Friday, May 28, 2010

Begin Again and In Beginning We See The End..What?

As summer approaches, I can't help but think about the magical beginning of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. Of course, my official summer is still a few weeks off, but these words haunt me....

"It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer."

What a beautiful bit of prose and how efficiently it sets the stage for this slice of Americana set in the Midwest during the twenties of the last century. As I start to work on the beginning of The Ravening's sequel, I've been giving beginnings some consideration, not that I would ever compare my writing to Bradbury's.  

I can't help but thinking about how many times I've groaned at an opening page, rolling my eyes and steeling myself to be patient with the author. I also think about how many great beginnings set the stage and invite the reader in.

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticising anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantage that you've had."

This simple opening from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, sets the stage for the major themes regarding privilege and substance. It could be a throwaway, but given what will follow in the novel, it is a subtle beginning, a gentle nudge.

Here's another artful opening: 

To the red country and part of the gray countryof Oaklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.

The above is the first paragraph of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.  Here, the land is a major character, and it weighs heavily on the other characters and the driving themes of the book. Steinbeck's poetic description   of the earth in transition as the land is corrupted and the people of Oklahoma are forced into transition, is careful, measured to be a rumble of the coming darkness.

Sigh.

So, given these magnificent starts, how shall I approach The Horde? Ah, from the sublime to the ridiculous. That being said...

"The Horde", the working title for the new novel begins...

The first time Martin Hamilton heard the word Zagreus, he was sitting in an easy chair thinking how much he hated his grandmother and how it might be time to do something about it. Although Gran gave him money and bought him things, his patience frayed. Her health sucked, she wheezed constantly, and her ancient heart teetered on the verge of surrender. She couldn’t last more than another year or two. Maybe. But a year or two could be a long time. Looking at Gran, thinking about the three people he had killed, he knew this would be different. He wasn’t sure how, but different.

6 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

The opening to the Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorites. And of course, Bradbury's Dandelion wine. I've found, though, that what sucks one reader in isn't necessarily the same that sucks in another. We can judge openings as good or bad in a general sense, but it's in the specifics that we sell.

Christine Purcell said...

Love the opening for The Horde. It gives such great depth of character in so few words.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Bradbury is always magic, Charles.
Thanks Christine.

Bernita said...

Yours is a successful opening. (nasty piece of work, that character.)

Kate S said...

Good stuff, Stewart.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Bernita, thank you. I love writing about sick folk, and this character, whose name is changed to protect my first novel, is as sick as they come.

Thanks Kate.