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First Page: Unnamed Urban Fantasy

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***

The blood coating my hands and face created one hell of a problem. "Well, shit," I breathed, staring at the red winding over my knuckles. "That’s not good. Not at all."

Anonymous people, their auras streaming like thick waters, surged past the mouth of the alley, oblivious on the Old City sidewalk. I staggered away from the wall and swiped my forearm across my eyes. Completely futile, though. Bloody images never cleaned away as easily as the real stuff.

That vision had hit me like a brick to the face. Wet warmth still trickled from my nose and I pinched it, tipping my head back. The slice of sky between the buildings was a riot of color, nuclear pinks and reds and oranges. Almost curfew.

"Shit," I said again.

Then the rolling waves of nausea hit, magical whiplash exacting its price. I doubled over and retched, aching head clamped between my hands. As I rode out the queasiness, my gaze swept over the busted pavement, finally coming to rest on the abandoned canvas bag at my left. Oh, hallelujah.

My knees still felt loose as I rummaged through my bag’s flotsam. Shuriken, lipstick… fresh mag of hollowpoints, mirror; come on! A roll of gauze went under my elbow, and something that may or may not have once been a styptic pencil joined the refuse littering the ground. Where are you…? Ah. My fingers closed around the cool, smooth bottle of isopropanol, so I licked the copper from my lips and got to work.

Neutralizing all of the blood took a while–my nosebleed had been quite the gusher. I finally threw the bandages into the warped dumpster, tossing in a match for good measure. Thick, oily blue flames licked at the soiled cotton and smoke bellowed up as I dropped the lid with a clang. Coughing, I backed away. With any luck, the fire would stay contained.

My luck lately though, the whole damned city would burn. And me with it.

By the time I made it to the edge of the sidewalk, the crowds had thinned, the shadows had lengthened, and I was out of time.

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

22 Comments

  1. Rob Charron
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 05:23:10

    Hi :)
    What’s to critique?
    This was excellent.
    I wanted to turn the page but the screen wouldn’t cooperate.
    :)
    All the best,
    twitter.com/RKCharron
    xoxo

  2. DS
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 05:38:37

    I would be interested in this one if it is published. As I reader I wasn’t jarred once.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 05:52:50

    Well written, good, and fairly generic.
    It’s always difficult to get into a currently fashionable genre, because it might not be flavor of the month by the time it goes to press, in around eighteen months’ time.
    To be honest, I don’t read anything special here. I’m not an urban fantasy reader, but if I were, I’d want this now.
    Looking at it from a technical point of view, this isn’t a first page. It’s a reaction, not an action, and if you take Dwight Swain as your mentor, and you could do far, far worse, it’s a ‘sequel,’ not a ‘scene.’ Start with action, whatever kind of action it is, whether it’s a love scene, someone walking into a dark alley or whatever.
    Right now I’m not completely sold on this book, looking at it as a buyer in a bookstore, because I’m not invested in your main character yet, so I don’t care about her reaction to whatever has happened.
    Once published, the book will be ‘framed’ with blurb and cover art, probably the back of a girl carrying some kind of exotic weapon in low-slung jeans and a halter top that comes to just under her breasts. But this would make a great second scene, or follow-up.

  4. Kristen Painter
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 06:33:07

    I’d read more.

  5. foolserrant
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 07:19:56

    I have to say that your writing here is quite impressive. I don’t know what the heck is going on here but I want to keep reading and find out. I only had a couple little quibbles, nothing major thogh. First, the bit about the contents of her purse made me go, “Good Lord, here we go again” and kind of jolted me out of the story. Not that kick-ass, gun-toting heroines are a bad thing, its just that Badassitis is getting as cliche as Rebelious Princess Syndrome and though potentially you could have written the perfect balance or tough girl and flaws, it can put off a reader pretty quick. The only other issue I had was that I was confused by the details — whether the blood was real or imaginary and whether the sky was actually a riot of colors or if that was part of the vision. I have a strong suspicion that a lot of this will get cleared up in the second page and I would definitely keep reading to find out, especially because I enjoy stories where the author let’s the reader figure some stuff out on their own. But I do think that maybe some clarification on what’s real and what’s not could help. But then again that fuzziness could help convey how the lines of reality blur for the heroine. But hey, what do I know?

    Definitely very well-written. Way to go and hope this gets published! I will definitely check it out id it does.

  6. Stephanie
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 07:35:12

    Not an urban fantasy reader, but I can see how this would appeal to someone who is. The writing is smooth and the imagery very visual, though the protagonist’s “tough-girl” voice has become a little overfamiliar. I don’t mind the reactive opening, as I suspect that something major is about to happen just after the last sentence in the selection.

  7. Lori
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 07:45:18

    Well I hate to be the one with a quibble but I was confused.

    Bloody images never cleaned away as easily as the real stuff.

    and then

    Neutralizing all of the blood took a while-my nosebleed had been quite the gusher.

    So unless I’m completely dense and I realize that’s a huge possibility, I thought she had an image of blood and was

    magical whiplash exacting its price.

    having a magical experience and not a real life one.

  8. vanessa jaye
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 08:14:33

    I’d read on; which is precisely, when you get down to it, what the first page is supposed to make a reader want to do. There are definitely a couple of things that are a wee bit confusing, though I expect they’d be explained/fleshed out as the story progressed. Not a big UF reader here but depending on the blurb/synopsis, I’d buy this. Good job and good luck!

  9. S. W. Vaughn
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 09:45:37

    Very nice. I’m intrigued, I’d definitely keep reading, and I am a UF fan. :-) I like the voice quite a bit.

    Well done!

  10. Likari
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 09:53:50

    The only thing that took me out of the story was when the lid clanged down on the Dumpster, and I started thinking about capital letters and trademarks. Would “Dumpster” be trademarked in a fantasy world? If not, would it be a word in a fantasy world?

    Then I thought, if the lid clamped down, wouldn’t the lack of oxygen put the fire out? So why would the MC worry about that?

    But I probably wouldn’t have thought any of those things if I hadn’t had my critic hat on. The writing is that tight.

    Good luck with this!

  11. hapax
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 10:11:22

    Well, I liked the bit with the contents of the purse, as much as I liked the whole thing. I’d probably give it at least five pages to impress me that it was something different.

    But just speaking for myself, the narrator’s er, limited vocabulary would start to bug me after a while. Two four letter words in the first paragraph. Two more on the first page. I’m not particularly prudish, but there are better ways to show how “badass” your character is than a constant spew of “hell, shit, shit, damn”.

  12. reader
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 10:11:52

    Very good imagery. I would read on. The one problem I had was the opening line…it was a little too gory for me (and I like gore!). All that blood was kinda icky…and if it was some godawful nosebleed (if I’m reading correctly), the amount of blood seemed like overkill.

    I didn’t have a problem with the purse contents or the dumpster, but I do agree that I want to know what the action is BEFORE this happened. I think it would make for an even stronger opening.

    Great job!

  13. theo
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 15:44:55

    The blood coating my hands and face created one hell of a problem. “Well, shit,” I breathed, staring at the red winding over my knuckles. “That's not good. Not at all.”

    Anonymous people, their auras streaming like thick waters, surged past the mouth of the alley, oblivious on the Old City sidewalk. I staggered away from the wall and swiped my forearm across my eyes. Completely futile, though. Bloody images never cleaned away as easily as the real stuff.

    That vision had hit me like a brick to the face. Wet warmth still trickled from my nose and I pinched it, tipping my head back. The slice of sky between the buildings was a riot of color, nuclear pinks and reds and oranges. Almost curfew.

    Obviously, most today won’t agree with me on this sub, but…I need to nitpick because several things bothered me.

    Did the vision give her a bloody nose? I get that impression here. If so, I’d really like to know how and would rather that image start the scene than the confusing ones left behind. Blood is coating her hands and face, but she’s just got a bloody nose? Unless she’s scrubbing the blood from her nose all over her face, the blood would be limited to trickling down her upper lip, over her mouth and dripping off her chin, providing she didn’t keep her head forward enough to just let it run out of her nose. (I’m hoping her forearm and eyes aren’t all bloody too, but you don’t tell me. I only have the ‘covered’ reference to go by.) And what of her clothes? Are they blood spotted too? If so, how does she react to that?

    Then the rolling waves of nausea hit, magical whiplash exacting its price. I doubled over and retched, aching head clamped between my hands. As I rode out the queasiness, my gaze swept over the busted pavement, finally coming to rest on the abandoned canvas bag at my left. Oh, hallelujah.

    So now she’s got her head clamped between those oh, so bloody hands and the bigger problem is, if her hands are that bloody, then her hair now is as well and getting blood out of her hair with a lone bottle of peroxide or alcohol (and I prefer the common name rather than the technical one, but that’s just me!) when she also has to use it for everything else is difficult at best.

    Neutralizing all of the blood took a while-my nosebleed had been quite the gusher. I finally threw the bandages into the warped dumpster, tossing in a match for good measure. Thick, oily blue flames licked at the soiled cotton and smoke bellowed up as I dropped the lid with a clang. Coughing, I backed away. With any luck, the fire would stay contained.

    Unfortunately, many a ‘bad guy’ has been caught (in real life) because he put the lid down on a dumpster and the fire went out due to lack of oxygen. If the people haven’t noticed her cleaning all that blood off, I’d be surprised if they noticed the smoke from the fire.

    Okay, that said, the potential here is great! I want to know what happened. But the logistics of the descriptions are too out of line for me and override the desire to read on.

    Picture the actions/heroine in your mind and then give me enough so I see what you do, but not so much that I’m overwhelmed or so little that I’m scratching my head. It’s a fine line to walk, I know. But I think with a better picture here, with clearer, fuller descriptions, I’d keep going.

  14. Anon76
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 16:14:11

    I’m thinking along the same lines as Theo. All this mention of blood led me to believe at first that a simple nose bleed wasn’t all that was wrong, even though it was called a “gusher”.

    And if the inside of the nose was bleeding so heavily, pinching and holding the head back would cause a gagging sensation. All that blood trickling down the passages leading to your throat.

    Just my two cents, and all the best to you.

  15. Sarah Mayberry
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 17:30:32

    I really liked this. I liked the imagery and the descriptions “auras streaming like thick waters”, “red winding over my knuckles”, “Thick, oily blue flames.” Some really nice, evocative stuff there. I liked the bits of information seeded in – the curfew, the Old City reference – I know I’m not in Normal-ville and I’m intrigued to know more. I want to know what her vision was, too – and I don’t have a problem with not knowing it up front and getting the reaction first instead. She is real. The world she is in is real. Starting with a vision itself and then coming out of that to her in the alley might be a bit like starting with a dream – possibly a bit misleading. So I like the way the author has barreled me straight into this woman’s world and life and created a hook with the mystery of what the vision was about and if she is going to get home before curfew descends. Like a few other readers, the only part that confused me a little was the reference to real blood on her hands, then the reference to wiping away imaginary blood with her forearm. It took me a couple of reads to work out she had a blood nose from having a vision, which was also bloody. Would be great if you could make that a little clearer somehow. Congratulations, keep writing and good luck!

  16. Chez
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 03:06:49

    I liked this and I am an urban fantasy reader, so you’ve hit the right mark with me. Well done, I wanted to read more immediately

  17. medumb
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 08:50:11

    As someone who gets “gusher” nose bleeds, I can understand how the mess would get everywhere. But I do have a problem with the tilting the head back, eww blood down the throat! But that is me being nitpicky.

    While I am intrigued and am curious to see where this leads, I do think it needs a bit of tightening, as I got a bit confuddled with the opening sequence. While I like the opening line I think I would have found it a little less confusing if it had been nearer to the nosebleed section and you had opened with the nice anonymous aura bit. As I did end up having to re-read it again to figure out what was happening.
    But I am not too great with the technical advice – not medumb for nothing! – but I am definitely curious about the rest of the book, which is half the battle, isn’t it?

  18. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 10:02:20

    I think this is very smooth except for the first paragraph. It’s not clear what blood is real and what blood is a vision, and it’s not ambiguity or mystery but plain old confusion.

    There’s great possibilities there–the idea of someone having visions of blood so strong that they produce an actual nosebleed–but it needs to be handled more precisely than this.

    I also hate “I breathed” as a dialogue tag, especially for multiple or long sentences. You can breathe “Yes” but breathing “Well, shit. That’s not good. Not at all” is pretty hard to do. Try it.*

    “Licked the copper from my lips” doesn’t work either. Yes, I am also someone who thinks that blood tastes like copper, not iron–apparently this is genetic, like the people who think that cilantro tastes like soap–but you can’t refer to blood as “copper” and expect people to get it, because blood isn’t copper, and doesn’t taste like copper to most people.

    *Because “breathed” as a dialogue tag means, literally, “said on a single exhale.” Most people don’t exhale punctuation (though my husband manages it sometimes while he’s asleep!)

  19. blabla
    Aug 03, 2009 @ 07:24:33

    I LOVE this story!!! You cannot imagine how much I love it! Strong heroines are my favorite and the first sentence of your book conveyed that beautifully! The second sentence also helped! When she wasn't going around crying cause she's got blood in her face, I knew shed be a fighter! Well done!!! The pacing is amazing-really sucked me in, and it remains constant from first to last. Here's hoping that your girl remains kick assed till the end of the book and doesn't whimp out when the hero shoes up…if there is any hero. I prefer there not to be…I'm kinds hoping she does it with all sorts of guys like Anita Blake! Tee hee! Anyway, that's your choice and you're definitely gonna get me to buy that book just as it is. The only problem I had with it is this sentence which I had difficulty in understanding:
    The slice of sky between the buildings was a riot of color, nuclear pinks and reds and oranges. Almost curfew.
    Maybe you should change the wording of it; but otherwise, very good!

  20. KMont
    Aug 03, 2009 @ 07:55:46

    Late to this, but I like what I see. The opening is good, makes me want to turn the page to see what caused the nose bleed and see why she’s out of time – I suspect it’s more than the curfew.

    I don’t know exactly what

    Bloody images never cleaned away as easily as the real stuff.

    means, but again, I’m already interested in turning the page, so I anticipate this being answered. I also wonder what’s so bad that she’d risk burning the city down, and her in it.

    I adore UF and this one, with it’s middle-of-the-action opening is great. Good job. Please let us know when you get that contract.

  21. RKB
    Aug 03, 2009 @ 13:01:08

    I was totally confused. I don’t think I would read it, even though I like urban fantasy.

  22. The Writer
    Aug 04, 2009 @ 19:31:32

    This is a much needed kick in the pants!! Thank you to everyone who read and responded–any feedback is good feedback, and I appreciate the honesty and all of the nitpicks. Y’all have certainly given me a lot to think about for the next round of edits.

    I LOL-ed at the “Badassitis” comment… I hope the final product turns out to be a little less cliche and more speculative (it’s post-apocalyptic and New Weird and dark UF all rolled into one). *fingers crossed* ITA with the scene/sequel thing, and *think* my most recent changes have fixed this (starting the action earlier so it’s less reactionary). And–ugh, yes, the foul language needs to be edited a bit, as could some of the more confusing bits (the source of all the blood, the vision, some of the wording, the D/dumpster info, etc). Every comment was super helpful–I’m so so so very grateful. XD

    Also, a big thanks to Jane for posting my submission!!

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