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First Page: Doll-Baby (New Adult)

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The guy at the front table looked disturbingly familiar. Something about the way his sandy brown hair curled in front of his ears, and the way his knuckles stood out on the fingers he’d wrapped around the handle of his coffee mug.

I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn’t place where. God knew I’d been around so many guys in my life it was a wonder I remembered any of them, and this might not even be a guy I knew from my past. Maybe he was just someone I’d seen around town.

My gut told me I was wrong, though. He was part of before. Part of the time I wanted to forget.

“Elianna, order up.” Bill banged the bell on the pass-through between the kitchen and where I stood. “Table four. Make sure you give Hank the vinegar this time. You always forget.”

“Because who the heck puts vinegar on mashed potatoes?” I turned my back to the diner to take the plate so I wouldn’t have to look at Mr. I-Know-You any longer. I hadn’t waited on him; he was at one of Kenzie’s tables.

When I turned around again to bring Hank Hannigan his eggs, bacon, and vinegar, the guy at the front table was staring straight at me.

My heart stopped, and I fumbled the plate. I still didn’t have any clue who the hell he was, but the way he was looking at me scared the frig right out of me. I managed to hang onto the plate, just barely, and took a deep breath.
He turned to look out the window again.

“Elianna?” Bill’s low voice behind me snapped me out of the fear-trance. “Hey. You’re shaking.”

“No, I’m not.” I took another breath and tightened my grip on the plate. The bottle of vinegar was right in front of me on the counter. All I had to do was pick it up and bring it and the food to Hank. I didn’t have to go anywhere near the front table. I didn’t have to look at the guy again at all. As long as Kenzie didn’t decide she needed another smoke break before the guy left, I’d be fine. She could handle creeps a lot better than I could.

Bill said something else behind me, but I didn’t pay attention, just picked up the vinegar and walked out from behind the counter. By the time I got to Hank’s table a few feet away, I’d pasted a smile on my face and put a spring in my step. Hank smiled and said something pleasant to me. He didn’t even notice anything was wrong, and I hadn’t expected he would. I had a ton of practice in faking it.

I was careful not to look toward the front table again. My section was the counter and the tables to the left of it, which meant I had no need to see the front of the diner at all. Not that the place was big enough for me to completely avoid it unless I really made an effort. Today, I made the effort. I only had four customers in my section and they didn’t need much, so I kept myself busy cleaning the condiment bottles and wiping down all the surfaces.

Bill, who besides being the cook was the owner and my foster dad, was probably pretty impressed. He didn’t know I was doing it to hide. And to keep from completely losing my shit.

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

21 Comments

  1. pam mathews
    May 25, 2014 @ 06:06:45

    This seems intriguing! The MC is hiding from what and why? If “Bill” is the owner and her foster dad than why was she around a lot of men? Was it from working at the dinner or before? Sometimes saying less is good but sometimes just a little more info could help people connect more with the MC.

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  2. cleo
    May 25, 2014 @ 06:30:33

    I’m intrigued (and I am definitely not an NA fan). I don’t need more info about the MCs past yet – there are several hints of a Tragic Past before she got into the foster care system and that’s enough for me at this point in the story.

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  3. QC
    May 25, 2014 @ 08:43:49

    Love it.

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  4. Michele Mills
    May 25, 2014 @ 09:14:16

    I like everything about this. Great job.

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  5. wikkidsexycool
    May 25, 2014 @ 09:21:25

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. Your writing it smooth, and it puts the reader smack in the head of the protagonist. I like this opening. It reminds me of another one I’d read about a barmaid who describes a stalker and her unease, and the hero saves her after she gets off work. I can’t remember the title of the book, but that opening helped the reader feel the heroine’s anxiety about the situation and the guy, and it was a compelling way to start the story because the reader can immediately feel for the character.

    One phrase I wonder about though it can be easily fixed. Is it “God knew” or “God knows” based upon how you’re using it here:

    “God knew I’d been around so many guys in my life it was a wonder I remembered any of them, and this might not even be a guy I knew from my past.”

    But it may be that if it’s changed to God knows, then the “I’d” may end up being “I’ve”. Someone else might have the correct answer faster than before I search for it.

    I wish you all the best with this, and I’m intrigued not only with the story, but the title, as it’s one I’d wondered about using but then decided not to (the way my story went ended up negating the title).

    I hope you’ll post a blurb on the premise, and perhaps a follow up on your progress with this.

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  6. Carol McKenzie
    May 25, 2014 @ 09:23:36

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing.

    I like this. (Secretly I want it to be a paranormal NA….) I’d read more. I want to know more about her past, but I think I’m okay with what you’ve shown so far.

    I don’t know if waitress/mystery man at diner is a trope or cliche yet, something that’s on the way to being overdone or not. It seems I’ve read a few stories where this is the opening. But your opening is well written, the writing smooth and there seems to be no grammar or punctuation errors.

    I’d read further, like I said. Good job. And good luck :)

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  7. Kate Sherwood
    May 25, 2014 @ 10:11:58

    I’m avoiding NA, so I’d probably avoid this, but not because of what I’m seeing on the page. I think this is well-written.

    I’m not sure about “God knew I’d been around so many guys in my life…” – not from a verb tense perspective, but just because it seems a bit weak for what you seem to be suggesting here. I mean, LOTS of people have been around lots of guys. A kid at a big school is “around so many guys”. I think you can probably give it a bit more intensity if you pick stronger words for either “been around” or “guys”. You know? Like “been chased by so many guys” or “been around so many mysterious loners” or whatever it is that fits your story.

    Other than that… I like it!

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  8. JL
    May 25, 2014 @ 10:56:26

    This really worked for me. I admit I probably would pass this by in a store because of the title, which has me wondering if it is going in a direction I really won’t like. I think the subtle suspense created in this page is fantastic, the scene-setting worked for me, too. Really great job, author!

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  9. Lori
    May 25, 2014 @ 11:52:47

    Between the title and the ‘been around so many guys’ I’m thinking there’s a porn or abuse back story. I might be terribly wrong but I don’t know.

    Well written. NA isn’t my genre but I’d keep reading because this interested me.

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  10. Author
    May 25, 2014 @ 13:12:18

    Wow… I checked in here not sure what to expect for feedback, and I’m blown away by the positive comments. Thank you!

    @ Wikkid- I get what you’re saying about the verb tenses in that sentence. I *think* I’ve done it correctly from a grammar standpoint, but I may not have. Sentences like that can be confusing, and I’m guessing it’ll be tweaked if/when this sees publication.

    @ Kate- I agree it’s a weak phrasing, but as the story goes on we see the narrator trying to downplay her past and its effect on her. I could definitely strengthen the sentence, but as written I think it’s in character for the…um… character.

    I’m awful with blurbs, but this is the working one I have posted on my “in progress” page of my site:

    If she had tried harder…
    If she had fought harder…
    If she had been there…
    When eighteen-year-old Elianna recognizes a man from her past in her foster family’s diner, she’s thrust back to age fourteen, when her little sister Anissa was murdered. In the aftermath, Elianna was taken from her drug-addicted mother–who used Elianna as currency to pay for her habit–and put into foster care. Anissa’s murderer was never caught.
    Now he’s found Elianna, and he won’t let her forget. And Elianna is determined to get justice for Anissa. No matter what it takes.

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  11. Carol McKenzie
    May 25, 2014 @ 13:21:21

    Hi Author…

    I was with you until the “used Elianna as currency” at fourteen line in the blurb. It makes me cringe and I wonder if it’s necessary. Having a murdered sister and a drug-addict mom, IMO, would be enough to get her removed. I really don’t want to think about (or read about) men in her past who were drug dealers who abused an under-age girl. But I’m getting the vibe that it is an integral aspect of your story.

    Also wondering (and have no basis for this observation, other than it would be a turn off for me) if a story that included the depiction of an under-age sexually abused girl would be publishable?

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  12. Carol McKenzie
    May 25, 2014 @ 13:25:13

    As far as “God knew” or “God knows”…as far as I would write it, and the way I’ve always heard it, would be “God knows I’d …”. Sometimes phrases are what they are, regardless of grammar.

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  13. wikkidsexycool
    May 25, 2014 @ 14:08:56

    Hi Author,

    Thanks for taking the time to fill in some of the blanks. You’ve got a big decision to make, because based on your blurb this reads more like general fiction instead of NA. Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with making it general fiction. But you’ve got some heavy duty issues happening here, and what (imo) appears to be missing is your male lead. Also, with only four years going by from the time of her trauma until she’s found, I’m wondering if this is too soon for her to cope with seeing the bad guy again, and what she can realistically do about it, at least without some sort of help.

    I’d advise aging her a bit since this is NA, but that’s just my opinion. There have been recent NA novels that have sold well with the premise of a young woman taking her life back, like Easy and I’d dare say the first Hitman book. Perhaps other readers can give further examples. But it can be a minefield, especially if the trauma is not dealt with using the gravity and . . . I’m searching for the correct term here . . . theraputic intervention? a young person would need in order to cope and move on with their life.
    This will be a challenge for you, but from reading your first page, it appears that you have the talent and will find a way. My best to you.

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  14. SAO
    May 25, 2014 @ 14:13:15

    I thought this was pretty good. You could strengthen it, though. It takes a few para for us to get the El’s scared. I’d put more of that in the first para.

    ‘God Knew’ sounds awkward and, therefore, wrong. It doesn’t matter whether technically it is correct or not.

    “Been around a lot of guys” to me sounded like a bunch of brothers and their friends, not underage sexual abuse.

    You could do a little more showing. Try writing the first few paras with El noting the way the hair curls, nearly dropping the vinegar, and then trying to convince herself it was nothing.

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  15. cleo
    May 25, 2014 @ 15:06:53

    Interesting. I guessed abuse or exploitation just from the first page – before I read the blurb. I think it was a combination of the NA label, her extreme reaction (fear, shaking) to the strange man, and the phrases “I’d been around so many guys in my life” and “I had a ton of practice in faking it.” I actually deleted my guess from my first comment because I thought I might be over-thinking things.

    And I agree with wikkidsexycool about not seeing the romance in the blurb or first page (although I don’t know NA well enough to know if it HAS to have a romance in it to be NA).

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  16. cleo
    May 25, 2014 @ 20:26:28

    A few more thoughts.

    About the blurb – it’s not completely clear to me if the man from her past in the diner is her hero / love interest or the murderer. Maybe it’s supposed to be unclear?

    And, as a survivor of CSA, I have to echo wikkedsexycool and Carol McKenzie’s reservations about the amount of trauma in Elianna’s background. I know that NA has a lot of “broken” characters with a lot of trauma in their pasts – it can be done well but it can also be done (and is too frequently done) really badly. I hate it when I think an author is just piling on trauma to give a character “depth,” especially if the trauma is later magically cured by true love and/or hot sex. It’s exploitative, and disrespectful of survivors of real life trauma. If you do keep the trauma, I recommend using a beta reader with a similar background.

    /end rant

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  17. cleo
    May 25, 2014 @ 20:27:45

    A few more thoughts.

    About the blurb – it’s not completely clear to me if the man from her past in the diner is her hero / love interest or the murderer. Maybe it’s supposed to be unclear?

    And, as a survivor of CSA, I have to echo wikkedsexycool and Carol McKenzie’s reservations about the amount of trauma in Elianna’s background. I know that NA has a lot of “broken” characters with a lot of trauma in their pasts – it can be done well but it can also be done (and is too frequently done) really badly. I hate it when I think an author is just piling on trauma to give a character “depth,” especially if the trauma is later magically cured by true love and/or hot sex. It’s exploitative and disrespectful of survivors of real life trauma. If you do keep the trauma, I highly recommend using a beta reader with a similar background.
    (end rant)

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  18. Author
    May 26, 2014 @ 09:45:48

    Again, thanks for the feedback.

    @Carol, I understand what you’re saying about the “currency” bit in the blurb. As I said, blurbs aren’t my strength, and this would definitely not be the final blurb for the book if it’s published. But I will take that out.

    About the romance… I consider this more of a suspense-with-romantic-elements than a pure romance. There is a romance between Elianna and a male friend, but it isn’t the primary focus of the story.

    @Cleo, I completely agree with you about the “magic wang syndrome” in some romances. I am a survivor myself, and so am very careful in my books to present survivors and their healing/recovery as authentically as possible. Elianna doesn’t magically heal; at the beginning of the book she is in therapy to deal with her past, and that therapy increases at the end (after the events of the story). Although she does form a romantic relationship with a guy she’s friends with, in the book, that relationship only progresses to the point of them agreeing that they’re willing to try but are going to take things very slowly to allow Elianna more time to heal.

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  19. Elinor Aspen
    May 26, 2014 @ 10:11:27

    This is a very well-crafted opening scene. I think you have a nice balance between telling and showing. I also understood right away what you meant by “been around a lot of guys” (although it might be apparent to more readers if you used the phrase “been with a lot of guys”). Defining the genre is important. From your additional explanations, it sounds like NA women’s fiction rather than NA romance. I’m not sure if that is a recognized genre yet, but it really should be, in my opinion. Keep writing! You have a real talent for it.

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  20. cleo
    May 26, 2014 @ 13:43:36

    @author – thanks for commenting and clarifying. Good luck with this – we need your voice in NA. And please post in the author’s open thread when it’s published – I’d love to read it.

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  21. Nancy
    May 27, 2014 @ 01:09:47

    I’m guessing this will fall into the NA suspense category that I’ve heard publishers are interested in. I’m a huge fan of this becoming a subgenre and I enjoyed your opening scene so count me as a reader interested in your book. When it’s published, I hope you’ll post on the open thread for authors here.

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