You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheDiamondEye by Kate Quinn, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

Jeff Gerke, The First Fifty Pages

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Oddly enough, this has to be the first podcast where I didn’t even get to the first chapter all. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn has three–THREE–prologues. There’s a wee preface to tell you of the original person on which the novel is based, the “official” prologue, and then a couple of pages entitled “Notes by the First Lady.”

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Now the wee preface is not badly written at all. It’s just a succinct few verses that explain this woman was a real person who served as a Soviet sniper in World War II. At one point this woman was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s friend; this can be hard for modern audiences to grasp, but it’s important to remember that in 1942, the Soviet Union and United States were allies against the Axis Powers.

This is where the “official” prologue helps a little with establishing the mindset at the time. Perhaps folks who’ve watched Mad Men know how women were often treated as second-class and unable to do “man’s work,” but in the 1940s the United States had to take a serious look at their approach to what women can and cannot do. (Of course, this all backtracked after the war, but let’s focus on the moment.) The prologue comes from the perspective of a hired assassin mingling with reporters watching Lady Death, the famed Soviet Sniper, arriving at the White House to meet The First Lady. So we all get to see this pretty girl and hear men constantly saying, “a woman could never do all that!” While I appreciate establishing that mindset, I’m not sure it needed its own prologue to do so.

And then, we get what reads like a diary entry from The First Lady before she meets the sniper. While I appreciate the importance of establishing President FDR’s physical ailments for modern readers, I’m not sure why the third prologue needed to travel back in time to before the second prologue. At this point, we just want to meet this infamous Lady Death!

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #BlackMouth by Ronald Malfi, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Once again, we’ve got a story with a “bait and switch” kind of prologue. There is a single page before Chapter 1 that comes from what I imagine to be the antagonist’s point of view, establishing this deadly hidden realm that is thirsting for the life on our side of “the wall.” The prose itself? Lovely. The antagonist? Threatening. The shadow realm? Eerie.

But was that trip really necessary?

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

For the first chapter of Gallant by V.E. Schwab is a marvelous introduction to protagonist Olivia and her blessing/curse of seeing ghouls. We see Olivia dealing with the relatable bully conflict in a school setting, and the foreshadowing of this school teaching girls to be “ghosts in other people’s homes” is an excellent allusion to whatever the shadow realm. Olivia’s plight and life intrigue us as readers, and the scene with the ghoul in the garden shed is an excellent first exposure to the supernatural element at work in the story. So as a writer, I wonder why on earth we needed the dramatic peek at the antagonist at all. It feels like an unnecessary show of life-and-death stakes rather than letting the story reach that point organically.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #BlackMouth by Ronald Malfi, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

The first chapter of Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi is a fine example of how one can have the intense opener, change scenes a little, and STILL keep momentum.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The protagonist gets hit by a double-whammy of a notice when he leaves rehab, but rather than move forward on that time, we backtrack to what caused the protagonist to be in rehab in the first place. While I was bothered by this at first, Malfi successfully avoids telling us how rehab went. Rather, we experience the protagonist’s spiral downward into a place of intense fear and pain. Could this just be the lack of alcohol, or is there something more sinister afoot? Plus, now that we know the protagonist is about to hear tragic information about his family, we are further intrigued to see how a man in such a state will handle such news. Considering the unique voice and personality of this character, I cannot predict what he will do…and that makes me a happy reader.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #DisappearanceofaScribe by Dana Stabenow, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Disappearance of a Scribe by Dana Stabenow

The opening pages of Disappearance of a Scribe by Dana Stabenow are a lot of fun. The prologue has a lovely wit to the voice, its cadence an interesting mix of thoughtful prose and short, one-word sentences. This, in part, may be due to the fact that a man is trying to work out the fact he is on a boat about to be murdered.

And then is murdered.

End of prologue.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I was hooked in those pages, but I admit I started the official Chapter 1 quite warily. As I had noted in my earlier episode about The Lioness, the prologue is sometimes used by writers in a “bait and switch.” Unfortunately, I was right.

Such a tight prologue of tension, dialogue, and action successfully engaged me, but my attention is for *more* action and intrigue, not a history lesson. Of course, Stabenow has to give readers a sense of time and place, for this mystery is set in the time of Cleopatra and her rule in Alexandria. The detective is the Eye of Isis–that is, Cleopatra’s personal investigator. The details Stabenow shares with readers in Chapter 1 are all relevant to setting and time–that is not the problem. The problem is that Chapter 1 takes its time explaining the history and significance of the Library of Alexandria without any sort of scene at all. It’s quite the exposition dump, and it really didn’t need to be that way. If we writers are to keep readers after baiting them with a flash of intense action, then we need to at least keep some degree of action going. A simple conversation between an established character and a new character, for example, would invite education as well as interaction and sensory detail. This would keep the story’s momentum going, and the reader would still have the necessary context to understand the historical period.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #ARipThroughTime by Kelley Armstrong, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

The opening line of A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong floored me:

“My grandmother is dying, and I am getting coffee.”

Immediately I and any other reader who’s coped with family death could relate to this protagonist. We don’t know if she’s fleeing the emotions, flippant about the ordeal, or somewhere in between, but many of us have had that mundane mixed with the monumental in ways we may or may not prefer. The opening pages proceed to break down that our protagonist, Mallory, is a homicide detective and that she is in Edinburgh to be with her grandmother in her final days. The rest of the family is still in the United States, so relations are strained with phone calls and job obligations. I was 100% in with this protagonist, having been in that position myself. Armstrong utilizes the first-person limited POV well, establishing this character’s inner conflict between her no-nonsense approach to life and the emotional weight of her grandmother’s impending death.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

This is not why I first picked up this novel, however. The dust jacket promises time travel, so I was also looking for hints of that time travel and was rewarded in the first five pages. Mallory specifically mentions she is not a student of history, but that she and her grandmother would occasionally visit the more “macabre” sites of Edinburgh. My only real qualm with this book is that in five pages Mallory is about to get into trouble, but for some reason is not prepared as she would be on any given day in the United States; for instance, she’s jogging at night in Edinburgh, but she does not have her knife that she carries with her while jogging in the States. Why? She doesn’t know how to call for help in Scotland. She’s been visiting Scotland all her life and doesn’t know the emergency number? Such forgetfulness seems completely out of character; yes, we’ve only known this character for a few pages, but from what we’ve seen earlier, this just doesn’t add up. Frankly, I think the forgetfulness is a cheat to ensure the time travel occurs, but I’ll have to keep reading to find out.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #Trust by #HernanDiaz, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Trust by Hernan Diaz

The opening pages of Trust by Hernan Diaz intrigue me, but only to a point. The pages of solid exposition provide portraits of three characters: A wealthy businessman, Solomon, his wife Willie, and their son Benjamin. No one talks to anyone. No one actually does anything. The opening pages are purely descriptions of the lives of these three people.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

On the one hand, I do not have patience for so much telling and no showing at all. On the other hand, plenty of other novels have a slow burn with exposition before the story truly starts. Diaz makes every single word count–I definitely feel like I could identify these people if I was ever in the same room with them. I was, admittedly, hoping to hear more about Solomon and Willie; when Diaz notes how they are never in the same residence at the same time, I can’t help but wonder a) how did the baby Benjamin come about then and b) why they married in the first place. By the scene’s end, though, both parents are dead and Benjamin is a wealthy orphan. Apparently, their backstories are only relevant in whatever way they help shape Benjamin, so all else is moot. From a writer’s standpoint, I can appreciate that, but as a reader, you’ve spent the first impression of this story immersing me in the lives of two people only to kill them before the story’s even begun.

There’s also the matter of how the son Benjamin’s life is described. He is utterly cut off from the world, and this detachment affects every facet of his life. As the scene closes, we are seeing the now-college graduate who is devoid of any “appetites to repress,” as Diaz puts it–no vices, no interests, no nothing. A blank slate if we ever knew one. And as anyone knows, blank slates are rarely blank for long. All it takes is for the right person to see find it and fill it with their own ideas and interests. That, I feel, is what will come our way here.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheLioness by Chris Bohjalian, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian

The opening pages of The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian are…well hang on. The single page of prologue is not dense. In fact, the prologue feels a little like a cheat. “We went on a safari and almost everyone died! Who died and who didn’t? You can’t know yet!” So of course we have to read on to find out what they’re talking about. Only of course the first chapter isn’t starting off with such a tense moment; in fact, we start the chapter with watching giraffes.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

That is not to say the first chapter is without tension, however. I will give Bohjalian all the props for having very layered prose, hinting multiple sources of tension on a honeymoon where tension between newlyweds should be the last thing anyone wants to see. Nothing is stated, but sure as hell is implied, and this kind of setup cues the reader that personal conflicts will boil over in the coming chapters. Because the hints are wrapped up in exposition about characters and interactions from a previous evening, the first chapter feels very dense and motionless, which doesn’t seem fair. I’ve no suggestions for how else to do this, for as a writer, I deeply respect the layered prose of meaning between the lines. I just wish a bit more action could have broken up the density of that first chapter so a cheat of a prologue wouldn’t have to be used at all.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #RedWarning by Matthew Quirk, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Red Warning by Matthew Quirk

The first chapter of Red Warning by Matthew Quirk was a most unique experience. The book starts with one of the biggest tropes one can have with a thriller. (“How do you know we can trust him?” “I don’t.” Dunh dunh DUNH!) This set me giggling which, perhaps, isn’t how one typically reads a thriller.

How will you, fellow creative, respond to the first five pages? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

As I read on, however, I felt like I was reading something from a Cannon 1980s schlocky action film, and that quickly warmed my heart to this story. The dialogue and action all sound perfect for a B film, so if you are a fan of the older, low-budget spy films, this may be just the book for you!

As a writer, though, I struggled with one major aspect of this chapter. In the first few pages of the story, we’re told the main protagonist spy is looking for another spy who also kills bankers and intelligence sources. The protagonist isn’t *supposed* to do anything, so he’s done playing by the rules (dunh dunh DUNH!) and has gone rogue to find the baddie.

This is all said in the first three pages.

Considering the motivation for the protagonist to go rogue is the murder spree, I find it odd we as readers don’t get to see the protagonist affected by the murder spree or see him make the decision to go rogue. It’s as if the story is starting slightly *after* the real beginning, and because we still need that context, the information is thrown at us in exposition. This just makes those murders feel less important than I’m sure they are.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #Horse by #GeraldineBrooks, To Tell Me You’re Good.

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks.

What will you, fellow creative, learn in the first five pages? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The first chapter of Horse by Geraldine Brooks leaves me with…mixed feelings. On a technical level–scene execution, prose, and such–Brooks is stellar. The very word choices the protagonist makes in those opening pages say a lot about the protagonist’s nature; in fact, some of the word choices made me feel like I lack the intellect to fully appreciate the language utilized here. Still, the memories the protagonist recalls of family bereavement while interacting with a racist neighbor also experiencing grief speaks volumes as to the power of upbringing and culture in our lives. I just wish it was clearer as to where this story is intending to go. I don’t want it broadcast and/or spoonfed to me, but I do need *something.* Brooks’ last line of the chapter does promise there will be a *something* when Theo discovers “the horse” in the neighbor’s discarded items on the street. But when I see Chapter 2 is not going to continue with this momentum but will instead change over to a new protagonist with a new point of view, I worry that we’ll be stopping and starting several times before the plot can truly find its groove. I am likely assuming too much here, but as a picky reader, I am just not a fan of hopping among the characters, especially when we’ve barely gotten to know even one of them.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #Verity by Colleen Hoover, To Tell Me You’re Good.

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Verity by Colleen Hoover

What will you, fellow creative, learn in the first five pages? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I have to be honest–the opening pages of Verity by Collleen Hoover did not move me to keep reading. Hoover’s prose style cuts like a knife, and her word choices say a lot with a little. But there’s something about the intense message about Manhattan’s lack of humanity mixed with a protagonist who *desires* to lose her humanity and be “as hard as the concrete” beneath her feet that makes it very difficult for me to relate to this protagonist as a reader, especially when considering the bloody death the protagonist witnesses in the first five pages. The protagonist is determined to *not* connect and *not* empathize. This approach certainly gives the writer opportunity to build layers that can be peeled away as the story progresses, but a reader has to be invested to see that happen first.

This is just my reaction as a picky reader, though. Perhaps you’ll feel differently about this book–or whatever book I select next from the library’s New Release shelf.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!