Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards

‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

You wouldn’t normally associate the Queen of Hearts with thoughtfulness, but Her Mad Majesty is on to something here, at least as it speaks to writers. Our first and most basic task is conceiving, birthing, nurturing–wait for it–a sentence. The noun plus verb kind.

And as Alice found Wonderland, sentence construction isn’t easy. The artiste in you wants Continue reading “Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards”

Setting Ablaze

Gone With the Wind, 1939Cue Scarlett O’Hara shambling beaten and ravenous into what’s left of Tara’s gardens. She roots in the dirt for anything, anything to eat. The music swells. Scarlett digs up a radish and tries to devour it raw. She wretches, gathers herself, and declares to a fiery sky that she’ll never go hungry again.

Like other movies turned pop culture shorthand, Gone with the Wind makes  common language to talk story mechanics, thank you Margaret Mitchell and Victor Fleming. We all know Scarlett and her arc, how this moment cues her shift in motivations come Act Two. We remember her Big Declaration as alive with Continue reading “Setting Ablaze”

The Case of the Conjuror’s Trick

800px-A_Study_in_Scarlet_from_Beeton's_Christmas_Annual_1887Sherlock Holmes. Just that name conjures up a lean man in cape and deerstalker tracking through the moors or pacing 221B Baker Street over a multi-pipe problem. Holmes long ago achieved literary escape velocity, transcending Victorian London, crime fiction and even Conan Doyle. First sleuthing upon the page in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, these days scads of pastiches and reinterpretations are published every year. Holmes movies, television series, theatre productions. Holmes societies across the world. The game has never been more afoot.

What about him has such lasting magic?

Last year I found myself immersed in that question, tasked at Continue reading “The Case of the Conjuror’s Trick”

Behind: “What Settles After the Stars”

IMG_0953One fated French night in 1700 or thereabouts, so the story goes, Dom Pierre Pérignon was stalking his Hautevillers cellar, turning his bottles, and the great monk decided then was as good a time as any to have a taste. And what he tasted went down crisp and bright and bubbly, the first modern champagne. and he cried out, his voice echoing through the chalk caverns, “Brothers, come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”

A great story, if total hokum. Yep, it never happened, but Continue reading “Behind: “What Settles After the Stars””