Opening Lines with Mary Robinette Kowal

Opening lines do important work in storytelling. When you reach the end of a story, an opening line may read completely different than it did when you began, because the story has changed its meaning. An opening line may be a hook, a light in the darkness, a way forward.

I try to take a picture of the eerie.  (The Passenger, Emily Lundgren)

She came out of the peat like a sixpence in a barmbrack, her face shining like wet iron between the spade-edge and the turf, the bright rusty plait of her hair broken like a birth-cord around her neck. (The Creeping Influences, Sonya Taaffe)

He descended on the town like a saint sent from Dark Heaven six-guns shining like twin torches in his hands, down to the border where we had our battle on.  (Salamander Six-Guns, Martin Cahill)

It’s Midsummer’s Eve, and even this close to midnight there’s no darkness, only a long, translucent dusk that will eventually slip into dawn. (Hare’s Breath, Maria Haskins)

As part of our final issue ever (!), we solicited some authors who were there in the beginning. Mary Robinette Kowal was Shimmer‘s art director when the magazine started, and though she’s gone on to much greener pastures (her science fiction debut,The Calculating Stars, came out just last week!), she also published with Shimmer last year.

We invited Mary to be part of the final Shimmer and she suggested we turn part of her story over to you, the readers.

Comment on this post with a killer opening line to a story you’d like Mary to write.  Beth and I will go over all the entries, and pick a winner, which Mary will then write a story for.

Comments open until JULY 20. Beth and I will vote that weekend, and announce a winner on JULY 23.

And in November, you can read Mary’s story in the final issue of Shimmer!

Note: Many of you are submitting whole paragraphs and not a single opening line. We are not approving these. Thank you!

89 thoughts on “Opening Lines with Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. We set the town square on fire at midnight and disappeared into the nearest alley, trailing sparks like an overlong cloak.

  2. I had heard death and taxes were inevitable, but I never expected the same person to be collecting both.

  3. While Anne wasn’t required to acknowledge her indebtedness to the Mosquito Posse, their tiny joyful cries notwithstanding, or thank the transparent Guinness sisters, standing now like three glass vases against the fleur-de-lis wallpaper of the dining room, she felt it imperative to whisper something gracious in the ear of Grandma Foster, who’d been her gunslinger over the last perilous week in Carnalwood City.

  4. “If you burn this town,” she said, “I will spend all the days down through eternity exacting a long and perfect vengeance upon you, and you will come to know a wrath so terrible and pure your ancestors’ bones will tremble in the dusty ground that once was the land you held dear.”

  5. Transforming a human into a vividocument is easy, as all exquisitely repeatable tortures invented by the diplomatic corps are easy for everyone except the victim.

  6. She shivered when the underwater lightning below the ship revealed the silhouettes of the creatures.

  7. /Big black bugs bleed black blood/ the maid, who had long given up on her ill-fated acting aspirations, scoffed as she wiped at the thick, silver ooze that stuck between the tiles of the floor. /Of course even the bugs here would bleed beautifully./

  8. The stack of thrift store self-help books all told her to let go of her anger, but you don’t tell a drowning man to let go of his lifeline.

  9. I don’t need to dowse to know that magic falls off steeply here; it’s apparent in the bluff of red, rocky soil, the great iron-ore blanket cast off of a shattered dragon. 

  10. While not entirely unexpected, it was still a surprise for some to find a badger equipped with such staggering quantities of enriched uranium.

  11. On sober reflection, in the light of the last of days, it might have been better for all concerned had I followed the path MORE travelled.

  12. Lying there, the coppery scent filling her nose, she realized her blood smelled the same as the sheep’s.

  13. “Haints don’t bother me none,” she said, fighting the urge to dart her eyes toward the milk blue porch ceiling.

  14. Mucous drops of mercury slithered around the patient’s wound like silverfishes inside a withered tome.

  15. The thing that Freya didn’t tell Harlyn, the day the fog descended and she first came out as transient, was the first, last, and only thing she wrote in that year’s journal.

  16. Three minutes into recess, with that wild familiar blaze of devil-may-care “you’re not the boss of me” joy, the sugar rush of smuggled candy took hold.

  17. The names of four thousand, nine hundred and eleven stars were inscribed in the Royal Astronomical Catalogue’s weathered pages, but only one of them had ever learned to read.

  18. Rolling over, I thought the shape beside me was my duffel, fallen from the rack, but I could make out the line of a neck, an epauletted shoulder, the rise and fall of clicking chest medals under the thin sheet, and through a heady shock recalled I’d only paid for a single compartment.

  19. There had been nothing more important to my father than applying professional advice, and standard engineering practice advises the employment of a one-way drive in any application where disassembly is undesirable.

  20. The most exhausting part of time travel is coping with becoming an alien on my own planet.

  21. It wasn’t just that it was a centipede the size of a Great Dane; it was that it was a giant centipede, with a monocle and bowler hat, standing on her doorstep at 7 am waiting expectantly for an answer to “Excuse me, madam, but may I borrow your cross-quantum oscillator?”.

  22. “WE AIM TO MAKE YOUR STAY A COMFORTABLE ONE” the sign across from you reads, and you accept it with due consideration.

  23. A single tear slid down Yvonne’s stoic expression and fell upon her white-laced glove as she gently closed the wrinkled eyelids of the Marchioness, whom she had murdered for the fourth time this month.

  24. There was an utter lack of guiding light as she walked in the dark, and yet she wasn’t lost for the presence was ever by her side

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