The other day a friend asked me what was the hardest part of writing a story.
“The beginnings,” I told her.
I spend more time on that first sentence, that first paragraph, page or chapter than I do with the whole book—almost. And even after I rewrite for the hundredth time, I’m not one hundred percent satisfied. I’ve come to understand that this is my “insecurity” showing up.
Here’s why. Book browsers usually give a book no more than three pages before making the decision to buy or to put a book back on the shelf. Three pages!
“Deal with it, baby.” That’s what I finally told myself.
But how? There had to a way I could rewrite my beginnings and not wind up in a puddle of despair with every book.
When all else fails, I like to resort to logic, so that’s where I went for help. I turned on my left brain coordinates and created a Checklist Of Questions for myself. It has helped, and so I always ask myself:
• Do I have a HOOK?
• Is it clear what my MC wants or needs?
• Will the reader will know when and where this story takes place?
• Have I set the tone I need to tell this story?
Those are my first four questions and the most important ones for me to get that story on its way.
I don’t bother with this Checklist of Questions until I come to that miracle called The End. When I type that, I know it’s only the beginning, but I’ve finished phase ONE of my book. That’s when I go back and shred and shred and shred the beginning, using my list of questions.
Every author has a different method. This is mine and I feel better about those beginnings if I stick with it.
C. Lee McKenzie
YA Romantic Suspense, 62k words
Released Dec. 19, Evernight Teen
Cleo has struggled to heal after her baby sister’s death, but the flashbacks to the accident won’t go away. With the move, she vows to keep her tragedy a secret and avoid pitying looks.
Something’s strange about the abandoned house across the street—flashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see.
Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isn’t, and she’s sure whoever is inside is watching her.
In one night, Belleza’s life changes forever. So famous, her only choice is to hide her secret from the world so she can silence small town bigotry.
14+ due to adult situations
Buy Links: Evernight Teen Amazon Buy in Print
It had been a terrible and very long journey from that tragic Christmas to now, and I couldn’t think about losing another one of us. We’d each done all we could to live without Aziza.
Dad went as far away as possible from where the accident happened. Mom sold our house and moved us to a new town. Still, we weren’t over that December day.
Mom buried herself in her work for long hours.
Grandpa pulled into himself, wearing that glazed look he’d adopted before the funeral.
I was almost sure he’d wear that look for the rest of his life. He loved Aziza. And what wasn’t there to love? Beautiful golden girl, my mom called her, forever poking her four-year-old nose around the corner daring any of us to chase her. Teasing, begging for attention, which we gave because we couldn’t resist her…
Grandpa loved my sister a lot. I was afraid he loved me very little now.
I wasn’t so fond of myself, either. I shut out all of my Buena Vista friends and started running alone.
From the window over the kitchen sink I watched Nefertiti as she sat on the step, preening in a sunny spot around the back of the house. I went out to sit with her, stroking her fur and surveying the weedy backyard that Mom hadn’t had time to think about. She kept saying she planned to hire a gardener, but there was always something that derailed that plan. In September, it was the new show at the museum that she had to set up by October. She was in charge of staging the Egyptian pieces coming on loan, but she was shorthanded and putting in extra time to make up for only having two assistants. It was going to be a while before the toilet and other debris disappeared.
It was all too depressing to look at, so I walked around to the front and for a minute glanced at the windows of the house across the street. I almost expected to see someone staring out at me. I couldn’t shake the creeped out feeling I got every time I looked at that place.
I knelt to check my laces, and then I was racing down the street, hoping to shed old fears, old thoughts . . . at least for a while. I was at the end of the block, deciding which way to turn, when I spotted Grandpa. I went in the opposite direction, so neither one of us had to pretend that everything was all right since that letter from Dad.
The high school was only four blocks away––one of the reasons, Mom said, she chose this location. It also had one of the best academic ratings in the valley. Another reason she told me she zeroed in on our cozy cul-de-sac.
When I reached the school, I stared up at the two-storied building where I’d spend my last two years of high school. Then what? Junior college, or a job at K-Mart? I worried that I’d bomb on my SAT’s. I’d bombed on almost everything, hadn’t I? My grades, my friends––being a sister.
I walked up the stone path, leading to the main doors, imagining that first day here, my stomach balling up with worry just on the edge of dread. That first day was going to be the worst.
Off to my right, a thick oak sheltered tables with benches, so I jogged across the lawn and sat on the wooden slats and thought about how it was going to be when school started. Everything new. Everything different. The stares all newbies get. Nobody would know who I was or why I was here. They wouldn’t know my mom was famous for her books on Egypt, or that my dad was an archeologist—the one people called when they dug up important ancientanything in the Middle East. But they’d know something was different about me the minute they heard my name. Cleopatra wasn’t on any baby name list they’d ever read. Neither was Aziza, but she was too little for her name to embarrass her. She’d only just learned what it meant. Precious. And she was that. She was.
A breeze brushed my cheek and I shivered. I thought I’d gotten over feeling that chill, but the healing process wasn’t just slow, it was uneven, too. Sometimes Aziza was only a whisper inside me, and then her image would spring from around the corner just like she used to, full of mischief and giggles. Then there would be that moment when the memory of the chilled air of our old entryway blasted across my face.
I jumped to my feet and jogged to the track behind the high school as fast as I could. I didn’t have a devil at my back, but I had a tiny ghost that shadowed me when I stayed still for very long.
About the Author:
C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets—usually strays that find her rather than the other way around. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. Her favorite destinations are Turkey and Nicaragua, but because she had family in England, Switzerland, and Spain she goes there when she can.
She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. She just published her first middle grade novel titled Alligators Overhead.
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