Friday First Lines (volume 5)

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’ve turned this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

51Q75yJdtTL._SY300_Author Amy Shearn writes:

Before I died the first time, my husband left me broke and alone with our two tiny children and it made me feel very depressed, etc.”  Amy Shearn, The Mermaid of Brooklyn

I thought about this book for a long time in an inchoate way before I actually started writing. But when I did sit down and begin – boom – there was the first sentence. This sentence made everything about the book possible for me. It includes the three main projects of the book: the impossible and slightly magical – died the first time? – the terribleness of the mundane – husband left, broke, depressed – and to me, the “etc” makes it funny. You know immediately (I hope) that you are in the hands of an irreverent, slightly glib, possibly unreliable narrator.

This sentence is probably the only one in the book that never changed in my many revisions. I hope it sucks readers in. I love first sentences. I love first thirds of novels, actually. I just realized that about myself as a reader, that I love every first third of every novel I can remember reading. Maybe everyone’s like that. Because writing the first third of a novel well is, I think, pretty easy. It’s the ending that’s hard. But when I wrote this first sentence I also had the last sentence in mind, so that made working my way through the book vastly more doable.  I recommend that to anyone trying to write a book, and I’m including myself in that category as I embark on my next one – write the first and last sentences at the same time.

DownloadedFile-1Author Jael McHenry writes:

“Bad things come in threes.” Jael McHenry, The Kitchen Daughter
The first sentence of The Kitchen Daughter was always the same. I wrote it first, and despite several years of writing and rewriting that changed nearly every aspect of the book, those five words never changed.
The sentences that come hard on the heels of that first one, just as crucial, did change slightly. When Ginny, my narrator, lists the three bad things she’s referring to, this is what she says: “My father dies. My mother dies. Then there’s the funeral.” This was always how I wanted to introduce her to the reader — someone so reserved, so uncomfortable in a crowd, that for her the funeral is a different trauma than the death that precedes it. In an earlier draft of the book with slightly different events, these sentences were “Ruben leaves me. My parents die. Then there’s the funeral.” When Ruben went (and good riddance), I wanted to keep the three-part structure for obvious reasons. And for Ginny, her relationships with and feelings about her parents are so different that their deaths do affect her in very different ways, so it makes sense for her to list them separately. It’s not accidental that she mentions her father first. So I wanted to use the first sentence to set up those short, sharp sentences that come after it. The first sentence itself is a common saying, somewhat expected, so that when you read just a few words more and you’re hit with something unexpected, it’s all the more surprising and intriguing. (I hope!)

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors Claire King (The Night Rainbow) and Amy Sue Nathan (The Glass Wives).


4 Responses

  1. I continue to find this feature fascinating. Please don’t stop!

  2. I like how each author puts things in perspective in their own words, and tells us such different things about their writing and their starting points. I love this feature. It’s a non-intrusive way to pick an author’s brain, and I am always amazed!

  3. Wow – two more great opening lines. Amy Shearn’s alone is enough to make me pick up the book.

  4. […] April 12th:  Books on the Brain – Friday First Lines guest […]

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