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First Page: Contemporary Romance

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***

"Em? Emily, is that you?’

Emily Standish sat down hard on the little wooden chair with its faded floral needlepoint cushion. She barely registered the small cloud of dust it gave out in protest. Her heart was racing and her breath was short. It couldn’t be. It must be nearly fifteen years – and this really wasn’t the moment for that kind of complex mental arithmetic. If someone had asked her, Emily would have claimed she barely remembered him. She certainly wouldn’t have expected that she could recognise his voice on the end of a crackling phone line in just five words.

"Hello? Can you hear me?’

She could hang up, of course. For all he knew, she was on a train heading through a tunnel at just the wrong moment. Right moment. Whichever.

Or perhaps she could pretend he’d got the wrong number. He wouldn’t be able to tell if she changed her voice a bit, would he?

"Emily, it’s Simon.’

"Yes.’ She knew that. She didn’t have a clue what else was going on but she did know who it was who had got her phone number from somewhere and called her out of the blue.

"It is you! For a moment there I wondered if I’d made a terrible cock-up and phoned some other Emily Standish.’

Simon sounded just like he always had. Charming and confident with a deep humour always lurking just beneath the surface. Emily couldn’t help herself. She smiled.

"Hello Simon.’

He laughed. "Hello darling! God, it’s good to hear your voice again. You don’t sound as though you’ve changed a bit. Have you? No, don’t tell me, I’m coming to see for myself.’

Emily clutched at the phone more tightly and hoped that Simon couldn’t tell she was shaking. "You’re coming to see me?’ Wildly, she looked around the piles of magazines, the not-quite-abandoned knitting, and the tulips that were out of water and dropping petals all over her front room. She closed her eyes and prayed that he’d at least give her time to tidy up a bit.

"Yes. There’s something I need to talk to you about. That’s okay, isn’t it?’

"Well, I suppose-’

"Great. Are you free on Saturday? I’ll pick you up at seven, shall I?’

"Simon, I-’

He paused. "Is something the matter?’

Emily swallowed, wondering how her mouth had suddenly got so dry. Simon Lennox had phoned her. Was talking to her now, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Wanted to come and see her. To take her out for dinner on Saturday.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening.

It wasn’t what she had planned.

She took a deep breath. Probably it was nothing. Just dinner with an old friend. "No. Saturday’s fine. Do you need directions?’

"You’re still in the cottage, aren’t you? Park in the lane and come round through the back gate. I remember.’

And that, thought Emily, summed up her life over the last 15 years. Still in the same tiny village, in the same tiny cottage that her landlord had never bothered to have modernised. Still doing the same dead end job and still waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet.

"Yes. I’m still here.’

"Great. See you on Saturday, then.’

She listened to the empty buzz at the end of the line for a moment before replacing the phone on its base.

Simon Lennox.

Fifteen years ago, she thought she loved him.

Fifteen years ago, he had married someone else.

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

38 Comments

  1. Elyssa Papa
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 05:24:10

    I like the voice of this quite a lot, and I also think this story has some real potential.

    Having said that, I think you’re starting the story at the wrong place. In my opinion, the story probably starts where Emily actually comes face to face with Simon—she can think how 15 years ago she loved him and he married someone else during the face-to-face. The phone conversation is merely just telling us that she’s upset, and she’s at a distance from the action, safe—she has some measure of control . . . even if the news that Simon called did surprise her, Emily still can think out her responses, control her facial emotions, etc., etc.

    Throw Emily in the frying pan—put her and Simon in a spot from the very beginning that raises the tension/conflict/etc. between them. To me, that would be their “first” remeeting and where you’d have me, at the edge of my seat, turning the page to eagerly read more.

    Good luck!

  2. Mary
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 05:32:12

    I’d read on.

    I kind of like easing into a story with a phone call – especially if it’s one of those “quiet” romances. That seems to be the promise of this opening. The tone/ attention to detail reminds me of Betty Neels’s romances.

  3. may
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 09:00:23

    Unless there is something quite important you’re going to show us between the phone call and Simon showing up, I like the suggestion of starting where he shows up.

    Either way – I’d read on! I already like your imagery and the voice of this character too. The poof of dust off the needlepoint cushion was a nice detail and had me wondering where the heck she was. I felt like you gave me detail but didn’t bog me down with too much.

  4. Lynette
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 09:03:41

    I like this. While I don’t read these all the time, this is the first entry I read where I’ve read the whole thing through without losing interest. I’d keep reading. Having said that, I see what Elyssa is talking about, but to me it’s not a big of an issue. I think it all depends on what’s going to happen next. If next you’re going to show Emily confronting Simon I’d think this is fine, but if your next scene is her building up to meeting Simon or on Simon reflecting on why he’s meeting Emily or something of that sort I think Elyssa is right and you need to start with the meeting.

    My .02

  5. KristieJ
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 09:23:03

    I like it and I’d keep reading it. I liked that it started with a phone call. I was wondering – though I’m sure we would find out – where it’s set.

    This sentence:
    ‘It is you! For a moment there I wondered if I'd made a terrible cock-up and phoned some other Emily Standish.'

    made me think it might be England since this is an expression I’ve only seen in English historicals. And I’d be curious enough to continue reading to find out.

  6. JG
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 09:43:18

    I liked this. Like one of the other comments, I often get bored before the end of one of these entries, but I didn’t here. The writing and voice is clear and gets the point across.

    Unlike some of the other people commenting here, I think this is a fine place to start the story. You introduce story questions and conflicts and lead up to an emotional statement. In other words, it is a scene with an emotional arc. If you try to jam all this info into the beginning of a different scene the arc of that scene might be uneven.

    That said, if this same ground is covered again in a later scene, then yes, some editing would be in order. But there is nothing wrong with this scene on its own.

    The one thing that was difficult was the unattributed dialogue at the beginning. I know some agents/editors hate that. It threw me for a bit, but you clear it up by the end of the second paragraph in explaining that it’s a phone call. So, I’d call that a minor issue.

  7. Meljean
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 10:06:48

    I like this, and I’m okay with where it starts, but the first paragraph after the initial dialogue feels … too packed, I think. And in the wrong order.

    I think you need to pull the It couldn’t be. out and put it directly after the dialogue. Then she sits down. I think you could leave out the time and the mental arithmetic, because if it’s not the moment for mental arithmetic then it’s not a moment for internally recognizing that fact, either. Plus, you state the exact time at the end of the page, and the next sentence after the mental arithmetic lets us know that it’s been A Long Time (and vague enough that it fits into her surprise.) Also, why not name him and give an attribute to the dialogue? Since he’s named within a few paragraphs and she obviously knows who he is, there’s no reason not to let us know who is speaking right away.

    For example (because I know my paragraph is too packed, too):

    ‘Em? Emily, is that you?'

    Simon? It couldn't be. Emily Standish sat down hard on the little wooden chair with its faded floral needlepoint cushion. She barely registered the small cloud of dust it gave out in protest.

    If someone had asked her, Emily would have claimed she barely remembered him. She certainly wouldn't have expected that she could recognise his voice on the end of a crackling phone line in just five words.

    Otherwise I think it’s all great. I’d read on.

  8. Jane O
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 10:38:38

    I liked this, and I would definitely keep reading. I think beginning with the phone call is fine, but then I don’t care for explosive beginnings. I do, however, agree with Meljean that the second paragraph is a bit too much.

    I hope this one gets published, because I’d really like to read it.

  9. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:17:15

    @Elyssa Papa: Thank you! We do get to the face to face meeting about halfway through the first chapter, so there’s not too much messing around at the start, but I’ll bear that idea in mind.

  10. Laura Kinsale
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:17:43

    Hmm, interesting question about where to begin. I like this beginning because it has plenty of conflict and drive and interest, while giving a fair amount of backstory. If you start with their meeting, that backstory will have to be stuffed into that, possibly slowing it down.

    That said, I wouldn’t linger here, get right to the meeting next, don’t go off on a tangent w/mother/bff/old gardener, etc.

    I would also cut “It must be nearly fifteen years – and this really wasn't the moment for that kind of complex mental arithmetic.” You’re right, few ppl will be able to pinpoint 15 years precisely at a moment like that. (Realize this is the pot calling the kettle black, in my new release I do almost exactly that in the first chapter! Learn from my mistake. ;) ) The rest of the paragraph makes it very clear that this is someone from the distant past. Later on you give the 15 years figure in a much more natural way.

    Nice job, carry on!

  11. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:17:50

    @may: Thanks!

  12. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:19:46

    @Lynette:

    While I don't read these all the time, this is the first entry I read where I've read the whole thing through without losing interest. I'd keep reading.

    Hooray! I think that means this first page does its job.

    (Anyone know how to reply to more than one comment in a comment?)

  13. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:21:45

    @KristieJ:

    Spot on about the setting! I’m English, it’s set in England, and that’s definitely an English idiom. And yes, even if it’s not clear from the blurb on the back, it will be very clear from the next couple of scenes that this is England.

  14. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:24:12

    @JG: Thanks. Good point about the unattributed dialogue. I think I’ll leave it as it is for the moment, but I’ll bear that in mind. But this:

    Unlike some of the other people commenting here, I think this is a fine place to start the story. You introduce story questions and conflicts and lead up to an emotional statement. In other words, it is a scene with an emotional arc.

    completely made my day!! Thank you!

  15. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:24:59

    @Meljean: Yes, that works much better. Thanks!

  16. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:26:05

    @Jane O: I hope so too! I submitted it to Mills & Boon a few weeks ago (I submitted it to First Page Saturday months and months ago!), so I’m just waiting to hear.

  17. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:27:13

    @Laura Kinsale:

    Laura Kinsale read my first page! And commented on it! And said nice things!

    Now that has totally made my day!!!

  18. MS Jones
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:35:15

    I like it; it’s really kind of masterful (mistressful?) how the author manages to establish setting, emotion, characters, AND backstory in just a few paragraphs.

    I’d say don’t change a thing except that advice from Laura K., as one of the mistressfullest romance writers of all time, is not to be ignored.

    - edited to add: please do not doormat this heroine.

  19. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 11:58:32

    I like so much of this. Really fluent writing, a quietly tense situation, a vivid portrait of the surroundings.

    Can I quibble with one little thing? The “Firstname Lastname did something” opening is a giant old cliched bore. You don’t need to say that Emily’s last name is Standish, because Simon does it himself a couple of lines later. Take the first “Standish” out–it’s not earning its keep.

    And kudos to you for writing a contemporary romance with a heroine who, one presumes from the timeline, is well over 30. We need more of these!

  20. Leah
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 12:23:25

    I. Want. This. Book. That is all. :)

  21. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 12:25:07

    @Julia Sullivan

    Yes, good point on that first Standish. And yes, she’s 35. Like me. :)

    @MS Jones

    Thank you!

  22. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 12:43:41

    @Leah: LOL!!

  23. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 12:44:15

    I think this is a nice, competent piece of writing. If you’re sending this to Harlequin Modern (Presents in the US) I think you’re on the ball – if he’s a squillionaire, of course!
    Having said that, I think your pacing is a tiny bit off at the beginning. A little less reaction, maybe, to keep it moving at a good clip. But well done and best of luck with the editors!

  24. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 12:58:09

    @Lynne Connolly: Thanks. I’ve sent it in as a submission to the Romance line. He’s not exactly a squillionaire, but he is pretty well off. I worried about the pacing too – I find it so hard to judge.

    We’ll see what they think!

  25. Anion
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 13:20:40

    Dittoing Lynne Connolly. I knew immediately it was set in England, and written by an English writer, and it fits perfectly with the M&Bs I’ve read.

    I was also intrigued/interested, and this isn’t my regular cuppa, so I certainly hope you’ll return and let us know when we can buy this one; well done.

  26. sarah mayberry
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 15:49:42

    I enjoyed this. I love unrequited love stories. I really like this bit:

    “Still in the same tiny village, in the same tiny cottage that her landlord had never bothered to have modernised. Still doing the same dead end job and still waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet.”

    Straight away I have this picture in my mind of her life – ho-hum, normal, safe – and of her mindset. I also understand what sort of a story this will be, which is good at the beginning of the book when readers are searching for a toehold and some markers to tell them where this particular ship will be sailing.

    I would keep reading, definitely. Good luck!

  27. Nell Dixon
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 16:01:49

    I liked this. Fingers firmly crossed for you.

  28. Anonymous author
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 16:25:50

    Oh, you’re all so lovely!! I’m more excited about this now than ever. And I will totally come over here and squee if ever it gets published (and send a review copy to DA)! And I shall expect you all to buy it!

  29. DS
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 16:38:29

    @Anonymous author: I don’t see where anyone answered you. Just choose your first post by clicking on the right lower corner, type your reply to the first one. Go back up and pick another one.

    @Anonymous author: click on the lower corner right and then type your reply to the second post. I’m not sure if there is a limit because I have posted (and read!) quite long replies.

  30. A
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 10:15:38

    I’m late to this thread, and I feel a little bad to be the odd one out, but I’m not crazy about this first page.

    There’s fabulous potential. I love the author’s wealth of detail in establishing scene/setting and conveying emotions. Writing quality is very good, but the opening paragraphs feature too much passive voice. Passive voice slows the read and distances the reader from the action.

    There’s a bit too much cliche (“out of the blue,” “Prince Charming.”) I believe an author of your competency can find more originality. Be sparing with cliche; sometimes it’s useful, but it’s been said/done a million times (that’s why it’s cliche.)

    At this point, so far, I don’t much care for Emily. Yes, I recognize she’s startled/excited to hear from Simon and that Simon was/is important to her. I know what kind of house she inhabits. I “get” that she’s probably a nice, reliable (predictable?) person.

    What I dislike is the “doormat” vibe I’m smelling from your prose regarding Emily. It’s clear she sees herself in a negative light. In fifteen years since she last saw Simon, no meaningful changes — positive or negative — appear to have taken place in her life. That SCARES me. I’ve been divorced less than five years and I’ve managed to drop a few dress sizes, go back to school, and change careers. Life’s good, great in fact.

    Simon’s comments and attitude come off as condescending IMO, as though Emily was a “disposable girlfriend” he hasn’t bothered communicating with in 15 years because he recognized he could “pick her back up and catch up” any ol’ time he felt like it.

    His comment “Is something wrong?” qualifies as “jerkdom” UNLESS Simon is unaware of Emily’s feelings for him. Aren’t most people surprised and/or taken aback when they hear from someone from their past? Simon seems to be acting like the past 15 years never happened and he was always planning to take her out to dinner and just now got around to it.

    I’d keep reading at this point to see if other circumstances impact my view of these characters, but so far, I don’t much like either of them.

  31. Susan/DC
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 14:27:59

    As MS Jones said:

    - edited to add: please do not doormat this heroine

    I liked the writing, I’m intrigued about the characters, I’d buy it based on this first page, but I do want excellent reasons why she’s not moved forward in those 15 years. Or maybe she has, it’s just those outer aspects of her life (house, job, etc) that have not, but I am a bit worried by the “still waiting for Prince Charming”. If she’s just waiting to be swept off her feet by the Love of her Life, that’s fine, but if she’s waiting for him to solve all her problems for her (aforementioned house, job, etc), then it’s not.

  32. Marilyn
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 16:12:43

    Emily and Simon sounds like a great contemporary and what a “hook”.

  33. SAO
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 01:05:23

    I really liked the last few lines, but I definitely got the doormat vibe. Her landlord hasn’t modernized her cottage and she’s been happy to accept it. She hasn’t moved, she hasn’t effectively demanded any change and there was too close a link between the chair, that EMILY hasn’t dusted and the landlord’s failings making me think she’s thinking the dust is the landlord’s fault.

    She sounds like she’s been sitting around waiting for Prince Charming. And lo, and behold, Simon calls.

    The writing was good enough and the surprise of the ending, that if I had the book, I’d read on. The doormattiness was enough that if I were choosing a book in the bookstore, I’d probably pass on this after the first page.

    I freely admit to a strong bias towards strong and active heroines and against door mats.

  34. Stephanie
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 10:33:18

    The set-up is promising and I do like the regional English flavor of the setting, plus the writing itself reads very smoothly. But I’d have to agree with readers who sense a potentially troubling passivity in the heroine. On first appearance, she seems awfully mousy and complaisant. I would like to know why she hasn’t moved on or taken any steps to get out of the rut she’s been in for 15 years. I sincerely hope it’s not because she’s been mooning over Simon all this time, and I also hope that he doesn’t prove to be the answer to everything that’s wrong with her life.

  35. mina kelly
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 05:40:35

    I pegged this as English immediately, mostly because of the cottage and its furnishings. I like the tone, though there’s a little too much description in places e.g. “little wooden chair with its faded floral needlepoint cushion” – there’s five adjectives there, which is at least three too many (and some people would say five too many!). I actually quite like the meek and mild vibe, though I agree that if all she’s done for the past 15 years is moon over Simon then she needs a good, hard shag shake.

    There’s also a grammar niggle I’m surprised no one else picked up on:
    When addressing a person in speech, there should always be a comma (or equivalent punctuation) on either side of the name or noun being thrown at them. It’s the different between “Let’s eat, Sam!” and “Let’s eat Sam!” You’re missing it on “Hello Simon” and “Hello Darling”.

  36. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 12:55:37

    You're missing it on “Hello Simon” and “Hello Darling”.

    That seems to be a norm in UK publishing these days. UK and US comma rules are really different.

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