“How can anything be ‘upon’ a time?!”

So I checked out Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon the other day and got the first line read before my little girl grabbed the skin on either side of my neck and chomped my nose. (This is her preferred method of getting my attention.) So this is the only line of this book that I got to read:

“Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth.”

Well, I’m curious.

Now, I’m not one of those people who condemns a book based on a less-than-stellar first line. Sometimes it takes a few sentences to get into the action. But it doesn’t hurt to have an intriguing opener. So it got me thinking about some of the great openings I’ve encountered throughout my reading adventures.

***

“If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again, I’m not sure I ever had a choice.”
The False Prince, Jennifer Nielsen

“How Nobody Came to the Graveyard.”
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (yes, chapter titles count!)

“First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.”
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

“My dear Wormwood,”
The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

“They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back.”
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

“Uns ist in alten maeren wunders vil geseit
von helden lobebaeren, von grôzer arebeit.”
Das Nibelungenlied (Haha, just checking to see if you’re still awake. It actually is a great beginning, it just happens to be in Middle High German.)

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (Okay, I can’t stand reading Kafka, but you have to admit that’s a good opener. It’s even better in German. There’s just no English word for Ungeziefer.)

“How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed.”
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
Holes, Louis Sachar

***

So what are some of your favorite openings? Anybody want to share the first sentence of your novel? I’d love to hear them! Here, I’ll even give you one of mine from a side project, but you have to promise that one of you out there will be brave and reciprocate.

“This doorway felt no different than any other Dean had stepped through in his six years of life.”

Your turn!

Also, check out Studio C giving the Grimm Brothers a little literary advice on how to open their stories:

Mission Accomplished!

Guysguysguys!! I just completed a first draft of the sequel to Demon’s Heart! It’s jumpy and plot-holey and awkward, but it’s done! There was a point at the beginning of the month where I had begun to despair of reaching my goal  of finishing this draft before July, but something clicked and it happened. Now I can move on from just making it to making it worth reading.

So the next step is to set the sequel aside and return to Demon’s Heart for a month with my fabulous editor. It will be good to go back and refresh that first book in my mind; then I can start hacking away at #2 with full force.

How goes it with everyone else’s writing/reading goals for the summer?

Proud, Prejudiced, and . . . Lovable?

I’ve read Pride and Prejudice twice, both times going into it with the intention of hating Mr. Darcy. After all, why would anybody like the guy? He’s arrogant, tactless, and altogether unpleasant. But both times, I closed the book with a wholehearted love of that stiff, prickly Englishman.

This time, I picked it up to find out just how Jane Austen managed to make thousands of women, young and old, swoon for a complete jerk, especially when there’s the oh-so-perfect Mr. Bingley at his side.

Here’s the thing about Bingley: he’s boring. So boring. He’s handsome and kind and friendly; he’s already where he’s supposed to be. And he’s kind of a dope. Totally clueless about his psycho sisters. Clueless about Darcy. Clueless about Jane.

Darcy has great flaws. He’s insufferably rude, with no tolerance for anyone but himself, his family, and Bingley. But nobody would love Darcy if that were all the book was about. He gets startled out of his complacent jerkhood by a pair of fine eyes. He fights it, long and hard; and even when he gives in, it’s utterly without grace. When you finally begin to see the goodness buried deep inside of him, it’s certainly not before he’s a smooth talker. It’s because he acts, because he does everything in his power to protect a hopelessly silly girl just to see Elizabeth’s worries eased.

We love Darcy because he wins. He’s crippled by his own weaknesses, but he gets past them. He lets go of his pride. He changes.

So what are your characters’ flaws? How do they get past them? What motivates them to change?

Sweet Gifts from the Sky

I’ve been traveling for the past week, so I’ve been a little quiet around the blogging universe. But yesterday, I went to meet my publishers face-to-face! It was delightful, and I loved talking to the people who are doing amazing things for my book. I am so glad to be working with a team of such wonderful people.

AND there was an unexpected surprise sitting in the lobby when we walked in: Colonel Gail Halvorsen.

The Candy Bomber.

Col. Halvorsen was a WWII pilot who dropped rations during the Berlin Airlift. Following one of his missions, Halvorsen started talking to a crowd of hungry children who were watching the enormous airplanes through the fence at the Tempelhof Airport. When the children asked if he had any candy to give them, he had only two sticks of gum; but he promised to drop more for them next time he flew over the airport.

Halvorsen collected candy rations from several of his buddies and put together three packages of candy for his next mission. As he approached Tempelhof, he wiggled his wings to let the children know it was him, and then his flight engineer threw the three packages out the flare chute with handkerchief parachutes. As he taxied past the children, they waved the handkerchiefs at him in enthusiastic thanks for the candy.

Word spread, and other pilots started donating candy and handkerchiefs for Halvorsen to drop throughout Berlin. Letters addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings” streamed through the post office, pleading for candy to be dropped in their area. Before long, thousands of pounds of candy were coming into Germany from the United States, and Halvorsen had to enlist other pilots to spread packages of sweet love to the children of that war-torn country. A few disappointed children wrote to say that they hadn’t been able to reach the packages before the others had cleaned them out, and Halvorsen mailed them personal packages filled with treats.

The airlift was already providing the necessities of survival. But Colonel Halvorsen saw a need beyond that of just hunger. He saw children who desperately needed some semblance of childhood pleasures. He saw something he could do that would bring a few smiles to a people whose lives had been torn down from the inside.

My friends, charity is not just giving money. Charity is filling a need that not everyone can see. Charity is looking for ways to make people smile. Charity is showing people their worth. Charity is love.

And Colonel Halvorsen had charity.

Ranger’s Apprentice

Yesterday, I planned a quick run to Target after meeting some friends for lunch. I knew it would be close to baby’s naptime, but it would be a quick in-and-out and then she could fall asleep on the way home.After forgetting my list, scraping through a tired baby breakdown, losing my wallet, finding my wallet back at the restaurant, and finally getting everything in the car and home, I was in serious need of a comfort book. So I picked up The Burning Bridge, book 2 of John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, and all was right with the world.

I discovered Ranger’s Apprentice last year. I wasn’t so sure about it by the end of the first chapter; but the second chapter had me hooked, and, by the third book, the series had made its way onto my Harry Potter shelf. There are twelve books in the series, and I loved every one of them (with the possible exception of some of the short stories in #11).

As with so many of my favorite books, the characters are what sold it for me. There are so many characters that you get to know throughout the book, and each one has his or her distinct voice and personality. With twelve books, there’s plenty of room for characters to grow stagnant, but Flanagan keeps them growing and changing with each new obstacle. Their relationships morph, both deepening and fading with the passing of time. The dialogue can be a little cheesy at times, but the way it builds up the characters more than makes up for the slight eye-roll it inspires from time to time.

Twelve books may seem like a long series, but the books are a quick and compelling read. I think I checked the last five out from the library at once because I was finishing them in a day or two and couldn’t stand to wait. Add them to your summer reading list!

Oh, the Internets.

My bloggy friend Lynette posted a wonderful response this morning to that ridiculous Slate article about how YA fiction is worthless trash. I had many of the same thoughts in response, and hers are already well articulated, so I’ll skip the specifics of why that article is one of the most absurd articles I’ve ever read, and head straight into a rant about how it’s an embodiment of what’s wrong with the Internet today.

Pretty much anyone with access to a library can publish on the internet today. That means there’s a lot of stuff on the internet to sift through. That means that in order to get attention, so many people write things that are deliberately inflammatory. They may or may not believe what they’re writing, but if it gets their site enough hits, they’ll post it. Logical fallacies? Not a problem! Hitler-like tendencies? No one will care! Half-truths and unsupported statements? No one will even notice! It’s written and published, so everyone has to believe it.

Some people are not deliberately inflammatory, they’re just incredibly close-minded. Their way is the only way to make anything of your life. If you don’t ready stuffy old books all the time, you’re an idiot. If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a terrible mother. If you don’t tweet a billion times a day, you’ll fall into oblivion. If you don’t discipline your children using my methods, you’re a terrible mother. If you don’t self-publish, you’re a snooty traditionalist pig. If you let your children cry in the store, you’re a terrible mother. If you don’t let your children cry in the store, you’re a terrible mother. (Can you tell I have an issue with mommy blogs?)

In both cases, common courtesy is sadly lacking. Can you imagine how many people Ms. Graham tried to publicly shame? How is that okay?! It doesn’t matter that no one I know who has read the article believes her. What matters is that every bit of that article qualifies as cyberbullying. Why are we surprised that our children are using the internet to tear down and torment their peers when adults do the same thing every day, not just on social media, but on national and worldwide magazine and news sites?

Thankfully, not all people are like that. Some do take the time to back their opinions up with facts. Some don’t condemn the Other for simply being different. I see dozens of blog posts every week that are thoughtful, uplifting, and well crafted. So thank you, my dear WordPress friends, for being a light of sanity in a very hazy internet. You give me hope that not everyone in the world is lost in the isolation of their own need to be right all the time. Stay wonderful.