The Hook in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

Writing about a story’s hook, Karen Cogan stated in the closing paragraph of her post, “How to Set the Right Tone for Your Novel” on the Southern Writers: Suite T blog on December 19, 2018: 

“The point is that your reader should never be misled for the sake of an enticing beginning. Certainly, you want an interesting opening. All you must do is to think carefully about your genre for the hook that draws readers into your novel.” For instance, a romance novel should not begin with the gory details of a murder. (Here’s the link to that blog post:  https://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2018/12/how-to-set-right-tone-for-your-novel.html.)

If you’ve followed my blog for a few months, you know that I’m fascinated by the opening lines of novels. Although the “hook” can be more than just the opening line or paragraph, I can usually tell by the first sentence if I’m starting to read a book that I’ll finish.

Sometimes I’m fooled. Most of the time, I find that the opening sentence or paragraph is an invitation to a place or time I’ve never been – like a murder scene, the life of a person making a gut-wrenching decision, the colonial days in America, or perhaps the home front or battlefields of a great war.

As an aspiring novelist, I want to learn what makes a great hook and what doesn’t.

Today I’m highlighting the opening sentence in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper:

“His skin told his history in tattoos and knife scars.” ~ first sentence in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

That hook describes Crazy Craig Hollington, president of the Aryan Steel prison gang. No surprise there. Chances are, this is not going to be a Sunday afternoon picnic kind of a story.

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

This isn’t typical of my reading choices, but I was drawn to it when I read that it won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I wrote the following about the book in my June 4, 2018 blog post, “Reading in May 2018” (see https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/06/04/reading-in-may-2018.)

“After reading the opening description of a white supremacist gang in a prison in Chapter 0 (yes, Chapter 0), I wasn’t sure I could hang in there to keep reading. I continued to read, and I was soon invested in 11-year-old Polly.

“Polly is kidnapped at school by the father she barely knows and is suddenly thrown into a life of crime. The book takes the reader along for a rollercoaster ride as Polly quickly becomes streetwise in order to survive.”

I think, “His skin told his history in tattoos and knife scars” was a good indication for what was to come in She Rides Shotgun.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been racing against the clock to try to read or listen to umpteen books before they have to return to the library or disappear from my Kindle. Too many books, too little time. Look for my blog posts on March 4 and 11, 2019 to see what I read this month.

Update on Decluttering

In case anyone out there is interested, I’m continuing to do battle with clutter. I’ve been inspired this year by Mliae’s blog:  https://lifexperimentblog.com/2019/02/22/february-declutter-update/. She was kind enough to list my blog in her February 22, 2019 blog post, which prompted me to offer an update on my decluttering progress today.

Sometimes mail piles up. Opened, unopened, it doesn’t make a difference. I know the rule of thumb is to only touch a piece of paper once. Some days go well. I open the mail and immediately put it in the paper shredder, a file folder, or the recycle bin. Other days… not so much.

This month I’ve put 22 catalogs in the recycling bin. My goal is to get off as many catalog mailing lists as possible.

I’ve set aside 28 books to donate to the April 6 used book sale at my church. Granted, those 28 books are still piled on the hearth, but at least I know they’re getting new homes in April.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I’m trying to finish reading In the Woods, by Tana French before it disappears from my Kindle on Thursday.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and that you’re good at writing hooks.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Don’t forget to look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow when I’ll reveal two books that help me sleep at night. That’s the assignment, anyway. I’m still working on it. (Writing prompt provided by “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646)

Let’s start a conversation

How much time or how many pages do you give a book before you give up on it and move to another book?

Janet

I took Mliae’s January challenge

I have discarded, recycled, or set aside to donate more items this month than I can count. All as a result of Mliae’s blog post on December 31, 2018:  https://lifexperimentblog.com/2018/12/31/happy-new-year-2019/.

Mliae challenged her blog readers to get rid of one item every day in January. I missed many days, but made up for it on others. It feels good to get rid of some clutter. Thank you, Mliae!

I finally got around to shredding my income tax records and bank statements from the year 1999 through 2010. That’s not a typo. 1999.

Think back to 1999, if you can. In those days, the bank sent you a statement every month along with all your cancelled checks. The bank and I have come a long way since 1999:  from cancelled checks to online bill pay.

In some ways, I’m organized. I keep each year’s income tax instructions and paperwork together with a rubber band. In theory, this would make it easy to discard (shred) the oldest year’s paperwork when adding the newest year’s records; however, I never put my plan into practice.

Hence, I hadn’t gotten rid of any of those records in 20 years even though we’re required to only keep our income tax records for seven years. It was time to tackle that box of income tax records! I started that project on Friday afternoon and finished it Saturday night. I thought our poor wee paper shredder was going to blow up!

I am reminded of a line I like from At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens:

“… if nothing else, a useful reminder early on that the more I can let go of the old, the more room there is for the new.”

In writing that, Ms. Givens was not referring to getting rid of physical items in order to make room for new things. She was writing about a revelation she had in the early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.

Ms. Givens realized that she needed to let go of preconceived ideas and the way she had done things back home in the United States so she could learn the culture of the Kazakh people.

The above quote from Ms. Givens’ memoir struck a chord with me. As I let go of some physical items this month, I made a conscious effort to let go of preconceived ideas.

I want to learn something each day. I want to be open to new ways and new ideas. As my 66th birthday approaches, I don’t want to be “a stick in the mud” or “stuck in a rut.”

Since my last blog post

My vertigo is improving. The things the physical therapist has me doing are definitely making a difference.

Until my next blog post

I look forward to seeing if Mliae will issue a February challenge. Nevertheless, I plan to continue to tackle the clutter that has accumulated.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Now You See Me, by Sharon Bolton.

If you’re a writer, I hope writing brings you joy. I hope you have quality writing time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Are you a keeper of things? I think I got it honestly from both parents. They were in college when The Great Depression hit in 1929. Their young adult years were lean and full of struggle. “Waste not, want not,” must have been what they lived by. I never heard either of them say those words, but they raised their children not to waste anything.

By my parents’ example, I learned at an early age not to throw away anything that I could possibly need or find a use for later. Hence, the stack of printer paper that has only been used on one side. The other side can be used for all kinds of things – like writing the plot outline for a novel.

Hence, the used letter envelopes on which grocery lists can be written on the back while the inside conveniently holds discount coupons. And those twist-ties that come on the bag in which sliced bread is purchased? Yes, I’m guilty. There is a place set aside for them in one of the kitchen drawers.

What about you? Are you a keeper or a minimalist?

Janet

Good Teeth

I used to bite my fingernails, much to my mother’s regret. She went through this with all three of her children so, by the time I came along, she knew none of the famous recommendations for helping a child stop this habit worked.

My brother was the eldest child. When she tried painting his fingernails with hot polish that was invented to burn a nail biter’s tongue, she said her would stop biting his nails just long enough to say, “Hot!” before going right back at it.

Fortunately, I stopped biting my nails. I don’t recall when or why, but I’m glad I stopped. That is why a line from Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb caught my eye. To say Ms. McCrumb has a way with words would be a gross understatement.

In Prayers the Devil Answers, Lonnie Varden is in jail in Knoxville, Tennessee. He pushed his wife, Celia, off Hawk’s Wing – a rock that jutted out of a mountain. His cell mate, Ulysses, gives the following observation about the young Lonnie Varden:

“His nails were bitten down to the quick, which told the old man that this kid had two things he didn’t: more trouble than he was accustomed to and good teeth.” ~ from Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb

prayers-the-devil-answers-9781476772813_lg
Prayers the Devil Answers, A novel by Sharyn McCrumb

As I read the book, I jotted down a number of sentences and paragraphs I liked. I have used two of them in my April 19, 2017 blog post,  P is for a Paragraph I Liked and my June 13, 2017 blog post, “Not a rope . . . if drowning”.

I want to be a writer who comes up with expressions and turns of a phrase like Sharyn McCrumb. It will take practice. Practice. Practice.

Since my last blog post

I had something to happen in the health category that led me to do some soul searching. It had a good outcome, and served as a bit of a wake-up call. I’ve reevaluated some things and how I spend my time. Life is short.

I’ve been reading and decluttering. I tend to keep things. My parents were young adults during The Great Depression, so it was ingrained in me from birth that you didn’t throw something away that you thought you might be able to use later. (Examples include rubber bands, scraps of paper, paper bags, scraps of yarn, string, bits of thread, and anything that looks like something that might eventually be useful.)

Hence, things that come into my house tend to never leave. Last week I recycled old magazines, cardboard boxes and loose papers. I shredded papers bearing personal information. (After all, someone stole our garbage once. You just never know!)

I sorted fabric I’ll never sew and clothes I’ll never be small enough to wear again and took them to Goodwill. I can see the improvement, but someone who’s never been in my house before would probably think I still have a problem. They’d be right. I am a work in progress. More decluttering is on my agenda for this week.

My new approach to “things” is to ask myself, “Do I want my nieces and nephew to have to deal with this someday, or should I go ahead and get rid of it?”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! Tell your friends.

Janet