The Best First Line Ever

I need your help choosing the style and direction the beginning of my novel will take.

I'm currently on retreat to revise my novel draft. To help guide me, I've been reading Les Edgerton's book Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. This book has illuminated many way I may make my novel opening much stronger. Here's where I need you help.

Below are two opening snippets. Please read them both and then let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page which one you find most compelling. I don't care for corrections at this point. The main function of the opening is to make the reader want to read more. Between these, which prompts you to want to keep going?

Opening #1


How many men do you need to sleep with to kill love? Basic tootsie-pop question with a twist. I could tell you about each one, but that would make this merely a story about sex. I don’t want the book of my life to sit on that shelf. Not enough traffic. Readings would be awkward.

I could easily make this a book about what the other writers call “the long dark wilderness of the soul.” Frankly, I never cared much for tragedies. Even the queens of my generation grow tired of brooding and dramatizing now and then.

This is simply a love story. A true story. My story.

For 25 years, the story of my life played out like a sitcom. I was the girl who fell in love at 16, married her sweetheart, earned a college degree and had a beautiful daughter—though not necessarily in that order. I built a successful life in a foreign country where I worked as an English teacher. Happy endings forever and ever.

Unfortunately, that plot was unsustainable. Every arc has an upward stroke, but also a twin descent.

Let me show you where it begins.

Opening #2


Let me show you where it begins.

Japan. Christmas Eve. Cold rain, but no snow. The apartment provided to me by the university where I teach has a wall of glass, sliding doors that lead out to a balcony and show me all of Osaka’s twinkling orange lights. Strings of tiny white bulbs wrap my scrawny fica tree. Brightly colored packages circle round the pot. My two-year-old daughter has finally succumbed to the inevitability of sleep and snoozes safe and warm in her pink Hello Kitty room. My husband has stepped out. Just for a minute. He’s probably halfway down the hill by now, hurrying to buy milk and Christmas cake topped with giant red strawberries before the grocery closes.

I’m sitting at my desk by the balcony, my face bathed in the deathly grey glow of my husband’s computer screen, scrolling through an accidentally discovered folder named 98taxclassifications filled with pictures of my best friend. Laughing. Smiling. Half-naked. Naked. In some her naturally blond hair is long and full of curls as it was years ago, in others her hair is chopped short and dyed red as it has been just last year after her divorce. In some photos, I see my husband’s feet, or a bare shoulder, or his shadow painting a swath of her skin a darker shade of pale. In a rare few, I see his face, pressed close next to hers, beaming up into a camera held at arm’s length.

I click, click, click through sub-folders with names like Christmas 99, Rainier Cabin or simply favs. The last set of photos seem to be dated the very month we left America for Japan.

My mouth gaps open and closed like a carp.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you for your help!



The Great Writing Retreat Debacle


I have come to Mexico on retreat, with the sincere intention of finalizing the edits on my novel. I am failing miserably.

An author friend of mine, Judith Gille, has allowed me use of her house in San Miguel de Allende for two weeks. I have brought my 12-year-old daughter with me, thinking I could combine our yearly trip together with a personal writing retreat. I take my daughter somewhere each year, just the two of us. This trip forms a cornerstone of our relationship. In my usual life, I lead a tech startup, consult on marketing projects for authors, run Kickstarter campaigns and organize multiple writing groups and organizations. I'm very busy. I spend days and evening on my computer and often rush off to meetings or events. It's hard to get my attention. I sequester myself with my daughter for an extended amount of time each year so that she knows that her sole company and the adventures we create together are of utmost importance to me.

So why did I think I could bring a novel - the greatest attention hog of all - along for our trip?

The extraordinary doings my daughter and I embark on are but one obstacle in my writing progress. In Mexico, they say you must “live in your body.” I read about this in books before I came, but didn't know what it meant until I had spent a few days in country.

The afternoon heat, the close proximity of private lives to public spaces, the altitude, the hill we must walk to get home, the constant cacophony of dogs and roosters and bells and singing and kids and cars, smells alternating savory and putrid -- all these things draw my consciousness into my flesh. My shoulders and chest throb with sunburn. My thighs ache from holding tight to my mustang on the steep canyon trail. My ankles complain at the fast disregard I have for foot placement on cobblestone streets. My eyes burn from sand and sun block and sweat.

Evening entertainment in San Miguel de Allende.When we retire to our cool house in the evening (the very same featured in this book), a deep fatigue washes over me. Think? Turn thoughts into words into sentences into plot lines? How is this possible? The grand event of our evening is drinking water on our rooftop veranda, watching the sun slice the city into vertical bands of pink and gold.

I read a collection of Mexican literature I found on Judith's bookshelf. All the stories presented tightly-drawn characters and memorable narratives, but not a single one conformed to classic story structure. Sure, things happened. They all had beginnings, some had middles, and few even offered endings. But these were mere illustrations of moments, events, characters. That all-important character change never occurred. Not in one. The authors would write right up to the moment of transition or change, and there the story would end. It’s as though all the authors collectively agreed, eh, that’s good enough. You get the idea. And then wandered off from their pages for a siesta, or to perhaps discover the source of the noise in the square.

My novel has been drafted. It's been through a deep edit. All that is left for me is to implement the structural improvements my wise editor Tammy suggested. Maybe I should have retreated somewhere cold, somewhere my body pulls in close and tight. A temperate zone where my thoughts must rally, must act act as commander to spur my timid flesh into action. In San Miguel, my body propels me. My thoughts follow two-steps behind.

My writing office for two weeks.There's still time.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will command my conscience. I will wake up in cool hours, plant myself on our rooftop veranda, and fix one more chapter. But then… I hear there is a must-see religion procession tomorrow morning featuring donkeys and twelve apostles just one block away from our house. And one of the gauchos from our trail ride gave us a tip on lovely hot spring a mere eleven dollar taxi ride away....

I need a character change of a personal sort if I am to make any progress.