It seems like an easy question until you try to write it. There is always the cover, the blurb and, of course the competition of a favoured best seller author’s new book compared to yours to overcome. However, it can also be those first few lines glanced at as a reader browses the shelves of their local book store or library. These are the most worked on, pondered and despaired lines by authors. They must capture a reader’s attention so completely that they are compelled to continue reading. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It is far from easy it though.
There are some key elements that draw a reader in:
Make them wonder.
Begin with a pivotal moment.
Create an interesting scene.
Intrigue them with a character.
Begin with an unusual instance.
Use a compelling narrative voice.
Begin with a conflict.
Use a life changing moment.
Here are a couple of my first lines:
Celeste watched her daughter, Maralynn; grow over the years while seeing her power increase. She could see her own mother, the previous Eldenma’s movements and expressions reflected in her daughter. Since her own mother, Juliana and her lover, Guillem’s transition to the other realm, Celeste and her lover, Michael, were her daughter’s only protectors in the earthly realm. They knew in time their ability to protect her would end as Maralynn learned how to control and manipulate her powers.
“Come back, here, Bubble – you’ll get stuck up there.”
Lenni called to her pet in vain. Bubble climbed up the bark of the tree in her usual wobble side-to-side manner, getting higher and higher. As she watched her pet, Lenni could see the two moons begin to converge in the magenta evening sky. Once they were one moon, she would need to be safely at home behind the dome wall. Lenni realized there was only one thing she could do, climb up the frackist tree and carry Bubble down.
These are the first lines from a book I re-read quite often. It was the first book I found that centred around reincarnation, a fascination of mine.
Ferney by James Long.
As he looked for the bones of his long-dead wife, old Ferney came close to death. Caught in the traffic jam that resulted, Gally Martin’s life changed.
My latest book is a collection of short stories inspired by the time I spent in India. It’s about women and the issues faced by women living in contemporary India.
How did you come up with the title?
The title of the book, I Exist. Therefore I Am is also the title of one of the short stories in the collection. Each of my other previous books also uses one of the stories/poems as the title. I’ve done this as I wanted to have a title that exemplified what was in the whole collection.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
The message is that women need to be treated as equals and with dignity and the respect that is their due.
How much of the book is realistic?
Although fictionalized the stories are about real people and real lives. I’ve used examples of incidents that I came across to create my stories. The characters aren’t real but the issues these women face and the treatment they receive at the hands of society and of other women are very real.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
They are based on people I read or heard about from others or from newspapers. I’ve come across women who have either gone through similar experiences that my characters undergo or have known women who have.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
Yes. I’m planning on publishing a poetry collection this year. It is about the effects of conflict on people and how they live through it. As a people, we in Sri Lanka have gone through 30 years of bloody conflict that left no real winners. People from all sides lost. The poems look at what happened and speak in many voices. They discuss a variety of issues and viewpoints. I wrote it because I wanted to create a collection of voices for those in the future to understand, as well as anyone else to realize the futility of war. It’s like a documentation of what happened in verse form.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
I don’t have particular favorites because I think all the characters are special and they serve a purpose in helping me tell my story.
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?
I write both poetry and short stories. My poetry is free verse and the short stories are mostly literary fiction. I’ve also written a few stories that are fantasy or magic realism as well as a couple of children’s stories. Apart from the children’s stories the others are published in literary journals and anthologies but I don’t have enough to have a complete collection. I think it would be nice to have a complete collection of fantasy stories and also of children’s stories, but for this I need to write.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
I’m mostly a seat of the pants writer, but I do plan a little. When I get an idea to write something I make a rough draft in my head. I let the sequence of the story or poem play in my mind like a movie and when I feel it is possible to sustain the story I start writing it down. But I don’t plan how the story evolves. That happens while writing.
What is your best marketing tip?
Marketing is the hardest aspect of writing and publishing. Moreover poetry and short stories are not easy to sell as there is a limited market compared to some of the popular genres. I prefer to get exposure for the book through reviews, interviews and word of mouth.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
I think it’s a huge benefit because it connects us to writers and readers around the world not merely to promote our writing but also to discuss writing get help and advice and find like- minded people. I decided to self-publish because I found many writers doing this and I felt encouraged. I also learnt everything about self-publishing through other writers who were on the same journey as I am and it’s amazing how many people I’ve come to know through social media.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I don’t know if there’s any particular aspect about writing that I like more than others. I just like to write. It’s like being able to direct my thoughts onto a blank canvas and create something beautiful out of the jumble of ideas and words that are there. Writing poetry or fiction is hugely liberating as I can express what I want or write about something that may not be possible to do as a fact. It’s like painting, but with words.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I wrote my first poems and short stories when I was in university as an undergraduate student. These were experimental works and I never planned on publishing them. There was a short period after my post grad study in India where I was doing nothing and I wrote some stories and poem that were better than the ones I wrote earlier. But it was really much later that I started to write seriously and this is where the bulk of my work is from.
Has your genre changed or stayed the same?
It has stayed the same for the most part, but I’ve dabbled in other genre, like fantasy. I’ve also written a couple of short stories for children but these aren’t published.
What genre are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading contemporary romance. Sometimes reading outside the genre I write can be more relaxing.
Do you read for pleasure or research or both?
Both. Right now I’m reading for pleasure.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
My lecturer from undergrad study Dr. Lakshmi de Silva was someone who encouraged me to write even when I didn’t know I wanted to write. Through the years she has been a huge supporter of my writing and I tend to discuss my work with her. She is also the only person who first sees my writing before I send it to anyone else.
Where is your favorite writing space?
In front of my computer. It’s a mess with papers and books all over the table but that’s where I write.
Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?
I belong to several writing groups on Facebook where we help each other with advice about writing and publishing.
If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why?
Alice Munro and Carolyn Forche. I like the way they write and it would be nice to just talk to them about writing.
If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be?
Right here where I am as this is the place I’m most comfortable. But if I could travel to anywhere in the world then the list would be endless. I think travel opens up your mind and give you opportunities to learn and experience diversity in all forms and this is good not just for writing but in general too. I’d like to visit several places, like Russia, China and some parts of the US like Colorado or Alaska and spend some time there, maybe a few weeks just taking in everything. But I wouldn’t want to move anywhere.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. It already is.
Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (2017) won the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing and received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards. Her second collection of short stories, I Exist. Therefore I Am (2018) is about women in modern India. Rajapakse’s work appears in many literary journals and anthologies worldwide. Rajapakse read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India.
Predicament – definition: an unpleasantly difficult, perplexing, or dangerous situation
As a fan of pet rescue programs, I have seen my fair share of heroes risking life and limb to save an animal and we have all seen selfless acts when someone has found themselves in trouble. Many of these heroes are complete strangers to the rescued person or animal. It gives us faith in human nature for a change. It is the stories of animals rescuing other animals that are so amazing. It shows empathy, something not realized for a long time but proved by recent experiments by scientists.
When I found this quote by Jim Lynch it raised the question – what are our stories driven by?
What factor drives you?
It may be one or a combination of these that has us writing frantically, trying to capture the essence of a character, a scene or the overall conflict. At the heart of the narrative is the predicament faced by our characters. How they overcome them or adjust to them makes the reader turn the page.
Unique predicaments may not be common but the path taken to conquer them is as numerous as there are writers. Each story leads us on a journey of discovery. Everyone problem solves differently and a large part is how we grew up and witnessed adults around us solving their trails and tribulations. Some may bury their head in the sand and wait for ‘it’ to go away, while others will battle head on.
Our characters should be true to their personality traits in this regard as well – a meek and mild youngster would not boldly confront a situation as opposed to a muscular grown man stepping into a conflict.
Have you used a particularly unusual predicament in a story? Care to share?
Lastly, a useful saying to help with those speaking events so many of us attend or for those wondering how to prepare for their first. It all comes down to preparation – the more methodical you are the better. Practice your speech, excerpt or presentation as many times as possible before the event. As you relax into the rhythm of it and the words become easily remembered, you will find you can ad-lib or break off to answer questions without panicking. I have a presentation to learn for the upcoming months, in regard to how to begin your memoirs. The workbook to accompany this presentation will be available shortly at http://www.dreamwritepublishing.ca. My co-writers and I will take turns performing it for seniors in our locality but hope that the book will assist many aspiring memoir writers near and far.
I’ll be printing this off and sticking it onto my writing desk as a reminder.
Conciliate – definition: to overcome distrust or hostility : to reconcile
I’m sure several of us have experienced hostility of one kind or another in our lifetime. Whether it was bullying at school, a unpleasant neighbor or suffering conflict in our country. This quote says it all.
To find a way to conciliate is the hard part. Between countries with all the hidden agenda’s obviously takes many years on both sides but on a personal level, can it be easier? Emotions come into play and more often than not ‘fog’ our decision making.
When corporations have issues they use a conciliation process, whereby the opposing parties use a conciliator. It is this conciliator, who meets with the parties separately attempting to resolve the differences. The techniques used lower tensions, improve communications, interpret the issues, provide technical assistance, explore potential solutions and bring about a negotiated settlement.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? But on a personal level do you want someone to be a conciliator? Couples have the option of counselling and family conflicts can be resolved through a similar method. If the relationship is important enough we find a way to reconcile and hopefully in the process learn something about ourselves.
Have you used conciliation in a story? How did you alter your characters thought processes?
Insurrection – definition: an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil authority or an established government
In my novel, Life in Slake Patch, the ruling government is a matriarchy borne of necessity after a Grand War. Generations have lived without questioning the separated male and female compounds until my protagonist, Evan’s twenty second year. A group of younger men, calling themselves the Tribe separate themselves from the normal routine. Creating a camp away from the compounds and surviving as best they can.
Conflict ensues between the establishment and the Tribe. Evan is enrolled to bring the Tribe members to justice but several unfortunate events and Evan’s own emotional struggle lead him to question their way of life.
He comes to understand how unfair it is after taking a bride and being unable to visit his lover, apart from once a week. And then only when the weather permits in the harsh winter months. He cannot be seen to side with the Tribe members but also wants to bring about change.
In interviews with the Tribe leader, Aiden, Evan realizes he and his followers are not so dissimilar from the other males. They want to be free to live with their chosen partners and children every day. To be a constant presence not an occasional one. Evan must find a way to balance the requirements of the ruling council with that of the younger members of the society.