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First Page: An Indonesian Love Story

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Introduction

This is my love poem to the wonderful, sexy, lovely, amazing, spectacular, shy, wild, passionate, inhibited, deeply contradictory women of Indonesia, and to the wonderful land of Indonesia itself.

It is written in prose, but it has bits of attempted poetry and, I hope, moments of shining poetry. I wish I had the talent to be a true poet.

Everything in this book, from people to places and events, is fiction.
It is also all still completely true.

Sometimes I’m very ashamed of what I did.
Sometimes I wish I had done everything different.
Sometimes I think I could never do anything any different.

God knew what I would do.
He is always watching, even when we are not listening.

*****

Chapter One:
Beginning at the End

She was crying…

Her emotion was flowing out of her, erupting, gushing, overflowing, spilling out of her uninterrupted. I don’t think she could have stopped crying, talking, or pouring out her emotions even if she wanted.

She cried like a child who has just lost her parents. She cried like a young mother who has just lost her child.

She did not cry like an old woman who lost her husband. Her loss was not one she expected, and she did not have the comfort of a long life together. Her loss was that of losing a chance at that long life together.

She cried like a woman who has just lost the love of her life. I was that to her, and I didn’t deserve it.

I had never before in my life been the target and lucky recipient of such unabashed, unashamed, uncensored, un-self-conscious love.

Not from other women, not from girlfriends.

Not from my parents, not from brothers and sisters nor close friends.

Not even from an ex-wife.

This woman-child had known me less than a year, less than one twenty fifth of her life and one fortieth of mine, and yet she was giving me this life and love and life of love and love of life without shame or reserve, holding nothing back.

The best trained and most skilled stage or film actor at the finest heights of emotion to move an audience could not have been moved as much as I was moved now, and continue to be moved by the thought of it years later.

She was the love of my life…

I was hers…

…And we will never be together.

…And that is all my fault.

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

17 Comments

  1. Margaret P
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 04:55:53

    First of all- way too many redundant descriptions. I think you’re trying to create a voice, but it doesn’t work for me.

    This is my love poem to the wonderful, sexy, lovely, amazing, spectacular, shy, wild, passionate, inhibited, deeply contradictory women of Indonesia, and to the wonderful land of Indonesia itself.

    Ten (!?) different adjectives/descriptions? It just sounds somewhat conceited. Every woman is different, and even using ten different words, saying you are describing the women of an entire nation is kind of insulting.

    Next, the way the woman is described as crying is definitely a bit much. Crying for a lost love is one thing, but comparing it to a mother who had lost a child (who would be dead, while the lost love is presumably watching this crying going on) doesn’t seem appropriate. Same with the dead parents/husband.

    I am definitely not liking the narrator from this excerpt. From just this bit, he (I think it’s a he, anyway) seems somewhat cruel- just standing there watching this woman he claims is the love of his life crying after breaking her heart.

    Is this supposed to be a love story at all? Because it’s posted here at DA, I would think so, yet what is written so far doesn’t seem like it at all. It reads more like one of those books I avoid that have depressing endings that claim to be “real life”. I really don’t want to read a book about a middle aged man going over his romantic history and lamenting all his mistakes, even of he calls it a love poem to Indonesia. He just sounds like a creepy old white guy with an obsession with Asians. (Of course, my interpretation could be completely off, but that’s what I get from this beginning.)

  2. Willa
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 06:48:49

    Agree with Margaret P. Way too many descriptions just make it very hard to read and understand what is going on. No hook there to make me want to continue.

  3. Arwen
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 08:17:55

    I had a different reaction. I did find the narration to be a bit arms length, but I also wanted to know more. I read it as a ghost watching the woman left behind.

    The writing itself needs polishing or the narrator comes across like a self-indulgent overly enthusiastic child himself. Since he seems to be the hero?? I’d think he needs to less self-absorbed. The words are describing her but they are about him. He needs more compassion.

  4. sao
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 08:37:36

    It drives me crazy when adjectives are used in place of adverbs. To me, it sounds uneducated. It that’s what you want to show in your narrator fine, otherwise fix it:
    ‘Sometimes I wish I had done everything different’. Different is referring to the the verb done, so it needs to be an adverb — differently. Same with the next sentence — Sometimes I think I could never do anything any different. Don’t get grammar wrong in the first few lines of page one.

    It does seem redundant, but I think it’s because you are telling, not showing: “I don’t think she could have stopped crying, talking, or pouring out her emotions even if she wanted.”
    So, the unnamed, un-described she talking, but we neither see her, nor hear her. The result is this is a monologue by your narrator, who seems very distant, like an uninvolved observer. You reinforce this, with “The best trained actor . . . could not have been more moved,” clarifying that the narrator is watching this like the audience of a play, not an actor in life. When we discover that he’s the reason she’s crying, his distance makes him a jerk.

    “She was the love of my life and we will never be together and it is all my fault” sounds like a brief summary of the book. I’m not going to be all that invested in the characters if you tell me the romance is going nowhere from the start.

    You have a lot of repetition that is not adding to your story. The women of Indonesia are, among other things, “wonderful, amazing, spectacular.” None of these adjectives tells us much. One might be okay, but in a long string of adjectives, they are just stuff to wade through to get to the story. “She cried like a child . . . she cried like a mother . . .” again, you have a lot of words that aren’t showing us much. Is is wrenching, gulping sobs? More like moans? Whimpering? I have no idea. You’ve spent a quarter of your page on this and I can’t picture the scene. I don’t know what either char looks like, where they are, in a garden in Indonesia or a living room in NYC? What is she saying? Is she accusing, begging?

    You need to make every word work for you.

  5. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 10:34:01

    I’m afraid I had a rather negative reaction to this. The lumping of all women with adjectives, the comparison of pain, the use of “woman-child” (ugh — if she’s twenty-five, she’s a woman). I felt like there was no “there” there. Ellipses and grandiose descriptions do not a story make. As is, this might be better as a poem.

    “wonderful, sexy, lovely, amazing, spectacular, shy, wild, passionate, inhibited, deeply contradictory women of Indonesia”

    Not all women are wonderful. I bet there’s a read doozy of a jerk in Indonesia somewhere because women are actual human beings, not shells of shy/wild wonderfulness to be filled by a man or to reflect what society wants to see. I get how this is meant to be a compliment, but reading it, I recoiled because women are so often thought of in group adjectives instead of as individuals with thoughts, achievements, and personalities. Especially women of color. I don’t mean to be spectacularly harsh, but I honestly believe you should think again and begin your story with the hero/heroine (if applicable?) and see who they are as individuals who have specific goals and build from there.

  6. lpenel
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 11:09:26

    This was not a really compelling or engaging first page. I, too, read it as a ghost watching the woman cry. The Introduction alone was off-putting. Besides the overuse of adjectives, the attempt at mystery didn’t leave me intrigued to find out what he’d done.

    There were just too many words used to describe the fact that a woman was crying. It was over the top. A scene with a woman crying at a funeral could be a compelling lead-in to a novel, but we need to move quickly into starting to care for the character — show don’t tell. A scene where we see a woman’s grief and then begin to learn more about her could be compelling.

  7. reader
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 11:40:15

    This reads as though you’re too focused on trying to frame scenes poetically, at the expense of giving us real individuals and a true sense of what they’re going through. Too many universal-experience descriptions and not enough specific character detail.

    I don’t know anything much about this poor woman except that she’s crying and I feel beaten over the head with the fact that she’s crying. I think it would be much more powerful if you narrowed the focus to one description of her emotion, rather than comparing it to half a dozen things.

    Also, having nearly lost my own child, I can easily imagine that the grief for a lost child is a special kind of agony that doesn’t quite compare with losing a parent, as painful as that is. Though you can say grief is grief, these comparisons just don’t quite work for me personally. I think it would work better if you let us know about this woman’s particular grief so we can understand it in her context.

    The opening did come across as a little condescending to me, too. Though I don’t like your narrator so far, I will say I get a feeling you may have a strong, relatable story here and I think you can write it if you simply tell the story on a human (or human and ghost, if it applies) scale. I see evidence here that you can write well, but it feels buried under a self-conscious attempt at some sort of transcendental drama. Unless you’re deliberately trying to copy some sort of style from something else, like some earlier literature of a type?

    I just feel there’s a good story here, but you need to jump on it and make it human.
    Specific to your characters.

  8. Jacques
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 16:48:35

    I agree with the concern that the narrator may be preparing the way for a self-indulgent tale of manipulation masquerading as love. A story like that could be interesting, if that’s the point, like in Manon Lescaut. But if the narrator is really just the author, it could get pretty tawdry and self-indulgent.

    So has this first page led anyone to expect something better? I think it’s unclear. Part of the problem is the prose style is really poetry. I think it’s the form known as a conceit. Prose can sometimes drift into poetry without disrupting the narrative too much, and maybe even enhance a specific narrative effect. But I’m not sure a conceit is a good choice for that sort of thing.

    A conceit is best suited to lyric poetry, especially for indicating the obsessive character of the poet’s voice. If the point of this story is to show the obsessive character of the man who thinks he loves Indonesian women, then it might work. But it’s risky if it isn’t controlled really carefully.

    Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a really fine example of an obsessional narrator who reveals himself in the first page. That gives you a sense of how much time you have to show that the author isn’t the narrator.

  9. Kate
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 17:43:59

    It’s not just that the writing is too much like poetry, it’s that it’s not terribly GOOD poetry. Patronizing introduction, purposeless repetition in the first line (“Her emotion was flowing out of her, erupting, gushing, overflowing“), jumbled metaphors (“The best trained and most skilled stage or film actor at the finest heights of emotion to move an audience could not have been moved as much as I was moved now” – you’re talking about the actor being moved, not the audience, which makes no sense), and overall over-writing.

    I think there may well be an interesting story in here, but you’re asking me to fight WAY too hard to find it.

  10. Yulie
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 08:35:31

    I don’t think the commenters understand about Indonesians. They sure seem very cranky and talk about grammar rules an Indonesian doesn’t know or care like an English teacher does.

    This story was written for Indonesian women. He writes with so much passion, so emotional and romantic.He does seem to know us, that we are very sheltered like girls until we are married. And so we feel very deeply, not like the commenters.

    I’m one of many Indonesian women who follow his column on Jakarta Post and read his books. I don’t think western women can understand us, but he does. Yes, the story is about a man who is not a good man. A few of you did understand that. But it turns out very sad and tragic since he loses his love from not being a good person. That appeals to Indonesians since we are raised with strict morals, much more strict than in the west.

    Good day to you all.

  11. Des Livres
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 08:47:06

    The narrator comes across as being more interested in himself and his own dramas than anything else. There was nothing in the narrative to engage my interest in him as a person or my sympathy. If I was reading this as a preview on Amazon, I would not read further.

  12. danza
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 14:31:33

    First of all I’m an Indonesian woman. I would stress that like everywhere else in the world, we are so very varied. Most of us do grow up with very strict upbringing, but do all of us graduate to be the women our society aspire us to be? The answer is no. And it is unfair to women everywhere say that “we feel very deeply, unlike the commenters”. Love is love and everybody experiences life. Upbringing does not make or break personalities you were born with.

    Maybe the author knew Indonesian women, but I do not feel it in this piece. There is nothing that speaks to the Indonesian part of me, how restrictive our families and the society could be, how the country and its people taught me the meaning of “a bird in a gold cage”.

    I think the author was trying to pay some kind of homage to Indonesia, but he is making the women sound like a species that does not exist. There must be something real in this to touch me, to identify with the Indonesian part of me, but there isn’t. Despite what he said in the introduction, this piece is about him, not the woman. And yes, my very first thought upon reading was that this sounds like a typical older white guy relationship with an Indonesian woman. Cliche, but cliches are there for a reason.

    We also do care about grammar. We have so many poets and gifted song writers that chains words that could slice your heart into a thousand pieces within a constructed verse.

    By the way, I have written for Jakarta Post too, and I’d be very surprised if he had ever gotten away with so many adjectives in a piece, even for feature ones.

  13. Meoskop
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 16:55:03

    The First Page is supposed to be an anonymous critique. Claiming to know the author and what reception their work may have at Jakarta Post does neither (?) of you any favors. Given I’ve never known a woman who felt men can understand any subset or women better than another subset of women you really do the author no benefit.

    I also assumed it was a male voice and found the sample did not inspire me to read more. While the narrator sets himself up to be at 40 to her 25, he still sets off my pedophile alarm with “woman-child”. It’s overly florid & fails to bring me in. Narrator feels predatory, I have no curiosity about how he broke his lover.

  14. Jacques
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 20:50:28

    I also find easy assertions that one group of people can’t ever understand another one unpersuasive, whether it’s men not understanding women, or vice versa, or this tribe not understanding that one. If a group of people really can’t ever be understood by another, then I can’t see how they can even understand themselves. Understanding is always universal that way. Partial understanding is no understanding at all.

  15. Jane Lovering
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 04:32:22

    There are things in here that might interest me, if handled differently, but why start out telling us that there will be poetry but the writer isn’t a good poet? I wouldn’t start a novel by telling my readers I was a rubbish author – they would, quite rightly, put the book back on the shelf. I quite like the concept ‘we will never be together – and that is all my fault’, if it means that the writer is coming to learn something about himself, that he is discovering something that will lead him to change his life, but otherwise? You’ve just got a self-indulgent guy whingeing about how he is essentially unloveable, whilst trying to get laid.

  16. reader
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 10:04:23

    @Yulie:

    Which just goes to show there’s an audience for every story, no matter how shallowly it’s told.

  17. Avery Shy
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 12:57:34

    I’m a bit confused.

    @Yulie: how do you know who the author is? They’re not identified here. This says to me that either (a) you know him personally and he told you he was putting a first page up here, or (b) you are the author.

    In any case, this opening demonstrates a phenomenon called “manpain”, in which something tragic happens to a woman, yet the reader is supposed to empathize with the man as if the man’s reaction is more important. If the narrator has just done something awful to this woman, I don’t care about how awful the man feels.

    Describing the woman’s pain in poetic terms does not help me feel it; it distances the reader from it, making it clean and artistic, like a bystander viewing a painting. It dehumanizes it. It degrades it. And it is all about the man; her pain is in direct relation to how awesome the man is, and the poetic description of her pain is only a segue into how awful the man feels.

    You call this a love poem to the women of Indonesia. This reads more like a love poem to your narrator. Women are not art. When you put a woman on a pedestal, you are dehumanizing her. This is called “benevolent sexism”, and it’s twice as irritating as other kinds of sexism, because a person who commits benevolent sexism is likely to never understand that he is doing so.

    If you meant the opening to show that your main character is self-absorbed, then you have done an excellent job, and I would reader further. If you wrote this piece about yourself, or you meant it unironically, then I label this book “not for me”. Perhaps others will feel differently.

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