Teaser Tuesday: SPIRIT DETECTIVE

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Here’s the first chapter of my current WIP, tentatively titled SPIRIT DETECTIVE.  I started it a while ago, but put it off to the side to write MIRROR, but it’s calling to me again so I thought I’d pull it out and see what people thought.  It’s rough as it only has the bare minimum of editing done, but hopefully that won’t detract.


Blurb:  I don’t have a blurb yet.  Sorry.  


My heart accelerated in my chest as I stood looking at the abandoned house in front of me. Simply put, it was falling apart.  Most of the windows were broken, their dark depths imploring me to follow my instincts and leave.  The paint was peeling and chipping, revealing the termite riddled wood beneath it.  The once white porch sagged and groaned under my feet, begging me to leave.  The door was broken and tilted at an odd angle, leaving the house open to the elements.  The ripped screen door squealed as it opened as if some unseen person was inviting me in.
            Just step in Rowena, I told myself with a quick glance over my shoulders.  My best friend, Lucas stood at the end of the cracked sidewalk where the squeaky gate for the splintered picket fence opened and shut with the wind.
            He grinned at me, brushing back a stray blonde hair the wind had blown into his eyes.  “If you’re scared, Ro, just say so.  We’ll go home.”
            With a growl, I yelled back, “I’m not scared.”  The one remaining shutter slapped against the house, causing me to jump.  Luke barked out a laugh and I straightened my shoulders and turned to face the house again. 
            It’s just a house. It’s just a house, I repeated like a chant in my head as I stepped toward the gaping hole that was the front door.  The wind blew through the house, causing a sound like a moan to emit from it and me to stop in my tracks as my heart jumped into my throat.
            My hand trembled as I reached for the knob.  Why am I doing this again?  Oh yeah, that stupid ten-dollar bet, a bet I’d made on a dare. 
            Luke and I had been sitting outside on my front porch, drinking soda and playing truth or dare, but–because we knew everything about each other–it was more along the lines of dare or dare.  He’d dared me to spend an hour at the abandoned house and bet me ten dollars I couldn’t do it. I’d, of course, taken it. 
            If it had been just the ten dollars I’d have backed up and gone back home, laughing, but it wasn’t.  There was a much more important thing on the line than just a measly ten dollars.  My pride. 
            I’d never welched on a bet, or chickened out from a dare.  I wasn’t planning on starting now.
            With a deep breath, I pushed aside the tilted door and jumped when the last rusted hinge broke and the door feel into the house and crashed to the floor. 
            “Well, geez, Ro.  Why don’t you just wake the dead while you’re at it?” Luke called, his voice laughing at me.
            “Very funny,” I yelled over my shoulder and winced when my voice echoed throughout the house.
            Taking a minute to let my heart settle again, I looked around inside. I’d never seen it before. If you took the outside into consideration, the inside looked pretty good.  If you didn’t take into count the spider webs and dust that covered every square inch I could see.
            With another deep breath, I took the first step through the doorway and then stopped to turn around.  “I’m in.  Start the clock.”
            “Got it,” Luke called back and even through the howling wind I could hear the beep that symbolized the start of my hour. 
            Well, I’m in.  Now what? I’ve got a whole hour to kill. Might as well explore. 
            The house was three stories and I decided to start on it and then work my way down.  A house this old had to have something interesting in it. The dust on the floor was so thick I left footprints in it with each step.
            It had been abandoned for as long as I could remember, but my mom and her Bunko buddies talked often about the Mooney Mansion.  It had been the first house in Seminole County in the late 1800s.  The Mooney’s had had a whole plantation of celery, hundreds of acres, but when they died, the children had sold off the land an acre at a time until only the land surrounding the home was left.  Eventually the house was sold off to pay the taxes.
            Since then, the house had been bought and sold numerous times, no one staying longer than five years; earning it it’s haunted house title. 
            It didn’t appear too scary, now that I was inside.  In fact, the inside looked pretty darn good.  The staircase creaked slightly with each step, but the wood appeared to be in good shape and the carpet was only slightly threadbare.
At the landing for the second floor, a mouse scurried in front of me, squeaking at me as if yelling at me for ruining it’s nighttime stroll.  I slapped a hand across my mouth to block the little yelp that tried to escape and continued on up to the third floor, trailing my hand along the surprisingly smooth banister. 
A shiver racked my body as a breeze blew through the hall and I frowned as I wondered where it had come from.  There weren’t any windows and the doors to the rooms were all shut. 
I paused.  Which way should I go?  Left? Or right?  After a quick game of “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe,” I went left.
A feeling of unease settled in my belly almost immediately as I walked to the room at the end of the hall. Whatever was in that room I was sure I didn’t want to know about, but I was still strangely pulled to it.
            A flash of memory came to me as my hand wrapped around the crystal doorknob. 
            My mom and her friend Kate had been sitting outside on the front porch of my home the summer after I’d turned five.  They were both sipping their tea and gossiping about neighborhood news and almost daily pastime.
            “Did you hear about the old Mooney place?” my mom had asked, her face showing the hope and excitement it always did when she was sure she had something juicy to tell.
            “No.  I thought that young couple bought it a few months back, but they’ve never done anything with it,” Kate replied, sipping her tea.
            My mom beamed.  “No, and they won’t.  The woman was staying there about a week ago trying to decide on paint samples while her husband went to get food.  Well, she went to one of the rooms on the third floor, but the door was locked.”
            Kate sniffed and then winked at me.  “Well, couldn’t she get a key?”
            My mom rolled her eyes.  “Kate.  The doors don’t lock.  Not the bedroom doors.”
            “Oh.”
            “So, anyway, thinking the door was just stuck, she rammed the door with her shoulder and the door opened as easy as you please.”
            Kate shrugged.  “Maybe she just didn’t push hard enough the first time.”  She smiled down at me and then, when she was sure my mom wasn’t looking, slipped me a piece of toffee she had hidden in her skirt pocket.
            I took it with a smile and carefully unwrapped it, hoping my mom wouldn’t hear the telltale crinkle of the wrapper.
            My mom still looking away from us said, “Maybe, but when she stepped into the room you’ll never believe what she saw.”
            Kate rolled her eyes at me, causing me to giggle.  “What?
            “Well,” my mom said, leaning forward toward Kate, dragging out the story, “she opened the door and on the walls, written in blood, were words.”
            I choked on the piece of candy, and Kate gave me a few thumps on the back to dislodge it, while she laughed.  “Oh, come on, Lynn.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”
            My mom laughed and shook her head.  “No, of course not, but she did.  Screamed like the devil himself had visited her and ran straight out of the house.  When her husband came to get her, she demanded they leave right then and there.  Don’t know if he saw it, but they left that night, leaving everything they had there.  ”
           
            Another cold chill shook my body as I turned the knob easily in my hand and stepped into the room with my eyes closed.  I was sure this was the room they were talking about.  Why else would I have been drawn to it?
            A voice in my head told me to turn around and wait for the remaining minutes downstairs, but despite being scared out of my mind I was insanely curious.  Would there be words written on the walls?
            The minute I stepped through a breeze blew through and slammed the door shut, causing me to jump and yelp again.  My eyes flew open and I took a relieved breath.  The room was empty, minus a few stray pieces of furniture.
            The room was large, especially for a home as old as it was.  The wallpaper was torn, almost shredded in places, showing the slat walls behind it.  In the corner was a trunk.  I wandered around the room, tracing my fingers over the wall, half hoping to find a switch that would open a secret door. 
            I paused when I got to the trunk and then, wanting a closer look, knelt in front of it, my hands shook for some unknown reason as I touched it.  It was metal and had strange symbols etched onto its black sides. There were three locks in the front that prevented me from opening it, each lock in the shape of a skull.
In the hopes of finding the key, I searched the room oblivious to the time. I noticed a roll-top desk on the wall by the door and slid the top up and searched the drawers. When my fingers probed the middle drawer, they found a hole only big enough for my finger.  I slipped it in and pulled up, revealing a secret space.  Cautiously, I slid my hand in the space and felt something cold and metal brush against my fingers.
When I pulled it out, it was a strange looking skeleton key, which matched the chest.  I rushed over to it and slipped the key in the middle lock, smiling when I heard a soft click. Excited, I unlocked the remaining two locks and pushed open the lid, revealing a trunk full of old clothes. 
The smell of lavender permeated my nose as I pulled each article out.  This was so cool.  These clothes had to be hundreds of years old.  The little white muslin I’d just pulled out had to be from the Victorian era at least.  The high-neck and sweeping skirt proved it. 
I don’t know how long I spent going through the chest before I found a leather-bound book and wooden box.
I opened the wooden box first and pulled out a necklace.  The charm on the end of it was three triangles interconnected within a circle.  With a shrug, I slipped the leather cord around my neck, letting the symbol rest between my breasts. 
The book was the only thing left, so I flipped through it. 
“It’s just a bunch of mumble jumble,” I said in disgust. I flipped to the first page and tried figuring out what it said.  Thinking maybe it would make more sense I read it aloud, stumbling over the handwritten words.
være på vakt forbannelsen av gudene
snakker ikke ordene nedenfor
skjenket på deg øyet av tre.
The minute I finished, a bright light filled the room, blinding me. And I started screaming as a searing, shocking pain ran through my head, as if I’d been struck by lighting.   

Hooks in Books or The first line phenomenon.

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Can you tell me which books these first lines are from (no cheating now.  The answers will be given at the bottom of the post)?

Call me Ishmael.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. 

As I’ve been reading and rating a lot of “First Pages” on Webook, I’ve noticed several things.  There are a lot of great sounding books, but their first pages do nothing for the book.  In my quest for a dream agent, I’ve come to find that THE most important thing you can do is make your first page(really your first line) exciting.  You have to hook ’em.  Whether it be your readers or your publisher/agent.

While that doesn’t mean you have to have the character in imminent peril if that isn’t what your book is about, but it does mean making it interesting.  And it has to make the “reader” ask a question.  There has to be a reason to keep reading.

Whenever I go into a bookstore there are three things that have to be done before I pick up a book I’ve never heard of before.  The cover has to be good, then the back cover blurb has to be exciting, and then I read the first page.  Now while, I may buy a book anyway, if I don’t like one of the three, the biggest determining factor is that first line and then the first page.

If I don’t like the first line, I probably will read on to see if it gets better, but after the first page if I still don’t like it, or it doesn’t give me a reason to keep reading, why should I?

Of course, for every rule there are exceptions.  Take Twilight, for example, I only bought it because my friend said I should, so I did.  I HATED, and still do, the first three chapters, but since I bought it, I forced myself to keep reading and I got hooked on the story and finished the rest of the series over the weekend.  So, had I applied my rule, I would have missed out on a great story.  Now I won’t debate with people about how good or bad Twilight is.  I have my own issues with it, but the truth is it’s a best-seller and there’s a reason for it, probably because she’s so good with the emotional aspects of her books.

Now how do we get to that all important part of this ramble.  How do we make sure that our first line is great?

1. Sentence Style.  Basically what this means is that the sentence must be concise.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be long, but it needs to make sense.  It definitely needs to be structured correctly so that the reader doesn’t feel as if it’s a mouthful.
2. It should make the reader ask a question.  Basically this part is your hook.  This doesn’t necessarily need to be in the very first sentence, but if not it needs to be in the first paragraph.  Give your reader a reason to keep reading.  Let it be a hint of what’s to come and set the tone for the book.  If it’s a comedy, open with something funny.  If it’s a horror, something scary, etc.
3. It needs to be relevant.  Since this line sets the tone for the rest of the book, don’t just add in something that sounds interesting or funny, but has nothing to do with the story.  It’ll only cause your readers to stop reading that much faster.  Readers are smart, they’ll figure it out.
4. It needs to allow for setup.  You shouldn’t toss your readers in the middle of a scene where no one knows what’s going on.  It’s distracting, chaotic, and of course another reason not to keep going.  People don’t like feeling confused.  They want to feel like they’ve got a good handle on something before they continue.

‘Call Me Ishmael’ – Moby Dick, and is one of the most famous in American Literature.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ – Cheeky set up, this one: Pride and Prejudice.

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’– Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. One of those long sentences he’s famous for, but as you can see it follows almost every step to the T.


‘The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.’ — Nathanael West Miss Lonelyhearts.  An interesting set up that almost begs you to keep reading to find out what’s going on.  


‘You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.’ — Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Maybe not the most grammatically correct first sentence, but it sets the tone nicely for the rest of the book.  


Did you get them all?  I’m sure you did.  Enjoy the rest of Monday and I’ll see you tomorrow with another Teaser Tuesday.  And don’t forget to check out my new feature Writer Wednesday where I’ll interview someone from the publishing industry.  This week is a very special guest.  One of my friends and an awesome Epic fantasy novelist,  MJ Heiser.  She’ll be talking about her debut novel, Corona, and will offer her advice to newbie and aspiring writers.  




Funny Friday-College Admissions

>Here’s a list of statements made on actual College Admission’s paperwork.  I hope you get as much of a laugh on it as I did.  : )



Mt. Elgon National Park is well known for its rich deposits of herds of elephants.
I enjoyed my bondage with the family and especially with their mule, Jake.
The book was very entertaining, even though it was about a dull subject, world war II.
I would love to attend a college where the foundation was built upon women.
The worst experience that I have probably ever had to go through emotionally was when other members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and I went to Pennsylvania for their annual pigeon shooting.
He was a modest man with an unbelievable ego.
Scuba One members are volunteers, but that never stops them from trying to save someone’s life.
Hemmingway includes no modern terminology in A Farewell to Arms. This, of course, is due to that fact that it was not written recently.
I am proud to be able to say that I have sustained from the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products.
I’ve been a strong advocate of the abomination of drunk driving.
If Homer’s primary view of mortal life could be expressed in a word it would be this: life is fleeting.
Such things as divorces, separations and annulments greatly reduce the need for adultery to be committed.
It is rewarding to hear when some of these prisoners I have fought for are released, yet triumphant when others are executed.
Playing the saxophone lets me develop technique and skill which will help me in the future, since I would like to become a doctor.
However, many students would not be able to emerge from the same situation unscrewed.
I look at each stage as a challenge, and an adventure, and as another experience on my step ladder of life.
“Bare your cross,” something I have heard all my life.
There was one man in particular who caught my attention. He was a tiny man with ridiculously features all of which, with the exception of his nose, seemed to drown in the mass of the delicate transparent pinkish flesh that cascaded from his forehead and flowed over the collar of his tuxedo and the edge of his bow tie.
Take Wordsworth, for example; every one of his words is worth a hundred words.
For almost all involved in these stories, premature burial has had a negative effect on their lives.
I know that as we age, we tend to forget the bricklayers of our lives.
I would like to see my own ignorance wither into enlightenment.
Another activity I take personally is my church Youth Group.
The outdoors is two dimensional, challenging my physical and mental capabilities.
Going to school in your wonderfully gothic setting would be an exciting challenge.
My mother worked hard to provide me with whatever I needed in my life, a good home, a fairly stale family and a wonderful education.
I hope to provide in turn, a self motivated, confident, and capable individual to add to the reputation of Vasser University whose name stands up for itself. [Note: the correct spelling is Vassar].
Filled with Victorian furniture and beautiful antique fixtures, even at that age I was amazed.
They eagerly and happily took our bags, welcomed us in English, and quickly drove us out of the airport.
Do I shake the hand that has always bitten me?
In the spring, people were literally exploding outside.
Freedom of speech is the ointment which sets us free.
I first was exposed through a friend who attends [school].
As an extra, we even saw Elizabeth Taylor’s home, which had a bridge attaching it to the hoe across the street.
Under Activities: Volunteer (Retarded tutor)
Name of Activity: Cook and serve homeless
On a transcript: AP Engllish
Misspelled abbreviation on another transcript: COMP CRAP (computer graphics)
Handwritten on an interview form under Academic Interests: Writting.


Tip Thursday: Show vs Tell

>Here’s an excellent post on Show vs Tell by Carolyn Kaufman.  (Reposted from http://querytracker.blogspot.com/search?q=show+vs+tell)

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice writers receive. But what exactly does that mean? And when is it better to tell than show?

Last week during Open Mic MondayLady Glamis asked, Can you think of instances where it is appropriate to “tell” instead of “show”? Yes, we can, and I’ll share some of them toward the end of this post, but since a lot of writers struggle with showing vs. telling, first I want to tackle how to show rather than tell.

When you give someone the Rorschach inkblot test, you go through 12 cards with ambiguous inkblots — twice. The first time, you ask the person to tell youwhat she sees. The second time, you ask her to show you how she sees it, so you can see it just the way she does. Was it the texture of the inkblot that made her see what she did? The shading? The color? The shape?

When you show your readers what’s happening, you’re doing the same thing — helping them see your story just the way you do. And your goal is not to show them a grainy youtube clip that gives them vague impressions — you want to show them your story in big-screen high-def, complete with a killer 7.1 speaker sound system, tastes, and smells. You want them to be there.

Tip 1: Be a connoisseur.

For me, showing is a sensual experience. I close my eyes and imagine what I would smell, hear, taste, see, and feel in my characters’ situation. Then I do my best to capture the most important of those impressions as vividly — and uniquely — as possible. I want the scene to have immediacy for my reader. When writers tell, they are usually looking at the scene but not listening or touching or smelling or tasting. They’re not slowing down long enough to capture the most outstanding details or pick the most exciting verb.

Here’s a lifeless telling sentence: The bad guys suddenly shot out the tires on the good guys’ SUV.

Time to stop and ask questions about all five senses, using the most descriptive verbs you can find.

* What do your characters see? Does the SUV spin out of control, making the scenery whirl by as if the good guys were on a carousel? If your character is a racecar driver who’s lost control of a speeding car on multiple occasions, his impressions are going to be different from those of someone who just learned to drive.
* What do your characters feel? Does the SUV jolt to a halt? Does the SUV drop closer to the ground? Does the SUV slam into a curb? Do the airbags marshmallow out of the dash, crushing your characters into their seats?
* What do your characters smell and taste? Can they smell rubber burning as it’s dragged across the asphalt? Can they taste their own fear? What does that taste like?
* What do your characters hear? Having blown a tire, I can tell you that the explosion of one bursting is as loud and startling as gunfire. But what else do your characters hear? Other cars screeching to a halt around them?

If this all seems like a lot of work for one sentence, it is, but as you get used to asking questions like this, you’ll start to do it automatically, and the showing will come quicker and easier.

Here is how I rewrote the line for my story. Note two things. First, that there are almost no adjectives — both sentences are carried by strong verbs. Second, I didn’t go on and on about all the different details. This is happening fast, so I have to emphasize only the sensory information that is most important.

More gunfire, and both of the front tires burst, dropping the SUV onto its axle. Metal screamed against asphalt, and a shower of sparks hissed past my open door.

Tip 2: Use active verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives and adverbs tell; verbs show. Strong verbs make your writing vivid and real.

Adjectives and adverbs don’t move the action forward. Nothing is happening with an adjective or adverb; it just sits there on the page and tries to look pretty. For example, if I tell you about an escalator that is tall and silver but standing still, there is absolutely no movement in the sentence. If, on the other hand, I tell you the escalator looms over my character,mocking her with its steely teeth, you have a whole different feel for the escalator. It’s doingthings. Scary things.

It’s not very interesting if I tell you that Raven was a clutz. You have to make up the details for yourself. That’s not the case if I add a more information so you can see the scene for yourself: The bell rang, startling Raven, and she bumped her textbook and sent a sheaf of papers tumbling to the floor. She had to wait until her classmates had clambered over her to clean up the mess. Her face hot, she stuffed the pages into her bag, jammed her pen into her purse, and stood so fast she nearly knocked over the man who stood there.

Tip 3: Pick something unique to emphasize about your main characters.

This is going to sound harsh, but nobody cares if your main character has dark hair and hazel eyes. So do millions of other people. You need to pick one or two extraordinary characteristics and emphasize them well enough that your readers could pick your character out of a lineup.

Over time, personality becomes etched into the lines of the face and body, so try to emphasize a physical characteristic that reveals character. Maybe your heroine hunches her shoulders as if she’s fighting a strong wind; maybe her black hair is braided so tight it looks like a licorice stick. I find that when I exaggerate a characteristic, that can help. So rather than just saying your character has flowing black hair, you say her black hair gushes over her shoulders and eddies into the small of her back.

Example: The angular planes of his face turned the soft light into a study in contrasts, and in that context, what might have been a sensual mouth merely looked hard. His cheekbones were high, angry slashes, a sentiment echoed by the frown between his brows.

And rather than telling you that my hero is insouciant but intense and that my heroine finds him attractive, I can show you:

He sprawled against the far wall, the exposed flesh of his chest bronzed and glistening in the heat. A gold piece lay at the end of the chain around his neck.

Had she been forced to describe him without using licentious language, she would have said that the lines of his face were aristocratic. In the uneven light, his eyes appeared black, but their intensity, not their color, was what fascinated her.

Telling vs. Showing

In spite of the magic of showing, sometimes it’s better to tell. Here are a few of those times.
* During transitions. When you just need to get from one day to the next, don’t worry about the evening sunset, the darkness of night, and the morning mist. Just say something like “The next day…”
* When you’re summarizing something that happened during a transition. Let’s say your character had a fight with her boyfriend before she left for work in the morning, and you want to convey that she has an okay rest of the day. You can write something like, “She made it through class and the rest of the afternoon without incident” and let it go at that.
* When you’re talking about a minor character who isn’t important to the story.

Your Job

Go through every sentence of your manuscript and make sure three things are true:
1. Every single sentence and word furthers the story. It moves us forward. It shows us something crucial. This is why it’s important to just choose a few details, not overload the reader with every. single. one.
2. You have used vivid verbs, not just-sitting-there adjectives, to show your readers what is happening.
3. You have closed your eyes and thought about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches in each scene. That you have shown your reader enough of that sensory information that they are experiencing the scene the same way you are.



Writing Example Wednesday- Show vs Tell

>Okay, guys, this is just a quick post.  Here’s a few sentences that I want you to are telling.  In the comments section correct them for me.  Tomorrow, I’ll have a full post on show vs tell and I’ll answer the questions so you can check to see if you were right.

* She was furious.
* It was a beautiful day.
* He was stressed out.

* Her bedroom was girly.
* His car was a mess.

* It was a dark and stormy night.