November 26, 2011

Mystery We Write 2011 Winter Tour presents Earl Staggs


Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre.

He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups.  Email:  Website:

Beth asked about the hardest part of writing a book. My first response is that every single thing
about writing a book is hard. After a lot of thought, I singled out what I think is the absolutely hardest part.

Prospective readers may pick up your book, read a page or two, maybe less, and if that sampling doesn’t grab them in a tight grip, they’ll put yours back on the shelf and pick up someone else’s.  You could have the best second and third chapters ever written, but no one is going to read them if your first chapter doesn’t pull them in and make them want to read more.

Getting that first chapter right may be harder and require more time and effort than writing the
entire rest of the book.  The rest of the book must be good, too, of course, but it may as well be your shopping list if the first chapter doesn’t do its job.

I still have the drafts of at least a dozen attempts at a first chapter for my novel, MEMORY OF A
MURDER.  My level of frustration went through the roof when I realized not one of them was good enough. It was time to take another approach.


I stopped writing and made a list — yes, a shopping list, if you will — of what I wanted to put in  the first chapter so that readers would want to read the rest of the book.

Here’s the list:

. . .introduce the protagonist, Adam Kingston, so that readers will like him and want to spent
time with him.

. . .explain Adam’s special gift in an such a way that readers are intrigued.

. . .give some of Adam’s history so readers can relate to him and understand why he’s a widower  devoted to his wife’s memory — perhaps more than he should be.

. . .describe where Adam lives, why it is special to him, and make readers want to visit there.

. . .foreshadow something sinister and mysterious about to happen.

When I finished the list, I looked it over and said, “Wow! That’s a lot!” It was a lot, but I knew if I could pull it off, my novel would be off to a good start. So. I started writing the opening lines of the first chapter, and here’s what I came up with:

“Adam Kingston! Get your skinny butt out of that bed.”  Her voice cut through his sleep and made him cringe. He pulled his face out of his pillow, forced one eye open, and turned his head far enough for a squinting glance around. Yes. He was in his own bedroom.

And then I wrote. . . .

Wait.  Here’s a better idea.  Go over to where you’ll find the entire first chapter of MEMORY OF A MURDER.  After you’ve read it, come on back and tell me if you think I accomplished what I wanted to do or if I put together just another shopping list.

While you’re over there, you can also read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written.  There’s also one called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with Roy Rogers. Also while you’re there, please leave a comment and sign up for the drawing on December 9. The first name drawn from those who comment will receive a print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER.  The second name drawn will have a choice of an e-book or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.

Thank you, Beth, for letting me come by and talk about my favorite topic – writing.

Thanks, Earl, for a great idea, one I never thought of myself.  Folks, make that list!  And come back tomorrow for another great blog from another great author!

Cheers, Beth



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11 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Earl, I loved it when you said, “Everything about writing a book is hard..” Ain’t it the truth. I also agree that the 1st chapter is essential.

    Good post.

  2. Good post, Earl. I rewrite the opening chapter more times than all the rest of the chapters combined. And even then, I’m never satisfied.

    Mike Orenduff

  3. All good reminders to those of us who write, whether we’re new at it or have been around for awhile.

    Marilyn Meredith

  4. Right on, Earl–or is it “write on!” That first chapter is sooooo important. I have prefaces and agonize over them to! Great post.


  5. Great post, Earl. I’m enjoying reading your short stories and especially Sheriff Molly. I look forward to reading Memory of a Murder.

  6. You accomplished the entire list, and then some! Great post.

  7. Thanks to everyone for stopping by and leaving comments. I’m having so much fun on this tour it was worth all the work. It looks like everyone else is having fun, too, and having fun is never a bad thing.

  8. Great post, Earl. I especially like the part where you stopped the excerpt to prod us over to your site. Cagey! Very cagey! Talk about making a reader want more. Well done.

  9. Make a list. What a great idea, Earl! Think I’ll try it, since I tend to get lost while I’m writing (in the book; I don’t, like, drive and write).

  10. Very interesting and informative blog, Earl. Thanks so much for stopping by and telling us your First Chapter M.O. I’ll remember this one, because even that first page is so vitally important. Cheers, everyone!

  11. Earl,

    You’re so right about the importance of a strong opening. The so-called “narrative hook” is vital, more so today than ever before because modern readers have a shorter attention span.







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