Story Lulling

May 11, 2017The 'Julius' Chronicles

A little over a month ago, literary agent Donald Maass in his monthly contribution on Writer Unboxed wrote about casting the spell on readers to get them immersed in a story that it’s similar to being lulled into a dreamlike state.

This spell casting consists of a narrative voice that charms you to follow it into a story that comes alive (or not, Maass adds). He writes, “Sadly, not every narrative voice quickly takes charge and assures us that it is okay to dream.  All should.  From the darkest horror to the frothiest comedy, novels can immediately put us under a spell but too often they don’t.  The voice relating the tale is far off, timid, or false; a huckster’s voice selling us a sideshow trick or the phony intimacy of a presumptuous stranger.

Towards the end of the article, he invited readers to share their opening so he could comment. I took the plunge and shared my opening prologue to Julius from Alvah’s perspective. Here it is, warts and all:

The Lower Eastside, November 2008

I am watching you. I have been for a long time. 

You sit in the redwood gazebo in the small, neighborhood park that preserves the memory of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., glancing over your shoulder, you notice the two men in dark overcoats sitting at the plaza across the street. A sigh escapes from your lips as you contemplate your decision.

I am tempted to make my presence known. However, the time isn’t right to offer my counsel. Soon I will be there to guide you. To be your confidant. Your friend. 

We are kindred spirits—you and I—no matter how far we’ve been kept apart by decades, distance, and death.

We are fellow travelers—comrades.

You scan the horizon. It is a typical New York winter; the sky is flat, gray-white.

It looks like it might snow. 

And you remember.

A day so much like today—a cold Sunday with a flat, gray-white sky.

It’s 1980: Israel and Egypt established diplomatic relations. President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics. The US minimum wage was $3.10.

Yet none of this mattered because you were only ten-years-old.

What mattered was the story your grandfather told you that day and how one man’s name would change the course of your life.


Just an aside, this was fine-tuned many times, especially when I’m feeling stuck—as I often am with this story. This was Don’s response, “Great opening lines, but I must say I quickly lost interest. That’s a disappointment because your story idea and choice of guardian angel POV are so cool.

There’s a lot of information here but less sense that there is something that we urgently need to understand. I’d trade a lot of the intrigue for a little bit of what truly matters in this moment to this angel.”

Sigh. Was I disappointed? Not really. Why? Because it’s just one agent’s opinion, and there are plenty out there to query. Does it need more work or should I completely scrap it?  I’ll let you know when I’m done with this final do over.

So…the question is do you agree with Don or would you turn the page, allowing this narrative voice to lull you into the dream?

Journaling and Brainstorming

March 13, 2017The 'Julius' Chronicles

For almost two years I’ve been consistent with keeping a daily journal where I jot down my great thoughts. They’ve mostly been ramblings concerning finances, health, work, and the usual things I tend to obsess about. But on the occasions I get bored with the same subject matter and veer away from it, I brainstorm story ideas for Julius.

In my last post I mentioned a scene I was debating to delete, but decided to keep. The question was why did I want to keep it, and what would it add to the story. I asked myself several questions and by the end of my internal interrogation, I discovered I had added another layer of complexity that relates to idealism but also its corruption. I didn’t expect to stumble into those prickly brambles of political ideology and have my main character question the beliefs of the men and women she admired, but now I’ve crossed that line and I’m waiting to see if she’ll accept those questionable acts or repudiate them.

As I approach year nine of working on this story, I’ve realized that it’s not as cut and dry as I wanted it to be when I first began to write it. In the past year, I’ve seen how the characters have further developed; they’re now more comfortable showing me their fears as well as their triumphs. I’ve also discovered that one character, whose behavior, at best, has been questionable, tried to redeem himself.

So after these major discoveries am I closer to typing “The End”? As much as I would like to say yes, I’ll leave it more as a maybe. There are still some more discoveries to be made…

Spy vs. Spy

March 8, 2017The 'Julius' Chronicles

If you’re a fan of MAD Magazine, you might remember the “Spy vs. Spy” wordless comic strip of the two spies with long beaked faces—one dressed in black, and the other one in white—who were always trying to outwit each other.

As Julius progresses, I’ve been thinking a lot about these two comic spies, as well as what’s happening in our current political arena and the various players who have been involved in meetings and conversations with the Russians. You might be wondering whether I am gleefully rubbing my hands reading the news about the presumed exploits of this current administration and the happenings with the Russians. I am because it is great fodder. Who would have thought that we have a sitting president who buys into conspiracy theories and has Twitter rages?

On Twitter, I follow Rogue POTUS Staff who have tweeted often about the Russian debacle. The most recent tweet was a brief explanation about what makes an agent. According to them it’s anyone secretly working against the country in favor, or under the control, of a foreign government. It’s a straight forward definition, which applies to a specific scene in Julius.

I’ve been going back and forth whether to keep or chuck the scene. If I keep it, there’s the potential of opening doors that I might not want to walk through further complicating the story. If I chuck it, the demise of a certain character doesn’t make sense. I want to show the power plays and the manipulations between two characters who still live on that chessboard of the Cold War. Therefore, keeping the scene makes sense. I can have a some fun with what follows, in spite of the myriad of complications, and hope it doesn’t end up coming across as ridiculous, but then again can it be even more ridiculous than this?