TIGHTENING THE THREADS revolves around Australian Sarah Byrne who now lives on the coast of Maine. Why did she leave Australia? She’s kept it a secret until now, not even telling her best friend, Angie Curtis. But now she’s going to share her secret, setting off a cascade of other shared secrets … and two murders.
Susan Van Kirk
My first Endurance mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, came out in 2014 to great reviews and excellent sales. Then my publisher held my second mystery in the series, Marry in Haste, for a full two years. What could I do? I was worried about losing my readers since I was writing a series. I decided to write a novella in between, but I would self-publish it as an e-book and make some unique decisions. The title I chose was The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney.
“Just sneaky-weaky over here and hold this, Francis,” Armand said. Of course, he said it in French because he speaks no English except Hello, Francis, which is how he greets me when I arrive at the studio in the morning. And also if I have stayed over and gotten up early, which I always do, to make a pot of coffee first thing. Hello, Francis, he says, and pats me on the bum and giggles, because he’s a right old queen. But nice, I have to say nice, and as I’ve written more than once to Nan, an excellent teacher.”
Michael Paul Michaud
I want to thank B.K. Stevens for inviting me to take part in her innovative blog series “The First Two Pages.” My entry will actually examine the first 877 words of THE INTROVERT – the entire first chapter – allowing me to analyze not only the opening of the book, but also the close of the first act. Let’s get right to it…
“Sir, I’m afraid we require a second form of identification before we can proceed. If you’d like to come back another time, perhaps?”
She was still smiling, but now the smile was waning.
The Introvert begins with a seemingly innocent exchange between a woman and a man. Neither is named, which is a hint of what’s to come, not only in the opening chapter, but throughout the novella. I wanted the focus to be on the characters’ actions and personalities, and to not influence the readers’ perceptions by foisting a name on them. It is also consistent with the sparse nature of the cover, and with isolation/anonymity generally.
First of all, thanks to B.K. Stevens for offering us a spot on this blog. Analyzing the beginning pages is a great opportunity to introduce readers to a new adventure, new characters, and new settings. Our Eliza Doolittle/ Henry Higgins mystery series differs from many others as it features two famous literary characters. Of course, other authors have also turned literary characters into amateur sleuths. A short list would include Sherlock Holmes, Mrs. Hudson, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, and Jane Eyre. Since both of us loved George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, as well as the film My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, we chose to transform the charming and clever Eliza Doolittle and the irascible Professor Higgins into a sleuthing duo. If you haven’t read the play, or seen the musical, you’ve missed out on clever, sparkling dialogue, social conventions being turned on their ear, and Shaw’s sharp attitude regarding the battle of the sexes.
Early on, while A KILLER’S GUIDE TO GOOD WORKS (Henery Press, September 2016), was a WIP, the Prologue was sixteen pages long. Sixteen. Before I turned in the completed draft of the book to the editor, I thought better of a Prologue being that long and cut it in half. When the development report came back, among other tough suggestions to improve the work (including addressing what the publisher felt was the problem of eight separate points of view – imagine!) was their desire to have me ditch the Prologue. Altogether. In a mystery, it’s a really hard thing to eliminate points of view because the writer has pretty much stuffed them with clues, right? But I was game: who was expendable, much as I loved every single one them? Whose clues could I turf to a point of view character I was keeping? At length, I managed to cut the points of view in half. But I held the line on not eliminating the Prologue altogether. I needed it. This friendly confrontation with the editors made me have to think pretty deeply about why that Franciscan friar in Veracruz, 1595, needed to stay.
“The Swap” is a mystery in the Hitchcockian genre of the innocent abroad, the naïve traveler who accidentally puts herself in danger by picking up the wrong suitcase. In this book, my heroine Nicole puts herself in danger by arranging to swap her home in L.A. for the wrong couple in London. The Londoners never arrive in L.A. It soon becomes apparent that they’ve left something very bad behind them.
The opening of a book has to accomplish many objectives, the chief one being to hook the reader so she reads on, and that makes it tough to write. I end up writing my openings a zillion times and tweaking words endlessly. In Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller, set in the gang underworld of Los Angeles, I decided I had to introduce the reader to my protagonist Mags’s world first because it’s a subculture most are not going to be familiar with. I also am partial to openings that seem like, well, openings. I like to start with a paragraph that has a little majesty to it because it heralds the start of a grand adventure I will take you on and that deserves a tiny bit of pomp. From there on, I ease the reader into this world and the story of Mags.
Since my stories are always set in the past I always start with a header naming the location and year to get readers on board right away. Otherwise, they’ll assume it’s a contemporary setting and wonder why the characters aren’t using cell phones and other modern conveniences.
Since my protagonist is a musician, all my chapter headers are song titles (this one is from The Mamas and The Papas). It’s an easy way for me to keep track of the action is the chapters and it’s fun looking for titles that have a connection to the story. This chapter, obviously, takes place on a Monday.
As writers, we want readers to “fall into our story.” The goal for all of us is to draw the reader in. The mystery is how to do just that. An editor once told me that the writer has 25 pages to capture the reader’s interest. But for me, and for many of you, it is the first few pages of your novel that can make all the difference.
Curiosity. That’s what keeps readers turning the pages. To that end I waste no time and get right down to the business of filling their heads with questions. Here is my story opening:
If only I could learn to say no, I wouldn’t be perched on a barstool in a redneck bar, breathing secondhand smoke and pretending to flirt with men sporting baseball caps and Confederate bandanas, their eyes riveted on my Victoria’s Secret-enhanced cleavage. I wouldn’t be tricked out in a bizarre hairstyle, frosted blue eye shadow, painted-on jeans with strategically placed slashes, and a two-sizes-too-small Harley Davidson tank top.
In the bible, it says God created the heaven and earth. What a humongous contracting job it must have been to fill this unformed void, even for the all-powerful Builder of the Universe! Should the light of day and the stars of night come first, or should the waters be divided into land and sea? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Margaret S. Hamilton
I spent three months last winter writing and revising a four-thousand-word short story, “Dressed to Kill,” set at the annual New Orleans Red Dress Run. The story had it all: a compelling setting, a repugnant villain, sympathetic heroine, and intrepid amateur sleuth, Lizzie Christopher, who unravels a dastardly plot.
Not only was it not accepted for the Sisters in Crime Fish out of Water anthology, it received scathing critiques and low scores from the judges. I was crushed.
Here is the first page of the print edition of my mystery novel, A Gift for Murder:
*** Excerpt ***
If I’d known how bad Wednesday would get, I would’ve—what? Stayed in bed? Not likely. The show must go on and all that. But I would’ve at least asked for another shot of espresso during my morning stop at Starbucks. Maybe two.
My work day went from peaceful beginning to chaos within half an hour. This wasn’t just another day at the office. The start of the annual Washington, D.C. Gifts and Decorations Show, our biggest show of the year at the Commerce & Market Show Center, was always the worst day of the year for the staff who organized it.
I spent a seemingly-endless amount of time on the first page of my new novel, The House on Candlewick Lane, and I am pleased to announce that it never changed!
But…it’s no longer the first page.
Instead, it’s the first page after the Prologue.
I have always been a fan of authors like Jane Austen, who can take the reader’s hand and lead them through a quaint garden of description and backstory. But times have changed and today’s readers have less and less time to devote to reading. I’ve found that authors in the 21st century need to take the reader’s hand so they don’t fall off when the thrill ride starts.