Curt Covert

Making Stuff Up as I go… The Novels, Games and Works of Curt Covert

‘The Ultimate First Paragraph’ & A New Appreciation for Literary Agents

I have to tell you about a rather inspired and very enlightening contest, which recently asked aspiring writers to share their novel’s “Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph.” Up for grabs was an impressive Grand Prize, the opportunity to have an agent consider your manuscript. Wow. Offered up by Nathan Bransford, a children’s author, one-time literary agent for Curtis Brown and blogger extraordinaire, the contest drew roughly 900 entries, which were posted for all to see.  And that was the best part. Nine hundred beginnings. Nine hundred authors trying their damnedest to hook you with a handful of words. I heartily encourage you to give it a read through. You may discover what I did. (

It was eye opening, reading paragraph after first paragraph. What does it say to you? Where do those first words take the reader? Does the first paragraph describe the setting? Are you placed right in the action? Is the voice of the main character your introduction to the world? With so many different beginnings, many trends popped up. Pitfalls became quickly obvious and clichés were exposed to the sun. In between, there were some great stories, that had only just begun, by some talented new authors. I found it riveting reading and very, very sobering.

After reading the first two hundred, I suddenly gained a true appreciation for what agents and publishers go through. I found myself, after the first two sentences, deciding if the book was ‘for me’ or not. It was just that quick.

Crap-in-a-hat! If that could happen to me in such a short amount of time, imagine an agent, with years in the business, flipping through the slush pile. My god! That story better impress right out of the gate. Not that I didn’t intuitively know that already, but I can tell you it made a big impression on me and had me reexamine my own book’s beginning with new vigor.

Nathan said, “A first paragraph is a surprisingly important part of an entire novel, because it has to do so much. It eases the reader into the novel. But the reader literally has no idea where they are. The paragraph has to carefully guide the reader through the paragraph and into the world of the novel. Flow is important, crucial details are important, and voice is important.”

At no other time had that been so apparent to me. How did my first paragraph stack up? Had I done a good enough job on the first chapter overall? Well, my entry, which you will see around the #216 mark, was disqualified. Technically, my first paragraph had been two sentences, simply for dramatic effect. That didn’t stop me from completing the thought with the ‘rest’ of the paragraph after hitting the ‘return’ button. XXX BUZZ XXX Hey, that’s two paragraphs, mister. I lose.

But honestly, I won. I decided I could do better yet. After the contest ended, I completely rewrote the beginning of my story, taking every bit of insight I’d gleaned and put it to use. I am so much happier with the chapter as a result. Nathan’s fun little contest really forced me to work harder on perfecting my story’s beginning and will no doubt make me a bit more understanding when it comes to receiving rejections. And who knows, with all that extra effort, maybe it will just pay off in the end.

Now go read those Ultimate First Paragraphs. You won’t be sorry.


I live in Sandy Hook, and I can’t stop crying.

I am but one of many members of this small community, which, until Friday was largely unknown even to Connecticut residents. You could blink and miss the village of Sandy Hook as you drove by, the two barbershops, the diner, a small toy store and little more. A small river runs through, but you almost need to be walking in town to notice it. Just up the way is a park, the local firehouse that hosts a wonderful lobster fest every summer and a small school.

My two sons both attended Sandy Hook Elementary when they were young boys. Now grown, my youngest, who just had his fourteenth birthday last week, was safely down the road at the Middle school Friday morning. Yet I share, as does our whole community and the nation, the shock and profound heartache at the events that took place here.

Words fail me. I don’t know how to express what is in my heart for these families, for our neighbors. The senseless and tragic loss of so many, of those so young and those dedicated to protecting and enriching them as they grew, is beyond my ability to describe.

The news came out slowly and kept changing. The first to reach me was from my wife, a call pulling me out of a meeting to tell me the schools were locked down all over Newtown as a result of a shooting. She wanted to let me know it was not at our son’s school. No one knew, then, the direness of the situation. My mind pictured a single injury, an accidental shooting perhaps. Nothing could prepare any of us for the sheer horror of the truth. Even though my son was safe, the few details that I could access on my mobile phone had me feeling sick all day. But it was only when I arrived home that evening, seeing the reports and footage on TV, that it really took a hold of me.

I recognized landmarks of my town in news footage but I couldn’t reconcile the images I saw in the media with the place I know. I’ve walked the hallways of that school. Visited the offices, attended student art shows and book nights. I came in to be a guest reader in the kindergarten classroom years ago.

And now, the names and stories of those who lost their lives are being revealed. How could anyone not be moved to tears by the photos of those so innocent? How could hearing of these caring teachers and school officials heroically doing whatever they could to protect the children not break our hearts? Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist who lost her life trying to tackle the shooter with the principal, worked with my eldest son when he had problems focusing in class and directed us to an eye specialist who she thought could help. 

I have always had a great admiration and respect for the teachers and faculty in our schools at Newtown. It was clear with every teacher’s meeting how deeply they cared about their students. It was evident in every event we attended, art nights, concert performances and celebrations, how devoted they were to the kids and their wellbeing. They worked hard to make our schools a true haven for our kids and did so with passion and joy. I cannot begin to express how their actions, in such an extreme situation, underscores what incredible human beings they are and were. Under gunfire, alerting the school to the danger by engaging the intercom. Rushing to bring down a man armed with an assault rifle to protect their school. Shielding the escape of children with one’s own body. Racing through the halls ahead of the gunman to warn others. Securing and hiding children, while keeping them calm and providing a sense of security under extreme duress. These are among the finest educators, the finest people, we could ever hope to have nurture our children and they are an inspiration to us all.

The words and actions of even the youngest of their charges reflects the same. From the child who, knowing karate, wanted to lead his teacher and classmates to safety to the six-year old boy, who having just witnessed the murder of his teacher, led a group of his friends to safety, even waiting for them before escaping himself. One can scarce believe the strength and humanity in ones so young.

Driving through town last night, my wife and I could not help but notice neighbors with police squad cars sitting outside, two just down the street from us. Far enough away that we did not know them personally, but now so close that I could not help but cry for them.

People closest to me know that I do not weep easily. Crying has never been a catharsis for me, as it is for so many. It seems only to heighten the intensity of my emotions rather than provide an outlet that brings me peace. So, when I am moved to tears, it is as a result of the most intense of feelings and tends not to relent easily.  Every new detail, photo of a sweet face we’ve lost, every story of heroism I’ve heard in the last few days, brings tears which seem to be lying just under the surface, ready to break free. I mourn what has become a national loss.

Yet, if there can be any bright side to an event such as this, it is seeing the very best in people brought out by the very worst. Like Fred Rogers, I will choose to “look for the helpers” to come to grips with this tragedy. And here, in our amazing town, there are many.

To all those families, friends and neighbors so deeply impacted by these events, you have all of our love and support. We are with you, body and spirit.



Making Games by Gaslight: Hurricanes and Game Design

Trusty Xacto in hand, I hand cut cards for a new game.

Like so many others, Hurricane Sandy has left me in the dark. Not that I’m complaining, others have it a lot worse than we do. One look at the photos from New York City or New Jersey is enough to have anyone count their blessings. Still, this is the third storm in two years to leave my home without power for more than a week at a time. Oh sure, I should have invested in a generator by now, but what were the odds we’d have another storm of the century so soon? Right? Pretty good, as it turns out.

Anywho, all of this leaves me with an interesting challenge this week, designing and assembling prototypes of new game designs by gaslight. Yep. As generators were impossible to come by (I’d missed a shot at the last Home Depot had by 45 seconds), I hunted down two gas hurricane lamps, which I thought would be better than the candles we used last year. I have to say I’m greatly pleased… less mess and more light.

The game, in progress, in the dark.

As I crouch over the sample cards I’ve glued back to front, with my coat fending off the cold and my xacto knife poised for yet another cut, I can’t help but feel a touch of Dickens about me. Scrooge in the next room and me, wishing I had another coal to warm my hands, squinting in the dim light for the line to draw the razor across. It is slow going, but going well. Hand-assembling a game is fun, but is a lot of work.

Why bother? Well, this weekend is a grand opportunity to playtest a number of new designs, a whole weekend dedicated to bringing game designers and players, eager to try something newer than new, together. It’s a convention in Morristown, NJ, called Metatopia. It’s the second year running and is filled with panel discussions for fledgling designers, some of which I will be lending my experience to, and play testing from 9am to 4am the next day (for a few die-hards), before hitting it again on Sunday. I think I have almost every minute of that time scheduled – and valuable time it is. If you are local and have a board game you need playtested, there is no better venue. I heartily recommend it.

We are trotting out five new game designs, two slated for my own company, Smirk and Dagger Games, and three others that I will be attempting to license to larger game companies. I’ve done such a good job at building my own brand of ‘stab-your-friend-in-the-back’ games that some designs just don’t fit into my company’s line, nor are they tolerated by my fans, who greatly love poking each other with sticks. What can I say? I’ve trained them well.

Two of the designs are party games, which I will be pitching to companies like Hasbro, Buffalo Games, & Endless Games, to name a few, in two weeks in Chicago. Normally, big game companies do not look at unsolicited designs from unrecognized inventors without an agent (and agents basically take half of your earnings for having gotten your design an audience). But once a year, just before Thanksgiving, Chicago plays host to an amazing opportunity for inventors.

The Chicago Toy & Game Fair (CHITAG, November 17 -18) is held at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where the public can come out to preview, play and purchase hot new Toys and Games from around the world, and meet the inventors who created them. During the weekend, there is a Young Inventor’s Challenge, where kid’s toy and game designs are showcased. Over 150 kids entered last year from across the country and overseas. Besides great prizes, toy and game industry representatives provide advice, recognition and encouragement to dream big and discover the possibilities of play! Last year, one of the winners got licensed by a major toy company.

More important for adult designers are the two days before. T&GCon is the toy industry’s preeminent, most comprehensive conference available to toy and game inventors and seasoned industry professionals. Since 2006, T&GCon has brought together the nation’s leading toy and game industry experts and the independent inventing community for two days of invaluable networking and educational opportunities. If you’ve ever dreamed of getting a toy or game seen by a company – or better yet, produced, this is the place to be. I attended their first con ten years ago and a number since then – and learned so much it is incredible. Round table discussions, one – on – one chats with key decision makers, who can help guide you or potentially bring your designs back for further review, networking… plus an all around great time with some fabulously creative people.

And after a number of years attending T&G, Toy Fair, etc and having the good fortune to have licensed my 3-D Outdoor Chalk line to Crayola, the week opens up another unique opportunity. I-Spi, the International Summit for Professional Inventors, layers on top of T&Gcon with special events for recognized inventors in the community. Not only will we all get to hear the wishlists from the major toy and game companies and attend advanced workshops, but we’ll get some face time to pitch ideas too.

I can’t wait to trot out my new babies. Who knows, maybe next year you’ll see one of them on shelves for the Holidays. And that is why I am plugging away, working by gaslight, praying for the power to come back on.

Wish me luck – on either front!

The TXT that already made writing my novel worth it. The first of many?

The text arrived 10:30 Friday morning, while I was at work. It was all in caps.


It was from my thirteen year-old son, who had been reading my novel recently. He had lobbied and gained permission from his new 8th grade teacher to read my book for his school reading assignment, just as soon as classes started this fall. I have to admit; I had thought that was pretty damn cool, on both their parts. While my son was reading DreamWalkers, my wife reported that he would occasionally look up from the book to tell her how much he was enjoying it and that he kept forgetting that I had written it, as he became swept up in the story. High praise, indeed.

When he had finished it, he gave me some good notes to consider as well. But it was the story and content itself that excited him. It got him thinking. A lot.

Now, he had previously heard me talk about the concept of lucid dreaming, of becoming aware that you are dreaming and being able to influence the dream you are in. He knew that I had learned how to do it as a kid, as a means of escaping my nightmares. Hearing me talk about it when I was writing the first draft hadn’t created a huge reaction in him. Yet his biggest take-away from reading the book, apart from enjoying the story, was that he now wanted to learn how to have his own lucid dreams.

I was pretty excited that the story had inspired my son. After all, it was one of my great hopes that kids would find the book mind opening in a number of ways and that learning more about lucid dreaming might serve as a gateway to having their own adventures as they slept. But, until Friday, I didn’t know how much he’d been motivated to try.

He was home sick all last week with some crazy virus. As a result, he was sleeping a lot throughout the day. It just so happens that drifting into and out of sleep creates a fertile territory for gaining lucidity in one’s dreams. As I had not yet placed my list of tips on how to have a lucid dream at the back of the book, which I plan to have as a ‘Note from the Author’ in the final, my son was only armed with the information he gleaned from the story itself. Turns out, it was enough.

Unbeknownst to me, he had been keeping a dream journal for the past two weeks, writing in it every time he awoke to capture the content of his dreams before the memory of them faded, just as Adam does in my story. During the week of my son’s illness, he would go back to sleep with one goal, to realize what he saw next would be a dream.

On Friday, he did.

The dream began in our front yard. He saw his brother driving a tricked-out orange Mazda noisily down the street. Having had recent driving issues, my younger son didn’t think his brother would be able to own a car like that, because of the insurance cost (a frequent topic of discussion in my house recently). He used the incident as a reality check. If his brother was driving that car, my son reasoned, then this MUST be a dream!

Delighted that he was now aware he was dreaming, it occurred to him that he could do whatever he wanted. His first thought was to emulate one of his favorite video game characters, Link, from The Legend of Zelda. Link has a signature sword and shield that my son has always wanted to own for real and here was his chance. He tried to summon the shield to his arm… and it worked! Sort of.

He was now holding a shield, but instead of the specific shield he’d wanted, he ended up with a shield from Gundam, a robot warrior show from even earlier in his childhood. Slightly disappointed, but still having fun, he tried for the sword. He was much closer this time. It was actually Link’s purple-hilted sword, but it looked like a horrible, low-resolution screen grab. He said it looked like bad Photoshop work. It struck him as funny dreaming it, as it was for me, hearing about it.

Shortly thereafter, he remembered he could probably fly, if he wanted. He started running, felt the air catch underneath him, and found himself up in the air. He became aware of my wife and I watching him from below as he soared and, at the same time, realized he wasn’t very good at controlling his flight. Momentarily out of control, he started flying backwards into the copse of trees that separates our yard from the neighbor’s – until he hit a tree. Apparently, as his very supportive father, I couldn’t stop laughing. Happily, he thought it was comical as well.

He made a number of loops of the yard, enjoying each swoop. In the end, he made a controlled landing, flying through our back porch door and running a few steps, as he was carried forward by momentum. He looked back and saw the screen door was closed. Another sign he was still dreaming. And then, the dream was over.

My wife walked into his room shortly after he woke up, to check on how he was feeling. She saw him writing frantically in his journal, trying to catch every detail he could, not interrupting him until he was finished. His text to me was sent moments later and I called to hear all about it immediately.

What a gratifying moment for both of us. He was so thrilled to have been an active participant in his own dream. It was just like the book. He was having his own adventures, like Adam had! Lucid dreaming had become real for him. And, sharing in his excitement, I had my own hopes realized. My book had inspired a child and opened him to a whole new world. I couldn’t have been more delighted that my son had been the first and knew, somehow, he wouldn’t be the last.

And what’s better than that?

21 Years of Love. Saying “I do,” every day.

Twenty-one years ago today, I had the amazing good fortune to wed a wonderful woman who has patiently put up with all my creative endeavors and supported my dreams. Each year, on our anniversary, I have reflected upon our lives together and put pen to paper to try and share what was in my heart.

Here is a favorite of years past.

There will come a day, in the not too distant future, that our boys will find love and thrill to its mysteries.

 And when they do, I hope they will look upon us as an inspiration, as a model they wish to replicate.

 I see a day ahead when our son, conflicted and looking for answers, will come to me and ask, “Dad… How do you know? How do you know you’ve found the right one?”

 I’ll smile. And then give him the same frustrating bit of wisdom my father gave me.

“You just do.”

 He’ll stomp off wondering why he bothered and I’ll chuckle to myself, knowing that when he’s ready, he’ll just know. And maybe decide his dad isn’t a complete idiot after all.

 That’s the way of it. There are no hard and fast rules. It’s a sense. A knowing. One that defies logic, for it is a knowledge that taps deeper than our minds can fully comprehend. It is a completion of self, one which leads to that inevitable, ‘A-ha!’ as you just suddenly know.

 Shortly thereafter, we’ll watch as the two join their hearts together and I’ll have one last shot to guide him.

 “So dad, how did you guys do it? What made it all work?”

 I’ll grin.

“Faith and hard work. Faith that you’ve arrived here for all the right reasons and determination to honor each other, your love and your lives together with all the effort it deserves and will demand of you both. For, “I do,” is only one step of many. In the end, your success will depend upon your ability to say, “I do,” each and every day after. Find those reasons, son. Hold them in your heart and celebrate them, come what may, today and for all your tomorrows. Do that… and you will never be led to question. You’ll know. As sure as you know today.”

And then you’ll suddenly burst in through the door.

“The church is filling up down there. Any of you boys want to come down and keep me company?”

I’ll wink at my son.

“I do,” I’ll say.

I do.

Happy Anniversary to my loving wife.

I’m glad to be sharing in this journey with you at my side.

Dreaming Blind: A Study of How The Blind Dream

When the blind dream, what do they see? I was just introduced to a very interesting scientific study by a friend who looked into it and decided to share it with me. My friend, Justin, had an interesting dream the other night in which he couldn’t find his glasses. For the rest of the dream, his vision was profoundly affected. He said:

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced vision loss in a dream before. It was a bit frightening because I had to get out of my car and walk.  I was in an unfamiliar location and everything was blurry. Of course I awoke with a curiosity as to whether or not this is a common occurrence among people with vision impairment. I came across this article, which I thought you might find interesting and possibly even useful in your novel crafting.”

The New York Times article discusses research about how the blind dream – and whether or not the dreams are visual experiences. Apparently, it depends on when they lost their vision. For those who were born blind or lost their sight very early in life, dreams are experienced without imagery but with heightened senses of smell, touch and taste, which can be largely absent in the dreams of sighted people. Give it a read. Very cool stuff.

It may be a bit too late to incorporate the knowledge smoothly into my current novel, but I have already imagined how it may work into the following book. Imagine a sighted person visiting the dreams of a blind person, having to navigate the visionless dream without any experience in such things. Talk about a fish out of water. What a great insight to bring to bear in the next book. Thanks, Justin!

So that got me thinking further. In my own dreams, I have had experiences that enhanced or eliminated some of my senses. In one particularly bad nightmare from my past, I was effectively blind. I strained to see in pitch-black darkness as a circle of unknown voices called my name. Some harshly, some softly, some tempting me to draw nearer – as they all closed in around me. Horrifying. I could feel cool air on my skin – and felt their presences even though I could not see them. In a separate dream, I slowly lost each of my senses, one by one, after being struck in the head by a bullet. But that is a tale for another day (it would be a very long post to chronicle that dream).

What about you? How have your senses been altered for good or worse in a dream that helped or hindered you in some way? I’d love to hear your stories!

Why I Can’t Wear Sunglasses. A Writer’s Epiphany.

I won’t wear sunglasses. Never could. I’m just not cool enough.

It’s funny how certain items and words become layered with meanings in the collective conscious. And for one reason or another, I’ve always associated wearing sunglasses with motorcycles, celebrities and rock stars. Trying on a pair left me feeling like a poser. Sure, it’s ridiculous. I’m well aware. But I’ve just never felt comfortable in them.

Honestly, I’ve always felt the same twinge when describing myself as a writer. Not that I don’t qualify. I write all the time. I even get paid for it. It’s just that when I think of a WRITER, my mind immediately leaps to Hemingway, Emily Dickenson, Kafka… you know, Writers.

You want to have fun? Do a web search for images of ‘writers.’ Never mind; I’ll save you the time. This is what you’ll find…

Half-crazed madmen. Suffering infuses their every word. Writing is pain, an obligation, a compulsion that tears at them. They chain-smoke their way through writer’s block, struggle with the weight of the world on their shoulders… you know, Writers.

A lot of the writers I’ve known have talked about it in the same way. Writing was a struggle. It was emotionally draining on them. All I could think of in response was, Sounds awful. Why the hell would anyone want to be a writer?

Yet, here I am, writing away and having a blast. I look forward to it. As I write, it is almost as though I’m reading the book for the first time. The characters surprise me. The story keeps charging forward, twisting and turning in ways I hadn’t expected. I’m just trying to keep up half the time. I set the stage, but the characters decide what happens and shape the events. They certainly seem to know the story better than I do, so I just let them go. It’s fun.

Clearly, I am doing it wrong. I’m just not this dude.

All of which makes calling myself a writer feel like wearing an ill-fitting shoe. Not only does it pinch my toes, it looks ridiculously out of place on my foot.

But then, something interesting happened the other night. I had just spent two hours on the hot seat, having my writing group provide feedback on my first draft, and had jumped into a story about how I first learned to lucid dream as a kid. As I finished, one of the women in the group was looking at me funny. I couldn’t quite read her expression. She looked stunned, with a hint of annoyance, yet still warm and friendly. “My God. Do you even hear yourself?” she said. “The sentences just fall out of you fully formed.”

I didn’t know how to react, still unsure of where she was headed with the comment. But what she said next led me to an epiphany as I replayed it in my mind going home. She said I was a natural storyteller and did not wonder that it showed in my writing.


Now that brings up much different imagery, doesn’t it?

Google thinks so, too.

What a pleasant looking fellow. This is a guy who enjoys what he does. He’s an entertainer. He’s not trying to create art; he’s trying to engage an audience, artfully.

So why do the two words connote such disparate things in our minds? Is the oral tradition and performance of a story so different than the authoring of the story? Don’t you have to be a storyteller in setting the words down in the first place? Yeah, of course you do.

Perhaps, then, it is simply an attitude. I often hear people say they are working on a book. In college, people talk about wanting to become writers. Writers are constantly at work on their craft and measure themselves by those who have distinguished themselves as literary giants.

Well sure, we all want to be better writers. It’s just the word perhaps, the vision that seems so out of whack. But what if one replaced the desire to be a writer with the desire to tell a story? To not work on a book, but delight in telling a tale? It just sounds like more fun. And maybe, that’s the only difference.

Certainly, the thought made a difference for me. Driving home, I realized how right Katie was. For people who know me, you know that you can seldom strike up a conversation with me without being subjected to a story. Sorry. I can’t seem to help it. But yeah, storyteller pretty aptly describes how I see my role. Perhaps that’s how I fit into the writer’s world.

Though… I suppose I could get used to the term ‘Author’ pretty easily, should I be so fortunate. For the word author conjures up a whole new vision in your head, a person who has had their story published, having been recognized for their own unique voice. And that is a title anyone can wear with pride.

Even for a guy who can’t wear sunglasses.

Making Stuff Up

There is very little in the world as satisfying as the act of creation.  That said, it sounds a lot less pompous when you simply talk about how much fun it is to make stuff up. Now, I’m not talking about just coming up with an idea, which is pretty amazing to begin with, but rather the process of taking that idea and bringing it to life. To create something unique that without your passion and dedication would not otherwise exist. When you’ve finished, you can look at it with as much pride as you can muster and say, “I did that.”

And then it gets even better. Once it exists, it can be shared – and therein lies the true joy. To share your creation with others and see your passion reflected back by someone who appreciates your work… well, there is simply no feeling on the Earth like it. It’s as powerful as love and equally addictive. It propels you forward into your next project.

This blog is about that passion. It’s about the things I create and the joy that comes with sharing them.

So thanks for visiting and inspiring my next adventure.


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