Writing With The Stars - Vote For The First Paragraph and Last Line

Best First Paragraph and Last Line 

Earlier this month, readers got a chance to meet the 10 contestants and their mentors in the Kensington/RT Writing With the Stars contest. Now it’s time to get to the good stuff — the start of competition. Voting is now open!

For round one we’re focusing on the first thing you see when you start a book — the opening paragraph. Each of the contestants has sent us her opener, the text of which was tweaked with help from the mentors. (You’ll see the mentors’ comments below each entry.)

But that’s not all you’ll read in this round of competition! Because every good book should leave you totally satisfied and wanting more from the author, we’ve also got the last line of each manuscript.

So please read all of the entries, and then vote for your favorite.

If you’re having trouble deciding which entries you like best, we’ve got comments from this month’s celebrity judge, Sarah Wendell, to help you along the way. (Incidentally, after round one, Sarah’s most intrigued by Maria Zannini’s historical romance, Mistress of the Stone.)

ROUND ONE'S JUDGE: Sarah Wendell

Sarah Wendell is co-author of the book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, and co-founder of SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, a romance fiction blog. The site specializes in reviewing romance novels, pondering the history and future of the genre and bemoaning the enormous prevalence of bodacious pectorals adorning male cover models.

Wendell has spoken at the RT Booklovers Convention and Romance Writers of America’s national conference. Her writing has appeared in Narrative magazine, Tango magazine, NPR.com and in the SmartPop book Grey’s Anatomy 101: Seattle Grace, Unauthorized. She has appeared on The Today Show, the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Steven and Chris Show, NPR’s All Things Considered and on too many books.


Maeve Greyson
Gilbertsville, KY


Eternity’s Mark (Paranormal)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Still no word from the infernal woman. She must be oblivious to her worth. Taggart fisted his hands atop the desk, glaring at the calendar. How long had it been? How many letters had she ignored? Precious time was running out. With her continued silence, she’d forced his hand. He would demand her attention.

LAST LINE: “We’ve an eternity to watch over one another. Now stop talking and kiss me, woman.”

Mentor Rebecca Zanetti: The first paragraph intrigued me right off the bat. The heroine had been ignoring messages from the hero, he was irritated and making a plan to deal with her. In my opinion, the first line should reflect this interesting conflict. I suggested Maeve read first sentences from her favorite books. Maeve edited a bit and moved words around and I love the final result.

Sarah’s comments: This guy is a real man of action, fisting his hands on a calendar and writing letter after letter. Man up and ride out, dude. Whoever the infernal woman is, and please, let us all agree to stop using the word “infernal," she’s already got him … behind a desk. So little action! Also, the last line — she’s still “woman.” He didn’t even bother to learn her name?

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What do you think of this entry's first paragraph and last line? Include the book's title in the subject line.

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You can find this contestant online at MaeveGreyson.com and MaeveGreyson.Blogspot.com. You can find her mentor, Rebecca Zanetti, at her website, www.rebeccazanetti.com


Lisa Kessler
San Diego, CA

Moonlight (Paranormal)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: “I’ll have an Intimidator with extra bacon and two baskets of Cajun fries.” I handed my menu to the waitress who raised a judgmental brow.

“That’s an awful lot of food for a tiny thing like you.” 

I’m actually 23, but without my driver’s license to prove it, a truant officer would probably haul me right back to high school. “Yeah, well I’ve got a big appetite so … ” I watched the waitress glance over to the ladies room and back. I rolled my eyes.

LAST LINE: Adam got into bed beside me, pausing to kiss each tiny cheek of our twin babies and whispered, “Welcome to the Pack.”

Mentor Bianca D’Arc: Opening with dialogue is a great way to start with a bang. I’m immediately intrigued and want to know more about this character who’s standing up for herself to a judgmental waitress. The last line makes me say “aww.” It’s romantic and touching.

Sarah’s comments: What does her age have to do with her size? It’s not like she’s being carded for alcohol consumption. That line about the heroine’s actual age is so jarring and interrupts the dialogue that otherwise would have been fun and interesting. But the last line is a double-whammy of cliché: happy endings made extra more happy with babies, two babies, and a reference to the “Pack.” Damn.

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You can find this contestant online at Myspace.com/Lisas_Lair or Blogs.Myspace.com/Lisas_Lair. You can find her mentor, Bianca D'Arc, at her website, www.biancadarc.com


Alannah Lynne
Greenville, NC

Last Call (Contemporary)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Gavin McLeod turned into the gravel parking lot for the Blackout Bar and Grill, whipped his Lexus SUV into an empty parking space and slammed the shifter into park. The vehicle was still rocking from the abrupt stop when he shoved the door open, and stepped out into the crisp evening air.

LAST LINE: With Sunny in his life, Gavin’s world would never be dark again.

Mentor HelenKay DimonAlannah worked on word choice and did a great job of revising to convey the wanted tone. She started with action and a sense of place, so that needed little editing. The final paragraph was a matter of trimming to avoid repetition and emphasize the romance; her line sums up her hero’s journey well.

Sarah’s comments: He’s a pompous-car driving jerkbag with questionable parking lot driving skills and a potential temper problem. Glad no one was walking out to their car when he roared in. In other words, I have no sympathy for this guy and think he’s a tool. The last line is far too cute and saccharine.

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You can find this contestant online at AlannahLynne.com or AlannahLynne.Blogspot.com. You can find her mentor, HelenKay Dimon, at her website, www.helenkaydimon.com.


Mari Manning
Inverness, IL

Daddy’s Girl (Contemporary)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: “We no longer require your services, Mr. Hawkins.” Sierra O’Neill hated this part of her job. Hated that her father always left the dirty work to her. Damn him! But what could she do? What could they do? Golden Star Hotels could barely stay afloat, let alone retain employees who couldn’t be trusted. “And before you start running your mouth off about our plans to build on this island, remember that you signed a confidentiality agreement.” She laid her doeskin briefcase on the hood of the Beamer and flipped open the gold latches, drawing out a thick contract.

LAST LINE: When Sierra smiled wickedly, Daniel’s amusement twinkled in his eyes, “Ah, sugar, you are truly one in a million.”

Mentor Joan Swan: Mari did a beautiful job revising her first paragraph adding characterization, motivation, conflict, tension and intrigue by introducing story questions. I suggested the last line contain poignancy without being sappy and a high-concept appeal that relates to the novel’s themes.

Sarah’s commentsIf this opening is supposed to reveal her frustration at her professional and personal position and her alarm at the financial precariousness of her family company, I am seeing that, but I do not understand the feelings of conflict at firing someone who, if they can’t be trusted, had that firing coming. Then she progresses to threats to the fired employee “running his mouth off”? She goes from irritable victim to ballsy threat-slinging executive in one paragraph.

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You can find this contestant online at MariManning.com. You can find her mentor, Joan Swan, at her website, www.joanswan.com. 


KC Klein
Phoenix, AZ

Dark Future (Paranormal)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Fingers tremble as I hold pen to paper. I grasp one hand with the other, needing strength from both to record the words. The pen slips, paper tears. Did Hitler or Stalin have as much trepidation as they signed the death warrants for thousands? I wonder if when the number reaches a million will the horror increase or level off? What about five billion? Then I remember the intense blue of ConRad’s gaze, hooded in sorrow. I begin again.

LAST LINE: This was the beginning, and now with ConRad by my side, I could save the future.

Mentor Diane Whiteside: Originally, your first paragraph/last sentence didn’t let readers glimpse the hero or the conflict between the hero and heroine. By placing our hero side by side with the heroine in the last line, with no hint of how he got there — ooh, very sneaky! I like.

Sarah’s comments: Things I generally do not want to read about in romance or encounter in the first paragraph of a novel: No. 1, Hitler; No. 2, Stalin; No. 3, names with absurd capitalizations. Like ConRad. All I can think of is, “rad, dude. That’s rad.”

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You can find this contestant online at KCKleinbooks.com. You can find her mentor, Diane Whiteside at her website, www.dianewhiteside.com.  


Dale Mayer
B.C., Canada

Tuesday’s Child (Romantic Suspense)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Samantha Blair struggled against phantom restraints. Oh no, not again. This wasn’t her room or her bed, and it sure as hell wasn’t her body. Tears welled and trickled slowly from eyes not her own. Then the pain started. Still she couldn’t move. She could only endure. Terror clawed at her soul while dying nerves screamed. The attack became a frenzy of stabs and slices, snatching all thought away. Her body jerked and arched in a macabre dance. Black spots blurred her vision, and still the slaughter continued. Sam screamed. The terror was hers, but the cracked broken voice was not.

LAST LINE: Their future wouldn’t be the traditional two-story house and white-picket-fence life, but it would be full of joy and happiness, because they’d be together.

Mentor Cynthia Eden: I suggested that Dale punch up the intensity of her first line so that it would match the rest of her opening paragraph. Also, Dale revised to the ending so it’s perfect for her characters.

Sarah’s comments: The intro is chilling and viscerally written. I like the contrast of the pain she’s experiencing from a position that’s not familiar — she’s not in her own body but she’s feeling what’s happening. But the last line is a clunky pile of cliché and doesn’t do justice to the opening.

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What do you think of this entry's first paragraph and last line? Include the book's title in the subject line.

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You can find this contestant online at DaleMayer.com. You can find her mentor, Cynthia Eden, at her website, www.cynthiaeden.com.


Diana Quincy
Ashburn, VA

Seducing Charlotte (Historical)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Sweet angels in heaven. Where did she learn to do that? Arthur Stanhope, Marquess of Camryn, lost his train of thought as Maria Fitzharding’s expert ministrations had an immediate impact on him. Oblivious to the evening chill, he fell back against the coarse bark of the tree and surrendered to the swirling white-hot bursts of pleasure. His hands blindly sought the coiffed strands of the woman kneeling before him, adeptly going about her task.

LAST LINE: “Let’s go for a ride, my love,” he murmured, watching her face soften with pleasure, “a long and glorious ride.”

Mentor Mary Wine: Diana tightened up the action in the opening section. It’s clear the hero is a bit of a playboy and I want to know how this man gets caught by cupid’s arrow. The last line of the book needed only a nudge to give it that final, glowing radiance that every reader loves.

Sarah’s commentsI liked the first two sentences, but after those two, there were words that were awkward and somewhat clichéd. I disliked his white-hot blowjob being described as “her task.” Task like she's doing laundry, or task like it was assigned to her? That doesn’t make me think much of him, or her.

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You can find this contestant online at DianaQuincy.Blogspot.com. You can find her mentor, Mary Wine, at her website, www.marywine.com.


Madeline Smyth
Buffalo, NY

Aliya Arabesque (Contemporary)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: The sandstorm swept across the desert of Saudi Arabia, leaving nothing but fury in its wake. Blinded by the flying sand, Aliya Roberts could see no more than the figure of an Arab standing over her. His white headdress concealed his face, and his white robes flapped in the wind. Was he a mirage in her delirious mind? Was he a whisper within the howling wind? She reached for him, finding the leather of a riding boot. God hadn’t abandoned her this day in An Nafud desert, or as her late Arab mother had called it, Allah’s garden. He had done so, though, on another day halfway across the world, shattering her heart.

LAST LINE: “No longer are you Ms. Aliya Roberts of New York, but now Aliya of Arabia, the only wife of the sheikh of the al-Aziz, today, tomorrow and forevermore.” His words swept across the desert, burning themselves into the sand. “It is written by Allah.”

Mentor Emma Lang: Madeline was able to immerse the readers immediately in the desert, to feel the desperation in our heroine and wonder about the mystery man. The last line leaves a golden sparkle to the ultimate happily ever after.

Sarah’s Comments: In the middle of a sandstorm, she’s reflecting what her mother called the desert? Does it matter that her mother was Arab? How can she tell if his robes and headdress are white, if she’s blinded by flying sand? Also, there’s far too much cliché — whisper in the wind? Really?

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You can find this contestant online at MadelineSmyth.Blogspot.com. You can find her mentor, Emma Lang, aka Beth Williamson, at her website, www.bethwilliamson.com.


Meredith Simmons
Wilson, NC

Indentured Hearts (Historical)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: “I’ll not have him.” The words pierced the silent room like poisonous spears. Lady Cassandra Spathe straightened her shoulders, elevated her chin, and turned to face her father as he stood by the door. Had her words found their target? She readied another volley. “The man’s a loathsome slug.”

LAST LINE: She was a new woman in a new country and she was free to be who she wanted to be — his life, his love, his forever.


Mentor Bronwen Evans: I suggested that Meredith decide if her opening would be stronger starting with dialogue or narrative. She revised to start with strong dialogue, which tells the reader a lot about Cassandra’s personality and position in life. For the last line of the novel, I got Meredith to focus on the aahh moment and she did a great job revising!

Sarah’s comments: There’s spears, there’s elevating, there’s targets and there’s volleys. I get it. Things are flying through the air. Too many metaphors and images. I’m now curious which words will continue the airborne theme — lobbing? Cannoning? And I’ve stopped paying attention to the text.

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You can find this contestant online at MeredithSimmons.com. You can find her mentor, Bronwen Evans, at her website, www.bronwenevans.com.


Maria Zannini
Terrell, TX

Mistress of the Stone (Historical Paranormal)

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Luísa Tavares had a list of sins the length of the Antilles, but there was no time to repent for them now. She spat out the tang in her throat then shimmied down the mainmast of the Coral, her tight leather britches and sharp cutlass a mockery to all that was decent in a woman. Time was running out for the captain of the Coral. And with it, his luck.

LAST LINE: Mayhap, his chance had come.


Mentor Terri Brisbin: I liked the opening paragraph, but suggested re-ordering the sentences to keep it more active and vibrant. Maria agreed and I think this is much stronger now. The last line remains as it was — which I really like! It’s a great cliffhanging moment when you read the last page.  

Sarah’s comments: A woman who spits out the tang in her throat? Wow! What was she doing up that mast that left a tang in her throat? And what’s a tang? That said, this is the entry with the least amount of clichéd concepts, recycled language and familiar plot development. Whatever she was doing up that mast, I’m curious to see what happens when she lands on deck. Ahhh, yes. “Mayhap,” another word you only see in romances, and should see less of.

Vote Now >>

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You can find this contestant online at MariaZannini.Blogspot.com. You can find her mentor, Terri Brisbin, at her website, www.terribrisbin.com.

Voting for the first round is now closed. Round two, which features the best hero and heroine, will begin on November 8th and continue through November 28th.

Thank you

Submitted by KC Klein (not verified) on October 13, 2010 - 4:56pm.

Thanks for your vote. It really is hard to showcase your work in one paragraph. I think everyone did a great job. A lot of work went into these challenges (I know I did with mine)

Mistress of Stone

Submitted by roxhill on October 12, 2010 - 5:29pm.

My number two choice. I was a little thrown off by the fact that leather britches and a cutless defined all that was not decent in a woman, or mocked decency or something.

Tuesday's Child

Submitted by roxhill on October 12, 2010 - 5:26pm.

Wow,the first paragraph was chilling. But I hated the last sentence. Too cliche.


Submitted by roxhill on October 12, 2010 - 5:21pm.

The age thing really threw me off. It was so jarring that I thought I'd finished the paragraph and was reading a bio on the author or something. Even if she's 48 she'll still be a tiny thing. I wonder how did her mentor miss that it was that glaring. Too bad, because I was predisposed to like this book by the synopsis at the beginning of the contest.