Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.
As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.
Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES
Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?
The first five pages of When the Shooting Starts by William W. and J.A. Johnstone don’t coddle us readers with updates on the previous three books; instead, we’re thrust into a conversation between the protagonist Smoke Jensen and an old acquaintance named Rowdy. Both were gunmen for hire in the past, but these days Smoke has settled into a domestic life as a rancher and family man, while Rowdy is eager for work. The fifth page ends with readers learning that another man named Louis, who also shares some old shadows with these men, has settled in the town, and Rowdy don’t much care for that.
I will be the first to admit that as a writer, these first pages are a lovely example of bringing a reader up to speed without any exposition dumps. Because Rowdy knows Smoke from his previous life, it’s expected of Rowdy to ask Smoke questions about what’s been going on the past few years. Smoke succinctly answers them, never diving into much detail, but giving just enough so readers understand what Smoke is like and why. The dialogue never drags, nor is any single event ever dwelt on. This keeps the scene moving crisply along without making readers feel like *this* story’s been put on pause for a recap.
If I had one niggle, it’s the protagonist Smoke making a couple of choices that, as a gunman, seem obviously foolish but necessary for the sake of plot. For a former gunman who would need to read people very quickly for the sake of staying alive, he has some very obtuse moments with Rowdy that I can only assume will ensure this story’s plot gets moving.
As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!
Bash sat in my lap as we watched Spirited Away earlier this week.
The story’s so like a fairy tale, yet all its own. A girl’s parents are lured into what appears to be a forgotten town to eat mysterious food, and turn into pigs as a result. Chihiro finds work in the bathhouse at the edge of town, a place run by a witch and filled with spirits, in order to remain near her parents and save them from the butcher’s block. Chihiro must learn true selflessness and love in order to save not just her parents but some of the spirits enslaved by the witch.
I love the organic growth of this story, the uniqueness of its characters, and the boundless possibility blossoming on the fringes of the worldbuilding. This was my favorite film to watch during night feedings with Baby Blondie. This time, I sat with another child on my lap to watch Chihiro’s adventure.
But unlike Baby Blondie, Bash did not merely snuggle and nap. Instead, he asked questions. Lots, and lots, of questions.
“Why do they have fans? Where does the train go? Why are some people people-shaped and some like ducks and some all blobby? Why do spirits need to eat?”
I, erm, tuned him out after a while. But I couldn’t blame Bash for having questions. We often associate magic with shapeshifting dragons, but not trains. We expect ghosts to haunt a place, but not run restaurants or ride trains. And why would spirits be sending mail to one another?
Fantasy stories take many, many shapes, be they within our present, past, or another time altogether. It’s just one more reason to be excited for Wyrd and Wonder, a month to celebrate all things fantastic no matter where they take place…
…and, well, to share my own historical fantasy, which just so happens to be FREE right now, and its mysterious train, The Weeper.
The old barrel boarder coughs himself up again. Someone ought to rip his heart out just to end that poor human’s misery. “Weepers ain’t no tale, b’hoys. I done beat the road on one. Wipe yer chins, I ain’t fibbin’!”
The remaining foremen, strumpets, and golden boys aren’t quieting down at all, so the old barrel boarder looks to Sumac. “Caught it up by Black River Falls durin’ a thunderstorm so loud you’da thought Paul Bunyan’d lost his Babe, just stompin’ and a’thunderin’, blowin’ trees down to find his partner. But,” and here the old man leans over the back of his bench, all mysterious like, soot mapping the creases of his face, “once the train done left the storm, I still heard the cryin’. The cryin’ come from inside the cars. T’ain’t natural, t’ain’t natural at all. A guard atop the car spotted me hidin’ by a couplin’ and took aim with his rifle, but I done jump before he could shoot.” He shudders. “Tarnation, ain’t never touchin’ no Weeper again.” And he spits into the fire for good measure. “Weeper creeper. Creep nuthin’. That’s the devil’s train, it is, wailin’ its way through a town like it’s late to Hell.”
There’s no mention of trains in Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is understandable. Jones is parodying all the old-school, medieval-style epic fantasies, which never seem to advance technologically beyond 1700. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.) Her entry on transportation highlights the classic mainstays like carts and boats.
TRANSPORT. Because of MAGIC and bad ROADS, Transport is very primitive. Here, though, are some general notes:
By land, if you do not ride a HORSE, you must go by cart or wagon. Both of these have wooden wheels and no springs. Carriages are known, but very rare, even in TOWNS. They have slightly more springing but are distressingly likely either to break down or to be waylaid by BANDITS. Tourists who ride in a carriage complain how chilly they are despite sheepskin coverings inside. Ladies and Evil WIZARDS prefer to travel instead by litter. This is a kind of curtained bed that can be slung between Horses, but most often is carried by a team of strong servitors or SLAVES. Litters are most frequently encountered in CITIES.
By WATER, whether sea or RIVER, you must go by small wooden BOAT, FERRY, RIVERBOAT, or SHIP. Whichever of these craft you find yourself on, be assured that one of the following will occur:
It will sink, possibly because of attack by a SEA MONSTER; Sea Monsters are attracted by Tourists as mice are by cheese, although it is a lot easier to understand how the mice know the cheese is there than how the Sea Monsters know the Tourists are there. Perhaps Tourists possess an identifying SMELL to which Sea Monsters are unusually sensitive. Even if there is no Sea Monster in the region, the Ship is likely destined for the bottom: why captains take Tourists on board at all is a mystery, in this context, unless they are confident of cleaning up on the insurance.
You will be attacked by PIRATES, who will hack to death or hang all the crewmen who have no NAME and possibly the grizzled but kindly Captain as well, so that you can pause for a restorative tear or two before trying to reconcile yourself to the fact that you are now a SLAVE, bound to be either a GLADIATOR or a GALLEY Slave.
You will be betrayed to the forces of the DARK LORD as soon as you have been either delivered to your destination or thrown off the vessel in disgust by the crew.
The Ship proves to be able to fly through the air rather than merely chug through the water. This will of course obviate your inborn tendency, as a Tourist, to seasickness; instead you will discover airsickness.
But let us save talk of roads and rivers and impassable mountains for another day.
It does seem that a fantasy, working out in its own terms, stretching you beyond the normal concerns of your own life, gains you a peculiar charge of energy which inexplicably enriches you. At least, this is my ideal of a fantasy, and I am always trying to write it.
— Diana Wynne Jones
Welcome back, my friends! Isn’t this a gorgeous video of the Wisconsin bluffs? The Mississippi River Valley is almost like another world inside my state. Farms are lost among all the forested hills. Silver rivers cast spells upon the landscape. It’s the perfect setting for a fantasy, one hidden among the pages of true history, as I describe for an excerpt of my novella, Night’s Tooth.
“In October of that year  quite a colony of Mormons came up from Nauvoo [Illinois] and landed at La Crosse…. They built twenty-five or thirty log houses and made themselves quite comfortable….The pay was drawn by the elders in provisions to support the families of the settlement. Just as the river opened in the spring , the men all came down from Black River, and the men stopped cutting…. News got out they were all going to leave. I went down to the settlement to see the elders and adjust matters…. That night they set fire to most of their houses and embarked in their flat-boats, and left by the light of their burning houses for Nauvoo.”
NAYTHAN MYRICK, A HISTORY OF LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN 1841-1900
It’s amazing how a little piece of history can set our imaginations galloping off into the boundless possibility of fantasy. The writings that pass down rarely give us a complete picture, which allows us to fill those spaces with our own creations. This happened to me for Night’s Tooth, and I’m sure this has happened to you, too. Click here to read the excerpt!
In the spirit of Wyrd and Wonder‘s celebration of all things fantasy, I wanted to share my writing with you all by making my novella free for the weekend.
Yes, that’s right–FREE for the weekend! From today until Monday (May 15-18), Night’s Tooth will be free for download from Amazon.
In the Mississippi River Valley, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, bounty hunter Sumac seeks shadowy bandit, Night’s Tooth. However, though gifted with magical powers, Sumac isn’t the only one tracking the mysterious outlaw, and he’ll need to keep his wits about him if he aims to get the better of Sheriff Jenson and the golden boys…
A mix of classic western and fantasy, Jean Lee’s novella is set on the edges of her Princeborn universe (see Fallen Princeborn: Stolen). Her use of language is delightful, with an unusual writing style that’s as clever as it is original. The characters are an interesting lot, too, (like the Sherriff with the squirrel-tails moustache). Drop them all into an atmospheric Clint Eastwood-type setting, and there’s plenty of action to keep the reader guessing what’s coming next.
Unlike Fallen, this one isn’t aimed at Young Adult readers, but if you like cowboy stories with a dollop of the weird and strange, this’ll be right up your old west Main Street.
There are many other authors celebrating Wyrd and Wonder in their own unique ways; I hope you’ll visit them via the Wyrd and Wonder website for a peek into countless more adventures in lands of magic beautifully fierce.