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First Page: Craven Desires

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“…Lady Evelyn turned, flinching when Laird Craven pulled her back into his arms. She stiffened and arched as far from him as she could. Work roughened palms skimmed down her arms, before one arm curved around her waist. The hard ridge of his arousal pressed through the silk robe and she struggled to maintain composure. To breathe evenly as he slid the robe off her shoulders, allowing it to fall in a shimmering pool around her slender waist.

His eyes narrowed and she heard the sharp intake of breath, his gaze riveted on her dusky nipples, visible through the gauzy chemise. Nipples which had hardened into taut peaks, begging to be kissed. An unfamiliar heat pooled low in her belly as he tugged the chemise down. Firm lips brushed the top of her quivering milky orbs…”

“Quivering milky orbs?” Eve McKinnon threw the paperback novel onto her coffee table. Disgusted with herself for having bought the book, she rolled her eyes and spoke into air. “Who writes this stuff?”

The offending novel, Craven Desires, didn’t burst into flames from her glare. “And who calls their son Craven? Really?”

Eve stood and stretched, and shuffled into the kitchen. Alone and not having to worry about anyone seeing her, she wore a comfortable, yet tattered bathrobe and oversized bunny slippers. No makeup and her curly, auburn hair was tied back into a messy pony tail.

The muted sound of passing traffic and the hum from her window air conditioner was the only sound in her apartment as she made herself a cup of green tea. While waiting for the water to boil she glanced back at the book, the picture of a fierce pagan warrior emblazoned on the front cover. Intricate Celtic symbols tattooed above the bulge of his strong, muscled biceps reminded her what had drawn her into the antique store when she’d seen the book in the store front window.

The face of the man beckoned to her on a visceral level. His features were somehow familiar and when she looked at the cover her heart filled with inexplicable longing.

At the time she didn’t care what the book was about, she just knew she had to buy it. But she hadn’t expected a steamy, erotic novel filled with descriptive sensual scenes which had her squirming in her chair.

What happened to her? A university graduate with an English Major, she’d descended from the literary heights of Pride and Prejudice, and Jayne Eyre straight to Brawny and Bold.

Tea in hand, she blew across the top to cool the hot beverage and settled back on the sofa, tucking one leg under her bottom. After taking a cautious sip, she set the cup down on the coffee table and picked up the book, thumbing quickly to the page she’d abruptly left.

“…Firm lips brushed the top of her quivering milky orbs.

Lady Evelyn gasped when he latched onto her nipple, rolling the taut bud between strong teeth. His hands tunnelled through her heavy hair, pulling back her head he exposed the pulse which hammered at the base of her throat.

Her skull cradled in his hand, Craven caressed the erratic pulse with his thumb. If he didn’t stop stroking her, she’d fall to the floor. Her legs had lost the ability to hold her weight. As if reading her mind, he slanted his head, and plundered her full lips…”

Eve jumped when the phone rang. She checked caller I.D., hit the talk button and, marking the page, put the book down again.

“Cassie!” Eve couldn’t help the silly grin she knew would be plastered on her face. Cassie had been her best friend since grade school.

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. Author on Vacation
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 07:18:19

    This page strikes me as way too generic and trope-y. Very predictable. The distancing language and lack of strong “voice” keep it from “popping.” If you want to write tropes, you need to reinvent them and portray them in a new, fresh way.

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  2. Jane Davitt
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 08:53:05

    ‘Jayne Eyre’? Jayne? . No.

    Other than that, I didn’t mind this, but some of the parts that aren’t the scoffed at romance are just as cliched in places; ‘inexplicable longing’ for instance.

    I sort of liked the romance novel inside the romance more than what was going on outside it, milky orbs aside.

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  3. Just a writer
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 08:56:45

    I thought it was cute. I appreciate the tongue in cheekiness of the piece. I see some telling rather than showing bits, like what she’s wearing. Have her shove her feet into the bunny slippers or cinch up her ratty robe. Same with telling us her best friend is calling. Let it unfold. Also, I’d be careful about making her too contemptuous of romance, since I assume that’s your intended target audience. She can be a literary snob, but make her likable. I do agree with the previous poster–make the voice a bit stronger. But your writing is lovely. Thanks for posting.

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  4. Lori
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 10:19:15

    I liked this. I know exactly where the story is going, the voice engages me immediately and I’d keep reading and probably enjoy the entire story. And I rarely feel that way with first pages so well done, author, well done.

    My only criticism is a romance book in the window of an antique store. I know why you did it but it’s such a you gotta be kidding me moment, I wonder if you can change it.

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  5. SAO
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 10:34:36

    This is intriguing. I’m hooked, I’d read on. I have a few caveats —

    1) She’s borderline too scornful of the book she’s reading. I have plenty of high-powered education and I hate the assumption that romance is not for people who’ve read Pride and Prejudice.

    2) The attraction to the hunk on the cover, who I presume looks like Fabio, who has never made me drool, is a bit like instalust, which I’m not a fan of.

    3) You could have ended with a bit more of a hook as I have no interest in Cassie and a fair amount of interest in where this book is going. The oh-how-I wish-I-could-read-the-next-page feeling is distinctly reduce by the hint that it’s a BFF chat and not going to tell me where you’re going with this.

    But, over all, a very promising start.

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  6. Just a thought
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 10:39:31

    I agree with others that the writing is very good, and I’m intrigued by the setup. But the way this story begins is not drawing me in.

    Essentially (at least, I’m guessing this is what’s going on), you’re looking for the reader’s imagination to supply dramatic irony. You’re giving us a snobby woman who is annoyed with herself for enjoying a romance novel, and you’re trusting that we readers will intuit that she’s going to have her attitudes changed–and therefore feel compelled to read on.

    For me, there are a couple of problems with this approach. First, her snobbish comments about romance are alienating. You risk making the heroine so unsympathetic, we won’t even care about watching her grow and change. Second, implied dramatic irony just isn’t that gripping. It’s like starting a book with “Nothing ever happened in Nowheresville” and a full page of how bored your main character is. The reader doesn’t know a UFO is going to land on page 3. All the reader feels is boredom. Or the reverse setup: “Claire’s life was absolutely perfect!” for a page and half, requiring the reader’s implicit assumption that Something Bad is going to happen to Claire. An anvil, maybe.

    If escape with a book (and a bigger-than-life hero) is what your heroine needs, show us what she’s escaping from.

    For example, Jane Eyre does not open with Jane sitting in a corner with her book, saying “Poor me, I’m an unloved orphan who will never have any agency!” and a “wink” to the reader that she’ll rise above it somehow. Jane is coldly dismissed to the corner. She spends a few paragraphs escaping with the book. Then she gets beaten with the book. It’s visceral and compelling.

    I enjoy tongue-in-cheek digs at romance tropes, and I like your writing–but I want a reason to root for this character first and foremost. That’s what would keep me turning pages.

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  7. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 11:57:04

    I like this, but I do have a few quibbles.

    “No makeup and her curly, auburn hair was tied back into a messy pony tail.”

    I never, ever think to myself about the color and texture of my own hair in passing; it’s one of my pet peeves in books. In the narration of my life, I don’t think, I woke up, shuffled downstairs like a particularly uncoordinated zombie, and tied up my long, silken red hair which sparkled with just a tinge of blonde at the roots. Nope, I think Ugh. Hair. Get. Out. Of. Face. (And possibly — Damn, I need Miss Clairol.) I’m being silly, but know what I mean? I get that you’re describing her, but there are better ways. I don’t need her hair color right away.

    Ms. Eyre (JaYne?!) gets in the way of this joke: she’d descended from the literary heights of Pride and Prejudice, and Jayne Eyre straight to Brawny and Bold. A snappier read would be: she’d descended from the literary heights of Pride and Prejudice to Brawny and Bold. We get the joke very well with only P&P there. However, P&P are both nouns and B&B are both adjectives. Nouns might suit the word play of the joke better.

    You have a few unnecessary commas in there (he slanted his head, and plundered her full lips…”). I also have to watch my twitch to make unnecessary “, and”s. What I do in my editing process is a highlight on that pattern for the entire book and remove the unnecessary commas.

    As others said, if you’re gonna parody romance in your romance, you have to make super sure the lines are not crossed. And yes, “inexplicable longing” is on the wrong side. And I agree to not have her too contemptuous of the genre. If your heroine could use a good schtupping by a brawny laird, let us know that. One, it would create a longing (instead of telling us about it) and two, it would make her vulnerable, which I don’t get a lot of on this page. I don’t mean vulnerable as in weak, but as in “human and relatable.” Anyone in this day and age knows exactly what they’re getting when they pick up a book with a clinch cover, even if they’ve never read a romance.

    I think you get a bit too buried in details. I don’t need a paragraph about hot tea and I don’t need to read that she marked the place in her book. A snappy pace is your friend, especially in the beginning and especially if the book is a bit humorous.

    This has great promise! Why do I feel like she’s about to get up close and personal with a certain manly laird? Ooh, baby. Good luck!

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  8. Courtney Milan
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 15:25:56

    I agree with the comments above that there’s a fine line between suggesting a character needs growth and insulting the readers of the genre that you’re targeting. You’re a little too far across the “insult” line for my tastes–but that’s a personal thing.

    The biggest craft thing that grates me about this is that there’s a ton of irrelevant detail that sets the physical scene but doesn’t add mood or atmosphere or character. Those things are basically filler words.

    So for instance: …she glanced back at the book, the picture of a fierce pagan warrior emblazoned on the front cover. Intricate Celtic symbols tattooed above the bulge of his strong, muscled biceps reminded her what had drawn her into the antique store when she’d seen the book in the store front window.

    The face of the man beckoned to her on a visceral level. His features were somehow familiar and when she looked at the cover her heart filled with inexplicable longing.

    Notice what you’re doing with this: you’re giving a physical description and THEN you’re giving an emotional description. Combine the two. Our experience of our physical world is tied to our emotional and rational experience of it. The words you use to describe the cover in the first paragraph are objective: intricate tattoos, muscled biceps. So when she looks at the cover, you’re at best making the reader see this as if looking at the scene from a distance.

    Also, look up the difference between “that” and “which,” because you’re using them wrong.

    Despite that, I think the voice is charming and the setup is good.

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  9. Gillyweed
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 15:54:30

    I agree with the other commenters that a parody of the genre that you’re writing in needs to be handled with finesse. This line in particular raised my hackles: “Who writes this stuff?”
    Well… a lot of extremely talented people whom I have loads of respect for. I get that you’re doing a send-up of the classic, purple-icious type of romance but I still felt alienated by the heroine’s attitude toward the genre in general.

    Re: book-in-a-book, here’s the first line from Dawn Calvert’s Hero Worship: “In the lonely hours of a Saturday night, with worn pink bunny slippers on her feet and a musty nineteenth-century book clutched in her hands, Andi found the man of her dreams.” If you’re going to have your heroine falling into the world of a book (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t–it’s a great plot device), I would love to see a fresher beginning. No bunny slippers, I beg you!!

    Okay, those issues aside, your writing was quite nice and enjoyed the opportunity to read your work. This book could be a lot of fun to read once you tweak with the set-up a bit. Best of luck!

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  10. Avery Shy
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 16:05:47

    A lot of the humor you present is hit-or-miss.

    Like the whole “Craven Desires” thing, with it being the title of the novel she’s reading. Some people will find that amusing and clever; some people will find it irritating.

    Your heroine seems to find romance novels both poorly written and intoxicating. This is another hit-or-miss thing for the reader. I, personally, dislike people who act as if romance novels are some kind of guilty pleasure. I’m not going to like your heroine – period. But other readers might giggle and nod and agree with her.

    I suppose that’s just how some things work. It’s not to my taste, but it’s well written enough. Good work. :)

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  11. Julia
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 16:25:14

    I agree with the other posters and their comments/critiques, but I just wanted to pop in and say that I would keep reading this. I see where this is going (insert famed internet macro), and that sounds like a book I would read in a heartbeat.

    I think you’ve got something here. I hope that I can read the rest one day :)

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  12. theo
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 16:55:12

    While I agree with most of the comments, and I see where you’re going with this, perhaps less snooty literary Hn and more of the English major would serve you better. Perhaps make the novel-in-novel even more purple and poorly written and then let her comment on the fact that she could probably write it better. There are tons of badly written ‘romance’ books out there that are open fodder for being picked on. You’re writing your own bad book – at least I hope that’s your intention – inside what I think with some revision, will be a good book (I’d certainly turn the page) so less literary heights and more common sense from your Hn would make her much more likable. Right now, I’m on the fence. I don’t want to be on the fence. If you’re going to start with her, I’d like to like her from the start.

    Kudos for putting it out there and good luck!

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  13. Jacques
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 19:52:08

    I love the book-within-a-book stuff. But it can be really tricky to get just right. It’s like a law of writing-within-writing that the within has to be worse in order to be truly distinct from the without (cf. the Murder of Gonzago). Merely putting it in italics isn’t enough.

    It all gets way trickier when the within is also “really” supposed by the MC to be bad. And it looks like you’re walking a fine line here, since you want Eve to find fault with the book even as she’s seduced by it. So with a line like this one,

    “Lady Evelyn gasped when he latched onto her nipple…”,

    it’s hard to know what sort of satire you have in mind. “Latching on” is more reminiscent of a La Leche League pamphlet than a quivering clinch. Are we meant to laugh at this, or to sigh? Does Eve notice it, too? It would be wonderful if you managed to control the two books at this level of intricacy!

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  14. SM Johnson
    Jul 01, 2012 @ 08:51:54

    Well done. I agree with the above about too many mundane details slowing down the passage, but overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

    And I will disagree with others about the MC being unlikable – “Who writes this stuff?” is EXACTLY my internal response when I read “quivering milky orbs” or other silly purple prose.

    It might be interesting to ramp up the purple prose, and perhaps instead of finding the book at an antique store (which feels a little strange to me) – maybe the MC is a junior editor or an editor’s assistant assigned to work with this terrible book written by the editor or publisher’s 19 year old niece… that would give the MC a reason to be disparaging about the book-inside-this-book. Maybe she has intense pressure to make sure this book becomes a best-seller…

    Good luck!

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  15. JB Hunt
    Jul 01, 2012 @ 18:02:05

    I would definitely read on, but if the POV issues continued, you might lose me.

    The novel-within-the-novel is in Lady Evelyn’s POV, but would she comment on her own “dusky nipples” and “milky orbs”? At first I thought that was meant to reinforce the “bad” writing example, but as Lucy pointed out above, Eve does the same thing when she comments on her hair.

    But these are easy fixes, to be sure. Good luck with the story. I’m interested to see what happens to Eve/Evelyn!

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  16. Pamela
    Jul 01, 2012 @ 22:21:27

    I can relate to the guilty pleasure feeling that Eve may be having about reading a romance. I went through that on the first several I read, and I’m still not real keen to let anyone just flip through my Kindle and see the full extent of my interest in the genre. That said, I think I agree with others that she shouldn’t be too harsh on the book if it’s going to turn out to be a key element in the story – or make it clearly bad and then use as a set up only, not a central element going forward.
    I like books within books and I really like when modern and historical worlds collide, which might be where this is going – my main suggestion though would be to have a little more action from the start.

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  17. Margot
    Jul 02, 2012 @ 02:17:32

    I think this is a promising beginning, and I probably would keep reading.

    The excerpt from the book-in-a-book at the beginning seems maybe a little out of place. This is the very beginning of your story, and you want a first sentence that will draw people in. This would not necessarily be the result if I just flipped the book open to take a look at the first few lines. (And that is often how I pick the books I read.)

    Also, Craven really is a bad name. And if the heroine has gotten this far in reading the book, she should know that no one named their son Craven- it’s his title. I get that you’re probably trying to make a joke with the title Craven Desires, but Craven is still not a good name. I do not want my heroes to have names that mean cowardly.

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  18. J S
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 19:55:15

    @Gillyweed:

    “Bunny slippers” hooked my eye like a bad fly cast. How about just plain old bare feet? Spice it up with some feeling. Those bare feet step in dry pet food scattered on the kitchen tile causing a painful march as the crumbled burrs stick underfoot for the length of the kitchen until the living room carpet brushes them off – because that book so demands the character’s continued attention?

    The phone call was an interruption of the scene (as intended) but kind of like those stories “and then I woke up and it was all a dream”. Have the call first and between the dialog have her thinking about the story on the table, the cover, etc. – assuming the call is an important device later.

    The antique store sets up the ‘time traveler’ expectation where she trips and knocks her head and her being migrates to the magic book. If so, jettison the phone call and just keep her focused on the book and the tripping. But do be cautious with the ‘oops banged my head’ method if going that route. If the antique store is not important then remove it (I kind of wondered why an antique store would have a recently styled racy cover, antique racy just had a lot of inappropriate kissing not like today’s yarns, eh?).

    Introduce the cover desire as early as possible as that is what the character seems focused on.

    But remember, it’s easy to be a critic and hard to do the writing. Keep writing. Which reminds me that I gotta get back to my writing…. And a cover, I need a better cover!

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