Building Creative Writing Ideas Guest Blog:
August 22, 2011
Crafting Your Opening:
The great American editor and publisher Sol Stein was once asked what he looked for when he began reading a new manuscript. He responded, “I want to fall in love.” The editor of such greats as Elia Kazan, James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas and Jack Higgins, Stein knew a thing or two about what would make a novel successful. He went on to say that if he did not love a character, a situation, or a premise within the fist few pages of a manuscript he would pass it on to someone else to consider. This is a wise thing for writers to remember. Today more than ever most readers lead busy lives and for many of them finding time to sink into a work of fiction is a luxury. Now, in the infancy of electronic self-publishing, competition for readers is intense. Creating an opening to our work that will engage the reader's interest and tantalize the imagination takes not only a devotion to craft but a willingness to engage with one's readers as never before. As a writer I believe that it is my responsibility to 1.) create an intriguing character, 2.) give that character a purpose that readers can resonate with, and 3.) invite my readers into a world they can be intrigued by, where they can spend time with a character or characters they care about.
"I want to fall in love..."
by Kathleen Valentine
It has been said that all great books are about the same thing – desire. The desire to get the girl, find out whodunnit, kill that white whale, find justice or love or purpose, win the war, or vanquish Voldemort. It doesn't always matter what the desire is but if the character who desires it is not suffused with yearning in a manner the reader can understand and relate to, they are probably not going to stick around for ±100k words. The sooner the author can seduce the reader into caring about a character and a character's quest, the more likely the reader is to keep reading.
My novel The Old Mermaid's Tale begins with this line, “In 1960 my hero was a sixteen-year old chess player named Bobby Fischer, not a sports figure of high regard in the coffee shops and bar rooms of Plainview, Ohio.” It is a pretty good opening line because it immediately tells us a few things – the narrator is young, she has aspirations beyond life in the town in which she lives, and it is 1960. That line also got my book a mention on the New York Times' web site the day Bobby Fischer died. A nice bonus. But as I was working on the opening chapter in which we meet Clair, a farm-girl determined to escape Ohio by going to college in a town bordering Lake Erie, I decided I wanted a hint of what was to come. Something dark and mysterious, something that mesmerizes and hints at what is waiting for her. So I added a page and a half prologue that begins:
"I saw her. At first it was the penumbra of red light surrounding the wine dark hair. My world had few beauties in it. Yes, there were the sunrises and sunsets, the moonlight trails across tropical waves, the sparkle of stars in Arctic seas. And women, too. Women had craved me but how can any man unravel the complexities of women’s cravings? I have laid them down and enjoyed it.”
These words are spoken by a character who doesn't show up until halfway through the book but, I hoped, it would provide enough intrigue to keep readers reading.
Each Angel Burns presented a different challenge. Unlike The Old Mermaid's Tale, which is told in the first person except for the prologue,Each Angel Burns is told in third person and it has a larger cast of characters. This is the first paragraph:
Every Thursday night the Wild Bunch met at The Arm Pit for the special and beers. Back in high school they had called themselves the Wild Bunch, now, thirty-some years later, Charlie Pikawski said they ought to be the Mild Bunch. The “bunch” had diminished, too. These days they were lucky to get six of them together. When Pete Black had time to drive from Boston he’d show up but Father Pete had just celebrated his silver anniversary as a Jesuit priest so his wildness was more of the mystical sort. In high school there were over a dozen of them but time took its toll. Tom Hoffman wrapped his GTO around a telephone pole before his twenty-first birthday. Rocco Scutelli hadn’t made it back from Vietnam. Ronnie Mayer succumbed to lung cancer a few years back.My intention was that readers would care about a bunch of guys who had been there for one another for over thirty years – both through the fun of hanging out together with beer and good food and through the tragedies of loss that are one of life's constants. Did I succeed? Only a reader can tell me that.Writing a book that anyone would want to read is a lot like making love. For it to be good it has to be a pleasurable experience for both the writer and the reader. It is my belief that if a writer isn't in love with his/her story, nobody else will be either. We seduce our readers with the passion of our words, we invite them in and say, “Take off your shoes, get comfortable, and stay awhile. I want to tell you a story. I want to make you fall in love.”
The Old Mermaid's Tale and Each Angel Burns, available from Amazon in paper or Kindle), two collections of short stories, a cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch, and a book on knitting lace shawls. She recently published a psychological horror novelette, The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic, for Kindle. Her web site is KathleenValentine.com and her blog is Parlez-Moi Blog.
From Kelvin's World
A special post featuring the author of Each Angel Burns, Kathleen Valentine
From Penelope Fletcher's Fierce Fiction Blog:
Author Interview with Kathleen Valentine
It's time to swoon! Romance. *lusty sigh* I have a great guest for you today. Here is my interview with Kathleen Valentine author ofEach Angel Burns;
Hello Kathleen, can you tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in central Pennsylvania and both of my parents were avid readers. From the time I was a kid I thought writing books had to be the most important thing that anyone could do just because my parents were such book lovers. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in art and spent most of my working life as a graphic artist. I did a lot of commercial writing but it wasn't until about 10 years ago that I started writing fiction. Most of my career I worked in the advertising and marketing departments of large corporations but in 2002 my brother died and I realized that I wasn't going to live forever. I left my job in an engineering firm and started a small graphic design business -- and I started writing. It's been a very good way of life for me, not as lucrative as the corporate world but much happier.
What are your thoughts on the saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words'? As a writer do you agree with this?
That's an interesting question and, of course, it is true. But what you have to remember is that with a picture those thousand words will describe what is going on in the imagination of the viewer. In writing, those thousand words belong to you. Actually, it would be rather an interesting exercise to write a thousand words describing a picture and then ask an artist to paint what your words evoked. It would be fascinating to compare what they paint to the painting that you described, wouldn't it?
If you could collaborate with another author, who would you choose and why?
I don't think I would. As part of my design business I work with a variety of authors and most writers have such a unique vision that it is hard to merge one's own vision with theirs. Even designing books for writers can be difficult if you can't let go of your own preferences and go with what the author wants. Some years back I worked with a man who was a commercial fisherman and lobsterman on a book he was writing about his life at sea. It was a big challenge because he was very attached to the book and I realized that, if the project was going to succeed, I had to take a back seat and only put my work in where he allowed it. I'm not sure I'd ever do that again.
What method of book promotion has worked best for you as an Indie?
Being very active on the internet, especially with my blog. I also use social media and discussion groups.
You have four eBooks out, with very positive reviews. I find this impressive, a strong backlist is key to being a successful Indie. Can you give us an overview of how your most recent release is going, and its storyline?
I have quite a bit of variety in my books. My two knitting books have been very successful, my cookbook/memoir has done okay but I tend not to promote my non-fiction. In fiction I have two novels and two collections of short stories.
My most recent novel is titled "Each Angel Burns". It is a story about three people, now entering their fifties who have come to big turning points in their lives. Gabe is a woodworker who is married with three grown daughters. Now that his kids are on their own he realizes that he and his wife have nothing in common. Peter is his best friend from childhood and is a Catholic priest. He is a brilliant, learned and devout man but back in college he fell in love with a woman he wanted to marry. She rejected him and he stayed in the seminary but now, thirty years later, she shows back up. Her name is Maggie and she is a sculptor and is trying to divorce her wealthy but abusive husband. She has purchased an abandoned convent on the Maine coast intending to turn it into a sculpture studio. For over a century there have been strange stories about mysterious goings-on there. Because of Peter she hires Gabe to help renovate the convent but very strange things are going on -- a very valuable statue of the archangel Gabriel disappears, her husband refuses to answer her calls and emails, and the bodies of murdered young women are washing up on the shores.... I hope that sounds interesting.
If I had to sum up your book covers in a word I would use 'graceful'. How did you come up with the designs?
Thank you. I love my book covers, too. As an artist I was always interested in collage and as a writer I realized that a good novel is like creating a collage. You pull together a bunch of seemingly disparate concepts (or images) and blend them artfully to create something new. My book covers are visual collages of the elements of the story inside.
Do you still nurture a hope to become traditionally published?
No, I don't think I would go that route at this stage. I had a few nibbles for The Old Mermaid's Tale but if I had gone with them I don't think it would still be in print. As an indie it can stay in print as long as I want it to.
Are there any new books you have coming out we should be on the lookout for?
I have three new books in various stages. Two of them are knitting books. One called "Knit Your Tail Off" is a collection of small lace projects. I hope to have it out by this fall. The second one is called Seaman's Scarves, Siren's Shawls and Stories. It is a collection of his'n'her coordinated shawls and scarves with a maritime theme. That's going to take more time. But my favorite project right now is my new novel, "Depraved Heart" which is about a former NFL football star who was convicted of the depraved indifference murder of his brother-in-law and served fifteen years in prison. He is now out on parole and is being reunited with his daughter who is the heir to a fabulous art collection. It is coming along quite nicely.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
A short while ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Valentine on my site. Now she is back to share her latest book with us: “The Old Mermaid’s Tale“, a story about redemption and the importance of stories in our lives.
Kathleen is the author of a collection of short stories, “My Last Romance and other passions”, and two novels, “The Old Mermaid’s Tale” and “Each Angel Burns”. She has also written “Fry Bacon, Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook – five generations of good eating”, a memoir/cookbook of memories and 400 recipes from a Pennsylvania Dutch childhood, and “The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps”, a collection of her own lace knitting designs. Some of her short stories are available in e-format from HeartThrobBooks.com and additional knitting patterns from KnitYourTailOff.com. She currently lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport, and is writing another novel, “Depraved Heart” and another knitting book, “Siren Shawls, Seaman’s Scarves and Stories”.
Here is a sample from her book:
(The story is set in the 1960s. Clair has left her rural home to go to college but comes back to be her best friend’s maid of honor at her wedding.)
(The story is set in the 1960s. Clair has left her rural home to go to college but comes back to be her best friend’s maid of honor at her wedding.)
The day of Mary Beth’s wedding dawned hot and steamy. By noon the thermometer on the back porch read ninety-two degrees and the humidity wasn’t far behind. I sat on the end of my bed wrapped in towels fresh from a shower and contemplated the god-awful netted contraption I was going to have to squeeze into and spend the entire day in. Being the maid of honor at least I was spared the cotton candy pink that Mary Beth’s five bridesmaids had to endure. But the ceremony seemed endless and the reception at the Grange Hall was hot, loud, and crowded. By the time Mary Beth had tossed her bouquet, which I avoided catching, I had a pounding headache and slipped outside for some fresh air.
“You sure look pretty in that getup, Clair.”
I turned to find Howie Goetz looking awkward and miserable in his groomsman’s white tuxedo behind me. He had removed the tie and jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Against the snowy white of the shirt his bulky arms and throat were dark and gleaming.
I nodded. “Thanks. You look nice too, Howie.”
He shuffled struggling for something to say. Small talk had always stumped Howie. “So, you doin’ okay up there at that college?”
“Yes. I like it very much.” It was impossible not to like Howie. We had dated on and off through most of our junior and senior year. Not going steady like Mary Beth and Ray or most of the other high school sweetheart couples but Howie was easy-going and he made me laugh.
“I think about you a lot.” He was looking down. I wasn’t sure whether it was shyness or a sneaky way of keeping an eye on my breasts.
Long shadows from the poplar trees along the drive cast the side of the old Grange building into shadow and the band inside was playing a slow, sultry rendition of Return to Me. Just what I needed, I thought.
“Mary Beth says you’re doing well working in your Dad’s business.” I didn’t know what to say.
He moved closer and stretched out a finger to touch the sweetheart roses in the corsage pinned at the waist of my gown. “It’s okay. You look so sexy. Like you did the night of the senior prom, remember that?”
“Yes. Only I wore blue.”
“I remember. I got you the flowers you said you liked, the ones that smelled so nice.”
“Gardenias, it was perfect.”
“Yeah.” He was moving closer and he slipped his hands around my waist. I had to admit—he smelled good.
“There ain’t any other girls around here that can hold a candle to you, Clair.” He pulled me close and his mouth was inches from mine. I felt myself shivering despite the heat. He felt it too. “You like me, don’t you, Clair?” His lips touched mine before I could answer.
Howie was a good kisser. I hadn’t kissed that many boys but one thing I remembered was that of the boys I had kissed I had liked kissing Howie the best. I hadn’t been kissed by him or anyone else in a long time. And there was that wonderful familiarity of him. I found it easy to slip into his arms and let him take control. For the first time all summer my mind was quiet and my body relaxed. The air grew cooler and the fragrance of cut grass and long ago gardenias wafted around us. As I melted into Howie’s body and sweet kisses I let go of all the puzzles and contradictions that seemed to have haunted my summer. His tongue slipped between my lips and I answered with a flicker of my own. His big, work-roughened hands moved over the bare skin of my back and shoulders. He moved one hand slowly up my spine and neck and began pulling pins from my French twist. My hair spilled down around my shoulders and I slipped my arms around his neck and surrendered to the loveliness of it all.
“Oh, baby,” he murmured. “I sure missed you.”
I don’t know how long we stayed there, our mouths locked together, but it was delicious and I was loving it. Suddenly I heard a chorus of giggles and Mary Beth said, “I knew it. I knew it. I knew you two would get back together at my wedding!”
Surrounded by a bevy of cotton candy pink bridesmaids she stood in the doorway in a cream-colored linen Jackie Kennedy sheath and matching pillbox hat. Howie and I pulled apart and both stood annoyed, embarrassed, and frustrated.
“Mary Beth, we’re not…”
Howie looked at me. “We’re not what?”
I was trapped. “We’re not getting back together exactly. We just…”
She giggled again. “Oh, I know what you are ‘just’ doing. Now come inside so you can send me away on my honeymoon and then you two go right back to what you were ‘just’ doing.”
I looked at Howie. He was watching me with anxious, besotted eyes and I knew I had made a mistake. A big mistake.
Rosie was right. Do any of us know better when it comes to love?
That night was wretched, I couldn’t sleep. In my head I knew that loving Howie would mean living a life that I was desperate to get away from. But his mouth and hands and arms had felt so good. Alone in my bed the longing for his touch was painful. I thought briefly about asking him to come to the city with me—or to go anywhere away from farms and near cool waters. But I knew Howie could never do that. It seemed unfair that Howie could be so desirable when everything he wanted in life was not. I had to get back to Chesterton, and fast, before I ruined my life over a few delicious kisses.
© 2011, Steven R. Drennon. All rights reserved.
From Steven R. Drennon's "Adventures In Writing:
Interview with Kathleen Valentine
From Jennifer Hudock's The Inner Bean:
Author interview: Kathleen Valentine
From seARTS e-blast, February 25, 2011:
Member Profile of the Week: Kathleen Valentine
What is your medium?
I'm a writer -- both a novelist and non-fiction writer. I currently have 2 novels, 2 collections of short stories, 1 book on knitting, and 1 cookbook/memoir in print.
How long have you been an artist?
I've been a writer for most of my adult life but began publishing regularly about seven years ago.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Probably the thing that interests me most is good people caught in impossible situations. That seems to be the dynamic that inspires most of my writing. I'm fascinated by people who are basically good, decent, honorable people who suddenly find themselves, often through no fault of their own, in absolutely impossible circumstances. Whenever a tale of that sort starts stirring in my brain I know sooner or later I'll have to write about it.
What else would you like us to know?
I think being a novelist is the highest calling of all the arts. Novelists, alone among artists, have changed the world. I heard a story that when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe he said, "So you're the little lady who started this great big war." Her novel changed this country -- like Dickens' Tale of Two Cities and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. That is heady company -- something to aspire to be worthy of.
Where can we find your work?
From The Inner Bean Blog, February 7, 2011
Today I’d like to welcome literary romance author Kathleen Valentine to The Inner Bean. Kathleen is the author of two novels, The Old Mermaid’s Tale and Each Angel Burns, a knitting book and she recently launched her very first cookbook/memoir: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family and Friends Cookbook. After you’ve taken some time to read about Kathleen’s decision to go indy, I hope you’ll check out her official website and Amazon author’s profile, follow her on Twitter and pay her a visit on Facebook. You can also subscribe to her blog, Parlez Moi, where she shares her thoughts on books, writing, art and life in America’s oldest seaport. Thank you for joining us, Kathleen… take it away!
If I Can Do It For Others, I Should Do It For Me
by Kathleen Valentine
Unlike a lot of other writers who decide to publish their books independently, I came at the decision to publish my own book sideways. I had been writing for years and had work published in newspapers magazines and anthologies. I had also written my first novel, The Old Mermaid’s Tale, which was with an agent who said he loved it. I had recently left the corporate world where I worked in the graphic design departments of several high-tech and energy companies and started my own small design business. One of the first jobs I received was from a local woman who anted me to design a book of poetry for her friend.
Designing and publishing that book was my first experience with publishing and it lead to more. I started my own little publishing business which I called Parlez-Moi Press. I designed several art books for a local arts organization and then a collectors guide to a popular line of clocks. All the while my novel was languishing in the hands of yet another agent who said it was “brilliant” but didn’t seem to be doing much to sell it.
A few years went buy and I was working with a local fisherman here in Gloucester to edit, design and publish his memoir of his life as a lobsterman. In the mean time I got my novel back, the agent said he loved it but it was a hard sell because “a historical novel set on the Great Lakes in the sixties would be a hard sell”. Oh really? So, since I’d designed a number of books for other people and had learned the entire process of publishing – I’d even set up a web site at parlezmoipress.com – I decided my next client should be me.
Designing the book was quite a lot of fun, but I was well aware I needed to have it thoroughly proofed and edited if I was going to do this for my own book. Fortunately I belonged to a writers group of experienced authors and we decided to proof and edit for one another. It was a good experience and to this day I have only found four typos in my 130,000 word book. In 2006 The Old Mermaid’s Tale became a reality and I set about the business of marketing it. That’s an on-going challenge.
Since then Parlez-Moi Press and I have gone on to publish four more books including a book of original knitted lace designs (I’m an avid knitter in between times) which in the Top Ten best selling lace knitting books on Amazon for most of 2010. Recently all five of my books became Kindle books also and a second collection of short storieslove, murder, etc. is available for kindle only.
Marketing is always a challenge but I’m learning the ins and outs of Social Media Marketing and every month my sales figures increase. It’s an exciting experience because my books will stay in print as long as I want them to be in print and I have the satisfaction of knowing that their success is up to me. Thanks for reading.
Check out Kathleen Valentine’s books in print on Amazon: