Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Zingers 5: Even More First Lines with Grab

It's been awhile since the last installment of Zingers and since everyone has been beating down the doors to my email inquiring just when the next one's scheduled to arrive--yeah, right--I thought today would be a good day to revive the series.

The rules? There's only one: The first line, or few lines, must grab the reader by the throat and make him need to read more. And one more thing. This edition of Zingers is exclusively comprised of short stories--an art form that is disappearing, but very much worth seeking out.

Eric tingled as if he had touched a faulty light switch or had stepped on a snake. His skin felt cold. He shuddered.

The opening line from David Morrell's "The Typewriter" has everything. It is vivid, exciting and extremely intriguing. It sets-up the story perfectly, and more importantly, demands the reader's forward movement into the story.

Just before dawn, I wake up and listen to the hushed sounds from the room next to mine. When I hear these particular sounds at this particular time on a cancer floor in a hospital--three or four rushed whispering voices; faint squeaks of gurney wheels; and the elevator doors opening down the hall, eight floors down to the basement and the morgue--I know what's happened.

The opening paragraph from "Riff" by Ed Gorman is a study in contrast with the "The Typewriter". It relies less on surprise--short action-oriented sentences that create unease--and more on an atmospheric forbidding and melancholy fear. It creates a shadow that creeps across the page and the reader and urges the story forward.

Boiling through the helicopters open side hatches, the slipstream carried that particular stench of a dying city: burning wood, burning oil, burning flesh.

James H. Cobb's story "Point of Decision" is representative of the best that military fiction has to offer--it is dark, pessimistic, fluid, intriguing, and scary. And the opening sentence captures the mood and momentum I look for in thrillers.

"The Typewriter" was originally published in 1983 in Gallery of Horror, edited by Charles L. Grant. It can currently be found in David Morrell's excellent collection Dark Evening.

"Riff" was originally published in Postscripts, Spring 2004. It is currently available in Ed's collection Different Kinds of Dead and Other Stories. Different Kinds of Dead is a collection every serious reader should not only have, but study on a regular basis. The stories range from mystery, to Western, to horror, and they all have the commonality of a terse, dark, and melancholy working class voice. And they are also very entertaining.

"Point of Decision" was published in Martin H. Greenberg's anthology First to Fight in 1999, and is currently out-of-print.

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