First-page critique: THE MARONITE

By Joe Moore

We’re getting down to the end of critiquing our anonymous first-page submissions. This one is called THE MARONITE. Enjoy the sample. My comments follow.

A bullet whizzed past his head as he ran down the alley. Somewhere else in the city, the sound of a gunshot would have prompted someone to call to the police. Not here, and definitely not at this hour. The man looked back, his three-piece suit sprinkled with blood. They weren’t far behind.

Fuck! They’re trying to make it look like a mugging.

The thirty-something got to the street, finally reaching his car. He shoved his right hand into his trouser pocket, frantic, his usually carefully coifed hair falling into his eyes. He wiped at the blood and sweat on his forehead. Earlier, the two men had tried to knock him out and failed. Those Krav Maga classes at Chelsea Piers had saved his life, for now. Desperate, he unlocked his car, and then, as his attackers emerged from the alley at a full sprint, dove into the driver’s seat.

Anyone could have easily mistaken the would-be killers for professional football players or ex-military, trained to kill. Both had hefty athletic builds and were over six feet tall. They’d been caught off-guard by their prey’s martial abilities when they had tried to pistol whip him near the front of his building. They wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, though. Those bonuses were too big, and they wanted them too badly. The assailant on the left broke off and situated himself in the street, diagonally from the car. He trained his pistol on the driver while his partner tried to keep their victim from closing his door. But it slammed shut and locked.

They’d failed again.

The driver turned the ignition.

The car revved.

His hand tingled as he pushed the gear shift into first. He watched the tachometer flicker then looked up. It seemed like only a few milliseconds between the explosion from the pistol’s barrel and the sound of windshield glass popping. The bullet hit him in the chest. He could feel the heat as the metal sank into a lung. Blood started rushing out onto his shirt and tie. He let go of the parking brake, disengaging it.

First, the good news. This is a heck of an opening scene. It has strong visuals, a solid sense of place, and enough tension to fill any reader’s plate. The situation is dire. We don’t know who “thirty-something” is—that’s a cliché, by the way—but by the end of the page, we’re all holding our collective breath. It would be hard to imagine someone putting this one down without turning the page. I know I would keep reading to find out if he makes it or not. So overall, I consider this an excellent, attention-grabbing start to an action-packed thriller (or mystery).

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of things that bugged me about this example. It’s something we’ve discussed before, but I would refrain from dropping the F-bomb on the first page. Now, granted, if this gets published, anyone that picks up the book has already seen the cover and read the back blurb. So if the marketing department did their job well, the language might not be an issue to the potential customer. But there are a whole lot of folks out there who would see that and put the book back down. If the F-bomb was removed, would it change the story? Would it change the character?

Another thing is that there’s a good bit of telling here, and I don’t think it’s needed. Telling us that the guy is frantic and desperate is redundant to the man’s actions. This scene is so frantic and desperate, we don’t need the writer to say, “Hey, just in case you didn’t get it, let me remind you that my guy is frantic and desperate.” We get it.

Finally, I would shift the last few sentences into a more active voice and eliminate the last few words. Here’s my suggested rewrite:

He felt the hot metal sink into a lung. Blood rushed onto his shirt and tie as he released the parking brake.

Overall, I think this is a promising beginning that just needs a little editing and clean-up. Good job.

So what do you guys think? Would you keep reading?


THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8. Preorder now at Amazon or B&N.

Dreams and writing

I recently began dreaming again. For a while I was taking some medication that prevented me from dreaming at night. It wasn’t until the dreams came back that I realized how much I’d missed them. Not that any of my nocturnal conjurings are particularly noteworthy (especially not the one where I’m wandering the halls of Wellesley College on my way to a final exam, having missed the entire semester of class. I hate that one.)

No matter how stressful or mundane, dreams are important to the creative process. They may even be essential. In a 2003 study, a researcher found that people who are imaginative and prone to fantasizing are more likely to remember their dreams than non-creative people. Reportedly, Paul McCartney has said that the melody of “Yesterday” came to him during a dream. 

According to another study, the REM stage of sleep (rapid eye movement) is the most conducive to making creative connections. It’s also during REM stage that we dream the most, so perhaps I was right to worry that my medication-induced dream void was also suppressing my writing creativity. Normally when I wake up I do a flash review, trying to recall any fragments of dreams before they fade away. Without my dreams, I felt “flat” upon awakening. 

But now they’re back. Last night’s dream was nothing spectacular–I was forced to confess to an old boss that I’d lost track of an important project. Then I had to put it back together in time for a “mission critical” meeting. Ugh. I think it’s the workplace version of my Wellesley-exam nightmare. But no matter: Welcome back, dreams!

Do you find that dreaming is important to your creative process? Have you ever generated a writing idea from a dream?

Developing a Character Questionnaire

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

With our recent first page critiques we’ve spoken a lot about the importance of a compelling main character – one that draws readers in from the very first page and which transcends (as best you can) the stereotypes common in our genre.

One tool in developing a fully-realized character is to create a questionnaire in which your character gets to answer some key questions about their background, belief and aspirations. An example of such a questionnaire can be found at The Script Lab website, but I thought it may be fun to outline some of the key questions we at TKZ believe are important to know about your character. After all, how can your readers possibly believe in a character that you, as its creator, hardly know yourself.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the key questions I think need to be included in a character questionnaire.

What is it you fear most?

What is it you want the most?

Who are the most influential people in your life, and why?

How do you feel about your mother? Your father? Other members of your family?

What were some of the defining moments in your life?

What tragedies or disappointments have you endured thus far?

What could you not live without? What is your greatest weakness?

What are your strengths?

What do you like the most/least about your appearance?

What is your home like?

How would you describe your appearance?

Do you care about what other people think about you?

Whose opinion do you value?

How do you view authority? Religion? Politics?

Describe your ideal ‘mate’

How have your relationships progressed in the past?

What was your biggest heartbreak?

What gestures do you use?

What speech patterns do you use? Do you swear? Are you self conscious about how you speak?

What is the biggest chip on your shoulder?

So fellow TKZers, do you have any other questions to add to the list? (I’m sure I’ve forgotten something!) Do you use any software to help develop character dossiers or backgrounders? What other techniques do you use to get beneath a character’s skin?

Overstuffed Dialogue

James Scott Bell

A short lesson today in the art of dialogue.
Here are the opening lines from an  old Perry Mason show, circa 1958. A couple is in their compartment on a train:
I still wish I were going to Mexico with you instead of staying here in Los Angeles.
This trip’s going to be too dangerous, Harriet. It’s some of the most rugged terrain in the Sierra Madre mountains. It’s no place for a woman, especially my wife. It’s almost no place for an amateur archaeologist, either. Thanks for coming with me as far as Cole Grove station.
You see what’s happening? It’s an example of the writers shooting information to the viewers through expository dialogue. In fairness to the writers, that was done all the time in those old days of television.
But it’s death to dialogue if you do it in your fiction.
Dialogue has to sound like it’s coming from one character to another, in a way that both fits the character and the moment.
The first thing to look out for is a character saying anything that both the characters already know.
In the above example, they both know they live in Los Angeles. They both know she’s his wife. They both know he’s an amateur archaeologist. They both know he’s going into the Sierra Madre mountains. And they both know they’re going as far as Cole Grove station.
Again, we understand why it was done within the confines of a one hour TV drama from the 50s. But you’re writing a book, so don’t you do it.
I’m at a conference this weekend, mentoring some students. One of them turned in a manuscript with the following (used by permission). A woman (Betty) has been planting bombs to avenge the death of her son.  She now has a forensic investigator (Kate, who has been closing in on her) tied up, and is threatening to kill her:
Betty looked down at Kate. The triumphant smile on her face faded into a snarl at the mention of her son’s death. “Why do you care?”
“Because if my son had died as a result of finding out about something terrible that had happened to him that I had kept hidden to protect him, I would want to blame the person responsible.” Kate thought she would try the empathy tactic. She did feel a great sorrow for Betty and her tragic story. She watched as Betty returned her statement with a hard stare. 
Here in this tense moment, Kate has revealed to Betty facts about the case, but dialogue sounds unnatural. The long line has information stuffed into it, but it feels more like it’s for the reader’s benefit rather than the character’s.
I told the student to go back and cut all dialogue that is not absolutely true to the character and the emotional beats. What would either of them really say?
Dialogue is a tool like any other in the craft. Also, dialogue is the fastest way to improve your manuscript––or sink it. If you do it well, it creates in the reader a subliminal confidence in you. They trust you as a storyteller.
If you don’t do it well, confidence flies out the window.
Great dialogue keeps readers in the fictive dream. So never have a woman answer the door and say, “Oh, hello Arthur, my family doctor from Baltimore. Come in.”
You know great dialogue when you read it. Who are some of your favorite masters of this aspect of the craft? 
*The above photo, BTW, is from the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday, which has some of the best dialogue ever recorded on film. Check it out.

First Page Critique: Untitled aka “The Watcher”

This came with no title, so for convenience’s sake (and for reasons which will become self-evident) we will call it “The Watcher”:

The Watcher was patient, exceedingly patient. He was on the hunt. He had his prey in sight and alone walking through the Caesars Palace parking garage that was as hot as a preheated oven. The air was stale with a simmering heat that would dissipate in the winter months and then come roaring back like a lion in the spring, teeth bared and hungry. He paced his prey, following behind in his rented red Ford Mustang convertible one lane over. His disguise was in place. He wanted to be recognized and remembered for the man that he was impersonating.

It was all part of a long term plan. There she is another hapless girl who escaped from the farm. A sheep who’s lost her way, thought she could make it big in Las Vegas, get discovered and become a star. She wobbled on six inch high heels toward her car. She was quite attractive as they all had to be in Vegas. However, it was her petite frame and long red tendrils of hair that set her apart from the herd.

Thwack, thwack, thwack. The Watcher flinched as he stopped the car and looked around for the source of this noise. He had heard this noise before; it was etched in his brain. Many years earlier a ruler had been slapped across his bare knuckles, thwack, thwack, thwack, always in sets of threes. Shuddering, he looked at his hands. Those damn nuns. They used to ties his hands to his chair before they whacked his tiny four year old fingers. They always told him he was a bad boy. Told him he was a bad seed before the wood smacked the nape of his neck. You want to see bad behavior, you should see me now. They had tied his hands to his small wooden chair because if they didn’t he would scratch them; scratch their eyes out if he could reach them. No one loved him, so now he loved no one. Shaking his head the noise dissipated, for it bled only through his ears as a stinging memory of disgrace.

There are some things to love, here, others…not so much. Let’s try itemizing them:

1) The author sets the mood beautifully in this hot, steamy parking garage. I can practically feel the humidity. Defeat is then snatched from the jaws of victory with the talk about the heat going and coming over the next couple of seasons. Nobody cares what it’s going to be like in three or four months or even three or four days. The initial description — the preheated oven simile — was fine. The bit about the lion is overkill, for so man. There are a couple of grammatical errors here — “man that” should be “man who,” and I would have put a common between “alone” and “walking” — but otherwise it’s okay.

2) The author in the second paragraph changes tense in mid-stream, back and forth. Actually, there’s a bunch of things wrong with this paragraph which can easily be fixed. It’s easier to show than tell:

The original:

“It was all part of a long term plan. There she is another hapless girl who escaped from the farm. A sheep who’s lost her way, thought she could make it big in Las Vegas, get discovered and become a star. She wobbled on six inch high heels toward her car. She was quite attractive as they all had to be in Vegas.”

My suggestion:

“It was all part of a long term plan: there she was, another helpless girl who had escaped from the farm, a sheep who’d lost her way, who thought she could make it big in Las Vegas by getting discovered and becoming a star. She wobbled…”

In my suggested re-write, the tense is consistent, and there is some consistency to the order of how these things usually happen: one gets discovered, becomes a star, and thus becomes big in Vegas, as opposed to getting big in Vegas and then getting discovered and ultimately becoming as star, as the original submission would have us believe.

3) Thwack, thwack, thwack. If the woman is actually that attractive, I can pretty much guess the origin of the “thwack, thwack, thwack” and it has nothing to do with the Watcher’s past. Actually, I like the explanation; it just a)comes way too early in the story, b) goes on for a bit too long, and 3) is plagued with grammatical problems. We’re only going to deal with a) right now. To whit: The Watcher has the girl in sight and then he’s distracted by the “thwack.” Let it bother him now, and explain why later. It will give the readers a reason to keep going reading through the book. As it stands now, by the time we get done with the explanation, we’ll have a “now, where was I?” moment. Let the Watcher attack the woman or let her slip away while he is having the convulsion, or whatever, but finish the scene. There are other ways to build suspense that one can do right in the garage — someone else comes along so the Watcher has to wait, the woman gets a phone call, etc. — that are better than discussing the attacker’s distraction issues on the first page. I would keep the first three sentences and cut everything else out but the last sentence. Since I’m cutting everything else out I won’t even go into the problems with some of the sentence structure in that (hopefully) deleted section.

Despite having chewed all of this up (teeth bared and hungry), I would love to see what happens next, and happens later. Maybe some day I will, with a lot of work on the part of the author.

The Mentor-Mentee Compact

By John Gilstrap
Twenty years ago, when I taught rookie firefighters the basics of their craft, we all understood the vast chasm that separated the sterile learning environment of the classroom from the training crucible of a real fire. On paper and in books and in training videos, even the complicated stuff looks easy—or if not easy, then at least predictable. When we took new guys into their first Rookie Roast, we knew that panic was the greatest hazard our students faced. By extension, it was my greatest hazard as an instructor, as well. (You get in trouble if you actually roast rookies in a Rookie Roast.)

Before you could emerge from the far side of rookie school, you had to prove certain proficiencies. You had to carry a really heavy load from here to there, and you had to navigate a very stressful and confining maze without showing signs of panic, all within a prescribed amount of time. And you had to, you know, raise ladders and put out fires and stuff. There was no faking the practical tests. (One day over a martini, ask me about the time when we had to test all of the battalion chiefs to the rookie standards. That was a hoot!)

I miss the simplicity of those days, when stupid was stupid, ugly was ugly, and if you screwed up, the screw-up was a source of ridicule. I have often said that if you’ve never been chewed out by a fire captain, you’ve only been mollycoddled. The sensibility at the time was that a little embarrassment ensured that mistakes were never repeated, and that as a result, the entire crew had that much better a chance of returning home whole and healthy.

For all the harshness and grab-ass, though, it was a wholesome and nurturing environment. You had to respect people to ride them hard; otherwise, you just ignored them. Mentors were everywhere, just waiting to be asked. There was a tacit, reasonable understanding that experienced firefighters knew more about firefighting than inexperienced ones, and the longer I stayed in, the more I realized how little I understood that when I was a know-it-all rookie. Come to think of it, most rookies are know-it-alls when they are fresh from the exhilaration of rookie school. It was the mentors’ job to help the new guy massage his knowledge into experience.
 I was reminded of these good old days during last week’s dust-up over allegedly mean-spirited critiques. I don’t want to reopen the wound, or even examine the specifics of that particular case, but I was stunned by the vitriol.
 I am the first to admit that I am fully self-taught in this writing gig. I know nouns and verbs and adjectives, but once you get into participles—dangling or otherwise—and pluperfect anything, it’s time for me to leave the table. I don’t know that stuff. I’ve never taken a writing class. I don’t say this with particular pride, but I say it without shame.
 My writing career, then, was built on the principle of rejecting rejection. No one ever told me what I was doing well—truth be told, I already had a good sense for that. Instead, I got rejections, the mere existence of which told me that the aggregate of what I was doing was wrong. The specifics were left to me to figure out.  I sought trusted opinions to help me ferret out the bad stuff. What wasn’t identified as bad was presumed to be good. It worked for me. It continues to work for me.

What I would have given for the kind of critiques that are offered here!  Sure, not all critiques are as helpful as others, but in all fairness, not all submissions give you a lot to work with.

When fellow authors give me a manuscript to beta-read, it never occurs to me to soft-pedal my opinion or to blow even a single ray of sunshine. They give it to me to help them find and disarm the landmines, and by agreeing to do so, I owe them the respect to be brutal. I don’t worry about bruising their fragile egos because professional writers’ egos have turned to stone by the time they’ve got three or four books under their belts.
 I believe that far too many people are lied to by their friends and their families and their teachers. Alternatively, the average friend, family member or teacher wouldn’t know commercial-quality fiction if it bit them on the nose. Either way, there are a lot of marginally talented (or talentless) people out there who are angered and embittered by their first brush with honest critique. I don’t get it. Why ask if you don’t want to hear the answer?
 Better still, why listen to an answer if you think it’s wrong? In a business where there are no rules, all that’s left is opinions. I’ve got mine. Miller’s got ’em too. Jim Bell, Joe Moore and Michelle Gagnon, and all the rest of us denizens of The Killzone have opinions, and look how often we disagree with each other. That’s all a critique is: an opinion.
 If the deliverer of an opinion has a little fun in the process—even if it makes some people squirm—so what?
 The job of a mentor is not to make someone feel good about oneself. The job is help the student master the skills that will lead to him feeling good about himself on his own.

Sometimes—let’s be honest here—that means choosing a different career. As the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat, flee the burning building.

First Page Critique: Untitled

by Michelle Gagnon

So we’re wrapping up our semi-annual series of first page critiques. I hope that by and large they’ve proven helpful. As someone who’s currently chewing her nails to the nub while waiting for an editor to weigh in on chapters, I can empathize with the stress of opening your work up to criticism. Even submitting anonymously can be a terrifying experience. So kudos to all those brave souls who shared their work.
Without further ado…


Sometimes the dead will not stay in their graves but instead arise out of the ashes with the wings of a phoenix, born anew. Upon lying comatose for many years, suddenly and inexplicably, they find life, beat their way out of their casket and crawl out of the dirt until they breathe again. It had been twenty five years since the devil in Todd Meyer’s life had been buried. Now, with one burst his demon had returned to terrorize him.

The sun broke through a low floating cloud sending a wave of warmth and brightness through the people on the pier. It was an aberration, a freakishly warm sunny evening in late May on Lake Michigan where Todd and Zelda Meyer were enjoying a lazy walk on the Saint Joseph Pier.

Todd often wondered what holds two people together through all of the rough and rocky times of their life. What comes to pass when the flames of hell begin to nip at their heels as fire and brimstone fall from the heavens? Does a couple cling together more fiercely to fight off the approach of the wolves? Or does their relationship fall by the wayside like a discarded toy never to be played with again. In Todd’s existence, change had been the only constant, a life filled with despair and littered with sorrow.

A sharp wind off the lake jolted Todd. “Do you feel like walking a bit farther down to the lighthouse,” asked Zelda, his wife of three years, “to watch the sunset?”

He paused for a moment, squeezed her hand and said, “With you on my arm, I’ll go anywhere.” She gave a quick smile, leaned into him and kissed him full on the lips. Letting go of his hand for a moment, she reached around his back and smacked him on the butt, “Alright, babe, let’s get going.”

Ten feet behind them, alone, a short blond Mexican followed, his gun hidden by a bright yellow and white Hawaiian shirt.

I’m all about immediacy. I recently finished reading Daniel Woodrell’s book WINTER’S BONE. An amazing novella that was extremely well written. But there were times when frankly I could have used a machete to hack my way through his metaphors. There is absolutely a place for that kind of writing. But for me as a reader, the critical thing is to strike a balance. Yes, I want to hear, see, taste, and smell what the characters are experiencing. But I also want to do that without having to re-read each sentence three times.

I found myself doing that here. This is an extraordinarily dense page, that for me only really started to pick up when we hit the short blond Mexican at the conclusion. (Side note: if you’re going to make a Mexican blond, probably a bad idea to also dress him in a yellow shirt. Especially if he’s trying to fly under the radar, which I gather is the case here).

I know we’ve been hammering away at this, but the truth is that those first few sentences are absolutely critical. They simply must be perfect for an agent (or, more likely, agent’s assistant), to keep reading. We start with, “Sometimes the dead will not stay in their graves but instead arise out of the ashes with the wings of a phoenix, born anew.”
Not bad. But it’s followed by, “Upon lying comatose for many years, suddenly and inexplicably, they find life, beat their way out of their casket and crawl out of the dirt until they breathe again.”
I’d argue that this is repetitive. There’s not enough new information in that second sentence to justify its existence. Come up with a way to combine the two into something stronger.

Along those lines: be very, very wary of mixing metaphors. In the opening paragraph I’m given both a phoenix and a demon as representations of the dead. In a single page we also have discarded toys and wolves. All great images, but I would recommend parsing them out a bit.

Also: know when to hold back. I was intrigued by the sentence, “Todd often wondered what holds two people together through all of the rough and rocky times of their life.” I’m intrigued by this concept too. Entire books can (and have) been devoted to precisely this question. And as I watch this couple walk along, heedless of the danger trailing at their heels, I’d love a hint of what is binding them together.

But that was followed by, “What comes to pass when the flames of hell begin to nip at their heels as fire and brimstone fall from the heavens?” The writer lost me on the second part. The scenery description is already heavy on moodiness and melodrama, setting the tone. But those types of statements push it too far. Less is more in this case, I’d say.

“Letting go of his hand for a moment, she reached around his back and smacked him on the butt, “Alright, babe, let’s get going.” This part was particularly jolting for me- the butt smack changes the entire tone that the author has been creating. Not that I’m opposed to butt smacks per se, but it felt like something that belonged on the first page of a very different novel. I surmise that this is an attempt to gain a moment of levity immediately prior to a truly terrible incident (as a thriller writer, I’ve already assumed that becoming attached to Zelda would probably be a mistake). But I think that what I’d prefer to experience as a reader, especially given the gravity of Todd’s train of thought, is a sweet moment between the two of them. Something that illustrates that bond he’s so concerned about losing. Something that makes me invest in them as people, since apparently something very, very bad lies just past the horizon.

With careful editing, I see some definite potential here. What other recommendations do people have for our intrepid author?

Cassandra’s Curse Critique

CASSANDRA’S CURSE: First Page Critique
Cassandra picked her way across the roof and crouched beside the knee wall. She’d already mapped her escape route. The nylon bag slid off her shoulder and kissed the concrete with only a whisper. Salt water and car exhaust permeated the cool autumn air around her.
            Two blocks north, the KNWF news van pulled up to the curb beside the decrepit church. As the reporter climbed from the passenger seat, Cassie unzipped her bag and extracted the Henry rifle. Assembly took seconds.
            Her watch said 5:11 a.m. Perfect timing.
            Saint Beatrice’s Catholic Monstrosity cast a shadow over half the neighborhood, but the cameraman set up to the southeast, taking advantage of the sunbeams just now clearing the mountains. Meredith Leighton, the blonde newswoman everyone trusted, patted her hair, smoothed her red dress, and glanced up at the building behind her.
            Stained-glass windows pocked with holes gave the building a toothless look. Sloughed paint and misspelled obscenities decorated the entire facade.
            And Meredith Leighton positioned herself so that all her faithful viewers would see the horrific site and jump on her “save this building” bandwagon.
            Cassie wanted to puke. She planted her elbow on the knee wall, slid her finger off the trigger guard, and peered through the scope. The crosshairs settled between Meredith’s brilliant green eyes.
Now for my comments. This excerpt has some unique images and great sensory details.  I like how the nylon bag “kisses” the pavement in the first paragraph. The “windows pocked with holes gave the building a toothless look.” Nice! And the use of five senses is done well: “salt water and car exhaust permeated the air”; “sloughed paint and misspelled obscenities decorated the entire façade”. Nice imagery.
However… The first paragraph, while interesting, leaves me wondering who Cassandra is, what she’s doing there, and where “here” is. I have no idea what city we’re in. So I need a sense of place.
It’s autumn and 5:11 am. Does that mean it’s light out? How else can she see her target?
How does she feel about the impending assassination, if that’s what this is? I get no vibes about Cassie’s emotions whatsoever, except that Meredith’s pet cause disgusts her (i.e. “Cassie wanted to puke). Why does she feel this way? Does she have a  personal vendetta against the victim? Or is she a professional on assignment for someone else?
You could show her emotions when she’s assembling her weapon. Does she slide the parts together with a snap that shows her fury? Or do her hands tremble? Has she done this before? In other words, I can SEE this scene, but I can’t FEEL it.
It just so happens that my latest sci fi romance, Silver Serenade, starts with an assassination attempt, too.  Here it is, and while it may not be perfect, this excerpt does answer the five basic questions. We know Who (Silver Malloy), What (her first kill), Why (revenge), Where (on Al’ron), and How (rifle). We also know how she got there (a lucky tip). More importantly, we see how much this kill matters to Silver and that revenge is her motive. She’s also inexperienced, this being her first kill. She’s afraid she’ll lose her chance to get Bluth if she relaxes even for a second.

Despite the coolness of the woods, sweat dribbled down the back of Silver Malloy’s neck. Her muscles ached from hours spent in a crouched position, but stealth mattered more than comfort.  She’d waited for this opportunity for months–no, make that years–and wasn’t about to lose it due to a lapse in technique.  This first kill might be her last, but at least she’d complete her revenge.
Using her rifle scope, she scanned the dusty street that stretched below her hillside vantage point. The few scruffy inhabitants who trudged between the ramshackle buildings didn’t interest her. A lucky tip had brought her to Al’ron, a watering hole for space travelers. Those who visited here were not often welcome elsewhere. They came to buy arms, men, and equipment to carry out lawless raids against innocent victims, and Tyrone Bluth had earned the reputation as the cruelest bandit of all. 
Silver couldn’t wait to end his reign of terror.
Regarding your piece, I like your descriptions; they set the scene well. But I want to know why Cassie is aiming to kill this woman. I want to get inside her head and feel her pain.


By: Kathleen Pickering

success3As authors, most of us understand the on-going process behind the craft of writing. Getting the book written is no longer our challenge. Getting the book into the hands of the world is.

One of the biggest hurdles we all face is the marketing of our precious cargo—unless, of course you are of the J.K. Rowling or James Patterson ilk. Since I am newly breaking into the publishing world, I have dedicated myself to mastering Internet/Media marketing along with hand-selling because marketing will ultimately measure my books’ success. Besides, I think my stories rock and I want everyone to read them!!!

steve2[1]One champion of media marketing I’ve encountered is Steve Harrison ( Steve and his brother, Bill, offer a treasure-trove of free information. As expected, much of this info leads to the hook where he gets you to pay big bucks for specialty services, but I say, all the power to him. When I can afford one of his five thousand dollar seminars, I will certainly attend.

What I would like to share with you today are three questions and five fast-track strategies Steve Harrison offers to help visualize and create your career goals. If you find yourself signing up at Steve’s site, please tell him I sent you. (Even though he has no earthly idea who I am, I’d like him to know I’m pitching for him.) So, if you are about to leap into your new career, or are re-vamping your present one, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper and take the time to answer these questions. Here goes:

Career Visualizing Questions:

1. What do you want from you career? Think big! How much do you want to make? What will you be doing in one year? Five? Ten? (Okay, now. You can laugh, but when I hear think big, I say, $10 million/year, movie contracts, book signings and speaking engagements on site, on radio, on TV all the while knowing I can retire, should I want to, but love my life too much to stop . . . oh, yeah!!!)

2. How many books do you want to sell? (I said, 100,000 copies per month. Hey, the man said, think big!)

3. How does your success look? Where are you? Who’s with you? What have you done? How have you been acknowledged? (I’ll let you answer. No need for me to color your opinion any further!)

Fast Track MEDIA Publicity Strategies – When you have a book/movie/event to share with the news, take action. Never underestimate the fact that interest exists for exactly what you have to offer! Here are the basic steps:

1. Contact media by email – Email is the fastest way to get responses over phones (unless you already know the person) or snail mail when contacting newspapers, TV or radio stations.

2. Offer a “timely tie-in” to a current event/holiday – Something happening “now” in the world or your community that relates to your offering/specialty creates an excellent hook to grab a radio or television station’s attention.

3. Use the “magic phrase” – When contacting radio, TV or businesses, your subject line in the email should contain the media person’s first name and use of the word ‘timely’ w/(story) for the event/date. i.e., Andrea, timely guest for Friday before Super Bowl. (The author had a “how to” piece for understanding football.)

4. Keep email short: 3-4 paragraphs describing pitch and qualifications behind it.

5. Send a hand written thank you note after interview. It’s good business!!!

Great stuff, yes? It sure helps me to focus on the business of writing. I just began this process in January to complement my website. Through Steve’s free “Reporter Connection” service, I have already been featured in one e-zine article and will be interviewed on a reviewer’s blog site on April 20th. (I’ll be sure to post it on my Facebook page!) This morning, I sent a query for a morning radio show looking for authors to interview.

I also invested in a video camera (I love my Kodak Zi8!) to record short videos from conferences/workshops as well as interviews with authors. I post these video clips on my YouTube channel: Reaching out to readers through the Internet or Media is not only great fun, it is one of the fastest way to earn name recognition, and hence, book sales.

I look forward to mastering this challenge of getting my books into the hands of readers. I’ll update you on how these strategies work as the year unfolds. Feel free to post your answers to the questions listed above, or any media tips you would like to share.

Hooking a reader

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Another first page critique and time to emphasize the importance of grabbing a reader from the very first sentence. Today’s first page illustrates this point nicely – for while the page is well-written, there isn’t enough of a hook to reel in this reader yet. The good news is that I can definitely hear a distinctive voice emerging, which is also critical. However, we need more action and suspense to capture our interest, and much of the information in this first page submission could wait for later and/or be introduced in a more dramatic fashion. Here is the submission – see if you agree…my more detailed critique follows:


It seemed like an average Thirsty Thursday at the Ohio State University. It was about ten o’clock, and I was finishing up enough homework to call it a night. My roommate had left already to spend the weekend at her boyfriend’s, so I sat alone in the main room of our dorm. My back was facing one of the two walls of cream-colored cinderblocks; the other two were made of burry plaster. The bedroom – a shoulder-width gap between a set of bunk beds and built-in shelving – was off to the left. At least we had our own bathroom.

I had left the door open, in case someone happened to notice the euchre tournament flyer I’d put up outside my room. I’m strong enough to admit that I was having a hard time fitting in with the alcoholic inhabitants of my building. Some people call those hang-ups; I blame and thank my detective father for having raised me to know that wasn’t the life I wanted.

I heard the guys from two doors down in the hallway on their way out to a party. I sat on my futon, waiting. I grabbed a mini-football and drew my hand back to my ear, watching for shadows as they approached. Patience, I told myself. Hairy knuckles swung in front of the doorway, and I was ready. Direct hit! I let out a chuckle at my newest manner of self-entertainment.

Burnt out on homework, I decided to switch to some paying work. I had a pretty good proofreading business going, and recently I had added Jordan Bale, Private Eye to my card. I say that I was a private investigator, but basically I took calls from worried parents and jealous girlfriends. Surprisingly, the latter was the more lucrative of my ventures, but I genuinely enjoyed mulling over grammar. Most mistakes were simple, the kind that simply required a fresh pair of eyes to notice, but there were some that made me question the education system.

I was proofing one of the latter when I heard someone timidly clear her throat behind me.

My critique:

First off, there simply isn’t enough suspense in this first page. All we learn is that this college girl (I am assuming this since she has a female roommate – but interestingly, the voice, didn’t necessarily ring female to me), is anti-alcohol, has a detective father, and who earns extra money by proof reading and working as a PI – oh, and throwing a mini-football at her neanderthal classmates is her latest evening entertainment.

Doesn’t really sound like the start to a mystery or a thriller does it? Where is the suspense? A timid throat-clearing at the end doesn’t really qualify…

Second, I can’t say the proof reading PI is quite juicy enough to raise a huge level of interest in me. I think I would need hints of a more interesting back story to start to feel more revved up about the protagonist. Perhaps her mother died as a result of a drunk-driving accident – that would make me a little more intrigued. There just wasn’t enough in terms of interesting back story that made me want to keep reading. In fact in some ways the back story sounded too familiar – daughter of a cop drawn to being a PI etc. – which leads to the third point.

Which is…there is far too much back story and exposition. In this first page we have no real dramatic tension, action or dialogue, and I think we need some of this to hook a reader. So my recommendation is to start the story at a different point – perhaps with the girl who arrives at the end of the page. What does she need? I’m assuming she is not here for proof reading so having her announce some juicy case for the protagonist to get involved in, would be a better place to start.

So what do you all think? How can we help guide the author to finding that necessary hook to reel in the reader?

PS: my apologies but I will probably not be able to comment much as I will be on a plane across the Pacific taking my boys to visit Nan and Grandpa for Easter! My next blog post will be from sunny Tucson. Posted using BlogPress from my iPad