The Replacement, Four . . . Five? . . . Infinity Times. Plus Prizes.

The Replacement

Ordinarily, this would be my day to post fiction, but The Replacement comes out tomorrow, and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Instead of fiction, I have what amounts to a cold, hard object lesson in revising.

So, I want to start out by saying that I’m happy with the first page of THE REPLACEMENT. It works for me. When I read through it, I nod to myself and it’s a satisfied nod.

But this wasn’t always true. Or even mostly true. This is how the book (then called FE) first-first started, back when it was just a teeny tiny little document file consisting of about 800 words:

August 07

They were sticking students in the cafeteria, over by the trophy cases.
     They’d hung a hospital-blue curtain from the ceiling to hide the blood-draw station. The curtain came down almost to the floor, but everyone knew what was behind it. Needles going in, tubes coming out. There were rolling medical stands and plastic trays of cookies and juice. Bags that sat like huge blisters, getting fatter like ticks. A butcher-paper banner was stretched over the west entrance, announcing the blood drive in giant magic-marker letters.
     We’d just come in from lunch. Me, the Corbett twins, and Roswell Reese. Drew Corbett was staring up at the banner in a pensive, stoned way, like it might at any moment do something interesting.
     Danny-Boy and Roswell were in this ongoing argument about whether or not some guy in Vicksville swam all the way up the Grange River to Coventry on a bet.
     “People swim the English Channel all the time,” Roswell said. “Is it so unreasonable to think someone could swim the Grange?”
     Danny grabbed my arm. “Mackie, what’s it from Vicksville? Like, eight—maybe ten miles? Can anyone just dive in and swim ten miles?”
     I’d been preoccupied with looking at Alice Harms, which is this habitual behavior of mine, like a hobby. She was standing by the south-facing windows, with the light coming in from the courtyard. It lit up her face like colored glass or something you would see in a church. She was so bright, so clean, it made my throat hurt.
     Danny yanked harder on my arm. “Mackie, quit acting like a complete stoner and listen. Can someone just swim that far?”
     “People swim the English Channel all the time,” I said, and turned back to Alice.
     She had on a green shirt, cut low so it showed the tops of her breasts. There was a yellow blood-donor sticker stuck to the front of it. She was sucking on a tootsie-pop, which made me about want to die, but in this clear, good way, like being caught in a snowstorm or drinking Jack and Coke with lots of ice.

“Sloppy!” screams the voice in my head as soon as it reads as far down as the dialogue. I immediately want to go through and start tweaking. But I won’t, because I did that already—right after I finished the first draft—and I wound up with this:

April 08
They were sticking students in the cafeteria, over by the trophy cases.
     They’d hung a hospital-blue curtain from the ceiling to hide the blood-draw station. The curtain came down almost to the floor, but everyone knew what was behind it. Needles going in, tubes coming out. There were rolling medical stands and plastic trays of cookies and juice. A butcher-paper banner was stretched over the west entrance, announcing the blood drive in giant magic-marker letters.
     We’d just come in from lunch. Me, the Corbett twins, and Roswell Reese. Drew Corbett was staring up at the banner in a slow, stoned way, like it might be on its way to doing something interesting.
     Danny-Boy and Roswell were in this ongoing argument about whether or not some guy in Vicks swam all the way up the Grange River to Coventry on a bet.

Here you see that I’ve left it almost the same, but toned down some of the gross description and for some reason, I felt like I needed to change one inappropriate town name to another inappropriate town name. Everything else is pretty much the same.

Now we’re going to jump forward nine months, which is not to say that I didn’t make changes—I did. However, those changes involved a very spoilery prologue, so I’m not going to include it here. (Trust me, massive spoilers aside, you’re not missing much.) It was really just another phase of me flailing around as I tried to figure out how I was going to actually going start the story, and for awhile, a prologue seemed like a good idea.

But then . . . I went back to my roots.

January 09

They were sticking students in the cafeteria, over by the trophy cases.
     They’d hung a curtain to hide the blood-draw station, and it came down almost to the floor, but everyone knew what was behind it. Needles going in, tubes coming out. A butcher-paper banner was stretched over the west entrance, announcing the blood drive in giant magic-marker letters.
     We’d just come in from lunch. Me, the Corbett twins, and Roswell Reed. Drew Corbett was digging through his pockets for a quarter to show me how he could fix a coin-toss.
     Danny-Boy and Roswell were in this ongoing argument about whether or not half the racist people in the Borat movie were even real.
     “But people say completely ignorant stuff all the time,” Roswell said. “What makes you think someone wouldn’t have the exact same worldview when the camera’s running?”

As you can see, this version closely resembles the original version, only again, I hated the dialogue, so:

August 09

They were sticking students in the cafeteria, over by the trophy cases.
     They’d hung a curtain to hide the blood-draw station, and it came down almost to the floor, but everyone knew what was behind it. Needles going in, tubes coming out. A butcher-paper banner was stretched over the west entrance, announcing the blood drive in giant magic-marker letters.
     We’d just come in from lunch. Me, the Corbett twins, and Roswell Reed.
     Drew Corbett was digging through his pockets for a quarter to show me how he could fix a coin-toss. Danny-Boy and Roswell were in this ongoing argument about whether or not the only local band that was any good could ever get radio play or score spots on late-night talk shows.
     “But look at what sells,” Roswell said. “What makes you think that the same people who get all frantic for power chords would even appreciate a rarified talent like Rasputin Sings the Blues?”
     Danny sighed and grabbed my arm. “Mackie, would anybody really take something that fundamentally sucks over something good?”

Frantically, I replaced the dialogue with other dialogue. Good! It’s finally plot-oriented! And topical! But not hooky. It’s not hooking me. Maybe this
is because I’m been staring at it for TWO YEARS. Maggie, Tess, is it hooky? They say, “I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve been staring at it for TWO YEARS.” Only, they didn’t say it like that, because they are nice to me. (This is the mark of good critique partners—this punishing willingness to keep reading iterations of the same story, pretending the whole time that they are not bored out of their minds.)

Okay, bear with me. We’re almost to the end. The reason I’m showing you all these different versions that are fundamentally the same is because I’m making a point. (Really, I swear.) See, I spent two years, from concept to book deal, trying to make that opening work. I literally spent hours fussing with it and tweaking it and swapping out useless dialogue for other useless dialogue, and do you want to know what the final version looks like? It looks like this:

September 09

I don’t remember any of the true, important parts, but there’s this dream I have. Everything is cold and branches scrape the window-screen. Giant trees, rattling, clattering with leaves. White rain-gutter, the curtain flapping. Pansies, violets, sunflowers. I know the fabric pattern by heart. They’re a list in my head, like a poem.
     I dream about fields, dark tunnels, but nothing is clear. I dream that a dark shape puts me in the crib, puts a hand over my mouth and whispers in my ear. Shh, it says. And, Wait. No one is there, no one is touching me and when the wind comes in around the edges of the window frame, my skin is cold. I wake up feeling lonely, like the world is big and freezing and scary. Like I will never have anyone touch me again.

I’m a huge proponent of revision. I believe you can fix almost anything if you work hard enough. What I learned? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, something is not working because it just doesn’t work there.

I promised you prizes, and I will deliver—two signed, finished copies of THE REPLACEMENT!

All you have to do is respond in the comments and tell us your personal favorite book-opening (maybe from your favorite book, or maybe you just think the opening is really killer) and what you like about it. At 6:00pm Eastern tomorrow, I will randomly draw two winners and announce them here. (Also, if you leave your contact info in the comments, I will email you.)

It’s that simple, and we look forward to hearing your favorites!

57 thoughts on “The Replacement, Four . . . Five? . . . Infinity Times. Plus Prizes.

  1. I like the last one the best, no question. I think it’s because while all of them were quite descriptive, this one just sort of oozed into my head and sat there. I can hear the branches on the window and the voice whispering.

  2. My favorite book-opening definitely has to be from ICE by Sarah Beth Durst. It begins with a fairytale that a grandmother tells the MC when she’s a child. It’s magical, gorgeously written and perfect at foreshadowing the adventure that will eventually become the MC’s life. I love it!


  3. Uhhhhhh……. yeah….. I’d tell you a great opening, but I’m still reeling from that last one. It was…. Oh, I want this book so badly.

    Ok, a few minutes later, I’m kind of drawing a blank. The only thing I can think of is Maggie’s prologue in Linger. I kinda loved that. A lot.

    Email: (Shhh don’t tell anyone.)

  4. My favourite book opening is from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And for those who have not read it…the easiest way to describe the book is the telling of the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table legend, from an entirely female perspective.

    an excerpt:
    “In my time I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen. Now in truth I have come to be wise-woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale. Forever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in the world. At best, they say that her power was of Satan. Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth – who indeed had power in her way, too- and say that she was ever virgin. But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind.

    And now, when the world has changed, and Arthur – my brother, my lover, king who was and king who shall be – lies dead (the common folk say sleeping) in the HOly Isle of Avalon, the tale should be told as it was before the priests of the White Christ came to cover it all with their saints and legends.

    For, as I say, the world itself has changed. There was a time when a traveller, if he had the will and knew only a few of the secrets, could send his barge out into the Summer Sea and arrive not at Glastonbury of the monks, but at the Holy Isle of Avalon; for at that time the gates between the worlds drifted within the mists, and were open, one to another, as the traveller thought and willed. For this is the great secret which was known to all educated men in our day that by what men think, we create the world around us, daily new.”

    The Prologue really takes me in because it’s written in the voice of the main storyteller from her older self, Morgaine le Fey or Morgan le Fey. She talks about the world as it is for her at the present, but coming back to what has led up to where she is now. And she makes it known that her truth may not be the entire truth, but it is HER truth and how she saw the events that unfolded in the book. And knowing the book as well as I do…seeing the young Morgaine, and then listening to her as she has gotten older…wiser…it’s truly like sitting down to listen to a wise woman speak…maybe sage advice from a grandmother who is well on in her years..

    It has just always stuck with me as beautifully written and gives you some insight as to how she has changed before you get to the meat of the book.

    kysrinaria at gmail dot com

  5. I have two favorite opening lines of two of my all time favorite books, so I’ll share them both:

    “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the
    table for breakfast.
    “Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”
    “I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.
    “Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it
    will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”
    Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

    Dude…that’s just powerful. If you aren’t sucked in immediately, I have to question your humanity. It’s a brilliant example of not killing your readers with set up but instead throwing them straight in and expecting them to catch up. This book also has my very favorite closing lines of any book ever in the history of ever. I still cry every time I read them, hear them, or think of them. In fact, I’m tearing up now. Moving on…

    “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when
    caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”
    Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

    This one I just loved because I never felt beautiful as a teen (which is when I discovered and repeatedly devoured this book), so I always identified with Scarlett. I knew there was nothing concrete about my looks I could change, but charm…ah! There was something I could control. I think, as character set up goes, this line is amazing. Honestly, everything you need to know about Scarlett for the majority of the book is given to you in this single sentence. The passage goes on to describe her looks, but that’s window dressing.

    Now, as far as yours go, I actually liked the first one. Shows my unsophisticated tastes, I guess, but the gross description resonated with me, and I was kind of sad to see it go. I’m glad I got to read it here!

  6. I find the final version of the opening a real vortex in drawing my attention. I mean this in a good way. 🙂 As for a favorite opening… I’s have to say that the opening in the book The Looking Glass was the best I’ve seen. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get far on the book no thanks to reality’s interference, but I plan to read it again soon… That is, after I finish reading your book. Your opening got me too interested in it for me to leave it alone. xD


  7. I really enjoyed reading all of those book openings. I can totally understand how it would be frustrating trying to get it right especially if you aren’t feeling the dialogue and setting the scene.
    Personally I like all of them and I can tell that you made the correct decision in getting rid of the dialogue and setting a bit more of the scene. It is creepy you can almost hear the voice and feel the wind around the edges of the window frame. It just sets the scene that something isn’t quite right.
    If I had to choose a start from one of the other versions I’d say the august 09 version as it does introduce the main character in a different way to your actual book opening what with this school and blood donation thing which is interesting. The dialogue ideas all change to focus on different things which works too but I have to say that your real book opening just hooks you more than how you had it first because it takes away the dialogue and as you said if something isn’t working it’s not meant to be there at all so it’s best to start a new way.

    My favourite book opening I guess that springs to mind as I’ve read a lot of books would be Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. What I like about her books is that she generally uses a quotation from another book or poem to set the scene for the tone or content within the chapter. The first chapter or opening has us introduced to the night where Meggie is introduced to us and we also realise that she is an avid reader with the fact that a book is pressed under her pillow and how she talks about the book whispering it’s story to her while she sleeps.
    I think that’s a great opening because we find out how books to her are powerful and the quotation from a book called “The children of Green Knowe” adds to that with the image of night time and how strange things happen to those who get the chance to see it.
    That’s one of favourite openings because as I mentioned I have read a lot and each opening is different and hooks me for different reasons too. 😀

    Great idea for a contest guys. 😀
    Izzy izzymcteagle @ hotmail . com

  8. I know a lot of people love this opening, but no matter how familiar, it still stands as one of my favorites. The opening of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

    It’s simple yet undeniably compelling. I wanted to know what it *meant*. To burn something else, or to be oneself burning? Then, of course, he follows it up with his customary striking imagery and tumblings of words–the great python spitting kerosene, the books in sparkling whirls, striding in a swarm of fireflies.

    So awesome.

  9. Number one favourite book opening:

    The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

    I guess what I like most about the prologue in this book is that we see how sad Clare gets, as she has to wait for Henry to get back. She has no idea when.
    We also get to see how Henry feels about his time travelling, and how he can’t get back. I just love it.

    And, to be honest, your book-opening is already quite far up my list! It gave me the chills!


  10. One of my favorite openings, at least in recent memory, is from The Devouring by Simon Holt. It starts like this:

    On Sorry Night, just a few days before Christmas, you have to snuff the lamps, douse the flames in the fireplace, and spend the night in the cold and dark. If you don’t, the Vours will get you.
    They’re the monsters you can’t see, the ones that crave the heat and light. The ones that feed on your fear and then swallow you whole. I should know. When I was a child, I saw it happen, and I’ve lived with that fear ever since.

    It only gets better from there.


  11. I would say that the most captivating book opening that I’ve come across recently is:

    “When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting is hands. There must have some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss. The darkness that came upon them was startling and complete. Not only was everyone there certain there was a kiss, they claimed they could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her by surprise.”

    These opening lines are from Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. These lines completely drew me in and made me want to keep reading. These beginning lines are the reason I decided to buy the book that day. I just really love how it starts with a kiss. I love how that kiss is not described by the feelings of the two kissing, rather it is described based off the perception of everyone else in the room. Its just so mysterious, how could you not want to read more!

    So thats my favorite opening line. I must say, your final decision for the opening lines is much better than what you originally wrote. Your original beginnings confused me. Your opening lines about the dream intrigue me.

    Here’s my contact information in case I’m picked:

  12. This is an awesome post! I love seeing the iterations a piece of work goes through before becoming a published piece. And I am so excited to read your book!

    Favorite opening…”Howard Roark laughed.” The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It sums up the character. She goes on to describe Roark standing naked on top of a cliff, surveying the rock and nature and, essentially, his domain. He is a man of the earth, who takes himself and his life very seriously, which gives him the ability to experience pure, exquisite joy.

    zandila at gmail dot com

  13. I like the tone of the new version best, but there are many things about the first version I like a lot, too – the blistery bags that get fatter like ticks (yes, it is a little gross, but I know just what you mean!) and especially Mackie’s looking at Alice and her breasts and how she’s going at the lolly pop – ha! Just made me love Mackie and his hormones. I also liked how the school felt really provincial but in an odd way, like that small town in Big Fish, you know? Well, hopefully there will be some things like this in the interior of the novel. I can’t wait!

    Please enter me! amandell at mail dot harvard dot edu

    If we’re talking about first lines, I only just started reading the book, but the opening paragraphs of SKINNY DIP by Carl Hiaasen is awesome. Not really my genre but the opening his hilarious and packs a great punch.

    But if we’re looking at overall first chapters, I really like the start of Maggie’s LAMENT. I’ll never forget the dreamy hero’s entrance as hair-puller-backer of the barfing MC.

  14. I love the prologue of “The Hours,” by Michael Cunningham, because it so perfectly enters into the fugue state, the last moments, of a brilliant suicide. When I read it the first time, I had to jump up to run in to read it aloud to my partner, and when I flipped over the cover and realized that a man really wrote those words, that he could grasp the thoughts of a woman in that state, I loved it even more. I fell in love with Virginia Woolf in that moment, through his interpretation of her death. Morbid? Yes, of course. But having been profoundly depressed in my time, I was able to say, “Yes, yes that’s the feeling,” and I was hooked.

  15. Here is my personal favorite opening.

    “Your job will be to separate the white thumbtacks from the colored ones. Be sure to throw the colored ones away. They must leave the building. If they don’t, then you will. The president, Daniel Rosen, likes only white thumbtacks at The Agency. Also, should you ever serve him a drink, he has just four ice cubes in his Diet Coke. If you put in more, he will throw the surplus ice cubes at you. If you put in three, he’ll throw the entire drink at you.”

    From The Second Assistant: A Tale from the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare

    Im sure it partly my favorite because of my theatre background. But I really just love it. I can totally see some people in entertainment fields acting like this.

  16. The first opening was sort of gruesome in a good way x)
    My favourite opening? I would have to say Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger. It’s very straight forward but witty.
    “The gunman is useless.
    I know it.
    He knows it.
    The whole bank knows it.
    Even my best mate, Marvin, knows it, and he’s more useless than the gunman.”

  17. Funny that I see this post today. Last night I had this problem with my third draft for a WIP. I completely scraped the original opening from the first 2 drafts and I’m at a happy place with it but then I got to a certain section where I found it might be okay to grab something from the second draft to plug in. It delayed me for hours until finally I deleted my copy/paste fiasco and it was so freeing. It’s hard because there this need or feeling of obligation to those words that maybe somehow I was lacking in their development and if I keep working at it… Yeah no. LOL thanks for the post.

    Here’s one of my favorites-

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes to the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.” Opening paragraph to ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

  18. My current favorite is
    “The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.”
    Going Bovine by Libba Bray

    belle5678 at yahoo dot com

  19. I’m not sure it’s my favorite, but it’s the one I deem “most memorable”:

    “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.”

    From Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

    I love the “useless dialogue” in your drafts. Honestly, I think I’d enjoy having all of those conversations.

    larkspurk at gmail dot com

  20. I think my favorite book beginning is in Hunger by Michael Grant. It was gruesome and surprising and really stuck with me. I will definitely remember that first chapter, even years from now when I hardly remember anything else about it.

    I really, really want The Replacement. It is definitely right up my alley.

    Thanks for the contest!

  21. I loved the opening in Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. A single line paragraph: “This is what happened.” Oh my God, What?! The next line is: “Before my life started properly, I was doing the usual mewling and sucking, which in my case occurred on a pair of huge, soft black breasts.” I think it’s the tension of the single line paragraph and then the image of the breasts that seduced me. The second paragraph is a long one and I feel like I’m on an adventure. The third paragraph is short and pain filled: “My life proper started at the age of five when my mother had her nervous breakdown. I was torn from my lovely black nanny . . .” Noooo!!

    I revised the first chapter in my wip 50+ times over 3 years, and it didn’t work until I’d killed some darlings.

    I love your final opening. This – Like I will never have anyone touch me again. – Brillaint!

  22. My favorite hook is from THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle ^_^

    and here’s mah emails:

    kusanarsunicorn at gmail dot com

  23. “I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkable smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in the emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Middlesex by Eugenides. It’s one of my tope ten favorites. I also like the opening line to Anna Karinna. But I won’t bore you with that one.

    I am sooo excited about you book release. And I like the new version. Correction. I love the new version!

    tracy dot dickens at

  24. I like books that start with a flash-back or flash-forward. Recently, the books that I’ve read that have done this are Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick, Fallen, by Lauren Kate, and Shiver, by our dear Maggie Stiefvater. They are currently all on my favourite books list. I find that it really makes me curious about why the author started the book that way and I want to find out the significance of it. I just jump that much more quickly into a book that does that :).


  25. *sigh* I love your opening actually. The first time I read the first page I was hooked. Unfortunately, I have yet to get ahold of a copy so I can read the rest of it… As for my favorite opening in general… that is so hard! I love the opening of Stephanie Burgis’ A Most Improper Magick:
    “I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from impending ruin.

    I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”
    I love the tone and that we know immediately that things did not go as planned.

  26. (this is actually the third paragraph of the prologue)
    “I curse you!” she screamed at the dark water. “I curse you for all you gave me and for all you pilfered! I curse you for the journeys you begin and the journeys you end! I curse you until I can’t hate you anymore! And I scarcely think I will ever hate you more than on this wretched day!” Her fair hair stuck to her face, wet with sorrow and surf, and her hand-embroidered cotton blouse clung to her, stained with her lover’s blood.

    The Dust Of 100 Dogs by AS King. I love this hook, it just drips with her grief, anger, and remorse. Wonderfully written.

  27. Ah, this is an easy one for me:

    “It rained toads the day the White Council came to town.” First line from Summer Knight, Book 4 of the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher.

    It hooked me from go. Why? Because this one simple sentence held the promise that within this story, I was getting deeper into Dresden’s world, into the real meat and potatoes of the mythos. This was a sign to me that Butcher was pulling the curtain back just a little farther on Harry’s world, and I couldn’t wait to find out what else was waiting to be revealed. The rest of the book did not disappoint. 🙂

    Not to mention–it actually rained toads. Toads! How awesome is that?


  28. Thanks for sharing this. This resembles what I go through during my revisions SO MUCH. I love what the start of THE REPLACEMENT eventually became!

    My favorite book opening is the prologue of Lynne Ewing’s THE FINAL ECLIPSE, the last DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON book. The preceding books each had a prologue that doubled as a myth retelling, but this one touched on some of the happenings in the series itself, including something in book 1 that made me panic by the end of the prologue, since it showed that event having more importance than I realized. Even before the book “really” started, the prologue gave it a sense of coming full circle, that this truly was the end of a series I grew up loving. Nothing can ever top that for me.

  29. I loved the things that Jonathan Safran Foer did with the English language in Everything Is Illuminated.

    The opening:

    An Opening to the Commencement of a Very Rigid Journey:
    My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all of my many friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am always spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother.

  30. Wow, your work really paid off on that one. When I got the tweet at work about this it started me thinking I needed to be home in front of my book cases looking for my fave, but (sigh) there is no one fave.

    I do love Neil Gaiman’s Startdust. — In Which We Learn of the Village of Wall, And of the Curious Thing That Occurs There Every Nine Years. (I don’t think it was just the words but the way he read it in the audio. Loved It.)

    A book that gets extreme mixed reactions in the YA consortium is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver — They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.

    I picked a stack and will not quote them all but the first paragraphs all moved me on to the next and the next.
    Dirty Little Secrets – CJ Omololu
    Inside Out – Maria V. Snyder
    Poison Study – Maria V. Snyder
    The Looking Glass Wars – Frank Bedore
    and of all the Harry Potter books I really think Prisoner of Azkaban starts the best.

  31. This is brilliant! I’m looking forward to this book so much.

    Hmm, my favorite book opening would have to be from Blood Canticle by Anne Rice…or practically any book that Lestat narrates. The first few pages of Blood Canticle show Lestat’s character so well and I am charmed by him just like I was the first time I picked up The Vampire Lestat. He’s so charismatic and fun to read about. He seems real to me, especially in that particular book, like he’s demanding my attention, which I am all too happy to give. 😉


  32. My favorite opener (after pondering this for far too long and subconsciously procrastinating on homework) comes from Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller.

    “Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

    Right or left, doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don’t…well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s just say bad things will happen if you don’t.

    Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly–snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint–or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?

    Well, exactly. Of course. The ring thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.


    Unless unless unless.

    What if you were to hate the person on the other end of arm? I mean really, really hate them.

    This was a thing I now had to consider.”

    I love this opening because of the incredible voice behind it. You really get in the character’s head and though you may have never broken a person’s arm, you’re left debating the subject anyway. And the dry humor in this and the rest of the book is to die for. My only qualm about the whole thing is that I’ve misplaced the book in question and now want to read it again!

    I can be reached at rachelewis at att dot net!

  33. One of my favorite openings comes from Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card:

    “I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened to through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

    The dialogue is sharp and snappy and throws you into the story immediately.

  34. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes: Hawksong. I won’t type it out here, but the prologue grabbed me…very fast. By the end of that prologue, you know what sort of book you’re expecting, and you know it’s going to be awesome. (And then later in the series she goes on to set up your expectations and then throw completely unexpected things at you, but that’s not the point.)

    But as a close runner-up…Tim Bowler’s ‘Frozen Fire’ had THE MOST AWESOME opening chapter, for sheer creep factor.

  35. I loved the opener to Feed by M.T. Anderson, which caused me to read half the book in the bookstore on the spot, return twice more to finish it, then return a third time to purchase it for my very own when I had enough spare dollars.

    It goes a little something like this:

    “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
    We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like “I’m so null”, and Marty was all, “I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.”

    Oh these kids are winners. I love it! I hope I’m a winner too, I’m dying to read your book.

  36. Here are a few of my favorite lines. I think I now have another one to add! I’m looking forward to reading The Replacement even more now.

    “The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up. That’s when they can hear us true, Momma said. That’s when ghosts can answer us.” –from Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

    “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a samll unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” –from Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    “It hit me when I was power walking on the treadmill at home, watching a Friends rerun for about the nientieth time.” from Does My Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah

  37. Fascinating post – thanks so much. I love seeing how other writers … well … write. It’s so intriguing to witness the development of the mood of ‘The Replacement’ over those various opening lines, along with everything else. I can’t wait to read it.

    And one of my all time favourite openings? It’s this from Patricia McKillip’s ‘Winter Rose’:

    “They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the colour of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood.”

    Tingles every time.

  38. i have so many favourite opening lines.

    So first three off the top of my head?

    Neil Gaiman’s Stardust: There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire. And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.

    Kristin Cashore’s Fire: It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. what surprised her was that he shot her by accident.

    Judy Corbett’s Envy: we were girls together, Isabel and I. That’s where it all began. Two girls from the same village-in reality different continents. She from the big house , Critchley hall, i from the Shak on the Lower road. And it did matter, even though she said it didn’t. She like me for what i was, she said. I felt like a shell she’d picked up on the beach. I felt like a keepsake.

    I love so many others. But they’ll do.

    I also love that last paragraph you created. it just has that ethereal quality that grabbed me when i first read it on Amazon. I also loooved how that chapter ended. So creepy. For some reason it reminds me of Patricia Mckillop’s ‘Winter Rose’ but i don’t know why. That’s a random thought – they’re just so unrelated. but still. fabulous

    oh and contact details:

  39. Oh- Em- Ghee.

    Melodrama as noted above is altogether necessary because i just realised that somebody else above just posted about Winter Rose.


    not so unrelated after all.

  40. Its hard to decide on my favourite opening passage. From time to time I work on writing courses in somerset, and we usually have a session on openings then, each student bringing a favourite book and analysing why they find the opening effective. I have so many beginnings I love that I end up using a different one each time*

    So this time I’m opting for the first opening passage I was utterly, entirely aware of, which was probably also the first time I was expected to think about books rather than just devouring them. Every now and then I find myself writing a song, and the poetry of it slips into the words unintentionally…

    So, from The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech:

    The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, come in. And in I went, floating, rolling, splashing, swimming, and the sea called, Come out, come out,, and further I went but always it swept me back to shore.
    And still the sea called, Come out, come out, and in boats I went – in rowboats and dinghies and motorboats, and after I learned to sail, I flew over the water, with only the sounds of the wind and the water and the birds, all of them calling, Sail on, sail on.


    yep, still magic. And I really, really can’t wait to read The Replacement. Yet another reason to finish the dissertation asap and get a job, really. there are so many books I’m longing to read at the moment…


    *once I forgot about it and showed up unprepared, but fortunately I was reading Greenblatt’s Shakesperean Negotitations for uni. The opening line?
    ‘I begin with the desire to speak with the dead’. Sometimes, theory can be fun too!

  41. My preordered copy isn’t scheduled to arrive until the 24th (it shipped yesterday), but I’m hoping it will get here earlier . . . especially now because after reading these openings, I’m even more excited to read it!

    One of my favorite openings is from a recent book I read, The Shifter by Janice Hardy:

    Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken.

    I love that opening line. Of course, there are many other openings I love too, but I’d end up with a huge list if I posted them all here.

    Thank you so much for sharing your revision process on the opening of The Replacements. It’s so helpful to see how it morphed into what it is today.

    Congrats on your book release!!


  42. My favorite opening is from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. One of the first sentences was “You are going to die.” it’s centered and bold and narrated by Death himself. The writing completely gripped me right from the start. That book is a brilliant piece of literature. It takes my breath away every time I read a passage from it.

  43. I think my favorite opening is from ‘Need’ by Carrie Jones. I bought it after reading the first page, and actually I’m still not sure why I like it that much. It just stayed with me..

    first few lines:

    Everybody has fears, right?
    I’m into that.
    I collect fears like other people collect stamps, which makes me sound like more of a freak than I actually am. But I’m into it. The fears thing. Phobias

    and then something about arachibutyrohobia, the fear that you will have peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

    I think the last opening you wrote is the best one, though I do like the other one, too.
    And I’m going to look for your book, but I don’t think the shops will have it over here in Belgium..

  44. I already entered (above) but I’ve been looking at all the comments and I think this was a great idea for a giveaway contest!
    I really want to read all the books that are being mentioned xD

  45. My absolute favorite book opening is to Tithe by Holly Black. It totally sets the gritty sarcastic tone for the entire book.

  46. I have a lot of favorite openers, but two always come to mind right away:

    “This is the story of a boy who used to be a wolf and a girl who is becoming one.” – Linger. I know, such a brown noser but seriously, so good!

    And I hate to say it because I think I may be shunned out of here, but:

    “I’d never given much thought to how I would die- though I’d had reason enough in the last few months- but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” – Twilight. I know that Twilight gets a lot of hate but I have to admit, the first line is what made me buy that book back in 04.

    Congrats on The Replacement! Regardless of winning this contest or not I’m definitely buying a copy!

  47. For me, the perfect book-opening was Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. You just get struck by how happy everything was despite the imperfections. I don’t know, I can’t really explain why, but it was epic 🙂


  48. Dude, I just had to say, I picked Twilight off a shelf at my bookstore right after it came out, read that first line, and bought it 5 second later. No shunning here!

  49. I was immediately hooked on this book by the opening the line: “everyone thinks it was because of the snow. In a way, I suppose that’s true.” It immediately makes you want to know what happened?? I loved that book!

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