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