Brilliant First Lines from Aimee Bender

girl in the flammable skirtJust finished The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a short story collection by Aimee Bender, one of my favorite writers.  She mostly writes surrealist, magic realist, and just plain weird stories, but due to the mysteries of bookstore shelving you can usually find her under (plain old) fiction instead of fantasy & science fiction.   Among her many talents is her knack for brilliant first lines. E.g.:

I’m spending the afternoon auditioning men.  They don’t know it.  This is a secret audition, come as you are. (“Call My Name,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There was an imp that went to high school with stilts on so that no one would know he was an imp.  Of course he never wore shorts. (“Drunken Mimi,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There were two mutant girls in the town:  one had a hand made of fire and the other had a hand made of ice.  Everyone else’s hands were normal.  The girls first met in elementary school and were friends for about three weeks.  Their parents were delighted; the mothers in particular spent hours on the phone describing over and over the shock of delivery day. (“The Healer,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

Ten men go to ten doctors.  All the doctors tell all the men that they only have two weeks left to live. (“Death Watch,” Willful Creatures)

At the party I make a goal and it is to kiss three men: one with black hair, one with red hair, the third blonde. Not necessarilly in that order. (“Off,” Willful Creatures)

So.  (An Invisible Sign of my Own)

Gardner Dozois (science fiction editor, guru, and Clarion Writers Workshop Instructor) says that in a good story by the first page you already should have established an interesting character(s), in an interesting setting, dealing with an interesting situation. Bender usually manages to do all those things in just one or two lines, and with an interesting voice to boot (and often with a laugh or two as well).  She seems to casually do that thing that all good fiction does – reveals the fantastic in the ordinary and the humanity of the extraordinary.  Put her on your must-read list.

Yet Another Cool Thing from Google

Among the many useful things that Google has brought into the world is AuthorsATGoogle.  Google brings authors to their HQ to read their recent books and have a bit of Q&A and informal discussion with their employees. (Um, I know.  Does your employer bring well-known authors to your workplace for informal chats with you, just as a little extra bennie?)  Then, of course, they put them up on YouTube (which is owned by Google), providing an endless source of pleasure and procrastination for all of us.  Here are a few I’ve recently enjoyed.

Karen Joy Fowler and Kelly Link–both writers of wonderfully weird stuff and both workshop teachers of Clarions past– in a joint appearance, with some interesting discussion of writing after the readings:

I especially enjoyed Karen’s comment about how readers react when a story that seems mimetic (subscribes to premises of realism) suddenly brings in a speculative element when the story’s more than halfway through.  “I’m always thinking what a delightful surprise,” Karen says, but apparently many people find this upsetting.

(John Scalzi and Aimee Bender videos below the fold.)

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