The First 250 Words

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Much has been written on the importance of the first 250 words of your manuscript.

All of it is true.

It can be hard, as a writer, to keep that in mind–you have the whole story to keep in your mind–so polishing (or demolishing and rewriting) your opening is something best done at the editing stage. Once your whole story is down on paper, go back to that beginning (after taking a break from the manuscript so you’re looking at it with fresh eyes) and ask yourself–if I were a reader, would I pick up this book based on this first page?

I’m not going to rehash the advice in the articles I linked to–go read them for yourself. Instead, here is the beginning of one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll post it, then we can discuss why it’s so great. I think I’ll make this a regular thing.

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Friday Things

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TGIF!! (How I wish that lineup of sitcoms was still on…)

Here are the things that made my week:

1. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: print out your manuscript to edit it. It’s the secret to seeing the forest for the trees and it’s changed my life.

2. To continue the theme of my Tana French obsession, I found this interview, and I love love love this quote:

I’ve realized that I write a lot less about romance and parent/child relationships than I do about friendships. I think I keep coming back to this idea because in some ways, friendships are even more essential to a human being. You can be a perfectly healthy person without having kids or having a romantic relationship — you can live a full, happy, healthy life. I’m not sure you can do that without friends.

My FAVORITE thing to explore in my own writing is unconventional relationships between people (more on that below).

3. A life-changing (or at least money-saving) thing I’ve been doing: making my own vegetable broth. I just put all my veggies scraps (think potato peels, carrot peels, garlic skin) in a bag in the freezer, then when there’s enough (about 1/2 a large ziploc) I put them in a big pot of water with some salt and pepper and once it reaches a boil, simmer for an hour. Then I strain and discard the vegetables. Voilà free broth!

Reading: The Girl on the Train It’s good in that it’s really well-written and suspenseful, really drops you right into the action. But I have the same problem with it that I had with Gone Girl, and also with The Secret History–I do not like a single character in it. So while I’m definitely reading voraciously to find out what happens, I don’t particularly care if any one of the main characters or supporting characters ends up getting arrested (or killed). It’s a legitimate technique, sure, but in general I prefer stories where there’s at least one character to root for (maybe Evie, the baby? I have no issues with her.)

Watching: Mad Men. Season 7 Part 1 finally came to Netflix. I love that show. Why can’t everything on TV be so well-written? The penultimate episode “The Strategy” was my favorite, entirely because of the Don/Peggy scene near the end. This is the kind of unconventional relationship I’m talking about–not romantic, not family, not even quite friends, really, but something else, and I absolutely love them together.

Listening to: The Les Miserables Pandora station. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m Eponine while in the shower.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Image found here

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Ile d’If

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Do you remember the first time you saw water that was so many different shades of blue and green it looked fake? I do. I grew up in New Jersey, less than a mile from the beach, so the ocean was always a navy-grayish color to me, and I still prefer it that way, big waves, dark sand, cold most of the year.

My family vacations when I was little didn’t take us far from home–my parents were big on short, educational road trips, usually to places ending in -burg (Gettysburg, Williamsburg, etc.) So I didn’t see a different kind of ocean until I was in college.

After my semester abroad in Dijon, France (go there too), my friends and I spent two weeks traveling around the South. My first glimpse of water like this was in Marseilles, the day we tool the ferry out to Ile D’if, the island made famous by The Count of Monte Cristo.

It’s been a long winter here in NYC and I’m looking forward to being able to go outside again without shivering. Until then I’ll be dreaming of the sun on my shoulders, salt water in my hair, and this surreal blue-green water.

Friday Things

tumblr_nlf7u2loCY1qa11wdo1_1280I’ve had a very long week and thought many times about running away from my life like the dude in the picture above. I know I’m lucky to have a good job with a good company that pays me more than enough to live on, but sometimes the soul-sucking hours spent in a windowless cubicle working on things that really don’t matter at all can get to me.

Even bad weeks have high points; here are some of mine:

1. I finally got around to watching the film version of Never Let Me Go, which was just as devastating as I’d expected after reading the book a couple years ago. If you feel like sobbing hysterically (while pondering a really interesting ethical dilemma), this book/movie is for you. Also, Ishiguro’s prose is so simple and brilliant, reading him is an asset to writers (and readers!) everywhere.

2. This Tumblr is awesome.

3. For those who like bread: how to revive stale bread. This article changed my life.

Reading: The Martian. It’s fascinating. And a definite departure from my usual angsty-YA reading list. It also makes me feel supremely stupid (never would have thought of trying to grow my own potatoes, what’s wrong with me?) Read it before it becomes a movie!

Watching: Girls. I know, I’m late to the party. I have never been so sucked into a show in which I dislike pretty much every single character (except Ray. And maybe Adam). Maybe it’s because I live here and find them so realistic. Realism wins out over likability anytime.

Listening to: The Horrible Crowes. This song has been on repeat this week. I adore it.

I believe the above photo originated here

On Editing: Three Tricks I’ve Learned

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So I wrote a book. (In a sun-drenched field, on a typewriter. Isn’t that how you write, too?)

Then I rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again. And again. And again…

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Friday Things

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I’m a bit behind on the blogging due to a last-minute re-vacation to St. John (pictured above), where I devoured these novels. But I am back now, in full-on getting-ready-for-spring mode. In NYC the snow is melting and I am back to writing and attempting to move my life to where I want it to be, one day at a time.

Here are three things that improved my week:

1. I have a music discoverability problem in that I’m too lazy to discover new music so just listen to the same stuff over and over until I’m sick of it. I found this article on Medium and I’m going to start taking these suggestions to heart.

2. I started adding a dash of cinnamon to my coffee before it brews and it makes such a difference.

3. My “real” job (the one for which I get paid, unlike writing) is in the beauty industry. I never write about beauty because I am surrounded by it 40+ hours per week and that is enough, to be honest. However, people are always asking me for skincare advice. And honestly, the best one I can give you? Drink massive amounts of water. Especially in winter. Especially after a vacation of binge-drinking painkillers and rum punch. 10 glasses every day makes a remarkable difference in your skin. Trust me.

I’m also adding a reading/watching/ (and hopefully listening to, eventually, when I discover more music) section to these posts because I love those:

Watching: I’ve been called snobby, but isn’t that just another word for having discerning taste? So in the midst of complaining that I hadn’t seen a great movie in ages, I stumbled on this trio of films. I know I’m a few years (or decades) late, but if you’ve never seen them, they’re the anti-blockbuster: beautiful, poignant, largely plotless, and amazing.

Reading: I’ll Give You the Sun. If you read blogs about books, you’ve seen this title everywhere. It’s so worth the hype.

Book Review: The Infernal Devices

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“Heroes endure because we need them. Not for their own sakes.”

I finished The Mortal Instruments series a couple of months ago, and while I most certainly enjoyed it, it definitely had its highs and lows, a mix of 3, 4, and 5-star moments. I put off reading The Infernal Devices because I thought my experience would be the same.

I was wrong.

“You and I, we’re alike. We live and breathe words. It was books that kept me from taking my own life after I thought I could never love anyone, never be loved by anyone again. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

I loved these books.

They were more well-written, more well-plotted, the setting more richly-imagined, with the characters more finely-drawn. They surprised me, had me looking forward to waking up each day so I could start reading, had me fighting sleep every night so I could keep reading.

“It is the only way any of this can ever mean anything. Otherwise it is only—”
“Pointless, needless suffering and pain? I don’t suppose it would help if I told you that is the way life is. The good suffer, the evil flourish, and all that is mortal passes away.”

The Infernal Devices is a prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments. It takes place in Victorian London, and tells of the demon-hunting ancestors of characters I’d already come to know, with a few (immortal) characters actually appearing in both sets of books. The basic plot set-up is similar: girl with no knowledge of the supernatural world is suddenly thrown into danger, she learns of her mysterious heritage while helping to fight demons, and along the way meets a cute boy.

Or two.

“And I came to see that I could not bring someone home when they were already there.”

The real draw to this series, of course, is the thing all my favorite books have in common: well-written characters.

“You cannot buy or drug or dream your way out of pain.”

The secondary characters were all fine and good, but Will, Tessa, and Jem absolutely captured my heart. Their relationships were so perfectly constructed. I will always, always, prefer relationships that start as friendships, the long and drawn out sexual tension, to be culminated in some beautifully-written scenes where … but I don’t want to spoil them for you.

Spoilers after the jump…

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