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First Page: Contemporary

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"Countdown to launch, two minutes."

Damien glanced at his Tag Heuer, set the stopwatch. The parachute was comfortably heavy on his back, all systems were go. He leaned over the side of the balloon basket, the beautiful village of Avondvaart below his feet. Holland was stunning this time of year, green trees and lush fields. Blue water canals snaked through the plush countryside, turning it into a patchwork quilt. Business and board meetings had vanished from his brain once he'd seen the billboard. Parachute from a hot air balloon? To hell with the meeting. The quest for adventure called, no howled, his name.

He tightened his straps one more time, adjusted his goggles, checked the altimeter. Two thousand meters. Perfect. The multi-colored hot air balloon spread out above his head like a rainbow umbrella; the occasional whoosh of the burner combined with the flapping of the balloon silk made his ears quiver. Adrenaline spiked his heart to sharp staccato beats and tightened his stomach into a clenched ball. In mere moments he'd soar among the birds before he catapulted to earth.


Damien dropped his head into his hands and released a heartfelt groan. Why hadn't he left the damn cell phone in the car? A quick glance at the readout showed his secretary, Iris's number. If he didn't answer, she'd hound him clear down to terra firma.

"Iris, I'm a little busy right now. . ."

"I have Ms. Black on line one. She'd like to speak with you." Iris's prim and proper take-no-shit voice swept through the phone line and took no prisoners.

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. Julie
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 07:05:01

    I liked this! It was a bit wordy in the middle, but it was enough to draw me in and keep me interested.

  2. joanne
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 07:30:47

    A very interesting beginning but I wouldn’t continue reading.

    The hero(?) has a voice that’s too wimpy for my taste; I don’t know any men that use ‘stunning’ or who would answer their phone when they’re out playing male testosterone games.

    (To be fair, I don’t think a woman would answer her cell when she’s ready to jump out of something two thousand feet up in the air.)

    If he sits on a board of directors his secretary could be Genghis Khan and he still wouldn’t respond to her phone call when he doesn’t want to.

    Thank you for putting your work here and much good luck with your writing.

  3. Gwynnyd
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 08:37:09

    You had me hooked – wild adventuring executive! small Dutch village! Parachuting! hot air balloon! wheee! – until the “prim and proper” secretary showed up.

    That is such an awful cliche. Every executive secretary I’ve ever know, including my mother, was professional not prim. If plot considerations insist he take the call at that moment rather than leaping out first and taking the call on the ground when he could actually give it some concentrated attention, then the rationale would make more sense as “Iris would not bother me at this moment unless it was dire necessity. What happened and how many died?” and not “oh, darn it. Must answer this. I wish I wasn’t so scared of my bossy secretary.”

    And whose cellphone ring tone is “brring?” He just became boring, hot air ballon parachuting executive or not.

    Maybe his ringtone should be the “Ode To Joy” or Chopin’s “Fireworks” or the cannon bits from the “1812 Overture” so he could enjoy listening to it all the way down?

    I like your basic style, and you wrote the descriptions and scene setting very well. It drew me into the story very nicely at first, but at this point I don’t know if I’d continue. Sorry.

  4. okbut
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 08:49:14

    I LIKE this, good 1st page, nice setting, original plot, and well writen, a few snags as already mentionned, I would keep reading, just to see what else you have up your sleeve…

    Thank you for submitting.

  5. sao
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 10:12:24

    My understanding is that the baskets of hot air balloons are tiny and Damien is speaking, so, to whom? The other passenger must be very close to him, but he’s not in the scene. Further, it would be irresponsible to leave the balloon to come down where ever the wind blew it, like on a highway. So Damien is either an inconsiderate jerk because he’s leaving the balloon to drift or because he dismisses the crew member helping him as being unworthy of notice.

    I’m not all that thrilled with stunts like skydiving unless there’s a reason for it (infiltrating enemy territory, say). And ditto, tough guy being hounded by secretary? He sounded like a hen-pecked husband, “Ah, honey, I’m a little busy now.”

    If he’s really a high powered exec, she’s an executive assistant and she knows what he’s up to and when.

    All in all, this sounded completely unrealistic to me.

    Next, you haven’t introduced the conflict of this book. “Ms. Black’s on the line” does nothing to hook me.

    You’d be better off having him take her call while flying. As in,

    “Damien glanced up at the acres of silk baloon above him and adjusted the flame on the burner. The parachute felt heavy on his back and the phone in the pocket of his skydiving outfit vibrated. He pulled it out and glanced at the screen. Karen Black. Demon CEO of Black Enterprises. Hell on wheels. And the only woman on the planet who’d expect him to take her call X meters over the placid canals of Holland and less than ten seconds before his scheduled jump.”

    Something like that would make it clear there’s a conflict, an adventurous hero, and a kick-ass heroine.

  6. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 11:12:54

    I really liked this! I didn’t think he sounded wimpy.

    I have to slightly disagree with some of the others. I’m an executive assistant (and not secretary – that did annoy me, harumph). She could very well not know where he is. I work for a very high level exec and when it’s not my business, I have no idea where he is. I’m not his babysitter. If the company he’s on the board of were going through funding, or a bad patch, or if another board member/the CEO called him, he very well might know that he needs to take that call. She could have been instructed to ONLY call him for Ms. Black, therefore, he knows he must pick up. That could be made more clear in this piece, but I’m saying it’s not outside the realm of possibility from where I’m sitting. He’s about to skydive, not take off in the space shuttle – it’s not that big a deal.

    That being said, the #1 problem I have with “office-y” contemporaries is that the writer usually knows nothing about how a high level exec’s office runs. I highly encourage the writer to interview an exec or their assistant (or both) to get a feel for how it goes down. If you already know, huzzah!

    I will say that “Ms. Black” sounds formal to me. I have interacted with Fortune 100 execs/CEOs/EVPs and no one was called Mr. or Ms. anything. First names. The only exception was a few more formal folks I interacted with – they were Chinese. I’m American, for reference. Just my experience.

    Good luck! I’d

  7. V
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 11:17:28

    The lack of attribution for the first sentence and the grammatical mistake in the second combine to lessen my interest.
    As stated above, the daredevil adventurer is at odds with his even bringing the cell phone along–which could be developed into an actual character flaw or merely a sign of the author not quite having a firm grasp on all aspects of his character.
    I’m assuming this is a romance and the Ms. Black will be the spitfire (a red-headed virgin, if you’re Jayne Anne Krentz) who will challenge his secret daredevil streak.
    If so, I’m bored. If not, you might have an interesting plot twist ahead.
    –a fiction editor

  8. TarynKincaid
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 11:24:37

    I thought this was terrific. Nicely written. I’d read on, just to see what the pesty “Ms. Black” wants.

    (I will disagree with some of the others, as to that. I am not a secretary or exec asst — I’m a professional — but when my bosses are out of the office — even on vacation — they are in constant touch via BlackBerry. And if an important client calls, it’s common for them to forward a voicemail message to me to deal — or vice versa.)
    So a phone call from Ms. Black, that Damien is willing to take, intrigues me more than otherwise.

  9. Polly
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 11:32:17

    He makes me think of Walter Mitty (which isn’t a great thing). In fact, I half expected the whole ballooning/parachuting thing to be a daydream and the ring of the phone wakes him up.

    I’m just not a fan of the “free spirited guy who’s hemmed in by boring obligations like work.”

    Also, do we need a name brand watch right away? Can’t he just glance at his watch?

    Good luck and all the best, but I’m guessing I’m probably not your target audience.

  10. Ann Bruce
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 12:23:37

    Unless he’s Richard Branson, chances are there’s a clause in his employment contract not allowing him to do risky things like parachute out of a hot air balloon. When you pay a CEO several million dollars in salary plus bonuses, you don’t want him taking stupid risks that can leave your company in the lurch. Heck, some companies don’t even allow more than two senior executives to travel in the same private jet.

  11. adobedragon
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 12:54:21

    You had me until the phone rang…and he answered it. Possibly because I’m not part of the “always connected” crowd. I don’t even bother to answer the phone at home if I’m busy (that’s what answering machines are for), much less while out doing something active. And I find people who think they are that important, that the world can’t live without hearing their dulcet tones on the phone, tedious and full of themselves.

    In this case, answering the phone makes him look weak. When he answered, I thought, “Grow a spine, dude, and switch off the phone.”

  12. michellekcanada
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 13:08:29

    Firstly I am not a fan of the name Damien so I sighed at the first sentence. Sorry.

    Interesting with Holland as a backdrop. This would be the first book I have ever read with Holland mentioned. Very nice description of the view although I don't know many men who pay that much attention to the beauty around them. Hee hee

    I agree with one previous commenter about the cell phone ring. Don't have it “Brring”, have it blast adventure music of some sort. Better yet, don't make it a cell phone but rather a blackberry or something. What executive carries a cell phone for business?

    I don't know the circumstances of this Damien executive being ruled by his secretary but I know (I work in the Financial industry) where many executives let almost all their calls go to voicemail without a second thought. Why would Damien be so worried that she'd hound him clear to terra firma? If you are setting Damien up as the hero for your story, I'd have to admit even though he is skydiving off a hot air balloon his hero status has just decreased substantially by letting an admin assistance rule him and force him to answer the call. Sorry and good luck.

  13. Honeywell
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 13:57:35

    I like the way you write but have absolutely no interest in reading more if that makes any sense. The guy sounds wimpy and from the little you were able to share the plot seems Halequinish–not that there’s anything wrong with that but it’s not something I’m interested in reading.

    Maybe if you started the story back a little bit and showed the hero at work and in his element I would like it more. If he’s a nice guy or a dick you can also show that by how he interacts with his secretary while you set up for the incoming Ms. Black phone call too. I think I might be able to appreciate him skipping out on a meeting in order to jump out of a hot air balloon. Then the adrenalin junkie part of the character might seem like an interesting layer of his personality I can appreciate but right now it’s not really working for me.

  14. theo
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 14:00:10

    Nitpicky, I know, but the name Damien turned me off. In all fairness, it’s due in large part to a friend who is dealing with a teenaged son the equivalent of Damien in The Omen. Or Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

    The Tag Hauer reference is unnecessary as mentioned above. He can look at his 50K watch, but I don’t need a brand name. It will convey the same idea, expensive man.

    I’ve only known one man who is willing to drop what he’s doing to take his secretary’s phone calls. That’s because without her, he’d fall apart. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship. He knows it. So does she. It’s lasted almost 30 years.

    So unless you can convey that, which is difficult enough over several pages, I can’t imagine him answering his phone when he’s 2,000+ feet in the air. I also agree with the stipulations put upon high level execs and what the contract will allow. So if he’s going to be jumping out of balloons, he’d better own the company, in which case, I can’t see him being cowed by his secretary, Ms Black or anyone else for that matter.

    All that and the grammatical errors made this a no read deal for me.

    Kudos for putting it out there. It takes guts. I know. Good luck.

  15. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 14:32:32

    This is almost ready to go. Just make it more – definite. Give him a real reason to answer his phone and make Iris a bit more sympathetic, less cliche. And maybe when the phone rings he can check with his pilot (I think that’s what they call the guy who controls the ballon) that he can maintain the height so he can still go. Shows there’s somebody else in there with him.
    But yes, you’ve hooked me.

  16. Kim
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 21:59:42

    The name Damian works perfectly. I’m not okay with the Tag Hauer reference but only because I have no idea what it is. The stopwatch reference didn’t really help. Now, if I’d known what it was, I’d have been fine with the reference. Wouldn’t have been fine if you’d mentioned 50k or some other amount. That’s like slapping us in the face with it. Besides, I got he was wealthy even without knowing about the watch so you did great with that. The only issue I had was similar to the others – I’m an admin professional – I’ve never had a boss pick up a phone in the middle of something. I think you can do this – if you motivate it better and not simply that the cliche’d secretary-type would “hound” him. All that said, your piece did what it was supposed to – I’d read on.

  17. Elana Paige
    Oct 29, 2010 @ 05:21:20

    The problem with this is that it doesn’t ring true as honest. It’s more likely that he’d answer the phone because HE has to–it’s a problem with him, not with his secretary. I mean, turning off the phone is too easy. And if he was really going up for a break, he’d NOT take his phone; it’d be a conscious move. So this page is an opportunity for interesting characterization and inner conflict that doesn’t happen yet.

    But the writing is compelling. The pace is spot-on.

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