Great Opening Lines – and Why! (June 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

A delightful science fiction mystery, a fantasy that’s never been classified as such, and both about gendering

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative. With nothing else, you know (or at least I did) the narrator’s gender, their background, their mindset, that the story’s going to be about some kind of unpleasantness, and what to expect.

It’s worth reading the entire opening paragraph because it builds so beautifully off that great opening line: The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of seat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

If you have any doubts after reading the opening line, the rest of the first paragraph leaves no room for questioning. The entire story is a masterclass in storytelling and storycrafing technique for authors and writers of any genre. I offer a full review on Goodreads

“He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Here is the opening line to an incredible fantasy book that (as far as I know) has never been listed as fantasy. The first line tells the reader that the book is going to be about sex, but not coitus (there’s plenty of that, don’t worry), instead sexual identity. I’ll admit here that transgendering is an oddity to me. So many people feeling a need to specify “He/Him” and “She/Her” in their social profiles. I wonder if this need to publicly self-identity is the outcome of better surgical techniques, increased awareness, or something indicative of the unsurety of our cultural identity as a whole.

Such concerns didn’t exist in Woolf’s time. She was able to write a political novel with a protagonist who could – quite literally – take a long view and the fantasy element is subtly hammered home in the last chapter. Hinted at in the first line, hammered in the last chapter – Yowza!

Nice.

I’ve written a full review on Goodreads.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.


Yes, this post is about a week late. This blog was transferred and it took a while. Sorry for the delay.

30 Years to Publication

It took two months to write, thirty years to get published. And you know what? It was worth the wait.

I am so proud. I wrote The Augmented Man in April of 1990. Now I’m holding copies in my hands.

 
And the delay wasn’t because of slow mail.

I wrote the novel side-by-side with the novella, The Goatmen of Aguirra (to give you an idea of what my mind was working on at the time).

I’d workshopped The Augmented Man and received high praise. I shopped it around, no publisher was interested. I asked AJ Budrys, my mentor and an accomplished author and editor, if he’d be willing to read it and let me know if I was kidding myself, did it just need work, should I give up my dreams of being a published author…?

What you need to know is I was an accomplished trade technical author in the late 1980s through the early 1990s, at the height of the PC Boom (I discuss this in my interview) and my work was in high demand. I knew the publishing industry at that time.

AJ read it and was so blown away he offered to agent it for me. He’d published some of my short fiction in his Tomorrow magazine and he knew my work from workshops hence was familiar with my work, my style, my weaknesses and my strengths. But The Augmented Man caught him by surprise.

I was flattered, honored. I almost fainted when I read his letter offering to represent the novel (1990, remember? We didn’t do lots of emailing back then).

For reasons that had nothing to do with the book, AJ couldn’t land it. We met at a con and he explained the situation to me. Someday, should we meet at a con, ask me and I’ll share the story.

AJ passed and I got another agent. She loved the book. Could I add 30,000 words to it?

Sure, why?

Because it was too short. Thirty-k words longer and she was sure she could land it. I added 30k words, edited, proofed, and sent the rewrite to her in under a month.

Didn’t hear from her. Called and got “Oh, on second thought, no, I don’t think this is a good enough novel. Besides, there’s too much out there already like it.”

Really? Did you read the novel?

Yeah, sure. It’s about a guy lost in a jungle, right?

On to agent #3. Who was a joke. I finally asked point blank, “How many projects have you placed?” and she responded that she couldn’t work with someone who asked such questions. This was after the head of the agency phoned and talked with me for an hour to let me know how impressed he was by my work.

So I put it on the shelf. I went on with life.

Because I’m patient.

And now I’m holding the novel in my hands.

I’m so proud.


Would you like a personally autographed copy?

(and feel free to pass this on to every one)

Empty Sky Chapter 9 – Earl Pangiosi

Is it “evil” if it’s all you know how to do?

Read Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz


Earl Pangiosi sat in the Empire Builder‘s Superliner Snack Coach’s upper level, a pillow behind his head and a blanket covering his legs, peering through dark, wraparound sunglasses at people’s reflections in the round, full length domed windows. When someone nodded off, he’d dip down his glasses and peer at them briefly, purse his lips then shove the glasses back up his face. Once in a while he’d catch his own red-haired, high colored reflection as he followed people walking past.

Earl liked being around people so he could practice. He had his own car — disguised as two back-to-back LandSea containers on a flatcar and marked “US Mail” — further back in the train. It brought a brief smile, the change in rail regulations that allowed all trains to transport freight and passengers simultaneously. It made his private car’s subterfuge possible.

He tolerated the miasma of greasy hamburgers and soggy fries, of too strong coffee and unwashed bodies, of screaming children and louder screaming parents, and the occasional whiffs of diesel to indulge in a pastime he enjoyed since his childhood; watching people’s reflections in glass.

It was a early Fall night much like this one that he first noticed his gift.

Dad, suit and tie and freshly shaved and mustache neatly trimmed, drove their new, ’59 burgundy Lincoln Continental back to the old neighborhood. Mom sat opposite dad, wrapped in her furs, wearing her best clothes. Dad told her she wore clothes too tight sometimes but she told him to never mind, didn’t he want everybody to know what he had every night?

Mom and Dad left the old neighborhood a year before and never told Earl why. But once a month, maybe twice, he and Mom and Dad would get in the car and go back north to the old neighborhood with presents for everybody. Dad was in the meat business and he’d hand out steaks and chops and roasts and cutlets and hotdogs in summer and hamburger and ground pork if somebody wanted to make meatballs. Everybody was so grateful and Mom would smile and nod as she stood beside Dad, his hands reaching deep into the coolers in the dark of the trunk, coming back into daylight, his hands full of brown paper wrapped meats neatly tied with butcher’s twine. They asked questions about the new car and Dad would tell them it was a Lincoln and Mom would correct him with “Lincoln Continental.”

They drove home, the coolers empty and tucked in the trunk, heading south on a clear, moonless Sunday night. Earl saw the Rhode Island border sign. Soon Dad would slow for the Providence traffic and take the Federal Hill exit.

An only child, Earl had the entire backseat to himself. He could lie down and take naps if he wanted to. Now he sat hands folded and face pressed against the rear passenger’s window, his knees pulled together and tucked under him because he had to pee but Dad said they weren’t going to stop, they only had a little further to go and Earl was a big man and could hold it, couldn’t he?

Sure, Dad.

Except Earl really had to pee. The leather seat sent shivers of cold up through his bare knees and that didn’t help. He had bare knees because he wore shorts. Shorts, a winter jacket and a hat Mom made him wear even though his cousins all wore long pants.

They already laughed at him because he had different color eyes; the right brown, the left blue. Mom didn’t say much and his cousins and some aunts and uncles said that made him a freak. She made him wear dark sunglasses and told people Earl had sensitive eyes.

His cousins would dance around him. “Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis. Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis.”

He caught his reflection in the window as his exhalations frosted the glass. Mom’s and Dad’s reflections, too.

He’d never noticed them before. Maybe reflections were something you only got in a Lincoln Continental? The dashboard gave off so much light.

He watched his father’s profile as they drove. Mother said things and Dad occasionally winced on the side mom couldn’t see, like somebody was jabbing him with a little knife.

Mom would go ya ya ya and Dad’s nose would twitch and his mustache would rise a little then go back down. Mom would go da da da and Dad’s eye would wink shut quick and then back open to watch the cars on the road. Mom would go sa sa sa and Dad’s lips would move forward and back like he wanted to spit something out.

Earl watched his father and something happened in Earl’s head. His father stopped being a person and became a book, a map, a reference, something easily read. He tasted what his father felt. He did not know the word but he understood the emotion: despair.

“You don’t like what Mom’s saying, do you, Dad.”

Greetings! I'm your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. Members can view the rest of this post by simply Logging In. Non members can view the rest of this post by joining. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz

You didn’t do yourself any favors with the beer and pizza, Joni

Read Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin


Joni stood across Beacon Street from the Brookline Abortion Clinic staring at the sign’s red and gold lettering.

What betesticled marketing moron came up with those colors for an abortion clinic?

Two buses, one with a Boston’s Pro-Life Action Network banner and the other unloading Operation Rescue “sidewalk counselors”, formed a phalanx from the sidewalk to the clinic doors. Ever since John Salvi III opened fire here and at its sister clinic about a mile away, and now with most red states sending bus loads of safe sex refugees north, this stretch of Beacon Street became one of the safest most dangerous places in the greater Boston area. Police cars patrolled routinely. Male and female undercover cops chatted up anyone and everyone walking anywhere near the clinic.

The Supreme Court had created a safe zone for people wanting to enter and exit the clinics and this safe zone included quite a bit of the sidewalk and street surrounding the clinic. People on their way elsewhere learned to stay on the other side of the street, thus the only people nearing the clinic were those having business there.

Such as Joni, today.

Joni held a pencil in her hand as if it were a cigarette. She lifted it to her lips each time she felt her breakfast of barely thawed Brüdermann’s frozen pizza and cold Starbucks coffee coming back on her.

She belched. “Ugh. Morning sickness is one thing but you didn’t do yourself any favors here, Joni girl.” She checked her palm for escaping pieces of pizza. “I should never have given up smoking.”

She watched an obese woman with a video camera and two small children in tow from her safe haven of a sidewalk bench across the street from the clinic. The children orbited the woman more like satellites than offspring; the woman was large enough to warrant a small planetary system of her own.

All the other people, all the other protesters and contesters, all the police, all the counselors, all the passersby and traffic in between, evaporated until only this one woman, video camera in hand, her greater and lesser moons of Phobos and Deimos orbiting via unseen gravitational umbilicae, spun away from the others, walking and talking her way into a universe of her own.

She held vigil under an ash tree, a cat waiting for a specific bird to arrive. She kept telling her kids to stay there. At least it seemed she was. She might have been saying, “Stay here until I move five feet away. No more. Five feet, do you hear? Then come running after me. Scream for me. Clutch onto my skirt, climb onto my coat, pull me down into the earth with the weight of you. Make sure you’re loud and obscene enough for all others to see. We are here to show them what it means to be a mother.”

Joni’s hand went to her stomach. She couldn’t feel any life there yet. “Small comfort.” Instead she felt the pizza and coffee making plans for a violent escape. She wanted to be prepared.

How did the woman pick her targets? Did she only go for women like herself? Like herself in what way?

Greetings! I'm your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. Members can view the rest of this post by simply Logging In. Non members can view the rest of this post by joining. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Hecate and Gracie, Together Again

There are no egos in The Wild. Not for long, anyway

For about a week, Gracie and Hecate didn’t dine together. Regular readers may remember our previous post about these BFFs and we were concerned when we’d see Gracie or Hecate for a bit. Then one would come, not the other.

Not sure what happened.

Did these BFFs have a falling out?

In The Wild?

Such things don’t happen. Different species will often have overlapping territories. Members of the same species usually don’t unless they’re pack, colony, hive, et cetera, creatures.

Overlapping territories easily occur with different species when they require different resources; a turkey and a raccoon don’t go after the same food supplies.

This brings us to another territorial constraint; same or similar resource requirements. Example: two relatively equal predators usually don’t mark out the same territory. Unequal predators – fox and bear, for example – will have overlapping territories and you know the fox isn’t going to challenge the bear for a bit of food.

In any case, the rules of The Wild make good precedent for us Two-Leggers: Respect your neighbors. Clean up after yourself. Share when you can. There are no egos in The Wild. There can’t be. Egos are expensive and never worth their cost. Rules are simpler in The Wild. There are no empty threats; if Old One A shows a territorial display and you insist on invading A’s territory, A will respond with force to get you out of its territory. Two-Leggers are always making empty threats, most times because they don’t know what’s their territory and what isn’t; the border between selfish and selfless is poorly defined or doesn’t exist at all. Ego kicks in and attempts to create a territory where one doesn’t exist.

And Gracie and Hecate are together again. The borders are intact. We’re glad.

 
Besides, they were probably off visiting friends.