I think it might be best to start out by putting the first 2 pages of my JEWISH NOIR story “Quack and Dwight” on the page and then discuss the text after that:
I considered not answering when I saw Shirley Chung’s name on the caller ID. We’d been friends forever, going back to high school AP classes. She eventually went to law school while I got a PhD in psychology. Last time I took on a client for her, he was a six-foot plus brute named Aaron. His junkie mother had dumped him with her abusive, drug-dealing brother when he was five. Shirley, the LA County prosecutor in Palmdale, was hoping that the fourteen year old would testify against his uncle, considering the multiple bruises he had on his backside from disciplining. The boy, however, had developed a paper-thin temper that craved for any opportunity to explode. I discovered this when he lunged at me and broke my nose.
I have the basic elements of a story opener in my story “Sucker’s Game”—a character, in a setting, with a problem. But when I set out to write this dark little tale of 1970s suburban fear and loathing, I had some hurdles I had to address.
All beginnings are hard.
All right, so I didn’t actually read that sentence in the Talmud. I read it in Chaim Potok’s In the Beginning. But Potok says it comes from the Talmud, and he knows more about such things than I do. Anyway, the sentence seems appropriate for a blog post about the first two pages of a story in Jewish Noir. And it definitely says something true about the challenges all writers face when they begin a new project.
Ah, beginnings. What could hold more promise than a blank page? What could hold more terror?
For me, beginnings are crucial. As a reader, when I open up a book or story, I’m waiting to be pulled in—yanked in, really—and if my interest isn’t captured quickly, I set the story aside. Too many things to read, too little time to waste on things less than compelling.
Therefore, as a writer, I feel great pressure to ensnare my readers from the get-go and force them to keep on reading.
SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT is one of my ‘bogusly autobiographical life in writer’s hell’ stories, which are stories featuring a writer with just enough bogusly autobiographical details to get my cousin and other friends calling me after they’d appeared in the past to make sure everything is okay and my wife is still alive. What makes this story different than these previous ones is that the bogusly autobiographical details hit closer to home, and the writer isn’t given a fictional name, but goes nameless. In fact, readers might start wondering how much of this story is true, and whether I could be this unnamed narrator.