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First Page: Dancing with Brumbies

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Camilla felt the deep vibration of the rotor through her boot as she leant out of the helicopter to take her shot. The headgear she wore protected her from the loudness of the gunshot and the loud whirring of the helicopter blades. However, it did not protect her from the excited mumblings of her fellow shooter through the radio attached to her ear.

“We are going at a good rate,” he said, as she heard the sound of him reloading, “At this time we will have reached our kill quota by lunchtime. Would you care to join me for lunch Camilla?”

His name was Mike Pastore and not only was he unskilled and a bad shot but he also earned her dislike by constantly trying to get her to date him. He was one of those men animal activists got worked up about. He was someone who had no idea of what he was doing and no idea about how to make a clean kill. Of course, to activists, they were all the same and they were not likely to take into account level of skill. To be fair even her city friends, who were more concerned with shopping and which celebrity was dating who, got a horrified expression on their face. “Why would you do that?” they asked.

Camilla had come to the conclusion that city folk had become soft, having never had to confront the bloody death that led to their conveniently packaged meat at the supermarket, and she had gotten tired of trying to explain it to people. She knew the reasons she did what she did and though she did not always enjoy it, she was doing what needed to be done.

“Brumbies coming from the north east,” said their pilot Virgil, saving her from making a reply. He was quiet and job focused but kept to himself. She had already been on a couple of culls with him and she felt like she did not know him at all. Yet, she preferred his quiet ways over Mike’s loud and forceful personality and she actually enjoyed working with Virgil.

Virgil curved the helicopter around and Camilla shifted her weight with the movement of the helicopter. The wild horses ran before them, their manes streaming out behind them and sending clouds of red dust into the air. A part of her always rebelled as she pointed her gun at one of the brumbies in the herd. It usually took a moment to put herself into the right headspace to make the shot. There was nothing holding Mike back and as usual he shot first, wounding but not killing a young foal running behind its mother. As usual her first shot was used to clean up his messes and to make sure the horses he wounded were actually dead and not just laying there in pain. She pulled the trigger, feeling the recoil of the gun but steeling herself against it.

Mike let out a grunt of satisfaction as he shot again, this time going wide and not hitting anything. She knew his type; well dressed, nicely spoken but a brute underneath. She preferred men who were at peace with what they were and who did not try and hide beneath a pleasant mask. Her ex-boyfriend, Graham, despite his flaws, never tried to hide beneath nice words. To be honest, it was the flaws that had attracted her to him to begin with. The more flaws the better because it was the men with the issues whose passions and emotions ran deep. She liked to dig deep into that well and bask in the in tense and unrelenting love and try and fix the wounds of the soul that ran deep.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 05:45:01

    OMG, you have set yourself a challenge with this one!!!

    I am trying REALLY hard to not react with horror. Your heroine is a woman who kills horses recreationally? Is that what I’m reading? Her city friends are shallow and vapid because they don’t understand her choice to be a recreational horse-killer? She’s scornful of the guy next to her because he’s not as good of a horse-killer as she is?

    Dude, people love horses. You could maybe get a BIT more outrage if your heroine was a panda-hunter, or if she went out on the weekends and crushed baby penguins under her heavy boots. Based on the title, this book would appeal to horse-lovers. And your first page has the heroine killing a foal that was running behind its mother?!?

    Also, they’re doing this from a helicopter? Give me a break on the “city folk had become soft” line when she’s shooting herbivores from a frickin’ helicopter. And is she eating the horse meat? ‘Cause otherwise I don’t see the connection to “conveniently packaged meat at the supermarket”.

    Maybe you’re planning to have the character meet up with an anti-culling activist and go through a huge transition over the course of the book; I don’t know. But if you aren’t, you might want to change the title of the book – maybe something like Murdering Brumbies? (I know, there are legit reasons for culling wild animals, especially an invasive species. But this seems to be a recreational hunt, and I have a serious problem with someone killing horses FOR FUN, and with someone being part of a system that allows people who can’t shoot to wound foals after panicking the whole herd with a friggin’ helicopter).

    Anyway, horse stuff aside, if I can manage to overcome my visceral reaction…

    Your dialogue is stilted: People use contractions. And unless this is an historical helicopter-horse-hunt, “Would you care to join me for lunch” seems overly formal. I also don’t have a lot of sympathy for a heroine who’s hard enough to kill a foal for fun but can’t tell someone she dislikes to stop asking her out, or who can’t push him out of the damn helicopter if he keeps going after she’s told him to stop.

    Your words are sometimes peculiar/wrong: Maybe it’s a regionalism, but my eye was caught by “leant” instead of “leaned”; “laying” should be “lying”; “try and hide” should be “try to hide”.

    Pronoun issues: eg. “they were all the same and they were not likely to take into account level of skill” – “they” refers to two different groups with no clear shift in antecedent. And “a horrified expression on their face” has a plural pronoun followed by the singular “face” – yes, sometimes people use the plural pronoun as a gender-neutral option, but in this case the antecedent is clearly plural. Should be “faces”.

    Internal contradictions: Do activists have a particular problem with men like Mike, or to activists are all horse-hunters the same? Pick one. I’m also not sure about men who are simultaneously “at peace with what they were” and the heroine’s urge to ” fix the wounds of the soul that ran deep”. If the men are at peace with themselves, isn’t her “fixing” just meddling?

    I also have very little interest in a heroine who deliberately seeks out damaged men because she thinks their love is “intense and unrelenting”. She sounds like one of the idiots from so many NA novels who confuses ‘abusive and controlling’ with ‘passionate’.

    So… wow, no, I would not read this book. I imagine you knew there would be a significant number of people who would react that way; I actually wondered if you were trolling with this (I still wouldn’t be totally surprised to find that you were). If you are serious and do plan to continue with your brumby-killer heroine, I’d bury the hunting scene a bit further into the book. Maybe if I really, really, REALLY liked her up until then… Nah. Nevermind. I’d still throw the book across the room. I am not your audience. I’m interested to see further comments to see if ANYONE is your audience for this book!

  2. SAO
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 06:11:57

    This is all backstory. You could make it a bit more of a scene, for example, by having Camilla reply, “No, Mike, I still don’t want to date you and could you please concentrate on your shot,” instead of explaining, but ultimately, I don’t think Mike is important to the story.

    Two things jumped out at me:
    1) “. . . her city friends, who were more concerned with shopping and which celebrity was dating who(m) . . .” Sounds like she is sneering at her friends. They care about celebrity gossip and she cares about the fate of animals/the planet. This is a big, red flag for me. I don’t like people who think they are better than everyone else, especially people they call their friends. Next, “Camilla had come to the conclusion that city folk had become soft, having never had to confront the bloody death that led to their conveniently packaged meat at the supermarket.” That’s me. I live in the city and buy conveniently packaged meat. Now she’s sneering at me. You’ve pissed me off before I got to the middle of page one.

    2) You have a lot of awkward sentences: `”. . .to activists, they were all the same and they were not likely to take into account . . ” The first they refers to hunters and the second to activists. Very confusing. “Camilla had come to the conclusion that city folk had become soft, having never had to confront the bloody death that led to their conveniently packaged meat at the supermarket, and she had gotten tired of trying to explain it to people” could be “Camilla was tired of telling people that city folk are soft; they never have to confront . . .” But it’s really a completely different sentence. “Camilla didn’t want to be a soft, city person who thought that meat. . .” That’s what she’s tired of explaining.

  3. Willa
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 07:33:04

    I totally agree with Kate Sherwood. First impressions – horror, stilted dialogue and sneering heroine, who likes to seek out men with flaws so that she can fix them? So she can bask in their intense and unrelenting love before presumably moving on to the next one? Sounds like she hunts men as trophies, as well as horses. Sorry – Ugh.

    I am definitely not your audience.

  4. Patricia
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 08:16:07

    I would definitely not read a book that introduces itself with the step-by-step killing of a horse by the supposed heroine. I couldn’t even make it to the end of this excerpt. There is no way this will fly.

    Beyond that, I agree that the dialogue sounds stilted. Real people use contractions and so should you if you want to sound natural.

  5. Lil
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 08:24:07

    I know people are always saying that they want something new and different in Romance, and I will say that I have never before encountered a heroine who shoots wild horses from a helicopter. But as you can see from the earlier comments, with which I agree, “new and different” is not the same as intriguing. Originality is not automatically a good idea.

  6. Erin L
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 08:32:59

    She isn’t shooting the horses for fun, it is just one of several ways they control herd size in Australia. I would not read on because I do not enjoy the subject or style.

  7. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 08:38:50

    Re not killing for fun:

    But it seems like this is an amateur hunt, since the guy next to her is such a bad shot and since they have a quota after which they’ll be free for lunch. So it doesn’t sound like the heroine is a wildlife biologist who takes part in culls as part of her job. It sounds like she’s chosen to be there because she somehow enjoys killing horses.

    I mean, if a vet puts a sick animal to sleep, I don’t think the vet is a bad person. If an accountant or somebody goes in to the vet’s office on her free time and puts sick animals to sleep, I think there’s something seriously wrong with her. The act may be the same, but the motivation is totally different.

    If it turns out that the heroine IS a wildlife biologist or a park ranger or whatever, I want to know why she’s allowing herself to be sexually harassed on the job, and why she’s allowing a guy who can’t aim to take potshots at panicked animals. If she’s a professional, she needs to take responsibility for his behaviour, and if she isn’t… she’s shooting horses for fun.

  8. JAW
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 08:44:20

    In order to not utterly despise your MC from the first few paragraphs, I need to know why she is hunting down and killing wild horses via helicopter.

    “…the bloody death that led to their conveniently packaged meat at the supermarket, and she had gotten tired of trying to explain it to people. She knew the reasons she did what she did and though she did not always enjoy it, she was doing what needed to be done.”

    This excerpt suggests she is killing the wild horses for food, which maybe (maybe) I could wrap my brain around, but then why is the first shot to kill a foal? And if the explanation is that the guy she’s hunting with is a horrible shot, then why in the world would she be hunting with him?

    Too many turn offs for me. I would not continue reading.

  9. Holly Bush
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 09:09:17

    I looked up ‘brumbies’ because it’s just not a word I’m familiar with, although I understood it in the context of the piece, and, of course, when the author said wild horses. I don’t think I want to read more of this work. I’m not squeamish, and don’t really have feelings on this subject on one side or another, but I’ve got to like a heroine to read more of any work. Right out of the gate, I don’t like this one.

    There’s a political tone that I avoid in the fiction books I read for pleasure. This page sets a political tone that turns me off and that is a risk the author is taking. Book themes can make me consider a point of view that I don’t agree with or hadn’t thought of but this isn’t a theme. The heroine’s conclusions about city folk, or any broad swath she may have made, scratches her off my ‘get to know’ list, whether it’s a fictional character or a real live person. If I’ve gotten to know a protagonist and like or admire or am curious about them, that might be OK, but it doesn’t work for me on the first page.

    And lastly, as soon as I understood the set-up, I had a vision of a former candidate for the US Vice Presidency. I don’t believe I could read an entire book with her face in my head.

  10. Caro
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 09:25:40

    I actually would be intrigued about reading a heroine who is forced to cull a horse herd in order to save the geography or keep horses from starving or another worthwhile and admirable goal. I might be horrified that this has to happen, but I would be intrigued enough to want to know what makes this kind of woman tick.

    But you don’t introduce her this way. You hint a bit, but not much.

    She knew the reasons she did what she did and though she did not always enjoy it, she was doing what needed to be done.

    That was the one and only sentence that made me sit up and say “hmmmm, I wonder what she’s all about.”

    The rest made me dislike her. She’s not a good friend, she doesn’t have enough guts to tell Mike to take a hike, she’s attracted to men she wants to fix. She’s an odd combination of kick-ass and passive. Yikes.

    I know readers always say they want something different. But if you attempt different, you really need to have a solid skill set to carry it off. I don’t know, I think it might be better for someone who’s just wrapping their head around writing stories or is midstream – better that they stick with some good old-fashioned romance standards and develop their skills before attempting to write a heroine who kills horses for a living.

  11. Melissa
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 09:34:55

    So I DON’T actually get the impression that your heroine enjoys shooting horses. Instead, I get the impression that she gets her kicks from being the kind of hard-as-nails individual who does “what needs to be done” without flinching. Unfortunately, she does seem to be sneering at her friends who are not so tough. She sounds like a jerk, and I really don’t care if she gets her HEA. I do wonder why she hasn’t cut Mike down to size, but I am not curious enough to read on. I was curious enough to look up “brumby” on Wikipedia– I’d never come across that term before. I would love a book that thoughtfully explored the dilemma of how to control the feral horse population in Australia. From your excerpt, I didn’t even realize this was set in Australia. Actually, since “brumbies” didn’t clue me in to the Australian setting, I kept thinking this was some kind of post-apocalyptic zombie novel (maybe with zombies running with/preying on horses???) until the foal got shot. That was jarring.

  12. jch
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 09:40:21

    I’m afraid I have to add my voice to all of the previous posts. I was pretty horrified, too.

    With the first sentence, I thought maybe she was a wildlife photographer, but after the next few sentences….yikes.

    I admit to being ignorant about the wild horse situation in Australia — I take it this is an issue, and this type of culling is common? If so, it may work for that audience, but for others you will probably get the same reaction you are finding here. I was unfamiliar with the term “brumbies,” but I understand it can mean not only wild horses, but “outlaws,” so I assume maybe you are trying to paint the MC as an outlaw of sorts? Draw some parallel between her and the horses? Okay…I could buy that, but the fact that she’s killing them kind of brings it a bit too far. Surprise your audience, sure, but don’t horrify them into closing the book.

    The editorial issues others have mentioned with dialogue etc., can (and should) be addressed at some point. The heroine’s personality is another issue as well. But your first goal is to draw your reader in, and having this as your opening scene probably won’t do it. I realize there’s a lot of advice out there to start with action/excitement, but this particular action is too off-putting…maybe if you start at a different point, introduce the MC and establish her motivation, including an explanation about how this can be seen as an acceptable occupation, before a scene like this…. I don’t know. It might be possible to keep this aspect of your character, but I think it’s a big risk, and likely a losing one. Everything Kate Sherwood and others have said is valid, and something you need to consider as you go forward.

    You do have writing ability and I think with a different MC occupation (personally, had my initial thought that she was a wildlife photographer been correct, I would have been totally engaged in your story) and with some input from a helpful editor, you could do well.

    Sorry for the negative reaction — it’s all meant to help, and I hope that it does. Best of luck. :)

  13. Anon
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 10:15:06

    While I do understand the need for herd culling, I don’t want to read that on the first page. I wouldn’t be interested in reading further if this were the first page of the book. Possibly if this backstory, which it is, were woven through the story in a less jarring way, I might read on. You’d really need to present the why before the how, so there’d be less confusion, but you’d still need to do it without just a big information dump on the first page.

    There is no tag that this is a romance. If it were, I already don’t like the heroine (whose name I cannot even remember…that’s not good). She’s arrogant, sneering, condescending…not a good romantic heroine. She seems like she doesn’t even like her own friends…and that makes her unlikable to me.

    Finally, your last sentence made me alternately scowl and laugh…and not in a good way. It’s a commentary on your heroine and her character, and based on that, I wouldn’t really be interested in reading about her. I don’t mind heros with flaws, but the “I can save them with my love” mindset of the heroine, while the guy gets away with bad behavior, drives me nuts. That would make the book a wallbanger more than shoot horses.

    Your other characters are either silly (the other shooter) and an ass, or so lacking in character as to be non-existent, and his name is Virgil…that I remember because that’s not a common name.

    Others have touched on the actual writing style, etc., so I won’t go there.

  14. Laura Kinsale
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 10:31:22

    Hell to the No.

    Just. No.

  15. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:21:54

    I am just as horrified as everyone else. You might be able to make this work if you make it super clear right up front the good reasons to cull a herd of horses — otherwise, I cannot see this gaining traction. And yes, your heroine is smug and unpleasant, and not in any sort of fun way (think Mindy Kaling) that makes us root for her anyway. I really really double extra HATE the “I’m a good woman because I’m not vapid like all those other bitches” bullshit. If your heroine / the author hates women, it’s a no go for me.

    In terms of the actual prose, you are in need of comma help. If you’re not great with commas, perhaps google the Owl at Purdue / commas. Their online punctuation how-tos are amazing, and I refer to them all the time.

    Good luck, but I would seriously reconsider this opening if I were you.

  16. Anne
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:23:35

    I’ve seen The Man from Snowy River enough times to have had clue for the setting but it’s a big no on the MC. Her horse activities aside, I find her to be totally unlikeable.

  17. anon
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:41:26

    Also, the title brings to mind Dances with Wolves…and I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not, or has any bearing on the story. It’s a bit disconcerting to read the title, which creates a positive image, and then read the opening page, which (pardon the pun) shoots that image down.

  18. Viridian
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:48:54

    I’m not really one of those “save the animals!” types. There are lots of situations where animal culling is called for, and as long as the animal is killed quickly and mericifully, I have no problem with that. And I like that your heroine recognizes there’s a difference between a skillful, merciful killing and the horrific slow death caused by an inexperienced shooter. On top of all this, I *hate* horses. (They’re stupid, ugly, and mean.)

    And you still managed to make me really uncomfortable. Your writing has a very political tone to it. I’m going to go ahead and assume she is being paid to cull wild horses, which I can understand. But there are some good reasons that she might be culling brumbies (like protecting the Australian ecosystem) that are glossed over in favor of her sneering at straw-man-style animal rights activists and even her own friends.

    Also, her reaction to her incompetent coworker is very mild. She seems to have the same amount of respect for both the creepy idiot and her own friends; she ignores them both. If she genuinely cares about swift kills and merciful deaths, it seems like she should be more angry. It’s nice that she mercy kills his victims for him, but she’s not exactly boiling in outrage over his incompetence.

    That being said, there are also some writing issues here. The backstory isn’t worked in very well. I’m really not sure if a horse-culling scene is where she needs to be thinking about her ex-boyfriend’s flaws; it seems like there’s no particular reason she has that train of thought except to inform the reader about her old relationship. There’s got to be a better way to do this. Maybe give less information. Mention that Creepy Coworker is nowhere as near as interesting as Graham, but don’t mention who Graham is; just have her thinking bitterly about it. Flat, straightforward exposition has its uses, but this is not the place for it.

    The scene could use more emotion. Overall, she seems flat, and I don’t feel connected to her. Imagine how tense she is; recent breakup, friends don’t understand her, coworker is incompetent, he’s hitting on her while she’s trying to focus… she should be furious. Think of all the ways you could show it.

    You’re doing a lot of telling instead of showing. I would rather see her coldly shooting down her coworker than see her remember shooting him down in the past. “For the last time, McLovin, no, I am NOT free for lunch. Now focus on your damn job, your aim is bad enough already.”

  19. JL
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 12:31:22

    I couldn’t quite get through all of this, but I’m pretty quick to DNF a book as it is. The problem I had with this isn’t so much the shooting of horses (didn’t know what Brumbies was until another poster explained it, I thought it might have been some strange Sci Fi thing, but that’s just my own ignorance). The problem for me was this read like the author coming through way to loud and clear in the story. Nothing turns me off more that reading what feels like a thinly veiled rant in the middle (or first page!) of a book. I can’t buy into a story if it feels like I’m being manipulated into thinking a certain way. I’m not saying fiction shouldn’t have themes and morals, but they have to be integrated into the story, but this felt like it would be a story the author created to service her own views rather than having the views on activists & hunting, etc., being an essential part of the character. For me, it kills the integrity of the story. I read a UF book where the MC was a nurse for supernatural beings. She goes off on this bizarre tangent about how hardworking nurses are. While I don’t disagree with her point at all, it just really stood out because it wasn’t part of the story in any sensible way. Sure enough, I flipped to the author bio, and clearly the author is a nurse herself. It was a DNF for other reasons, but that really sealed the deal for me.

  20. Marianne McA
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 12:55:59

    I’d never heard of horse culling before today: it’s not an automatic turn off for me, because I’d take it on trust that your heroine feels it’s necessary and humane. While info dumping is normally a bad thing, in this case I think it’d be worth spelling out to the readership why culling happens, why she believes it’s the best option, and that she’s (I assume) paid to do this by the authorities.

    When I read this first, I thought she and Mike had worked together before because he was ‘constantly trying to get her to date him.’ Reading it over, I’m less sure. Either way, if I’m to sympathise with her, I need to feel she acts humanely towards the animals – if this is her first time with Mike, I’d like her to be planning to report him later – if she’s worked with him before I need to know why she can’t get him fired for incompetence.
    It doesn’t work for me that her primary objection to Mike is that he keeps (very politely from the evidence) asking her out. It reads as if she finds that more objectionable than his cruelty to animals.

    What pulls me in to the story is the chance to see the world from her viewpoint – it’s unusual to read a fictional character who thinks of animals as livestock. (Not something I’ve read much – Laura Ingalls Wilder and the pig is about all that comes to mind. Romance ranchers never seem to slaughter their cattle.)

    The last paragraph baffles me a bit. I’m reading it that you want the reader to know she forms unhealthy relationships and at this point in her story sees flawed men as romantic – but it’s not clear, and it’s telling not showing, and it seems an odd thing for her to be thinking about whilst doing a very exacting job.

    I wouldn’t read on from here as it’s currently written, but it’s not because of the subject matter.

  21. reader
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 13:14:00

    I’m not bothered by a heroine with the personality of an alpha male, but if you want me to respect your character, you’ll have to show me she’s smarter than to take an incompetent marksman with her on her job. Maybe have the guy be a good shot, but he made a bad shot this one time for some reason and she remarks on it (that is, if you intend to use him to show her as the more expert and professional at the job.)

    This reads like a first time effort by a new writer. Besides the errors others have pointed out, you have too much telling and none of it with the sort of natural subtlety of a more experienced writer. But you seem to have a knack for fresh storylines and brash characterization, so if you work on the writing skills (and devour other books with an eye to seeing what makes them good,) I think you may have something. It will be a hard sell in this timid industry, but if you believe in what you’re writing, stick to it.

  22. theo
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 13:32:24

    I’m sorry, but no. Just no. I live in a state where deer hunting is almost a religion and the last two weeks in November are HUGE for firearm hunters. In many cases,companies close the first day if it falls on a weekday, if you get past the centerline of the state, you see truck after truck with a deer on its hood…no. Besides the fact that I’m emotionally opposed to hunting for sport or any other reason than to feed yourself, I war constantly with the fact that yes, I know it’s better than letting an oversized herd starve during the winter. So that time of year is always horrid for me. It’s bad enough with deer, but horses? OMG, NO! I grew up on a horse, love them, have had some wonderful animals who had an almost 6th sense when it came to any kind of bond, they’re beautiful animals and though I maybe can understand the culling of a wild herd in an abstract, very far removed way, just no.

    It’s almost impossible to like a Hn who does that, no matter how much remorse she may feel about having to though I didn’t see much here at all. Once I figured out what was going on, I quit reading. I know there are things that exist in this world and I’ve seen some horrible, terrible things that I’ll never be able to scrub from my mind so I choose not to read things that bring them back.

    However, I did go back and finish it as it’s not fair to quit on you and I can say that subject matter or no, I still wouldn’t read this. Right now, your Hn is doing a job that requires intense concentration if she wants a clean kill and not a wounded animal running wild and yet, she’s thinking about how she wants to save the tortured soul? Of a man? And how much she thinks the guy in her ear is a jerk? No. She’s done nothing to garner any respect from me let alone liking her and there’s no way I’d get past the first page. She comes across almost as much of a jerk as the guy on the radio.

    I’m sorry this sounds harsh, but this page read very harsh to me. It was jarring and contradictory and needs an overhaul.

  23. Mary
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 14:20:17

    Ok, as far as I can tell, yes this is a job that is done and that needs to be done in Australia because without the cullings thousands of horses and other animals would die from the severe drought.
    However, none of this comes across in the first page. Instead you get a gun happy heroine who shoots a baby horse and thinks about how she likes damaged men. I’m not opposed to a book with this as subject matter, but it’s a fairly complicated topic and right now I’m afraid that your book won’t do it justice. For one thing, those doing the culling would most likely be activists themselves and highly trained professionals. There are activists that protest the cullings, but they are being done in order to assure the survival of all animals, which means that those ordering the cullings are environmentalists. I don’t get any of that here. Maybe changing her tirade against activists to something like PETA, which is an insane and messed up organization. Also, I highly doubt that they are just letting anyone who wants to shoot horses go out there, so the secondary character seems inaccurate. I’m pretty sure those doing the cullings are experienced and have good aim.
    You’ve also got some grammar issues, a lot of stilted writing, and I’ve got other questions. For one, you mention the packaged meat in stores, and in context I would assume you mean horse meat. I did a quick google search and found that although the sale of horse meat is allowed in Australia, it’s a niche market and they mostly export to other countries, such as Japan. So are her friends eating horse meat? Does she usually kill other wild game and they are squeamish about it? Because nobody is eating the horses that are culled.
    Also I hate heroines who try to fix people. It’s a pet peeve.
    So I would turn this one down, not because of the subject matter but because of how it is handled and because of the (in my opinion) poor writing.

  24. Darlynne
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 14:26:32

    Full disclosure: I live in a state where wild mustangs are frequently rounded up, by helicopter, and I’m also a trapshooter (on the ground, with a shotgun) although not a hunter.

    My gripe may be different from others, but while I applaud Camilla’s skill with a rifle from a helicopter, I am appalled that she would shoot more than once with someone as (a) dangerous, (b) reckless and (c) irresponsible as what’s-his-name, Mike. I’ve walked off many shooting ranges when the person I was shooting with behaved in such a manner, made sure they understood exactly why and/or reported them to management. No shooter in her right mind would or should ever tolerate that and although Camilla is skilled enough to clean up after him, that means she hasn’t stood up to him. I don’t like that passive-aggressive nonsense at all.

    Culling wild animals requires a high level of dedication and ability, not to mention humility and respect. If you want us to empathize with or care about your character, you need to show that what she does matters to her, that she cares about the cost to both herself and the animals. And, by God, somebody better be eating that meat.

    If you can do these things, if you can welcome commas and contractions into your writing and don’t let that asshat into the helicopter after the FIRST time, I would be interested to read more. The work Camilla does is important. Culling is sadly necessary since we’ve managed to remove too many natural predators and we’re left with an unpalatable solution.

    You can tell this story, this side of things, and you can do it without the politics and swipes at supposed friends or people who might not agree with your character’s views. I would love to read about a woman in this world you’ve introduced, as long as you can make me care about and respect her. I believe you have the ability to do that.

    Thank you for posting. I know that you took quite a risk.

  25. Cindy
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 19:11:20

    No, just no. I understand herd culling might be necessary just like I understand a horse with a leg injury needs to be put down but I do not read books or watch movies where these things happen (this is why I don’t read Kaki Warner…couldn’t stomach the first few pages of her first book). I would assume more of this activity happens in the rest of the story. No. Plus I didn’t like the heroine’s personality for the same reason others mentioned.

    Sorry, I’m not your audience either.

  26. Reader
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 21:01:00

    I was intrigued. It’s a different culture, one in which shooting horses from a helicopter is considered normal, and maybe even compassionate. I have no problem with the heroine, or her attitude. I don’t find her cold, or cruel, or strange. Just efficient and realistic. However, most potential readers will probably react the exact same way your heroine’s friends do (see above!), so I doubt you’ll have a large market for this story, at least outside of people familiar with Australian resource management.

    Your writing does need a little cleaning up, but it is no worse than most of what I’ve seen on the First Page Feature. Good luck.

  27. theo
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 21:50:06

    @Cindy: Read this article on Snopes. Not every horse needs to be put down anymore. I thought this was awesome!

  28. Author
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 22:12:59

    Thanks everyone for your feedback. Though some of it was hard to read, it was good to gauge romance reader views on the beginning of my novel. This is a real issue in the Australian bush and I thoroughly researched it before writing it. I thought it interesting to get into the head of a character I don’t necessarily agree with and put her up against a hero who has fundamentally opposed views.

    Mike is not the hero of this story and believe me she does tell him to take a hike! I guess this page doesn’t give enough information for those not familiar with the topic to fully grasp or understand the characters. The heroine does go on a journey with an animal rights activist (the hero) and her outlook shifts over the course of the book.

    I must admit I was not expecting as strong reactions as I got but I thank you all and will take your advice on board to make the first page less immediately confronting. I am on the second draft of this manuscript and I do plan to take my chances on it. I like to read romances with strong characters and a unique plot and hopefully I will find a market for it somewhere.

  29. Mary
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 00:05:06

    Now that I’ve heard more, I’m more interested in your book (:. My concern wasn’t necessarily the shooting of the horses, but rather the attitude of your character, and if that changes over the novel, I think I would be more willing to read this.
    (And if I was looking on Amazon, or a bookstore, I’m assuming there would be a blurb and longer excerpt where I could get an idea of this, so you may end up with a wider audience then you see here.)

  30. BRNZ
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 02:54:31

    Your writing is stilted, your political views are showing, and according to this article from Oz in May this year there has been no mandated state govt aerial culling of brumbies for the last 13 years from either of the two states they mostly affect.

    For those of you who would like another POV of the brumby, I strongly recommend the Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell – written from the horse POV and absolute classic required reading for any horse mad girl no matter what her age :)

  31. Angela Booth
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 02:55:35

    @Author, thanks for responding.

    I like the idea of using brumby culls as a background for your novel. A couple of years ago there was a huge fuss when Kosciuszko National Park bureaucrats decided to cull brumbies. People were outraged, and rightfully so.

    I’m a sucker for anything to do with horses, so I’d read your book, but only if the heroine was likable.

    Please don’t have your heroine shooting horses — NO. That’s unforgivable, sorry. Especially not on the first page. You need to build up to something like this — the cull could be a turning point in the novel, where your heroine changes her mind; sees how wrong it is.

    She can still be a kick-ass heroine without shooting anything. Have her decline to take part in the cull. Or perhaps she’s riding in the helicopter, and snatches a rifle from one of the incompetent shooters and puts a horse out of its misery.

    You don’t need your heroine to shoot anything. Just have her agree that the cull’s necessary, and support it. Then, she changes her mind over the course of the book…

    You’re writing a romance. Your readers want to like your heroine, so make it easy for them to do so.

  32. Author
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 04:01:50

    @Mary I am glad a little more information clarified things a bit more for you. It seems I have a first page fail but I like to think if it had been the full first chapter that some of you would see the heroine and the story differently.

    @BRNZ Brumby culls are still happening throughout Australia on properties and National parks as this article proves> I have done my research on the topic as I said previously. I also do not have any real political views on the topic. I did the best I could to put myself into the head of someone who did and it seems I must have been too heavy handed in that regard.

    @AngelaBooth Thank you for your feedback. I guess I thought it would be okay to show a heroine doing her job and taking care of what needed to be done. She is taking no pleasure from killing the horses but as a writer I have obviously not done my job in getting this across and I am busy thinking up ways about how I could introduce the heroine doing other Park Ranger duties before this scene, just to emphasize that it is indeed work to her and not sport.

  33. Cara Ellison
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 04:34:31

    I think the problem, Author, is that your politics are too strong on the first page. The first mandate is to make your heroine likable. Nobody is going to find a horse-shooting woman likable. Start with something else showing some other aspect of her job, then move into the culling.

    If a book starts with an abortionist performing an abortion, I’m probably going to DNF that because I feel like the author is using a controversial topic to push her politics. Also: it’s deeply uncomfortable to read about, whether pro or con. I feel the same way about this First Page. I feel like you’re trying too hard to show us how important horse culling is while forgetting that you have to make me like your heroine before I will trust you enough to show her killing a horse. At this point, the horse almost universally has more sympathy.

    My advice: start somewhere else. Show us some action, but in a way that reflects well on your heroine. Save this scene for later.

    Good luck to you!

  34. Cindy
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 06:17:01

    @Theo Thanks. I know it’s been happening less, in fact, I know some of the Amish have started farms taking in horses who can no longer race, etc. The story on that link was amazing, thank heavens for modern science. Speaking of races, the very last time I went to a horse race (and trust me, I hadn’t intended to be there…it was at a state fair and we just sort of wandered in), one of the horses fell right in front of me. This was years ago, and I knew his fate then if he was injured and I had to get out of there. I avoid races like the plague now.

    I just can’t do it when something happens to an animal in a movie or book (oddly, Bambi didn’t bother me. I cried when Jock was hit by the carriage in Lady and the Tramp…yeah you see where this is going). Obviously my mother did not permit me to see or read Sounder or Old Yeller. I had no desire to anyway.

  35. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 08:17:23

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this page. Since many others have already weighed in, I won’t get into the politics of this. But perhaps its the genre that may be causing some issue. As I read this, I kept thinking it was more Women’s fiction or General fiction, and perhaps you have a romance for the heroine in the book, but right now, your heroine’s job choice appears more interesting (to me) than any love story. As someone who writes flawed heroines and also tries to put them into unusual premises, all I can tell you is that you will find an audience, but be prepared for a split regarding those who’ll love it and those who’ll very vocally hate it. But if you’re up for taking chances, then I say go for it. You now have more info on what you may need to do to get your book ready for publication.
    I wish you all the best with this, and I hope you’ll follow up and give an update on your progress.

  36. theo
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 09:00:25

    @Cindy: Yes, I cried over that article. But because it was such a great ending to a tragic accident.

    When I was young, my father had several horses, all were well loved, but the one he was closest with was so special. He used her in his trick riding displays (we did the rodeo circuit during the summer months) and she was so smart and loved him too. One day, he was crossing some bad railroad tracks with her in the trailer and the floorboards broke (wood at the time) and her legs went through and broke on the track. It still kills me to think about it. We were devastated. It was a horrible, terrible experience for me and he never really got over it. Within months, he’d sold our other horses to friends he knew would take great care of them and vowed he couldn’t ever go through that again.

    So trust me, I’ve never watched War Horse, couldn’t watch Old Yeller, the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird upset me. I can’t watch them, can’t read them…I just can’t. So this book as it stands now would be a definite non-read.

    @Author: One of the things I’m seeing in your comments is that you say “I did the best I could to put myself into the head of someone who did,” but honestly, all I’m seeing are superficial things here. You’re not enough in her head to give us any indication as to whether it makes her sick to have to do this, needed or not. You’re not even in her head enough to make us feel her irritation at how much of a jerk the arse is sitting next to her. That’s a problem and though I won’t read it due to the subject matter, obviously there are those who would. But not if your Hn remains that superficial.

    Do her hands start to sweat because she hates her job? Does she do some ritual every time in order to keep her focus on her job and not let what she’s doing get to her. Does her stomach lurch when the horse goes down? Does she cry a little at the loss? Does she want to choke the idiot next to her, not because he’s an arse hitting on her but because he keeps breaking her concentration? If you want to get in her head, get in it. Feeling, senses, emotions, sights, sounds, all of that plays a part. I think that’s a big reason why right now, your Hn is so unlikeable. There is nothing in here showing me what she’s like beyond your surface telling of what she does.

    You don’t have a whole chapter to grab your audience. Three pages at the most and I’m putting it back on the shelf if it starts promising and doesn’t go anywhere by then.

  37. upstart
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 18:40:12

    @Cindy: I used to get so distraught after watching Lassie (the TV series) that I think my mother ended up banning me from watching it. I could never understand why Lassie had to keep moving on: why couldn’t she just stay with the nice people she’d just rescued from whatever misfortune? Why?

  38. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 18:45:59

    Have you fellow animal-lovers discovered yet?

    It’s invaluable.

  39. theo
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 20:32:46

    @Kate Sherwood: I LOVE it! It will now be my go-to for any movie I have a question about. Thanks! :)

  40. LG
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 08:53:36

    @Kate Sherwood: This is fabulous. There needs to be a version of this site for books.

  41. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 08:55:36


    Whenever one of those conversations about having warning labels on books comes up, I always think, “I don’t need warning labels for het content in a m/m book, I don’t need warning labels for kink, hell, I can even do without warning labels for rapey-heroes. But I WANT warning labels for animal death!”

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