Tag Archives: scarecrows

Let’s Talk Scarecrows…with RG2E Featured Author Steve Vernon

A guest-blog entry at RG2E (Reader’s Guide To E-Publishing)


Let’s Talk Scarecrows…with RG2E Featured Author Steve Vernon.


Check it out and leave a comment at RG2E for the chance to win a free e-copy of TATTERDEMON.


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

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)


Tatterdemon – now available in Kindle

There is something about a scarecrow blowing in the field that both intrigues and terrifies me. The grim implacable nature of the sight of a man-like figure, impaled upon a cross of timber or driftwood. Clad in tattered hand-me-downs, ofttimes reeking of mold and despair.

I believe this fascination with these homemade idols began when I first watched Walt Disney’s THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH.







Now that was a cool and scary dude.

I spotted it once on dvd. I should have bought it but my wallet was empty at the time. I came up a couple of weeks later and it was out-of-stock. Turns out that Disney had only made it available for about a month. Now, if I want to own a copy I have to pay a billion dollars to some dude on Amazon who is holding out for top dollar prices.

I’m sorry – but Walt, that truly sucks mule leg.

So I set out some time ago to write my own scarecrow novel.

How long ago?

Well, at the time I was writing it with Leisure Horror in mind. Thankfully, that deal never came through. The book sat unsold on a shelf for a very long time. There were only so many publishers out there that I felt would do justice to such a project.

You have to understand that TATTERDEMON is the largest and longest book I have ever written – about 100000 words in total. And, at the time, it needed an awful lot of cleaning up. I let it sit for a good long while and then whittled it down to a solid 90000 words.

Then last spring I started looking into publishing e-books. I approached a couple of companies and Tatterdemon was picked by one company – directly before I got involved with the good folks at Crossroad Press. A year after signing the other e-book company hadn’t been able to get TATTERDEMON out there – so I asked them kindly if they wouldn’t mind if I took it back. They completely understood. I took it back and brought it to Crossroad Press. We hammered on it some. The Crossroad editing team spotted a few thousand goofs that I had made.

Meanwhile I found myself a good cover artist – namely Neil Jackson. We took a look at a couple of different cover designs. First, we toyed with the notion of using the Nuckalavee, a centaur-like fairy-beast that figures into the storyline.




Then we decided to keep it simple with an eerie sort of scarecrow figure, standing alone in a darkened field. I mean, the Nuckalavee is cool and all – but this is a book about scarecrows.












And my golly, do I throw an awful lot of scarecrows your way. If you don’t dream of hay and sticks and faded denim than I guarantee your imagination-muscle is seriously on the fritz.

So, if you are looking for a big fat fun and frightening read this month – why not pick up a copy of TATTERDEMON?

You can buy it directly from the publisher, if you like. That always gives me the best cut of royalties – and offers you a choice between  Mobi (Kindle), ePub (Sony / Nook / iPad / Kobo), PDF (Adobe), or PRC (Mobipocket).                                            http://store.crossroadpress.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=1_243_244

Or you can buy it at Smashwords – which is a great little company for folks who are into indie self-publishing. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/160392

Or you can buy it at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/TATTERDEMON-ebook/dp/B0081UEXPE

Whatever you do – go out and buy it. This may be the last big fat novel I write. When I put together TATTERDEMON I was still writing for the commercial paperback market. At that time you were expected to turn in a manuscript that was AT LEAST 80,000 words or longer. These days I tend towards leaner work – maybe 40,000 to 60,000 words. In e-book that works just fine. I’ve always preferred the novella format and I used to love reading Doc Savage and the like – lean hard-hitting skinny little pulp novels that you shot through your eyeballs and into your brain like a dose of hot gamma rays.

Still – I will say this. I’ve always told people that the book that made me think to myself – “Gee, I want to write horror.” – was Stephen King’s SALEMS LOT. I absolutely loved the way that King captured that whole small town meets the booga-booga feeling. I loved the way he wove those small town characters into the fabric of his yarn. I tried to insert a little bit of that small town magic in SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME – (which is still free on Amazon today – plug, plug, plug) – but it is in TATTERDEMON that I get to rock on that particularly riff full out.

So – if you dig SALEMS LOT – then I’m pretty sure you are going to dig TATTERDEMON.


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon