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First Page: Angel of the City

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Freedom breeds uncertainty; uncertainty invites chaos.

The phrase comes to me unbidden as I stare at the graffiti: a crudely painted white letter ‘A’, inscribed within a white circle, symbol of the latest resistance movement. You see them all over the city these days, too many to blame on the resistance alone. Kids playing copycat I suppose, but that won’t matter if they’re caught. Promoting anti-government ideology is a capital crime and offenders can be shot on sight. Age is immaterial. That’s the law.

It’s eleven o’clock in the evening and the streets are deserted. No, more than deserted—dead. Deserted just means an absence of people, but death has a stench and the streets reek of it. It’s the smell of decay, of corruption and blight. Some places are worse than others, but there’s no escaping it. Unless you leave the city. And no one leaves the city.

Breaking curfew is dealt with even more harshly than graffiti, but my risk is small. I’m not tagged, so technically I don’t exist. The light from the scanner doesn’t even flicker. I don’t register. I’m a shade.

I could still be picked up on some random video surveillance, but there isn’t much chance of that. This area isn’t monitored closely. Nothing here to monitor except mountains of stinking, aging trash. The seventy-first precinct is the trash capital of the city. Not that the piles are all that smaller uptown, but they probably smell better.

I hear her before I see her, even though she’s wearing some kind of rubber-soled moc. A slight crack in the knee as she comes out of the shadows. Starvation does that to a body; makes it snap and pop in odd places, even a young body like hers.

She catches sight of me in the glare of the scanner and stops, a look of fear in her eyes. Can’t blame her for that. She doesn’t know me from the Director General. Devon would have told her something, but what, that I’m a thief? What of it? There are worse things in this world than thieves. I should know. I used to be one of those worse things.

Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it’s the scanner she’s afraid of. If so, then I want to know because if she’s tagged, I don’t want be anywhere near her.

She seems hesitant, undecided. What’s wrong bobby, having second thoughts? Whatever your problem, doesn’t seem so bad now, does it? Not bad enough to have to deal with a man like me?

She looks quickly over her shoulder, back the way she came. For a blink, I think she’ll run. That’s fine by me. I only promised Devon I’d have a meet with her. If she decides to skip out, well, that’s her problem. Only she doesn’t run. She cocks her head and takes a step closer, eying my long leather trench coat warily.

So it is me she’s afraid of. Smart girl.

The fear doesn’t fade completely but she comes near anyway, so near I can smell her and maybe she wants me to. She raises the sleeves of her ragged sweater, making a point of showing me her arms. No tats.

Nice try bobby, but that can be faked.

Before I can tell her to, she drops the sweater and pants and steps naked in front of the blue glow of the scanner imbedded in the wall. She’s scrawny, but with a healthier look than most in this precinct. This one hasn’t been hungry her whole life, it’s new to her. Even so, she’s tough. Doesn’t blush or try to cover herself. Just stares me straight in the eye, face like a mannequin.

Not a peep from the machine. Nothing. That can’t be faked. I ease my finger off the revolver in my pocket and give her a curt nod. She picks up her rags and throws them back on, shivering. It’s cold tonight.

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

11 Comments

  1. Katie T.
    May 26, 2013 @ 05:27:24

    Oh wow. Beautiful descriptions, vivid and stark. The writing is good, although I do see some errors (“eying”).

    Why is he calling her a bobby? What’s a bobby? A slang? I’ve only ever heard of the word bobby in reference to a British police officer and clearly that’s not the case here.

    You might want to explain the significance of the tattoo or lack thereof, I was a bit confused there. The tags I understand, but tattoos? They would seem harmless enough to an uninformed reader.

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  2. Becky Black
    May 26, 2013 @ 07:56:24

    I’m definitely intrigued by this, I’d continue on beyond the first page. The only niggle is the “bobby” bit. I don’t demand an explanation for what it is, I assume it’s some kind of slang and he’s calling her a “bobby”, but in that case it needs a comma, as in “What’s wrong, bobby”. Just like it would be “What’s wrong, kid” or “What’s wrong, Jane”. Name or nickname or general term for someone of that type, any of these being used to address someone, even in a person’s mind needs the comma before – and after if the sentence continues as it does here.

    Other than that I don’t see much to pick out.

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  3. kate sherwood
    May 26, 2013 @ 08:20:46

    I liked it and would read on, even though this doesn’t seem like a genre I’d normally chose.

    I share the bobby issue, especially with the lack of a comma.

    And the style, while generally really strong, grated in a few spots – I felt like you sort of overdid the short-choppy-sentences-at-the-end-of-a-paragraph thing in the first few paragraphs – the first time was really effective, the second was okay, but by the third I was expecting it and it lost its power and just made me feel like I was reading a book for people with short attention spans.

    I really liked the deserted/dead/decayed paragraph (even with the choppy end sentences!).

    Nice work! Good luck with it!

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  4. wikkidsexycool
    May 26, 2013 @ 08:52:54

    Hello Author,

    I’d read on, because I loved the little bit of world building in this first page. It would be interesting to know if this is narration via a male lead (I don’t want to assume, but whether its male or female, I appreciate the voice you’ve got going for your protagonist). This is a powerful first page, and I congratulate you on that. Thanks for submitting your work.

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  5. theo
    May 26, 2013 @ 09:50:47

    This is a great example of why I rarely read first person. And this applies to just me. Most readers don’t have a problem with it, but for me, this is still almost all telling and that is an inherent problem with first person. The world is narrow, only seen through the eyes of the narrator/main character.

    You tell me about the graffiti, the stink, some scanner…all in passing. Does the graffiti make him feel anything? Does the stink turn his stomach? Make him gag a bit? What is his reaction when he sees the girl? Do the hairs raise on his neck? Does she startle him? He hears her before he sees her (and yes, you establish by his thought that he’s male,) but in the area he’s in, is it a walk in the park or a dangerous place? It’s generic. He could be anywhere from an alleyway to a bus stop. I don’t know.

    Your writing is very good, but it’s still generic. At least for me. I need more in the way of place and personal feelings and reactions.

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  6. hapax
    May 26, 2013 @ 10:05:18

    I’m so tired of first-person dystopian noir I could scream, so I’m probably not your target audience — and yet this page grabbed me, so powerful was your description, and so subtle your world-building.

    I don’t want it all laid out, map and glossary, on the first page; this one very effectively conveyed the horror and dreariness of this world, the political oppression, starvation, high-tech surveillance, etc., all without succumbing to the dreaded “As you know, Bob…”

    Along with the nits that others have mentioned, I’d point out that your opening sentence isn’t a “phrase”; it’s a grammatically complete compound sentence. I’d go with “slogan” or “motto” or something like that instead.

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  7. Wahoo Suze
    May 26, 2013 @ 11:09:34

    In spite of the previously-mentioned nitpicks (bobby, first-person dystopia), I really liked it. I’d keep reading (provided that the blurb assures me a happy/hopeful ending, because I don’t have the emotions to spare on depressing stories).

    This bit here is a thing of beauty:

    It’s eleven o’clock in the evening and the streets are deserted. No, more than deserted—dead. Deserted just means an absence of people, but death has a stench and the streets reek of it. It’s the smell of decay, of corruption and blight. Some places are worse than others, but there’s no escaping it.

    You’ve got a lot of strengths on display here. Thanks for putting your work out there.

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  8. JL
    May 26, 2013 @ 11:24:55

    I probably am your target audience for this. I love 1st person narrative and dystopian. This is one of my favourite first pages in a long time and I would absolutely read on. It’s always a good sign when I re-read paragraphs to make sure I’m picking up every detail instead of my usual skimming. I have a million questions in my head that I want answers to (in a good way), so I do hope this gets published.

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  9. Lucy Woodhull
    May 26, 2013 @ 12:38:18

    Loved it. I didn’t need anything explained to me — on the contrary, I love figuring out the worldbuilding when the writing is great. I think there’s a current trend in romance to over-explain and spoon feed to the reader like we’re idiots, so it’s refreshing to see that not happen. Would definitely buy as-is! Good luck!

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  10. J0
    May 26, 2013 @ 13:09:13

    I’ll agree with everyone else that the world building is really good. However you have a writing tic that is a bit glaring at the beginning. You combine long flowery prose with sharper, shorter sentences. This works once for dramatic effect, then it starts to sound like a voice over for a movie trailer. This isn’t helped by the slight of overwriting in the first two paragraphs. The end had better threat and drama without seeming over the top.

    Also the italics threw me off. Is he talking to someone else? Telepathy? The narrator feels very distant, like he’s reporting something instead of narrating.

    I’d be hesitant to read on. Tough girl and evil government/conspiracy have been milked a little too much in the dystopia and sci-fi novels. It can’t immediately see anything that makes this stand out.

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  11. Maria
    May 27, 2013 @ 08:31:05

    I couldn’t get past the beginning. A couple of words tripped me up. Unbidden and I thought graffiti could be rearranged. Verbs could be stronger.

    The phrase jolts me as I stare at the crudely painted white letter ‘A’, inscribed within a white circle, symbol of the latest resistance movement. The graffiti is all over the city these days, too many to blame on the resistance alone. Kids playing copycat I suppose, but that won’t matter if they’re caught.

    Just tightening.

    ReplyReply

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