Monday, October 28, 2013

Just Doesn't Grab Me

Sorry, this one just doesn't resonate with me. It seems like he's back-slid from the last few first lines I've cataloged in this space (here and here).

In the dark and secret heart of Washington, there is a short and very covert list. It contains the names of terrorists who have been deemed so dangerous to the United States, her citizens and interests, that they have been condemned to death without any attempt at arrest, trial or any due process. It is called the kill list.

Forsyth, Frederick - The Kill List 

It is just so trite and to the point. For some reason as I read it I thought about a fourth grader trying to write a novel and emulating his favorite thriller authors. Not a fitting first line for such a terrific author and what is turning out to be such a good book.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Since We're on the Subject

As NaNo is right around the corner, and as we've been discussing opening lines and scenes these past few posts (here and here), I thought that posting this from The Write Life seemed apropos.

The Worst Way to Begin Your Novel Advice from Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino gives some terrific bullet points for authors from the literary agent's point of view. Some of them are things most of us have seen and heard and dislike on our own.

“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary


“A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”

- Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Both of these are terrific in my view but the one that stopped me cold came up regarding too much flowery prose, if only cause it intersected so well with my own series of posts on descriptions of mornings (here).

“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

It's so close to Roger Lawrence's comment on my post Doubter's Take Note:

It's because mornings are so much more vital. After you've said, "the evening sun cast an ochre smear over the dying sky", or something like that; what more is there to say.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some of These Are Spot On for Comedies

When I saw the link to 33 Of The Most Hilariously Terrible First Sentences In Literature History by Nico Lang and realized how well it intersected with the series of blog posts I've had here over the past few days, there was no way I couldn't post it.

It's well worth reading. Some of them are really quite good if the rest of the book is meant to be funny. I chose four of my favorites just as an amuse-bouche to help you decide to click the above link and invest the five minutes it takes to read them. Hearing about what sex after fifty is like with Rachel makes the return on the investment well worthwhile.

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.

Chris Wieloch

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

Rephah Berg

As an ornithologist, George was fascinated by the fact that urine and feces mix in birds’ rectums to form a unified, homogeneous slurry that is expelled through defecation, although eying Greta’s face, and sensing the reaction of the congregation, he immediately realized he should have used a different analogy to describe their relationship in his wedding vows.

David Pepper

Sex with Rachel after she turned fifty was like driving the last-place team on the last day of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the point no longer the ride but the finish, the difficulty not the speed but keeping all the parts moving in the right direction, not to mention all that irritating barking.

Dan Winters

Again,  . . . well worth the time. Definitely adding this post to the series.

Daddy's Disgusting Book Title

This caught my attention. Lit Reactor has an article up by Christopher Schulz called Founder of Book Genome Project Calls Self-Publishing A Literary "Darknet" that is interesting in terms of understanding how meta-data is hindering the ability to truly know what genre's and types of books are being self-published and how that is similar to the Darknet.

But that's not what caught my eye. What caught my eye was the description of one of these self-published books that Schulz references the fact that the article he is referencing references "a particularly unsettling trend of incest and bestiality books that enter the marketplace completely unchecked." To prove the point he brings up Daddy's Invisible Condom (I'm not linking to it) and at least has this positive aspect of that book "On the plus side, books such as these don't seem to sell well."

It's an interesting few minutes read and the article it references too is worthwhile for anyone interested in self-publishing and the trends among the self-publishing ranks.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Keep It Under Your Hat

So I ran across a first line that I really liked the other day by way of my writing group. This is from an unpublished (and perhaps unfinished) work, so don't nobody go around advertising it or the next thing you know Michael will want a royalty for my using it on a pay per visit basis, and I'd hate for him to realize that it would only add up to a nickle at most . . . total (not a knock on his work . . . rather a knock on my ability to drive views to my site).

Agnes Sanders hadn’t eaten any of her meal because she was dead .

Michael Sirois - Everything's Okay at Restful Pines

I don't know . . . I kinda like it. Is it a bit "in your face?" a tad "amateurish" . . . perhaps, but had you had the benefit of reading the rest of the work I think you would have liked it too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Last Line

Yet one more for my last lines series. This time it's Solo by Jack Higgins. I posted the first line just a few days ago, so that should say a lot about my reading speed or the length of the novel (in this case choose the latter).

When he reached the top of the stairs leading down to the main foyer, there was no sign of her. He went down them two at a time and straight out through the glass doors. Behind him, orchestra and chorus and the entire audience broke into the glorious strains of ‘Jerusalem.’ 

It was raining hard, the road jammed with traffic. As he went down the steps, Ferguson came to meet him, holding an umbrella over his head. 

‘Congratulations, Asa.’ 

‘What you wanted, wasn't it? I knew that from the beginning. We both did. Just the same old bloody game, like always.’ 

‘Neatly put.’ Morgan gazed around him widly. 

‘Where is she?’ 

‘Over there.’ Ferguson nodded across the road. ‘I'd hurry, if I were you, Asa. 

But Morgan, darting between the traffic through heavy rain, was too late for as he reached the other side, she had already moved past the Albert Memorial and disappeared into the darkness of the park.

Higgins, Jack - Solo

Again, I'm not too sure I should continue this series, I'm just not seeing too much insight into humanity, writing or the world through author's messages in the last lines. But, that being said, and maybe I'm jaded because I felt so much like I was reading a James Bond novel as I read this work, but this last line probably does more to argue against dissolving this series than any of the others that have come before it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not a Bad Chart

I ran across a really nice chart today. I have several posts in the past few years on self-publishing (see here) so it's nice to see many of the things I've talked about displayed graphically.

Gary McLaren's Ebook Aggragators Comparison Chart is not bad for anyone considering self-publishing and trying to see the difference between all the choices there are for formatting and distributing their book.

The only problem that I have with this article is that it is way too short. I want more information. Guess I'll have to spend some time tooling around the blog.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another First

Last week I wrote about the last line that I read, so naturally today I have yet another first line for the compilation I'm collecting (here).

The Cretan turned in through the gate in the high, brick wall surrounding the house near Regent's Park, stepped into the shrubbery, merging with the shadows. He glanced at the luminous dial of his watch. Ten minutes to seven, which meant he had a little time in hand. 

He was wearing a dark anorak from one pocket of which he produced a Mauser with a bulbous silencer on the end of the barrel. He checked the action and slipped it back into his pocket. 

The house was imposing enough, which was only to be expected for it was owned by Maxwell Jacob Cohen - Max Cohen to his friends. Amongst other things, chairman of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world, one of the most influential Jews in British society. A man loved and respected by everyone who knew him. 

Unfortunately, he was also an ardent Zionist, a considerable disadvantage in the eyes of certain people. Not that it bothered the Cretan. Politics were a nonsense. Games for children. He never queried the target, only the details and in this case he'd checked them thoroughly. There was Cohen, his wife and the maid - no one else. The rest of the servants lived out. 

He took a black balaclava helmet from his pocket, which he pulled over his head, leaving only his eyes, nose and mouth exposed, then he pulled up the hood of the anorak, stepped out of the shrubbery and moved towards the house.

Higgins, Jack - Solo

Irrespective of the fact that I've never heard of a balaclava being called a "balaclava helmet" it's not a bad few opening paragraphs. In many respects it's much like the book in that it's slow to get to the point but when it does the pace picks up tremendously.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A While Back This Seemed to Make Sense

A while back I read an article about the importance of first lines in novels so I started compiling and tagging all the first lines I came across (see here). I also created a compendium of last lines (here) and since I saw so many allusions to the morning I aggregated them (here) as well. I meant to make one for middle lines, but have yet to begin that work.

Nevertheless, I've come to the point where I don't know if last lines are worthwhile anymore. Here is the most recent.

“You know,” said Devereaux, as McBride reached the door, “if there’s one thing that thirty years in this agency has taught me, it’s this. There are some levels of loyalty that command us beyond even the call of duty.

Forsyth, Frederick - Avenger

But again, we have an epilogue here. That last line of the text is pretty good. In fact it could be among the best last lines I've collected (which really says more about the other last lines than about this one). Still, for some reason all I could think about as I read that antagonist's name, Devereaux, all I could think about was the Silver Streak movie.

McBride was still looking in the mirror, but he seemed to see two young GIs, rat-assed on beer and wine, laughing in the warm Saigon night, and a white Petromax lamp hissing, and a Chinese tattooist at work. Two young Americans who would part company but be bound by a bond that nothing could ever break. And he saw a slim file a few weeks earlier, which mentioned a tattoo of a grinning rat on the left forearm. And he heard the order to find the man and have him killed. 

He slipped his watch back on his wrist and flipped his sleeve back down. He checked the day-date window. September 10, 2001. 

“It’s quite a story, son,” said the Badger, “and it all happened long ago and far away.”

Forsyth, Frederick - Avenger

I know why he had to put it in . . . this is the O'Henry-esque twist at the end. But that first last line was so much better.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Always Open With a Grizzly Murder

Does the Prologue's first line count as the first line of the book? If so, this one makes the reader read on to find out. Here's the most recent first line I have in my "first lines" group.

It was the seventh time they had pushed the American boy down into the liquid excrement of the cesspit that he failed to fight back and died down there, every orifice filled with unspeakable filth. 

When they were done, the men put down their poles, sat on the grass, laughed, and smoked. Then they finished off the other aid worker and the six orphans, took the relief agency off-road, and drove back across the mountain. 

It was May 15, 1995.

Forsyth, Frederick - Avenger

Hard to believe, but the description of this act only gets worse as the reader continues reading.

Chapter 1's first line made me think of my own book, Toe the Line for the mentions of the Triathlon.

He leaned into the gradient and once again fought the enemy of his own pain. It was a torture and a therapy. That was why he did it. 

Those who know often say that of all the disciplines the triathlon is the most brutal and unforgiving. The decathlete has more skills to master, and putting the shot needs more brute strength; but for fearsome stamina and the capacity to meet the pain and beat it, there are few trials like the triathlon.

Forsyth, Frederick - Avenger

Note to self, when faced with the choice of a first line about triathlons or about murder of children in a cess pool, choose the murder. Forsythe does and it makes you want to know more.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Links

I follow several different writing groups both on LinkedIn and on Facebook, both of the ones I've linked to are for the National Novel Writing Month. Since I'm a part of these group I get detritus in the form of links and silly articles that usually don't even hit my radar. This one in LitReactor did.

8 Ways to Support the Writers in Your Life by Robbie Blair provides eight different bullet points and associated paragraphs on how to deal with writers. Among the these, two caught my eye.

2. Don't lie.
If you want to express interest in something your writer is crafting, then that's fantastic—so long as you're actually interested. Sure, some writers will feel put off if you don't love their work as much as you love them, but you'll be doing them a disservice if you pretend to like something that bores you to tears.

Authentic interest is something we crave—but don't offer interest if it isn't real. If you want to become interested but aren't yet, try asking gentle, open questions about the story. Note that some writers will not enjoy this at all while others will enjoy both the attention and the opportunity to further formulate their ideas. If they're comfortable talking about their work, guide the conversation toward the elements of the story that actually appeal to you.

It's not just the "interest" that I don't want readers to lie about, but it's the edits as well. Let me know when something doesn't read well . . . Let me know when it doesn't work . . . Let me know when you get bored or confused. When I ask someone to help me by editing or reviewing then I'm providing you carte blanche to be open, honest and truthful. Be brutally open, honest and truthful.

4. Get them to write, right now.
Not talk about their writing. Not brainstorm. Not organize. Not research. Not read articles on LitReactor.


Just write.

Writers face what I refer to as an "inertial barrier." It's difficult for us to get started with writing, but once we've gotten there it gets progressively easier and more enjoyable. We tend to be quite practiced at procrastination techniques, especially the ones that make it seem like we're working on our story, but this only serves to increase the inertia. If you give us an extra push toward simply writing, you'll be helping us get the momentum and energy required to get past the inertial barrier.

This resonates a tad less if only cause the only way my family can provide me the motivation to write is to get out of the house or allow me to. At this point, with two toddlers and an 8 year old, those moments are few and far between.

Nevertheless, it was fun to see motivation and thoughts on how to support a writer from a perspective that I had not seen before.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oh No!

Anyone who has read this blog and seen these posts  had to know that this post was coming when they saw the news yesterday of Tom Clancy's death.

Stunned. I was stunned. My brother was too until he said, "he smoked a lot" then it seemed the stunnedness wore off on him as if he had been expecting it.

I read this article, by David French in National Review and reminisced about the books I'd read of his.

I can think of few better books for boys to read, where the heroes were tough, honorable, and brave, and they understood that evil can’t be appeased but must be overcome. For a Cold War kid, the stories had a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, and many of them felt almost plausible enough that you could imagine you were reading a classified debrief.

Hunt for Red October was far from my favorite. That honor goes to Debt of Honor but might be beat out by Red Storm Rising if I happen to read it again. I thought the final scenes of Dead or Alive was life altering, literally and figuratively. I thought Without Remorse was a waste of time and much of his most recent stuff has not had the same impact as the earlier books. Despite all of that, they are some great books and he was a terrific, I would say genre bending, author.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yep . . . Can Be Done

This article I found by Alison Heller called Why a Lawyer Mom Decided to Write her First Novel is not a bad three minutes investment of time for an apsiring writer with a family and full time job. It proves that despite those obstacles (and I don't generally like calling my family obstacles) a successful writing life is out there.

The Love Wars, although not on my To Be Read list, is her go at having it all. In the article she writes:

When I signed up for a writing workshop, in the midst of all I was doing, I kept it quiet. I was embarrassed for even having the goal of writing the book that had been buzzing around in my head, let alone selfishly demanding the time to try to write it.

This is exactly why I'm waking at 5 AM to write for an hour or so. Three days into it and still struggling to make it a habit, but it's better than not being able to throw the ball with the seven year old and his friends in the street as I did last night.

I do like the way she saw hours as "billable time" to be traded and bought as needed.

More difficult was owning up to what I let slip: exercise; home-cooking beyond the microwave; staying on top of thank-you notes and dentist appointments and school deadlines. I still managed to waste time on the Internet (and then, of course, more time beating myself up about it). I also incurred the literal cost of buying more time. For example: food—I relied on online groceries, prepared dinners and take-out. My husband’s salary enabled the hike in expense; mine on its own couldn’t have.

As a lawyer, I’d found it unnatural and unromantic to view an hour as a commodity. But at some point in that year, I forced myself to budget my time like it was money, spending first on the necessities: family time and client needs. After that, I consciously “paid” myself in writing hours. (And after that, there was almost no time left.)

Nevertheless, she's prove that you can "have it all" providing you have the proper motivation and support.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New One For Me

I've read what? About a dozen or so (maybe two dozen) books on the craft of writing? This is the first time I've run into this theory. Lifted from Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Book in a Month, part of her second day of writing and outlining.

When I worked as a film analyst, I noticed that A-level movies had approximately ten to twenty scenes total, and B-level movies had thirty-five to sixty scenes total. This happened in every single case. Some A-level movies are now three hours long, but even so, the better movies just don't have as many scenes as the lesser ones do. The writers of the B movies were trying to do too much, switching scenes to try and make it seem as thought there were a lot of action or drama taking place. They didn't use the scenes they had to full effect. They didn't use the opportunities for action and drama that were right in front of them.

So she has the writer sketch out the ten key scenes that will be a part of the book in a month. Sure there might be some minor scenes stitching it all together, but there should be ten key scenes that take the reader through the story arc to the end. It's an interesting exercise and as I said, that's the first time I've heard that.

I wonder how true it is. It almost makes me want to sit down with a counter the next time I watch a good movie just to see if I can see more than ten or twenty scenes in an A-level movie. Anyone else ever heard this?