“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

Do I have your attention? Good! That’s the purpose of a hook in a novel. I made a note of this one when I read Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich in 2015:

“Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault.” – Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

TrickyTwentyTwo
Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

After reading that opening sentence, you have to keep reading. The next sentence clarifies things a tad for any reader who has not read any of Ms. Evanovich’s previous 21 Stephanie Plum novels:  “My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.”

I read Janet Evanovich when I want something light and amusing to read. She did a good day’s (years’?) work when she came up with the characters in her Stephanie Plum series. Great character development!

Fans of the Stephanie Plum series know there is a story to follow that hook, no doubt filled with numerous missteps by Stephanie and probably at least one blown-up car. The opening sentence introduces Ginny Scoot to you and tells you she is in dire straits. You wonder what has happened to push her to the edge. What in the world did Stephanie Plum do to cause this crisis?

A good hook grabs you. It gives you just enough information that your curiosity is piqued and you are compelled to keep reading. The first sentence doesn’t have to carry the whole load; however, if the reader isn’t hooked by the bottom of the first page, chances are he or she won’t read the second page. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer!

Since my last blog post

I was fortunate to find one copy of The Carolina Backcountry On The Eve Of The Revolution:  The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, edited by Richard J. Hooker in circulation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System. It has been useful in my research for the historical novel I’m writing.

More letters have been sent to independent bookstore owners to encourage them to place orders for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, as spring is finally approaching in western North Carolina.

I’ve continued to hone my new skill of creating graphics for Pinterest using www.Canva.com. In fact, someone at www.Canva.com saw my last blog post and contacted me. She was complimentary of my blog but requested that I give the whole URL (www.Canva.com) instead of “Canva.com” as I had in my blog. I corrected that in last week’s blog post.

Last week’s blog post, How Can a Writer Use Pinterest?, has only been liked by four other WordPress.com (or WordPress.org) bloggers, so Pinterest doesn’t appear to be a popular blog topic for me. I have gained several new followers via email, though, so perhaps it was of interest of a few people. I’ll be watching my Pinterest analytics to see if my original graphics get any attention.

I read on www.Goodreads.com that Jennifer Ryan is considering writing a sequel to The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I commented on how much I liked it in my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March. I look forward to reading the sequel, if it comes to fruition.

Going off topic

The highlights of my week were seeing several birds that make rare appearances in my yard. First came a male scarlet tanager to get a drink of water on Sunday. Two days later, two male indigo buntings, and a rose-breasted grosbeak came to eat. The grosbeak usually stops by our bird feeder every spring, but he’s just passing through. The indigo buntings graze on the ground under the feeder.

Sometimes the rose-breasted grosbeak stays for two or three days, but this year I only saw him once. He feasted for a good 15 minutes before flying away. Other birds came and went, but he was not deterred. This is much different behavior than is displayed by the northern cardinal. The northern cardinal is the most skittish bird I’ve seen. We have them in abundance.

I’ve only seen indigo buntings a few times in my life, but this was only the second time I’d seen a scarlet tanager. I didn’t get any photographs this time, but I found it interesting when I looked back in my photo files that the indigo bunting and rose-breasted grosbeak showed up on the same day in 2007. I photographed them on May 9 that year. It was the first time I’d ever seen either species.

This year they showed up on April 24. Concluding that the two species apparently migrate together, I did a little research. I learned on https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/indigo_bunting (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology) that indigo buntings “migrate at night, using the stars for guidance.” Perhaps it is coincidental that they and the rose-breasted grosbeak both show up in my yard on the same day.

IMG_5092
Male Indigo Bunting, photographed March 9, 2007.
IMG_4992
Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, photographed March 9, 2007.

When I chose the topic for today’s post, I had no idea I would include a segment about birds. I selected the above photo of the grosbeak because it was the best picture I took of him. It just occurred to me that he sort of illustrates the title of this blog post. Okay, use a little imagination. Work with me here!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good place to watch a variety of birds.

I also hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. I’m usually years behind in reading award winners, so I decided to jump right on this one.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Feel free to share my blog posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or via email.

Thank you for reading my blog! What birds have you seen recently, and what are you reading?

Janet

Hook in Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods

Writers are advised to start a novel with a hook – something that will grab the reader by the throat and compel them to keep reading. The first sentence doesn’t necessarily serve as the hook, but when that happens the reader is usually in for a great ride.

I recently read Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier. For me at least, his first sentence got my full attention and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen in this story.

“Luce’s new stranger children were small and beautiful and violent.” – The first sentence in Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier.

9780812978803
Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

I’d be hard pressed to think of the opening line of another novel that piqued my interest or struck me quite like that one. In 10 words – just five more than the title of this blog post – Mr. Frazier introduced the book’s main character; told us that there are new children in her life who are strangers to her; and not only are those new stranger children small and beautiful, but they are also violent.

Do I have your attention? Okay, okay. Here’s the second sentence in Nightwoods:  “She learned early that it wasn’t smart to leave them unattended in the yard with the chickens.” Now you know that the misbehavior of those children will surely be a recurring theme in this book.

It turns out that Luce has “inherited” the son and daughter of her deceased sister, and they are wild.

Since my last blog post

I have made good progress with my work in progress, The Spanish Coin. Rather than being measured in number of words written, last week’s progress was made as I worked on character profiles and my book’s thematic statement. I realized that I had not tried to put the novel’s theme into words. Maybe I didn’t even know what the theme was?

I had to come to grips with the theme of my novel in order to be sure I had chosen the right protagonist, or main character. Discerning that the theme of The Spanish Coin is slavery was a milepost and surprise for me. I thought I was writing a murder mystery set in the Carolinas in the 1760s – and I am; however, the theme of the book has turned out to be slavery.

Five people have signed up for my newsletter since my February 19 blog post. This was given a boost, no doubt, by the fact that David J. Rogers reblogged my post on his site, https://davidjrogersftw.com.  As far as I know, this was the first time a post of mine has been reblogged. Thanks, David. Thank you, Philip, Gary, Katherine, Paul, Michelle, and Kay for signing up for my newsletters.

Until my next blog post

Speaking of my newsletters – which have neither been scheduled nor written – if you wish to be added to my mailing list, please fill out the form at the end of this blog post. With your encouragement, I believe The Spanish Coin will indeed be rewritten and published, giving me some news to put in a newsletter.

I will continue to put meat and bones on the characters in The Spanish Coin and perhaps get back into the outline. All the while, in the back of my mind I’ll continue to mull over my book’s hook.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Taster, by V.S. Alexander.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

 

 

Holding the Forest Back

deglee-degi-400520.jpg

Photo by Deglee Degi on Unsplash

Today I’m highlighting the opening sentence from the novel Redemption Road, by John Hart. You might have to be “from the country” to fully appreciate this turn of a phrase.

“Bushes were overgrown, but the grass had been cut often enough to hold the forest back.” – opening sentence in Redemption Road, by John Hart

I like how Mr. Hart wrapped that idea up in a simple sentence. Using the phrase, “to hold the forest back” gets the thought across perfectly and succinctly.

If I had written it, I probably would have gone into a detailed explanation of sweet gum sprouts trying to take over the property. Can you guess what we have a problem with in our yard? It seems like the woods are constantly trying to gain more of a foothold on the cleared land that we consider to be our yard.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Castle:  The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kieman. I’m also reading Perennial Seller:  The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday. I had to put The King of Lies, by John Hart, on the back burner and switch off to the Kieman and Holiday books because they’re due back at the library before the Hart book. There is method to my madness. I’m able to concentrate enough to read more now than a couple of months ago.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Race in America, and The Dry Grass of August

Today’s blog post highlights the first paragraph of The Dry Grass of August, Anna Jean Mayhew’s debut novel. That paragraph is a great hook, for it draws you in and conveys that there’s bound to be a good story in the coming pages. Here it is:

“In August of 1954, we took our first trip without Daddy, and Stell got to use the driver’s license she’d had such a fit about. It was just a little card saying she was Estelle Annette Watts, that she was white, with hazel eyes and brown hair. But her having a license made that trip different from any others, because if she hadn’t had it, we never would have been stuck in Sally’s Motel Park in Claxton, Georgia, where we went to buy fruitcakes and had a wreck instead. And Mary would still be with us.” ~ Anna Jean Mayhew in The Dry Grass of August

DryGrass
The Dry Grass of August, by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August is a novel that takes you to the American South in the days of  lawfully-mandated racial segregation. It is written from the point-of-view of a 13-year-old white girl from Charlotte, North Carolina. It sheds light on how it was in the 1950s for a black maid, Mary Luther, traveling from North Carolina to Florida with her white employer, Mrs. Watts, and the four Watts children. Mary couldn’t eat in restaurants, couldn’t sleep in motels, and couldn’t use public bathrooms because they were the legal domain of white people.

Mary Luther is in constant but often subtle danger. She was, no doubt, apprehensive and in danger even when the members of the white family she was riding with were unaware. That unawareness is today referred to as “white privilege.” When one lives his entire life as a member of the predominant and ruling race, he enjoys privileges and advantages of which he isn’t even conscious.

The Watts children witness things along the way to Florida that open their eyes to how differently whites and blacks are treated in the United States. They cannot return home to Charlotte unchanged.

In light of the August 12, 2017 violence

I chose the opening paragraph of The Dry Grass of August as my blog topic for today many weeks ago. When I selected it and put it on my blog schedule, I had no idea I would be writing it in the aftermath of the tragedy in Virginia of last weekend. I did not anticipate writing a 1,000-word blog post around that paragraph.

Although published in 2011, The Dry Grass of August speaks to us today as, in light of the murder of Heather Heyer and other violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Americans are having a conversation like never before about race relations. That conversation is long overdue and painful. It will not and cannot be a short conversation.

For all the progress that has been made between the races in my 64 years, it is abhorrent and repulsive to me that in 2017 there are Ku Klux Klan members, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis not only living among us but being emboldened by the words, actions, and inactions of President Donald J. Trump. It is Mr. Trump’s lack of moral leadership that has added fuel to the fire and given bigots a green light to publicly spew their hate.

I had hoped to keep politics out of my blog, but I cannot remain silent. This is bigger than politics. This is morals and humanity and freedom. Freedom to live without fear. My blog is not a huge platform, but it does give me an avenue through which to speak. My blog has 1,300 followers from all over the world. I don’t want my blog followers in other countries to think Americans are vicious and at each other’s throats. That is not who we are.

Whereas the people who doggedly hung onto the myth that white people were a superior race used to cowardly hide their faces and identities under white hoods and robes, they now demonstrate and march with torches in regular street clothes. When they marched in Charlottesville last weekend, some of them were outfitted with helmets and shields, making it difficult for the anti-Nazi protesters to tell the difference between police officers and the white supremacists.

There is no room in the United States of America for Neo-Nazis and other hate mongers. The good citizens of this country cannot allow the current occupant of the White House to lead us down this destructive road by his lame condemnation of evil and his attempt to equate the people carrying Nazi flags with the people who were there to protest their hateful agenda.

Three of the founding pillars of the United States are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble. I’m glad I live in a country where people can voice their opinions; however, no American has the constitutional right to threaten, terrorize, or murder other people simply because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to worship God.

The United States is in a watershed moment. We will come out a better people on the other side of the current self-examination and soul searching because we are a good and decent people. We are not who Mr. Trump would try to make you think we are. We are so much better than that.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have a good book to read while you write your next good book.

Janet

 

Diana Gabaldon’s First Line in Outlander

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.” – first line in Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300
Outlander: A Novel, by Diana Gabaldon

What place?

What is this place? Where is it? What kinds of disappearances? Are the disappearances only in the past or is there one in the offing? If so, who is going to disappear, and where are they going? At second glance, does it become obvious that it’s a “likely place for disappearances?”

The hook

That one 12-word sentence brings up many questions. In so doing, it accomplishes what a novel’s first sentence is supposed to do. The reader is compelled to keep reading in order to find the answers to those questions. It “hooks” the reader.

The tip of the iceberg

When Diana Gabaldon penned the opening sentence in Outlander, I wonder if she had a clue what an adventure she was embarking on as a writer or what an adventure she was inviting readers to take. It turned out to be the first step we took on a journey that continues today.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, time travel, or Scotland and have not read Outlander or the other books in Ms. Gabaldon’s Outlander Series, it’s not too late to start. I got sidetracked after reading Fiery Cross, so I have some catching up to do!

This is a series that you definitely should read in order because one book builds on the previous one. I have enjoyed the “Outlander” series on TV. It is excellently done; however, it doesn’t take the place of reading the novels.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

First Line from a Novel by Flannery O’Connor

The first line of Flannery O’Connor’s 1960 novel, The Violent Bear It Away, has to be my favorite first line.  “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table when it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up,” says it all.

The Violent Bear It Away book cover
Book cover of The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor

What do we learn from the sentence?

From that one sentence, we know that Francis Marion Tarwater was, no doubt, named for that famous South Carolina “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution, Francis Marion. We know that Tarwater is white, because Buford Munson is described as being a Negro. We can guess that there is an illegal still involved, although Munson could have come to fill his jug with water. The sentence tells us that Tarwater’s uncle died at the breakfast table and half a day later Tarwater was too drunk to bury him. It also tells us that Tarwater’s uncle was a Christian, and that Munson puts a cross at the head of the grave when he finishes burying Tarwater’s uncle.

The opening sentence also paints a picture of the grave of Tarwater’s uncle piled high with fresh dirt in order to prevent dogs from smelling and digging up the body. From this, we can assume there was no casket, no vault, no fence around the gravesite, and no leash laws in the area.

Tarwater is described as a boy in the opening sentence. This tells us that he was under the age of 21 (the age of majority when the novel was written) and more than likely younger than that. (We learn later that he is 14 years old.) For him to be too drunk to finish digging the grave tells us that Tarwater is either celebrating his uncle’s death or distraught with grief. Either way, it is not a desirable situation.

The young Tarwater apparently felt total responsibility to bury his uncle which insinuates that there are no relatives or good friends close by. Or, perhaps Tarwater murdered his unsuspecting uncle by putting poisonous material in his food, then got scared or felt guilty, which caused him to get drunk and  attempt to hide the evidence by burying him.

Just when we think that opening sentence with all its nooks and crannies has said it all, we realize that it has led us to an incredible number of questions. Although the novel’s opening sentence is outrageously long at 88 words and complicated with only two commas allowing us to take a breath, it accomplishes what every fiction writing textbook says a novel’s opening sentence should do:  It hooks us. It draws us in. It compels us to keep reading in order to find out what is going on and to find the answers to the many questions it raises.  What more could you ask of an opening line?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

The First Line from a Novel by Tom Rob Smith

“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.” — first sentence in Chapter One of Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith’s novel, Child 44, is about a serial child killer in Stalinist Russia. It is a compelling read, and I plan to read books two and three in this trilogy – The Secret Speech and Agent 6.

I knew the general premise of the story when I picked up Child 44, but the opening line of the first chapter intrigued me. The reader isn’t sure why Maria “had decided to die.” That’s what a good novel’s “hook” does. It pulls the reader in enough to make him or her read the next sentence, and the next sentence, until the reader is “hooked” and can’t stop reading.

My first thought when I read the first sentence of chapter one in Child 44 was that Maria was contemplating suicide. That was not the case. Maria (and lots of other people in her village) were starving to death. She knew the end was near.

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet