It’s a Dark and Stormy Night…

     Writing the perfect opening is hard work. I’m reading a spy novel at moment because that’s the only way to learn a genre. I’m not a big fan of the author’s style of writing, but this is not the first book I’ve read that uses this format.

     The book is Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich (2009, Doubleday/Random House, ISBN 978-0-385-52407-0) and is the second in a series about a doctor named Jonathon Ransom, who actually isn’t spy, but his wife is.     

     Anyway, the opening scene is a news announcement on Reuters news service of a car bomb explosion, then the action centers on Jonathon Ransom for a couple of pages.

     And then the reader goes to Chapter 1, which describes in great detail an exclusive apartment building in a ritzy part of London, where the reader follows the intrigue of an intruder into one of the apartments. The owner of the apartment is murdered by intruder and then the detective who investigates what is considered a routine suicide determines is actually a murder.

     Then we jump back to Jonathon and along the way get a detailed description of the workings of a ultra-secret spy organization in the U.S. In my view, there are a great many details that could have been left out, making this a much tighter and compelling read.

    But I’ll continue to read so that I can understand what sells in this genre and how not to fall victim to this style of writing.

    In the meantime, I have to figure out what’s going to work for my young adult spy/murder/romance historical fiction book set in 1942. At the moment, the title is EARTHQUAKES because it’s set in Los Angeles and my Jonathon has nightmares about the devastation an earthquake can cause. But also because of the metaphorical earthquakes Jonathon is experiencing in his young life.

     The family has just learned their maternal grandfather died on Corregidor, Philippines and their father is now missing. Both men are Marine Corps officers and Naval Academy graduates. There’s one earthquake.

    Earthquake number 2 is finding their next-door neighbor stabbed to death in his house. Plus, people keep breaking into Jonathon’s house to find some secret message.

    I’ve tried several openings, such as having Jonathon wake up one morning from yet another earthquake nightmare and have to rush to get ready for school. First, though, he’s feel pressure to calm down the daily fight between his older brother and their mother about why he should or should not quit college to enlist in the military to save America from the invaders.   

    My editor says that publishers reject stories that start with dreams or with the protagonist waking up.

    Also, I shouldn’t start with the first word being a sound. In this case “whump,” because his brother is pounding on the kitchen table below Jonathon’s bedroom.

     One of my critique group women wants me to have a real earthquake described in the first page or two, but that’s not what I want. I want to focus on the metaphorical aspect.

     At the moment I’m stuck, but I’ll keep mulling it over in my head and it will come to me. In the meantime, I’ll working on making the rest of the novel perfect. Or as close as possible.

     I think the first paragraphs in my other two novels are good and compelling set ups. Terror’s Identity starts out with:

                        At sixteen, guys are supposed to tough, right? But when Mom

pounds of the stairs to our bedrooms shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,” tough is not what I feel.

     My second novel, a middle-grade horse book, Emily’s Ride to Courage, starts out with:

                        Usually, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass and the

                        growl of a tractor cutting a hay field perks me right

                        up. Not this time. This time I only feel dread.

I hope those make you want to read further. Thanks for reading. And, as usual, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah

Happy 2019!

 

          For some of us 2018 was not a wonderful ride, what with bad health and bad weather. But we survived and even had moments of great happiness. I hope for you it was a fulfilling year.

But now we have the bright shining adventure called 2019 before us, where the plans we’ve made and the plans we will make still have the potential to be fulfilled.

For me, it’s the joyful grind of revising and polishing the rough draft of a novel that I wrote during the month of November. All 50,829 words of it. Revising is hard work, but so fulfilling because what I end up with is much better, shiny with promise. I can improve the flow. I can check to make sure I got the facts correct. Yes, even in a novel, the facts have to be right.

For instance, one of my critique partners pointed out to me that bananas would not be readily available for a teen-aged boy to eat in 1942 Los Angeles. So, I had to see what would be available. I “googled” availability of bananas in L.A. and found a photo of a big white blob in a night sky with thick streaks of light appearing to emanate from it.   Well, if you use your imagination, you might think this looks like a bunch of bananas. But if you’re imagination is this good, why aren’t you writing stories? Turns out it’s not bananas, nor is it a UFO. But the big white blob in the middle is a weather balloon being spotlighted because somebody thought it was a Japanese war plane come to bomb the city in February 1942.

Careful, Sarah. Finish this novel before you start another.

Anyway, now Johnathon eats a handful of strawberries grown in his own yard.

I also have to make sure the experiment he does in chemistry class is actually a believable experiment. The one I put down at first was having him slowly heat up powdered potassium until it melts and then add vinegar to see what happens. Well, I can’t find that such an experiment is possible. From what I can find out, potassium would just burn, rather than melt. So now I have to find an experiment that will work.

Isn’t that fun? Already, I’ve learned two new things.

I’m pleased to say my “beta” readers are enjoying reading my story, which is tentatively named “Earthquakes.”

What are you reading while you await my latest book?

 

By Sarah Maury Swan