The First Page is one of Beyond the Book’s newest features. Here we get a glimpse into an author’s work and what better place to begin than the first page? Authors share their first pages and answer a few questions about why they started their books off the way they did. Today we welcome Greg Messel, author of Cable Car Mystery.
About the Book:
Title: Cable Car Mystery
Author: Greg Messel
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing
On the hottest day of the year in San Francisco in 1959, Private Detectives Sam and Amelia Slater are contemplating fleeing the city for their Stinson Beach house. However, when Sam decides to take a cable car ride to run some errands on the lazy summer day, he’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight when he rescues a woman who fell onto the busy street. Sam pulls the mysterious red haired woman out of the path of an oncoming cable car in the nick of time. The entire incident is captured by a newspaper photographer who splashes Sam’s heroics all over the front page. Sam is troubled not only by his new status as a city hero, but by the rescued woman’s plea for help. She whispers to Sam that she didn’t fall from the cable car but was pushed. She is frightened and disappears into the crowd before Sam can get more details. A San Francisco newspaper launches a campaign to find the mystery woman and Sam hopes to cross paths with her again.
Meanwhile, Amelia is troubled by the sudden disappearance of her elderly neighbor. Two thuggish younger men who now occupy the house next door say he took a sudden trip. One night when she’s alone Amelia grabs a flashlight and finds some disturbing clues in her neighbor’s garage. What really happened to her neighbor? Amelia is determined to find out.
Award winning author Greg Messel spins a new tale of intrigue in Cable Car Mystery, the sixth book in the Sam Slater Mystery series set in at the 1950s in San Francisco.
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The First Page
It had been a beautiful early summer day in San Francisco but the evening fog
was rolling in, seemingly pulling a cozy blanket over the sparkling city as
28-year-old Debra Norton returned from her Friday night date with John D’Angelo,
a tall, handsome, dark-haired man she had met at work.
It was their first date. He was so unlike the men who had been part of her life
in recent years. He seemed kind and gentle. John seemed like just what she wanted
in a companion but she reminded herself it was too early to make such an assessment.
It could be the beginning of something good for Debra who, at the urging of her sister,
had fled Seattle to make a new start in San Francisco.
John was truly an artist and Debra’s job had been the most unusual experience of
her life. She began working at the wax museum on Fisherman’s Wharf at the beginning
of May, where she performed a variety of tasks. Debra had secretarial and clerical duties
but at times she was a ticket taker. Over the four weeks she had been at the museum,
she had learned enough about various exhibits that she directed patrons and answered
their questions. That part was really fun.
John, on the other hand, was the creative talent behind many of the museum’s
famous wax figures. He actually created the figures which attracted tourists who
visited Fisherman’s Wharf. She’d met John on the first day at her new job, but
initially their paths didn’t cross because he was always in the upstairs studio.
Nevertheless, recently, John had been finding excuses to leave his work studio and
chat up Debra. A few times she looked up and noticed him watching her.
Now on their first date, John had taken Debra out to dinner. He was very
attentive. There were nice little touches many women would probably take for
granted, such as pulling out her chair to seat her at the table and opening the car
door for her.
After the dinner, they went to the late show at the Embassy Theatre on Market
Street and saw “A Summer Place” with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. It was just
the kind of romantic movie Debra loved but had never seen.
She shared a popcorn with her handsome co-worker. About halfway through the
movie, he took her hand. His hands were manly but soft. He held her hand as if it
were some delicate object of art which might break if treated carelessly.
They continued to hold hands until he gave her a good night kiss on the steps
by the front door stoop near the entrance of her San Francisco-style townhouse
apartment building. She seemed euphoric as she began to descend the steps to
her second floor apartment. Debra stopped halfway up the steps and turned to look
at the front door. She could see John standing outside the glass door watching her
ascend the steps. She smiled and waved before resuming her climb up the stairs.
She smiled to herself knowing John was watching her.
Debra’s lighthearted contentment was shattered when she slowly walked
towards the door of her apartment. Her sixth sense kicked in. Something just didn’t
look right. A little voice in her head told her to bolt and go retrieve John, but instead
she pushed ahead.
Welcome Greg. Can you tell us what your book is about?
Private detective Sam Slater is riding a cable car in San Francisco in 1959 when a beautiful red-haired woman suddenly plunges to the pavement. Sam jumps off the cable car and saves the woman from being hit by the oncoming traffic. By chance a reporter and photographer are at the scene and Sam’s heroics are splashed all over the front page. The woman whispers to Sam that she was pushed from the car and that someone was trying to kill her. She then bolts, disappearing into the crowd on a busy downtown street. Sam and the press launch a campaign to find the woman and Sam wonders why she left so suddenly.
The first page is perhaps one of the most important pages in the whole book. It’s what draws the reader into the story. Why did you choose to begin your book this way?
I wrote the story and then decided to start the book this way, so I reordered the chapters. A woman returns from a date and discovers there is someone in her apartment. The intruder has also removed all the light bulbs which means the woman must face him alone in the dark. I choose this incident in the story as a first page because it makes the reader want to find out why and if the woman will be escape.
In the course of writing your book, how many times would you say that first page changed and for what reasons?
If by changes you mean polishing the writing and adding layers of detail—I reworked it several times. I tried to think of additional ways this situation could be made more suspenseful and scary. Grabbing the reader on the first page or first chapter is really a necessity with modern readers. The old style of writing would spend several chapters setting the stage for the story. An example is in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night.” It’s a classic book and a great author. However, “Tender Is The Night” spends most of the first three chapters giving an excruciating amount of details describing the hotel and beach where the story will occur. F. Scott Fitzgerald needs no writing tips from me but I was starting to wonder if anything was going to happen during the early chapters.
Was there ever a time after the book was published that you wished you had changed something on the first page?
No. I was pretty satisfied with how the story begins. I feel like I’ve learned the skill of pulling the reader into the story right away. In some of my earlier books I wish I had done a better job of starting with a suspenseful chapter. Once an effective first chapter grabs the reader then the background of the characters can be filled in. You need to make the readers care first.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors to stress how important the first page is?
A good editor taught me about adding “hooks” to your book. That applies not just to the first page or chapter but to the other chapters. This means ending the chapter with some suspense or uncertainty where the reader will be compelled to read the next chapter to see what happens. In my book “Cable Car Mystery,” the main female protagonist, Amelia, looks out of her upstairs window in the middle of the night and sees some suspicious goings on at her neighbor’s house. I end the chapter with her watching two strange men loading something wrapped in blankets into the trunk of their car. Hopefully, the reader will now want to read on and find out what is going to happen.
About the Author
Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg lives in Edmonds, Washington on Puget Sound with his wife Jean DeFond.
Greg has written nine novels. His latest is “Cable Car Mystery” which is the sixth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. “Shadows In The Fog,” ”Fog City Strangler,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Deadly Plunge” are sequels to the first book in the series “Last of the Seals.” His other three novels are “Sunbreaks,” “Expiation” and “The Illusion of Certainty.”
For More Information
- Visit Greg Messel’s website.
- Connect with Greg on Facebook and Twitter.
- Find out more about Greg at Goodreads.