Wednesday, August 21, 2019

...and start all over again (some Big News today!) by Cathy Ace

Two jobs for me today - answer the "set question" and tell you about a bit of news...

So, news first: over the summer I've negotiated the reacquisition of all the rights to my Cait Morgan Mysteries (except English language print, which remains with the original publisher). This means I can now relaunch the digital versions of all eight novels. The first Cait Morgan Mystery was published in 2012 - that's seven years ago (where does the time go?) and the eighth came out in 2016. The books have, necessarily, been given a great deal less attention than new publications by the publisher, and I felt I could give them the attention they deserve. So - to "relaunch" the books - I am offering the first in the series, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE - at a flash-sale price of $2.99 USD (or your local currency equivalent) on amazon, Kobo and Nook digital platforms. If you haven't "met" Cait Morgan yet, this might be the best time to do it...here's a handy-dandy link to allow you to access, sample and buy the book, should you feel so inclined. Thank you! (Link: click here.)

Now that the Blatant Self Promotion is done, here comes the real stuff...

Craft: Readers often read the opening few lines or page to a book before deciding to buy. What makes an opening sentence stand out above the rest? Give examples of openings, including your own, that you believe work brilliantly. Any tips or lessons learned for new authors about what to avoid on that first page?



I LOVE bookstores...and did even before they sold my books!
I’ve been a reader for a lot longer than I’ve been an author, and I certainly read the opening of a book to work out if it’s going to engage me. So, yes, I expect potential readers of my work to do the same…and it terrifies me! I am keenly aware of how critically important it is that the opening few pages of a book allow the reader to “sample” the book they are making a decision about, so the opening has to be not only engaging but also true to the rest of the book, because if they buy (and buy into) the book in its first few pages then the style/tone cannot really change after that because they will be (rightly) annoyed…no one wants to have a bait and switch scam run on them. That being said, I am a reader who likes to sample a couple of chapters rather than a couple of paragraphs; I find that amazon’s “Look Inside” feature is just about perfect, and I cannot recall buying a book I haven’t “Looked Inside” before purchase/borrow from the library (even if I order a print copy through my local bookstore, though it's much more common for me to now read on my Kindle).

In terms of crime fiction, Martina Cole’s debut novel Dangerous Lady drew me in with its opening chapter which is a heart-rending, no-holds-barred description of the start of a new life within a poor family in 1950 (OK, I’ll admit this might have something to do with the birth of the eponymous character taking place exactly 10 years before my own!) link here:  https://amzn.to/2KMHsR5 Openings have a LOT of work to do! 

The new Martina Cole book comes out this October...I can hardly wait! 

Using my own work as an example, I’ll share with you the opening chapters of my debut novel, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue. I realize it’s not really for me to say, but I do think they capture the essence of the character of Cait Morgan, as well as providing a total, and pretty-quick-out-of-the-gate, traditional murder mystery set-up: here’s a link, but the first two paras are below. https://amzn.to/2Kvw2CC

This book's just $2.99 USD right now....HINT, HINT!!
The chatter among the dinner guests was bubbling along nicely, when Alistair Townsend suddenly clutched at his chest, made gurgling sounds and slumped into his bowl of escargots. Reactions around the table varied: his wife told him to stop messing about, one of his guests looked surprised, one a little concerned, and a couple were quite cross. All of which led me to suspect that “How to react when one’s host drops dead at the dinner table” is not tackled in any modern etiquette books.
    I was the only one who leapt up, rushed to Alistair’s side, and shouted that someone should call an ambulance. Silly of me, really. Any fool could have seen he was dead before his face hit the garlic butter. I felt I had to do something, because everyone else was glued to their seats, agreeing with Tamsin Townsend that her husband was putting on some sort of attention-seeking show for us all.

I must emphasize that it's NOT just an opening sentence that grabs me. I need more than that, but that doesn't stop me from working “extra hard” on the opening of a book (there’s no such thing really…writing every sentence of every book is hard!). Then I rewrite it more than any other part of the book. I think I’m right when I say it’s always been the most-rewritten and the last-to-be-finalized part of every book I’ve written. Most recently I reworked the opening to my latest novel of psychological suspense, The Wrong Boy, many, many times. Here are some of the versions of the opening paragraphs I worked through – from what went out to early-blurbers to what finally appeared:

Version #10?) End-August (ARC)

John Watkins pulled back the heavy bedroom curtain, and scraped a hole in the frost on the inside of the glass with his thumbnail. ‘Somebody’s lit a fire over on the hill above the village.’

His wife tutted her annoyance at him letting in the cold, but didn’t bother to say anything – there was no point. ‘All the way up there? Surely not.’

‘They have. Come and take a look.’ Brass rings clattered as John dragged the worn brocade aside to expose more frozen panes.

Dilys gripped her steaming mug of tea as she shuffled across the room to peer out. The moon hung in the coal black sky, its light glistening on the sea. She turned her gaze to the hillside, which rolled to meet the beach below. ‘They’re up by the old RAF listening station, by the looks of it.’

V15?) End-October (CORRECTED PROOF)

John Watkins hooked open the gap in the bedroom curtains and wiped away the frost feathering the inside of the glass. ‘I thought that’s what I could see. Somebody’s lit a fire on the hill above the village.’

His wife tutted her annoyance at him letting in the cold. ‘All the way up there? Surely not.’

‘They have. Come and take a look.’ Brass rings clattered as he dragged the worn brocade aside. He breathed hard on a couple of panes to clear them.

Dilys gripped her steaming mug of tea as she shuffled across the room. The moon hung in the coal black sky, its light glistening on the sea. She peered up at the hillside, which rolled to meet the inky beach below. ‘They’re up by the old RAF listening station, by the looks of it.’

V18?) Mid-November (‘PROBABLY’ FINAL)

John Watkins hooked open the gap in the bedroom curtains, and wiped the inside of the frost-feathered glass with his pajama sleeve. ‘I thought that’s what I could see. Somebody’s lit a fire on the hill above the village.’

His wife tutted her annoyance at him letting in the cold. ‘All the way up there? No.’

‘Yes. Come and take a look.’ Brass rings clattered as he pulled at the worn brocade. He breathed hard on a couple of panes to clear them.

Dilys gripped her steaming mug of tea with both hands as she shuffled across the room. The moon hung in the coal black sky, and glistened on the coal black sea. Her eyes shifted from the sparkling surf to the inky hillside above. ‘That’s up by the old RAF listening station, by the looks of it.’

V20?) Definite FINAL FINAL!

John Watkins hooked open the bedroom curtains and wiped the frost-feathered window with his pajama sleeve. ‘I thought that’s what I could see. Somebody’s lit a fire on the hill above the village.’

His wife tutted her annoyance at him letting in the cold. ‘All the way up there? No.’

‘Yes. Come and take a look.’ Brass rings clattered as he pulled at the worn brocade. He breathed hard on a couple of panes to clear them.

Dilys gripped her steaming mug of tea with both hands as she shuffled across the room. The moon hung in the coal black sky, and glistened on the coal black sea. Her eyes shifted from the sparkling surf to the inky hillside above. ‘That’s up by the old RAF listening station, by the looks of it.’

AS you can see, getting the opening “right” is a painful, and slow process – for me, in any case. If you’d like to read more, here’s a link: https://amzn.to/33vii25

Other authors have also captured me with a few pages and have then delighted me through multiple volumes. I could give you a long list of them, but I think that’s missing the point – which is that an author either speaks to the reader in question, or they don’t; they and the reader are in tune with each other, or they aren’t. Yes, an author might write a book or two that doesn’t “click” for even a dedicated fan, but we forgive them that, because they “come back to us” with another title.

Thus, to sum it up, I think what I’m referring to here is what reviewers call “voice”; the “voice” of the author is what we react to – positively or negatively – within the reading of a chapter or so. We know by then whether we’re going to be happy to listen to that voice telling us its tales. I have tried reading books that have sold in their millions, or won many awards,  to find I’m not drawn in at all, while I have fallen for voices that have reached far too few readers and have received too few plaudits. It’s absolutely a matter of personal taste. So I won’t say “try this list” or “don’t bother with these” because it will be very much a hit and miss affair. Instead, I’ll urge you to use the technique of reading a couple of chapters of the work of authors whose work you don’t know, hoping you’ll find a voice that reaches you in a way that makes you want to listen.

Finding a new author whose work you enjoy is the happiest discovery I can imagine – please venture forth to a local library, bookstore…or even the “Look Inside” feature on amazon…and have at it! Happy dipping in!

If you'd like to find out more about Cathy's work, you can click here. 


2 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Congratulations on getting your rights back, Cathy. And I agree with you about the Look Inside feature. I use that all the time. It's the closest (electronically) that we have to being in a bookstore and being able to browse the first few pages of a book. It really helps.

Cathy Ace said...

Oh yes, Look Inside allows me to browse from my laptop, even if I then phone my local lovely Indie bookstore and ask them to get me the print version...though I do love my Kindle (and I have a Kobo to allow me to borrow e-books from the library!)