You’ve Got Five Pages, #ThePeacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard, 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 Peace Keeper by B.L. Blanchard

The opening pages of The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard are a bit of a slow burn, but it does successfully mix character development, worldbuilding, and a major cataclysmic event all at once, and that is a major feat.

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

The first chapter is preceded by excerpts from two Native American authors whom I mistook for fictional writers in Blanchard’s universe–my apologies for that! This is what I get for reading too many mysteries, apparently. 🙂 That said, I can see how Tommy Orange’s words on the “Urban Indian” help inspire the setting Blanchard creates in this first chapter. The United States and Canada never came to be: these lands are still dominated and governed by different Native American tribes, such as the Ojibwe around the Great Lakes region. Names of places and things are connected to their language, which readers see with the reference of Shikaakwa for Chicago. Chapter 1 also shows seven different cultural calendar dates, and I see that it’s just past five pages that we learn the Aztec and Mayan empires still exist. I can see there will be a richness in the alternative history timeline here, and that fascinates me as a writer and reader alike. Our adult protagonists struggle with their mother’s murder at their father’s hands during their childhood, and the opening pages help us see their current relationship, which definitely inspires empathy and sympathy from readers. I was worried that the family drama would dominate this story–we had enough of that with Anne Tyler’s French Braid–but by the end of five pages, protagonist Chibenashi is showing readers more of his world and preparing us for the coming murder that launches the story’s plot. For those who love alternative histories and/or mysteries, this could very well be a perfect fit for you.

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, #WhatMovestheDead by T. Kingfisher, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast #HalloweenReads

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:

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

This is hands down one of my favorite finds so far for this podcast.

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

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher may be a reimagining of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, but in five pages it still reads very much as its own unique work. I’m reminded a bit of John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society as far as the wry narrator goes, and of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy with the unsettling, unnatural forms Nature seems to take. Everything is bleak and grotesque–even the sight of mushrooms growing hints at violent death for humanity. Setting this grim landscape inside a fictional country also makes the story feel like it’s one step off kilter from reality–it could be in our Europe, but surely not, right? This book moves at a quick clip, so if you’d like to take a few days to shift into some spookier tales for the coming Halloween season, I can’t think of a better place to start.

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, #FrenchBraid by Anne Tyler, 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:

French Braid by Anne Tyler

I’m not going to type up my little meandering to the question “Why I don’t read literary fiction” here for you, but I will say that the first pages of French Braid by Anne Tyler reinforce the feelings I describe in that meander.

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

To be blunt, I like knowing what I am getting into, and genres give me that sense. Literary fiction can go to any old place, and for some folks, they just want to enjoy that journey. Good for them! Nothing wrong with that, especially with a writer like Anne Tyler. Her prose here is easy on the eyes and ears, and the personality of the narrator comes through in these little parenthetical asides that made me smile now and then.

This book, though, is a family drama with events spanning decades. For some folks, that’s all they want in a story. For me, not so much. And while the characters I meet in the first few pages are perfect fits for a family drama, they also, frankly, could fit into any genre fiction’s opener, and that kind of generic impression put me off as a writer.

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, #HatchetIsland by Paul Doiron, 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:

Hatchet Island by Paul Doiron

The opening pages of Hatchet Island is, sadly, a return to prologues. We meet a nameless character suffering insomnia, one who has simply given up on life in college and in general. After months of isolation, he finally ventures out into the world…only to throw himself from a bridge.

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

Now I’m sure some readers will be intrigued by what happened to this nameless character. Why did this character make that choice? Was it the birds and the birdkeeper he worked for that drove him to kill himself? How could living with birds do such a thing?

For me, though, this prologue put a sour taste in my mouth. I’m all for a good murder mystery, but when life is lost in a story, it should mean something. Like Colleen Hoover’s Verity, I felt like killing off a nameless person for the sake of shock value in the first few pages dulls the impact of any future loss of life later in the story. Plus there are so many other ways to show that time on an island has transformed a person for the worse: their habits, their language, their little actions. All these can steadily impact those around them and lead to other, bigger transformations down the road. I know not every writer feels this way, but I will always appreciate a chance to peel back layers to find the rot, rather than simply smashing the fruit underfoot to send that rot flying in bits all over the ground.

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, #ASecretAboutASecret by Peter Spiegelman, 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:

A Secret About a Secret by Peter Spiegelman

We return to cozy mysteries this week! The first chapter is only three pages long, and don’t you worry: Spiegelman uses those three pages to his advantage.

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

By using the first-person narrative, we meander through the protagonist’s mind as his car travels through an isolated, bleak landscape. While some of these internal musings felt a bit long-winded, I did appreciate the little tastes of what we as readers are getting into: that this protagonist is some sort of investigator who is also occasionally sent to “punish,” that he has “Masters” he must answer to, and that he is not so curious about his duties that he cares to learn more about where he’s going for his latest assignment and why.

The setting is beautifully described and is currently timeless in its way, but the back cover blurbs promise some futuristic details to come our way. By the end of three pages, we learn our protagonist’s name–Myles–and that he’s going to visit an isolated manor house where someone has died. Why or how? We don’t know, but we as readers are eager 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, #WhentheShootingStarts by William W. and J.A. Johnstone, 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:

When the Shooting Starts: A Smoke Jensen Novel of the West

by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone

At last, I have done it! I have read a western. I was expecting something a bit saccharine, a bit melodramatic, and much to my delighted surprise, I got neither of those things.

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

The first five pages of When the Shooting Starts by William W. and J.A. Johnstone don’t coddle us readers with updates on the previous three books; instead, we’re thrust into a conversation between the protagonist Smoke Jensen and an old acquaintance named Rowdy. Both were gunmen for hire in the past, but these days Smoke has settled into a domestic life as a rancher and family man, while Rowdy is eager for work. The fifth page ends with readers learning that another man named Louis, who also shares some old shadows with these men, has settled in the town, and Rowdy don’t much care for that.

I will be the first to admit that as a writer, these first pages are a lovely example of bringing a reader up to speed without any exposition dumps. Because Rowdy knows Smoke from his previous life, it’s expected of Rowdy to ask Smoke questions about what’s been going on the past few years. Smoke succinctly answers them, never diving into much detail, but giving just enough so readers understand what Smoke is like and why. The dialogue never drags, nor is any single event ever dwelt on. This keeps the scene moving crisply along without making readers feel like *this* story’s been put on pause for a recap.

If I had one niggle, it’s the protagonist Smoke making a couple of choices that, as a gunman, seem obviously foolish but necessary for the sake of plot. For a former gunman who would need to read people very quickly for the sake of staying alive, he has some very obtuse moments with Rowdy that I can only assume will ensure this story’s plot gets moving.

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, #DoggoneDeadly by Deborah Blake, 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:

Doggone Deadly by Deborah Blake

Huzzah, a book without any prologues of any kind! This week I couldn’t find any westerns, but I did try a type of mystery I’ve never read before: a pet-themed mystery. Doggone Deadly by Deborah Blake took me back to the kid mysteries like Nancy Drew, which felt nostalgic, but I also had some niggles I couldn’t shake.

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

We jump right into Chapter 1 with our protagonist hiding her friend from a snob who’s throwing her weight around at a local dog show. The pacing between exposition and action is solid, and the setting is broken down in quick details readers can absorb as the scene moves along. This all works very well, especially considering I’m not in the first book of this mystery series.

Then come the characters. While the protagonist and best friend are easy to follow on the page, a third character is in the scene for conflict, and…oh, this snob is all unrealistic stereotype without any playful depth. I appreciate a writer’s use of a few “loud” traits to make characters stand out in a big cast, but detail after detail emphasizes how rich this woman is, how much she hates shelter dogs, how little she cares about other people, and did we mention how rich she is? It’s just way too much emphasis on a few traits, and it makes her act far more like a puppet for plot than a human being. If anything, it could have been far more interesting to see this snob play up the protagonist’s shelter as if it were her goodwill move for the community so the snob could garner more praise and attention. Then the protagonist wouldn’t know how to handle that saccharine sweetness hiding the snobbery from others, and more hijinks could ensue. But that’s just my picky reading self talking. 🙂

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!