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First Page: Contemporary/Adult, with a Capital “A”, literary Romance —...

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***

The misty grey corner of nowhere and no place, Bloomsbury, London-‘late Friday night at the pub. Another long, dreary week of suffering in the trenches had passed quietly into the oblivion of raucous laughter, dizzying clouds of smoke, and rounds of drinks for all.

Just the five of them. "Out on the piss," they would all say, and as Laleana glanced around the table, she came to realise that it had always been this way, for as long as she cared to remember.

Lit cigarette dangling precariously from his lips, Julian presided over them, antagonizing everyone as he flung his glass of whiskey back and forth through the air, punctuating his sentences with cast off drops of drink.

"So," he said as if already demanding an answer, "We all still headin’ out to the ole family plot for holiday? I have confirmed…we’ve got the run of the place. We can paint the walls chartreuse should we feel so inclined. Hell, we can douse the place with petrol and light a match for all I care. Ha! I don’t care…let’s do it…burn it to the ground."

He probably would have reduced the place to cinders by now if it hadn’t been for the other four. Julian had no love loss for his family. His parents are of old money and of even older patrician temperament. They own a brewery in Cardiff, Wales and have a handsome estate there as well. It’s the predictable majestic expanse of manicured lawns, brimful cottage gardens, and tranquil ponds, ornamented with esoteric statuary and uncomfortable stone benches. It has all of the gilded trappings the wealthy aristocracy could ever hope to possess, not to mention flaunt in the most garish ways conceivable. Julian loathes and detests his parents for the same hypocrisy that most children do, and he finds pure enjoyment in ransacking the place whilst they are out of the country on holiday. The others had gone along with for the last five years or so. It is nothing less than a hedonistic event, filled with friendly frivolity and riotous debauchery, and every year
they all eagerly anticipate the solid week of self-indulgent mass-hysteria.

Laleana raised her glass and gave him a wicked little wink. "I’m in," she confirmed, and then she looked across the table to Ioan.

Ioan, sweet Ioan, sat sullen and quiet, both hands wrapped around his pint, gaze cast downward in attempt to stay out of the fray, a shy little smile just barely creasing his face. It wasn’t even a smile really but more of a delicious little parting of his lips, only slightly upturned at the corners, as if a dirty thought had passed behind his eyes for a flash of a moment. He shot a quick and gentle glance back at her. That fragile gesture of camaraderie was as understated and innocent as the rest of his face. Laleana could not help herself and smiled back with blushing appreciation.

"Count me in as well," Ioan said whilst fumbling with his shyness and his pint of beer. "But I want to stop in and visit my mum and dad for a day, you know, whilst we are there and all that…"

Without delay or fear of consequence, Julian slammed his empty glass down onto the table, sending shards of ice flying in every direction. "Oh for fuck’ sake, what ever for? Way to ruin a perfectly good holiday. What did they ever do for you except declare you a nutcase and pump you full of drugs?"

Ioan didn’t respond. Couldn’t respond. He just shut his eyes and clutched his drink as the stiff reminder, too painful to bear, greyed his knuckles and tightened his shoulders.

Laleana could feel his anguish, they all could, lying thick in the murky air, but the solemn silence didn’t last long.

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

64 Comments

  1. Ros
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 04:30:11

    There are lots of things to like about this. You have a strong, clear voice with some beautifully evocative turns of phrase. You very quickly establish the setting and the characters with some clever and unexpected word choices and carefully woven backstory. I’d keep reading, no question.

    Some minor niggles:

    The first sentence is a bit awkwardly punctuated. I would try to find a more elegant way of constructing this opening line. I had to read it two or three times, and that’s not a good sign.

    Julian’s speech pattern seems a bit off to me. At first I had him down as estuary English, but then you told me he has an ancestral mansion in Cardiff? I think you are going for semi-aristocratic but it’s just not quite right. ‘Ole’ and ‘Way to ruin…’ both struck jarring notes for me.

    There is some mixing of tenses. The main narrative is in past tense, but the description of Julian’s house/family is in the present. I think this can work – if the implied narrator is both describing events in the past and also talking about things which are still the same in the present. But to make the switch so early in the narrative is a little bit confusing, and I felt a moment of worry that it was just a mistake. I’d see if it would work to keep it all in the past.

    Where’s Laleana’s name from? As soon as I read it, I assumed she was black, but I could be quite wrong about that.

    Hope some of that helps.

  2. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 05:33:12

    If this is a contemporary, then you need to bear in mind that there’s been a ban on smoking in public places in England since 2007.

    The reference to “Cardiff, Wales” strikes an odd note to me. I can’t imagine anyone from the UK would refer to it that way in conversation. It’s just “Cardiff.” So is the person saying that from the US?

    “It has all of the gilded trappings the wealthy aristocracy could ever hope to possess, not to mention flaunt in the most garish ways conceivable”

    Nowadays it seems to be much more likely to be someone who’s recently come into wealth, like Posh Spice, who will flaunt wealth “garishly.”

  3. vanessa jaye
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 06:43:17

    I would absolutely continue reading. Love your voice, author. Good pacing, nicely woven in backstory, setting established quickly and good sense of character and possible tension/conflicts. Great job.

  4. joanne
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 06:45:49

    I am a broken record, I apologize ahead of time, but some serious editing would help this piece go from alright to very good.

    As Ros said the changing of tenses is annoying.

    Things that jar the reader out of the story:
    You say that the story takes place in a “corner of nowhere and no place” — then name the town and country.
    Unless Laleana is a rock star or actress the name is just weird.
    Julian ‘flinging’ his whiskey glass back in forth in the air is just odd.
    It’s not “as if already demanding an answer’, he was demanding an answer.

    I think your paragraph that describes Ioan is beautifully written. After that the quality of the writing and therefore the story become much more professional and readable.

    In my annoying opinion there is so much ‘good stuff’ here to work with and a strong writing style that needs to be polished. Thank you so much and much good luck!

  5. DS
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 07:08:41

    I think I would drop the first paragraph altogether and incorporate the necessary information into the second. Or maybe just use the first sentence as a header to establish time and location. It’s not a full sentence and that was the first thing that jumped out at me. Then I thought of the smoking ban. I, also, couldn’t quite get a visual image of the glass flinging. As mentioned above, also, I was bothered by the tenses that wouldn’t quite settle down.

    Also struck by “the stiff reminder” greying his knuckles– I assumed Ioan a person of color because knuckles usually lighten in color when clenched.

  6. cecilia
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 07:22:57

    I agree that this is an interesting start, but a couple things struck a wrong note for me. First, “Julian had no love loss for his family” – this was a really odd expression. Is it a mistyped or rearranged way of saying there was no love lost? It seems like a cliched way of saying it, anyway.

    Second, the verb tense shifts. Later in the same paragraph, “Julian loathes and detests his parents….”

    Third, the bit about the garishness “old” moneyed people would want? This doesn’t seem authentic at all. I suppose it’s possible that there are real aristocratic types who have bad taste, but mostly this comes across as written by someone who has no experience at all of people from old money. If you want the characters to be actual patricians, and be garish, it would make sense to point out that they are the exception to the rule, but it would probably make it more comic, which you may not want.

    Fourth, “brimful cottage gardens” – what is the brim in this setting? It seems like an image generated with a thesaurus.

    Fifth, “whilst” appearing once is something that I’ll pass by with an effort (it grates on my North American ears), but twice in as many lines is just repetitive. (fourth last paragraph)

    Lastly, I guess the set up is intriguing, but on the whole, I wouldn’t read on. There were bits of writing that needed more editing/proofreading, and that’s a glaring warning sign. I like “literary” works as much as anyone, but this didn’t work for me. I think a really effective piece of writing is more economical with words – the images and description are more authentic and purposeful than they seem in this excerpt.

  7. Stevie
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 07:46:05

    As others have noted the whole class thing is wrong; I get the impression that this is written by someone with no personal knowledge of English, or, indeed, Welsh society.

    And the ‘handsome estate’ needs a lot of upkeep; that means servants. Good servants are like gold dust, and have been for many decades; the young master’s hedonistic holidays would have got the chop long ago…

  8. Stephanie
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 07:53:04

    While the voice here is very confident and assured, I found some of the dialogue and description in the opening paragraphs a bit overdone. And the tense shift leading in to the info-dump about Julian’s family and money is jarring and pulls me right out of the story. There must be a subtler way, or at least a less cumbersome one, of bringing in that information than tossing it in whole, like an unchopped vegetable into a salad. Also, at the moment, I don’t feel drawn in by any of the characters, who seem childish and self-indulgent so far.

  9. anon
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 07:59:49

    I found myself liking your writing but thinking this wouldn’t be a book for me. A rich & ill-mannered guy? The sad guy who’s parents pumped him full of drugs? A group of people who get off trashing someone’s home in general?

    No thanks.

    Again – I liked the flow of your writing and I could “see” that scene in England quite well.

  10. Eliza Evans
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 08:05:56

    Like the others said, I think this needs a fair bit of editing/cleanup.

    As far as the backstory — I think I’d go back to the classic: show, don’t tell. Once the group actually gets to the estate, you can bring in all of that information in a way that doesn’t seem wedged in, especially if we’re going to be in Laleana’s POV. To me, this bit reads more like a character sketch than the story. (I totally do this too, in early drafts, btw.)

    I’d like the POV to be deeper. We go from Laleana to (presumably) Julian but then back to her.
    “Laleana could not help herself and smiled back with blushing appreciation.”

    This doesn’t sound like something that someone would think about herself.

    I do like Ioan, but as an unsophisticated American (heh) I would spend the whole book wondering if his name is pronounced like Ian or some other way. I am interested in finding out more about him.

    Thank you for sharing this today!

  11. Ros
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 08:10:18

    @Laura, I’m pretty sure that books set in 2006 are still labelled ‘contemporary’.

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about the class thing and here are the problems I see:
    His parents are of old money and of even older patrician temperament. Upper class. They own a brewery in Cardiff, Wales Middle or upper-middle at best. Also everyone knows Cardiff is in Wales and would not need to specify. and have a handsome estate there as well. I can’t decide if you think they bought this with the profits from the business (his parents, or even several generations earlier), or if it is the old family pile, built by some long-dead ancestor. Makes a difference. It's the predictable majestic expanse of manicured lawns, brimful cottage gardens, and tranquil ponds, ornamented with esoteric statuary and uncomfortable stone benches. It has all of the gilded trappings the wealthy aristocracy could ever hope to possess, not to mention flaunt in the most garish ways conceivable. So now I don’t know who’s doing the flaunting. The long-dead ancestor? Which would be fine, and fit with the image of ‘old money’. Or the current, or recent, occupants. Which would make them nouveau riche upstarts and fit with the image of the family business.

    You have to pick one and stick with it. This is a class-mess. Also, cottages have cottage gardens. Mansions have herbaceous borders, which may happen to be in a cottage garden style.

  12. Kat
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 08:48:08

    I am wondering if this is written by a non-Brit as there are too many jarring Brit references that are not correct as others have mentioned here.

    Also, this always irritates me when I read it:

    Lit cigarette dangling precariously from his lips…

    because I always think it’s going to fall off and burn the smoker or set something on fire. It’s a ridiculous picture if you’re trying to set a serious tone. Also using “whilst” too many times in one passage makes a whistling sound in my head when I read it.

    The abrupt switch in verb tenses irritates me too. I’m not sure I’d keep on reading after that, which is a pity, really, because your description of Ioan is lovely.

  13. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 09:02:04

    The voice works. I agree there is some polishing needed, but I have to admit, while the voice works, the story isn’t really dragging me in.

    Good luck!

  14. Maili
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 09:54:02

    You did your homework. However, there is a few clues that show you may not be British.

    “The misty grey corner of nowhere and no place, Bloomsbury, London” – Bloomsbury is not exactly ‘nowhere and no place’ as it’s practically on the doorstep of Russell Square tube station, so I’m not sure what you meant by ‘nowhere and no place’. I’m guessing you were referring to the quietness of some parts in the area?

    I can’t figure out what Julian’s family really is. His name, attitude and his descriptions of his home scream ‘upper middle class’.

    Laleana’s name. Sorry to say this, but her name makes me think she may be from a council estate or a pretentious family.

    “a handsome estate” and Cardiff – your description of the estate makes it hard for me to believe it’s located in Cardiff because Cardiff is a city. Is the estate outside Cardiff?

    Whiskey = Whisky

    antagonizing = antagonising (because you used ‘realise’ in the second paragraph)

    “for fuck’s sake” is usually at the end of a sentence or just a standalone, e.g. “Whatever for, for fuck’s sake?” and “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

    The biggest clue is the dialogue. For example,

    “So, we all still headin' out to the ole family plot for holiday? I have confirmed…we've got the run of the place. We can paint the walls chartreuse should we feel so inclined. Hell, we can douse the place with petrol and light a match for all I care. Ha! I don't care…let's do it…burn it to the ground.”

    It doesn’t seem Britspeak, like this:

    “Right then, are we still up for a holiday** at (name of the place)? We have the full run of the manky old place, I’ve been told. We can paint the walls chartreuse should we feel so inclined. We could even douse the place with petrol and set it on fire. Let's do it. Burn it to the ground, I say. I really don't give a toss.”

    (**I’m more used to hearing this sort: “a weekend”, “fortnight” or similar.)

    @Eliza Evans
    For what it’s worth, ‘Ioan’ is pronounced ‘yowan’. :D

  15. theo
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 09:56:30

    I got more of an impression here of a Brit trying to write for an American audience. The additional explanations where they’re not needed such as naming the city and where Cardiff is. The spelling is Brit though, or perhaps Aussie, so although I think the additional info is unnecessary, I can see why the mistake of adding it was made. If my assumption is right.

    I’m like most of the others. The overall writing/voice is very good though the tenses and POV switches jarred me. But I just don’t care for the characters. None of them seem like someone I would want to know let alone root for so unless these are peripheral and you can start with the main character, working this part in a bit later. That and the need for some tight editing, no, I’d have to pass.

    Kudos for subbing it and good luck!

  16. anon
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 10:06:18

    Julian’s character feels a wee bit stereotyped to me, including his name. Why are Julians always the careless, melodramatic characters? =)

    The tense shift is jarring. I thought for a second there was some mysterious outside narrator cropping up.

    “Sullen” does not work (at least for me) with a character who is simultaneously mentioned as smiling, or near smiling. Sullen = no smile at all.

    Also, in a sentence like this one: “Without delay or fear of consequence, Julian slammed his empty glass down onto the table, sending shards of ice flying in every direction.” — You can lose the “without delay or fear of consequence” because it’s already implied by Julian’s actions. And the sentence is much livelier without it.

    I agree with others who’ve said you have a good voice, an evocative style, and some solid potential in this beginning. If you’re a non-Brit writing a story set there, you might want to get a Brit beta to read it over. It’s very easy to make small mistakes over things you might just never have considered researching.

    Good luck with your work.

  17. foolserrant
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 10:09:05

    I agree with the problems the previous posters have brought up. You do have a very clear and strong voice, which is good, but I did have a couple of quibbles the others haven’t mentioned yet.

    First, the POV changes too often. Switching POV more than once per scene without some indication — scene break, etc — can get confusing. Here you switch from Leleana to Jullian to Leleana to Ioan in the space of a few paragraphs, which at the very least jolted me out of the story a bit. It made it so you didn’t have a distinct “sound” for each character’s POV, which in turn makes the overall POV feel a bit more distant than you probably intended.

    Also, when I read the second sentence:

    Another long, dreary week of suffering in the trenches had passed quietly into the oblivion of raucous laughter, dizzying clouds of smoke, and rounds of drinks for all.

    I immediately thought of WWI, and wondered how soldiers got the weekend off in wartime. Then I realized that there wouldn’t have been trenches in England during WWI and that this was listed as a contemporary. It may idiocy on my part that I got confused by this, or it may confuse others as well

  18. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 11:22:36

    Really like the voice so much. I think it needs a good edit (for tense issues especially). A bigger hint of what’s to come, but I can see this might be an very interesting set of characters with a lot of potential. Good luck!

  19. Eliza Evans
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 11:30:20

    @Maili:

    Ha, thanks! See, totally ignorant American. :D

  20. Marianne McA
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 11:41:15

    Just agreeing with foolserrant – the ‘trenches’ reference threw me a little. I think, for me, it I clued in wrong to the Bloomsbury reference – if the narrator thinks Bloomsbury is in the middle of nowhere, then the book can’t be set in modern London, therefore I’m wondering what time period it’s set in, and the mention of trenches gives me WW1.
    I did have to reread those sentences.

    Most of the rest is nit-picky stuff – for instance, I’m not sure what a ‘patrician temperament’ is – so it doesn’t really work as a description for me. And, in the same way: “Julian loathes and detests his parents for the same hypocrisy that most children do” vaguely makes me think of the Larkin poem, but beyond that, nothing. The ‘most children do’ suggests that I’m meant to find his feelings towards his parents normal-ish, but he sounds a fairly unpleasant type.

    And that is why I wouldn’t pick up the book – wouldn’t be a question of the writing, more that they just don’t seem very interesting people – clearly they’re adult, they’re working – and if the highlight of their year is a week freeloading at someone else’s parents’ house like a gang of overgrown teenagers, I’m not interested in them.

    Having said all that, I read really little capital ‘A’ adult stuff, and could be that this is a really good set-up for that genre.

  21. JoB
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 12:45:50

    I must applaud the fusion of ‘Literary Fiction’ and Romance.
    (Pause for shrill and gleeful whistles of encouragement.)

    I have three issues.

    .
    First, as Elyza Evans points out, this first page is backstory heavy.

    We find ourselves in the middle of hypocrisy and wide lawns in Cardiff
    before we have learned to care about the several people in the opening scene.
    Cardiff pulls us out of the scene.

    Providing interesting backstory seems as though it’ll make the reader care and connect. But this may be deceptive. Staying with the characters in the here-and-now probably works better.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t fold backstory in.
    Fr’instance, if you want to tell the reader — old Welsh gentry, brewery, hates his father and resents his family’s wealth …
    can you do this, and at the same time stay ‘in scene’?

    .
    He threw his head back to laugh. His ear stud glinted red. It was a griffin with a ruby held in its jaws — just exactly the Welsh Ruby Ale label. His family was Welsh Ruby Brewery.

    He’d pried the gold griffin and ruby out of the 300-year-old signet ring his father gave him when he turned twenty-one.

    .
    Using an object in the scene may also give you an increase in subtle. We don’t see the ‘this is backstory’ info dump.
    And a concrete example of how he stuck it to the Old Man carries a greater freight of information and a greater emotional impact than saying ‘he hated his father.’

    .
    My second issue would be . . .
    is this where you want to start the story?

    .
    Just as it is difficult to start a story in a plane about to land or a stagecoach driving into Dodge —
    because we are in a prelude to complication/ action/ story
    (i.e. the interesting stuff) —
    it is difficult to satisfactorily start a story with folks sitting around planning to go somewhere and do something and it is only when they get there, presumably, that the story will start.

    .
    Compare

    Buffy walks through the graveyard holding a stake. Spike drops out of a tree.

    “We have to talk,” he says.

    with

    Buffy and Giles and Willow sat at the table in the library. Giles said, “I know you, the teen-aged vampire hunter, are reluctant to hunt tonight because of the Spring Hop at the High School. To this I say, as your mentor, ‘Tough sh!t.’

    “Poor Buffy,” Willow said.

    Giles shrugged. “Now, let’s map out what sections of the graveyard you will canvas.”

    .
    The third comment isn’t really appropriate at this early draft stage of the manuscript, but I’ll make it anyhow.

    Literary Fiction,
    (well, any good fiction,)
    demands great precision of expression. Every word must be set like a star in a particularly exacting constellation.

    Lookit this paragraph, which I pick because it’s first, not because it is better or worse than another.

    .
    The misty grey corner of nowhere and no place, Bloomsbury, London-‘late Friday night at the pub. Another long, dreary week of suffering in the trenches had passed quietly into the oblivion of raucous laughter, dizzying clouds of smoke, and rounds of drinks for all.

    .
    Here is where somebody who was just nitpicking through might find nits of imprecision and lack of succinctness.

    .
    The misty grey
    [mist is coloured grey. If you want to add another word, you might do so without repeating information already given. You could make the mist sullen or weighted with broken dreams or swirling like curtains or pungent with diesel fumes. Something that is not immediately contained in the basic concept of mist.]

    corner of nowhere and no place,
    [If these are metaphorical street names, they should be in Caps. If they are not ‘street names’ what are they and how do they meet in a corner?]

    Bloomsbury,
    [You could leave the reader to add ‘Bloomsbury’ and ‘pub’ and come up with London.
    The reader familiar with London may also immediately ask herself how a Bloomsbury pub’s raucous laughter accords with ‘nowhere’. If this is ‘nowhere’ in an emotional wasteland sense, rather than any literal sense, you might want to follow up and show that’s what you mean.]

    London-‘late Friday night at the pub. Another long, dreary week of suffering in the trenches
    [We get four iterations of ‘it’s been a hard week’ when you say, ‘long’, ‘dreary’, ‘suffering’, and ‘in the trenches’. A rule of thumb is that two repeats suffice unless you’re doing it to fix the specific item in the reader’s mind.
    ‘Another long week in the trenches of the advertising business.’ or
    ‘Another long, dreary week at McClary and Co.’]

    had passed quietly into
    [the metaphor is unclear. ‘The week had passed into an oblivion?’ Passed like a train going by and disappearing into a tunnel? Passed like the week had died?]

    the oblivion of raucous laughter,
    [I will concede without argument that one may be oblivious in the middle of loud noises. But an ‘oblivion’ implies an emptiness. Something dark and silent and without form. If you wish to match oblivion with noise and activity you may need to make it clearer how this all fits together.]

    dizzying clouds of smoke,
    [It would have to be very thick smoke indeed to make me dizzy. Standard smoke, anyhow. I think I’d be coughing long before my head started spinning. Perhaps this is a bit overstated.]

    and rounds of drinks for all.
    [which implies a bonhomie and generous embrace of the pub as a whole. This snippet, as it stands, does not introduce that atmosphere. The characters do not strike me as the types to order ‘drinks all round’, nor the sort to go to bars where this happens.]

  22. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 13:23:03

    It has all of the gilded trappings the wealthy aristocracy could ever hope to possess, not to mention flaunt in the most garish ways conceivable

    The what, in the where, now? As others have said, “gilded trappings” and things that one can “flaunt in the most garish ways” are not typical of “old money” or the aristocracy—they’re identified with the nouveaux riches.

    The present-tense infodump is horribly clunky. The smoking in a pub makes me wonder when this is set, as does the “middle of nowhere” description applied to Bloomsbury, which is a highly central and very congested neighborhood (and has been since at least the early 1980s, after a few decades in the doldrums).

    A lot of the physical actions are over-the-top melodramatic, from the white knuckles to the slamming glasses.

    It’s weird that this is about five people, and you’re only mentioning three of them. Do the unnamed other two just sit there paying no attention while Julian and Ioan are bickering melodramatically? Doesn’t Laleana check their reactions at all? Something like “Sharon and Barry were careful not to catch Julian’s eye” or whatever feels necessary.

    And, yeah, “Laleana” as a name raises a lot of questions you’re not addressing. Is she South Asian by heritage? Jamaican? Anglo-Saxon with hippie parents? The idea that someone named Laleana would be all “Oh, we’re going to my friend’s family estate outside of Cardiff” without batting an eyelash seems off to me.

    First pages are hard. I’m sure you’ve got an interesting story here, but this first page probably isn’t doing a good job of representing it.

  23. Maili
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 16:14:41

    @Eliza Evans
    Nah, it’s nowt to do with ignorance. Welsh people just like messing our heads with their weird spellings and pronunciations, Tom Jones’s permanent fake sun-tan, Mary Balogh and all*.

    (*Said with my tongue firmly in cheek.)

  24. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 09:24:23

    I want to thank everyone, especially the self-proclaimed nitpickers. I very much appreciate everyone’s time, energy, and engagement. First pages are difficult, especially when trying to set up an attitude not necessarily a setting or a plotline. I'll try to address some of the critical comments, and thanks to the commentator who posted how to pronounce Ioan's name.

    It’s a Brit/American mash up, I did it this way so as to not alienate or have readers too overwhelmed by colloquialisms on one side or the other; however, I do realize that this can cause problems on both sides of the equation. I felt that if written entirely in American English it might have made the language seem even more jarring, considering it takes place in London. Couldn’t make up my mind, so I took the salt and pepper approach.

    Laleana is the narrator, using a close third person POV, and does speak to the past and present interchangeably, as we all do in normal conversation. Maybe I need to smooth that out a bit, but you soon realize that she is the narrator by chapter two. The reflective approach was necessary to get into her state of mind. And the story takes place to varying degrees in the 80’s, 90’s and the early 00’s, prior to the smoking ban.

    Much of the descriptive writing is more “state of mind” than actual description of the scenery: oblivion and nowhere and no place in particular.

    Julian’s family ancestry was old money, but his parents are new to it and are rather grotesque and clichéd in their behavior. The servants are afraid of Julian, but you don’t find that out until much later in the story. The term “cottage” was Leana’s humility coming through. The characters have known each other for 20 years, but you don’t know that in the first page.

    The other two characters get involved in the conversation but not until page 2, unfortunately, and their attempt to blend in with “normal” society at the pub makes them all feel “empty, dark, silent, and dizzy: an emotional wasteland.” But you don’t find out about that until chapter 2 when the “A” for adult stuff happens. I had thought about starting the book with the “A” stuff, but I felt it was just too much for the first few pages, so I thought I would ease the reader into the group dynamic first, which is, by its very nature, very melodramatic, especially Julian, who we are not supposed to like anyway. I could barely stand him while writing it. Oh, and they never make it to the country estate, at least not in this novella anyway.

    Laleana is a popular name in America, but it’s actually Spanish in origin and it means “flower.” Peonies play a role in the story later, but she is actually Irish borne: Laleana O’Reilly. I liked the poetry of it. During most of the book her friends just call her Leana. A variation of the Gaelic name Lain.
    Thanks for all the encouragement and the critical commentary. We authors do appreciate the critique. There is always room for improvement. Thanks again, everyone. You all rock.

  25. reader
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 10:03:43

    Honestly I think you should pick either American or Brit and stick with it. The mismash is doing the piece no favours. I think you should also stay away from colloquialisms – what means something in one region may not necessarily mean the same thing in another and can serve to further alienate your audience.

    The servants are afraid of Julian, but you don't find that out until much later in the story.

    Really? And they stay? Maybe in 1809 perhaps but not in 2009 or any other contemporary time frame. The servants would leave, there is nothing tying them there – they can always get jobs elsewhere. There are benefits that they can claim and council housing that they are entitled to.

    but she is actually Irish borne: Laleana O'Reilly. I liked the poetry of it. During most of the book her friends just call her Leana.

    So she’s Irish then? Is she also old money? The name as others have said is very pretentious or something from a council estate – government housing. I’m sure it’s fine in the US but it does sound ridiculous to my brit ears. If her friends just call her Leana then call her Leana from the beginning.

    Why don’t you just set the book in the US? It’s much simpler. To be really rather blunt I’ve noticed that foreigners – Americans in particular seem to have this idealised view of the UK that is more in keeping with something out of a US written historical romance novel than any actual reality.

  26. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 10:52:07

    I will take that under advisement, all of it, but I have been told that I rarely opt for simplicity. :-) One of my many flaws, I suppose.

    Actually, the servants are not relevant to the story. I never say whether or not they stay, go, if the household has a revolving door, or if he gives them the week off, which they gladly take. It’s a novella, so that sort of elaborate detail isn’t really relevant to the immediate plotline and or the conflict within the story.

    Laleana is Irish born, but I don’t make any declarations about her parents’ ethnic heritage or otherwise, as they too are not relevant to the plotline. And I, like many other people, fall in love with a name, the syntax and or the poetic qualities of it, when deciding what to name a child or even a character in a story. I rarely take socio-political implications or assumptions into view at that all important moment.

    No, no idealized view of the UK here. The story is short, not much of a view of the city anyway, aside from how they feel about it, and so in most cases, they don’t feel anything about it at all, it’s just your run of the mill average place. It was a matter of geographic elements, really. I needed some very specific things in close proximity to each other, and no U.S. city fit as perfectly as I needed it to for such a minor role. Besides, it's good to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time. Takes a bit of courage knowing that you will probably get slammed for it.

    However, I do understand your “concerns.” Your bluntness is refreshing. I am off to edit now, before I waste the day away. Thanks again.

  27. Lori
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 10:54:26

    Laleana is a popular name in America, but it's actually Spanish in origin and it means “flower.”

    Really? I’m American and I’ve never met anyone with that name. I just checked the Social Security website and Laleana hasn’t been in the top 1000 girl names for the past 50 years.

  28. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 11:24:09

    Lalena (without the extra “a” that I added for variety) is 67,639 most popular name in America. I know, that’s not the top 10 but, trends change as the world population shifts and changes: immigration and other such things. It was at least interesting enough to name Ms. Ryder’s character in the movie Reality Bites that very same name. Which is where I first heard it in the 90’s, but they spelled it Lelaina. I didn’t like that spelling, but loved the poetry of the name itself. Not to mention the Spanish version’s meaning.

    But, I am really starting to get confused here as to what the issue is. Exactly why is her name so ridiculously critical that it has become a bone of contention for some readers. I am very interested in this, sincerely. Naming characters is a very difficult and personal thing for a writer. Most of us enter into it with the same care and attention we take when naming our own children. So I would love to discuss this in more depth. What makes a name, and what makes a name important to readers? This is a topic I would love to see discussed in full forum.

  29. Lori
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 11:37:27

    Personally, I have no issue with the name you’ve chosen. My issue was with your assertion that the name was “popular” in America. It’s not, in any of its derivations. If it’s 67,639 now, it was probably much lower 20-30 years ago, when the character was born.

  30. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 11:42:39

    Laleana is a popular name in America, but it's actually Spanish in origin and it means “flower.” Peonies play a role in the story later,

    The Spanish for “flower” is “flor,” but perhaps you mean that “Laleana” is derived from the Spanish words “la” and “liana.” A liana, though, is a kind of vine so lianas are rather different from peonies.

    More interestingly, perhaps, I was doing a quick Google for “Laleana” and came across Amazon reviews of Cheryl Anne Gardner’s The Thin Wall, published by “Twisted Knickers Publications (March 19, 2009).” There’s a “look inside” feature at Amazon and the first few pages of The Thin Wall are identical to the “first page” submitted to Dear Author.

    Edited to add: I said the pages were “identical” but I was being a bit careless. I should have said that, having skimmed the pages quickly, they looked identical. I didn’t bother going through them making word by word comparisons. Anyway, given that this is a work that’s already been published, will any suggestions actually be of help? Isn’t it too late to change the printed copies?

  31. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 11:53:41

    Bother, my comment’s been sent off to moderation, probably because I included too many links. I’ll try again without so many:

    Laleana is a popular name in America, but it's actually Spanish in origin and it means “flower.” Peonies play a role in the story later,

    The Spanish for “flower” is “flor,” but perhaps you mean that “Laleana” is derived from the Spanish words “la” and “liana.” A liana, though, is a kind of vine, so lianas are rather different from peonies.

    The other thing I was going to mention is that while I was Googling “Laleana” I came across the Amazon page for Cheryl Anne Gardner's The Thin Wall, published by “Twisted Knickers Publications (March 19, 2009).” There's a “look inside” feature at Amazon and the first few pages of The Thin Wall seem identical (on a quick skim read, at least) to the “first page” submitted to Dear Author. So will any of the suggestions made by DA’s readers actually be of help? Isn't it too late to change the printed copies?

  32. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 12:39:47

    Yes, exactly on the Spanish thing. We all know how “translations” are. Nothing ever translates exactly from one language to the other, but yes. You are correct.

    Yup, Laura, that’s the book. But for me, I can update the manuscript at any time, since the imprint is my own.

    I submitted this to Dear Author a while ago, along with submissions to reviewers and test readers. This was back in March before the release of the revised second edition. I never heard anything back from Dear Author, and somehow my submission must have gotten lost in the shuffle. I thought it was due to the subject matter or the language, but much to my surprise, I received a note from Jane this morning when I signed on saying that they had finally posted it. Alas, many months later after the book release.

    Based on reader comments from the first time around, I made many revisions to the original story — even though it was reviewed well.

    But all is never lost, anyway. I take every comment to heart, and what I feel can be revised without changing my original “vision” can be revised, or not. What we learn from our missteps can always be applied to the next book and the one after that or the one after that. In this case, I was a victim of bad timing. Doesn’t mean every single comment here isn’t worth something to me in the long run. They are.

    So as to will the comments here be of help. Absolutely. Reader comments are worth their weight in gold to any savvy author. With the digital age upon us, many authors revisit their back-lists and out of print titles for re-release. There was rumor a while back that Dan Brown was going to revisit the da Vinci Code to correct some of his “errors.” I think this is a wonderful thing, for readers and authors. Everyone is intimately part of the process. Authors can get feedback much more easily now and revision isn't such a cumbersome task.

    That’s why I wanted to engage in the discussion. It does help.

  33. JoB
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 12:40:56

    I think the problem with the name Laleana is not that it could not be the name of a middleclass Irish woman in 1980. Parents, even Irish parents, name their children anything that shows up on the scrabble board.

    But does Laleana create the effect you want?

    Is the name worth the WTF moment when the reader first encounters it? And then a second WTF moment when the reader realized Laleana is not Hindi or Jamaican as assumed?

    That something is ‘true’ and ‘possible’ is probably less important than the picture you are trying to build in the reader’s mind.

    For instance …
    I would not name a heroic male character ‘Fran’ because this does not convey ‘heroism’ and ‘manliness’ to the average reader.
    (Jayne Ann Krentz could get away with this, but she’s JAK.)

    You can argue that ‘Fran’ is a 280 lb quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
    It doesn’t matter.

    ‘Fran’ doesn’t have the right connotations.
    The name doesn’t ‘work’.

    So Leleana is perfectly plausible, but it still doesn’t say ‘middleclass, red-haired, Irish woman’ to the reader.

    This is some of what I’m saying above about picking out precisely the right word.

  34. theo
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 12:48:13

    @The Author: While I appreciate the fact that you agree that any input is welcomed, I think it’s the author’s responsibility to contact Jane and let her know if one has submitted an item for First Page Saturday that has subsequently been published and ask that it be withdrawn to make room for those still struggling to achieve their first agent/publication.

    Just sayin’

  35. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 13:13:39

    I would have done that. As a matter of fact, I did. When I got the email from Jane “this morning” I suggested to her that I resubmit with a chapter from the new one I am working on that is currently unpublished. I was unaware at that time — this morning when I received her initial email after so many months of not hearing anything — that she had already posted it, and the post had been up for a day without my knowledge of it.

    These things happen. When I submitted to her in March, the book was out of print for revision, which was the reason for submission anyway. I wanted the feedback for the actual revision, and told her that I completely understood if the “language” would preclude her from posting it. After weeks of no posting, I assumed that was the case after all. I don’t badger people, so I left it at that and moved on.

    It was my err in assuming that my submission was rejected after 5 months without contact only to be surprised by the post this morning. There was a miscommunication, unfortunate, but these things do happen. It’s a thousand balls in the air when you’ve got test readers, queries out there, revisions to complete, and I am sure Jane was busy as well. It gets hard to keep track of everything sometimes. She posted it, I responded, what can you do.

  36. anon
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 13:22:12

    I have nothing against the character’s name on its own, but it didn’t put me immediately in mind of the ethnicity you meant the character to possess. When I name characters, myself, I do so with the intention that the reader will envisage a particular character a certain way. There’s always the fun of deliberately misleading the reader with a gentle sort of name for a wild character, but of course that depends on the story you’re writing.

    In this case, I personally didn’t stop and wonder about Laleana’s name on your first page, but I would have been jarred to find out later that she’s Irish. If you don’t mind that the reader has to stop and re-picture Laleana in their minds at one point in the story, then no need to change her name. Might help if you could get her full name on the first couple of pages, to clue us in on her parents’ creative naming talents. =)

    What bothered me far more than any character name was the tense shift. It took me out of the story’s flow, which is one thing you really don’t want.
    Btw, congrats on your publication. I hope you sell well.

    p.s. I was muuuuch more careful naming my child than I have ever been at naming my characters. At least, I don’t believe I ever spent nine months combing through every baby book in the world just to name a character. =)

  37. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 13:28:46

    Yes, JoB … I am still laughing at the “Fran” analogy.

    I agree, but the Laleana in my heart and in the story was not the middle-class red-haired Irish woman stereotype that might come to mind. That’s why first pages can be so hard to do. Laleana of the story is a blond-haired misplaced Irish born 38 year old woman, college educated, who has been a librarian most of her life and during the setting of the book is a librarian by trade. All that is quite hard to get on a first page. So for me, it was the name she wanted, and as the writing of the book progressed over almost two years, it truly did suit her. It was who she really was.

    And just maybe that poor Fran turned out to be a hell of a Nordik God of a hero, after all, he had to overcome the surface connotations of his name. :-) Sometimes what “works” doesn’t feel right either. It’s a crap shoot, and that’s why I am interested in the discussion. Good stuff all around.

  38. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 13:38:08

    Thanks Anon. I am crazy even when naming my pets. It takes me months to nail down a character name. It has to suit them. Maybe that comes from years of hating my own given name.

    I’ll keep that in mind about the tense shifts. When past and present mix in a story, I am so used to reading work like that it doesn’t bother me at all. I always assume that if something is in past tense, it might not be that way anymore. So I expect some things to remain in present tense for continuity. It’s a style choice that some find disconcerting, but for me, like I said, I am used to it from reading so much of it. I might not have been subtle enough with the shifts to indicate current state of life versus past state of life, hence the jarring effect.

    Thank you for that. Keeps me conscious of it.

  39. JoB
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 15:15:49

    >>>I always assume that if something is in past tense, it might not be that way anymore. So I expect some things to remain in present tense for continuity <<<

    Generally, if the overall narration of a manuscript is in past tense, we use present tense in only three instances.

    .
    — Inside quotation marks.

    “I’m a vampire,” Edward said.
    Orville moaned, “Pass the glockenspiel.”
    “Benjamin washes elephants for a living.” Everyone stepped back in horror.

    .
    — Internal Monologue. This is often in Italics, as a convention.

    She combed her hair. I miss being bald, she thought.

    Give me a lever long enough, Maurice mused, and I will get the kids out of bed.

    .
    — And Narrative Intrusion

    Return with us now to those thrilling days of Yesteryear.

    It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

    .
    Because present tense is conventionally used only in these three ways, when the reader sees that present tense pop up in your manuscript, she asks herself, ‘who is saying this?’ and looks around for a POV character engaging in Internal Monologue or an Intrusive Narrator.
    This is a WTF moment.

    .
    You can solved this by dropping a, ‘Laleana thought,’ in front of the passage and Italicizing. Then there will be no confusion at all. The reader glides right past.

    .
    You don’t need to put information in present tense to let us know it is continuing. Simple past tense includes the continuation of events and conditions into the present.

    .
    Julian’s parents owned a brewery in Cardiff. Their handsome estate on the Welsh coast was every cliche of manicured lawns and topiary. He loathed them, detested the house, and despised the gilded hypocrisy of aristocracy. He enjoyed a drunken ransacking of the place every year whilst La Mum and Pater were out in St Tropez.

    That’s past tense.
    But the reader will have no doubt all these conditions, feelings and proclivities continue. You don’t have to switch to present tense.

    Can you buy and sacrifice a few paperback copies of your favorite authors? Take out a highlighter and mark all instances of present tense to see how they do this.

  40. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 15:22:22

    On names … sorry for the second post, my computer went all idiot on me and shut down. I spend a lot of crazy time researching names and naming conventions. What’s in a name is very important to me. If it’s important to readers, as it is, it should be important to authors.

    Aside from the loose Spanish translation of meaning flower/vine. Ghleanna is Gaelic for Lives in the Valley. Leanna is the English variant of Helen which means light, beautiful woman. And Leanna is also Gaelic for “With Great Affection.”

    I wrote her with great affection, so it made sense over time. My own spelling conventions were more for poetic flow. I wanted something similar sounding to the Celtic version of Helen which is Alena, but I hated the American spelling of the name used in that 90’s movie, and so Laleana was born.

    But you are right JoB, we have to be very careful. It wasn’t a willy nilly choice on my behalf, I assure you. My notes can attest to that. Well, I am off now to enjoy the misery that is editing.

    Thank you all for your time and attention … and your patience.

  41. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 15:29:33

    Thanks JoB. I wish I were in St Tropez. I understand completely, it’s just a bit different than some of the conventions I have studied. My narrator is quite intrusive as well, deliberately so for a reason, but I see your point.

    I like your style. This is most helpful.

  42. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 15:33:39

    Oh, and all my favorite books and textbooks are sacrificed in that manner. No worries. I have stock in post-it flags and highlighter.

  43. theo
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 15:50:16

    Gaelic, whether Irish, Scots, Manx or Welsh, does not translate into “she who must be obeyed” kinds of translations or ‘story’ translations. They are very word specific and depending on tense, male or female usage etc. remain word specific. Ghleanna is ‘glen’ in Irish Gaelic and Leann is beer or ale though sometimes it can be translated to another type of liquid.

    Really, I’m not trying to split hairs here, nor do I speak Gaelic fluently, rather my Gaelic is years old and much has been lost, but in your case, since you intend the name to have a specific meaning, I think you need to find a new translation service.

  44. cate
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 16:18:26

    OK here we go…. There’s only one brewery in “Cardiff Wales” & thats Brains Brewery
    Your heroine’s name …get a grip, & buy a baby book of celtic names to get it right(that’s less traumatic for those of us who live here & who want to bonk Americans who can’t be bothered to get it right over the head with a cricket bat!!)
    Finally most of Cardiff’s owned or was owned by the Marquis of Bute… which is why half the city has Scottish street names. SO your hero’s going to need to live somewhere outside of the Vale of Glamorgan !
    Cate….lives in Splott…Cardiff…& has done for the last 30 odd years !!

  45. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 16:51:46

    I know, Theo. I don’t have many hairs to split these days.

    All I am saying is … names mutate over time as do words and their translations. The root meanings get muddled, the spellings get changed. A name is not a literal definition of a person, how could it be? As different cultures make use of Latin or Greek names, things change. I witnessed that with my own family name. When my great grandparents immigrated, their last name was changed in spelling to make it easier to pronounce. In some cases names can change so drastically that it’s hard to identify the root and what the intended meaning once was. All we can do is search out the essence, not a specific meaning, just the essence of an idea, and then it’s up to the writer to make their own interpretation. Or rather, their own translation.

    Storytelling, whether it be a name or a place or an incident, is always the artist’s interpretation. Think of how boring the world would be if every Irish woman had to have a certain acceptable name and a certain stereotypical lilt in her voice not to mention red hair and freckles. Art is not about experiencing the world as it is so much as it is about experiencing the world as it changes. It’s about breaking free of convention, even in something as simple as a name. Fact is fact, of course, but naming conventions and cultural nuances mutate over time. Look at American Christmas for instance, talk about a mutation. Fiction can take liberty in a way history cannot; although even views on history mutate over time. That is the beauty of it. Could an Irish woman be named Laleana. Sure. And we can pick apart her name to see how it was made possible. All that needs to exist is the possibility. Fiction exists because of the infinite possibilities. In James Morrow’s The Last Witchfinder, a forty something American Immigrant has an affair with the then 19 year old Ben Franklin. Did it happen? Who knows, but in the context of the story, it’s possible, and so we can believe it 100%. Great book by the way if anyone is interested. Anyway … vampires can exist, boy wizards can save the day, Kafka’s protagonist can turn into a bug, Adam’s can say the meaning of life and everything is 24, and Tyler Durden can blow up a whole bunch of buildings and not get caught. Why? Because in fiction, the possibilities are endless. Reader mileage will vary, of course.

  46. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 17:03:14

    I am feeling a little hostility here, so on that note: I thank everyone again for their polite contributions, especially JoB. And thank you Jane and Dear Author for providing such a wonderful forum for authors of all kinds. Your work is appreciated.

  47. cecilia
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 17:23:26

    I have a friend who has a button that says “just because no one can understand you doesn’t make you a poet”. This phrase is coming to mind here, because there seems to be a big disconnect between interpretations.

    I think the majority of us would say that the protagonist’s name give strong associations that are very dissonant with what you, the author, are saying about the character. Ultimately, Author, you want to communicate clearly without having to give a long rationale explaining every choice, right? If people consistently say this name doesn’t ring right, or your use of verb tense is unconventional (in a way that obstructs clarity), or your “garish” patricians don’t work for them, then you have some choices, including making some of the changes that experienced and educated readers strongly recommend. Alternatively, you can reject all the feedback as not fitting in with your style/intentions/goals/beliefs, but you risk just being unclear (which doesn’t, as the button suggests, automatically elevate your writing to a higher level).

    Respectfully, it seems to me that your responses have leaned towards trying to justify not changing anything, in which case, I’m curious about why this was submitted for comments at all.

  48. lilitu93
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 17:48:48

    One of the reasons that people are commenting so much on the name is because the UK is very class conscious, and class is different in the UK than in the US. So when people from the UK say that that name would conjure up council flats to them (or an entirely different ethnicity), and you want the character to be Irish middle or upper middle class, then it doesn’t have at all the intended effect.

    That, along with the old/new money confusion of Julian’s family and calling a touristy area of Central London ‘the middle of nowhere’, breaks the suspension of disbelief that’s necessary for fiction to work. Bloomsbury is in Zone 1 (the Tube), and it’s where The British Museum, RADA and many of the institutions that make up the University of London are located.

    Also, I wouldn’t mix British and American – it’s only realistic if you’re an American living in the UK (like me) or vice versa. It’s fine if you want to make things not too British, so that they’re understandable outside the UK, but it should still sound realistic.

    You also have to keep in mind that people in the UK speak differently depending on their country or region, their class, their race or ethnic group, their age, etc. A Northerner will speak differently from a Southerner who will speak differently from someone from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Not to mention that the Irish speak differently as well (and differently from the Northern Irish). Someone born and raised on a council estate will sound different from someone educated in a public school, etc.

    I second the suggestion that if you want to set something in the UK that you get a British beta reader. If I ever start writing again and I were setting something here, I’d get one as well, and I’ve been here 10 years. I’d do the same thing for anything set in the States as well, even though I was born there.

    In order for people to believe that vampires can exist, boy wizards can save the day, etc., people have to get involved in a story, and anything that distracts the reader breaks that involvement and ruins the suspension of disbelief. You’ve got several things that seem to cause that effect on most of the readers here, most of which are easily fixable or just require a bit more research.

    The first ‘sentence’ being a sentence fragment, the tense switches and the inaccurate Britishisms all broke my concentration, and made it near impossible for me to get involved in this story. (Occasional sentence fragments for effect don’t bother me, but they have to be used well, and it’s distracting if it’s the first thing I read.) These issues definitely were deal-breakers for me, and I wouldn’t have continued with the story due to those issues.

  49. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 18:15:10

    Oh no, not at all Cecilia. I spent a year making changes to the manuscript based on educated reader comments, workshop comments, reviewer comments, and learned professional comments. Most of the commentary here has been quite valuable and will be considered thoroughly, mark my words. I can revise at any time. Revision is part of a writer’s life. No need for me to justify anything, flawed writing or otherwise. I read books all the time where I wish the author would have done it this way or that way other than the way they did it. As a reader, my personal interpretation varies greatly as well. It just is what it is. It’s all part of the process. The only thing that will elevate the writing is being aware of it, and this is the awareness part of the process, to find out where reader hot buttons are. I have mine, certainly. All this makes me consider how I want to approach the revisions. But I can’t think clearly about productive changes in a “get a grip” state of mind. I am sure everyone can relate to that, writer or not.

    I love the candor as well. 5 months ago, it was submitted for the purpose of productive reader feedback, of which I have received tenfold by many wonderful readers here, but at some point, I have to look at the arguments rationally from a respectful and non-emotional viewpoint. I have to talk out my rationale in conjunction with the reader rationale and then formulate the best course of action: change everything, change nothing, or meet in the middle. Not an easy choice by any means at all. It’s a downright painful struggle. Someone is bound to be pissed off no matter what. This is just the way it is. We all know it’s true. I have hated books other people have loved. We might aspire to be Proust, but we are who we are, as people and as writers. I just need to sit for a minute, copy and paste all the pros and the cons I have received into a spreadsheet, sleep on it, and come at it with a fresh face. Reader outrage hits hard, and we don’t want to come at that in a reactionary frame of mind. It’s just bad for the writing, and it’s bad for everyone. I think all the readers here would agree with that. We have seen enough “authors behaving badly” of late. I am not one of those authors. I am the sort that likes to chill on things a bit.

  50. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 18:26:40

    Thank Lilitu93. I wanted flavor but not too British because the primary audience is American.

    In the U.S there are more regional issues muddled together with class issues. We have them here too, and regional dialect here can be just as frightening to deal with, as well.

    I could use a British Beta reader. I had some people look at it who spent a good deal of time there but not born and bred lived all their lives there. It would be a help. Any volunteers??? :)

  51. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 19:27:49

    Author, dear, many of us Americans have been to the UK and expect accuracy in geographical description, depictions of social customs and interaction, and all the rest.

    Laleana’s name is writing a check the character can’t cash. Readers judge characters by their names. “Laleana” conveys an image that isn’t in keeping with the character you’re trying to portray. You can either take that on board and stick with the name, or change the name, but nobody reading the name “Laleana” thinks “38-year-old Irishwoman.”

    Also, 38? These people are in their late 30s and their idea of fun is watching their friend wreck his parents’ house? Yikes.

  52. SadAnon
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 20:29:37

    Wow, some of you really just picked this author apart on something fairly insignificant like the heroine’s name. I don’t know if she’s still here, but listen Author, just ignore what doesn’t work for you and please don’t fret over or work to justify your choices. I love the name Laleana and a lot of us readers don’t give a hoot as to whether it’s “right.”

    I can’t believe how much first page Saturday has changed from whether or not the excerpt works and whether it would compel the reader to continue reading into a 51 comment nitpicking bash about how any author chose her character’s name.

    This kind of heavy-handed critiquing is exactly why I won’t submit to this again – I love DA but man, when it comes to so much of the advice given, if an author listened, he/she’d never get anywhere since it’s all so contradictory and all so subjective.

    Oh, and Author, I might have someone who would love to be a beta reader for you. She’s English and currently lives in Spain. If you are interested, let me know and we’ll try to hook up. Good luck!

  53. The Author
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 21:09:58

    Thanks SadAnon. I appreciate that. After a nice hot shower, I came up with some ideas for minor changes that might alleviate some of the language/geographic concerns. Like I said, I can revise at any time, and a few tweaks here and there will do it without a major overhaul of the story or the characters, including their names.

    I saw a lot of comments stating that I had a nice strong voice, confident and assured. That’s most important. If I got that, then all the rest can be tweaked, nudged, and shoved a little.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have been through some pretty intense critique sessions, but it’s been five months since I submitted, so to say I was caught a bit off-guard is an understatement, especially about the name.

    I would love a new Beta reader. I am always looking for Beta readers. We should hook up.

  54. Lori S.
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 21:25:43

    I was wondering how long it was going to take before the mean girl accusations started to fly.

    Funny, I saw a lot of compliments mixed in with the constructive criticisms. This segment isn’t designed to be a cheerleading session. It’s supposed to help an author see what does – or doesn’t – work for a reader. Plain and simple.

    I sincerely hope the author derived something from this experience, aside from an exercise in justification and rationalization. If not, we’re all wasting our time.

  55. Maili
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 04:14:04

    @The Author

    But, I am really starting to get confused here as to what the issue is. Exactly why is her name so ridiculously critical that it has become a bone of contention for some readers. I am very interested in this, sincerely. Naming characters is a very difficult and personal thing for a writer. Most of us enter into it with the same care and attention we take when naming our own children. So I would love to discuss this in more depth. What makes a name, and what makes a name important to readers? This is a topic I would love to see discussed in full forum.

    Thank you for the invitation. It’s an issue that sometimes bothers me about Historical romances set in the UK.

    As lilitu93 notes:

    One of the reasons that people are commenting so much on the name is because the UK is very class conscious, and class is different in the UK than in the US.

    This is unfortunately true. Historical romance authors tend to favour these names for heroes’ first names: Sebastian, Devlin, Chase, Damien, Devon, and similar. None of these were “real” to me.

    Heroines tend to have masculine / odd/”unique”/”Gaelic” (but aren’t)/class-defying names for heroines, such as Eden, Percy, Aisling, Becky (as an actual name, instead of nickname and traditionally, a working-class name, too), Jacinda, Jasmine, Byrony, etc.

    I have learnt to accept these as part of the Historical romance universe. I usually try to learn to get used to the name before I could get into the story. If it is really way out of it, I will just pretend the story set in another country. Once in a while, I just couldn’t and give up on the book. Also, almost all used each other’s first names so casually at the beginning, which shocked me, but I am used to it now. :D

    Don’t get me wrong, there were many real-life people with unusual names, but those unusual names tend to make sense in historical/social context and those historical romance names above don’t usually fit.

    My usual advice for authors who want unusual names for heroes, go for surnames (such as their mothers’ maiden/family names) as first names or use heroes’ own surnames as nicknames. For example, if one wants to use Chase for hero’s first name, then use Chase as his surname that people could use to address him.

    Even now, some of my male friends address each other by their surnames or nicknames they earned from school days, especially those with common names.

    Apart from accents, names tend to tell us where the person is from and what their family may be like. There are some names that some families wouldn’t touch because of cultural and/or social associations. Too common (read: working class), for instance. Some posh English families wouldn’t touch Scottish/Irish/Welsh names (too common/working class) during certain time periods and yet, many heroes have S/I/W names in those time periods. It’s rather odd.

    I think it’s largely discarded nowadays, but before the 1960s, names were – right or wrong – good clues of people’s backgrounds. I think it’s still continuing nowadays, but not as much as before.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but thank you for listening.

    A little note, with apologies: Lain isn’t Gaelic. It’s the corrupted Angelicised form of Eoin or rather, the corrupted form of Iain (Eoin).

  56. lilitu93
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 06:17:24

    @SadAnon – For me, the excerpt didn’t work and I wouldn’t have finished it, for the reasons I listed (though the name wasn’t as bad for me as it might have been for a native Brit – I think I was too distracted by the other issues for it to sink in). The awkward sentence fragment and the tense switch were one of the things that really did it for me, along with calling Bloomsbury the middle of nowhere and the very American-sounding dialogue.

    @Julia Sullivan – Even if I hadn’t lived here, I’d watched a lot of British TV and had visited, and I would still have been as annoyed by inaccuracies, though I might not have noticed as many of them ;-)

    @The Author – If you’re writing in English, your audience is everyone that speaks English, even if your primary audience is American. This is especially true nowadays, when it’s so easy to get information about books and to even order them from other countries. Your books are listed on Amazon UK (though are currently unavailable), and nothing is stopping someone from the UK ordering your book off of Amazon US (or buying it in e-book format, assuming the revised version is available from multiple etailers who don’t have it restricted by region).

    If you’re trying to avoid making it incomprehensible to Americans, you should strive to make the dialogue as location-neutral as possible and avoid Americanisms. Sentences like ‘We all still headin' out to the ole family plot for holiday?’ sound very non-British to me, especially the word ‘plot’. I asked my English husband what he thought the family plot would be, and he thought it would in a cemetery. (That was one of the things I thought of, but I thought I’d ask to double-check.) It’s also got connotations of a plot of land where you build something, not a country home, which is what I think you were going for.

    I realise these are little things, but the little things add up, especially if you’re an unknown quantity. And if lots of people are picking the same little things, then you’re potentially alienating a lot of potential readers right off the bat.

    ETA: Regional issues do exist in the US, but I think the UK may have even more regional accents, especially since it consists of 4 different countries. Compared by size, it definitely has a lot more. Also, as others have mentioned, class is a lot bigger deal over here than in the US, and it’s a lot less flexible and a lot less dependent on your financial status.

  57. blabla
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 06:30:41

    I’m sorry, but for some reason I just cant get in the story, you know? My eyes are glazing over as I read through it.

  58. The Author
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 06:32:54

    Thanks Lori S. There were a lot of compliments mixed with all that constructive criticism. Nothing went by unnoticed, and nothing was taken personally, not by me anyway. Like I said in my previous post, I already have some ideas for minor tweaks to the text and the characters' backgrounds that will immediately alleviate the language/geographic/name issues and still “work” within the context of the story. The other technical issues are also easy to remedy without interrupting the mood, flow, and the theme of the story. Writing is often an exercise in justification, rationalization, and futility at times. Even the writing conventions themselves are hotly debated and academic opinion can vary greatly, so it's a very self-conscious process. The fear is always there that we have made a misstep somewhere along the line, and the fact is, every writer will make missteps from time to time. It's just part of the process. The hard part is determining the how, the when, and the why to make changes. After that, it's easy to make them, but we can't get a clear view until we step away from it and assess the feedback.

    And thanks to you Maili for the insightful view on names. I suppose I never gave it much thought since I have never picked up a book and had a problem with a fictional character's name. I can see an issue with it though in certain genres like historical fiction where naming conventions did have social implications, but for a contemporary, I don't see the issue as long as the name works with the story and the author's vision of the character in question.
    All good stuff, and I have a lot of work to do.

  59. The Author
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 06:45:58

    Thanks Lilitu93. I had an idea of possibly making them American expats. The theme of the story revolves around feeling alienated, and their bond lies with their shared view of the world. It might just strengthen the theme and allow for the inconsistencies in the diction. I could also keep my name and my setting.

    Any thoughts?

  60. SadAnon
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 08:44:56

  61. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 09:54:10

    I love the name Laleana and a lot of us readers don't give a hoot as to whether it's “right.”

    You see at the top where it says the critiques come from “authors, readers, and industry others?” I’m all three of those things. The point of this exercise, as I understood it, is to give the writer a sense of how people from each of those points of view would respond to the first page.

    Whether or not readers “don’t give a hoot” about things like believable names, geographic accuracy, accurate representation of class and social milieux, I can assure you that agents and editors and book reviewers all give several hoots about this.

    Nobody’s trying to be mean to this author; we’re trying to give her our perspective from our own points of reference inside the industry. Before a book even gets to readers, it has to go by agents, editors, copyeditors, and the people in marketing who make decisions about which books to push and which books to let wither on the vine.

    This first page isn’t ready to run that gantlet yet. It’s not conveying the message the author wants to send. The message may be great, and the story may be completely fascinating, but right now the noise is overwhelming the signal. Anyone who interprets that as “mean” or “hostile” probably might want to rethink the whole idea of being a writer, because every single writer who has ever lived gets feedback hundreds of times more negative than that on every project.

    My wish for this author, as it is for every author who submits their pages for critique here, is that they figure out what is working and isn’t working in their manuscript with the help of the feedback provided by folks with different points of view and perspectives. I would love to see the author have every bit of success that she hopes for with this book, which is why I took the time to offer my thoughts to her.

  62. Twila Price
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 10:06:03

    Speaking strictly as a reader (and copy-editor), this excerpt and the book itself would not ping with me. There are some apparent (I hope) typos, such as the “no love loss for his family”, and I’d be all over the present/past tense problems in a heartbeat because it’s just … wrong. And annoying. There’s a reason books are normally written in past tense, and that’s because it is by long custom transparent to the reader and allows him or her to sink into the book much more easily.

    While I’m as American as they come, I certainly did not for one moment believe that Laleana was upper class, or even white — hearing that you intend her to be an upper class Irish girl went beyond the bounds of my disbelief. This is because, even today, there are trends in naming that follow class/racial lines, much as we would like to ignore that as a supposedly classless and (ideally) racially impartial society. To ignore that for “I like the name” is being extraordinarily tone-deaf to the implications of your choices. I find that books written by people who are tone-deaf to that kind of shading of meaning are ultimately unsatisfying.

  63. Maili
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 10:31:05

    @The Author

    I can see an issue with it though in certain genres like historical fiction where naming conventions did have social implications, but for a contemporary, I don't see the issue as long as the name works with the story and the author's vision of the character in question.

    Sorry that I wasn’t clear in my previous post, the social implications still exist today. Not as seriously as it was before, but it still matters.

    For example, there are some real-life girls who have this name Chardonnay. When we meet one, it may tell us a couple of things about their parents – they may be Chavs from a council estate and/or nurse dodgy aspirations for their daughters, e.g. becoming a Page 3 girl or enter the showbiz (think American Idol). It’s totally unfair, but that is how it is in this country.

    I feel bad for bringing this up once again, but I promise this is the last input from me. Either way, massive good luck with your writing career. :)

  64. Coco
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 18:27:09

    I did initially think Laleana was a strange name for a British heroine (at first, not knowing her background, I thought it was a bit tacky) but in context perhaps her parents were those eccentric, old money, academic types who named their kids after the things they studied: spices or legends; I’m sure DeBretts has examples.

    Odd names like these (Laleana, Saffron etc.) became popular on the council estates in the 90’s/00’s, with a trend towards names more “chavvy” and affluent than this heroine’s. So in the 60’s/70’s “working class” names were still pretty standard: Mary, Barb, Pat, Jo etc. and would therefore not be equatable with a “working class” background. I agree with the Author with regard to the evolution of names, however I did find the location references unsettling.

    Coco

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