Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Top Ten

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

—Enid Bagnold

First, I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for entering, I know it isn't easy to share a work of love for the world to see. It can be much like bearing your soul, but I must say that each person who entered did a fantastic job of bearing such a thing, and I am VERY impressed. You're all definitely honing in on your craft, and I absolutely enjoyed each word. 

First paragraphs aren't easy. They must convey so much, in so little time, so you can hook your reader, lure them in. I've always been fascinated with first paragraphs because they are a fork in the road, in some small way, for your reader, they want to know where they're headed, what adventure they're going on. So without further ado, I present to you the adventures that captured my heart, as well as a couple of great links on the art of crafting a first paragraph... 

The Top Ten! 

And from here, I'll pass these off to the judges--the wonderful Josh and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary

Good luck everyone!

Maxwell ignored the NO TRESPASSING signs on the edge of the property, though it would be harder to ignore the high-voltage fence enclosing it. He scrambled forward and dropped to his knees about a foot shy of the perimeter. Moisture soaked his cargo pants with the scent of wet grass and dirt. The chilled night bit at his exposed skin as he shrugged off his leather jacket. He eyed the area in front of him, searching for the faint shimmer of the otherwise invisible barrier, listening for the telltale hum of power.

I’d still be standing on the other side of the fence if Jake hadn’t raced out of his doghouse, begging me to open the gate. Well, that and the fact that I was out of clean underwear. After retrieving our key hidden under the rock, my trembling hand froze in front of the keyhole. Jake barked with anticipation, prancing back and forth behind me. I pushed the key into the hole and twisted it, shivering when I heard the familiar click of the deadbolt retracting. I put my hand on the doorknob but couldn’t bring myself to open the door.

Three: Taffy Lovell

I hide the scissors and the red shoebox on the top shelf in my closet. The obituaries can wait. Outside my dirty bedroom window, the Kansas sun is barely coming up. I wonder at the promises the sky holds for me today. Ages ago—in quiet cemeteries, one grave for every town I’ve ever lived, like a trail of stepping stones leading me back to the first death: Mom.

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

You must never tell anyone what you’re about to read (or smell), but most importantly, what you may find. That’s right "may." More about that later, Kid. If you should make it at least halfway through this tale, and if you even dare to finish it, than you must open yourself to the impossible and maybe even to the extraordinary. To everything that you thought would never happen—that maybe, all of those everythings out there could happen. However—and listen up, Kid--once you acknowledge these possibilities, you are forever sworn to secrecy. In short, you’ve made a pact with us—a promise with The Mostly Mutts Club. An agreement that only exists between dogs (and, at times, a few cats and maybe an occasional field mouse and that one mangy, snaggle-toothed possum), but only with a few select and privileged children. For now, anyway...

You’d think here in the hospital I wouldn’t stand out. Everyone has something going on, even if it’s a good thing like a new baby. But nope, no way. Here I am in a wheelchair, being wheeled to Dad’s car even though there is no reason I can’t walk except for stupid hospital rules, and my freakdom still stands out. So what if I’ve got glasses being held on by a thick elastic band? So what if the glasses have hearing aids on the stems? So what if I just have holes where my ears are supposed to be? It’s not like my skin is green slimy scales, or I’ve got three heads. Even though the 900 year old man pushing my wheelchair could win a contest for world’s oldest human, and on top of that he is wearing bright plaid pants, it’s me that gets noticed.

Seven: Emmy Paxman

The last time I asked about joining one of Judd Grawl’s rift expeditions, Mum banned me from mentioning it until I turned thirty. So the fact that, a month later, I was getting my way without asking seemed... what shall we call it? Suspect.

Eight: Sean Lamb

Peter Harper never got picked for anything. Mr. Hayes, his gym teacher, had to force teams to take Peter in the dreadful dodgeball draft every Friday. Miss Taylor, his math teacher, ignored Peter, even when he raised his hand and made primate sounds to get her attention. Neil, his foster dad, didn’t take Peter to “Take Your Son to Work Day” because he said Peter wasn’t technically his son, and his boss wouldn’t allow it. So, when Peter’s sister, Sally, decided to wander into traffic in pursuit of her precious baseball, Peter picked himself to save her and become a famous hero.

Silence fell in a slow crash as I pulled away from the keys, the final chords of my newest song slipping away. Morning sunlight bathed the piano and made its edges soft. I slid a hand across the lip of the key bed, loving how the worn wood didn’t shine with the threat of reflection. The threat of monsters.

The only thing reeking worse than my mojo-bag was the team on the field, and that was sayin’ something considering our rusted scrap-heap of a ‘football stadium’ sat in the middle of a salt marsh. Some called it ‘character,’ but Mama always said about Caledonia: she hadn’t seen so many half-collapsed and boarded up buildings since she’d fled Tehran in ‘79.


  1. One: I love how I can FEEL this scene. You've worked in sight and touch and sound so effortlessly. There's an organic flow to it that pulls me in. HARD. And the sense of intrigue you build up is quite staggering. If I had the whole book in front of me I could not stop reading after reading that. Beautifully done!

    Two: There's a gorgeous simplicity to this opening, and it poses so many questions without directly asking a single one of them. You leave the reader with the need to know why your character can't bear to open the door. My mind is spinning with speculation and possible scenarios that could have led to this moment!

    Three: Wow. Some seriously powerful literary punches here. There's a beauty to the language used, an imagery that I found very evocative. Three words, "the first death," bring in the intrigue that the best openings all have. The posing of a question that MUST be answered. I'm left with a feeling of mild horror as I contemplate the obituaries and wonder how many deaths there have been, and how your main character might me affected/involved.

  2. Four: Such a beautiful whimsy to this intro. I immediately pictured reading your story with my daughters. Lovely!

    Five: I love the humor and quirkiness implicit in this. It has an off-the-beaten-path feel that appeals to my love of the strange and unusual.

    Six: There's such a lot packed into this paragraph. WOW. I love the voice, I get such a great sense of your character's personality straight off. That sensation that we're already getting to know the main character is so amazing. Because that's what we need to connect with them. Well done!

    Seven: You had me at "rift." I immediately zeroed in on that and my spec-fic loving self got all tingly with speculating about what sort of rift that might be. And the addition of your main character's voice is a delightful bonus. Awesome!

  3. Eight: I love the spin you give to the underdog trope. That your character chooses himself shows us that he's a character who takes action, rather than just letting life happen to him. Nice!

    Ten: This entry and the first entry are my faves, and for the same reason. They're just so vivid and organic. We get a sense of your character's voice, the setting, and hints of intrigue. I really want to read more just to find out what a mojo-bag is! But the best part is how it flows, without any sense of author interference at all. The hardest thing to do as a writer is to tell a story in a way that doesn't TELL at all. And you've achieved that beautifully here.

  4. Thank you for being so supportive, Kimberly! Love your in depth thoughts and comments, beautiful. Thank you.

    1. Cheering each other on is the best part of participating in the online writing community. I just love it. Thanks for providing this awesome opportunity to meet new authors through their words! It never fails to be inspiring. :)

  5. Thank you so much, Naomi, for putting on this contest! What a wonderful opportunity. I really appreciate the support you're giving to writers, and the links you provided are really helpful. Plus it's so fun to read all these great entries!

    Thank you, too, Kimberly, for the supportive and specific feedback on each entry. You rock! I love your entry, too - such a beautiful scene with a hint of the eerie. Good luck!

  6. Yee-ha! So exciting to see the top ten up there. It's cool how diverse the various starts are. I think there's a lot to recommend all of them.

  7. Two: The anticipation here is incredible, the tension thick, just the way I like it. There’s a sense of foreboding that pulls me forward. I wanna know what happens, but at the same time I’m afraid to find out what’s got the MC so shook up. Considering all of the possibilities is what has me eager to keep reading. I sense something bad is on the horizon, but I can’t look away. Nicely done.

    Three: I’m more curious than anything else after reading this. To be honest, that curiosity is piqued at the mention of the obituaries rather than the late mother. I’m slightly confused toward the end, wondering if the graves are the stepping stones or if that’s in reference to the obits again, but I’m intrigued enough to keep going, if for nothing else than to get a clearer picture of what’s being described. It’s eerie, and I like it.

    Four: This is adorable. I don’t know if you meant it to come across this way, but it’s cute and I love it. There’s an innocence spun about this character in such a few short lines, and the bit about fireflies leading to magic? Lovely. Well done.

    Five: The voice in this is what resonated with me. I found myself smiling wider and wider as I read on. There were a couple of instances where I had to reread something, but I think that ties in with the spunky style a dog would tell a story with. I enjoyed it, thoroughly.

    Six: Another rich voice that drew me in. And I instantly sympathize with this character in lamenting their “freakdom.” Actually, I empathize to a degree, and I’m pulled into the story all the more because of it. The balanced description, just enough to pain a clear picture but not so much that I’m laboring under imagining what everything looks like, bring is home. Kudos.

    Seven: I love it! I seriously laughed out loud at the end of this. The wit is sharp. I love snark, what can I say. And such punch in so few words. Again, love it.

    Eight: Dreaded dodgeball draft. More laughter. I like characters and stories that make me laugh. And by the end of this paragraph, not only do I find Peter funny, I find him endearing. Not only because of what he has to go through—poor guy—but what he winds up doing. Who can’t cheer for a hero, right?

    Nine: This entry resonates. It could be because of my own musical background, but I make a connection here that is deep and poignant. Using music as an escape is something I’ve personally done. I’m pulled in and hooked emotionally. I’ve gotta have more.

    Ten: There’s charm in this, thanks to the MC and her Mama. And the fact that the MC has a mojo-bag. These little quirks make me eager to get to know the character, their world, and the other people in it. I want to keep going.

    1. Thank you, El! You're an amazing support, I really appreciate all your wonderful comments! xo