That Beginning Sentence

Anticipation.

You make a cup of peppermint tea, or a margarita, or pour yourself a pinot noir.

You unwrap a piece of dark chocolate to savor. You set the cut glass bowl of almonds next to you. You fill your sombrero-shaped chip-and-dip platter.

You settle into the reading nook near the bay window with your fluffiest afghan and your cat. Or you plump the cushions on your patio chair in the shade. Or you kick off your sandals and call your cabana boy over to adjust your beach umbrella.

You pull the dust jacket off your new hardcover and set it aside so it doesn’t wrinkle. You find the perfect bookmark. You crack the spine of your stiff paperback.

And you begin to read.

If you’re lucky, you’re immediately transported into another world, someone else’s life, a story you’ve never heard. You forget all about the guacamole and the margarita.

Some readers only give books a couple of sentences to grab them. I’m more generous because it seems like all the books on my TBR pile are there for a reason already. But if I’m browsing in the library or bookstore, I’ll only give a book a paragraph or two before I decide to re-shelve it or take it home for further investigation.

We’re all different, so what grabs me may not grab you, but here are some examples of openings from my shelf.

ordinary-grace

“All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.”

 

 

ice-cold

“She was the chosen one. For months, he had been studying the girl, ever since she and her family had moved into the compound.”

 

 

 

stormy-weather

“On August 23, the day before the hurricane struck, Max and Bonnie Lamb awoke early, made love twice and rode the shuttle bus to Disney World.”

 

 

 

sizzling-sixteen

“My Uncle Pip died and left me his lucky bottle.”

 

 

 

killing-rain

“Killing isn’t the hard part.”

 

 

 

What do you think? Would you keep reading these? What are some of your favorite openings?

Is The Air More Rarified In Cozies?

So I had a post all written whining about how hard it is to write mysteries and how it causes me so much stress that it makes my chest tight so I can’t get air in my lungs … see what I did there? I can whine AND hit our theme … but I trashed it. I decided to mix a few metaphors, pull up my big girl undies and go high, like Michelle Obama suggests.

I’m almost finished with the first draft of a new humorous cozy manuscript. It’s the second in a series of three, perhaps more if I’m lucky. The first is already in the hands of my editor to be published in Fall 2017.

I write first drafts fairly quickly because I outline. This one will have taken me about twenty days. It’ll be just under 200 pages, 60k words or so, but it’ll be bare bones.

It will tell the complete story, but it won’t have the right words, or evocative description, or ground you in setting, or offer those telling details that make a character memorable. And goodness knows, it ain’t funny.

In short, it won’t have any atmosphere.

Right now it just has words. Boring, utilitarian words.

Whenever I get to this point I succumb to a bit of jealousy of high fantasy writers, or dark thriller writers, or historical fiction wonks. It seems to me it’s so much easier to convey a memorable atmosphere that readers want to curl up in when you’re not writing funny, present day, suburban stories.

After all, that’s where most of us live every day. What’s so cool about that?

Um…nothing.

I’m convinced it’s harder to evoke a mysterious atmosphere in the hum-drum present day in middle America than it would be in 1809 London … or on Arrakis with Maud’dib … or even in St Mary Mead.

What do you think? Is it easier or harder to layer in evocative atmosphere in cozies than in other genres?

The Promise of the Premise

The world is full of all kinds of deceptions, big and small. Some are fun like bluffing in poker or planning a surprise party.

Some are evil like cheating on your taxes or not telling your partner you have an STD.

And some are literary like plot twists and unreliable narrators.

But the worst, in my humble little blogpinion, is a failure to deliver on the “promise of the premise.”

When I was in college, I wanted to get my dad and sister a Golden Retriever so I put the word out to all the shelters and finally got a phone call. One came in … AND it was a puppy! So I raced down there and grabbed that ball of fluff. It wasn’t too long before they realized Tosh was a Corgi. Cute little fluffballs are oh-so deceptively adorable and lookalike. When people asked my dad what kind of dog Tosh was, he thought it was hilarious to tell them she was a Golden Retriever. “At least according to my daughter!”

Tosh and Bear.jpg

(Eight-year-old Tosh the Corgi is the white one. Subsequently Dad got a Golden Retriever pup. Here’s Bear at about two months. She grew into her name soon after this photo was taken. You can clearly see they are twinsies.)

Anyway, ever see a movie trailer that showed only funny bits but was really a drama? It’s the same idea with books. I won’t mention the author or the title, but I got halfway through a book recently that shifted gears so dramatically, I had to be treated for literary whiplash. The second half could have belonged to an entirely different book. I kid you not. It went from happy cozy mystery to full-throttle police procedural. The amatuer sleuth became second fiddle to the FBI.

So weird.

I don’t personally know the author, but if I did, I’d sure ask some questions. Like …

“Were you experimenting with a new genre?”

“Was this edited by committee?”

“Is your meth addiction under control now?”

It was truly an odd mash-up. Miss Marple meets Die Hard.

But then I started thinking of all the fun mash-ups we could write.

Orange Is The New Nancy Drew

To Kill A Mockingjay

Marley & Me & the Hound of the Baskervilles

What do you think would be some spectacularly over-the-top mash-ups? And over-the-top doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I mean, c’mon, wouldn’t you want to read Curious George Plays The Hunger Games?

 

The Exquisite Whole

I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” recently. I hadn’t seen it in many years because it’s really not high on my list of favorites (not a fan of the operatic style), but it was part of our season ticket package so I was looking forward to revisiting it. Frankly, I look forward to every show because there’s always something spectacular happening on stage.

And Phantom was no exception. Gorgeous stagecraft. Goosebump inducing orchestration. Overwhelming special effects. And costumes. Oh, the costumes.

The setting for Phantom is the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s so you have the regular period costumes as well as the costumes for the operas-within-the-opera. What made my theatre experience more interesting was the display of costumes from the show they had set up in the lobby.

As I walked toward the display I saw one of the Phantom’s capes, and three beautiful dresses.

cape 1 beaded 1 multi 1 black dress 1

But then I looked closer.

cape 2    multi 2  black dress 2beaded 2

And then closer still.

beaded 3  multi 3  black dress 3  black dress 4

By focusing closer on each garment, I was able to see details hidden to me before, each one serving a purpose, each one servicing the whole of the garment as well as the entire production. Care was taken on those sequins, each one catching different lights and angles on stage. They certainly could have used fewer — less detail, less care — and perhaps nobody would have been the wiser. But by layering detail upon detail, texture upon texture, all the pieces added up to an exquisite whole.

It’s the same thing I try to do with my writing. I start with my barebones plot, my plain cotton garment, if you will.

Then I stitch on a few ruffles of setting, some beaded metaphors, a sprinkle of telling details so each character and paragraph sparkles. I trim off excess story fabric, nipping and tucking until nothing droops or drags. I snip loose threads or weave them in better.

I want readers to see my books like I saw those costumes in the theatre lobby. Something captivating that when examined, reveals layers and layers of texture adding up to an exquisite whole.

As a reader, do you notice the layers of texture? As a writer who reads, can you overlook the layers and lose yourself in the exquisite whole?

Imagine There’s No Fiction

With heartfelt apologies to John Lennon for this and many, many other musical transgressions. My karaoke version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ leaps to mind. So, so sorry.

 

Imagine there’s no fiction

Impossible to try

Only hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people illiterate and unversed

 

Imagine there’s no novels

Impossible to do

Nothing to stay up late for

No short stories too

Imagine all the people living life so small, you

 

You may say that’s a nightmare

But it’s not the only one

Every genre, scene, and sequel

Unimagined or penned by anyone

 

Imagine no crime thrillers

No cozy sleuths or romance

No need for arcs or setting

No inciting circumstance

Imagine all the people, bored, twiddling their thumbs, you

 

You may say I’m creative

But I’m not the only one

Give up on imagination

And the world will soon be done

 

Imagine there’s no fiction. What would that look like?

See Your Story Sparkle

I’ve had yet another learning curve recently, when I had to find a new graphic design program. I know that if we’re not growing, we’re stagnating, but c’mon! I’m sick of learning curves. Can’t a girl stagnate for a while?

In keeping with the theme this month, I do spew some sparkly language whenever I’m hacking through the brambles as I find myself, once again, careening over the edge of the learning curve du jour, having missed yet another ‘dangerous road ahead’ sign.

Readers often don’t realize how much authors need to know in order to write a book. Grammar, spelling, writing, storytelling, editing, revising. How to research, what to research, when to research. How to work their computer, modem, printer, and smartphone. Setting up and maintaining email(s), website(s), blog(s), mailing list(s). Mastering all social media platforms, new, old and yet-to-be-created. At the very least, keeping up with them. Keeping up with industry trends. Exchanging ideas and critiques with online and in-person writing and publishing networks. Becoming a marketing and advertising expert; continually seeking out the perfect venues, collaborators, and messages to spread your book(s) far and wide; remembering to tweak said messages for each different venue, collaborator, and title.

All while keeping up with your day job, kids, laundry, garden, and reading.

If you decide to self-publish, the list dramatically increases. Often with things you didn’t  know that you must mysteriously learn, perhaps osmosis-style, certainly before you’re ready.

Oh, and teach yourself a new graphic design program. Even when you’d rather sit on your summertime patio, watching the robins fight over the perfect spot in the sparkling cool water of the birdbath.

Here’s an early stab at designing in Canva. What design program do you use?

See your Story

Also … I’m starting a monthly writing contest — with prizes! — that anyone can enter, whether you’re a professional writer or simply dabbling for a bit of fun. All the details are at BeckyClarkBooks.com and my Facebook Author Page. Please spend a few minutes entering and spread the word to your friends and family. The more, the merrier! Help me make this a ‘thing.’

Twisting by the Fool

There are all kinds of twists — delicious twist doughnuts, intricate twist hairstyles and jewelry, and of course, plot twists.

None of which I’m going to talk about today.

Instead, I want to chat about Dire Straits.

Writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. In 2006, the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where you write 60,000 words of a new novel in 30 days), I learned a valuable lesson. Among many, many other things, I learned I had to exercise every day.

Subsequently, because I’m *ahem* older and wiser, I’ve learned, in no particular order, menopausal women pack on weight like mastodons preparing for the next Ice Age … a body in motion tends to stay in motion … standing is better than sitting … the hip bone’s connected to the back bone, the back bone’s connected to the neck bone, the neck bone’s connected to the head bone … and you’ve gotta shake dem skeleton bones.

Dire Straits also knows this.

Here is my workspace.

Twisting by the Fool

When I know I’ll be writing and/or concentrating at my desk for lengthy periods, I set my alarm every hour. I have a playlist called “Becky’s Dance Party” and when the alarm sounds, I choose one song. Sometimes I pull out my trampoline and bounce in a raucous manner, sometimes I bop around in the room. But this is my favorite song to dance to …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOg9iEYVHkM

Yep … those Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits.

And if you’ve been sitting there reading blogs, email, and Facebook for a while, I challenge you to crank the volume and join me as a twisty fool for three minutes and thirty-one seconds. I guarantee you will have more energy and better focus when you finish.

Now get back to work!