Monday, June 1, 2009

Steinbeck, Austin and O'Neill...except for the stuffed mouse

My book Nosy in Nebraska is releasing
In honor of that
I am giving away one free copy to one commentor so this is no time to lurk.
Nosy in Nebraska is a departure for me.
It’s a cozy mystery romantic comedy. Three shorter books all set in the same small Nebraska town.
Nosy in Nebraska contains:
Of Mice. . .and Murder;
Pride and Pestilence;
The Miceman Cometh.
Very similar to the classic works of John Steinbeck, Jane Austin, and Eugene O’Neill, only with murder, romantic comedy and a giant stuffed mouse.
But believe it or not, that's not what I'm going to talk about today.

I'm going to talk about dealing with wasted days and wasted night.
Wow, country western song alert.
I’m better now, but time was I wrote for a long time before I got to the beginning of a book.

I’m going to talk today about how to pick your beginning, but also how to not let it drive you nuts when you get told, often by a contest judge, that your book hasn’t started yet on page fifteen.

Cheryl Wyatt calls the beginning an ‘inciting incident’ and I like that. Incite is a word you hear attached to riot. Rodney King's beating incited a riot.

That’s what you want for your beginning. Something big and fast paced and high stakes. But I used to write along telling my story and at some point it would all sort of click and, especially when it came to characters, I’d suddenly find a key to them and the character would come to life and be three dimentional and now this REAL character would severely affect the story.
It wasn’t uncommon for that CLICK to come at around page ONE HUNDRED.

So, I’d go back and rewrite. Often throwing out huge chunks of the story to recreate the character as I now knew he (it was sooooooo often the man, isn't it ALWAYS a man?) really was.
NO, that's not a picture of my family. We didn't have money for fancy HATS.

I am a Nebraska ranch wife and as such I’m pretty conservative in many ways.

No one needs to tell me to shut the light off when I leave a room, or turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater, or buy a car that gets high gas mileage. That’s something I’ve been doing from birth and not because I’m trying to save the planet. It’s because I hate waste.

I was raised by parents who remembered the depression, as was my husband.

Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.

Those are WWII words during rationing. I lived those words as a child in a family of eight kids in a two bedroom farm house. No, that's not a picture of our house. We didn't have a showy place like THAT!>>>>>

It's kinda hard to learn to be wasteful...and that applies to work and words.

So wasting all those hours, throwing away all those words, it’s like tossing out the mushy apples in the fridge when it would be so easy to just make apple sauce. It’s like throwing out three stale slices of bread instead of making bread pudding or stuffing for a roast chicken.
It is not natural.

And then I got a hold of a mindset that helped me handle it better.

I’ve read a lot about character charts or ‘interviewing your characters’ or creating background sheets for your characters. And I realized that’s what I was doing with all that writing before the story started. Tossing out all that writing was NOT wasteful. I needed to do it. It was necessary. It was an exercise I needed to do to create my story.

So the next time someone in a contest critique tells you ‘your story doesn’t start until page nineteen” (that happened to me once—and she was right—but it took me a few years to figure that out)
This is a backstory dump.
Cut it. Do it.
Don’t get upset, don’t feel like your time was wasted. Just pick a new spot to start, farther on down the road of your story. What you’ve written becomes backstory and chances are it’s all important—it's just not FIRST.

You needed to write it. Now you’ll weave it into your story, bits at a time, in dialogue and sentence tags.
No wasted days and wasted nights. No wasted words.
You're still going to use them up, wear them out, make them do, in a few unfortunate cases, do without.
Check on my website for what to expect from Nosy in Nebraska.
And leave a comment AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS---to get your name in the drawing for a signed copy.


  1. Hi, Mary! Congrats on Nosy in Nebraska! And thanks for the post today--I can imagine how hard it is to trim, but as you said, in this context, it isn't wasteful! It's like pruning a plant (or God's "pruning" us)--it's getting the story to where it needs to be, it's perfecting it!

    Still hard to do though ;)

  2. congrats on the release Nosy in Nebraska.
    its interesting reading who books are improved and what authors go through for us readers.
    please enter me.

    loving my new home (except I need to scrub the oven before I am willing to use it) and am finally back online

  3. oh ps! speaking of mice. I am helping look after the place over the road (landlords) and have had to empty a couple of mice traps. I actually didn't freak out this time!

  4. Congrats on the release!

    Great post. Of the people that have read my first few chapters, only one has said my story starts down the road. She may be right and I may change it. However, I'm still in my first set of revisions and I don't know yet where I'd put everything that comes before what would be the new starting point.

  5. So true!! I'm revising a rough draft right now and have so far cut over 10,000 words. ACK! It's painful, but necessary. I keep them in a separate file so I can look at them and weep over the beauty nobody will ever see. ;)

  6. Mary, The story of your journey into published writing inspires me as a young mom/hope-filled writer so much. I love the fact you had twenty stories ready for publication, enabling Barbour to make such an awesome contract with you. All those hours of sweating over plots and characters weren't wasted at all. I'm eager to try your novels now. I'm especially going after the convenient marriage ones. I love those plot lines! How wonderful God is to strengthen you through all the fears and doubts and setbacks, bringing you to this place of rich fulfillment!

  7. Hi Mary,
    Your new books sound hilarious! Congrats. :-)

    This is such a good post. Without fail, we all seem to do backstory dumps. Why, why, why???? LOL
    I've had to do my share of cutting too.

  8. Katie--That's right! I do the same thing with major sections I cut out, or just with lines that I thought were especially eloquent, hoping I get the chance to stick them back in somewhere. And it's never just the beginning I have to dissect. But almost every time there's been a significant improvement and I've learned alot about my characters and how their story is supposed to impact us in the real world!

  9. Hi Mary,

    Great blog topic. Sometimes it's very hard to see where your story starts, even after you've let it rest a while.

    I have no problem cutting or re-arranging words within a manuscript, it's justing knowing where to start!


  10. Good morning, Mary. I'm running out to get a copy of Nosy in Nebraska this week. So looking forward to reading your cozies!

    You're so right about the importance of finding the starting place for our stories. Who hasn't been told by a contest judge to start the story later? Anyone???? Thank goodness we're teachable.

    I brought an urn of hot coffee and biscuits, crunchy on the outside with soft middles. My heroines taught me how to make them. :-)Drizzle them with honey or glob with butter and strawberry jam. You're in for a treat. ;-)


  11. Mornin' Mary! Great post! Who hasn't thrown away reams of words? Heaven knows I have : )

    Nosy in Nebraska may be a departure for you into the realm of cozy mystery, but I'm positive retains and showcases your clever wit and awesome humor!

    Thanks for the reassurance I'm not the only one writing and cutting, writing and cutting, etc : )

    I brought blueberry waffles for breakfast. Yumbola! I love blueberries : )

  12. Great interview, Mary!

    My sisters and I love your "Lassoed in Texas" series. I can't wait for "Montana Rose" and "Cowboy Christmas" to be released ~ I have them both on my Wishlist!

    I haven't read any of your mysteries, so I would love a chance to win this book. Please add my name to the hat.

    Thank you,


  13. Glad to know I'm not the only one with this problem! I used to look at "backstory dump" as setting the scene; I felt as if the reader needed to know all about my characters from the start in order to appreciate what they go through in the story. It took me a long time to realize that it whets the reader's interest more to wonder WHY these people do what they do, and they keep reading to find out!

    Congratulations on your release, Mary! Really looking forward to reading Nosy in Nebraska! And I really related to your "waste" ethic, having grown up in a town where the Depression was still a very real presence (everyone kept expecting another one. We New Englanders are such pessimists!) It's made me an incorrigible pack rat, to my husband's dismay!

  14. Good morning. Ausjenny, we haven't heard from you in a while, welcome back!

    Flchen1, the mindset I'm trying to encourage you all to adopt here is that it's not hard, not wasteful. You've got the right idea, pruning. I actually have to prune trees and bushes, too so it's a good image.

  15. Walt, if mostly people are NOT saying your story starts on down the road that sounds pretty encouraging. It's a balancing act where to start because hopefully a lot goes on, high drama, action, through out the book, so picking where to start is complicated.

    When I'm daydreaming the beginning of a book, I'm always trying to just explode the story, hang someone on the edge of a cliff.

    So, that explosion, or inciting incident is actually more important to me that the exact right moment to start.

    The worst possible (to me) way to start ANY BOOK is to start with your heroine, sitting alone ... or driving alone ... thinking of what has happened up until now and what is ahead for her.

    It's so common in contest entries, a phone call or a letter, trouble, heroine gets into her car, and drives across three states, THINKING.
    No, no, no...stop it.

  16. Hi, Mary and all! I can relate to the "parents living through the Depression" mindset. I think I inherited it to some degree too. I get annoyed when my husband leaves nice hefty chunks of oatmeal in the pan when he dishes it out, or a teensy bit of peanut butter gets thrown out with the jar.

    And your post gave me an "aha" moment about my writing. I have all these unsold mss. that I've written over the years, and I just can't put them to rest. As my skills improve, I keep going back and reworking them, hoping eventually I'll make them salable.

    And this--even though my crit partner and others have said to just let them go and start something fresh. But I love my characters and my stories and can't bear to see them languish in an obscure computer file or the bottom of my filing cabinet.

    On the other hand . . . my first two book contracts came from mss. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote some more because I refused to give up on them. How do you ever really know when something is worth the effort to improve or it's time to move on?

  17. Katie, saving those words is a good idea. But here's what I believe about any length backstory dump.

    That backstory is almost ALWAYS in your book twice. You're repeating yourself. Because you wouldn't have made it up if you didn't need it.

    So, you've got this big ol' backstory dump AND you've got this exact same backstory elsewhere in your manuscript, weaved in, a sentence at a time. So the backstory dump not only brings your story to a grinding halt because it's usually internal musing, but it's also not necessary because it's already there.

    Good for you for cutting those 10,000 words. Hard to do, I know, but it is NOT wasted. Believing that makes it less difficult.

    I can remember one time that I cut too much. Not important at all, but in Petticoat Ranch I just whacked this huge backstory dump and trusted that all that info would be in the book in some form elsewhere.

    At the end of the book they named their baby Jarrod.

    That was Clay's father's name and so it was kind of important that I SAY it's Clay's father's name. Not vital, but it would've been nice.

    Unfortunately, I'd cut the part of Clay's backstory and no where else in the book did I ever mention Clay's Father's name. So the reason they named that kid Jarrod was never revealed.

  18. Hi, Ayrian, I don't know if having twenty finished books is a testimony to hard work, perseverence, committment and belief in myself........


    .......... or a sign I needed to be on OCD meds.

    But it worked out.

    But the way, I counted the other day and yes, Barbour has bought a lot of those books, Seven in fact, but I'd still got 13 finished book on my computer I'd love to unload...I mean I'd love to find a publishing home!

    Wonder if that'll ever happen?

  19. Hi, Rose, sounds like you've got a good attitude. And rearranging isn't the same as cutting, that feels more positive, good way to look at it.

    Sugar and Grits? :) Great name, and is that the Green Bay Packer's symbol? That's an interesting mix of North and South.

    Your name is in the drawing.

  20. Hi, E.C. a packrat with words, too, huh? :)
    Just remember it is NOT wasted time all that writing you ultimately don't use. You NEED to do it and you WILL use it...just not FIRST and not in one big unbroken backstory dump.

  21. Now I don't feel so inept and alone.

    I had a truly exciting start for my WIP, or so I thought. Boats sinking, gunfire, mistaken identies, mysterious letters ...

    But no one "got it." I finally had to admit that logically, it just wasn't working. Without cell phones, how could these 1800s people pull it off?

    I've decided to start in a different place.

    Not as much fun for me, but hopefully makes more sense.

    Thanks for the coffee and biscuits. Can I offer up some strawberry freezer jam for the biscuits? I made 56 jars last year but we did not use it up like I thought we would.

  22. well, its good to know that chapters one and two (er...excuse me...chapters Zero A and Zero B) are/were/will be good for something! YAY!

    Put me in the drawing for some Nosy!

    charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com

  23. I always save the scenes I cut. My separate file for extra scenes make me feel much better! I don't return to them, but so what--they're there if I need them.

  24. Ann--Logic. I have a love/hate relationship with that word. It ruins my most beautiful daydreams, but then builds the channel to steer their love boat so that readers can enjoy the flow and not get thumped all over the place, wondering 'What was that?' I've decided research really must precede the vital points of my plots or I'm guaranteed hacking and rewriting.

    Myra--I agree that once a character becomes 'real' to me, I can't bear to let him/her go. I just keep looking for that exact right plot to plop them back into living color. Thanks for never giving up on yours so we could meet them too! :)

  25. Hi, Mary! I can't wait to get this book! I'm ordering it soon, just don't tell my husband. He thinks I have enough books. He's conservative too.

    Right now I'm plotting and writing down Goals, Motivations and Conflicts for my next book. I can't quite figure out how to start it, though. I've ALMOST got it, I think.

    It is my hope that by doing the plotting and making notes on GMC for each character, I'll be essentially doing the same thing a writer does when they write a hundred pages before figuring out the characters. But either way, it isn't easy. It's work. And it takes a lot of time. I don't think non-writers get this. They don't understand why it takes so long to write a book.

  26. Mary, that's not Green Bay. That's GEORGIA! They don't eat grits in Green Bay.

    And BTW, sugar in your grits? That's nasty! They're much better with a pinch of salt and a lot of butter.

  27. Yay! So glad to see Nosy in Nebraska is out today. I've been anxiously waiting. :)You're post today was so apropox for me. I'm facing that character interview phase now, and it never seems to get any easier no matter how many books I've written. You're a big inspiration for me, you keep me plugging along with hope someday I'll get that contract. Now if I can just write half as well as you do... :) Congrats on the new book and I'll see you this weekend at Dog Ear books.

  28. Mary,

    Since I've started my publishing career in nonfiction, I tend to especially struggle with all the wasted fiction words. It just about kills me to write all these words "not for pay" anyway, let alone the ones I throw out.

    It gives me an "Achy Breaky Heart." (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

    However, when I was in sales, they had some rule about phoning 10 people, getting 3 interview appointments, and making one sale from the effort. So, even if someone said "no" on the phone, it was seen as necessary on the way to a sale.

    I try to think of the words of my "false beginnings," if you will, as those phone calls that had to go into the mix to get the sale. Does that make sense to anyone?

    Plus, I KNOW you're right about not having the characters in the car, but mine are still in there and I'm having trouble breaking them free :) Now I know the secret to why all those cozy mysteries have baking--it gives the characters lots of stuff to do while they're talking and thinking LOL.

    Can you help with ideas to get them out of the car, Mary?!? And I'd love to win the book.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com.

  29. Congratulations on your new book Mary. I would love a chance to win a copy. Thank you.

  30. APRIL!!!!!!! You're coming to my booksigning!!!!!!!!

    YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know you left a note on my blog saying you were, but I'm still excited.

  31. Here I'll post info about the signing, I cut and pasted it and it's full of BOLD and italics so we'll see what comes up.

    I'm doing a book signing
    Independence, MO
    June 6th,
    11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
    Cheryl St. John
    Dog Eared Books
    3625 S. Noland Rd. ~ Independence, MO 64055

  32. Excellent advice, Mary! I can't tell you how many times I've written about an extra chapter because I needed to say all that stuff to myself, and then cut and pasted it into a file for later--or never. I know I do it thoug, so I never concern myself with a slow start, because I know I'll be cutting it.

  33. That looks a lot like the Green Bay Logo. Has Georgia cleared their use of this design with Green Bay? I remember the Univerity of Nebraska getting sued because of their stylized N logo once, so everyone BE AFRAID.

  34. Mary, congrats on the release of your new book.
    I am not a writer but did enjoy your blog about the beginnings.
    I have "met" a few authors online and I am amazed about the writing process.

    b dot werts at sbcglobal dot net

  35. That is a very encouraging post. I've never thought of it that way. But I've needed to! We have to learn our characters some way!


  36. Ann, thanks for bringing the freezer jelly. I used to make that. Wow, I'm hungry now.

    And no food in sight until noon, which will then be an APPLE.

    It's a wonder I can stay fat, honestly.

  37. They are NOT WASTED, Jeannie. Repeat that to yourself. NOT WASTED NOT WASTED.


  38. CHERYL!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Cheryl St. John joined us. How cool is that. We're going on a road trip this weekend.



    Hang in their Cathy

  40. Hi Bev, thanks for stopping by. We have a lot of fun over here. So not just for writers. The pretend food alone is worth stopping by.

  41. ~Ley, good attitude. It really helps me to believe it needs to be written, that's it's PART of the process.

  42. Hi Mary -

    Great analogy! I remember one of the first people to critique my manuscript saying the story began around page 10. She was right.

    Congratulations on the release of your new book. Please enter me in the drawing. My email is susanjreinhardt (at) gmail (dot) com.

    Susan :)

  43. Hi, Susan. Thanks for stopping in. Your name's in the drawing.

  44. Congrats on the release of Nosy in Nebraska. The email came that my backordered copy shipped TODAY. Woohoo!

    I had the problem of starting my story in the right place, smash bang, off to the races...

    and THEN I dumped in all the backstory in chapter two that ground the tale to a pathetic halt.


  45. Hi Mary Congrats on the release of Nosy in Nebraska.Great interview..Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you. augustlily06(at)aim(dot)com

  46. Erica, you are such a good girl. Thanks for ordering the book.

    Hi Emma, thanks for stopping by Seekerville. Your name is in the hat.

    For once the hat isn't a Stetson.

  47. MARY!!! Congrats on the new release, my friend! And great post, too, sweetie, by the way.

    And your advice that "The worst possible (to me) way to start ANY BOOK is to start with your heroine, sitting alone ... or driving alone ... thinking of what has happened up until now and what is ahead for her," is SOOOOOOOO TRUE!!!

    You already know the story of a judge telling me to get the action up front on A Passion Most Pure (I had the heroine, Faith O'Connor, THINKING about her sister for seven pages!!). A judge told me to move up the action (the first kiss), so it went from page 7 to 4 or 5, then to page 2, and finally landed on page 1, thank God! Sigh. I'm not a fast learner, apparently.


  48. Very interesting post. Thanks for the opportunity to win the book.

    ohiobuckeye91 [at] gmail [dot] com

  49. The first page of Petticoat Ranch was probably dragged up from at least fourth page...probably further back than that but I have hysterical amnesia.

  50. Oh, AND I finished Missy's new release last night. His Forever Love.

    I loved it, Missy and you really did surprise me. Well done. Surprised and, I might add, delighted.

    I love all the Seeker books on the shelves these days...but we need MORE!!!

  51. raspberry girl, I'd put your name in the drawing just cuz it's just a great name.

  52. I love mysteries. My favorite genre. Would love to win this one. It's on my TBR long list! Please add me.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  53. Not only am I coming out to see both you and Cheryl, I'm bringing a bunch of girlfriends/fans too. :) We're all very excited!

  54. Excellent advice, Mary, as always. How many times did I hear, "Your book starts here" (p. 120), and I'd have to go back and cut it all! I think YOU'VE told me that a few times, too! Thanks for the post and congratulations on Nosy coming out!

  55. Congratulations on the release of Nosy in Nebraska, Mary.

    I'm hanging on to the not wasted mantra, and returning all those was, that, what, but, something type words back to a place of prominence in my story.


    I've been cropping (not my hair, maybe next week for that) and trying to scale back a few stories.

    I shall try to pay attention to repetative sections

    I shall try to pay attention to repetative sections.

    Did I already say that.


    Thanks for the post.

  56. The books looks great and I love the novella that have more than one story. But I just love books in general. I read and reread them now that I am older I forget the stories fast, may remember part but they are always good for another read. May God bless you and I hope you sell a million books. :)


  57. Linda, a mystery lover? Great. This is a departure for me, from the romantic comedy with cowboys. But honestly, I don't think of myself as a historical western novelist so much as a romantic comedy novelist. So in that way, Nosy in Nebraska is true to form.

  58. Oh, mylanta, do you see how many people are here???

    And Mary, you without enough food to feed a small family much less these troops amassing to celebrate the release of YOUR NEWEST BOOK!!

    Champagne for everyone. Are ya' kiddin' me? This is a new release, a new Connealy, a great, fun, tongue-in-cheek gonna grab ya' mystery!!!!

    Cheese, anyone? Caviar? We need to go a little New York here, even if the subject is Nebraska.

    'Cause they KNOW how to throw a book release party in the Big Apple. Oh, yes.

    But I did NOT order sushi. Or steak tartar... I like my meat and fish at least partially dead.

    Mary, mega congrats from upstate NY. So proud of you!

    And I loved, identified with, and totally appreciate your sound advice about back story. It's also (no matter how experienced or good you are) hard to spot those places yourself....

    A good critique buddy is a wonderful thing to have when we get so into a story that we've lost count of how many times we've made our point. I hate that in books (like, duh, do I not have a brain?) and yet am SO GUILTY of doing the same thing myself.


    Hooray for our Mary! Wish I lived closer to this signing. How much fun it will be!


  59. April, I can't wait to see you. I'd tease you like I do most commentors but if I have to see you face to face, well, I'll watch my mouth be on the safe side. 120? Really? Ouch. Poor baby. I've read enough of your work to know how talented you are so keep at it. And you just finalled in the touched by love contest, right? Congratulations and thanks for stopping by Seekerville.

  60. What interesting titles! Pride and Pestilence--haha! Love it!
    Please enter me in the drawing.


  61. Hi, Tina. Who are all those people in your picture anyway? Your family? You as a child? Love the picture.

    I just finished the galley edits for Cowboy Christmas...the galley edits are the last chance. The book is all laid out and ready for the printer. Any changes have to FIT as well as make sense, because you can't push the galley onto a new page or mess up the paragraph layout...I mean I suppose you can but I really try not to.

    I can't remember what I was going to talk about. I had a point. Hmmmm......

  62. Hi, Edna. Your name is in the hat. Maybe it's one of those deerstalker hats, like Sherlock Holmes wore.

    We'll go back to the Stetson when my next book comes out.

  63. Hi, Ruthy.

    I don't get Sushi. It seems like the food of desperation...are they to BUSY to cook it? Are they catching salmon like grizzlies in Alaska? ARe they starving and the posse is on their trail so there's no time to build a fire?

    A few minutes over a few hot coals would just be best for everyone.

  64. The opening is either one of those "I know exactly how to start this story" or "I have no freakin' idea where to start this story so I'll just ramble and ramble about meaningless stuff that doesn't seem meaningless to me at the moment but I'll keep rambling until I figure out where my opening hook sentece is which could be pages and pages and pages into my story becuase just as my heroine needs to think about her life, her situation, and what dress she ought to wear to the ball/dance/theatre, I too need to think this story out."

    I judged a Genesis entry that I'm still convinced didn't begin until the black moment. But it's not my story so who cares what I think?

    In all my years of judging--okay, 7--I haven't come across an entry that I felt began too late until last month. One of my Genesis entries was that way.

    I've yet to read a compelling entry that opens with the heroine (or hero) driving somewhere in her (or his) car. And putting the character in a car accident so she can meet the hero isn't any more compelling. Repeat after me: CONTRIVED.

    I've been one of those meandering opening writers. But over the last year (yes, I'm a slow learner) I'm finally starting to understand what Mary's been teaching me about opening with an explosion.

    Of the five published books sitting next to my laptop, only one begins with IMMEDIATE conflict between two people (in particular the hero and heroine).


    Must get something to parch my thirst so I can get back to rambling.

  65. Courtney we had a lot of fun with those titles. Susan Downs was the editor for the cozy line and she came up with the first one and we brainstormed the rest.

    I really wanted to name one of them:
    Close Encounters of the Furred Kind

    Also I was fond of:

    The Long and Winding Rodent.

    She grounded me from the computer for a few days and I came to my senses.


    Uh........Mary's been teaching me? You said those words, Gina?

    And you're saying it like it's a GOOD THING?

    Usually people leave me a little bit dumber than when they came.

    I'm kinda weepy now.

  67. Mary,

    All those people are my family before the next two girls arrived.

    I'm the wee little blonde, can't miss me. Not in any of our pictures as I am the only one in the family.

    I always loved the picture because of my mom's red lipstick and of course the gorgeous little blonde.

    ;) Being the third child there are very few pictures of me as a baby, and let's face that's when I was actually cute.

  68. Toddler has been fed. My whistle has been wet...wetten...wetted.

    A couple months ago in my ACFW-Richmond chapter we did a faux opening hook contest. Ten or so members submitted opening hooks that ranged from one sentence to a five-or-six-sentence paragraph.

    I asked my ACFW online group of European historical writers to crit the "entries."

    General consensus among judges: These opening hooks sucked.

    Think writing an opening hook is easy? Collect at least a dozen fiction novels, preferably 2000 and newer releases. Now ONLY read the first sentence. Based on that one line alone, are you engaged enough to read more?

    Fine, then add another line or two to see that hooks you.

    The book on the top of my stack begins with the heroine THINKING. Finally by the second paragraph on page two, she gets on her computer. More thinking and wishing. Then meaningless chit chat with her co-worker for two pages until they go see their boss.

    Minus the unnecessary prologue, the reader has to drudge through four pages of story setup/backstory/exposition before the author has the boss say five lines down on the fifth page what would make a FABULOUS opening line. What makes it even more amazing of an opening line is that by the bottom of the fifth page, there's an EXPLOSION like Mary so often promotes.

    Overall, I'd give the novel a B+. The opening hook and scene, I'd give a C-.

    All the author had to have done was being with the boss's line, continue to the Explosion, then take everythign prior to the boss's line and put it after the Explosion. With a few tweaks, of course.

    Of the rest of the books in that pile by my laptop, one has a A+ opening. The other three books have C to D range opening hook.


    If I had only understood the concept of opening with an Explosion several unsuccessful contests ago.

  69. Tina! I'm third in my family too. There ended up being EIGHT of us thought.

    Gina, I think I'd better slink off and check my openings again. For some reason it's so easy to see in others writing what I miss in my own.

    So (cliche alert) Do as I say, not as I do..

  70. Mary weepy?

    I shall resist the urge to unlease my snarky snort.


    I forgot to wanted to share that I finally--after days of self-observation which proved to me I am quite fascinating--discovered I do have a quirk.

    Hubby and I took chitlin #4 out to Famous Dave's BBQ for her birthday dinner. When trying to decide what we'd share for our meal, hubby said, "If we get the roasted chicken, I'll pull the meat off the bone so you don't have to."

    Be still my romantic heart.

    Ever since 8th grade science class where we dissected a chicke wing, I haven't eaten chicken on the bone. Yep, I'm a boneless, skinless, grizzleless gal.

    I have finally managed to buy a rotisserie chicken and serve it to the family. Of course, I don't eat it, and hubby or oldest son is left to de-meat the carcass.

    Oh, I thought of another quirk.

    I tell people I'm Jewish becuase I don't eat ham. What amazes me is how many folks believe me.

  71. I have a friend from college who could never stand chicken. Her reason? It looks too much like a chicken.


  72. Raising my hand sheepishly from the corner...

    I got that feedback this year. And the judges were right.

    Funny thing is my I'd moved my original first chapter back to add story in front of it. I realize I didn't know my characters well enough to write the rest of the story, so I was worked backward, thinking I'd started in the wrong place. But I see now that extra stuff doesn't need to be part of the story.

  73. Mary,

    Forgot to leave my e-mail address for the drawing.


  74. As always, an entertaining read. I look forward to reading Nosy In Nebraska. Enter me to win a copy, please.

    A J

    ajhawke at ajhawke dot com

  75. Great post, Mary.

    Usually my first half dozen pages will be backstory, but I write it anyway because I need to know it. Afterwards, I go back, and cut and save it. Sometimes I can meld it into the story. Sometimes no one needs the info but me.

    Congrats on Nosy in Nebraska!

  76. During the summer months there is just too much to do to spend a lot of time reading. So--The library was having a book sale. One dollar bought all the books you could carry in a plastic grocery bag. The first book I picked out of my bag, Waterloo, was just as you said "a slow start". I am half way through the book and still can't see where it is going.
    Maybe if my comment is last, my name will be on top when you draw for a winner. :o).

  77. Sounds like great stories! Would love a copy, so enter me in the contest!

    Gail Mundy

  78. I heard someone say once that the sign of a really great writer is when you get the sense that the author knows sooooo much more than she's telling, that the author knows the characters intimately and isn't beginning to give it all to you.

    So Anita Mae, when you say you may never use it, in a way you DO use it just because you know your characters in a really deep way. That comes out in the writing, I believe.

  79. I have a story that starts somewhat slow, until the second page, but some of the information is necessary and it does pick up and draw you.

    I've cut it, but I feel like I can't do much more, is there no room for some bricklaying before you suck your reader in with the pandemonium?

    Not every story I've read, starts with something that drags my emotions to the brink right off the bat.

    What is the consensus does anyone ever start off slower?

    Chicken that looks like chicken, hmmm interesting. Is that why some people are happy with it from a can? And I don't mean Chicken of the sea either.

    btw . . . for the drawing, my email is

  80. I forgot to enter my e-mail addy ... schrock.ann_at_gmail(dot)com.

    Hope it's not too late!

  81. Hi, Mary, and congrats on Nosy in Nebraska. I can relate to your words about hating waste. I try to apply the principle that less is more. but not always succcessful at it. When I go back and chop away, the piece only gets better. Love to win a copy of this book, too.

  82. I love the names of the stories in the Nosey book! Awesome!
    As for wasted work, I am going to do my first edit soon on my first WIP and I KNOW good and well I will be cutting TONS! I am already sad about it, but I know it is a must.
    I'd like a chance at some Nosey too!
    sherrinda (at)gmail(dot)com

  83. I've been looking forward to reading your new book Mary -I just love the titles :-)

    ryanx at msn dot com

  84. Wasted nights! The last two had me do-less. I'm between books and working on ideas that need time to perk. Hate not being focused. Usually beat myself up for goofing off. Today I brainstormed with two cps, and the ideas are in better shape. Almost ready to get started writing.

  85. LOL! I thought "Sugar and Grits" was a great book title (by Diann Mills/Martha Rogers/Janice Thompson/Kathleen Y'Barbo) so I decided to use it as my username/email address. Besides, I'm a country girl (GA) so it fit me perfectly!

    The "G" is for the University of Georgia. Football. GO DAWGS!!

    Thanks for entering me. :)

  86. Hey Melanie!

    Thanks for the GA shout out!

    Believe it or not, I don't even like grits! EWWW! My Dad does actually sprinkle a little sugar in his though. GAG! LOL

    MARY ~ I'm not sure who had the logo first?? I know UGA football has been around for quite some time. I'm assuming the same logo is used for all of their sports teams (i.e., basketball, baseball, etc.)??? Hopefully Green Bay won't sue them cuz I think the logo is pretty cool! *grin*

    ~ sugarandgrits ~

  87. Congratulations! And excellent advice. I loved your post.

  88. Congrats!!! I am looking forward to reading your book. At this point, I pretty much know I will not use the first chapters I write. It took me awhile to realize this, but now that I do, I welcome those first chapters. It is how I learn about my characters. It is filled with backstory and helps me understand where they came from and how they got to where the story really begins. I never delete it but save it in another place. Often I begin sequels and that information is needed for other characters. It think that is how I must get around the waste as well.

  89. Amy good for you. That's the right attitude.

    Wow, I feel like cheerleader, Go Amy Go! :)

  90. Love your post, your humor, the pictures, the premise for the book. Way to go! All the best, and good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone!

  91. Terrific post, Mary! I was just thinking about waste this morning--wasted money, wasted calories, and wasted pages. If you find yourself sinking, the first thing to do is find the leaks! I think this has inspired my next blog post. Thanks for sharing.

  92. Mary, I'd love to be entered in the Nosy in Nebraska trilogy. Sounds delightful!

    Cutting so many hours of work is difficult--especially when it's a whole book! I found myself writing more unneeded stuff when I tried to pressure myself to write so many words a day. I've realized that I tend to write better when I allow ideas some "stewing" time.

  93. Hooray for Nebraskans! :) Beginnings are the toughest part for me too. It often takes me a good fifty pages to really find my stride, and you're right - it's very difficult not to become frustrated and burn yourself out rewriting and rewriting. I've learned to just get something down on paper, write the rest of the story, *then* go back and fix the beginning.