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First Page: JESSICA’S GAME

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Jessica Marie Havemeyer knew when to let the curtain fall. And at two in the morning, thirty-five minutes after Kent Gordon, neighbor extraordinaire and apartment-complex hottie, was supposed to get home from his date with the little Vietnamese girl, Jessica put down her binoculars and moved away from the window.

The disappointment stung. For a week, she'd been looking forward to adjudicating Gordo's first moves. He had a knack, or a predilection, for arranging his sex in the window for full viewing-‘lights on, the curtains just askew, the slats of the vertical blinds missing here and there like punched-out teeth. Jessica had been spying on all her neighbors for the three weeks she'd been laid up with a broken foot, but most of her attention had been devoted to Gordo. With a punctuality bordering on OCD, Gordon would leave his home and return to it, usually with a new lady guest, though the diminutive Vietnamese had monopolized him for seven days straight. Holding out, she'd figured. Maybe a virgin. Imagining scenarios provided a constructive reprieve from hours of Law & Order reruns.

Jessica rearranged herself on her bed, her foot lofted on pillows to help speed swelling reduction. She cursed herself again for not paying attention in Geometry those decades ago- If she had just moved the crash pad a little to the left, accounting for the climb's overhang, she wouldn't have come down on the edge of the pad, forcing her ankle sharply right. When she closed her eyes, she could still hear the loud snap! of her bone breaking.

"Three more weeks, Jessica Marie. Three more weeks-"

She leaned back and closed her eyes. Sleeping had been like that since the accident-‘hard little spurts, filled with crazy dreams. She was descending into one, binoculars still in hand, when she heard distinct footsteps on the landing outside.

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

32 Comments

  1. Joanne
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 07:29:26

    The opening of Rear Window & Disturbia but with a female lead who seems more stalker than recuperating patient.

    “little Vietnamese girl” turned my stomach. You may have meant petite but I got a mental picture of a juvenile and I was all done. Wondering about the female’s virginity? Ick.

    Writing voice: good.
    Plot: Not at all.

    That’s just my opinion of course and thank you for putting your work here and much good luck.

  2. Jane
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 07:31:47

    @Joanne This piece reminded of Rear Window as well but I thought, like you, the female protagonist came off as creepy rather than sympathetic. She sounds completely disgusted that she isn’t getting her nightly peep show and that the Vietnamese chick is interrupting her spying.

  3. Pat
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 08:21:19

    Aside from the general creepiness of Jessica’s voyeurism, I am bothered by a plot point. How does she know he is dating a little Vietnamese girl if he hasn’t brought her home yet?

  4. Maili
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 08:31:24

    This is a little too like Rear Window.

    I didn’t like the ‘little Vietnamese girl’ bit. Nails on a chalk board. I haven’t come any story with a similar line like ‘little white girl’ when describing a petite Caucasian adult woman. The reference makes him sound as if he’s a paedophile, too. I also didn’t like the implication that she held out because of sex (or lack of). What if she has a personality that Kent Gordon happens to like?

    Petty, but ‘Kent Gordon’ makes me think of Commissioner Gordon of Batman, which lends an image of Kent Gordon as an elder in glasses, white moustache and a yellow mac. I have no idea why!

    That aside: since she had a broken ankle, was she on crutches when she moved away from the window? Or did she hop to bed?

    Apart from my annoyance with the Vietnamese descriptions, I would read on.

  5. Maili
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 08:35:09

    P.S. I’m curious – how does Jessica know that the woman is Vietnamese? Unless they are told, most people couldn’t tell.

  6. Nadia Lee
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 08:45:33

    What Jane & Maili said.

  7. Sunita
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:07:33

    How does she know he is dating a little Vietnamese girl if he hasn't brought her home yet?

    Because

    the diminutive Vietnamese had monopolized him for seven days straight.

    Just in case the “little Vietnamese” point hadn’t been sufficiently hammered home.

    I don’t have to like the characters to keep reading, but so far the heroine comes across as mean-spirited and bigoted, and we don’t get any signals about why we should find her interesting.

    Also, if I brought someone home 7 nights in a row, I’d probably be infatuated or at least taken with the person, not just “monopolized” by him.

  8. Sunita
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:13:32

    I meant to add, I liked the writing and with a different narrator or setup I would definitely read more.

  9. evie byrne
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:18:13

    Ditto everyone on the “Vietnamese girl” problem.

    And though I am usually all for difficult MCs, this one managed to creep me out in one page. Ratchet her back a notch. It’s a given that she’s a stalker/voyeur, so you need to figure out a way to make her a sympathetic stalker/voyeur, in the way Dexter is a sympathetic serial killer. I suspect this will pivot on her showing both empathy toward others and a disarming self-awareness that she is doing something bad. That has to start on page one.

    Also, Gordo means fat/big/chubby in Spanish, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m from LA, where it’s a common nickname, but her calling him Gordo just cracked me up.

  10. bettie
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:33:43

    Ditto all of the above comments about “the little Vietnamese girl” bit. Honestly, I would put the book down right there. I hate it when writers use race as the defining descriptor for non-white characters.

    Also, are the points in the story where Gordon is referred to as “Gordo” typos, or deliberate?

  11. theo
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:45:54

    I have to agree as well regarding the description of the unknown woman. If this was a creepy, noir type thriller or even a horror story, that description might help set up the tone and also that Jessica is most likely the next victim of a sexual predator/pedophile because she’s seen too much.

    Romance? Not so much. The woman’s description and that fact that Jessica, if she’s your hn, is almost as creepy as the neighbor, would not prompt me to read on. At least as written. Make Jessica way more sympathetic to begin with and then tell me why she’s looking out the window:

    “Jessica, you are disgusting,” Jessica mumbled to herself as she tossed the binoculars on the bed. The movement made her totter back and forth on her crutches and if she did a face plant on the floor, it would serve her right. She’d been so bored, laid up for the past three weeks with her broken ankle, she’d taken to spying on the neighbors. And the bizarre visual stories some of them told. Especially the neighbor across the way and his constant parade of inamorata. He always made sure to stand in front of the window as if he wanted someone to see him. What she didn’t understand and maybe it was because of her sketchy sleeping patterns thanks to the broken ankle that was never going to heal, was why she never saw any of the women leave.

    That’s just Q&D, but give me something that makes me care a bit about Jessica and I’d probably read more because your voice is good. But at this point, it’s not good enough to overshadow the content for me.

  12. SAO
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 09:53:01

    To me, a little girl is below age 8. My first impression was that Jessica was the elderly spinster/busybody of the neighborhood and not in a charming, Miss Marple-like way.

    Jessica is nasty. All the motives she imputes are negative. The date is probably “holding out” rather than wanting to get to know Gordon before hopping into bed before she’s known the guy a week. Gordon’s regular habits are “OCD”. I’ve met people like Jessica and wish I hadn’t.

    You could change the impression without much work. Suggesting that Gordon liked to be watched, that he seemed almost like a friend, etc. And above all, making Jessica’s thoughts about her neighbors positive.

  13. theo
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 10:08:54

    Jane, I evidenlty didn’t close my tag right and I’m wondering if it’s going to make every post italic now. I don’t see an edit button anymore so can you maybe fix it?

  14. Maili
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 10:20:27

    @theo: Nice.

    Author could turn it round by having Jessica thinking of the film Rear Window. This could inspire her to try it out herself (and to acknowledge there’s a similarity between the film and this scene).

    This would have her feeling half-guilty and half-amused for using this to kill time, then she got hooked.

    As in “I shouldn’t be doing this, but I can’t help it. Hm, let me have five minutes more of this, then I’ll stop…(five minutes later)… I can’t stop now. There’s something weird going on with that Gordon bloke. Another five mins.”

    I think we all have experienced this at least once in our lives (with books, games, TV and more), which could make us feel somewhat sympathetic towards Jessica.

  15. theo
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 10:33:49

    @Maili: Thank you.

    I agree about the Rear Window nod as well. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to give credit where it’s due. Makes the character more human.

    I watched a movie last week that I knew I shouldn’t have but the DH wanted to see it. Unfortunately, it was like the train wreck you can’t look away from for me and a couple of the scenes still bother me. I should have known better. Same with Jessica. She should know better but can’t seem to help herself.

    One other little niggle that’s bothering me about this piece. I don’t need all of the character’s full names in the first two paragraphs unless they’re giving it to a cop because they’re under arrest or some similar situation. I don’t even need them till the middle of the book unless it’s pertinent before then. It’s just one of those things that bothers me because usually, it’s the ‘lazy’ way to get the introductions to the reader out of the way. Weave it into the story.

  16. LEW
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 10:59:02

    Why would Jessica be laid up for 3 weeks because of a broken foot? When I broke my leg and ankle, granted I wasn’t having wild monkey sex with a cast on my leg, but I also wasn’t sitting at home alone every night. Even after surgery (after the first week, at least), I still went out with friends, or friends came over for dinner and movies. I probably went out more when I was broken than I normally do, and I definitely found that men buy you a lot of drinks when you’re on crutches. You know the warning on Percocet just says “Caution: may increase the effects of alcohol”, and that’s not really a deterrent…

    And on that note, if you can’t sleep, take two Percocet and knock yourself out.

  17. Courtney Milan
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 12:11:28

    Add me to the crowd that got to “little Vietnamese girl” and started thinking about child sex slavery.

    Instant DO NOT WANT, and no matter the author’s intention, the visceral reaction to that was too strong to be easily overcome. “Short woman” does not equal “little girl.”

  18. Berinn Rae
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 12:13:07

    When I read this piece, “pretentious serial killer” came to mind first. Definitely creepy in several of her mannerisms (Vietnamese girl aside) in that she’s stalking her neighbor and using big words to do it (e.g., adjudicating, predilection). I would read a few more pages, thinking the heroine may be a highbrow Dexter type, where we could like her innate badness. I could see lots of potential in a story like that. If that’s not your intent with the heroine, I would revisit this scene.

  19. DM
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 12:14:24

    @LEW:

    The heroine’s recovery time and mobility would depend on the injury, the treatment method, and the accessibility of her home. If she has an unstable break being treated in a cast, she’s going to be spending a lot of time at home elevating that foot. And if the cast goes all the way up her leg to immobilize the knee, she’s going to have a very hard time getting around. And if she lives alone, on an upper story, without an elevator, then she’s not going to get out much.

    That being said, the unpleasant voice of the heroine turned me off completely. I’m not going to say creepy racist protagonists with questionable attitudes towards the opposite sex can’t carry a book, but Harry Flashman this gal ain’t.

  20. Bibliotrek
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 12:22:47

    I agree with others about Jessica’s nastiness and being immediately turned off by the “little/diminutive Vietnamese girl” comments. But for me, the dislike started at the very beginning: the first three words were the heroine’s full name but the rest of the scene is written in her POV. It struck an off note that the other problems only confirmed and exacerbated. By the end of the page, I had no reason to continue reading.

    On the other hand, the revision that @theo suggested would change everything and totally make me want to read on.

  21. Lyn
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 13:00:00

    I agree completely on the “little Vietnamese girl” criticism, but I have to say, I enjoyed the rest of this. Even absentmindedly tried to scroll down to see what was happening next.

    I guess the question I have is: do you want her to be the romance heroine type? Because she’s not that. To me, this feels more like the start of an erotica, where it turns out her neighbor knows she’s watching and that this game is between both of them. Not a nice game, but an interesting one. Not a nice heroine, but a fascinating one.

    On a line by line level, there’s some evocative writing here: the blinds like punched-out teeth. The little spurts of crazy dreams, which is so true of recuperating dreams.

  22. Sao
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 13:12:38

    @dm
    My daughter was in a cast from toe to hip a few years ago. After the first few days, she was remarkably mobile, she couldn’t dance and she couldn’t do gym, but a few flights of stairs? No problem. Plus, after a few weeks, the cast got cut to below the knee.

    In short, an active woman with a broken ankle isn’t going to be housebound.

  23. whome
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 14:03:54

    I always thought that the protag from Rear Window was kind of creepy.

    Just commenting to try to get rid of the italics.

  24. theo
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 14:21:42

    Just tossing this out there but: maybe this site will give some insight.

    http://goo.gl/BBtEs

    Several different stories on healing after broken/fractured ankles.

    I worked an ortho/surg floor in the hospital for several years. Every break/fracture/sprain is different and every one requires a different plan for healing. No two are alike. So the broken ankle that still isn’t weight-bearing after three or four weeks is very possible. I personally didn’t have a problem with that at all. Probably one of the few things that didn’t strike me as standoffish.

  25. LEW
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 14:28:38

    I’m with Sao. I had reconstructive surgery on my ankle followed by 6 weeks of being completely non-weight-bearing. I had some of the worst of the worst for lower leg injuries and I still got out and about. A lot. (Not to mention that I spent a week camping in the Arctic on crutches with a broken leg and ankle before I ever saw a doctor…perhaps not my smartest move…) I’m just saying if you want your “heroine” laying about for 3 weeks, give her a fractured hip or something. Having been through this, it just struck me as an annoying plot point when portrayed in a seemingly over-the-top manner. Well, once you get past the unattractive behavior and thoughts of said “heroine”…

  26. Lori S.
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 14:54:21

    Creepy, bigoted stalker heroine coupled with a “gordo” (The second I read that, I pictured him at 300 pounds) man-whore pedophile who enjoys being watched.

    Pass.

  27. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 15:27:08

    I would have been out of this one after the first paragraph. Peeping Tom (Tomasina?) heroines in romances aren’t my cup of tea.
    Unless she is a villain? I’d read on if she were the villain and the “little Vietnamese girl” was the heroine. Otherwise, no. Too much like Ruth Rendell for me.
    If she is the villain, then the reader needs a few clues upfront, if this is a romance.
    It did occur to me that if the neighbour “arranges” the scene, does he know she’s watching? In which case it goes even more creepy.

  28. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 23:46:21

    I agree with everyone about the “little Vietnamese girl.” Very jarring. Otherwise I think this is fresh and interesting. I like the voyeuristic angle. This is not a boring Mary Sue heroine! I’d read on.

  29. loreen
    Feb 13, 2011 @ 06:49:14

    I think it would be really helpful to declare the genre of these 1st pages when the author submits. To me, this seems like erotica rather than romance. If it is erotica, I don’t have a lot to say because I dislike the genre. This seems like it would work, though. I imagine Kent is about to come confront Jessica about her stalking-spying and within a chapter or two they will be having exhibitionist sex against the broken blinds as well.
    As a romance, however, this does not work for all the reasons already stated. I am wondering why Jessica is stuck in her apartment for 3 weeks with nothing better to do than spy on her neighbor. Doesn’t she have a job that she has to do, even remotely? Doesn’t she have any friends or family? How about a hobby – she could catch up on her reading or learn Russian….otherwise, she seems kind of pathetic. At least James Stewart had his photography career and the gorgeous Grace Kelly trying to seduce him.

    Honestly, the writing is pretty good. You set the scene well, I just can’t get past the strange heroine. I also hope that the Vietnamese woman is the heroine and about to beat the “*+* out of Jessica. Frankly, if my neighbor was having wild, promiscuous exhibitionist sex with a string of women, I would wonder a. why he couldn’t fix his broken blinds b. whether he was getting testing for STDs. I would also feel kind of sorry for the next woman and, rather than wonder why she wasn’t putting out in front of the entire neighborhood for a man she just met a week ago, I would be tempted to slip her a little warning that she was getting involved with a man-slut who is incompetent at home-maintanance.

  30. loreen
    Feb 13, 2011 @ 07:51:36

    I just commented and I realize that my reaction came off as extremely negative – a lot of people seem to have had an intense reaction to the heroine. But at least it is a reaction! With most 1st pages, I just thing, “ho hum…same old.” So despite this negative response, I do think that this could become interesting.

    More constructive criticism:
    Back way up. We need to get to know Jessica so that we can have sympathy with her before she starts spying on her neighbor. I have done things that I wouldn’t normally do and would not approve of it I had really thought about it. Hasn’t everyone? This needs to come off as something that happened by accident. Normally, she is an upstanding citizen with a life, but she just happened to be looking out her window with binoculars (checking for burglars? bird watching?) when she saw her neighbor….

    How did she break her leg? Is she a stunt actor or something? This could be interesting, so let the reader in on it earlier.

    Personally, I would have a hard time getting into a hero who is so promiscuous that he brings home a different woman every night. Sure, he can have an active sex life, but that seems extreme in a contemporary. In real life, such people do not make very promising partners….
    So, for me, you would either need to tone that down, or start explaining….
    good luck

  31. Maura
    Feb 13, 2011 @ 14:01:12

    @whome: The protag from “Rear Window” WAS creepy, but I’m pretty sure he was meant to be (Jimmy Stewart or no). So when I read that this character was in a similar position to the character in such an iconic movie- spying on her neighbors from boredom- I immediately flashed on him, and that probably informs my immediate sense that Jessica here is a creeper also.

    Agree on “little Vietnamese girl.” I didn’t get a pedo vibe from this phrasing, but I did get a condescending racist vibe. Again, if the character is *supposed* to be a creeper, that can work, but it will require a little more finesse. If it’s unintentional, then it should be removed or reworked.

    Finally.. what genre is this? Comments on this blog will usually come from the standpoint of readers/writers of romance, but I’m not sure based on this first page whether this actually is romance, or whether it’s supposed to be suspense or crime fiction instead. Knowing that might make a difference in how I’m reading this.

  32. Rachel
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 12:04:27

    I agree with the points that have already been made, but want to compliment the writing. This writer has a good, strong voice, and I’d like to read more. Maybe not more of THIS, but more! :)

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