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.

The real problem with Star Trek Into Darkness‘s bungled Blu-ray release

I saw someone mention plans to live-tweet a Star Trek: Into Darkness rewatch and I thought “Oh, yay! It’s out!” In hunting it down for purchase, however, I stumbled into this article and all I could do was sigh. REALLY?

Dear Media Companies:

As a hardcore fan of a great many things, particularly SciFi, Fantasy, and related genres, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me an opportunity to purchase your wares within some sort of PACKAGE that is – if not REASONABLY priced – at least not going to skin my wallet alive and force me to purchase multiple copies of the same crap I already own. What I want is ONE copy of the film itself and ONE copy of every special feature you care to share with the public at large for a fee.

I do not need, nor do I want, FIVE COPIES of the same movie, which each come with half of a featurette or every other word of the commentary track. Please tell your marketing guys to make some sense. Because instead of getting me as a $$$ customer, purchasing a MegaPlusSuperAwesomeExtraSpecialAllInOne boxed set, I’m just going to pick up whatever is most easily accessible for me at the most reasonable price, which will probably not be any of your special store affiliates.

No thanks,

~Me

Gigaom

If you’re not a hardcore DVD/Blu-ray enthusiast, you may not be aware of an interesting kerfuffle that’s just arisen. But while it might only seem to affect your more devoted variety of Star Trek fans on the surface, it serves as a case study of what’s going wrong with the physical media world at this moment.

This summer, the Paramount (s VIA) film Star Trek Into Darkness managed an impressive thing for a major blockbuster released in 2013 — not only was it critically popular for the most part, but it actually managed to make some money at the box office, as well.

But the site Trekcore.com last week ran an extraordinarily thorough review of the upcoming Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness — one that rated the Blu-ray transfer quality at five stars, but the special features at 0.5 stars.

Why such a dramatic difference in…

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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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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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Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead (an introspective review)

Among the many classics of science fiction literature, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has maintained a place far above even others that have been remembered for decades. When I was only a child in a family where scifi books were well-loved, Ender’s Game was the scifi book. I am unsure if it was my first introduction to the world of science fiction – I think not, there was an ancient paperback collection of short stories, as much pulp fiction as scifi, that I can recall thumbing through in various reading nooks – but it was one of my first exposures to the genre and it was one that stayed with me all my life. Having now re-read it, and having finished its sequel as well (with intentions to read the rest of the series), I can say that my memory of Ender’s Game had been both true and almost … mythologized over the years, faded in places, yes, but more than that. I had come to think about the book itself as somehow carrying, harboring, embodying not only all of the talk that scifi fans I knew had surrounded it with, but also all the talk and thought that I had come to craft for myself with reference to it. It is, I realize now, both the book I thought it was and, at the same time, perhaps no greater than many other works of science fiction. I say this not to diminish the wonder of Ender’s Game, because it is still among the shortstack of books I would hand to someone exploring scifi for the first time, but I say it because I now see the book as Card himself meant it to be: it is the prelude to the truly great work – Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead.

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Parable of the Sower (Review): Gorgeous, Gripping, Dark but Hopeful

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

It’s a journey that you take along with the main character, as she grows and changes, struggles and learns, and as the people around her do the same. I love how poetic it is, how honest it is in its darkness without tending toward sensationalism. As a reader (especially with Lynne Thigpen’s fantastic audiobook performance), you become as horrified and as cynical as the primary characters at times, but you (like they) can never fully let go of that hope that there must be something more to find, to build, at the end of all that hardship and suffering, a way to survive, even thrive. And even through all the challenges and the loss, there are still those moments – of laughter, of beauty, of communion … of positive humanity, It is gorgeous, a masterfully written and authentic-to-humanity work and world.

It reminds me why I fell in love with Octavia Butler’s writing in the first place.