Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite First Lines by Pat Browning

Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, her professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when she was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.

Her globetrotting in the 1970s led her into the travel business, first as a travel agent, then as a correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.

Pat's first mystery, Full Circle, was set in a fictional version of Hanford, and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as Absinthe of Malice by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books:

Welcome to my snowy mountaintop, Pat,  on this 6th day of our holiday virtual tour. Grab a cuppa chai tea to warm yourself before you tell us what attracts you to books.

The first question I have is always: What is this book about? You can’t depend on cover blurbs to tell you. Often they’re so much gush. I’m not impressed when some famous author says the book in question is the best book ever written. How do I know the famous author even read it?

For me, the easiest way to find out what a book’s about is to check online at If a book has been published it will be listed there with some kind of story line or summary. Yet even when I know what a book’s about, I like to hold it in my hand. I like to riffle through the pages to get a feeling for writing style, characters, dialogue.

I always open a book to the first page. A funny first line gets my attention. Other than that I can’t really say why the first few lines pull me into a book or turn me off, but here are some opening lines that I love, for whatever reason.

My favorite first line of all time:

“He loved to watch fat women dance.” -- From Goodnight, Irene by Jan Burke:

Some others I like:

"I was a nice Jewish boy who had gone astray." -- Tropic of Murder by Lev Raphael.

"My mind was on Steinbeck; my foot was on a hand." --Till the End of Tom by Gillian Roberts.

"Afterwards, Sarah could never be quite sure whether it was the moonlight or that soft, furtive sound that had awakened her." -- Death in  Kashmir by M.M. Kaye.

"Through the slit in the closed drapes, a thin bar of afternoon sunlight fell across the soldier's chest, highlighting the small, dark bullet hole." – Some Welcome Home by Sharon Wildwind.

”My back’s broken,” I said. “I’m too old to sit in a cotton field in the middle of the night.” Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning.

Not a complete list, but it’s a start. Writers take note: The first line is the hardest but it may sell your book.

Metaphor for Murder is my work in progress. Log line: Small town reporter Penny Mackenzie tracks an offbeat Christmas story and finds herself in the middle of a murder and the mysterious desecration of an old Chinese cemetery. Stay tuned …

Praise for Absinthe of Malice: “Browning's obvious knowledge of the small town newspaper business is a perfect background for the savvy Penny Mackenzie, who by the end of the book has not only solved the mystery of several deaths and disappearances, righted an ancient wrong or two, but also has her personal life set on a most interesting track.” – Donna Fletcher Crow, author of The Shadow of Reality, Book 1 of The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, and A Midsummer Eve's Nightmare, Book 2 in the series.

ABSINTHE OF MALICE can be ordered through any bookstore or online from and Barnes & Noble.
Barnes and Noble, print and Nook
Amazon, print and Kindle


  1. Pat, I loved reading these first lines. I agree they're critical in grabbing a reader's attention. And I loved the first line of ABSINTHE OF MALICE. (Love the title, too.)

  2. More tea, Pat? It's great to have you visiting here on the mountain. Looks like you'll be here until the snowplow comes through.

  3. Thanks for the reminder, Pat. The beginning is the door the reader either opens or passed by. Elizabeth Bowen said, "Bring all your intelligence to bear on your beginning," and I agree 100 percent.

  4. These are great first lines. I agree that a great first line can sell a book. I preview books on Amazon through the look inside feature, and if a book has a great first line, I'll click buy.

  5. Wonderful collection of first lines, Pat. (by the way, Call me Ishmael.) As one who has read and enjoyed ABSINTHE OF MALICE, I am pleased to recommend it highly.

  6. I'm shivering! Haven't been around snow in a long time--but your mountain top, Jean must be beautiful. Your first line from Absinthe of Malice is in indeed wonderful.


  7. It is beautiful, Madeline (if you don't have to go out in it and track it up). :)

  8. Great first lines, and you're absolutely right. A first line will definitely grab my attention. Good post!

  9. The first page is SO important. As is the last!

    Great post, Pat...hubby still has my Kindle, btw, which means I can't continue reading Absinthe of Malice. It also means Santa is getting hubby a Kindle of his own for Christmas. Enough of this sharing silliness!

  10. Anne, I keep looking at that $79 price for Kindle Fire. Otherwise, I'll read on the screen here until Cox starts charging for Internet use. Just read an article about that -- always something to take the joy out of life. Some servers are apparently thinking of charging in 2012.

  11. Marja, Madeline, Jackie -- Thanks for dropping by! Appreciate your comments so much!

  12. John,

    "Call me Ishmael" is one of my all-time favorites. A real show stopper -- and just read it aloud. It sounds as good as it looks. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Kelly,

    Hello to an Alaskan! (I checked your blog.) I have relatives in Anchorage and Juneau. If you ever wander through the Anchorage airport, my book ABSINTHE OF MALICE is stocked at Mosquito Books there.

    Nice to meet you, and thanks for stopping by! And stay warm. Heard from a nephew in Juneau Thanksgiving Day and he said it was snowing up a storm -- having trouble keeping the runways clear at Juneau airport.

    Best to you,

    Pat Browning

  14. Tim,

    I like the idea that the beginning is a door and the reader either opens it or passes it by.
    Thanks for your comment!

    All the best with your new book,