Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

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.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

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.

Terry Melia’s “Tales from the Greenhills”

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Let me get the obvious out of the way; Bravo, Mr. Melia. Bravo!

Now repeat that half a dozen times to get it out of my system.

I completed my third read of Tales from the Greenhills less than fifteen minutes ago. It’s going on my reread shelf.
One of my unwritten rules for realizing a book is stunning is getting to the end and wanting the story to continue, to find out what happens next to the characters (Melia says sequels are in the works. I’m holding him to that).

Another unwritten rule is having the characters sneak up on you such that you don’t realize you’re vested in their lives more than your own, that you care about them as people, not as characters in a story.

Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

 
American readers may have trouble with the language. Remember the first time you saw The Full Monty or Waking Ned Devine? You wanted subtitles for the first ten minutes until you got use to the accents? I had a similar experience reading the dialogue for the first time. I reread sentences to make sure I got the meanings correctly. Once I accepted the vernacular, I realized it was perfect.

Let me focus on that “perfect” part. Future anthropologists will pick up Tales from the Greenhills and realize they have a textbook for late 1970’s Liverpool, England, and the world. This book is so rich with cultural iconography is could be used as a time traveler’s guide to time and place.

Tales from the Greenhills is also a coming-of-age story meets Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, although I didn’t recognize this until half way through my second read and realized fully during my third read. Regarding the Hero’s Journey aspect, Melia couldn’t have done a better job of placing Le Queste de Saint Graal in modern England if he tried (don’t tell him I said that. He’ll prove me wrong and do it). It’s all there and I laughed when I finally recognized the separate characters for their Journey counterparts.

Again and again and again, Bravo, Mr. Melia! Bravo!

Do you need to read it three times to appreciate it? No, not at all. However, if you’re an author or writer-wannabe you must read this novel multiple times. Melia does an amazing job with scenes, characterization, mood, place, setting, voice, POV…I need to know this was by accident. If Melia set out to produce this rich a story, I’m going to hang up my writing shifts now, I can’t compete.

I did have the privilege of exchanging comments with Melia during my reading. His attention to detail — this is a movie or should be – think Trainspotting meets Oliver’s Travels — caused me to ask how much was imagined and how much remembered. I won’t give away his answer except that it increased my respect for both him and his work.

The book is also rich in quotable lines; “the only thing money can’t buy is poverty.” If Melia lifted that — good authors borrow, great authors steal — please tell me where so I can play in the treasure.

And last note; the opening scene. The book opens literally with the aftermath of the story. Not the conclusion, the aftermath of the climax. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! As I learned to say in Glasgow, “Pure Dead Brilliant, Jonnie!” Get past the first chapter and the rest of the book builds moment by moment, scene by scene, to the climax. You know it’s coming — you’ve already read the aftermath — and Melia keeps notching up the tension for what you already know is going to happen.

Again, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant.

Okay, the for real last note; the last three paragraphs. I read them and laughed. Oh, Mr. Melia, BRAVO!

Minor technical matters for American audiences
Editing styles in the UK differ slightly from their US counterparts. Some constructions don’t roll smoothly off the American tongue. They’re awkward, not confusing, much like I wrote above regarding dialogue.

I took them as an opportunity to increase my understanding of contemporary British literature and hope I’m a better all-around reader for it.

Striders

Sometimes smart women get stuck with dumb men. But not for long.

As I mentioned in The Raping of Cyrynda Strong, in the early 1990s I wrote a triptych of stories in which women took the lead and not always to their benefit. Although not part of the triptych, my success with Cymodoce, spurred me into give a female lead/POV a whirl.

The first story was Rachel, Above the Clouds, While Flying (and was recently published in Across the Margin). The Raping of Cyrynda Strong came next and this story, “Striders”, came last. I can’t tell if it still needs some polish.

Let me know what you think, and thanks.


Striders

 
Gladys stopped in the doorway between the comm and the ship’s claustrophobic living-room. She could see Dobrynin shuffling on his roll-bed and balanced herself in mid stride, the toe of one slipper not quite touching the floor, her tiny figure framed by the comm’s instrument lighting.

Dobrynin sat up and scratched his beard and gut. “Where’d’you go?”

“I…I had to go to the john.”

“You didn’t fuck anything up, did you?”

Alarms sounded.

“What in hell?” He glanced at her and rose. Instinctively she backed away as he hurried into the comm. “Coil chamber integrity, zero. Stabilization manifolds point-ten and dropping. Life-support viability,” Dobrynin toggled a switch which flipped the readout back and forth, “recycling heap and atmospheric plant, both failing. Well, Gladys, not even you could have done this.”

She sighed and her shoulders relaxed.

Dobrynin studied the instruments one more time. “It looks like we’re going down.”

Slowly the stars came back into view and the Venturer shook as the jump drive indicator lights died.

Gladys called up the maps and arranged them according to the emerging star patterns.

“Don’t touch that.” He slapped her hand away from the interface panel as he studied the maps for a landing site. “Emerson’s Planet or Nemel. Some choice.”.

She peered over his shoulder. “Nemel’s closer to trade routes this time of year.”

“I am trying to think.”

“Sorry.”

“We’ll go to Emerson’s Planet. It’s got breathable air and fresh water according to the map. It shows green, so there’s got to be vegetation down there, too. Computer, estimate time before system failure.”

A synthetic female voice replied, “15.7.25.”

He touched the planet’s image on the map. “Locate landing site on selected body.”

A panel lit up to Dobrynin’s right. The female voice said, “Working.”

Dobrynin moved his feet to the servos. They responded with little effort. “Good. At least we won’t crash.” He punched in a descending spiral orbit on the flight control computers, letting the planet pull them in until the computer came back with some findings.

“Landing site found,” the computer said a minute later. A series of crosshairs and circles formed on the map.

“Auto pilot,” Dobrynin said. The servos went limp as the computer assumed responsibility for the descent. Dobrynin went into the storage bay to check food, power, and weapons. Gladys followed him in. “I don’t want you in here, Gladys.”

She nodded, crossed her arms tightly over her chest and walked back to the comm.

An hour later they were on the ground. Dobrynin sent up a Caster then went back to finish checking on their supplies. Within a few minutes the Caster flew over a group of grazing quadrupedal creatures.

Gladys stood alone and observed the creatures in the Caster’s monitor. “Hmm. Morbid thorax and abdomen, at least by earth-standards. Hirsute, rounded mandibular structure, prehensile proboscis and osculates, bi-aural and ocular, apparently herbivores, three-hundred kilo by two-point-seven meter average.”

She flipped the Caster from automatic to manual and gently nudged the joystick.

The Caster flew lower and the creatures broke into a run. “Unguligrade perissodactyl tylopods, evolved for extended trotting and moving in 1-2,3-4 rhythm.”

Dobrynin came up behind her quietly. His hand snapped forward and crushed hers around the joystick, ramming it forward so that the Caster flew among the creatures, knocking some over and scything through the hides of others with its blades.


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The Raping of Cyrynda Strong

Is it ‘rape’ if we give ourselves willingly, even when warned of the outcome?

Back in the early 1990s I wrote a triptych of stories (I hoped) from a woman’s point of view. Cymodoce, written in the late 1980s and in limited 3rd, had a female main character and, when anonymously workshopped, people thought it the work of a female hand. It went on to receive a Nebula recommendation in 1995 (Tomorrow Magazine).

With that behind me, I went for it. Rachel, Above the Clouds, While Flying came first (and was recently published in Across the Margin). “The Raping of Cyrynda Strong” came next and I’ve hesitated sending it out due to the title (I explain the title at the end of this post). Next week I’ll share the last in the triptych, “Striders”, which I think is a great story and am still reviewing before sending it out.

Let me know what you think, and thanks.


The Raping of Cyrynda Strong

 
It was done and she felt herself relax.

***

 
“Care to go for a walk?” Michael asked.

She thought for a moment.

Pros slid into cons faster than she liked: she liked him, he was cute, he was a gentleman, he listened to her. It was their first date, there were some beach houses within screaming distance with lights on, the beach was deserted, he might turn into a monster — two arms, two legs, and a dick. She remembered a joke a friend told her, “…I’ve already got one asshole in my pants, I don’t need another.”

Another car entered the parking lot. A man and a woman got out, the man’s deep voice and the woman’s high laughter ran ahead of them as they made their way down to the sand. Not far onto the beach the man and woman kissed lightly, affectionately, then continued hand in hand.

Something in Cyrynda ached. “Sure. Maybe a short walk. I don’t want to go far.”

She and Michael walked from the parking lot down to the beach followed by a coterie of quietly clacking gulls. Behind them the late summer sun was setting. Red arms of dusk started in the west and reached along both north and south horizons. Above them the sky was dark. Waves licked up the beach and foamed briefly when they broke. Small pools collected in their footsteps as they walked along the sand. The ocean smelled of a rapidly cooling night, tidal pools, and sun-dried seaweed and skate-cases. When they stopped the gulls gathered ten feet from them, waiting for any scraps they might throw.

A slight breeze brought a hint of autumn and winter to come. The other couple ran past at a respectful distance, their laughter and whispers washing up and over Michael and Cyrynda like a gently tearing wake. Cyrynda took Michael’s hand and he kept his eyes on the sky.

“Do you know anything about the stars?” he asked her.

“I’m a Sagittarius, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed. “Do you know which stars are in Sagittarius?”

“No. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it before. Except in books, I mean.”

“May I?” He stood behind her and gently moved against her so that their bodies were touching, then rested his head on top of hers.

She felt her belly quiver at his touch. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Now, move your head with mine and look along my arms.” He framed part of the sky with his hands. “See that collection of stars between my hands?”

“Yes.”

“That’s Sagittarius.”

“It is?” She bobbed her head forward as if the extra inches would bring the stars closer.

“And that star at the tip of my finger?” He twitched his right index finger, “That’s called ‘Kaus Australis’.” He moved a finger on his other hand. “That one’s called ‘Nunki’.”

“What’s that kind of fog going through it?”

He laughed again. “That’s the Milky Way. The galaxy. Sagittarius – the constellation – is on the way to the center of the galaxy. The different stars aren’t, though. All those stars are different distances away. You’d eventually pass them all, but not all at once.”

“Sounds like you’ve gone out that way.”

“No,” he smiled. She felt herself getting used to him being there, behind her, wrapped in his arms. It was safe and protected. “Not out that way.”

“So what sign are you?”

“I don’t know. They don’t have zodiacal divination where I come from.”

“Zodiacal divination,” she repeated. “Sounds like some kind of disease. Where are you from that you never learned your Zodiac sign?”

“I’m from Siyo Sunka.”

He pulled away but she held his arms around her, letting him encircle her beneath her breasts.

“I never heard of Siyo…sunka? Where is it?”

“You really want to know?”

“Of course I do. I might have to go there on business someday.”

He laughed again. “Okay.” He turned them south and pointed to a bright star on the horizon. “See that?”

“Yep.”

“I’m from a little planet orbiting a star about sixty years behind that one.”

She felt herself go cold and wondered how to gently pull away from him. Her friend’s asshole joke echoed in her mind. Her breath caught tight in her chest, her belly’s excited trills stopped and her gut twisted slightly.

He released her before she said or thought any other thing. “You asked,” he said.

“You’re serious?”

He put his hand to his forehead and scrunched his face in concentration. “Uh? What? Jimmy? Janis? Is that you?” He stared into the sky, just overhead, then to the horizons. He spun on his heels then stared back overhead. “I’m coming,” he said and smiled at her.

She didn’t smile back.

He held his hands up, palms out. “Sorry. Acid flashback to the sixties. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

***

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Joseph Carrabis Signing and Reading The Augmented Man 17 Oct at the Nashua, NH, BookCellar

That Augmented Man…he sure gets around…

Come join the fun!

Thursday, October 17th, 6:00pm at the


34 Northwest Blvd
(in the Westside Plaza on 101A / Amherst St, next to Marshalls)
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 881-5570

Local author, Joseph Carrabis, will read from his novel, The Augmented Man, answer questions, and sign copies!

 
What do you do with a deadly weapon when it's no longer needed?
Nicholas Trailer is the last of The Augmented Men, beings created first by society and completed by a political group the public can't even imagine exists. Captain James Donaldson takes severely abused and traumatized children and modifies them into monsters capable of the most horrifying deeds without feeling any remorse or regret.

But the horrors of war never stay on the battlefield. They always come home.