So, for my big 40th birthday I went to the Detroit Festival For the Arts, where I read an excerpt from a story that received honorable mention in the 2008 Metro Detroit Writers member contest. While it was a fabulous event, the weather was down right oppressive. I would have stayed to shop but it was so hot that the sweat was pouring out of me while I was sitting. I opted instead to leave after the reading and get a little cake. I really wanted a frosted chocolate chip cookie. That’s my favorite treat. I got a cake instead and went home to my central air and did nothing for the rest of the day. Well, I did do homework, but that was all.
I attended a reading last night in Plymouth, the Gathering of Writers, a monthly reading. The featured reader was a woman named Amy, a breast cancer survivor. I loved her poems about her breast cancer. They really resonated. My friend Missy and I read poems as well. I read my ekphrastic poem that I did at school during the November 2006 semester residency, the residency I came home from to find the dreaded lump in my right breast. The poem is not inspired by my breast cancer, but by a photograph of David Levinthol from his Wild West series. I call the poem “Deconstructing the Wild, Wild West.” I also read the above poem inspired by the whole dance recital ritual. It was great to get out and be inspired by other writers, especially my friend who is bravely moving in the direction of poetry after being primarily a fiction writer. I love discussing writing and that’s what we did over a beer and dinner. What better way to spend an evening.
This weekend I’ll head off to a band reunion. Sounds like the makings of a movie to me. All kidding aside, I’m looking forward to the event. Can’t wait to see some of my old mates. Yes, I played the flute and, yes, I’ve heard the whole band camp thing too many times to count, so be done with it.
Next Tuesday, March 18, I will be featured reader at Sweetwater’s Cafe in Ann Arbor. I’m a bit nervous about this but excited all the same. It will be my first feature, not that I have a book to go with it, but maybe I’ll find a way to have something to hand out at least.
While that’s all very exciting the most exciting news is that my son, Joshua, has received state recognition for his art. He’s ten years old, and his art teacher sent a piece to the Michigan Art Education Association Regional Exhibition. His piece was then judged and chosen to be in the State Elementary Top 15 Exhibition. I’m proud of him no matter what he does, but I love that he loves art and that he and my mom have that wonderful bond that connects them. For my mother, this is extra special. She was recognized like this in high school. She’s been a huge influence on him from the beginning.
I’ll be reading Tuesday, Dec. 18, at Sweetwaters Cafe in Ann Arbor as part of the Writers Reading at Sweetwaters Anthology release celebration. I was invited to be a part of this wonderful project by one of the editors and Writers Reading at Sweetwaters reading series leaders Chris Lord. I had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful woman, who is not only sweet but a talented poet, the first time I attended the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Petoskey, Michigan, in 2002. One of the best things I ever did for my writing career was to attend that conference. I worked with a wonderful southern writer named Elizabeth Cox. It’s all because of her that I’m working on a novel.
Back to Chris Lord. I started reading at the open mic readings for the Sweetwaters series back in June or July when I was still bald and quite loopy from chemotherapy. Chris and Esther Hurwitz, along with Don Hewlett, Chris’ husband, lead the best poetry reading series I’ve ever attended. It’s a warm and nurturing atmosphere, and I’m so glad I decided to attend that first one. It was partly a personal decision to go and partly work. The featured reader was a wonderful Detroit-based poet named Kawita Kandpal. Her work is in the anthology as well as are a whole host of regular readers and featured readers. I learned, through my keen investigative prowess, that Kawita grew up in Tecumseh, which made her a prime candidate for a feature story in the Tecumseh Herald, where I happen to write feature stories. So, that’s the beginning of my connection with the Sweetwaters series.
I’m excited to see the finished product and excited to read. I believe my family will be there. Hopefully, the kids will appreciate a little culture. Just as I gave my own mother a hard time about dragging me to the Detroit Institute of Arts when I was a kid, my own kids will surely give me a hard time about being dragged to a poetry reading. They will, however, look back on it fondly. I know this from personal experience. Now, I treasure those times spent at the DIA.
Well, that’s about all the news for now. I will be featured reader in March for the Writers Reading at Sweetwaters series. I’m looking forward to that–my first feature.
I recently read an article about first lines in fiction that claimed having the ability to write a powerful first line was something that can’t be taught. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I do believe that writing an attention grabbing first line is as important as any other aspect of a short story or novel and is often the most overlooked part of the process. I have to admit that I am guilty of letting that part slide as well.
I’ve been thinking of first lines a lot lately. Two of my absolute favorites are the first lines of Norman Maclean’s story A River Runs Through It and W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.
“In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” –Norman Maclean from a River Runs Through It.
“My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name.” –W. P. Kinsella from Shoeless Joe.
These first lines set the tone for each of their respective stories. With Maclean’s line, the essence of this story is given in the first 13 words. We know that the story will be about family relationships and how their dynamics dance subtly around the art of fly fishing and the strict discipline of religion, and how both these disciplines layer upon each other.
With Kinsella’s first line, there is a sadness immediately evoked by the image presented as well as a kind of tenacity of spirit present in Shoeless Joe that would make it possible for his spirit to haunt an Iowa cornfield simply for the love of the game.
What is apparent in both first lines that make them so compelling is that they aren’t simply images or thoughts. They are a combination of both. They immediately pique our curiosity about the stories because the information given is pertinent to the story but not stagnant.
It’s somewhat similar to creating a captivating lead in a news story. It must grab the reader. While a news lead should typically answer the when, where, why, who, what and how, a first line in fiction doesn’t need to answer all that. It might, however, answer one or two and be compelling enough for the reader to want to learn the rest.