Friday, September 30, 2011

What's the Most Embarrassing Thing ...

… you’ve ever been caught “rehearsing” for your writing?

You know what I mean. Sometimes, you just have to act it out, right? Tell me I’m not the only one who practices bits of dialogue (both sides of the conversation) just to see how it’ll sound.

No, seriously. Tell me.

Because I can’t be the only nut who tries to figure out how each character is standing, what gestures the speaker will use, what expression will be on the listener’s face …

So, one night, I take the dog outside to do her business, and I wait on the deck while she runs down to the yard. I’ve been contemplating a scene where my character and his love interest are standing on a balcony, leaning on the railing. He's at his lowest point; she's talking to him – and there’s a spontaneous, impulsive, he-has-nothing-more-to-lose kiss. I was trying to figure out the logistics of it, height differential, where their arms would be … you get it.

It was a dark night, a cloudy sky with no stars and no moon. Really pitch black out. And nobody could see me. I was alone, right? I practice out the whole dialogue; I move my arm; I turn my head.

Suddenly, there’s a presence beside me, a weight on the railing, and I get kissed!

A big, wet, sloppy dog kiss.

And Sorcia, with her front paws on the railing, just grins at me.

Maybe it’s no coincidence I never used that scene in my story.

So, come on. Make me feel better! Has it ever happened to you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Does a Shiny New Idea Lose its Luster?

Oh, those glittery SNI’s! We’ve all been attracted by them at one point. Sometimes they try to tempt us away from a WIP just as the work is getting tough. Sometimes they pose as the next big project, until we realize they have no substance to them.

When do you realize your SNI is not what you hoped it would be?

For me, it’s usually a case of the “story idea” being more of a concept or a gimmick – with no actual story attached. It defies outlining OR pantstering. It stalls within a few chapters because there’s nowhere to go. My last SNI had no definable ending and only random plot events that seemed rather shallow and pointless when I tried to put them in logical order. The one before that lacked a central conflict strong enough to carry the storyline.

Now, that’s not to say that some story ideas don’t transform themselves into something entirely different. That happens to me when the characters hijack the story and take it someplace I never expected to go – and when it occurs, I know I’ve got a winner.

And it’s not to say that stories should be abandoned if they don’t take off within a few chapters. I started one manuscript three times before I understood my main character and discovered the real story.

But when the idea was never “a story” to begin with – that’s harder to fix. The best thing I can do is store the idea on my computer. Maybe someday, I’ll be working on a different story and need just that element – you never can tell. But for the time being, it’ll stay in that file labeled Fool’s Gold.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gina Review: Vordak: Rule the School

My daughter Gina is guest blogging today with a review of Vordak: Rule the School. She previously reviewed Vordak’s first book; you can find that one here. (She even dressed up like him for the occasion. See below.)

Vordak the Incomprehensible: Rule the School

Vordak has gotten a bit out of shape from when he was an evil mastermind. Now he’s too lazy to do anything but lie around all day. So, he builds an age altering device so he can make himself younger, but is too impatient to test it. This results in him being reverted to his teenage years. Unfortunately, one of the key parts of the machine burnt out so he was stuck until he could find another one, which is a few blocks away at a middle school.

So Vordak the Incomprehensible attends middle school, which is much harder than he remembered. Vordak still has to find the part he needs. And the teachers obviously have something against him; why else would they give him such bad grades? Soon his plan is more than finding the new part. It’s also about humiliating his mortal enemy; Commander Virtue. With his complex plans, there is no way he couldn’t defeat Commander Virtue, right?

I like the first Vordak book better, but this one was good, too. The first book was a manual for supervillains, but this book is more like a story. It doesn’t give you any evil advice, which disappointed me, but I can still get that from Vordak’s blog. I’d recommend this book to readers who like humorous stories about evil-doers with big helmets!

Gina’s serious about the blog, which is called Glorious Me. In linking to it, I was not surprised to find Vordak answering a letter last week which asked:

Magnificently Handsome and Majestically Evil Vordak,

My mortal enemy comes to my neighborhood, and I forgot to charge my death ray. What do I do?

Gina, age 11

I’m not sure what’s more alarming: the fact that my 11 year old daughter writes to fictional villains for advice or the fact that she has a mortal enemy! As for the death ray – so THAT’S what she and my husband were building in the garage. Aha!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who's YOUR Doctor?

Among my accomplishments this summer, I count the conversion of both daughters into Doctor Who fans. This was a big deal to me, because I spent a great deal of my youth watching this man:

That’s the Doctor, played by Tom Baker from 1974 to 1981. I did watch the show after the Doctor regenerated (ie: was replaced by a new actor, Peter Davison). However, the next Doctor never won my heart. Although I can easily recount any number of plotlines that starred Tom Baker, I can’t recall any adventures of Doctor Who when he was played by Peter Davison.

Up until recently, I would have said Tom Baker was MY Doctor.

But then, BBC resurrected the series in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the Doctor. Wow – a tough-looking Doctor in a leather coat! I liked him! But he only lasted one season, and I was sure I wouldn’t take to the new Doctor, David Tennant, and I quit watching the new series in 2006.

But I was wrong. After rediscovering the shows this summer with my daughters, I think David Tennant has become MY Doctor, although the newest one, Matt Smith, is growing on me, too. David Tennant wins for sexy though, because Matt Smith has a funny-shaped face and invisible eyebrows.

And how weird to think of the Doctor as sexy at all? The classic series avoided the subject entirely (which was fine for my teenage self). Although he always traveled with a young female companion, there was never the slightest suggestion of hanky-panky in the TARDIS. But the new Doctor?

Rose Tyler was in love with him, and most fans believe he was in love with her. Martha Jones had an unrequited crush on him, and Amy Pond tried to seduce him when she had cold feet about marrying Rory. River Song claims she had a long term love affair with him, hints they were even married, but it’s her past and his future, so that remains to be seen.

With the TARDIS turning into Peyton Place, it was a breath of fresh air to have Donna Noble on board in Season 4. She was the only companion in the new series not to have the hots for him! Good thing they laid down the ground rules from the start:

The Doctor: ...With Martha, like I said, it got... complicated. And that was all my fault. I just want a mate.

Donna: You just want … to mate?!?!

The Doctor: I just want a mate!

Donna: You're not mating with me, sunshine!!

The Doctor: A mate! I want a mate!

Donna: Well, just as well, cos I'm not having any of that nonsense! You're just a long streak of nothing! Alien nothing!

The Doctor: Well there we are then.

So, are you a fan of the show? If so, who’s YOUR Doctor?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Outlining vs. Pantstering

Are you an outliner or a pantster – or do you use elements of each? Have you blogged about your process?
I’ll be leading two writing workshops this November and examining how to build a plot through one method or another (or a clever combination of both). The first workshop is at the Avon Grove Library on Saturday, November 5 to kick off Nanowrimo. I’ll be addressing outlines and “writing by the seat of your pants” as they pertain to creating a first draft, followed by a session for participants to write and/or critique each other’s work. The workshop is open to both teen and adult writers.
The second event is the following weekend at the Lititz Kid Lit Festival, in Lititz, PA. If you live anywhere near south-east-central Pennsylvania, you might want to check out this event put on by the independent store, Aaron’s Books. This year, Aaron’s Books has teamed up with Linden Hall School for Girls to sponsor three days’ worth of writing/reading events – including workshops, panels, and book signings. I’ll be running a workshop on Outlining vs Pantstering as it pertains not only to the first draft, but also to revisions.
Now, I’m a flagrant pantster, although I do use outlining before, during, and after I create the mess I call a first draft. Once or twice, I’ve even outlined the whole book before starting, only to find that created just as big a mess. For me, the key to the whole process is knowing when to plan and when to go with your gut – and always expecting and accepting that the first draft is going to be awful.
I’ll be researching this topic over the next couple months, and I want to create a page on my website full of links to blogs discussing this topic. So, if you have a blog post on the subject, please leave me a link in the comments, and I’ll be sure to include it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back to the Caged Graves

Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.

I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.

In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.

My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.

There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.

All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.

Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dating Your Manuscript

Every fall, I hit a slump in creativity. There’s no mystery to it: the beginning of a school year takes a lot out of me. There’s a new schedule to learn and new students to get to know, not to mention I’m also a parent of two daughters starting their own busy school year. Luckily, by now I know it’s a temporary condition that will subside in a few weeks as I adjust to the routine.
So, I guess it’s a good thing I’m winding down my current WIP, finishing up the fifth round of revision and editing, tweaking details and trimming words before sending it to my agent. (Fingers crossed she likes it!) But I’m a little sad to not have a kick-ass new draft waiting in the wings.
I DO have a project started, but I’m not in love with it. I guess you could say we’re dating. I’m not very serious about it so far, and I’m not positive I won’t be dumping it eventually, but right now it’s better than spending my nights alone. I can’t commit to a new relationship anyway, since I’ll probably get an editorial letter for THE CAGED GRAVES in a few weeks. It could be sticky if I got myself involved in a love affair with new characters just when I need to spend all my time with some old, familiar ones. Kind of like an old boyfriend showing up and wanting to crash at your place just as you’re starting to get serious about a new guy.
So for now, I’m keeping it casual. You know, just spending time with the new WIP for fun with no strings attached. I’m distracted by the new school year, finishing up one love affair and anticipating the return of an old friend. Not the time to fall in love, even if I kind of wish I WAS in love.
How about you? Are you available and actively looking? Casually dating? Playing the field? Newly fallen in love? Or well into a long-term commitment with all its ups and downs, highs and lows, and countless revisions? Do tell!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Superlative Seven

I want to thank Donna Weaver for passing along this blog award, which requires bloggers to look back over their blog history. It was a challenge to analyze and even guess a little at reactions to my blog posts, and I’m supposed to provide links to seven of my most superlative offerings.

MOST BEAUTIFUL: I only thought for a few moments about this one before selecting a blog post I didn’t even write. I’m going to bow out and award this title to my brother-in-law Larry’s salute to fallen comrades: Memorial Day

MOST POPULAR: According to Blogger stats, the most popularly viewed post is The Tooth Fairy Experiment with almost 8,000 views. I’m not sure I believe this, because some of Blogger's stats make no sense at all, even though I still tip my hat at the way little Gina outwitted her clueless parents.

MOST CONTRAVERSIAL: Nobody ever breaks out into nasty fights at my blog, because my readers are a genteel, classy sort of people. (C’mon, you know it’s true!) Yet I did witness a slap-down in another forum on this topic, and some writers do have strong feelings on the matter: What is the proper way to use Dialogue Tags?

MOST HELPFUL: Well, I have no idea which blog posts are most helpful unless you come back and tell me, but I thought this guest post over at Bring More YA to PA was pretty good: You Can Lead a Horse to Water – but you can’t make your character do something out-of-character.

MOST SURPRISINGLY SUCCESSFUL: Again, I’m going on questionable Blogger stats for this one, but I have no idea why Situation Comedy Situations gets so many hits, considering I wrote it late at night in desperation because I had nothing significant to say.

MOST UNDERRATED: I find that a lot of my historical posts overall get little response, but I think it’s important we remember where our current modern society came from, lest we make the same mistakes over and over again: 100 Years to Forget

MOST PRIDE WORTHY: There’s nothing to be more proud of then a community of people who have never met in person coming together to support one of their own. I was very proud to be a part of the Lenny-Lee-Fest in support of a super-terrific kid: Top Ten Reasons to Love Lenny

Now I’m supposed to pass this along to 7 other bloggers, who can take up this link-back challenge or decline as they wish. (I won’t be offended!)

Marcy Hatch

Creepy Query Girl

Linda Grimes

Susan Flett Swiderski

Christina Lee

Stina Lindenblatt

Sheri Larsen

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memory, September 11

I’d stepped out of the classroom for just a moment, to get a ream of paper from the supply closet, and one of my fellow co-workers stopped me. “You can’t tell the kids,” she said. “But something terrible happened.”
The events of 9/11 were already well under way, but that was when it started for me. Word passed quickly, from teacher to teacher, and soon a very brief memo came around from the office (email still being rather new and not often checked) warning us not to tell the students since we didn’t know if they might have families members in danger.
The day is a blur in my memory, but I remember the struggle to keep teaching, to keep smiling, to pretend everything was normal. Many internet sites were down, but my husband worked at a local ISP and through his site I was able to read the news reports as they came in – the second plane, the fall of the towers, the crash of the fourth airplane right in my own state. Whenever the students were busy at their desks, I printed out the reports and passed them to colleagues with no internet access.
And I kept teaching.
All day long, the intercom kept breaking into my lessons: “Please send Susie for dismissal. Send Johnny with his things to the office. Please send Mary and Sam. They’re going home early.”
My students were fifth graders and not stupid. “What’s going on?” they asked. “Why are so many kids being picked up?”
“I don’t know,” I lied. And then I added honestly, “I wish MY mother would come pick ME up.” They laughed. I didn’t.
At lunch time, one of the teachers tried to make her rabbit-ear television work, and we got brief glimpses of New York City. The principal stuck her head in the room and said quietly, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. But we have to finish out the day, and watching will only make it harder.” It only took a couple minutes for me to realize she was right. I returned to my classroom to figure out how I was going to keep on teaching that afternoon.
Toward the end of the longest day of my teaching career, we hit a snafu. The PTA printed up a half sheet of paper to send home that said: Due to today’s events, all afternoon activities are cancelled. That might have been fine for the first graders, but my students could read.
“What events?” they demanded. “What’s going on?”
One little girl looked me in the eye and said, “Something happened, Mrs. Salerni. Some of the teachers are crying.”
“Yes, something happened,” I had to say. “But far away from here, in another part of the country. You’ll see it on TV when you go home.” They barraged me with questions, but all I could do – following orders – was tell them they were safe and that it had happened somewhere else.
After school, I finally was able to let it out. I bawled all the way through the drive to pick up my own children in daycare. I had never felt so helpless and scared in my life.
Almost ten years later, in May of this year, I went out to the local convenience store and the young man behind the counter asked me, “Hey, aren’t you Mrs. Salerni? I had you in fifth grade, but you probably don’t remember me.” He told me his name, and I assured him I DID remember him. He grinned sheepishly. “I was kind of a trouble maker.”
“You were lively,” I admitted.
And then he got a funny look on his face. “They got BinLaden last night. Do you realize you were my 9/11 teacher?”
I remembered this boy, but I didn’t remember what year I had him. I shook my head. He went on, “I’ll never forget that day. You told us something bad had happened, far away, but we were safe. You were trying not to cry, but you told us we were all safe. I remember that.”
I tried very hard not to cry in front of him again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Impression #22

Our final First Impressions for the month of September is the first page of Sheri Larsen’s YA Paranormal, GYPSY DOLLS: Carnival of Souls.

The last thing I expect to see is a dead guy.

Buses idle by the curbing. Newly falling mist dowses the vapors of diesel fuel, but does nothing for the sting in my eyes. My eyebrows ram together. Lines on my forehead mangle like wrinkly lettuce. With one eye cinched, I peer at the collage of jocks and their cheesy girlfriends huddled across the cramped parking lot, their figures miniaturized with all the distance between us. I squish their shrunken heads between my fingertips and thumb, imagining their faces deflating. It’s not like the splat of their heads would make a mess; there’s nothing between their ears but air and arrogance. One girl yells my name and gives me a perky wave. Not big on socializing and in no mood anyway, I slosh my combat boots in the puddles of September, switching my mashing fingers into a peace sign, and trudge past. It’s safer…for her. My fiery attitude needs to cool down.

Being accused of stealing tends to make me angry. Sure, I’ve had a slight bout with sticky fingers in the past—but that’s in the past. I’ve done my time at the Hinckley School for troubled teens, so Sue Rogers can take her surely accusation and stuff it. What would I want with her hairbrush anyway? Any idiot knows I only need her hair to concoct a good hex.

Waiting in line, I glance down at the patchwork of miscellaneous cracks in the pavement, each tangled crevasse looking as befuddled as I feel. My life isn’t exactly the poster pinup for the successful teen in today’s America. Actually, today’s America is hard to define since the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 unearthed a new prophetic timeline and the CST—Council for Subconscious Thinking—was created a year later and implemented in schools to broaden the human psyche. Now, Elders—the government’s idea to guide Generation Alpha into utilizing more brain power, but I define as mind breachers—float around, poking their brainwaves and opinions where they don’t belong. The adult population is so wrapped up, thinking mankind dodged the End Times, they’ll agree to anything. They think we’ve been reborn, given a second chance—I’m thinking the umpteenth chance. Apparently, the Holocaust, Darfur, wars throughout history, and the escalating crimes that rock our world are only near End Times.

Living in the land of the free really isn’t free—at least of mind, anymore.

Okay, I absolutely love the narrator “squishing” the heads of the jocks and their girlfriends with her fingers. I’m intrigued by her “sticky fingers,” which earned her some time at a school for troubled teens. And I snorted at the idea that she didn’t need to steal Sue Rogers’s whole hairbrush to “concoct a good hex.”

There are some sentences that could come out of here for a cleaner, smoother text. After mentioning how the diesel vapors sting the eyes, the author could delete two sentences and skip to “With one eye cinched …” The sentences in between repeat the same idea and aren’t really necessary as a transition.

I wonder if the girl who gave the perky wave should be named, because in my first reading, I thought she was Sue Rogers. That didn’t make sense as I read on, and I had to go back to understand how the two paragraphs were connected. Alternatively, that girl could be left out altogether. Pretending to squish heads with her fingers is the act of an angry young lady, and the second paragraph explains why she’s angry. No need for a perky girl to interrupt that train of thought.

As for the next paragraph, it gives a lot of backstory all at once. I think it’s probably risky to load this much information on the first page. I suggest identifying the most important idea from that paragraph – the one thing readers need to know before moving on to the next page. Connect that to our narrator’s personal experience, and save the other details to be slipped in over the next few pages.

My final comment for Sheri is: Where’s the dead guy? Now, I don’t think everything has to appear on Page 1. But if the dead guy doesn’t show up in the first scene, you might expand on that opening sentence so we know when to expect him. (Ex: The last thing I expect to see is a dead guy at the bus stop … OR on my first day back at school …OR sitting behind the teacher’s desk … OR wherever he’s going to show up.)

Oh -- one more -- my final, final comment is LOVE the title!

Sheri, thanks so much for sharing your first page with us! Readers can find Sheri at her blog, Writer's Ally, and don’t forget to read Marcy’s critique at Mainewords!

Currently seeking submissions for October and November! See the sidebar for details!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Impression #21

Our second First Impressions for the month of September is a sample from the beginning of Nicole Zoltack’s middle grade fantasy, Elena’s Pen.

Mr. McMichaels has hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class last week. A story about an evil goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.
I guess I can't blame him, but wouldn't most English teachers love a student who wanted to be an author? Not this one. I was lucky he only threatened me with detention.
I took my time walking to my sixth grade English class, not looking forward to Mr. McMichaels and his evil-eye glare.
The crowded hallway slowly thinned out as sixth, seventh and eighth-graders swapped classrooms. A kid slammed his puke green locker shut, wafting the scent of body odor and days-old sweaty gym clothes toward me. I gagged and hurried past.
I turned and spotted Artex, the new guy, down the hall. He waved a piece of paper in his hand. His lopsided smile was so inviting that I smiled back. "Hi." Why was he talking to me? I forced myself to not shuffle my feet or play with my hair.
He jogged over. Dark hair fell across his forehead and made him look oh-so-cute. "I think this is yours." He handed me the story I had started during science.
"Thanks." I shoved it into a notebook. "I guess I forgot to grab it."
"Poor Roderick. Fighting without his armor and his horse against three bloody pirates. I'm not sure he can handle them." He fell into step beside me.
My cheeks grew hot. "You read it?" My biggest dream is to see my name, Elena Streaming, on the spine of a book, but I couldn't let anyone read it!

I’m sure that most of us who were writing stories in notebooks in middle school can relate to Elena. I never wrote my teacher into a story as an evil goblin warlord, but I did write a lot of fantasies – and I was picky about whom I shared them with. And my daughter has been caught writing stories in the middle of class, so I know she would sympathize with this situation!

The first sentence gave me some pause. Something about the combination of “ever since” and “last week” struck me wrong. We don’t usually say “ever since last week.” So, why not say that she wrote that story last month, or the first week of school – just to make it seem like a longer time that this teacher has hated her.

As for the last sentence in this passage, is Elena saying she would never let anyone read her work even after it was published? Or just the stories she writes now, as a sixth grader? It made me think that for someone who didn’t want her stories read, she's awfully careless with them – both Mr. McNichols and Artex have managed to get hold of one. That’s just a little internal inconsistency Nicole might want to address.

I wonder about the new boy and his name Artex and whether its uniqueness stems from his connection to another world, since this is a fantasy. But of course, it’s too early to know much about him yet, other than he enjoyed Elena’s story.

Overall, the writing is solid, vivid, and a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing your first page with us, Nicole! Please stop by Mainewords to see Marcy’s take on this piece, and you can find Nicole at her blog.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why We Have Labor Day

The end of summer, cook-outs, and retail sales – that’s what Labor Day means in 2011. Although most Americans make a point of enjoying this September holiday, very few of them know it began over a century ago with a violent fight for the rights of laborers, railroad cars, and a President’s campaign for re-election.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 in New York City as a workingman’s holiday and a way to smooth over relations between industry and the laboring class who were at that time unionizing to fight for decent wages and working conditions. The idea caught on and spread to other cities, even becoming a state holiday in several states across the U.S. However, it didn’t become a national holiday until 1894, following the Pullman Strike.

George Pullman was the inventor of the Pullman car (a luxury sleeper car) and the vestibuled train (where cars were joined together so passengers could pass from one to the other without stepping outside). Pullman built a company town outside Chicago, where he “shielded” his workers from labor unrest by insulating them from the outside world. Independent newspapers, public speeches, and town meetings were prohibited; homes were routinely inspected for cleanliness. Every aspect of the workers’ lives was directed by the company. An editorial in Harpers Weekly remarked that the power of Otto Von Bismarck, unifier of Germany, was “utterly insignificant when compared to the ruling authority of the Pullman Palace Car Company.”

When an economic depression in 1894 led to decreased revenues, Pullman slashed his workers’ wages, but continued to dock the same amount for rent from their paychecks. Prices in his company run stores remained the same. The workers elected a delegation to protest, but Pullman refused to speak to them. With no other recourse, employees organized a strike, and when the American Railway Union threw their support behind the strikers, their actions crippled railroad transportation across the entire country.

President Cleveland declared the strike illegal under the grounds that it interfered with delivery of U.S. Mail and sent 12,000 U.S. Army troops to break it up. The resulting violence (13 deaths and over 50 wounded) caused a wave of disapproval for Cleveland, who was accused by Illinois Governor Altgeld of putting the U.S. government to work for wealthy industrialists.

Since Cleveland was seeking re-election, he scrambled to redeem his reputation among the laboring class by moving legislation for a National Labor Day Holiday through Congress that same year. Nevertheless, Cleveland was not re-elected.

As for Pullman, he remained so unpopular that when he died in 1897, he was buried in a lead-lined coffin inside a vault reinforced with concrete and steel to prevent desecration of his body.

I don’t like to get too political or preachy on this blog, but suffice it to say I think every American should know more history – but most show too little interest in the subject. Enjoy your Labor Day, everybody, but KNOW why we have one.

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Impressions #20

I’m starting September with a First Impression of Katie Loud’s novel, Unbreakable! Here is the first page:

(Susy; Emerson, NH; September, 2006)
I felt revulsion toward my son today.
There have been times in the past that Seth (and, to be fair, his siblings) has upset me … but never anything like this.
Never before have I been unsure I wanted to lay claim to him.
“He’s only twelve,” my husband told me when I called his cell in near-hysterics. “He doesn’t get it.” He let me rant for another minute before interrupting to say that he was calling the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.
Of course, I started laughing. “That isn’t funny.”
“Yeah, I’m getting the impression that you really feel that way,” he said soberly, only making me laugh harder. “Okay, I’m in the middle of a meeting, but I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”
“Is there any way you could pick the kids up from school?”
“Sure, no problem.” He paused for a minute. “Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”
“No, it wouldn’t be to you,” I said, more sharply than I’d intended.
He didn’t say anything for a long second. “You’re not implying …”
“What, that you’d ever refer to a scholarship student as welfare trash? That you’d use the word spic? No, I know you wouldn’t. That’s the thing, we’ve raised a kid willing to bully someone because of their race or socioeconomic status.”
“He’s a good kid, and I’m not making excuses. I’m probably more upset about this than you are.”
“You just keep the histrionics out of it, right?”
I could hear the smile in his voice. “You said it, I didn’t. Seriously, I have to go, Suse. Eddie just came out and tapped his watch for the third time.”

I thought this was a wonderful first page! I loved the opening line, which caused my eyebrows to shoot up. What a daring approach, to start with a sentence which might evoke judgmental feelings toward the narrator-- although as the situation unfolds, I understand exactly what she’s talking about and sympathize with her.

The exchange with the husband is as revealing in what it doesn’t say as in what it does. I was particularly struck by the lines:

“Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”
“No, it wouldn’t be to you.”

I get the clear impression that, while the husband can cover up his feelings with a socially acceptable persona, there is something beneath the surface – enough to raise “a kid willing to bully someone because of their race or socioeconomic status.” I’ve met people like this – people who smile and jolly over the unsavory opinions they have of others, but whose children blurt out those opinions without a social filter. I wonder what Susy will say to her son. I wonder what further conversations Susy will have with her husband and where they will lead.

My only editing suggestion is that this line is cumbersome: “He let me rant for another minute before interrupting to say that he was calling the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.” I understand it, but I had to stop and read it twice. You don’t want readers hung up on any sentence in your opening paragraphs, so you might want to break it up, maybe even turning it into dialogue.

Other than that – well done! Please stop by Mainewords to see Marcy’s take on the same first page, and you can find Katie Loud – also known as K.Lo – on her blog.

The second and third First Impressions for September will appear on Wednesday and Friday of next week.