Friday, February 25, 2011

Wading and Plunking

There's almost nothing I'd rather do than fish. No kidding. I love it. For me there's nothing like being out on a lake in a little fishing boat with my husband. I never go without him, because, you see, we have this agreement. He doesn't iron his own shirts, and I don't bait my own hook. It's a wonderful agreement. Except that I've done a lot more ironing than he's done baiting in the past couple of years. But he told me just the other day he's going to Montana in June for business, and that he's taking me with him so that after the business we can spend a couple of days fishing. There's almost nothing I'd rather do than fish in Montana. I can hardly wait.

So Bonnie's post on Monday about "hook" vs. "invite" made me chuckle, especially when I went to the TBR shelf of my bookcase and found that Hooked by Les Edgerton was the very next writer's book I planned to read. It was right there beside Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story, which I stuffed back on the shelf after wading my way through the first two chapters a few months ago, underlining everything in sight, while simultaneously scratching my head. Like Katy, I do plan to read it. Really. I do. And soon.

But back to Hooked. It's a nice little easy-to-read, easy-to-follow book on beginnings, and nothing but. Edgerton writes, "...a story is a movement from stability to instability to a new stability." I like that. It makes sense to me, like simple math. And then he says, "What is different about today's story structure is that the first part of the equation--stability--has been shortened considerably and, in many cases, completely omitted ... Many times that period of stability is only implied." Well, he's the expert, but personally, I'd rather wade into a story than be plunked into it, as though I'd been pushed off the dock way out there in the deep end of the lake. There are genres where implied stability is perfectly suited, but the type of fiction I write and mostly love to read has more of a wade-in feel than a plunked-in feel.
Here are some of my favorite examples of wading in:
"Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning." The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.
"Outside the airplane window the clouds are thick and rippled, unbroken as acres of land. They are suffused with peach-colored, early morning sun, gilded at the edges. Across the aisle, a man is taking a picture of them. Even the pilot couldn't keep still---'Folks,' he just said, 'we've got quite a sunrise out there. Might want to have a look.' I like it when pilots make such comments. It lets me know they're awake." What We Keep, Elizabeth Berg.
"Lying on her daughter's bed, Dottie Puckett heard sounds as if they were magnified a hundred times that day. She heard the usual things you'd expect to hear--an airplane, distant traffic, the air conditioning turning on and off. And she heard other things, too--a high-pitched motorized whine from somewhere nearby, the chatter of a squirrel outside the window, a tree branch brushing against the gutter, the coursing sound of water through a pipe, her own breathing. Sounds told you a lot. Today they told her that people and things were going about their normal business in spite of what had happened here at this house only three weeks ago. Though everybody thought she was mild-mannered and good-natured, Dottie knew that what she felt right now was closer to anger than anything else. Not that she was angry at the planes and cars and water pipes, for goodness' sake, but why is it, she thought, that I have to go on breathing in and out when Bonita is lying in a box a mile down the road?" By the Light of a Thousand Stars, Jamie Langston Turner.
"Likely it was only two dreams crisscrossing paths, one snagging on the other in passing, but somehow the face that walked by me this morning, not four feet away, got tangled up with one from my past. The way-back and way-faraway, all quiet and almost forgotten, got yanked up and placed alongside today, where two minutes before I'd have told you I was: in Boston. At the Public Garden. Not a stone's throw from Beacon Hill, where I live and work, and pay as much for my own private parking space as folks back home do for a decent slab ranch and enough acres for the dogs to tree themselves something other than city-soft squirrel ... And I swear time backstitched on itself, and at that very moment, I was barefoot--not with black pumps stowed under a park bench, but the right kind of barefoot. The kind of barefoot that went with the truck bed of a pickup. I was back with the wind standing my ponytail straight up over my head, the Blue Hole just around the next curve. And I was tracing my cheek where a kiss had just landed." Blue Hole Back Home, Joy Jordan Lake.
Contrast these with James Scott Bell's thrilling suspense novel, Try Dying: "On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the backyard of their West Forty-fifth Street home in South Los Angeles. As Alejandra lay bleeding to death, Ernesto proceeded to drive their Ford Explorer to the westbound Century Freeway connector ... Bonilla stepped around the back of the SUV ... placed the barrel of his .38 caliber pistol into his mouth, and fired." Plunked. Most definitely. With the former stability not even implied. And exactly how a fast-paced suspense novel should begin.
But back to fishing. I love to drop my line in the water and begin to entice; to wait as the bait lands, then sinks to just the right depth; to tug ever-so-slightly two or three times while the worm works its magic; to let it sink a bit more, then tug again. And then ... to feel the hit, to sink the hook, and reel in. I love it. Here is the writing equivalent to my fishing method from the opening to my WIP. "Grief, it is said, is a sea that ebbs and flows. Comes in waves that roll over the shore, then recede in a dizzying, lose-your-footing-in-the-sand sensation, leaving you unsettled but standing. Well. Whoever said that never felt the tsunami effect, the drowning, sucking, tidal wave of grief. I know, because I haven't come up for air in five days short of a year. A suffocating, black hole of a year, each day collapsing in on itself like sand too long unwatered. Eighty six hundred, forty hours; five hundred eighteen thousand, four hundred minutes; thirty one million, one hundred four thousand seconds of a smothering nightmare I can't wake up from. A long slow terror, like free-falling in the dark with no cord to pull. I don't plan to be here for the anniversary five days from now."
I understand completely where Bonnie's coming from when she says, "But 'hook?' If I recall, it ends badly for the fish. I prefer 'invite.' Semantics, right?" Right. She'll be happy to know that, often, for the fish I catch it's not an unhappy ending, because I typically catch and release. Especially in Montana. And that's what I like to do with my readers. Catch and release--but hopefully not to swim completely away. I want them to stay in the pond with me, so the next time I cast in, I might draw them back.
And speaking of lines, I laughed and laughed over Dina Sleiman's comment on Katy's post Wednesday. "I got my nose pierced last year, and it's so freeing because no one expects me to be normal anymore." I love it. It would make a great opening line for a novel. And, Dina, for that line I'd like to send you one of my novels. Just email me with your address and tell me which one you'd prefer.
Everyone else, leave a comment telling me what you think the "anniversary" of my novel deals with and your name will go into a drawing for a copy of Lying on Sunday or Every Good & Perfect Gift, winner's choice. Be specific with your guess. And creative.


Unknown said...

Sharon, that is stunning writing. I'm hooked on your new novel. It is every bit as compelling as anyone else you quoted.

BK said...

I had to laugh when I read the opening line of this post, because I was thinking "I like fishing, but only if someone else puts the bait on then takes the fish off." and then read that you have a baiter too. LOL!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I know exactly what you mean about Hooked. Reading it now. Invited has a nice ring to it.

Sharon! I cannot wait to read your book. Besides the fact I can so deeply relate, your writing is so beautiful!

I'll be thinking about the anniversary throughout the day. Might come back with a guess.
~ Wendy

Dina Sleiman said...

Yay me!!! That made my day. I would love to read Lying on Sunday. I'll leave my address through your website.

It's so true, though, and I guess it makes more sense in context. I grew up in a strict Christian home, went to Christian schools and colleges, was even a pastor's kid for a few years in there. Now my husband works in fulltime ministry at CBN. So this was no small decision for me. Then add into that being a Christiann novelist. A lot of prayer went into that 2mm shimmer of crystal. My daughter finally put her foot down and insisted that I had to do it before my 40th birthday last summer or it would just be pathetic.

Now when I meet someone new in Christian circles, it's like they look, blink, and readjust their expectations. Sometimes I can tell it makes them not like me, and I figure, wonderful. That just saved us a lot of time :)

And, yes, I will have to use that line somewhere.

Nicole said...

Great lines, Sharon. You hint at suicide, but I'm thinkin' maybe "recovery" or the effort to do so.

I loved the opening line and chapter of Try Darkness (James Scott Bell). He has a bunch of great lines in that series. He outdid himself with those.

I agree "hooks" are for suspense and thrillers. Invitations work better for other genres. Both work well. I do the invitations in my novels.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Latayne and Wendy. That means a lot.

High five, BK.

Dina, yes, yay you! I applaud your courage. Loved how you end your comment, "That just saved us a lot of time." I can't believe how many times we judge someone on appearance -- and how almost always we're wrong.

Nicole, I see you're wading into the drawing. Come a little further. I agree, James Scott Bell's series is excellent.

Kathleen Popa said...

Well Rats, I guess I'm out of the competition, Sharon, because I wouldn't have to guess. I wish everyone here had your novel in their hands, because I think it's your best one yet.

Ah well.

Megan Sayer said...

Hmmm. i like guessing games! Sharon I reckon it's the anniversary of the death of a child...a son that went to war before his 20th birthday and dies only a few days after getting there. How's that for specific?

Dina I loved your comment too, especially your last line here. I have had a similar experience, although the other way round...when I became a Christian I'd been a wild and crazy teenager with the requisite nose ring and disdain for anything "trendy". I'll never forget going to a big National church conference a few years later, where everyone was wearing power suits and perfect hair. A lady came up to me with her "lets be welcoming!" face on, and asked where I was from. I told her I was the children's minister in the Hobart church and she recoiled in shock. "Oh, sorry! I thought you'd wandered in off the street!". Hmmm.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Dina, do people ever touch their noses, trying to wipe something off? That happens to me all the time when they look at my nose ring.

I'm guessing that the anniversary is of someone's suicide...a significant other?

Dina Sleiman said...

Ha, ha. No one's wiped their nose yet that I've noticed. And, my mom who I thought would hate it, laughed and said it was cute. Go figure.

Good story about the conference Megan. Power suits and perfect hair terrify me.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

My mom was more upset about the nose ring than the tattoos. And I'm 33!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Your protagonist has breast cancer and lost her dangling members. The chemotherapy has devastated her serotonin levels and she was single anyway so she didn't go for the reconstructive surgery.

Anonymous said...

Henrietta, the prize goes to you for your specificity! You're wrong, of course, but I love the specificity! Email me your address and which novel you'd like to receive. Thanks for your participation.

Kathleen Popa said...

Henrietta, I think you've got a novel idea right there.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Oh goodness! But you can't end the contest so soon. We haven't heard what everybody else is thinking. Not that I want to miss this prize. I have to go out now but I'll let you know after I visit your website which book I choose. I guess I want my cake and everybody else's too. I normally don't have time until Sunday to check the Friday post. Just happened this weekend is quiet. very sincerely, H