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First Page: Every Head Bowed LGBT YA Contemporary

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The packing list for Impact was in our church bulletin the last Sunday on April, printed on a half-sheet of bright yellow paper and stuffed between a pink flier announcing a canned food drive, and a notice from the women’s league that Saturday’s canasta game had been canceled. My sister Naomi, who had been scanning the bulletin for any scrap of information about summer camp since our parents signed us up months ago, found it first. She squealed happily and did a little jumping dance, right there in the sanctuary. A couple of the blue-haired ladies who sat in the back and spent the sermons alternately sleeping and opening the loudest hard candy wrappers known to man, looked up at us and frowned.

The confusion on their faces was plain. They looked from Naomi to me and back again, apparently unable to believe that Naomi was the one making such an unholy ruckus. Then they flipped their bulletins open and found the yellow sheet of paper. The scanned it with their huge coke-bottle glasses perched on the ends of their noses. Then they all smiled and nodded at one another.

Naomi, the golden twin, was excited about church camp. That was all right. If there was a list somewhere of acceptable reason for getting carried away in church, Impact was probably on there, right underneath new brothers and sisters in Christ. Besides, if it wasn’t all right, Naomi would sort it out with Jesus. They two of them were down like a flat tire.

“Did you see?” Naomi said, thrusting the paper in my face. “It’s finally here!”

“I saw,” I said, taking her by the arm and steering her out of the way of the people streaming into the sanctuary from their Sunday School classes. “You know it’s probably the same list as every other year.”

“But we’re counselors this year, Ruth.”

“We’re junior counselors.”

Naomi frowned at me. “I promised Mom and Dad you were going to take Impact seriously this summer.”

I laughed and stuffed the bulletin into my bible, right beside the fruits of the spirit bookmark (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness) Naomi had given me for our seventh birthday. “Exactly how seriously is summer camp meant to be taken?”

“We’re counselors this year,” she said again, as though I could forget. Like she hadn’t been telling me this nine or ten times a day for the past six months. If Leviticus hadn’t specifically prohibited her from it she might have had it tattooed on her forearm so she could thrust it in my face whenever the situation dictated. “The kids there are going to be looking up to us. We could influence their walks, Ruth. That’s a serious thing.”

“I think we’re going to be more likely to influence whether or not they pee in the lake.”

Naomi scowled and jerked her arm out of mine. “Don’t ruin this for me,” she said. “You know I’m really excited about this.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” I pulled Naomi into a quick hug and buried my face in her fluffy blond hair. I hated when she was mad at me, and not just because she was the undisputed queen of the freeze out. “Forgive me?”

She sighed and stepped out of the circle of my arms. She waved the packing list in my face “Are you going to take camp seriously?”

I wanted to tell her I wasn’t even going to take packing for camp seriously, but there wasn’t any point.

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

19 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 06:14:39

    I like it.

    A few typos to catch, but otherwise… I have a good feel for the characters but you didn’t club me over the head with them. Same for the setting and the basic plot.

    I’m in.

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  2. Sirius
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 07:05:23

    I like it too, I would read on.

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  3. hapax
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 08:15:28

    I liked it too, especially the voice of the narrator and her relationship with the “good” sister. You’ve built a really likable dynamic on your very first page.

    I was a bit discomfited by the description of the “blue-haired ladies” — it seemed a bit stereotypical and unnecessarily unkind. Besides, in my experience, they don’t spend the sermons napping; they spend it making grocery lists on the back of the inserts and passing back and forth sarcastic comments about the organist like a fifth-graders. YMMV.

    Also (and this is truly nitpicky) no church I went to would waste paper including packing lists that only applied to a few kids as bulletin inserts; they would put them out in the Fellowship Hall for parents to pick up. Of course, if nearly every family in this congregation sent kids to the camp, that would make more sense; otherwise, you might want to change the bulletin insert to, I dunno, requests for donations or soliciting volunteers to drive the church bus?

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  4. SAO
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 09:43:13

    Good sense of place and character. The only thing that grated what that Naomi promised her parents what Ruth would do, which if I were Ruth, would annoy me.

    Nits: I don’t think anyone has coke-bottle glasses any more. Those were glass, heavy and plastic is thinner and cheaper and now cataract surgery is covered by Medicare. Coke bottle lenses are glasses that were bought 30 years ago or more. Tri or bifocals with visible lines would be cheaper than the ones with invisible lines. Or reading glasses around their necks.

    I like to get more of a sense of plot, but I realize the first page is limiting.

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  5. Mary
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 10:19:37

    I liked it! I know nothing about churches, so I had no problems with the characterization.
    I’d actually really be interested in continuing to read this story, which doesn’t often happen with first pages!

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  6. JL
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 11:07:57

    loved it. Great work.

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  7. Carol McKenzie
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 11:39:00

    Hi author and thanks for sharing!

    This is not my genre but I’d read on. I like this. The writing is smooth and the dialog, always a bear to capture, is pretty darned near perfect. And because I do like this, I’m nitpicking it to death :) I want it to be the best it can, because I think there’s something really good here.

    Typos: Find a proofreader or hone your skills. “…Sunday on April…” in April; “…acceptable reason for getting…” Reasons, plural. I’m not sure “school” in Sunday school is capitalized. And, as a nit, most Sunday school classes happen between early and late services, or before or after the single service, not during service. YMMV though.

    Capitalize Bible. Always capitalize the word Bible. And Women’s League as well.

    As far as church bulletins, I grew up folding those blasted things and yes, sometimes important inserts were stuck inside (and woe the child who forgot to stick them in, or worse, forgot to show up to fold bulletins. The couple who did church maintenance, cleaning and yard work, the Feldhafer’s–and who I suspected lived somewhere in the basement of the church, but I never discovered their lair–were quite vocal in telling me they had to fold bulletins between services).

    I’d consider changing packing list to bulletin or insert. I know it relates to packing for camp and ties directly into your wonderful last line, but after reading camp insert and bulletin, it took me a half second to realize what the packing list was. But that’s just me and may be a result of over-analyzing your work and lack of coffee. :)

    Back in the day, our church had a hand-cranked mimeo machine (which is such an antiquated thing the world isn’t even in spell check). So inserts were few and far between, but always, always printed on the smallest amount of paper possible, to save costs. The half-sheet you describe is perfect. And yes, bright yellow! Always bright colors, like fuchsia and sky blue and yellow. I haven’t been inside a church in decades but you’ve captured everything I remember about our church, from when I was a teenager.

    Blue-haired ladies is stereotypical, but quite spot on. They do not, however, nap. Ladies who spend the time getting their hair rinsed and coiffed spend their time, as mentioned above, wide awake and with an eagle eye on the congregation, with the requisite commentary. Yes though to the loud candy wrappers.

    Your pace is slow but not ponderous. It moves along gently, carrying us through enough a character introduction (of the sister) and gives us enough hints at the MC to keep me interested. I like that the names are Biblical. It sets the tone for what I anticipate is the ultimate conflict for the MC, based on the title.

    I love this line. “Besides, if it wasn’t all right, Naomi would sort it out with Jesus. They two of them were down like a flat tire.” It’s strangely retro (unless we’re in the 50s; we don’t know when this is set) while feeling fresh and modern.

    I’d like to read a blurb, if there is one. And I’d read on, even though, as I said, this is not my genre at all. Nice work!

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  8. Carol McKenzie
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 12:03:38

    I also meant to say you have such an effortless quality to your writing. There’s nothing strained or artificial, you hit the right notes without trying too hard or falling flat. Kudos.

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  9. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 12:18:19

    I dug this a lot! The only nitpick I would make is that I think you should add the words “summer camp” after “Impact” in the first line. None of us know what Impact is, and this is the first line of the book — there should be no trip-ups for the reader. I’d totally read on. Good luck!

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  10. cleo
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 14:15:17

    I liked this too, although perhaps not as much as everyone else commenting. I found the second paragraph mostly unnecessary, although I liked the bit with the coke bottle glasses. I’m also confused about when and where – is this before a service starts?

    I would probably read on. I want to find out what happens

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  11. Marianne McA
    Jul 05, 2014 @ 15:08:14

    I’d read it. The line: ‘The(y) two of them were down like a flat tire.’ made me laugh, and I entirely recognise ‘the golden twin’ (though she’s a sister in our church, not a twin) who is regarded with exactly that kind of benevolent approval by the older ladies. I want to know what happens next.
    FWIW, several of the churches round here have Sunday School during the service, and I would capitalise the ‘School’ myself, though I’m not sure what other churches do.

    I agree with Hapax that we’d never have a packing list on an insert in the bulletin – the list would be printed on the bulletin or there would be a reminder to collect it from the vestibule table: but the entire page has a ring of truth about it, so I’m easily convinced that this fictional church does have inserts. (If there was anything that doesn’t chime with my experience, it’s the blue rinsed ladies: I thought blue rinse had gone the way of VCRs and pet rocks. But, again, the page is so convincing that I just assumed that in this place blue hair is still common.)

    Let us know if you publish: I’d like to buy this one.

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  12. Jenn
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 07:56:15

    Wow, you guys are wonderful! Thank you all so much! My sincere apologies about the typos (ACK!) and I appreciate the notes on the inserts. The little Baptist church I grew up in put inserts in for everything, always, constantly, but I will definitely consider reworking that bit. :)

    Seriously, lovely comments. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read.

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  13. Jenn
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 07:57:48

    Oh, and Carol, here is the blurb:

    Ruth Bramblett doesn’t really go in for Jesus, not in the same way her twin sister Naomi does, but when Naomi decides to spend the summer before their junior year working at a Bible camp in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains, Ruth agrees to go with her. After all, what better way to spend eight weeks than splashing around in the lake and roasting marshmallows over a campfire? But working as a Counselor in Training is not at all what Ruth expected, and before summer’s end she’ll be forced to answer some tough questions about family and faith—and what it means when the girl in the bunk next door makes her heart beat just a little too fast.

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  14. hapax
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 08:19:59

    @Jenn: The blurb makes me even more eager to read it!

    A thought — it sounds like a lot of the details might be coming from your memories. These may well be grounded in a very particular time in a way that’s not obvious to you (I realized this myself when I re-read some of the fiction I wrote in college; there were so many little notes of general assumptions about politics and society, fashion, slang, food [who knew that food had fashions?] even color schemes that just screamed the decade, even though when I wrote those stories it never occurred to me that these weren’t “timeless”.)

    So, you will have to be very careful about your setting; either place it in the decade of your youth, or (if you want it to be contemporary with 2014), get a beta reader with an eagle eye — someone the age of your protagonist, if you can find one!

    Either option can be great, mind you; we don’t think of “almost contemporaries” as “historicals” but look at ELEANOR AND PARK, which is a brilliant (and best selling!) book, but is utterly steeped in the 80′s.

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  15. Jenn
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 11:55:12

    @hapax:

    That’s a great note, thank you!

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  16. cleo
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 12:25:09

    The blurb makes me want to read it too. The setting definitely resonates with me. Pretty much every transgressive first I had (first cigarette, first romance novel, first kiss with a boy, etc) happened at church camp or a youth ministry event. And I had a pretty serious crush on a girl at church camp when I was 15 or 16. (Not that I was smart enough to figure out what was going on until several years later when we both, independently, came out in college.)

    Good luck with this and please post in the authors’ open thread when you publish it.

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  17. Lori
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 13:41:49

    The writing is good and the blurb sells it. Let us know when it publishes because I would definitely buy this based on blurb and first page.

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  18. Samantha
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 09:25:42

    I wouldn’t normally read YA, but I enjoyed this. And it sounds like it could have been written about the church service I was at yesterday where there was a whole page insert in the service’s bulletin for church camp, including packing list (and it was yellow). Everyone in the congregation also received a packing list for it in the newsletter that was mailed out to everyone last week.

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  19. Jenn
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 13:52:42

    You guys are so lovely! Thank you so much!

    ReplyReply

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