Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Tour--Cyndere's Midnight--Day3

I'm always interested in a novel's hook. The first few paragraphs go a long way in either enticing me to read more or allowing me to set the book down for *later*. Of course, sometimes later never comes. An author such as Jeffrey Overstreet, whom I've already learned to trust may get a bit more of a break than someone I haven't read before.

Cyndere's Midnight starts with a brief prologue. I'm about as much of a fan of prologues, in general, as I am of omniscient point of view. This prologue reveals Auralia (though not named) working her colorful magic in The Expanse, proving that she is still there but choosing not to be seen.

Chapter one starts with Cyndere (pronounced SIN-der):
Cyndere walked down to the water to make her daily decision--turn and go back into House Bel Amica, or climb Stairway Rock and throw herself into the sea.

Okay, I have to pause here. As first sentences go, that one is an attention grabber. We have a character who has a habit--a habit of choosing every single day whether this is the day she will suicide or not. I don't know about you, but I kept right on reading. What had happened to her to make this sort of despair a part of her routine? And why, if it was so very tempting, hadn't she done it yet? Back to the opening:

It had become a habit. Leaving her chambers early, while the mirror-lined hallways were empty of all but servants, she would traverse many bridges, stairs, and passages and emerge on the shores of the Rushtide Inlet, escaping the gravity of distraction. Today in the autumn bluster, she wore her husband's woolen stormcloak at the water's edge. She brought her anger. She brought her dead.

While the fog erased the wild seascape, waves exploded against the ocean's scattered stone teeth, washed wide swaths of pebbles, and sighed into the sand. They carried her father's whispers from many years past, mornings when he had walked with her along the tide's edge and dreamt aloud. His bristling gray beard smelled of salt, prickling when he rested his chin on her head. He would place one hand on her shoulder and with the other hold a seashell to her ear. "Hear that?" he'd say. "That's your very own far-off country. You will walk on ground no one has ever seen. And I'm going to find it for you when I venture out to map the Mystery Sea."

He had done just that. While Cyndere's mother, Queen Thesera, stayed home to govern her people within House Bel Amica's massive swell of stone, King Helpryn discovered islands, sites for future Bel Amican settlements.

A shipwreck took the king when he tried to cross a stormy span between those islands.

Most all the reading I've done about opening scenes says not to give too much backstory right up front. First the reader needs to care about the character NOW before she gives a rip how the character came to this moment of their lives. Yet after this sordid beginning Overstreet goes on to document, albeit poetically, the demise of Cyndere's brother and husband. How does he keep our attention through what is basically three pages of history? Because of the strength of that opening sentence. Let me repeat it:

Cyndere walked down to the water to make her daily decision--turn and go back into House Bel Amica, or climb Stairway Rock and throw herself into the sea.

In her book Beginnings, Middles & Ends, Nancy Kress provides us with The Swimming Pool Theory:
Structuring fiction is like kicking off from the side of a swimming pool. The stronger and more forceful your opening kick, the longer you can glide through the water. The stronger and more forceful your opening scene, the less your reader will mind a "glide" through nondramatized backfill.

I think Overstreet's opening sentence is strong enough to propel us through three pages that show us what led up to it. Do you?

As near as I can figure out, there are two more strands to Auralia's Thread. Strand 3, Cal-Raven's Ladder, is due out in 2010.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Lots of writing stuff to think about in your posts, Val. I have to admit, I thought the opening was slow. I hadn't taken the time to analyze, so wasn't thinking, Ah-ha, backstory. But perhaps that was exactly why I wasn't fully engaged. I'd say it took a good hundred pages before I felt pulled into the story.


Robert Treskillard said...

I REALLY liked that opening line as well. It grabbed me. And you're right, it was enough to push me through the backstory. But just enough.

Good insight!

chrisd said...

I cannot wait to read it.

Jason said...

Good insight, especially the discussion of the opening line. I like the swimming pool analogy especially.

I have one point of contention - I took the prologue with Auralia as something that happened before the Cataclysm, not current with the timeline in the book.

Good thoughts, thanks for sharing!