First Lines

Some of my stories start this way:

Frank Waller, aka Dad, dressed for painting, ca. 1953.

My grandfather thinks stop signs cause wrecks.

That’s what he told Mama when they put up those signs at FM 20. If you just go on across, you’ll get out of the way, but if you have to stop, you can’t build up enough speed and somebody’ll come along and hit you for sure. Mama didn’t argue. She’s a firm believer in safe driving, but she says when you marry into the Coburn family, you learn to choose your battles. In the meantime, you’re polite. Of course, with Dad driving, stopping isn’t an option anyway. He hasn’t had a car with brakes since 1925.

~ from “Stop Signs,” First Place in the North Texas Professional Writers’ Association Fiction Contest


MURDER ON WHEELS, Austin Mystery Writers (Wildside, 2015)

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight. 

~ from “Hell on Wheels,” MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside)






“Sign on building” by Lynn Kelly Author licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0

When the stranger stepped through the door, everyone in the store looked up. Old men playing dominoes at the Formica-topped table beside the front window. Farmers sitting in metal lawn chairs, their boot soles propped against the cold pot-belly stove, cussing Khrushchev and the Russians. Teen-aged girls wearing shorts and white blouses, pink hairnets protecting their pin curls, looking at the makeup shelf.

They checked out the worn jeans, the frayed collar on the plaid shirt, the scuffed boots. The beat-up old black suitcase he carried. The black hair close-clipped but with a lock falling across his forehead. The scar on his cheekbone. The eyes like pale blue ice.

~ from “A Nice Set of Wheels,” from MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside)


“9 pm fireworks” by Cole Vassiliou licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The oak door was stuck. He threw his shoulder against it. On the third try, it shuddered and swung open, scraping an arc on the warped hardwood floor.

“I don’t care what you promised him,” he said. “This whole place is like tinder. So shut up.”

 ~ from “And Justice for All,” Mysterical-E, Fall-Winter 2012/2013