I often give a novel a whole chapter before deciding whether I’m going to read the book or not. With a short story, it’s usually the first paragraph or the opening sentence that helps me decide. Certainly, knowing and loving an author’s work can make me far more generous, but I do love a good opener.
Because I had a prolific spring and summer, I decided to end August with an overview and rating of my own first lines from recently published, forthcoming, and under-consideration stories. (Ah, Self-Indulgent Procrastination, hallowed be thy name!) I love all of these stories, but considering them by their first line is another matter.
In writing this, I learned that my attention to giving opening lines serious punch varies by style, genre, and intent. Sometimes I put my all into the opening line, other times it takes a full paragraph. But I never do the slow warm-up where it takes more than that first paragraph to grab the reader. I find that a real mistake in short erotic fiction. Grab the reader hard and then back up if needed to sprinkle in the texture and details.
I’d enjoy response to this post. What do you expect from opening lines? What are your favorites? How'd I do in rating my own?
1. Moonshine Ballad. The Sexy Librarian's Book of Erotica. Ed. Rose Caraway. Cleis Press.
“Gotta laugh at them uppity bottles there, showin’ off labels like the cover’s all you need to know about a book.”
I imagine this could make a reader pause and say “Wow, WTF is this going to be about?!” and that’s a good thing. But on its own it is more bizarre than welcoming. 3/5
2. New Dick. Rookies: Gay Erotic Cop Stories. Ed. Shane Allison. Cleis Press.
“Every new dick’s got to have a first day in the office, a first time he plants his hindquarters in a chair assigned to him that's already had grooves worn into it by a guy who was once fresh like him.”
Nice setting of the hard-boiled premise to suit the theme of the book. But doesn’t tell you much about the character or erotics beyond this. 3/5
3. Butch Unbound. The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales. Ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel. Cleis Press.
“I caught myself holding my breath again.”
For this one, it’s important to speed on to the next two sentences that set up the whole erotic premise. So I like how short it is, to move the reader on, and it’s got erotic potential. 3.5/5
4. "Coffee Break in Hell." Coffee Break Quickies. Ed. Roger Armstrong. Wild Moon Press.
“If there was one moment that Bill Hubert looked forward to within every demarcated portion of time that passed for a day in Hell, it was Coffee Break.”
For this darkly comic story, I think this is a solid opener. You know where you are and begin to get a sense of the absurd that will govern it. 4/5
5. Booney's Hunter. Nasty Boys: Rough Trade Erotica. Ed. Shane Allison. Cleis Press.
“The tale of why Boy Two-Blood gave up his title as Booney's Hunter isn't often told, but when it is, people stop and listen.”
Maybe it’s because this is a Carson McCuller’s homage and one of my favorites, but I do love this opening line. Not hot, but hits the Southern Gothic note so nicely. 5/5
6. Booting. Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters Between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads. Ed. Rob Rosen. Cleis Press.
“No one would ever call my former employer, Lord Tithenham, dull witted, though dull witted he was, along with the whole born-to-wealth lot of them at Tithenham Court—and most anywhere you find titled gentry these days.”
Establishes era and class relations, but you have to read on to get to the specifics and the erotics. 3.5/5
7. Mothfuck. For the Girls.com.
“Alone in the private theater of my deceptively commonplace bedroom, I commit monstrous acts.”
This is flash fiction, so every word counts. I find this one deliciously inviting. 5/5
8. Charity Case (co-authored with Talon Rihai). Blasphemy Anthology. Ed. Harper Eliot. Burning Books Press.
“Still damp from his post-trick shower, Case yanked on his socks and slipped his feet into the loosely laced military boots he always kept by the door for his morning cigarette.”
Establishes well that our hero is a boywhore and sets the scenario. Not clear where it’s going yet, but I’d probably read on to learn. 4/5
9. Noirgasm. Rose Caraway's Dirty 30. Vol. 1. Ed. Rose Caraway.
“Philip Marlowe is fucking my ass.”
I love this line. If you know hard-boiled dickery and who Philip Marlowe is from reading Raymond Chandler or watching Bogart in The Big Sleep, you’ll be along for the ride, especially because of the first-person narrator and use of present tense. This said, if you don’t know who Marlowe is, this opener got much less of a punch. 5/5 if you know; 4/5 if you don’t.
10. Double-cross. Reprint in Mammoth Best New Erotica 13. Ed. Maxim Jakubowski. Constable and Robinson.
“There’s someone here to see you.”
LOL. Ok, this one has a set-up; it’s another hard-boiled dick fic featuring awesome trans characters and (omg) plot! But as an opening line? 2/5
11. Like Magic. Best Gay Erotica 2015. Ed. Rob Rosen. Cleis Press.
“Though I’d laid my arm across my eyes and could not see, I could feel the waxed ends of the great man’s moustache brushing my exposed belly before tickling the dark hairs that trailed from my navel down to my groin.”
Vivid, naughty, reasonably engaging: why is the man “great” and what’s with the waxed moustache? 4/5
12. The Princess’s Princess. Reprint in The Princess’s Bride. Ed. Sacchi Green. Cleis Press.
“I do not often find opportunity to indulge in remembrance of my youth.”
Sets up style/diction/tone and that the story will likely be a flashback. Meh. 3/5
13. Suck It.
“‘Go on, suck it,’ you commanded, in a voice that made my jaw drop.”
Risky for the use of second-person address, tempered by use of past tense. Graphic. I’d read on. 4/5
14. To the Victor.
“His entrance was so warm and welcoming, I feared I would spill my seed before I’d even begun to claim my prize.”
Hell yes. Love the graphic directness and reference to a prize. Use of “entrance” could be a turn-off, but the whole sentence sets up intended diction, hinting this is not a contemporary story. 4.5/5
15. The Good, the Bad, and the Ojete.
“The town of Española was eerily silent as two figures on horseback rode in, soon after sunrise.”
Do you read on? Depends on whether you like westerns. Context of a gay anthology is vital. 2/5
16. Kiss Me.
“‘Kiss me,’ Kai said, the wind and rain whipping around us in the dark afternoon sky.”
Yum. I love the sweetness that will soon become more obvious boylove sweetness. 4/5
17. Training Kane (co-authored with Talon Rihai).
“Master Alain sat at his desk, finishing a last bit of paperwork before heading to the marble-tiled foyer to address the servants on the day’s duties.”
If you like The Marketplace series, this will perhaps grab you. If not, less certain. 3.5/5
18. Eternal Grind.
“Pausing to scratch behind a horn in the midst of counter cleaning, I can hear Yzk giving his usual, pompous spiel to another café newcomer.”
Intriguing for the nigh unpronounceable character name and reference to horns. Context of anthology will give more clarity. 3/5