Sometimes, you pick up a book and fall immediately, completely, and hopelessly in love:
“They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.” Juno Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“I will not drink more than fifteen alcohol units a week.” Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones Diary
“On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square Apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters Peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl.” Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
“The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.” Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
A first line is an invitation, a seduction, and when it works we swallow it whole and tumble completely into the story. But as authors, nurturing that kind of attraction is complicated. We want to hook our readers, but if we’re too heavy-handed we can bungle the whole thing and turn them off completely. So we fidget at the bar, pop breath mints, slick our hair, and agonize over every. single. word.
With Vintage, I got to cheat a little and have two openings. Each chapter begins with an epigraph, an inventory entry that briefly describes a vintage item and its source. The entries serve multiple functions by unobtrusively adding significant details, hinting at upcoming events, and allowing me to completely geek out by filling my novel with lovely and interesting odds and ends.
So after a tiny glimpse into the store’s contents (in this case, an ivory tea length wedding gown), the first line:
“Beneath the ash trees on Johnson Street, just east of campus, Hourglass Vintage stood in a weathered brick building, wedged between a fair trade coffee shop and a bike repair business.”
The line went through several permutations but even in the very first draft, it was always a birds eye view of the street that zoomed in on the storefront, beckoning you to look, to come inside, then make yourself comfortable and stay a while…