A short story, an idea that grabs me, an averted catastrophe.

I am and always will be a reader first, then a writer.

I want to carve a little space for reader-pooks on Fridays and try to post something about reading. This sometimes will lead to something about writing, because I can’t totally separate the two. But it will be about reading first. If you’d like to share your own thoughts about reading, your favorite book, anything at all about reading, let me know [planetpooks [at] gmail [dot] com] and if it looks like a good fit, I’ll let you guest post here as room allows.

Lady-AstronautTo start us off, a short story novelette* by Mary Robinette Kowal. She posted it for free on her blog, to read there or download for the digital reading device of your choice. I read it this morning, and it is amazing.

She says:

This is “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” which I wrote for Audible.com’s anthology, RIP-OFF!, edited by Gardner Dozois. It’s a fun anthology. Each story starts with the first line of a classic novel. Mine starts with the first line of The Wizard of Oz.

I don’t want to spoil her story. The way it unwinds before you is a thing of beauty and craft, but mostly, it’s a story of the heart wrapped in amazing detail of an alternate future of space colonization and exploration.

But that’s where the writer in me stepped in. The premise of the collection makes me want to write a short story staring with the first line of a classic novel. I hate being a copycat. But if I were going to do it, what novel would I use?

The last camel died at noon.”

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

The challenge to the first is making it be something different from the expected. Maybe it’s the last camel cigarette, smoked to the last wisp of its existence. Maybe the last cigarette anywhere on earth.

The second is just fun, so fun. Who is it? Why and how are they sitting in the kitchen sink? What is going on here?

And the challenge of the last is the same as the first, only compounded. How do you take that beginning, loaded as it is, and make it your own without parody, seriously your own?

And I am saved from the catastrophe of actually spending time writing a short story that I have no time to write, and instead am pulling novels off the shelf, looking at first lines I remember with great fondness. Waste of time? Maybe, but each one takes me to a place in my life when I read the book for the first time, as well as to the world of the book itself. I glory in these experiences as a reader.

And I’ll return from this detour to my deadlines [24 of them as of now] refreshed, after spending an hour, not a week.

Go read Mary’s story. You’ll love it. Then come back and tell me what you think about it. And what first line you’d use if you were going to spring off into a story of your own!

Go ahead and play.

It’s Friday.

* Novelette, 7,500 to 17,500 words.

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6 Comments

  1. denise
    Mar 8, 2014

    what’s the difference between novella and novelette?

    • pooks
      Mar 8, 2014

      A novelette is shorter. It’s a distinction that means little to most of us, I think!

      • denise
        Mar 11, 2014

        Is novelette longer than a short story?

        • pooks
          Mar 11, 2014

          Yes, longer than a short story and shorter than a novella. I think it’s just a ‘long’ short story, myself. ;-)

  2. mgdejecacion
    Mar 11, 2014

    “I never knew her in life.” The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

    Gonna try a middle grade story with that line. Ought to be fun.

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