About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

Can You Hear Me Now? Let’s Take a Look at Audio Books

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

 

It’s been awhile since I looked into the current details on creating an audio book. With self-publishing, authors have options these days and I have created my own audio book after a publisher forgot to add those subsidiary rights to the contract. It was a great learning experience and I worked through ACX, which was the first and only way to self-pub in audio back then. These services can merge service providers (voice actors/narrators/production, distributors, & authors) and provide stock contracts between the parties and a means to communicate and create an audio book.

Nowadays, there are more service providers and an author can even consider making their own recording. The first step is to confirm you have your audio subsidiary rights before you proceed with creating an audio book. But once you have done that and your rights are available, an author has options to produce and distribute their own audio book.

Here’s what I learned:

Below are a few service providers for Audio Books to get you started. These are platforms that bring authors together with the people & services you will need.

SERVICE PLATFORMS

ACX.com is a marketplace that connects rights holders (authors, publishers, agents etc) with narrators and producers to enable audio book production. It’s an Amazon company and audio books produced through the site are sold on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

FindawayVoices.com – can help match you with a narrator, or you can publish your own files separately. They have a royalty share option as well as a pay per finished hour contract. The big difference here is that you can set your own price AND set the price separately for retail and library markets. Plus you can use their Authors Direct app to sell audio direct to listeners.

KoboWritingLife – if you use Kobo to create your work, your audio book is eligible for different kinds of promotion. Kobo sells audio books to its readers, but Kobo also works with its sister company, Overdrive, for library distribution, as well as having distribution deals with Walmart and other companies. You can reach the same markets through Findaway but the additional promotion may make it worthwhile to go direct to KWL.

Do a Combo – A new author might choose to do a royalty split with a narrator/production company. It’s generally a more affordable option, but as far as opting for a wider distribution, you can choose a combo. You may choose to go through ACX but with a non-exclusive contract for Amazon/Audible distribution. You may find wider markets in Findaway Voices. NOTE: If you already have an exclusive royalty split agreement through ACX, you may decide to change that to non-exclusive at the time of renewal. You can download your audio file from ACX and transfer it to Findaway Voices when you have the rights to do it.

Whatever you opt to do, be sure you understand how your audio book will be distributed and how your royalties will apply over the long term.

AUDIO PRODUCTION

You have two choices for audio production. You can choose to record the book reading yourself OR you can hire a professional (and a service provider) to do it for you. Speaking as a former high school drama student, it’s tempting to try a recording, but I know better. Despite the benefits of an author knowing the material and hearing the dialogue in their mind, it takes a special kind of voice actor to pull off a great audio book. Merely reading the words is not enough.

For those of you willing to try it, here’s what you would need to do your own recording.

  • A quiet place to record
  • Equipment/Software
  • Time
  • Technical expertise

Depending on your budget, the equipment and software could be as little as $200, but the biggest investment will be in the time it will take you to not only produce a recording, but the effort to edit in post-production. According to Audible, an industry professional reads approximately 9400 words per hour. If your book is 90,000 words in length, it will take 9.57 hours to produce a recording, minimum. This is NOT a speed reading exercise. To be conservative, you should count on doubling that time to account for retakes, breaks between sessions, and allowing your voice time to recuperate.

I found this great link on How To Make an Audio Book: A Do It Yourself Guide. This is a detailed guide if you are serious about doing your own audio book. It goes into specifics of the equipment you should consider from your computer hardware to microphone, to recording environment, and software. The article goes into depth of one person’s experience and what they specifically used. Very cool. It even goes into suggestions on the opening and closing credits and talks about the image used for the distribution cover. There are also specifics on how to edit. Great stuff.

PROMOTION

FOR AMAZON/AUDIBLE – First off, it’s important for your audio book to appear on the book pages for your other formats. It’s not only important for readers to find all your formats, but if your audio is not linked in all formats, the Whispersync technology (a product of Amazon and Audible) won’t be synchronized between your ebook and audio. That’s a nice convenient feature for readers/listeners. PLUS, once Whispersync is available, the reader can purchase the audio book at a reduced price.

If your audio book is shown on an orphan page where it is not merged with the other formats of your book, send an email to KDP-support@amazon.com & include the links to the Amazon pages for all the formats.

SOUNDCLOUD – This is an app you can get on Google Play/Store that will feature an audio clip of your book once you become a member. It allows you to promote on social media and include a sound clip link to give readers as a sample. A sound clip can be an interesting way to attract new readers if you cross post it on social media and have it on your website book page.

Where to Market Your Audio Book on Facebook – There are a number of Facebook groups you can query to find sites to subscribe and promote your audio books. Here are a few:

Audio Book Addicts 6000+ members

Audio Books! Over 3 Million followers

Aural Fixation Over 3 Million Followers

Other AudioBook Promo Sites:

Audiobook Jukebox – submit your audio book for a review. Reviewers can request your audio book for a review, similar to Netgalley.

Audio Books Unleashed – You load your promotion codes for your freebie giveaways on the listing page, and the site gives one to each listener requesting the audio book.

AudioBookBoom – This is a site that’s the equivalent of BookBub but for audio books.

Audio Book Marketing Resource List – This is a huge list of sites where you can have your audio book reviewed or promoted. Tons of links and includes more Facebook gand Goodreads groups focused on audio books.

Paid Advertising:

BookBub has ChirpBooks, which is an audiobook promotion service for limited time price cuts. They are partnered with Findaway Voices because other distributors don;t allow you to set or change your prices for an audio book. You can sign up to be on the wait list on this page.

You can pay to advertise your audio book in AudioFile’s Indie Press Showcase.

I was amazed at all the new things online for authors who might want to retain their subsidiary rights for audio books. I listen to audio book almost every night. It’s a relaxing way to fall asleep – like someone reading you a bed time story in the dark. I also love that retailers, like Amazon, give readers a discounted price for the audio book addition to your library. I’ve gone back to my reading list to see if some of my fav authors have audio book sold at a good price. Things have definitely changed for the better for audio books.

For Discussion

This post is only the tip of an iceberg for all the resources available for audio books and an author’s options. If you have any audio book experiences or resources to share, please put them in your comments. 

Share some of your favorite voice actors/narrators.

Share some of your favorite audio books.

The Curse She Wore – Available for Pre-Order – Releases Feb 10, 2020.

Trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price for two broken people–a price they never see coming.

4+

First Page Critique – The Wildfire Pathogen

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am posting my first page critique to assist Clare who is in Australia with personal family business. My first critique in 2020, I hope you’ll enjoy THE WILDFIRE PATHOGEN. Very timely with the Coronavirus out of China. Let’s sanitize our hands and read on. My comments will be on the flip side.

The Wildfire Pathogen

Even through six inches of solid acrylic, Conrad Jurek could see the monsters moving inside the box.

They were no more than grainy mists inside individual test tubes. Those mists swirled with each jolt of the plane as it powered through pockets of turbulence. Almost as if the bumpy ride irked them.

Jurek reached into his sage-colored flight suit, pulled out a pen, and began to jot notes on his clipboard. The acrylic box was a four-by-six foot transparent crate mounted on a hardwood dolly. A locking mechanism the size and weight of a manhole cover sat on top. He’d seen the same tamper-proof device protecting the innards of nuclear warheads.

The monsters inside could do far worse than mere firecrackers.

Six tubes hung suspended below the locking device like bullets chambered in a revolver. Each finger-length container held twenty grams of orthohantavirus, a solid mass of viral matter dried into particles as white and delicate as baby powder.

Yet each cylinder of glittering borosilicate glass held enough pathogenic material to kill several million men, women, and children.

A beefy hand came down on Jurek’s shoulder. He suppressed his instincts and allowed the hand to turn him around. A man wearing a black uniform with the word SECURITY stenciled across the front scowled at him before growling two words.

“Back off.”

Jurek held up the clipboard. “I’m supposed to do a load check mid-flight.”

“No one’s supposed to come close to the package.” The guard’s eyes flicked to the name tag at the chest pocket. “If I were you, Corporal Witkowski, I’d leave. Now.”

Two more security men stepped into view on the opposite side of the box. Jurek considered them for a moment. Under his flight jacket, a 9mm Beretta Nano hung snugly in a holster. The weapon was still warm from when he’d shot Witkowski and taken the airman’s uniform off the hanger.

No, he thought to himself. Stick to the plan.

Jurek turned away and went up to the cockpit. He locked the door and took the empty co-pilot’s chair. The pilot glanced over with a raised eyebrow. His uniform’s tag also bore the name of a man murdered in the last two hours.

“I’m familiar with the outer locking mechanism,” Jurek confirmed. “We go forward as planned, Doctor Isenhoff.”

“Good,” came the reply. “Get your oxygen mask ready.”

With that, Isenhoff reached out and flicked a single switch on the flight panel.

FEEDBACK

SUMMARY – Great place to start. This time it’s not SNAKES ON A PLANE. It’s monsters in a vial. We are already in the middle of the action with plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep turning the pages. The author sticks with the action without slowing the pace with backstory. There’s time for explanation once the reader is pulled in. At the end of the 3rd paragraph, the author draws the reader in tighter in describing the tamper proof canister and compares it to the protection on a nuclear warhead. Nicely done. And it got my attention when the author described a nuke to “firecrackers” compared to the monsters on the plane.

I also liked that the author had patience to let the reader discover that Jurek committed murder to get on the plane, wearing a dead man’s uniform. At this point, we aren’t sure if Jurek is trying to stop a deadly pathogen attack by hijacking the material from villains or if he plans to steal the deadly virus to commit his own attack. Great set up with plenty of mystery to unravel.

I especially like how the author had Jurek accosted by security and he had to restrain his instincts to fight the man off. He’s got more up his sleeve (a plan) and that’s when we find out that Jurek killed to board the plane. Nice touch, author.

Then a stroke of genius to have Jurek working with the pilot – a doctor presumably familiar with the pathogen – who is also a pilot. Jurek and Dr Isenhoff are in it together. And there’s a hint that there’s a reason Jurek went to check out the dangerous cargo, to determine if he knew how to break into the canister. Something bad is about to happen that involves oxygen masks. At this point, we don’t know who the protagonist is, but we have a great start.

TITLE – I like the reference to “wildfire.” We all know what that could mean in terms of spreading fast and the word “pathogen” is timely and medical. Only the author knows if there are other titles that could establish the critical danger in a better way, but I would be happy taking this title to a publisher. It’s more than a working title, in my opinion.

NIT PICKY – At the start of paragraph 3, I spotted a pet peeve of mine. I like a strong sentence with tight wording. The words “began to” are unnecessary. It would be better to say “…and pulled out a pen to jot notes on his clipboard.”

Jurek reached into his sage-colored flight suit, pulled out a pen, and began to jot notes on his clipboard. 

Great job, anonymous author. There’s action and I’m intrigued. I would definitely keep reading. Okay TKZers, please leave your comments and provide feedback to this brave author. (Safe travels, Clare. We missed you.)

The Curse She Wore – Coming Feb 10, 2010. On presale now.

Trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price for two broken people–one they will never see coming.

7+

Cultivate New Readers by Donating Your Books to Worthy Causes

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I accumulate books and they breed on their own when the lights are out. Organizer guru, Marie Kondo, would not approve. During my last move, I downsized. Maintaining a personal library is not practical. With all the guests that come to visit on a regular basis, it is more fun to have an extra bedroom.

That got me thinking about what I could do with the good books I have already read. I have a special collection of signed books I will never donate or share (because sharing can be a one-way trip). These are books I treasure. (They are often written by author friends. Super special.)

For a number of years, before I sold and published, I collected debut books in hardback print. Those books served as inspiration for me that my dream to become a published author could happen. But no matter how much I wanted to keep all the books I’ve read, I also see good reason to donate them to other avid readers. Sharing the joy of reading is a special bond we readers share.

Off the top, there are many great places to donate books to appreciative organizations. Your kids’ school, the local library, homeless shelters, Goodwill, nursing homes (especially if you have audio books or large print reading material). My last donation was to a home for pregnant teen girls where I dropped off young adult novels, my books and other YA author friends’ stories.

Something that I’ve wanted to start in my neighborhood is a Little Free Library. I first saw these when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago, but they are a great way to develop a sense of community and support literacy. Many cities and states have these programs and the little libraries can be constructed in very clever ways. Here is a cute one in Arizona. People leave books for free, readers can take a book and leave one when they are done, for someone else to enjoy. Everything is on the honor system. I love this idea. Here is a LINK on how you can start your own Little Free Library.

Below are some book donation ideas that you might not have thought of before:

1.) Donate Books to Deployed Soldiers – An organization like OPERATION GRATITUDE offers many ways to donate books and more. They serve military families, veterans, first-responders, deployed soldiers, wounded heroes and caregivers, & recruit graduates. Help them fill care packages with your book donations.

OPERATION PAPERBACK takes book donations for troops. (Make a money donation or contribute books.) Operation Paperback started in 1999 and has shipped 2.9 million books to over 30 locations overseas. They have 19,000+ volunteers in all 50 states, who partner with a network of shippers and send 15,000+ books per month.

There might also be local groups where you live that send books to deployed military. Tampa Bay has Books for Troops.

A special program – the USO’s United Through Reading program, helps deployed soldiers read bedtime stories to their kids.

NOTE: Many of these programs have criteria for book donations and some have suggestions for genre and/or specific book titles they are requesting. Be sure to read donation guidelines before you send books.

2.) Think Dogs & Kids – This is a great & creative idea that merges rescue animals and literacy. Some animal shelters are matching up canines, kids and books in an innovative way. At the Humane Society of Missouri, the Shelter Buddies Reading Program gets kids ages 6 to 15 to read to shelter dogs, as a way of getting the dogs ready for adoption.

Another program, Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) connects children who have difficulties reading with therapy dogs, under the notion that children will find reading to an animal less intimidating. In Connecticut, you can donate books to support the “Read with Me” program out of Pet Partners, a local dog therapy organization that pairs therapy dogs with struggling readers. Talk about a WIN-WIN.

3.) Local Book Lovers – Do you have a local program that needs books? In Los Angeles, for example, there’s a service called Re-Book It. This is a free service hosted by The Last Bookstore. They offer free pickup throughout Los Angeles county, and your donations could benefit libraries, schools, at-risk children, and hospitals. The Last Bookstore does all the work and your books find a new home.

If you don’t have a great organization like this in your area, you may find other groups that do similar work. For example, a book drive through a local church, library, school, or volunteer organization could be a good resource to relocate your books.

Organizations like Better World Books has drop boxes across the country. Enter your zip code into their site search to see if they have a drop box near you.

This time of year, with the tax season looming, I think about ways to make a difference and charitable donations. I hope this post gives you ideas or inspires you to start something new in your area. Happy 2020!

For Discussion:

1.) Do you have good suggestions for places to donate books?

2.) Share a story about one of your book donations. (This could be for your books or for other authors.)

 

The Curse She Wore by Jordan Dane Coming Feb 10, 2020.

ON PRESALE at Amazon (in ebook and print)

They had Death in common…

Homeless on the streets of New Orleans, Trinity LeDoux has nothing to lose when she hands a cursed vintage necklace to a wealthy, yet reclusive clairvoyant.

During a rare public appearance, Hayden Quinn is unexpectedly recruited into Trinity’s perilous mission–a journey back through time to the exact moment of death for two very different victims.

Hayden and Trinity, two broken people with nothing but death in common, pursue the dangerous quest to stop a murderer from emulating the grisly works of a notorious serial killer. But trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price–one they never see coming.

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY for The Curse She Wore – Enter for a chance to win.

5+

READER FRIDAY: What Writing Craft Element is Most Important?

Of all the elements to the writing craft, which one is most important to you as a writer and/or a reader? Bonus points if you can give examples of novels that exemplify your answer.

Below is my attempt to list Craft Elements. Did I leave anything out?

Character

Setting

Plot

POV

Theme

Style/Voice

Dialogue

Action

Exposition

Conflict

Motivation

Climax

Resolution

3+

Key Ways to Lure Readers with an Opening – First Page Critique: Follow the Raptor

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

Wikimedia Commons

My last TKZ first page critique for 2019. I want to thank all the brave authors who have submitted their novel introductions to share with our TKZ community. Although it’s never easy to hear criticism, no matter who you are, we grow as authors by taking risks. Kudos to all the courageous writers we have at TKZ–those who submit their work and those who offer constructive criticism. Thank you all.

***

From the airport, I drove north in a rental car toward Ketchum, and turned onto a small paved road that ended at an estate owned by a man who had offered to pay me handsomely for an assignment he wouldn’t describe over the phone. I announced myself to the intercom and the gates swung onto a flat curve of driveway. A big-guy checker piece in black answered the doorbell. He mumbled into an earpiece and jotted in a small notebook, a juxtaposition of the new and old. I noticed this because Tireia would notice, and lovers learn such habits from one another.

The big guy identified himself as Jonathan. He led me down a wide hall peopled by brass effigies and through double doors into the presence of a massive sandstone fireplace that loomed over curved and plush seating. The room was filled with paintings and statuary, rainforest plants, and stacks of oversized books on tables that looked as if they were laser-hewn from petrified wood. The drapes were open on floor-to-ceiling windows, displaying a lawn that flowed to sage-strewn foothills on this high-desert side of the road to Sun Valley.

Jonathan left and I wandered over to a Gainsborough-like portrait of a woman in a pleated gown that covered her feet. It was better than the other one on the same wall, of a high-breasted brunette in a print blouse, who sat in a thin chair and stared out of the 1940s at the viewer. She was familiar, and not being able to place her irritated me. The signature in the corner read, “Katherine March.”

Soft footsteps signaled the appearance of my trim and compact host. He sported a velvet smoking jacket and suede slippers, which made me grin.

“I’m Cassim Geyer,” he said.

“Reese Sapere.”

We shook hands.

“I assume you’ll be flying your plane home, Mr. Sapere, so I won’t offer liquor. Will tea do?”

“Tea? Yeah, OK.”

He went to the fireplace and pulled a bell cord, which delighted me only slightly less than the lovely young woman who soon appeared, in a short black skirt over a white blouse. Cassim requested the tea and sat down across from me. He flicked a bit of nothing from his slacks, looked up, and caught me regarding him.

“Tradition has its upside,” he said, “if you take it with a dollop of nonconformity.”

***

FEEDBACK

SETTING FOCUS IN INTRODUCTION – This introduction sticks with the action of what is happening. No real backstory. That’s a plus, but when the tedious description of the setting overtakes the narrative, the pace slows down to a crawl. The author hasn’t given me enough reason to care about the setting. I really don’t know where Ketchum is – in Oklahoma or Idaho? If the character had more of a colorful opinion, I might see the reason for the description-to showcase and give insight into the character.

A reader isn’t as much after the details of a setting, but more about atmosphere and mood.

Here is an example of a more effective intro that paints a picture of setting, but it also reflects on the character and a darker mystery.

EXCERPT

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred introduces her room with details that not only grab us but hint at something dark:

A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.

If the action in this submission were better matched with the setting details, the main character might be more integral to the setting with hints of emotion or something more at stake. As it reads now, the setting descriptions are just an inventory of room furnishings. Below is a good example of how the author uses plain setting descriptions to stir feelings of foreboding in the reader and give insight into the female lead.

EXCERPT

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion turns a simple setting into something ominous when the character realizes someone has violated her home and been inside. Can’t we all relate to being shaken at the possibility of a home invasion? This short description, that incorporates the details of a setting, gives insight into the woman living alone and the emotion she must be feeling.

Reaching for the bedside lamp, she stopped and withdrew her hand. The photograph of her father had been turned out to face the room. She touched it every night before she went to sleep. It was always facing towards her, towards the bed, not away from it. … In the darkness, what had felt safe before now felt frightening: the way the dressing-table mirror reflected the street-light through the curtains and the sight of the wardrobe door left slightly ajar.

 

MYSTERY – There are elements of mystery to this intro. Below are four I noticed, but not all of them are presented well.

Good Mystery Elements

1.) The character is paid handsomely for an undisclosed assignment. Why? This is a good mystery to drop at the start. Make the reader wonder what this guy does for a living. Good guy or bad.

2.) Who is Katherine March and why is she familiar to him? This is a good mystery. It’s intriguing and it has the potential for foreshadowing something to come. I like it.

Not so Good…

3.) What gender is the central character (male of female)? I have to wait until nearly the end of the dialogue where he’s called Mr. Sapere. Even the first name of Reese can be female. It’s not good to keep a reader guessing about gender, but this can be an easy fix if the author would introduce gender earlier.

4.) Who is Tireia? From the line – “I noticed this because Tireia would notice, and lovers learn such habits from one another.” There’s no attempt at an explanation, but why bring it up? This reads like a series with characters the reader should know. This kind of mystery will have the reader scratching their head and wondering why. I would find another way to bring this up later, but it’s not necessary in this intro. It’s only confusing.

LOCATION – I mentioned this earlier, but the reference to Ketchum could be in Idaho or Oklahoma or anywhere. A simple tag line would clear this up. Or the author could make a choice to make the setting clear from the start and make it memorable in short order, as in the excerpt below.

EXCERPT

Gabriel García Márquez, opening One Hundred Years of Solitude, introduces his village like this:

Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.

FIRST SENTENCE LENGTH – The first sentence is too long with too many unrelated details, that they get lost in the length. My instincts would be to make the character more colorful with a more memorable voice. Give him an opinion of his surroundings that reflect on him, as a protagonist. Make him more wary of who this new client is and why is the man so secretive about the assignment. The first sentence (below) is tedious, forgettable, and the last part of the mystery assignment almost gets lost at the tail end.

From the airport, I drove north in a rental car toward Ketchum, and turned onto a small paved road that ended at an estate owned by a man who had offered to pay me handsomely for an assignment he wouldn’t describe over the phone.

Also, in this submission, we learn at the very end of the 400 words (in the dialogue) that the protagonist is a pilot and must have rented a car from the airport. It’s seems odd that we have to wait until the end dialogue to discover that Sapere is a pilot. It’s a bit confusing that the new client knows more about Sapere than the reader does, after being in Sapere’s head.

MAKE DIALOGUE COUNT – For the first lines of dialogue, they are very anti-climactic and chit-chatty.

WHERE IS THE ANTICIPATION? – I would’ve liked to see the author have a build up of anticipation where the protagonist is curious about the man who wants to pay him handsomely yet couldn’t talk about the assignment over the phone. This is how you build on the mystery, when the protagonist is drawn in himself and searches for clues.

It’s obvious the man he came to see is someone he doesn’t know. I would think he would screen his jobs better. Wouldn’t he be more wary? Wouldn’t his mind be searching the grounds for hints of the assignment or who this man is?

SUMMARY – This author shows talent. There’s a good crime fiction start here, but this reads like a first draft. With some feedback and filling out of details to create more mystery and a sense of anticipation, this introduction could be more effective.

FOR DISCUSSION:

Please share your constructive criticism with this writer and with your TKZ family. We all have an opportunity to learn.

 

8+

READER FRIDAY: Tell Us About the Novel You’re Most Proud of

When someone asks me to recommend one of my books, I never know what to say. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all my children are beautiful in different ways. My stock answer (in my head) is – my next one, because I’m always striving for a challenge and trying something different.

But if you had to pick…

Tell us about a novel you wrote that you’re most proud of and why.

2+

READER FRIDAY: Confession Time: I have never…(finish it).

Call it overly sensitive, but I don’t like to see any movie where humans ARE FOOD. Gives me the shivers. My confession?

I have never…SEEN JAWS.

I have never…seen the Grand Canyon. (I hope to remedy this in 2020.)

As 2019 comes to an end, it’s time to come clean with your TKZ family. Share something you have NEVER DONE that we might find surprising.

3+

Keys Ways to Begin A Story – First Page Critique: The Young Lieutenant’s Dog

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain]

One of my last First Page Critiques for 2019 and of course it is about a dog. Please enjoy this anonymous submission for your consideration – The Young Lieutenant’s Dog. My feedback will be on the flip side, after my thoughts on book introductions.

***

The history of humanity is held in the fragile palm of our stories. When they are lost, a part of us leaves with them. Perhaps that is why, even as a young child, I treasured the stories my father told us. Although a born raconteur he was, however, oddly reticent to discuss the most dramatic story of his life: his role in WWII.

With an older brother and sister on the cusp of adolescence and I still engrossed in childhood, we were too young to understand the brutality of war. Thus intrigued and naive, we cajoled him mercilessly to tell us about his life in the army during those years, especially when the tales spoke of life-and-death adventures.

Unlike his other stories, which were invariably charismatic and often humorous, those from the war were meant to serve, like Aesop’s Fables, as a moral lesson for his children to learn. I didn’t grasp this until many years later when it was too late and my father was gone, felled by a heart attack. By then, the stories he’d told were either forgotten or punctured with holes, the remaining threads barely clinging to our fragile childhood memories. But one remains, fixed with absolute clarity as if it had been related just moments ago.

I always assumed that I remembered this one because it was about a dog. But, of course, it was much more than that.

In light of the horrendous events of WWII, many have forgotten that in the early years of the war, the United States stood staunchly isolationist. Our country was still struggling to recover from WWI and a cascading depression. On September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Our President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his staff, watched with mounting concern the steady onslaught of Hitler’s armies and knew that it was not a question of “if” the United States would enter the war, but “when.”

***

Keys Ways to Begin a Story

There are many techniques to begin a novel – from an intriguing first line that triggers questions in the reader’s mind, to the paragraphs that draw the reader into a mystery or suspenseful action or a compelling story.

A good hook gets to the point quickly to raise a question or shock the reader into reading on. If a story begins in the voice of a narrator, that voice must be intriguing from the start. Successful openings raise unanswered questions or they describe intriguing actions/events or they highlight odd or troubling scenarios of intrigue or suspense.

Here’s a few types of intriguing opening lines:

1.) Teaser Line:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex

2.) Autobiography

“Whether I turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Charles Dickens – David Copperfield

3.) Dialogue

“‘Where’s papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” E. B. White – Charlotte’s Web

4.) Announcer/Omniscient POV

“The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.” Jules Verne – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

5.) Scene Setting

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

The Next Paragraphs – Following a solid first line or a quick and compelling intro, the next paragraphs must draw the reader deeper into the story with more questions. This is where storytelling comes in and patience. Make the reader ask, “Who? What? When? Where? Why?” Think about an interesting, seemingly unimportant detail of a character or setting that can become symbolic to your story’s larger themes. In the case of our story for submission, that detail is brilliantly the dog.

No matter how great the first line is, if the paragraphs that follow don’t draw the reader deeper into the story, that great opening is deflated and reads like a gimmick.

Below is an example of an intriguing opening line from Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train, followed by paragraphs that draw a reader into the story as questions are raised by the author.

Excerpt

She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. Not more than a little pile of stones, really. I didn’t want to draw attention to her resting place, but I couldn’t leave her without remembrance. She’ll sleep peacefully there, no one to disturb her, no sounds but birdsong and the rumble of passing trains.

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One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl . . . Three for a girl. I’m stuck on three, I just can’t get any further. My head is thick with sounds, my mouth thick with blood. Three for a girl. I can hear the magpies—they’re laughing, mocking me, a raucous cackling. A tiding. Bad tidings. I can see them now, black against the sun. Not the birds, something else. Someone’s coming. Someone is speaking to me. Now look. Look what you made me do.

This introduction leads into a morning where the reader meets the narrator – Rachel. It’s a short intro written with patience that raises lots of questions and paints a mystery in the reader’s mind. There are ominous visuals like a secret grave, the disturbing rumble of passing trains, the muddled mind of the narrator, and the bad tidings of magpies. There’s no real action, but since the intro is short and very much to the point, without diversions into backstory, this opening works well.

FEEDBACK

My notion of critiquing is to provide feedback that’s in keeping with the essence of the story the author submitted. I don’t want to rewrite lines as much as I want to give a 30,000 ft view of the overall beginning and analyze it for impact.

I liked what the author submitted. It was well-written and unfolded a story I would be curious to read, but I wanted to provide an alternative way to take the essence of this story and reorganize it to tell a tighter narrative. I truly want to know about this man and his dog story. I also like the title. It hints at the mystery of the story. Who doesn’t love a dog in wartime story? There are so many ways to parallel the innocence of a dog with the horrors of war and the potential for the redemption of humanity through the eyes of man’s best friend.

My thoughts, without knowing where this story is going, is to intrigue the reader’s mind with questions about the mystery. I also love stories that start in the present, but delve into the past for answers to a mystery. Hence, the ending that implies a grown child had been intrigued enough to dig into his father’s most memorable story to uncover the truth. That definitely would hook me. Why is the dog story the one this narrator couldn’t forget? How will the mystery unfold? Whose life will be changed by the reveal? What’s the journey of this book? The author has teased us with a wonderful mystery with lots of promise. Kudos.

Tighter Narrative for Mystery Setup

Although a born raconteur, my father was oddly reticent to discuss the most dramatic story of his life: his role in WWII. His tales of life-and-death adventures in the army became an enticing mystery for my brother, sister and I, as curious children. His stories from the war held even more significance after he died of a heart attack years later. After we realized his stories were meant to serve as moral life lessons for his children to learn–like Aesop’s fables–they became a message from the grave that kept him alive in our minds.

One treasured story remained, fixed with absolute clarity as if it had been related moments ago. I never forgot it and always assumed that I remembered this one because it was about a dog. But, of course, it became much more than that–after I uncovered the truth.

As rewritten, this rearranges the original submission to a first line I thought held a particular mystery to pique the attention of any reader. It focused on a story-telling father who played a particular role in WWII that he held back. Why? What role?

I then picked out a tighter narrative with a flow that is more direct and leads quickly to the point of the introduction – to set up the mystery of the dog. I added my own interpretation of the narrator uncovering a truth about the story so the reader gets hooked faster. I also chose to leave out the history lesson in the last paragraph. After the author has the reader focused on a mystery about a dog during wartime, the back story deflates the mystery and slows the pace. That morsel could be saved for later, along with the character development of the surviving children.

As written, this story may leap back into the war to tell the story of a young Lieutenant’s dog. That’s fine too, but if that’s true, why begin with a child’s memory and a son as a narrator? I made an assumption that this story will be woven between the past and the present. I don’t have enough to go on with the first 400 words, but my intention is to show an alternative intro that perhaps is more complicated by weaving in a mystery that straddles the line between past and present.

This story could be like Bridges of Madison County where surviving children uncover a mystery in the life of a deceased parent and the story unravels that truth. That’s my assumption.

The rewrite is similar to the Paula Hawkins excerpt for The Girl on the Train. It’s laser focused on the essence of the story and creates questions in the reader’s mind, before it starts telling the actual story through the eyes of the storyteller.

DISCUSSION:

Please provide your constructive criticism of this compelling submission, TKZers. How do you see this story unfolding?

 

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Whose Story Is it? First Page Critique: Sunny Days Ahead

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Wikimedia Commons

I feel for Charlie in this story opener when he makes a phone call that risked his pride and ego. Join me in reading this 400 word opening and providing constructive criticism in your comments. I’ll have my comments below.

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Charlie examined the slip of paper and wondered if he had been set up. It could have been some random set of digits she pulled out of her head? That shit happened once before and it ended up being the number for Dial A Prayer.

Charlie fed the payphone, and the muscles in his neck tightened as he dialed. He recalled the cute turned-up nose, dimples, and full pouty lips of the girl at the concert. He struggled to believe he’d worked up enough nerve to ask for her number and was suspicious of the ease with which she gave it to him.

Finally, the first ring sounded. He waited for someone to pick up, but took a breath when he realized no one answers on the first ring.

The second came, and his stomach rumbled.

As the third arrived, hope began to fade.

After the fourth, he relaxed, thinking either she wasn’t at home, or his suspicions were true. Then, a click, and there came the smooth, soft, voice of a sleepy angel.

“Hello.”

“Hi, this is the guy who sat behind you at the concert. I hope you remember me. Anyway, I only have a couple of minutes to impress you. So, here goes. I think you may well be the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life. I got my own place. I like every kind of music there is except opera. Dogs love me, and oh, I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but I think you are, without a doubt, the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. Okay, how am I doing so far?” It felt like a year-long silence as he waited for her response.

“Well, Dude, you are most definitely full of shit. And that’s okay. On good days so am I. Of course, I remember you. And I’ve been hoping you’d call.”

“No shit, really. Why? I mean, wow. That’s great.”

Sonny, paused. I felt your eyes on me in the concert and when I turned around everyone in the audience was scoping out what was happing on the stage. But you were looking straight at me with the sweatiest smile. That’s what made me remember you.

“And dude, If I’m the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen, you need to work on your social life.”

“Yeah, that’s sort of why I’m calling. Oh, and I’m Charlie Anderson. What’s your name?”

“It’s Sonny, Sonny Makenzie.”

FEEDBACK

All the typos were obstacles to me truly enjoying this anonymous submission. Even the last line and name of a main character is misspelled. More misspellings: happing & sweatiest. Editing 400 words for clean copy is the least an author should do to make it harder for an editor or agent from rejecting the story right away. Enough said. Let’s get to the substance.

Overall Impression – I liked the first line where Charlie hints of a set up. That got my attention. The tension was quickly diffused by the revelation that Charlie is calling a girl, so I didn’t mind that this wasn’t about a crime. I thought Charlie was charming and I could relate to the risk he took.

General Questions – Charlie is using a payphone? In a technical age, why doesn’t he have a cell? If this is a retro story line, that should be tagged at the beginning to ground the reader in another decade. Plus, is ‘Dial A Prayer’ still in existence? I queried on the Internet and only found a reference to a 2015 movie. Charlie mentions that a girl had slipped him a ‘Dial A Prayer’ number, but wouldn’t that have to be an 800# since that’s a national service? If a girl slipped him a phone number that starts with 800, that should’ve been a clue. These details kept me from getting fully engaged, beyond Charlie’s story.

Setting – Where is the setting? What is Charlie doing as he makes a call from an old payphone? World building is important. Did he slip away from his apartment to make a call from a public phone? What city or town? What can be shared about Charlie? This feels like a stripped down first draft without depth. The bones might be here, but it needs more.

To help an author realize what layers are missing, I like to ask open ended questions to trigger ideas from the author. Questions like: Where is Charlie? Can the weather add tension or mystery to the scene? Does Charlie have money? Does Sonny? Can their clothes give insight into their lives? What other open ended questions would you ask, TKZers?

Add More Tension & Build Up – The long dialogue line where Charlie tries to charm Sonny with “Hi, this is the guy who…” is long and the reader might lose interest or the build up could be better. I would suggest the author break up Charlie’s lines with how he reacts as the tension builds. When he hears nothing on the other end of the line, he keeps talking. We’ve all gone through phone calls like this. Make the reader feel his mounting doubts and the risk he finally takes to spill his guts.

Rewrite Example:

“Hi, this is the guy who sat behind you at the concert. I hope you remember me.”

The girl left him hanging and didn’t bail him out. Dead silence. Charlie decided to keep talking and go for it. He had to bring his A-game, whatever that is.

“Anyway, I only have a couple of minutes to impress you. So, here goes.” He swallowed and took a deep breath.

“I think you may well be the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life.” What a tool. You sound lame, Charlie. Give her your best stuff. Go for it.

He pictured her mesmerizing blue eyes staring at him and how lights from the stage last night had played on her blond hair. Don’t sound like a stalker, asshole.

“I got my own place. I like every kind of music there is except opera. Dogs love me, and oh, I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but I think you are, without a doubt, the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. Okay, how am I doing so far?”

It felt like a year-long silence as he waited for her response.

Point of View Shift – Before this scene ends, Sonny’s Point of View (POV) interrupts Charlie’s moment. I found this jarring and editors and agents would see this as head hopping. Sonny hints that she might have an ulterior motive to giving her number to Charlie. As a general rule of thumb, I write each scene using one POV. I tend to pick the character with the most to lose or the most emotion. To revise this intro, I like Charlie’s vulnerability for the start, but then create a scene break and shift to Sonny’s POV to draw the reader into her mystery. But when you jumble both together, you lose the impact for both.

First Person Shifts to Sonny – Another craft issue is that when the POV shifts to Sonny, the tense changed to first person. A whole book of this will confuse the reader, especially if, within scenes, Sonny starts speaking in first person in the middle of Charlie’s third person.

HERE is the POV shift to SonnySonny, paused. I felt your eyes on me in the concert and when I turned around everyone in the audience was scoping out what was happing on the stage. But you were looking straight at me with the sweatiest smile. That’s what made me remember you.

As I’ve suggested, the author might consider staying with Charlie’s third person POV as the intro, because he is relatable and vulnerable and there’s a mystery for readers to get into. End his first scene, then pick up Sonny on the other end of the line. What is she doing? What has Charlie interrupted? I often have fun with a simple outsider person calling my protagonist and they talk as if it’s a normal call, but I clue the reader in on what my protag is doing – like killing someone, or cleaning up blood.

Title – ‘Sunny Days Ahead’ needs work as a title. There’s nothing intriguing about it and no mystery.

SUMMARY – I look forward to seeing other comments and opinions on Sunny Days Ahead. For me, I might want to read the book jacket to see what this story is about. I like Charlie, but this intro needs filling out. Sonny holds promise in my mind, but nothing here tells me that. It’s my hope. Thanks for your interesting submission, anonymous. You have bones to build on here. I hope my feedback and the comments from our members will stir your imagination to fill out this story. Good luck.

DISCUSSION

Feedback comments, TKZers? Would you read on?

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A Writer in Italy

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a side street or meandering cobblestone stairway that you can get lost in. Fertile ground for the mind of an author. That’s Italy. Romantic storybook panoramas, delicious food, welcoming people, inviting shops to buy treasures, and outdoor bistros. Italy has a vast history, varied culture and is the center of global fashion. Beautiful gardens rival any in the world. Plus an added bonus for me–Italians LOVE walking their dogs. Many locations looked like the Westminster Dog Show with gorgeous well-groomed dogs. Shop owners even put large water bowls out for leashed pets.

As promised, I am posting some pics of my amazing trip to northern Italy, the Lakes District nestled in the Swiss Alps.

(HOUSEKEEPING – I had trouble posting these and worked on how to do it for hours yesterday. When you see a link, it’s to my Instagram acct. I wanted to post individual image links, but Instagram wouldn’t allow it. My files were too large to post solo and I’m not tech savvy at compressing sizes, especially for as many as I wanted to show you. But at the links, please scroll through the images on Instagram for the topic I’m posting about.)

Many people think of Lake Como & George Clooney when they speak of the Lakes District. I didn’t see George, but I felt as if I had walked into a post card and stayed for awhile. We had gorgeous sunny weather for most of the days. We were lucky for October.

Since I can’t include tons of pics on this post and had trouble loading my panorama views, I will direct you to my Instagram acct at JordanDaneBooks for many of my memories of Italy. I posted every day and picked some of my favorites. There’s also more space on Instagram to describe things so I broke down my postings by tour day. But for your convenience, I will speak about certain images and provide a link to Instagram.

As you might remember from my first post Travel Replenishes the Writer’s Soul about my trip (before I left the country), I was anxious about traveling alone. I was traveling with a small group of 29 people, organized by the outstanding Traveling Aggies, but I was the only person truly traveling alone. I made up my mind that with this being my first real vacation in decades that didn’t involved visiting with family or friends, I would make the most of it and not let my solo adventure turn me into a wall flower. Thankfully the other people on the tour made me feel welcome but I had to put myself out there.

Boy, did I meet the right folks. By the end of the trip, I did not want to leave this great group of people. I had a BLAST! I made sure to spend time with each couple. By the end of the trip, I had folks handing me their contact info and I’ve stayed in touch with several couples, including a new travel buddy that I’m planning a trip with in 2020. As a writer, I can be introverted. I really love my solo down time, even as much as I find other people fascinating and enjoy adventures.

I sneaked away on a total free tour day into Switzerland with two married but solo traveling ladies from Chicago who were hilarious. My sister(s) from another mister. We took the infamous “Donkey Train to Locarno.” (There is a story about that name and a very amorous donkey. I may have to put it in a book.) I will never be anxious about traveling alone again. That donkey even broke through the language barrier with a German family in our train car. Some things are universal, like laughter and being naughty.

I didn’t feel hindered by the fact that I didn’t speak Italian. There is a common humanity that connects us all. We were with tour guides who spoke the lyrical language and everything was extremely well-run and organized for us. Nothing was left to chance by AHI Travel International, our top-notch tour company. Our main tour guide was Valentina. I wanted to kidnap her and hide her in my luggage by the end of the trip. Adorable and funny and very kind. Toward the end of the trip, she shared her funny family stories about her mother and sister and showed us what hand gestures meant in Italy (including the ones we shouldn’t use ANYWHERE).

The star(s) of the Lake District is, of course, THE LAKES. Everywhere you looked there were gorgeous water views. Here is the view from my hotel room balcony. As a traveler to the lakes, you tour on ferry boats many days. Another beautiful view of the water. No lie, the water is as blue as you see in the pictures. When you look down into it from the shoreline, it is clear and glistening.

As a writer, I took in the sights and want to always remember them for future books. This trip fed my soul and replenished my creative juices, but it also gave me new experiences to include in my work. What must it feel like to be the stranger who doesn’t speak the language or know the customs? How to see something so beautiful that it makes you ache for more? How a romantic language can make your heart do flip flops? How food can be sexy? All these things went through my mind and my heart during this trip. I didn’t simply take a vacation, I saw Italy through the eyes of a writer.

On land, we saw many architectural wonders. Simply breathtaking. Il Duomo in Milan (Otherwise known as the Milan Cathedral) has taken 600 years to build and Milan is still working on it. 600 years? Pffft. When entering these stunning structures, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Always look up. These cathedrals were created to bring man closer to God. You get the sense that the creators and fresco artists used for these magnificent buildings were making at attempt to recreate heaven. On Orta Island, one of my favorite day tours, the cathedral on the island was truly breathtaking. The extensive history and the timeless work of artisans blew me away.

The food was served in more reasonable portions than the way we pile it on in the U.S. I loved how their pastas were flavored with light sauces with complex layers of seasonings and ingredients. Lots of fresh seafood. I was wary of the many courses of food, but I really got into the full production of a meal – from soup to pasta to main entree to cheese offering to dessert. Small portions allow you to languidly consume your meal with wine and good company. No one is in a hurry. Lovely, indeed.

I toured the Last Supper in Milan, the La Scala Opera House and Museum, Duomo (Milan Cathedral), and the Milan Fashion Scene at the Galleria and our guides shared tons of history and charming stories about these historic spots.

I am planning more trips with friends and family next year. I already have one trip scheduled for Hungary, Austria and Germany with my brother and I want to add more. I hope this trip and others lead to plots and stories for me, although what I learned about myself was almost worth more. I made lovely new friends and my spirit to travel has only grown.

For Discussion:

1.) Would you like to share trips you’ve taken and would recommend?

2.) Where would you go if you could take the vacation of your dreams?

3.) Do you have a dream vacation for a trip you’d take as an avid reader or something geared for authors?

EVIL WITHOUT A FACE is a reissue of the first book in my Sweet Justice series, formerly published through HarperCollins. My version of Charlie’s Angels on steroids.

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