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First Page: Terms of Surrender, a historical romance

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July 7, 1777, Hubbardton,Vermont

"Where do you think we are, Blackthorne?"

Stephen maintained his rigid posture, his eyes slanting to the right the only indication he’d heard the muttered question. He could just make out Granger’s profile-‘and one of Granger’s dark eyes staring sideways at him.

"Somewhere between Fort Ticonderoga and the mouth of hell," Stephen said through stiff lips.

"We passed the mouth of hell a few miles back."

Stephen nearly broke discipline and laughed. The idea comparison was an apt one. The scenes they’d passed on the road to this god-forsaken wilderness lacked only Lucifer to complete the picture. The carcasses of half-butchered cattle, the leavings of a retreating army with no time to do the job properly, festered along the way, bloated and fly-infested under a sweltering July sun. The stench of death, sticky and sweet, tainted the very air. The beasts had been part of some family’s livelihood once, but now they lay as a rotting sacrifice to the god of war.

The prostrating heat only added to Stephen’s suffering. The oppressive scarlet wool of his uniform felt all the thicker, the burden of his gear all the heavier. From the driving snows and icy winds of a Boston winter to this inferno, the climate in the colonies delivered such extremes. After four years, he still wasn’t used to it.

A gimlet-eyed major strode past. "Quiet in the line!"

Stephen shifted his eyes to focus on the scene in front of him. The glare of the early morning sun blurred the lines of the sharp incline ahead. Nothing moved at its crest, but Stephen held no illusions as to what lurked at its top-‘possible death in the form of a colonial musket ball.

After a hellish twenty-four-hour march on little rest along a rough mountain track, he almost didn’t care. It would bring to an end an existence he’d come to resent.

"Charge!"

The order came out of nowhere. Automatically, Stephen lowered his bayonet. His voice joined the chorus of shouts that erupted along the line, as he labored up the slope.

A volley of lead greeted them at the hilltop. All about him, red-coated men fell. He raced at the nearest homespun-clad rebel, but the other man refused to give way. His shot already discharged, the rebel ducked behind a makeshift wall to reload.

More of the enemy surged up behind the first. Stephen launched himself at them, heedless of anything but the need to break through the rebels’ line. Stopping to worry whether this man-‘whether any of them-‘still had a shot was pointless. At this range, it would all be over in an instant. One moment, he’d be blinking the sweat out of his eyes; the next-‘nothing.

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

35 Comments

  1. Leah
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 07:24:08

    I like it, and I really like British soldiers, the Revolution, and anything 18th century. I have a couple of questions, though–is Vermont really that hot in the summer? Of course, the uniforms might play into the heat problem, but I’ve been in Wisconsin in August, and it’s really comfortable (compared to southern Indiana). But I’ve only been to Vt in the fall, so I don’t know… Also, I thought that soldiers would charge w/bayonets out, and think I remember that being an actual command, “charge–bayonets!”. But again, it’s been yrs since I’ve read a lot of that stuff, so I could be wrong. The last thing was the smell of rotting cattle. The rotting meat I’ve been in contact with–dead squirrels, the chicken DH recently put in the wrong trash can….didn’t have a sweet-smelling undertone the way, say rotting fruit or vegs do. It’s heavy, all right, but not–to me–very sweet.

    I do like this, though, and would buy it. Good luck!

  2. joanne
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 07:32:42

    It’s a very interesting and different story where we see the hero(?), Blackthorne, as an English foot soldier rather than an officer. Actually fighting on American soil instead of seeing him later suffering (?) the effects of war is a nice change from the norm in historical romances.

    I would read on, definitely, but I’m wondering if this is a prologue or the actual opening chapter?

    Some of the adjectives — “prostrating heat” are a little too plentiful for my taste but I like this entry very much.

    Thank you and good luck with your writing!

  3. Barbara Sheridan
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 07:39:32

    To me this is your opening

    The stench of death, sticky and sweet, tainted the very air.

    The stuff before isn’t as gripping and comes across to me as too much telling of the setting..

    Also this

    Stephen maintained his rigid posture, his eyes slanting to the right the only indication he'd heard the muttered question. He could just make out Granger's profile-‘and one of Granger's dark eyes staring sideways at him.

    doesn’t feel in Stephen’s POV.

    Can Stephen observe his own rigid posture? See his eyes slanting to the right?

  4. Stephanie
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 07:51:04

    A different setting, polished, technically sound writing (though I’d pare down a few descriptive phrases), and a military hero–not necessarily a British aristocrat–with a possible death wish. I’d definitely read on.

  5. Ros
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 08:14:28

    As others have said, it’s a bit overwritten in places, but a good start. This phrase completely threw me: The idea comparison was an apt one. ‘Idea comparison’? Do you mean a metaphor? It seems a very strange way to describe what’s going on. I’d just cut that sentence altogether, to be honest. It doesn’t really add anything.

  6. Kat
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 08:15:10

    This pulls me in – I would definitely keep on reading. The hero (?) seems to be your common foot soldier, not a pampered officer from a upper class family who would have had his commission bought for him.

    I like the inner voice as they stand ready for battle, waiting for the command to charge.

    Leah – it’s not as hot in Vermont as in the South but it does get warm, and what with the scarlet woolen uniforms and their head gear, the heat would have been oppressive. Also consider they had to carry the heavy rifles, their powder horns and tamping rods and other accouterments and you can see how a foot soldier would have been weighed down and felt hot.

  7. DS
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 08:55:41

    I googled Hubbardton, Vermont. There was only battle in the Revolutionary War on Vermont soil and this was it. It lasted from 5 am when British scouts were fired on by the Colonial rearguard and was over by 10 am. The British held the ground. I’d probably enjoy this as a historical novel but I’m not sure about the romance part. Most revolutionary war romances fail in consideration of the politics, which were more complicated than usually taught in elementary and high schools– at least during the 60’s and 70’s.

    I was in college before I realized that Nathan Hale did anything besides getting himself hanged or that Benedict Arnold was once a colonial hero.

  8. KristieJ
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 09:49:02

    I was sold the minute I read Fort Ticonderoga!! I LOVE books set in the frontier. And yep – love the writing. Right away it places me in the heat of battle. How soon can I get it?

  9. Deb Kinnard
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 10:24:16

    Your passage grabbed me from the first few lines. You hit every sense and IMO did it well.

    As far as the British considering Vermont summer temperatures “sweltering” — it was 70 degrees the morning we arrived in York. Headlines in the local papers read “RECORD HEAT CONTINUES!” and people all over the city wore sleeveless shirts, shorts, the skimpiest things they owned. Men had stripped down to their tee shirts.

    I’m from Chicago. We don’t use “sweltering” until it hits 95, with 95% humidity. The English aren’t used to these sorts of temperatures. So I’m fine with Stephen’s discomfort level.

    Nice writing, very workmanlike and solid. If this is a first draft, I’d dearly love to see the revised project.

  10. Kaye
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 10:42:52

    A romance set during the Revolutionary War? A British soldier as the hero?

    When can I read this?

    I loved this first page and agree with comments about the strength of the writing and the heat of summer in Vermont. Thanks for sharing!

  11. JoB
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 10:43:49

    Very nice. Good, solid grasp of technique here.
    Yes.

    As a couple of posters above mentioned, the language might be considered a bit mannered. I’d turn the ‘writerly prose’ volume down about 10%.

    What I mean.

    .
    Not so much:

    Stephen maintained his rigid posture, his eyes slanting to the right the only indication he'd heard the muttered question.

    But:

    Stephen stayed in line, back straight, head up, and slid his eyes to Granger, next to him in the ranks.

    .
    I am talking very much IMO here,
    and this is always a matter of authorial choice,
    but simple, idiomatic wording doesn’t make the reader look at the language, which is generally a good thing.

    This simplicity also puts us deeper in POV. We are using words that Stephen — or anyone else — would use inside his head.

    And you’ll notice the second example avoids some slight uneasiness in POV … that bit about what his eyes indicate. That sounds like somebody outside observing.

    .
    Not so much:

    Stephen shifted his eyes to focus on the scene in front of him.

    But:

    He looked uphill.

    .
    That is simpler. That is instantly understandable.
    This also puts the action in terms the POV character would use.
    “I looked at the book.” rather than “I shifted my eyes to the book in front of me and focussed.”

    .
    Not so much:

    The glare of the early morning sun blurred the lines of the sharp incline ahead.

    But:

    It was six am, or a little past. The slope faced east. First light glared off rocks and glossy leaves of the mountain laurel on the ridge.

    Lots of rocks. It looked like rough ground.

    The Colonials would have the sun in their eyes when they aimed. On the other hand, his troop would be fighting uphill.

    .
    This paints the terrain in details, details being good, and they’re the kind of thing a soldier would notice. The description is more ‘personal’ because this is not just a steep hill ahead of him. It’s a steep hill he’s going to run up with bullets coming at him.

    .
    Three more general comments.

    — You do have vivid description. This is wonderful.
    But look at how the most vivid description is for things that Stephen is not looking at right this moment.

    I’d pull out everything about the march to this spot and the climate of the colonies and having been here for four years.
    I’d stick firmly to the ‘here-and-now’ of the charge for a couple of pages
    and add the backstory later.

    — If he is a common soldier, you may want to give him a more ‘common’ name.
    If Stephen is a ‘gentleman ranker’, which is what I’m assuming, you don’t have to tell us now.

    — I’d let us know how Stephen feels about facing possible death. How much ‘fighting action’ has he actually seen?
    That’s a bit of backstory that would fit naturally into the scene in a way that the ‘march to this spot yesterday’ doesn’t quite.

  12. the author
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 10:47:49

    Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and helpful comments.

    @ Ros: The ‘idea comparison’ thing wasn’t supposed to be there. I don’t know how I missed it. I think I was stuck between those two words, but one of them needs to go, clearly.

    @DS: I really don’t go into the politics much. This story is more about how the war affected people’s everyday lives than the big political ideas. And you don’t want to hear my thoughts on Benedict Arnold, LOL. I can go on ad nauseum.

    Re: Heat in Vermont. Yes, they do have a summer there. I live in Canada, more or less north of Vermont, and I can attest that it gets hot there. Not by southern standards, but to me the concept of heat is relative. As someone mentioned, you have to consider the gear and the wool clothing. You also have to consider what temperatures the Brits were used to (as has also been mentioned).

    Edit: JoB commented in the meantime. *pauses to fangirl* Thank you! That’s helpful. Now how much of that can I actually use since, technically I didn’t write it? Also I didn’t realize that a name like Stephen made him sound too gentlemanly. He’s anything but as far as his social class is concerned. Any idea on what I should change it to?

  13. JoB
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 11:06:54

    @ Author. Any of this is completely available for anyone’s use, of course.

    It’s not the name Stephen that might give a slight impression of uppercrust. It’s the ‘Blackthorne’.
    And remember — this is only– and idiosyncratically — IMO.

    Not something to worry about. The perfect name may well be Stephen Blackthorne.

    Very fine snippet. Very immediate and gripping.

  14. Ros
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 11:28:44

    For what it’s worth, I’m British and I wouldn’t think Stephen Blackthorne sounded upper class at all. I could easily see it as the name of a farm labourer in a Thomas Hardy novel, or anywhere in between.

    And yes, either ‘idea’ or ‘comparison’ would work much better on their own!

  15. Jayne
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 11:32:31

    I'd probably enjoy this as a historical novel but I'm not sure about the romance part. Most revolutionary war romances fail in consideration of the politics, which were more complicated than usually taught in elementary and high schools- at least during the 60's and 70's.

    DS, I reviewed a similar novel a few years ago called “Challenge the Wind” by Debra Tash. It also featured a English enlisted man as one of the heroes and managed to be quite romantic so I do think it can be done.

    I’d be interested in reading this one too.

  16. the author
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 11:33:03

    Ros, farm laborer is exactly what I’m going for. He’s the son of a tenant farmer.

  17. Maili
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:19:06

    @Kat

    The hero (?) seems to be your common foot soldier, not a pampered officer from a upper class family who would have had his commission bought for him.

    Agreed. I’m usually not that keen on historical romances that feature wars or battle scenes, but since the hero seems to be a foot soldier, I’d read it.

    About the name – Blackthorne is somewhat stereotypically “posh”, but since it’s a romance, it doesn’t bother me that much. That said, if the hero was from a farming family, ‘Stephen’ may be a bit disconcerting, but not so much. At least his first name isn’t Devon. :P

    (I’m still cursing the fact it was Thomas Hardy who came up with an awesome hero name: Gabriel Oak.)

  18. Ros
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:21:01

    Actually, you know what would really make it clear that his name wasn’t posh? Lose the final ‘e’. Blackthorn looks very different from Blackthorne.

  19. Maili
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:23:25

    @Ros
    Good one! Dropping ‘e’ certainly would make it less posh.

  20. the author
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:25:42

    Cool! That’s the easiest fix yet!

  21. Kat
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:28:51

    Another comment re: names, especially first names. I could be wrong but if this soldier was from a lower class, it’s likely that the only books in his family’s house growing up would have been the Bible and perhaps Shakespeare. So wouldn’t it stand to reason his parents would have given him a Biblical first name? Just wondering. “Stephen” just doesn’t sound very “common” to me, if you see what I mean.

  22. theo
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 13:48:39

    Except that ‘e’ immediately told me he was on the ‘wrong side’ if you will. My British maiden name also has an e on the end which was very common to leave in place for a long time. Usually (not always!) names ending in ‘thorne’ retain the e.

    Just MHO. Take it with a grain of salt.

  23. Leah
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 14:32:10

    Stephen is a Biblical name. He appears in Acts 7 (I think, w/o looking). He preaches a sermon and is stoned, making him the first Christian martyr.

  24. Stephanie
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 14:33:19

    There was a Saint Stephen who was stoned to death, and December 26th is known as St. Stephen’s Day in the UK, I believe. And IIRC, “John Blackthorne” was the hero of James Clavell’s Shogun–and the character was a common British sea captain. If the surname’s good enough for Clavell to use, why not any other historical writer?

  25. Kat
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 14:36:05

    Thank you – since I’m Jewish, Stephen didn’t occur to me as a Biblical name. I appreciate the information. :)

  26. brooksse
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 14:44:35

    Stephen qualifies as biblical. From the Book of Acts: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

    ETA: Sorry, I should have refreshed my screen before posting, to see that others had already replied.

  27. brooksse
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 15:05:43

    I don’t normally read stories set during the Revolutionary War, but this was interesting and held my attention. I especially thought it flowed well from this point on:

    Stephen shifted his eyes to focus on the scene in front of him.

    I’d be interested in finding out what it is that he resents about his existence. Whether it is the war or something else.

  28. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 15:13:46

    I think this is a really intriguing first page! Yay!

    If I were your editor, I might encourage you to cut some of the adjectives, and I too would find “Steven Blackthorn” a less-posh-looking name than “Stephen Blackthorne.” (In fact, it’s astonishing to me how different those names look: “Steven Blackthorn” is a peasant right out of Hardy, but “Stephen Blackthorne” is a Georgette Heyer Corinthian.)

  29. Castiron
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 15:47:46

    Was the spelling “Steven” used in that time period, though? In my genealogy research, I don’t start seeing it in census or church records until the 20th century (granted, in the United States rather than the UK, and in Maryland rather than New England).

  30. JoB
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 18:47:42

    (Looking at Googlebooks.)

    Both Steven and Stephen do exist in C18. The Steven variant seems to be mainly a last name.

    And — this is cool — Stephen is not particularly rare in Googlebook mentions. William and Thomas are only about six or seven times more common than Stephen.

  31. Maili
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 08:21:59

    I only mentioned the name Stephen because he was from a farming family.

    Most farming families I know in Scotland and England tend to be named after their ancestors. I met one family that had eleven generations of Joseph, so the current family has grandfather named Big Joe, father Tall Joe (he was short, actually) and son Joe. Joe’s son broke the tradition by being named David. :D My step-dad’s family were all Jameses, Sinclairs, Benjamins, Johns, Alberts, and Davids.

    I think Stephen is relatively new in working-class farming families, hence my earlier comment. To me, Stephen once belonged to middle class (or white-collar) families particularly those in law, accounting, religion (loads of vicars were named Stephen), and similar.

    But these are just my observations, not a fact. Like I said, it wouldn’t bother me if the hero from that background was named Stephen.

  32. Rebecca Goings
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:54:06

    Just popping in to say I really liked this. The prose worked for me, aside from a few nitpicks others have already pointed out. The ‘e’ on the end of Blackthorne did make me immediately think ‘posh’, I must admit, but that’s because I’m used to seeing the romanticized “epic” names ala “Earl of Blackthorne” or what have you in romance. So that did throw me at first.

    Loved the Revolution setting. I haven’t read nearly enough romances from this period. I was actually pleasantly surprised the hero was British. Seeing the date, knowing it was Revolution, I’d assumed the hero was American until you mentioned his red coat. As much as we love to read about the British aristocracy in romance, knowing the hero was a damned dirty redcoat (lol) made me do a double take. I loved it.

    I’m with everyone else regarding the heat in Vermont as well as the Brits not being used to it, etc., but if the battle took place in the morning (5am – 10am) it might not have been that hot yet. Here in Oregon, the hottest part of the day is late afternoon when the sun really beats down. Of course, Oregon is on the other side of the States, so take my words with a grain of salt.

    Do you have a blurb for this one? Or a simple summary? Because I’m just dying to know this guy’s story, and I’d love to know if/when you have plans to publish. Nothing you’ve written above isn’t anything that can’t be fixed with a good editor, and I think you’re well on your way to a great book if you keep up your prose. I immediately loved this guy, especially when he smiled at the “mouth of Hell” joke. Made someone from history become “real” for me.

    This excerpt is especially fitting for me, since I’m teaching my dd all about Burgoyne, Ft. Ticonderoga, Arnold, & Hale in school time right now. So I’m definitely excited about this book. :) Great job!

    One last thing, it’s interesting to me the battle took place on a date with so many 7’s!

    ~~Becka

  33. the author
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 11:10:39

    @Rebecca Goings: You know, I never even noticed that about the date. About the temperature…. I found a timeline for the Battle of Hubbardton online and IIRC it had diary excerpts (I know I saw them somewhere). Several of the participants mentioned the heat, even though it took place in the early morning.

    Sorry, no blurb yet, nor a summary. Only a completed manuscript whose epic word count is pretty much guaranteed to make an agent run screaming. I’m trying to trim, but I’m very new to this whole thing.

    To everyone, thanks again for all the encouragement and advice. You’ve all given me hope that I might take this somewhere.

  34. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 15:11:32

    Was the spelling “Steven” used in that time period, though?

    Yes, though it was less common than “Stephen”. Off the top of my head, the earliest “Steven” I can think of was one who was tried for treason under the Short Parliament of 1640; he was a tailor or weaver.

    On edit: Oh, cool, Keith Lindley’s English Civil War book is on Googlebooks!

  35. JenD
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 09:59:33

    How refreshing!

    Please, please let me know when this gets pubbed. I’m saving a space in my TBR pile for you. *grin*

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