Dialogue Exercise

Use this line of dialogue in a short piece of fiction. It can be the first line, the last line, or any line in between! It's up to you.

The line:
"It is never going to fit."

Setting the Scene

Okay, I'll set the scene and you write the story:

Two sisters who have been estranged for sixteen years find themselves on the same cruise ship.

You decide who they are, why they haven't spoken and how they are going to coexist on the same ship for seven days.

Have fun!

Feb 24

Dawn snowstorm -
the world falls slowly
from black to white

Week #121

Walter took a deep breath and told himself it really was better to be late than never.

Confessions from the Desk

I'm going through one of those periods when the well it empty: I can't seem to come up with new ideas. Or at least any ideas worth sharing. This is part of the rhythm of the creative life. I've been doing this long enough that times like this no longer make me panic. I just take it as a sign I need to withdraw into myself a bit more, be quiet and wait. And trust that the muse will smile on me again. Luckily, we've had a bit of nice weather lately which means I've been able to get out for some long walks. Walking acts like a vitamin on my creativity. So, if you are wondering where I am, I'm probably out walking in the half-melted snow, daydreaming.

Hope the ideas are flowing at your desk, though!

Week #120

For hours Jeremy had been trying to pick the tiny brass lock on the drawer of the antique desk he had bought at a garage sale when it suddenly clicked open.


"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

~ Marcel Proust

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! In honour of this day I want you to make a list of everything you love. Notice I didn't say everyone. By all means go ahead and start with the people you love, but open it up after that. What sights do you love most? What smells? What sounds? What tastes? What activities? Spend some time exploring what makes you feel good. Unfortunately, many of us are in touch with what annoys us, but not so aware of what makes us happy. So, as a Valentine's Day gift to yourself make a list of those things - because they are the things that inspire you.

Author Interview: Erika Dreifus

Erika Dreifus is the author of the short story collection, Quiet Americans (Last Light Studio).

Welcome Erika!

1. What are you reading at the moment?

First, thank you very much for welcoming me to The First Line, Lori!
Now, to your question: I’m a regular participant in the Jewish Book Council’s Twitter Book Club (http://jewishbookcouncil.org/news.php?item.49), and I’m just about to begin reading the club’s current selection, a novel by Elizabeth Rosner titled BLUE NUDE.

2. What made you decide to be a writer?

I’m not certain that I ever “decided” to be a writer. I’m one of those people who began writing poems and stories as a child, kept a diary at an early age (and cried when my nosy little sister read it), and so on. It’s hard to remember a time when writing wasn’t a conscious part of my life.

3. If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?

This is a tough one. I am a writer, but I am a writer who holds another, full-time, non-teaching, bills-paying job. Is it OK if I say that in an ideal world, I could focus on writing full-time? Occasionally, I wonder what might have happened if I had pursued a career in journalism or publishing. Sometimes, I think I might have been a good literary agent, too. Again, it is hard to imagine myself doing something completely disconnected from words and books. (Stunt double, for instance, has never been an option.)

4. Describe your work habits. When do you write? Where?

I am very lucky to have “a room of my own” that is entirely dedicated to books and writing. That said, as I mentioned, I have a full-time job apart from my writing. So I start each morning with a cup of coffee (or two) and time at my home computer in that treasured room before I head out to my job. Evenings and weekends find me spending a lot of time at the home computer, too. Sometimes, I’m able to cram in some writing over my lunch hour as well.

5. What book do you think every writer should read?

Writing is so individualized that I’m not entirely comfortable being prescriptive on this. For me, returning regularly to a favorite book from childhood helps remind me about an essential aspect to the whole enterprise: engaging and inspiring readers. So I’d say that every writer should read—or reread—an old favorite from time to time.

6. What inspires you?

So much of what I write—and certainly the inspiration behind much of my new story collection, QUIET AMERICANS is connected to memory, family, or history (or combinations thereof). At times, I’ve also found that outrage can provide some inspiration. For instance, I once wrote a short story inspired by a friend’s experiences trying to advocate for her food-allergic child and the petty behaviors that she encountered along the way. I became furious about everything that my friend was going through, and that helped fuel the work.

7. Has having a book published affected your writing in any way?

It has been wonderfully affirming and added a dose of confidence.

8. What was the best advice you received as a writer?

Great question! I think that one piece of advice I appreciated right from the moment I heard it came from one of my MFA thesis readers. The thesis was a story collection, a very early iteration of what became QUIET AMERICANS. This reader assured me that I shouldn’t worry about another set of comments I had received that had suggested the manuscript contained “too much Holocaust” in it. “That’s what this book is about,” the reader said, encouraging me to trust in and respect the work’s essential nature.

9. What advice do you give other writers?

As I suggested earlier, I’m so mindful of individual variation and exceptions to every rule that I try to avoid being overly prescriptive. Over time, it has become so clear to me that each writer has unique interests, goals, strengths, and, of course, areas where improvement is particularly needed. So if I have advice for writers, it’s this: Do whatever works for YOU. If writing longhand works better than typing at a computer, then write longhand. If writing every morning from 4-7 a.m. works for you, great (I’m envious!). If you need a prompt or exercise to get a piece started, help yourself! There is no single, magic formula or approach.

On a similar note, I try to supply other writers—primarily writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction—with an array of tools and resources, hoping that at some point, something that I’m offering will prove to be useful to each writer. That’s part of the purpose behind my free newsletter, THE PRACTICING WRITER. (I know that you are quite familiar with the newsletter, Lori, but others can learn more about it and read the latest issue online at my website [www.erikadreifus.com].)

10. If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

As it happens, I recently had an opportunity to have dinner with Elie Wiesel, the author of NIGHT and so many other books.(Admittedly, hundreds of other people were present, but that’s a detail!) In complete seriousness: It was a benefit dinner, and Professor Wiesel was one of the event’s honorees. But I didn’t need to share a table or even speak with him. Just catching a glimpse of him from a few tables away, and listening as he addressed the room (everyone was spellbound, I can assure you), was profoundly moving and memorable.

11. Do you have any other creative talents? Do you paint? Play a musical instrument?

Oh, how I wish I had other creative talents! Not that I haven’t tried to develop them. But it has been years since I’ve played the piano, and, truth be told, my art teachers at school and summer camp always “intervened” to help make my paintings or ceramics projects gift-worthy. I did once manage to create a set of bookends in woodshop all by myself. Does that count?

12. What are you working on now?

In addition to all of the activities surrounding the release of QUIET AMERICANS, my usual blogging, and the monthly newsletter, I’m working on a few freelance projects and my still-nascent poetry practice.

Thanks so much for featuring QUIET AMERICANS and me here on The First Line, Lori, and best wishes to all of your readers.

Thank you, Erika!

Book Review: Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus

Tomorrow Erika Dreifus, author of the short story collection, Quiet Americans is stopping by the First Line blog for an interview so I thought I’d tell you a bit about her book before she gets here.

I have longed been awed by Erika Dreifus and the time and dedication she gives to the writing community in her Practicing Writing blog and so was thrilled for her when I learned her first book was being published. I suspected that she gave as much dedication to the craft of writing as she did to her other endeavors, and wasn’t wrong. This is an elegant, well-written, thought-provoking collection.

In the seven stories that comprise Quiet Americans Erika Dreifus writes about immigrant survivors of the Holocaust. This collection was inspired, in part, by Dreifus’s own grandparents who left Germany and immigrated to the US in the late 1930s. The stories are ordered by time, beginning in prewar Berlin in, “For Services Rendered” about a Jewish doctor who owes his life, and the life of his family, to Goring’s wife. The stories then weave their way through the decades until reaching post 9/11 in the final story, “Mishpocha” about a man who uncovers a family secret while researching his family tree on the internet.

This is a strong collection and I am reluctant to single out one story to name as my favourite so let me call, “Lebensraum” the story that haunts me most. In this story we find ourselves in Iowa in 1944 with Josef, an immigrant Jewish baker assigned to oversee captured Germans in the kitchen of a prisoner-of-war camp. Each time I reread “Lebensraum” I find something new. There are so many quiet revelations, so many layers tucked within the deceptively straightforward plot that it is like rolling an opal in the palm of your hand and watching the endless play of light within the gemstone.

Since I have a personal fondness for linked stories it was a sweet surprise to discover the delicate thread that runs lightly through this collection, connecting several of the characters. This subtle linking of stories works brilliantly to illustrate how the echo of the Holocaust continues to reverberate down through the generations.

Given the subject matter of these stories you would be forgiven for thinking Quiet Americans might be a depressing read. But it isn’t. Though these stories are rooted in the horror of the Holocaust, they are also stories of love: of the love between men and women, of the love between parent and child. Dreifus has a talent for nimbly moving between darkness and light, and for never letting the reader forget that the world is made not of black and white, but of endless shades of grey.

It is the hope and purpose of literature that in the telling of our stories we build bridges between people, that we foster understanding and compassion. Dreifus does this achingly well in Quiet Americans. It is a wonderful debut collection and I look forward to reading more from Erika Dreifus.

To learn more about Erika visit her website at: www.erikadreifus.com/

Also of note: the author is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of Quiet Americans to The Blue Card, which supports survivors of Nazi persecution and their families in the United States. (www.bluecardfund.org)

And don’t forget to come back tomorrow for my interview with Erika!

Week #119

"There's no use doing a thing if you're only going to do it halfway," Amy declared.

About the River of Stones

I really enjoyed participating in the River of Stones project throughout the month of January. I managed to post a stone every day - though it did start to feel like a creative marathon for the last few days! But it was wonderful to have a tool like that that made me slow down and pay attention each day. I will be continuing to write 'stones', though, perhaps, not every day. I am still trying to decide whether to post some of them here on First Lines. I'm not sure if they belong or not. In the begining all I posted here was a first line every Wednesday and then the blog grew to include more prompts and then the occasional musing or rant from me mixed in with quotes that inspired me and I hoped would inspire others. And now I have added author interviews (our next one is on Friday).

So, I thought I would let you have your say: if you enjoyed the 'stones' or hated them, drop me a comment. Another option would be for me to create a new blog and post them there. (If they stay, by the way, I'm going to give them a new name that better reflects me and what I am doing. I just haven't thought of a name I like yet.)


"Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself."

~ George Bernard Shaw

Week #118

The night was a warm one for that time of year and a soft breeze was blowing in steadily from the bay.