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First Page: 1920s Paranormal

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***

My Gran claimed to be a witch, a white witch.

It's true she knew a lot about herbs and such and had a reputation as a midwife and healer, but I never did see her do anything I'd call magic.    Gran told me I was wearing blinders, that magic was all around us, did we have the sense to see and the courage to make it ours.    Seemed to me a ridiculous thing to claim, it was the twentieth century now, and so I told her.

She just smiled and said blood would tell, all the science in the world couldn't hide what was in the blood.

"Alana tries to deny it, actually she's doing a pretty good job of it," Gran admitted.    "If you want to be like your mama, all brittle and unhappy, you can deny it too.    I'm hoping you'll have more sense, Mari.    It's not a bad thing, it can be a good thing.    It puts more color in the world.    It'll let you hear the music of the stars, the moon'll whisper secrets in your ear.    There's a completeness when you accept your birthright, a satisfaction deep inside, even if your life is giving you pain."

I  remembered this conversation as I went through Gran's house, methodically packing up her personal belongings.    Her magic hadn't saved her from the cancer, but when I'd railed at her, begged her to use it – to save herself – she'd only shaken her head, giving me the sorrowful smile she saved for my more stupid statements.

"It don't work that way, child, you should know that by now.    You read too many books, the magic can't work miracles, no matter what the popular culture says."

"What good is it then," I asked bitterly.

"Oh, it has its uses.    We've talked of this before.    Darlin' girl, you have to accept we all live finite lives and the ways of dying are too many to count.    It's my time; I accept that, I'm content.    My life has been full and mostly good.    My only regret is you, darlin'.    I was hoping to convince you of your magic before now, but maybe I can do dead what I couldn't do alive."

Well, that would be a fine bit of magic, wouldn't it?    What – was she planning on haunting me?    Giving me lessons on nature and spells and rapping my knuckles with her thimble when my mind wandered?    Might prove hard, what with ghosts being so puny and difficult to understand.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

14 Comments

  1. Donna Lea Simpson
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 06:44:16

    I really like everything about this, and would read it in a heartbeat… interesting time period, interesting premise, likable heroine and unique voice, with built-in tension to come.

    Very good!

  2. Miss Moppet
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 06:50:44

    I like this. It’s clearly written in a strong first person voice. I can follow what’s going on and it has a Practical Magic feel to it.

    Small things: ‘change’ would sound more natural than ‘hide’ to me in your third para. “What good is it then” needs a question mark. And ‘popular culture’ jumps out as being out of period. I would cut that whole sentence actually.

    Two larger things: first, as a reader, I would like some idea of the setting. Not loads of detail but just one sentence. Such as (this is just a random example off the top of my head):

    “I’m hoping you’ll have more sense, Mari.” She set the trug of rain-wet roses on the kitchen table and reached for the kettle.

    Or, if you wanted some magic on the first page:

    She set the trug of rain-wet roses on the kitchen table and glanced at the kettle, which immediately began to whistle and gush steam.

    Or perhaps you’re not going for that type of everyday domestic magic. And perhaps it’s not set in a village in England or New England, but from what I’ve read I feel like it is, and if not, I’d want some indication on the first page.

    Second larger thing: I need more than the idea of the grandmother haunting Mari to make me turn the page. I’m intrigued by the idea of the mother resisting her magic powers, but that’s not enough either. Something like: in packing up her grandmother’s things Mari finds a mysterious artefact. Or even something like:

    “It don’t work that way, child, you should know that by now.”

    When I got the first Sign, three months later, I wished so much that I’d asked her how it did work.

    Thanks so much for sharing and very best of luck.

  3. query1
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 09:22:57

    Seems too modern. Nothing to place me in the 20s. Little things really. Cancer as a medical diagnosis for a witch in that time period. I know very old disease but there were other deadly diseases many with external symptoms that were quite prevalent to the time period.

    Popular culture equating magic with miracles in books. Is this girl wealthy because I don’t equate having lots of books available to a working class person’s child during the Great War (WWI). Where are the other family members when she’s packing up the house unless she’s the last and she lost them during the great flu pandemic? Wouldn’t what happened during the flu pandemic color the narrator’s view of her grandmother’s magic perhaps more strongly than even her grandmother’s death?

    Speaking of witches in terms of white witches I’ve never heard people of my grandmother’s generation speak of a white witch only witches. And they seemed to take hauntings and magic very very seriously so I’m left wondering about the character’s circumstances and why she’d need books/popular culture to color her view of magic?

    None of this is a deal breaker but at the end of this section I’m not convinced of the historical aspect of the story. This might be because the first page is really one giant tell and the memory doesn’t feel organic to me so I’m not invested in either the character or the story.

    That said, since the author has displayed some skill, I’d give it a few more pages to see what happens in real time and how she interacts with a live character/her surroundings.

  4. lisa
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 10:21:05

    Nice voice, nice premise. Very good start definitely has a lot of potential. Not quite sold on it though.

    Place and time is generic modern. That’s a turn off and maybe a drop the book don’t bother to buy within the next page or two thumbing through a physical book or glancing at a sample chapter.

    There’s not even wallpaper to make it seem historical. Perhaps more glaringly so to me with stories of my grandparents childhood, growing up years. My maternal grandparents. Born in 1900 & 1903 respectively.

    Cancer is believable enough. It derailed my grandfather’s schooling, he quit at fourteen when his father became ill and was running the farm entirely by the time my great-grandfather died of liver cancer in 1915.

    Science and popular culture were things of the rich, of the cities and the rare genius that just wasn’t going to be stopped then. “Healer and midwife” herbs etc is rural, or at the very least lower working class to poor. City shopkeepers/merchant class would get doctors in the late 1800s/turn of twentieth century (when Mari’s gran was likely to have practiced herb-craft most. the poor would do what they could for their own, herbs/healer has a more rural implication.

    Superstitions might have fallen away but science and popular culture hadn’t replaced superstitions as the norm especially not in places that would turn to “Healer and midwife” rather than a doctor in this period. Rural, likely poorer, likely without a doctor if healer is added to midwife.

    Your heroine needs moved back in time at least thirty years, and grounded a bit better in her place–city girl back at grandmas whatever. Even if it’s not described on this page. She needs connected to it more to read less…modern generic. Even a shift in names might help ground it a little more.

  5. Scarletti
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 11:37:43

    I liked it. Not usually into magic/paranormal, but this amound wouldn’t scare me off.

  6. okbut
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 11:46:54

    I agree with previous comments… not convinced.

    The voice is fresh but the characters and background are vague and uninspiring. The time period is not evident, this could be now, or 100 years ago. Depends where they are living.

    The inconsistencies would frustrate me and leave this story from page one, ‘ghost are puny?’ have you seen Poltergeist?

  7. Sao
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 12:18:23

    Gran is interesting, Mari less so. I don’t know who she is, where she lives, I have no detail to make me feel like this is the 20s. I. Short I know nohing about character, scene, plot.

    I do find 20s paranormal romance an interesting idea, but I feel like you have drawn me into the world,you’ve just elaborated slightly on the idea and an idea isn’t a book.

    First pages are hard. Get Maris conflict on the page and some setting and you’ll be good to go.

  8. Lori
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 16:11:14

    Despite the author being my best friend and critique partner, my comments are completely unbiased.

    There is a lot more description in the first chapter that shows they’re in an Appalachian town in the 1920s. And Mari’s journey/romance keeps that same feeling throughout.

    Okay, I might be a little bit biased. I do love this author’s voice.

  9. wendy
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 17:47:47

    I would like to read this. Love the voice though this part felt clunky,

    *It'll let you hear the music of the stars, the moon'll whisper secrets in your ear.*

    maybe, It'll let you hear the music of the stars and the moon whispering secrets in your ear.

  10. DS
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 19:35:59

    Which part of the Appalachians? They extend from Canada to central Alabama.

    This story definitely needs to be better grounded in reality before it takes off into fantasy.

    And one thing about using the term white witch, it would probably have more of a racial connotation than a non-evil witch one, especially in the southern Appalachians. Maybe try for another term.

    My grandmother was a midwife in the 20’s and there wasn’t any hint of witchcraft about it, she was just experienced in helping women with their birth and lying in. My oldest aunt was a licensed practical nurse by 1920 and also helped deliver babies when the doctor couldn’t make it.

    They did tell about a neighbor who was a blood witch– able to stop bleeding in an animal or human by laying hands on it and reciting Ezekiel 16:6. He was a man and it was the only extraordinary thing he could do, otherwise he was just another farmer. (Ah, as far as anyone knew, maybe there was a lot they didn’t know?)

    There’s primary and secondary sources available for this period galore. I’d read some of the things available then take another stab at it.

  11. sao
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 00:48:15

    @Lori

    The first page exercise is about making your first page interesting, which I’m not convinced the author did. If you want to help her, you should pick some great atmosphere and tension from the first chapter and tell her to stick it on the first page.

  12. Tasha
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 01:19:20

    I was also surprised to see that this is apparently set in the 1920s.

    One specific thing: It’s unclear to me whether “popular culture” is being used in the modern sense or in the sense it would have been used at the time, which arguably changes the meaning of the sentence. Since most people are going to interpret it the modern way, you might want to choose a different phrase here. There’s been enough confusion in the comments that if this is meant in the original sense, the meaning isn’t coming through.

  13. Author On Vacation
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 13:25:48

    I enjoyed the author’s storytelling very much.

    I felt a tad let down by the lack of genuine historical flavor to the work. I love “escaping” into the details of historical fiction. When I saw “1920’s Paranormal” I expected details, description, and language mirroring that time period.

    The writing’s very good, a pleasure to read, though.

  14. dri
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 19:50:46

    I had the same problems with tone and lack of detail but I will add that if this is done right, I’ll be buying this book. Because, yeah, 1920s paranormal totally made me click on the Read More. Go for it!

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