Category Archives: Life

Gift Certificate Winners

Just thanking everyone who shared and letting Jen Petro-Roy that she’s the winner of the $25 BN gift certificate.

Also, because Augusta Scattergood has been a constant supporter of the blog, I’m sending you a $10 BN gift certificate.

Look for the gift certificates in your email boxes today!

Thanks again to all who shared!


Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 6


It’s been a while since I began this series, but I haven’t forgotten about it. In this post I’ll talk about a type of beginning I used in my middle-grade novel, The First Last Day (May 2016, S&S/Aladdin).

While working on that novel, I tossed out several first lines and pages before finding the one that will actually appear in print. In my first draft, I began in the middle of the story, or if you prefer Latin, in media res. Unfortunately, that didn’t work—in English or Latin. It gave away the whole plot.

Next, I started in the middle of the action again, but without giving away the story. That didn’t work either.

In the third version, I began with a list that hinted at the main plot element. That sort of worked, but not quite.

In the fourth, I started with a letter/prologue that gave away the whole shebang. And even though the novel sold, my editor nixed that beginning faster than you can say letter/prologue. She had me start with the first chapter, which happened to be a cool fact that I found when I was researching quotations for a possible title.

But even before that, I’d been intrigued with books that started with odd facts or assertions. Aside from being a fun and different way to start a book, beginning with this type of statement can also tell us so much about the narrator and the story.

9780786809219For example, one of my all-time favorite first lines is from Born to Rock by Gordon Korman:

The thing about a cavity search is this: it has nothing to do with the dentist.

Not only does the narrator tell us volumes in this one sentence, he also tells it in a voice I want to continue listening to. Just from these sixteen words, I can tell this guy:

  1. Is funny
  2. Is literate because he knows how to use a colon
  3. Is probably a troublemaker
  4. Has probably undergone a cavity search

The whole thing makes me wonder what he did that caused the cavity search. So, of course, I want to read on.

Here’s a list of several other beginnings with fun facts or assertions that made me want to keep reading, followed by a suggested writing exercise.


61KCmh4Q4hL._AA160_When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in.





9780763650704I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, illustrated by Serge Bloch

Yawns are sneaky.

They can creep up on you when you least expect them.





When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by R.W. Alley

You can tell which ones they are. They know that milk tastes better through a straw, that bubble wrap is for popping, and they always throw rocks if there’s water around.



9780525464846Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson

Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.





9780316002578Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass

In Iceland, fairies live inside of rocks. Seriously. They have houses in there and schools and amusement parks and everything.




9780142405079The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck

 If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time for it.






9780544340695The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

 In the beginning, there was the donut.

At first, the donut was without form—a shape-less blob of dough, fried in fat of one sort or another. The Ancient Greeks ate them. The Mayans. Even the Vikings enjoyed a platter of puffy dough blobs between pillages.




9780316058490Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

 My sweat smells like peanut butter





9780375850875Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

There’s this totally false map of the human tongue. It’s supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since.




9781442446953Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

In musicals, characters break into song when their emotions get to be too big.

Whereas in life, of course, I break into song when my emotions get to be too big. Without getting paid for it, I mean.



9780545468039Loot by Jude Watson

No thief likes a full moon. Like mushrooms and owls, they do their best work in the dark.




9780142410370Matilda by Roald Dahl

It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.





81HByqWgT3LZeke Meeks vs His Big Phony Cousin by D.L. Green

There should be a law against homework. After a hard day of goofing off in school, I shouldn’t have to do more hard work. And I try very hard not to. But trying very hard to avoid work is hard work.





51kMPcgdliL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Little Dead Riding Hood by Amie Borst and Bethanie Borst

You know things are going suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire … well, then it totally bites.





61w+2qL1dGL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_The Tapper Twins Go to War (with each other) by Geoff Rodkey

Wars are terrible things. I know this because I’ve read about a lot of them on Wikipedia.

And because I was just in one. It was me against my brother, Reese.




41It6WDxVGL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott

Everyone’s seen my mother naked.






51jM-uxIVbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Gotta Get Some Bish Bash Bosh by M.E. Allen

 If you’re planning on going out with a girl, take my advice: don’t start over the summer holidays. Do it in term time, when there’s loads of other distractions. Over the summer holiday, keeping a girl happy on a day-to-day basis can really drain you.





Godless by Pete Hautman

Getting punched hard in the face is a singular experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a little too cocky, obnoxious, or insensitive.





9780316324779My Best of Everything
by Sarah Tomp

The ingredients for moonshine are ordinary, innocent.

Corn, sugar, yeast. Heat and time.





51nhlCLwR-L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The majority of children who are kidnapped and killed are dead within three hours of the abduction. Thanks to my roommate, the walking encyclopedia of probabilities and statistics, I knew the exact numbers.



41lgc0DksAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

The funny thing about almost-dying is that afterward everyone expects you to jump on the happy train and take time to chase butterflies through grassy fields or see rainbows in puddles of oil on the highway.





51Xoq4bjfAL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_What Remains by Helene Dunbar

No one ever calls in the middle of the night to tell you that you’ve won the lottery.






41ZDMT9ekBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakup Bible by Melissa Kantor

In nineteenth-century novels, characters die of heartbreak. Literally. A girl gets dumped, and she’s so grief-stricken she suffers a “brain fever,” or goes wandering out on the moors, and the next thing you know, the whole town is hovering by her bedside while a servant gallops on a desperate midnight ride to fetch the doctor.



Suggested exercise: Google one of the main topics of your story. I started by googling “summer” because I was looking for quotes from songs, poems, or sayings that I might use as a title. Instead, I found a fun fact about summer that I knew my narrator would love. The statement even ended up working as a metaphor for the whole novel.


If you have any favorite beginnings that start with a quirky fact or assertion of some sort, please feel free to share in the comments section.


Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 5

Hello, all!

I’ve been remiss in continuing this series of how to begin your story, so here is Part 5. I hope something below will spark a new beginning or maybe even a new story idea for you.


I ended up revising the first few lines of a picture book recently after realizing I’d been noodling around instead of getting right to the point: the main character’s problem.

No good book is about a perfect character in a perfect world–unless that character is about to be thrust into trouble. Some characters find that trouble on the first page. Below are twenty books (picture books, middle-grade and young adult) in which the problem is evident from the first few lines.

Suggested exercise: Pretend your main character is on TV, talking to Dr. Phil. What complaint does your MC have? See if something from that complaint could work itself into your first few lines.


517NY5N54ZL._AA160_100th Day Worries by Margery Cuyler

 Jessica was a worrier.

She worried about everything.


9780689711732Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad
Day by Judith Viorst

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.



The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Hi! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Pigeon is filthy. So, I could use your help because: The Pigeon Needs a Bath.



FC9780689832130Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

Farmer Brown has a problem

His cows like to type

All day long he hears

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.


9780448466934Just Jake: Dog Eat Dog by Jake Marcionette

Like lots of kids, I take the bus to and from school every day. And, like most kids, I hate the bus. For me, it’s a lose-lose proposition. Why? Because at Kinney Elementary, there are two different kinds of bus drivers, and they’re both awful.



FC9781595146915War of the World Records by Matthew Ward

It was unclear how the human thigh bone came to be sticking out of the seventeenth turret on the World’s Largest Sandcastle. It was, however, looking more and more likely that its builder would be disqualified.


FC9780385743914I Text Dead People
by Rose Cooper

There’s no such thing as ghosts.

Ghosts don’t exist.

Annabel Craven tried to convince herself that there was no reason to be freaked. But then the wrought-iron gate slammed shut behind her with a loud clunk and she knew she wasn’t crazy.

She definitely had a reason.


FC9780544336674Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry

“The suburbs,” said Anastasia. “We’re moving to the suburbs? I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you would actually do such a thing to me. As soon as I finish this chocolate pudding, I’m going to jump out the window.”



FC9780547237602The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.




9781423113393The Lost Hero
 by Rick Riordan

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.




FC9780545691116What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott

There’s no question things could have gone differently out there in those woods. One zipper more tightly zipped, one foot more carefully placed on a rotted plank, and I might not be here today. I might be roaming free instead of sitting locked up in this hole, sucking my every meal through a straw, staring at a padded wall.



This is How I Find Her by Sara PolskyFC9780807578803

On the fourth day of junior year, sometime between the second bell marking the start of chemistry class and the time I got home from school, my mother tried to kill herself.


FC9780689866241Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters
by Gail Giles

Things had been getting a little better until I got a letter from my dead sister. That more or less ruined by day.




FC9780763662622Feed by M.T. Anderson (ya)

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.




FC9781402278006The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

I have fifteen minutes to get home. It’s a twenty-five minute walk. I’m so dead.




 Unknown-1Don’t Stay Up Late by R.L. Stine

My name is Lisa Brooks and I’m a twisted psycho. I wasn’t always a total nutcase. Before the accident, I thought I was doing pretty okay.



Unknown-2Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay

It was cold–too cold for the zoo. Still, the Doyles were here, looking at the cheetahs and deciding what to do next.

Ryan wanted popcorn.

Fiona wanted the pandas.



Unknown-9The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

The moment my horrible yearbook photo first appeared on millions of televisions, sending jaws dropping, phones ringing, and joggers tumbling off their treadmills across America, I was in the middle of my AP US History final.




FC9780062323286Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

I don’t make to-do lists, but if I did, today’s would have gone something like this: 1. get drunk, 2. get laid, 3. go surfing (not necessarily in that order). Noticeably absent  from the list: get arrested. And yet here I am, spending my eighteenth birthday with my back against the wall of the Colonel’s hunting cabin, two FBI agents prowling the dark with their guns drawn, both trying to get me to confess to the murder of my friend Preston DeWitt.


FC9780545651264Backlash by Sara Darer Littman



The words on the screen don’t make sense. They can’t.

He says: You’re an awful person.

He says: You’re a terrible friend.

He says: I know you’ve been checking out dresses for the homecoming dance.

He says: What makes you think I’d ever ask you out?

He says: I’d never be caught dead at the school dance with a loser like you.

He doesn’t say it in a private message. He posts it publicly, on my Facebook wall, where everyone can see. Twenty-five people have already liked what he wrote. Even people I thought were my friends. Why would anyone like something that mean?

If you know of a great book that opens up with a problem, let us all know in the comments section.

Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 4

Confession and Denial

They say confession is good for the soul. Turns out it’s also a good way to begin a book. And it’s not bad to begin with its polar opposite–a huge denial. Take a look at how these characters bared their souls to the reader right from the start and had me hooked.

Suggested writing exercise: Write a confession or denial from your character’s point of view. See if it would make a great beginning.

FC9780152024888I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont 

One day my mama caught me paintin’ pictures on the floor and the ceiling and the walls and the curtains and the door, and I heard my mama holler like I never did before …


9780763655990This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

This hat is not mine.

I just stole it.


FC9780545477116The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however, this is no Story of a Bad Boy, no What Katy Did. If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more.

FC9780802723932A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

 I didn’t do it.

I am innocent.

I know convicts say that when they’re guilty, but I’m telling you the truth. At 3:05 today, I didn’t mean to push Amanda on her bike so hard that she sailed off the curb and fell splat on the road in the pickup line after school. Thank God Mrs. McCrory had just paid the garage to tune up her Honda. That van stops on a dime now (and hardly even came close to hitting Amanda).

FC9781442467774-1Poached by Stuart Gibbs

I would never have been accused of stealing the koala if Vance Jessup hadn’t made me drop a human arm in the shark tank.


FC9780525426523Dangerous Deception by Peg Kehret

I only intended to help two children who were hungry and had no money for food. That’s an admirable goal for a sixth-grade girl, isn’t it? You can’t get in trouble for doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Right?

Wrong! I may have had noble intentions, but I still ended up causing a car crash, being abducted by a thug, and smuggling a scared cat on a city bus by sticking him inside my T-shirt, a maneuver I do not recommend unless you’re wearing a steel undershirt.

FC9780595269525Crosses by Shelly Stoehr

“We cut ourselves regularly. Not by accident, we do it purposely—and regularly—because physical pain is comforting, and because now it has become a habit. Like the drugs. These are, in fact, the two main things Katie and I have in common. They are how we met.” This was my diary entry on November fourth, 1985.

FC9781250060006Shattering Glass by Gale Giles

Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was so much to pick from. I guess, really we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.


Absolutely, Positively Not by David LarochelleFC9780439591096

Everybody has at least one ugly secret, and mine is as ugly as they come. I square dance. With my mother.


FC9780375842498Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen

 My name is Evangeline Bianca Logan, and I am a serial kisser.



Ripple by Mandy Hubbard


The first boy I ever loved, Steven Goode, was really into cars. He received a junky ’72 Chevelle for his sixteenth birthday and spent six months rebuilding it. Everyone in school knew about it because Steven worked on it during shop class, and half the guys at Cedar Cove helped him, wrenching and sanding and polishing until every piece was as good as new.

After it was complete, Steven cruised up and down the streets near the boardwalk, one arm hanging out the window, that adorable lopsided grin never leaving his face.

Then I killed him. I drowned him in the ocean just a few hundred yards from my own sweet-sixteen party.

FC9781416913184Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt

 Day One, 8:07 a.m.

I’m a traitor to my generation. Seriously. All we hear about these days is being strong women and standing up for ourselves, and now look what I’ve done. I should totally be one of those true life stories in Seventeen. “I Built My Life Around a Boy! And Now I Regret It!”

FC9780763663322Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald

You have to understand: I’ve been madly, hopelessly, tragically in love with Garrett Delaney for two years now—ever since the fateful day when I looked up from my list of the Top Ten Couples of All Time and saw him sauntering into the local coffeehouse.

FC9780142420928Chime by Franny Billingsly

I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.



FC9781423152880Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I am a coward.

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers–and even though I am a girl, they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward…

Confession of my own: I never thought to start a book with a confession until I started this post. Halfway through, I took a break, and changed the beginning of a picture book I’d been revising for months to a quasi confession. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

Next up: Start your story by stating a problem.