• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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The CHurch Bells ALL Were Broken

Dudes, you really know how to throw down the first sentences. You are  one big group of generous motherfuckers and I love you all. But enough of that. As anyone who reads my blog and then submits work to me knows: there is Betsy the Blogger, full of sunshine and light, and there is Betsy the Agent, cruel taskmaster. And as an agent, these are the sentences that most interested me (not in any ranking), and that made me want to read more. I want to say that I’m not necessarily prone to simple sentences, though all of these are simple on the surface. Each of these openers set a stage through tone, voice, detail, mood. They make a statement. That’s what I’m looking for. I want a first sentence to take me somewhere.

Twig: Population 189.   (Downith)

Winter was coming – I could smell it.  (Sandra Guilland)

My mother always starts with the pig’s head. (Linda Pressman)

I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy. (Mary Lynne)

My mind was on the kill. (American Pisces)

Here’s my thought. Please vote on your top sentence from this group. The top two will get the signed book, blah blah, but I will invite the top pick to send in his or her first chapter for an evaluation from moi. And obviously, if I didn’t pick a sentence you loved, or if you think that any of these don’t work, let’s fight about it. ANd again, thanks for the rodeo today. Betsy

88 Responses

  1. I’m with Twig: population awesome.

    Thanks to Betsy and everyone who participated – I had a great time!

    • Oh, and to bring some fight – I’m not in the corner of the smell of winter. I recently plowed through an unholy amount of romance novels for a research project, and there were at least three of the bunch that started in a similar manner, and at least 10-15 where the author referred to the smell of winter or snow. It needs to be rejuvenated to speak to me.

    • Yes Twig: Population 189 def the best.

      However, “I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy” is one to read after downing a bottle of gin at three in the morning. If there was an opening gambit to make one shut the book this is it!

  2. Twig: Population 189.

    (hear the cat calls)

  3. Twig: Population 189

    And Linda Pressman’s is a really close second.

  4. My mother always starts with the pig’s head.

  5. Winter was coming–I could smell it.

  6. I didn’t respond because I’m working with someone else at the moment. Nevertheless, here is my through line–first sentence:
    My novel is about a biology instructor who takes his summer class to the Sleeping Bear Dunes for research, and on a dune late at night, he accidentally sits down on the back of a friendly dragon.


  7. Twig: Population 189

  8. i vote for Twig, too!

  9. Twig and I am old.

  10. The pig’s head.

  11. Twig: Population 189 is awesome.

  12. “Twig: Population 189” of course

    “I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy” much too suicidal unless one’s just downed a bottle of gin.

  13. “My mind was on the kill.”

  14. I vote for “I am old….” That’s the one I’d be most interested in reading.

  15. Linda Pressman, definitely.

  16. My mother always starts with the pig’s head. (Linda Pressman)

    Reminiscent of one of the greatest opening lines in children’s lit: “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” (Charlotte’s Web)

  17. I vote for Twig.

    I just hate that I didn’t get mine in. Here’s mine:

    I call it my slut skirt.

  18. My mother always starts with the pig’s head. (Linda Pressman)

  19. “My mother always starts with the pig’s head.”

    I’m curious now: what’s so great about “Twig: Population 189”? To me, it was the least interesting option.

  20. I want more about Twig.

  21. The pig’s head.

  22. Twig: Population 189.

  23. Twig: population 189

  24. Twig: population 189

  25. Twig also for me

  26. My vote goes to:

    I am old and, on the whole, my life has been unhappy.

    Good opener.

  27. I liked them all, but my vote goes to the ambiguous:

    “My mother always starts with the pig’s head.”

  28. I am old.

    Because it makes me hope that despite the gin element as mentioned by others, something sublime once happened in the tundra of this life, and that something is what the story will be about, and it will be harrowing and poignant and glorious.

  29. Here’s my vote:

    My mind was on the kill.

  30. Twig: Population 189.

  31. Twig.

    It’s way, way out in front of the others. (I hope there’s a turnip lantern somewhere in that story.)

  32. “I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy.” I like this.

  33. Another vote for Twig: population 189.

  34. I am old- first vote. though not going to feel good after reading this.
    2nd place twig.

  35. I’m torn between Twig and Pig. But I’ve got to go with Pig.

  36. I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy.

  37. Can’t we merge to achieve the Ultimate First Line?

    Twig: population 189 and a pig’s head.

  38. My vote is gnawing a hole in my front pocket. Indecision . . .

  39. Winter was coming – I could smell it.

    (This time of year, in the north country, I know what she means.)

  40. My vote:

    My mother always starts with the pig’s head.

  41. The pig. Especially since my mother also always starts with the pig’s head.

  42. I’m surprised that ‘Dad always called me Fisheye’ and ‘People called her Fitch, at least to her face’ didn’t make the cut.

    I vote for Fitch, then old & unhappy.

  43. I vote “My mother always starts with the pig’s head.”

    And “Dudes” Betsy? I thought this was a safe place from having to read ‘dudes’ from an agent. Will tomorrow bring “Hey Kids?”

  44. Twig: Population 189.
    Simple, elegant. Sets in three words a sense of place.

  45. While setting up Kindle for Mac just now and trying out one of the free e-books it includes, I just encountered again Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” first line. I see the appeal. I’ve heard people discuss other much-admired, often-quoted first lines and go on to discuss others they like that may not be so familiar (one of my favorites is the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude). But I must say, since I feel a bit like kibitzing this morning, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say of a new novel, “I read the first sentence and just had to keep reading, so I bought it.” Has anyone else ever heard that, or actually bought a book for that reason?

  46. My mother always starts with the pig’s head. (Linda Pressman)

  47. I am old. I want to know why the author is unhappy. Perhaps that makes me a manic depressive wanting to dip into that bottle of gin?

  48. Twig: Population 189

  49. I’m with Downith’s Twig.

  50. Twig (Downith).

  51. My vote is for Twig. Population 189. I already want to know more.

  52. I’m wondering where you found that photograph. Is that the whole town reflected in the windows?

  53. I like Twig, too — in part because that’s such a charming name for a town. Also, the sentence is short, and the exact number of the very small population makes me curious.

    Second place: pig’s head. It makes me curious, as well: always important in an opening line.

    I don’t care for “old” because it sounds like a downer. Ditto “kill” — because I don’t like killing in a novel. (Which rules out quite a few, I know.)

    I’m thrilled that my own first sentence — smelling winter — made this list! Ironically, I changed that sentence yesterday.

  54. Twig, population 189

  55. For God’s sake, the pig head!

  56. Twig gets my vote (I love a small town story).

  57. It’s a tie: “Twig…” and “I am old…”

  58. I am old…
    Twig is a close second just because it could either get boring right away or riveting right away. With old, you will probably have to read a little farther to get a sense of the where the unhappy may go…
    Smelling winter is third, although it seems like I may have read it somewhere before, it’s still wonderful

  59. Twig is full of authority, and I would totally buy the book upon reading that first sentence. (versus getting it from the library).

  60. Old and unhappy. It reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on, something I read and loved. (And something that ended up not being a bummer at all, btw.)

    • Made me think of this:

      I am a sick man…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.

  61. 1st: The pig’s head.
    2nd: My mind was on the kill.

  62. My mother always starts with the pig’s head.

    Maybe because my mother was Irish.

  63. Agent rejection notes usually note that how subjective the proceess can be. This process is a window on it.

    “Twig. Population 189,” is not an opening sentence. It’s a road sign. The screenplay equivalent of an establishing shot.

    “Winter was coming – I could smell it.” Lacks originality and freshness. (Didn’t Dickens write that somewhere?)

    “My mother always started with the pig’s head,” immediately disinvites those who are not carnivores, cooks and butchers to the party.

    I’m going with “My mind was on the kill,” although it recalls Jim Thompson.

    • Hey, I’m a tree-hugging vegetarian and I happen to like the pig’s head line! And “My mind was on the kill” was the least to my tastes….it really is fascinating to see how we all feel pulled in by very different openings.

      My ultimate vote goes with Twig. I can see myself picking up the book with this first line in a bookstore and wanting to read on to see who lives in Twig and what happened there.

  64. Pathetic, but “I am old.”

  65. “Twig: Population 189”

    I know we’re not picking seconds, but I also liked the “I am old” one.

    I applaud all of the authors for parading around their opening lines for our amusement!

  66. The pig sentence sounds too much like it’s going to be a book with a cooking theme. The Twig sentence bores me because I don’t think anything very exciting happens in a town of 189 (just ask my best friend who moved to Twig), although the name is very appropriate for a town of 189. My mind was on the kill is too much of a “my mind was on the kill” book for me. Discussions of the weather are like discussions of what you ate for lunch today. “I’m old…” speaks to me most because I am old and unhappy.
    You see, it’s all very subjective.

  67. I’d keep reading after any of those. Do I really want to commit four hours of my life, forsaking all others, on the basis of only one sentence? I don’t think so, not without cover art, jacket copy, blurbs, a Kakutani review, and an author photo.

    • That said, if I had to choose on the basis of only one sentence, it would be “I am old, and on the whole, my life has been unhappy.” The whole story is there, stripped down. It’s my story as well (on my bad days), so I’m curious to see how somebody else has dealt, is dealing. I think Natalie Goldberg once said we read a book to get to know the author. At the very least, we want to connect with somebody. That line has the most somebody in it.

  68. Twig:Population 189.

  69. 1) Old
    2) Pig

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