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Thursday, December 16, 2010


Our Book Club Friday guest today is Weyman Jones. Weyman began his writing career with magazine fiction, then published three books for young readers. His historical novel for pre-teens, THE EDGE OF TWO WORLDS, earned him both the Lewis Carroll Shelf and the Western Heritage Awards. His latest book is MESSAGES, his fourth adult mystery/suspense novel. Early reviews describe it as a "great thriller filled with action and misdirection." Read more about Weyman at his website: www.weymanjones.com.

Weyman has graciously offered a copy of MESSAGES to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week. Be sure to check back on Sunday to see if you’re the lucky winner. -- AP


“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

When I quote that line, heads in the audience – usually female and often gray -- nod in recognition. What makes the first line of Rebecca so memorable?

It doesn’t have the “Call me Ishmael” impact. Or the provocative information of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But it sings. It’s iambic hexameter. Try it out loud: six alternating beats.

Back in 1938, I’m sure Daphne Du Maurier sounded that line in her head before she wrote it. In today’s sound bite and Twitter culture, pop fiction writers labor to produce openers that grab a reader and keep her turning pages. Most of us don’t try to make an opener that sings. The writers’ conference wisdom is that the opening lines should embody a mini-conflict, the tension that leads to the major conflict.

Here’s how Ross Thomas, America’s best story teller according to the New York Times, sets up The Cold War Swap:

Shortly after the death of the failed Quaker, Steadfast Haynes, the Central Intelligence Agency received a telephoned blackmail threat that was so carefully veiled and politely murmured that it could have been misinterpreted as the work of some harmless crank.  But it wasn’t misinterpreted.

Provocative opening sentence: a deceased, failed Quaker named Steadfast, the CIA and a polite blackmail threat.

O. Henry wrote in a more leisurely time, but he launched his short story, The Green Door, with this tantalizing paragraph:

Suppose you should be walking down Broadway after dinner. . . You turn to look into the thrilling eyes of a beautiful woman. . . She thrusts hurriedly into your hand an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors, snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningfully ejaculates the one word, ‘parallelogram!’ and swiftly flies down a cross street, looking back fearfully over her shoulder. That would be pure adventure. Would you accept it?

Could you stop reading?

My new thriller, Messages, begins this way:

            Of course she didn’t believe in premonitions.

What was that prickle down the back of her neck as she pulled into the driveway of her condo?

In two sentences we know that something terrible is about to happen. The paragraph continues:

It reminded her that the security director had told her to vary her commuting route every day. She’d told him that would require so much concentration that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy her recorded books in the car.

“I know,” he’d said, arching his brows in that here-we-go-again expression, “You don’t back off from anybody.  But these animal rights people—they’re fanatics.”

We get a whiff of disaster awaiting an independent woman who marches to her own drummer and a sense of the conflict that drives the narrative: an animal rights organization threatening corporate executives. All in less than a hundred words, about a third of a page.

What’s about to happen sets the story in motion, but that’s not what the story is about. Messages is the story of a young man’s search for the truth that will vindicate his mother who has been convicted of the murder of her lover. The animal rights issue provides context and motive for the murders.

The pioneer mystery/suspense writer Raymond Chandler defined his protagonist Philip Marlow this way, “The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure.”

I hope you’ll find Mike Lyons a man fit for adventure.

Thanks so much, Weyman. Readers, what are some of your favorite opening lines from books you’ve read? Post a comment to be entered into the drawing for Messages. And don’t forget to check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP


Caridad Pineiro said...

Sounds interesting. I love suspense and will definitely check this out for the TBR pile.

Jill McCullough said...

What a great post! I love that first line from REBECCA and have often wondered what makes it so memorable. Iambic hexameter, huh? Hmm... I never studied poetic structure and certainly wish I had. Here's a sampling of beginnings I've loved:

"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get." - Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME

"I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination." - Ursula K. Le Guin's THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - William Gibson's NEUROMANCER

"I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves." - Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER

Best wishes for MESSAGES. Your use of the animal rights issue to provide context and motive sounds intriguing.

pennyt said...

I smiled at the first line from Rebecca as well and really enjoyed the rest of the post. I look forward to reading Messages.

Unknown said...

C.J. Box's first two novels had unforgettable, un-put-downable first lines. Dick Francis, a favorite author, always tried to open his books with a great first line. His books would have been tops without it, but I love the way it throws you into the story. Looking forward to reading Messages.


I want to thank Weyman Jones for being our guest today at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. Don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you're the lucky winner of a copy of his book Messages. Also, we'll be announcing the winner of the safety whistle from Wednesday's guest, K.M. Fawcett.

P Herrington said...

That "Manderly" opener is forever etched into my mind, too. I haven't read the O'Henry, but am intrigued after reading your reference to it in your interesting blog.

MESSAGES is a fabulous, engaging mystery with an interesting twist!

J Moretz said...

"In the crypt of the abbey church at Hallowdene, the monks were boiling their bishop."

That's my all-time favorite first line, from Sylvian Hamilton's "The Bone-Pedlar." What mystery fan can resist reading on to find out what that eerie scene is about?