Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Secret Behind A Strong First Line!

“Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.” –  ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  

I recently was asked to answer a few questions regarding the importance of a good first line.

So naturally I decided I had to blog about this issue. It is here – in the entries of my blog – that I feel the absolute freedom to express myself as I see fit.

And also – this is a great excuse for me to avoid working on my latest novel.

So what’s a good first line?

“The bullet hit Santa Claus beneath the left eye.” – SOFT TARGET – by Stephen Hunter

That’s a good one that I just spotted the other day at the bookstore. I saw this book, SOFT TARGET, by Stephen Hunter – sitting on the shelf at a bookstore.

Now, I like Stephen Hunter’s work.

I haven’t liked every one of his books – but I liked a lot of them.

So – how do I know if I want to read this book?

Well – we could try looking at the cover.

So what does that cover tell me?

Well, it tells me that it’s a STEPHEN HUNTER novel.

And it tells me that at least ONE BULLET is going to be fired.

That’s important – if you’re a fan of Stephen Hunter novels. Stephen Hunter is one of those authors who has evolved into a NAME BRAND AUTHOR. I see “Stephen Hunter” on the cover – right off the bat I want to pick it up.

This is something all of us authors need to strive for.

I’m not there yet. There are readers out there who say – “Dang, this is a Steve Vernon novel. I’d better pick it up.”

That’s true. There are a few of them.

But most folks will see “Steve Vernon” on the cover and they’ll say – “Steve who?”

So, let’s say that “Stephen Hunter” ISN’T a brand name author yet. Let’s say he’s just a hopeful wannbe.

Let’s say he’s me.

So – the average reader is going to look at that book cover and say – okay, so a bullet is going to get shot. Probably at a soft target.

That still doesn’t mean that the reader is going to bother reaching for his wallet.

You see – that’s what a writer wants.

We want to have the reader reaching for his wallet.

Try and think of it this way. He reads that book in the bookstore – without reaching for his wallet – and you don’t see that royalty check. If you don’t see that royalty check then your bills don’t get paid. If your bills don’t get paid you wind up out in the street – and that’s the end of your writing career because it is AWFULLY hard to run a self publishing career successfully if you have to resort to plugging your computer into a fire hydrant.

It’s a little like that whole “tree falling in the forest without making a sound” koa.

“If a writer does not receive a royalty check then he didn’t write diddly-squat.”

Or at least that’s how I run my kitchen anyway.

“It was a pleasure to burn.” – FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

So, if you aren’t a BRAND NAME WRITER – how do you get that reader to the whole “reaching for his wallet” stage of activity?

Well, for starters, you ought to have a REALLY good first line.

Just think about it. That is one of the first things that a potential reader will do. He’ll flip open the book and run his finger down the first page, moving his lips zubba-zubba-zubba while he does so.

Or at least I do, anyway.

That’s a critical factor for me in making my own mind up about reaching for that wallet. I read the first line or two just to get a better idea if this book is ACTUALLY something that I want to own.

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.” – FIREBREAK by Richard Stark

So, IS a first line that important?

I want you to just stop for a moment and try and imagine all of the many times that you said something stupid to a person that you were trying to impress right from the get-go. It might have been a boss that you were hoping would hire you. It might have been a hottie that you were trying to make a connection with. Just try and remember those many times that you opened your mouth and something dumb fell out of it.

A first line is a first impression.

A first line is that taste of honey that says to the reader – “My God – you have just found something worth spending time and money on.”

A first line is a well-dangled fishing lure.

A first line can be a boot to the side of the head.

An ambush.

A welcome-to-the-deep-end-bubba.

 This is the saddest story I have ever heard. — THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

So you are probably expecting me to tell you the real SECRET to creating a truly kickass first line – aren’t you?

That’s why you started reading this blog – didn’t you?

You want a paint-by-number kit that you can take on home and use on your next bit of creative scribbling.

Well – I am truly sorry – but there is nothing EASY about writing – except maybe saying that you do it.

And let me tell you – saying ain’t doing.

So – where do I find my FIRST LINE?

Well, sometimes it jumps right out at me. Sometimes I see it just as clear as a clear blue day – floating there on the top of the page – saying something along the lines of – “Well, what are you waiting for – write me down!”

I’ve got a few lines like that. Some of them I’ve already used. Some of them are sitting in a notebook – just waiting for the rest of the story to come along.

But mostly it isn’t all that EASY at all.

Sometimes I’ll find my first line about three chapters into the first draft.

That’s what writing is like sometimes.

You can’t just sit around and wait for your first line to show up. You have to diver right in and start lining them words up and sooner or later your first line will see all that commotion and it will push past all them other lines you’ve lined up and jump right out into the lead.

So how will you know that it’s your first line?

You’ll know.

Finding a good first line is a little like finding true love.

I’m not talking love like – Gee, I really love to eat pizza with my feet stuck out on the coffee table – I am talking big true love in BIG FREAKING CAPITAL LETTERS L-O-(my god I’m going to die if she doesn’t notice me now) – V-E!!!

Accept no substitutes.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 

Damn, I really love that last one. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA has got to be one of my favorite novellas ever.

So what about bad first lines?

What about those clunkers that start some books – usually something about Joe Nobody getting out of bed and studying his own face in the bathroom mirror – thinking deep thoughts and wondering what this day will bring before he gets to the end of the story and gets run over by a bus?

Let me tell you.

A bad first line is like hanging a men’s room sign on the ladies washroom door in the middle of an all-you-can-drink-beer-athon.

It is bound to lead to some awkward and highly uncomfortable situations.

I mean – them women’s rooms don’t have any hang-on-the-wall urinals – which is why there are usually longer line-ups to the lady’s room than to the men’s – unless it is an all-you-can-drink-beer-athon.

A bad first line is a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign at a lawn party.

A bad first line is like telling your blind date that the doctor swore on a stack of e-pirated Bibles that your love-cooties were only directly communicable on months with an “R” in them.

A bad first line is the Gee-I was-certain-that-was-just-a-heavy-sounding-fart-before-I-unsqueezed in the dress pants of existence.

I’m not saying that it’s pretty.

So let me leave you with three more first lines.

 It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

Elmer Gantry was drunk. —Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry 

“Preacher Abraham Fell stared down at the witch, Thessaly Cross, breathing like he’d run for a good long stretch.” – TATTERDEMON by Steve Vernon 

Which you can order on Amazon.

or on Kobo

or on Smashwords

or – if you aren’t motivated by any sort of gratitude over the five or ten minutes of amusing blogginess to rush out and download my book – why not read the review instead.

yours in storytelling,


(call me Ishmael)


Walker Art Center Award Winning Video…

My cat Kismet – (Kizzy for short) – is a wonderful pet. She lets you pet her when she feels like it, plays rubber-mouse-fetch when she feels like  and eats when ever we feed her.

In short she is the perfect cat.

Currently, I have a second cat living on our front deck. He ACTUALLY belongs to our next door neighbor but ever since a second Jack Russel Terrier moved into our neighbor’s home their big orange polydactyl cat Mr. Mumford has been spending most of the day sitting on our front deck.

Kismet is NOT amused.



Last month, the Walker Art Center held an Internet Cat Film Festival.

I know. I know. Now even art-house theater has yielded to the allure of I Can Haz Cheezeburger.

This French film based kitty flick took first place.



I have watched my share of artsy angst-ridden French flicks.

This one takes the cat…er…cake.

You can get all the details here!

yours in storytelling,

‘Steve Vernon

Word On The Street Schedule

This Sunday – down on the Halifax Waterfront from 11am to 5pm the street will alive with wonderful wild words!

And I’ll be there!

At 2pm I’ll be signing for a half hour at the Nimbus table – which will be located at the MAGNIFICENT MARKETPLACE – E1 on the map.

At 4pm I’ll be reading from Maritime Murder and answering any questions the crowd has for me at AN OPEN BOOK – OB on the map – right in the Maritime Museum courtyard.

At 4:30pm I’ll be signing books – I believe at the OFFICIAL BOOKSELLER tent – E2.

I also plan to spend some time at the BLOODY WORDS MYSTERY CONFERENCE table – at the VILLAGE TABLES tent – E1.

Bloody Words is a Canadian mystery writing conference that will be taking place here in Halifax – for the first time ever – in 2015 – but they have already begun the initial planning of this conference. There’ll be a draw for several mystery books – including a copy of my own MARITIME MURDER – and all you have to do to enter is to add your e-mail to their mailing list.

Finally – I hope to catch a couple of readings and buy a few books.

I hope to see some of you there.

For those folks who want to pick up a full-sized map they are available in the pages of THE COAST this week.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Why E-Books Will NEVER Completely Replace Traditionally Published Books

I’m big on e-books.

Well, actually, I am big all over – not just on e-books. I keep trying to add more fruit and vegetables to my diet but so far all I seem to manage is to just add “more”.

More potatoes.

More pudding.

More pizza pie.

Mmmmm, pizza pie…

I’m sorry. Where were we?

Oh yes, e-books. I believe that e-books are definitely a part of my future as a writer and I am pursuing that future just as hard as I can. In fact I have got more e-book releases coming up before this year is over with.

But today was one of those days in a writer’s life that e-books will NEVER replace.

I picked my author’s copy of THIS –



There is something wildly thrilling about uncartoning a stack of books with your name on it. There’s nothing in the realm of e-books that can touch that oh-my-god-a-book-is-born sensation.

In fact – I am pretty certain that the REAL reason why so many e-books are eventually turned into hard copy thanks to Create Source and other self-publishing venues is so that the author can order himself a whole carton full of paperbacks and sort of roll around in them like Scrooge McDuck used to do in his vault.

I mean, just look at them.


I’ll tell you all about the book in the next day or so. You can likewise catch me talking about the book at WORD ON THE STREET this Sunday.

And – the book will eventually be available in e-book format – at least in Kobo and/or Nook.

But for now let me just bask in this paperbound splendor.




Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

How Badly Do You Want It?

I’ve put this up on my blog at least once before.

Maybe even twice.

I don’t care. I’ve got to go to work in a short bit. Spent the morning discussing an upcoming newspaper column that I’ve been working on – and planning a submission package to a new opportunity that has presented itself – that I am not at liberty to discuss.

So, sometimes, I just like to take five minutes and run through this Youtube video.

Even if you’ve watched it – watch it again.

How badly do you want it?

Why Do Novels Have Chapters?

Novels have chapters for the exact same reason that potato chips were invented.

As human beings we face an awful lot of stimulation. Existence will throw typhoons and bankruptcy and plague and global warming – without even pausing to wipe the sweat from it’s all-seeing eye.

Catastrophe will rain down upon you with the intensity of a jackhammer game of whack-a-mole.

Chapters – like potato chips – help us break down something wonderful – into comfortable bite-sized pieces.

It happened something like this.

Leo Tolstoy – (known as Leo the Lion to all of his peeps) – sat down one morning and decided to write the entire Napoleonic invasion of Russia detailing the impact of Bonaparte’s era on Tsarist society. Only problem was – the man was a little short on money – so, to conserve his supply of scribbling paper (look, they hadn’t invented the keyboard yet) – he wrote the whole thing out without a single break.

It was an intensive experience.

He went through two marriages, six bankruptcies, one typhoon, and a bout of stuck-burp – (you know – when you’ve got a burp stuck halfway between your stomach and your belly button and it won’t let out?) – while he wrote this epic hernia of a novel.

“Leo,” his editor said. “Have you ever heard of something called a chapter?”

“Ach!” Leo said, on account of he had mysteriously developed a German accent while writing the Prussian parts of his novel. “Why didn’t I think of that.”

“Try a few of these potato chips,” Leo’s editor said. “They go awesome with beer.”

So you see – chapters were invented so that men could drink beer.


Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Tesseracts 17 Writing Guidelines

Let me tell you the story.

Quite a few years ago I was asked to write a story for a collection of Canadian speculative fiction inspired by Literature, Music, Art and Culture. That deal fell through – because the publisher who had expressed an interest fell out of business – but a few years following that the editor who had originally asked me for the story got a second chance.

EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing asked the editor – Mark Leslie – to put together a similarly themed collection for their ongoing TESSERACTS series of Canadian Speculative Fiction.

So Mark e-mailed me and asked me if I’d like to come up with a story to fit that theme. It seems the first story wrote for Mark didn’t quite fit in the new collection.

Great, I thought.

I had worked with EDGE before in Nancy Kilpatrick’s EVOLVE and EVOLVE 2 collection of vampire tales and I had enjoyed the experience. EDGE is a Canadian company and that’s always a plus for me.

So I put together a simple tale involving a Sasquatch, the ghost of Sam Steele and the building of the Cross Canada railroad – centered around that famous painting of THE LAST SPIKE.

Mark liked the story – (I think he might have been drunk at the time) – and he accepted it – (after I sent him more liquor) – and then shortly afterwards EDGE contacted me and asked me if I would serve as co-editor of the next TESSERACTS volume.


So here’s the submission guidelines.

Editing a collection like this requires a fine degree of getting one’s ducks in a row – something that I truly suck at.

But I will do my best to do this just as professionally as is possible. I figure I have a blog and I have a beard and I have a bit of a following. You’re supposed to have a blog these days – and I see a lot of photographs of editors and a lot of them have beards – although that might just be a sign of them being too lazy to shave – and a following is important too – unless it’s a following of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches and such.




Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


Author Style Cooking…

It’s been a hectic morning.

I got up early and made a man’s breakfast for my wife. She’s a dance and fitness instructor and Saturdays are particularly busy.

I chopped up a fat old onion and a couple of leftover potatoes and fried them up nice and crispy. Meanwhile, I grated some cheese into cracked four eggs.

Scooped the potatoes and onions out of the pan.

Drop some bread into the toaster.

Run upstairs with a good cup of coffee and set it on her bedside just as the alarm goes off.

Run downstairs and throw the eggs and cheese into the pan.

Good eating.

Then, after I got home from the groceries I cut up some chicken and sizzled it with a little olive oil, garlic and butter in the bottom of my largest pot. Then I chopped a couple of good red potatoes, a yellow zucchini, an onion, and threw them in on top of the browning chicken. Then I dumped in a bag of baby carrots – which are usually just regular carrots whittled down – and drained a can of chick peas and chucked them. Dumped two cartons of broth on top. Sometimes I like to make my own broth but I was in a hurry today.

Lastly, I let the whole mess sit and simmer – maybe until dinner, maybe until supper – at the lowest possible temperature. I can smell it up here while I type and MAN – it sure smells good.

I call it peasant soup.

I wrote the recipe while I was grocery shopping.

I cook this again it will most likely be different.

But still taste good.


Do you see how easy that all sounds – because it is. Hacked up chicken, hacked up vegetables and simmer in a pot. Cooking isn’t all that hard. Take what you have and throw it in a pot.

Writing a blog entry is just that easy as well.

I take what I have and I throw it in a pot.

Right after this I have to get back to working on a manuscript for a YA novel. I’m about 36000 words into what should wind up at about 50000.

How am I doing it?

I’m slicing up what I’ve got…

…and throwing it into a pot to simmer.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Getting the most out of your Amazon Reviews…

Let’s face it.

If you’re interested in selling your e-books Amazon is pretty well the place you want to be.

In a word – Kindle. They are still the top of the food chain when it comes to moving e-books.

But they are awfully fussy about reusing their reviews.

Basically – once you post a review at Amazon in their review section it belongs to them – which means that if you want a potential reader to buy one of your e-books – and you believe that a certain review on Amazon is just what is required to make that sale happen – then you have to figure out a way to get that potential reader over to Amazon and aim their eyes at a specific review. Which is relatively easy if you only have one or two reviews on that book in the first place – but if you’ve got more than a dozen reviews you don’t REALLY want to take the chance that the first review that potential reader looks at is the one bad one that says that your feet smell funny – and so does your book.

So – how do you get your reader to a specific Amazon review?

It is easy. So easy that I suspect that a lot of folks already know – so I am posting this entry for those folks who just haven’t figured it out yet.

Click over to the book in question.

Scroll down the review page until you reach the review you want to link to.

THEN – click the title of the review. That will take you to a separate page where the review is proudly displayed.

Look down at the bottom of the review and you will see a little tag that reads “Permalink”.

Click “permalink” and then copy the link that it takes you to off of your browser bar.

For example:

That should take you to the latest review of SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME. It’s one of my favorite reviews and – as soon as you read the part about Tim Hortons – you will understand why!

The man read the book in Tim Hortons.

I absolutely love it.


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


How NOT to market your latest e-book…

As mentioned – I am the guest blog over at D.D. Scott’s READER’S GUIDE TO E-BOOKS!


Hit that link and click on over to RG2E and leave a comment for an opportunity to win yourself a gifted free e-book of SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME!


RG2E Featured Author Steve Vernon talks about Writing “Buy My Books” on Bathroom Stall Walls.


Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon