Month: August 2021

Opening Pages

My writers group held a get-together on the weekend, where we celebrated meeting in person, enjoyed lunch and had few laughs. We also read and critiqued two anonymous pages of writing from each person present. It took me several tries but I finally came up with the two opening pages of my WIP. that I felt comfortable sharing. I’ve posted them below and would welcome your comments.  I’ve entered the group’s comments in blue.

 

 

Saskatchewan, Canada, 1917

A mournful train whistle echoed across the empty prairie, just as Kirsten Swendsen stepped onto the stoop of Glenrose County School #5 and locked the door behind her. She narrowed her eyes and watched as the great steel beast clanked and hissed to a halt at the town station. Even from a distance she could discern a woman descend from the passenger car. After the briefest of pauses, the train thundered on its way, leaving the lone figure, erect and still, on the platform.

A shiver of unease snaked down Kirsten’s spine. Women did not travel alone in these parts. Immigrant women always arrived with a husband and often children in tow. A single woman was most likely bound for a brothel but they usually headed for the cities. Glenrose was too small to have a red-light district, but some of the hotels were known to have a “back room” where single men could “relax.”

She pursed her lips. One thing about the war, it had emptied the prairies of virile young men. The woman at the train station would be hard-pressed for customers.

A flock of geese flying low overhead roused Kirsten from her reverie. Today was threshing day at Luke Walden’s farm. She’d promised to help in the kitchen. Poor man, she thought, as she stepped up into her gig. She and her family were relative newcomers to the area, but she’d heard the rumours. Luke Walden’s wife had runaway with an actor ten years ago, leaving him to run his farm and raise his children alone. Her heart clenched. Luke was a good man. He deserved better.

She shook her head, then glanced over her shoulder. The woman still waited on the platform. Kirsten squared her shoulders and dismissed her fanciful thoughts. Luke’s wife had been gone too long to come back now. Everyone assumed she had died. Gathering the reins into her hands, Kirsten clicked her tongue, and set her horse to a brisk trot. A day at the Walden farm would lift her spirits, even if the work was hard.

 

At the sound of wagon wheels, the woman at the train station lifted her head, breathing in the smoky mist of a prairie morning. Kathleen Walden. She tried the name on her tongue and found it strange. For the past ten years she’d called herself Kitty O’Hearne. Kitty had suited her – a coquette with sharp claws, sleek and serpentine, gliding soundlessly through the night, then curling into a warm lap with a throaty purr.

 

 

 

I had been expecting a line-by-line critique re writing style, grammar, tone, etc. Instead the group pounced on the two characters, pronounced Kirsten dull and wanted to see Kathleen as the heroine, despite the fact she’d abandoned her husband and children to run off with an actor. What do you think?

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The Future is Back

All the best writing coaches tell us to start our books at the point of change. This is the time and place where the characters become interesting, where they have to give up old ways and find new ones, — or not. Even if they do not change, they will have examined their values and relationships and made a conscious decision about who they are and who they want at their side for the rest of life’s journey. I’m talking romance genre here. In my books, Her One True Love and Her One and Only, I heeded this advice and began them at the time the main characters set out on a new live. In her One and Only, Emma Douglas has fled from scandal in California to begin again in the frontier town of Prospect, British Columbia. Louisa Graham, in Her One True Love, is newly freed from the control of her rigid father and ready to embark on a new venture of her own. The point of change makes excellent starting points for these stories.

In the real world though, the point of change may not be so clear cut. In my world, we are coming out of the COVID 19 restrictions and trying to get “back to normal.” Yet many of us struggle with what the rest of life will look like. After so many months of restrictions I’ve gotten used to days uninterrupted with appointments and obligations. We’ve stuck close to home and our entertainment has been on screen. Am I ready to make the effort to go out, to mingle with other people–especially the unvaccinated–to put on tight shoes and style my hair?

Last week I met up with an old writer friend and that was terrific. I wore sandals and windswept hair. We hadn’t seen each other face to face for two years to there was no end of stuff to talk about, but we kept circling back to “what now?”

In fiction that is a fun question. It can be answered with adventure, romance, murder, treachery, a new job, a new skill, a career move, a baby . . . the possibilities are endless. In real life, we have a more difficult time. In many ways, neither of us want to go “back” to the way things were, and in the writing industry there is no going back anyway. Reader’s demands have changed since we first went into lockdown. The publishing industry, whether traditional or self publishing, never stopped evolving while we were huddled at our desks in isolation. 

In the past eighteen months friends and acquaintances have changed, some have passed away, some have moved away, some have decided not to rejoin the groups we had before. So when our clubs hold in-person meetings, the people present won’t be the ones who were there before. The places we volunteered are under new management, our work friends aren’t coming back to the office. 

I do believe starting a story at the point of change is an excellent practice but the experience of closing down and now re-opening reminds me that change is not always exciting, not always positive, not always an opportunity. Change may be confusing, it may diminish our world instead of expanding it. Change is noisy and unsettling and uncertain. Great attributes in a story, a bit uncomfortable in real life.

When lunch was over my friend and I travelled in opposite directions, but writing will still hold us together. The writing may change, but we’ll still be putting words on the page. I found that certainty reassuring.

What about you, dear reader? Are you embracing the reopening of society? Are you rushing off to catch up on all your old activities? Are you staring and the calendar and wondering how you used to fill your days? Please share your words of wisdom in the comments below.

 

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