Once Upon a Time…

For the May edition of “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’re talking opening lines! But first, a few announcements:

This month we have two Sweetheart book releases! Darcy Woods’ Summer of Supernovas comes out in paperback on May 9, and Karole Cozzo’s The Truth About Happily Ever After releases on May 16! We hope you’ll check them out.

Also, we have the winner for our “Who’s Your YA Hero?” contest. Thanks to everyone who participated. We hope you had fun!  We loved reading all your Tweets … and a special shout-out to the entrant who ended up with two heroes. Where would YA romance be without the occasional love triangle? Anyway, congratulations to … Kate, winner of the Mega Prize, including six books and lots of swag!

Now, on to our May question: What is the first line (or so) of your latest novel, and why did you decide to start there?

Karole Cozzo (The Truth About Happily Ever After): I sleep with all my bedroom windows open as habit, so I’m roused from my sleep by the repetitive shrieking of a great blue heron that must be nesting near the man-made lake in the center of the apartment complex. Where are my soft-spoken finches and friendly bluebirds? I wonder with a dreamy smile. Alyssa is a theme park Cinderella, who at the beginning of the book very much wants her own Cinderella story. When starting this manuscript, I pictured the rather iconic image of Disney’s Cinderella waking up to the softly singing birds, and liked the idea of starting Alyssa’s story in the same way. However, as she’ll come to learn, happily-ever-afters don’t follow a script, and her love story is an original. So instead of sweet little songbirds … she wakes up to a shrieking heron!

Linda Budzinski (The Boyfriend Whisperer): I sharpen the focus on my binoculars. Are those green peppers or jalapeños? Lexi Malloy is an undercover Cupid for hire — a mashup of Cyrano de Bergerac and Veronica Mars. I knew I wanted to start the novel with her in the middle of a stakeout, so I placed her outside a pizza joint, spying on a target for one of her clients. Lexi has some very particular (though perhaps flawed) ideas about matchmaking, and as she says a few lines later, “When it comes to winning a guy’s heart, the devil is in the details — especially when those details pertain to food.” Pizza toppings seemed like the perfectly quirky way to kick off her story!

Erin Fletcher (All Laced Up): I had taught young skaters before, but somehow I didn’t think ‘Zamboni avoidance’ was covered in basic skills class. I started this story here because I wanted to show that 1) Lia is a figure skater; 2) She’s going to be teaching a class of young skaters; and 3) Things are already not off to a good start because there’s a Zamboni stuck in the middle of the ice! A little background and a little conflict (hopefully) make for a good start!

Robin Constantine (The Season of You & Me): My Nana had a saying — “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which one gets filled faster.” I never understood it, because, duh, who would willingly crap in their hand? Then I met Gavin Henley and understood. I like starting my stories in the midst of the action my first two books began with dialogue, but I wanted this one to begin differently. Cassidy is in the throes of an unexpected breakup when the book opens, and while she’s confused about her feelings for her ex, she’s dealing with some of her harsher feelings with humor. This particular saying is something my grandmother used to say and I had a similar reaction to it as Cass. I didn’t get the whole comparing wishing to, well…what it says…and wishes don’t just land in your hand, right? They go off to some magical wish-granting land and…wait, I digress. I liked the idea of her grandmother dispensing this sort of scratch-your-head-old-school wisdom, and then Cass finally understanding it because of her breakup. It lent itself to some interesting (and hopefully humorous) ruminations on Cass’s part and also set her up to be more proactive in getting over a relationship that we find probably wasn’t the best for her in the first place. It also just makes me laugh. It’s an odd saying!

Stephanie Scott (Alterations): I’d like to think I wasn’t the crying type, but I’d be lying. I cried. Dampness saturated my pillow, making the pillowcase even grosser than its already-gross coating of end-stage flu germs. As often happens in revising, my first scene used to be my second scene. When I cut the previous lead up to the story, I started with a moment of conflict and where Amelia is doubting herself and her life.

Darcy Woods (Summer of Supernovas): Two fears have plagued me from the time I was little, and today I must face one of them. When I began writing this novel, I challenged myself to write an opening scene that was the most ridiculous, memorable meet cute I could conjure. Even more important, I wanted it to have a real emotional heartbeat. Which meant despite the situational absurdity, I had to find a way for readers to connect with my MC, Wilamena Carlisle. Coincidentally, this felt about as probable as turning myself inside out through my belly button. So, I went about this task (the emotional connection, not the belly button thing) by tapping into one of the most basic human emotions — FEAR. Then I added in a water tower, a hot guy, and an accidental thong flash, and poof! The first chapter was born. I believe in high stakes. In this opening, I chose to take that literally. 🙂

Do you have any favorite first lines? Or (if you’re a writer) do you want to share the first line of one of your novels or manuscripts and why you started where you did? Tell us in the comments!

Do you have a question for “Ask the Sweethearts”? Send it through our contact form!

5 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time…

  1. I love hearing the behind-the-scenes of all your books!

    I love the opening to my current wip (the sequel to The Slope Rules):

    “Mike, you’ve got this!” Evan’s waiting at the bottom of the trail. I can’t actually see him, but I know he’s there because I watched him ease his mountain bike down the path barely wide enough to fit his body like he was strolling down the sidewalk in front of his house. I adjust my grip on the handlebars. My arms are too stiff—he’s told me that a hundred times—but you try to relax when you’re facing a twenty degree incline with nothing but a plastic helmet and a few scraps of spandex to break your fall.

    My hope is that the reader immediately understands how terrified she is, but that she’s going to face her fears and do it anyway. (I also address her boyish name in the next paragraph.)

  2. I’ll play… This is from the Free 2 Play, which I’m currently querying. It’s the story of Renee, an animator and gamer learning to navigate relationships in the face of harassment online and from her ex.

    I stood at the front of the Digital Media Lab with six notecards clutched in my fist so tight their edges dug into my palm. On the screen next to me, my ten minute animated film Goes Boom… played. My cheeks burned, and a bead of sweat rolled too slowly down spine. Not from nerves, though the Video Gamers Club was not my first choice of audience to practice my presentation, the real issue was plain old heat.

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