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    Great Beginnings: Marlena

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 3 comments

    Discussion questions: Does the opening paragraph of Julie Buntin’s Marlena (below) make you want to read further? Why or why not? What kind of opening lines grab you, and what kind immediately turn you off? Let’s talk about it in the comments. read more

    Great Beginnings: Opioid, Indiana

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 34 comments

    Discussion questions: Does the opening paragraph of Brian Allen Carr’s Opioid, Indiana (below) make you want to read further? Why or why not? What kind of opening lines grab you, and what kind immediately turn you off? Let’s talk about it in the comments. read more

    Great Beginnings: A Childhood

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 12 comments

    Opening lines: So important, so difficult to get ’em just right. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you spend more time on your first few sentences than you do on all other lines combined?

    But when it works, opening lines can grab a reader by the hair and drag him/her into the story in a ferocious way.

    That happened to me last week with Harry Crews‘ memoir A Childhood: The Biography of a Place.

    Down below I’ve typed out the book’s first paragraph. Read it once or twice, or more, and then let’s discuss in the comments below. I’ll talk with you about this paragraph all day, if you want. read more

    Great Endings: Yours!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 23 comments

    TL;DR version: As a bookend to our “Great Beginnings: Yours!” post, we invite you to leave in the comments section the last line or lines or your work-in-progress. No context or explanation; just the words. And if you do so, it would be swell if you’d also provide feedback on another’s last lines. Go on and help a fellow writer out!


    Late last year we asked volunteers to share the opening line of their WIPs for some group feedback in a post called “Great Beginnings: Yours!” Over thirty of you did so, and it led to some pleasant conversation and fun reading.

    By now some of you have surely finished those WIPs, and so let’s skip ahead… all the way to the end. read more

    Great Beginnings: Yours!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 68 comments

    (To get to the point, skip to the bolded section.)

    I’m just about to undertake my inaugural reading of Mary Shelley’s classic monster novel, Frankenstein. Consider it an attempt to get into the holiday spirit. And/or a result of our recent binge-watch of Penny Dreadful. And/or I have a number of trusted friends who consider this to be among the best books they’ve ever read, and I’m suffering from this very specific brand of FOMO. Call it FOMOOF.

    Anyway. The first line made me think it’d be a great candidate for Great Beginnings. It makes the reader ask about seventeen different questions, which is a wonderful way to ensure that he/she will read the second line.

    But rather than turn this week’s post into a discussion of Romantic/gothic literature — and in the spirit of the somewhat communal setting of the story’s conception — we thought it would be more fun to turn it into a celebration of two of our favorite things: Opening lines and you. read more

    Great Beginnings: The Goblet of Fire

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 1 comment

    CpDC_3EXYAEpJFl.jpg largeI’m taking a (second) whack at the Harry Potter books, a series I enjoy immensely and one which I’m hoping I can finish this time, after making it through only four and a half of them in my last attempt, 2012 or so.

    I’m up to No. 4, The Goblet of Fire, and the beginning is a solid grabber, a fine candidate for our ongoing “Great Beginnings” series.

    So use your wand to draw up a chair, read the first paragraph, and then join the discussion. read more

    Great Beginnings: A Canticle for Leibowitz

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 1 comment

    Canticle for LeibowitzBy the time this post publishes I will have finished* Walter M. Miller’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I’ve been enjoying, but which has not set my world on fire. This is part of an ongoing effort to expand my horizons, stuck as I’ve been, for many years, in a sort of snobbery with regards to so-called genre fiction.

    But that’s a very long post for a very different time.

    It’s been a few months since we trotted out a Great Beginnings discussion, last exploring Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, about which a few of you had some interesting things to say.

    Today I want to look at the first few lines of A Canticle for Leibowitz, while I still have the book handy and while the sometimes-confusing plot is still fresh-ish in my mind.

    You regulars know the drill and can skip ahead. For you visitors: Hi! Thanks for stopping by! Please become a regular! read more

    Great Beginnings: The House on Mango Street

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 8 comments

    House on Mango StreetThe other day I learned about this great new collection of Mexican-American literature put together by Dagoberto Gilb and his son, Ricardo, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of doing some work with.

    The book — which is designed as a textbook but certainly will appear in plenty of personal libraries — features work from fifty writers, each piece beginning with an introduction from Ricardo Gilb.

    Among those fifty writers is Sandra Cisneros, whose classic The House on Mango Street I touched on, too briefly, in this reading roundup.

    So in order to give that book more of its due, today we’re going to look at the first paragraph for this, our next Great Beginnings.

    First the lines, and then some discussion questions. read more

    Great Beginnings: Season of Migration to the North

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 14 comments

    season of migration to the northIt’s been too long since we’ve gotten our Great Beginnings groove on. We writers place a lot of pressure on ourselves to write a killer opening line, a killer opening paragraph, a killer opening page. Sometimes too much pressure! So much pressure that it can color our pleasure reading and numb our appreciation for truly great beginnings. That’s part of why I’d like to resuscitate this series and make it a regular feature — many of us could use such a reminder. Consider it a mini book club.

    This week I want to take a peek at the first three lines of Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North, first published in Arabic in 1967, translated into English by Denys Johnson-Davies in 1969, reissued by NYRB Classics in 2009, and read, with delight, by me in the first few days of this new year.

    First the lines from Season of Migration to the North, and then some discussion questions: read more

    Great Beginnings: Edgar Huntly

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 5 comments

    Charles Brockden BrownIt’s been quite a long time since we’ve hosted a Great Beginnings, a series in which we explore and discuss the first line, or first few lines, of a work of literature. And now that our State Writing Resources series has reached its penultimate post (sad face), it’s time to get ourselves into another groove.

    Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Charles Brockden Brown, a rather creepy dude (obviously! See left) who is considered the United States’ first full-time (i.e., financially successful) novelist, a writer much admired by U.S. Romantics such as Hawthorne and Melville and now best known for his handful of gothic novels, Edgar HuntlyArthur MervynOrmond and Wieland. It’s the first of those that we’re going to look at today.

    The opening paragraph of Edgar Huntly, a book you can and should read in full: read more

    Great Beginnings: Harlem is Nowhere

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 2 comments

    Harlem Is NowhereWritten by Houston transplant Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America made a lot of noise when it came out in early 2011. I read plenty about the book, but until now never cracked its spine.

    Being somewhat near to Harlem as we are I’ve taken a couple of walks/subway rides to check out a few of the buildings and establishments Rhodes-Pitts writes about, which has been pretty cool. The version of the book I have also contains some black & white photos (perhaps they all do), so it’s been kind of like a scavenger hunt.

    (Yes, OK, it’s a simple scavenger hunt; Rhodes-Pitts tells us directly where most of these buildings are.) (Point is, it’s been a cool experience.) read more

    Great Beginnings: Blood on the Forge

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 1 comment

    Blood on the ForgeLeave it to NYRB Classics to rescue yet another lost gem of literature. If you know the name William Attaway at all, it’s most likely because he wrote the Harry Belafonte version of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” Summarized in rather amusing fashion on Wikipedia, “Attaway’s novels were not a major attraction to critics at their time of publication,” but in 2005 NYRB Classics reissued Blood on the Forge, Attaway’s depiction of the Great Migration, a topic we touched on when we discussed perhaps my favorite novel, Toni Morrison’s Jazz.

    I’m currently making my way through the book, originally pubbed in 1941, and, as is my wont, I’d like us to take a look at the book’s opening lines. read more