Saturday, October 8, 2011

But Don't Quote Me

That creature lurking in the half-light is me. Fitting photography for my ghost story. And if I weren't so lame at figuring out why I was not allowed to crop this particular photo, I would have zeroed in on the poster.

(M. Taylor)
University Book Store Mill Creek welcomed me for my third visit to their lovely venue, and each time I've been impressed by Jessica and staff. Loved this poster in particular, done by the UW Book Store's centralized event folks. The greenery is a great touch, but it was the quote that got me: "It was hard to say whether he hit the deer or the deer hit him." Huh? Those of you who've cracked the book (even if you've done barely more than that) might recognize that as the first sentence of Chapter One. An odd enough quote to excerpt for a publicity poster and not exactly central to the theme, but who knows? Maybe people who have hit a deer with their car will be drawn to the book. Or folks fascinated by roadkill. Or those who wish all the creatures endangered by humans in their whizzing automobiles would rise up and strike back. I take my readers any way I can lure them in.

Seeing the sentence called out like that, however, made me think I'd better punch up the first sentence of every successive book, if I've only got that and the cover to grab attention. Imagine a poster for Gone With The Wind featuring just the cover and the line "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charms as the Tarleton twins were." Would you buy that book? Yes!

I loved this first sentence from Patricia Kindl's YA fairy tale Goose Chase: "The king killed my canary today." What? How? And most importantly, Why?

Or how about the first sentence of The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace, which I picked up at the library but haven't yet read: "On the day Contessa Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom."  Oooh, intriguing.

Some first sentences of novels have passed into legend. That of Pride and Prejudice, for example. Or A Tale of Two Cities' "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Where would dreadful high school valedictory speeches through the decades have been without that one? (Sidebar on that Dickens opener: when I lost on Jeopardy! in 2008, the Final Jeopardy question was the tricky (excerpted) quote, "...We had everything before us, we had nothing before us." In my oxygen- and sleep-deprived brain it felt like I took till the final bars of the thinking music to make the connection! One of my few mental connections that day, alas.)

Anywho. Thank you, UBS Mill Creek and UW Book Store in general, for the writing tip. Yes, indeed. Just you wait. My next book will have a punchy start, or my name isn't Christina Deadly! Oh, wait--my name isn't Christina Deadly. That's just how Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert pronounced it three times before they finally gave up and let it slide. An ill omen indeed, since you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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