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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

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  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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Wenches Statistics

  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

    Awards Won:

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    • RWA Top 10 Favorite

    • RT Lifetime Achievement

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    • Golden Leaf

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    • Historical Novels Review Editors Choice

    • AAR Best Romance

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« The Where of the Story | Main | The Son Also Rises »


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My favorite opening is that of Harry Harrison's 'The Stainless Steel Rat', which I suppose you could look at as a romance, if you squinted really really hard, but is usually thought of as Sci-Fi.

It goes (any errors mine, rather than in the original):

'When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It has been a money-maker--but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expession and heavy foot that they all have--and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he utter a syllable.

"James Boliver DiGriz I arrest you on the charge--"

I was waiting for the word 'charge'. I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop's head. He squashed very nicely thank you. The cloud of plater dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a little annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.

"...On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery--"'

Etc. etc. :)


...Oh and Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/), has been teasing us that the first line of his novella 'Trunk and Disorderly' -- upcoming in Asimov's magazine in Jan 2007 apparently -- is:

'"I want you to know, darling, that I'm leaving you for another sex robot -- and she's twice the man you'll ever be," Laura explained as she flounced over to the front door, wafting an alluring aroma of mineral oil behind her ...'

Nina P

(Please forgive previous post. Finger flub.)

Hi Susan/Miranda.

This is so fun! Here are a few of my favorites. (And yes, I agree, readers buy on the first page. I sometimes buy on the first paragraph alone.)

Since you’ve already mentioned Mary Jo’s THE BARTERED BRIDE. Here are a few of my other favorites.

Anita Diamant THE RED TENT
"We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust"

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes HAWKSONG
"I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp well-know stench that surrounded me."

“What the devil is going on here?”
It was the battle cry of an angry husband; Rave would have recognized it anywhere. He sighed. Apparently there was going to be an untidy emotional scene of the sort he most loathed. Releasing the delightful lady in his arms, he turned to face the man who had just stormed into the drawing room.

Personally, I prefer authors that either smack me hard in the face with instant conflict or jam their quills deep into my heart. But, that’s just me.

-- the littlest wenchling


What a fun topic. I could put this here, or under Susansarah's last article about chocolate.

This is from FLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale (as if you didn't know) "He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate."

Openers don't get much better than that, do they?


While I like to get some inkling of the characters and plot within the first, say, ten pages or so, I confess that I much, much prefer a subtle, scene-setting unfolding at the beginning of a book than the instant plunge into a maelstrom of frenetic and unexplained action that seems to be required these days. I really hate that, and I hope the fashion for it soon runs its course. I suspect (and hope) that in a few years, it will be as passé a device as the arrogant heroes of the 1980s.

I would NEVER decide to buy a book from scanning the first page alone: a couple of pages at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end is my 'tasting' formula. Cover 'art' I ignore completely. If I didn't, I should never have read a romance at all, since I loathe about 80% of the cover designs, and have to avert my eyes whenever I see the (*&^%$ things. Fortunately, books are for reading, not framing and hanging on the wall, so the kitschy covers can be ignored.

Sherrie Holmes

Great topic, Susan/Miranda! Here's a favorite opener of mine:

"It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another." _The Gift_ by Julie Garwood.



A couple of my favorites:

THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS by Dorothy Dunnett "On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt..."

And there was a short story by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) that starts out something like "He believed that the whole world was against him, and danged if he wasn't right."

(Incidentally, Will Scott was marrying his stepmother's younger sister.)


I love the topic, Susan/Miranda. In the interest of variety, I selected some of my favorites from among authors not quoted by others.

Deborah Smith, Sweet Hush
"I'm the fifth Hush McGillen named after the Sweet Hush apple, but the only one who has thrown a rotten Sweet Hush at the First Lady of these United States. In my own defense, I have to tell you the First Lady threw a rotten Sweet Hush at me too."

Nora Roberts, Hot Ice
"He was running for his life. And it wasn't the first time. As he raced by Tiffany's elegant windows, he hoped it wouldn't be his last."

Eloisa James, Much Ado about You
"I am happy to announce that the rocking horses have been delivered, Your Grace. I have placed them in the nursery for your inspection. As yet, there is no sign of the children."

Jill Barnett, Dreaming
"She believed in dreams, but the evening was fast becoming a nightmare."

Robin C. Greene

One of the first lines that still sticks with me to this day is Roberta Gellis's Fires of Winter.

"His mother was the Castle Whore."



There is a Harlequin Regency that begins something like "The Duke was stuck in the upper branches of the tree, trying not to cry."

(The Duke is only five years old.)


The Challenge, by Edith Layton:
"It was a peculiar bordello. The English gentleman was in a position to know."

This is my husband's favorite opening line to any book. He read it over my shoulder and remains intrigued to this day.

I love MJ Davidson's openers. Here's the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, "When I'd been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job." The fact that she goes on to get a job selling shoes at Macy's is just hilarious.


Selina said: 'Here's the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, "When I'd been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job." '

How very different we all are! You see, that's an opening line that would make me reluctant even to check other pages, so strongly does it repel me. Humour is an area in which there are vast individual differences, and I am sure that some of the things that I find amusing leave others blank-faced and bemused.


As to actual opening lines, I like something a good deal more subtle than is favoured by the present fashion, and I like to read at least a page of scene-setting build-up before being flung into the action.

Here is the opening line of Donna Leon's 'A noble radiance' (1999):

'There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dried grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites'.

Dull? No, to me, utterly intriguing and atmospheric. Leon establishes the place, the landscape, the atmosphere, the history, for two pages. On page three, the body that the reader is, by then, expecting to be found in that field, is discovered. By that point, we have been fully drawn into the setting, fully involved in the suspense and tension. It is like a long, slow, zoom shot, focusing ever closer on the place where the ploughshare lifts the first bone.

To me, this is far, far more compelling that being flung into the middle of a conversation between people whose names I do not yet know, or worse, the middle of some violent action between characters who are strangers to me, in the first line or two.

Call me eccentric.


I used to love long, luxurious openings to books too. Though I lamented their passing, I have to admit I'm partial to the barn burners now.

I find I now like books that start with a bang. Not an actual one. I read a few that did,and though they got my attention, they made me start giggling.

But, Oh my lamentable memory! I can't come up with many great ones right now.

Still, the great Terry Paratchett almost never goes wrong (that is,once he stopped explaining the great Turtle, which he always did at the beginning of his early books)
Just picked one up at random, and it's hard to beat, isn't it?

"The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth."



Great topic. I am one of those who reads a first page in order to decide whether or not I'll like a book. I'm partial to a certain writing style. (long sentences,as I mentioned in a previous post) -- and something of the feeling of Jane Austen.
Some favorites are the following:

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defense I must say that it was an engrossing book,.....
Laurie King "The Beekeeper's Apprentice".

When two gentleman are closely related by blood, they do not usually address each other with formality. In this case, however, the gentleman in question were first cousins once removed, the younger had come from nowhere to inherit a title and fortune that the older had assumed would be his, and their relationship had been formally announced moments after they had come within a sword slice of killing one another.
"The Rake" Mary Jo Putney.

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, know to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot", or "That Claudius", or "Claudius the Stammerer" or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius", am now about to write this strange history of my life.....
"I, Claudius" Robert Graves.

Moments before the stagecoach overturned, Judith Law was deeply immersed in a daydream htat had effectively obliterated the unpleasant nature of the present reality.
Slightly Wicked Mary Balogh

There is also the first page of "Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is wonderful, but longer than I care to type right now.
I think it a certain mildly humorous, somewhat distanced voice that I feel drawn to..


Patricia Rice

The Cinderellas were having way too much fun while the Ugly Stepsisters were away at the ball, crushing their feet into unfitting slippers and stumbling over spike heels.

Great topic but I'm too tired to dig through my book stacks to find favorite beginning lines. I adore a great opening line, but I have to agree that it's not always suitable for all books. The line needs to reflect the type of book it is, and if it's a deeply reflective book or a book about setting or character, the line should reflect that. A punchy, humorous line ought to show that the book will be humorous, not angsty or reflective.

But my eyes are crossed with exhaustion, so I could be rambling in my sleep.


Tigress, you ARE eccentric, but I love you anyway. Here is one that perennially delights me. If you need it identified, fie upon you!

THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!'


I pick up books for on a bunch of different reasons. Sometimes it is an author that I always buy no matter what, sometimes it is the blurb on the back and sometimes it is the first page or so. Here are some of my favourite first lines:

JEWELS OF THE SUN by Nora Roberts: "Obviously, without question, she'd lost her mind. Being a psychologist, she ought to know..."

A SECRET LOVE by Stephanie Laurens: Disaster stared her in the face. Again..."

ENCHANTED by Elizabeth Lowell: ""Which will it be," Ariane whispered to herself, "a wedding or a wake?"..."

SILK AND SHADOWS by Mary Jo Putney: "He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge..."

These are just a few of the many I could add.


Of course I can identify it, Tal! I haven't read it for years. Maybe I ought to re-read it as something to take my mind off the here and now.


Tigress, couldn't you tell that was a plural "you"? OF COURSE I knew that you personally would recognize it!

And given your feelings about how the ancient gods should be treated in modern fiction, I think you'd appreciate "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" all over again.


"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."

IMO, LOLITA is the greatest novel ever written


I am also fond of the Virginia Henley book that starts --

"It was the most beautiful cock she has ever seen."

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