Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First Lines by Joshua Bellin

What’s the line?

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”?

A tautology, to be sure. But there’s some truth to it in the world of literature.

The first thing I do when I pick up a book is read the first line. (Well, duh…. What am I going to do, read the last line?) But seriously, if the first line is good, chances are the book will be good too. That’s not a foolproof test, of course, but I’d say it’s about 95% reliable.

Here are some of my favorite first lines, from some of my favorite books.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 

“It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.”—Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber 

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein 

“It was a pleasure to burn.”—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”—Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games 

(P.S. I always cite this line when people trot out the old chestnut, “never begin your novel with the main character waking up.”)

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”—Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City 

“At the beginning of the summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business.”—Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh 

“Querry.”—Joshua David Bellin, Survival Colony 9 

(Okay, I cheated on that one. But it is one of my favorites!)

In life, most of my first lines have been duds. (I think my first line to my future wife was, “Didn’t I see you in the Hartford airport?”) But in literature, I’ve done okay. Maybe that’s because, in literature, you do have a second chance (and a third, and a fourth, and a fortieth) to craft your first line until it’s the one you want.

I’d better end now. I don’t think I’m going to come up with a better line than that. 

Joshua David Bellin’s debut, the YA science-fiction thriller SURVIVAL COLONY 9, comes out September 23 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. Its first line is in fact the main character’s name, Querry. You can connect with Josh on his website,, or on Twitter @TheYAGuy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday Teaser of OPPRESSION by Jessica Therrien

Hello book junkies!! Thanks for stopping by. Here is a little teaser from the first book in my series. I hope you like it :)

Elyse knows what it means to keep a secret. She's been keeping secrets her whole life. Two, actually. First, that she ages five times slower than average people, so that while she looks eighteen years old, she's well over eighty. Second, that her blood has a mysterious power to heal. 
For Elyse, these things don't make her special. They make life dangerous. After the death of her parents, she's been careful to keep her secret as closely guarded as possible. Now, only one other person in the world knows about her age and ability. 
Or so she thinks. 
Elyse is not the only one keeping secrets. There are others like her all over the world, descendants of the very people the Greeks considered gods. She is one of them, and they have been waiting for her for a long time. 
Some are waiting for her to put an end to centuries of traditions that have oppressed their people under the guise of safeguarding them. Others are determined to keep her from doing just that. But for Elyse, the game is just beginning-and she's not entirely willing to play by their rules.

When I left Cearno’s in a state of half sleep, I found the door to my apartment ajar. I grabbed the knob and pushed it open with caution, assuming I had forgotten to close it all the way.

“Hello?” I asked, just in case.

No answer. I shut the door behind me.

It wasn’t until I reached the top of the stairs that I felt something wet on my palm and realized I had blood on my hand. I made my way to the sink, looking for where I’d cut myself when I heard her.

“It’s not your blood,” Kara said from behind me, making me jump a foot in the air.

“What are you doing here, Kara?” I asked, callous and guarded. The last time I’d seen her, she’d stabbed me in the leg.

She was slumped down in the corner, sitting on the floor of my kitchen, a bloody mess.

My face registered with shock. “What happened to you?” I waited for an answer, but she only glanced at me briefly, annoyed by the question, and continued staring off into the distance.

“Are you hurt?”

If she wasn’t going to talk to me I would find out for myself. I knelt down in front of her, looking over her blood stained hands, arms and face. She seemed fine.

“It’s not my blood either,” she said, her eyes finally meeting mine.

If you liked it, be sure to check out Uprising, the next book in my series!

Elyse has done everything she can to protect her friends from The Council's reach. As long as they believe she's dead, she has time to rest and train for war. And war is inevitable. 
When Kara arrives with the news that Anna and Chloe have been captured, Elyse is faced with the realization that no one is safe until The Council is stopped and Christoph is destroyed. She doesn't need a prophecy to tell her to lead an army. Christoph has done the one thing that ensures she'll fight to the death. He's threatened the people she loves. 
It will take more than the words of an oracle to help them fight against the most powerful Descendant alive. To break The Council's oppression and rise up against a plot so many years in the making, Elyse will need to get dangerously close to her enemy. So close, in fact, she may not survive.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Has Rebecca Taylor ever had a character do a 180 on her?

I’ve never really had a character change SO MUCH by the end of the first draft that it creates a continuity problem. I mean, we want our characters to change and grow, of course, as our story progresses—that’s character development—but have I had one of them change so much that they have actually become someone else??

Hmm. In my original conception of ASCENDANT, in the thinking and mulling stage before I realized it was a YA story, my main character was a college student working on her Ph.D who was delving into the mysteries of alchemy. So yes, I have had a character change, but because I’m a “mostly plotter” I usually have a pretty solid plan in place before I start writing.

That college student never even took a breath in the first draft!

On a more recent project, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, I did cut a superfluous character altogether. In chapter two, I had my main character, Carmen, falling for and starting to date a guy—but it did nothing for moving the plot forward.

Her thoughts, feelings, and actions with this character did reveal Carmen’s inner insecurities, but there was a much easier, and less time consuming way to do that without the need for this tertiary boyfriend character going nowhere. To confuse matters more, when she meets her “guide” in the desert, the guide looks just like the guy she was falling for and she ends up calling him the same name.


Hello, editing required!

So yes, I have chopped out entire people from my books and left them writhing on the cutting room floor. I can always tell I’ve made a good choice when it pleases me to see them gone and I end up with a much cleaner, more direct and enjoyable plot.

Maybe I should post some of those deleted “boyfriend” scenes on my blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Dark Deliciousness of Working with Editors by Wendy Russo

During the publication of “January Black,” I worked with five editors. I’m including myself in the five because, of all of us, I made the most passes and caused the most trouble. More on that in a minute. First, have you seen that jumbled text of Facebook that demonstrates that jumbled text is readable so long as the first and last letters of every word are in their proper place?

I mean this one:
“I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arppoiatrely cllaed Typoglycemia.
“Amzanig huh? Yaeh and you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt.”
If you can read that text in the square above, you will have problems editing your own work.

The fabulous Anne Mini, publishing expert extraordinaire, preaches the strategy of reading the entire manuscript in hard copy, out loud, before sending it anywhere. Our brain’s ability to correct the words in real time are the reason why. I personally made eight passes over my novel before it was accepted by a publisher, and my first* editor found hundreds of errors. Structure. Grammar. Typographic. Continuity. World building. Suspension of disbelief. And my personal favorite, Frankenstein sentences. (You know wrote a sentence, then edited it, then put some deleted parts back, and removed them again. A few months later, you read over the sentence and find two sentence fragements from two separate attempts, tied together with two helping verbs, both wrong, and at least one other word that you have no idea why it was ever there.)

*My first editor was actually a screener. She acquired the book for the press before leaving for nursing school. The “first” editor was actually the second to get the manuscript.

In small presses, your editors will often be a fellow writers. They are people. Humans. They have families, day jobs, health problems, and works in progress of their own. They don’t know you, the thickness of your skin, or your preference for how to receive criticism on your work. I established a casual connection with my editor up front and we chatted off and on during the first few months she had my book. That’s right. Months. Some editors turn around quickly, which has its pros and cons. Others take their time. It was during these conversations that I learned about a dozen or so things in her life that would keep her from working on my novel. And, when I got the edits back from her, I got the distinct sense that she wasn’t the right editor for my story despite what had become a friendly personal relationship.

It’s important to listen to these instincts. Just like a parent, you are the first and best advocate that your novel has. I didn’t listen at the time. I spent two and a half months rewriting the middle third of the book—which I do not regret—and gave it back to her. The second round edits didn’t make me happy and resulted in the publisher reassigning my novel to another editor.

Was she a bad editor? Not at all. It’s not as easy as “good” editor vs “bad” editor, although there are both. Even if you get a good editor, s/he may not be the right editor for you on this book. She may point out all of the things she should, but do it in such a way that makes you want to stab her repeatedly with coffee straw. Or she may love your story too much to critique much at all, and errors slip through publication to be found later on by readers later. These are warning signs. If you’ve built a beautiful friendship with your editor—likely if you’ve connected on Facebook—you may want to sever your business relationship before it all goes sour.

What I have learned is to be patient, but not too patient. Ask questions. Communicate my expectations. I waited too long to see how it would all play out. There’s no shame in admitting when things go sideways with an editor. Sooner, I’ve learned, really is better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Favorite First Lines by Shawna Romkey

My favorite first lines… When my first book, Speak of the Devil, came out last year, someone asked me, “What’s the first line?”  I didn’t know.  “Why?”  I asked. “The first line is important. It’s the most important line of the book,” he said.  I’ve been writing for a long time and have taught English and literature for decades. He was right, and I should’ve known that, but in writing my book I hadn’t given much thought to my own first line. The first line grabs the reader. The first line hints at things to come like character, situation, mood, setting….  I’ve started putting more thought into what I write and how it starts off.

Some of my personal favorites are these.

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” -William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

This is one of my favorite books to read ever, but it was also the hardest to get into because I had no idea what was going on in the beginning. I had to do some research to figure out why the first section of the book didn’t make a lot of sense to me, then all of the pieces came together and it was brilliant.

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” -Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I’ve read this line so many times from teaching English in Missouri for over a dozen years. This is a classic and shows setting and vernacular right away. We know so much for Huckleberry Finn from that one simple sentence.

The Opera Ghost really existed.” -Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera

Wow! And yikes! And man, I have to keep reading!

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.” –George RR Martin, Game of Thrones

One of my favorite books. That first line pulls you in. Why are the woods dark? Who are the wildlings? Why are they dead? And why is he nervous?

“Morgaine speaks… In my time I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen. - Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

Female empowering story right from the get go.

Great first lines! What are some of your favorites?

Want to find out more about Shawna and her books? Check out her website at

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: PRETTY DARK NOTHING by Heather L. Reid

It’s teaser Tuesday and I’m excited to share an excerpt from the first book in the PRETTY DARK series, PRETTY DARK NOTHING, with all of you. The second book, PRETTY DARK SACRIFICE releases this September. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

It’s time to choose: Love or lies, faith or fear, darkness or destiny.

In my debut paranormal thriller, Seventeen-year-old Quinn hasn’t slept a full night in twenty-three days. She’s terrified of the demons that stalk her dreams, pull her into a deep dark nothingness and whisper hauntingly of her death. Exhausted, Quinn dozes off in the school hallway, and Aaron, an amnesiac with a psychic ability, accidentally enters her nightmare. If Quinn can learn to trust her heart, and Aaron can discover the secret locked away in his fragile memory, their combined power could banish the darkness back to the underworld for good. That is, unless the demons kill them first.

Excerpt from Quinn’s Point of View:
The dark ring of fog surrounded Quinn, moonlight eerily absorbed by its gray green mist. Something cold and damp brushed her leg. It felt like a human hand, a dead human hand, the moistness of its earthen grave still clung to its rotting flesh. Bile rose in her throat, and she swallowed hard to keep from vomiting. She shuddered as the corporal mist found her palm, inched its way between fingers, and seized both of her wrists, binding them together. Jerking away from the smoke’s grasp only succeeded in it tightening the grip of living rope until pain danced across every nerve.

Before she could blink, two new wraith vines shot from the darkness, grabbing her legs and slamming her to the forest floor. She clawed at the ground as the tendrils dragged her into the fog. Dirt lodged under her fingernails. The earthy decay, disturbed from its winter slumber, filled her nostrils.

“We’re coming for you, Quinn,” the fog hissed.

Earth to earth. The image of her parents throwing a handful of dirt over her coffin as it was lowered into the ground came unbidden to her mind. Tears slid from her eyes. She didn’t want to die.

More tendrils slithered toward her, swirling and changing into dozens of dark shadow masses. They crowded around, their bodies blacker than the surrounding night.

“You can’t get away. He doesn’t protect you anymore.” The dark shadows reached for her. “There’s no escape, Quinn. Earth to earth. Everyone dies. Some sooner than others.”

Want to read more? You can find PRETTY DARK NOTHING here: