There's one story in particular that he wrote as a freshmen in college that's always in my mind when I sit down to write my own stories. It was called "Hellhound on the Trail" and was about the famous blues singer Robert Johnson and the legend about him selling his soul to the devil. I don't remember the exact phrasing, but Corey's story started out by describing a huge stage, with giant red curtains and strange characters roaming all around. There was a long staircase and the clouds moved ominously overhead. After he'd described all this great stuff, he wrote, "And we're in." Those words are always in my head while I write. The finest stories pull us in, no matter what they're about.
This week I'm reading a book given to me by my sister-in-law Katie--The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel--and one of the reviews in the front of the book describes what I'm talking about like this:
There are writers who pull you along in deep, satisfying drafts of narrative and human color; then there are the writers who, sentence by sentence, cause you to stop breathing.Needless to say, I want to be the latter kind of writer.
In my opinion one of the best "pull-you-in" writers is Joyce Carol Oates. Here's just a sampling of some of her first lines:
"We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?" --We Were the Mulvaneys
"There came death hurtling along the Boulevard in waning sepia light." --Blonde
"Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. 'Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you're so pretty?' she would say." --"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Today I've been thinking about characters. John Edwards' political aide deciding to take the blame for his boss' grievous mistakes; the man in my town I see limping across the street each day around 4pm, one leg dragging behind him, the other bent strangely at the knee; the grizzled man who is always standing across the road watching him discreetly--is he a worried friend or co-worker, or a worried stranger? What are the first lines of all their stories? What's my in?