|The lovely C.E.D. in her writing shed! Look, it's |
really a shed! :)
The Year We Were Famous tells the true story of Clara Estby and her suffragist mother who, in 1896, left their home in Mica Creek, Washington to walk to New York City to win a bet of $10,000 to save their family farm.
It has been included on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer list for Best Books for Youth with significant feminist content!
Did you hear a similarity in the author's and character's names? That's because Clara was Carole's Great Aunt, and her mother, Helga, Carole's Great Grandmother.
The research Carole did for the book is astonishing, and you can read all about it HERE.
I invited Carole (and all my Class of 2K11 - now Graduates -- peeps) to join me when they can for Friday Feedback, and Carole is kind enough to be popping in to talk about How to Begin.
So, here you go, in Carole's own words:
According to the king in Alice in Wonderland, telling a story is simple:
“Start at the beginning, go to the end, then stop.”
Easy for the king to say.
I must have written at least twenty opening chapters for my first book, starting at different points in the narrative, narrating from different points of view and with different voices. Books for writers offered conflicting advice or advice which conflicted with my memory of how some well-known authors had opened their successful books:
Start at a high point of action and explain how your characters got there later.
Don’t start with high action; let your readers get to know your character first.
Start with conversation.
Don’t start with conversation.
Never start a book or a chapter with your main character waking up.
Never start with the weather.
I gave up on books about writing and instead pulled random books from my shelves in the study to see directly how successful writers had started their books; here’s a sample:
"One hundred thirty-six days before.
The week before left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party."
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
"It was a dark and stormy night.
In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind."
- A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen."
- The Giver, by Lois Lowry
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled...”
- Holes, by Louis Sachar
"June 21, 1895
'Please tell me that’s not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening.'
I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra. A surprisingly pink tongue slithers in and out of a cruel mouth while an Indian man whose eyes are the blue of blindness...”
- A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling
One book starts with a weather cliche, another with conversation. Most introduce the main character in the first three lines, but notable exceptions start with setting. So what are the rules?
Are there any rules? It’s enough to make Schroeder bang his head on the piano.
It hurts to put a doodle draft out in the world for comment, but because Gae is a dear friend, I’ll do it for her. Here’s one take at an opening for my current work in progress, a middle grade historical novel tentatively titled Northward Ho!
*Warning alert: Carole's own questions for Friday Feedback (my usual one's being: does it hook you, why or why not? What works? What doesn't work? But, hey, go with hers ;)*
"What else I should have told you about my main character? Which details were useful, which were not? Should I have had conversation or interaction with other characters sooner? Too much setting? Any other suggestions?
(You know the rest of the rules. If you want the same feedback, place a brief excerpt in the comments and Carole or I will chime in -- maybe both if you're (un) lucky! ;))
Enjoy Carole's excerpt!:
November, 1934 - Little Bear Lake, Wisconsin
Trip Johnson dragged a hatchet across the yard toward a pumpkin as big as a pickle barrel. She stumbled over an icy hillock of mud where her mother’s roses had been uprooted to make way for potatoes. She trudged past the skeletons of pole beans clinging to the trellis where sweet peas used to climb.
Wind howled and tossed the tire swing, slapped the shutters, and whipped her skirt around her knees. It snatched phrases from her twin sisters’s recital duet which escaped through the crack in the parlor window and swirled them into the eddies of wood smoke from a dozen near-by chimneys. If Trip had not been the only unmusical Johnson she could have been inside with her sisters, warm. She would not have to attack that gosh-awful pumpkin like a lumberjack.
She raised the hatchet over her head and heaved it down with her full weight of seventy-three pounds behind it. The blow reverberated up her arms and clear through her shoulders to her jaws. After several more assaults she finally hacked off a piece light enough to wrestle into the kitchen.
Huge thanks to Carole Dagg for doing Friday Feedback with me today! If you guys need more rules, click on this link HERE to the original Friday Feedback.
*Carole Estby Dagg is the author of The Year We Were Famous, an historical novel based on the true story of a teen and her mother who walked four thousand miles across Victorian America to save the farm and prove women could do it. Under the supervision of a bossy cat, Carole writes in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.