Monday, May 31, 2010

Turning The Page

I went to a writers' conference last summer, only my second one. I'd signed up because an old friend would be there, one of the organizers, and because Dr. Motes was going fishing in Canada and so I thought well, two can play at that game.

The conference offered bracing advice on Using The Internet, and Publishing Do's and Don'ts. (Mostly Don't) And I opted for Short Story Writing in the morning (a promise of discipline - keeping things short!). But that left afternoons: Childrens' Fiction, Gender and Something Studies or Poetry, so I signed up for The First Page.
Because one can always learn more: how to be more like Elmore Leonard, for example. (He of Get Shorty and Out of Sight and now one of the geniuses behind FX's Justified.) One of his latest rules, apparently: No adverbs!
(Really? But then watch this: "She whispered softly.." "He shouted loudly.." "He ran quickly.." "He cursed angrily.." Your chosen verb is grown up; it can be let out all by itself.)

And every writer wants to find out the trick to speeding up and getting that great first page. If we could get even one dollar for every day spent on our First Pages, we'd all be living in the lap of luxury.

So there I was with about thirty others, having handed in all our First Pages and they were read in turn and each time the question was asked: "Would you, as publisher, agent or simple reader...Turn The Page?
Each time however bizarre, dull or embarrassing the First Page, at least half the class was in favor and raised their hands.
I had no new First Page but was quite proud of Orchid Territory's. Maybe because it was the last First Page, our instructor read it in a dull, weary monotone. And then the head was raised: "Well?"
No-one stirred- The question was re-phrased: "How many of you would NOT turn the page?"
Every hand shot up. People turned to each other and rolled their eyes. Did Orchid Territory really need a British accent? A British sensibility? (ie Are these people morons?) Are we really divided by a common language?

I'd always thought a lot of my very first line: "The dead pig jiggled behind Mark, sliding to and fro on a piece of bloodstained cardboard." Fetching the pig on Christmas Eve, in the old Volvo. There was something about the words cardboard and bloodstained, together. I'd fallen in love with those two words, allowed myself to be carried away. But even bloodstained didn't sway the crowd.

Yes, why would you turn the page? The pig was dead- nothing more to find out about the pig. Mark had only just arrived - the young Hugh Grant- the innocent in the South Florida orchid scene. There would be intrigue and conspiracy and finally cops and special agents but for the first page?
Would the group like: "Little did Mark know as he rattled along with the pig that in the dark days to come.."Not really. Later on he would think of the busty blond at The Rat and Parrot, but not on the first page. He'd fret over the lovely Rachel, fall afoul of the evil Regina..but not on the first page!
No, I should have begun just two pages on, with the second chapter- when Aunt Charlotte appears, announcing loudly over the menacing whine of her wheel chair, "You forgot the gin!"

Yes, Aunt Charlotte, with the occasional forbidden adverb, she would have done it. She would have got at least one or two hands up.


  1. Mary,

    Absolutley loved your comment in letters to the editor of the Miami Herald, you could not have put it better to Debbie.


  2. Linda -Yes,Where do these people come from! Mary