The First Line

Tue 05/16/06 at 11:17 am

Much has been made of the importance of a novel’s first line. Even so, as I sit here typing this entry I can only remember three of them (except for “[o]nce upon a time,” and “[i]t was a dark and stormy night,” which don’t count). I remember: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I do better with “First Line” trivia games where the object is to guess the book from the provided opening sentence. Some of them are easy; e.g., “[i]n a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Others, I wonder how I ever forgot them in the first place, e.g., “Mother died today.”

I’ve given considerable thought to my first line, and I’m somewhat concerned it’s a bit obscure. At present, the first line of The First Voice reads:

“My other Patmos,” murmured Johanna as the plane broke through the clouds revealing the island of Manhattan and surrounding Burroughs.

As is clear from these blog entries, I’ve had CAR (“computer-aided research”) available to me from the start. I’m the first to tell you that but for Google, my trusty search engine, and others resources such as QuickVerse which allows me to perform word searches of several Bibles and untold secondary sources, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about much of the material that will be included. The question then becomes how best to communicate this information to my readers without detracting from the narrative.

At one point I envisioned having the published volume accompanied by a version on CD that would have hyperlinks instead of footnotes or endnotes. For instance, a reader otherwise unfamiliar with “Patmos” could learn, with a click of the mouse or a tap of the touchpad that Patmos is the northernmost island of the Dodecanese island group located on the eastern borderline of the Aegean Sea. Clicking on the provided “History” link, one would learn the following:

In 95 AD, St. John the Theologian – one of the twelve disciples of Jesus – was sent into exile on the island. St. John remained on the island for 18 months during which he lived in a cave below the hilltop temple of Diana. In this cave exists a fissure, or small hole in the rock wall, from which issued a collection of oracular messages that St. John transcribed as the Biblical chapter of Revelations. During his time in the sacred cave now known as the Holy Grotto of the Revelation, St. John also composed the Fourth Gospel.

Given the above information, coupled with the fact that a woman on a plane named Joh[n]anna equates the island of Manhattan with Patmos, well, hopefully, a reader might start speculating about the “true” identity of this mysterious woman and maybe other ideas about what the book might be about. I’m just saying.

next post: Hiatus
previous post: The First String Quartet (Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course)

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