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First Page: Circling Great Wharf

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Author describes this as “women’s fiction with elements of romance and suspense.”

Beginning of first chapter in Circling Great Wharf:

Giving up her red wine didn’t strike Mallory Cook as a great idea. In fact, she suspected that red wine had been saving her life. Ever since the children had left and, later, her dream job evaporated, her world felt less and less safe. This struck her as odd. Wouldn’t you think having fewer responsibilities would put you at ease, not raise your anxiety level? Maybe she was too dependent on the company of others. But Dwight still lived here—didn’t he count?

Her husband wasn’t around as often as she’d like. He headed up his own building management company, which kept him busy during normal hours and many an off-hour, too. When he wasn’t busy trying to earn money, he volunteered at his beloved trolley museum in Kennebunkport, up the road from their own town of Great Wharf. Mallory didn’t begrudge Dwight his time at the trolley museum so much as she envied him the passion of his time there.

In her usually empty house now, Mallory was feeling nervous most of the time. She couldn’t put her finger on why. For sure, she didn’t like being alone. But she didn’t relish the thought of heading out to the main drag to mingle with the town’s sightseeing throng either. She had started sleeping in a bit later, and sipping a bit earlier. Mallory knew she was on a slippery slope, so she had made an appointment with her doctor to talk about it.

“I don’t recognize myself, Jim. I’m spooked by normal noises. I’m starting to rely on Dwight being around to feel safe. When he’s not home, my heart beats faster, and I get dizzy sometimes, lightheaded. I probably just need to get out more and get some exercise. What do you think?”

Jim Barylick had been the Cooks’ general practitioner for twenty years, ever since he moved to Maine from Ohio. His experience with people’s health complaints and rationalizations guided his every word.

 “Mallory,” he began, “relax. Whatever’s going on, we’ll get to the bottom of it. You’ve had a lot of stresses and changes in the last few years, with all the kids leaving and your job going the way of the economy. Your symptoms may be nothing more than your spirit heaving a sigh of relief that it can finally wreak a little havoc of its own.”

That was Jim at his reassuring best. His rumbling baritone voice had always made him sound especially wise, and his silver hair belied that he was still ten years away from retirement. Mallory loved the idea he was putting out there, that her inner self was making itself known. At the same time, she knew her inner self had more to say.

Jim looked through the top, most recent sheets of her file. “Everything checked out fine when you had your physical seven months ago. Lungs, heart, mammogram, blood pressure, blood chemistry … you’re in extraordinarily good health for someone your age. You turned fifty-five this year, right?”

Sigh. “Yes.”

“Well, it’s possible you’re just feeling blindsided by aging sneaking up on you and by still not finding another job you like. It’s perfectly normal to be wondering what’s next for you.” He looked again at her chart. “I do see that you put on a few pounds. You hide it well, but you’re right to consider getting more exercise.”

“What about alcohol, Jim? Am I drinking too much?”

“How much are you drinking?”

Mallory hesitated and scrunched her face a little, pretending to consider the question, but she knew exactly how much she was drinking. After the museum’s budget cuts eliminated her position as assistant events manager, she no longer drove into the city two or three days a week. She now managed five glasses of red wine—about a bottle a day. Since Dwight often shared her appreciation for wine and since she did the shopping—not to mention that Dwight didn’t usually get home until seven or eight at night—he hadn’t noticed the discrepancy in their intake.
“Usually three glasses of red wine a day.”

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

12 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 08:58:43

    I like the title.

    I’m not a devotee of the idea that every book has to start with a bang to engage the reader, but on the other hand there isn’t any hook that reels me in on this page – middle-aged woman with an unhealthy lifestyle seeks medical advice – I’m not sure what would make the reader want to read on.

    However, as a middle-aged woman with children leaving home I avoid my fictional counterparts, so I’m not your potential audience, and it’s possible that the readership for this book would want exactly that – a promise that the book is about ordinary things and ordinary people.

    Couple of points where it reads a bit oddly to my ear e,g. ‘In her usually empty house now’ – but I’m never sure whether that’s a British usage v American English usage thing.

    Good luck.

  2. Gwynnyd
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:26:56

    If I were at a cottage and this was the available reading material, I’d continue on with no hesitation, as this is very well-written. If I were picking it up in a bookstore, unless the cover blurb made it clear that this was not going to be about a middle-aged, normal woman’s unexciting life, I’d put it back. I was bored and picking the prose apart for style points – a POV slip in paragraph five! – by the time I was finished reading.

    It’s nice, but in a style that does not thrill me.

  3. theo
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:58:21

    Start with, “I don’t recognize myself…” and I might read on for another page at most, but as it is, I’m one of those middle aged women with unexciting lives and the last thing I would want to read about is me. I need something more than just a woman overcoming her drinking. This section gives me no idea if it’s going to be any more than that. There’s no reason for me to root for her right now.

    Though it seems well-written at first glance, I too found myself picking at it and I think it’s because I was waiting for something, anything, to draw me in. As it stands, I wouldn’t read this with the description of the genre provided and this opening. However! That said, I don’t think I’m your market for a story like this and there are thousands who are, so please take what I’ve written with a grain of salt.

  4. Jennifer M (OR)
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 09:59:29

    For my personal tastes this was too slow of a start. There was so much telling about her job, her husband, her feelings when she’s alone. It was too much for me, too soon, for a character I don’t care about yet. By the time I read to the doctor part my mind was already drifting and I was thinking what my doctor said at my last appointment.

    The other thing that took me out of the story is when the doctor said she hid the pounds she gained well. I get that he has been her doctor for twenty years but it still struck me as too personal and unbelievable, but maybe that’s just me and my experiences.

    The writing is good and I wish you the best of luck.

  5. SAO
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 12:21:13

    I’m sorry, but I can sum this up in one word: Boring.

    Which is a great pity, because women’s fiction with elements of romance and suspense featuring a Mainiac sounded fantastic and a welcome change from the paranormals and fantasy that is so frequent on these pages (and the less said about last week’s graphic gay orgy, the better).

    When she goes to her doctor she asks if she’s drinking too much. A bottle a day and she doesn’t know the answer? She’s an idiot.

    She’s spooked at everything, and the doctor says the equivalent of now, now, dear, everything’s fine and she doesn’t get offended and say her feelings are real? If they are real and she accepts the dr’s patronizing patter, she’s a wimp. Or if they aren’t she’s a worrywart.

    So I want to read about a stupid, wimpy worrywart? Resounding no.

    Now, this is the first page and you may have a decent character here and a good story, you just haven’t convinced me of it in this page.

  6. Lori
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 12:26:36

    I didn’t understand how a woman so obviously savvy about what she’s experiencing is asking a doctor to answer the questions she’s already answered and then lying to that same doctor about the issue she wants him to address.

    As a reader I just wanted to tell her to get on with it. Get her ass out of the house and stop drinking.

    I don’t know if I’d keep reading. She annoyed me, obviously. Then again I felt anger toward her which meant you elicited emotion. So I’m on the fence.

    I do wonder if you could cut a lot of that though and maybe start stronger.

  7. Meredith
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 13:39:19

    Dear reviewers – I’m the author and can’t say thank you strongly enough for the help you are providing here. The beginning clearly has to change. It’s great to read your reactions and all the specific comments, which give me a strong picture of what’s important and what’s not at the start of this book. Thank you for your time and your well-supported opinions. Invaluable.

  8. Kate Sherwood
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 14:11:52

    I think I would have liked it a lot more if it had started at the doctor’s office, rather than with all the ‘telling’ back story.
    And maybe you could have worked in a bit of the suspense your description mentions… I assume that the point of the story is going to be that she’s NOT paranoid, and someone really IS out to get her. If that’s the case, I’d love to see more about that, pretty damned soon!

  9. Unbiased Observer
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 22:57:00

    I picked up from the subtext that the doctor and the woman are going to have an affair – they’re on a first name basis (she seems proud of this because she says his name twice) and she withholds information that makes her look less desirable. Not sure if this is on purpose…

    Writing people always parrot ‘show, don’t tell’ but I think a little telling is a good way to keep the pace moving. This, however, has way too much telling.

  10. SAO
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 01:28:16

    I think it’s worth adding that I am a tall, large-boned woman with a well-developed head for alcohol (my father poured me my first martini at age 16) and I can not drink a bottle of wine in a day without being drunk to the point of staggering and being sick. Half a bottle and I’m on the verge of tipsy, but a full bottle?

    I suggest you find some website that calculates blood alcohol levels and find out just how drunk she is.

    A bottle of wine a day is a serious alcohol problem.

  11. Darlynne
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 10:40:15

    I like your writing and the way you began the story. In line with Theo’s comment, you could tighten up the first paragraph and then head right to “I don’t recognize myself.” Just my opinion.

    What yanked me completely out of it, and I realize this is all me, was this:

    [Y]ou’re in extraordinarily good health for someone your age. You turned fifty-five this year, right?

    I turned fifty-seven today, which is great, and would never think of myself as “someone your age.” Apparently Jim thinks Mallory and I are just barely hanging on. If he’s older than Mallory, he wouldn’t say it; if he’s younger, he should just leave it that she’s in excellent health. C’mon, Meredith, don’t throw us old folks under the bus yet.

    And thanks for putting your work out there. I hope you keep writing.

  12. Meredith
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 10:28:27

    Thank you all, so much. I’m looking forward to digging into the revision!

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