Monday, April 27, 2015

First Lines? Just How Important are They?

I love my first line series (see here). I started it years ago because I read a book about the importance of first lines (see here) and since then there have been some doozies in the list. In preparing for this post I went back and read a bunch and there are some good ones out there in the past of this blog, and there are some real disappointments too.

Plus as a new writer, you hear so much about the need to hook the reader, to get them involved immediately in the story. But you know what I've found. It's not so much the first line, it's that first scene. It's like I said in my last post on the subject (see here), it's not so much that first line, it's the first scene, the writer's library and stock pile of good will with the reader, and the overall writing in general. A well written book will overcome a shotty first line. A back ground of great books will provide a lot of credibility to overcome a boring first line.

In terms of my own first lines, I have mixed reviews (see here). I'm happier with On the Edge in general than I am with Toe the Line, but I think the first line for On the Edge, and the opening scene is weaker than Toe the Line.

There is a specific fear, a state of panic really, that takes root within most people, parents particularly when they first discover that they've lost track of their child. It's the moment when a father loses sight of his son in a crowded food court, the second or two when a mother realizes that the little hand that belongs to her daughter that was holding her hand is no longer there. A flush of extreme anxiety with undertones of foreboding follow that first moment and are quickly replaced by hope. Hope that as the crowd parts he will see his son, or she will feel the little fingers reach up and wrap around her hand again. When that doesn't happen the panic becomes terror. My terror began half way into my Monday, six mile run. It was Georgia I missed first. 

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the protagonist finding what happened to Georgia.

In Toe the Line, the first line is reminiscent of Max Shulman and his "Bang bang bang bang" opening (see here).

"Go to hell, Wheeler." As last words go they were hardly what one would call poignant.

Sadly, I don't think that either first line would land on any lists of "Great First Lines" nor even on "Good First Lines." More sadly is the fact that I don't have a library of goodwill built up with my "fan club." All I have, I hope, is decent writing in one of the books and passable writing in the other. To say it precisely I have the following reviews. For On the Edge I received a review that stated:

Dick Hannah has created one fantastic novel. Simply put- I love it. There were a lot of plates spinning & he didn't drop any. What I'd thought would be a simple mystery novel became multiple novels in one: family drama, thriller, a little romance, inspirational- you name it! Fingers are crossed for a sequel. Five stars straight through- brilliant!

For Toe the Line the most scathing review stated:

When I read the synopsis this sounded like my kind of book, intriguing plot with a mystery to be solved. While the book did have these characteristics, at times I felt like I was reading an assignment in a high school English class. The scenery that Mr. Hannah created with his use of imagery was amazing. I felt as though I was in the Pacific Northwest as I read the book. His character development was scattered, at best. I agree with the other reviewer, in that Wynn drove me crazy! His character had much potential but his obsession with triathlons became quite old quickly. He lacked depth and was flat, whereas his ex-fiancee's character was fiery. The extreme personalities frustrated me several times throughout the story. Also, a few of the secondary characters could have been developed more. It would have provided the insight needed for the conclusion. I felt the premise of the story was good; I wish Mr. Hannah had expanded his storyline. He only touched the surface of what could have been a 5 star novel.

Yikes, right? So again, no credibility provided through Toe the Line. But regarding that first line stuff, see this review:

When I read the first page I was hooked. Usually, if I can't get into a book by the third page then I know I'm not going to get into it at all. 'Toe The Line' was an exceptional read right through to the end. At one point I THOUGHT I had well and truly nabbed the murderer, but then it twisted so I was caught off guard - which stunned me because I can usually catch the killer before the story ends (hence I was a bit cross with myself but pleased for Mr Hannah for making me as the reader think differently).

So, like I said, a great first line isn't the end all beat all by any means. It can help, but mostly it's great writing that's going to get the writer over the hump of readers acceptance and love for the work. What have I learned? First, although the first line and first scene are important for my next work, Vapor Trail, it's not what's going to win the battle. Taking that "writing is a road march" idea from several weeks ago (see here) it reminds me of a thirty-miler that we took in Fort Ord, California. We had a briefing the night before and one of of the more senior squad leaders talked about the importance of keeping your feet dry and clean,  . . . fresh socks, good boots, . . . that sort of thing. Then the next morning, bright and early we start off. We are winding our way through some foot hill trails and there's a ford through a stream that stops us cold just a mile or two into the five hour ordeal. Imagine that. A platoon of Spec Ops, Ranger, Paratrooper Bad-Asses stopped in the midst of our thirty-mile mission by a team leader who took the foot hygiene class so seriously that he stopped at a three inch deep puddle from a small stream. 

Eventually the platoon sergeant came along, yelled at us all for being ridiculous and strode through that puddle making as many big splashes as he could just to show how much he cared about his own foot care and we were back off. Still, bad start but great content. I'd much rather have that the alternative of a great start with a poor finish. So, for Vapor Trail I'm going to focus on that first line, but more of my focus will be on the work as a whole than just on that first few lines. I have a bit of credibility built up with the readers, no need to undercut that now.

As long as we are talking about my reviews, my favorite has to be this one about On the Edge. 

At first I hated Joe and didn't know if I was going to make it through the book. He seemed to be such a douche. But as the story began to unfold, I found that some of the douchery was really his own anxieties taking hold. From that point forward I wanted to learn more about this guy and what makes him tick. The novel is full of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. The story line is realistic and detailed. I am sure the author's military background made all the difference for me in the flashback scenes. Many times I will gloss over these types of things (military stories just aren't my cup o' tea) but Hannah truly painted a picture with his words that keep me intrigued.

There is a little bit of everything in this book. Suspense. Mystery. A little taste of romance. And pretty deep character development packed into a fairly short novel. It was a really good read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys "who done it?" mystery/thriller books.

As I said before (here) . . . who can't help but love a positive review that includes the term "douchery."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Miss My Writing Bud

So it has come to my attention that I need to discuss a personal issue here. Generally I don't like to do that. I like to keep this forum for thoughts on writing and reading and try to keep the personal at arms length. But as savvy, long-time reader know, I do mix the fam in every now and then (see here and here). Still, I generally try and find a way to bring it back to writing and I'm sure I'll find a way to do that here as well. All that being said, Killian, my best friend for almost fifteen years, who has made his way into this blog a couple of times (see here), passed away on Wednesday morning.

There would be several novels that could be written from this experience. I've managed helping to put a dog to sleep, but this time. . . Killian's passing was unlike any of the others I've been a part of. Good and bad. From the unexpected and surprising warm hug on my doorstep from the vet as he left, one that I didn't know I needed but obviously he realized I did, to the complex and sometimes difficult dealings with close friends and family. There has to be a novel in there somewhere about how it's good to know who you got in your fox-hole.

Or there is the "Marley and Me" style novel that recounts the life of a great fellow like Killian. One that brings up his wonky, over-the-line disgusting bad deeds, to his warm-hearted and gentle great ones. Mostly I'm sure in a James Herriot kind of way I would bring up how he would thump heavily at my side as I typed away on my novels, always seeming to search me out like a latent, somewhat running-behind-schedule shadow. Or perhaps how he grunted and groaned with satisfaction as a writer's toe reached down to give his ear a scratch every now and then.

But I think the most startling novel would be the one regarding the reaction to his death of those who were closest to him. How the almost nine year old in the house, who I had to tell to set a good example, couldn't contain himself from rushing inside to see if Killian was still home, and let just a few tears slip when he finally realized the bad news, but who bucked himself up and matured what seemed like decades right before my eyse. How the five year old wailed with grief for over an hour, tragically and completely beside himself in his sadness when he heard the news that the companion who had been by his side his entire life would no longer be around for long walks or to help him go to sleep at night. And how the four year old, still not quite sure what was going on, retreated into his shell to wait out the difficulty he saw his big-brother hero going through.

Somewhere amid all of this is a novel just waiting to be set free. But for me, I'll just miss having the fellow around when I'm writing.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

First Came Miss Cooper

Perhaps I have fallen victim to a scam, but I went and bought an application that is suppossed to help me with key word and SEO analysis for my book.

A few weeks back Elizabeth Cooper wrote about getting the most out of SEO (see here). I realized that I do very little SEO for my little blog here. I count on word of mouth, on Google+ and other (even more) passive aspects of advertisement to get my blog out into the main stream of writing and publishing culture.

Then a friend of mine at work wrote to tell me that I "suck at SEO." This was a taunt that I just could not condone. Not from this (so-called) friend.

Taking these two things into account I resolved to make the most of SEO, and that's where Kindle Samurai comes into the picture. Kindle Samurai promises "High Traffic Keywords" and "Keywords that have low Competition" among other things in order to help drive more sales of your books on Amazon and Kindle.

So far I have barely scratched the surface and I'm a tad worried I've been conned. So, in order to make lemonade out of the lemons I intend to give this audience a detailed look into the functionality and the capability and my results from using the application.

If any of you have any history with Kindle Samurai, I would love to hear how things when with you and get your thoughts. If you have no history, and want to know if it can be used to help tweak SEO for your books, . . . STAY TUNED!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Efficasatiousness of Made Up Words

Other than the First and Last Lines series (see here and here) my favorite little series, and one that is neglected lately, is the Word Smith series (see here).

This series started when I started noticing that my kiddo's were experts at forcing the evolution of the English language. Where would society be without "Movie-ater" instead of theater . . . or "Jumpoline" instead of trampoline. And who could forget "Heli-hopter" for helicopter.

And yes, I understand that this is a pet project for me. So few people find what other folks kiddo's do as cute as the parent finds them. Not only that, but the picture of the Fiction Rule of Thumb that I show below (that I lifted from proves that there is very little success in using any of these in my writing. But yesterday I commented about my new friend Andy Goldman's post about indoctrinating his kiddos into the Star Wars world (see here), and it made me start thinking about my own kiddos.

Today I have two. First I have one from our little foster kiddo, A. The first time he was with us he couldn't speak. Now, he's a speaking fool! He's constantly saying things. He said something the other day that made me wonder how many pearls of word wizardry were in his little head that whole time he was quiet.

Dick: "You guys want to watch a movie?"

P and C: "YEAH!" (with A echoing his brother's sentiment just moment after)

Dick: "Which one?"

P and C: "Despicable Me Two!"

A: "YEAH! Pickle Me Too!"

The other one came from P who is almost nine. He was explaining to me his state testing and the types of questions he had to answer as a part of the test.

Dick: "So all you had to do was add numbers?"

P: "Yeah, it was simple."

Dick: "Seems too easy for a Math Wizard like you."

P: "Well we did have to multiplicate as well."

Who needs "multiply" and "multiplication" when you can use a word like "Multiplicate!" You heard it here first folks. Soon you'll hear it everywhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FLOTD (First Line of the Day)

I was all set to write about the first line of the book I'm reading now and was going to compare it to the first line in my own books, Toe the Line (here) and On the Edge (here) so went through my blog looking for the posts where I dissected my own first lines.

Couldn't find em.

May not have ever done it.

That's a problem. Here I have (what I think is) a wonderful series all about first lines (see here). It has shown me that first lines although important are perhaps not as important as many believe. I think it's proven to me that having a good quality product and reputation is more important than a super-fantastic first line. But without those other two qualities a first line that knocks the reader back a step can be a pretty good substitute.

All that being said, count on a post in the coming days and or weeks on my own first lines. What will be really interesting is reading the first line of my newest novel, Vapor Trail, to see if I've learned anything about first lines from this series.

I love reading Forsyth novels and he's had some doozy first lines (see here). This one . . . not so much.

It was the owner of the small convenience store on the corner who saw it all. At least, he said he did. 

He was inside the shop, but near the front window, rearranging his wares for better display, when he looked up and saw the man across the street. The man was quite unremarkable and the shopkeeper would have looked away but for the limp. He would testify later that there was no-one else on the street. 

The day was hot beneath a skim of grey cloud, the atmosphere close and muggy. The hysterically named Paradise Way was as bleak and shabby as ever, a shopping parade in the heart of one of those graffiti-daubed, exhausted, crime-destroyed housing estates that deface the landscape between Leyton, Edmonton, Dalston and Tottenham.

Forsyth, Frederick - The Veteran

Mostly scene setting. "He was inside the shop" . . . . "The man was quite unremarkable" . . . "The day was hot" . . . not really the type of thing that grabs the reader by the throat and compels them to know more. Saying "the day was hot beneath a skim of grey cloud," is hardly as profound as "The November sky over Manhattan was chain mail, raveling into steely rain." (see here).

This is what I meant by having a good quality product and a worthwhile library as a foundation. Forsyth certainly has the history. So far he's missed the first line and at the moment since the first part of the book reads like a particularly boring episode of Law and Order (the Ben Stone era, not the Jack McCoy era), he's taken two strikes and the next pitch is on the way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Power of the Writing Habit

There is a lot of great articles both on this blog (see here), and on other blogs (specifically here and here) that discuss ways to overcome writer's block.

This springs to mind because this blog's primary "field correspondent" Kristi Jones, is off at a writer's retreat and is kicking ass at knocking out her word count (see @authorkristi on Twitter for a play-by-play).

But I wanted to discuss habits.

 I read a book once called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (see here and here). It was a great book, and invariably, like most non-fiction books I try to read, I failed to complete it. In the book,  Duhigg tells many many stories about how habit is more important in lifestyle than any other one thing. Not only that but breaking the habit that leads to poor choices is more important than stopping the poor choice cold turkey.

One of the more memorable stories was about an older gentleman who suffered a severe brain injury. He was left without the ability to function normally in life. He always had to have a nurse or care-taker after the injury occurred. He many have even been a university professor prior to the injury (I suppose a re-read is in order). Nevertheless, the old guy would go for walks every afternoon. He couldn't get out of bed by himself, or brush his teeth, or make coffee, or any of the daily ins and outs of regular life. But he would go out the door and walk around the block every day without fail.

It was a habit he had before the injury and it was one that he kept afterward. If he was stopped while on his walk and asked about why he had decided to go on a walk, he wouldn't even be able to tell you. As I recall he didn't even realize that he was on a walk. It was just something that he did cause it was habit. I have a dog that does the same thing. I will start Killian on a walk and he’ll just go on and walk around the block by himself and eventually find himself at our backdoor waiting to be let in. It’s autopilot.

Bully for Kristi for kicking ass at the writer’s retreat. And could this could be sour grapes if only cause I would love the chance to take off for a writer’s retreat (gotta love those “professional” writers), but I think my writing has more to do with habit than anything else.

I get into the habit of writing and that’s what keeps me writing. The more I write the more I think about my novel and the more I want to write. If I wake up on weekends and write, then I keep waking up on weekends to write. If I write at night then I keep writing at night. Whenever something gets in the way of that habit, be in baseball games for the kiddo, or an interesting show at night, then BOOM the chain is broken and the habit is lost. For me it’s that quick. I have to go back out there and re-establish the habit if I want it back.

It’s the quick fall off of the habit that is my Achilles heel. I don’t think I’m an addictive type of person. I smoked for a while as a kid, then I came home from Europe and I stopped. Just stopped. I dipped tobacco in the Army. When I got out of the Army I stopped dipping. I wanted to lose weight so I stopped eating meat and cheese and milk and eggs. I want to lose weight so I stop drinking. Stopping things is just that easy to me. I just stop.

I wish that I had a more addictive personality where I couldn't get away from my writing, even to watch a nine year old pitch for the first time in a baseball game. I have a novel that is two thirds the way done right now just waiting for me to get back into the habit of writing. Can you just imagine how terrific it would be to be like that walk around the block fella or Killian and just BOOM find yourself sitting in front of your computer knocking out your novel and not even realize your doing it. 

Still, I’m jealous of the writer’s retreat . . . that’s a habit I could get used to.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest Post: Your Book Cover Design by Michelle Rene Goodhew

Today’s guest blogger is Michelle Rene a freelance cover designer and illustrator from Northwest Washington. Michelle is published in six genres and allows her creative diversity shows in my various works. Some of her illustrations were previously published in Creative Review magazine, as well as a few of her cover designs. 

Your Book Cover Design

As a designer, my best advice is that you do not create your own book cover. Homemade book covers tend to look homemade. The result would most likely be an amateur cover with what the public will perceive as an amateur book. But if you are still interested in designing your own cover, I have included a list of the most helpful video tutorials at the end of this article.

When it comes to book covers, they are the first sales point of your book. You do not want to display a b-rated or homemade cover because it will suggest the value of your book. It is highly recommended that you find a professional designer. There are hundreds of cover designers out there, what you are looking for is a great portfolio full of unique designs.

The Basics

You can expect to pay a median range of $500 for your cover design, as high as $750 or as low as $200. Hiring an illustrator could cost you considerably more and then a designer will still need to arrange the layout and font design. A contract should be agreed upon and typically a down payment of 50% of the total design costs will need to be paid up-front.

• The Concept

Before you approach your designer you should create a brief that the designer can work from, and most professional designers will want to read your book in order to create your specific design. If they don’t, you may want to look somewhere else for your needs.

Before you get started on creating a brief for a cover design you need to decide on the message you want to send.

Ask yourself: What is the book’s single-minded value proposition?
What is the target audience of readers looking for – Inspiration and Aspiration, Success and Achievement, Knowledge and Power, Romance and Passion, Murder and Revenge?
Boiling it down to the motivation, incentive and emotion will help you generate tons of ideas or visual metaphors that determine the imagery, choice of color palette, typography, and layout that help your designer capture what the book is all about.

This is your chance to brainstorm and maybe make a collage of things that appeal to you.

• The Brief

You will need to provide a cover design brief. Take a look at what the designer needs to know.

Points to include:

1. The Concept

2. The style

There are, broadly, 3 types of cover to choose from:

3. You need to consider:

• The theme or key image from the book that you want to use on the cover.
• Is there a particular character or scene from your novel you would like to show on the cover?
• Should there be a dominant color?
• Are there any visual clues such as badges or colors that will identify the content?
• Is the book designed to be part of a series? Does it need to match existing books?

Please provide as full a brief as you can.

• The Design

Your designer should offer you two or three concepts to choose from.

The cover design should generate excitement. Grab attention. The main goal of every book cover is to generate excitement. The cover is one of the best tools in your marketing arsenal. That’s why you should create something that will stop people in their tracks and evoke interest. The book cover is the hook that will help you to promote your book.

So many books today have a repetitive design style, they are copies of other books in their genre and therefore have a hard time standing out in the crowd. A professional designer will invest time in their work for you and should provide you with something unique.

The book cover should show what genre the book is. A really good book cover “talks” to its readers through choice of typography, imagery and metaphor.


A great cover design engages the viewer by drawing them in with a design style that speaks for the story. Branding the author is imperative, the designer is responsible for presenting the books image as a first impression to the public, special thought and time should go into font, color scheme and layout.

Book Cover Design Tutorials

Create a Realistic Book Cover in Photoshop
How To Create a Retro Style Superman Book Cover - Visit this Photoshop tutorial to get some basic skills in book cover design.
How to Design a Book Cover in Photoshop - YouTube is full of different Photoshop tutorials. This one of the simplest but still useful.
Designing Book Covers Tutorial (Advanced) - This is advanced level video tutorial, but why not have a try?
Create Character Driven Book Cover Art Using Illustrator and Photoshop – Part 1 - Learn how to create the “Let’s Go To Monster School!” book cover.
Dirty Design: Create a Grungy Thriller Book Cover

About Michelle

My name is Michelle Rene and I am a freelance cover designer and illustrator from Northwest Washington. I also contract through several publishers as a cover designer and illustrator. I am published in six genres and my creative diversity shows in my various works. Some of my illustrations were previously published in Creative Review magazine, as well as a few of my cover designs. I am an artist and have a true passion for my work.

As a designer I feel that hearing the heart of the story from you, the author, the passion you express for your creation fuels my creativity and design process. I want my authors to feel that my illustration and design is the vision they hoped for in representing their work to the public. I want to pull potential readers in with the cover design. My design has to stand out from the rest as a unique work of art. As an illustrator and designer, I combine my services to create a unique look that only your book will have.

What are you currently working on and how can I be of service to you?

Come take a look at my artwork and designs, check out my variety of services offered on my pricing page, you will find my rates to be competitive. I also design social and website banners, posters for book tours, bookmarks, book teasers, and business cards, all for your book marketing efforts. Review my testimonials and discover some of the people I work with.

I look forward to hearing from you :-)

Michelle Rene Goodhew
Book Cover Designer & Illustrator
USA 360-854-8610