Monday, June 1, 2009

Bring On The Sparkle


by Sophie Littlefield

So it begins – eight writer friends gathered under one virtual roof, long on enthusiasm and ready to roll. Many thanks to the Jungle Red gang for getting us started with yesterday’s raffle. Congratulations to Edith Maxwell, who won her choice of BRUSH WITH DEATH or SHOOTING GALLERY by Juliet, aka Hailey Lind - and welcome to PensFatales!

Every couple of weeks we’ll toss out a topic and see what comes up for the eight of us and our guests. We’ve already discovered that our little band is full of renegades, so expect creative interpretations and occasional side trips.

For instance: we’re starting with a discussion of first lines. I love a sparkly sentence as much as the next reader, but it doesn’t need to be in the first paragraph or page or chapter of a book to stop me in my tracks. For me, the most memorable lines often seem to be found when characters are being developed and revealed.

Or maybe it’s just that, for me as a reader, character is everything. A plot’s nice, I guess, but show me the inside of someone’s soul and I’m hooked. Do it with a pretty turn of phrase and you’ve got me forever. I tend to just breeze through all the parts of the book where stuff actually happens (no, really…it’s a problem) but get to the heart of a character and I’ll wallow happily in your narrative.

Early on, when adolescence wasn’t working out very well for me, I found Flannery O’Conner, who was like boredom repellant. She could define not only a person but an entire relationship in a lean paragraph:

“She was plain, plain. The skin on her face was thin and drawn as tight as the skin on an onion…She was pregnant and pregnant women were not his favorite kind.” (“Parker’s Back”)

Adulthood, as it turned out, was distracting on its own, but after a couple of decades of that, boredom set in again and I went looking for something new to read. At first I didn’t stray too far from my roots, wallowing in authors who seemed like they might have fed from the O’Conner trough:

“The coffin looked like a birthday cake, flocked pink. We had ordered it by phone. I knew Lyle would have ordered the cheapest for himself, so I ordered the second cheapest.” (James Galvin, THE MEADOW)

Age honed my tastes, and I found I liked my thrills more thrilling, my emotions assaulted with force rather than subtly nudged, and I steered straight into genre. Daniel Woodrell is the perfect gateway, as he himself isn’t sure if he writes literary or crime or what, but heaven help us can he write a sentence that hits you on the head:

"He's the kind of fella that if he was to make it to the top based only on his looks you'd still have to say he deserved it. Hoodoo sculptors and horny witches knitted that boy, put his bone and sinew in the most fabulous order…If your ex had his lips you'd still be married." (TOMATO RED)

Wouldn’t you have killed to write that?

12 comments:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome to the neighborhood! And what a beautiful site. I'm going to sneak some time today to read all the posts below..but just wanted to say hi!

As for first lines..always fascinating, and I can't write my books until I have just the right one. And none of my first lines have ever changed through all the editing and revisions!

My favorite from famous authors might be the first line of Charlotte's Web--I've got to go to work now--but more later!

xox

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome to the neighborhood! And what a beautiful site. I'm going to sneak some time today to read all the posts below..but just wanted to say hi!

As for first lines..always fascinating, and I can't write my books until I have just the right one. And none of my first lines have ever changed through all the editing and revisions!

My favorite from famous authors might be the first line of Charlotte's Web--I've got to go to work now--but more later!

xox

Shark said...

My favortie first line from 2009 is: Whuppin' ass wasn't so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas City last month. What was hard was making sure it stayed whupped."

Dana Fredsti said...

Love the new blog, ladies! I'm trying to think of my favorite first line and failing miserably, however... Probably 'cause I'm at work with no access to books!

carl brookins said...

Nice looking site. Uninteresting first lines may not ruin a book, but dynamite first lines sure can make a sale.

"Good morning," he lied.

Sandra Parshall said...

Great new blog, ladies! I'll visit often.

Lisa Hughey said...

Good point, Carl. For unpublished writers, the first page has to be a total hook/grabber or many agents and editors won't keep reading. It might be interesting analyze first published book first lines and then the following books first lines...hmmmm :)

jennymilch said...

What a great looking site, ladies; there is so much wonderful stuff to look over! I will come back often...

In terms of first lines, I think of it more in terms of premise. If the first lines clue me in to some fantastic, unfathomable situation to be unfurled, then that does more for me as reader than beautiful lines (although those are enviable, too)!

Kelli Stanley said...

Fabulous site for some fabulous femmes!! :)

You ROCK, ladies!

And as for first lines, I've always been partial to Dicken's A Christmas Carol:

"Marley was dead: to begin with."

xoxo

Kelli
--
Kelli Stanley
NOX DORMIENDA (Bruce Alexander Award Winner; Macavity nominee)
CITY OF DRAGONS (Minotaur, February, 2010)
www.kellistanley.com

Camille Minichino said...

What a great start -- in more ways than one!

And, because I just used this line during a game at Mayhem in the Midlands, I'll give you Jan Burke's, from Goodnight Irene:

He loved to watch fat women dance.

Camille/Margaret Grace

Karin* said...

Having a heck of a time posting a comment!

Tracy said...

Best part of that last line is, it mentions knitting.

Um, yeah - I'm with Rachael.