Pub Rants

Opening Pages That Caught Our Attention

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STATUS: I didn’t even get to tackle the contracts I wanted to.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SNOW by Loreena McKennitt

As I mentioned on yesterday’s blog, both Kate and I wanted the attendees to hear some openings that worked, so we brought in the opening 2 pages from clients we had signed.

And today, I’m going to share those openings with you.

First up, the opening 2 pages from Janice Hardy’s THE SHIFTER. HarperCollins published this debut novel in September 2009. New authors often have to revise before publication but these were the original opening two pages when I saw the submission. They did not change for publication.


Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don’t like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it’s close. And they squawk something terrible.

The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.

“Good morning little hen,” I sang softly. The chicken blinked awake and cocked her head at me. She didn’t get to squawking, just flapped her wings a bit as I lifted her off the nest, and she’d settle down once I tucked her under my arm. I’d overheard that trick from a couple of boys I’d unloaded fish with last week.

A voice came from beside me. “Don’t move.”

Two words I didn’t want to hear with someone else’s chicken under my arm.
I froze. The chicken didn’t. Her scaly feet flailed toward the eggs that should have been my breakfast. I looked up at a cute night guard not much older than me, perhaps sixteen. The night was more humid than usual, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair. A soldier’s cut, but a month or two grown out.

Stay calm, stay alert. As Grannyma used to say, if you’re caught with the cake, you might as well offer them a piece. Not sure how that applied to chickens though.

“Join me for breakfast when your shift ends?” I asked. Sunrise was two hours away.

He smiled, but aimed his rapier at my chest anyway. Was nice to have a handsome boy smile at me in the moonlight, but his was a sad, sorry-only-doing-my-job smile. I’d learned to tell the difference between smiles a lot faster than I’d figured out the egg thing.

“So, Heclar,” he said over his shoulder, “you do have a thief. Guess I was wrong.”

Rancher Heclar strutted into view, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the chicken trying to peck me—ruffled, sharp beaked, and beady eyed. He harrumphed and set his fists against his hips. “I told you crocodiles weren’t getting them.”

“I’m no chicken thief,” I said quickly.

“Then what’s that?” The night guard flicked his rapier tip toward the chicken and smiled again. Friendlier this time, but his deep brown eyes had twitched when he bent his wrist.

“A chicken.” I blew a stray feather off my chin and peered closer. His knuckles were white from too tight a grip on so light a weapon. That had to mean joint pain, maybe even knuckleburn, though he was far too young for it. The painful joint infection usually hit older dockworkers. I guess that’s why he had a crummy job guarding chickens instead of aristocrats. My luck hadn’t been too great either.

“Look,” I said, “I wasn’t going to steal her. She was blocking the eggs.”

The night guard nodded like he understood and turned to Heclar. “She’s just hungry. Maybe you could let her go with a warning?”

“Arrest her you idiot! She’ll get fed in Dorsta.”

Dorsta? I gulped. “Listen, two eggs for breakfast is hardly worth prison—”

“Thieves belong in prison!”

From Kate Schafer Testerman:
This is the opening page (or so) from Julia Karr’s XVI, which will be published by Speak (Puffin) in Spring 2011. Here is Julia’s website and I actually blogged her original query letter just a few weeks ago.

Chapter One

“Nina, look.” Sandy jabbed me in the ribs.

I glanced up at the AV screen expecting to see the latest vert of back to school fashion for sixteens.

“No, there.” Sandy jerked my arm, bringing my attention to the doorway.

Four guys approached us, lurching and swaying through the moving express. They sat across the aisle, immediately crowding together in a knot. A low buzz of unintelligible words, accompanied by the occasional rowdy snort, rose from their cluster.

“They’re eighteen,” she whispered. “I bet it’s that one’s birthday.”

By the way he kept admiring the tattoo on his wrist and fingering the band-aid behind his ear, I knew she was right. I involuntarily touched my own GPS. The tiny grain-sized pellet imbedded beneath the skin barely registered on my fingertips. What would it be like to be able to go some place where no one could track you?

Before my thoughts went any further down that path, Sandy said, “They’re going into the city to celebrate. I wish—”

“No, you don’t.” My stomach turned at the thought of eighteenth celebrations. I’d heard all about them, particularly the Angel affair. I quickly blocked the images from my mind.

Sandy “humphed” back into the seat, crossing her arms over her chest. “Those stories aren’t true. They’re made up to scare us. Guys wouldn’t do stuff like that. I mean, look at them…” She leaned towards me conspiratorially, but I saw her peeking at the boys from under her bangs. “Someone that cute could never do those kinds of things.”

One of them, not the birthday boy, noticed us. He ogled Sandy the way I’d seen her stepdad do when he thought no one was watching. I grabbed her wrist and thrust it toward him, showing the absence of the obligatory XVI tattoo. He shrugged and turned back to his friends.

“Hey!” She pulled her arm away from me. “He was going to talk to me.”

“It’s not talk he wants. Sandy, those stories aren’t all made up. Ginnie said that ever since they started the tattooing, girls aren’t safe. She thinks that—”

“Yeah, well, your mom doesn’t trust anything the government does.”

She was right. Ginnie didn’t talk much about her views on the Governing Council, but when she did, there was no mistaking that she loathed them.

Sandy snatched a retractable zine chip from the rack on the back of the seat in front of her. She let go and it snapped back in place. She grabbed another, doing the same thing. If she’d reached for a third, I would’ve stopped her. Sometimes I felt more like Sandy’s mother than her best friend.

Her mood suddenly changed, which it often does thank goodness. “Scoot over,” she said. “We’re almost to that big farm and I want to see the cows. Can you believe people used to eat meat? Makes me want to puke just thinking about it.”

Sandy’s almost as crazy about cows as she is about boys. And, she’s never mad at me for too long. I’m sure that’s how come we’ve stayed best friends.

39 Responses

  1. Emma Michaels said:

    The first one got my attention to. I actually kept reading it even knowing I would be torturing myself without the book in hand to find out what would happen next. Great post!

  2. Jeff said:

    Buying the first one tomorrow and the second one has my attention for sure. I hope I will be able to write like that eventually.

  3. Merrie Destefano said:

    Both of these books look awesome! I was hoping that you would share the first two pages of these after mentioning them yesterday. I’m going to have to put these on my Amazon Wish List. Thanks for sharing!
    : )

  4. radthorne said:

    While both your samples are good, The Shifter is absolutely excellent. That opening is both funny and completely engaging. Without knowing a thing about the rest of the book, I want it just based on that sample (and intend to go get it this weekend).

    Which also brings up a point for those already published, in that putting a sample of your best work on your website is a good idea! :o)

  5. Dawn Hullender said:

    I have to admit, the first page of The Shifter caught my interest, Julia Karr’s XVI, not so much. I guess it all falls back to what interests one at any given time.

    I’ve nearly drove myself insane over perfecting my query and synopsis and I think it comes down to the agent’s opinion. Not what I stuff into those documents.

    Thanks for sharing Kristin.

  6. Ted Cross said:

    I was reading along fine in the first example until she called the guard ‘cute’. It stopped me in my tracks since it didn’t strike me as something anyone would be thinking or looking for in such a situation.

  7. Jannette Johnson said:

    The beginning of The Shifters was catchy and humourous, a good start and it kept my interest, but the opening for XVI threw me off a bit.

    I’d been told by other aspiring authors NOT to start with dialogue. I changed the opening paragraph in my WIP to reflect this, so I’m wondering, is there any set rule for or against opening a novel with dialogue?

  8. Matthew Delman said:

    “I’m no chicken thief.”

    “Then what’s that?”

    “A chicken.”

    — Definitely laughed at that exchange. I have to pick up both of these books now. Both of the concepts are just too awesome.

  9. Polenth said:

    They’re good, but the fact they’re both in first person stood out. It might be interesting to see a third person opening that caught your eye?

  10. vanessa jaye said:

    I have to admit, the first page of The Shifter caught my interest, Julia Karr’s XVI, not so much. I guess it all falls back to what interests one at any given time.

    And I had the exact opposite reaction. I loved the opening pages of XVI and would have bought it today if it were already released.

  11. Sarah Olutola said:

    Definitely worth studying! Thanks for posting!

    Interestingly enough there are quite a few awesome books that to me didn’t start out that well. I mean they were written well, but their openings didn’t catch my interest. I probably would have stopped reading them altogether if I hadn’t read the back and found the concepts/blurbs interesting. So for books like these, it was knowing what would come later that drove me to keep reading through the first few pages.

    It really is subjective though. For one book, there are some who loved the first few pages and others who, like me, didn’t find them that engaging. We all ended up loving the book though!

  12. Melissa Pearl said:

    Thanks for sharing these. They were excellent, if not a little intimidating 🙂
    I especially loved the one with the chickens and now have to read that book!

  13. Beverly said:

    The first one definitely caught my attention and makes me want to read the rest right away! I like the protagonist already 🙂

  14. Jeff King said:

    I didn’t like either of them but of course I am one opinion and we all know you can’t please everyone.

    One thing I did learn from these two examples, is the way they flow or have that overwhelming feeling to keep reading regardless if you like the content or theme.

    I do appreciate you sharing these, it does help a lot. Plus it gives me hope, that my work is somewhat comparable to these… of course I have a long way to go, but this does help. Thx

  15. Stephie Smith said:

    I guess I look for different things in a book. The first one grossed me out. One paragraph and I was done. I couldn’t read anymore after that. The second one didn’t gross me out, but it didn’t interest me either. I’m sure there are probably people who would be interested in both of them. I’m not one of them.

  16. Joseph L. Selby said:

    I always appreciate when agents post examples of writing that caught there interest. For some reason, it always seems to be first-person narratives. I rarely write first person and, I think the narrator’s voice has a major impact on first impressions. If you do this exercise again, I’d love to see a third-person narrative that caught your eye.

  17. Joseph L. Selby said:

    (Oh, and you’ve mentioned the Shifter a couple times before and I gave it a pass. I /really/ enjoyed this sample, though, and just bought the ebook from B&N.)

  18. Jennifer Spiller said:

    Interesting. I skimmed The Shifter and lost interest, but XVI really caught me. I really want to read it. If it was already out, I’d be downloading it right now!

    I don’t even read YA usually!

  19. Sherryl said:

    Both of these were great, in different ways. The voices were established straight away, they captured my attention, and I wanted to read more.
    What I really liked, though, was that both of these demanded I *think* and fill in the gaps myself. I wasn’t being “explained to” – I was allowed and urged to enter into each story. Excellent examples to follow.

  20. Chris Eldin said:

    The first one really caught my attention. Love it when you get the setting, character, and a bit of conflict all in the first paragraph. I would stay with this voice… so smooth and easy to read. Effortless.

  21. Suze said:

    Interestingly (for me at least), I recognized that Shifter had better writing, but XVI had the more compelling story. If I was offered the choice of the two, I would choose XVI because while I appreciate good writing with much glee, it’s the story that grabs me every time. Now I’m hoping my book has both in equal measures 🙂

  22. Kathleen said:

    I guess it all falls back to what interests one at any given time.

    it’s so true, because I feel the exact opposite about the openings!

  23. D. Antone said:

    I am continually amazed at the quality of the posts on this blog. I often have such a hard time thinking of things to post daily on my blog, you are an inspiration.

    I’ll never forget writing the first chapter of my first novel. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I really mean that. These are great examples of the way to do it. I know they’ll serve as a reference for me. Thanks again!

  24. Anonymous said:

    Gender Bias?

    I have a question that I hope you can address. It seems to me that the large majority of new writers the past few years (especially in the Young Adult range) are women. What I am wondering is do you think the gender bias pendulum has swung? Has the time come for a male author who has a female protagonist to adopt a female pen name? Has this already happened?

  25. Joseph L. Selby said:

    I just read chapter one and am thrilled at the purchase. If the rest of the book maintains this level of quality, I’ll buy the entire series as soon as the books are available.

  26. Michael said:

    These are great! We were just discussing opening lines on my blog prior to the “Opening Lines” contest. I’ve added a link to your blog on mine.

  27. _*Rachel*_ said:

    Loreena McKennitt is good, isn’t she!

    Throw a party on your blog when XVI comes out, just so I remember to hunt it down. I just finished The Bar Code Tattoo, so I’m in the mood for this book.

    Ditto on Shifter. I should track that down next time I’m at the library.

    PS: Ally Carter’s books are awesome. Found them on your site.

  28. DeadlyAccurate said:

    I posted once already, but I just wanted to say again that while both samples were fantastic, I’ve found myself thinking about the second one even once I was away from the site. I would’ve added it to my amazon wishlist if it were up already, and I hope I don’t forget once the publisher gets a page made for it.