First lines of books are a lot like debut novels. Just because they come first in a narrative doesn’t mean they were the first written. There are many authors whose “first novels” are actually the second, third, or tenth they ever wrote. And I won’t bother trying to think of how many lines of Chasing the Sun I actually wrote before scribbling what would eventually become the first line. Suffice it to say, five years passed between the time I started writing this book and the day I wrote the final first line.
What the hell took so long?
Well, revision happened. Perspectives shifted. I decided to start the story at a different moment, from a different character’s point of view. In November of 2011, I’d just finished a complete rewrite of the book (it was such a complete rewrite that I think of it as a rough draft, version 2.0). I always take a few weeks off from the page between drafts. But I have this journal I keep, where I scribble random thoughts about my characters. And I couldn’t stop thinking about Andres, about the things that worry him, the things that haunt his thoughts…
So I wrote what I thought was just a note to myself:
But something about this stuck with me. When it came time to keep revising my draft, I rewrote the beginning with a more refined version of this line:
He is always thinking of the last words he said to her—thank you, see you at dinner, rarely a simple I love you—as if the words are one of the status reports from work, a quick memo to see where they stand.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. And more importantly, it felt like the right place to start: a peek into what Andres thinks is his greatest fear, right in the moments before he realizes his wife, Marabela, has been kidnapped.
But again, it needed some work, some clarity, some specificity. First lines are quite the multi-taskers, and we don’t often know their true purpose until we’ve started writing them, editing them, molding them. What I realized is that I wanted the first line to drop the reader into a place, not necessarily in time and space, but in a state of mind. I wanted to show that although they were having problems, Andres still very much cares about his marriage. And I wanted to hint a bit at the kind of person he is, what he occupies his days with.
Five years, and countless edits later, I had my “first” line: