The First Line is a recurring column by J.B. Stevens. Mystery Tribune readers (you) get an inside look at what goes through the author’s mind as they craft their opening.
For the column, an author presents the initial sentence of their story. Then J.B. writes his impression of the passage. Next, the author discusses what their intent was with the line. To keep it interesting, J.B. writes his section before looking at the author’s description. Finally, you decide: Did the author achieve their goal?
Today we have “Too Late To Say Goodbye” by Mark Atley. This novel was released on March 7th, 2022 from 4 Horsemen Publications.
“Too Late To Say Goodbye” — the opening line:
DEA Agent Antonio “Tony” Mora crouches through the open door into the backseat of a tan 2004 Buick Regal belonging to a guy known as Stevie Gragg to complete a drug deal.
I’m getting some Don Winslow vibes. The full name “nickname” last name format isn’t always my favorite, but it works here. I like that there is forward momentum, action, I don’t love the overly specific car description as I cannot picture a 2004 Buick Regal, I’d personally prefer something a touch more generic.
This is a solid first line and I would definitely read more.
The author’s explanation:
Establish my main character doing something right off the bat. I want the reader to know who this story is about and that he’s in action. It’s something I’ve adopted for all of my first lines, which comes from my journalism/policing background.
World Building. I want to establish a world and a tone and it has to start with the very first line. I want you to feel like this is a lived-in world that exists. Things are happening on and off the page and you, the reader, are being tossed into these people’s lives.
Why Tony is meeting with this guy Stevie Gregg. He’s there to conduct a drug deal. It hints at background information. It also hints that this drug deal is different from other operations Tony’s conducted, which is true—not a spoiler—his partner ends up getting killed.
This line starts the story as close to the end as I could get and everything else makes sense. Later on in the novel, there’s a great flashback, but I can’t use it to start because it isn’t action. I want to start the story with action, with things happening, as close to the end as I can.
I feel like this line accomplishes all of that. Yes, it’s not flowery, it’s not weather, it’s not scene description—that comes in the next two short sentences. It’s a guy doing something, meeting with others, which at its heart is really the essence of all my stories.
Mark did a solid job with this one. He accomplished what he was going for.