Some novel beginnings; sawfish sightings requested
A lead is the first sentence in a news article. It should be punchy, informative and pique the reader's desire to keep reading the story.
Leads in journalism are usually crafted within minutes due to deadline pressure. Novelists have a greater luxury in writing their first sentence of a book, and often come up with some real gems.
I've been thinking about leads of late, and drew a few pretty good ones together. Everybody has heard of Herman Melville's "Call me Ishmael" from Moby Dick; the ones I found are a lot more obscure. Unfortunately, some of the better first-sentence efforts are not quite appropriate for a family newspaper, but these are, for the most part, clean.
"I had a family errand to run, that's all, but I decided to take a pistol." Daniel Woodrell, "Give Us a Kiss."
"I didn't like him the minute I laid eyes on him." Bill Pronzini, "A Wasteland Of Strangers."
"Wishing to avoid any risk of a snub at the Hushed Hill Country Club, the first thing Emil Jadick shoved through the door was double-barreled and loaded." Daniel Woodrell, "Muscle for the Wing."
"When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man." Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark, "Firebreak."
"If God (or Whoever's in charge) had wanted Dr. Netta Bernstein to continue living, He (or She) wouldn't have made it so easy for me to kill her." Harlan Ellison, "Killing Bernstein."
"It was the kind of place where if you didn't spit on the floor at home you could go down there and do it." Jim Thompson, "The Tomcat that was Treetop Tall."
This one is more than a sentence, but still pretty good.
"The pretender to the Emperor's throne was a fat 37-year-old Chinaman called Artie Wu who always jogged along Malibu Beach right after dawn even in summer, when dawn came round as early as 4:42. It was while jogging along the beach just east of the Paradise Cove pier that he tripped over a dead pelican, fell, and met the man with six greyhounds." Ross Thomas, "Chinaman's Chance."
And the best of the best, as far as I'm concerned, comes from James Crumley's "The Last Good Kiss":
"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, Calif., drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."
Still some White lunch-book tickets left
Southwest Florida novelist Randy Wayne White will be on the Island Sunday, Nov. 16, for lunch and talk about his latest book, "An American Traveler."
The book is a collection of essays he wrote for "Outside" magazine over the years, telling of his travels and travails to the far corners of the world in pursuit of … well, pretty good times, it seems.
There are two stories of particular interest. White finally has included a fairly obscure essay about his attempt to come up with a cure for seasickness, a story in which he uses his friend and fellow Florida author James W. Hall as something of a guinea pig. The story is not at all for the squeamish, and is titled "The Big Queasy."
White's also included a story he has told several times about meeting the dean of Florida authors, former Siesta Key resident John D. MacDonald. Here's a bit of the tale of that first meeting.
"We ran our boat up onto the little beach of MacDonald's house and threw the anchor out into the backyard, an aggressive gesture that still makes me wince. As we approached the house, a handsome woman with copper-tinted hair peeked her head out the door. Then MacDonald was behind her, looking bigger, broader, than his photographs. His black-rimmed glasses added a no-nonsense effect that suggested this man knew how to deal with trespassers. He had every right to call the police, or order us off his property. We were salt caked, sun bleached, and scraggly. But he didn't. Instead, he laughed — an unusual Walter Brennan sort of cackle — when we told him why we were there and what we had come for. He said, ‘All that way in an 18-foot boat?' He shook our hands and pushed the door open. ‘Come on in.'
"When I left Siesta Key that day, I liked MacDonald a lot. He was friendly and funny and obviously very smart. But it wasn't until I began to read MacDonald's books that I understood why it was my crazy friends were willing to travel 100 miles in a small boat just to meet the man."
Randy Wayne White will be at Ooh La La! Bistro, 5406 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for the lunch are $50, and include a first-edition copy of "An American Traveler." Reservations are a must and may be made by calling 778-7978.
The event is sponsored by the restaurant, Circle Books of St. Armands Circle, and The Islander. A portion of the proceeds will go to Tingley Memorial Library in Bradenton Beach.
Schooner sailing offered
The "Daniel Webster Clements" is back in the area, offering sailing trips to all. The 72-foot gaff-rigged schooner has served as a floating classroom for up to 3,000 school children, learning about the marine environment and navigation.
"Big kids" can also join in the fun at either 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. daily for a two-hour sail at a cost of $25. The boat is docked at Regatta Point Marina in Palmetto, and the proceeds of the sailing expeditions are used to fund the trips for the school-age kids.
Further information is available at 587-9313, or at www.aquarianquest.org.
Seen a sawfish lately?
The gang at Mote Marine Laboratory is asking for our help in their sawfish research. The once-common fish with its saw-like snout was placed on the endangered species list by the National Marine Fisheries Service last April due to its declining population, and researchers are scrambling to get more data on what critters are left out there.
"The Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota has been studying the sawfish, Pristis pectinata, to address inadequacies in the current state of knowledge about sawfish and to assist in the development of effective conservation strategies," according to Mote scientists.
"One component of the project is to compile a database of sawfish captures and sightings. If you catch or encounter a sawfish while fishing, diving or boating, the researchers at Mote would like to know about it. Report as much information as is available such as date and time, location, habitat type, tidal stage, water quality, method of capture or encounter, and size of the sawfish. Any photos that are available of the sawfish are also appreciated."
You can reach the sawfish experts by e-mail through firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.mote.org/~colins/Sawfish/Index.htm, or call 800-691-6683.
Sawfish are one of those species that is a mix of different things.
Although it looks like a shark, it is more closely related to rays.
Although it usually lives in estuaries, where saltwater and freshwater mix, it can also survive quite handily in pure saltwater or freshwater.
The saw, by the way, is usually about one-quarter of its body length, and is used to slash through school of fish. Once the sawfish has done its Cuisinart imitation, it then calmly goes back through what remains from his shredding and has lunch.
Sawfish can grow to 18 feet in length.