how not to start your novel …

Chuck Sambuchino writes the following:

“We also can no longer compare our writing to classic works or even books written 30 years ago that started slow and found marketplace success. Today’s novels — especially debut novels — must grab readers from the first page, the first paragraph, even the first sentence.”

Well, yeah, you want people to read on. Still, I’ve pondered this statement because so few books today remind me of the books that I love, many of which are classics, or at least older, and which have influenced my own style. I feel that many books published today lack what I would call “mental clarity.” This is what comes on when you read Hemingway describe the dust on the leaves kicked up by the marching soldiers in the very long opening sentence to A Farewell to Arms. You follow the river of words into a very different, relaxed state of mind. Achieving this mental state is one of the main reasons that I read. I think writers should distance themselves from this need to compete for attention in this buzzing, beeping, anxious modern world, and give us less gripping scenes involving murder weapons and more of that old-fashioned, unmarketable mental clarity. That kind of state hits you like the cool air of the Scandinavian mountains … it’s refreshing, and it stands above a need to lie to people for the purposes of marketing. It’s not the book I’m after, it’s the soul. And if your book doesn’t contain any soul, then no attention-snagging first line is going to redeem it.

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