“Hello. I’m the first line of your novel.”

Edinburgh Expeditions

Last week, whilst at a Jazz festival with friends, I was hit with a line, a phrase, a sentence. Somehow it managed to stick in my mind, mutating, growing, digging itself into the part of my brain that ought to be reserved for PHP and PHP alone.

“Hello,” it said to me after six days of maturation. “I’m the first line of your novel.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Tell me about yourself, future novel.”

“I’m chick lit. Or at least more female-focused-fiction than you’re used to, Ms. John-le-Carre-and-Patrick-O’Brian-are-my-favourite-authors.”

This is where I spat out my tea and wondered if my painkillers were a lot stronger than my GP said they were (swing dancing accident–water, concrete and two enthusiastic lindy hoppers don’t mix particularly well. I didn’t break anything, thankfully).

Nope, they aren’t. It’s just the story that needs to be told.

I haven’t been able to write fiction for months, not since I arrived in Edinburgh. Whether it was the change of scenery, the stress of coursework or a general reprogramming of the brain, fiction slipped to the backburner in favour of my recording everyday life, the adventures and the misadventures.

Turns out, though, that my opening line, combined with fodder from my day-to-day-life would make for a potentially hilarious, snarky and above all, entertaining book on life and love in the 21st century. Or some other cliche. Regardless, I’m excited to start writing…but why does the Muse need to return when I’m up to my ears in coursework?

The Improbability of University Life

Edinburgh Expeditions

Sometimes, I feel as though my life ought to be a movie. There are moments that are so improbable, so scripted, that if I didn’t partake or witness them myself, I would scarcely believe that they had happened.

One of those days happened Monday. My swing dance group was tapped to perform in a flashmob (we do this a lot) to advertise for an upcoming jazz club night. It was only supposed to be a few minutes, to get some photographs for our society and for the club night. My friends and I grinned and danced, wearing t shirts and cardigans despite the cold. We had the soft sounds of an iPod to dance to, only enough to catch the rhythm and make up the rest from there.

My friend and I started dancing, rock-step-triple-stepping, lindy-turn, rock-step-triple-step-step-step-triple-step. We laughed at the ridiculousness of dancing to the music we could hear (sort of), but the rest of the world could not.

We were ready to stop after a few minutes. Our silly group attracted a few bystanders.

The sound of a solo saxophone cut through the chilly night.

Our little group looked up, surprised. What was this sound? Were we to continue?

“Great!” said one. “Music!”

All we could do was continue dancing. We couldn’t resist live music, even if it were just one saxophonist.

I switched dance partners. As I spun, I noticed someone wheeling a double bass case. I thought nothing of it as I continued to dance, focusing on not twisting my ankle on the concrete. The thump-thump of the bass strings joined the saxophone.

An entire jazz band sprouted from the pavement. A trumpeter materialized, another saxophonist joined the throng. Finishing off this spontaneous band was a percussionist on cymbals.

Through it all, as we twirled around the main university square, more and more people stopped to watch, intrigued by the musicians and the dancers, two crazy groups out on a cold, early March night.

If it were to be filmed or presented in a novel, it would be considered a contrivance, a plot device, something to initiate the ‘meet cute’ between the hero and heroine, or the climax of the (undeniably cheesy happy) story. No one would believe something like that could really happen.

Writer’s Challenge: Interview with a Character

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

First, this is a challenge put together by Ralfast! And it was good fun.

I walked down Huntington, past Symphony Hall. I took a left and continued down the street, passing a mess of restaurants before finding the one I was looking for. It was a discrete, small building identified only by the top hat/tea cup sign that hung over the door. “Hatter and Hare” it said. I recognized the name, one I had created for a project, but my characters had highjacked. I pushed the door open.

What greeted me was a small, pleasant tea room/cafe. It was elegant, tasteful. The Alice in Wonderland motif was understated, with a few small details scattered throughout. I spotted a few decks of cards, an Alice fireplace grate…I knew there were more.

I sat down at the counter, pen and paper in hand. I said a quick hello to the barista, a normal looking guy wearing a bow tie. My character, and the subject of today’s interview. He put a cappuccino in front of me, which I thanked him for greatly.

“Now, let’s get this over with,” said he with a cheeky grin.

“Right,” I said. “First, what’s your name?”

“Well, you came up with me, you should know. But for the sake of the interview. My name’s Daniel Bentham. I’m twenty-seven years old, own this tea shop, and I like long walks on the beach.”

“Do you really?”

“No. I hate the sand. But it just seemed like the right thing to say,” said Daniel. He laughed and poured brown sugar into his espresso. “Sugar?”

“Please,” I replied, and took the sugar from him. “So, Daniel, do you have any nicknames?”

“My sister calls me Danny or Danny-boy. I call her Charlie and she shuts up,” said Daniel. He raised the white espresso cup to his mouth, inhaling the coffee’s rich, warm scent. He exhaled, closing his eyes. I watched his strange ritual another time before he broke it, taking a sip. “Ah! That’s good coffee.”

“Coffee,” I repeated.

“Yeah. Coffee. It’s my passion. Well, one of them. I like tea a great deal, too. The ceremony that surrounds it. Speaking of ceremony, we had a Royal Wedding viewing party. Opened the shop up early, especially for the day. Served tea and scones with clotted cream and jam…but I’m getting off topic. You were conducting an interview, and I so rudely interrupted with my tangent. Please continue.”

“Do you mind describing yourself for the readers?” I asked, a little embarrassed.

“I thought you said this was a photographed interview!” said Daniel in mock horror. “I can’t do justice to myself! Words fail!”

I crossed my arms. “Try, please. I could write it myself, but I’m sure you would rather describe how you see yourself.”

Daniel cleared his throat. “I’m a handsome devil. I have blue eyes and brown hair and I’ve got plenty of freckles. Slightly taller than average, and a nice smile. No jewelery or tattoos. Happy?”

“Good enough. Hobbies?” I said.

“Coffee. And I like classic cars. And events like the Monaco Grand Prix. I want to go one day.”

“Thanks for giving me a straight answer.”

“You’re most welcome,” replied Daniel. He looked at my cappuccino cup and asked if I had finished. I hadn’t–the foam still remained. “Oh! I nearly forgot. Cooking. I love cooking. Especially eating what I cook.”

“Fantastic.” I wrote furiously. “So, can you tell me about  your family?”

“Well…” said Daniel with a sigh. “I have a mother and a father who are alive and well and currently on vacation somewhere. My sister Charlotte and I manage this tea shop. Dunno where she is…probably out getting ingredients.”

“Where are you from?” I sipped at my cappuccino. It was really good–one of the best I’d had Stateside.

“Depends. I usually just say Boston. Most people don’t know the town I’m from, so I don’t bother saying it.” He shrugged. “Plus, it’s boring.”

“Good enough for me. Now, excuse my prying, but do you have any secrets?” I asked.

Daniel stepped back. “Yeah, ‘course.”

“Mind sharing one or two?” I smiled politely, and put the pen down. I didn’t want to betray his confidence.

He looked at me warily, uncertainty writ on his face. “Yeah. They’re secrets. They stay that way.” He crossed his arms and seemed to be hoping I would leave.

“Fine, didn’t mean to pry. Last one’s tough. What do you believe in?”


“Classic, Daniel. Really classic,” I replied.

“I thought you’d appreciate it. Now scram. I need to clean this place up before the lunch rush.”

Daniel’s story takes place in present day Boston, at a whimsical tea shop located near Symphony Hall.

Revisiting Old Stories

General Geekiness

I was poking about on my hard drive today when I discovered some stories written through the years. Some of them I wrote over four years ago; its enjoyable to look back and see what I was thinking about then. I reread one of my favorites from that era, a story about super heroes and villains who, apart from being superpowered, are normal folks. I still like my plot and the idea, but I could do a lot with the writing. It has been four years, and I have improved.

The other story is the one that was giving me so much trouble last year. All I could remember from it was that a) I hated the protagonist, b) it is set somewhere in Italy and c) it’s a bit obvious that I adore The Prisoner.  And while I still hate the protagonist (funny, because in rereading I see myself in him. Not a great deal, but enough), I still think the story has potential. I am quite enamoured with the setting and with the basic premise. I had some good descriptions.

I need to revisit the first story, rewrite it so its cleaner, more epic and awesome in scope. I had a pretty decent world built up, I’d like to explore it more.

For the second story, I need to work on defining the main character, the primary antagonist, and the plot. Once I have these elements figured out, I should be able to press forward.

Looks like I’ll have some creative writing projects this summer. Hurrah!

And the year’s book count is…

What's On the Bookshelf?


Yes, I know that there are still five days left in 2010, but I doubt that I will finish Les Miserables by then (reading a non-abridged translation…current update is: finished Book One). I’m hoping to finish Les Miserables before I return to school mid-January.

2010 was a good year for me, book reading wise. Way back in middle school, my favorite teacher suggested that I make a list of every book I read. Took a few years, but I finally got around to it. I think it’s a pretty successful exercise, and I’ll be continuing in 2011.

2011, along with having my list of what books I’ve read, will include a list of movies I’ve watched. I considered starting it this October, when I started watching a TON of classic and generally awesome movies. But that list will start January 1st as well.

As for the books I read this year, there were a few stand-outs, particularly in the getting-me-to-be-creative front. First up is Dante’s La Vita Nuova/The New Life. I read The Prince with the thought that Macchiavelli’s work would help with word-building (particularly around the power department), but it was Dante’s reshaping poetry that really stuck.

For sheer captivation, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy really grabbed my attention. I guess that 2010 was the year of the Spy for me, reading three works by John Le Carre, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and numerous books on spy television for my epic thesis.

And, to keep me from losing sight on the small things, Alexander McCall Smith’s works. I’ve caught up with his wonderful 44 Scotland Street series and am anxiously awaiting the release of the next one. Plus, I met Mr McCall Smith, which was wonderful.

So, what does 2011 have in store for me? Well, after finishing Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables, I have no idea. I want to read some of Len Deighton’s stuff, and will probably read Smiley’s People by John Le Carre (I must know how the Karla saga ends).

30 Days of Writing: Day 20 (I don’t play by the rules)

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

What are your favorite character interactions to write?

Conflict. I like to write characters at odds with each other. Perhaps not fighting, but there’s something between them. It could even just be a discussion about where to eat, or a philosophical debate, or even rivals’ banter. It’s just fun.

Of course, this doesn’t take over all of my writing, but I relish it.

I enjoy exploring different philosophies with my characters, different belief systems.