Please welcome, Kathy Reichs, the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author, and inspiration for and producer of the hit FOX show BONES. Kathy was kind to talk to me about her forthcoming novel BONES OF THE LOST, but she also agreed to give us a master class in writing first lines!
First let me tell you why I’m excited about the release of her 16th Temperance Brennan novel.
BONES OF THE LOST ventures into the underground, terrifying world of international human trafficking as Tempe goes to Afghanistan.
BONES OF THE LOST begins when Charlotte police discover the body of a teenage girl along a desolate stretch of two-lane highway, Temperance Brennan fears the worst. The girl’s body shows signs of foul play. Inside her purse, police find the ID card of a prominent local businessman, John-Henry Story, who died in a horrific fire months earlier. Was the girl an illegal immigrant turning tricks? Was she murdered? The medical examiner has also asked Tempe to examine a bundle of Peruvian dog mummies confiscated by U.S. Customs. A Desert Storm veteran named Dominick Rockett stands accused of smuggling the mummies into the country. Could there be some connection between the trafficking of antiquities and the trafficking of humans? As the case deepens, Tempe must also grapple with personal turmoil. Her daughter Katy, grieving the death of her boyfriend in Afghanistan, impulsively enlists in the Army. Meanwhile, Katy’s father Pete is frustrated by Tempe’s reluctance to finalize their divorce. As pressure mounts from all corners, Tempe finds herself at the center of a conspiracy that extends all the way from North Carolina to South America to Afghanistan.
Mummies, human trafficking, I don’t need much convincing to read on.
Here’s what others are saying …
“This is a return to form for Reichs, who keeps the story moving at a brisk clip but never forgets that, ultimately, we’re here to see Dr. Brennan.” —BOOKLIST
“[The cases] give Reichs ample opportunity to provide detailed descriptions of forensic examinations, but it’s Brennan’s passionate and personal involvement that provides the excitement in this masterful tale.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
As amazing as the premise sounds, it’s the writing that keeps us gripped from the beginning. How does Kathy Reichs do it? That would take much longer than we have, but Kathy has agreed to talk about the secret to writing first lines.
In American Book Review’s 100 Best First Lines From Novels, it lists the following as the best first lines ever written since 1970.
At #3 overall, we have: “A screaming comes across the sky.” —Thomas Pynchon, GRAVITY’S RAINBOW (1973)
At #22, we have: “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” —Paul Auster, CITY OF GLASS(1985)
And at #26: “124 was spiteful.” —Toni Morrison, BELOVED (1987)
Want to read on? I do. And read on now to understand what separates a good first line from a great one. Here’s Kathy on writing first lines and their importance:
She said, “An opening line is like a handshake with a stranger. One way or another, the interaction makes an impression. A first line provides a chance to startle, to intrigue, to amuse – to impact a reader enough to keep turning pages.”
I wanted to see if Kathy practiced what she preached and dug up the first lines of her novels:
From DEJA DEAD: “I wasn’t thinking about the man who’d blown himself up. Earlier I had. Now I was putting him together.”
From FATAL VOYAGE: “I stared at the woman flying through the trees.”
From DEVIL BONES: “My name is Temperance Deassee Brennan. I’m five-five, feisty, forty-plus, Multidegreed. Overworked. Underpaid. Dying.”
From MONDAY MOURNING: “As the tune played inside my head, gunfire exploded in the cramped underground space around me.”
From DEADLY DECISIONS: “Her name was Emily Anne. She was nine years old, with black ringlets, long lashes, and caramel colored-skin.”
From BONES TO ASHES: “Babies die. People vanish. People die. Babies vanish.”
From BARE BONES: “As I was packaging what remained of the dead baby, the man I would kill was burning pavement north toward Charlotte.”
Okay, that actually took me eight nights of compulsive reading to copy down *eye twitches*.
I love all of them, but I think my favorite is from BARE BONES. In a single line I have so many unanswered questions. I HAD to read on! And, I had to ask Kathy which was her favorite first line.
She said her favorite opening is:
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA.
Why? I asked.
“Right off I smell the almonds and wonder where I am. Right off I want to know about this ill-fated love. Why didn’t it work? What happened that the memory lingers so long? That it’s triggered by stimulation of such a deep part of the brain?”
So, I think I get it. Questions. Great first lines inspire questions from the reader!
Well, spill the beans, crack the sternum and let us have the goods! Kathy Reichs will now tell us the first lines to BONES OF THE LOST and why she wrote them.
Here they are:
“Heart pounding, I crawled toward the brick angling down to form the edge of the recess. Craned out.”
BONES OF THE LOST opens with a prologue, a literary device I’ve not used before in a Temperance Brennan novel. The prologue scene actually occurs later in the story. I wanted to place my readers in the middle of the action, in a threatening situation about which they know nothing. I hoped this would spur their curiosity concerning events leading up to the encounter.
Thank you, Kathy Reichs! I think I’ll spend a lot more time on the first lines of my next book. Good luck with the release of BONES OF THE LOST!
Kathy Reichs, like her character Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist, formerly for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina and currently for the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale for the province of Quebec. A professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she is one of only ninety-nine forensic anthropologists ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, is past vice president of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and serves on the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada.
To learn more about Kathy, please visit her website.