Thursday, November 22, 2018

November 22, 1963—The assassination of JFK

HISTORICAL WOMEN’S FICTION 

"Fiction at its best!"
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November 22, 1963


The assassination of President John F. Kennedy—he was young, rich, handsome, vigorous—was a defining event of the 20th Century. People remember where they were, who they were with and what they were doing when they heard the shocking news.

Modern Women, a million-copy NYT bestseller, begins in Dallas, New York, and Washington on November 22, 1963, the day of the assassination, as the three heroines—outrageous Jane, studious, conflicted Lincky, and idealistic Elly—learn of the President’s death. Young women with the future ahead of them, they confront turning points in their own lives and must face the opportunities—and challenges—of the coming decades.

Here is the first chapter—

JANE
DALLAS
11:31 A.M. CST

AT first she wasn’t sure what happened. If anything.
Wearing a phony press badge with a fake name borrowed from Ian Fleming, Jane Gresch was seated on the window side in the first row of the first press bus accompanying John F. Kennedy’s presidential trip to Texas. Because of a mix-up in scheduling, the bus was farther back in the motorcade than planned. As Jane gazed out the window at the sparse crowds that had turned out to see a president much too liberal for local John Birch tastes, she thought she heard a car backfire.
From behind the tinted bus window, Jane saw, as if in a silent film, a stir of uncertainty ripple through the crowd. She noticed several people turn and begin to run away from the motorcade. A young mother pushed her two children to the ground and, using her own body as a shield, flung herself on top of them.
Then the bright daylight receded and Jane’s view was blocked as the bus went into the shadows of the Dealey Plaza underpass.
“What happened?” Jane asked. She turned to Owen Casals, her date for the weekend, who was sitting next to her in the aisle seat. Tall Owen. Dark Owen. Lean, handsome, work-all-day, fuck-all-night Owen.
He stood up to get a better view of the scene in front of them.
“The president’s car sped off. Really barreled away,” he said, turning to Jane. He looked alarmed. Owen, too, had heard the sound. Rifle fire, he thought, although he immediately rejected the idea. It was impossible. Along the banks of the Yalu River, yes, but not here in America.
Originally a police reporter like his father, Owen had risen through the journalistic ranks swiftly. At thirty-two he was a star in his world, a general assignment reporter for Newsflash magazine. Owen traveled constantly covering the hot stories—and President Kennedy’s Texas trip promised heat.
The local Democratic party’s bitter infighting had prompted what was hoped to be a fence-mending presidential trip. Adlai Stevenson, citing the ugly mood in the Lone Star state, had advised the president not to go. The warning added an edge of danger to the story. Mrs. Kennedy, known to dislike politicking and politicians, had accompanied the president, contributing a bracing jolt of glamour and sex appeal. Dallas promised to be the kind of story on which Owen had built his career.
When the bus came out of the underpass, Jane saw a policeman jump his motorcycle up over the curb, dismount, and scramble up the grassy bank. As he disappeared from her view, Jane thought she saw him reach for his holster. The bus stopped for a moment and a lone reporter got off and ran after the policeman. Then it started again and continued at a leisurely motorcade pace toward the Trade Mart where the president was scheduled to speak.
“Something really serious, we’d hear sirens. Cops and Secret Service would be all over the place. This bus wouldn’t be crawling along,” Owen said. He had decided that the noise he had heard was probably a motorcycle backfiring. The driver of President Kennedy’s limousine had certainly heard the same sound and, trained to act first, think later, had undoubtedly jammed his foot on the accelerator and peeled out.
“Just act like you belong,” Owen advised Jane, leaping out of his seat as the bus pulled up to the Trade Mart. Even if nothing had happened, Owen wanted to be the first to report it.
Scores of tables had been set up in the huge function room of the Trade Mart. The speaker’s podium, where President Kennedy was about to address the crowd, was draped in red, white, and blue bunting. American flags stood by the speaker’s podium and bouquets of hundreds of yellow roses stood at the head tables. The organist was warming up with a few bars of “Hail to the Chief.”
Everything was ready, but suddenly everything ceased. Hundreds of Texans in the middle of a rubber-chicken circuit lunch stopped eating. Jaws stopped in midbite. Forks hung suspended in midair. Water glasses poised midway between table and mouth. Jane could see eyes open wide in surprise, heads shake in doubt, mouths open in O’s of disbelief as the rumor spread through the room.
“Is it true?” a man in a business suit and ten-gallon hat asked Jane. He glanced at her press badge and, thinking she might know something, grabbed her urgently by the arm. “Did someone shoot the president?”
“Shoot?” Jane replied. A feeling of chill she had pushed away earlier returned. Jane remembered the stir in the motorcade route crowd—an uneasy and frightened ripple similar to the wave of movement that was sweeping the banquet room.
Before Jane could say another word, Owen grabbed her by the arm and propelled her into the surging mob of journalists that pushed through the banquet hall and up the stairs into the second-floor press room. Just as Jane and Owen entered the room, an official-looking man put down a telephone.
“The president’s been shot,” he said, his face turning white. “He’s at Parkland Hospital.”

LINCKY
NEW YORK CITY
12:39 P.M. EST

ON November 22, Lincky Desmond did what she almost always did for lunch. She left the office at twelve thirty and went out for a brief walk and a breath of fresh air. Then she stopped at the deli for a tuna sandwich that she would eat at her desk while working on a manuscript.
The fact that she had been sleeping with her boss didn’t mean that Lincky worked less. In fact, it meant that she worked more. There were two reasons. The first was that Lincky didn’t want Hank Greene to think that she would use their personal relationship to take advantage. The second was that Lincky didn’t want anyone in the office to suspect the affair by noticing that she was goofing off and not getting chewed out about it. Hank Greene, after all, was known as one of the most demanding bosses in publishing.
The first thing that struck Lincky was that the deli, usually frantic at lunchtime, was eerily quiet. The customary frenzy was notable by its absence. The waiters were not shouting orders at countermen. Dishes did not clatter noisily and silverware did not bang against stainless steel counters. The customers, too, were silent. They had stopped eating, stopped talking. Lincky would have thought that she had suddenly gone deaf except for the sound of a portable radio turned up high.
“The president is dead. That’s a confirmed report.” The announcer kept repeating the words over again and again. “The president is dead. That’s a confirmed report.”
Lincky was confused.
“President?” Lincky asked, turning to the Brooks Brothers-suited young executive who stood in the line behind her. “President of what?”
“Kennedy,” he said. Lincky noticed that his skin was ashen. “They got Kennedy.”
Irrelevantly, it struck Lincky that with his charcoal gray suit, rep tie, and horn-rimmed glasses, he didn’t look much like a Democrat. Even before the impact of the news fully sank in, Lincky ran out of the deli toward the office.
As she hurried down Third Avenue to 45th Street in the clear, gloriously sunny late autumn weather, Lincky still didn’t quite know whether or not to believe what the man in the deli had told her. President Kennedy dead? He was so young and so vital. Dead? It was incomprehensible. Yet that was what the man had said.
Lincky saw people standing on the sidewalks, huddled around portable radios. Traffic had come to a halt. A bus, its doors open, stood empty, abandoned in the middle of Third Avenue. Knots of people were gathered around automobiles listening to car radios through open doors and windows. A large crowd had gathered in front of a discount store window where banks of television sets showed grim-faced reporters and anchormen.
Half walking, half running, Lincky realized that something momentous really had happened. Part of her wanted to stop and join the people clustered in groups. The other part, the dominant part, wanted to get back to the office. She wanted to see Hank. She wanted to be with him. She wanted to share this moment with him.
The Henry Greene Literary Agency’s fourth floor offices were deserted. Everyone was out at lunchtime, particularly on a beautiful late November day, sure to be one of the last nice days before winter and darkness took over the city. Looking for Hank, Lincky went down the corridor to his modest corner office. Like everyone else, Hank was still out. Unable to be with Hank physically, Lincky did the next best thing. She sat down in his chair, smelled the familiar odor of his cigarettes and soap, and took comfort from these signs of Hank’s presence.
More prepared now to confront the terrible news, Lincky turned on the portable radio in Hank’s office. Every station had broken into its regular programming for the same bulletin from Texas:
“President Kennedy is dead. He was shot today in Dallas by an unknown assassin.”
It was only then, when she first began to truly comprehend the dimensions of the tragedy, that Lincky realized that not once since she had heard the dreadful news had she thought of her husband.

ELLY
WASHINGTON
12:40 P.M. EST


AS dumb jobs went, selling shoes in the Pappagallo boutique in Georgetown was one of the dumbest. As impossible customers went, this one, Elly had long since decided, redefined the species. Her name, although not nationally prominent, was fairly well known in Washington. Her husband was an upper-echelon lawyer in the attorney general’s office. It was said on the Georgetown dinner party circuit that she and her husband had the perfect marriage: he had the brains and she had the dough, piles and piles of it.
She also had a blond lion’s mane bouffant hairdo that she flew to New York every week to have set and teased at Kenneth’s, a wardrobe of Jackie Kennedy look-alike A-line dresses, and an overly emaciated figure to offset her overly developed bank account. Her existence proved that it was possible to be too rich and too thin. She reeked of Shalimar and insatiability.
She was exactly the kind of spoiled, materialistic, self-centered woman Elly McGrath had been brought up to despise.
Seven pairs of suede and patent leather shoes were scattered around the pearl gray carpet of the boutique. Three pairs were pumps, four were T-straps. Three were black, the rest were various shades of cream, tan, rust, and brown. Elly was on her knees on the floor, helping her customer slip her long, bony feet into and out of them. The woman had been parked there for an hour and a half unable to decide which color and which style she wanted.
Floundering in a morass of indecision, she inspected each style carefully, lingering over each one in turn. Under her breath, she debated the merits and debits of each style and each color, arguing with herself over its present and future usefulness, flattery, and fashion quotient. The microscopic examination did not seem to help her make up her mind. Nor did the fact that she had repeated the exercise on the two previous afternoons.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it,” the woman said.
She motioned to Elly to put her own shoes back on and then got up, ready to leave. As Elly collected the shoes strewn over the carpet and began putting them back into their tissue-lined boxes, the stock boy suddenly burst out of the stock room.
“President Kennedy’s been shot!” he said. “He’s dead!”
For as long as she lived, Elly never forgot that at a moment of national crisis she had been on her knees, trying to sell shoes to a selfish and self-obsessed woman who greeted the announcement of the president’s assassination with an angry sigh.
“I suppose that means my dinner party’s off for tomorrow night. And Ethel promised that she and Bobby would be there,” she said, her thin, predatory hand with its blood-red nails on the open door of the boutique. “Jesus Christ! Why does everything have to happen to me?”
Elly was jolted by the assassination and her customer’s self-centered reaction. She was wasting her life, her time, her energy. Where were her brains? Where were her values? Where were the ideals with which she had been brought up? Elly was appalled at the way she had been spending her time and energy.
“I’m quitting,” Elly told her boss an hour later. She was in tears.
“You’re just upset. Why don’t you go home for the rest of the day? Come back tomorrow,” replied Janice Kellen, the boutique’s owner.
Elly was an excellent saleswoman, the best Janice had ever had. She didn’t want to let her go.
“No. You’ve been nice to me and I’ve enjoyed working here, but I realize that it’s the wrong place for me,” Elly replied.
It was an impulsive, emotional decision that Elly couldn’t really afford. She had very little money and no idea about what she was going to do next other than that it was damn well going to be more constructive than selling shoes. Making her way home through a stricken city, Elly comforted herself by remembering that she still had the only things that really mattered to her: her friends and her family—and, maybe, if she really got lucky, the man she had her heart set on, Owen Casals.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What Ian Fleming Did to Make James Bond a Success (Besides Write Terrific Books)


It’s not just today’s authors who work hard to make their books a success. Consider Ian Fleming.
The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters is a collection by Fleming’s nephew of the author’s letters to his publisher, editors, colleagues, other writers, fans, readers, and friends.
They were written in the 1950s when the British mail service operated at high efficiency. A letter mailed in the morning would be delivered the same day. The letters are organized chronologically and were written contemporaneous to the publication of the James Bond thrillers, beginning with Casino Royale.
Lively, witty, and extremely informative about the inner working of book publishing at the time, the letters reveal Fleming to be a man of charm, lively intellect and wide interests.
He was also a hard-working author concerned with the technical, editorial, and financial details of publishing.

Ian Fleming’s Publisher Wasn’t Impressed.

James Bond, as we think of the suave spy today, was hardly an instant, overnight success.
In fact, his publisher was—shall we say—barely lukewarm about Casino Royale. He had little interest in thrillers, “believing them to be short-run phenomena that rarely covered their costs. Nor did he think much of their authors, and suspected that Fleming was a dilettante. Remarkably, Casino Royale was the only Bond book Fleming’s publisher ever read.”

He Faced the “Dreadful Prospect” of Getting Married

Fleming’s hard work and interest in every aspect of publishing may well have saved James Bond from obscurity.
Fleming was a disciplined writer. Every morning, for three hours, he sat at his desk and typed 2,000 words of a new Bond adventure during January and February. Those were the months he spent in his house, Goldeneye, located on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
He shored up his discipline by “obstinately closing my mind to self-mockery” and wondering “what will my friends say?” He joked that as “a confirmed bachelor on the eve of marriage, I decided to take my mind off the dreadful prospect by writing a thriller.”

A Steely Eye on the Finances.

Fleming’s nephew comments that “he liked to joke that he was Cape’s hardest working author, and to an extent this was true. He had made a career in journalism, ran a network of foreign correspondents and was, indeed, a publisher himself and a collector of first editions.
There was little Cape [his publisher] could tell him that he didn’t know already. ‘I enjoyed his enthusiastic interest in the technicalities of production,’ wrote Michael Howard with surprise. That soon turned to alarm when “it became clear that Fleming had more in mind than simply delivering a manuscript. He designed the covers, organised reviews, invented sales tactics and cast a steely eye over the finances.”

Blurbs, Covers, and Print Orders.

Fleming also wrote blurbs, concerned himself with the details of covers and size of print orders, and suggested ads and promotions, Also, he drummed up reviews, contacted magazine editors about feature stories, and concerned himself with the size of print orders, advertising budgets as well as the ads themselves.
Nor did he overlook the details of his contracts—royalties, foreign editions, option, serial, movies, and tv. He worked closely with cover designers, making suggestions about images, and commenting on title fonts.

Guns, Perfume, and Typos.

Determined to make his books as good as possible, Fleming was an avid reseacher intent on tracking down the “perfect” kind of gun or the exact perfume a heroine might wear. He explored Harlem’s nightlife on a trip to America in December 1952, tracked down information on gold doubloons and Spanish treasure by consulting Spink, London’s premier coin dealers. And scenes taking place in Florida were based on his visit to that state at the beginning of 1953.
He welcomed input from his editors, readers, and friends and was constantly working to make the books as good as possible. He even alerted his publisher to typos to correct in future editions.

Advice from Readers and Other Writers.

Fleming paid attention to advice from other writers like Raymond Chandler, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham.
The novelist Michael Arlen advised him to “write your second book before you see the reviews of the first. Casino Royale is good but the reviewers may damn it and take the heart out of you.” Heeding Arlen’s words, Fleming completed Live and Let Die before its predecessor had even been published.
He also carried on a lively correspondence with readers. One reader who was an expert in guns (and holsters) made specific recommendations for Bond’s weaponry.
Another who worked in the Yale University library corrected what Fleming referred to as his “Americanese.”
In fact, it seemed that about the only thing he didn’t do was actually drive the trucks that delivered copies to bookstores.
Always polite and often witty—even when pushing back on the royalty rates offered by his publisher or when replying to a dissatisfied reader’s negative comments—he concluded his note to her “with many thanks for the kindly thought behind your letter.”

The Sheer, Ridiculous Delight!

And, about that golden typewriter: yes indeed, Ian Fleming did have a real—as well as a metaphorical—golden typewriter. According to his nephew, “Fleming had always longed for success, but failing that would settle for the trappings.
So, in anticipation, he ordered a gold-plated typewriter from New York to congratulate himself on finishing his first novel.
Ian Fleming had a golden typewriter like this
It was a Royal Quiet de Luxe, cost $ 174. It wasn’t a custom-made machine—Royal had produced several of them—and Fleming’s literary acquaintances considered it the height of vulgarity. Fleming did not care. “It was the sheer, ridiculous delight of the thing. He owned a Golden Typewriter!”

Beyond his Wildest Dreams.

Not just literal gold. But, as it would turn out, golden beyond Fleming’s wildest dreams.
Originally published at Anne R. Allen's blog.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Mom's quick, easy, utterly delicious recipe for old-fashioned blueberry cobbler.

Summer's here. So are blueberries—and Blueberry Cobbler!

Blueberry Cobbler

My Mom was a proud New Englander and an excellent cook. Her recipe for blueberry cobbler is quick, easy and delicious, perfect to share with friends, family or to eat standing up in the kitchen as it comes fresh from the oven!

1 quart blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place in buttered oven-proof casserole.

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until crumbly. Moisten with 1/2 cup milk. Spread over berry mixture and bake in 400 oven for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.

Et voilà!

Enjoy with or without ice cream.
Alone or with someone you love.
Morning, noon or night. :-)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Looking For A New Book To Read? Great Books, Great First Sentences.


Stephen King has said that he spends “months and years” creating that first line. He goes on to say: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
The question is, how does he accomplish all this in one sentence? From Moby Dick’s “Call me Ishmael” to Charles Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” some first sentences have become famous classics. So, too, Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
A deeper look into the breadth of masterful first sentences offers a wide array of the ways writers draw readers into their stories and inspiring examples of how much information can be conveyed in a single sentence.

The First Person Introduction.

In a memoir or a novel written in the first person, the author puts himself in the mind of the central character and, in one way or another, tells readers that we are about to get the real deal. No BS here, the sentence promises, just the honest, unvarnished truth about someone we want to know more about.
Sylvia Plath uses the first sentence of The Bell Jar, to establish the nervous, dark mood that hovers over the character and the story. Her story begins—
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
Plath’s use of the word electrocuted provides an unexpected jolt and mention of the Rosenbergs sets a time (June 1953). Sultry summer sets an uncomfortable season, New York establishes a place, and the final phrase conveys the uncertainty of a young woman struggling to find an identity and a place in life.
Vladimir Nabokov uses the first nine words of Lolita to convey the note of obsessive erotic desire that pulses through the entire novel.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
Nabokov begins by naming the object of his passion, the word light expresses her transformative influence on the narrator, the word loins promises that we will be reading a story about sex, and the repetition of the letter l creates the feeling of an incantation.
In Ghostwriters In The Sky, Book 1 of The Camilla Randall Mysteries, Anne uses her first sentence to introduce the MC, locate the place (the subway can only mean NYC), and refer to the season (sweaty indicates hot, most likely summer). [Currently on sale for 99c]
“The subway car was so crowded I couldn’t tell which one of the sweaty men pressing against me was attached to the hand now creeping up my thigh.”
The phrase “creeping up my thigh” indicates a level of unwanted personal attention which places the character in an uncomfortable, if rather ludicrous situation—a theme that will be repeated in different variations throughout the novel.
In Catcher In the Rye, J.D. Salinger uses an effective but contradictory combination of bravado and vulnerability to establish a unique voice as he introduces us to preppy Holden Caulfield.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 
We read on because Salinger’s confessional tone makes us want to know more about his lousy childhood and find out why he doesn’t feel like going into it.

The Third Person Introduction.

In Goldfinger, Ian Fleming introduces 007 in the first sentence.
“James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami airport and thought about life and death.”
Fleming has told us in only a few words that his MC is a drinking man, one who travels, and one who contemplates the larger questions of existence. Where, we wonder, is Bond going, what is he going to do once he gets there, and why does he need to down two double bourbons before he boards his flight?
In The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien simply tells us where his MC lives, but in such a startling way that we feel compelled to read on.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
A hobbit? A story about a creature who lives in a hole? Who or what is this hobbit and why does he live in a hole. Curious, we read on.
I introduce heiress, DeeDee Dahlen, the MC in Love And Money, Book 1 of the Park Avenue Series with a brief, declarative sentence.
“Her name was DeeDee Dahlen and she was famous from the day she was born.”
How can a newly-born infant be famous?, the reader wonders. What rewards—and penalties—does unasked-for celebrity impose? What secrets and scandal will shadow her future?—urgent questions that will reverberate throughout the entire novel. [Love And Money is now FREE at Amazon, Nook, iBooks, GooglePlay and Kobo.]
Graham Greene, in Brighton Rock, compels us to want to know more.
“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
Who are the ‘they?’ we wonder. And what has Hale done? Why do ‘they’ want to kill him?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez begins One Hundred Years of Solitude with this famous sentence—
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
The author uses a shocking situation—a man facing a firing squad—plus a long-ago memory to pique our curiosity. Who is the Colonel and what had he done that he ends up facing a firing squad? What was there about the discovery of ice that it has lodged so forcefully in his memory? Compelling questions to which we must find the answer and, thus, we continue to read.

A Theme.

Whether classic literature, hard-boiled pulp fiction, or cyberpunk scifi, the first sentence establishes a theme that will continue throughout the story. If the book does not follow through on the promise of that first sentence, the disappointed reader will feel cheated.
In his first sentence, Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina tells us that we are about to read a story about an unhappy family.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Why, we ask ourselves, are they unhappy? What has happened to them and what will they do? Powerful questions the reader wants answered.
James Matthew Barrie establishes the theme of Peter Pan with a brief, declarative statement.
“All children, except one, grow up.”
Which child, we wonder. Why not? And what will happen to a child who doesn’t grow up?
A far different theme is set by Franz Kafka in his posthumously published 1925 novel, The Trial.
Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
Kafka’s first sentence thrusts us immediately into the MC’s waking nightmare of terror and paranoia that will be sustained throughout the story.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. The chilling first sentence, said to have been written at the last minute, sets the novel’s theme of a burnt-out computer hacker adrift in a dystopian near future governed by artificial intelligence.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Hunter S Thompson, starts his novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by establishing a place, a mood, and a theme (a disenchanted retrospective look at the 1960s) in the first sentence.
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

A Tease, a Shock, a Jolt.

A skillfully written first sentence containing a tease, a shock or a jolt can introduce a character, establish a tone or a setting, and dare the reader not to continue.
The first sentence of Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell’s dystopian novel, often considered one of the best one hundred books of the 20th Century, tells us immediately that something—time itself—is awry in a future world of Big Brother, doublethink and government surveillance.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Joe Konrath pulls us right into the action in the first sentence of his mystery thriller, Dirty Martini, Book 4 of the Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels Mystery series.
“No security cameras this time, but he still has to be careful.”
What is he doing, we wonder? In his first sentence, Konrath lets us know that whatever it is, it’s something he’s done before. Something risky, perhaps dangerous, and, even though experienced, he still has to be careful. Of what? Of whom?
In his legal thriller, The Firm, John Grisham uses his first sentence to tell us that this unnamed and mysterious senior partner will indeed find something to dislike about Mitchell Y. McDeere who, the word résumé indicates, is being considered for a job.
“The senior partner studied the résumé for the hundredth time and again found nothing he disliked about Mitchell Y. McDeere, at least not on paper.”
What kind of job, we wonder, and what will the senior partner find to dislike? Grisham’s tease promises evil doings and the reader is lured on.
In L.A. ConfidentialJames Ellroy’s first sentence introduces a main character, sets a theme, and tells us exactly what we are about to read. Ellroy uses a knowledgable tone and vernacular language to let us know that he knows what he’s talking about.
“An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border—right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootsack his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.”
Dennis Lehane, in his short story, Until Gwen pulls us in with the use of the second person combined with the promise of drugs and sex.
“Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.”

The Rule Breakers.

Although writers are often cautioned about starting a book with a character’s dream, that rule was effectively broken in the classic first sentence of Daphne DuMaurier’s famous gothic mystery, Rebecca.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Marie Force begins her Gansett Island romance, Meant For Love, with a reference to a dream.
“The dream was always the same, the last perfect moment before life as Jenny Wilks knew it changed forever.”
Both dreams refer to emotionally significant aspects of the characters’ pasts. The reader wonders why the unidentified first-person narrator of Rebecca dreams of a place and Jenny Wilks of a “perfect” life now gone forever. The authors use dreams to provoke interest in their characters and in the events of the story to come.
The passive tense is usually considered to be another no-no. Charles McCarry, in The Tears Of Autumnconsidered to be one of the best espionage thrillers of the 20th Century, uses the passive tense to introduce American intelligence officer, Paul Christopher, who is investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
“Paul Christopher had been loved by two women who could not understand why he had stopped writing poetry.”
McCarry’s elegant use of the passive tense to introduce his MC sets the theme of the book: an exploration of glittering promise that results in the wreckage of unintended consequences—the end of poetry and the end of Camelot.
Whether you're looking for a thriller or a romance, whether you want to revisit a classic you read years ago or one you've never quite caught up with, I hope this buffet of great first lines will help you find your next great read. :-)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Writing and The Secret Power Of The Subconscious: Summoning Your Muse

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Plot Holes And Pot Holes: 8 Common Mistakes Readers Hate—And How To Fix Them



Beware plot and pot holes in your fiction! 
We all come face to face with them, those pesky glitches, oopsies, OMGs and WTFs that ruin a story, turn a reader off, guarantee a slew of one-star reviews—and kill sales.
Beta readers will often point them out. Editors are professional fixers, always on the lookout for booboos. You will realize them yourself when you wake up at 3AM sudden realizing that the MC’s beloved pet who started out as a friendly, tail-wagging Golden Retriever, has somehow become a snarling, saber-toothed attack dog.
These unforced errors range from plot holes, small and economy-size, to lapses in logic. They also include poorly conceived characters, blah settings, pointless dialogue, and momentum-killing info dumps. Even a few will make your book—and you—look like a loser on amateur night.
You need to find them—and fix them—before readers do.

1. Lapses in logic.

Your MC is stranded on a dry planet in a far galaxy but when the villain suddenly appears bent on revenge and brandishing a nuclear ray gun, said villain falls into a deep puddle and drowns.
Your cute, adorable if somewhat ditzy heroine is a lousy, horrible, terrible cook. The reader falls in love with her—until she cooks a four course gourmet dinner for her hunky new boyfriend.
Your MC has just broken her leg and is lying helpless in the middle of the road waiting for an ambulance but suddenly gets up and kicks the you-know-what out of her antoganist. Uh. Really?
“&$#%!!?” thinks your reader as s/he throws your book across the room.

The fix.

In cases like this, the lapse is the result of inadvertantly omitting the necessary set up. Go back several scenes and let your reader know that—
The dry planet in a far galaxy experienced a once-in-a-century-torrential rainstorm. Residual puddles, deep and dangerous, lurk and your villain, who we now know is color blind, thanks to your new, artful set up, does not see the beautiful, shimmering but deep and dangerous turquoise blue water.
Oh, and did Ms. Ditzy, win a course with Monsieur Master Chef in a cute and adorable contest? If you go back and insert such a scene, why, yes, of course she did. Got at A+, too!
Your MC thinks quickly and, despite being in excruciating pain, fashions a splint out of a nearby fallen branch, thus allowing him or her to get up and kick the bleep out of the antagonist. That is one MC not to be messed with!

2. Mean girls (and boys).

Your heroine, Sally, is madly in love but falls even mad-lier in love when a handsomer, richer, sexier, guy comes along and catches her eye (plus other parts of her anatomy).
Could be the basis of a suspenseful/comic/sad situation, but if bf #1 is never mentioned again, if Sally never gives him another thought, or never has even a transient moment of regret or what-if, you’ve got a heroine so self-centered and maybe even narcissistic that no reader can relate.
Not just girls, either. Just read the headlines to find plenty of examples of guys who are far less than stellar. You really expect a reader to stay with this kind of guy for very long? Their wives divorce them, their girl friends dump them and so should you.

The fix.

Check your characters for basic decency or, in extreme cases, mental health, but don’t forget that even villains must have a redeeming quality.

3. Info dumps.

Blah,blah, blah. And then this happened and after a while that happened. Blah,blah, blah. Then they went from here to there and that’s why blah blah blah.
Info dumps stop the plot in its tracks. They are boring to read and, in fact, boring to write. Readers hate them and writers should, too.
You should be on info dump alert whenever you review your manuscript and see long, dense grey blocks of text or lengthy paragraphs of narrative.  You should also pay attention whenever you bore yourself writing. Trust me, it happens. 😉

The fix.

Serve in bite-size pieces. Instead of one long, boring info dump, create several interesting scenes sprinkled throughout the book that convey the needed information in an interesting, provocative, dramatic, suspenseful way.
Speaking of boring—

4. Do nothing, go nowhere dialogue.

“Hi, George.”
“Hi, Bill.”
“Nice day.”
“Yeah.”
“What’s up?”
“Not much. Bought new windshield wipers for the car. You?”
“Just got back from the dentist.”
Bored, aren’t you? Just imagine your poor, defenseless reader.

The fix.

Ye olde trusty delete button. (This is a great place to use the kind of indirect dialogue I talked about earlier this month…Anne.  🙂 )
Or, if you absolutely positively need to have Bill and George meet, you need to give us a reason and make the encounter riveting. Bill is dating George’s ex and wants to warn him that she is Very Bad News? They’re competing for the same job and are secretly sticking the shiv in each other? They’re on the same Seal Team and are joining up to assassinate the world’s worst Bad Guy?

5. Where are we?

Your MC goes on a Caribbean vacation but, after enjoying a rum punch on a terrace overlooking a crescent of white beach, opens a suitcase containing a wardrobe better suited for the slopes of Vermont. Because you began with the idea of a sexy ski holiday, but changed your mind in mid-manuscript when a YouTube video of white sands and turquoise water beckoned?

The fix.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and, in fiction, a scene that starts in the Caribbean ends in the Caribbean. Your MC can go to Vermont next week.
And don’t forget—

Your MC is swanning around in a Chicago penthouse in Chapter 1. In Chapter 4 s/he is homeless and living in a dumpster. In January. And not in Australia, either, where January is summer. Let’s keep it in the Northern Hemisphere and explain what happened.
Besides—
A scene that starts in the kitchen ends in the kitchen. Unless you tell the reader why the characters are suddenly in the basement of a haunted house. Here’s where a transition sentence or, even better, a scene break is essential.
A scene that begins on the phone ends on the phone and, by the way, unless they’re on Skype, characters on the phone cannot see each other. They can hear each other shout, whisper, or coo sweet nothings, but they cannot see raised eyebrows, reddened faces or piercing green eyes.
PS: How do I know? Been there, done that, and not so long ago, either. 😉

6. Huh? (It’s called continuity in the movies.)

Movie fans love to point out bloopers like this. Book readers will notice,too.
  • A blue eyed demon when introduced. Brown eyed devil half a dozen chapters later.
  • MC works in Starbucks. She’s there every day. We never see her anywhere else. She’s a World Class barista. Then why is she suddenly a new hire in the electronics section at Best Buy where her boss is chasing her around the displays of headphones, routers, and TVs?
  • Chase scene starts with the guy in a Ferrari and the gal in a junker. Ends with her in the Ferrari and him in the junker. Huh? How come? Wha happened?

The fix.

Your style sheet to the rescue.
What’s a style sheet?
Funny you should ask. Here’s where Ruth tells All.

7. Dropped subplots.

Self explanatory: A character or situation is abandoned or left dangling in space.
Jane and Jake, your MC’s sister and best friend, hate each other but, against all odds, on one dark night, they share a sizzling hot kiss. Then what happens?
They fall in love and live happily ever after? They join opposing intelligence services and swear eternal vengeance? The next morning, they shrug, say meh and mark it down to too much craft beer? Or do they make plans for a second date?
We last saw Jim when his car was skidding out of control on an icy mountain road in Alaska as he is escaping the evil clutches of Mr. Nasty. The car lurches wildly, careens over a cliff. Then what happens?
Jim’s amazing driving ability allows him to right the car before it crashes? Or it doesn’t and the car is totaled but Jim is rescued by friendly locals? Or are they maybe not so friendly? And, by the way, it’s not a dream. It’s a real situation and Jim absolutely has to get out of it.
Do NOT leave your reader in the lurch, wondering what happens next.

The fix.

Complete the arc and let the reader know!
However, if we’re talking about minor characters like Jane and Jake, go to the nuclear option and delete. (Keep the kiss in a Future File. Might make a good short story or even morph into another scene in another book.)

8. TDTL: Too Dumb To Live

The detective who sees Mary Z. with a bloody axe leave a murder scene but never suspects Mary Z is the killer.
The wife who finds lipstick on her husband’s tighty whiteys but believes his obviously ridiculous story about working late reprogramming a malfunctioning robot.
The superhero who can fly over the tallest buildings but is such a klutz s/he can’t get up the stairs to save The Love Of His/Her Life from the dastardly villain.
How do characters like this remember to breathe?
Readers will not care.

The fix:

Please, do yourself (and your character) a favor, and give him or her an IQ over room temp.

Reposted from Anne R. Allen. :-)