• 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.


    It’s been a hell of a long time since we’ve discussed the opening lines of a novel, but Thursday night, as soon as I cracked open Brian Allen Carr’s Opioid, Indiana, I knew we’d be doing a Great Beginnings this weekend.

    I want to provide this novel opening without any context… outside of offering the fact that Carr and I are friends from long-ago Texas, though we’ve fallen so far out of touch that when I read the first line of his bio — “Brian Allen Carr lives in Indiana” — I was like, “He does?!?!

    So. Imagine yourself browsing in a bookstore, flipping open to page 1 a novel called Opioid, Indiana, and reading the following lines. Does it make you want to read the next graf, or even buy the book outright? Or does it make you want to close the book and put it back on the shelf?

    And, most importantly, why? What makes this the kind of beginning you like or don’t like? What do you tend to look for in novel openings? What are your opening-lines turnoffs?

    Let’s talk about beginnings — great or otherwise — in the comments below.


    And now, here’s the passage:

    I’m from Texas, but most of this story takes place in Indiana, where the winter weather sits like iced gray vomit on the cornfields. Every restaurant serves fried pork sandwiches. Half the men over thirty-five are so numb on opioids you could win a bar fight just by swinging a dead cat over your head and running in circles. Not that I can get into a bar. Shit, I’m seventeen.



    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    frances hill

    I’d want to read further, Brian’s descriptions crack me up!


    Not sure if I would want to read more however I wouldn’t want to visit Indiana based on his description and nor would I want to date any of the men over 35. The opening of the story is depressing. From the opening it provides some clues as to why there may be so many people on drugs in Indiana.

    Hans De Leo

    Speaking of great beginnings, I recall that you had a blog not too long ago about a classic beginning, “It was a dark and stormy night.” As a writer I look at that and think about how bland the imagery is. A much more vivid one (but not necessarily better) would be “Rain-wet leaves slapped the window in the middle of the inky-black night. Flashes of lightning brought momentary daylight, only to be swallowed by the darkness.” I agree that a good opening can win your reader over from the first sentence. I recall the opening line from a manuscript… Read more »

    MC Maugeri

    Hi Hans De Leo! I found the beginning of your book very interesting, but I’m not sure that I would want to read more based only on this opening. I’m curious to know why Grace’s bio-mom or “Mom” has been away and with no news for the past seven years. I would like to know what Grace’s relationship with her bio-mom is like in this world, what it means to be “off-world” and what kind of dangers you might encounter when you are out there. At the moment, after reading this opening, I feel like I don’t know enough about… Read more »

    Hans De Leo

    Thanks for the feedback.
    Hooking the reader with the first sentence or even first paragraph is difficult to do. What I thought was if there were enough questions raised that the reader would keep going if for no other reason than to get the answers. Then they get hooked as the story begins to unfold. That was my intent with this opening, and it sounds like it just might have worked.

    david lemke

    I might read that. It poses questions. What about mom?

    MC Maugeri

    As I was reading this opening, the first word that made my mind and body instinctively react was “vomit.” That’s a word strongly connected to feeling disgusted and my mind and my body automatically winced and wanted to withdraw. I had just finished breakfast and the last thing I wanted to conjure was vomit. So I wouldn’t have gone further if I hadn’t still felt intrigued by the title of the book “Opioid, Indiana.” So I kept reading and I transferred the “vomit reaction” to the Indiana winter landscape and, finally, to the one feeling that disgust: the character who… Read more »


    Depending on my mood, I might read the rest of the book. It’s an interesting beginning which characterizes the place. and I loved the way the kid describes it. What’s sad is that his description could fit more places than just Indiana. I’m curious as to what the rest of the book is like. Does it remain so cynical? For me, the opening few paragraphs have to draw me in be it description or action. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but must give me enough to I can get into the mood of the book and the person who… Read more »


    Bleak doesn’t faze me. I like bleak. Bleak can be interesting. I read bleak, I write bleak, and most importantly, I think bleak. Bleak and I are friends. Bleak drops by for cognac and commisseration twice a month or so. I tend to like urban bleak. City stories are usually bleak in a complicated and interesting way. Like Andrew Vachss’s “Burke” novels…bleak, sure but with a lot of ancillary info about cultural diversity, crime, guns, the legal system, sex, cars and music. This intro passage took the air out of the room for me. The writer would have to make… Read more »


    You know what it is, is that I am down on addiction stories. They either tend to be morality plays about the evils of the lifestyle, or inspirational recovery stories. Or maybe I’m just a prejudiced schmuck…


    I remember “Clockers” by Richard Price…one of the most depressing books ever, for me. I walked away thinking “There really are people this bad in the world. My god”. Kind of like my reaction to “Silence of the Lambs”…I liked “A Scanner Darkly” by Phillip K. Dick…an original take on the drug lifestyle, with characters that rang very true.
    As far as recovery stories. there was a supposedly “true” memoir of smack addiction in the 90s by some Hollywood screenwriter who fell from grace (Sahl? Sohl? Stoll? I’m not interested enough to look it up) which was particularly ridiculous …


    The writing is excellent; one of the most original descriptions of Midwest winters and bar fights I have ever read. Grey vomit says it perfectly. This tells me that were I to go on reading I would be in capable hands. A little like Dashiell Hammett the way he writes.

    david lemke

    I’ve only considered books I’ve read: “The Dark Tower VII” Tower Stephen King The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed. Also two of my own: “Our Alien Hero” “Mr. Deans. Yes, Hello. I’m Zealand, Savvy Zealand. Mary Carter suggested I call… As an agent…she thought… Yes, I’m an author…Science fiction, of course…No, I don’t have a nom de plume! Wha…” The young thin man throws the phone across the room. And another: “XI Francy” Lately memories of IO and that one bright year between us have invaded my head. Our spacesuits were second skins. We… Read more »

    david lemke

    I don’t think I’d read it. While I liked the imagery, it doesn’t pose any questions and it isn’t inviting or dangerous.

    david lemke

    48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952) His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky. He had a long heavy beard, and his hair was hanging down over his ears to his neck, and he had his hand out trying to thumb a ride from a car that was stopped… Read more »

    Mary Beth

    That’s a fantastic opening. I’d definitely read it.

    Mary Beth

    The specificity (fried pork sandwiches”) combined with raw, gritty imagery (“iced gray vomit,” “dead cat”) and the element of surprise (“I’m seventeen”). Your friend is a fine writer with a throwback voice. Reminds me of the Beats.

    Torria Stevens

    In attempts to answer the three questions combined: I’ll say, it’s a matter of taste and if the story is relatable. For instance the novel takes place in the midwest, so the novel could be interesting particularly if one say, is from the east coast. Secondly, one might speculate that the narrative is going to be around opioid addiction – maybe not, but from the pov of a teenager. Now that could be interesting indeed. My take on it is this: the first line is fabulous, the second line is fabulous and funny. I get a little lost on the… Read more »

    Sean Krause

    I bought the book because of the first line. For starters, it screams out that the first-person narrator has an original voice. Which is so rare. Second, the description “iced grey vomit on the cornfields” is a dead-on description. I mean, he nails it. For months on end, Southern Indiana — and Southern Ohio– are wet grey puddles with dead brown corn stalks bent over. It’s overcast every day. It’s bleak. Randomly pulling the book at the bookstore, reading the authenticity of the opening paragraph, I walked over to the cash register and bought it.

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