Rachel

If you’re looking forward to the eclipse on Monday …

Annie Dillard’s classic essay is still the best I know about.

The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin band of river held a spot of sun.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was saturated, deep indigo, up in the air.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were now platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were fine-spun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.

The essay is in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

My house is in the path of totality, and at the moment we seem to be expecting clear and sunny weather. Crossing our fingers!

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This mass damper is very cool — and probably saved a lot of lives

So, I’m really impressed by the engineering that went into all the buildings that didn’t collapse in Taiwan yesterday. I thought, 7.4, that’s big, a lot of people must have been killed. It turns out, no. A few people, yes, and of course that’s tragic, but … I’m just stunned at how non-terrible this earthquake was. I just checked and the death toll right now looks like about ten people. From a 7.4 earthquake near a major city. A much weaker earthquake in Iran in 2003 killed 34,000 people. A very similar earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 killed almost 90,000 people. I’m so amazed by reports I’m seeing about this earthquake. I don’t think St Louis would do NEARLY as well if the New Madrid fault let go.

Here’s something I didn’t know about that probably deserves a lot of credit for preventing fatalities in Taiwan:

This 660-ton pendulum protects Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper from earthquakes

  • A 660-ton steel sphere hangs between the 87th and 92nd floors of Taiwan’s tallest building.
  • The “tuned mass damper” can reduce the building’s movements by up to 40%.
  • With the ability to move about 5 feet from side to side, the pendulum protects against earthquakes and high winds.

And as a result, that building, 101 stories tall, is still perfectly fine. That’s remarkable.

AND!

Not only that, but the architects and engineers did something extra cool with this weight damper: They put in an observation area so you can see this giant pendulum.  What makes Taipei 101’s unique is that viewers can watch it in action from an indoor public observatory. What a great idea. It’s very attractive, really. It looks like a 660-ton work of art.

Various other buildings only partially collapsed, which is also pretty amazing. The pictures of buildings leaning way over, it looks like about a 45 degree angle to me, that’s astounding. Apparently there’s going to be an investigation about why they collapsed that far, but honestly, leaning way over and not completely collapsing is so much better than crashing to the streets.

Definitely great to see these reports, and I hope they get all the trapped people out safely, but wow, good job by all the engineers who safeguarded this city against serious earthquakes.

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Claude vs a real novel

At recent workshop on how to handle AI in the classroom, someone mentioned that Claude is better at faking fiction than ChatGPT.

Okay, I said, let’s just see. Claude, please begin a story where a girl drinking from a pool in the forest sees a man walk out of the light. He doesn’t notice her and walks away.

***

Claude:

The cool water trickled down my throat as I knelt by the small forest pool, cupping handfuls of the crisp liquid to my lips. The slender beams of early morning sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves, dappling the pool’s surface with ever-shifting patterns of light and shadow.

I paused mid-sip as a movement in my peripheral vision caught my eye. There, at the edge of the trees where a slightly wider ray of sunshine broke through the branches, a flickering luminance seemed to intensify and expand. I froze, my eyes straining to make sense of what was unfolding before me.

In a seamless cosmic blurring, the fabric of the light itself appeared to part and reshape into an upright human form. My jaw dropped as the radiant silhouette of a man steadily gained definition and solidity, coalescing into an apparent flesh-and-blood person before my astonished gaze.

Dressed in simple clothing that seemed almost archaic in its neutral earth tones and simple cut, the mysterious man stood calmly blinking as if getting his bearings. He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair and beard, taking in his surroundings with an enigmatic half-smile.

Too stunned to make a sound, I remained motionless by the pool, the faint gurgling of the water the only noise in the suddenly electrified air. Then, with a last squinting look around the sunlit trees, the strange man turned and set off at an unhurried pace deeper into the forest, disappearing as nonchalantly as he had arrived.

I could only gape at the spot in the treeline where he had vanished, my mind reeling. What in the world had I just witnessed? And who – or what – was that man who had seemingly materialized out of thin air?

*****

Patricia McKillip, Winter Rose:

They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the color of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood.

I was kneeling at the well; I had just lifted water to my lips. The well was one of the wood’s secrets: a deep spring as clear as light, hidden under an overhang of dark stones down which the brier roses fall, white as snow, red as blood, all summer long. The vines hide the water unless you know to look. I found it one hot afternoon when I stopped to smell the roses. Beneath their sweet scent lay something shadowy, mysterious: the smell of earth, water, wet stone. I moved the cascading briers and looked down at my own reflection.

Corbet, he called himself to the villagers. But I saw him before he had any name at all.

My name is Rois, and I look nothing like a rose. The water told me that. Water never lies. I look more like a blackbird, with my flighty black hair and eyes more amber than the blackbird’s sunny yellow. My skin is not fit for fairy tales, since I liked to stand in light, with my eyes closed, my face turned upward toward the sun. That’s how I saw him at first: as a fall of light, and then something shaping out of the light. So it seemed. I did not move; I let the water stream silently down my wrist. There was a blur of gold: his hair. And then I blinked, and saw his face more clearly.

I must have made some noise then. Perhaps I shifted among the wild fern. Perhaps I sighed. He looked toward me, but there was too much light; I must have been a blur of shadow in his eyes.

Then he walked out of the light.

Of course I thought about him, at first the way you think about weather or time, something always at the edge of your mind. He didn’t seem real to me, just something I dreamed on a hot summer day, as I swallowed water scented with roses and stone. I remembered his eyes, odd, heavy-lidded, the color, I thought then, of his hair. When I saw them a day or two later, I was surprised.

I gathered wild lilies and honeysuckle and bleeding heart, which my sister, Laurel, loved. I stayed in the wood for a long time, watching, but he had gone. The sky turned the color of a mourning dove’s breast before I walked out of the trees. I remembered time, then. I was tired and ravenous, and I wished I had ridden to the wood. I wished I had worn shoes. But I had learned where to find wild ginger, and what tree bled a crust of honey out of a split in the wood, and where the blackberries would ripen. My father despaired of me; my sister wondered at me. But my despair was greater if I caged my wonder, like a wild bird. Some days I let it fly free, and followed it. On those days I found the honey, and the secret well, and the mandrake root.

My sister, Laurel, is quite beautiful. She has chestnut hair, and skin like ripened peaches, and great grey eyes that seem to see things that are not quite discernible to others. She doesn’t really see that well; her world is simple and fully human. Her brows lift and pucker worriedly when she encounters ambiguities, or sometimes only me. Everyone in the village loves her; she is gentle and sweet-spoken. She was to marry the next spring.

That twilight, when I came home barefoot, my skirt full of flowers, her lover, Perrin, was there. Perrin looked at me askance, as always, and shook his head.

“Barefoot. And with rose petals in your hair. You look like something conceived under a mushroom.”

******

What do you think?

I think there is not the remotest comparison. Compared to McKillip, Claude looks practically illiterate. Where does Claude fall down on the job?

–Cliched reactions; cliched phrases throughout. That’s what strikes me first, and then —

–Way too little voice. The protagonist does not yet exist as an individual in the reader’s mind. That’s what strikes me second. This is connected to the first problem. The dependence on cliches is one thing that prevents the protagonist from becoming an individual.

–Way too little setting, and what setting there is has been rendered boring. Oddly, though this is huge contrast between the generated text and the real thing, this struck me third rather than first.

Honestly, I think the above comparison really illustrates what creativity and individuality in writing looks like: McKillip’s work has it and Claude’s does not. This would no doubt become more obvious with a longer excerpt, even if you pitted Claude against a less skilled author than McKillip.

This kind of comparison might be useful in talking about “voice” in a class on fiction. That’s so nebulous, but it’s so plain here — that McKillip’s Rois has voice and is already an individual in this short snippet, and Claude’s unnamed protagonist is an undifferentiated Everyprotagonist.

This paired comparison also shows the importance of putting the protagonist in the world. Setting is important. Do it right, and you pull the reader into your world. Leave it out, or barely nod to it, and the story becomes unengaging.

*****

I should perhaps add here that Winter Rose is a lovely story as a standalone, but I so vehemently disliked the so-called sequel that I gave it away and I’ve tried hard to pretend I never read it. I therefore do recommend caution here, in case you read the above snippet, immediately buy Winter Rose, and then think about going on with the putative sequel.

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Backstory

A post at Jane Friedman’s blog: How Do You Know What Backstory to Include?

I like this post, which seems less shallow and facile than a lot of posts about writing craft.

As the creator, you’ll want to know more about your story world and the people who populate it—to bring the story more realistically, vividly to life, even if not all of that backstory makes it onto the page. But trying to present all and every detail of those influences would overwhelm the story, dilute it. You have to determine which parts of the character’s life before your story begins are directly intrinsic to the story readers are now experiencing. Backstory is intrinsic when it immediately and materially serves the story in some key way.

I particularly like this post because of the first page I posted yesterday, from The Fourth Wing:

Every Navarran officer, whether they choose to be schooled as healers, scribes, infantry, or riders, is molded within these cruel walls over three years, honed to be weapons to secure our mountainous borders from the violent invasion attempts of the kingdom of Poromiel and their gryphon riders. The weak don’t survive here, especially not in the Riders Quadrant. The dragons make sure of that.

What part of this is important? The dragons. What part is totally not “immediately and materially serving the story?” The part about needing to secure the mountainous borders from the kingdom of Poromiel. This is the sentence I primarily meant when I said “rather clumsy explanation of the world.” I think this sentence is clumsy, and the reason I think it’s clumsy is because (a) the sentence itself is clumsy, trying to do too many things at once, and also (b) this is the wrong place for that detail about the borders and the aggressive neighboring country. A kid trudging up the stairs is not going to think that sentence, so that’s one reason this detail is out of place, so also (c) this is a failure of plausible characterization.

I didn’t really think about why the above paragraph doesn’t work for me until I saw this other post about backstory. I was so distracted by the first-person present-tense let’s-be-The-Hunger-Games vibe that I didn’t really think that much beyond that vibe. Well, that vibe and the completely cliched character and situation.

I need to try another bestselling fantasy novel. Or SF. Either way, next time, not a YA novel.

In the meantime, good post about backstory.

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Would you turn the page?

I said last week that it would be more reasonable and fair to try this challenge here with a fantasy novel that is a bestseller. Of course that means some of you might possibly have already encountered this book and have an opinion about it, but let’s try it anyway.

I will add, I’ve never heard of this author or this series. I’m not looking at it closely; I’m trying to keep just to the first page myself, not read the description or the reviews or even really look at the cover. All I did was google “number one fantasy novel Amazon,” click through, and download the sample. I will add that this novel is the #3 fantasy on Amazon today. A sequel is #1, but I backed up to the first book in the series for this challenge.

Let’s take a look at the first page:

***

Conscription Day is always the deadliest. Maybe that’s why the sunrise is especially beautiful this morning — because I know it might be my last.

I tighten the straps of my heavy canvas rucksack and trudge up the wide staircase and trudge up the wide staircase of the stone fortress I call home. My chest heaves with exertion, my lungs burning by the time I reach the stone corridor leading to General Sorrengal’s Office. This is what six months of intense physical training has given me — the ability to barely climb six flights of stairs with a thirty-pound pack.

I’m so fucked.

The thousands of twenty-year-olds waiting outside the gate to enter their chosen quadrant for service are the smartest and strongest in Navarre. Hundreds of them have been preparing for the Riders Quadrant, the chance to become one of the elite, since birth. I’ve had exactly six months.

The expressionless guards lining the wide hallway at the top of the landing avoid my eyes as I pass, but that’s nothing new. Besides, being ignored is the best possible scenario for me.

Basgiath War College isn’t known for being kind to … well, anyone, even those of us whose mothers are in command.

Every Navarran officer, whether they choose to be schooled as healers, scribes, infantry, or riders, is molded within these cruel walls over three years, honed to be weapons to secure our mountainous borders from the violent invasion attempts of the kingdom of Poromiel and their gryphon riders. The weak don’t survive here, especially not in the Riders Quadrant. The dragons make sure of that.

***

O-kay. So, this what do you think?

I think this is apparently aimed at Hunger Game fans, and I think it’s SUPER cliched. Wow, a young person who is an outsider, but whose mother is apparently also the commandant of the war college — two cliches jammed violently together even though they make no sense in combination. Almost no setting, rather clumsy explanation of the world … this is the number one fantasy series on Amazon right now? Well, gryphons and dragons are all very well, but I’m completely unimpressed with this opening.

What book is this?

This is The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros.

This book has one and a half million ratings and a 4.8 star rating. Lots of laudatory quotes from NYT bestselling authors. Many Gosh Wow comments from Kirkus and wherever.

I guess maybe this book has wide appeal. I mean, I suppose it must have wide appeal. My general opinion is that really popular books must be doing something right, though maybe not something that matters a lot to me. But, based solely on the first page, I have zero interest in going on with the sample.

If any of you have actually read it, I would be very interested in your opinions.

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Out today on Amazon: MARAG

I realize you probably knew this, but here is your reminder: MARAG dropped this morning, so if you preordered a Kindle ebook, that should have appeared on your Kindle; if you would like a paper copy, those should have gone live at the same time as the ebook; and if you were waiting for MARAG to drop in KU, it should be there now.

AND! If you have read it already, this would be a GREAT TIME to post a BRIEF REVIEW. Amazon doesn’t allow reviews until the book is live; now it’s live; I would sure appreciate it if you would click through and leave a review.

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Oh, happy April Fools Day, I guess!

I specifically moved MARAG’s release date to April 2nd just to avoid the faintest whiff of practical jokes associated with it, and as far as I’m concerned, April Fools Day is somewhere between ignorable and annoying, but then I encountered this post at Writer Unboxed, which is amusing: The Upside of Fooling

When publishing a writing advice post on April Fool’s Day, the obvious temptation is to make the whole thing about fools or foolishness, playing on the theme of the day.

I’m not going to do that.

Fooled you! Yes, I am.

Fine, so I smiled. The post is actually about “fooling yourself” in good ways. Fool yourself into progress. Fool yourself into confidence. Fool around with ideas. These are all pretty good ideas.

I mean, plenty of times, I’ve said to myself, “I’m not actually going to tackle this annoying revision. I’m just going to play a couple of games of Solitaire. That’s why I’m opening up my laptop.” Then, as Solitaire is fundamentally pretty boring, I play about three games and finally just look at the WIP and boom! Two hours later, some revision has been done.

That’s not quite what this post discusses, but it’s close.

It’s also as close as I’m going to get to doing an April Fools Day post of my own, so … happy April Fools Day, and try not to be suckered into a snipe hunt or whatever.

If you’ve actually seen a really funny April Fools Day joke, share it in the comments!

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Finished! For fairly close values of “finished.” Plus, yes, puppies are distracting

You know about ABD meaning “all but dissertation,” right? Well, I hereby declare that ABE means “all but epilogue.”

There I was on Saturday, finishing the last chapter, by which I mean cutting the chapter in half (it was long anyway) and switching the back half into Rihasi’s point of view. So I finished that and IMMEDIATELY realized that this was not actually the last chapter, but the SECOND-to-last chapter.

So I stomped off in a huff and called Craig to complain about that, and also about the length, which is getting ridiculous at this point, by the way.

Then on Easter Sunday, I wrote the ACTUAL last chapter. Well, all but a smidge, which I will finish today.

Before I write the epilogue, I am going to start at the beginning and do the first cut, getting the length down to something sensible and also (much more important) getting a clearer view of the whole story. I’m not even sure whether every incident is going to stay in the novel. I may not decide that until I see what early readers think. I definitely can’t decide about that until I do a complete read-through from the top. Reading straight through should make it easier to write an effective epilogue. I’m therefore going to do that first. And probably the rest of the primary revision. I have 26 notes about things to revise. Some will be very fast and easy. Four or six will be much more difficult. The epilogue can come, rather suitably, last.

Questions you might not ask, but which I’m going to answer (QYMNA, which is at least as neat an abbreviation as FAQ):

A) How many secondary characters unexpectedly became important?

Two. And I did not see either one coming until there they were.

One is Prince Sekaran. I’ve known some important things about him for a long time, and I have ideas about what to do with him and his immediate family in later books. I did not expect him to show up in RIHASI until there he was, and I did not expect him to take an important role until he did. He is mostly out of sight, and showing the reader what he is doing while he’s out of sight is a trick, because Kior and Rihasi have to realize what he’s doing without mostly seeing super-overt evidence of it. Some of it gets revealed at the end.

The other is a mercenary who took a small role … and then a bigger role … and then suddenly became important enough that I had no choice but to weave him in and out of the back half of the novel. I mean, I could have cut his role way back instead, but he is interesting and fun, so I didn’t want to do that. Therefore, I let him become important.

There are also quite a few secondary characters who are sufficiently important that they are going to have to be mentioned in the epilogue so readers aren’t left hanging about what happened to them. Luckily, I know how to handle that for all of them. I’m pretty sure.

B) How much longer is the draft of RIHASI than you expected?

A little more than a third again as long.

C) How much longer was MARAG than you expected?

A little more than a third again as long.

D) And do you expect that from now on, you will be able to estimate final length a little more accurately?

Decades of experience suggests that I just will never be able to believe that everything will go more than a third again as long as I think it ought to, but I guess by this time the evidence has piled up so far that I might be able to force myself to overestimate enough to get in the actual ballpark.

E) Does length correlate with how long it takes to finish the draft?

Much, much less than you might expect. This is the first Tuyo-world novel where I have averaged 3000 words per day rather than 5000 words per day. This makes an immense difference, obviously. It also puts RIHASI squarely in the “average” category rather than the “fast” category.

I doubt I can make the optimistic May 2 deadline, unless secondary revision is really easy. June 2 seems highly probable.

Meanwhile! The puppies are now hinting at how cute they are going to be in a week or two.

I realize this picture is a little blurry. It’s not that the puppies aren’t trying to be steady; it’s that they wobble. A lot. Sleeping = not blurry. Creeping around and trying to say Hi to Auntie Naamah = blurry.

They are now staying awake for, oh, maybe a minute or so after nursing. Then they fall asleep, thump! Morgan says they might as well be five fat hot water bottles and she does not want to spend much time with them. Three of them are indeed fat, the B/Ts and the Blen. The two rubies are the smallest, but doing fine. They are actually a little more active, probably because they are not as fat. But they are all wobbling up to their feet, which sometimes takes extra time for a fat puppy.

Do you remember how small they were when they were born? Let’s compare:

The biggest was nine ounces at birth and is now 2 lbs and 2 ounces (from 250 g to 950 g). The smallest was six ounces at birth and is now a pound and a half (170 g to 680 g). I tube-fed the little ruby one more time after basically stopping, but I have now put that equipment away because (a) she’s doing great, and more important (b) she’s three weeks old and at this point, unless something dire weakened her significantly, I would use a syringe with a nipple attachment, not a tube.

The puppies do not need to nurse very much any more. That is, they are strong enough to get a lot of milk in a hurry, including Little Ruby. The difference is incredible. From Morgan needing to be with them practically nonstop for the first week, now Morgan spends almost no time with them at all.

I (or my mother, when I’m not at home) puts Morgan with them every two hours or so, she nurses them, and then she wants to get out again and she doesn’t want to go back to them for another two or three hours. This is fine. They don’t need her to be close; they are practically immune from chilling at this point, plus they have each other, plus I haven’t turned off the (special puppy-safe) heating pad because I’m keeping it quite cool at night for Morgan’s sake.

Three have had their eyes open for a full week, the other two for five days. They have exited the neonatal, also called the vegetative, stage. From here on, they will develop massively more quickly, developing all the normal puppy behaviors and rapidly entering the period which ought to be called Extreme Cuteness, but which is more properly thought of as the sensorimotor stage. They are already showing the earliest play behavior and tail wagging.

They are now, barring disaster, almost safe from basically everything that is a dire threat to newborns. For the next two weeks, as long as no serious mischance befalls them, they will be very easy to take care of. After that I’ll start early housetraining and that will be a nuisance, of course, but the Extreme Cuteness will compensate nicely.

I am also now thinking that this is why I gave the Ugaro the custom of saying, “She will thrive, unless some serious mischance comes to her” and things like that. I really can’t bring myself to say, “They’re safe now.” They’re safe unless some serious mischance comes to them. Knock on wood!

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Happy Easter!

No real post today; back Monday with an update as usual!

Enjoy Easter, or have a nice spring weekend, or, if you’re in Australia, autumn, I suppose. Here we’re having spring —

Crabapple putting on an Easter display outside my mother’s house

The puppies are thriving, none of them need supportive care right now, and actually Easter is about the time I’ll finally let Naamah and Haydee meet the babies. Morgan is going to be suspicious of that whole idea, but tolerant. In a few weeks, she will be delighted to have other dogs take over playmate duty, as by then she’s going to be thinking of them as a cross between children and piranhas. But for now, she is still attentive and maternal.

Four puppies are actually visible here, but you may have to search a bit for the black ones — they tend to vanish unless you look carefully.

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Would you turn the page?

Here’s one of Rhamey’s posts: would you turn the page of this bestseller? I do like these challenges, although to be fair, I really ought to figure out what the bestselling fantasy and SF titles are and post one of those. But then I would know who the author was before I looked at the first page, which isn’t as much fun.

Anyway, first page:

***

The walled and gated McGrath estate was a world unto itself, protected and private. On this twilit evening, the Tudor-style home’s mullioned windows glowed jewel-like amid the lush, landscaped grounds. Palm fronds swayed overhead; candles floated on the surface of the pool and golden lanterns hung from the branches of a large California live oak. Black-clad servers moved among the well-dressed crowd, carrying silver trays full of champagne, while a jazz trio played softly in the corner.

Twenty-year-old Frances Grace McGrath knew what was expected of her tonight. She was to be the very portrait of a well-bred young lady, smiling and serene; any untoward emotions were to be contained and concealed, borne in silence. The lessons Frankie had been taught at home and at church and at St. Bernadette’s Academy for Girls had instilled in her a rigorous sense of propriety. The unrest going on across the country these days, erupting on city streets and college campuses, was a distant and alien world to her, as incomprehensible as the conflict in faraway Vietnam.

She circulated among the guests, sipping an ice-cold Coca-Cola, trying to smile, stopping now and then to make small talk with her parents’ friends, hoping her worry didn’t show. All the while, her gaze searched the crowd for her brother, who was late to his own party.

***

What do you think?

I think the first paragraph does okay at establishing the setting — it’s fairly minimal, but it’s good enough to see the scene. However, I don’t like this kind of setting. The second paragraph does okay at establishing the protagonist. I don’t like her either. I think both the setting and the protagonist are terribly cliched, and they are cliches I dislike. I would not turn the page. I’m repulsed by the page — not strongly, but definitely repulsed.

As a separate question, is this opening active or passive? Remember when I posted a bit of Laura Ruby’s books and bolded the telling? Or what I thought might count as telling? Let me try that here.

***

The walled and gated McGrath estate was a world unto itself, protected and private. On this twilit evening, the Tudor-style home’s mullioned windows glowed jewel-like amid the lush, landscaped grounds. Palm fronds swayed overhead; candles floated on the surface of the pool and golden lanterns hung from the branches of a large California live oak. Black-clad servers moved among the well-dressed crowd, carrying silver trays full of champagne, while a jazz trio played softly in the corner.

Twenty-year-old Frances Grace McGrath knew what was expected of her tonight. She was to be the very portrait of a well-bred young lady, smiling and serene; any untoward emotions were to be contained and concealed, borne in silence. The lessons Frankie had been taught at home and at church and at St. Bernadette’s Academy for Girls had instilled in her a rigorous sense of propriety. The unrest going on across the country these days, erupting on city streets and college campuses, was a distant and alien world to her, as incomprehensible as the conflict in faraway Vietnam.

She circulated among the guests, sipping an ice-cold Coca-Cola, trying to smile, stopping now and then to make small talk with her parents’ friends, hoping her worry didn’t show. All the while, her gaze searched the crowd for her brother, who was late to his own party.

***

The thing is, I like description, so the first paragraph doesn’t bother me at all just because it’s static. I’m fine with beginning with static description. It’s not a bad idea to snap a still image and begin with that. Two or three paragraphs of static description would be fine with me, if the description was good and engaging. I think the description here is good, but not engaging.

But to me, the second paragraph might as well read:

Insert completely cliched young woman who, gasp! doesn’t like formal parties.

So … taking a moment to do static description of the protagonist is not working for me. I don’t think you have to open with action. I don’t even think it’s important to open with action. But this particular opening doesn’t work for me because I don’t find this protagonist at all interesting of fun. I think she’s completely boring. The missing brother is not enough to make me care about the protagonist.

Oh, this is Kristen Hannah’s The Women. I’ve heard of that. I have no inclination to read it. Here’s the description from Amazon:

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over-whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.

I doubt this can in any way compare to Rose Under Fire. That’s the “young women going to war” story I would recommend.

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