Poaching is Puzzling

Daryl Wood Gerber, author of Poaching is Puzzling, a Cookbook Nook mystery, is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to share her thoughts on first lines of books and more.

Welcome, Daryl. I’ll turn the floor over to you –

Lately, I’ve started videotaping readings of first lines from books I’m either reading, have read, or are on my to-be-read pile, and I share them on Instagram. I did it as a lark, but it has been an eye-opening experience. It has made me pay attention to authors’ specific styles. Many authors begin their stories with weather, emotions, and past histories. Most of my opening lines begin with dialogue because I jump into a story, mid-scene, in conversation.

While focusing on the opening lines of other authors, I realize that I’ve often skimmed over the first few pages of books so I can dive into the story. Read fast. Move it along. As it so happens, that might not be the best thing to do, because so often in those first lines there are clues as to the future of the story.

Here are a few examples:

Sample from The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave (thriller)

Owen used to like to tease me about how I lose everything, about how, in my own way, I have raised losing things to an art form. Sunglasses, keys, mittens, baseball hats, stamps, cameras, cell phones, Coke bottles, pens, shoelaces.  Socks. Lightbulbs. Ice trays. He isn’t exactly wrong. I did used to have a tendency to misplace things. To get distracted. To forget.

Sample from Lost Luggage by Wendall Thomas (humorous mystery)

Travel is my business. Or least it was. After the last two weeks, no one may trust me with a drink order, much less their seat assignments, cabin preferences, or credit card numbers. Let’s face it, travel is about trust: the instant you zip up that rolling bag, you’re taking a leap of faith. You’re putting your life in the hands of strangers. Total complete lying son of a bitch strangers, in my case.

Sample opening from Poaching is Puzzling (cozy mystery)

Cruciverbalist: crossword puzzle designer

“What’s wrong?” I glanced at my aunt, the brightest woman I knew and the person who’d given me a new lease on life at the Cookbook Nook when my career at an advertising agency wasn’t putting a smile on my face.

“Nothing,” she murmured.

“Liar.” I couldn’t read tea leaves, but I could read her.


As you can see, each opening gives an insight into the story. Into the character. Into the upcoming problem.  But each one is completely different in tone. That’s the author’s prerogative. That’s what an editor/publisher looks for—an author’s voice and style.

Challenge yourself. Open any book on your shelf and read the first few lines. Do they grab you? Was that why you bought the book? Or did you scan the blurb on the back of the book and that’s what propelled you to buy it? Or did you just like the cover? Or are you a fan of the author? I think from now on I might start reading opening lines of books I intend to purchase to confirm that I want to take the journey with the protagonist (or protagonists).

Here’s an interesting side note: some people, I’ve been told, like to open the book to about page 69 or 70 and see if there is a “recap” of the story. I’ve never done this, but now I’m curious. Have you? Do you jump ahead to see if you’ll still be interested in finishing the book? Please tell me you never go to the end of the book and read the ending first. Yes, I’ve heard there are people who do this, too. Yipes!

But . . . back to the opening lines . . . I’m so excited that I’ve begun this videotaping project because it’s another way for me, as a writer, to learn what to do and what not to do. Will I now overthink all of my openings? Possibly. Will I wish I could rewrite all of them? No! Like an actor, it’s not good for an author to view her work after it’s been published—me, in particular, because I love to rewrite and edit. I will always find something to spruce up. A Type A like me person can be a bit of a perfectionist. Over the years, I’ve tried to temper this trait. I’ve allowed myself to make mistakes. I’ve laughed off terse letters from readers when they’ve (heaven forbid!) found a mistake. Okay, I haven’t laughed off every letter. 

And now, after this new first-lines venture, I worry that readers might send me critiques of my opening lines. They’re not so good. They stink. They’re trite. Ayieee!  Sleepless nights await me, I’m sure, but for now, I’m enjoying the journey of studying books with a whole new perspective on the writing process. An author can always learn.

Have you ever initiated a project that has kept you up at night?

Thank you for sharing this with us, Daryl, and good luck with Poaching is Puzzling, a Cookbook Nook mystery.

Readers can learn more about Daryl Wood Gerber by visiting the author’s pages:


The book is available online at the following retailers:

 Amazon – B&N – Kobo

About Daryl Wood Gerber: Agatha Award–winning and nationally bestselling author Daryl Wood Gerber is the author of the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, the Fairy Garden Mysteries, the French Bistro Mysteries, the Cheese Shop Mysteries (as Avery Aames), the Aspen Adams Novels of Suspense, and two other stand-alone suspense thrillers. Little known facts about Daryl are that she’s jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, has hitchhiked around Ireland by herself, and has appeared on an episode of Murder, She Wrote. She loves to read, cook, and golf, and has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!


About Dianne Ascroft

I'm a Canadian writer and author, living in Britain. My first novel, 'Hitler and Mars Bars' was released in March 2008. More information abo
This entry was posted in May 2023 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Poaching is Puzzling

  1. Dianne, thanks so much for hosting me on your wonderful blog. ~ Daryl

  2. Madeleine Gilbert Spangler says:

    Well, your first line look like it makes for an interesting read. I do not go by the first line, and I never skip ahead. I choose my books by favorite authors, sometimes the cover (I do not like animated looking covers as some are going to these days, but if it is by an author I like, I go ahead and buy it) and the summary given if it sounds like something I would like. I also love locale and choose by that sometimes. Too many books, too little time. Good blog and good luck on the series. I like your covers.

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