Writers enjoy pretending to be someone, somewhere in their dreams and those dreams become their stories. An encounter barely remembered, the face of a stranger, that first moment when the fire begins to burn.
The time and place … the who, what, where, and when of the story.
The when puts the reader in the moment. Be it historical fiction or memoir, the when brings your reader into your world.
As a baby boomer, I might have a proclivity towards the time in which I was born.
My other bent has been the time in which my children grew, those we coined Generation X.
I might posit a story that took place hundreds of years ago, or a hundred years into the unknowable future.
I read a post on Anne R. Allen’s blog asking readers to put in the last 49 words of their first chapter. The post was about the importance of chapter endings.
In other posts, I have read about the importance of beginnings … that first page, paragraph … the opening sentence.
Today, my mind wanders back the years of my childhood, my formative years and to an experiment with openings.
This snippet is one of three possible openings for Sunset Park, a collection of short stories. This one waxes poetic, nostalgic, and introduces the story of my alter-ego, Antoinette, who she is and where she came from.
The beat of a different drum …
They were urchins running in the open fields behind the factories; a vacant lot became their playground, exploring the Brooklyn docks their adventure.
But like the children on both sides of the border, they identified most with Sunset Park, her long hills and hundred year-old oak trees, the wide turquoise pool and the circular brick wall surrounding the flagpole where they watched a hundred sunsets.
They were the product of blue-collar, first generation dreams.
They played stickball, punch ball, ring-a-lievio, Johnny on the pony, handball, stoopball, and kick the can. They leapfrogged over hydrants and climbed up telephone poles.
A cardboard refrigerator box became a temporary “club house,” orange crates became scooters, and soda caps filled with melted candle wax became a popular street game called Skully or Skelsies.
They were street kids. No one missed them if they left their houses after breakfast and did not return until supper time. The rule was … be in the house before the street lights come on.
With nothing between them and concrete and asphalt, they raced along the sidewalk on solid steel skates, scooters or fat wheeled bikes.
No one monitored their behavior or organized play groups. They were not required to wear helmets or knees protectors. And when they fell, they got up and kept riding. On cheap skates or on homemade scooters pushed by bargain Keds on uneven sidewalks, they explored their world.
Without adult supervision or interference, they created a caste system for selecting kids for stick ball or taking turns to play “stoop” ball.
As teenagers, in mixed-gender groups resembling roaming marauders, they walked everywhere to save bus or subway money. A fun night was sitting at the local ice cream parlor drinking a cherry-coke or an egg-cream and listening to the jukebox.
When the last full moon of their youth waned, the kids left Sunset Park. They got married and raised their kids in safer places. Some crossed the country to settle on the west coast, others never moved more than five miles from the house where they were born. A few went to Woodstock, a few more to Vietnam
They stored their old forty-five records, packed away their short skirts, opened bank accounts, and contributed to the economy.
The street kids of New York City lived and played through the innocence of the fifties, worked and protested and died during the turmoil of the sixties, and survived to become senior citizens in the new millennium.
Yet, somewhere in their memory those moments still live. And on a rainy day or when they miss their kids and grandkids, or need to reconnect to the caste system that molded them …
they take out their old black and white or early “Kodak” moments from shoe boxes or photo albums and remember the time of their life.
Do you struggle with how to
begin or end your stories?
Or are you one of those who is plagued with
The sagging center?