Thoughts On…First Lines

thoughts on first lines

The first line of a book is one of the most important. If I’m standing in a bookstore, trying to decide which books to buy, a bad first line can make me put a book I wanted to like back. I know as an author that the idea of trying to pick a first line for my WIP is terrifying, because I know how important it is.

Basically this will be me looking at first lines of books and saying what I like about them or what I hate about them.

I’m judging other authors, basically, on one sentence. 😉


Uglies by Scott Wersterfield

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

zero stars

I literally never got past the first line of this book. Cat vomit is one of the grossest things ever–who starts their book with that visual? Ugh, I can’t.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

“I AM A COWARD.”

5 stars

Woah. Aren’t you intrigued? This line perfectly sets the tone for the book, reveals the torment in the main character’s mind, drags you in and makes you give a damn.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”

2 stars

Okay, I love this book. But it took me two tries to actually read it. This first line isn’t bad or anything, it’s just boring.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.”

5 stars

Love this one. It sets the stage (a place where dogs talk = not earth) and the tone (the dialect of this book is one of the things that makes it amazing). Also, it’s sassy, and it makes you want to read more.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

4 stars

This one sets up the fire motif (can you tell I read this in English class) and draws you into the story. It’s creepy and lets you know that this book and this protagonist are twisted.

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

“I felt her fear before I heard her scream.”

3.5 stars

There is a lot of good here: it sets the scene (dark) and lets you know that there is a paranormal element. So why the low rating? Because it’s lame and obvious. There isn’t anything original about it.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hatterner

“Just call me Ethan. You’re reading this first, but I’m writing it last.”

4 stars

Okay, so it’s two lines. But that second one is really interesting. Not the most unique thing, but it has voice, and it makes you sit up and pay attention.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

“Ash fell from the sky.”

4 stars

It doesn’t seem like much, but it does set the stage in a pleasing way. However, it gets a high rating because the ash is SO IMPORTANT in the rest of the series. Looking back and seeing that it was there all along gives me happy reader butterflies. Yay.

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

3 stars

Love the book, not so big on this line. It feels like the author is trying too hard to catch my attention. Be subtle about it, people!

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

“I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.”

4 stars

I like the fact that this lets you know that there is a medieval setting (herbwitch’s). But I really love the introduction of a literally scarred main character and the fascinating part about the mom and the potion. Does the mom hate the daughter (if so, mommy issues!), or is there something larger at work? The fact that I’m already asking questions makes me keep reading to find out.

Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

“Had anyone told me that my entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, I would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please.”

zero stars

It’s a good thing that this book had a good premise, because this first line is awful. Can you say stereotypical? Can you say, “duh”? It’s a book–something is going to happen at the beginning to start it. Saying that isn’t a good beginning. AHH!

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

“Lila Cardoza is dead and wearing my earrings.”

4 stars

Is it a murder mystery and our protagonist is the suspect? Is it a misunderstanding? Is our protagonist an assassin who specializes in poison jewelry? All the questions! Must read on.

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

“Piper decided to jump off the roof.”

3 stars

In a YA book, this would be very dark. But since this is a middle grade book, the line (instead of setting up a suicidal main character) is quirky and cute. A little in your face about READ ME, but whatever.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

“The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.”

4 stars

This line makes you think: how much does your life suck? Which is an accurate introduction, because this guys life is awful. I like this line, personally. It makes me smile.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

“For the record, I wasn’t around the day they decided to become Dumb. If I’d been their manager back then I’d have pointed out that the name, while accurate, was not exactly smart.”

5 stars

This is funny. And smart. I love the wordplay with Dumb/smart. (Dumb is the name of the band.) I love that right away you know that this main character is sassy.


What do you think? What are your favorite first lines? Would you (or have you) read these books?

Top Ten Books I Can’t Stop Rereading

top ten tuesday

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.


This week’s topic is a FREEBIE, so I decided to list some of the books that I have read over and over and plan to keep rereading, no matter what age I am.

1. The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

cover queens thief covers

This series wins the title of my favorite set of books ever. The intricacy of their plots, the aliveness of the characters, the subtle fantasy elements–everything is amazing.

2. The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter

These books are perfectly ridiculous. I love the romance, the incredible friendships, the crazy plots. They still make me laugh, even the fifth time I read them.

3. The Heist Society series by Ally Carter

These are in the same vein as The Gallagher Girls, but these have a bit more class. I am absolutely in love with Hale, and the rest of the characters never fail to make me laugh.

4. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray

These books are so freaking powerful. They combine gothic elements with paranormal with fantasy with Victorian finishing schools with romance (ahhhh!!!!!) with friendship battles–oh my god. I love these, and I really should not have read them in fourth grade (whoops).

5. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

cover scorpio races

This book has so much emotional power over me. Puck and Sean are perfect together and their romance just develops so perfectly. The world-building and the fantasy elements work really well and even the minor characters are complex.

6. Going Underground by Susan Vaught

cover going underground

This book is the reason I get really angry during a lot of school assemblies. The romance is great, but the societal message is so powerful. If you haven’t read it, you should, and if you haven’t read anything by Susan Vaught–fix that immediately.

7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

cover code name verity

I don’t think I knew what the phrase “burst into tears” meant until I got halfway through this book. Holy crap. If you like historical fiction, if you like friendship stories, if you like crying your heart out–read this book right now. If you don’t like any of those things–still read it. It’s that good.

8. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

cover beauty queens

This is my feminism bible. This is my humor comfort book. Societal messages alongside satire alongside fake boybands and reality TV. I love this book so much.

9. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

I don’t read as much paranormal romance as I used to, but this series is one of my favorites in the genre. I love the world-building (so unique) and the romance (ahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!). The end of the series gets really dark and intense, so I haven’t reread them (emotional trauma, you feel me?), but I know I will at some point.

10. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

How do you come up with a premise like this? It is incredible. And then the writing and the characters and the plot–oh my god. Patrick Ness, you are amazing.

Beautiful People — Author Edition

I just found this link-up and decided to take part. It’s about writing, not reading, and I’ve been meaning to draw more of my writing life into this blog, so this was a fortunate find!

Beautiful People is a monthly linkup hosted by Paper Fury (details here) that helps writers get to know their characters and their writing. This month is a special Author edition focusing on the writer instead of the writing.

beautiful people

1. How many years have you been writing? When did you officially consider yourself a ‘writer’?

Though it sounds cheesy, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I think I officially identified as a writer when I started my first novel WIP, which was fourth grade? Ish?

2. How/why did you start writing?

I’ve always been a reader, so I think being a writer was a natural transition. My mom also writes so I had that as a model. Once I started, I never really stopped.

3. What’s your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is when I start a scene and I don’t really know what is going to happen and then the characters just kind of take over and awesomeness ensues. Some of the best things I’ve ever written have happened accidentally.

Building off of that, I love meeting the characters I create. I usually have an idea of who they will be when I start to write, but they evolve into their own people as the WIP progresses.

4. What’s your biggest writing struggle?

Finding time and energy to write. I’m a high school student, and when I do have free time, I’m usually too tired to sit down and commit myself to writing. It sucks and I’m trying to fix it.

5. Do you write best at night or day?

Late at night or early in the morning. I really love writing at night when everyone else is in bed and it’s just me and my laptop.

6. What does your writing space look like? (Feel free to show us pictures!)

Anywhere my laptop is? On my couch. I don’t know. I write everywhere.

7. How long does it typically take you to write a complete draft?

Wow, I have no idea. I can’t even answer this question. I’ve finished drafts of novels, but I have no idea how long it takes me. My writing process is extremely drawn out because of school.

8. How many projects do you work on at once?

I’m writing one novel right now. I have other ideas but I can’t imagine trying to split my limited time between two WIPs. I write short stories that sometimes become novel-esque, but I usually drop them (to come back to at a later time) when they get that long so I can go back to my current project.

9. Do you prefer writing happy endings, sad ones, or somewhere in between?

Again, I have no idea. Overly happy endings bother me, as do overly sad ones. When I write an ending, I just want it to tie up the story, and if that happens in a happy or a sad way, then that’s what I’ll write I guess.

10. List a few authors who’ve influenced your writing journey.

From Ally Carter I get a love of ridiculous plot lines. From Libba Bray I get the bravery to write candidly about sensitive societal subjects. From Megan Whalen Turner I get a love of intricate details that you only notice the third time you read a book.

I get a slightly new writing style from every book I read, I think. Sometimes, I just pick up a turn of phrase or a cool way to describe something, other times I come up with a whole new way to write character voice or structure a plot. It depends.

11. Do you let people read your writing? Why or why not?

Only my sister (if it comes to my WIP).

For lesser stuff (poems, short stories) I’ll have either my sister or my mom read it, and then I’ll post it to my blog.

12. What’s your ultimate writing goal or dream?

To be published. And to have my book be successful, but really that’s less important to me. I’d love to be published before I leave high school, or right as that happens–but there is probably no way that happens.

13. If you didn’t write, what would you want to do?

Um…I have no idea? Probably I’d learn to draw. Or paint, or something artsy.  And I’d cook more.

14. Do you have a book you’d like to write one day but don’t feel you’re ready to attempt it yet?

Probably. I have a lot of ideas for other novels, but I definitely think I’d write them better if I were older. Basically, I need to actually life a little before I write about it–you know?

15. Which story has your heart and won’t let go?

My old WIP After We Waited for Ever. It was middle grade fantasy and I dropped it when I started reading YA and wanted to write something in that age range. I still love the characters and the story and plan to come back to it someday.


What about you? Are you a writer? What is your approach to writing?

 

Poetry: Being Polite

Being politically correct

Is getting old.

 

Online

Girls say “sorry”

Every third word

For having an opinion

 

And people say,

That’s bad

That’s sad

That’s a Societal Issue.

 

But what if you didn’t say sorry?

Or “not to offend anyone”?

Or “just in my opinion”?

 

Criticism lurks in every corner

Let’s not judge those who

Try to avoid it

By diluting themselves

When we still get uppity

At those who don’t.

 

For once

Can we just say

This made me mad

And this is why

And this is what I think

And I’m not sorry

And if this offended anyone

Let’s look at it rationally:

I probably didn’t mean to offend you personally

Unless you are the person or thing or Societal Force

That offended me in the beginning

In which case

Trying not to offend you

Tends to remove the heart from my argument

 

We don’t want a mean world

And we should be politically correct

We should be kind to each other

But let’s also have the courage

To not say

“In my opinion”

Like it’s a bad thing.

150th Post: Time for a Rant (Let’s Take a Moment to Remember the Bell Curve)

This is tradition at this point. Every 50 posts, I decide to rant about something. I’ve ranted about assigning books “reading/age levels” in schools and about the misconceptions many adults have about teenagers today. I’m not trying to be ridiculously negative or anything; these posts are some of the rare moments I blog about my day-to-day life, specifically issues that I feel affect not just me, but a larger population. I’m trying to be as PC as possible, but I also want to get my point across as honestly and powerfully as I can. 


Remember the bell curve?

It looks like this:

bell curve 1

Basically, it means that if you take a sample of a population, your results will generally look like this:

bell curve 2

It can get crazy scientific:

bell curve 4

Like, what even is this?

bell curve 3

Don’t worry–this isn’t a scientific post.

Anyway–the bell curve. Some genetic traits (eg height) work out like this.

It also works with grades (in a large class).

I’m not talking about when teachers “curve” a test to force grades to fit into a bell curve (that seems barbaric, actually). I’m just saying that, statistically, a class’s overall grades will probably fall loosely onto a bell curve-esque thing. It’s the reason that the literal definition of earning a “C” is average–it’s the middle of the bell curve.

In school, we are told to shoot for A’s. This is not an inherently bad or evil goal (as some people seem to think). Getting an A is (should be) an indication that you are above average–it’s an accomplishment, and it should be strived for and rewarded.

A fundamental part of the idea of an ‘A’ letter grade is the inclusion of B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s to fill out the rest of the spectrum. You need an average so that someone can be above it.

Recently, in my classes, I’ve been noticing that this is not how people think anymore. There seems to be a rising feeling that students are entitled to A’s–that getting an A should require nothing more than showing up and doing the minimum amount of work. In essence, being average.

*Disclaimer so that I can say this once instead of putting it in every other sentence: I’m not saying this is everyone. I’m just saying that a large majority of students I share classes with seem to have this attitude, and it offends me.*

I’m am a straight-A student in difficult classes. I’m in Honors English, Honors pre-calc, and AP European History. It is by no means the hardest course load of any of my peers, but it is enough to keep me very busy, and to truly test my abilities as a critically thinking student. I personally feel that I work harder than most of my peers and that I deserve the A’s I get.

So it pisses me off when kids routinely admit that they don’t do the work, don’t study, or procrastinate majorly on homework/studying and end up doing a half-assed job on it–and then they get annoyed when they don’t have an A in the class. They have this attitude of “I showed up to class. I put in the barest minimum of work. What more do you want from me?”

If you think I’m exaggerating this, I promise you I’m not.

*Disclaimer #2: I have attended high-ranked California public school  in a good neighborhood for my entire life. Generalizations I make are based on my experiences, as well as those of students at other schools that I talk to.*

I believe there are many reasons that this mentality has appeared.

  1. Increased pressure from parents/society to get good grades to get into good colleges. Anything less than an ‘A’ is viewed as failure by a majority of the parents of the students I have classes with, and by extension my peers. This kind of thinking has led to a shift away from the bell curve, where a C is average, to a new model where an ‘A’ encompasses any type of success with the class and any grade lower is a punishment.
  2. Low standards in elementary and middle schools. I don’t want to insult elementary or middle school teachers out there. However, there is a dramatic difference between the amount of work that is expected of students at the elementary and middle school level compared to the high school level. Essentially, the amount of work that earned an A in middle school is often much lower than that that is required to get an A in high school (even in regular classes). If people don’t realize the shift, they are left floundering in the B/C grade range, wondering why they aren’t getting A’s anymore.
  3. Tutors and after-school programs. I’ll touch more on this later, but there is a general feeling that you can quantify what amount of studying deserves what grade. People who attend tutors and afterschool programs (especially those who have attended them their whole lives as a day-care sort of thing instead of a specific effort to improve a class’s grade) tend to believe that they are superior to the class and deserve a higher grade simply because they put in more time with a “professional.” (Unfortunately, the converse is often true, as I’ve seen many instances of after-schools doing the work for the student, preventing the student from ever actually succeeding in the class. Awkward.)

Whatever the reason, this mentality needs to be squashed. Yes–we all wish we could be straight-A students. But if everyone actually was one, then the title would no longer mean anything.

A would mean average. And while that would be linguistically convenient, it remains impractical in reality.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say,

I studied for this test for five hours! I deserve an A!

That’s not how the real world works.

I could study molecular biology for hours–weeks, months, years–and I would never gain more than a memorization-level understanding of it. I have resigned myself to this fact, and science is the one subject I don’t take advanced classes in, for this reason.

My school has a large population of students for whom English is a second language. Most of them have a good understanding of the language, but still struggle with high level reading, vocabulary, and essay writing. This is completely understandable. However, I really wish that some of the students who struggle to make out the dialect in The Grapes of Wrath (let alone the Old English in Shakespeare) would realize that English Honors is not the class for them.

I respect students who take an advanced class to challenge themselves. Unfortunately, most of my classes today are dominated by people taking the class because of parental or collegiate pressure, rather than any passion or skill with the subject matter. I respect you if you take an advanced class, knowing it will be a struggle but committing yourself to the workload and accepting that a B is a serious accomplishment (which is also “above average” for heaven’s sake!).

But if you take an advanced class because you want colleges to like you, and then you disrespect the class by doing the barest minimum of the work, and then you act like you should be awarded the highest grade possiblle–well, I don’t respect you at all.

The bell curve isn’t a bad thing. It’s literally natural. We need to remind ourselves that being average is not a crime and that an ‘A’ should be reserved for people who not only worked for it but succeeded at it. There is no “x hours of studying = this grade on the test” formula. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, good weeks and bad weeks. We as a society need to embrace this fact and shift our expectations away from a nation made only of straight-A students. Support students for their personal triumphs–maybe they occur in sports or art or drama instead of the classroom. A ‘B’ is not failure, neither is a ‘C’–if you want to be technical about it, a ‘D’ isn’t either. We shouldn’t give up on being as good as we can be, but we need to remember that “our best” differs for every person, and we need to put a premium on hard work rather than a final grade.

If people realize that it is okay not to have perfect grades, then hopefully this culture of entitlement will end to make way for one of respect for individual talent and commitment.

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn’t Get To

top ten tuesday

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.


This is a quick post. Some of these are sequels that were released in 2014 that I didn’t get to during the year. Others are books I’ve seen other people talking about but never picked up in a bookstore. I’m excited about all of them, and hope to read them in 2015.

1. Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas

2. Rebel (Reboot #2) by Amy Tintera

3. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers

4. My True Love Gave To Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

5. The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer

6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

7. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

8. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

9. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

10. Between the Spark and the Burn (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea #2) by April Genevieve Tucholke

Let’s Talk About Identity

I was asked to do this post by Lauren at Shooting Stars Mag as a part of a promotion for the movie Ask Me Anything. It is based off of the novel Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett. The IMDB page is here and the official Facebook page is here. The idea for this post intrigued me; in fact, I’d been thinking vaguely along the same lines for a little while.

The book/movie centers around a character who chronicles her life in depth on her blog. In that spirit, I’ll discuss how I approach privacy with this blog, and social media in general.


I’m a teenage girl with a smart phone and a laptop. If you think I haven’t been lectured about online safety, you’re dead wrong. I’ve gotten it from countless teachers, school assemblies, parents, practically random passersby. When I started this blog, I got even more.

I get it. This is the age of the internet, where sharing everything is seen as normal. With privacy becoming a thing of the past, no one quite knows how to interact with social media. How much is too much? As colleges and employers jump into the arena and use social media as a quick background check, anxieties rise even more.

“You know that post will never truly go away, right?”

–Every Person Ever

Personally, I don’t use social media much. I have a Facebook, but I use it mostly for school. Most of the clubs and extracurriculars I’m in use Facebook as a way to communicate with members, making not having an account basically impossible. I don’t post many pictures and I don’t think I’ve ever updated my status, but this is driven more by insecurity and a lack of exciting life events than concern about my privacy. I haven’t gotten into Twitter, Instagram, or the dozens of other social media outlets that exist currently, but this is because of laziness and my aforementioned lame life rather than for privacy issues.

I do have a Snapchat. I like how the pictures disappear as soon as they are viewed. (Whether or not you believe that is a completely other discussion, but I’m taking Snapchat at their word for this.) I post pictures to my Story occasionally (where all my friends can view it for 24 hours). Snapchat works for me because of the lack of permanence. Clearly, I’m not crazy about putting myself out there into the world.

Blogging is different for me.

I’m really comfortable posting things on this blog. I feel that I have been very honest with myself and my readers in my posts. I never get super personal, but I’m guessing if you are an obsessive stalker, you could find me. (Please don’t, though. Seriously.)

It helps that most of my readers aren’t people directly connected to my personal life. I’ve always felt more comfortable getting compliments from people who only see my work and not myself, and this blog has accentuated that. I like that this blog lives in a weird universe connected to my personal life but with no connection to the people in my life.

I have just recently given my friends and some of my family my site address. The reception has been positive, but I have definitely noticed that I have started censoring myself based on the people I know will read my posts. I hate that and I’m trying to avoid it.

Privacy with this blog involves how much of my personality, thought processes, personal opinions, and reflections I share, mainly through my writing. I don’t write about day-to-day events, so that aspect of privacy does not come into this blog. Being personal, telling the truth about the raw and emotional parts of my life, is a challenge that I force myself to meet. Typing it on my computer is the first step, posting it on this blog and getting feedback is the second, crucial step.

For me, the people close to me are more daunting that those who are far away. If you know me, you can read much more into my writing than someone who doesn’t. If I see you on a daily basis, we might talk about what I wrote. I’m still coming to terms with this level of blog-to-reality connection. I enjoy it when people respond positively to my posts, but there are some things that I want to write about but hold back on when I know who will read it.

I don’t write under a pen name. I’m Jocelyn. My sister calls me Joc (phonetically Joss). My little sisters call me Jocie. My grandfather calls me Miss J. I’m not going to put my last name on here (I doubt) and the email I have isn’t my main one, it’s one I created for school and rarely use other than for this blog. I don’t have any pictures of myself on here, but that’s again borne from a lack of good pictures than a freakish fear of being on the internet. You can see some (weird) pictures of me at my sister’s blog.

Deciding how much of my personal identity to share on this blog is made easier by the fact that I don’t really blog about my life. I blog about the books I read and the stuff I write, and of course my personal life comes up in the periphery. I’m comfortable with how much I share, but I’m always conscious of the details I put out there. Part of me is annoyed that society has me so completely stressed about minor details of my life floating around on the internet, and part of me has listened to too many lectures to tell myself it doesn’t matter.

But what I’ve discovered after almost ten months with 52 Letters in the Alphabet, is that I absolutely love blogging. I love writing about the books I read and sharing the experience with other readers. I love the community that I’ve joined. I’ll admit, the first time I was mentioned by name in regards to this blog (I think it was in a blog award) it really weirded me out. It is only recently that the phrase “Jocelyn @ 52 Letters in the Alphabet” feels familiar rather than foreign. It’s a new part of my identity, but I’m proud of it. I’m happy that I’ve connected my personal life to this blog, and I don’t want to give that up because of the general societal fear surrounding privacy on the internet.

Here’s my take on the whole issue: The internet exists. Growing up in my generation, I can’t avoid it. There are parts of my life that are unavoidably connected to the internet, there are others that I’ve willingly connected. I’m okay with this. This is the new status quo. How much is too much? I think the answer to the question needs to be an individual one, based off of confidence and extroverted-ness, rather than a fear of sharing our lives with others. The meaning of privacy is changing and we need to be aware of that. But the answer is almost never to jump ship, and we should not abandon all connection to the wonderful tool that is the internet because of a new definition of privacy.