Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Reprise: Fabulous First Lines

The first line of your novel or story can make it or break it. Are your words intriguing? Compelling? Do they make the reader hungry for more? Consider these first lines written by well-known authors. How do they make you feel? What images come into your head? Do you want to read more?

1. “Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in the town.” Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show

2. “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.” Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

3. “When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” Cormac McCarthy, The Road

4. “The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought.” Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

5. “Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.” Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

6. “When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean’s Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country.” H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror

7. “On these cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.” Richard Matheson, I Am Legend

8. “The cat had a party to attend, and went to the baboon to get herself groomed.” David Sedaris, squirrel seeks chipmunk

9. “‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.'” Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

10. “The witnesses standing at the edge of the field were staring in horrified silence, too stunned to speak.” Sidney Sheldon, The Doomsday Conspiracy

11. “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes

12. “Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.” Mario Puzo, The Godfather 

13. “I see . . .” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.” Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

14. “Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.” Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

15. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind

And the list goes on, ad infinitum. But you get the idea.

Dawn Pisturino

April 24, 2012; June 15, 2022

Copyright 2012-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Interview with Underneath the Juniper Tree

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My Interview with Underneath the Juniper Tree, March 9, 2012

“Dawn Pisturino has been a staple in our dark little pages since before I can remember. We had a chance to dig through her delightfully warped mind and find out more about her fantastic writing. Please, meet Dawn Pisturino.

1. Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Which books do you find yourself always going back and reading over again?

I’ve read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights fifteen times. I love its Gothic elements. Most recently, I’ve been reading Mary Downing Hahn’s middle-grade books. She writes creepy ghost stories and historical fiction for children.

2. How do you start a story? Do you start at the beginning, or do you dive right in the middle?

I start with a vision in my head and try to capture it on paper. Cutting out the fluff and getting right into the story engages the reader. Since I get bored easily, it keeps my interest, too.

3. Do you have any rituals before you start writing? Do you need to warm up? Or do you go right into it?

I must have my morning cup of tea before I do anything! If I want to establish a particular mood, I play music, read poetry, watch a movie or TV program, and read passages from Lovecraft or Poe.

4. What is your dream project?

My dream project is to finish the adult literary horror novel that I started, make it a best-seller, and sell the movie rights. Isn’t that every author’s dream?

And for all you budding writers out there, here’s some advice from Dawn:

Read, read, read. Not just popular fiction, but classic fiction and nonfiction. Everything you read stimulates your imagination and expands your point of view.

Check out Dawn’s interpretation of darling little Lizzie Borden in our February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Excerpt from “Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party,” by Dawn Pisturino.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

“You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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WRITERS: MIND YOUR MANNERS!

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A MESSAGE FROM JON BARD, MANAGING EDITOR OF CHILDREN’S BOOK INSIDER:

“If you spend a fair amount of time online, perhaps you’ve noticed it:

People are becoming ruder. And angrier. And more entitled.

Really, I’m simply amazed at some of what appears in my e-mail inbox. Folks with whom I’ve never corresponded are sending me demanding messages such as “SEND ME THE EBOOK!!!!” and “I WANT TO GET PUBLISHED. TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

People (non-customers) send us long, detailed questions out of the blue and expect immediate responses. If they don’t get one, we often receive an abusive message as a follow up.

And then there’s the magic words that many people seem to be using as a justification for curt, nicety-free missives:
“Sent via my iPhone.”

Look, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve got a pretty thick skin. So I raise this not to prevent my feelings from being hurt, but rather as a cautionary message about how *not* to sabotage your writing career.

As a 21st century author, your ability to communicate is paramount to your success. Editors, agents, bloggers, book reviewers, distributors, promotional partners and readers are just some of the people who are important to your career. For goodness sake, treat them with more respect than “Here’s my new book. Write a review!”.

Here then, are my tips to help you be seen as a courteous author worthy of consideration:

• “Dear”, “Thank you”, “Please” and “Sincerely/All the Best/Yours Truly” aren’t archaic leftovers from the distant past. They’re still as important as ever. Use them. Please.

• Composing a message from your phone or tablet is not an excuse for overly-direct curtness. If you have a business message to send, wait until you have the time to write it properly.

• If you’re contacting someone for the first time, make the effort to introduce yourself, and clearly state the purpose of your message.

• If someone doesn’t get right back to you, don’t fire off an angry e-mail accusing them of ignoring you. Perhaps the message got lost. Maybe they’re on vacation. Perhaps they’re ill. Calmly send another friendly message restating your request or comment.

• Remember that you’re dealing with human beings. In our case, every piece of e-mail is read either by me or by Laura. We don’t have a building full of underlings to take care of that for us. When you send us kind words (and many of you do — thank you!), it feels great. When you’re rude or angry, it stings. Treat me with respect — I think I’ve earned at least that.

The vast majority of you are nothing but gracious in your communications with us. That bodes well for your future success. Keep at it, and gently work to correct those who aren’t minding your manners.
For the few of you who may have let your etiquette slip, please take heed of the points I’ve laid out, and make a resolution to make the online world just a little bit more courteous.

That’s it — venting over! Onward….”

THANKS, JON!

Dawn Pisturino

 

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TOO MANY BOOKS, TOO MUCH COMPETITION

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In an interview with the blog SIX QUESTIONS, John Raab, Publisher/CEO/Editor-in-Chief of Suspense Magazine, answered the following question:

“What can you truly expect to get out of your writing?”

“I feel that many authors have false expectations and think they are writing the next NY Times Bestseller. Here is the problem with that. Just because your book is not high on a list or selling that great, doesn’t mean you can’t write. Authors have to remember that anybody can now publish an EBook on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. What does that mean? That means that readers now have to navigate through thousands of more books to find one they like and readers only have a certain amount of money to spend. If you don’t have thousands of marketing dollars behind your work, then you have to spend triple the amount of time marketing to fans than it took you to write the book. Writing the book is the easy part, getting paid from it is the difficult part. Authors should expect to not retire off their work, but instead write for the love of it, because it is your passion. Writing and music are the same thing, you see a great band in a bar and say ‘They are better than anything I hear on the radio, why aren’t they signed?’ Writing is the same way.”

Is it true? Are there too many books on the market? Writers don’t just write for the love of writing, they write to make a living. But if thousands of self-proclaimed authors are flooding the market with books, how can someone achieve that goal?

For myself, I stopped buying books because I was tired of wasting my money on mediocre crap that was marketed as best-seller material. A slick cover and a wide audience do not a-book-worth-reading make. Extensive marketing will not salvage a poorly crafted commodity. Readers might buy from you once, but they won’t come back again.

The book market is, in fact, overwhelming. Every time I go into Barnes & Noble, the stacks of unread (and unbought) books makes me want to swoon.  Scanning through Amazon and Goodreads makes me feel the same way.

The books shout in my head: READ ME! READ ME!

It’s the same on Facebook. Thousands of self-proclaimed authors scream at me: BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!

Millions of blogs and online publications float around in Internet outer space, vying for attention.

TV, movies, and video games also provide tough competition. And to top it off, a recent poll suggested that only 75% of the population ever reads a book (print or digital.)

So, what’s a writer (and reader) to do in an age of information overload?

1. Write the best damned book you can, using original ideas.

2. Don’t write derivative material because thousands of others are doing the same thing. We don’t need anymore books about vampires and wizards unless the slant is so original, and the characters so unforgettable, that the world just can’t live without them.

3. Define your goals realistically. If you are only writing out of love for the craft, then be content to do so. But if you dream of making a living as a writer, then treat it as a business.

Personally, I think the publishing industry bubble is going to burst, just like the dot.com bubble and the housing bubble. Too many books means too many choices and a flattened market. After all, people don’t have the time or the money to spend on reading all the books out there. And traditional publishing houses depend on blockbuster best-sellers to keep themselves afloat.

I will continue to write because I love to write. But don’t be fooled: I want to make a living off of my writing as much as any other writer. The question is: can I beat the competition?

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Writing short fiction has definitely improved my writing. I wholeheartedly agree with this advice.

The Author Chronicles

Now that I have more time to write (Toddler started preschool), I have been trying my hand at short stories. This is a new format for me, but I am enjoying learning the new skills for this format. Even as a novelist, I am finding many benefits to exploring short fiction:

1. Experimentation.

I can play around with things I would not be able to with a novel-length work. For example, if I want to dabble in a genre I usually don’t write, I can test it out quickly. If I have a new or existing character I want to explore more in-depth, I can concentrate on just them.

2. Practicing one particular writing technique at a time.

When dealing with a novel, it is often hard to go back and look at things such as dialogue, to make sure each character sounds different. Even when doing a dialogue pass…

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Bree Ogden, literary agent extraordinaire, is making herself available for all you aspiring authors out there! Check out her class!

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I’ve had enough experience with writers to know that they almost always feel like this when writing their query letter:

Writers Block

 

Because they know that agents are like this almost every day:

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You want agents fighting over your query and manuscript like it’s the freaking Ring of Mordor. If you are stuck, feel like you just can’t figure out how to write that winning query letter, think about signing up for my LitReactor.com class THE ART OF THE QUERY LETTER.

Being a literary agent myself, I know what grabs us, what immediately turns us off, what makes us laugh in good spirits and what makes us laugh in disgust. Often times, you’ll think that your clever opening will win you a manuscript request, when in reality, it’s the thing that makes us hit the “trash” button.

During the course of my class, I will help you:

  • Learn how…

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Right on, Bree Ogden!

this literary life

In 1912, Henry Gilbert released his epic novel, Robin Hood.

In 1922, released was the stunning Ulysses by James Joyce.

a_wrinkle_in_time_original_coverAldous Huxley published the ground breaking Brave New World in 1932.

Albert Camus brought us Existentialism with The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus in the year 1942.

1952, had us all crying over a spider with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

A Winkle in Time, Something Wicked Comes This Way, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Clockwork Orange all blew our minds in 1962.

No one will ever love a book more than The Princess Bride which 1972 brought us.

Roald Dahl owned the year before I was born, 1982, with James and the Giant Peach and The BFG.

In 1992, The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey  by Ernesto “Che” Guevara had us rethinking our lives and the journey’s we have taken.

2002 had us evaluating family…

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Good writing comes first because no amount of marketing will salvage a poorly crafted book.

Writers In The Storm Blog

By Lyn Horner

I’m sure you’ve all heard this before but it bears repeating. When you publish an e-book, expect to spend as much time on marketing as you spend writing the next book, especially if you’re new on the publishing scene. In order to get the most from promotional efforts, it’s wise to pick and choose where you’ll invest your precious time. Today I’ll share some suggestions gleaned from two successful e-book authors.

Most writers have heard of John Locke, the New York Times Best Selling Author who was the first self-published author in history to sell one million Kindle books. Last year he published How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, a helpful guide I highly recommend. It reveals how the author built a loyal following of readers who promote his books for him. Before Mr. Locke explained his marketing system, he listed several…

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Lots of good things out there to read for Halloween!

Underneath the Juniper Tree

The prolific and terrifyingly talented (ingenious, I might add) Neil Gaiman has started a new tradition called All Hallow’s Read. Watch the video below for details, straight from Gaiman himself.

Here at Underneath the Juniper Tree, we think this is just splendid. BEYOND splendid. We encourage everyone to partake in Gaiman’s tradition.

Inspire reading and inspire terror.

If you need a few suggestions of books to gift, the website for All Hallow’s Read offers many (even a great list from Neil himself) or you can check out some of my suggestions below:

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Red Rain by RL Stine

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

I Spy a Skeleton (or any of the “I Spy” books) by Jean Marzollo

ZOMBIES: The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics by Craig…

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A Writer 24/7

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by Dawn Pisturino

Adopting the writer’s mantle places us instantly in the spotlight. Everything we say, write, and do is being evaluated and judged by people we don’t even know.

With this in mind, it’s important to display our best writing at every opportunity.

I recently read a blog post by an English writer that was poorly formatted, riddled with errors, and unprofessional-looking. The purpose of the blog was to dispense writing advice to budding young authors. But what can a young author learn from run-on sentences and words that blend into one another with no punctuation or spaces? Needless to say, I no longer follow that blog.

Many self-proclaimed authors haunt Facebook and other social media sites. They promote their books with quickly-composed, ungrammatical sales pitches that reflect poorly on their abilities as writers. My thought is this: if they can’t write a simple post on Facebook, how can they write the next Great American novel? The answer is obvious.

E-mail tends to be a casual form of communication, but some people take it for granted that it’s okay to write in texting jargon and incomplete sentences. Clear, concise communication should be even more important when writing e-mails. I check my grammar and spelling every time I send out an e-mail because I want my readers to see me as a real writer.

My elderly aunt in Michigan fills her hand-written letters with poetic descriptions of the seasons and countryside where she lives. She’s not a writer, but she knows how to write. She knows how to turn a phrase and color a description so that it sticks in my head. She makes me imagine that once upon a time she wrote poetry in some dark garret. That reminds me–I need to ask her!

Writing is a 24/7 job. And everything we compose should reflect our abilities as a writer. Our readers expect it. Our profession demands it.

Published in the July-August 2012 issue of Working Writer.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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