Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 6

by Matilda Butler on June 2, 2011

catnav-journaling-activePost #43 – Memoir Writing, Journaling – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Journaling Day 6: Our Next Memoir Vignette

We’ve now completed Day 6 of a 7-day journey to celebrate the approach of Kendra’s 60th birthday. Images dance in my head including Hancock Shaker Village, Clark Museum, Robert Frost’s stone home and burial plot.

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As we end the day, Kendra’s head is filled with the sight, sound, and smell of the baby duck she held at Hancock Shaker Village. She hasn’t held one since she helped raise a mallard duck when she was a child. More about all of that later.

For now I’ll share one highlight of the day that is especially relevant for memoir writing.

Join us tomorrow for the final day, Day 7, of journaling our way to Kendra’s birthday. Then in the coming weeks, you’ll hear more about other adventures from our Fabulous Final Fifties Fling.

The Best Opening Line

Effective openings in memoir (and all forms of literature) are critical. If you want a reader to become engaged and stay with your story, then the opening sentence and paragraph must be effective. In preparation for one of my memoir classes when I was teaching about openings, I found a list of the 100 best opening sentences put together by the American Book Review, a non-profit journal that was published at Illinois State University’s Unit for Contemporary Literature. Many, but not all, of the opening lines are relevant for memoir writers.

Today, Kendra and I visited the home of the author of the #1 Best First Line from a Novel — Herman Melville. The line?

journaling, memoir, memoir writing, autobiography#1. Call me Ishmael. — Moby-Dick (1851)

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Melville and his family visited Pittsfield in the Berkshires in 1850. There he met Nathaniel Hawthorne and was impressed that an author could use the peace of the countryside as an enhancement for writing. Impressed with the view of Mount Greylock (later said to be the inspiration for the whale in Moby-Dick), he immediately bought a parcel of land that he soon named Arrowhead since his plow turned over so many of them. I identified with this since I found many arrowheads as a child. I loved holding them, sensing that I was in direct communication with history.

While living at Arrowhead for 13 years, Melville was productive, although not as productive as some of the other authors that I have discussed this week. Kendra and I have been constantly reminded of the need to write, write, write so we’re both eager to return to a rigorous writing schedule. Melville’s accomplishments during those years are certainly noteworthy. He wrote Moby-Dick and four other novels, a volume of short stories, 10 magazine articles, and the start of a poetry volume.

Kendra and I each have the “Call me Ishmael” bumper sticker as our reminder of the importance of openers. In case you missed our series of interviews with authors about their opening lines, I’ve listed a few of them below.

-Matilda

PS Want to know what is the second best opening line from the American Book Review list?

#2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

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Related Links on Crafting an Opening for Your Memoir:

Interview with Sue William Silverman About Writing Your Memoir Opening

Interview with Betty Auchard About Writing Your Memoir Opening

Interview with Jessica Bram About Writing Your Memoir Opening

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You may also be interested in:

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 1

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 2

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 3

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 4

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 5

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 6

Journaling Our Way to Kendra’s Birthday: Day 7

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Journaling Our Way to Kendra's Birthday: Day 5 — Memoir Writing Blog
June 3, 2011 at

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kendra Bonnett June 3, 2011 at

Conflating duck handling experience and Herman Melville and greatest opening lines…it’s obvious:

“Call me Little Duck.”

Rigmor Munkvold June 5, 2011 at

Love the little duck. Great picture of the both of you.

Pamela Jane June 7, 2011 at

Great opening lines! Followed of course, by great books. I love Proust’s opening lines to Swann’s Way – “For a long time I used to go to bed early.” It so simple, like the Melville and Austen first lines, yet so evocative.

Kendra Bonnett June 13, 2011 at

Opening lines are fun to read…and the great ones never lose their impact. I love your quote from Proust, Pamela. And I do think that the best ones usually are pretty simple.

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