Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My husband Corey has a dirty little secret: before he went to law school with the self-proclaimed ambitions of (a) saving the world, (b) becoming a corporate titan (he claims these two things are not mutually exclusive), he was, ahem, an English major. That's how we met--the 7th floor of our dormitory was reserved for the "Writer's Block," where creative writing students lived together, took courses together, and in our case, fell in love with each other. And though he's decided for now to put writing aside for a bit and become a lawyer--in addition to being creative, he's also very logical and analytical--I still consider him to be one of my favorite writers.

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?

1 comment:

  1. You always speak of Corey with love in your heart. You are lucky to have found each other or . . . was it pre-destined??


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