The Sea Side Strangler Strikes Again!
Leave it to my mentally unstable, common sense impaired parents to ship me off to the only town in America with an active serial killer on the loose. I could so easily have the life squeezed out of me by some deranged killer. Now that would be the ultimate revenge. I mean, talk about a guilt trip—not that I’d be alive to benefit from it. And quite frankly, I’d prefer to die peacefully, in my sleep, at the age of one hundred and eight, thank you very much.
So begins my debut young adult mystery SWIMMING ALONE. I had a great deal of fun writing these opening lines, but it took me several years and many rewrites to get to them. Somewhere during my revision process, I realized I needed several things to happen. I needed to introduce my readers to The Sea Side Strangler, a serial killer who haunts my protagonist throughout the novel. I also needed to introduce the narrator, Cathy Banks. No, we don’t know her name yet. But we know she isn’t an adult, since her parents are shipping her off somewhere. And from the voice, I think most people would venture to guess that she is a teenager, and a snarky one at that.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
That is how it is for me when I begin a new story. Taking that first step and not knowing what the story is going to be about, but having the faith that by the time I get to the end, I will have a whole story. I start with a first line and from there take it line by line, step by step, until I discover what the story will be about. And that most definitely was the case with my short story “Lewenda Gets Married,” which will appear in a multi-genre anthology called Glimpse: A New World.
Judy Penz Sheluk
I’d been sitting in the reception area of Hampton & Associates for the better part of an hour when Leith Hampton finally charged in through the main door, his face flushed, a faint scent of sandalwood cologne wafting into the room. He held an overstuffed black briefcase in each hand and muttered an apology about a tough morning in court before barking out a flurry of instructions to a harried-looking associate. A tail-wagging goldendoodle appeared out of nowhere, and I realized the dog had been sleeping under the receptionist’s desk.
Bestselling author Louise Penny does not mince words. In a recent article, she offered the following advice: “If you’re writing your first work of crime fiction, place the body near the beginning of your book—preferably on the first page, perhaps the first sentence. In later books this won’t be as necessary, but agents and editors like it established early, so readers know what they’re getting.”
When I began to write Catacomb, the sequel to my first Italian mystery (Burnt Siena) I was determined to engage the reader at the very beginning. That goal was impressed upon me when I attended a conference session in which several authors met with two New York agents. Each author read the first two pages of a work in progress, the agents reacted, and then they passed the author a card saying, “yes, send me more,” or “not interested.” I read two pages from the chapter that begins with a loving description of Siena, Italy, through the eyes of protagonist Flora Garibaldi, and ends with the discovery of a body. The criticisms were, “Well, obviously you want us to know you’ve lived in Italy…” and “I don’t like your protagonist.” Not very encouraging! But those agents didn’t like anything they heard in that room; we authors all came away depressed.