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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Open secrets and opening lines


I can't believe we're into the third week of 2017  already, and I have nothing to talk about.

Well, I do, but I doubt if you want to hear much about my latest house project—removing painted-over wallpaper from the dining room. Let’s face it, that’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. 

However, “have you ever painted over wallpaper? is my new litmus tests for friends, lovers and politicians.

And there is a wrong answer to that question.

On the writing front, as I worked on revisions, I discovered why Dead Aunt Charlotte is haunting the family. Not because they never found her body, which is what the family thinks, but because the family never found Charlotte’s child.

When Charlotte died in the 1920s, unexpected pregnancies were hidden, bastard children were put up for adoption once they were born, and no one ever talked about it. More frequently, there were a lot of babies born six or seven months after the marriage.  

Of course none of my readers would blink an eye at a single, wealthy woman having a child, so explaining why this is a big deal without preaching will be tricky—particularly because it’s a minor thread in the overall story but she’s critical to the resolution.

Even trickier will be doing this without an info-dump.

But I’m excited about this development and the ensuing challenge. I'm fascinated by the 1920s. I like the clothes, the shoes (really like the shoes) and the hats. 

As a result, I have done way more research than my minor ghostly characters deserves. I’ve discovered that like now social acceptability of sexual mores varies by social-economic status. 

In the medieval times, the wealthier or more noble you were, the greater the risk of stepping outside of expected behavior. By the early 1920s century, it was just the opposite. Wealth served to insulate you from public censure, and Dead Aunt Charlotte could afford to keep her child hidden.

And now for something fun... post the opening line of your work-in-progress. I'll start: 

Mom is naked. Again.”
Eden Rivers tripped up the old step, dropping her walking pole in the stumble. Balancing on one foot, she caught her breath and turned to her sister. “What?”
“She’s weeding the begonias au naturel.”


  1. Keena,

    OMGosh, I love your teaser and your beginning. I want to know more about Charlotte AND why mom is running about in her birthday suit. *grin*

    The "Roaring Twenties" is a favorite era of mine, too. Coincidentally, my work in progress begins with (and at) the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

    Here is the opening:

    Belly down on cold concrete, Ceara Rocchelli fought her way to consciousness. Acrid, oily garage stench accompanied her on the slow ascent into disoriented awareness. She opened her eyes to muted darkness. Across the way, wandering tendrils of cigarette smoke floated in the haze of light spilling through a doorway— No a partial wall that stopped halfway across the room. She knew there was something beyond that wall that mattered, but just what it was faded before she could grab hold. Her nurse’s uniform did nothing to stave off the chill of the frigid, dead air, and the tantalizing lure of mindless, blissful sleep beckoned. She was bone-deep cold and so tired…

  2. The 20s would be fun to visit, Kaye. I love your opening. Very moody and heavy--a great tone for writing about the St. Valentine's Day massacre. On a completely different note, have you noticed how flexible the definition of 'massacre' is? Ha, ha,

    1. Yes, I have noticed that with both massacre and a assassination. Massacre and assassination certainly evoke a more visceral reaction than 'everyone' or 'someone' died. Media-related, perhaps?

  3. Last October I was on a cruse ship heading to Europe with a group of retailers. The theme of the trip--1920's. The hat, the flower and beads--the fringe on the dress! What a great time. Loved your opening line. Definitely a grabber. Here is mine.
    “Wait! Take the pontoon.” The wind whipped across the reeds of the lake. The golden grass bent low to its mercy.
    “No time to uncover the base. We need to go now.”
    With my feet braced on the edge of the dock, I grabbed the canoe and steadied the bow as Trulie climbed in. She released the rope that held to the cleat, and I slid into the seat behind her. The blue lake’s turbulent water splashed over the fiberglass edge.

    1. I would love to take that cruise. What fun. I also love the opening, especially the line "bent low to its mercy."

  4. The murder mystery company I worked with had a show called "Murder Speaks Easy" and it was one of the favorites of the audience, taking place in a 1920's speakeasy. It was a time of great change in the US for sure, coming of the Victorian and Edwardian ages.

    Opening lines? Well, I've just started to here goes

    "I'd love to oblige you, but my time just flew out the window"
    "How dare you speak to me like that, you forget your place."
    Titus gritted his teeth, cursing the fates that had landed him in this place. HE bleonged on his onw property, hos own pieve of ground, not her to answer to the whims of a spoiled-.

    Loved your opening lines. Doris

    1. The 20s are fascinating. I like your opening. Titus is in a world of trouble, isn't he?

  5. Keena, I love your litmus test! Mine is whether they become nauseous at the sight of 1970s linoleum. (One of these days, I will replace the floor in the laundry room. Promise!)

    That opening is dynamite, as is the bit about Aunt Charlotte. The family only THINKS they haven't found her body? What's up with that? Was she made into the shade on that hideous lamp in the corner? Could she be the science project for which the kids are wiring together bones in the garage? And why isn't mom worried about getting fertilizer in uncomfortable spots? Doesn't she realize that stuff burns sensitive skin? Finish the dang story!

    I waffle back and forth between setting up the plot and setting up a main character in a story's opening. Here's the opening graf from my WIP:

    The nearer the train drew to Austin, Texas, the more Henriette Remington Camden wondered whether she’d made the right decision. Not that she’d been blessed with an abundance of choices. In fact, her only other option had been to join the circus and hope not to be eaten by a lion.

    1. Kathleen, I tore up my 60s linoleum about two years ago. Ugh. Charlotte's body was never found. She was an up-and-coming film star who just disappeared. The family assumes it was a obsessive fan. I usually start with character, but some of my favorite stories start with plot. Love the opening line.

  6. The 1920's is a favorite era of mine. It was a time of social change and women, well, they decided to be whatever they wanted to be. But some things were as scandalous as they had always been--like unwed mothers. You've certainly created an enticing story line, Keena.
    The clothing of the 1920's was so intricate and beautiful. I loved those fashions.
    My WIP is a 1950's contemporary titles It's Only Make Believe. Here is the opening line:
    A loud slap echoed through the mayor’s house. June’s hand stung as she placed it back in the pocket of her dressing gown, part of her vast trousseau paid for by her parents.
    Kit stepped back and rubbed his reddened cheek with his left hand. June couldn’t help but notice the flash of his golden wedding band in the light of the dressing room. Her heart clenched at the sight of it. They’d been married only a few hours and now this…

    1. Ooh...great opening line! i'd keep reading. yes, the clothes from the 20s are fabulous. i like the beadwork and the handkerchief hems. Mostly, though, the shoes and the hats do it for me. I so wish hats were still popular.

  7. Very, Very intriguing, Keena! Oddly enough, I am also working on a novel set in the twenties like you and Kaye! This is a first for me. I love the clothes too. Mine is a romance set in Ireland at the time of the Easter Uprising. The initial leaders were often from the privileged Anglo-Irish class and many of them were women who were fighting for women's rights as well as an independent country.There were quite a few actual love stories from this period--some ending tragically. Anyway, I'm finding this project very challenging. Not because of the time period but because the events surrounding the Uprising so complex!I've had the story in my head for years, but I don't know if this MS will ever see the light of day. Here are my first lines in the first draft.

    The dark speck in the distance sailed around a bend in the road, disappearing for a moment behind a hedgerow. When it came back into view a few minutes later, the form came into definition: a figure, with skirt billowing, on a bicycle. The scent of burning peat filled the air. Scanning the horizon, Finn saw a thin column of smoke wavering above a cottage chimney.
    He kept his gaze fixed on the approaching bicycle and took a deep drag from his cigarette to calm his nerves. With one hand, he pulled his thin coat closed at his throat. Despite the chill in the air, he was bathed in a cold sweat. The figure was close enough now for him to see the girl’s face, hair hidden by a cap.

    1. Hi, Patty. Your opening is ver evocative. I'm not familiar with the Easter Rising (other than broad historical swathes) and didn't know that Anglo women were involved in the movement. I'm not surprised, though. Women often look at the world differently than from the status quo.

  8. Early on a Sunday mornin'... Kevin Barry gave his young life for the cause of liberty... Shoot me like an Irish soldier, do not hang me like a dog...

    I wish I could remember all the words! I'm looking forward to seeing all these 1920s stories, y'all!

    1. Hi, Cheryl. Is that from your book? It gave me chills.