Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Noir at the Bar - Superior Fiction!

Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to eight impressive authors read their own work at DCs Wonderland Ballroom. This was my fifth Noir at the Bar event, hosted as always by E.A. Aymar, and this was surely the best yet.

The bar is always full for these readings and the audience is tasked with choosing whose story and reading were the best. The shot at bragging rights seems to attract the cream of local talent.

James Grady opened the evening with a reading from his first novel, Six Days of the Condor, the bestseller that was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford. Screenplays, articles and a dozen or so novels followed, but the prose in the first book seemed as fresh as anything written this year.

David Swinson’s tale of undercover police surveillance was a gritty slice of reality taken from his 16 years of experience as a DC cop. When he reads you can feel the streets as if you’re there right then.

Alan Orloff’s chilling story of a man dealing with bizarre nightmares had the kind of twist ending that one does not quickly forget. No surprise. Having won a Derringer Award and being nominated for another and placing a story in the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, I knew he was a master of the short story form.

Art Taylor’s exceptional story, “Premonition” closed the show, and plunged us into silence. Art has won just about every award there is for short fiction and with this story he proved why.

We also heard truly great stories from Erica Wright (whose point of view character was a fox), John Copenhaver who reminded us how scary clowns are) and Kathleen Barber (whose “Follow Me made us want to.) But…

The night’s audience favorite was Cheryl Head, whose story of a drug mule’s journey was gripping and terrifying, while making you feel the POV character’s pain and sorrow while accepting her fate. It’s no surprise that her first novel, Long Way Home, was a finalist both in Historical and African American literature in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I went home with a copy of Cheryl’s latest triumph, JudgeMe When I’m Wrong. You should too. Like, today!

Every one of these great writers is worth searching out for your future reading pleasure. And I can’t wait for the next Noir at the Bar experience.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Strong Starts

Last time we talked a bit about how to build a great opening scene for your novel. It’s important that you make it clear just where this is all going. At the very least you need to make it clear that it’s going SOMEWHERE.

I know I mentioned a lot of elements last time, but be careful not to lose your readers by trying to do too much. If readers have to work to understand your opening scene, they may simply choose not to. Even if your plot is very complex you want to make it easy for readers to get lost in your opening scene.

In other words, don’t get so caught up in explaining why the opening scene is the beginning. Give readers a good reason to keep reading. This scene is all about hooking the reader. He or she picked up your book because of a promise or tease presented by your book’s cover or in your back cover copy. Something about your book’s plot or premise got them to pick up the book. The opening scene needs to confirm that this IS what  the book is about, and get readers moving on a journey through that premise. So your opening scene needs to connect back to that plot or premise.

If the first draft of your opening scene has stuff that readers have to slog through to get to the good stuff, cut it! If your opening scene has anything really cool, amplify it. And if something in the situation is unique to your plot or idea, so much the better. Remember, the opening scene should promise the reader that he’s getting into something great.

In your opening scene you should share as little backstory as possible. Don’t give away the info that would make readers curious and want to keep reading. This is not a scene just setting up for something else. Something interesting needs to happen in your first scene. But this scene should not be about a situation and how it arose. It should be about a character dealing with a problem.

So to recap: You want our novel to open with fascinating characters dealing with an intriguing story problem, and a premise so cool readers can’t wait to get into it. There should be questions, but not too many. Enough need to go unanswered for now to spur curiosity.

It’s as simple, and has challenging, as that.