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First Page: Breaker

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The audience buzzes with energy and it carries back to where we’ve begun our final countdown to show time. The palpable electricity teases the hair on my skin.

Before every performance some of the Glam Club members get so nervous they sweat faster than their deodorant can keep up with. Others just throw up. That’s why backstage smells like Lysol laced onions. Me? I’ve always been able to channel the excitement and tense energy into my performance.

This, our last show of the school year, is set to begin and in about five minutes the stage lights will come up, the audience lights will go down and Glam Club’s star — Rio Montgomery — will take her spot on stage in front of the packed house.

There’s only one small problem.

“Where the hell is Rio?” Mr. Rockwell, our music director, zigs and zags nervously amongst us. Everyone scatters to keep out of his way. “Has anyone seen Rio?”

“Only every guy at Salem West High School, I hear,” Abi whispers beside me with a grin. A snort slips from between my lips and Mr. Rockwell gives us a quick, but no-less-caustic, glower.

“I’m glad you find this so funny Hatfield!” Thankfully his wrath is diverted by the buzzing of his cell phone.
Abi Gayle Conway is my female best friend.

My eyes roam around the room for my other best friend, Preston Monroe. Our eyes meet with smoldering, unbridled passion. No, wait. Wrong movie. I mean, yeah, our eyes meet. But nothing more than a flicker — more like a pathetic fizzle — passes between us. I think I even catch an eye roll before he looks away. Preston’s mad at me. Well not exactly mad-mad. But I know he’s disappointed in me. That’s why he’s on the other side of the room and not with Abi and me right now.

“Right?” Abi brings me back to my senses. (She’s good that way.)

“I’m sorry, what?” I mumble.

She follows my eyes and shakes her head when she catches me watching Preston pathetically. “Jesus Mol. I wish you two would just do it and get it over with.”

“What? What? Preston and I are so not going to do it. It’s not like that. We’re just friends,” I hiss.

“Oh get over yourself Molly Hatfield. You’re the only one who doesn’t see it,” she lectures with her hands on her hips, all full of Abi-tude. “You could do worse than Preston Monroe you know.”

“Ladies,” Boston Remke — fellow Glam Club member — tips his imaginary hat in our direction in a lame attempt to be studly.

“Like I was saying,” she whispers to me. To Boston: “Oh hi Boston.” And just like that, the conversation we’ve had too many times to count is over as she takes his arm and they walk away.

I’d never go for Boston Remke. Not in a million years. Bedsides, even though she denies it, Abi’s had it bad for Boston since she moved up here in second grade.

It’s obvious to me by the way she tucks her short blacker-than-black hair behind one ear. Or maybe it’s the way she bats her contact lens enhanced big purple eyes not-so-coyly up at him.

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

“Okay, listen up people!” Mr. Rockwell claps his hands together to get our attention. “Change of plans. There’s been an accident. Rio had a minor fender bender. She’s on her way, but won’t make opening.

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

15 Comments

  1. Naomi's Book Reviews
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 04:19:56

    I enjoyed this first page i would definitely continue reading. My only criticism is to many references to throwing up, that is a pet hate of mine with books as i feel it is unnecessary and who wants to read that. Other than that the first page caught my attention and it looks like a good read.

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  2. Marianne McA
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 08:21:20

    I’m not American, so I don’t really know what ‘Glam Club’ would be (picturing ‘Glee’ here), and I wasn’t much into drama at school myself, so take this all with a pinch of salt – I wouldn’t read on, because it just doesn’t ring true to me.
    It’s hard to buy into a character that starts the page keyed up to the nines about a show, and ends it thinking about her best friend’s long-standing crush on someone. The narrator may tell us in the second paragraph that she’s channeling ‘excitement and tense energy’ but nowhere in the body of the piece does she come across as at all excited or tense – and nor do her friends.
    And I think it misses the opportunity to make her interesting – if she was working out what to do about Rio it would tell us a lot about her – if she secretly hopes Rio isn’t found because she’s convinved she could do the part better, that’d make her one sort of character and if she started panicking that the show would flop it’d make her another – but having her just laugh at a bitchy remark and then start thinking about boys – she isn’t someone I’m interested in reading more about.

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  3. Dallas
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 09:44:39

    I assume this is YA, and just based on this page, I think it would keep a teen-aged girl reading, as it looks like there is potential for it to go in several directions.

    “Bedsides” – Freudian slip there?

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  4. Loreen
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:11:59

    Are you going to keep going through the whole novel in the present tense? It seems forced to me. I might give it a chance, but I can foresee some problems with the timing if the main character is narrating in the moment.
    I had a hard time picturing where your characters were and what was going on in the beginning:
    “The audience buzzes with energy and it carries back to where we’ve begun our final countdown to show time. ” What is “it” —the energy? This first sentence should be tighter and give the reader a more specific picture.

    This really picks up when you get into the relationship between the two girls. It would be great if you could start with that relationship in the first line. I am hopeful that this will be a book about friendship as much about the rather cliched crushes.
    There is a lot of exposition : “oh, here is my best friend and we are having a fight…” Perhaps as a consequence of the 1st person narrator and the present tense, this seems a bit awkward. Who is she talking to? If this is her thought process, why is she telling herself all these things she already knows?
    I would be curious to read a plot synopsis…there is enough here to be intriguing. Good luck!

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  5. SAO
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:33:11

    FWIW my teen is lukewarm. Yeah, if it’s there, she’ll read it, but she’s definitely not dying to see it published so she knows what’s happening.

    My problem was that too many characters were introduced and I didn’t get to know any of them. Not much happens. They’re waiting to begin a show and eyeing each other.

    I hate present tense because, for me, it is distancing. Simple present it used for events that are unspecific in time or general. I read books is a general statement about me, not a declaration that I am, right this moment, actually doing some reading (I’m not; I’m ranting). So, when I read present tense, it’s always a struggle to get to the point where I feel like this is happening (present tense, but specific) now, rather than this is something that sometimes happens (simple present).

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  6. Elyssa
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:33:36

    This opening was confusing to me–way too many people, and as a result, I wasn’t connecting to the narrator. I also could tell where this was headed in that the narrator was going to sing the song and then things would change. It was a little too predictable for me, and the stakes didn’t seem that high. Also, I don’t know of any high school glee club/chorus concert/drama production that people are excited to see–I had a really hard time believing that there would be lots of anticipation.

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  7. BHG
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:55:35

    Really loved it until “Abi Gayle Conway is my female best friend.” It felt out of place, especially since Abi was no longer speaking… Maybe move it up just one paragraph? And the ‘female’ felt unnecessary, as I’ve never heard of Abi being anything other than a female’s name.

    I really enjoyed “Our eyes meet with smoldering, unbridled passion. No, wait. Wrong movie. I mean, yeah, our eyes meet. But nothing more than a flicker — more like a pathetic fizzle — passes between us.” It made me laugh, which is hard to do when I’m reading.

    I would tighten everything up and not introduce so many characters at once.

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  8. hapax
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 11:10:58

    I’ll state at the outset that I’m one of those readers who really really dislike first-person present-tense, so the story or characters has to be something special to overcome that hurdle.

    Right now, I’m not seeing it.

    The very first sentence is clunky and awkward, and stuffed full of cliches. I’m pretty sure that real teens *do* talk like that, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to read. Use more concrete, specific images and break up the sentences a bit, if you want to convey the feeling of excitement:

    “It’s the final countdown to showtime. The audience out front is buzzing. Backstage, the energy teases the hair on my forearms.”

    I do like the hint of romantic tension between the narrator and her best guy friend, since friends-to-lovers is one of my favorite tropes.

    But other than that, this is a lot of backstory and tons of characters tossed at the reader without giving us a reason to care about any of it.

    And, to be honest, I was too busy pulling out my mental red pencil and inserting commas and removing hyphens (I think I hit about a dozen) to pay too much attention.

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  9. Jane
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 11:15:06

    This story didn’t work for me, but the first person present tense, as a rule isn’t a no no. Many of the self published works that have seen a lot of success are written in first person present tense including the top selling Kindle book “On Dublin Street.”

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  10. Lucy Woodhull
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 12:46:06

    Maybe I’m just an Old, but by the time we got to the first name Boston after Rio, Preston, Molly, and Abi, I laughed. I guess the kids of to-day all have names like this, but I can’t hack it. Are there no Jennifers anymore? Now back to my rocking chair and Ovaltine. Youths!

    Anyhow, the bit about how they still vomit and freak out about a performance after the umpteenth time doing it? Reads weird. As an Old who’s done five shows a day, six days a week, or even five times a week in high school, by the time you get to the third week, it’s old hat. I think a shiver of excitement is applicable when you get ready to leap on stage or whatever, but vomiting every single time? I’ve just never seen that from anyone in many, many shows. Mostly it’s games between the cast to help make it fresh, fun, and new every time.

    I like your humor and your voice, but the writing is just a touch clunky still. Maybe try printing it out and reading it aloud — that helps me to get a flow. I’ll read any tense as long as it’s done well. Good luck!

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  11. Cervenka
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 15:07:30

    I say this gently: Please, please review the rules for comma usage.

    Also: “Said” is an invisible word. Readers are far less likely to notice multiple uses of “said” than they are to notice how far you went out of your way in this page to avoid it, instead using “whisper”, “mumble”, “hiss”, and “lecture”, with not a single instance of “said.” To me, that’s part of what makes this page so clunky.

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  12. Avery Shy
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 16:41:52

    Double on what Cervenka said: check your comma usage. Your book might be incredible, but that will be impossible to see if your reader is too busy grinding their teeth over commas and typos.

    I loved your voice. Very young. Lighthearted. I definitely think it would work for a YA crowd.

    “Glam Club”, however, made me do a double take and wonder if this is Glee Club fanfiction. I would recommend calling it something different, or leaving out the name entirely and identifying it instead as a show choir (which is, I believe, the more common name for a glee club).

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  13. DS
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 17:22:46

    I’m not the audience. You would have to knock me out and drag me to a high school show choir performance. I also thought Glee Club fan fiction as I read it.

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  14. theo
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 18:26:34

    “She follows my eyes and shakes her head when she catches me watching Preston pathetically. ”

    This sentence is the single biggest reason first person anything is a very rare read for me. Who is pathetic here? Is the narrator watching pathetically and her friend spies it? How many times have you watched someone and thought about how you’re watching them? “She” doesn’t follow your eyes. Her gaze might, but not her. Unless she’s walking behind two disembodied eyes.

    First person is very hard to write and really draw the reader in to the point where they almost become the narrator because they’re so engrossed in the story. When I have to stumble over phrasing issues, too many characters on a single page and gratuitous descriptions such as this:

    “It’s obvious to me by the way she tucks her short blacker-than-black hair behind one ear. Or maybe it’s the way she bats her contact lens enhanced big purple eyes not-so-coyly up at him.”

    because the author wants to make sure I know what all the characters look like, it’s a definite no-read for me.

    Anything else beyond that, DS said it better than I could.

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  15. Maura
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 10:30:38

    Whether it’s a “no-no” or not, my personal preference is strongly against first-person present tense. That said, I am a member of an active YA book club, so I know that this writing style is currently in vogue in the YA market. I do find it very hard to pull off successfully, and it requires a very strong narrative voice. *That* said, this reads to me a little more like writing *by* a teenager than writing *for* teenagers, with the tendency toward overdescription and cramming a whole cast of characters complete with backstory onto the first page. Anybody can do that. I’m still not sure why I should care. If your story is Rio’s accident changing the concert, then start there. Make it feel important, not like an afterthought. Does the narrator care? If she doesn’t, neither will I.

    As a side note- if these kids are getting so nervous they throw up before a glee club performance at their own school, they should possibly consider other activities. Speaking as a former high school performer, that’s not an exceptionally high pressure situation for kids who have made performing a focus.

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