My mother touches her forehead, throwing her green eyes into shade. Her mouth is pink, her hair blond like wheat. She is tanned. She is the best-looking woman on the beach, only she will never recognize it. She wraps her long body in an aqua sarong and winces, believes her hips are a bell. Even now she is counting, waiting for the camera to flicker shut. My father’s arm weights down her shoulder. He is muscular, his stomach flat as a pan. He looks full ahead, pretending he is with my mother, but already is in in Florida, developing new cities, pumping dead mangrove full of sand. He sees himself building, building. He will be healthy. He will have good fortune. And years in the future, after his Army buddies will have grown soft and womanish, all his hard work will pay off: People will remember his name.
Their shoulders touch. Their pose says: this is how young couples are supposed to look – see, aren’t we the lucky ones? But my mother’s head is tilted. What is she looking at? Is she gazing at the tennis player by the outdoor shower, the one with the gentle hands, the one who will teach her to unlearn things? Or can she already hear the gun which my father will press into his forehead, twenty years away? (Lisicky, 1992, pp.179-180)
While reading, underline any sentences/ phrases/moments that: ◦ Stand out to you that you would like to “borrow” ◦ You like the sound ◦ It’s aesthetically pleasing ◦ “Grabbed” you – gave you a “gut” reaction (wow!) ◦ Had aesthetic appeal, a line that “grabbed” you). This is called reading like a writer.
Throw reader into the action Within first few sentences, reader can identify SETTING, SITUATION, CHARACTER
Gary drank single malt in the night, out on the porch that leaned toward the ocean. His mother, distracted, had shut off the floodlights and he did not protest against the dark. BEFORE THAT, his mother, Josey, tucked in her two shivering twelve-year-old granddaughters. “I want you both to go swimming first thing tomorrow. Can’t have two seals like you afraid of the water.”
BEFORE THAT, one of the girls held the hand of a wordless Filipino boy. His was the first hand she’d ever held. They were watching the paramedics lift the boy’s dead brother into an ambulance. At this time, the other girl heaved over a toilet in the cabana. * * * BEFORE THAT, the girl who would feel nauseated watched as the drowned boy’s hand slid off the stretcher and bounced along the porch rail. Nobody placed the hand back on the stretcher, and it bounced and dragged and bounced.
BEFORE THAT, Gary saw the brown hair sink and resurface as the body bobbed. At first he mistook it for seaweed. BEFORE THAT, the thirty-five people, including Gary and the two girls, formed a human chain and trolled the waters for the body of a Filipino boy. The boy had gone under twenty minutes earlier, and never come back up.
BEFORE THAT, a lifeguard sprinted up the beach, shouting for volunteers. The two girls, resting lightly on their sand bodyboards, stood up to help. BEFORE THAT, a Filipino boy pulled on the torpid lifeguard’s ankle and gestured desperately at the waves. My brother, he said. BEFORE THAT, it was a simple summer day. (Bottomy, 2006, pp. 51-52)
Let’s try the BEFORE THAT technique in our writing. Students have suggested: ◦ Working in a storyboard format (“like a movie.”) ◦ Writing up outline of plot and then order by number ◦ Writing up story in forward fashion, but then reverse it
You all get out of your cars. You are alone in yours, and there are three teenagers in theirs, an older Camaro in new condition. The accident was your fault, and you walk over to tell them this. Walking over to their car, which you have ruined, it occurs to you that if the three teenagers are angry teenagers, this encounter could be very unpleasant. You pulled into an intersection, obstructing them, and their car hit yours. They have every right to be upset, or livid, or even violence-contemplating.
As you approach, you see that their driver’s side door won’t open. The driver pushes against it, and you are reminded of scenes where drivers are stuck in submerged cars. Soon they all exit through the passenger side door and walk around the Camaro, inspecting the damage. None of them is hurt, but the car is wrecked. “Just bought this today,” the driver says. He is 18, blond, average in all ways. “Today?” you ask. You are a bad person, you think. You also think: what a dorky car for a teenager to buy in 2005. “Yeah, today,” he says, then sighs. You tell him that you are sorry. That you are so, so sorry. That it was your fault and that you will cover all costs.
You exchange insurance information, and you find yourself, minute by minute, ever more thankful that none of these teenagers has punched you, or even made a remark about your being drunk, which are not, or being study, which you are, often. You become more friendly with all of them, and you realize that you are much more connected to them, particularly to the driver, than possible in perhaps any other way. You have done him and his friends harm, in a way, and you jeopardized their health, and now you are so close you feel like you share a heart. He knows your name and you know his, and you almost killed him and, because you got so close to doing so but didn’t you want to fall on him, weeping, because you are so lonely, so lonely always, and all contact is contact, and all contact makes us so grateful we want to cry and dance and cry and cry.
In a moment of clarity, you finally understand why boxers, who want so badly to hurt each other, can rest their heads on the shoulders of their opponents, can lean against one another like tired lovers, so thankful for a moment of peace. (Eggers, 2006, pp. 101-102)