Deb Katie Alender is pleased to announce that Bad Girls Don’t Die is now available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble.com!
The query letter* for Deb Kristina’s novel, Real Life & Liars, is featured in a new book out this week called The Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters, by Wendy Burt-Thomas. See how it all began and maybe pick up some query letter tips.
* For non-writers among the crowd, a query letter is what one sends to an agent to pique his or her interest in reading one’s manuscript…
Deb Eve’s short-short fiction piece, “Losing Africa,” appears in New Millennium Writings 2008-09 which is available now.
Debs are Reading
Deb Katie is reading Me & Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter.
Deb Meredith is reading First Comes Love, then Comes Malaria by Deb Eve.
Oh, gosh. This is where I have to confess to not being a literary genius, or even moderately well-read. I can’t think of even one life-changing moment that I associate with a certain book. I’ve never read an entire classic unless forced to and even then, I likely didn’t understand it and I certainly don’t remember it. Oh, there was the compulsory Shakespeare in high school. The take-home message for me in all that was, “Huh?” followed by, “Wait a minute, if you’re stoned enough, this stuff actually makes sense. Wow, look at my hand!” And then there was some interminable unrequited love story in Freshman English class about some guy named Heathcliff . . . or was it a guy named Cliff on a heath? I did try to revisit some classic literature last year, when my son was reading the child-friendly versions in school. I thought it would be fun to get the actual classics out of the library and read along with him. But let me tell you, Moby Dick is NO fun at all when you have to keep asking your fifth-grader to explain it to you.
This is not to say that I don’t have a favorite line. I actually do. It’s just that I have no idea where it comes from. I do know that it’s from something that Ernest Hemingway wrote. And let me just get myself in trouble right now by saying I am no fan of Ernest Hemingway. I know, I know, I should be a Hemingway fan. My god, the man won a Nobel Prize in Literature. Surely, he knows a thing or two about good writing. And after all, we share a love of Cuba and traveling and life on the edge. So you’d think me and Ernie would hit it off. But there’s just something about the bullfighting and hunting and soldiering that seems to be in so much of his writing that just kept me from turning the pages.
But at a writing conference a couple of years ago, the facilitator pulled out this paragraph from something that Ernest Hemingway wrote and the first line just blew me away. I clipped the little paragraph and stuck it up on the bulletin board of writing inspiration that sits just over my left shoulder and spurs me on as I write.
“In the fall the war was always there, but we didn’t go to it anymore.”
That one sentence riveted me. I could see Hemingway’s war, it had been brutal and stretched on for far too long. Somehow, from this incredibly spare sentence, I knew that the fall was cold, the streets were bare and the people were tired. That simple sentence spoke to me as much about today’s reality as about Hemingway’s fiction. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are always there, but how many of us don’t go to them anymore? We’re tired and it’s so awfully easy to be oblivious in America.
“In the fall the war was always there, but we didn’t go to it anymore.”
From an author I am not even a fan of, from a work I don’t even know. Maybe I need to give old Ernest another shot. Maybe I should give a few of those classics another try. Who out there can tell me the origin of this line? And anyone care to make some recommendations for the literary edification of Eve?
Here, for Thanksgiving, is one of my favorite poems and the painting it’s based on. If you look carefully, you’ll see the feet of Icarus sticking up out of the sea right by the ship. No one is paying any attention, and isn’t that Auden’s point? Literature should make us pay attention. Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
I love to reread books, especially when I’m sick. My favorites are like old friends, and when I read the familiar words I feel comforted and comfortable. My copies of Pride and Prejudice, The Secret Garden, and The Secret of Chimneys (Agatha Christie) all look worn out and well-loved.
One of the best things for me about becoming a parent is getting to reread my favorite children’s books again. My son has a big library since my mother and I can’t resist buying him books. My husband says that he has too many books. But I wonder if such a thing is possible. Okay, okay, our shelves are bursting, so we end up going to the library a lot when we need something new to read. But in my opinion, a house without books is a desert indeed.
Children’s book publishing is a big business these days, and some of the books are quite bizarre. There are the surreal ones written for a children’s brain and tendency to magical thinking (I would put In the Night Kitchen in this category), the lecturing ones written for adults to make them feel like they’re teaching a kid something (Potty training books and no hitting/biting books, etc.), hilarious ones that both children and adults enjoy, strange ones that have cars and trucks with faces on them, and really boring books based on TV shows.
So if you have a kid in your life (or just remember being one), I’ve created a little test for you of some of my favorite lines in kids books. See how many of them you can identify (extra points for author), and I’ll post the answers in the comment section tomorrow.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
A) “He always said that she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week, but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”
B) “Pup is up, Brown is down. Mr. Brown is out of Town.”
C) “Step on the gas, bunny rabbit!”
D) “Up they go to the top of the tree. Why? Will they work there? Will they play there? What is up there on top of that tree?”
E) “First she knocked the lamp down, then she felled some chairs. Then she took her brother’s kite and flew it down the stairs.”
F) “I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me, God bless the milk and God bless me.”
G) “He slid down a coal chute and got the dirtiest of all. In fact, he changed from a white dog with black spots, to a black dog with white spots.”
H) “What kind of story would you like to hear?” said Mother Bear. “Tell me about me,” said Little Bear. “Tell me about things I once did.”
In tenth grade, thanks in part, somehow, but I’m not exactly sure how, to Sassy Magazine, I decided to read Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. I read the book without particularly falling in love with it. Today, I honestly couldn’t even give you a rough idea of the storyline. It’s not one of my favorite books, and it’s not a book I plan to re-read.
But that book contained a line that floored me.
All I remember is reading a sentence and feeling the sudden shock, immediately afterward, of being awakened out of something. The line had transported me completely into the fabric of the story. Not a flashy line, but a perfect one, capturing the essence of the book in mood, setting, and rhythm.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember what it was. All I know is that it was a modest phrase, describing some quiet domestic moment.
Sentences like those are like the everyday heroes of the literary world. They are meant to be read lightly in passing; they are the worker bees that support the whole hive; honey, queen and all.
The whole point of them is that they are invisible. And I guess the mastery of “that line” (God bless it, whatever it was) is that it achieved invisibility to the point of transcendence. It was so clear a window as to become an empty pane, through which you can almost reach through and feel the texture of the flower petals on the other side.
Or maybe it wasn’t even that sentence; maybe that sentence was simply a tipping point I’d been leaning toward for chapters and chapters.
As writers, we like to focus on the big lines, the flashy ones. We like to surprise and amaze, and pull rabbits triumphantly out of our hats. Ending a chapter with a stark declaration, as dramatic as a bomb dropping; or starting a chapter with something so clever it pulls the rug out from under you; inserting a masterful snippet of dialogue or a description that defies the gravity of the written word.
So here I am, writing a bunch of purple prose about the plainest workman sentence ever. Forgive me. I just started thinking about the under-appreciated bits, and how much they matter.
And now, because it wouldn’t be fittin’ to do a favorite lines post without including an actual line or two (or four), here are a few variations on the theme:
Favorite last line of a book, but I won’t tell you which book, because I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending for you:
oh, I was young then, and I walked in my body like a Queen
Favorite line from a poem (Fiddler Jones in Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters):
I ended up with a broken fiddle—
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.
A few favorite lines from Bad Girls Don’t Die (read them here first!):
Mom can take a simple observation, such as saying that it wouldn’t hurt for a person to show a little school spirit, and say it in such a way that she might as well be saying, “It wouldn’t hurt you to stop clubbing those baby seals.”
from a later scene:
“So what else do you do?” he asked. “Besides, you know, the TV appearances and the environmental terrorism.”
Do you have a favorite line? Please feel free to share in the comments!
~ Deb Katie Alender
(Oh, ONE more from Spoon River, God, how I love Spoon River… this is Ernest Hyde)
A mirror scratched reflects no image–
And this is the silence of wisdom.
My own favorite line can’t be revealed. Because to reveal this line, from Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22, would ruin a painfully beautiful scene because the gorgeous shock of it was part of its genius. It was one of those moments where I had to pull myself out of the book and gasp and remind myself I was only in my living room, not indeed on a Mediterranean island in World War II. It was one of my precious few unforgettable reading moments. I think I was about fifteen years old.
This line is long, it takes up a paragraph, as it should, because the action it describes is galloping and frantic, yet sadly inevitable. No linguistic pyrotechnics here. The words themselves aren’t special. Yet, I was THERE. I was him. I was Yossarian.
As a reader, I was in awe. Still am.
I had picked up CATCH-22 by mistake. I was in my school library, looking for books that had been banned. I was thinking of CATCHER IN THE RYE, actually, as I realized later. No matter, because CATCH-22 has been banned for other reasons. (I later read CATCHER IN THE RYE and appreciated that, too.)
This tragically funny, painful and hilarious novel has many brilliant lines, and the first two are also wonderful.
“It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”
How can you not read on after that? It’s brilliant and madcap and involving like the whole rest of the book. Can you tell I’m getting carried away with my adjectives? I can’t help myself. Joseph Heller did this to me, and I wish I could have thanked him for it.
By the way, if any of you out there have read CATCH-22 and are dying to know which line I can’t reveal, drop me an e-mail at kristina (at) thedebutanteball (dot) com .
I wish you many such moments in your own reading life, and as a writer, I strive to create a moment like this for at least one reader. I’ll do my best.
Deb Meredith received her first review from Kirkus, which called Posed for Murder “well-plotted”.
Deb Gail was a guest blogger at The Good Girls Kill for Money Club and Murderati this week talking about CANCER IS A BITCH. Deb Gail also blogged about “10 Tips for Beauty from the Inside Out” this week. She’s also doing readings and signing books this weekend at the Madison Women’s Expo in Madison, Wisc.
Graduate Deb news
Deb Lisa Daily (FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME) has a new video blog up called “The Man Shortage is over!” Check it out here.
Deb Eileen is excited to announce that her book What Would Emma Do? has been moved up from its January release date to December 23rd! She’ll be hosting a contest closer to her release date as soon as she thinks of something clever.
Deb Friend news
A bilingual (English/Spanish) picture book by Suzanne Kamata, co-editor of fiction at Literary Mama, was just published by Topka Books, called PLAYING FOR PAPA. It’s available here.
Debs are Reading
Deb Eve is reading graduate Deb Lisa Daily’s FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME and feeling sorry for Darby, but loving the whole sordid tale!