I attended the North Carolina Writers Network fall conference in Raleigh, North Carolina the past three days. My head hurts, but I learned much, and now I’m torn:
- start editing so I don’t forget all about subtext.
- drink long and hard to kill brain cells and build weird, new synaptic connections.
- catch up on my sleep.
- leave the writing cave and market as I’m supposed to be doing:
- Create a website. check.
- Create a blog. check.
- Blog. Duh! What do you think I’m doing.
- Re-connect with:
- old business associates
- high school friends
- college friends
- military friends
- writing colleagues
- fishing buddies
- family (at least those who still speak to you)
- the list goes on.
- Use social media
- Facebook. check.
- LinkedIn. check.
- Twitter. check, but under-utilized
- Snapchat. What the heck is that?
- the list goes on.
- Spend time in front of an audience (any audience)
- Tap into Meet-ups.
- Tap into Book Clubs.
- Never miss an opportunity to read.
- Never miss an opportunity to participate in any writing activity.
- Put bumper stickers on cars.
- (My wife wants me to paint a logo on the car.)
- Drop business cards like snowflakes. (I’ve been known to put them into envelopes when returning bills.).
- AND THE LIST GOES ON.
Whew! I’m exhausted. <sips chocolate milk–the hard stuff> Maybe after a nap about the subtext of this blog I’ll get to the marketing, and then I’ll write a book about the book I didn’t write because I was marketing a book that really needs to be edited for subtext.
An author the other day posed a question about writing effective first lines. My answer.
I don’t believe there is a single rule that can be applied to writing a compelling first line. That being said, most of the best seem to be short in nature, pithy, and a declaration of sorts, a challenge for the reader to discover within the words that follow something that invalidates the position taken (1,2,6,10), confirm the contrasting statement (3,4,6,8,9), or understand the emotional upheaval (5) of the author’s opening lines. And who the hell knows what Pynchon was writing about.
You have to go down to #33 of the American Book Review to find one that starts with dialogue, something many novice writers like to do and which rarely helps with the context of the story situation.
- Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
- 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)
- A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
- Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
- Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
- riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
- I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952) TOP 100 Novel Opening Lines.
Another writer pointed out that great opening lines are over-rated and that the body of the text is what is important, and that what we may “list” as great opening lines are just the opening lines of great novels.
To the average reader, I agree that the “first line” business is over-rated. I’ve never stopped at a first line but have stopped at first paragraphs, pages, and chapters.
To the agents I’ve met, articles I’ve read concerning this aspect of writing, and seen on panels, “first lines” do matter relative to continued reading of a submission from the author. (Admittedly, some of the panel displays might be for show about how quick they are able to judge the value of the material–much like the old game show about naming a song with the fewest notes.) But the prejudice is real. A bad first line IS a death blow in this day and age where there is almost no support for the mid-list author whose sins can be cleansed by in-house editors who spots a diamond in the rough despite a bad opening line.
Another writer suggested that great endings are even more difficult to write and are what will make or break the book.
Great endings are important and indeed a challenge, especially if you want the reader to return for the next book. But as related to great openings, they second or third in comparison to the value of a great opening line. You can have the best ending ever, but if your opening line(s) sucks, few will ever get to that ending, brilliant or otherwise.
My best guideline: Beat every line until it is the best it can be. Make the 1,604th line be as hook worthy as the first line and as compelling as the last line. To paraphrase John Donne: If a line be wothless to the reader, the book is the less.
For compairson and contrast, the opening lines to my novels are:
One Promise Too Many – I was eight-years-old when Mother capture Father’s dimpled smile with her camera just as I had reached for his red hair. The next day, someone murdered him.
A Matter of Faith – In the lulling warmth of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, sweat beaded on the brow of Faith Moreno, the 25-year-ol parish music director.
All of Our Secrets – Terrified, I counted to six, and then begged Heather, “Just Breathe.”
Kill All Cats – I jerked open my front door, not caring if the Grim Reaper or a Girl Scout had interrupted my sleep with insistent knocking.
Write on! Write on!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!!
Paper or Plastic? The Grocery Store Chronicles is my memoir. Being a mystery writer, I never thought I’d write a memoir sandwiched between my current mystery, Kill All Cats, and my next mystery, Don’t Fear the Reaper (Summer, 2017). Interestingly, the process was somewhat similar. Write the pieces of the story, make them interesting, and then ensure that there is some common thread throughout the story until you get to the conclusion.
It’s not a biography, because it doesn’t start with my birth, one cold, snowy night, or my first memory, awakening from a horrify dream about a bear and a tiger trying to get me, only to awake screaming, my mother running into the room to save. I was nine months old! It’s not a piece of creative non-fiction. I’m not trying to force the facts into a story using fiction writing techniques. Everything (well 99.37%) of what I wrote happened just the way it did–even the conversations, because I always had paper and pen with me. What writer doesn’t?
POP is up on Amazon.com and when I get my butt in gear and stop writing other tales and poetry, it will be up on other sites soon.
There is only one rule: writers write! Everything else is a guideline. Write on!
Okay, time to get this website up and running on a more regular basis. It’s been a bit of the old story about the man who wrote his son a long letter about why he hadn’t been able to write him a short note on a regular basis. So much going on, but for now, the most important piece of news.
Paper or Plastic? The Grocery Store Chronicles is now available on Amazon for your reading consumption. It is my memoir as a senior-citizen night cashier, chronicling the odd, uplifting, and sometimes sad slices of life in a chain-based grocery store in the ‘hood from July 2013 to November 2014. You might just be surprised by what happens in the store, to me, and to others in the wee hours of the morning.
…Or at least some of it. Kill All Cats continues to get good reviews. I’m looking around for venues to give readings, get reviews, and entice book clubs to read the book. Heck. It should be an easy one for book clubs because Kill All Cats has book club questions already in the back of the book.
As a self-published author, I’m always on the look-out for relevant articles. This article hints (or states plainly) that only forty self-published authors have made it big. I don’t need to make it big; I just need to be able to eat at Golden Corral once a week on my earnings.
With approximately 25,000,000 books on Amazon, making enough waves so that readers that would enjoy Kill All Cats can find it is a daunting and constant marketing battle, especially to get past the friends and family platform. Won’t you join in the that battle with me? Tell friends of friends about Kill All Cats. Put up banners that shout the title. Ask the New York Times when they are going to review it.
The week ahead is filled with more writing, more reading and reviewing, and a colonoscopy. Yep, that’s fertile ground for another story. Just use your imagination.
Yes Kill All Cats is now available on Amazon in paperback at:
and in the Kindle Store at:
The publishing process was brutal, but not as brutal as it used to be. I’m hoping that you will enjoy the mystery, humor, horror, and romance found in the story. Tell your friends, because there is a lot to discuss once you’re done reading. That’s why there are book club questions and writing out-takes at the end of the story, you know, like movie out-takes. I did resist the urge to not show you each instance that I revised (reshot) the first page (45+) or the number of times I fixed some verbs (dialogue coach).
Well, again, I hope you enjoy. And now, on to the next book.
The weekly wrap. I have no idea of the subject matter or the frequency I want to apply to the blog posts. I do know that I’m not going to get caught in the same trap from ten years ago of blogging my fingers off. That’s what FB is for. 🙂 So, here’s the weekly wrap relative to my world as a full-time writer. Let’s see if this works out.
On Wednesday, my webpage went live. The universe didn’t end and hiccups with it proved to be minor. Thanks to all who have visited, commented, or signed up for the blog roll.
On Thursday, I reviewed Shelia Rudesill’s literary novel, Transmutare. Good stuff.
On Saturday, I learned about Concentration Music, available on YouTube (and I assume other sources), from writer Bill Bartlett. Check it out if you can’t focus on your writing.
On Sunday, I ran across this interesting flowchart for those (including me) who suffer from writing bad query letters. Writers need ever shrapnel of help to succeed.
On Sunday, I said, “Enough is enough.” All the editing that I can possibly do on “Kill All Cats” is done. Anything more is just pushing words that could possibly create damage elsewhere in the story. And now, here comes the begging. I’m a one-man band when it comes to marketing, and I’m not that good at that instrument. Sure, I have things I’m doing, but the New York Times isn’t likely to give me some space on the review page. So, if you have a lead for where I can display my books, read to protesting cat lovers, or get reviewed, drop me a line. Much appreciated.
And let’s be careful out there. Pencil points are sharp.
According to some of my writerly friends, I needed a professional-looking website now that I consider myself a full-time author, especially with “Kill All Cats” coming out in two weeks. OMG! So much to do!!
Welcome to the website.
Enjoy it, look around, and leave a note. Did I miss something you’d like to see? And of course, buy a book. 🙂 I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug myself.