Monday, December 9, 2013

Good Writing and What That Means by Marcia Z. Nelson, Publishers Weekly

Good morning, Seekerville!

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Marcia Z. Nelson, associate religion editor at Publishers Weekly.

I met Marcia at the ACFW Conference in September at a reception. It was one of those unexpected God encounters. I ended up grabbing a plate and some lemonade and sat with Marcia and Dineen Miller (Winning Him Without Words) as they chatted about the industry. As is usually the case at conferences, before long the room began to clear as guests started going their separate ways to various appointments.

Marcia and I made small talk and then she saw SEEKERVILLE on my namebadge. Her eyes lit up, she jumped up on the table and did a joy-jig, sang the Hallelujah Chorus, then gushed about how much she loved Seekerville. (This is only partly true, but it is true in part. I'll let you separate truth from fiction.) Mary Connealy taught me well and without blinking an eye (but maybe after a twitch or two), I gathered my wits and promptly invited Marcia to guest blog in Seekerville. She accepted with obvious delight, and here we are.

Please welcome Marcia Z. Nelson...

“I’m looking for good writing.”

What that means

As the religion reviews editor for Publishers Weekly since 2008, I see a lot of Christian/inspirational novels. The total has increased slightly every year, with the recession year of 2009 the exception. This year I’m on pace to receive the biggest number yet. It’s no secret that the market is crowded.

I already know this, you’re thinking. Don’t leave yet. I feel both frustration and curiosity when I hear from others what I’ve just said. So what’s good writing? What makes a book stand out in the crowd of stories about spies and suburban moms, pioneer women and Regency ladies?

I’ll have a go at unpacking this familiar and fond hope of those who see a lot of good and bad novels. Since I began my career teaching literature, I’ll lecture a tad, illustrating my points with examples from my own overstocked shelves.

Reel me in

The Pigeon was not one to sit around and pine, and so the day after he saw the beautiful Anielica Hetmańska up on Old Baldy Hill, he went to talk to her father.

The author had me at “the Pigeon.” I read several chapters immediately after this opening sentence of A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) because I had to know who the Pigeon was and why he was the Pigeon. You know this is a romance, but no pining is allowed – what a wonderfully underused verb.

Make me see

The kerosene heater had been turned on as darkness fell, and, when he went up to his room, found that Lisette had preceded him with a lidded copper pan on a long handle, filled with embers from the fireplace, and warmed the sheets, but the stone house breathed winter into every room, and you had to sleep with your nose beneath the covers.

I get cold reading this passage from The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (Random House). I don’t have to know everything, but a stone house that breathes winter and a copper pan filled with embers locates me in a dark and chilly place.

Make it move

Clare immediately said, “We can at least help him find a local motel.” 
“He’s going to be spending the night in the lockup.” 
Her mouth dropped open. “For defending himself in a bar fight? You can’t do that to him.” 
He stared at her. “Of course I can.” 
She blew out an impatient breath. “You know what I mean. Out here, it’s thirty days’ community service or a couple hundred bucks, but when the army gets wind of it, it’ll mean serious trouble.”

I can open any page in a Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery (this is from One Was a Soldier) and hear the conversation, how it conveys who’s speaking and what they’re thinking. Rev. Clare Fergusson and local police chief Russ Van Alstyne are doing their usual dance, each jockeying to win the argument. I read Spencer-Fleming’s books very fast because she makes me turn pages quickly, with short, declarative sentences, economical paragraphs, minimal yet essential description.

Make me care

But that night the alarm sounds and we all jump from our beds and I snatch up Baby and the girls come running to me, and Anthony throws open my bedchamber door and says, “Be brave, they are coming upriver and there will be firing. Keep away from the windows.” 
I slam and bar the shutters on the windows, draw the curtains around the big bed, and jump inside with the girls and Baby, and listen.

I’m awfully worried about what will happen to Elizabeth Woodville and her children in this scene from The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. The dialog, pacing, and word choice have me hooked.

Make me think

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.

Three sentences into Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road and I’m already sad, a little frightened, and mostly puzzled. Why so dark-dark and why are they sleeping outdoors? “Cold glaucoma dimming” is a fierce metaphor.

My examples come from novels for a general audience. I’m reluctant to play favorites in the Christian/inspirational market. The last thing I want to say indeed dates back to my teaching days: Read, read, read. Read outside your world view. Read literary and commercial fiction. Read the prize winners. (Here are well-written and fresh writing tips from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding, author of Tinkers.) That’s how you hone your skills and feed your imagination.

Thanks for the invitation to visit Seekerville. I tweet @PWreligion.

Marcia Z. Nelson is associate religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She is also working on an M.Div. degree.

Marcia, thank you for being our guest today. It's always interesting to see what catches a reviewer and a reader's eye, and it's obvious that you have a discerning eye.

Silence is a good thing, but not in Seekerville! Please share an opening line or two from a favorite book (your own or someone else's) and tell how that line made you think or care, reeled you in, and ultimately made you want to keep reading!

Today's giveaway is a GRAB BAG of fun stuff that may or may not include books, pens, bookmarks, chocolate, notepads, magnets. Give me a shout-out if you want to be included in the drawing. Winner must reside in the USA.

 Pam Hillman 
Launches New Website! 
Today is the official launch of my new website. For a long time, I limped along on my own like a cowboy stranded in the desert with worn out boots and precious little to drink. I filed away notes and emails about website templates, fonts, styles, colors, and design. I bookmarked sites I liked and followed the scent of water to the creative genius behind those sites. Finally, it was time (actually way past time!) to bite the bullet and hire a professional designer. I chose Jones House Creative and couldn't be happier with the end result. Matt Jones went above and beyond to create a website that fits my lifestyle and more importantly, my writing-style.
With pleasure and great excitement, I give you my new website....
Click to visit 


  1. WELCOME, Marcia!!!

    What a delicious post. I want to read all those books and I feel like a total loser for not knowing that Phillipa Gregory wrote The White Queen. NO EXCUSES-but, I have to really get on the knob and buy a subscription to PW.

    When I worked libraries I was never this uninformed.

    Too many good first lines in the world, btw.

    Pam, your web site is gorgeous.

    I brought warm cider to the party!!

  2. Oh, Tina, I'll have to make this warm cider into WASSAIL! I love Wassail.

    My mother-in-law makes it with red hots, and it's so good. She had it on Thanksgiving and I kept my cup filled to the brim half the day.


  3. Pam, all your clipping and thinking on that website design was worth it. It's beautiful.

  4. These books were promptly put on my TBR list...library, here I come. Guess it's the genre, Tina...general audience when we are more into the religious books (or family value type books) welcome, Pam!

  5. Mary Connealy taught me well?

    Before I read another word I'm going to jump in here into the comment section and issue a blanket denial.

    Okay, back to the blog.

    And welcome Marcia!!!!

  6. Thanks Melissa! I'm sure Matt was ready to string me up by the time he got through.

    I'm just now learning to navigate it though. There are a couple of things to finish up, and a few things I haven't figured out, but I'll get there. :)

  7. Marianne, I haven't read The Road, but I watched part of the movie until I couldn't take it anymore. I finally fast-forwarded to the end just to see what happened to the man and the boy.

    I'm such a wimp.

  8. Well, you know, Mary, I did say that I'd fictionalized a bit of my meeting with Marcia. Regardless, we're just so happy that she's here.

    Welcome to Seekerville, Marcia!

  9. Hi Marcia! Love what you said... "Read, read, read. Read outside your world view. Read literary and commercial fiction. Read the prize winners."

    That's exactly it. I know a lot of people who only read one genre or only read Christian fiction and... there's so much beauty in the world of literature.

    I just got a book called 'Steal Like an Artist' by Austin Kleon. He talks mostly about finding those things that are so inspiring they make you want to try it yourself. And when we try to imitate it, it will never come out an exact copy, because there's too much of us in there. We'll end up creating something uniquely ours, somewhere in there. Then you find that unique part, make it bigger and better. Keep working on it, and pretty soon you've created a work that is truly your own. It's a beautifully fun book and very inspiring!

    First lines... Grabbing from the shelf in front of me.

    “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.” –A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

    “Kay took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was― see if she would swallow a butt whole.” Holly Black, Tithe

    “Canuck, Canuck! Walks Like a duck!” Octagon Magic, Andre Norton

    “Chains clanked in the darkness of the holding cells.” Drowned Cities, Bacigalupi

    “Despite her casting him down, despite the fresh bruises on his skin and the blood under his nails, Roiben still loved Lady Silarial.” Ironside― Holly Black

    “It surprises me how many people don’t know there are different planes of existence.” Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

    "I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please." Chime, Franny Billingsley

    Great post! Now... off to steal like an artist. NO, no, no. Just kidding. Off to write.

  10. Marcia, you had me at hello!!! Huge thank yous for coming by and sharing your wisdom and experience with us.

    Every one of those passages rings stellar. And honestly, I might not have scoured bookshelves hunting for them without seeing this. First because there is little time for browsing these days so you've taken the work out of my hands.

    Thank you so much.

    Opening our eyes to a diverse table of work helps us grow as authors. I firmly believe that and Mary Virginia, what a great slate of examples!

    Now I must go and BURN ALL MY WORKS-IN-PROGRESS!!!!

    (shuffles off, somewhat dejected, in search of that wassail stuff. Whatever it is!!!)

  11. Welcome to Seekerville Marcia. Thanks for sharing with us. I'll definitely check out Paul's writing tips.

    Pam, congrats on your new website! I met Matt Jones at ACFW. What a nice guy.

    Have you noticed opening lines most quoted are the oldies? "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

    Please add my name to the drawing. Thanks.

    Have a great day!

  12. Hi Marcia,

    Great to see you here today. I had the privilege to set by Marica at the ACFW Awards banquet in St. Louis a couple of years ago.

    Good first lines...let me think....

  13. Marcia, welcome to Seekerville! We're excited that YOU'RE excited to be here, LOL!

    Great tips on how to make your writing stand out. Loved the examples of grab-me writing. Great timing on this post, too. I'm just about done with my draft and will keep these tips in mind while I revise.

    I love your website, Pam! It's so YOU!

    BTW, it's still sub-zero here in Colorado. I'm bringing HOT chocolate, STEAMING oatmeal and NUCLEAR BURN breakfast burritos...just because that's what keeping me warm these days!!!

  14. Thank you , Marcia, for sharing those interesting and fun openings.
    I'm always intrigued by the way the writer chooses to start the journey of a particular story.

    Gotta' check the books out too!

    Loved your new website, Pam!

  15. Wow, this really shows how important those first few lines are -- not only in getting a manuscript read, but in captivating a reviewer as well.

    Here's a great opening from a book recently read - The Wife Campaign by Regina Scott (Love Inspired Historical).

    "Ruby Hollingsford threw herself out of a moving coach.

    There was little danger -- it hadn't been moving very fast, the carriage slowing to take the gracefully arching bridge over the River Bell. And her father should have expected it. How else was she to react to his corkbrained, ninnyhammer of an idea?"

    I knew I was going to love the heroine at that first sentence. And the mix of humour and drama promised a rollicking good read. I was definitely hooked.

    Pam -- your website is fantabulous!!!!! Yeehaw!!!!

  16. Since I was snowed in all day Sunday, I pampered myself with hot tea, good books and my warm blankie.

    I started with THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL, I loved the story! The characters were wonderful and real—I was right there with them. Judd is my kind of guy! And Samantha is gutsy, smart and kind hearted—my kind of girl too!

  17. Ooops, I forgot to name the author of The Christmas Angel, I can't imagine anyone not knowing that TINA RADCLIFFE, wrote this wonderfu story.

  18. Morning MARCIA and welcome to Seekerville. Sounds like a fun time at ACFW with PAM. Thanks for all those great tips. It never hurts to be reminded of what makes for good writing.

    PAM I love the web page and the wassail.

    AUDRA I'll take one of those nuclear burros. It isn't cold here in Palm Springs, but I'll never pass the hot stuff.

    VIRGINIA I am impressed. You have some great books lined up on your shelf.

  19. I loved all these great first lines, Marcia. Thank you for being here today and sharing them! I confess, I've not read even one of these books. I'm one of those who needs to "read outside her worldview" a lot more than I do. Thanks for the exhortation!

    Pam, how exciting that you your website operational! I've heard Matt Jones does great work. I shared a table with him at ACFW. Nicely done!

  20. Nice post! I am about to go find that link you posted and read those writing tips. But first, I wanted to say that I'm so happy that PW has reviewed my novels! I always feel very privileged to get those PW reviews! :-)

  21. Oh, and my favorite first line comes from one of my favorite books, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo:

    "My name is India Opal Buloni and last summer my Daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog."

  22. “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.” –A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

    Okay, Virginia, this is a first line that definitely makes me go "What?

    Good morning, Seekerville! Sorry to be a tad late. I tossed and turned until 2 am. What's up with that???

    It might have been all the party food I consumed at my husband's 95 yo grandmother's birthday party yesterday, not to mention seconds before we put it all away last night.


  23. Virginia, you definitely have a lot of interesting stuff lying around!

    Ruth, you've never had wassail? Oh.My.Stars. It's so good. You can get mixes, but the homemade is just as good. I saw a recipe last night that was a mile long, but I'm pretty certain my mil makes it with only 2-3 ingredients. Simple and easy works for me.

  24. Welcome to Seekerville, Marcia! I loved all the openings you shared and want to read more. Thanks for the inspiration to work even harder on my first lines. Word choice is so important if we hope to reel in readers and make them see, care and think.

    I brought pumpkin bread warm from the oven to go with Tina's warm cider.


  25. Pam, your new Web site is wonderful and complements what you write perfectly!


  26. Jackie, I think those oldies are great, but the reason they are quoted so often is they've risen to the top like flotsam on a still pond.

    It's not that there aren't great NEW lines, they just haven't stood the test of time yet.

    Ooooh, Audra, thanks for bringing breakfast. A breakfast burrito sounds like just the thing this morning. I'll keep them warm for the late-comers.

  27. Mary H & Kav, don't you just love it? I had a ball "assisting" Matt to get the design I wanted. Poor, sweet Matt! By the end, he was probably pulling his hair out. :)

    And the way cool thing about Wordpress is that once he got it all set up, I get to "drive". I like driving. I added the Seeker Sampler logo last night and can add new books as needed, contests, etc.

    Claiming Mariah comes out in print in February, so I wanted my blog and my website all in one neat little package that I could play with at will.

    The only thing I couldn't figure out was how to have multiple blog widgets on the same page. And technically, I wouldn't want the Seekerville widget ON my page, but want to point people from my site to here.

    What a tangled website I weave.

    I finally settled for putting Seekerville and the Christian Fiction Historical Society on the Links page.

  28. Oh, Kav, I got so involved in talking about my website (website on the brain!) that I forgot to mention that I love those opening lines from The Wife Campaign!

    Ninnyhammer? lol

  29. Ooohhh, The Christmas Angel by Tina Russo released like LAST Week.


    The Christmas Angel by Tina Russo

    Congrats, Tina!

  30. Melanie, what a great opening. Who doesn't love a dog??? :)

  31. We're having potluck breakfast and mid-morning tea! Thanks for the warm pumpkin bread, Janet.

    Melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

  32. Welcome, Marcia, and thank you for sharing these intriguing opening lines! It's amazing how a few carefully chosen words can reel in a reader, and certainly inspiration to work harder on the first lines of my own stories.

    And congrats on the new website, Pam! It's gorgeous!

  33. Mary Hicks! The check is in the mail!

  34. Marcia some of these first lines are so BEAUTIFUL. It almost makes me sad that they are so NOT me.

    I wouldn't mind writing in such a poetic way.

    But I think it's against my nature.

    Which is ajust a shame.

  35. Mary C. Isn't that just the truth. Totally evocative first lines.

  36. We've gone first lines before. I'm trying to think of one I haven't done.

    Opening for The Christmas Candle, last years ebook novella.

    A scent as beautiful as any in God’s creation softened Rose Palmer’s heart. She held three years of work cradled in her hands. Three years of pampering, grafting, starting over, had resulted in these four matching roses, so young they were each mere stalks. As the weather grew cooler, she’d seen one of them putting out a bud and she’d babied the plants when she should be putting her garden to bed for the winter just to let this one flower bloom. Now, today, the bud had opened into a tiny, creamy white bud.
    She smelled it and knew she’d found the perfect bloom.
    Crouching in the midst of an acre of roses, she touched the silken petals with her nose. Immersed in the bouquet, Rose had a moment of pure communion with God.
    It didn’t last.
    Something hit the middle of Rose’s back and knocked her forward. She landed flat on her belly on her roses and stalks snapped beneath her. Horrified at the damage, she scrambled to her knees.
    Blood oozed from thorny scratches on her hands and wrists. Though she wore a long sleeved woolen dress and leggings beneath against the chilly November weather, she needed her hands bare to work.
    Heavy footsteps crashed in the woods. The undergrowth hid whoever or whatever approached. The autumn forest, with its bright yellow of the hickory and cottonwoods, striking orange sugar maples and vivid red oaks, clinging to the steep slope that climbed high on the northeast side of Rose’s clearing, had always nurtured and protected her. But this was rural Arkansas and she was a long way from help should she need it.
    A man burst out of the heavy undergrowth.

  37. Opening for The Sweetest Gift another of my ebook Christmas novellas.

    Adelaide Snyder’s wedding was scheduled for this afternoon regardless of whether the man who stepped off that train appealed to her.
    Or whether she appealed to him.
    “You’re a lucky girl.” Papa fairly bounced as the train whistle blasted. He was so enthusiastic about all this she occasionally wanted to shake him, but of course that wouldn’t be proper. It was amazing how proper a lady could be on the outside while inside she’s a raving maniac.
    Lucky? Possibly, though it remained to be seen.
    Girl? No yardstick existed that could measure Addie to be a girl.
    She was a twenty-eight-year-old woman whose luck amounted to marrying a stranger who’d killed her best friend.

  38. You know that first one about the scented rose is sort of beautiful and poetic.

    Of course I immediately ruin it by having her get knocked on her face and then have a man come charging at her.

    But for one brief glorious moment....I'm almost a poet!


  39. What a great selection of books. One Was a Solider is definitely going to be on my TBR pile asap but I want to read all those books!!
    One of my fav authors Jane Porter had this opening line in "Odd Mom Out" which grabbed me with a "oh oh, how's this going to be handled?" question from me as the reader (and as a mother, too, yikes!):
    Odd Mom Out
    "Mom, can you still wear white if you're not a virgin?" My nine-year old daughter, Eva, knows the perfect way to get my full attention."

    Count me out of the draw - I'm not in the USA.

  40. From Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson- I love how the opening lines immediately let me know the heroine is someone I'm going to enjoy and relate to :)

    "It was the oak tree that distracted me. I happened to glance up as I walked beneath its full green canopy. the wind was tossing its leaves so that they twirled upon their stems, and at the sight I was struck by the realization that it had been much too long since I had twirled. I paused under the branches and tried to remember the last time I had felt the least need to twirl."

    It made me want to find out why she hadn't felt that way and what she was going to do about it... :)

  41. Marcia, I'm so glad you've used all of these examples as good writing, and I'm thrilled to see you encourage readers to explore beyond their comfort zone and read EVERYTHING! Fabulous advice. I hope editors in the CBA are listening too...b/c your examples prove that sometimes, the most beautiful, lyrical writing has to break the rules. Sometimes, a rambling sentence works best. Sometimes, exquisite, lavish details are lovely. Sometimes, repetition makes a statement. Love you and your expert eye and sure do appreciate all you have done for my writing journey.

  42. Mary, you write amazing stories that start off with a bang and never let up. I mean, everybody remembers

    The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode in. Late as usual.

    Oh, and that man in the woods behind Rose Palmer? He should be afraid. VERY AFRAID!

  43. "It was amazing how proper a lady could be on the outside while inside she’s a raving maniac."

    This line just always make me laugh! Boy, can I relate! lol

  44. Pam, how did we miss Marcia at ACFW? You didn't share her!

    Next time, send a shout out--or at least a Tweet--telling us to gather so we all could have met Marcia. :)

    So glad you invited her to Seekerville.

    Welcome, Marcia!

    You've stretched us a bit this morning, which is good. It's cold and raining in Georgia, and I needed something to energize me. Lovely opening lines.

    If only...

    The opening of my 2007 debut, NOWHERE TO HIDE:

    "Not my baby!"

    In a split second, Lydia Sloan saw everything unfold--the black Mercedes parked in the deserted school yard, the tinted window partially lowered, her six-year-old son's hesitation before he stepped toward the stranger's car.

  45. Joanne, that would definitely get my attention!

    And sorry about not being eligible for today's giveaway. Shipping, you know. Where are you located? Somewhere warm, I hope! :)

  46. Hello Marcia,

    I've always read outside my genre, even outside romance -- a lot actually. But Philippa Gregory is the only one I've read of those you mention. The Queen's Fool was my favorite of her queen books. But it was in her Wideacre series that she became a master of the evil protagonist, and taught me how to make my antagonists truly evil.

    Reviewers provide a valuable service to readers and authors. Thank you and PW.

  47. HEIDI, I just finished reading Edenbrooke. I have to agree--a very charming opener. I loved the idea of Marianne twirling under the trees, and it was fun to see how the author brought that image back at key scenes later in the book.

  48. Okay, Debbie, you've got my heart pounding with your opening lines to NOWHERE TO HIDE! Every mom's nightmare!

    Debbie, my encounter was purely by chance, but I was so glad to get the chance to meet her and invite her to Seekerville.

  49. Marcia, thanks so much for being with us, and for these fantastic examples!

  50. Pam, I love the new website! Love those roses on the aged wood.

  51. These titles and opening lines are definitely enticing me to broaden my horizons!

    When I was the ACFW Bookclub Coordinator, I had the opportunity to read in every genre, and I found that I enjoyed genres I'd steered clear of because I thought I was too busy to delve into an area I might not enjoy. Turns out I was wrong and discovered some new authors -- and genres -- I'd not read before.

  52. Virginia, said: '“Kay took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was― see if she would swallow a butt whole.” Holly Black, Tithe'

    I love that one!! I can just picture it. Thanks for sharing.

    And thanks for the recommendation of Steal Like an Artist.

  53. Mary Hicks, pampering sounds good! I'm loving the story as well. :)

  54. What a great day to make it in to Seekerville! Pam your website is beautiful and Marcia, thank you so much. Craft study is important for sure but when I started reading more of everything (CBA, ABA, different genres) it did so much for my writing.

    No opening lines I'm ready to share or remember but I'm waving to my Seekerville family. Miss you guys!

  55. Joanne, that's a great opening line! LOL

  56. Good to see you Nancy! I feel the same way. Recently turned in a book and just today sent in my art fact sheet. Now I I'm about to jump into revisions. :)

  57. Missy, aren't the roses perfect???

    I gave Matt several words that fit my personal taste: wood, leather, wildflowers, parchment, textured, rough, western, earth tones: browns, tans, burgundy, blue, rough, worn. torn, tattered.

    I didn't say roses, and didn't envision that, but it was the very first thing I fell in love with.

    We did a little tweaking here and there from the first design, but that top wood banner and those roses...that was PERFECT right out of the gate. He captured the vision that I didn't even know was in my head. :)

  58. Nancy, so glad you dropped by today!

  59. Hi Marcia! Thanks for sharing these great tips and the examples to go along with them.

  60. One line from a book that stood out to me was when the heroine realizes how important the hero is to her.
    "He had become necessary. Like air and chocolate."
    Love Alyxandra Harvey's writing.

  61. Marcia and Pam, thank you for the great advice! I'm going to put those fifteen words above my desk and think of them each time I start to write.

    Pam, congratulations on your lovely new website! I want to wander through that field and hike into the mountains. Love it!

  62. Karen, what at great line! "Like air and chocolate."

    I like! :)

    1. I don't often remember lines but that one stopped me in my tracks. :D

  63. Thank you Sherida! I kept debating if I wanted to keep the landscape background when I see so many other sites with what looks like old-fashioned wallpaper and it looks so pretty.

    But you know what I kept coming back to?

    The entire scene with the landscape behind it makes me think of an old weather-beaten mercantile out on the prairie.

    I hope nobody's keeping count of how many times I've opened it to just look at it and smile. :)

  64. I was just teasing, Pam! :)

    Love your new website!!!

    It's a perfect fit with your wonderful stories!!!

  65. Raise your hand if you're in a book club.

    Love the variety of reads that are chosen in a year by my local group.

    Being part of the club forces me to read outside my genre, which is good for a writer, as Marcia mentioned.

    We're doing a Christmas book exchange on WED night and will select our January read from the books that night.

  66. Wonderful post, Marcia. Definitely a keeper. Thank you for bringing us clear, concise information and great examples. As an author, you've caused me to stretch today. As a reader, my stack of "want-to-reads" just grew!

    Beautiful website,Pam. Matt Jones does excellent work!

  67. Marcia, you are ALWAYS a delight…and full of conversation-starters. Your insights here make us appreciate you all the more.

  68. Hi Marcia, I was looking forward to your post, and what interesting books you shared samples of! I'll share the opening lines of my Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, which is set in quite the different time period:

    "The gods only accept what is valuable.

    Gudrid repeated this to herself as they hoisted her mother into the tree. Her beautiful mother with the long shining hair, like her own."

    Along the lines of your Phillippa G. sample, I love Tracy Chevalier's Girl with the Pearl Earring, and I was definitely shooting for that vibe with my historical--not too heavy on detail, yet you see the world/time period so clearly through one woman's eyes.

    Enjoyed this post!

  69. Thank you, Marcia, for being here and for the examples of effective first lines with tips on how to write them. Sadly, I haven't read any of those books mentioned. I'm stuck in a rut where I seem to be reading only historicals.
    These opening lines are from Though Waters Roar by a giant in the industry, Lynn Austin.
    It was ironic. I lay in my jail cell on a squeaky iron bunk, gazing at the stained mattress above me, and I remember the day I first understood the meaning of the word ironic. I couldn't help smiling at...well, at the irony of it. The meaning had become clear to me ten years ago on the day my grandmother, Beatrice Monroe Garner, was arrested.
    This paragraph picqued my curiosity and raised many questions.
    Love your new website, Pam. It's gorgeous!

  70. Cynthia, you sweetheart, so glad you stopped by!

    Heather: Gulp! In three sentences, you have me terrified over what's about to happen. Amazing opening!

    Pat Jeanne, I remember reading that opening. Definitely makes you want to turn the page for more, doesn't it? :)

    You guys have been a blast and now my TBR pile has exploded due to all these new first lines. I wish I had enough time to read them all.

  71. Hi Pam
    Your site is AWESOME!!!! As a graphic artist, I appreciate how quickly it loads as well. Very pretty and fast up. There are more than a few author websites that are heavy graphics and load slowly.

    Your site is beautiful and you should be smiling each time you go look at it.

    Love today's post too. Such great examples.

  72. Thank you Pam--I'm going to hunt you down on twitter and online...I like what you said about reading outside what you'd normally read when you picked for ACFW. It's why I wound up self-pubbing my Viking novel--didn't fit w/CBA pubs. But I appreciate candid comments from my readers who didn't plan on reading Viking fiction who are surprised to love it. Hope you branch into some Medieval sometime soon! Grin.

  73. Thanks DebH for the feedback! I definitely wanted something to load fast.

    Dial-up is way too fresh in my not so distant past to not appreciate a clean, fast-loading website.

    See you over on Twitter, Heather. I'm @pamhillman can find me through my new snazzy twitter button on my website! Whoo-hoo! :)

  74. Favorite first lines...

    I have discovered a new way of judging (and enjoying) books. If the cover catches my interest (guilty...I judge a book by it's cover), and I like the sound after reading the back I buy it. When I get home, if I can wait that long:), I open it up and see what excitement waits in the first line. Sometimes I am greeted with something great, sometimes not but oh the anticipation...:). Some all time favorties:

    She'd be dead in a minute. Maybe less- when all my dreams come true by Janelle mowery

    Life didn't get any better than the love of a good man and his baby kicking against her ribs- a woman called sage by diann mills

    A bullet slammed through the door of the stagecoach, threading a needle to miss all four passengers- over the edge by Mary connealy

    Please enter me for the drawing. A gift bag of goodies would be like the anticipation of Christmas...or better yet that first line.

  75. Good info and insight, Marcia. Thank you!

    Sometimes first lines grab me, and sometimes it's the first paragraph. I pulled a few books from one of the bookshelves (yes "one" of) -- and I agree: read outside your world view!

    "Children should be seen and not heard." Children were neither seen nor heard in the days of which I write, the days of 1840 -- Social Life in Old New Orleans, Eliza Ripley.

    This is about heroes, and what happens to them when they become real people -- A Ballad for Sallie, Judy Alter

    I opened the beveled-glass door under the sign announcing Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in ornate bronze. A new sign with a new name. Fine. I felt new too. -- Clara and Mr.Tiffany, Susan Vreeland

    Nancy C

  76. PAM that is a dynamite website! Congratulations. I clicked through a few things with no trouble at all. I like that fast loading. Signed up for the newsletter, too.

    MARY H, I totally agree on A Christmas Angel. Judd's a doll ... but I'm curious about Luke :-)

    Such prolific (and good) writers at Seekerville!

    Nancy C

  77. Annabelle Tyler may have hoped she would marry again someday, but she never dreamed she would be wearing handcuffs during the ceremony when she did. Hidden Affections by Delia Parr

    Please enter me for the goodie bag. Thanks.

    sweetdarknectar at gmail dot com

  78. Crystal, I agree, the cover is what usually hooks me first! :)

    Nancy C, so glad you made it by tonight. Children were neither seen nor heard.... Makes you wonder what lies ahead, doesn't it?

    Boos Mum, now that's an opening. Definitely want to know more about those handcuffs! :)

  79. What an eye-grabbing post! Thank you, Marica, for sharing these excerpts with us and showing what "good writing" means. I'll definitely be studying these.

    Gorgeous new website, Pam (Cuz). It fits your writing voice beautifully.

  80. Hello everyone,

    What a lively discussion. I'm fascinated. The journalist in me is compelled to clarify that not everything I've cited is a first line; only Pasulka and McCarthy quotations are. What's really fun is to do what I did: open a book and look for an attention-grabbing sentence. A good book has them everywhere. Nice to see folks I know, and keep up the good work, everyone. And don't forget: give books as gifts. It keeps us all in business.

  81. Thank you, Natalie! I'm just loving it. :)

  82. Thanks for dropping by, Marcia.

    Thanks for the clarification on those first lines. You know, I seem to remember thinking in the wee hours of the night in that twilight stage that I needed to confirm if all of those were opening lines or not. Then the thought just flew out of my mind.

    It's a busy place up there and things tend to get misplaced! lol

    But opening a book to just anywhere and finding a great line is so much fun, isn't it?

    Merry Christmas all, and thank you all for stopping by and making Marcia's day in Seekerville such an enjoyable visit.

    Watch the WE for the winner of the Grab Bag! :)

  83. Thank you for this post, Marcia. I love it when we get an inside tip on what editors look for. :) Fave first line??
    So many to choose from but this is definitely in the top ten. It's from Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.

    They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man's mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that it is in a body that is, in the morning, going to be hanged.