved Moby Dick), these lines have stuck with me, as have many others. This speaks, I think, to the power of a good opening line.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s a make or break thing. Many an excellent story has had a lackluster or an unassuming opening sentence. One of my personal favorites begins really rather quietly with just:

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

And I’ve never been very fond of this one, but everyone else seems to like it:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Anyway, my point is this: A good opening line gives a story somewhere to go, and a really good opening line hooks a reader immediately.

In the spirit of fairness, here are some that I’ve written. Some are fine, some not so much. Some have become stories. Some are still waiting. But I thought it would be fun to share them.

Summer is the time for magic.

The girl stood alone on a beach she had never seen.

“This is not how my life was supposed to turn out.”

To anyone else, the door at the end of the hallway was just that – a door. 

It was Lloyd Alexander’s fault, not that she could ever tell him, seeing as she’d never met him, and he was dead.

See, sometimes, when I’m having trouble putting words together, I’ll just sit down and write first lines. No story or characters attached, no ideas, no strings. And I actually find it really helpful. And usually, one of those first lines will lead me somewhere.

So, tell me! Do you have any favorite opening lines? Or least favorites? Either that you’ve read or that you’ve written. Either way, I’d love to hear them!

You’re welcome! (Or, about that quote I can’t get out of my head…)

Y’all, I just had to share this quote, because it jumped out at me yesterday, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

This quote is from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

(From Goodreads)

I read it yesterday while I was procrastinating some housecleaning, and I did not expect it to stick with me like this. But here I am, several hours later, still thinking about it. And now, perhaps you are, too.

So, sorry about that. Or not sorry? I’m not sure. It’s good advice to share, I think. So maybe, then, you’re welcome!

At any rate, what’s your favorite bit of writing wisdom? Feel free to share!

Tell me your favorite beach reads!

We’re going on a little beach getaway for the next week.

I’m super excited, but the process of packing and getting ready has been sort of stressful. (I wrote a little about it in Monday’s post.) Normally, I’d have a reading list ready to go, but I haven’t had a chance to even think about it this week.

So, help me out! What are your favorite beach reads? Anything I can’t miss? Anything that just makes you think of summer? Give me all the recommendations, y’all! And thank you! 🙂

Real Talk: I’m in a reading rut.

I mentioned in my Q&A last week that my non-writing life has been unexpectedly chaotic this year. I’ve not been able to hike as much as I’ve wanted to, and I’ve not had time to work on some of my other creative goals. These things, I expected. Something has to give, right? But a surprising consequence of the chaos has been that I’m in a bit of a reading rut.

I read a lot. Normally over 100 books a year. I like reading. It’s a thing.

But this year, I’ve only read 24 book so far, and I’m having trouble getting excited about new books or looking for my next read. It’s weird, actually, and I’m certain it’s not permanent.

Which is where I hope y’all can come in! What are some of your favorite reads from this year so far? What should I read next? What book can I absolutely not miss? Send me recommendations! I like lots of different genres, and I love discovering new things. If you read it and liked it, tell me about it.

And I’ll get myself out of this rut, one story at a time.  

Listen, Step Back, and Trust Your Gut (or: How I Wrote My Latest Story)

I thought it might be fun today to talk a little bit about my creative process, and to show you what my latest short story, “Quiet Neighbors,” looked like when I started writing it. This isn’t something I’ve done before, but as I work to make a better routine for myself and eventually, hopefully finish a novel, I think it might actually be helpful to take a better look at how I’m currently operating.

So, first thing – I never really plan ahead, and I usually don’t know what I’ll write about when I open up my laptop and get started. Sometimes, a setting will come to me first. With “Quiet Neighbors,” it was a suburban neighborhood, newly built, without much space between houses (or privacy between neighbors). Sometimes, I’ll hear a voice first. When this happens, I listen. I always like to write from a character-driven place, and so if I’ve got a strong character from the get go, I feel like I’ve already got a head start on the work to come. When “Quiet Neighbors” started to take shape as what it eventually became, it was the narrator’s voice that compelled me to write. I wanted to know more about that character, and how that character perceived and interacted with the world.

Second thing – I try not to force a story to work. There’s lots of advice – and it’s good advice – about forging ahead and writing past blocks, but I find that if a story isn’t flowing, I’m not telling it the right way. When this happens, I like to take a step back, a few days away, and just give my brain time to think and process. In the case of “Quiet Neighbors,” I actually loved what I was building when I started, but something just wasn’t clicking. And so I started to look at it differently, and pretty quickly, things fell into place, I think as they were always meant to. I don’t mean to say that I never push through, and that every story has to flow easily for me actually finish it, but if my gut tells me it’s not right, I trust it.

And now, because I’m sure (or at least, I hope) I’ve made you curious, here’s what “Quiet Neighbors” looked like when I started it. It became something I’m really proud of, but it certainly didn’t start where it ended up, and I have to say, I couldn’t be more pleased about that.

*************

“The Quiet Neighbors”

There are two things you should know. The first is this: We liked them. They seemed like a bright young couple.

They moved in on a rainy day at the beginning of April, one of those gray, not quite cold days when you can feel the spring in the air. We heard the moving truck before we saw it, clunking down the wet pavement, the hiss of rain-slick tires.

We missed the MacKinnons. They’d lived in the big house at the end of the cul-de-sac for ten years before they moved, raised their children alongside all of ours. They hosted a Christmas party every year, they always put out the best Halloween candy and they could be relied on, you know?

Their house sat on the market for longer than anyone thought it would. Almost ten months ticked by filled with a string of showings and open houses, and a couple of times, the house went under contract. We all offered to help. We landscaped the garden beds over the summer and kept the front porch swept. We shoveled the driveway when it snowed. We all wanted to see the house sell, not only because we knew it make life easier for the MacKinnons – they’d moved in with her mother because of the cancer – but because we wanted the best new neighbors we could get. We wanted someone who’d take pride in the house and the neighborhood, just like the MacKinnons had, and just like we do. That’s what makes a good neighborhood. That’s what makes a home.

So the moving truck pulled into the driveway in the middle of an early spring downpour. We’d heard about the new owners from the realtor. A young married couple with no children (yet). They both worked in the city but wanted the space to grow. They had one dog, no cats, and oddly, only one car.

“How do they commute to the city?” That was Mr. Grayson to the realtor.

“They drive in together,” the realtor answered, “and they both get to work from home on Friday.”

“Must be nice.”

How do you make time for writing?

This is something I’ve been struggling with lately. My days have been filled with meetings and phone calls, my evenings with emails, and my competing priorities – all important, all very loved and in some cases personal projects – have been keeping me busy. In the middle of all of it, I’m finding it hard to carve out real, significant time to write.

Case in point: I’m writing this on a Sunday night and scheduling it for Monday morning, when I’ll be on the road for several hours.

What to do?

I’ve played with schedules, with different ways of making and looking at to-do lists. I’ve tried mornings and evenings. I’m sort of at a loss, and while I AM getting my writing done, I’d just really like to get my arms around it better.

So, readers and writers, I’m curious. How do you make time to write? How do you balance life’s busy-ness and actually get words on the page? I’d love to hear your techniques, your ideas, your advice…

I’m not pleading for help or anything, but, you know, never hurts to have good tools in the toolbox. 😊

A Book, a Quote, and a Wish (One More for Women’s History Month)

I didn’t plan to write another post for Women’s History Month, but it seems the universe had other ideas, and here we are.

I’ve been working my way for the last few days through If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie.

(Cover image from Goodreads)

I’m not finished with it yet, so I can’t recommend it completely, but it is certainly making an impression. And there’s one quote from it, in particular, that I just can’t get out of my head:

We are wild creatures still, at heart, and if we listen to our hearts we will remember how to listen to the song of the fierce-beaked, wild-winged little wren who, hopping from tree to stump, shows us the way home. When we stop, when we let ourselves see, when the torn veil of this broken civilization lifts away from our eyes – we can find our way back home.

I’ve been thinking on this one for days – women as wild creatures, the unrelenting call of home, nature as a partner, and as something sacred, and the things, a million little things, that pull us as women away from ourselves.

The older I get, the more I notice. And the more I notice, the more determined I become to explore and discover my own magic, and to live in it and share it without shame or fear. And I suppose that’s my wish for all women, as we continue to make history – that we find our magic, that we let our magic shine, and that we leave a path for others to follow.

Found Friday #24: My friend wrote a book!

Y’all! I am so excited to share this! A friend of mine published his first book, Thomas Creeper and the Gloomsbury Secret.

The official release date is Sunday, March 21st, but I preordered several copies (one for me, one for Graham, one for the cat, one for the dog, a bunch for friends and family…), and they arrived today.

Yes, I have already read it cover to cover.

This book was so delightful and fun and just absolutely the perfect read for kids (and adults!) who like mysteries, spies, secret codes, ghost stories, pirates and submarines, history, magic, and unlikely teenage heroes. Yeah, J.R. Potter managed it all of that stuff into one fantastic little book. And he created all of the illustrations, as well.

Here’s the jacket summary:

Thirteen-year-old Thomas Creeper hasn’t been dealt the best hand. He lives in the seaside town of Gloomsbury—a damp and miserable place overrun by scabber weed, where the sun shines for only a few days each year. With the inexplicable death of his older brother, David, Thomas becomes heir to Creeper & Sons, the family’s funeral business, and his place as a mortician’s apprentice seems set. Thomas, however, dreams of a different kind of life (as a code-cracking spy) in a different kind of place (anywhere but Gloomsbury!).

When a body arrives on the doorstep of Creeper & Sons Funeral Home with signs of foul play, Thomas and his smart-as-a-whip sidekick, Jeni Myers, are thrust into the middle of a terrifying mystery, one which will reveal the link between Thomas’s family and the dark secret of his hometown. Joining forces with the motley crew of the Conch Whistle, a high-tech submarine that hides in offshore waters, Thomas and Jeni must rely upon their wits (and a few magical devices!) to defeat a powerful and horrifying foe.

I’m so proud of my friend and so happy for him! And the book is really, really, really good. It’s even won an award already – the 2019 Kraken Book Prize for Middle-Grade Fiction.

So, if you’d like to learn more and maybe purchase it and see for yourself, check out his website: https://www.jamesrobertpotter.com/

And for those of us still plugging away at our own great works, onward!

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?

I’m having trouble thinking of what to write today. Normally, I work on posts a week or two in advance – though I don’t always post what I’ve worked on – but lately, life’s been too chaotic for much in the way forethought.

So, I found myself today doing what I normally do when I’m feeling uninspired, and I looked through some of my favorite pictures. I came across this one, from a trip to Alaska back in 2016.

I’m not sure what it is, but something about this photo just speaks to me today. Maybe it’s the way the water is just so calm and clear. My mind certainly isn’t lately. Or maybe it’s that the pebbles all seem to fit together just so, like they were meant to be exactly where they are. Maybe it’s the slant of the light on the ripples, beautiful and brief, and now memorialized forever in a snapshot.

And I don’t know what I want to do with it. I’m sure, though, that there’s a poem or a story in it somewhere.

So, we’ll see, I suppose, and hopefully I’ll wake up feeling better and brighter tomorrow, because I’ve promised a short story on Friday, and I keep my promises. 🙂

For now, I’m curious. What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? How do you fight feeling…just, meh…when you’re writing? If you have a good tip or any tools that you use, I’d love to know!

P.S. – Thankfully, we didn’t get a lot of ice on Monday evening. And also thankfully, it looks like we might actually get some snow this weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!