Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A 15 Line Ripple

Every few weeks, I get an email with the first fifteen lines of an anonymous best seller. The idea is that I’m supposed to read the lines and decide if I was an agent (or editor) who’d received this submission, would I continue reading. And since the lines are anonymous, I’m not supposed to be swayed by the title or the author’s name. (Though, of course, you do know that normally it’s a NYT bestseller.)

Photo by David Croker, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check out the ripples!
 Most of the time, though not all, I would read further. Even books that aren’t in my genre preferences.

Before we ask why I’d keep reading, you might want to know why 15 lines (sentences). Why not the first chapter? It’s not to keep the email short. It’s not because of copyright issues. It’s not even to give action novels a leg up. It’s because most agents and editors decide within the first fifteen sentences whether or not they’re going to continue to read the novel. If you’re a writer, you have 15 lousy sentences to hook your fish. And that’s why so many novels start off in medias res or with a dead body or a cheating spouse—though I don’t believe that’s necessarily the answer. For example, I remember reading any opening to a book where the narrator was out mowing the yard in bikini (clearly the author had never had a mower kick up a rock at her) when a dead body fell from the sky. Now that’s a very bold, attention-getting opening. But really, how do you build tension after that?

And tension is the point. After reading lots of 15 sentences openings, I’ve noticed that they all have one thing in common, regardless of the genre...they are all very cleanly written and they all have a “ripple.”

Imagine an irenic lake. The surface is glass. This is what I mean by “cleanly written.” Every sentence is smooth—put together in the best way possible with the best choice of words. You hardly notice you’re reading. And then, the ripple. The glassy surface moves. A ring spreads out in the perfect pond. And you can’t help but think, “Is it a fish, is it a whale, or is it (wait for it) the Loch Ness monster?”

I suspect that’s what we as writers need to go for. You don’t need a body falling out of the sky. If the writing is strong and clean, a ripple is sufficient. The point of the ripple is to create tension. To show the reader that beneath the surface of this lake lurks something that will destroy the peace. It leaves the reader fretting, and it’s what drives him to the next fifteen lines. As the first ripple moves out, another begins, driving the reader to the next fifteen pages. And then, the next fifteen chapters.

And then, you have an audience.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Exotic Thriller

The Catch by Taylor Stevens

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Coming into a series in the middle is always a dicey proposition. I’d never read anything by Taylor Stevens and this is the fourth book in the Vanessa Michael Monroe series. But I could not resist the exotic setting of Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia. Not to mention hijacking and pirates.

The book did not disappoint. Michael is a complex character, nuanced and tough. She is a blend of spy-for-hire and language lyricist. The pace was excellent. And the details of life in East Africa made me feel like I was walking the dirt streets, watching for khat addicts and pickpockets.

But in a thriller, as important as character, pacing, and setting are, the book lives or dies on plot. This book lived, and lived well. Stevens tells a good yarn. There were enough twists, double crosses, and betrayals I found myself picking up the book even when I didn’t have time to read. Well done.

I’ll definitely be reading more of these books.

Author Bio for Taylor Stevens.

TAYLOR STEVENS is the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of The InformationistThe InnocentThe DollThe Catch, and the novella The Vessel. The series featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe has received critical acclaim and the books are published in twenty languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Born in New York State, and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade, Stevens was in her twenties when she broke free to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and is at work on the next Munroe novel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Image result for twitter iconYesterday was PitMad (Pitch Madness). It’s a Twitter based literary pitch festival, starting at 8am and running through 8pm ET. Basically, you pitch your novel on Twitter using the hashtag #PitMad and a genre tag (#YA for young adult, #WF for women’s fiction, etc.). Agents scroll through the tweets (i.e., Twitter posts) and if they’re interested in your novel, they “favorite” your tweet.

Anyone with a Twitter account can get involved by “retweeting” a tweet that they liked. So writers/readers get to put their two cents in too. (As one agent said, The next book you love might be here.) I know I retweeted a few excellent tweets. Strangers retweeted my tweets, and I even got a message from someone saying “I would totally buy your book.” J

Easy peasy. And loads of fun. Except for writing the Tweets. If you don’t use Twitter, the rub is that any tweet must be no longer than 140 characters—that includes spaces, punctuation marks, etc. And given the hash tags that were necessary for PitMad, you’re left with 130 characters. Now try summarizing an 80,000 word novel in what amounts to 20 words. We’re talking one sentence. Two if they’re short.

And Twitter doesn’t like repeat tweets, so you have to craft several tweets to avoid Twitter rejection. (Yes, you can do tricky stuff like move the hash tags to the beginning of the tweet.)

So the bottomline is you have to summarize your novel, including conflict, setting, and hook in one sentence. Gulp.

I dusted off a novel I’d shelved (which I really love) and crafted a few pitches. And some agents requested the novel. Squee! Here’s one of my pitches:

As WW2 takes Holland, a young mother must chose to love her missing husband, hide her Jewish niece, & embrace death to survive. #PitMad #WF (Exactly 140 characters.)

If you’re interested, you can go to Twitter and search for #PitMad and see what it’s like. If you’re a writer and want to participate, PitMads are held quarterly. The next one is scheduled for December 4. Even if your novel is ready, join the fun. Retweet your favorite pitches and see how the game is played.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Interview with Author Gina Holmes

Please welcome, novelist, Gina Holmes in the blog today.  Gina is the founder of popular literary site, She is a two-time Christy and ECPA Book of the Year finalist and winner of the INSPY, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award. Her books regularly appear on Christian bestseller lists.

Gina, tell us a little bit about your newest release, Driftwood Tides.

Driftwood Tides tells the story of an aging, alcoholic driftwood artist turned beach bum, Holton Creary, and young Libby Slater. Libby grew up with an absent father and a loving but cold, socialite mother. Leading up to her wedding, Libby and her groom-to-be go through genetic testing and she learns her blood type doesn’t match either of her parents. She confronts her mother and is reluctantly told that she’s adopted. She goes searching for her mother, Adele, only to find her husband, Holton Creary lying face down on the carpet of his Nags Head beach shack.

She lies about her real identity until she is finally found out. Holton does not welcome the news. He never knew the wife he had given saint status to had given up a daughter for adoption. Together the two search to find the truth about Adele, Libby’s father and themselves.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

At its heart, Driftwood Tides is really about discovering who we are, whose we are, where we belong and the need to accept and bestow forgiveness.

Why did you set the novel in Nags Head?

Oh, how I love that place! I’m not sure there’s a more peaceful setting in all the world. And the further out I get from civilization, the happier I am. I love the sand dunes, the untouched nature, the quaint towns. Just everything! (Well, except sand in my bathing suit maybe J)

You seem to have a recurring theme in your novels about absent fathers, if it’s not too personal, why do you think that is?

It is too personal, but I don’t mind answering (wink!) When I was 6 years old, I was packed up by my stepfather and driven to my father’s house. Overnight I had a new Mom, new sisters and brother, house and life. It was as traumatic an experience as I can imagine. There were few explanations that made sense to me and I missed my other family desperately. I think ever since I’ve been trying to settle some pretty deep-seated questions. Writing books is wonderful for that.

The novel you’ve written that seems to be a fan-favorite is Crossing Oceans, do you ever see yourself writing a sequel?

I love that book too. Makes me cry just thinking about certain scenes. I would love to write a sequel, prequel or off shoot stories. I love those characters dearly. I’m under contract for three different novels, so I’m not sure when I’ll have the time, but I’d love to explore Craig’s story and of course, Bella’s. I miss Mama Peg very much!

You’ve said that your favorite novel you’ve written is Wings of Glass. Why is that your favorite?

Well, for storyline, I think Crossing Oceans is the strongest. I think my writing in Wings of Glass was my best, plus when I was very young I watched my mother in one abusive relationship after another, and then two of my sisters. I had been there too, despite thinking I was better than that. I know the mindset that keeps a woman (or man) in a relationship like that and I wanted to give insight to those who don’t understand. I’ve received enough letters to know I did what I set out to do.

You’re originally from NJ but write all your novels from the South, why do you set your novels down South if you’re from up North?

Ha, you found me out! Yes, I was born and raised in NJ. As much as I love my friends and family, I am definitely more suited for the slower pace of the South. I’ve lived in Southern VA for half of my life and I plan to spend the rest of my life here if I can help it. I try to write books from settings that make me happy. So I write where I want to be. (Although, I’ve got to say, NJ food is amazing and you’ve got to love a boisterous NJ laugh!)

What do you like most about being a writer? Least?

Most, I like being able to have a platform to share lessons I’ve learned in my life that I know others would benefit from. And more than that, I just love to tell a good story.

Least, would be the unpredictability of the business. Sometimes it seems so random and the lack of control makes me uncomfortable sometimes. (Which is probably right where God wants me!)

Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

My advice is pretty much always the same. 1. Write. So many people want to have written but don’t actually do the work. 2. Get to a writers conference because there’s so much  you don’t know, that you don’t even know you don’t know. If you don’t you’ll be spinning your wheels for years, wasting valuable time. 3. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and buy yourself a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Then apply it. (Best money I ever spent!) 4. Join a good critique group and get a nice thick skin, ‘cause you’re sure going to need it!

If you could go back to the pre-published writer you were, knowing what you do now, what advice would you give her?

Well, I wouldn’t have told myself how many novels I’d write that would never see the light of day, because I would have given up. I wouldn’t have told myself how little money there is actually to be made or how lonely writing can sometimes be. I wouldn’t have told myself that I’d still have a day job with 4 novels out in stores, including 3 bestselling novels… okay, but that wasn’t your question… I would tell myself to relax. Some of this, most of this is, is out of your hands, and that’s okay. It’s not going to be at all what you think it is, but it’s going to be so much more. You won’t get rich, but you will touch lives. At the end of the day, that’s going to be exactly what will fulfill you.

Where can readers find your books and more about you?

Thanks for asking. My books are in B&N, BooksaMillion, Amazon, Lifeway, Parable, Family Christian and hopefully a good number of independent bookstores. You can find me at Thanks so much for hosting me!

Here are links to the e-book and paperback on Amazon.