I’m the point of initial contact with prospective clients and many of these callers want to tell me the story they’ve got in mind for a book. I’m happy to listen. Maybe a third of these callers want my opinion about whether their story is good enough to find a publisher. My usual response is that anyone can come up with a salable story and what really matters is the telling of that story. The writing.
One of my favorite books is called “First Job,” about a young man who got hired straight out of college as a reporter for a New England newspaper. It was beautifully done. Who would think that would get published? But it did. It’s in my bookcase today. It’s all about how you relate the story.
The photo above is my current read. It’s the memoir of fighter jock (and ace) Robin Olds who began his career in 1944 in the skies over Europe during World War II, and that career lasted until well after the Vietnam War. Chapter One describes a bomber-escort mission out of Britain. Olds was in the 479th Fighter Group, which flew P-38 Lightnings, ferocious twin-engine, twin-tailed plane that struck fear into the Germans and Japanese.
Olds describes the thrill, the mission, the chill at 28,000 feet, the task of keeping both engines properly synched in his single-seat fighter…and the moment when he spots the enemy approaching: “It’s a damned armada. I’ve got forty, maybe fifty Me-109s and Focke-Wulf 190s ahead of us. As we get closer, the number keeps growing. The whole damned Luftwaffe is in front of me!”
He and his wingman drop their external fuel tanks and prepare to engage. “My wingman and I are the only ones here! I sure feel sorry for those bastards,” he wrote. Given his spectacular record in combat, Olds can be forgiven for his arrogance. Fortunately, Olds and his companion hadn’t yet been spotted.
“The sight reticle is full of gray-green aircraft. My finger wraps around the firing toggle. My right engine coughs, sputters and quits. A split second and forty heartbeats — then the second one follows suit. Both engines are dead…silence…awww, shit!”
And that is the end of the first chapter. What happens next? I don’t know but I sure want to know. But as of last night, I’m only up to page 62 in this otherwise chronological memoir. It’s all about the writing, conveying your story in a highly-compelling manner. Included in that would be a way to immediately grab the reader’s attention. When I reached the end of that four-page opening chapter, I was ready to throw the book at the wall:
COME ON! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?