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First Page: Don’t Judge Me – Contemporary Romance

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“This is so outside my wheelhouse,”Nari Yoon said. My best friend was nearly naked in her tiny bra and panties. Disgusted, she threw a heap of clothes on my living room floor. “Why, oh why do you think going to a gay bar is a good idea?”

“Can you please, please stop using ‘wheelhouse?’” I held up my hand talk show style. “It’s one of those damn words that is way overused these days,”I said. Then as if talking to an impatient three year old, I explained it to her, again, slowly. “I’m not making as much money on the straight stuff anymore. The old pros in the online forums, fora, whatever. They keep telling me I need to try a few male/male sites. I’m not a gay man. I just want to spend one night trying to put a finger on their tastes. The upside is that no one will hit on you. I promise.” Nari hated going to bars. A Korean woman in a straight L.A. bar was the heat seeking a million penis shaped missiles.

“Fine,” Nari said stalking back to my room. She was in. Thank God. I would not have the courage to do this on my own. “So what do I wear to a gay bar?” she yelled. I didn’t answer. She’d work it out fine. Nari did not need my help with fashion.

Twenty minutes later, Nari emerged from my bedroom this time fully dressed in a body skimming, grey silk mini dress with a stand-up collar, and some kind of embroidered flower down the front.
“Um, that kind of screams Asian,” I said. This was a woman who did not like to be boxed into a stereotype.

“I like the dress. My mom got it made for me in Singapore a few years ago. I never get to wear it. If no one is going to hit on us, then I can be as Asian as I want, capice?”

“That’s Italian.” I fished in my always full, Neverfull tote and pulled out the crumpled list I’d printed earlier. I looked at my watch. “So do you want to go to Big Fat Dick Friday or Fresh Meat Friday?”

Nari snatched the list from my hand. “Daisy Fletcher! Would you talk to your mother with that mouth?”

I shook my head, but the truth was that my mother would probably relish that kind of talk. She thought I was a prude. “Big dicks or Fresh meat?” She put a red press-on nail to her matching ruby red lips.

“Are they both in Boystown?”

I shook my head. “Nope. One is right here. MJ’s is on Hyperion.”

“That settles it. A mile drive is doable. Plus there’s won’t be any cruising on Rowena. Sunset is a bitch on weekends.”

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

16 Comments

  1. SAO
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 07:35:53

    There are so many typos this is hard to read.

    You have an interesting set-up, but I learned more about Nari than your narrator and it’s a set-up not the start. Why not start with them walking in the door of the gay bar?

    You have a number of confusing elements:
    When yet-unnamed narrator says, “I’m not a gay man” I assumed (he) was saying “I’m not gay” not, “I’m not a man.” Nari’s dress is in Daisy’s closet, but Nari is described as a best friend, not a lover, so I still don’t know if they are gay or straight.

    The missiles are seeking heat, the heat is not seeking missiles, making your metaphor confusing.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 08:48:47

    I don’t know what sex the narrator is… I was confused by the same “I’m not a gay man” line that SAO was, I think. And I haven’t learned much of anything ELSE about him/her either. What we have learned I don’t really like… she/he seems kinda snarky for someone asking a favour – criticizing the friend’s word choice, implying that the dress is too ‘Asian’, pointing out that a clearly Italian word is Italian, etc.

    I’m definitely confused about why the friend was in her underwear in the living room and then went into the bedroom to get changed. Living rooms are for undressing only?

    I also agree with SAO that this isn’t where your story should start. You’re just giving us background – all that’s actually HAPPENING is a character watching a woman get dressed while explaining things that the character would have realistically explained far earlier. I mean, in real life: You call your friend, ask her to come over (and bring all her clothes?) to get dressed up for a night out, but you don’t tell her what the night out is and she doesn’t ask? Or you do, and you say you’re going to a gay bar, and she doesn’t ask why at the time, she waits until she’s at your house (with all her clothes?) and then you explain? It doesn’t make sense. Sure, we ask readers to suspend their disbelief about stuff in romances, but we should do it as little as possible, I think.

    I think there’s a courteous but misguided instinct to give readers all the information as soon as possible to avoid confusion. In this passage I think you’ve gone overboard giving some information that could have been revealed later (the reason for the trip to the gay bar, the details about the best friend) and skipped some more essential stuff (the narrator’s sex, his/her feelings about the situation, etc.)

    And straight women (if these are both women) going to gay bars isn’t quite as unusual or daring as this passage makes it seem. I’m not sure if that’s a regional thing, but at least some of your audience may feel as if this is much ado about nothing.

    Finally, I’m a bit worried about all the stereotypes you’ve tossed into one page. I don’t think I found any single one of them over-the-top offensive, but there’s a bit of a cumulative effect to them all.

  3. Marianne McA
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 09:34:54

    I’ve never heard the expression ‘outside my wheelhouse’ – but that’s okay because I’m older, and in the UK so I’m happy to read past it. What I didn’t believe was that Daisy would have needed to explain to Nari why she wanted her to stop using it. That sentence: “It’s one of those damn words that is way overused these days,”I said” just seems directed at your readership rather than at Nari. I’d trust your readers to be able to work it out from context.

    And then I’ve the opposite problem in the next paragraph – because Daisy and Nari both know what Daisy does for a living she’s not being explicit here, and I can’t even make a guess from context. (Though that may be my age, and if it is obvious to the generation you are writing for, don’t change it.)

    Like SAO I read Daisy saying she was a straight man there, though that fixes itself quickly enough.

    Also, and I’m hesitant about this because I’m the wrong generation – I was sort of surprised that going to a gay bar was such a big deal for them when they live in a city. (We come from a small town in a conservative area, and even from that background, my daughters didn’t seem to feel it was a big deal.) And I didn’t quite understand why they didn’t expect to be hit on.

    I don’t think I’d read on, but that’s less about the page and more because I think it’s aimed at a younger generation.

    Good luck.

  4. DS
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 09:41:00

    Despite the typos and ambiguity I kind of liked it. In fact I think the ambiguities worked for me. I just rechecked the title though and found out it was a contemporary romance which narrows the possibilities about the direction of the story more than I would like.

  5. Mary
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 10:21:17

    There are writing issues here that make it seem awkward, I’m sure someone with a better sense of what exactly makes a sentence work can help you out there.
    I also assumed the narrator was a straight man, and also found the heat-seeking missile metaphor confusing.
    I’m 20 and American, and have never heard the “wheelhouse” before, but I grew up in the Midwest and now live in the South, so I guess it could be an LA thing.
    As stated before. I’m 20, and I’m also a straight girl living in a Charleston SC, and the gay bar there is the only bar that let’s under 21s in. So a lot of straight girls go there. Additionally, if my friends and I are in the mood to go out and dance or whatever and don’t feel like getting hit on by frat guys, we go to this gay bar. A lot of straight girls do. So I don’t feel like it’s a big deal for straight people, especially girls, to go to a gay bar. And if this is the case in SC and IN, I would imagine that in California this would be even less of a problem.

  6. Shaya
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:36:46

    I have to say that I would not keep reading this story. In this first page, I learned very little about the main character and what I did learn, I don’t like. Straight people going to gay bars is no big deal. Also, I have been to gay bars and been hit on in gay bars. Promising that her friend won’t be hit on is a bit short-sighted.

    Daisy is critical of her best friend and even condescending in a couple of places. The author has not shown any quality of Daisy that makes me interested in finding out more about her or what happens to her. At this point, I’m more interested in seeing the best friend find a more worthy companion.

    Some of the terminology, as well as sentence structure and errors, are distracting. I will defend the author’s use of “wheelhouse” since it became an overly-use and irritating catch phrase after the characters on Glee used it in an episode. Just keep in mind that unless your readers are Glee fans, or hang around with the age range of Glee fans, the reader will not understand it. The heat-seeking missile reference, as said before, is used incorrectly here. Numerous punctuation errors make this passage difficult to read, so I recommend an excellent editor.

    “She put a red press-on nail to her matching ruby red lips.” Why did she do this? Is she trying to match the color of the nail to her lipstick? The way it is written, I honestly had to stop and re-read the sentence again to find out if she was trying to put the nail on her lips. There is no follow-through to tell me why she did this.

    I am also confused about age. The characters sound like they are young, maybe 18 or 19. But, you have Daisy saying she doesn’t “make much money on the straight stuff anymore,” so that makes me think she may be a few years older than she sounds.

    I think if you begin your story in a different place and introduce Daisy with some redeeming qualities before making her so critical, you could have an interesting tale provided you have aggressive editor.

  7. cleo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:44:33

    I like the two friends – I like their friendship and bantering.

    I’m a bit baffled by the set up. I agree that going to a gay bar doesn’t seem like a big deal, changing clothes in your friend’s living room seems odd, and Daisy’s career is unclear (I thought of romance, but that’d be m/m not male/male). I can’t tell how old they are – late twenties? And the bar night names seem completely over the top – my dancing in gay bars days are long over, so maybe Big Dick Fridays is completely normal. But it seems campy in a way that’s borderline disrespectful, on top of the other stereotypes thrown in.

    More importantly, I’m not sure where this is going. I can’t tell what kind of story this is going to be. I don’t have to see the love interest on the first page, but in this case I’m wondering where’s she’s going to meet her love interest – I’d be interested if she met her (bi) hero at the gay bar, or met a woman (hard to meet women at gay bars though). If going to the gay bar is just a way to get them out of the apartment and show that Daisy’s adventurous, I’m less interested.

    FWIW, I’m also a Midwestern American, and while I think I’ve heard or read the phrase “outside my wheelhouse,” I’m not familiar enough with it to call it overused.

  8. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:45:34

    Commas and a bit more clarity in your writing would make this much easier to read. I, too, was confused over the gender of the narrator and needed to reread a few sentences to get what you mean. The heat-seeking missile line could be funny, if rewritten with better word order. Same with the game show-style hand….I get what you mean, but the line is clumsy (hyphens are also your friend…but a distant friend. Not an every-sentence kind of friend.)

    I think you’re trying too hard with the slang and brand names and location to establish the mood, the scene. While it’s helpful and gives color or atmosphere, sometimes less is more.

    As far as wheelhouse, I’ve heard of it (I’m in my early…early 50s) and to me it’s a very outdated term. As in back to the 50s or 60s outdated. I haven’t read or heard it used in decades.

    I’m not sure why going to a gay bar is such a bid deal for the Hn. As others have said, it’s not that big of a deal, or at least, in my experience, it’s not. And especially in LA…I’d think it wouldn’t be out of the norm for straight girls to go to a gay bar, especially for dancing. Unless it’s speed dating at the bar, or some fetish night, two girls dancing wouldn’t be out of place.

    I also think this is not where your story starts. Much of this, the dialog about the dress, Daisy’s job and reason for being there, etc., can take place in the bar. You’d have ample chances to give us details and color commentary, and introduce whomever else is important in the story.

    Thanks for submitting your story. I wish you luck. If you have a blurb or comments on where the story goes, please stop by and let us know.

  9. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 12:24:07

    I totally missed the part where the MC got a name. So… yes, okay, I know the MC’s sex!

    Oops! Sorry.

  10. txvoodoo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 16:38:27

    I’ll agree with all the issues previous posters had.

    I’ll also say that I felt like I was offended, but couldn’t put my finger on why, until it hit me. It feels like they’re going to a gay bar as if they’re going on safari or an anthropological adventure. It’s just a little insulting. And the idea that someone could “spend one night trying to put a finger on their tastes. ” is pretty insensitive, too.

    Let’s add in that for a young (I’m assuming young) woman in L.A., your mc seems REALLY naive. She’s never been to Weho? Really?

    And just what IS her profession? Writer? I’m not feeling it.

  11. theo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 17:16:20

    @Kate Sherwood: Don’t feel bad. I missed it the first time because I caught myself skimming. The second, I thought it was a declaration like, Geez Louise, or Hot Damn or any number of things people say when they’re frustrated.

    I’m sorry, this will sound harsh, but this needs a great deal of cleaning up. This entire example is a set up to something more interesting. They’re going to a gay bar, but there’s no purpose other than to ‘put a finger on their tastes’ which I don’t imagine are all that different from straights though I have no idea what tastes your MC is referring to. And I don’t know because there’s absolutely nothing going on here except two people going to a bar. So what? Lots of people do that every weekend and some do it every night so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. I need some little tiny reason to care why they’re going and the one you give is way too vague.

    Also, and this is my nitpick, please change the names of the bars. If you’re trying to be cute, it’s not unless somewhere in there, you give the true name of the bar. And Boystown? When you’re talking about gay bars? Do you know what Boystown is/was? If you don’t, Google it. Because using that in association with your subject matter might get you in a world of poop not to mention having Spencer Tracy roll over in his grave…

    As to the ‘wheelhouse,’ yeah, I don’t watch Glee. I was completely baffled by it and wondered for a moment if you were using a regional dialect that most wouldn’t understand. Unless you really want your book dated, don’t use things like that. Also, if you used Nari’s name once more instead of ‘she,’ I would have put the book back on the shelf. There are two people in this scene. You drive home the secondary character’s name each time she’s mentioned and we don’t even have a real clue to the gender of your MC until the page is almost done. If your conversation is written clearly enough, you won’t have to mention anyone’s name more than twice since you’re in first person. Six times for a secondary character is too much for me.

  12. cleo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 17:28:00

    @txvoodoo: That’s exactly what I felt, but couldn’t articulate – it’s like they’re going on an anthropological adventure and it’s a little offensive, or at least off putting.

    @theo: Boystown (or boys’ town) is the nickname of the main gay neighborhood here in Chicago, so that didn’t bother me.

  13. cleo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 17:47:30

    @cleo:One more thing about Boystown – the term did through me off, because I read Boystown and I think Chicago, not LA. According to my friend the Internet, there’s an area in West Hollywood sometimes known as Boystown, so it seems like a legit use here.

  14. txvoodoo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 18:14:58

    @cleo: Most people outside LA won’t think of Boystown, they’ll just think of Weho. I mean, I’ve been there quite a bit, and I know Weho, not Boystown.

  15. theo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 18:51:58

    @txvoodoo: And that’s really my point with using Boystown. I’m from Detroit. We have no Boystown here, but I’m very familiar with the organization. So it goes back to using the wheelhouse comment as well. Unless you have something that is either very specific to ONE place (and in this case, Boystown obviously has several areas/meanings) or you really want to date your book so in a couple of years no one will know what you’re writing about with the current slang, it’s better not to use it at all. Frankly, I’m guessing unless one is from the areas you and Cleo have mentioned or have read about them, the term could mean anything or nothing.

    But, that’s just my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth. I’d want to reach a broader readership that can identify with a lot of my book rather than confusing them. Or having them skim when they got to it which is really worse.

  16. txvoodoo
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 19:12:16

    @theo:

    Yes! Yup, I get that. It’s like, local color is good, but you have to establish it. It can’t just be thrown in there like it’s coming from a pepper shaker.

    (whatever that means. I’m totally failing on coherence today. :D)

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