Sherry — it’s gone from summer to late fall in just a couple of days in Northern Virginia! We are supposed to have our first freeze tonight!
Many, many years ago I decided to enter a short story contest. The first fiction I’d written in years (unless you count all those TV/radio/newspaper ads and marketing pieces I used to write as fiction). At some point I realized I was writing a novel instead of a short story and trust me it was a mess. Here’s the opening:
On Friday morning, the June sun almost blinded me as I walked downstairs into our shop. It radiated through the faceted glass of our antique front door. The walnut and glass door was one of two French doors from a mansion in Magnolia Bluff that succumbed to a mudslide. The doors were heavily damaged when we found them at the flea market in Fremont but we managed to restore them with a lot of hard work and good luck. The second door leans up against the wall of our office waiting for a chance to be useful.
If that isn’t a boring mess, I don’t know what is. Several drafts later I came up with:
Most of us go through life without ever being truly, gut-wrenchingly terrified. Usually we experience fear in little jolts cause by near misses on the highway, turbulent airplane rides, or phones ringing in the middle of the night.
I confess I still like this first line. However, I wrote it right around the time that everyone decided adverbs were bad and there I was with truly and wrenchingly.
So eventually I landed on this:
I didn’t want to tell Camille her diamond was fake. I studied the necklace for the third time with my loupe, willing the damn thing to change. Maybe one of Seattle’s triple threat natural disasters–earthquake, tsunami, volcano–would occur so I could yell: duck, swim or run instead of what I had to say. I paused a moment, then two, but no luck.
The thing I like about this opening is it tells us something about the protagonist. She’s a gemologist or at least someone who knows something about gemology. She’s compassionate. She doesn’t want to tell Camille that her diamond is fake for some reason. And we know the book is set in Seattle. We get a lot more information in this opening than the others.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never read any of this, it’s because Diamond Solitaire never sold. The picture above is some of my many rejection letters. I sent it out before it was ready – see the first opening. And then, even with the progression, it just was never quite good enough. I learned a lot writing that book in its various iterations so all is not lost. There are some characters, I love in the book and I may have to find a way to use them. Emily, the protagonist, was a former military wife, like Sarah. And both were divorced so, I borrowed bits of Emily for Sarah although both are very different.
Readers: What is something you’ve kept working to improve?