Today's First Line Friday Guest is my fellow Fall Fourteener, Joshua David Bellin, author of SURVIVAL COLONY 9.
Survival Colony Nine starts with a single word of dialogue, the name of my main character: “Querry.” The word is spoken by Querry’s father as he wakes his son in the middle of the night during an attack on their camp. Here’s a little bit more:
My dad’s voice in the dark.
“Son. Come on. Time to get moving.”
His hand on my shoulder, shaking me from sleep.
“Querry. On your feet. Now.”
I opened my eyes to more darkness and my dad’s shadowy shape filling the tent. I couldn’t make out his face, but I could hear his quiet breath. There was no urgency in his voice, there never was, but I knew this was for real.
You’d think that with a single word, nothing would have changed, right? Wrong! I never changed the idea of using a single word of dialogue to open the book, and the lines that follow that word remained almost exactly the same from first draft to final version. But the word itself changed many times. In the first draft, the word was “Son.” In a later draft, the word was “Hey.” Before I’d fully established the characters, their speech patterns, and the way they related to each other, I even experimented with “Boy.” But in the end, I decided the main character’s name was the right choice.
A couple reasons. First, Querry is an amnesiac, so I wanted to open the novel abruptly, in a disorienting way, with the reader knowing no more about what’s going on than he does. But also, for reasons I can’t delve into without giving away major surprises, it’s important that the first word in the book is Querry’s name. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
Can I give two? My first would have to be from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” I love the rhythm of the language, and also how this line sets up so many questions: “What’s a hobbit? Why do they live in holes? What’s interesting or special about this particular hobbit?” I also love the opening line from Roger Zelazny’s sci-fi/fantasy novel Nine Princes in Amber: “It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.” I love the mystery (What’s “it”? Why is “it” starting to end?), and I also love how this line throws the reader right into the narrator’s experience. Zelazny’s narrator is an amnesiac too, and we’re immediately as confused as he is. Who knows--maybe that’s where I got the idea for the opening lines of my book!
SURVIVAL COLONY 9 is out September 23!!