Squawk Radio

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Xtina Dodd talks Best First Lines

Occasionally the Squawkers start yanking each others’ chain about who has the most writing experience — “Oh, yeah, well, I’ve been published for ten years and three months.” “Oh, yeah, well, I’ve been published for ten years and two months.” “Oh, yeah, well, I’ve been published since the earth’s crust cooled.” The truth is that collectively, we’ve published a total of one-hundred-and-forty-four full length books, twenty-four novellas, been finalists for the prestigious RITA Award thirty-one times and won five of those lovely shiny statues. All this is much more amazing when you realize that when you realize that according to our calculations, our combined age is thirty-nine. (Years, not decades. Man, you guys are brutal!)

THE BAREFOOT PRINCESS is my twenty-fifth full-length historical (a silver anniversary — send me all your silver!) and my twenty-ninth novel, and one of the things I’ve learned to love along the way is a well-crafted opening line. I was never one who worried about opening with a hook until I worked in a bookstore and discovered that probably half of the book buyers read the first page before deciding whether to fling their hard-earned cash on the counter. Then I took the need for a knock-out opening phrase much, much more seriously.

First lines are like fingernail polish — you paint on a different color, it give you a different tone. If you use a question, the reader wants to answer it. If you use dialogue, the reader wants to hear the answer. If you portray a character, the reader is her friend. If you set the location, the reader lands right on her feet in a strange place and walks in your character’s shoes. Take a look at these first lines and see if they intrigue you as much as they intrigue me.

Penny Jackson knew that it was probably wrong to be so excited to see her ex-husband come crawling back, but she was willing to live with the character flaw. — DELICIOUS by Susan Mallery (Doesn’t that just tell you everything you need to know about Penny?)

Amanda knew exactly why the man on her front doorstep was a prostitute. — SUDDENLY YOU by Lisa Kleypas (The man on her front doorstep is a prostitute? Why? How does she know that? I must read on!)

“I need a hundred and fifty polar bears.” — DECK THE HALLS by Heather MacAllister (Heather is the queen of quirky, and right away you know it.)

Not for the first time in his life, Lord Gabriel Kenyon discovered a lovely girl waiting in his bed. But for once, he was too stunned to relish the sight. — TEMPT ME TWICE by Barbara Dawson Smith (This one raises the question in my mind — why is he so stunned?)

Warm and motionless nights were natural in LA, a place where so much of life was staged and the weather seldom competed for attention. There, events and people stood in the limelight. — THE DAYS OF SUMMER by Jill Barnett (A hook of setting provides the reader a heady sense of place.)

As he watched the seemingly endless parade of nearly naked, thoroughly sweaty female torsos gyrating wildly to electronic funk music, it occurred to Sam Maguire that small town life wasn’t quite as bad as he’d thought it would be. —MY ONLY VICE by Elizabeth Bevarly (Look at what this sentence tells you. Sam Maguire is a fish out of water but he’s starting to surf the tide!)

Tabitha Lennox hated being a witch. The only thing she hated more than being a witch was being a rich witch. — TOUCH OF ENCHANTMENT by Teresa Medeiros: (Isn’t that delightful? That opener tells you exactly the kind of fun you’re going to have with this book.)

Charlotte was one week short of seventeen when her life changed, falling into two halves like a shiny child's ball: before and after— POTENT PLEASURES by Eloisa James (Wow. What a visual, stunning way to suck me into the complexities of this story!)

"… and that is how Dairy Products changed my life." — Connie Brockway’s upcoming contemporary, tentatively titled HOT DISH (Right away we know we’ve crossed the line into unpredictable.)

From THE BAREFOOT PRINCESS, book two of the highly-acclaimed Lost Princess series by Christina Dodd, in bookstores now!: If Jermyn Edmondson, the marquess of Northcliff, had known he was about to be kidnapped, he wouldn’t have gone out on a walk.

And because this is my blog and I get to talk about myself wayyy too much, let me remind you about CASTLES IN THE AIR, my book with the cover that featured the three-armed woman. Yes, the artist drew her with three arms and the first edition was published just like that. (For the full story on this, go to http://www.christinadodd.com/cita-cover.htm) Please remember when I wrote the book, I had no idea what the cover would look like or the furor it would cause … because the first line is, “She had all her teeth.”

How do you decide whether to buy a book? By the cover? Back copy? Front copy (the scenelet they put inside the front cover)? First page? How important is that opening line to you? And … do you have a favorite opening line you’d like to share?