The Scariest “One”

I remember a singer – I don’t recall who it was, though – a few years ago saying he felt he always had to be at his “best” in a live performance because how he came across at that moment would make a lasting impression on a fan. He could not afford, he said, to have an “off” night. In comparison, a listener could play a CD and he would always sound “perfect” on that.

If you have been following me for what now amounts to a long time (in internet and blog terms), you may recall this post from September 25, 2015. Yesterday I shared it to Instagram. I did so because I’d had several visitors recently appear out of nowhere after finding it:

That it attracted those outside visitors also got me thinking – which as you know is “dangerous.” Within that 2015 post I included a photo of the first page of Chandler’s novel. Here it is once more:

A blog in this small way is like a live performance as well. It gets readers’ reactions nearly immediately; and if a reader clicks to your blog at what they consider an “indifferent” post, they may never look around at anything else on your site. There is no such thing as a “throwaway” blog post.

So a lot like a singer, a blogger too always has to be on “top form.” Nearly three years on, I’m still proud of that post. If that’s anyone’s blog introduction to me, I’m more than happy about that fact.

Novelists have a similar challenge. If a reader doesn’t get “into” a book pretty quickly, he or she may not give the rest of it a chance; nor will they be inclined to read anything else you write or tell their friends about it. We like to think it does not have to be the case, but first impressions do indeed matter a lot in our world.

[Excerpt from Passports. Paperback. Click to expand.]

That from Passports is obviously a decidedly different opener than the likes of The Big Sleep. It’s the first first page I ever produced – a reader’s introduction, so to speak, to me. I recall laboring over it, struggling especially to put this man’s initial attraction/feelings into words.

Every page is important, but for a writer (in my humble opinion) “Page 1” is probably the scariest one. An author may feel about every new reader much as “James” is feeling there: thrilled that he had caught her eye mixed with a sense of trepidation as to whether she truly finds him attractive in return, and, above all, trying to suppress fears about his possible inability to hold her apparent opening interest.

Passports is definitely not a crime novel. And that is NOT literally the first page I composed. I wrote it at some point I can’t now exactly recall after I had gotten well into the writing, so I well-knew by that time how matters were proceeding before I went back and wrote that beginning.

[Passports. Back cover. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

I wanted the story to be for everyone. However, I suspected that the bulk of the eventual readers were likely to be women. And insofar as I know that has turned out to be accurate.

Writing it I knew as well that I could not compete with women writers writing from a woman’s perspective, so I had decided on a slightly more “oblique” approach. Here readers – women or men – would see matters presented in this opener in an honest fashion from a man’s viewspoint. Moreover the “gentle” start is deliberate and they learn also in succeeding early pages that he is only a part-time “older” student and also a New York construction worker who has never been to Europe and thinks this woman could never be interested in him and… well, of course I hoped the more they read they more they would want to follow along to discover what happens…

Oh, and any men reading this post? I’m sure there must be a few of you. Don’t tell me that you never did much the same thing in a classroom or workplace as “James” did?

[In the Tuileries Garden, Paris, France. Photo by me, 1994.]

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Scariest “One”

  1. Page 1 of Irish Firebrands was not the first page I wrote, either. I remember what I did write first, and I mentioned those things in my post about the novel’s story arc ( I think that because most stories are narrated chronologically fools a lot of people into thinking that all stories are written chronologically. From that misunderstanding comes the notion that before you write anything, you need to chronologically outline it. That idea is taught from elementary school onward, and because of the frustration it causes (including “writer’s block”), I think too many people are discouraged from engaging in creative writing.

    What do your story arcs look like?

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    1. I write from all over the place, filling in gaps spreading backwards and forwards and interlinking eventually to end up with the complete story. Normally I suppose I have what might be considered an overarching, very broad, “several acts,” per book. However if I think about it, I don’t view my tales as having a beginning, middle, and then a conclusion. I don’t like anyone thinking they have it easily “figured out” in terms of pace and where they are in the narrative.

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