Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What Makes A Keeper?

I just want to say that I am not a person who remembers details. When I’m in the midst of working or planning, of course, I can pick random details from my brain at will. But once the project is over, most details get relegated to some nebulous part of my gray matter where they can be yanked back out (if need be) with a visual, or sometimes oral, prompt.

When this topic was mentioned, I could only think of one first line I knew immediately.

Gracie Snow was having a bad hair month. Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

This line has stuck with me through years of reading and writing. Probably because the sentiment is universal, everyone has bad hair days. The idea of a whole month of them is horrifying.

But here’s the thing...even though this line has stayed with me, Heaven, Texas was not one of my favorite books by Phillips. There are countless other SEP books which I prefer over this one...they may or may not have spectacular first lines, I don’t remember.

The only other first line I remember...It was the best of times, it was the worst of times from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. At the risk of insulting English teachers everywhere, I’m pretty sure I stopped reading by page two.

So does the first line make or break a book? I took a scientific approach (yes, I am a nerd) and did a random sampling from some of my favorite authors and a few books that I just read. These stories have pretty cool beginnings.

A funeral always made for a bad day. Falling Awake by Jayne Ann Krentz.

One hundred and fifty-four fucking inches of rain a year–and this little corner of the Colombian jungle was getting it all tonight. Crazy Kisses by Tara Janzen.

Gwen Davies had a license to steal. Take Me Two Times by Karen Kendall.

I was recruited by the NSA at fifteen. Blowback by Lisa Hughey. (Currently under submission with several publishing houses, keep your fingers crossed :) )

Many of my keeper, re-read at least once a year, books by authors like Elizabeth Lowell, Cherry Adair, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, surprisingly do not have killer first lines. However the stories kicked ass.

So while that first line may hook the reader, it doesn’t always guarantee a place on the keeper shelf. But having a great (and memorable) first line surely doesn’t hurt.


ps. Ironically, after I wrote this post, I saw that Heaven, Texas was just re-released so if this put you in the mood to read about Bobby Tom and Gracie head to the bookstore


Martha Flynn said...

Tried to remember the first lines of my favorite books...came up with nada!!

Adrienne Miller said...

That Tara Janzen line is a crack up. I would totally buy that book based on that one line.

Lisa Hughey said...

Tara Janzen rocks. The entire "Crazy" series is excellent...as long as you don't mind a little violence with your romance :)

It was funny to me to realize how much emphasis writers place on the first line/paragraph (probably because of the emphasis by agents and editors that you grab them right away) and how little we remember as readers and how little it affects our choice of favorite novels.