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?

First Flash Fiction Effort

February 9, 2015Contest

Writer Unboxed recently launched a monthly a flash fiction contest. The decision of who wins is determined by the number of votes each story receives and the panel’s reading preferences.

February’s prompt featured a keyhole and because I’ve missed writing the exploits of Alvah and Corinne, I wrote a 250 word story about them. As a first attempt it’s not bad; it’s not great. It’s “Meh.”

Despite my sentiments, I want to win this month. My competitive spirt has surfaced, but whether I am selected or don’t surpass the one writer who currently has six votes (no, I didn’t vote for myself that’s pathetic), in either case it was a good exercise to see if I could be succinct and tell a story in 250 words.

And the conclusion is the following:

  • I prefer a longer format.
  • Will I try again? As long as the prompt sparks an idea.
  • Will I avoid using dialogue the next time? It depends on the characters.
  • Will I continue with the paranormal element? I’d like to put that to rest (Ha! Get it?)

Take a look at it for yourselves, and if you’re inclined to vote do so as long as you like it and it merits one. If it’s terrible and you like another one better then vote for that writer (but don’t tell me). To read my vignette go here. Scroll down to the comments, and you’ll see the story under my name.

And by the way, this post is 250 words.

The Un-Conference Kitty

November 12, 2014Author comments, Life

Image: AMI Wallpapers

Image: AMI Wallpapers

A week ago I was in Salem, MA, attending the very first Writer UnBoxed UnConference. During the first evening, I sat at a table with a group of people I’ve been online friends for at least three years. We were a motley group from all over the U.S., but also from Australia, Canada, and Spain.

Before the start of the conference, we communicated via the Un-Con page on Facebook. At some point there was an informal poll about introverts and extroverts, and it appeared the conference would be attended by a majority who are shy and reticent by nature.  And yet, I believe many of us fibbed. With the exception of one person out of eighty attendees, we were a boisterous group with enough words spoken to fill pages and pages of books. Now I am dubious when a writer says he or she is an introvert (and I should add that I’m not as aloof as I’ve claimed in the past).

Before leaving for Salem, I was nervous. Skittish I would miss the turn-off to the Mass Pike and end up somewhere in the deep south (I didn’t). Anxious whether my roomie and I would get along for five days (we’ve become friends). Uneasy about the WIP and how long it was taking me to write (so what? There are others in the same situation). These were silly worries, but I had real apprehension about who we are online versus who we are in the actual world of hard knocks.

Eighty writers. Think about it for a minute. Eighty individuals with a knack for observation and eavesdropping. Eighty people who use real settings, real problems, real people for inspiration to craft a story. Eighty artists with opinions about good versus bad writing. Eighty coffee drinkers; eighty imbibers of spirits; eighty neurotics of varying degrees.

I’ve participated in workshops and writing groups in the past—both on and off-line. I stopped attending because many fostered a mean-spirited competitive environment. The first workshop I attended one writer proudly announced she never read a Stephen King book. Her scorn for King and his readers set a nasty tone for the entire workshop, dividing the class into those who read horror and popular fiction versus those who read literary fiction. Did I get anything out of it? Just a $600 hole in my checking account.

In another workshop egos were bundled in neat packages along with the notebooks and sample WIP pages. Cliques formed (the instructor led one); harsh and unconstructive critiques ridiculed both the story and writer felt like those ALS buckets of ice water dumped on you. Another $600 hole in my checking account with the added hurt and humiliation.

Suffice it to say I was nervous about spending so much money for what could  amount to an unstatisfactory experience. The surprise—and a breathtaking one—was all egos where checked at the door. Published authors shared their trials and tribulations about writing, marketing, and frustrations about the industry. Newly agented writers shared their stories of rejections until they landed a prized agent; writers who were struggling to get their stories right commiserated. There was no genre snobbery. We were all united. We were all equals. Our online selves were no different from our offline selves. We were and continue to be genuine, or borrowing Therese Walsh’s term: velveteen.

Therese Walsh, co-founder of Writer Unboxed, The Facebook Writer Unboxed Moderator Team—Vaughn Roycroft, Valerie Chandler, Heather Reid—have nurtured a community of writers where we feel safe. No head or guilt trips; no public shaming. Instead we share our concerns about a competitive business; perservering and continuing to tap away at the keyboard; our insecurites and struggles; our stories. No judgments, but encouragement to keep writing. The same spirit we have online was alive and thrived in Salem.

I have $1000 less in my checking account, and although I didn’t play in the nightly poker games, I feel as if I won the entire kitty.