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First Page: Contemporary Romance titled “Long Road Home”

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New York City, Manhattan, somewhere between So-Ho and Hell’s Kitchen: What are the chances of not only finding yourself face to face with another Irishman, but one who is nearly twenty years your senior and you’re inexplicably drawn to each other as if wielded by fate?

Chapter 1

Bronwyn awoke and found herself trapped in a carcass of ripped and crunched metal. She blinked rapidly and tried to wipe broken glass from her hair. Flustered, she tried to maneuver around to see if she could somehow get free. She felt the warmth of fresh blood as it ran down the side of her face. Her breath was deep yet calm. Rain beat down in the pitch dark of night; the droplets echoed like pinging thunder and silenced any other sound until she heard footsteps slowly overtake the downpour. Heavy. Echoed. She didn’t move. She covered her mouth to subdue a yelp that would turn into a blood curdling scream. A strong weathered hand grabbed at her ankle and yanked hard on her leg to pull her from the wreckage.

“I’m not done with you yet!” the graveled voice howled. Bronwyn kicked back with her other foot to fend off the attacker. She desperately tried to find another way out. “Come here bitch!” She kicked back harder and clawed her way through a hole. She scrambled to her feet and began to run again when the man tackled her to the ground. He bashed his fist into her face. She could taste the blood as it filled her mouth. “You’re pretty,” he smiled.

His teeth were crooked and black. Spittle gathered at the corners of his mouth. “Stop it,” Bronwyn whimpered. He reached behind his back and pulled around a silver blade. Bronwyn began to cry. “Shh, don’t cry,” he wiped a tear from her cheek as it mixed with rain. “It won’t hurt, for long.”

“No!” Bronwyn shot up in her bed, beads of sweat ran down her forehead and chest. Sheets mangled and wrapped around her feet. Her phone vibrated against the night stand. Bronwyn rubbed her eyes, “Hello?”

“Bronwyn good morning,” Detective McDonald said cheerfully.

Bronwyn yawned as she sat up. “I’m tired of this. Every year you call. Every year I look at another hundred mug shots. It’s been ten years. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“I told you I wasn’t going to give up on this. I know something will pop out and happen for us. All I’m asking for is a few hours.”

“No, all you’re asking for is for me to relive it over and over again. I can’t move on if you won’t let me let it go.”

“Promise me you’ll-”

“I’m not promising anything. I have to get ready for work; I’ll call you next week.” Bronwyn put the phone back on her nightstand and proceeded to prepare for the day ahead.

Once Bronwyn jumped out of bed and got herself into the shower. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her pale blue eyes were puffy as they stared back. She had unblemished ivory skin, straight long light brown hair and was taller than the average sized woman, an easy five foot ten inches.

She applied some face moisturizer as she began primping for the day. As she reached for the toothbrush, she knocked over the toothpaste and sent her hair brush to the floor onto her foot. “Goddamn it! Ow,” she rubbed the top of one foot with the other. As she brushed her teeth she ran into her closet to quickly throw an outfit together.

She pulled a long black wool skirt off its hangar and snagged a dark red, long sleeve scoop neck top to go with it. She ran back to the sink, spit out the toothpaste and picked up the brush to comb out her hair and part it in the middle. She glanced at the clock; it screamed 9:15 back at her. “Shit, shit, shit.” She got dressed took one last glance in the mirror, seized her bag and coat and flew out her apartment door.

She hustled down 7th Street and doing her best to keep from running into other people. Her cell phone began to ring. She tried to dig through her purse to find it and in doing so poked her finger on an uncovered pen. She quickly yanked her hand out and gave a quick suck to it. Her phone continued its persistence and beckoned her again. She pulled herself up against the outside wall of her favorite coffee shop, forced her bag open and began to rummage through all her junk and finally found the phone. “I’ve got to get myself a smaller bag,” she uttered under her breath as she clicked the answer button.

“Bronwyn, where are you?” Adam, Bronwyn’s colleague, asked with a thick, gruff voice.

“I know, Adam. I’m sorry. I had a wicked night’s sleep and must have accidentally turned off my alarm or something.”

“He’s waiting,” Adam continued. “I know you’re in charge of this one so you have to be here to oversee the transfer. He was adamant,” he chided.

“Look, I’m on my way. Tell Mr. Seeley I will absolutely make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed.” She paused and in that split second as she looked up time came to an utter standstill, at least for her. She locked eyes with a man.

He was tall, maybe six foot or more, Bronwyn couldn’t tell in the brief encounter. He had a creased brow deep in thought that vanished as he shot back a glance and smiled. Those eyes, she thought to herself. Bright blue and would have seemed average on any man, but not on him. He had short brown hair that was slightly grayed on the sides and a lean physique. His hands were huddled in the pockets of his coat. Must have forgotten his gloves. She completely drifted from her phone conversation.

“Bronwyn? You there?” Adam nudged. She looked away for a split second and lost sight of the gentleman.

 

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

18 Comments

  1. ang
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 06:04:40

    I’m sorry this whole thing is just not working for me. First you say Bronwyn awoke, but then we find out she’s in the grip of a nightmare. Which is it?

    Then right after the nightmare, the phone rings oh-so-conveniently and it’s the detective from her rape case he’s been working on for 10 years, oh and coincidentally, it’s the anniversary of the rape.

    Then we go on and on about what she’s wearing, how she’s dressing, how late she is, blah blah blah, and then, she finally sees the guy who was mentioned in the little paragraph before Chapter One.

    What was that paragraph anyway, the logline, the chapter heading, the set-up for the book itself? Whatever it is, it doesn’t work.

    If you want my honest advice, I’d scrap this whole page, and begin from where the action starts, right outside the bakery.

    “Bronwyn couldn’t believe how late she was! Adam was going to kill her as she had the presentation. She grabbed the handle of the coffee shop door, and her cell phone rang. Of course it was in the bottom
    of her purse.
    She stepped aside and leaned against the bakery wall to allow the other patrons to go inside. Finding the cell, she checked the screen. Adam .
    “I know Adam,” she said into the receiver. “I’m sorry I’m so late. The stupid alarm didn’t go off, I’m in Mid-town right now, I’ll be there in 20. I’ll even catch a cab.”
    She fumbled with her brief case and in that split second as she looked up, time came to an utter standstill, at least for her. She locked eyes with a man.

    And then go on from there. What you have right now is set-up and filler. If the most important thing is the rape, then fine, leave it, but tighten up your prose. If the most important thing to the story is meeting the man, then start with the man. Especially if this is a romance.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 06:14:23

    There’s some interesting elements here – something almost supernatural in the dream, maybe? And I do like characters who are working bravely to overcome traumatic pasts…

    But there are other parts that really didn’t work for me. The first little blurb, before the chapter heading, is awkwardly phrased and doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. I think I’d cut it.

    And then opening with a dream sequence – it’s a frequently-criticized technique, and I don’t really think it works here. The events of the dream were hard to follow, and I was getting impatient with the writing (she’s breathing calmly but is panicking at the same time, she’s caught but then she’s free, etc.). These inconsistencies make sense, once I know it’s a dream, but I don’t really lose the earlier impatience. And I don’t really get a clear idea of what happened to her, anyway, so the dream doesn’t serve much of a purpose. I’d be tempted to cut that, too, and just have the phone call wake her from an unspecified nightmare.

    Then once she’s awake, we lose all the sense of urgency. She yawns, seems petulant with the cop, begins “primping for the day”, does the other cliched move of looking in the mirror to describe herself to the reader, and then we get a detailed description of her morning routine and wardrobe. It really slows down the pacing, and doesn’t give me a clear image of who she is or why I should care about her. She’s clumsy, disorganized… that’s about all I’ve got, I think.

    I wonder if you could work with a sort of “What is the purpose of this scene/line, and is this the best way to meet that purpose?” format for revisions. Like… the purpose of the nightmare sequence is to give us some back story and to grip the reader, right? But I could have gotten pretty much the same back story much more clearly just from the conversation with the detective. She was attacked, ten years ago, still haven’t caught the guy, she’s struggling to move forward. And the ‘grip the reader’ part doesn’t work too well, at least for me, once I find out that it was all just a dream. In Romance, I think the best way to grip readers is to make them care about the characters, and I’d love to see you do some more work in that area.

    Good luck with it!

  3. LT
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:02:01

    I agree with Kate. You’ve made some very typical no-no’s. Pick up some agents blogs and you’ll find out intros that they hate most are nightmare/waking up openings. MC descriptions they hate most are those of him/her looking into the mirror.. They state that these two things, among many others (you should really check out their blogs and interviews), indicate a lack of experience and they stop reading immediately. Don’t describe your MC’s hair after it’s been blown in front of her face either as that’s beginning to get overused (just an FYI in case you were considering). You could have her glancing at her reflection in the window of a shop as she’s on the phone with the co-worker and notice her hair is flat and stuck to her head or frizzy and out of control from the heat. And then maybe once she reaches the office, a co-worker remarking on how pale she is…paler than normal. Just a suggestion. But keep it short, you can hint at other MC description later.
    With all of that said, I really like the developing premise here and for the most part the writing is tight. I think you should begin somewhere else and you’ll be set.
    The nightmare scene was super creepy and well-written. I wouldn’t totally lose it. Maybe that night – after the day at work – she has the nightmare and then have her being woken up by the detective. I wasn’t confused by her waking up in the metal carcass (love the wording) and then really waking up by the phone call.
    Just be conscious of passive voice and repetitiveness. You have two consecutive sentences with the word ‘tried’ toward the beginning. You can dig out the passive voice by taking out some of the ‘was’s. Also, work at separating dialogue from different characters within the same paragraph. Their dialogue should have their own paragraph. It’s less confusing for the reader that way.

  4. Cara Ellison
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:08:06

    This page is a lesson in what not to do. Just about every thought is a cliche. It reads like a very raw first draft from a new writer. I’m sorry but this was a failure to launch for me.

  5. Author on Vacation
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:19:14

    Although I like your “word-painting,” I admit I stopped reading and started skimming once I realized the first three paragraphs were a dream. I don’t like books or movies that utilize dreams or flashbacks much, especially in the story’s beginning. Just personal taste. I feel invested in a particular situation (the dream and/or flashback) and a paragraph or so later I discover it’s a dream/flashback. Then I feel tricked. Like the author is saying, “Here, let me tell you a story … Oh no! Fooled ya! Here’s the REAL story now!”

  6. NCKat
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:24:29

    I kept thinking of the fan fiction writers over at fanfiction.net who are notorious for writing overly detailed Mary Jane characters with obsessions with their looks and clothing. So that’d kill it for me right there.

    But if you lose the self-absorption with her looks and clothes, I’d think I’d read the rest if it was consistent. The other comments here are really helpful; I would take them into consideration. I also think you’re brave to do this.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:29:55

    You’ve made an interesting start, but there are some things you need to work on, IMO.
    There are two “guidelines” you’ve broken comprehensively here.
    Don’t start with a character waking from a dream. Editors tend to hate it, unless it’s pulled off spectacularly well, which is why I said “guidelines” and not “rules.”
    Don’t have the heroine looking into the mirror and describing herself. For a start, who is she describing herself to? Doesn’t she know what she looks like? Leave that for another character to do.
    The sentences are repetitive. “she did this, and she did that,” very simple sentences with subject/verb/object. Vary them to avoid monotony.
    It’s all telling-not-showing. In the dream, for instance, you tell us she’s afraid, you don’t show it.
    Reactions are missing. She wakes up with the sheet tangled around her feet, but she doesn’t seem affected by the dream at all.
    Punctuation is all over the place. ““Goddamn it! Ow,” she rubbed the top of one foot with the other.” for instance, should have a period after “Ow.”
    “Smiled” isn’t a speech tag. Neither is “nudged.” Try “said.”
    What cop these days has the time to work on a ten year old case?
    “hanger” not “hangar” (that’s where they keep planes). “spat” not “spit.” In any case, I agree with Ang. All that getting ready for work is tedious. The whole scene has a certain interest, for instance, I’d start outside the shop, and I liked the bit about the big bag. Let the rest of the information come out naturally.

  8. Abbie Rhoades
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 08:31:10

    Hey Writer of Long Road Home!

    Kudos to you for putting this out here for everyone to read. That takes tons of courage. Anything I say is just my opinion so take it for what it’s worth–a stranger’s thoughts.

    The blurb at the top was an immediate turn off to me. It almost seems like you’re trying to tell the reader what is about to happen instead of letting the reader find out organically. Readers are smart people–they read.

    Starting with a dream is very bad on many levels. It’s like you’re lying to your reader. You give the reader this circumstance, place them there with the heroine then rip it away. It’s like you, as the author are going, “haha. I fooled you. That’s not the real the story.” And the other bad thing about this dream is that the dream is more interesting than what happens after she wakes up. I admit I was intrigued with the first three paragraphs even though there are some flaws. Why does she wipe the glass out of her hair the very first thing? I think that’d be the least of her concerns. You never say she’s in a car, but that seems what it is. How can a guy grab her leg? What hole is she crawling out of? If he’s chasing her, then tackles her she’d be face down on the ground, but he punches her in the face.–Those things could be clarified on a revision. But when I found out it was just a dream… I groaned. One of the biggest no no’s–starting with a dream.

    Everything after the dream was boring. Boring. Maybe you’re trying to set up that she’s having a really bad day and that’s important to your story, but there’s a major flaw that makes the entire section after the dream so boring.–All you’re doing is ‘telling’ the reader Bronwyn’s actions. She’s like an android as she gets ready. She has no thoughts, no feelings. If you as the author NEED this section in here, you’ve got to give her thoughts and feelings. She comes across very flat otherwise. Another reviewer suggested cutting to the part where she gets the call from Adam. That’s not a bad idea, but even after the call she’s still not having any thoughts or feelings. I wonder if that’s a flaw in your entire manuscript because even in the dream she’s not really having any thoughts or feelings. You’ve got to fix that. It’s not deep pov at all. Nowhere close.

    And the looking in the mirror and describing herself is so overdone and never comes across as authentic. For example, when I look in the mirror I never think about my eye color/hair color/tone of my skin and certainly not my height. But I will notice the giant pimple that formed in the middle of my forehead overnight, but maybe that’s just me: ) This is why it seems so inauthentic when a character stands in front of the mirror and describes herself. No one does that.

    I believe anything can be made better by revision. Thanks for letting all of us read it.

    Keep Writing!

  9. Ren
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 09:57:39

    @Lynne Connolly: “Don’t have the heroine looking into the mirror and describing herself. For a start, who is she describing herself to? Doesn’t she know what she looks like? Leave that for another character to do.”

    This should be engraved on a paddle and wielded with extreme prejudice, especially against authors and editors who allow hold on while I describe in excruciating detail something I look at every day, as if it’s news to me to go to print.

    The ordinary is mostly invisible and as such not worth wasting a lot of words on. Save the descriptions for the extraordinary. What’s new? What isn’t as it should be? What’s changed? Those are the things that warrant a character’s notice and a percentage of your word count.

  10. SAO
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 12:00:07

    You turned me off with the question, what are the chances? It was rhetorical, but I my reaction was 1) of meeting another irishman? not bad, 2) 20 years older? still not bad and 3) that you are inexplicably drawn to? Groan. I don’t want inexplicable attractions. I want well motivated attraction. So, my eyes were rolling before I got to the opening line of your actual scene.

    I had some quibbles with the dream scene, which aren’t important now, because I was ready to be there, with your char, except then you jerked me away, saying it wasn’t real. I didn’t know about any rule saying never start with a dream, but it sure didn’t work for me.

    After the tense action of the dream, you drone on about spitting out toothpaste. You even have Bronwyn yawning. Yep, I was right there with her, yawning.

    Bron doesn’t care about the detective’s case, so I don’t either. Way to kill that plot line for me.

    Next, after she nearly got raped in the dream, you expect me to care about whether she gets to work on time and some stupid meeting at goes off as planned? Particularly when making gooney eyes at a stranger is more important?

    Also, you start introduce a detective, but Bron blows him off, so when Adam is mentioned, I think he’s important, but he’s not, we move on to the stranger without gloves.

    I leave the page, having no idea what this book is about. Is it a fast paced thriller chasing the rapist? Is it a more intricate novel about a woman making it in the working world? Is it a more of a straight romance with her instantly recognizing your soul mate? I real lots and I might have been interested in any of the above, but I really don’t want to spend more time trying to guess what the book is about.

    I know this is a very harsh review, but I felt jerked around and I really didn’t like it.

  11. job
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 12:29:27

    Other folks have said most of what I would say. Let me add a thought about the dialog.

    We can convey information to the reader in some pretty straightforward ways.

    — We can have the protagonist think:
    Damn. The rape was ten years ago today. No wonder I had bad dreams. I’d feel better if they’d caught the bastard.

    — We can have her friend notice a lack of enthusiasm for the morning and say,
    “Bad night for you, I guess. The rape was ten years ago.”
    “Yeah.”
    “And they never caught the guy.”
    “Yeah.”

    which is short, snappy and believable.

    –We can add the information to the narrative in a thrifty manner.
    She tore a page off the calendar on her desk. Ten years since the rape. Exactly. And the man still walking around free.

    What you’ve done in the McDonald phone call, however, is write a piece of dialog where people tell each other stuff they both already know. (As you know, Bob.) This sort of giving-the-reader-information dialog tends to be repetitious and circular.

    Dialog, like any other action, needs motivation. I feel McDonald’s reasons for calling are a bit weak. Would he expect facial recognition after a decade? Why would he have new mug shots? Would he call victims on the anniversary of their trauma?
    If you can give McDonald more credible motivation for calling the protag, I think they’d have more to talk about and a better dialog.

  12. Unbiased Observer
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 16:20:11

    I’m not a professional, but I’m thinking the whole thing could be boiled down to this:

    Bronwyn’s phone rang, waking her from yet another nightmare. “Hello?”

    “It’s Detective McDonald.”

    “I’m not looking at anymore head shots. It’s been years…”

    “All I’m asking for is a few hours.”

    “I’m going to be late for work.” Bronwyn hung up. He wouldn’t deceive her into hoping again.

    ***

    Then pick it up from her showing late to work and being fired or whatever happens. I get she’s meeting the hero on the street, but that scene didn’t do anything for me. I lose respect for a heroine when she orgasms at the simple sight of a man. Cut out all of that Those eyes and time standing still nonsense. No eyegasms.

  13. Armchair Quarterback
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 16:41:02

    Starting off “somewhere between SoHo and Hell’s Kitchen” (AKA The West Village or Chelsea, sort of like saying I’ll be leaving at approximately 10:42) cues the reader into the fact the story is most likely written by non-New Yorker who has done a great deal of research. If that line was contained within a book blurb, I’d probably return it to the shelf.

    The fact she’s intrigued by the man isn’t bad unto itself, though I second the no eyegasms – but I couldn’t figure out how paying attention to her phone conversation required her to look away. I fear she comes awfully close to TSTL and we’ve only know her for a page.

    Thanks for sharing and ditto on the bravos!

  14. MLDoyle
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 17:06:46

    Too much back story right up front. Break it down, get to the point. The details of the attack can all come out later in the story. And you’re telling us stuff we can figure out ourselves. We know Adam is a co-worker by the conversation. You don’t have to tell us that. You don’t have to use a paragraph to show she can’t find her phone. The repeated ringing and searching is just as annoying in print as it is in person. But still, good attempt. Keep at it.

  15. Jane Lovering
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 16:27:41

    You’ve been extremely brave, as others have said. Putting your work out there for people to read is hard, but the fact that you’ve done it, that you’re willing to take feedback, is a huge thing. So many writers are precious about their work and won’t let anyone see it until it’s ‘finished’. But I would second what others have said, that this piece could do with a little work.
    Every action your MC performs should have a reason. She drops the brush on her foot – why? Is there going to be an embarrassing bruise that she has to explain away? She brushes her teeth – is a blob of toothpaste going to ruin her presentation by appearing in the middle of her papers? Describing things without purpose, things that have no bearing on the story, is a waste of those very precious words. I know that 80,000 words (for example) might seem a lot when you’re starting out, but if you have to fit a story, character arc, action and emotion in, suddenly it’s not so many! Make every single one of them work for you and earn their place in the story. If they don’t build character, move the story forward or shed light on some otherwise hidden element, then I’m afraid they have to go.
    Keep up the good work, and tell the story you want to tell.

  16. Loreen
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 01:27:20

    what are the chances of running into another Irishman in NYC? Pretty darn likely, I’d say. Do you know how many Irishmen there are in the city? Or people of any nationality? It is probably the place on earth you are most likely to run into a fellow countryman.
    Is the 20 year age gap going to be a big issue and impediment in the romance? I have to say that I am not keen on this kind of age difference in romance novels. Enough of that in hollywood, I say.

  17. Ali
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 13:06:01

    Hello all. Thanks to some for your constructive critics. I”m going to point out that the blurb at the front of the chapter is NOT supposed to be there. That was a mistake made not on my part. I am going to take the feedback I received here and tighten up my book. It is a finished draft at over 86,000 words.

  18. Jynnipher
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 10:44:51

    You have a great attitude about all of the wonderful feedback you received here. This is a learning tool and I hope you heard something that helped you. Best of luck!

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