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The Stories All Start The Same Way In 'The First Line'


I saw a magazine in the rack of City Lights bookstore in San Francisco that showed a single sheet in a typewriter with a sentence that began, the plan suddenly made sense. Eight stories followed all beginning with those words. "The First Line" is a literary quarterly that feature stories and poems submitted from around the world. But they all have to have the same first line concocted by the staff of the magazine - staff of two, I gather. "The First Line" appeared in 1999. David Labounty is the founder and publisher along with his wife Robin Labounty. He joins us from Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us Mr. Publisher.

DAVID LABOUNTY: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: And how did this start?

LABOUNTY: Well, about 20 years ago, we were thinking about doing a literary magazine because at the time there weren't too many journals out there for new writers. There weren't many literary journals at all during that time. And so we stumbled upon an idea that we had started with one of our friends from college where he had given me a first line to start a story. And then I would write the story. And then I would send it to him. And I'd give him a first line. And he would start a story. And he would send that back to me. And we did that. And so we decided that we'd open that up to the rest of the world.

SIMON: How many stories do you typically get?

LABOUNTY: We run between 300 and 450 submissions in issue.

SIMON: Oh, it's pretty good. To give people an example, one of your first stories begins, the plan suddenly made sense. The result of last evening's storm cascaded below with a roar. That's from Nancy Thorne who's a writer in Widby, Ontario. What makes a good first line do you think?

LABOUNTY: It's interesting. The first line is something that needs to grab you, something that makes you want to go on to the next line. It can be - a first line can be rather long and fill you with a lot of information. Or it can be very short and just snatch you right away. For us, over the years, we've realized that it's the second line because the first line we've been with for so long. We know the first line. It's - most of the time, we've had them for over a year. So it's the second line that actually becomes our first line. And that's the one that has to grab us.

SIMON: Oh. All right, so another one I wrote down, Todd Young - apparently, the pen name of a writer in New York. The plan suddenly made sense. He follows up with, no, not the one where I jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. That's a good second line, isn't it?

LABOUNTY: (Laughter) Exactly.

SIMON: What have some of your favorite first lines been over the years?

LABOUNTY: Oh, we've had so many. It's hard to pick. It's like when we're at a book festival, someone will ask us, you know, what's your favorite one? Which one should I buy? It's always like, you know, picking your favorite child. A long time ago, we had one that was, life would be so much easier if I were a cartoon character. That one really stuck out with me. And then one that we got very few submissions for - it was a very hard issue to put together, but it was one of my favorite first lines. When my brother Andrew went away to college, he left me his fishing pole, a well-read copy of "The Wind In The Willows" and a stack of Playboys.

SIMON: That's a great one. I love that. But I can see where it's difficult to...

LABOUNTY: Exactly. It was very hard to write to that one.

SIMON: What's the first line for the next contest?

LABOUNTY: It's a quote. So you have to use quotes. Its, I'm tired of trying to see the good in people.

SIMON: That's a good one. May I suggest one for future use?

LABOUNTY: You bet.

SIMON: OK. The rope broke in my hands.

LABOUNTY: The rope broke in my hands. I'm writing that down right now.


SIMON: That's good to know I could be of some use. Dave LaBounty of "The First Line." Thanks so much for being with us.

LABOUNTY: Thank you, sir.