Posted On July 29, 2011 by Print This Post

Grabbing Your Reader with the First Line by New York Times Bestselling Author Carolyn Brown

A big southern welcome to New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown! I had the very good pleasure of sitting next to Carolyn at Sourcebooks’ author dinner at the RWA conference. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. She’s great fun and a super gal. She’s also extremely generous. Carolyn’s giving away a copy of her newest release RED’S HOT COWBOY to two commenters!

So help me give a great big holler out to Carolyn!

Good morning everyone at RU and thank you for inviting me to stop by today. I’m delighted to be here. In two days the second book in my Spikes & Spurs series, Red’s Hot Cowboy, will hit the bookshelves and I’m so excited about it. It’s the second book in the new Spikes & Spurs series that is now up to seven books and hopefully still growing since there are more cowboys whispering in my ear and telling me I have to write their stories.

It was featured at the Book Expo of America and David Finkle, drama critic, mentioned it in his article about the affair. He said that he “accepted a copy of Red’s Hot Cowboy because the first line is ‘The lights went out in Henrietta, Texas,’ and who knows what illicit or otherwise can happen then?”

When I read that I felt like I had arrived!

Many years ago I was in a bookstore and looked at all the covers on the shelves, like all readers do. Covers grab the eye first and foremost. Speaking of which, don’t you just love those red boots on the cover of Red’s Hot Cowboy?

Back to the bookstore…there was a Nora Robert’s book entitled Montana Sky that I hadn’t read so I slid it off the shelf, checked the back for the blurbs and it sounded like a pretty good book.

So I did what all readers do, I opened the book and read the first line: Being dead didn’t make Jack Mercy less of a son-of-a-bitch.

I was hooked!

And right there in that bookstore, I realized the importance of that first line which draws a reader into the book. I had to buy Nora’s book even if I didn’t have potatoes with my beans that week. I had to know why Jack was a son-of-a-bitch and if I agreed with Nora on the issue or if I was going to have to write her a long detailed letter on why he got such a bad rap. By the time I finished the book, I thought she could’ve added a word because he wasn’t just a son-of-a-bitch he was a SORRY son-of-a-bitch!

So when Mr. Finkle made that comment about the first line in Red’s Hot Cowboy, I could have danced a jig in a pig trough on the Oprah show. He might not agree with a word in Red’s Hot Cowboy but he liked my first line. I swoon even yet, just thinking about it!

The first book in the Spikes & Spurs series is Love Drunk Cowboy (which was on the NYT Bestseller list in ebooks and on the USA Today in paper and yes I’m bragging!).

I had the entire first chapter written before the first line came to me like a lightning bolt out of a clear sky: The Lanier gut was never wrong. And it wasn’t! Austin Lanier could feel it in her bones that something wasn’t right while she was sifting her grandmother’s ashes out over the Red River. Little did she know that her whole life was about to change.

The third book coming out in December, Darn Good Cowboy Christmas starts off with: It was just a white frame house at the end of a long lane. But it did not have wheels. Okay, that’s two sentences but hopefully the reader won’t shut the book before she realizes that second line supports the first one. All Liz Hanson ever asked for at Christmas was a house with no wheels, and later when she was old enough to date, she added a sexy cowboy to the list.

Let’s say you’ve never been interested in cowboy romance, but you were drawn to those sexy hunky men on the cover of my books, or maybe the red boots and you picked it up for a closer look. Would you read one on the basis of the opening line?

And now for another question: Would you read a mainstream book that started out with? Aunt Mabel should have never put Snookie on the prayer list down at the Pentecostal Church in Durant, Oklahoma.

Nora of course still wears the crown for the best first line with the comment about the deceased Jack Mercy. But others come to mind as I think about first lines today.

See if you recognize any of them:

  1. In the dark green shadows of the deep woods, an hour before moonrise, they met in secret.
  2. A chicken will never break your heart.
  3. If it had not been for my fiancée’s alcoholic cousin Mookie I feel quite sure that my daddy would still be a member in good standing at the Oconee Hills Country Club.
  4. It wasn’t by chance. There wasn’t any part of it that just happened by chance.
  5. “Watch out!”

Does that make you want to add five books to your TBR list? What is your very favorite first line in a book that you’ve read? I’ll be around all day and I’m really interested in your comments so come on in, get a cup of virtual coffee and some of those cute little cupcakes and let’s visit.

Don’t forget–leave a comment for a chance to win Carolyn’s newest release RED’S HOT COWBOY (U.S. and Canada only, please).

Stop back on Monday for C.J. Redwine’s monthly column on craft!

* * *

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, Carolyn Brown, has published more than fifty books. She has written single title historical, historical series, single title contemporary and contemporary series all for the library market and now writes best selling western romance with sexy cowboys and sassy heroines. She and her husband make their home in southern Oklahoma. They have three children and too many grandchildren to list! She attributes her eclectic family for her ideas. Check out her website at for reviews, new books or what’s happening next, or drop her an email at ccbrown66 @ She loves to hear from readers.

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45 Responses to “Grabbing Your Reader with the First Line by New York Times Bestselling Author Carolyn Brown”

  1. those red boots get me. Good advice too!

    Posted by Sarah Brabazon | July 29, 2011, 1:44 am
    • Thank you Sarah! I loved those boots and actually got to meet the person who inspired the idea in NYC at the RWA Conference this summer. My publisher brought her over to introduce her and tell me the story of seeing her boots and just knowing that’s what my heroines should be wearing on the covers! It was amazing!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 7:39 am
  2. Carolyn, thank you so much for joining us today!!

    I can’t wait to see everyone’s answers for your list of first lines.

    And congrats on your recent fabulous news! Can you share with our readers where you were at when you got the “you’re a New York Times bestseller” call???


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | July 29, 2011, 5:09 am
  3. Hi Carolyn and welcome to RU. Congrats on making the NYT list! So exciting.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 29, 2011, 6:54 am
  4. Good morning. It’s a delight to be here!
    Looks like it’s going to be another 100 degree plus day in Oklahoma (for the 42nd day in a row)! I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have cussed that rain back in June when we were driving through Nashville.
    That’s where the story of “where I got the call about NYT” started. It was raining so hard that I’d begun to think that we had better check on the price of gopher wood to build an ark. I swear Husband was driving under water part of the way through Tennessee. But finally we found an exit and a hotel and he was so tired he fell right asleep. The phone rang and thinking it was one of my kids telling me to steer the ark toward Oklahoma, I grabbed it up, raced to the bathroom, shut the door, put the potty lid down and sat down before I said, “hello!” It wasn’t one of the kids…it was Deb Werksman, my editor from Sourcebooks, telling me Love Drunk Cowboy was on the NYT list! Betcha I’m the only author who ever got that news sitting on a potty in a Nashville hotel! LOL
    What happened next?I did my hippo dance and woke Husband up.
    Any more questions, folks? I’ll be here all day and I’m glad to answer questions or comments. Y’all figured out where those first lines came from, yet?

    Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 6:27 am
  5. Morning Carolyn! Great to have you here!

    The chicken line is Cowboy Trouble by Joanne Kennedy….I feel like I know #4 too, but it isn’t coming to me!

    One of my favorite authors Kristan Higgins has this favorite line(s) – I’m a stalker. The good kind. from Fools Rush In.

    In one of my WIP’s I had “Countdown to launch, two minutes.” Received many nay-sayers on that line though…

    I love a great first line, thanks for making me think up a few! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 29, 2011, 7:08 am
    • Didn’t you just love Cowboy Trouble? That first line was every bit as good as Nora’s in Montana Sky. And for the record, I like your countdown line. It makes me wonder what was about to happen in two minutes and how it would affect the hero or heroines lives.

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 7:31 am
  6. PS….what’s the hippo dance? =)

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 29, 2011, 7:08 am
  7. Carolyn – thanks for coming by! Reading your post was like sitting int he fellowship hall of my hometown church and listening to all of the women talk and tell stories – my first foray into storytelling. I can’t wait to read your books!

    Favorite first line? Oh, I’m gonna have to think about that one. But, oddly enough, every manuscript I have written has started with the first line. The line pops in my head and the story unravels from there. How does it work for you – since you’re so tuned in to the significance of first lines.

    I’m going to canoodle on the first line question and maybe drop in with the answer later.


    Posted by Robin Covington | July 29, 2011, 7:13 am
    • Good morning Robin. Loved that you felt so much at home today. I remember those days, too, of sitting in church and listening to stories…mainly when I took my Granny to the quilting bee. She was blind and I was her leader and eyes…but her stitches on that quilt rivaled any of the others!
      I think a first line is an attention getter for sure. It draws the reader right into the book. Drop in anytime. I’ll be here all day!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 7:37 am
  8. Carolyn –

    First, I’m breaking the hell into that Sourcebooks dinner next year just so I can sit my fanny right down next to you! And all I have to say is that that Tennessee toilet lid could’ve been up and you could’ve been having a night like I did once at the MGM Grand in Vegas (food poisoning, people!).

    I do adore a great first line, one that can suck me in right there in the book store or on my iPhone :). However, I’m horrible at remembering them and I don’t have my stash of books with me this summer! And I’m going to have to get my hands on the book with the chicken line above.

    As a fellow southerner (note to readers, Texas is not the southwest. Truth be told, Texas is a country unto itself), I love funny, over the top stories and writing. However, I’ve been knocked for writing that way myself. That’s why I’ve been sad about the “romantic comedy is dead” banner so many folks have been toting around the past few years!

    And the red boots on the cover? Love ’em! I will definitely be adding your books to my wish list, Carolyn!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | July 29, 2011, 8:35 am
  9. Hi Carolyn,

    I love cowboys!! John Ford’s westerns are my favorites. Men of few words who get the job done. Favorite first lines, I have to go classics. Charles Dickens with It was the best of times… Herman Melville with Call me Ishmael.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 29, 2011, 9:07 am
    • Mary Jo: Good choices on those first lines. Glad to hear that you love cowboys! Hope you like Wil Marshall in Red’s Hot Cowboy…look at cover. Don’t it just make your swoon at the way he’s looking at Pearl?

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 9:21 am
  10. Oh, I LOVE this post! I love all the first lines you quoted, too. I must be psychic because I’m predicting that instead of doing revisions today, I’ll be digging through my keeper shelves making a note of all my favorite first lines!

    MONTANA SKY is a favorite of mine, and I’ll have to check out your books and Joanne Kennedy’s, too. The chicken line is a hoot!

    Carrie – FOOLS RUSH IN is one of my favorites of Kristan’s books. I forgot it had such a great opening line!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | July 29, 2011, 9:12 am
  11. Kelsey: Darlin’ you got that right about Texas being a country unto itself! Do you think a restaurant would be safe with two Texans whoopin’ it up? We could sure test its meddle if you want to break into the dinner. If it could stand up to both of us, then it could put its name in the Guinness Book for sure!
    If romantic comedy died, I wasn’t invited to the funeral or the wake. Someone send me the official funeral notice and I’ll do my damnedest to resurrect it!

    Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 9:17 am
  12. Thanks for this great post Carolyn! I’m laughing even at the comments. Nora is the undisputed first line queen IMHO. My favorite is from Birthright (also my favorite book), which is:

    “The Antietam Creek Project came to a rude halt when the blade of Billy Younger’s backhoe unearthed the first skull.”

    The story is about skeletons in the closet, finding out who you really are underneath the skin, whether or not a person’s origins matter, and it’s a reunion romance. PLUS, the heroine is an archaeologist. How perfect is that first line? Brilliance, I tell you.

    I wish I could come close to being that good. Sigh. One day…

    PS I LOVE the red cowboy boots. I’m a Dallas girl myself, home of all things Cowboy. Can’t wait to read it!

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | July 29, 2011, 9:34 am
    • Kat: Yes, ma’am, all things Cowboy!! Nora is my hero for first lines. She must have known in the beginning how important they are to draw a reader into the book. After all, after the cover (thank you for the comment on the red boots) and then the back cover copy what does a reader do next that really makes him/her put that book in the cart and buy it…you got it, they read the first page.
      NOTE: I said him/her because I do have some male readers. Names withheld to protect their masculinity!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 10:06 am
  13. Carolyn, I liked your first lines better than any of the ones you mentioned–well except maybe for Nora’s!
    Amelia Grey

    Posted by Amelia Grey | July 29, 2011, 10:32 am
    • Amelia! I’m so glad you stopped by to visit today and thank you for the compliments. If I’m anywhere close to Nora’s first lines in your opinion then I’ve done something right! For those of you who don’t know Amelia, she writes fantastic historical romance for Sourcebooks, and she’s so much fun!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 10:42 am
  14. Hi Carolyn! You’re absolutely right, everyone only gets one chance to make a good first impression, whether you’re meeting your in-laws or a new reader who’s never heard of you just picked up your book in the local bookstore. You have to make the opportunity count! I loved your examples, and I plan to look up a few of them! The Spikes and Spurs series sound terrific!

    My personal favorite first line (actually, two sentences) is by Jennifer Crusie in “Tell Me Lies”: “One hot August Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers.” Totally sets the scene. You know where she is and that the trouble has begun right…*now*. I saw that line, shut the book, and went straight to the cashier.

    Posted by Carla | July 29, 2011, 10:43 am
  15. I know people rave about the importance of the first line, and yes, a good first line will draw me in, but I’ve never, ever stopped reading a book because of its first line and I typically don’t remember first lines.

    Yes, I would read the book Snookie in Oklahoma and of the others listed, I’d say #2 and 3 are the most intriguing.

    Posted by PatriciaW | July 29, 2011, 11:36 am
    • Patricia: Thank you for stopping by and visiting today. And I’m glad you’d read that book about Snookie in Oklahoma because I will be writing it in about six months and a modified version of that line is what will start it!
      #2 belongs to Joanne Kennedy.
      #3 to Mary Kay Andrews.

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 11:43 am
  16. Just went back and read all the comments. Congrats on making the NYT list, Carolyn!

    Posted by PatriciaW | July 29, 2011, 11:37 am
  17. Hi Carolyn, love the cover, and I’m sure the book will live up to it. I also love the first line. First lines–good ones, that is–can be so great. I love the ones posted here.

    Posted by Anita Clenney | July 29, 2011, 1:04 pm
  18. Anita: Bless your heart for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by today. And thank you for your comments. To everyone who is here…Anita is the fabulous SB author of Highland Warrior and is doing her own blog tour this week.

    Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 1:52 pm
  19. Hi Carolyn!

    My fave first line is from Grace Metalious’ “Peyton Place”.

    …Indian summer is like a woman.

    I like #2 with the chicken reference. I’m partial to chickens.

    Reading your post makes me want to pull on my red Justin boots…the ones with the flames licking up the sides. 🙂

    Thanks so much for being with us today!

    Posted by jennifer tanner | July 29, 2011, 4:27 pm
    • Jennifer: Peyton Place is one of my all time favorite books and I haven’t read it in at least ten years. I must put that on my 2011 list! Thanks for the reminder. That chicken line belongs to Joanne Kennedy who also writes cowboy books. Oh, I’m jealous that you have fancy red boots with flames! Pearl better be careful or you’ll be dancing with Wil!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 29, 2011, 4:34 pm
  20. Carolyn–

    Thanks so much for chatting with us! I think you’ve revealed a few of the first lines from your blog–can you unveil the rest?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | July 30, 2011, 5:05 am
    • Tracey,
      1: Nora Roberts, Dance Upon The Air.
      2: Joanne Kennedy, Cowboy Trouble
      3: Mary Kay Andrews, Hissy Fit
      4: Susanna Kearsley,The Winter Sea
      5: Sherrilyn Kenyon, Born of Shadows

      And the line about Snookie is the first line of a woman’s fiction I am going to write later this year!

      Posted by Carolyn Brown | July 30, 2011, 6:37 am


    Congrats, ladies!

    Please send your mailing address to:
    tracey @ romanceuniversity . org

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | July 30, 2011, 5:07 am
  22. Carolyn, thanks for including the chicken line from Cowboy Trouble in you list! When I finally decided to sit down and write a novel, that as the very first line that popped in my head and I never changed it.
    For all those who love Carolyn’s first lines, she gave me a sneak peak at a new manuscript that has the best opening yet. Something about Wednesdays…:)

    Posted by Joanne Kennedy | July 30, 2011, 7:43 am

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