“Are you a magician? Because baby, whenever I look at you
everyone else just disappears.”
Oh, sorry, that’s my pickup line. This here blog post is about opening lines, i.e., the opening lines of my novels.
This was a thing that drew attention not that long ago, with various sites listing the “best” opening lines of novels. Because we all know “best of” lists are so daggurned scientifically accurate. And, they are timeless! Great literature’s opening lines speak to the consistent and enduring human condition! Take, for example, this one from PRIDE & PREJUDICE:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Oh, jeez … time might have passed that one by. How lucky we are that Jane Austen never chummed with Lionardo DiCaprio (and to hell with society’s demands that men have no value if they are not good little hubbies!).
Or this classic kickoff sentence from Kafka, who gives absolutely zero shits about foreshadowing or setup and goes straight for the horror nut-punch:
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
A novel’s opening line of a book is, of course, real, real important. If you want to sell books, that is. The opening line is a book’s way of making eyes at you across the room, gently patting the empty seat next to it at the bar and mouthing the words “why don’t you come sit down for a bit?” The opening line needs to make you want to get to know that book. And, hopefully, spend several tawdry nights together as it casts a spell upon you. When done properly, a first line leads you into a heated affair that makes you ignore friends, family and work.
Sure, that giddy emotion is transitory and will burn out in a handful of splendid days and nights, and, sure, that goddamn book won’t email you back and it stops liking your Facebook posts because now it’s “in a relationship” with someone else (because books are whoorish by nature and share their goodness with anyone who wants to dance), but you’ll always have the memories. If the rest of the novel delivers on the first line’s promise, those memories will be grand.
There are many lists of opening lines, like this one by Gawker, this one by the American Book Review, or this shameless one by The Guardian that turns one simple list into thirty stat-tastic individual page views.
As for my first lines, I’m listing them below. Novels only, and I am listing them in order of publication (hardcover only).
CONTAGIOUS: Infected Trilogy II (2008):
It had to be a joke.
Paul Fischer had always pictured the end of the world being a bit more … industrial.
“You’re not welcome here, Paul.”
PANDEMIC: Infected Trilogy III (2014):
For a hundred thousand years, the machine traveled in a straight line.
A stabbing pain jolts me awake.
EARTHCORE (final version, coming in 2016):
Wilford Igoe Jr. wrapped his fingers around the pumpkin-shaped rock, moved it a half inch to the left, then waited to die.
And how about the GFL series? I think these are a little different, because the vast majority of readers of any series consume Books II-V after having read Book I. This means the “first line” is basically the last sentence on the entire book before it. People start Book II and beyond with extensive story knowledge, allowing for far more leeway with that all-important first line. To me, the open of Book II and beyond is more like a “first paragraph” to set the stage instead of a “first sentence,” and I use all the available space. That being said, my opening line to THE ROOKIE, Book I of the GFL series, is horrible. Unless you are already a football fan, that line is not only hookless, it might serve to turn the reader off. I should have gone with something more character- or setting-centric, but there’s no crying over spilled ink. It is what it is:
THE STARTER (Book II:
They came home at night. They came home champions.
THE ALL-PRO (Book III:
Hello again, sports fans.
THE MVP (Book IV):
As a kid, Quentin Barnes had dreamed of seeing the galaxy.
THE CHAMPION (Book V):
The greatest moment of his life passed by in a blur of pain, the experience washed thin by anguish.
So there, you go, the first lines to my novels. No, they are not pickup lines, nor would they pass as such (although “Hello again, sports fans” could work in several midwestern states).
Do you have a favorite opening line that is burned into your brain? List it in the comments below and share with the world.