Friday, December 21, 2012

How Much I Liked Jackdaws


Even though I disparaged the final lines of the book I loved Jackdaws by Ken Follett. It was just as good as all of his other thrillers and better than a few. Interesting side note but the most viewed page of this blog comes from Ken Follett, it is the review of Eye of the Needle. More visitors to this site click on that review than any other post. I wonder, since Jackdaws was marginally better than Eye of the Needle if this post will outstrip that post.



I made several notes and marks while reading this book, this first one is a description of the main characters husband. Can you guess why I liked it?

He was still the sexiest man she had ever met. He was tall, and he dressed with careless elegance in rumpled suits and faded blue shirts. His hair was always a little too long. He had a come-to-bed voice and an intense blue-eyed gaze that made a girl feel she was the only woman in the world.

I love that line, “He had a come-to-bed voice.” As someone who has “come-to-bed” characteristics, I can appreciate that descriptor.

I also loved this little snippet:

The vast, sooty bulk of the cathedral loomed over the center of Reims like a divine reproach.

My brother I think would agree with the sentiment expressed in this passage:

“I’m an existentialist. War enables people to be what they really are: the sadists become torturers, the psychopaths make brave front-line troops, the bullies and the victims alike have scope to play their roles to the hilt, and the whores are always busy.”

It was this passage, that I read several times, which I really liked. What a wonderful way to introduce a character, even a minor one.

As a small boy in Sunday school, Paul had been vexed by a theological problem. He had noticed that in Arlington, Virginia, where he was living with his parents, most of the children of his age went to bed at the same time, seven-thirty. That meant they were saying their prayers simultaneously. With all those voices rising to heaven, how could God hear what he, Paul, was saying? He was not satisfied with the answer of the pastor, who just said that God could do anything. Little Paul knew that was an evasion. The question troubled him for years. 

If he could have seen Grendon Underwood, he would have understood. 

Like God, the Special Operations Executive had to listen to innumerable messages, and it often happened that scores of them came in at the same time. Secret agents in their hideaways were all tapping their Morse keys simultaneously, like the nine-year-olds of Arlington kneeling at their bedsides at half past seven. SOE heard them all.

There are lots of scenes of torture, not as ghastly though as most, but I liked the way he described the torturers mental preparations.

Now he imagined himself closing doors in his soul, shutting his emotions away in cupboards. He thought of the two women as pieces of machinery that would disgorge information as soon as he figured out how to switch them on. He felt a familiar coldness settle over him like a blanket of snow, and he knew he was ready.

All in all I loved this book. Ken Follett has established himself firmly in my mind as a solid go to writer. When I need a good thriller, here’s the place to turn. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Straight to the Point

Maybe not the best representative of this string of posts on how authors love to describe the morning, but this one found it's way into Jackdaws by Ken Follett.




Dawn broke as the fast car sped through the Hertfordshire villages of Stevenage and Knebworth.

Follett, Ken - Jackdaws


See, pretty thin description of the morning. But, even thin, quick or short it's representative of how the author ties it into the story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rarely but Sometimes

It's rare, but there are times when I re-post from other blogs, today is one of those days.

I dig this list from The Kill Zone by P.J. Parrish, particularly the one that gives me permission to write badly. Didn't need permission, . . . already doing it.

My favorites other than that:

#6. A week off.
#10. The clarity to recognize the seed of inspiration in the smallest things.

The whole list is worth reading for any other writers so I've linked it here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Didn't Know What to Think

I didn't know what to think when my wife told me I should read War at Home by Kris Nelscott. At first I was dubious. A female author, white, writing from the point of view of a black male in the 1960's. From my perspective this was filled with potential problems. Add to this that rarely have my wife and I agreed on what makes an intriguing and what makes a poor book. However, I was surprised by how much  I liked War at Home.



First, her protagonist, Smokey Dalton, despite having a somewhat silly name, is an inspirational and intriguing character. Secondly, her major plot in this book, and the over-riding plot of the series, which revolves around a young boy having witnessed a mystery regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King, are both really well done.

I was amazed by the fact that she was able to get me into the head of Smokey Dalton so well. There were many instances where I found myself empathizing with him and having a greater understanding of not just his challenges in the U.S. during the 1960's but also with the African-American culture.

I highlighted two lines. The first is creepy and a bit disconcertingly cringe worthy, but it stopped me as I read it cause it was so well described.


Joel moved his hand away from his face. I didn’t think I’d ever seen anyone whose skin was so white. The veins were outlined in blue, like a river of little bruises running through him. 


This second one I liked cause there have been so many times when I've wanted to write the same thing but was never able to find the right words.

“I don’t make the rules,” I said with a verbal shrug.


What's a verbal shrug? I don't know, but I understood it when I read it.




Did it start slow? Yep. Was I upset with my wife for the first fifty to one hundred pages? You betcha. Was I ultimately happy that she had recommended War at Home? Indubitably.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Horrid Last Line

Although I loved this book I thought this was a horrible, horrible last line. Nice-ish last scene, rotten last few lines though. Put a damper on the whole magilla.




Flick’s ma was there in a hat she had bought in 1938. She cried, even though it was the second time she had seen her daughter married. 

The last person in the small congregation to kiss Flick was her brother, Mark. 

There was one more thing Flick needed to make her happiness perfect. With her arm still around Mark, she turned to her mother, who had not spoken to him for five years. “Look, Ma,” she said. “Here’s Mark.” 

Mark looked terrified. Ma hesitated for a long moment. Then she opened her arms and said, “Hello, Mark.” 

“Oh, Ma,” he said, and he hugged her. 

After that, they all walked out into the sunshine.

Follett, Ken (2002-11-26). Jackdaws (p. 595). Signet. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Current First

If you don't know almost immediately where this first line is from I suggest running off to your nearest bookstore.




"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously."

Dickens, Charles - David Copperfield

Personally I think it is only beaten by the first line of A Tale of Two Cities.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

As Adept as Agatha Christie

I read with great verve this article by Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal called In Brief: Mystery that discussed the works of a AnneZouraoudi’s The Mysteries of the Greek Detective.



I don’t usually glom onto new detective series, but having read quite a few Agatha Christie’s works, and having come to the useful end of her full length novels, and not looking forward to reading more plays and short stories, I look for authors who are described as “adept as Agatha Christie in diverting the reader's attention.” Yes, that descriptor would have been more exciting had it not been followed with the last five words, but still I think it’s worth adding to the “to be read list.”

As soon as I finish David Copperfield it looks like I’ll be moving onto another, more modern, British author.

Monday, December 10, 2012

High Noon, High Character


There is a great article on High Noon today in the WSJ called To Live in Hadleyville by Henry Allen. I know, I know, usually you (few though you may be) come to this blog to read about writing or first lines, etc. Why should I waste time on a article about an old, black and white western? The reason is easy to understand if you read my post about character being all that matters.



Any of you reading this who have not seen High Noon should take a moment to do so. It’s a movie you will only have to see once. Once you’ve seen it you will remember it forever. Plus, once you’ve seen it you will realize how it is the nexus of so many other movies, western or not.

Also it’s a terrific movie to highlight what I was discussing in my previous post on the importance of character. Throughout the movie the audience comes closer and closer to identifying with the Marshall without, as the article points out, ever understanding why. The plot is insanely simple. Four assassins coming back for revenge, the Marshall has to fight them alone. But, despite the plot, the characterization is deep. 


I read the article, and it was a great article. I was able to reminisce over much of the film’s point, the final shoot out, the moment when Amy comes back to help. But even without the article, the moments that most come to mind when I consider High Noon are those that involve the Marshall asking for help from his friends and co-workers and getting nothing but demurs and denials.

I have always wanted to write a book called The Reluctant Hero. In my mind its about a fellow who doesn’t want to be a hero but is constantly being shoved into situations where he has to step up. As an aside, part of this character’s challenges would be that he constantly loses fights but just keeps getting up and plodding on. Nevertheless, High Noon might find its way into the book. It could be told from the perspective of the reluctant hero, that friend, the one guy who takes pity on the Marshall and steps up to help him.

Anyway, that’s what stands out in my mind about High Noon, the fact that no one would help this guy. He was left on an island to live or die by himself. Great movie. Go watch it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Been a while since I wrote a last line entry thanks in great part to NaNo, but I finished Kris Nelscott's War at Home just a week into the project and have forgotten to include the last line for some time now. To remedy that I offer this.


He looked at me then. His dark eyes were more open than I had ever seen them. “You’re the one who always talks about living up to your responsibilities, no matter how tough they are. That’s all I’m going to do. I can’t live with myself otherwise.” 

He had turned my own words on me. I didn’t like how it felt. But I didn’t try to argue with him anymore. He knew the risks, and he was taking them. It was his life to live, his choice to make. 

I simply wished I could keep him from it — and I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t. 

We were silent much of the rest of the trip. But Jimmy grew happier and happier the closer we got to Chicago. He didn’t realize how much had changed. 

I was feeling nothing. I was empty, just like I had when I returned from Korea. Dislocated, distant, at a loss without really knowing why. 

I was returning from a different war and, like the first, I didn’t entirely comprehend it. 

The only thing I knew was that in some very fundamental ways, we had all lost.

Nelscott, Kris - War at Home

It was a good book and the that line "I was feeling nothing . . . " is a nice one. The way that Jimmy comes around by the end is also a good secondary plot in the book. I'll have more next week when I post a review. Not a bad last few lines.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Words

Here's one that the Word Smither wished he would have come up with (if you are unfamiliar with the Word Smither series, click that link back there to catch up or see the label to the right).

I was talking to my co-worker about an aspect of our jobs. He told me that what I was working on was "futile" but he said it as fu-dal (like feudal) not fu-tile (with a long "i" sound). This made us start discussing the pronunciation of the two words and reminded him of a vendor at a jazz festival who told him:

"Sure I could give you ice but it will be fruital."

He had to assume that it was a combination of "fruitless" and "futile." I have to assume that this will be a word I use a lot in the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hot Rock

Prior to starting NaNo this year I read two novels, one was Donald Westlake's The Hot Rock. Just like the other Dortmunder Novels that I've read I thoroughly enjoyed this one.


I have my favorite Dortmunder Novels, specifically Drowned Hopes ranks near the top, but this one might just have surpassed it. It is simple, yes, it if fun though and although predictable, it's a nice light-hearted novel that doesn't disappoint if you like this genre.

Only one note was made by me in the text:


A wavering thin ribbon of smoke extended up from the smoldering Camel, as though tiny Cherokees had set up a campfire in the ashtray.

I liked that. The way Westlake write about the tiny Cherokees. A good way to describe that ribbon of smoke.

I look forward to the next Dortmunder novel and I'm going to go try and find this movie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Minute Before the Explosion


It’s been so long since I posted a first line it almost feels out of character. But, as soon as I finished the NaNo I immediately downloaded a new book. This is the third of fourth Ken Follett book I’ve read. It starts off well.

One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cécile was at peace. The evening was warm, and a layer of still air covered the town like a blanket. The church bell tolled a lazy beat, calling worshipers to the service with little enthusiasm. To Felicity Clairet it sounded like a countdown.

Follett, Ken - Jackdaws

Really I could have left out the second half of the passage and it would have been just as good a first line “One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte- Cécile was at peace.” That’s pretty good first line stuff right there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

NaNoWriMo Version 7.0 - A Review

So success has been achieved. Once again, another NaNo done. I was right too, I had the least amount of time to work on it this year than in years past. I was also right that since this is my sixth (?) maybe seventh one that it was the easiest.


As I was coming across the winner's tape I wondered to myself if NaNo is really worth it anymore. The 50K number is so arbitrary and is painfully less than I need for a full novel. Toe the Line is about 75K and it's shorter than the second one due out in June, On the Edge, which is 92K.

Secondly, working on editing and re-writing last years entry, Vapor Trail, has shown me that the amount of revising and rewriting is a gargantuan undertaking where whole chapters are sometimes thrown out and completely redone.

All that being said, NaNo does do one thing positive and that is that it gives me a goal and a time limit. The last time I undertook writing a novel without NaNo I came away with a story that might have had more polished writing but had far far less substance. Additionally it petered out and I lost interest after about 25K words. NaNo doesn't let the author peter out and quit as easily.

There were several instances in this NaNo go round when I thought that the story was such a mess that I should stop altogether  I didn't. I'm glad I didn't. The writing might be rough and many of the sub-plots and avenues I'd hoped to explore didn't get fleshed out properly, but the main storyline actually came through okay. It wasn't what I expected it to be when I started but I feel confident that with some massaging I could have something good.

Also, I found that the last 500 words or so were just notes to myself about sub-plots I wanted to include but didn't get the time to, and notes on characters where I thought of ways to make them more engaging or intriguing. There was a lot more that came up over the course of writing that I hadn't expected and didn't have time to include. All positive I think.

It's a good exercise, NaNoWriMo in that now I have five or so (extremely) rough drafts in my novel library that with some hard work can (hopefully) become much better.