False Starts

And now for something completely different

By Jim Moriarty

Not all beginnings are that great. And I can prove it. Consider this a kind of public service announcement, providing a stark contrast to the lyrical work of some of North Carolina’s best writers who appear on pages 70 to 79.

Exhibit A: The first line of Same Circus, Different Clowns, a man-made disaster of an unfinished book I wrote (or tried to) about a female blogger following the professional golf tour. The opening went something — no, it went exactly — like this: “Her name was Vampadelle Summer and she wasn’t to be trusted.”

Exhibit B: Another crippled project on my desktop is called The Objectors, and the first paragraph goes like this: “The screech made him turn away from the empty patio behind the house on Cuba Street. Lyle Sullivan’s eyes adjusted to the dark and he watched the steam gushing from the teakettle. The whistle was loud, annoying. He’d lived in this one bedroom adobe for close to a year but this was the day he’d been waiting for. If it all went to plan, in a week, a month at the most, he could go home to Tulsa knowing he’d done everything he’d set out to do. At 61, he was too old to kill the bastards himself but he could help someone else do it.”

Exhibit C: And then there’s this from The Mogul, another laptop orphan that barely managed to escape the delete button: “David Lord came into the world with his pockets full of house money. And, like anyone who got everything he has from someone else, he desperately wanted the world to think he could have done it himself.”

Exhibit D: From the doomed Paparazzi Beach: “Polk Street runs north and south between the Tri-State and the Skyway, though it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s broken up like match sticks every few blocks and doesn’t pass all the way through. One end of Tommy Flowers’ block ran smack into 2nd Avenue where all the houses faced the empty steel mills.”

Every author (and, if I’m any indication, some more than others) has stories that, for one reason or another, just didn’t work. Frequently the kindest, most merciful thing to do is put the little ragamuffins out of their misery.

While Lee Smith, whose lovely short novel Blue Marlin came out earlier this year, wasn’t able to send a contribution for the aforementioned summer reading section, as one of North Carolina’s most elegant voices, she was able to offer the following:

“I have scoured my office but just cannot find the best (WORST) beginnings of stories I ever tried to write. I probably just put them in the trash where they richly deserved to be, but I sure do remember . . .

“This was my attempt at writing a mystery, in order to make some money . . . or so I thought. A novel named ‘Children of Cronus’ — or Kronos, the Greek god who ate his own children. The story was set at an experimental boarding school (well, it was more like a camp) out in the woods someplace during the late ’60s, and involved a gang of wild, wonderful, brilliant kids who had to turn against their erstwhile headmaster who started dressing in animal skins and got weirder and weirder until he got REALLY weird and then somebody had to kill him . . . but I never could decide who actually did it. I mean EVERYBODY had a motive! So I just left it a mystery, which I thought was brilliant but, unfortunately, nobody else did. One rejection slip just said, ‘Are you kidding???’”

So be of good cheer all you scribblers, typists and word processors out there, as Sinclair Lewis once observed, “Writers have a rare power not given to anyone else; we can bore people long after we are dead.”  PS

Jim Moriarty is the senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at

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