Category Archives: Art

How to have an EXACT plush replica of your beloved pet

On Thanksgiving Day in 2009, Jennifer Graham‘s beloved Rufus, a Great Dane, passed away. That was when she finally decided to turn an idea she long had into reality by creating a stuffed plush replica of Rufus as a way to memorialize him.

Graham hasn’t stopped making custom stuffed animals since.

She founded Cuddle Clones, a company based out of Louisville, Kentucky where she lives. The mission of Cuddle Clones is: “To capture the emotional connection between people and their pets through our customized products.”

Cuddle Clones

Not only does Cuddle Clones sell incredible products for pet lovers and pets, Graham also works hard to give back to the pet community by donating to animal charities and pet-related causes any opportunity that she gets. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from every Cuddle Clones sale goes directly to pet-related charities and causes.

Wondering how much it will set you back to order one of these remarkable plush animal replicas? The price is less steep than you might think. Smaller pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens (!) start at $129.

Cuddle Clones5Cuddle Clones7

Larger animals, like dogs, cats, and even horses are replicated into plush for $199.

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Earth Prom, the source of this information about Cuddle Clone, says there are other companies on the market that offer similar services, but their prices tend to be about 30% to 60% more than Cuddle Clones.

Here are the easy-to-follow instructions to order online a plush clone of your beloved pet:

  1. Go to Cuddle Clones’ website:
  2. Select your type of pet.
  3. Upload at least one photo of your pet. Cuddle Clones suggests uploading more photos for the best results.
  4. Decide how your stuffed pet’s ears and tail are to be positioned. You can also provide any other distinguishing features of your pet.
  5. Add your item(s) to the cart and check out.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of Cuddle Clones’ custom stuffed animals, delivery for new orders is estimated around November 2015, just in time for Christmas!

Cuddle Clones also makes other customized products, such as ornaments, figurines, granite memorials, pet collars, personalized pet t-shirts and hoodies with your companion animal’s name.

Some owners purchase a duplicate plush animal in order to memorialize their pet. Others order a plush toy to resemble their living, healthy pets. And judging by this photo, pets like having a stuffed twin around.

Cuddle Clones6


New TV show has couples commit adultery “to save” their marriage

The 6th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”

The Sodom and Gomorrah of America’s “entertainment” industry sinks to a new low.

FYI Television, of which I’d never even heard until now, has greenlighted a new TV show on spouse-swapping, otherwise known as adultery, called The Seven Year Switch.

FYI (stylized as fyi,) is a digital cable and satellite television network that is owned by A&E Networks, a joint venture between the Disney–ABC Television Group subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation.

Lisa de Moraes reports for Deadline, April 24, 2015, that FYI’s The Seven Year Switch, named after the 1950s Marilyn Monroe movie The Seven Year Itch, is an eight-episode series in which four married couples “at a crossroads in their relationship” “bravely” put their marriage on the line by shacking up with a “new partner” for two weeks.

They will eat, live and “sleep” commit adultery with total strangers, the network said. Relationship experts will help guide the adulterous couples through the process. At the end of their “experimental marriages” adultery, the married couples will reunite and decide whether to divorce or renew their vows.

Gena McCarthy, SVP Programming and Development at FYI, described it as an experiment to determine whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Blah, blah, blah.

The Seven Year Switch is produced by Kinetic Content for FYI. Chris Coelen, Karrie Wolfe and Cat Rodriguez are executive producers for Kinetic Content.  Gena McCarthy and Liz Fine serve as executive producers for FYI.

Gena McCarthy

See also:


The Write Stuff: Secrets to Writing Descriptions Your Readers Will Love!




In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King says, “Description makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.” That’s a wise statement and I agree with it. When describing anything in your novel, whether people, places, or things, try to use as many senses as you can. Sight is the obvious one, but don’t overlook sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Just past the start of the divided highway, the sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield. Sarah sat straight up. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain, ” she said.

“I don’t mind a little rain,” Macon said.

Sarah sat back again, but she kept her eyes on the road.

It was a Thursday morning. There wasn’t much traffic. They passed a pickup truck, then a van all covered with stickers from a hundred scenic attractions. The drops on the windshield grew closer together. Macon switched his wipers on. Tick-swoosh, they went – a lulling sound; and there was a gentle patter on the roof. Every now and then a gust of wind blew up. Rain flattened the long, pale grass at the sides of the road. It slanted across the boat lots, lumberyards, and discount furniture outlets, which already had a darkened look as if here it might have been raining for some time.

“Can you see all right?” Sarah asked.

“Of course,” Macon said. “This is nothing.”

They arrived behind a trailer truck whose rear wheels sent out arcs of spray. Macon swung to the left and passed. There was a moment of watery blindness till the truck had dropped behind. Sarah gripped the dashboard with one hand.

That’s from “The Accidental Tourist” by Anne Tyler, and if you’ve ever driven a car in the rain, you can feel just how accurate those paragraphs are. The visual descriptions are excellent, but what really makes this passage sing are the sound descriptions: The word “spattered” to describe the first drops of rain hitting the windshield (spattered is a great word, describing both sight and sound); “Tick-swoosh” for the windshield wipers; “a gentle patter on the roof.” While reading, didn’t you feel you were right inside that car?

The author even gets in a quick sense of touch with “Sarah gripped the dashboard with one hand.” She doesn’t describe the feel of the dashboard, but she doesn’t have to. We’ve all gripped our dashboards at one time or another and we know exactly how it feels. In fact, by not describing the feel, the reader is able to particularize it for themselves with the memory of their own car’s dashboard in their mind.

Slaight just stripped, eased himself into the stainless steel tub and sat on the wooden bench on the bottom, dialed 105 on the thermostat, flipped the Jacuzzi switch, leaned his head back on a rolled towel, and blew out a long breath of hot, stinky air, area air, air full of sweat and gritty concrete dust and the rank stench of his sweaty f***in’ gray wool dress coat, barracks air, West Point air. The hot swirling water pounded him like a soggy jackhammer, going to work on his legs first, down there at the spot where the jet nozzle stuck into the tank. Then he felt the water at the base of his back, rooting around in his muscles, tugging at the knots of tension he brought over with him from the area, pulling that god***n M-14 off his shoulder, floating those eight pounds of steel and wood and leather up over the edge of the tank and away. Then he felt his neck let go. It was a slobbery, lazy feeling, like somebody had landed a good one on him in plebe boxing, and he had brushed the edges of consciousness, swimming around out there in that gray area where your legs are rubbery and your balance lurches in and out of contact, like a New York subway pulling away from the station platform – wham! clank! – the cars banging together as the train picks up speed … balance slipping and swaying and rushing away….

He felt good. He’s stay in the whirlpool until his toes felt like they were growing together, they were so waterlogged.

That’s from Dress Gray by Lucian K. Truscott. I don’t recommend the book for moral reasons, but it contains some of the best descriptive passages I’ve ever read. This sample relies heavily on the sense of touch. Didn’t you feel like you were right there in that Jacuzzi while you were reading?

Notice how the author employed a sound description technique very similar to how Anne Tyler did. For her, it was tick-swoosh, for Truscott it’s wham! clank!

Suddenly he felt cool fingers of air lifting the wet, fair hair on his forehead. The perspiration under his arms, dripping down his chest, evaporated and the prickly sensation was delightful.

Isannah cried, “The wind, the wind! Blow, wind, blow!”

It did not blow, but flowed over them and cooled them. The three sat in a row, their feet dangling over the water below. They sat well apart at first, with arms outstretched, soaking themselves in the freshness of the sea air.

That passage, from Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, also relies on the sense of touch. “Cool fingers of air” is a great choice of words.

On the other side of the wall, Jeffrey led them into the cemetery. The grounds were dotted with naked trees and carpeted with dead leaves that cracked and crumbled under their shoes. It smelled of cold earth and rotting wood crucifixes. Before them, in sad disrepair, lay thousands of headstones and monuments.

That’s from a middle-grade mystery novel I just finished. It uses sight, sound, and smell. The third sentence was originally “The smell of cold earth mingled with the stench of rotting wood crucifixes.” I really liked the word stench and tried every which way to make it work, but in the end the shorter and more immediate version sounded better. That’s part of the trade-off you’ll have to engage in as a writer.

Is it possible to overdo sensory description? Absolutely. This passage is by Barnaby Conrad from The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction. It’s his “improvement” on the sentence “Jess, dressed like a cowboy, went into the barn and began to milk the cow, the first time he’d ever stooped to doing it.”

Jess strode off with the bucket toward the barn in that peculiar rolling gait that was just short of a limp, his spurs ching-chinging, his bat-wing chaps flapping against his bowed legs, and his black hat with the rattle-snake band tilted back on his thatched head. The red door squealed in protest when he swung it open, and the ammoniated stench of the wet hay stung his nostrils. He found the cow in the darkness, her muley horns lit by a Rembrandt shaft of light, and patting her bony rump gingerly, he grunted: “Amelia, this here might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.” She answered with a wary and unconvinced moo.

To me, that’s overkill. In fact, it’s just plain awful. Description is meant to move your story along, not grind it to a halt. It’s this kind of bad writing that leads to cookie-cutter imitations where every book sounds the same: boring. So use sensory descriptions, yes, but don’t overdo it! (Conrad may have purposely exaggerated sensory stimuli in order to make a point, however he doesn’t mention this in the book.)


Describe through motion whenever you can. We saw this in the above samples: “drops spattered the windshield,” “rain flattened,” “Sarah gripped the dashboard,” Slaight “eased himself into the stainless steel tub,” the air “flowed over them and cooled them,” etc.

It’s especially important to use movement when describing what your characters look like:

Bland: Jeffrey had blue eyes.
Better: Jeffrey blinked his blue eyes.
Best: Jeffrey stared at the paper on his desk and blinked his blue eyes.

Bland: Her eyes were green.
Better: Her green eyes danced with rebellion.
Best: She grinned up at him and her green eyes danced with rebellion.

While Cortes was inert and semiconscious, one of the Spaniards deft at surgery amputated two fingers from his crippled left hand, cauterized the stumps of the two fingers with boiling oil, and removed splinters of bone or stone from Cortes’s head. Cortes’s knee was purple and swollen to double its size. His whole body was covered with bruises, arrow-wounds and cuts. Almost dead on an Indian pallet, prostate and in a coma, lay the conquerer of Mexico.

That’s from Cortes: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico by Richard Lee Marks, a non-fiction work, and one of the most exciting books you’ll ever read. Note how in the first sentence the author describes through action and movement.


Last week, we saw how James T. Farrell created a powerful opening to his novel Studs Lonigan through the use of verbs. Verbs add spice, action, and creativity to your work.

One strong verb is always superior to the combination of one weak verb and an adverb.

Bland: He quickly wrote the license plate number on his palm.
Better: He scribbled the license plate number on his palm.

Bland: He fell clumsily from his perch.
Better: He tumbled from his perch.

Bland: He ate his lunch quickly.
Better: He gobbled his lunch.

Bland: He ran quickly across the yard.
Better: He sprinted across the yard. Or: He raced, he hurried, he galloped, etc.

Get yourself a good Thesaurus and learn to love verbs.


The more unique you can be in your descriptions the better. Below are two descriptions of a woman, both by different authors. Each description emphasizes the woman’s mouth.

There was a silence. The woman waited, facing him and wearing a perky smile, with her fingers laced together on the counter. She had painted her nails dark red, Macon saw, and put on a blackish lipstick that showed her mouth to be an unusually complicated shape – angular, like certain kinds of apples.

Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.

The first description is from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, and the second is from The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. They’re two of the most unique descriptions you’ll ever read anywhere, yet if you read them again, you’ll see that they could easily be talking about the same mouth!

Develop your own unique and look for interesting and unique ways to describe people, places, and things in your novel.
Don’t worry about being perfect. Nobody gets it right all the time. (I’m currently reading a novel from a major publishing house by a famous, bestselling author, and it’s riddled with amateurish mistakes. If I told you who the author was, you wouldn’t believe me!)

Tune in next week for more. In the meantime, do you have a favorite descriptive passage or opening to a novel? If so, I’d love to hear it.

(For the first two parts to this series, visit the Write Stuff tab at the top of the page!)

Country singer Tim McGraw sells out. Headlines Sandy Hook gun control concert

I’m not a fan of country music, but even I have heard of Tim McGraw, husband of another country music megastar Faith Hill.

AWR Hawkins reports for Breitbart that on July 17, 2015, Tim McGraw will headline a concert fundraiser in Connecticut for a gun control group called Sandy Hook Promise.

McGraw’s “A Concert For Sandy Hook Promise” will also feature country singers Billy Currington and Chase Bryant.

Tim McGrawTim McGraw in 2003. McGraw had never served in the U.S. military, so why is he in this faux military garb?

Sandy Hook Promise is a vehicle through which various alleged family members of alleged Sandy Hook victims have joined to push gun control until it passes. One of the group’s members is Newtown father Mark Bearden, who has pledged to “dedicate the rest of his life” to pursuing gun control.

McGraw is quoted by NBC Connecticut as saying:

Out of this tragedy a group was formed that made a promise to honor the lives lost and turn it into a moment of transformation. Sandy Hook Promise teaches that we can do something to protect our children from gun violence. I want to be a part of that promise – as a father and as a friend.

According to Wikipedia, McGraw is a Democrat and has stated that he would like to run for public office in the future, possibly for Senate or Governor of Tennessee, his home state. In the same interview, he praised Bill Clinton and said that he had supported Barack Obama for president in 2008.

Breitbart reporter AWR Hawkins points out that “It should be noted that there was 100 percent gun control at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. No guns were allowed, period. You can’t have more gun than that. Moreover, there were laws against stealing guns and possessing stolen guns as well. But none of these laws stopped or even dissuaded Adam Lanza.”

AWR Hawkins should also know that all of that is quite beside the point because no one died at that school on Dec. 14, 2012, perhaps not even Adam Lanza himself, who supposedly shot himself in the head minutes before police and first responders arrived at the school that morning. If you doubt that, ask the State of Connecticut why the government continues to refuse to release Lanza’s and his 21 victims’ death certificates — documents that are deemed public record, i.e., accessible to the public, except in the case of Lanza and his alleged victims.

For all the other many, many reasons why many sane people, including Professors James Tracy and Jim Fetzer, believe the Sandy Hook massacre is a gigantic, elaborate false-flag fraud in the interest of gun control, go to our “Sandy Hook Massacre” page.

I dare you.


What’s with Time magazine giving élites sinister devil’s horns?

Time magazine has a penchant to give élites devil’s horns on its cover.

The latest to receive that treatment is Hillary Clinton, on the cover of Time‘s March 13, 2015 issue:

Time's Hillary cover

The cover caught the attention of many media outlets, including Drudge Report, Fox News, National Review, and Politico.

But Time was quick to deny that the horns were intentional, and responded with a tongue-in-cheek article on its website titled “34 TIME Magazine Covers That Appeared to Give People Horns.”

Here are some examples of Time‘s other élites sprouting horns, including even Jesus. The elites can be grouped into 3 groups:

  1. Political leaders — presidents, other heads of state, and Bill Gates.
  2. Entertainment élites, including actors Russell Crowe, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Jay Leno, and Darth Vader.
  3. Religious leaders — all Christians, including the three most recent popes of the Catholic Church (Francis, Benedict, John Paul II), Billy Graham (whose horns are especially striking), and even Jesus Christ.


The magazine coyly insists:

Given the shape of the letter “m” in the magazine’s name and its location on the cover, many other subjects in the past have also appeared to sprout extra features (in fact this happened to Hillary Clinton at least once before. Same goes for Bill Clinton. George W. Bush too). Check out everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Pope Francis to Jesus to Darth Vader who have received the rough end of TIME’s “horns.” Any resemblance to cats, bats or devil horns is entirely coincidental.

Do you buy Time‘s excuse?

I don’t! For surely the magazine’s graphic artists could have positioned the élites’ heads underneath the letters T I M E, or have the heads to the side of the letters so that the two horns of the letter M aren’t right on top of their heads.

Time is also being disingenuous when they say the horns may “resemble” cat ears, bat ears, or devil horns, for the magazine itself labels the pictures of the élites as “devil horns.”

Verify this for yourself by going here and saving the pictures to your hard-drive. You’ll discover that every one of the 34 covers, except the first one of Hillary Clinton, is labeled “devil horns,” e.g., “time-cover-pope-francis-devil-horns.” This gives the lie to Time‘s disclaimer that “Any resemblance to . . . devil horns is entirely coincidental.” On the contrary, any resemblance to devil horns is precisely intentional and deliberate.

The Hillary cover of March 13, 2015 alone is not labeled “devil horns.” Instead, the pic is labeled “hillary-final.”

So what exactly is Time trying to tell us? What do you think?


From Chains to Glory

The Rescue


This is a scene of spiritual violence, and an act of angelic valor in the rescue of a family who has committed their lives to Jesus Christ. It is a look into the reality of the spiritual darkness that has taken over our society.


In the distance we see hordes of people chained and led around by demonic principalities and powers, in a bleak landscape of stepped pyramids (emblems of human power and achievement) under a rusting iron sky with a black sun.

chains_explosion_viewIn the foreground we see a demon falling backward toward us from the explosive impact of a flaming sword cutting though the chain he was using to hold the family captive.

The angel wielding the sword is standing on the chest of another demon he has subdued.

Another angel, with his back turned toward us, is holding off a demonic prince on horseback (admittedly a little bit of Tolkien influence here).


Just beyond that we see a family rushing into the waiting arms of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surrounding them is beautiful white light indicating that they are escaping the kingdom of darkness and entering into the liberty of the children of God, a world filled with light and color and beauty.


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
– John 8:12

The Write Stuff – Hook Your Readers With Your Opening Line and Opening Paragraph!


The opening line to your novel is the most important line in your entire book. It’s purpose is to hook the reader into finishing the remainder of the page. There are several ways to accomplish this.

They threw me off the hay truck about noon.

That’s the first sentence of The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. I don’t recommend reading the entire book, but that’s a killer opening line. It accomplishes what any good opening line should accomplish, by planting questions in the mind of the reader: Who is this person, and what happened on the hay truck?

This isn’t your typical character. There’s an air of danger about him, an element of intrigue that’s difficult to resist. Notice also that it’s an easy sentence to read. It flows smoothly and the reader knows this is going to be a fast-paced and interesting story. As I said, I don’t recommend the book, but this is one of the most famous (and most imitated) opening lines in American literature. Doesn’t it make you want to continue reading?

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

What’s your first reaction to that line? Do you agree? Disagree? This opening sentence, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, states an interesting premise and it does so in a compelling way. It makes you wonder just who would write such a line and what more do they have to say on this subject. It also promises us a tale of money, love, and romance, and who can resist that setup?

I wanted to strangle mother but I’d have to touch her to do it.

That’s the opening line to an original work by a student of Sol Stein’s from page 19 of his book Stein on Writing (an excellent book that I highly recommend). The author is Loretta Hudson, and Stein says he has heard audiences gasp when that opening sentence is read to them. I can see why. It invokes in the reader an immediate curiosity of just who this person is and what happened between her and her mother. I defy anyone to read that sentence and not want to continue with the rest of the page.

A telephone ringing in the middle of the night is not a welcome sound.

That’s another opening line from one of Stein’s students. Can you feel the hook, drawing you into the story? It’s such an interesting sentence; it tells you, without telling you, that the narrator has just received one of those late night calls. Doesn’t it make you wonder who called and what the call is about?

Call me Ishmael.

You may recognize this one from Hermann Melville’s Moby Dick. It’s another classic opener. It doesn’t say much, but it indicates an intimate and breezy tone, told with authority. (If only the rest of the book had the same sense of clarity and brevity.) It leaves the impression that the narrator is a close associate and he’s about to fill you in on something important.

When he didn’t get any answer the second time he knocked, Parker kicked the door in.

Are you intrigued? It’s the opening to The Split by Richard Stark aka Don Westlake. Don’t waste your time with the book, but it’s a good example of an opener that’s virtually impossible to pass up.

It was a crime that Mr. Kingman never expected and that scared him half to death.

Quick, what’s your reaction? Don’t you want to know what the crime was and what happened? Would you keep reading? It’s an original.

“Is he dead?”

Three simple words. Yet how many images did they conjure up in your mind? It’s another original, and it is virtually impossible to read that line of dialogue and not continue. Although those words are the beginning to a middle-grade mystery novel, they could also be the opening of an historical novel set at the time of the Crucifixion, a tale about Lincoln (beginning at his death and told in flashback), a story about a boy and a dog …

Elmer Gantry was drunk.

Short, hard-hitting, and to the point. It’s the opening line to Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. Wouldn’t you want to read at least one more line?

It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.

The opening line of The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. Notice how clear and crisp the writing is? Firing squads are not an everyday occurrence. Most people would have a hard time putting that book down.

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what am I about to tell you.”

I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that if you were holding The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston in your hands right now, you would not be able to resist reading at least one more line.

Shock, surprise, mystery, intrigue, even humor. These are all elements that contribute to a killer opening line. Did you notice how all these opening lines imply something askew, something not quite right. That’s the effect you want. Neither your life, nor the lives of any of the characters, will ever be the same after that opening line.

Can you come up with an opening line to your novel that’s as good as any of these?

Just as important as your novel’s opening line are your opening paragraphs. The opening line is designed to convince the reader to finish reading the first page. The opening paragraphs are designed to hook him into finishing your first chapter.

The first time I saw him he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.

That’s the first paragraph of What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. Does it make you want to keep reading? It works for me. Read it again and ask yourself what the most important word is in the entire paragraph. Do it now.

According to Sol Stein, and I agree, the most important word is “ferret.” That single word characterizes Sammy in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to keep reading.


No answer.


No answer.

“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!”

That’s the opening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. It’s simple, it’s direct, and it works like a charm. Instant conflict. And notice how it characterizes Tom even though he is neither seen nor heard! Amazing, isn’t it? Would you be tempted to keep reading?

He topped the high ridge on a wild blue roan with a skull and crossbones brand. He was a drifter, reckless and hard, a man without fear and without a name. The Colorado high country he rode was breathtaking, but all he had on his mind was vengeance. For the night wind stung his neck where the rope burns were still raw. Some good citizens from the last town left him twisting slowly from an unjust noose. They made a big mistake when they didn’t finish the job.

Is that a great opening paragraph or what? It establishes time, place, character and back story and it accomplishes all those things in an exciting and economical way. It’s by Louis L’Amour. It breaks several cardinal rules by telling vs. showing, but it works.

True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

What a classic opener! Have you ever met such a loon? (He sounds like the scoundrel who hits our blog in a stealth attack early each morning, giving a single star to every post.) It’s from the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Hard to read that paragraph and not want to continue.

Studs Lonigan, on the verge of fifteen, and wearing his first suit of long trousers, stood in the bathroom with a Sweet Caporal pasted in his mug. His hands were jammed in his trouser pockets, and he sneered. He puffed, drew the fag out of his mouth, inhaled and said to himself:

Well, I’m kissin’ the old dump goodbye tonight.

That’s the opening to Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell. Notice how it sets up the main character and the entire tone of the book right there in the first paragraph. And look at the verbs the author uses: “pasted”, “jammed”, “sneered”, “puffed”, “inhaled”, “kissin’.” That’s powerful writing.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”

“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.

“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”

“Do away with it?” shrieked Fern. “You mean kill it?”

Recognize that one? It’s the beginning of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Dialogue is a great way to open a novel, and a favorite technique of the old pulp magazine editors. In this case, it creates instant characters, instant conflict. Charlotte’s Web has been a perennial best seller since it first appeared, and a large part of its success is due to those opening lines. (Did you see Papa with his ax, even though he’s not really in the scene and is never described?)

All day the cold Virginia sky had hung low over Spencer’s Mountain. It was a leaden, silent, moist presence. It promised snow before the fall of night.

Looking from her kitchen window, Olivia Spencer observed the ashen sky. It did not feel like Christmas. The moment which had always come in other years, that mingled feeling of excitement and promise which she called The Christmas Spirit, had evaded her. Christmas had always been a time of rejuvenation to Olivia, a time to reaffirm her faith in God’s goodness, to enjoy the closeness of friends and family; a time to believe in miracles again.

Those two paragraphs set a perfect tone and location to the beginning of The Homecoming by Earl Hamner, Jr. Note the subtle sense of foreboding in the first paragraph. Wouldn’t you be tempted to read more? This one also breaks the rule by telling instead of showing, which goes to show you how misguided most writing rules are.

On the day before Thanksgiving the Spencer clan began to gather. It was a custom that at this time during the year the nine sons would come together in New Dominion. On Thanksgiving Eve they would celebrate their reunion with food and drink and talk. On the day itself the men would leave at dawn to hunt for deer.

All day cars had been arriving at Clay Spencer’s house. Each car was greeted by Clay-Boy, a thin boy of fifteen with a serious freckled face topped by an unruly shock of darkening corn-colored hair. Now the day was drawing toward evening, but still the boy lingered at the back gate waiting for the one uncle who had not yet arrived, the one he wanted most to see.

That’s by the same author, Earl Hamner, Jr., from Spencer’s Mountain. Notice how it leaves an unanswered question: Will Clay-Boy meet the one uncle he is waiting for? It also makes you wonder just why he wants to see his uncle so badly.

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to study how others have done it, and Spencer’s Mountain is as close to a perfect book as any I’ve ever read.

“Rubbish! Absolute rubbish!”

Mr. Herbert E. Beasley spoke with a clipped British accent to his ninth grade English class at Trinity High School. He held a test paper gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, pinky extended, as if it were a foul-smelling rag, and dropped the offending item on the desk of Jeffrey Jones.

Bam! Conflict right at the beginning. Note how the words “foul-smelling” and “offending” seem to fit the character of Beasley, as things he would say, even though they are descriptive and not dialogue, and how the words “gingerly” and “pinky” suit his stuffy British personality. There’s also a touch of humor. It’s an original.

On rocky islands gulls awoke. Time to be about their business. Silently they floated in on the town, but when their icy eyes sighted the first dead fish, first bits of garbage about the ships and wharves, they began to scream and quarrel.

Did you find that interesting? It’s the first paragraph of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. The novel is set in Boston at the time of the American Revolution and the city of Boston itself is a major character. The screaming and quarreling of the gulls is a nice touch and a parallel to the conflict we’ll soon see between the Americans and the British. The author awakens two of our senses here, both sight and sound. Would you continue reading?

The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun was in his hand. I kept rubbing my face to wipe out the fuzz that clouded my mind but the cops wouldn’t let me. One would pull my hand away and shout a question at me that made my head ache even worse and another would slap me with a wet rag until I felt like I had been split wide open.

Okay, so it’s Mickey Spillane, and I don’t recommend any of his books, but that’s an opening paragraph that’s simply irresistible. Notice how simple, yet how compelling the language is. Here’s a character in a jam. How can you leave until you find out what happened?

None of the above samples contain difficult words, long sentences, or highfalutin language; none of the literary pretensions that make readers cringe and English professors swoon. Just good, solid writing. (It’s long been my suspicion that the dearth of reading among Americans has less to do with a lack of desire on their part than with the quality of the books and novels being offered, along with a complication of the writing process. I’m a pretty smart guy and I have difficulty untangling the sentences of most modern novels. Remember, you’re a 21st century warrior artist, not some Victorian-era artiste, writing with a quill pen.)

Like the opening sentences we observed, these opening paragraphs also imply a change from the status quo. Almost all of them contain conflict. They all feature either the book’s lead character or a strong supporting character. Each of these openings establishes the author’s voice and sets the tone for the rest of the book.

A great scene on page two won’t help if the reader never gets there, so hit the ground running with the opening to your novel. Write a killer opening line to your story, followed by an equally killer opening paragraph. Then see to it that every page thereafter matches them in style and execution.

Tune in next week for more.