Opening Lines – Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings* I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit? How can you not?

It might take a little while to get there, but I’ll tell you everything, and I’ll tell you the truth. As best I can. I used to lie, but when I tell you the story, you’ll understand why I had to lie. You’ll understand that I didn’t have a choice.

I just wanted to do my job.

from Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

* Technically not the opening, there’s a Prologue (or something, I don’t have the book on me) — it’s the start of Chapter 1. But I count that as the opening.

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EXCERPT: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

So in lieu of posting a review-ish post of Dead is Beautiful, I’m doing something better, namely, I’m shutting up. Instead, I’ve been given the first few pages of the first Charlie and Rose book — Dead is Better. Everything you really need to know about the series is here — the epigraphs, the humor, the tragedy, the mix of humor and tragedy, Charlie’s brutal honesty about himself, and Rose. I just re-read this post and had to fight the impulse to re-read the book. I just love this book.

Naturally, when corresponding with Perry this week about this post, I made sure to get the title wrong, because I’m a professional.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

––Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”

––Helen Keller

 

1.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

All I know is that I know. And I can’t stop knowing. There was no cinematic replay of my life, no white light, no luminous passage to a perpetual meadow populated by old friends and relatives––I didn’t float over my failing body as the life seeped out.

I couldn’t see a goddamn thing––my eyes were shut.

There was then––the team of EMTs working on me, one applying compressions to the disco beat of the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and a small young woman with long, curly hair squeezing the breathing bag attached to a plastic tube they’d shoved down my throat. Then a tall young man with short black hair loads me onto a gurney.

That was that.

Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised yellow and purple from their efforts.

One thing about this place—it’s come as you were.

 

2.

“We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

No Virgin Mary Blue sky. No combustible darkness.  Just a flash, a bang, and a fade-out that delivered me to this quiet place without midnight or noon, twilight or dawn.  This place, if it is a place—a beach without a sea, a desert without sand, an airless sky.

Did I mention the goddamn dog?

For the record, she wasn’t mine on the other side––which proves that error is built into the fabric of the universe—if that’s where we still are.

No ragged holes singe her gut, and she walks without a limp, but there’s a dirty rope around her neck that trails behind her too-thin body covered with long, reddish fur.  The first moment I saw her, I could tell––She’d been tethered long enough without water or food to die.

Well, she’s not hungry or thirsty now.

Is that peace?

 

3.

“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

In life I’d heard of dogs like her, cheap burglar alarms.  Solitary, lonely, they bark at passersby and garbage trucks from behind high fences in exchange for water and kibble when the people remember to feed and water them.

They bark out of fear.

And to remind themselves that they in fact exist.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t much different. A nobody.  A man of no importance.

On the other side, being a nothing had advantages. People barely saw me and that made me free.  I moved among them like a shade, a cipher. And when they did acknowledge whoever they thought I was, they were often revealing, entertaining––overconfident, saying too much about spouses and ex-spouses and email passwords, and what the neighbor’s son really did in the garage, and about not really being married, or the time they shoplifted—confessing, boasting.

Being nothing– that’s my gift

 

4.

When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

In case you wondered, yes. When you’re dead, you can attend your own funeral. It’s not required, but I decided to go––time is unknowable here––to try to find out what happened.  And I thought the dog might like a change of scenery–or any scenery.

I want to look at certain people’s faces, especially my own.

Late morning at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills––which should be named Travel Town 2.0. The final resting place of thousands of corpses sits next door to Travel Town, a collection of non-traveling train cars frequented by babysitters, little boys and blinking coyotes who venture out at noon, when the picnickers and homeless eat their food.

The ferocious September heat and smog smudges LA’s edges and boundaries––until it doesn’t seem that different from this place, except that the dog and I are temperature-controlled––perpetually lukewarm, courtesy of Who or What we do not know.

The living––palpable, whole, shiny and fragrant with sweat and irritation––nothing’s worse than LA traffic on a Friday afternoon––remind me of those silvery-mirage-pools that form on the surfaces of overheated streets and then evaporate when you get close. Although it was I who lacks presence, they seem insubstantial, like flames, the men in suffocating dark suits and ties, and the women–especially my four exes––lotioned and gleaming, tucked and tanned, manicured and lap-banded, and holding wads of Kleenex in their diamond-ringed left hands to signify their former closeness to and recent repudiation of the deceased, who lay by himself in a plain wooden box up front.

The dog, whose rope I hold in my right hand, urges me forward, and then waits patiently while I look.

Jesus. Why is the casket open? I look like shit. I must have Mark’s wife “the decorator” to thank for this grotesque violation. Why didn’t they shut the box as is customary, especially here in a Jewish place. What were they trying to prove? That despite being shot to death I was still in some sense, intact?

Was I ever really the poor fuck who lived behind that face?  The neck and chin have been painted with peach make-up, and the too-pink lip-glossed mouth forced into a grimace that was, I guess, supposed to indicate post-mortal composure.  It must have taken three guys at least to wedge my fat ass into the narrow box.  I’m large.

Or I was.

I feel strangely light on my feet now. Want to lose sixty pounds in a hurry?

Die.

Read the rest in Dead is Better by Jo Perry — and the rest of the series: Dead is Best; Dead is Good; and the focus of this tour, the wonderful Dead is Beautiful. .

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Towel Day ’19: Some of my favorite Adams lines . . .

(updated 5/25/19)
There’s a great temptation here for me to go crazy. I’ll refrain from that and just list some of his best lines . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
  • “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
    “You ask a glass of water.”
    (I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
  • He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
  • In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . .
  • “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
  • The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  • It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

(It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.)

  • “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?””Dull?” . . .”Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

  • Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
  • Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.”Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.””Er, how so?”

    Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

    “Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”

  • Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.”Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.”Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

Mostly Harmless

  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

  • If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.
  • Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

(I’ve often been tempted to get a tattoo of this)

The Last Chance to See

  • “So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly?” I asked.He looked at me as if I were stupid.”You die, of course. That’s what deadly means.”
  • I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
  • I have the instinctive reaction of a Western man when confronted with sublimely incomprehensible. I grab my camera and start to photograph it.
  • Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

And a couple of lines I’ve seen in assorted places, articles, books and whatnot

  • I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
  • A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
  • The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.

EXCERPT from Searching for Sylvia by Joanna Stephen-Ward: ‘Right, this is it then. . . The end.’

Ravenscroft was Tordorrach’s nearest neighbour. Hoping the owners, Matthew and Coral Fulham, would be more civil than Shamus had been Paul drove out to see them. After witnessing the dire poverty of Shamus and Mary he wore no tie, and a shirt that didn’t need cuff links. Their house was freshly painted and had solar panels, so he assumed they had survived the hard times. Given the state of the two homesteads he was perplexed that Noël had chosen to buy Tordorrach rather than Ravenscroft.

A woman came onto the veranda carrying a basket full of washing. His spirits flagged when he saw her expression.

He smiled. ‘Hello, I’m Paul Knight, a solicitor from – ’

‘Matt! Matt!’ she shouted. Her voice was panic-stricken.

Before he could attempt to reassure her, a man came round from the back of the house holding a spade. His hands were dirty and his face and arms were powdered with red dust.

‘It’s a solicitor – ’

Before Paul could apologise for interrupting his gardening Matthew threw down his spade and rushed into the house. Paul’s bemusement turned to fear when he came out holding a revolver.

He looked straight at Paul. ‘Right, this is it then,’ he said quietly. ‘The end.’ ‘First I’m going to shoot my wife. Then I’m going to shoot myself. Do you like animals?’

Paul was too stunned to do anything other than nod.

‘Good. Because we have two cows, three horses and some hens. I don’t want them to suffer. You can shoot them yourself or call a vet. Or give them to the neighbours.’

Paul dropped his briefcase and held out his hands. ‘Mr Fulham, why – ’

‘You ask me why? You know why. It’s because of your type – you greedy lawyers and bankers, that we’re losing the lot.’

‘I’m not here to get money – it’s – ’

Coral’s eyes shone with tears. ‘Why then? More threats from the banks?’

‘No. I’ve got good news – please will you listen?’

Matthew lowered the revolver. ‘What good news? You’re sure not here to give us money.’

‘In a way I am.’

Coral’s expression was dubious. ‘What?’

‘Tordorrach has been sold – ’

The hope that had wavered in Matthew’s eyes, dimmed. ‘Well that’s good for Shamus – can’t see that it’s good for us.’

‘How come he can sell that tip?’ Coral burst out bitterly.

‘I don’t know – your house is much better, but it’s still good news for you.’ The wind blew a cloud of dry earth in his face. ‘Can I come inside and explain?’

‘No. Tell us what the good news is,’ demanded Matthew.

‘I don’t think there is any good news,’ said Coral. ‘He’s stalling. He’s come to evict us and once he’s inside – ’

His eyes were gritty with dust, but worried that Matthew would raise his revolver again Paul got to the point. ‘The buyers of Tordorrach want to employ a manager. Shamus turned it down so they asked me to offer it to you – or another near neighbour.’

They looked incredulous.

Paul picked up his briefcase. ‘I’ve got all the papers in here. Are you interested in the proposal?’
Coral put down the washing basket and wiped away her tears. ‘Come inside. Would you like some tea?’ Her tone was more friendly, but they both looked wary.

Because of their hardship Paul was about to decline, but knew if they accepted Noël Carlyle’s offer they would no longer be poor. He picked up his briefcase. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He wished he could splash water on his eyes, but owing to the scarcity of water, he didn’t ask, just blinked.

The inside of the house showed no sign of poverty, which given their desperation, confused Paul. Even Shamus hadn’t been suicidal. On their way to the kitchen he saw a study with a flat screen computer that looked new, the furniture in the rooms he passed looked comfortable, the units in the kitchen were in good condition, everything was clean and tidy, and neither Coral or Matt’s clothing was threadbare, although it was faded.

Read the rest in Searching for Sylvia by Joanna Stephen-Ward .


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Nero Wolfe on Taxes

seems like a good day to post this…

Nero Wolfe Back CoversA man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason.

–Nero Wolfe
from And Be a Villain

EXCERPT from Crossline by Russ Colchamiro: There’s work to be done

An open-air man, Powell had been to cities. To Houston, and Denver, and San Francisco that one time for his cousin’s bachelor party. But there was something about the city ahead that made him shudder. It reminded him of his few trips to New York, that city that never sleeps. If you could make it there, the saying went, you could make it anywhere, and maybe even if that was true, Powell never understood why anyone would want to make it there, even if they could.

Powell had that rush he would get on the road to the launch pad. The pre-flight butterflies that caused his chest to tighten, his face to go flush, and the taste of adrenaline to coat his mouth, down to his teeth and gums. The difference between now and then was just so very small, but even if for just a few seconds, that intense queasiness would make him question in a shameful, shaky handed way if he knew what the hell he was doing, and consider that maybe he’d be better off hauling ass in the opposite direction and skipping out on the whole damn thing.

But then the intensity of the panic subsided—the urgency of the present snapping him back from his fears of a worst possible future, one that would require him to confront the demon at the gates. He steadied himself, because like his father told him: Nerves only mean you ain’t completely stupid. Get over it, boy. There’s work to be done. The clarity and confidence of his father’s voice resonated more than ever.

Read the rest in Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

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EXCERPT from Crossline by Russ Colchamiro: It was another ship

The warp engines were ready for the first of six return blasts it would take to get him back to Earth, when a blip came across the screen. Powell shifted toward the incoming message, but his short-range sensor interrupted him. Something in the Saturn rings. Video amplification revealed that among a cluster of particles was an odd-shaped fragment, with sharper, more reflective edges than he would expect. But he supposed that after debris crashed around over millions if not billions of years, who knew what was really out there? He looked again. Probably nothing of consequence. Just some lagging hallucination from the multiple warps.

As suspected. Just ice particles swirling around the planet. Billions of frozen blue ice particles floating in space that—

Powell focused his monitor on the third ring layer. Studying it more carefully, his sensors revealed that the particle cluster wasn’t in the Saturn ring, but among it. The fragment wasn’t random, a collection of dust, or some anomalous asteroid fragment.

It was another ship. Looking just like Crossline. And headed his way.

Read the rest in Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Lola's Blog Tours