Lisa Maxwell1 Comment

First Line Friday: Rebecca Petruck

Lisa Maxwell1 Comment

Welcome Back to First Line Friday!

Each Friday, I invite a guest author to share the opening line from his or her upcoming release and a favorite book. 

This week, my guest is Rebecca Petruck, author of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL.

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids' Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair's Hollywood dubbed it a "book we'd like to see made into a film." STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at www.rebeccapetruck.com.

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids' Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair's Hollywood dubbed it a "book we'd like to see made into a film." STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at www.rebeccapetruck.com.


Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: he’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half-brother who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop. Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: he’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half-brother who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.

Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

What are the opening lines of your book?

Diggy Lawson stood in the barn and promised himself again that he would not name this new calf. After three years competing steers at the Minnesota State Fair, he knew what to expect. Nothing could describe the long, final walk to the packer’s truck, knowing that in only a few days his steer would be served at Hartley’s Steak House.

He was an experienced cattleman now. No names, no tears. An eighth-grader shouldn’t cry.

Were these lines set from the first draft? And if not, how many times do you think you've changed them? 

Surprisingly, the text itself is essentially the same as in earlier drafts, but the order of its inclusion wasn’t settled until the final draft. Earlier versions began with this:

Diggy inspected his morning’s work one more time. The stall was tidy, wood shavings evenly raked over the ground, water trough scrubbed shiny. The steer he had chosen would settle in to his new home fast and happily.

Why do you think this opening is perfect for your novel?

Especially compared to the previous opening when Diggy inspects the steer’s stall, the final version is far more compelling because it establishes the stakes immediately. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I think readers can guess what Diggy will face in the end.

Give us your favorite opening line(s) from a favorite book, and tell us why you love them:

“Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother.

He had, in truth, been losing her for a very long time.”

From The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

From A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

I love these openings because they establish tone brilliantly with so few words. For me, tone is one of the more difficult story elements to get right consistently. I’m a logical-organized sort of person so planning a plot is something that comes more easily for me than tone and the internal life of the characters. (“Easily” being a relative term to the act of writing and otherwise bleeding on the page.)

Also, though I’ve read these novels several times, I now have to give both another read because these lines have hooked me all over again.

Don't forget to check out STEERING TOWARD NORMAL. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter at @RebeccaPetruck.