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First Page: A Tale of Two Houses – erotic contemporary romance

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“I live with two guys,” the librarian said. She gave David a cheerful grin and bent to admire a five-year-old’s artwork. “Great job!” Small children clustered around her, one holding her arm and swinging to and fro, others thrusting books and construction paper masterpieces at her.

David tried to put the disconcerting image her words raised out of his mind. What the hell had he said that had produced this response? His memory was blocked by a series of disjointed stills from self-generated porno movies, but he concentrated. Hard. No, not that way, dear God. He’d said, yes, that he’d moved into the Old Mill House with his daughter and she’d said something about living in the house at Mackin Corner and … and so she said…

She said she had housemates.

Perv.

She looked altogether too wholesome for what he imagined. A corn fed girl, his dad would have called her, tall, with a braid like a thick gold rope hanging halfway down her back.

Statuesque. The brief moment of lust subsided, as they did these days.

He looked around for his daughter. She sat against a rack of books, reading, ignoring the friendly chaos. He sighed, trying not to feel resentful that he’d arranged his schedule around this kids’ event at the library.

“Some kids don’t join in right away.” Librarian Kate—so her nametag proclaimed against a background of cheerful balloons–plucked a tissue from a box on top of the nearest bookcase. She administered a firm wipe to a runny-nosed child pushing against her leg.

“She’s shy.” David said,

“Ah.” She nodded and turned her attention briskly to the kids. “Okay, then. Story time’s over. Why don’t you guys show your moms your pictures.”

The children swarmed toward the bank of moms who sat at a nearby table and who cooed over pictures and books. Most of them headed for the checkout, a few lingering to look at David. He was fairly sure that he had been the subject of their whispered conversation—the new guy, the single dad, marital status unknown but speculated upon, renovating the Old Mill House. He had browsed the new book section during the program, in view of his daughter, allowing her to join in and not cling to him. Except she hadn’t joined in.

His daughter unfolded herself, clutching books to her chest.

“Want to check those out, honeybun?” David asked.

“No. I read them all. Can we get ice cream?”

David glanced at the window where sleet rattled against the glass, the Blue Ridge Mountains obscured by low clouds.

“The kids in the book got ice cream,” she insisted.

“Choose some other books, then,” David said. He stopped himself saying And then we’ll see.

“It’s a bit cold for ice cream.”

She gave him a curious look as though he were an alien. “Okay. And then we get ice cream?”

“We’ll see,” David said, wincing. He didn’t even know where they’d be able to buy any in this unfamiliar town.

Steph wandered off between the shelves.

“She’s a good reader,” Librarian Kate said gathering Steph’s discarded books. “Gordon’s sells ice cream. Nothing fancy.”

“The general store on Main?”

She nodded and smiled, a goddess tossing a favor to a mortal. “That’s it.” She reached out a hand and plucked off his nametag.

He took an involuntary step backward at the slight contact.

“Sorry,” she said. “Sometimes people get embarrassed if they find themselves outside still wearing one.”

“Thanks.” He watched as she folded the nametag and threw it into the trash with the snotty tissues and broken crayons.

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

15 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 06:07:17

    I was confused by the first paragraph, and then by the next few as well, although in a different direction.

    The first paragraph was just technically muddled, at least to me. I had no idea why the character was saying what she did, or who she was speaking to. I didn’t catch that she’d changed audience for her second sentence. Reading it over I can see where you were going, but it seems overly complicated for a first sentence.

    And then after that, I couldn’t really figure out why we cared so much about this woman’s living arrangements. Maybe it’s a regional thing, but in my world a female having two male housemates really isn’t all that weird. So it seems strange for David to be so focused on that, but it also seems weird to start a book with that. Maybe others will find it shocking enough to justify the attention – we can see what other commenters think!

    After that – things settled down and I started getting into it. But I’m not sure about David’s characterization. I assume he’s overcoming some big trauma? That’s why he’s so easily overwhelmed by a simple task like buying ice cream, or by the librarian touching him? I like traumatized characters, but there’s always a balance (especially with male characters, probably) between making the trauma big enough to justify their fragility and making the trauma so big it turns off the readers. I don’t know which direction you’re going in, here, but a grown man who can’t figure out how to find ice cream seems pretty damn fragile, so I’ll definitely need SOMETHING to justify it.

    (I’m also not sure about the part where he assumes the moms were speculating about him. It totally depends on his personality, but the way I’m picturing him based on the rest of his interactions he seems a bit more internalized, not likely to NOTICE the women’s attention much less ascribe them motives. I know it’s useful way to get some back story in there, but I’m not sure it fits the character? Or possibly I’m overthinking this!)

    A lot of these comments are speculation on my part, obviously. But the first few paragraphs really did come across strangely to me, so… that’s more concrete!

    Good luck with this!

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  2. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 06:09:42

    @Kate Sherwood:

    Oops – “seems overly complicated for a first PARAGRAPH”

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  3. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 06:42:44

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I like it, and I think you have something here. I agree with Kate Sherwood regarding your male lead’s preoccupation with Librarian Kate’s living arrangements, so you may want to also show him thinking of some plausible explanations, like the two guys are a couple, or they’re related to her, at least something to show he’s not so judgmental on the first page.

    But if that’s how you plan to go, then I could see the book being about loosening him up. I found your starting point interesting, and some sections need smoothing out.

    Take this part for example:

    “She looked altogether too wholesome for what he imagined. A corn fed girl, his dad would have called her, tall, with a braid like a thick gold rope hanging halfway down her back.

    Statuesque. The brief moment of lust subsided, as they did these days.”

    He goes from thinking she’s a perv, to she looks “too wholesome” to having a surge of lust in record time.

    Also, I don’t think you need the word statuesque there, because you’ve already mentioned that she’s tall. Or you can swap out tall for statuesque.

    But I do like your writing style, and David’s initial reluctance could prove to be interesting. I’d read on. I like her innocent bluntness (can’t think of a better phrase for words and actions) so pairing them together is a good move. Perhaps she can bring him out of his shell, because he’s a bit stiff. But I like how you’ve also made him a caring father. Thanks for sharing your work, and I wish you all the best with this.

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  4. QC
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 08:12:17

    @wikkedsexycool–I think he’s thinking of himself as a perv, because as he talks himself through his thought processes in the previous paragraph, he realizes that he jumped to a pervy conclusion. I had to read that part twice.

    @author–I agree with Kate and wikkedsexycool that David’s preoccupation with her living arrangement seems overblown and that he seems really fragile. I’m wondering if your point is that he doesn’t usually react to an innocent remark about living arrangements in that way and he’s wondering why he’s reacting that way now. (I’m guessing it would be because of a primal attraction he’s not ready for.) If this is the case, it needs to be made clearer or he comes off looking like a really old fashioned guy or even an elderly gentleman, which probably isn’t what you’re going for.

    I think you have a story here and you aren’t overloading the reader with back story, but I think you may have to fine tune what you are feeding us. I like the premise and I hope to read more. I’m not a big erotic reader, but I like this setup.

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  5. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 08:31:28

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing.

    I’m ambivalent about this. I want to like it, simply because I like erotic romances. And I like characters who get off to awkward beginnings, or have misunderstandings.

    But there’s something about David that’s unlikable. And if he’s the hero of the story, the first impressions I have are going to take a while to fade.

    His interaction with his daughter is horrible. I don’t care if he’s a newly-minted single dad, or if he’s just found out he’s got a daughter, he needs to at least appear to like the child. There’s nothing here to suggest he’s even interested in what she wants. He’s resentful she’s taken up his time; he’s reluctant to try to find out where he can buy her ice cream. If he’s that much of a jerk with his own daughter, then how can he ever gain my trust and affection, as a hero, much less that of the heroine of the story?

    And as a parenthetical, is David the erotic hero in the romance? I’m now envisioning him leaving Steph alone at home while he romps with Kate and/or the housemates, or resenting the child because she impedes his sex life.

    The bit about housemates and the reactions are confusing. I’m not familiar with the term housemates as much as roommates but maybe that’s a regional thing? I’m a transplanted Northerner living in Kentucky…housemates to me sounds British or Australian.

    And it’s not that big of a deal to have roommates of the opposite sex, and it’s certainly not shocking. In the current economy, sharing a house isn’t uncommon and you pretty much take who you can get sometimes as roommates.

    So combined with David’s thoughts on his daughter and his rather immature reaction to hearing Kate lives with two guys, I’m not liking David.

    In particular, this bit makes me dislike him quite a bit:

    “His memory was blocked by a series of disjointed stills from self-generated porno movies, but he concentrated. Hard. No, not that way, dear God.”

    Is he 12 or 13? He’s an adult, a father, and the first thing he thinks about when he meets Kate is images of porn and a not-so-veiled reference to an erection? Besides the content and context, it’s a weirdly written sentence. If the “no, not that way…” is his thoughts, they should be italicized, IMO. Actually, I think it should be deleted. I get this whole Beavis and Butthead vibe. “Oh, he said ‘hard’…heeeeheeeehehe…” It’s off-putting.

    I’m not sure who the perv is; her for having two housemates, or him for thinking what he does about that. It’s italicized so I believe it’s David’s thought, but I don’t know who he’s thinking about as he thinks it.

    Therefore I don’t know how to think about the next section. All in all, it’s a bit of a jumble.

    I think you’re trying too hard to make a point that this is going to be erotic.

    The writing is good, with just a few clunky sentences. The ice cream exchange has a strange line, apparently said by David, that it’s too cold for ice cream. To which Steph replies “Then we’ll get ice cream?” I know kids are relentless when it comes to asking for things, but it’s a strange little exchange.

    Watch out for disembodied body parts. Kate “reached out a hand” which has me seeing her holding a rubber Halloween skeletal hand to pluck off the name tag. She can just reach out and remove it.

    Would I read on? I’m not sure. Like I said, I want to like this, but David leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I also don’t know what anyone wants in this opening, what they have for a goal, other than Steph. She wants ice cream. Kate? Not sure. What does David want? To think dirty thoughts about Kate? To avoid getting Steph ice cream? To go back to renovation of his house?

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  6. JewelCourt
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 08:33:41

    I was also thrown by the fact that David immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion about the living situation. At one point, I lived with three guys, completely platonically, and no one ever seemed to find anything strange about it, including my parents. That was over ten years ago.

    Also, in the days of internet on your phone (or right there in the library), finding out where ice cream is sold is easier than ever. Seems an odd thing to get hung up on.

    Sorry, but the first few sentences jarred me, so I wound up questioning everything that came afterwards.

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  7. Molly
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 08:55:47

    Thanks for sharing your work, Author!

    I think your setting and your characters have a lot of possibility. Small-town librarian, hot new guy renovating a house in a quaint mountain town… that’s like librarian catnip. But I think you’re trying too hard for a hook, and it’s hurting your story.

    It starts with your very first line. Librarians and teachers have to be so careful about what they say around kids and their parents that a children’s librarian who wants to keep her job probably isn’t going to cheerfully announce “I live with two guys” in front of the kids and a dad she doesn’t know. She might not have heard the moms’ gossip about him; for all she knows, he’s a fundamentalist preacher looking for fodder to have the library shut down. Or one of the kids is going to go home and tell her mom that Miss Kate has two husbands. Mainly, it just feels like you’re using a bit of surprising dialogue to force a hook, but it’s hooking me for the wrong reason. And it isn’t really clarified. Maybe she has housemates, maybe she has a husband and a son, maybe she has two male cats, maybe it’s exactly what he imagined. So that’s hanging over us while they go on to talk about his daughter’s reading habits and where to go for ice cream.

    But back to the beginning, it’s confusing for me as a reader to be dropped into the middle of a conversation between two characters, especially when it’s really just one of them describing it… sort of. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have them talk to each other than to have him relate what they were talking about?

    I especially want to know how her living situation came up in conversation. I’m guessing from the title that her house is going to figure into the story somehow, but I want some context. You don’t have to work with the public very long to get really cautious about giving random guys you’ve never met before any personal information. I can see her doing this if she’s talked to him for a little while, but we’ve only got his word for that; why is she telling him where she lives? Did she volunteer it, or did he ask her? If he did, that’s such a common question from the guys who come in and stalk the circulation and reference staff that it makes him come off as fairly creepy. Which brings me to the next thing.

    I was *really* bugged by the mixing of children and lust. On my first read, I thought David was an older guy whose adult daughter was Kate’s roommate–I got confused with the mention of the daughter and then all the “shes” that follow it because I thought “she” was referring to the daughter, not to Kate.

    And then I read it again and figured out that his daughter is a little girl and he’s standing in the children’s section of the library getting aroused… ewwwwwwww. If I were you I’d find a different setting for their first meeting if he’s going to have that reaction to Kate.

    I’m not really trying to nitpick the librarian stuff. For all I know, you are a librarian, but in a different kind of library than the ones I’m familiar with. But if you aren’t, you should know that librarians as readers are REALLY tough on authenticity (take a look at reviews of Rebecca Makkai’s THE BORROWER) and they notice little things that ring false. For example–and this might vary depending on the community–but in some libraries, touching the kids is off-limits. You can give a kid a Kleenex, but you can’t wipe his nose for him.

    Touching the adults is kind of a no-no too, but not necessarily because of policy; it’s just that when you work in a public library you don’t really want to get too close to the patrons. It can be hard to tell where someone else’s personal space begins, and you don’t want to make someone uncomfortable by violating their space. I realize that’s a key part of Kate’s action here–she’s violating his space, and it disconcerts him–so maybe she could find herself disconcerted too, because she’s just done something that she wouldn’t ordinarily do at work. And maybe you’ve already done that in the next scene, if the POV shifts to her.

    Again, I think you’ve got an intriguing setup, but I found parts of it confusing, and my nitpicky-librarian side had authenticity issues. David comes across as a little creepy, which I doubt you intended. And as a parent of a small child myself, I’m wondering how he’s going to fit much erotic romance into his life unless he sends little Stephanie off to stay with someone else on a regular basis… but maybe he’s got more energy and creativity than most parents I know. ;-)

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  8. Nina
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 09:46:07

    Dear Author,
    I enjoyed your first page, although there does seem to be an editing issue to do with ice cream. I must say was not confused about who is talking to whom at the beginning – it is clearly a busy, noisy scene, and the librarian has to divide her attention between parents and kids. Which is why I thought that she is coming on to our narrator, a little, by telling him (apparently without much provocation) that is living with two guys. The info and the way she phrases it seem uncalled for, so my sense was not at all that he’s creepy but that he’s a bit flustered because he can’t decode her signals properly. Signal two being that she plucks the name tag off him. It’s not like she grabbed his balls, but they’ve never met before, so she might also just have said, ‘Um, by the way, you’ve still got your sticker on your sweater…’
    So my reading is that she is flirting, just a little bit, and he is too clueless and probably too overwhelmed by his (new?) responsibility as dad to trust his impression of her. Especially since it clashes with her wholesome appearance.
    Yeah, I’d read on!

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  9. Kerry
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 10:31:23

    Agree with @Molly on the squickiness of him standing amongst all the little children, resenting his daughter, while getting a stiffy for the “corn fed” librarian. Ick! Also am not fond of the corn fed ref itself. Maybe it’s just me, but that image also conjures big teeth and a possible low IQ. IOW, I don’t read it as a compliment, but as more condescending. Again, maybe that’s my own baggage, but, FWIW, it doesn’t make me like David more.

    That said, I do like your writing overall, and found this to be more interesting as a setup than most erotic romances I’ve read (not many, because see start of this sentence! :)). I was also confused by the two guys thing, though. Since it’s erotic, I assumed she’s bumping uglies with both of them, and inviting David to join in? Seemed an odd thing to do in front of a bunch of five year olds and their moms. But if that’s not it, then as others said, what’s the big deal about having male room/housemates?

    Good luck with this! I hope you find some of our comments useful!

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  10. Alicia Elliott
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 11:46:34

    Hi Author!

    As a fan of erotic romance, I was excited to see this First Page. Small town librarian? Yes to that too. I’m just not sure you have much of a “hook” here. If it’s supposed to be “I live with two guys” well, that kind of threw me.

    Going into this knowing it was an erotic romance, I assumed the librarian was involved with those two men (or maybe that’s just my kinky mind.) Whatever the case, that’s not the first impression I want of the heroine, especially of she’s about to meet the hero. I’m not saying the heroine can’t have such a living arrangement, but I think you need to rethink this as the opening sentence. If you’re going for shock value–with either the reader, the hero, or both–it just doesn’t work for me, at least not as the “hook.” On the same subject, I’m going to disagree with the masses here a little bit. I live on a small, rural town, and yes, the local librarian shacking up with two dudes would be rather scandalous…or at least gossip worthy. If this is an important plot element, and you feel the need to introduce it immediately, my suggestion would be to include something along the lines of:

    Two guys? Not a big deal back in (wherever.) But in the tiny Blue Ridge backwater of (wherever), he imagined a morality police police force on par with the infamous Harper Valley PTA. Alarm bells went off, and David glanced at his daughter. Stephanie sat propped against a rack of books, reading, and blissfully unaware of the potential for gossip amongst the kid-frenzy swarming around her.

    Speaking of his daughter…I tend to agree with Molly. Not a fan of children playing large roles in erotic romance. We want to see the heroine’s maternal instincts, sure, but I think this can be accomplished through her role as a librarian. I’m not sure how large a role Steph plays in the plot, but maybe you could have her staying with a grandparent or something until David gets settled. This doesn’t mean she can’t come for weekend visits or even be involved in the opening scene. I would just be careful here. Like another commenter said, we don’t want to see her playing by herself or whatever while Dad gets it on.

    As far as Dad goes, don’t make him resentful for bringing his daughter to a kid event.” Make him long for more of these moments, especially if you consider sending her back to grandma’s while David gets to know the librarian.

    All that being said, I like your voice, and aside from a few awkward sentences here and there, you have a decent grasp on the technical aspects. As a reader, there’s enough potential that I would turn the page. If I were an agent, I would probably pass. It’s tough out there, and you have to come out swinging. Every critique is a chance to better your writing and instead of discouraging you, I hope this opportunity lights a fire!

    Best of luck, Author!

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  11. Willaful
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 11:47:12

    I didn’t get a negative sense about David towards his daughter. I got a sense of tentativeness about his parenting, and concern… there’s obviously a lot going on that we don’t know about yet, and I’m interested in finding out what it is.

    As for the resentment — fuck yeah, PLEASE write some realism about parenting in romance! The rose-colored crap we see all the time doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially parents. And presumably he’ll find a way to have his daughter taken care of while he’s having a sex life, as people do. Parents need sex too. Even kinky parents are allowed to have some fun.

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  12. Alicia Elliott
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 13:59:17

    I wasn’t going to comment again, but after reading Willaful’s remarks, decided to share my second thoughts. And I hope this doesn’t sound too conflicting (Dad can’t be resentful! Yes, he can!)

    It occurred to me over a load of laundry that it WOULD be interesting to read about an unsure, even–gasp!–resentful parent who settled into their role over the course of their arc. I just want to say that those rose-colored glasses do exist, especially in traditional publishing, and I would advise you to make your intent clear in your blurb as not to raise any red-flags if you decide to go that route.

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  13. cleo
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 15:00:03

    I like the set up, but I think the execution needs work. I think flirting at a library story time could be transgressive in a good, sexy way, but right now it doesn’t work for me. It’s too abrupt for one thing – there’s no build up, no sexual tension. Just a non-sequitur followed by a hard on. The hero may be turned on, but I’m not there yet.

    One more note on librarians, with the knowledge that I could be way off here. My mother was a children’s librarian and beloved “story lady” – she had rock star like status with the pre-school and kindergarten set. I can’t imagine her ever letting children hang off of her like that at the library. I’m not sure if that was because of library policy or just my mother’s personality. But that jarred me in the story.

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  14. cleo
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 15:06:48

    One more thing about the flirting – I think it needs more context. As several people have mentioned, a woman living with two men doesn’t automatically mean she’s having sex with both of them. I certainly wouldn’t assume that – so you may need to provide more context for why David jumps to that conclusion – other than that he’s a hero in an erotic romance.

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  15. Anon author
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 17:45:17

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Some useful stuff here, but I think @Willaful and @Alicia Elliott “got” what I was trying to do. Yes, I want to show the real world, rather than rely on the “Alpha Male at the BDSM club” syndrome. Too damn easy, in my opinion. (And if I were to do it, you betcha the Alpha Male would go home and unload the dishwasher after.)

    ReplyReply

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