First Lines, Establishing Trust, & the Authorial Blue Box (#MondayBlogs)

It’s almost become cliche, the way writing advice books talk about first lines as if they are a fetish item for readers.  Personally, I don’t necessarily remember “first lines” as a reader. Not in the “everything before the first period” sense.  But you do have a very short time to convince me that I will enjoy this journey you’ve mapped out for me.

If I’ve opened the book, I’m already at least vaguely interested. But as a bit of a bookworm, someone who loves a good story and beautiful wordsmithing, I’m even more than interested.  I am primed and ready to WANT to enjoy the book.

Whether in the first sentence or the first four, if you don’t take that spark of book love and make fire… I don’t TRUST you.  That’s the best way I can explain it.  Even if I keep reading, it’s with wariness (even predisposed weariness) because I don’t trust that you can keep me engaged, that the story will speak to me deeply and consistently enough for me to lose myself in your world and the lives of your characters.

I honestly can’t say I always have poor reading experiences after poor first impressions. But I can say that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of being thrown into something that makes me literally forget time and space for a while, a poor first impression leaves me primed to locate, even fixate, on every rough patch or error. I often don’t even notice many of these issues if I’m swept up in the story from the start.

It’s like finding a rodent or insect in your house. Aren’t you searching every shadow after that? Inspecting every discoloration? Jumping when anything not attached to you moves?  Don’t do that to readers.  It’s not a fun way to read a book and often these are the books I never finish or only come back to years later.

When I open your book, I’m holding out my hand to you. Meet my hope with something beautiful or fascinating, a puzzle or a glimpse inside something truly unusual.  Make me say “Yes. Yes!  I will travel with you!”  You’re my guide to this world. I have to trust you.

So be my Doctor Who.  Widen my eyes and grab my hand and when you say “run,” I’ll do it with a smile. Even if your blue box is a plain old motorcycle or a dragon or space skis or bare feet on glittering beaches.

I want to go.  I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of your world, opening your book, if I didn’t want to go.  I just need to know that wherever we’re going, I’m in capable hands.

First impressions establish trust.

What do you think?  What do first impressions do for you?


Photo: Hook Hand by Phostezel at SXC.hu.

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Building Utopia?: Fiction on Perfection (#MondayBlogs)

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“This world of ours … must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

One of the stories in my queue of “maybe-novels” is my exploration of a utopian ideal put forth by a particular philosopher, infused with radical modern sensibilities taken to their logical ends. As someone who largely reads more dystopian texts, however, I always have to ask: “Utopia how and for whom?”

Even without devolving a utopic world into the elite vs dregs situation of many dystopian texts (e.g. Harrison Bergeron, Hunger Games), is it possible to imagine a utopia that seems logical and sustainable, that takes human imperfections and understandable conflict into account? As writers, can we strip humanity down to the bare essentials of assent and dissent, personal independence and societal order, and still have enough to make a story move forward?

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Writer on the Ledge: Identifying with “Risky” Writing

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WRITER OR WRITING?

I’ve been inside for a long time and I have no wings and no safety harness, but life’s presented me with a window, just big enough for me to fit through, and I’ve decided to step out. Even if there is nothing to hold me up but the ledge, I know that I’ll see and experience things that playing it safe will never give me. I’d like to say it’s not the first time, but if I’m honest, it really is. I’ve poked my head out, here and there, to look around the place and I’ve stuck my hands out, once or twice, to feel new things, even while still bunkered inside my walled up home base. Yet, I have never taken any real – public – risks, never gone beyond the cozy and largely safe spaces of my own heart and mind, a tribe of close friends and colleagues, and the pseudo-anonymity of niche communities where no one asks you to exit your bunker. Hence, I have never really tried to be a writer.

No, that’s not exactly true by traditional definitions. I’ve written countless things, shared many of them, published some, and dealt with both praise and criticism, though I’d certainly like to do more and better with all of these things. In that sense, I’ve more than tried to be a writer, I am one. For me, though, that’s all about process, not identity. I write, therefore I am? Maybe. What I haven’t tried is being a writer, walking in the world as a writer, saying the word out loud to someone else as a way of referencing who I am and what I do – being, as it were, “out” as a writer. As someone who has never been “straight,” it’s a situation I know entirely too well and don’t like for many good reasons, but unlike the dance I did for years over what to say or not and to whom when the question of relationships came up, I didn’t realize that I was so closeted about my writing until two weeks ago.

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The Undeterred Male: Sexy or Sexist?

Super interesting discussion going on over at Kira Lyn Blue’s blog. It’s especially relevant to romance writers, but since relationships are a part of pretty much everyone’s fiction (and many folks’ lives), it’s the kind of topic that may be intriguing to many different sorts of readers. Pop over and check it out! I wrote an epic comment. 🙂

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My fabulous critique partner Hope Cook, linked an article recently that has me… uneasy:  Rape Culture in Popular Culture. I’m feeling uncomfortable as a reader, a writer, and a woman by the point the author brings up, so, of course, I have to write about it.

The article boils down to this point: The undeterred male in romance is an example of rape culture.

Wait… what?

The use of the phrase has my hackles up. Anytime anyone drops such a charged expression, I find myself immediately jumping into Devil’s Advocate mode and wanting to argue against it. The words sensationalism, hyperbole, and hypersensitivity whirl through my mind in an angry tempest. Especially in this case, since I tend to enjoy a good romance book with an undeterred male love interest.

So, what’s wrong with an undeterred male? The article states that:

“When a man is…

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Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

May 8th Prompt from WritersWrite1: “Write about the first book you read that made you want to become a writer.”

It is, perhaps, strange that there is no distinct turning point in my memory, but there isn’t one. I have always enjoyed writing, though I’ve been more and less serious about it or more or less drawn to different forms or genres of it at different times in my life. I don’t honestly recall ever thinking of myself as something other than a writer. Sure, I didn’t think – or wasn’t certain – that I was going to do it professionally, necessarily, but I wasn’t ruling it out. I loved reading and I loved words.

If I can address the question a bit more broadly, to discuss the books that stick in my mind as especially inspiring with respect to my path as a writer, there are, however, a few.

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The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

Recommendations in this post:

One of the things I appreciate about this article, “Jealousy Among Writers” by Anne Emerick, is that it is honest without being accusatory and encourages us all to focus on learning, rather than whining, wallowing, or sniping. I’m naturally a very chill person – hence, the handle – but it’s always good to be reminded about the “how” and “why” of channeling problematic emotions into more productive activities. I remember reading somewhere (and I unfortunately don’t recall exactly where) that feelings are not facts, so feeling something doesn’t inherently make it true. When I feel rubbed the wrong way or frustrated, overlooked or just plain covetous, I remind myself that feelings are not facts and whatever’s going on probably has nothing to do with me and will ultimately affect my path very little or not at all.

Writing, as with much of life, isn’t a zero-sum game. Many of us can win, even if we win different things, at different times, or in different ways. I feel like no one will believe me if I say that professional writers (and artists and other striving-to-be-self-employed folks) should pick up Understanding Michael Porter, a business essentials book by Joan Magretta, as well as The Go-Giver, a business-oriented teaching tale by Bob Burg & John David Mann. I will recommend them here anyway, though. The Go-Giver is an easy, quick read, so I will understand if that’s the only one you pick up. If you can concede that writing is a business for you (or you would like it to be), however, then the way Magretta sums up and synthesizes core business concepts in Understanding Michael Porter will be deeply relevant to you too – even if you have to think outside your creative (un)box!

The point of any business is not to “do better than the Other Guy” (whatever that might mean) or to “crush the competition.” The point is to provide value to customers or clients, consistently and at a price that they are able and willing to pay. Regardless of the way you publish or distribute your writing, it has to be something in which readers find value, something that fulfills a need or want and does so well – by their standards, not yours! Whenever possible, you want to make your work the best mix of “unique” and “familiar” that you can manage so that readers want to turn to you again and again to meet that need/want, to be “topped up” with the value you provide. I go to certain writers when I want smirk-worthy wit and wordsmithing, others when I want lush worlds to get lost in for days, and still others when I want to contemplate humanity in its darkest as well as its most beautiful moments. That’s value, for me. No competition necessary.

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Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

The unfortunate reality with many otherwise great “get yourself published” or “do-it-yourself publishing” books is that they rapidly become outdated if they’re not repeatedly and regularly revised. Talking about e-reader technology as “electronic gizmos” that haven’t really “caught on in a big way” and how to market to now defunct booksellers will do that to you. I state that upfront for folks who might be looking for a book wherein the definition of “self-publisher” is probably going to *mostly* be about ebooks and POD. This is not that book.

What this book DOES offer, however, is a profoundly comprehensive (sometimes maybe a little *too* comprehensive) look at how every step in the self-publishing process – from the idea to write a book in the first place to collecting checks over a lifetime – actually WORKS. Now, I know you’re thinking … “How can it do that if it’s out of date?” To that, I would say, “Think of this book less as a place to find THE singular answers to your questions about publishing and more as a place to find A) the right kinds of questions to ask, because there are far more you need to ask than you probably think, and B) effective ways to think through, research, and strategize toward the answers you need.” The author has opinions, of course, and discusses a variety of his own experiences and those of his clients and friends, but ultimately it is very much a book focused on helping the reader develop a detail-oriented frame of mind when it comes to this process.

My major takeaways from this book:

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