Author Jennie Spallone Reflects on Opening Pages of Her Award-Winning First Mystery Novel

Standard

*Reprinted from Guest Blog, January 2017

In the bible, it says God created the heaven and earth. What a humongous contracting job it must have been to fill this unformed void, even for the all-powerful Builder of the Universe!  Should the light of day and the stars of night come first, or should the waters be divided into land and sea? Decisions, decisions, decisions!

As a writer, I am plagued with those same types of questions every time I begin writing a new novel. While my doubts don’t compromise the world’s existence, the decisions I make do determine the fate of my characters in their own universe. Should the first sentence of my book open with the setting, action, or a character’s dilemma? How do I hook the reader into continuing to read the pages that follow?  For Deadly Choices, a police procedural, I chose “action”:

“Warning lights unlit, siren silent, Ambulance Number 60 careened down fog-drenched streets in the pre-dawn autumn darkness on its return to the firehouse.” I’d recently completed a 24-hour ride-a-long with two female paramedics as they responded to emergency dispatches throughout Chicago’s dicey West Side.  I attempted to paint a picture of what it felt like to return from a call.  However, my word choice of “careened” was an image I created to fit the character of my imaginary ambulance driver, who was high on cocaine. If I had wanted to accurately describe my ride-a-long, I would have used the word “streamed,” which has a smooth, controlled connotation, while “careened” has a swerve, out-of-control, feel to it.

“Some unseen radar directed the driver as she deftly maneuvered the ghost-like rig down West Madison Street through a maze of shattered liquor bottles and discarded syringes.”  Whoa! I just realized – and this is 10 years after the book has been in print – that the ambulance driver was “deftly maneuvering,” which would negate my connotation of “careening,” the word choice I used only one sentence ago! Evidently, nobody noticed!

In this second sentence, which also happens to be the entirety of the second paragraph, I added setting and provided a “feel” of the neighborhood, with its description of “shattered liquor bottles and discarded syringes.”

My “unseen radar” and “ghost-like rig” word choices elaborated on the description of “fog-drenched streets in the pre-dawn autumn darkness” that was used in the first paragraph.

“…Replenishing supplies in the back of the rig, paramedic trainee Beth Reilly stole a glance at the driver.  She grimaced as her paramedic officer pulled a sandwich bag from her jacket….”  Again, I inserted an eye-dropper full of information I learned by watching the paramedics on my drive-along, re: what does a paramedic do en route back to the firehouse?

We now have been introduced to paramedic trainee Beth Reilly, the main character, but the word choices of “stole” and “grimaced” clue the reader that she is frightened and distressed by her paramedic officer’s actions. And what could be in that hidden sandwich bag that would produce a grimace??

“After five years as a nurse in Vietnam, followed by twelve years as a paramedic the Chicago Fire Department, Angie Ropella seemed to delight in all forms of human trauma.” From the beginning of our fourth paragraph, we’ve introduced the paramedic officer is a hard ass, trauma-junkie.

“Knuckled in-between 24-hour stints of stabbings, multi-vehicle collisions, and assaults was an assembly line of little old ladies forgetting their insulin, yuppies jogging into cardiac arrest, and winos urinating in doorways.”  Wow! I didn’t realize how many hyphens I use in my writing! Did I mention I am ADHD and easily get distracted? To complete the fourth paragraph I needed to provide the reader with visual images of the varied traumas paramedics deal with on a daily basis. Rather than listing those traumas as a journalist would do, i.e. stabbings, collisions, Diabetic reaction, I supplemented each visual image with a rhythm, i.e. “old ladies forgetting their insulin,” “yuppies jogging into cardiac arrest,” and “winos urinating in doorways.”

“After one look at the mangled body, Beth vomited all over the back seat. Angie just grinned.

“You gonna be a medic, Reilly, you can’t keep having these little accidents. Clean it up. Then keep the kid company back here. I’ll drive.”  We’ve skipped to the bottom of Page 2, where I am theoretically supposed to stop.  Earlier in the day, the two paramedics had encountered the “limp body of a kid in a motorcycle helmet sprawled across the adjoin median strip, …his body broken.” The paramedic trainee experiences a violent physical reaction. But Angie, a seasoned Viet Nam nurse and paramedic, has hardened her heart to death, as evidenced by her dispassionate advice to Beth.

“…she expertly weaved the red and white rig through a maze of congested traffic. She zigzagged around buses that suddenly jutted out in front of her onto Halsted and Clark.  Cabdrivers leaned on their horns while joggers sprinted off to work and the unencumbered meandered home from all-night bars.”  We’re almost at the end of the chapter, only 2 ½ pages  long.  The above images were taken from my ride-along experience, as well as my imagination.

Once again, these word-choices enabled me to paint pictures in my readers’ minds, as well as hear and experience the frenzied activity going on, i.e. “maze of congested traffic,” “buses…jutted out,” “cabdrivers leaned on their horns.”

I hope these brief insights encourage you to visit your favorite independent bookstore and purchase a thesaurus, the writer’s best friend. Lots more synonyms in print than on-line! Enjoy!

Advertisements

How I Self-Published My Book Through Ingram Spark

Standard

Yeah! Psychobabble, my fourth psychological thriller, is live on Kindle and Amazon! Equally as exciting, the paperback version will be available through Barnes & Noble and other book stores and libraries throughout the world! How did a self-published author get onto the bookshelves? Here’s the steps I took to make it happen:

  • Asked Barnes & Noble how I, a self-published author, could get my books on their book shelves. Ingram Spark was their answer: 855-997-7275, weekdays 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekends 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or ingramsparksupport@ingramcontent.com
  • Viewed all (actually, just a few) of their videos, blogs, and templates, re: book size, book cover, retail price of book, wholesale discount to book store, geographical locations throughout the world to place book, etc.
  • Set up an account with Ingram Spark, and then sent my developmental editor, copy editor, and book cover editor (Yes, you must assemble this team first; will discuss how on next blog) a link to my account so they could see what I could see.
  • While my team worked on putting a publishable book together for me to upload to Ingram Spark, I hopped on Ingram’s website and completed the brief description, longer description, and other content required on my book.

DON’T DO WHAT I DID AND SCHEDULE A BOOK LAUNCH OR SIGNING BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY HAVE A HARD COPY OF YOUR BOOK IN HAND! Allow two to three months to get it all together, from developmental edit to publication date.

I didn’t understand that each time I made any type of change on Ingram Spark regarding my book, it pushed the publication date back at least a week. Then I had an eproof, and even ordered a paperback proof, before publishing.

JUST KNOW THAT YOU CAN DO THIS! I can’t tell you how many times I phoned and emailed Ingram Spark. Even though you might have to wait on the telephone for quite a while during the lunch or dinner times of day, they are super responsive and helpful. MAKE IT HAPPEN!

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Publishing Again!

Standard

Yep, I’ve decided to once again self-publish — this time it’s mystery novel Number Four! Instead of sending out queries on Psychobabble to forty or fifty carefully selected literary agents as I’ve done in the past, I only reached out to half that number. When I failed to receive a bite, I did not flush my word marbles down the toilet. That’s because a psychic I trust told me my best chance to get my newest psychological suspense novel up and running was to go the self-publishing route.

This psychic was one year off about when my daughter would get pregnant, so you’d think I would have learned my lesson. But in my heart — as well as in my accumulated knowledge base — I know self-publishing is the correct choice for me.

I’ve already had a psychologist, a mystery author, and several Beta readers (mystery fans) read and critique my manuscript.  Although I was unable to hook CPD detectives to review my manuscript for accuracy, I still can hit up detectives I’ve met through the Sheriff’s Citizens Police Academy in North Carolina. (Notice I’ve said “met,” as in you gotta do the footwork and can’t just rely on the Internet and CSI.)

For the back cover, I plan to get book blurbs by the psychologist and mystery author. Writing a tantalizing couple of paragraphs that will hook the reader to read the book is more tricky and takes me days to accomplish. (I ask my book editor to critique those paragraphs before proceeding.)

Stay tuned for my next post on my further adventures in self-publishing! Be sure to send me your comments or questions, too!