DEBORAH CROMBIE: Recently, when my writer friend David Corbett and I were co-keynote speakers at a writer's conference, he asked me what was my favorite opening line from my books. I looked at him blankly and said, "I have no idea. Never thought about it."
So, of course, when I got home I had to pull out all fifteen novels and read the first line. And the weird thing was that while there are perhaps more lyrical and more foreboding opening lines, I kept going back to the very first book, A Share in Death.
"Duncan Kincaid's holiday began well."
So simple. Yet it introduces the protagonist, it tells you that he is going somewhere and doing something, and that the holiday does not CONTINUE to go well. Even now, I immediately want to know what happened, and why.
Fellow REDs, what are your favorite opening lines from your novels? And why?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Fun question. "So many lies."
That's it. It's the first line from Dead Head and I guess I imagined the narrator delivering the line in an exhausted voice, wondering when she'd be able to stop telling them. I also hoped it would make the reader wonder who was lying and why.
LUCY BURDETTE: Love those lines ladies. Mine would have to be the opening from AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, which I HOPE gives an immediate taste of the narrator/protagonist. I wanted to show what she loved and how desperately she wanted it.
"Lots of people think they'd love to eat for a living. Me? I'd kill for it."
But I can't tell you how many drafts I went through before that appeared!
HALLIE EPHRON: I'm often surprised to discover that my book's opening lines really are the first ones I wrote.
It takes two lines to get There Was an Old Woman started: "Mina Yetner sat in her living room inspecting the death notices in THE DAILY NEWS. She got through two full columns before she found someone older than herself."
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know, I can't write my books until I have the first line, and I have to say, it never changes. (Sometimes I'll tweak just because it seems like I ought to--but then it goes back to the way it started. I--embarrassed to say--love all my first lines. I see them as the entryway to the book, you know? That one line is what the book is all about, every bit of it, all the way through.
In The Other Woman--which is about the clash between cops and reporters--the first line is a detective talking to reporters. He's saying : "Get back behind that tape. All of you. Now."
In the new (As yet untitled, grrr) book, the first line is Jane saying: "I know it's legal, but it's horrible."
In THE WRONG GIRL (out this fall!) it's "Listen Jane, I don't think she's my real mother."
But the sentimental favorite is my third book AIR TIME, which is about a scheme to smuggle valuable items via the commercial airline system. And that first line is Charlotte saying "It's never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying."
(Can I just say? See? It has character, point of view, conflict, suspense and setting, all in that line. I love thinking about this!)
RHYS BOWEN: (checking in from rainy England). I have to agree that I need to have the first line in place before I can think seriously about a new book. Sometimes it comes to me instantly. Sometimes I play with it--cut out whole paragraphs or even pages. But my favorite is definitely the first Molly Murphy book, Murphy's Law. "That mouth of yours will get you into trouble one day."
DEBS: Oh, you all are fabulous! I love every single one of these! (We hope readers will never guess how hard we work at them...) And isn't interesting that so many of us can't start a book without a first line?
So, READERS, what is your favorite, or most memorable,
opening line from novels you've read? And can you tell us what makes it