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I dread writing first sentences. We all know they need to hook the reader -- instantly. Practically before the first word. These days it's dangerous to start off a novel with "The." The casual browser is liable to toss your book aside in favor of one that begins with a more enticing word.

So it was with some trepidation that I went along with Mary's idea to submit the first line of Seven For A Secret to Chris Verstraete for an article about first lines in Mysterical-E This is our entry:

"For once, the girl in the wall mosaic did not reply to the Lord Chamberlain's question."-- From SEVEN FOR A SECRET.

In SEVEN FOR A SECRET (Poisoned Pen Press, April 2008), the latest in the Lord Chamberlain 4th century mystery series from Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, John finds the brutally murdered corpse of a young woman. The woman, a model for a mosiac he keeps in his study, was about to give him some vital information. Uncovering that secret takes John, who walks a fine line between remaining loyal to his emperor while searching for the truth, on a twisting route to a dangerous ending.

It made sense to focus on the mosaic in their opening line, says Reed, since "the plot hinged on the murder of the woman who claims to have been the model for the little girl in the mosaic, and whom protagonist John is in the habit of talking to her at times."

A number of other authors shared their first lines and the inspiration behind them. It makes for interesting reading. I was even inspired to glance randomly at a few classics I've read in the past couple of months to see how they begin.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

I guess that's intriging in that you have to continue to find out what question was being answered, the question that is at the center of the plot. And good luck to you if you read this for the plot.

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevski

I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me.

Only a reader who would drive past a car wreck without slowing down wouldn't want to learn more about a narrator who would think this is a good way to begin his story.

Unfortunately, to be fair, Dostoyevski places an "author's note" at the front of the novel

*The author of the diary and the diary itself are, of course, imaginary. Nevertheless it is clear that such persons as the writer of these notes not only may, but positively must, exist in our society, when we consider the circumstances in the midst of which our society is formed....

I'm not sure explaining that your novel is fiction is much of a hook.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.

This is a classic "grabber" in which the author not only puts the protagonist in immediate danger but sets forth an inexplicable puzzle. How will Josef prevail? What can it all mean? Read on! But...umm...don't get your hopes up.

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

Our story opens in the mind of Luther L. (L for LeRoy) Fliegler, who is lying in his bed, not thinking of anything, but just aware of sounds, conscious of his own breathing, and sensitive to his own heartbeats.

Hmmmm. Opening a book with a character lying in bed? And not even the protagonist! Well, okay, maybe I should consider the preface with which the book actually starts:


Ah. Much better. However, death's little anecdote pretty much gives away the ending of the book if you think about it. It's worse than some back cover blurbs.

From this little sample I conclude that when it comes to the great authors, as far as openings go it's a kind of mixed grab bag.

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