Sunday, June 13, 2010

The First Five Lines

When you open a new book, what makes you continue reading it?

Where do you make your decision that the book is worth the investment of your time --first line, first five lines, first page, first chapter? Do you keep going until you reach the end, no matter what? Or will you stop reading when you become bored, confused, disgusted, etc.?

These are important questions to book publishers, literary agents, bookstores and, of course, to authors so that you'll keep reading -- and buying -- books.

I recently entered a blog contest judged by author Sophie Littlefield on the basis of a manuscript's first five lines. It's fascinating how much you can learn about a book -- or what piques your interest -- from five sentences.

Want to see what I mean? Look at the first five sentences of works by the
Sisters in Crime New England members who'll join me to discuss "Beach Read" recommendations at a July 29 event at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth --and see if you can match them with these mystery titles:

"Drive Time" (Hank Phillippi Ryan)
"Red Delicious Death" (Sheila Connolly)
"Under the Eye of Kali" (Susan Oleksiw)
"Who Wrote the Book of Death?" (Steve Liskow)
"Murder Most Municipal" (Pat Remick)

A."They're all dead."

"What?" Meg Corey dragged her gaze from the orderly row of apple trees that marched over the hill. Almost all were past bloom now, and some of them had what even a novice farmer like Meg could identify as apples. Small, maybe, but it was a start. She turned her attention to Carl Frederickson, her beekeeper.

B. I can't wait to tell our secret. And I'll get to do it if we're not all killed first.

We're 10 minutes away from Channel 3 when suddenly the Boston skyline disappears. Murky slush spatters across our windshield, kicked up from the tires of the rattletrap big rig that just swerved in fron tof us on the now slick highway. Eighteen wheels of obstacle, stubbornly obeying the Massachusetts turnpike speed limit.

C. KC Dunham pointed toward the large erasable white board announcing the Question of the Day in precise black lettering: “Who invented peanut butter? Winner gets a free muffin.”

“The Incas, although most people think it was George Washington Carver,” she said without hesitation. “You can keep the muffin.”

The woman holding a steaming pot of coffee behind the cracked Formica counter laughed.
“I was beginning to think I'd never find anyone in this town who appreciates the long and glorious history of my favorite food, after chocolate that is, though they're damn fine together too."

D. No way in Hell her real name is Taliesyn Holroyd.

Everything else about her strikes Greg Nines as unreal, too, from her energy level—which could eclipse a heavy metal band even if she were unplugged—to her clothes, Sex And The City meets Pirates of The Caribbean.

“I need to do this,” Taliesyn—“call me ‘Tally’”—says. Her stiletto boots make her Nines’s six-one. He’s offered her a chair twice, but she keeps pacing, her strut turning her calf-length leather skirt into a major event.

E. Guests from various foreign countries began filling up the Hotel Delite dining room, taking every seat at the main table--this was a small hotel,only eight rooms, with the owner's, Meena Nayar's, suite on the top floor, and that of her niece, Anita Ray, above a separate garage.

Tired after being woken in the middle of the night by festival drumming from a narby temple, Anita sat at a small table along the wall and only half-listened to the guests placing their orders and asking the usual questions. "What is this?" "What does it taste like?"

To see the answers, click here: How did you do? To learn more about the authors, visit:

No comments: