What’s my line?

The logical successor to the Washington Post article on famous last lines in fiction is a piece on opening lines. Since Ron Charles hasn’t written that one yet, here are a few suggestions for the sequel on first lines that pull the reader into a work:

From A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window:

Her husband’s almost home. He’ll catch her this time.

From Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451:

It was a pleasure to burn.

From Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections:

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen.

If I might add to that body of work the opening lines from Mr. Mayhem, the first of the series of crime novels about a chronically underemployed former journalist with revenge in his soul:

Brinker stood beside the body with its red flannel shirt and black ski pants and two-tone duck boots and smiled. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

What’s your opening line?

   

Famous last words

Ron Charles has written an intriguing article for the Washington Post on famous last lines in fiction. Intriguing in that the lines summarize the emotional volume of the work. They leave you with a sense of satisfaction, a reward for reading to the end.

Charles leads with an example from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which the restless Huck foreshadows people as disparate as Jack Kerouac and Cole Porter (you remember 1934’s “Don’t Fence Me In”):

I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Haven’t we all. Which is why I’d like to add a few memorable lines to the list.

From Philip Kerr’s novel The Pale Criminal, in which former Berlin police officer Bernie Gunther takes on the ugly and ironic job of solving crime in Nazi Germany. In the final scene, Gunther watches workers rake and burn leaves in the Botanical Gardens, “the acrid gray smoke hanging in the air like the last breath of lost souls.”

But always there were more, and more still, so that the burning middens seemed never to grow any smaller, and as I stood and watched the glowing embers of the first, and breathed the hot gas of deciduous death, it seemed to me that I could taste the very end of things.

Anna Quindlen also writes about endings in Miller’s Valley—of the drowning of a community and its culture, the loss of the narrator’s family farm and her brother Tommy—but comes to a different conclusion:

I never go over that way, to the recreation area. Never have, in all these years, even when the kids wanted to water-ski or swim. I let them go with someone else. I don’t even drive by there. But every couple of years I have a dream. I dive down into green water and I use my arms to push myself far below the surface and when I open my eyes there are barn roofs and old fences and a chimney and a silo and sometimes I sense that Tommy’s there, too, and the corn can, and my father’s workbench, and a little tan vanity case floating slowly by. But I swim in the opposite direction, back toward the light, because I have to come up for air. I still need to breathe.

While it cannot compare with Twain or Quindlen or Kerr, a final line from the first in the CW McCoy series of crime novels, Peak Season, carries its own emotional punch. CW has run to Florida to escape her violent past. Here she shares birthday cake and the mission to protect her grandfather with friend and mentor Walter Bishop:

Taking a deep breath I said, “You know what I’d like?”

“Another cupcake?”

“What I came here for . . . peace and quiet.” I pecked him on the cheek. “No more drama. From now on, I’m selling real estate and taking care of Pap.”

He gave me a cracked smile. “We’ll see.”

Isn’t what why we read to the end of anything?

What’s your closer?

New crime series launches with ‘Mr. Mayhem’

A doctor wants to euthanize his terminal patients. A disgraced journalist wants a better job than flogging tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders in this sleepy town to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

So begins Mr. Mayhem, a new crime thriller from a mind the folks in my writers’ group have alternatively called clever and demented. The work is available as an ebook pre-order through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, with the print release set for Nov. 27.

Mr MayhemHere’s the story: For a man known only as Brinker, the trouble starts when he’s fired for reporting his publisher’s DUI. Reduced to doing PR for a funeral home and its trolley tour of murder sites, Brinker despairs of ever restoring his pride, or his bank account. Compared to journalism, PR is degradation, an excuse to lie for a living. His addiction to prescription medication only fuels the rage.

When his doctor asks for a hand in dispatching hopeless patients, Brinker hires a wildly successful assassin named Angel, who brings chaos and fame to a backwoods town in Pennsylvania. But as Angel’s demands soar with the body count, Brinker wonders whether he’ll become the latest addition to his own list.

I’d like to think that Mr. Mayhem turns the suspense genre on its head. I’m hoping that fans of Elmore Leonard and Gillian Flynn will enjoy the double- and triple-crosses that give the book its dark edge.

A note of caution to readers: Mr. Mayhem is wildly different from Peak Season, my first novel of suspense. That book is set in sunny Florida and chronicles the life and loves of former police officer and real estate agent CW McCoy. Mr. Mayhem is set in the snowy mountains of Pennsylvania and draws on my experience as a journalist with Dow Jones/Ottaway News.

The parallels between Brinker and me end there. But not the drama. The two of us are planning a sequel. I think we’ll set it in the world of advertising. No chance anyone in that industry ever lies.

‘Not just a gun and a badge’

“Police officers are human,” Training Officer Jeffrey Dunn tells members of the Sarasota Police Department’s Citizens Academy. “Some of them do stupid things sometimes.”

And some of them do good and brave things. Genevieve Judge, the department’s public information officer, wants to get both of those messages to the media and the public. She knows that a fast, honest response to a negative situation can build trust. And that publicizing the positive things officers do can help build understanding and goodwill.

“There are good police officers and there are bad police officers,” Judge says. “It’s how you handle the situation that people will remember. We can ignore it or we can stay in front of it. Even if we’re not proud of it, I’d rather people hear about it from us so they get the whole story.”

Media savvy
To that end, Judge, a veteran television reporter and videographer, launched the department into the world of social sharing when she came on board in 2013, creating a dialog with residents on the major networks. With the backing of Chief Bernadette DiPino, she routinely posts on Facebook, Twitter (@SarasotaPD), YouTube,  and Instagram.

Judge covers all major public events, does ride-alongs with officers called Tweet from the Beat and shoots video for initiatives like Click It or Ticket and Shop with a Cop, a program for children that runs around the holidays. She also fields questions and requests for arrest reports from journalists who also try to balance coverage, often pitting citizens against the police and putting the department on the defense.

Like the academy itself, the social media feed gives residents a behind-the-scenes look at the department and its personnel. It helps them balance the news they see and hear from other sources. “I want people to see it on our social networks before they see it anywhere else,” Judge says. “That way we own it and it comes from a trusted source.”

The publicity serves another purpose. “It shows our officers are not just a gun and a badge. They are human.”

Street smart
No one know that better than Jeff Dunn, who started with the Bradenton Police Department in 1992 and has worked on the K-9, SWAT and field training teams. In addition to organizing the citizen’s academy, he trains recruits and experienced officers in diversity, firearms, non-lethal weapons and law-enforcement policies and procedures.

“It’s not the most dangerous job but it’s the most rewarding. In police work, anything that goes wrong comes back to training. We make sure everything is correct and accurate and up to date.”

Firing-range practice is essential but training must encompass real-world situations. That’s why Dunn uses scenario-based training, creating events that are realistic, such as putting officers in situations that require them to use defensive tactics. “Not many police officers are attacked by paper targets.”

I’m sure there are days when Genevieve Judge feels the same way.

Next: defensive tactics.

Jeff Widmer is the author of The Spirit of Swiftwater and other works.

Jeff Dunn tours the SWAT ready room with members of the SPD Citizens Academy

Jeff Dunn tours the SWAT ready room with members of the SPD Citizens Academy