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First Page: Cherry

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Some people just wanna die.

Elmore Leonard would follow that kick-ass opening line with a kick-ass story about a petty thief who, through a series of unbelievable coincidences, manages to wrap his mitts around a shitload of mob money. Realizing his mistake, he tries to return the dough, but his efforts are thwarted by a succession of increasingly ridiculous goofs and gaffes. Meanwhile, The Boss has caught wind of the little snot’s crime and orders a hit; meaning, of course, that the unfortunate idiot is running out of time.

Truth is, the idiot’s been running out of time for a month now. He’s been running non-stop, 24/7, for a solid month and he just can’t do it anymore; hence, the loaded .44 Magnum on the passenger seat of his car, next to the fifth of Smirnoff.

That’s “Plan B.”

“Plan A” looms 500 yards ahead: a behemoth iron gate stretching across the service road, built to stop idiots from driving onto the dike.

I bet that thing could stop a tank, he thinks. He opens the vodka for one last pull, closes it up and sets it on the seat; then, he looks in the rearview mirror.

“Why did you do it?” he asks the schmuck in the rearview.

The schmuck in the rearview answers back, “Seriously? Because you’re an idiot.”

“You may be right,” he says.

He crosses himself and turns the key, shifts into ‘Drive’ and punches the gas, yellow gate rushing up fast and the last thing the idiot says is: “I hope I don’t feel a motherfu—”

Kudos to Elmore Leonard, the undisputed master of Hip & Grit.

Not to compare myself to the incomparable Mr. Leonard, but I, too, have been known to put pen to paper every now and again. Case in point: I keep a journal. Kept. Anyway, that’s how I envision Elmore Leonard’s story.

Now, here’s mine.

He’s been running non-stop for nearly a year; running toward the kid and away from himself, or. . .maybe it was the other way around, but that’s not the point. The point is, he can’t do it any more, which explains the loaded Browning 9mm Hi-Power pistol on the passenger seat of his van, next to the fifth of Bacardi 151.

That’s “Plan B.”

“Plan A” looms 500 yards ahead: a behemoth iron gate stretched across the service road, built to stop idiots from driving onto the dike.
I haven’t written the ending yet. I think he’s going to go with “Plan A,” but I’m not sure, because I don’t understand his reasoning. Can’t he just go home? Can’t he just turn the van around, go home, and take a nap or something? Can’t he take a nap or watch some porn or bake a cake or crank his fucking shank I mean come on, Cherry, there has to be a “Plan C.”

Please tell me there’s a “Plan C,” Cherry.

Some people just wanna die, Mr. B.

Oh, Christ.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Kate
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 04:09:28

    I have no idea what’s going on in this passage. Voice is great, and you’ve got an interesting one, but when voice gets in the way of telling the story, there’s a problem.

  2. Rhian
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 04:25:04

    I don’t think that talking about an Elmore Leonard version of the story before you’ve started your own is doing you any favours. It’s distracting, a little confusing, too long, and immediately throws me out of the story even though your voice is very strong. Anyone who’s ever read any Elmore Leonard (and even those who haven’t) are going to be asking themselves “Is this how Leonard would have written it?” when what they should be doing is getting hooked into the story of Cherry and his narrator.

    The 4th-wall breaking interaction between the writer (Mr. B?) and Cherry is what really grabbed my attention, but it’s right at the end of this extract and I think it should be front and centre.

  3. Carolyn
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 06:25:54

    I have absolutely no idea what’s going on and, Philistine that I am, I have no idea who Elmore Leonard is, but I loved this piece. I would definitely read more.

    This is a writer who likes to experiment and take chances. More power to you. There may be technicalities that others will point out, but please, don’t let all the critique mess with your original idea. Instead, let it help you improve it.

    Good luck with this. I hope to read the entire story one day.

  4. Willa
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 06:39:19

    I love your voice and it drew me in . . but as others have said, I have no idea what is happening here. Something would have to reveal itself soon after I turned the page or it would be back on the shelf.

  5. Lil
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 07:48:44

    All I know so far is that the narrator isn’t Elmore Leonard. Okay. And I assume the narrator also isn’t P.D. James, or Agatha Christie, or Charles Dickens—the list could go on forever. Why should that matter to me?

    I love the voice, but you’ve got to make me care enough to bother turning the page.

  6. Marianne McA
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 07:58:39

    Much what’s been said before: I’m vaguely familiar with the name Elmore Leonard, but nothing more. The first part of the passage slightly makes me want to put down this book & go and find some Leonard, to see what I’ve been missing.
    Once you get to: ‘He’s been running non-stop for nearly a year; running toward the kid and away from himself, or. . .maybe it was the other way around, but that’s not the point.’ I’m really hooked in, and enjoying the writing.

    It’s one of those things that’s hard to judge: looking at this in isolation, I think that Cherry’s tribute to Leonard lasts too long – it may be a brilliant pastiche, but that’s lost on me. However I could imagine that in the context of the book, it might be necessary.

    Nit-picking ‘unfortunate idiot’ stood out for me: I’d have expected something stronger. And that’s nit-picking in the dark, because possibly Leonard uses that phrase all the time. It’s just ‘little snot’ sounds so right, works with ‘dough’ and ‘shitload’ and ‘hit’ – and then ‘unfortunate’ sounds like it lives in a different world. Though perhaps that’s Cherry’s vocabulary and it’s meant to stand out.

    Anyway, I really, really liked the piece.

  7. theo
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 08:41:56

    I occasionally read Elmore Leonard, most because he writes about Detroit (though his original stories were westerns) and when I need a dose of short sentence structure and sassy dialogue which he’s a master at.

    You’re limiting yourself though here, in a romance based community, by opening your story with a treatise on Elmore Leonard. As you can see, many of the commenters don’t know him, as prolific as he is. Many may have seen one of the movies based on his writing such as 3:10 to Yuma, which was a short story by Leonard (and the story was much better than the movies) but don’t know who wrote it.

    So, while I see what you’re trying to accomplish, and you do have a great voice, don’t start by confusing your readers with something unnecessary. Starting your story at this point:

    He’s been running non-stop for nearly a year; running toward the kid and away from himself, or. . .maybe it was the other way around, but that’s not the point. The point is, he can’t do it any more, which explains the loaded Browning 9mm Hi-Power pistol on the passenger seat of his van, next to the fifth of Bacardi 151.

    will do much more to draw your reader in. Maybe you can work the Leonard bits in later. Since I’m not sure what’s going on here or where you’re headed with this, I don’t know. I don’t even know why he’s motivated to choose a plan. I know more about Leonard’s writing than I do about what’s happening here. And that’s a problem.

    My other concern with this piece is again, this is a mostly romance based community critiquing your work. If you’re going to kill off your hero on the first page, and it’s usually standard to introduce us to the H/Hn first, where does that leave us? There isn’t any indication of your genre here so I’m making the assumption that it’s romance. I take it plans A & B involve killing himself. If that’s the case, unless this is going to be a ghost story, I’d need a bit more on the first page to push me on to find out. If your heroine is going to pop up in the back seat and talk him out of it, great. If not, unless something else stellar happens, I’m afraid you’d lose the typical romance reader and though that’s not a bad thing, it limits your readership.

    Kudos for putting it out there. It’s a very hard thing to do. Good luck!

  8. theo
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 08:43:55

    I see the editing isn’t available again, but what I meant to explain is, since I live outside Detroit, his writing brings a lot of the city and suburbs that I know, alive, because his descriptions are so spot on.

  9. Lori Green
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 10:23:23

    I’d keep reading. I’ve read Leonard and love his style and I love your style too. The voice is original, the opening is different and I trust that this is going to be a story that breaks out of the mold.

    I want to read more.

  10. Darlynne
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 10:29:02

    I love your voice, your writing is sharp and appealing, I’ve read Elmore Leonard and think you’re on to something. I’m willing to dismiss the confusion in the belief that all will become clear with a larger sample, but agree that the other comments here are valid.

    As for choosing this site to unveil your writing? Even if they aren’t fans of whatever genre you’ve chosen, DA readers still know good and bad writing when they see it. The more feedback the better, imo.

    Thank you for putting your work out there, I hope to see more of it one day.

  11. Author
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 10:56:31

    I just peeked in to see what folks are thinking so far. . .

    Re: posting my work on this particular site: I thought I read that other genres were welcome. Did I misunderstand? If I did, I apologize profusely. Regardless, I suspect that Darlynne is spot on: you guys know what’s what. . .wait, did I just write that? Lame. . .yikes!

    I’m really appreciating the feedback, everybody.

  12. Amy
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 11:10:56

    Good for you for submitting your first page here. I know how hard it is to put your work out for public opinion/criticism. You’re clearly a good writer, but what you’ve written as a first page is confusing and a little frustrating, and that might not be the best way to start your story. I agree with the above post that if you’re going to start with the E.L. reference, shorten it. If this was an E.L. story… this would be happening, but it’s not. I’m not E.L., and this is what’s happening with me. If you’re seeking publication, you may only get that first page to capture their interest. I think the good stuff really starts in your last couple of paragraphs, where your protag begins to tell his own story. Good luck!

  13. DS
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 11:41:06

    Lately, for a couple of reasons I have been reading a lot of what I call Nordic Noir– translations of northern European thrillers. They use some unusual literary styles and as far as I am concerned some unusual conventions. That is what I thought of as I started reading this. I’m not sure I can offer any useful criticism but I thought it was a strong nonlinear opening. I’m curious to see where you go with this.

  14. theo
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 12:02:51


    Please forgive me for not making my comment clearer. Yes, this is a pretty romance based group of commenters though that’s not to say we don’t all read other genres, because we do! We might not all agree, but any author has to take from this experience what they think might work and disregard the rest. You might want to do that with what I said, and that’s fine.

    And as far as I know, Jane accepts almost any genre first page. But your lack of any indication of what genre you’re classifying this in is what has me confused. All we have is the title and for me, a confusing first page. If you’re writing a thriller, I’m expecting other things than meeting the H/Hn on the first page. If you’re writing a murder mystery, well, you have a bit of mystery here because like I said, it’s a mystery to me why he wants to off himself. If you’d classified this as a comedy, I think everyone who has commented would see a problem of some kind with that.

    Do you see what I mean? Am I standing in the literary section reading this when I wanted horror? For me at least, on this first page, I have no idea where I’m standing. I’d just like to know.

    I did say you have a great voice! But there are things I don’t read and would like to know if this is something I would even pick up to start with, that’s all.

  15. Lucy Woodhull
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 12:03:07

    Love. It. I haven’t read any Elmore Leonard, but I can’t see that it makes a difference. An Elmore Leonard novel, in this context, is whatever you say it is, and what you said worked for me. Sure, I don’t have the complete picture from a first page, but why should I? It’s one out of three hundred.

    I would tell you not to change any of it. You have a great voice and a sharp wit, and if this were an Amazon sample I would have clicked “buy.” You don’t need to normal yourself up. Stay true to your voice and go from there. :) Good luck!

  16. Author
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 15:19:48

    Hi again. Okay. I didn’t preface my work with an explanation as to genre. Maybe I should have. “Cherry” is a romance, sort of. Cherry is a young male prostitute. Mr. B. is a 38-year-old, twice-divorced, college professor of Modern Lit. who loves Elmore Leonard’s writing. He’s incredibly lonely, shallow, self-centered, adolescently carnal, and occasionally suicidal.

    He tells himself that he picked up Cherry that cold, rainy December night to get him out the rain. As one might expect, that’s not all that happened. At first, Mr. B. is inexplicably drawn to “the kid” physically. He doesn’t fall in love with Cherry as much as begin to care deeply about him. The story unfolds as entries in Mr. B.’s journal.

    None of this matters. One page is what I get in this venue. Anything beyond that is moot. I understand and accept that.

    Your points are well taken and I appreciate both the kind words and candor.

  17. Amy Andrews
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 15:51:12

    I love it.
    Had no idea what was going on or who Elmore Leonard is so I thought he was a “character” in this story – I didn’t care – I loved it. Now I’ve re-read knowing that Leonard is a real person it makes more sense and makes it even more sensational!
    Well done. I would buy and read this book in a heart beat!

  18. Karen McCullough
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 21:07:36

    I like this, but I also find it confusing. I’ve read a good bit of Elmore Leonard and you’ve nailed his type of plot and his voice. To me this almost works. Almost.

    It didn’t, because I had to read it through three times before I grasped the various recursive levels where the story-teller (you, the author) is telling the story of another writer (your journal-writing character) who starts by telling the story as an entirely different writer would tell it.

    But then in the paragraph that starts with “I haven’t written the ending yet,” you lost me completely. The pronouns are too confusing. Who is “I”? The author or the author’s story-telling author? Who is “he”? This almost suggests another level to the story.

    Beacause I do like the voice and there’s promise of an interesting story, if I picked this up as a book, I’d give it another page or two to get to a narrative I can comprehend without having to re-read several times.

    I wonder if doing it in journal format is really a good choice. One of the reasons Leonard’s stories work so well is he manages to put your right into the middle of the action. Telling it in journal format separates the reader from the events, by another layer of narrator.

  19. Wahoo Suze
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 21:46:42

    It made more sense when I re-read it after the explanation about the plot, but it was still a bit of work. I might keep going after this bit, if the blurb clearly indicated it’s a romance (and thus is going to have a satisfying ending). If it’s only a “sort of” romance, I wouldn’t continue, because I’m susceptible to being depressed by what I read if it doesn’t end well.

  20. SAO
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 23:48:40

    I liked the opening, but figured, why stick Leonard Elmore into it? I’ve heard of him, but never read him and I’ve read a lot of thrillers. Great voice, intriguing place to start, I was drawn in.

    Then I got to, “That’s how I figure LE’s version, here’s mine, ” Where you essentially say, ‘Ha-ha, fooled you, that wasn’t what happened.’ That kind of stuff annoys me. Then, again irritating, you make me read the opening again, a slightly different version.

    By the end of the page, I’m completely confused. Who is I? As Karen M pointed out. Did he steal money with the mob after him or not? What the hell is going on? In short, I don’t know the MC or the plot or, if this is romance, the main love interest. Since I have no idea what’s going on and already annoyed with you, I’m not entirely sure I would bother to turn the page and find out if you can write the great story I thought you were writing until you told me the first opening was just a waste of my time.

    That’s my personal take. My more impersonal advice is: 1) Don’t repeat yourself, which you did if he did steal money from the mob and 2) Don’t let your readers decide the book you’re not writing (LE’s book) is more interesting than the book you are actually beginning, (if he didn’t steal from the mob). In short, ditch one of your two openings.

  21. BR
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 00:46:26

    Wow this was seriously hard work, and majorly confusing. I still have no idea who Cherry is and why I care. I also dont know who the Elmore guy is and I dont care about that either. Cant guess from this what the genre is either and personally not really into the “woe is me, my life is shit, I need to kill myself to gain enough attention to make it all better ” plot either.

  22. galwiththehoe
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 04:22:04

    I understood it much better after reading your additional info. Before, I must admit I didn’t get it at all and wondered why the narrator fake-out, breaking the fourth wall etc. and felt jerked around

    I like the EL opening (which is gripping!) better than Mr. B’s journal opening. It’s exciting and then it stops midthought and leaves me with a different narrator who asks ‘why not take a nap?’ What a letdown. I think it may have to do with the first page cutting off at an awkward point. Maybe it gets exciting again after that?

    I do wonder like previous posters if it is possible to pull of a high tension plot with a main character doing stupid things in the heat of the moment if told by a distant narrator who’s not feeling the heat and wondering, ‘but why?’

    Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  23. Dane R.
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 10:17:57

    I love your writing style. It’s very distinct and interesting, and it alone would keep me reading a bit longer.

    Now, I have no idea who Leonard is (until I read the comments, anyway), and going in blind I assumed he was another character. A character that one of the characters in this story was writing about. It simply added another level to the writing. For my part, this doesn’t discourage me from continuing at all; I’d keep going. What you’ve laid out here is interesting enough to compel me to turn the page and find out what’s up, under the assumption that those next few pages hold the clarity to whatever questions this first page might have created.

    For me, if a book makes it past the first sentence test, and then still holds my attention by the end of that first page, the author is assured I’ll read at least the first chapter. So you’ve got, for me anyway, a great start here! Thanks for sharing your work.

  24. Author
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 15:45:11

    Thank you for reading it, and thank you, Jane, for posting it.

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