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Saturday, July 26, 2014

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER--They work for me!

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time when "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." The last word is also written as it sounds: frenzies.

Sound familiar? I believe we truly are in the Dog Days of Summer.

I was born during this time, a Virgo, an August baby, and my mother told me many times how hot it was the day I was born, decades ago, in a house with no air conditioning (what was that, anyway?), no running water, and one light bulb in each room. You might say we were poor, but really we weren't. We just lived as everyone else did in the small North Texas farming community back then.

And so, I can identify with the Dog Days of Summer on a first-hand basis.

I have learned I can make this time work for me. The summer months have become a time of respite, a time to shift gears and work on a different level, a different playing field--or do nothing. During these hot days, my usual responsibilities have been dismissed for the summer, just as they were when I taught high schools students.

Since I'm happily retired now, I have no job or anything professional I must do. All groups I belong to are suspended for the summer. In each one, I do hold a position, a post, or a volunteer spot of various sorts. My book club even suspends meetings once a month, giving us time to read some of the selected books for the coming year.

While you might think I'd be languishing like those people centuries ago when this quote was written, I have instead found a burst of energy that I am directing to writing--more than usual.

A. I pulled a manuscript from Archives titled Whisper on the Wind, dusted it off, re-read and re-edited it, and sent it to a publisher.

B. I wrote a short story for Prairie Rose Publications to add to one of their summer anthologies: Cowboy Cravings. My story? Titled: Starr Bright. This was fun, a little different from my usual fare. Still a Western Romance, it's a complete story in 13,000 words.

C. I wrote out short synopses for three short stories that will be a series titled TRINITY HILL BRIDES, about Mail Order Brides in the 1880 small town in the Central Texas Hill Country.

Book I: Kathleen--The Make-Believe Bride, is 26,000 words complete.

Book II: Lorelei--The Left-Over Bride, has around 6,000 words so far. I know the plot, so the writing goes faster.

Book III: Vague plot is outlined, names not chosen. The bride will abandon her intended husband for a mysterious man.

D. I have a re-release this summer titled TEXAS BLUE, the first of the "Texas Books" back in 2007 which is available once more with a beautiful new cover.

E. I have promoted my summer release titled TEXAS DREAMER, my tenth novel length story, and the last...yes, the last "Texas" book. Time to begin something new. I love Texas Dreamer, though, and I'm happy it turned out so well.

The heat, the long days, the sameness of the weeks do not bother me during July and August. I'm happy to remain at home in my air conditioning, only going out when I wish, going only where I want. How much better could this be?

I can't say I like the name put to these long summer days, but I only pay attention to my own business. Oh, I'm not a hermit. I love to have coffee, and talk with friends, and hang around the library, and shop a little here, a little there.

September will arrive soon enough, and...Bang! all starts up once again.

This, too, I love. Newness, beginnings, reconnections.

Can't wait for September.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

HOOKS FOR BOOKS-The Opening Line

"It was a dark and stormy night…" 
No, no, never begin a story with the weather. The reader will skip ahead and look for action or characters, or heaven forbid, close the book.

Okay, let's see. "I was falling, falling…and then I woke up." 
Nope, I remember, now, NEVER open a book with a dream--or an alarm clock or phone ringing.

What about something really funny? For example, "Nearing the counter with a full tray, her foot slipped on spilled…." Uh, oh. That's on the list of no-no's, too.

Such a lists exist, in fact. The admonitions may vary slightly, but editors are programmed to stop reading a submission after the first sentence or first paragraph if she/he sees these red flags. The nineteenth-century Gothic novels opened with long brooding descriptions of the weather, or a monologue recounting the entire genealogy of the family in the story, enough to make one's eyes glaze over.

In today's world, the reader wants and deserves action, the inciting incident, the reason for the story, and he wants it right away. In some manner, the opening sentence or first paragraph or first chapter must give the reader what he wants--"What is this novel about?"

Grabbing the attention of an editor you'd like to impress or a reader you'd like to keep is an art form all its own. Books galore sit on shelves or can be found on-line that help the budding author or the experienced one who wants a refresher course learn a bit more about a good beginning.

Here are the beginning lines from six different novels.

1. The truth had long been settling on Jonathan Gray, sneaking into his resisting corners, but it had finally resounded in the deepest part of him. (The Fulfillment: LaVyrle Spencer)

2.  He'd known all day something was about to go down, something life-changing and entirely new. ( Montana Creeds: Dylan: Linda Lael Miller)

3.  Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly sat in the back seat of a black cab, driving from Dublin's airport through the city. (What Matters Most: Luanne Rice)

4. It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious teenager, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw. (The Hellion: LaVyrle Spencer)

5.When Ella Brown woke up that morning, she didn't expect it to be a momentous day. (Rainwater: Sandra Brown)

6. A sharp clip-clop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods and out over the sage. (Riders of the Purple Sage: Zane Grey) 

These opening lines come from Best-Selling authors. Do we need to pay closer attention to the novels we read? Go to a bookstore, find a shelf of best-sellers in romance, and open several to study the first page. Just read the first line.

Make a list of the kind of hooks that interest you in a book. Your list may be the same as mine.
1. Attention-getting
2. Exciting
3.Pulls me into the story
4. Straight forward
5. Brief and punchy
6. Rouses curiosity
7. Emotionally charged
8. A declarative sentence

A beginning sentence need not be earth-shattering and memorable--such as "It was the best of times, etc."--but it should be strong enough to elicit some response from the reader.

The worst openings are paragraphs and pages of descriptions, telling the reader what she/he will read. This is a common mistake with new authors--trust me, I know--I was one. I had to adjust my style and stop trying to describe the people, the surroundings, the landscape, get the picture. 

Hooking your reader is not easy, but with a little self-study, you can improve your chances with editors and nail that contract. With your next or current WIP, try writing five opening sentences and ask fellow authors or your critique partners help you select one.

If you self-publish, try out your opening line with a few readers and learn their reaction. 

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Makes a Book "Good"

How many times have you finished a book, closed it, and said, "That was a good book."

Why did you say that? In what way was the book "good?"

My questions stem from a group discussion in a friend's living room this past week. This is a monthly book club that has been in existence about 40 years. I've only been a member about 25 of those years, and intermittent at best. This particular discussion made me think and re-think my ideas about "a good book."

The novel was about the wife of a real person in American history. Since it's fiction, we had a difficult time separating truth from fiction, and especially since we didn't know the full truth of the man's life in the public eye.

More than one member said, "I didn't like the book."
"It was depressing and he really was a cruel person."
 All right. But what about the story and how it was written? The member maintained her stance--"I didn't like the characters."

A few others agreed, and a couple said he was horrible to treat his wife the way he did.

I thought it was a "good book" and I was not the only one.
The story fascinated me, whether it was truthful or not. Even though it was depressing, I still maintain it was a good book.

The author is young, but she wrote a very good story. The book is published by one of the big publishers, hardback, etc., great cover, and not so long that it tired me to finish.

So, what does make a book good? Here are a few ideas:
The book is Good...
--If it has a satisfying ending--not particularly happy.
--If the hero is a good man and does the right thing in the end.
--If I can't put it down.
--If I learned something new.
--If the story is compelling.
--If I don't take anything personally.
--If it has nothing offensive, or at least very little.
--If there's an element of mystery that surprises me.

None of these ideas stand alone. We might make several statements to support our belief.

I've read novels with titles such as: Cutting for Stone; Germs, Guns, and Steel--the Downfall of Human Societies; Voices from the Dust Bowl Years; and came away saying, these were good books.
I've read romance novellas that were only 100 pages with titles such as The Cowboy and the Scarlet Woman, (I made that up, but you get the idea) and came away saying, this was a good book.

On the flip side, here's a list that makes me say, "This was not a good book."
--Poor passive writing--even if the plot might be good.
--Far too much narrative, page after page after page, that does not allow me to use my imagination. (I just finished one like this and wouldn't review it because it was so bad.)
--No emotion, flat dry drivel for conversations.
--Characters, both male and female, who were TSTL.
--Stiff dialogue with the characters doing nothing as real people might when they talk. He said, she said.
--Written in short choppy sentences.
--Written in long sentences with multiple ideas in one.

What element of a book makes it good in your opinion. What in particular do you look for? What just makes you grind your teeth in frustration?

Want to know the title of the book?
The Aviator's Wife. The story of Anne Morrow Lindberg.
By Melanie Benjamin

Thanks for visiting.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas