distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Slayed by Paragraph

Slayed by Paragraph

Sometimes I’m reading a book and a paragraph just slays me.

I found one while reading in my writing room at Yaddo. I’d do this thing while I was there, this reward system: Read a story, go back to the desk and write. Write one scene, then I’m allowed back to the couch to read. Read one story, get up, write! Repeat.

Here is the paragraph, the opening paragraph of a short story, that slayed me:

Lately I’ve been thinking of that summer. We barely ever got off those ponies’ backs. We painted war paint across their foreheads and pinned wild turkey feathers in our hair, whooped and raced across the back field, hanging on their necks. Some days they were a pair of bucking broncos, or unicorns, or circus horses, or burros on a narrow mountain pass. Other days they were regal as the ladies’ horses, and we were two queens, veiled sultanas crossing the Sahara under a burning sky. We were the kidnapped maidens or the masked heroes. We braided flowers in their matted tails, dandelions and oxeye daisies that got lost in the snarls, wilted, and turned brown. We tore across the back field, our heels dug into their sides. We pulled them up short and did somersaults off their backs. We did handstands in the saddle. We turned on a dime. We jumped the triple oxer, the coop, the wall, the ditch. We were fearless. It was the summer we smoked our first cigarettes, the summer you broke your arm. It was the last summer, the last one before boys.

—From “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” a short story by Lydia Peelle, in the collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

After reading that paragraph, my spine tingled. Memories surfaced. Something came to me. Something I wanted to write. No one even knows what this is, and it’s not so obvious at all when you read the paragraph, but when I read it back I remember it. My spine tingles again. I know.

What’s a paragraph that slays you?

10 responses to “Slayed by Paragraph”

  1. Dear God, there are so many! I need to go rifling through my references so that I do not misquote! I know that there are a handful of authors that *regularly* do that for me: China Mieville, John Shirley, Thomas Ligotti, and to some extent Salmon Rushdie & John Fowles. Forgive me, I work in male-dominated genres…and I hesitate to put up sci-fi horror examples on your beautiful blog 🙂

      • Of course, there is this. And I know you’ve already been a victim to it as have I.

        I’m a bit of an automaton, but sane, surely – dry, cold and sane. Now I have forgotten about dark streets, dark rivers, the pain, the struggle and the drowning…Mind you, I’m not talking about the struggle when you are strong and a good swimmer and there are willing and eager friends on the bank waiting to pull you out at the first sign of distress. I mean the real thing. you jump in with no willing and eager friends around, and when you sink you sink to the accompaniment of loud laughter.
        Jean Rhys Good Morning, Midnight (it’s really hard to narrow it down!!! GMM is full of killer blocks of text!)

  2. My library does not have this book. Disaster! I must read the rest of the story! I think I am going to have to buy myself a mother’s day present.

    • I loved this story. I borrowed the book from the Saratoga Springs library (I typed in that paragraph before I returned it) and now I can’t bear not to have the whole story. I’m going to buy the book too. It’s paperback.. no more than $16.

      Or you could try inter-library loan?

  3. my favorite one i can’t post… because your agent would probably get very upset… since you just sent it to him 🙂

  4. Wow, that’s really really lovely! I’m heading for the bookshelves now…

    Aha! This one is oh so appropriate, given our recent sojourn at Yaddo:

    ‘In sleep she knew she was in her bed, but not the bed she had lain down in a few hours since, and the room was not the same but it was a room she had known somewhere. Her heart was a stone lying upon her breast outside of her; her pulses lagged and paused, and she knew that something strange was going to happen, even as the early morning winds were cool through the lattice, the streaks of light were dark blue and the whole house was snoring in its sleep.’

    –Katherine Anne Porter, ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’

    The whole novella captures what it feels like to be in the middle of a dream, or a delirium, so perfectly.

  5. Most of what Mary Gaitskill writes, and huge chunks of Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates.

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