I've decided to be ruthless. There is no other way to decide on the honorable mentions. There's just too many good ones to go through.
A couple of things of note before I continue. There's a heavy tilt towards YA and MG, because that's what I like to read myself. I tried to eliminate the bias, but I fear it's still there. Second, there were many more first paragraphs that were contenders, and that if I was an agent, I'd keep on reading past the first few lines. These paragraphs were well-written, they just didn't stand out as much on their own.
Now without further ado...
Chloe opened her notebook, drew eighteen balloons across the top of the page, and lettered each one: "Happy birthday to you." Although there had been no Ferrari with a red bow waiting for her that morning, she did receive the best present she could ask for – an e-mail from her brother, Donnie, in Iraq. - Jill Wheeler
Last night, my parents destroyed my life—on purpose. It’s worse than the time my mother wore pigtails to the spelling bee. It’s worse than the time she ran over Megan Nelson’s cat, when I was six. It’s definitely the worst thing that has ever happened in my nine years on the planet. And now, I can’t even eat tuna salad anymore—especially if my mom is around to smell it. - Colorado Writer
I had to be dreaming. I didn't know whether I wanted to believe I was seeing Carlson or not. He looked up from under those cute blond eyebrows with the stray hairs that stuck straight out from his forehead. His dark red, long-sleeved T-shirt wrinkled where he leaned against the wall's blue tiles. He didn't speak, but he kept staring at me. Whether I was dreaming or not, I had to say something. "You're in the women's bathroom," I told him. And then wanted to smack myself. There were a lot of things I'd wanted to say to my dead boyfriend over the past year, but that wasn't one of them. - Sasha
Lottie Griffin didn’t look like a goal post.
At least, she’d never thought she looked like a goal post, but a cute guy cradling a football was barreling toward her anyway. That was her last thought before they collided. He slammed into her and she landed in the grass with a heavy, unladylike grunt. When she opened her eyes, she was staring into a pair of the most beautiful baby blues she’d ever seen.
“Touchdown?” she asked weakly. - AC
I didn’t exactly hate Wednesdays but I sure didn’t love them, either. Even when no fights broke out in the dining room and the toilet in the women’s restroom didn’t overflow, I couldn’t look Mom in the eye and tell her Wednesday was my favorite day of the week. How could it be? Wednesdays were dirty dishes and puddles of spilled coffee, arguments over the last slice of pecan pie, little kids crying and drunk guys mumbling to themselves. Stacking chairs, wiping down tablecloths, and sweeping the floors. Wednesdays meant hard work and not enough thank yous. - Tracy
“Come back here with my Louis Vuitton, you bastard.” I stood on the top step of the winding staircase, clutching a pair of golf shoes. His golf shoes. I’d snatched them from his closet in a vain attempt to slow him down. - Writer Chick
"You can put down the cat," said a voice from the dark. "Or you can die. Your choice." - Winterman
Everyone has something to be ashamed of; you see them every day on reality TV, crying and confessing, while their cast mates sit slack jawed while the cameras roll. Me? I sold my soul for money. My knack for making anything sound good landed me a job as company spokesperson for the premiere financial institution on the West Coast. Spinning the worst financial crises bought me a Mercedes and a house behind a gate. Give me the worst corporate event you can think of and I’ll make it sound like afternoon tea. Lose some money? It’s an investment opportunity. CEO commits fraud? A misunderstanding of tax laws. My love for money has led me to do a lot of questionable things to get ahead in life and I’m about to do one more. - Amy K.
Three days before Christmas I drove my grandmother down to the methadone clinic. Something came up, so Mom called at 8:15 the morning of, pleading with me to take her. Mom knew that would leave me just enough time to call and beg my boss, Mr. Warner, for one more morning off to handle what he called “an unfortunate situation.” Mr. Warner was not unfamiliar with my grandmother. After all, he was the one who posted bail when she was caught waiting for the number three bus in nothing but what the Lord gave her and a pair of blue terrycloth slippers. After that, every time the commercial for Warner Brothers’ Law Firm interrupted her television program she retold the story about how the man on the TV had kept her from the midnight sale at Walmart. - Angela
Carl is dead. There’s no god to comfort me, to welcome Carl’s soul to paradise, to pray to for salvation. If ever there were a day I wanted that to be different, today is it. I lie in bed, sure that the last few hours have been a cruel dream. After all, young, successful attorneys aren’t supposed to die of undiagnosed heart defects. They aren’t supposed to die two months before their wedding. Three months after buying a house with their fiancée. If they’re going to die in the middle of the court room, it’s supposed to be sensational: the result of a crazed defendant or a disgruntled victim taking justice into their own hands. Especially Carl, who always had to do the best and be the best, who had to make a name for himself everywhere he went. He’s probably looking down on the whole thing now, pissed that he hadn’t been able to deliver his brilliant closing arguments before fate ripped a hole in his heart and sent him falling to the floor of Judge Aberman’s court room. He probably wouldn’t even have thought of me on the way down—of how he was making a widow of me even before I became a wife—only how he’d never get to make partner now. - J. Lea Lopez
He found a room just off the square, a bare cell with two beds and a sink in it and two windows overlooking the street. The man who'd led him silently up the stairs and unlocked the door didn't stay long enough for Victor to thank him, but turned and disappeared without a word, leaving the key in the lock. Victor pulled it out and shut and bolted the door. He set his backpack and tripod on one of the beds. There were no screens on the windows but he was on the third floor and it was a sheer drop to the street below. He thought that was safe enough. He stood looking out. Almost dark. An opulent blue consuming the desert sky and a scattering of stars winking in the dwindling light above the desert town. - Mray
“Can I have my knife back?” I’m sitting across from Principal Feinstadt in her office. My knife is on the desk between us, partially hidden from my view by an I heart my cat mug stuffed with pens. That knife cost me thirty bucks, so she better give it back. - Shari
I don’t come back to the old neighborhood very often, even though it’s just a short drive on the Eisenhower. There’s no one left who remembers me – who remembers us. I see the familiar street monikers from the expressway on my way downtown. I hear them in my head, in my old voice, the one I learned to hide long ago. It sneaks in, though, that guttural slang and dropping of consonants – when I’m angry or tired or thinking of home. And it unnerves people in my life today, to hear who I really am. They shake their heads as if they’ve imagined it and I revert to the polished grammar they’ve come to expect, and I hate them a little for the judgment but sometimes I hate myself more. - Merry Monteleone
Can I just say, death is so not what I expected? True, at seventeen I gave way more thought to football plays and girls, and even my English homework, than I ever gave to death. And that's saying a lot because me and English homework are not even on a first name basis. Ask my English teacher. Trust me--he will not have nice things to say about me. Actually, that's kinda funny because he always said that I was going to ruin my life with my inability to tell "there" from "their," but death ruined it way before my bad grammar had a chance to cause any long-term damage. - lit-gal
O-positive primer wasn’t quite the color I had in mind for the small office, but Lucas Sherwood hadn’t given the decor a second thought when he blew out the left side of his head with a .45. - Hope Clark
Once there was a stick. It was smooth, white, short, and plastic. Small and unassuming it could never have foreseen the amount of chaos it was going to cause. I passed it to a sophomore girl and slid her twenty into my back pocket. Carissa held the pregnancy test at arms length and gaped. I waited. Girls need to build themselves up to the big steps. "How do I do this?" she asked. - Nikki Riles
You are dead. I am alive. I’m supposed to be the lucky one in that equation. Life is grand, and all that. Yet I wake up every morning a little bit more jealous of you, knowing where you are. Knowing what I know. The way you are not missing me in quite the same way I am missing you. To you, I have whirled away for a quick turn during a dance. You can see me, spinning across the floor, just slightly out of reach. You aren’t alarmed. You know I’ll spin right back into your arms. You’ll blink, and I’ll be back. - MzMannerz
When you die, you wake up in a huge Winn Dixie feeling as confused as you always felt under those blinding florescent lights. I’d been expecting a different kind of light, and angels playing harps -- not muzak, and The Carpenters singing Rainy Days and Mondays. Wandering the aisles in a daze, (I’m not the only one), I linger in the produce section, studying myself in the mirror above the dewy heads of iceberg lettuce. - emilymurdoch
Frances Abbott saw God in the oddest places. She didn’t expect to catch sight of Him that spring morning as she strolled along the Carolina beach with her niece, Isobel. And admittedly it wasn’t a full sighting, more of a glimpse, like a trail of bread crumbs that would lead her down the path she was to go. A minister by trade, she expected her life to progress in some foreordained, predictable way, but it never did. So she learned to keep an eye out for breadcrumbs. - Helen T.
When your entire family is made up of private investigators, you learn a thing or two about observing the world around you. And that’s how I know, as soon as I push open my front door and catch the unmistakable scent of cookies baking, that something isn’t right. - Shoshana
Bread. Milk. Eggs. Ramen Noodles. The food stuffs in the cart were grossly outnumbered by the array of cleaning products wedged in beside them. Window spray and bleach. Air sanitizer and Murphy’s Oil Soap. Sponges, paper towels, toilet bowl cleaner. Total ticket: $103.74, eight dollars of it on food to keep the thin girl behind the cart from collapsing from malnutrition. - Erik Smetana
The day of my father’s funeral was the day my mother burned all his things. As soon as the last of my mother’s brothers and their wives had rattled off in their Model T’s, she came into the sitting room. My sister Anna and I were huddled together, forlorn piles of cheap black fabric sitting defiantly on the floor, though we’d been ordered not to get dirty. Mother was carrying a pile of father’s clothes. At first I thought she had brought them down to be a comfort to us; suddenly I wanted nothing more than to press my face to his favorite shirt, maybe still smelling of him, and feel a little of this horrible ache inside me go away. But she went straight to the fire and threw them in. She watched them burn, poking the fire to make sure every last scrap of cloth was ashes, then turned and left. Anna’s hand was gripping mine so tightly that I could not feel my fingers. - Amy
This couldn’t be happening. Ryan sat in disbelief as the brakes of his car locked and the vehicle slid uncontrollably on the wet pavement. Filling his vision through the rain-streaked windshield was a large fuel truck, growing larger with each second as his car slid closer to it. - Ray
Looking back, my mid-life crisis began on a Tuesday in March at the local grocery store, right there on aisle twelve between the laxatives and the condoms. That’s the day I stood before an assortment of tampons, wondering whether my diminished egg production warranted the forty-eight count economy size. See, I worried about leftovers—about a future when the half-empty box still sat under the sink, mocking me every time I reached for a hair dryer. - Randy
I should not have asked how he got that scar, but it was the best one I’d ever seen. Star-shaped and the purpley-red of a newborn, it stretched along the inside of his forearm, an itchy smattering of scabs on the fringes. I placed the football he was there to retrieve into his open hand, and he answered the question I shouldn’t have asked. “What scar?” he said. - GLLancour
“Life is like a big trip you go on, but most people are carrying about 200 pounds of extra baggage, and I have to say, there’s no way they’re letting you on the plane with all that.” - jessNsam98
My brother Gabriel was a blistering boil on my butt from the minute we were born. Before even. The competitive jerk kicked me in the head as he swam out of the birth canal on his way to being first at the very first thing we did. Story is we’re identical twins, but Gabriel didn’t come out with a big red blotch on his face in the shape of a foot. He got the first baby tooth, walked a month before I did, and was “the one with personality.” By the time we were nine he ran faster, jumped higher, and had gotten twice the academic awards. The accident changed all that, though. Now the only thing Gabriel does better is drool. - Dawn
She told me I didn’t have a choice. You couldn’t have a cat in the house once a child was born. It would creep into the cradle and suck my poor babe’s breath away in the night. Everybody knew that. So I gave Kit, my little brown mouser, the last of the top-milk even though my man would give me a whipping when he found there was none for his morning pottage, and I cuddled her on my lap, stroking her and crooning to her in a hitching voice, my nose running with tears, until she purred herself to sleep. An hour later, under the accusing light of the moon, I smoothed her silky hair for the last time, my fingers still running blood from where she’d clawed me trying to escape. - Mike
Bang! Then another. I’d like to say this was the first time people had thrown canned hams at me, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. Ping! I didn’t mind their choice of ammo. I recognized one of the shiny cubes as it bounced off my windshield. The protesters had splurged this time and upgraded to the Consolidated Meat Company’s “Premium Label” hams. Hey, in my business, a sale is a sale, even if they don’t bother to eat it. - Walter
After the army, all the colors look wrong. The city is camouflaged in neon, corporate reds and whites and blues. Light bounces off the surfaces of buildings. Not like in the desert, where at night every light you shone would vanish into the darkness, eaten by quicksand. Back home the only thing dark is this black hole inside me. - scheherazade
The summer I accidentally lost my two front teeth I became the first girl ever to win the annual Watermelon Thump seed-spitting contest. I catapulted my seed through the wide-open gap in my mouth, sending it 19 feet 3 inches past the reigning champion, ten year-old Georgie Spunkmeyer. When Sheriff Humphrey presented me with a crown carved out of watermelon, Georgie smashed his slice into the ground and vowed to lose all his teeth for the next competition. - taralazar
“K-man! K-man! Wake up! We’ve gotta go!” Waking to those words from Master Sergeant Charles Detmering, Josh Kastens knew April 2, 2007, was about to get serious. - Bob McCarty
Mother made an absentminded habit of leaving her prosthetic breast on countertops around the house. A flesh-hued silicone pound of unrisen dough, is how I remember it now, but in those days the thing we stoutly dubbed Mom’s Fake Boob had some kind of personality about it. You’d find the fake boob any old afternoon right there on the swirled end of a banister, holding down a little stack of hand towels, and the way it slouched and creased along its base gave you the sneaking feeling you were being smiled at. By a rubber tit. I never spoke to Mom’s fake boob; we didn’t have anything to talk about. But wherever it turned up—on the t.v., in a lawn chair, under a table, in the dog’s mouth—the fake boob might as well have turned and whispered, "Sooner or later, I’m all that’ll be left." - Tom
I hated this part. The bell had rung exactly four minutes and 48 seconds ago. Which meant I had exactly 12 seconds to get through the next door. But I was still a hundred yards away, the hall was too crowded for me to run like a normal person, and with honors calculus, I had little hope there'd be someone later than me to slip in behind. There went my perfect attendance record. I reached the door. Closed of course. Mrs. Harper always closed the door. Like she was worried someone wanted to spy on her lesson. Hardly likely. Except, well, for me. - Melinda
Best in Show - Vampire/Werewolf Category
"This is hard for me to talk about. Secrets get comfortable in your soul, and don’t want you poking at them. It might be easier if there was some sort of Lycanthropy support group where I could stand up and say, ‘My name is Nathan, and I’m a werewolf.’ However, since there’s no such place; I’ll have to muddle through on my own. You asked to hear my story, and I promised to tell it to you. Grab your tea and get comfortable. This could take a while." - Terri
Best in Show - Brand New WIP Category
I am in love with a poet, long dead, and with his words, still vibrantly alive. Daily, he woos me; follows me through apple orchards, over pasture fences, and down winding sea swept paths. His words form tiny webs in the corners of mind, ensnaring my thoughts at odd moments throughout my day. He is my inspiration, my masculine muse -- pure poetry, raw reality, sweet simplicity. I want to be a feminine him. “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, / That wants it down,” he says; and I look at all my walls, and start tearing. - havah
Best in Show - Working in a Bruce Lee Reference Without It Being Awkward Category
Shit. The female Goliath was coming at her – all six foot four and two hundred pounds. At five foot eight, Jamela could probably dribble circles around the golden haired Amazon. Like Bruce Lee against Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in Game of Death, Jamela didn’t have size, but she did have speed. Coach had told them to go for the two and force overtime. Had barked don’t nobody try an’ be no goddamn hero and take a three. Take it into overtime and momentum would be on their side. But Jamela could see white shirts collapsing in on her like a blizzard of snow. And all around her the crowd chanting “six…five…four…” There were so many white faces in the crowd, she wondered if the opposing team had every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin-twice-removed to cheer them on. There were a few dark faces above the bench of the Kennedy High Eagles, mostly parents. But not hers. Never hers. Stepping behind the three point line, she launched a prayer at the basket. - Em Brown
Best in Show - Ed Hazard Commemorative Edition (Ed Hazard is a character in my book who spends her time reading Jane Eyre up in trees)
It may have looked like Regina Robinson was precariously perched on the limb of an elm tree, about to tumble to the ground at any moment, but she wasn’t. She was actually quite comfortably situated in a well-worn, perfectly Regina-sized nook, shaded by overhanging leaves. She had spent countless hours in her tree and had never once fallen. In fact, Regina had never fallen from any tree. - Ash