Feed on


Last summer came and went. I can’t quite tell how it happened, but I know I have written twenty five thousand words of my next book, Angels in the Forest, which is based on the life of my grandfather, Joseph King. I have also written about five thousand words of another fictionalized memoir, Friends, based on very recent events from my life.

I thought it would be easier, comes to my mind first. And then, how come I struggle with what I know so well? Intrinsically, one could say.

Today, after writing those twenty five thousand words of Angels, I come back to the beginning, and reexamine what have been already reexamined dozens of times.

What is the purpose of a beginning, anyway? Except that it has to be rewritten dozens and dozens of times to test the writer’s endurance. Is it to tell the reader what the book is all about? Or, perhaps to show how clever one is with words. Maybe it is a place where the writer should intrigue or even shock the reader?

As I was pondering all the different possibilities, I came across an article in the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, In the Beginning by Richard Goodman, who asks: “What can, and should, an opening do, besides being irresistible?”

Irresistible? I said out loud in an empty room. Eureka, came to my mind next. Or maybe it was: Epiphany!

And here are some examples Goodman gives:

“Call me Ishmael.”

“It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possesion of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“None of them knew the color of the sky.”

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.”

Each of these openings fulfills, in its own way, the task of being irresistible. Herman Melville, Jane Austin, Stephen Crane, and James M. Cain each do it in his or her own way, of course. Each first line has a compactness and confidence, a sense that there is more here and that the “more” will be worth your while.”

Goodman’s interpretation makes sense to me. Of course, that’s convincing. Finally, I want to say, and thank you!

Where should I start? What part of my story is irresistible? Let’s see, and a long pause, let’s see, and another pause. After a while the story rolls itself through my mind the way it always does, making space for nothing but itself.

Should I start with my grandfather swiveling in the garden with his arms up in the air, his eyes closed, telling me the story of the flying angels? Or, should I start with one of the arguments my grandmother, Angela, had with him: Stop telling her stories! She doesn’t need to know about the war! She is just a child! Or, should I start with my mother, her hands kneading a pastry dough, whispering to me, her face close to mine, Don’t listen to grandpa, he makes up silly stories. None of it is true, you know. Perhaps, I should start with …

What does it mean irresistible? I don’t really know, but I remember the feeling of picking up a puppy. It was the summer after I turned one in March. My steps were still shaky, the puppy’s steps were still shaky. But we found each other, and the puppy didn’t resist when I shakily picked him up, and held him not knowing what to do next.

Comments are closed.