Monday, March 19, 2012

Hooked From the Start, Part Five: "Never open a book with weather."

One of my literary heroes is Elmore Leonard and in his ten rules for good writing, number one is "Never open a book with weather."

Say what? In the previous installment of this series of first lines by favorite authors, I talked about Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle, which indeed did begin with weather. Gripping, icy cold weather.

And other favorite novels also begin with weather:
"She was dead. What did it matter if icy needles of freezing rain flayed her skin raw . The young woman squinted into the wind pulling her wolverine hood closer. Violent gusts whipped her bearskin wrap against her legs." From The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel. As this was the second in Auel's Earth Children series, I knew I was going to read it before I ever read the first lines. It didn't matter to me how she started it. I was hooked from the first novel in the series--truly hooked from the start but not from the first lines. And after reading the subsequent books, this one remains my favorite of all of them.

From Tony Hillerman's Listening Woman:
"The Southwest wind picked up turbulence around the San Francisco Peaks, howled across the emptiness of the Moenkopi plateau, and made a thousand strange sounds in windows of the old Hopi villages at Shongopovi and Second Mesa." This was the first of Hillerman's novels that I read and I read it because I saw an interview with him on the Today Show. My interest was peaked because of the subject matter and his Navajo policemen. And after reading this book, I was determined to read every book by Hillerman. The first lines had nothing to do with my love of his books. On a side note, three years after reading Listening Woman and several of his other books, I found myself substitute teaching on a Ute reservation in SW Colorado. I remember one cold winter day when the students were quietly working, I looked out the window on the barren landscape and the mesas in the distance. A feeling of peace and tranquility came over me along with the realization that I was in Hillerman country. Incidentally, Hillerman's books were on the shelves of that classroom.

My first published novel The Pig Farm (by my alter ego Chancey Hernández) began with a reference to weather:
"The tropical night air lay heavy and dense as three men stumbled and shuffled over the stone pavement of the dark, narrow street." Whether or not those words would prevent someone from reading the novel, I have no idea. I hoped when I wrote them that they would entice readers to want to read the novel.

However, with my subsequent novels, I have not opened with weather references, heeding Leonard's advice. The Pool Lizards (the sequel to The Pig Farm) begins this way: "A body was floating in the pool Sunday morning but it was a while before I or anyone else noticed it." That first line was read at a meeting of romance authors and one lady raised her hand and said those lines made her want to read the novel. And The Pool Lizards is most definitely not a romance novel!

So, I try not to start with weather when I begin writing a novel but if weather is the subject of another author's first sentence, I will still read the novel. In fact, this leads me to the next topic in this series. Many times I am hooked from the start not with first lines but with the title such as Death in Zanzibar by M. M. Kaye.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Golden Age of Mystery: Josephine Tey

This week as I continue my little essays on the ladies of The Golden Age of Mystery, my subject is Josephine Tey, a pen name used by Scottish author Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896-1952). She also wrote plays under the pen name Gordon Daviot.

She created Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant as her sleuth and wrote five novels featuring him. The Daughter of Time is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, mystery novel of all time. Alan Grant also appears in a sixth novel The Franchise Affair as a minor character. She wrote two other mystery novels that did not feature Grant.

Although her mystery novel output was small compared to other writers of the Golden Age of Mystery, she had great influence on authors such as Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters (pen name of Barbara Mertz). She is mentioned in Stephen King's novella Apt Pupil. Nicola Upson wrote a series titled the Josephine Tey Mysteries in which Tey is the main character.

It has been many years since I read her mysteries and, as a result of researching this little piece, I want to go back and reread them. I am also intrigued by the Nicola Upson series.