First lines of 2011

What do you pack for the rest of your life?

Twilight was gathering, and Orpheus still wasn’t here.

Do not set foot in my office.

My nightmare started like this.

Imagine a man standing on a rocky shoreline looking out to sea, pondering the question, the same question we whisper when we look up at night into a star-crazed sky – swirls of light millions of years old – everything moving away, or toward, or around: What’s out there?

“Can you tell me what’s happened, Alice?” says the calm voice on the end of the phone.

Barry Laverty – Doctor Barry Laverty- his houseman’s year just finished, ink barely dry on his degree, pulled his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle to the side of the road and peered at a map lying on the passenger seat.

In the end, write it down.

After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah.

This is what it felt like to be lonely.

I bring Naya into the Magic Kingdom.

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.

There were years after it happened, after I’d returned from the town and come back here to the busy blank of the city, when some comment would be tossed off about the Second World War and how it had gone – some idiotic remark about clarity and purpose – and I’d resist the urge to stub out my cigarette and bring the dinner party to a satisfying halt.

On a cold January day in 1925, a tall, distinguished gentleman hurried across the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, toward the SS Vauban, a five-hundred-and-eleven-foot ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro.

Here is the truth, this is what I know: we were walking on Ocean Beach, hand in hand.

All young people worry about things, it’s a natural and inevitable part of growing up, and at the age of sixteen my greatest anxiety in life was that I’d never again achieve anything as good, or pure, or noble, or true, as my O-level exam results.

This book was written without my knowledge.

Mom, Dad – if you’re listening – you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school?

A familiar place, when you have gained heft of life, can feel as confining as a familiar pair of pants when you’ve put on weight.

A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story.

The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up.

Louisa May Alcott approached the ticket window of the Boston passenger station clutching a large case and a black parasol.

My fingers ached as my leg muscles trembled.

The thing about lying to your parents is, you have to do it to protect them.

It started as an accident.

Some projects take forever to get off the ground.

Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through.

In all your life, only a few moments matter.

Never in her life had Catherine Parkstone imagined so many sheep.

Barry Laverty- Doctor Barry Laverty – heard the clattering of a frying pan on a stove and smelled bacon frying.

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening.

Satellite City: The City of the Future, proclaimed the billboards.

The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door.

I wait.

Amy considered the postcard: a boardwalk scene.

I’m sixteen. Pregnant. And the most important person on the planet.

I gaze across the veranda, beyond the rows of yachts and sailboats bobbing in the Porte de Monaco toward the sparkling Mediterranean waters.

My fall from suburban grace, or more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.

Maybe it’s the July showers that appear at 3:00 p.m., regular as sunshine, maybe it’s the September hurricanes that cut a swath across the Atlantic and then dump their guts at landfall, or maybe it’s just God crying on Florida, but whatever it is, and however it works, the St. Johns River is and always has been the soul of Florida.

Not to disappoint you, but my troubles are nothing – not for an author, at least.

Cassie was dreaming again.

Nina sees the man first.

“I guess this is it,” Joel said, leaning into the doorway of our apartment.

“Can you walk?” someone asked me.

“How did it happen this time?”

Used to be when a bird flew into a window, Milly and Twiss got a visit.

I’m not the pretty sister.

I don’t know whether it’s day or night when the girl gets up to leave.

The music-room in the Governor’s House in Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C major quartet.

The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble.

The girl was shaken awake.

The girl who would speak for the dead stood alone on the cobblestone drive after the rain.

That last night at Rendezvous Falls, the Ford Sunliner seemed to drive itself, the engine so powerful it felt as if some force were pulling them up the mountain.

It’s amazing how good a priest looks when you’ve got nobody else to turn to.

The most magical thing happened on the morning of my grandmother’s wedding in Tuscany.

Once, when she was thirteen, Carmen remembered turning to Tibby with her CosmoGirl magazine in one hand and her eye pencil in the other and declaring that she could never, ever get sick of doing makeovers.

Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking.

Brother Frances Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.

It was long past midnight when the Horror appeared at the end of Westmoreland Road.

My life fell apart when I was sixteen.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare taught me much of what I know.

This city used to be something once.

Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”

The faces of the many child suicides Hadrian Boone had cut from nooses or retrieved below cliffs never left him, filled his restless sleep, and encroached in so many waking nightmares that now, as the blond girl with the hanging rope skipped along the ridge above, he hesitated, uncertain whether she was another of the phantoms that haunted him.

Matilda was drunk, but then she was always drunk anymore.

Barry Laverty – Doctor Barry Laverty – slammed the door of Brunhilde, his elderly Volkswagen Beetle.

The swallow arcs and dives above the cathedral.

She heard a knocking, and then a dog barking.

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.

Life came back slowly, Kate realized.

Andrew Harrington would have gladly died several times over if that meant not having to choose just one pistol from among his father’s vast collection in the living room cabinet.

There were five of us – Carruthers and the new recruit and myself, and Mr. Spivens and the verger.

Barry Laverty – Doctor Barry Laverty – stood in a jam-packed drawing room where the sound level was as intense as the racket of riveting guns in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard.

This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.

“I picked him up in my arms and I carried him home.”

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

We think we know the ones we love.

This morning I woke up and was fifteen years old.

Benny Imura couldn’t hold a job, so he took to killing.

Colin tried the door, but it was locked.

“Take the wheel,” says Starla Joy, sticking the grape lollipop she’s been working on into her mouth.

Those who can, do.

In the year and a half Babe Huggins has worked for Western Union, she has been late only once before.

The gunman is useless.

We came home because we were failures.

The boy was everything to her.

I remember the first night ‘on remand’ watching the news.

Lincoln Ellis left his house with a plastic grocery bag holding a big steel can that faintly resembled a Thermos jug.

There were only two kinds of people in our town.

“You know, don’t you, that you’re looking at twenty-five to life?”

All the newspapers and TV pundits are calling this fall’s freshman college class the “Symnitol Generation,” but if the activity up and down my dorm hallway is any indication, this fall’s freshman college class is the “Stand Around Each Other’s Laptops and Play the First Thirty Seconds of Every Song on the Hard Drive Generation.”

Susan Tate never saw it coming.

There was so much talk about the new music teacher before she arrived that her coming was almost anticlimactic.

Off with their – legs.

On a rainy day in May 1945, a Western Union messenger made his rounds through the quiet village of Oswego, in upstate New York.

Ever hear this charming little rhyme?

“Once upon a time there were twelve princesses…”

Laurie Garvey hadn’t been raised to believe in the Rapture.

It was the sudden onslaught of lust that convinced Brideen Conway she had to get married.

Arthur Conan Doyle curled his brow tightly and thought only of murder.

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life.

My brother is eight years older than I am.

From her window Kit Zanetti can see absolutely everything that happens on Commerce Street.

Reporting, like detective work, is a process of elimination.

The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp.

We were halfway up the spur when we heard it.

There was never a body.

Death and loss, they plague you.

Had I walked by 1859 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco when Peoples Temple was in full swing, I certainly would have been drawn to the doorway.

It feels important to start with the truth about how I got here.


I used to think our town, buried in the South Carolina backwoods, stuck in the muddy bottom of the Santee River valley, was the middle of nowhere.

My house is a storybook house.

“Are you Mary Sutter?”

He stood poised on the edge of a sheet of glass.

Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon.

It was common for American expatriates to visit the U.S. consulate in Berlin, but not in the condition exhibited by the man who arrived there on Thursday, June 29, 1933.

It was still way in the night, as it seemed to me, when my father woke me by gently shaking my shoulder with his hand.

It wasn’t chance.

My hands close around the heavy drape, twisting it into a thick cord.

Last year, I was asked if I was going to do anything special when I turned forty.

Lek opened his eyes, though his body remained as still as the gecko on the ceiling.

In times of struggle there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe.

This is what I know.

I can be so, so quiet.

Once upon a time.

I was standing on top of the white water tower, with my back to the sun.

The tawdry mermaid painted on the inside of Harlan’s front door wore a bikini top made of undersized clam shells.

I can’t break up with Graham today, even though I told my friends I’d do it the next time I saw him.

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

The seed bins are empty.

Nearly a hundred miles west of the Scillies, far from the main track of ships, lies the small, rocky island of St. Hilda’s.


There was a breeze high up, rustling through the palm trees, but the air below was still and hot.

On 5 January 1942, a French police inspector named Rondeaux, stationed in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, caught sight of a man he believed to be a wanted member of the French Resistance.

I was born during the second holocaust.

Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.

New Jersey was 40,000 feet below me, obscured by cloud cover.

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2 Responses to First lines of 2011

  1. Yvann says:

    This is a brilliant idea; I must try to do it myself in 2012!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Yvann – I am always interested to see how differently authors approach first lines. Some put so much effort into making it a real attention-grabber, while others are just simply there to ease the reader into the story.