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First Page: Danvers (YA)

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Danvers is a Young Adult Gothic mystery about a teenage sleuth who finds herself thrown into the spooky town where her parents died and from where she was sent away as a baby. Fourteen years later, she discovers that the secrets of the town have not died.

First page:

I got the bad news on June thirteenth, which happened to be a Friday—not that I was superstitious or anything. In fact, it started out as a pretty good day. By one-thirty, when the last bell signaled the end of my junior year, the air outside had reached seventy-five degrees with just a breath of wind—perfect beach weather. I could get down there from the school in exactly twelve minutes on my rusty cruiser if I pedaled full speed along the river levee, dodged all the bums passed out under the bridges, and ignored the “WALK YOUR BIKE” sign over the trestle that led to the boardwalk.

This time of year the old, wooden roller-coaster ran like clockwork, inching up the mountain every two minutes, rat-a-tat-tat followed by a thunderous swoosh! and another round of jubilant shrieks that always made me smile. I zoomed beneath the red tracks, waving at the boy in the red and yellow striped hat behind the corndog stand. At the candy counter, a saltwater taffy machine churned away, eternally stretching a giant pink gob, while two kids on a bench scuffled over a paper cone filled with funnel cakes. Here, I finally slowed to inhale the scent of summer freedom—fried junk food mixed with coconut lotion and salty kelp bobbing in the Pacific. Three heavenly months of volleyball and surfing and hanging out with my friends.

Where the boardwalk met the sand, I chained my bike to a battered pole with the familiar sign that read “No-Attitudes Volleyball,” a term someone had coined for the friendly pick-up games we played down here.

No ‘tudes allowed.

That pretty much spelled out the culture of Santa Cruz, California—one of the many reasons why I loved my hometown. The usual crowd had gathered already, scattered amongst the volleyball courts, getting lathered up in sun screen. I kicked off my lime green flops, and they landed in the pile with the rest.

“I’m in!” I hollered, stripping off my hoodie and T-shirt as I loped across the sand to join them.

The text from Dad came just after I delivered my third winning serve of the day. Josh, sprawled under an umbrella with his head propped up on my backpack, heard my phone beeping and flipped it across the sand to me. “Heads up, Alli! Incoming.”

I caught the phone and glanced at the screen.

Come home. We need to talk to you.


I tossed the ball at my teammate, Poppy. It bounced off her butt, interrupting her loud and obnoxious—but hilarious—victory hoots. She whirled around in surprise. “Aren’t we playing another set?”

I shook my head. “Gotta go.”

She groaned as I hurried off the court. So did the boys on the other side of the net. “Aw come on, Alli, you got to give us a chance to catch up!” Pete protested. “We’re not going to lose to a bunch of girls!”

“What, you mean again?” I called back. His friends snickered.

Josh stood as I grabbed my T-shirt, shook the sand loose, and pulled it over my bikini top. “Hey, what’s going on?”

“It’s my dad.” I showed him the message.

He understood right away. Josh knew what I had feared since the day Dad lost his job at the local paper. He walked me to my bike, tossing his empty Mountain Dew into a recycling bin along the way. “Maybe it’s not what you think.”

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. Darlynne
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 09:28:09

    I’d love to know what that text message was so, clearly, you’ve got my interest. I enjoyed your voice and the description of that last day of school. You’ve set the mood and tone nicely. I also like how you introduce Alli’s friends without burying them under a load of back story. Well done and thanks for posting.

  2. QC
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 10:02:51

    I like this, too. Great description and while writers are sometimes encouraged to jump right into the action, I enjoy seeing the protagonist’s real world before they start their journey.

  3. Carol McKenzie
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 11:37:45

    I like this. I’m not much of a YA reader, but YA gothic would intrigue me. I would read more.

    Your writing is smooth and engaging. One tiny quibble: I would have mentioned she stripped down to her bikini top when she does it. I mentally had her in a bra, or shirtless.

    The other inconsistency that sticks out is how old her friends are. I originally had them being her age, but if she’s just getting out of school at 1:30, and it takes her only 12 minutes to get to the boardwalk, how did everyone else get there so quickly? Or are they that much older? Just something that made me pause.

    But, yeah. I’d want to read more. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 11:39:29

    Comment for Jane: Is it me imagining things, or did there used to be a way to subscribe to additional comments, or did that happen automatically in the past? I don’t see the option and I don’t get emails when new comments are left. It is possible I am missing something completely :)

  5. cleo
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 11:47:10

    I enjoyed the set up and characterizations. I like that the narrator comes across as a real teenager. But some of the writing confused me.

    I got confused in the first paragraph – is the narrator telling me she could bike to the beach in 12 minutes or that she did? It’s not clear to me until the next paragraph, when she’s on her bike, going to the beach.

  6. SAO
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 11:56:57

    I thought this was smoothly written, although perhaps every now and then you reached a little to hard for metaphor (the candy machine eternally stretching, for example), but that’s a quibble.

    My only problem is I totally don’t get Gothic from it. It starts off very sunny. Great day, she wins the game, etc. Where’s the proverbial dark and stormy night?

    If you’re going to write a Gothic, I’d recommend that you set the Gothic tone in your first page, and just referencing Friday the 13th doesn’t do it. I strongly suspect that your story starts when she gets to the spooky town, not in Santa Cruz.

    I like Gothics and would like to see the genre revived, so a YA Gothic would be quite interesting for me, but from this page, I’m not seeing it.

  7. hapax
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 11:59:11

    I like this a lot. I’m not a big fan of first person, but this sounds just right: cocky and self-centred, sure, but also fresh and honest and hopeful. Nice work.

    Quick comment on the blurb: any phrase like “who finds herself” is the writerly equivalent of “ummm….” and almost always adds nothing and can be scratched out.

  8. Mary
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 12:16:10

    YA isn’t my genre, with a few exceptions, but I think the writing and story here is really solid. I like it quite a bit more than some of the other recent first-page YA’s.
    I disagree with SAO, actually-yes, it’s a gothic, but I don’t need to get that on the first page. I personally like this page as an opening; it gives you a good sense of the main character, her situation, and her friends. If you do change it to a different beginning, at least include it in the first chapter as a flashback type of thing.

  9. QC
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 12:31:13

    I agree with Mary. I think the bright, sunny opening will contrast nicely with what Alli’s life will soon become.

  10. Genna Donaghy
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 13:37:12

    Pulled me in. In fact, during your descriptions I was thinking, “Gosh, this seems exactly like Santa Cruz…” then wallah! So you hit the nail on the head there. Very enjoyable and easy to visualize. I’d read more.

  11. Mai
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 23:36:19

    Wow. Good beginning. I would love to read it. I really like your twist about her being a sleuth. It adds a new side to the story and give me a reason for her to go digging around. This might be in your original copy, but I would suggest putting a bigger space/gap between the “‘I’m in’ part and the ‘text from Dad'” since you are switching gears. I got a bit confused cause I thought she got two texts rather than just the one. I had to reread it before I realized.

  12. PT Mayer
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 15:05:12

    Thank you SO much to everyone who took the time to read and comment! I really appreciate your feedback and all the great suggestions. This manuscript is currently in progress and I have not set up a website for it yet. But if any of you would like to know when it is finished, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d be happy to send you a copy when it is done.
    PT Mayer

  13. PT Mayer
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 15:08:30

    @Carol McKenzie:
    Hi Carol,
    These are both excellent points which I will address in my revision. I definitely don’t want you to picture Alli topless on the beach! Lol.
    Thanks so much for reading!
    PT Mayer

  14. PT Mayer
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 15:21:14

    I’m glad you pointed this out. I have definitely questioned whether I’m starting off in the right place. You’re absolutely right that the story really starts in the spooky town of Danvers, which is not introduced until the second chapter. I was hoping to show a “fish-out-of-water” situation so that the reader will automatically understand why she has such a hard time in the new town as soon as she gets there. If you were to read the first 3 chapters, I’d be curious to know whether you still think the Gothic mood/setting is not introduced soon enough. If you are interested, please email me. Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate it!

  15. PT Mayer
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 15:38:46

    Hi QC and Mary,
    As I mentioned in my comment to SAO above, I waffled a lot (in fact, still not 100% sure) on where to start the story. But the contrast to Alli’s sunny hometown was precisely the reason I leaned toward starting here, so I’m very glad that you both picked up on that. Thanks so much for your comments!

  16. Judy Abe
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 11:16:48

    Nicely done! The first page brought me to the Boardwalk and onto the beach- I felt like I was there, engaging all my senses. The beginning gravitates me to what news will be revealed in the emerging story. Thanks so much for posting!

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