Your input please

Dear Readers,

I currently have two options for opening BAD PENNY, my thriller that I’ll be sending to my agent next week. I’m looking, of course, for the most interesting first page. Please imagine you’re in a book store or browsing online. Tell me which option you find most interesting and by how much (a little more, a lot more).

Thanks!! 🙂


The two men had been keeping back, playing it safe, giving the woman plenty of room on the deserted interstate. It was just after five a.m., the sun still about an hour off. Hardly a soul out here. Just them and her driving in the dark, the two men waiting for her to make her mistake.

Jesus Goroza, the man with tats running over his limbs like demons, thought she was FBI.  Dan Meese, the driver, the man with the prison scar on his neck, wasn’t so sure. Wouldn’t the FBI have sent backup at the first sign of trouble? Of course, maybe she’d convinced her bosses she was clear, and they’d pulled back the cavalry. If so, she hadn’t been very smart.

Up ahead the woman slowed then took the exit to a small out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Utah town called Coalville. In a big city, there would have been cars. There would have been some bustle. There would have been witnesses.

There were no witnesses here. Not on these streets.

There were hardly any homes in this town. Meese figured there were at most a few dozen, and they were all strung out along a main road that stretched for what looked like ten miles. All of them were dark. A bunch of hick farmers dreaming about cows.

A brightly lit Best Western hotel and a Texaco gas station stood on one side of the interstate. A lone Sinclair gas station stood on the other. The woman came to a stop then accelerated up and across the overpass toward the Sinclair gas station on the other side, the one that you couldn’t see well from the interstate. The one she obviously thought might give her cover.

“Bingo,” Jesus said.

In a big city, the Sinclair would have been ready for business. In this no-nothing town, it was dark and locked. The pumps, of course, were on. And the station’s sign with a green dinosaur on a white background towered above the place and shone out into the fading night.

But there was no attendant standing guard over the cash and cigarettes to observe the woman. No one to see her stop and start the pump. No one to see her go try the bathroom door around the side. No one to see the two men pull in just a few seconds later.

Meese said, “Looks like the offerings to your White Lady paid off.”

Jesus pulled the semi-automatic from the glove box.  “I told you she wanted mescal.”

Mescal offered up in a glass five days in a row along with prayer and cigarette smoke blown into the Lady’s skeleton face.

“They want her alive,” Meese said of the woman they were following.

“She’ll be alive,” Jesus said.


Frank Shaw sat facing the owner of Cowboy Donut in a back office heaped with stacks of paper in yet another job interview that was starting to swirl the toilet.  Trying to get a straight job as an ex-con was a lovely experience. Kind of like being dragged behind a bus.

No matter how tidy you looked or how sharp your resume was, it all came down to two questions: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and “What were you in for?”

Frank knew it would be stupid to lie about either. First of all, he was trying to go straight. Second, any employer who didn’t have a carrot for a brain was going to run a background check. So there was no use trying to hide.

The sun-wrinkled owner of the Rock Springs, Wyoming doughnut establishment was one Ms. Mary Rogers. She was probably in her fifties and had two-tone hair that seemed to take its inspiration from a badger—all bleached up on top and dark underneath.

Ms. Mary had just asked the question, and Frank had dropped his bomb—voluntary manslaughter, a security job gone bad. He’d been protecting the wrong kind of noun for the wrong kind of people, which led to seven fine years in prison.

Now came the fun bus part, the Judas-Priest-there’s-a-criminal-sitting-across-the-desk-from-me part. First interviews were like first dates. And Frank had basically told this date he had an Ebola monkey virus that would make her eyes bleed—would she now like a kiss? That, of course, was yummy to women everywhere.

Ms. Mary narrowed her eyes. “What else am I going to find on your RAP sheet?”

“That’s it,” Frank said. “Just the one unfortunate incident.”

“Murder is a pretty big incident.”

“Manslaughter,” he corrected. “Not murder.”

She made a noncommittal sound and looked down to study his resume a bit more like maybe something new would pop up there.

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22 Responses to Your input please

  1. Nathan Major says:

    Hmm, both are good, but the first one hooked me sooner. That being said, by the end of the second one I thought I liked it quite a bit as well.
    But still, first one, final answer. I think both are very strong, though!

  2. Michael Gordon says:

    Plot vs Character, tough decision. I usually say go with character, but the stakes are higher in option 1. I am wondering what’s going to happen to the lady, why they want her, etc. That pulls on me more than Frank being judged and wondering about him getting the job, now I do like option 2 for different reasons, but option 1 just edges it out for me.

  3. John Brown says:

    Thank you, Nathan and Michael! Votes counted.

  4. Both work for me, but 2 edged out 1, primarily because you drew me into Frank–closer narrative distance and you created empathy for him. That said, while the first couple of paragraphs of 1 didn’t hook *me* quite as much, as Michael Gordon noted above, 1 set up stronger stakes. So for me, 2 by a little more.

  5. John Brown says:

    Thanks, Dale! Vote counted.

  6. Lisa Asanuma says:

    I have to admit the hypothetical in the first line of the second entry made me not care to read it at all, so I vote for #1

  7. LP says:

    I agree with Michael Gordon: 1 just edges it out.

  8. John Brown says:

    Thank you, Lisa and LP! Votes counted.

    BTW, Lisa, your comments are interesting. #2 had an orienting line for the first few votes. So I will definitely consider your comments. In fact, I’ll put it back and see how it goes.

  9. Randy Szabo says:

    Character is king, so I vote for #2.

    Also, there was alot of superfluous detail in Option #1 that took me out of the scene, too many small town vs. big city comparisons which were unnecessary.

  10. Ben says:

    I vote for number 1. I initially read it yesterday, and as I was reading it, I thought I wasn’t going to vote for it because I didn’t care for the “first man” and “second man” language. But then when I read number 2, I decided I liked number 1 better for the suspense and higher stakes. Seeing that you’ve now named the two men clinches the vote for me.

  11. Jo Brown says:

    I got bogged down in all the description. It could be because I’m used to reading the stimulating texts of science journals and newsprints for school. I’m leaning towards 1, just because there’s more compelling action. But I hope the second scene is in there somewhere.

  12. John Brown says:

    Randy, Ben, and Jo, thank you! Votes counted.

  13. Kate says:

    Both are strong openings. I evaluated them assuming I knew the book was a thriller.

    I vote for 1. If I’m picking up a thriller, I want a fast start to the action. #2 is taking too long to set up to something happening.

  14. Jared says:

    I vote for #2, by a mile.

    What did it was a sense of character, and an immediate sense that I know what’s going on. In contrast, I didn’t know who any of these people were in option #1, didn’t know if I should empathize with the woman or the two men, didn’t know what was at stake. This confusion translated to me not really caring. I don’t have a side to root for there.

    Also, just a random weirdness, when you said “woman” in the first passage, I pictured an old lady, so I kind of tripped up when I found out that wasn’t the case.

  15. JohnW says:

    I prefer #2 by a lot as the opening for a novel. The first person narrative orients me toward the character and gives me an idea of what to expect for the rest of the novel.

    With #1, the omniscient third person narrative seems awkward, especially with the in media res nature of the scene. I know that it is trendy now to open in media res with an action scene, but I find that annoying. I usually assume it is because the writer could not figure out a way to make a more straightforward opening seem interesting, so they just copied and pasted a scene from the middle or end of the story.

  16. Mike Barker says:

    I prefer #2. #1 keeps me at a distance, and I don’t have any idea which character I’m supposed to be invested in. It also reminds me of too many similar scenes, and I’m not particularly interested in seeing the violence that is being foreshadowed (and if it turns out that the woman turns the tables on these two, well… why not start with her?). #2 immediately orients me, and there’s enough of a hook there to get me to turn the page.


  17. John Brown says:

    Thank you, Jared, John, and Mike! Votes counted.

  18. formflow1 says:

    #1 hooks me faster. Enough to stick around to see what is going to happen, and learn about the characters. Character is king, but tension hooks. Not enough at stake, in #2, for me to turn the page.

  19. John Brown says:

    Thanks, formflow1! Counted.

    BTW, current votes from all locations are:

    Option 1: 11
    Option 2: 15

    At various points in the voting Option 1 was ahead. Lately it’s been Option 2. Which tells me that it’s probably half and half. I guess I’m just going to have to make the executive decision 🙂

  20. JohnW says:

    Did you list the text that is shown here as option 1 first in the other locations as well?

    I have a feeling that there may be a slight bias to whichever one a person reads first. In which case Option 2 may be stronger than it appears from the votes here.

  21. John Brown says:


    I did list them in the same order. I thought about that, but didn’t have a good way to deal with it. And I wonder if the bias goes that way or the other way around. I don’t know.