First Lines is a series of blog articles posted on around the first of the month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. For these two special occasions I’ve collected novels and short reads in a range of genres including women’s literary fiction, LGBTQ+ stories, fairy tales, romantic fantasies, to paranormal and time travel, classics, psychological stories, dystopian, post apocalyptic, and space colonization. Does one of these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?
We didn’t believe it when we first heard it because you know how church folk can gossip.
There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.
Do You Want to Read More?
I have to say, I want to read many of these. Especially Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. It is one of my most memorable reads. I’ve put it on my list to re-read again—soon.
Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Lines posts. Please take a moment to share in the comments below— Which ones spoke to you? Did you buy it?
This short story starts with an absolutely fascinating “what if” question in the narrator’s first line.
“Falling into a black hole is always a violent death, but the pain levels vary.”
The narrator discusses the pain levels possible depending upon the size of the black hole and how fast you fall victim to spagettification. Spagettification is a word coined by Stephen Hawking as a joke, but now is an official term, she says. She tells us that in 2384, a witness saw a person sucked into a black hole. And gives us basic information about black holes, particularly entangled black holes.
Then the narrator tells us she “is essentially, a disembodied consciousness at the mercy of her new home, in an entangled set of black holes.”
The Story Develops
We learn our narrator was an astrobiologist searching for intelligent life outside of humanity with her co-worker/employees. One night she gets talked into taking a night off to a karaoke bar with her co-workers. After a few too many drinks, a singularly beautiful woman walks in and the astrobiologist is smitten. She slurs through a pickup line which the beauty says was “really, really bad.” Still, there aren’t many people to talk to, so they talk. Just as the astrobiologist believes she is going to be invited to the young woman’s room, she blacks out. When she wakes, she thinks the pain she feels is from a hangover.
I won’t tell you anymore about the story so as not to spoil your enjoyment should you listen to it. There’s nothing ground breaking about the plot. But I will tell you it kept my attention all the way through, even when “editor-me” noticed an anachronism or two.
Ruari McDonnell is a self-described “narcissist” who does not have a website. I found this photograph and a short bio on LinkedIn.
“I’m a writer with an absurdist sense of humor steeped in existential dread, but in the best way. My background in theater and film has resulted in an intimate understanding of production and engaging script development. While my parents ruined my dreams of being an astronaut, I’ve channeled my passion for STEM into my science communication career path and into the foundation of Bad Astra. I graduated DePaul University summa cum laude with a BA in English, so I am certifiably literate. I’m happy to chat about writing, content development, and baking. Let me tell your story.”
The Voice Talent
Jordan Scherer (she/her) has an engaging voice with a nice range of tones and inflections. It’s the type of voice talent that allows you to immerse yourself in the story.
On ACX Ms. Scherer describes herself as “just a queer engineer living the dream in Chicago and moonlighting as a voice actress.” (Her photo is also from LinkedIn.)
“Bad Astra is a science comedy YouTube series which makes astronomy, physics, more accessible for adults through comedy, simple explanations, and more costume changes than math.”
“As Astra, the host, I research interesting scientific topics, co-write scripts with my business partner, film and perform those scripts, and edit videos for a YouTube audience. I also interview scientists about their research, with a focus on promoting representation of women and BIPOC scientists.”
On ACX her credits include: Women of Resistance (Audiobook-Poetry), The Revolution Bell (In Production; Audiobook-Poetry), Falling Gracefully (Audiobook-Romance), Amelia Earhart and Her Life (Audiobook-Kids), The Dancer series (Audiobook-Fantasy), Jolly Jokes for Kids series, books 1-10 (Audiobook-Kids), Billy Bear Runs Away (Audiobook-Kids), The German Girl (Audiobook-Kids), Magic and Fantasy (Audiobook-Kids), BCC (Audiobook-Romance), and The Kitten Who Didn’t Know How to Meow (Audiobook-Kids).
I loved this story. The point of view character’s voice is authentic, conversational, and relatable. She wonders if one of her coworker’s “goal in life was to fulfill all the classic space nerd stereotypes.” She finds fault in the karaoke bar’s name while admitting she understands that the bar’s name is a play on words and she doesn’t like bars. Her idea of a good time is “reading essays on quantum mechanics or Sudoku.”
The author uses some great metaphors with strong story-themed words. Words like: “eyes like a solar prominence,” and a “cacophony of what sounded like a spacecraft being crushed by an intense gravitational field.”
The story made me laugh out loud several times. It’s a full-circle story that this listener found satisfying. If you like science fiction, appreciate some snark, and actual science in your fiction, you’ll like this story.
I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating. I love this story. It’s layered, has a few twists, and is a complete story. Could it be improved? Perhaps, but you don’t need perfection when the character, the plot, the narrator voice, and the scientific information all blend into an engaging story.
What image comes to mind when you think of the women’s suffrage movement in America? A woman in a long suffragette white dress? Is she Chinese? She was. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was a scholar, an activist for women, a champion for Chinese immigrants, and a leader in New York City’s Chinatown.
Mabel Lee was born on October 7, 1897 in Guangzhou (Canton City), Her father, Dr. Lee Tone, was a Baptist pastor and missionary. He moved to the United States when she was four years old to lead Chinatown’s Morningside Mission.
Lee stayed in China with her mother and grandmother. She studied Chinese with private tutors and learned English at a missionary school. She was a bright student. When she was nine years old, she won an academic scholarship called the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship. It was a scholarship program for Chinese students to be educated in the United States, funded by the Boxer Indemnity. Lee and her mother got a US visa and joined Lee’s father.
In 1905, Lee and her family moved to a tenement house at 53 Bayard Street in Chinatown. Lee attended Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn.
A Worldwide Movement
The women’s suffrage movement was worldwide. American leaders of the suffrage movement watched the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and how it led to women’s enfranchisement in China. The leaders in New York City invited Lee and her mother and a couple of other Chinese women to meet with them to explain what was happening in China. Lee educated the NYC Suffrage leaders about China and New York’s Chinese community.
Women in the Guangdong province of China won the vote in 1912.
Lee was sixteen years old when, on May 4, 1912, she rode a white horse and led a parade of about 10,000 suffrage supporters up New York City’s Fifth Avenue. According the New-York Tribune, Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, or NASA, followed her. Either Lee or Shaw carried a banner that read “NASA Catching Up with China.”
In 1912, Lee started at Barnard College. Barnard was an all-women’s school, founded because Columbia University refused to admit women to undergrad classes. Lee Majored in history and philosophy. She joined the debate club and the Chinese student’s association and wrote feminist essays for the Chinese Students’ Monthly.
That publication featured her essay, “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage” in which she said that suffrage for women was necessary to a successful democracy.
In 1915, the Women’s Political Union invited Lee to give a speech at a suffrage workshop. Her speech, “China’s Submerged Half,” argued, “The welfare of China and possibly its very existence as an independent nation, depend on rendering tardy justice to its womankind, for no nation can ever make real and lasting progress in civilization, unless its woman are following close to its men, if not actually abreast with them.”
Besides her activism for women’s rights, Lee spoke out about the limitations and discrimination Chinese students faced. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese immigrants from attaining citizenship and voting.
Continuing her Education
Lee graduated from Barnard College. She earned her master’s degree in educational administration at Columbia Teacher’s College.
In 1917, Columbia University’s graduate program accepted Lee. Columbia had admitted a few women to graduate programs since the 1880s. She was the vice president of the Columbia Chinese Club and associate editor of the Chinese Student’s Monthly.
Also in 1917, the state of New York gave women the right to vote. Of course, Chinese immigrants and many other women of color could not vote.
Lee became the first Chinese woman to graduate with a PhD in economics in 1921. She published her doctoral dissertation that year.
Passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote across the country. However, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect.
Unfortunately, highly educated women had difficulty finding jobs. Especially highly educated non-white women.
Lee wanted to go back to China ever since high school. She hoped to start a girls’ school there.
In 1923, she took a trip to China. Where ever she went and whatever she did, she planned to come back to the US. Because she was not an American citizen, because she was Chinese, she had to request permission to return to the US. Her Ellis Island immigration documents show that she had to have American citizens write letters to swear she was who she said she was. She also had to prove she had been a student. Cheekily, she sent the immigration office her 621 page dissertation.
Her father died in 1924. Lee took over his role as director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City’s Chinatown. She was not a minister. She managed the church with input from the board of deacons (all males) and under the direction of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
Honor and Advocacy
As director and in memory of her father, Lee raised funds to purchase the 5-story building at 21 Pell Street in Chinatown. In 1926, she bought the building.
It became a community center for Chinatown. They offered vocational and English classes, a health clinic, and a kindergarten where Lee taught.
She couldn’t secure the title for that building until 1954. She titled the building to the First Chinese Baptist Church, which became independent of the American Baptist Home Mission.
The church became the first self-supporting Chinese church in America, and still operates at the same address.
Lee never married. She devoted herself to the Chinese community and maintained her economic independence her entire life.
In 1943, when China became a member of the Allied Nations during World War II, the US repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). The quotas remained. The quotas allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants to become naturalized per year. Foreign born Chinese also had the right.
There’s no known documentation that Lee ever became a United States citizen or ever voted.
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee died in 1966 at 70.
In 2018, Representative Nydia Velazquez introduced a bill to the US Congress to honor Mabel Lee. That year, the post office at 6 Doyers Street in Chinatown was officially renamed the Mabel Lee Memorial Post Office.
The First Baptist Chinese Church has always remembered and celebrated Lee. They maintain what little documentation remains of all the contributions Mabel Lee made to their community. In 1921, they celebrated the centennial of her PhD graduation.
A Woman to Remember
It’s important for us women to remember Mabel Lee. She fought for our right to vote, even though she knew she couldn’t. Of course, she continued advocating for the Chinese. I don’t know how much of an influence she had on Congress. But she made a big impact on her community, on women’s right to vote, and on securing equal rights for immigrants.
Did you know about Mabel Lee before you read this?
Did you know the US didn’t allow Chinese immigrants to be citizens before 1943?
The repetition common in everyday lives, housework, and jobs can make us feel uncreative. Yet, humans have an inborn survival instinct to expect and solve problems. This makes each and everyone of us creative. We lose touch with our creativity when we “go through the motions.” But you can reconnect with your creativity. Here are twelve ways to spark your creativity.
1. Embrace the Mess
When you think your life is a mess (confession, that’s most the time for me) sit in the mess. Embrace the moment. Sifting through your things or thoughts can help you see things differently. Be open to a different way of thinking or a change in where you place things.
2. Reconnect to Your Body
Often when we’re stuck, we become physically stuck, too. Our body tenses. We take more shallow breaths. Reconnecting with our body will not only relax your body, but it relaxes your mind, too.
Take a breath in through your nose for the count of three. Exhale for a count of three. Repeat 5-10 times.
Tighten and relax muscle groups one at a time. For example, curl your toes. Hold the curl for the count of three, then relax them. Next, tighten your calf muscles for the count of three. Then relax your calves. Continue with your thighs, your buttocks, your stomach, and so on.
Connect with Feel
Feel the fabric of your clothes. Notice the smoothness or roughness. How do your fingertips feel? Compare that sensation to the feel of the surface upon which you are sitting or standing.
Notice the weight of your body, the temperature of the air.
Connect with Taste
Taste something sweet or something sour. Taste something new. What happens in your mouth, your stomach, your brain?
Connect with Scent
Sniff favorite scents. Try spices or fruits or perfumes. Does that smell remind you of something? How does it make you feel?
These exercises may feel awkward at first. That’s okay. It may take a while to reconnect with your body if you aren’t normally. Notice what’s happening. Where do you feel the awkwardness?
Remember, there’s no right or wrong in doing these exercises. As long as you connect with some or all of your body, you’re doing fine.
3. Stay Curious
Marvel at the world around you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, look it up. Follow the rabbit hole you find most fascinating. Ask more questions. Why does this one interest you? How could you use this in your daily life? How do you wish you could use it?
4. Change Your Perspective
One of the best ways to spark creativity in mundane moments is to change your perspective. Instead of seeing the task at hand as boring, try to approach it with a fresh perspective. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” or “How can I do this differently?” This shift in perspective can help you see things in a new light.
Stuck in traffic? Instead of getting frustrated, look at it as an opportunity. Pay attention to the people, buildings, and scenery around you. Perhaps you mix this with the color walk idea further down in this post. Or you look for absurdities.
Or take a different path, literally. If you always drive (or walk) home via the same route, take a different one. What do you see that is different? What do you want to see more of? Or not see? What would surprise you the most surprised?
5. Notice Color
Take a color walk (inside or out). Choose a color to notice. Even if you choose something that will be everywhere, notice the shades of green or blue on your walk. How many unique objects can you find that color — shoes, cars, houses, flowers, fences, scarves, etc. What would you think would never be that color? Can you find it? Focusing on color allows your subconscious to work on your problem. Sometimes, color sparks ideas that will excite you.
Repetition and mindless but necessary task can be boring. View those moments as opportunities to daydream. Let your mind wander. (Remember to stay safe while daydreaming!)
Allow your thoughts to meander. Let your subconscious make connections. Sometimes the break from “worrying” allows you to see a creative solution.
Or you could choose to “direct” your daydreams. Explore absurd or expensive or impossible solutions. Follow those ideas to the extreme. The creative solutions that pop into your head might surprise you.
7. Listen to Music
If you follow this blog, you know I listen to instrumental music as I work. Music is a powerful tool for sparking creativity. It can help you relax, focus, and get into the zone. Choose music that inspires you, energizes you, sets the mood, or otherwise gets your creative juices flowing.
If you are doing a repetitive task like folding laundry, put on some music that you can’t help but sing along. Or you can put on music and allow your mind to daydream about a scene to fit the music. Music can help make your mundane tasks more enjoyable and also spark your creativity.
8. Get up and Move
Take a walk outside. Your mother was right. You need fresh air and sunshine. Even once around the block will give you a break.
If the weather isn’t favorable, try a brisk walk around the house, on the treadmill, or up and down the stairs. Turn on your favorite dance music and move. Moving often is critical for maintaining good health.
The air, the weather, and the act of moving all act to lower your blood pressure and relax you. That may be all your creativity needs as a (maybe literal) jump start.
9. Create a Ritual
A ritual is a habitual observance or action(s) that is repeated. A ritual done every day, or every time you wish to be creative, helps signal your brain that this is the time to be creative. It elevates creativity as something important to you. After a time, you may find you don’t need the ritual any longer. Or you may choose to continue your ritual as a way of easing from your mundane world to your creative one.
Your ritual can be as simple as listening to the same music on a loop or lighting the same candle each time you sit down to create.
The following can be components of your ritual. Try to include the first three at a minimum. The rest you can use or not. Do what makes it feel like a powerful ritual to you.
Choose an Environment
What space will work best with your ritual? Your office? Garage? Kitchen? Studio? Be certain the space reflects the energy level you seek. Avoid distractions.
Set an Intention
How do you want to show up? What is the tone you’re trying to create? Example: For an energetic tone, you might choose to play music that makes you want to move. For wisdom or thoughtful tone, you might choose to burn a scented candle representing wisdom (sage or aged cedar or whatever represents wisdom to you).
Most of the day, we are only partly present. Doing dishes (and most other mundane tasks) our thoughts wander. Focus on your intent and your desired outcome of this ritual. Perhaps you chant something like, “I am open to new and creative ideas.”
We often take things for granted. Take this moment, this ritual time, to appreciate life, the world, others, and yourself.
Make space for thinking about why this ritual is important to you. What is it you aspire to? What about this makes you afraid? What does the success of this ritual look like to you at this moment?
Ritual is a way to connect to your aspirations. Who do you want to be? How do you want to serve others with this aspiration? What shift in yourself will help you do this?
Lift to Sacredness
Can you see this ritual as something sacred? Sacred doesn’t have to mean religious or holy. It means to consecrate or dedicate. It’s something that you are giving power.
Close in Gratitude
Give thanks for what the ritual gives you. Express gratitude for all the parts, for you showing up to do the ritual, to those in your life willing to make space for you, and to the world.
10. Sleep & Dream
Get more sleep. Before you go to sleep, ask your dream self to solve a problem or answer your question. When you wake, jot down everything and anything you remember from your dreams. Or write a paragraph about your problem or question immediately after rising, before you do anything else. Sometimes our subconscious works better when we aren’t thinking about the problem.
Have you used any of these methods to spark creativity? Please share a method that works for you.
11. Collaborate with Others
You’ve probably seen a post on social media where someone asks “the hive mind” a question. You can do that too. Ask for creative solutions to the problem you’re facing. Or if you are stuck on a project at work, reach out to a colleague and see if they can help you brainstorm some ideas. It might be a single conversation or many conversations.
Or you may choose to work on your project as a team. Working with others can help you come up with a solution that you might not have thought of on your own. Or again, it can trigger an idea of yours that you would not have thought of without the clue from someone else.
12. Embrace Imperfection
Perfectionism can kill creativity. Allow yourself to take risks and make mistakes. You never know when a mistake or a risk will free up your creativity.
Try setting a timer for ten minutes and allow yourself to create without judgment. Don’t worry about making mistakes or getting it perfect. Just create and see what comes out.
All It Takes is a Spark
You don’t have to try all these methods. But you don’t have to feel stuck or uncreative, either. Try one method at a time until you find what works for you.
Human nature gives some of us the itch to explore, to take risks, to go where no human has gone before. No wonder exploration of outer space appeals to many of us. It is infinite in the opportunities it presents. The hostile-to-humans environment also presents seemingly infinite problems. We lack technologies for long-term life-support and habitats we can launch into space. Yet scientists are hopeful they’ve found solutions that require minimal infrastructure, are economical, and are environmentally lower impact. Their solution may be the answer to improve sustainability of life on earth. What’s the answer? Microbes.
What Are Microbes?
Microbe is a short, colloquial term for microorganisms, commonly called germs. Of microscopic or ultramicroscopic size, it is an organism we can’t see with the naked eye. There are more microbes than we can count. Some make us sick. Others are vitally important for our health. Some need oxygen to survive. Others don’t. Production of some medications like insulin and antibiotics requires microbes. Some are used to extract certain metals in mines.
There are five major types of microbes: Bacteria, Viruses, Fungi, Archaea, and Protists.
Bacteria are one cell organisms. Some, not all bacteria, need oxygen to survive. Some prefer a warm environment. Others like it cold.
Most bacteria are helpful for humans. They live in or on our bodies and help us digest food or help fight germs. Making certain foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, and cheese) requires using bacteria.
Less than 1% of bacteria cause disease. Bacterial infections can cause tuberculosis, diarrhea, colds, tonsillitis, to name a few.
Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections and only bacterial infections.
Viruses are not true “living” organisms. They have no cells of their own. Viruses are one or more molecules in a protein shell and require genetic information from foreign cells in order to reproduce. They invade healthy cells and make us ill. Some give us a mild cold. Others cause serious disease like AIDS and COVID.
Medications do not fight viruses. The most effective way to protect ourselves against some viruses is by a vaccination that “trains” our body’s immune system to fight the virus.
Fungi can live almost anywhere. People have eaten fungi for centuries. Yeast, mold, and mushrooms are fungi. Some fungi occur naturally on the skin or in the body. Others can cause infections like athlete’s foot or infections of the lungs, mouth, or reproductive organs. Fungal infections can be life-threatening for people with a weak immune system (like those undergoing cancer treatments).
Archaea are so similar to bacteria that they were called bacteria for a long time. The major differences between archaea and bacteria is that archaea live in extreme environments and they don’t cause diseases. We have found them in boiling hot springs and geysers and in the Arctic and Antarctic ice.
Scientists don’t know for certain why Archaea don’t cause disease.
Protozoa, algae, and slime molds are examples of Protists.
Scientists have been studying ways microbes work on earth for years. Using microbes we already have on or in our bodies or are in the soil and air around us can help us recycle what we have and produce efficient and green energy.
A recent study looked at the role microbes play in waste processing, reclamation, food and medicine production, and “biomining.” Biomining is the process “germs” use to get silicon, iron, aluminum, water, oxygen, and hydrogen out of lunar and Martian rocks or soil. Some of these studies are in progress on earth and on the International Space Station. The hope is that microbes can turn Martian rocks and soil into farmable soil.
Researchers at NASA Ames hope to prove self-replicating, self-repairing Fungi make sustainable planetary habitats. This very short video explains.
Human waste contains a microbe called electricians. Scientists hope this microbe will generate electrical currents for future space exploration vehicles, planetary colonies, or even our own homes. This is infinitely renewable germ power.
Food & Medicine
Microbes are already being used in farming on Earth. They are called agricultural probiotics. Manufacturers use them to create plant stimulants, fertilizers, and soil remediation products used by farmers. Scientists want to know how microbes work in space so they can maximize the sustainability of long-term space flight and planet habitats.
Microbes can mine the nitrogen needed for food plant growth in space. Algae and certain bacteria can be a food source and can also support plant growth.
We have already been studying how manufacturing drugs in the microgravity of space can provide new compounds. During long-term space missions, like the one to Mars, many of the brought-from-Earth medications will expire during the flight or weaken. Researchers believe microbes can generate the medications astronauts will need. Scientists hope this research will identify new vaccines and medical treatments for disease, and even for aging.
The scientific search for self-sustainable systems to use during space exploration will have an impact here at home. NASA and others have studied microbes for about fifteen years. Their discoveries over the next twenty years may help save us from ourselves. Imagine a time in the not-so-distant future where we have no more pollution of the air, the land, and the sea.
The ways we use microbes may not be infinite, but they can definitely make our lifestyle more sustainable.
Does the idea of eating microbes make you queasy? Or can you see a pollution-free Earth and a terraformed Mars in our not-too-distant future?