Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: book review

How do you catch a reader’s attention? With the first sentence.

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Editor’s note:  Writers Who Kill is unlike many book blogs or book websites.  Articles submitted to it are read and carefully edited before they are published.   The site features reviews of new mysteries, articles on the craft of writing and writers’ experiences researching and writing, interviews with authors and more.  A talented team of writers are regulars on the site and they host occasional guests.  The following column of  mine appeared on the site last month.

Where to begin? I agonized over this question when I wrote my first mystery novel. For my first sentence should I go for something literary, something clever, a play on words? Trained as a journalist and a nonfiction writer for years, I was tempted to write a first sentence that summarized the story or the theme. And I did. Then came my second novel—the just-released Desert Kill Switch—and I decided I needed a new way to start.

One of the most significant ways that writing fiction has influenced my recreational reading is that I pay closer attention to first sentences. Sometimes they can put me off a novel immediately. Or draw me in. I’ve become a student of first sentences.

When writers and editors put together lists of best first sentences, the work of classic novelists tends to cluster at the top, Austen, Melville, Dickens, Orwell. They provide excellent examples, but are they suitable for a murder mystery? “Call me Lyle,” (one of my main characters) is not memorable, except perhaps as a riff on Melville. “It was the best of times for Lyle.” Nope.

A first sentence is like a first impression when you meet someone. Does a person’s verbal greeting or looks attract your attention and encourage conversation? Like someone going out with a highly touted blind date, a writer is eager to make a good impression.

One of the best first-sentence writers around, Stephen King, offered this advice in The Atlantic Magazine in July, 2013. “There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s a tricky thing….But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

Anne R. Allen, mystery writer and co-author of How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide, agrees. “On that first page, we have only a few lines to grab the reader and keep her from putting the book back on the shelf. We have to present an exciting hook…but not overwhelm [readers] with too much information.”

One item of information that may be extraneous in first sentences is weather. It’s become clichéd thanks to the familiar “dark and stormy night” penned by British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton 187 years ago. “Never open a book with the weather,” is the oft quoted line from Elmore Leonard. Yet years before Leonard offered his advice, Raymond Chandler used weather in the first sentence of The Big Sleep. And I think he got away with it:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

Mystery writer Lilian Jackson Braun used weather to begin The Cat Who Tailed a Thief in 1997. “It was a strange winter in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere.”

Adding to my confusion, I discovered this advice Ernest Hemingway wrote to John Dos Passos in a letter* in March 1932: “Remember to get the weather in your god damned book—weather is very important.”

Can’t ignore Hemingway. What to do? I turned for help with my first sentence to noir master James M. Cain. He used a short but telling sentence to begin his famous depression era, The Postman Always Rings Twice. With nine words the narrator tells us he’s a less-than-first-class traveler and perhaps disreputable, too. “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.”

Sometimes unusual or intriguing sentences are best to grab your interest. Ross Macdonald, one of the best stylists of the detective genre, started his 1954 Find a Victim this way: “He was the ghastliest hitchhiker who ever thumbed me.”

Since most mystery, crime and detective stories involve murder, you could begin with that. “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to kill him.” That’s how Graham Greene began his dark 1938 tale, Brighton Rock.

Ultimately, I abandoned the weather, decided a reference to murder could wait for the second paragraph of my novel, and went with an intriguing first sentence that conveyed action.

“Lyle Deming braked his Mustang hard and aimed for the sandy shoulder of the desert road.”

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Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961, Carlos Baker, editor, Scribner Classics, 2003; original copyright 1981 The Ernest Hemingway Foundation, Inc. and Carlos Baker.

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Mark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the road from Disneyland. Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park.

He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno. Bacon is the author of business books and his articles on travel and other topics have appeared in newspapers from the Washington Post to the San Antonio Express News. Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

To read comments posted after this article appeared,  go to:  http://bit.ly/2AclALH

 

 

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Book Review:

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Desert Kill Switch – Killer Classic Cars and Murder – Great Who Done It

Former cop Lyle Deming is now a cabbie at a new theme park located in Arizona appropriately named Nostalgia City. His life is much calmer now that he left the force, and he likes it that way. Unfortunately for him, things are about to change for the worse.

While driving home with his daughter, he sees a vintage car on the side of the road and next to the classic Firebird is a body. A very dead body full of bullets. He hustles back to his Mustang, the main thing on his mind is keeping his daughter safe if the killers are still around.

He phones the local police, but when they get to the spot, there is no car, no body and no evidence of a crime. Deming knows he wasn’t hallucinating, so he begins investigating the crime and the missing victim on his own. Before he can get a good handle on what happened he is called to Reno because a close friend and coworker, Kate Sorensen is in trouble.

Kate, PR director of Nostalgia City, is manning a booth at a huge classic car event. Reno’s Rockin’ Summer Days is a great place to advertise Nostalgia City where the only cars allowed in the park are vintage rides. When one of the big wigs in charge of the event ends up on the wrong end of a knife, Kate is the prime suspect because she is found with the dead body and rumor has it she is trying to get the event moved to Nostalgia City.

Deming has to help her find the real killer before she is arrested, because the evidence points at Kate. He believes her innocence, but no one else does. So the two co-workers that seem to want to be more than friends are playing hide and seek with the cops, trying to find a killer and most importantly stay alive. After all, there is a killer on the loose who would love to see Kate in jail for the crime he or she committed.

There are so many suspects with plausible reasons to kill Al Busick it was fun to find out who finally did it. He was a conniving man, a car dealer with questionable morals and undeniably hated by many. It was fun to be twisted and turned by the plot. The characters are interesting and varied, each playing a vital role no matter how big or small.

Desert Kill Switch is a fast read, but don’t confuse that with a simply written story. Bacon’s descriptions are a thing of beauty. When looking for a suspect, Deming is driving down a desert road. The dust his tires are kicking up is described as “…ghosts following his car…” And the reader knows that Deming is well read when he quotes Dickens.

From the descriptions of Nostalgia City, I would love to have someone build this blast from the past theme park. I am sure it would be a big hit with baby boomers as well as those a bit younger.

Bacon’s second Nostalgia City Mystery is the first I have read. It is fun, suspenseful and impossible to put down once you crack the spine. I am going to search out the first in the series and keep an eye out for the third which is promised to be published soon.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves an easy to read, well written novel with an intriguing plot. It is a must read for mystery loving vintage car fans.

–Laura Hartman
Writeknit.com

New mystery & suspense for summer reads

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Storm Shelter
Dr. Jennifer Delozier
WiDo Publishing, June 2017
Paperback $14.47  Kindle $4.99

Dept. of Veterans Affairs psychologist Dr. Persephone Smith is assigned to assist survivors of a massive hurricane.  Trapped by a howling storm in an abandoned aircraft hangar, Dr. Smith must become counselor and detective when the evacuees and staff start disappearing—then reappearing as mutilated corpses.

Readers of Storm Shelter learn that Dr. Smith has a unique genetic gift of enhanced empathy allowing her to feel, on a primal level, the emotions of others.  This helps with her job as a counselor, but the gift comes with a price. Plagued by nightmares and insecurity, she absorbs the suffering of her patients by day and swills tequila by night.

When trapped in the hangar by the storm, emotions run wild and the survivors descend into paranoia and madness challenging Dr. Smith on many levels.

Dr. Jennifer Delozier has practiced medicine for 23 years.  She spent the early part of her career as a rural family doctor and then later as a government physician, caring for America’s veterans. She continues to practice medicine and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and four rescue cats.  Storm Shelter is a prequel to her first novel, Type & Cross. Visit her at www.jldelozier.com

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Trained to Serve
Amy Shojai
Kindle Worlds,  May 2017
132 pages
Kindle $1.99

In Any Shojai’s novella, Trained to Serve, Lia Corazon has only three days left to prepare ten-month-old Keiki for the police dog test. There’s more than the dog’s future at stake. Success will save Lia’s dream of rebuilding her North Texas dog kennel. But there’s a killer on the loose and he’ll burn anybody who gets in his way.

When a training exercise takes a deadly turn, Lia sends Keiki to protect a young girl, but who will protect Lia?  Trained to Serve is the second in the Keiki & Lia thriller series. Continue Reading →

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