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First Page: First Page – Beautiful Deciption – Gothic Romance

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“To Annabelle Granger I leave her mother’s diaries located in the box in the attic in the hope she will one day learn to be less of a dreamer than her mother was”
The lawyer stopped speaking, shuffled the papers in front of him and cleared his throat. His eyes met mine sadly, apologetically “I am sorry Annabelle” he said gravely “There is nothing provided for you in your father’s will”

I nodded dumbly. I drifted outside of my body and viewed the proceedings as if I were someone else from a distance. From that perspective the office appeared small, cramped and dingy, dimly lit by a combination of a single desk lamp and a weak fall North Carolina sunlight that filtered through the single glass window.

Extra chairs had been brought in to accommodate our group that consisted of my three brothers; James, John, Adam and their wives surrounded the cluttered desk. Didn’t this law firm have a boardroom I wondered inanely. I looked down on them as they stared at me with varying degrees of emotion on their faces. My body continued to stare straight ahead, my hands gripping the handle of my purse so tightly my knuckles and fingers had a bluish tinge to them.

It was James who finally articulated the thought going through my mind.

“That’s it?” I heard James ask “She gives up everything to nurse him for the last six years and all she gets is a bunch of old diaries?”

Clyde Finch had been the family lawyer for as long as I could remember and handled both the personal and business matters for my parents. He was also Godfather to Jack Jr. and a fixture at family gatherings and holidays even more since his wife died ten years ago. He now laid his hands flat on the desk and sighed “Look I warned your father about this” he said “It was the wrong decision to make, clearly malicious and spiteful after everything you have done for him Annabelle. I will stand behind you one hundred percent if you want to contest the will on the grounds of him being mentally incompetent in that last year before he died”

Before I had the opportunity to thank him for his support the murmuring started among the wives.

I sensed the moment the emotional temperature changed. It was Eva, Jack’s wife and the most outspoken and selfish of the wives who put a voice to what they were all probably thinking “Well” she said in her loud nasal voice “she clearly must have done something to hurt or upset Father”

Father she called him father I thought hysterically as if she had been the one to change his diapers four times a day every day for six years, to bathe, feed, clean him, read to him and the myriad of little things that go into being the full time care giver of a sick physically incapacitated bitter old man. She never even came to see him and would never consent to sit with him so that I could have a few hours to myself to see a movie, get my hair cut or have coffee with the few remaining friends I had left before they all slowly dwindled away.
They argued over the possibility of what dastardly deed I might have performed on their ailing father as he laid an invalid helpless and at my mercy. Initially James spoke up in my defense and thought they should each give up a part of their inheritance to give me something so that I was not entirely homeless and destitute. But the wives bless their little greedy hearts were not partaking of that particular generous and giving idea as they with consent painted me as the villain.

A rage so pure, so white hot and bright flooded the depth of my being till I trembled. The overwhelming and cleansing rush of anger freed me from the trance I was in. I stood up. “Thank you for your kind thoughts” I bit out through tightly clenched teeth smiling thinly at them “I will be out of the family home within the week”

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. MJones
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 04:54:59

    My understanding of the first page feature is that readers get to look at the first page of a book that is ready for publication. Perhaps my expectations are high but this reads very much like a first draft and is not at all ready for other eyes. It needs a serious hit with a grammar and punctuation stick.

    The premise seems interesting — a girl dedicates years of her life to taking care of her father and his left nothing in the will. I would probably read something like that, sounds interesting. It poses a lot of questions, like why did her father leave her nothing? What did she do or say to cause him to leave her out of his will? Where will she go now? Does the rest of the family agree with his decision? And what is in the diaries that would be important enough to leave them to Annabel?

    I like a first page that brings me a lot of unanswered questions. This particular first page needed to be edited before submission though.

  2. KathrynF
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 05:51:07

    I liked it and I’d happily read more.

  3. SAO
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 05:55:44

    You need to learn the basic rules of punctuation and use spell check. I’d bet plenty of editors would toss this in the trash after one look at the title. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but better to have a bunch of anonymous strangers tell you this than submit and not get published or pay to self-publish and not get bought.

    That being said, none of this rings true.

    1) People who have massive personality changes as a result of dementia trigger discussion in people close to them. If cutting Ann off without a penny was out of character for Dad, the lawyer might have discussed the issue with his heirs. Legally, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t write a will for a guy who he didn’t think was of sound mind.

    2) If Dad’s always been a nasty, malicious guy, I don’t get why Ann matyred herself. Usually, the bedridden drive even devoted spouses to hire nursing support and consider nursing homes.

    3) If Dad’s always been nasty, why do the bros think it’s Ann’s fault?

    4) People who cut off others in a will, are either the type to loudly announce their intentions with frequent calls to the lawyer whenever someone or other has annoyed them, or they are upset and tell everyone why they find the victim’s actions horrible.

    5) The brothers don’t say Annabelle has to leave the house. They can be perfectly selfish and let Anna live there until it’s has been sold and the new owners move in. So, storming off without any money, shelter or a job is just plain stupid.

    In short, everything on this page is melodrama for the sake of melodrama, making no coherent sense. If you want to write a book, think about how normal people act.

  4. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 06:39:18

    Yeah, sorry, I’ve got to agree with the above. There’s some nice turns of phrase in here, some glimmers of potential, but overall we’ve got a totally over-the-top set up, caricatures instead of characters, and a heroine who seems to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    That stuff will all take some hard work and maybe maturation (as a writer) to fix. But the easy fix is the punctuation. This was so poorly punctuated it was hard to read – you can fix that with an afternoon of learning the rules and then some re-writing time to make sure you can use what you’ve learned.

    Good luck with it!

  5. Nemo
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 07:36:10

    My first, knee jerk reaction is to stop at the words “the wives.” Not “their wives,” not “my brothers’ wives,” not “my sister-in-laws” — “the wives.” They become a faceless group defined by their gender and who they are married to. They aren’t even given the respect the average villain does. Add on to that the phrase “the most outspoken and selfish of the wives” and I’m eyeing the book and backing away.

    I’ve dealt with a situation like this and these people don’t ring true to me. The characters are too black and white and they speak too plainly. People don’t think they’re selfish, they think they’re “asserting” themselves, speaking the truth, getting their due. Given layers and characterizations this could be a great conflict. I’m guessing she’s illegitimate or a half sister. I’m guessing that the brothers are rich and spoiled and that’s why they attracted the “selfish” wives. But right now it just seems like everyone’s picking on Annabelle for no reason. Everyone seems cardboard.

    On the other hand, there’s a lot I do like. I like how Annabelle got angry when Eva said “father” and how human a reaction it was. I like how you describe the scene – setting it without going overboard. The plot (or what I think the plot will be) is one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for “cheated by family” plots. The writing flows well aside from the punctuation mishaps.

    Tired as it is I think maybe this might be the wrong place/way to start. Too many characters and not enough time to explain her actions. Like why she took care of the man for six years if they didn’t get along. Out of guilt? Obligation? She just likes being the maytr? She does sound rather whiny about how she couldn’t get away to watch a movie and all her friends left her. It speaks less of true pain and more of someone who likes to wallow. Those are totally thoughts someone in her position would have, they just aren’t presented in a way that says to me “This woman is human with human needs and that’s okay.” Wanting to live your life while you are tied to someone else’s needs (elderly, disabled, children) isn’t selfish. It’s how she says it that makes it sound so.

    Thank you for putting this up for critique. I hope my comment was of use.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 08:37:24

    The title? Is it meant to be spelled wrong on purpose? You need to proof it a lot more carefully.
    This reads like the beginning of a Harlequin, but it’s in the first person, which they don’t generally take, certainly not for the main category lines.
    There’s no mention of a hero or anyone who could be one. It’s all about her.
    And she’s a martyr. I’d be out with the first scene. Why didn’t she ensure she’d be financially looked after if she was willing to give up six years for her father? That’s a long time at the beginning of a career. Basically she’s a drudge. And she’s been used, and now they want to chuck her out. Ick. She has no gumption, no spirit, so I’m not interested in her. Impotent rage isn’t a sign of strength, it’s often the last resort of the weak. And imagining her thinking hysterically gave me a giggle, nothing else.
    “The wives,” are a convenient bunch of people. No characterisation, nothing.
    If he was incompetent, he’d have lost power of attorney years ago, and the will would be invalid. Why didn’t she take the lawyer’s suggestion? Because she’s a martyr, that’s why.
    Now if this turned out to be a Dom/sub story, where she works out her feelings of helplessness by becoming a Domme at the local dungeon, that would be interesting. But I fear it won’t be that. You have to take character and make it work for you. So take your martyr heroine and make her force her own stupidity (by not contesting the will) and sense of self-worth (by working as an unpaid drudge for six years).
    And she has henpecked brothers, too, who married horrible women and don’t have the strength to stand up to them. Nothing there for me.
    One last thing. I’ve received a few things in wills over the years, sadly. I have never been to a will-reading, nor have I been asked to attend one. They don’t happen. At least, I’ve never heard of them happening in real life. It’s a fictional construct. You tend to hear what you’re getting over the phone. The lawyer sits down with his list and the phone, tells people, and fields the objections or requests.
    I was the beneficiary of a will that gave me a house. I gave it back, because I didn’t feel it belonged to me. It was all handled over the phone and by mail. I didn’t even meet the person who should be getting the place, I just signed it all over. So even big bequests are handled that way.
    Why would anyone attend anything like this, a meeting to be humiliated?
    You could have an interesting story here, but I’d suggest rethinking your conflicts and where you’re going with this. Of course it could be really great from here on in, in which case you just need to beef up the first scene. Best of luck!
    It might be interesting to have a back cover copy – the blurb from the back of the book with these extracts. Then we’d know where the story was going. Sometimes a story needs to start slow. Sometimes a story takes a right turn after the first scene.

  7. Jamie Beck
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 09:21:18

    Thanks for putting this out there for critique. I know it can be difficult to do so and end up getting a lot of criticism.

    I do agree with much of what others have said about grammar, characterization and plot points. You should consult with an estate attorney if you story is going to revolve around this situation. As someone who has presided over the execution of a will (and also dealt with an aging person who made last minute changes to a will), I know SAO is correct when saying that lawyer could not draft the will, have him sign it, and then act on behalf of someone contesting it (although the lawyer could not have discussed the terms of the will with heirs without his client’s permission). Also, mental incompetence is VERY difficult to prove, especially after the person is dead. (I looked into it before my grandfather died because I had a power of attorney over him, and even in those circumstances, it would’ve been an expensive and emotionally challenging long shot). As for the will reading, I have been to two (both very large estates), so they are not purely fictional construct, but they are not required. It can be handled over the phone. If this is set in a small town and the dead father is very wealthy, perhaps a formal reading would occur.

    I’ll throw out one other remark I haven’t seen in the comments. I’m confused about the era of this piece. It doesn’t read like a historical, and yet, if it is contemporary, how is this adult woman so unprepared to stand on her own. Has she no education? No skills? If she gave up a career in order to care for her dad, tell us so. But if she’s a modern woman with NO means to provide for herself, that’s a bit off-putting (for a heroine).

    Based on what I’ve read, I’m assuming she’ll meet the hero of the story once she leaves her current residence. She’s obviously a caring person, which may be what the hero finds appealing, but I think we need to see something more from her than this to have us really care about what happens to her next.

    Good luck!

  8. gin
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 09:25:29

    Just to confirm what Lynne Connolly said — there’s no such thing as a reading of the will where all the family is gathered in the lawyer’s office. In my experience, it’s not even done by phone, but the official legal notification happens by mail, when the will is sent to all the heirs at law and named beneficiaries with paperwork that’s required by the court. Of course there might also be informal discussion among family members, but no one ever reads the will out loud.

    It might be possible to have a reading-of-the-will scene, but it would need to be in the context of “the testator required attendance at a formal reading as a pre-requisite for inheriting something,” but, really, that sort of thing isn’t likely, and is going to be discouraged by the person writing the will. It’s an artificial and unnecessarily convoluted way to get across a simple fact: that the heroine was disinherited.

    Anyway, the story loses credibility for anyone who knows anything about probate if it starts with a reading of the will. There’s also a conflict-of-interest problem with the family lawyer recommending a contest of the will that he himself wrote, to say nothing of a breach of attorney-client privilege when he reveals what he discussed with a client.

    All of this information could be presented more credibly during a family discussion, without the lawyer. Or else just skipped, and start with what she does about the disinheritance, leaving this as backstory that doesn’t need to be shown.

    (I’m not giving individual legal advice here, just general information about how probate works.)

  9. theo
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 09:37:27

    I’m sorry, but the terrible misuse of punctuation made this almost impossible for me to read. And the first red flag that this would be a problem came with your misspelling of the title. You need to read things aloud before you put them out there for others to read.

    Also, I agree with SAO that there would have been many, many opportunities for her to know that she was being cut out of the will so why bother to take care of the old man? If he had an estate that was so large, ‘the greedy wives’ didn’t want to part with a single penny, why wasn’t there round the clock nursing? Too many things don’t ring true. I, too, was in a similar position to this and this reads too untrue. Also, this opening reminded me of Hill House. Not the book, but the terrible remake of The Haunting with Lily Taylor. Same basic premise. Person cares for sickly parent for X amount of years while selfish siblings and SO’s go about their daily lives without a thought. Sickly parent dies and leaves nothing to caregiver. Blend, pour, repeat.

    And be very careful when you’re writing in first person. There is always the tendency to tell the reader everything because you think you need to when in fact, we should be in the head of the Mc, experiencing everything along with her, not having the Mc treat the story as if we’re being read to.

    If you can edit this into something readable, find a way to give your Hn a backbone and not a milquetoast, and give us something more interesting here besides a group of very detached people who you tell us about, but show us very little of, you might have something.

  10. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 10:19:09

    Hi Author. Thanks for sharing your work.

    There are numerous resources online that can help you with punctuation. You seriously need to learn the basics before your story is readable. As it stands, I think the first sentence would get you a rejection letter.

    The story is, as said by others, factually inaccurate. That is enough for me to put the book back on the shelf, even if the punctuation was impeccable.

    You have set ups that are just that: set ups for the story, that aren’t based in fact or common sense.

    Writing stories that contain anything legal can be devilishly difficult. It’s highly likely your readers will have gone through the same or similar, as evidenced by the comments here. And because the law is so highly structured, inconsistencies and inaccuracies standout so very clearly. And that will drive readers away. Unless you’re writing fantasy, where you get to make up the world your characters inhabit, you can’t change the basic laws of the world we live in. It would be similar to changing the color of traffic lights to blue, purple and pink, or having us (in the US) drive on the left. It’s just not how it’s done.

    There are also too many questions in my mind why she needed to care for him, alone, for six years. As above, that leads me to wonder the era, although we’re at least sometime after 1789, when NC became a state. But the language leads me to believe this is contemporary. Why then was there no hospice service or visiting nurse, or nursing home care? It’s hinted the man had money; certainly some other provision would have been made other than to tie Annabelle to him with the cord of caretaker for all those years.

    Annabelle makes no sense; a martyr, certainly, but apparently a spineless one as well. She’s let herself be manipulated, first by her father, and now by his will. She’s passive…she hears bad news and checks out of the scene (and you’ve used that as a clunky way to describe the office) and then there’s a confusing bit where she’s looking down while staring straight ahead. For a moment, I thought she truly was having an out of body experience…and that confused me even more.

    Her passivity continues: the first action she takes on her own behalf is to…leave a home she’s not being asked to leave? Another weak act, IMO.

    The rest of the characters are one-dimensional, or too stereotypical to be believable. Bitchy sisters-in-law are cliche.

    But…the thing I do like, and what I hope is the basis for your story is this: whatever is contained in her mother’s diaries is going to change her life. Possibly her father knew that and he’s really not the malicious malcontent we’re led to believe? Or he really was being mean, but in the end, whatever she learns is pretty amazing and despite his ingratitude, he really did her a favor.

    It’s not clear though why her father thinks she’s a dreamer. There is only her one (incredibly long and punctuation-less) sentence summing up six years with her father. I get nothing from that other than a put-upon daughter doing the minimum of care for her father. How does he know she’s a dreamer? What does he see in her?

    Sorry for the ramble, but I think, somewhere, buried in this, is a gem of a story. Whether you can unearth it and polish it is in your hands.

  11. Willaful
    Mar 23, 2014 @ 13:52:35

    I enjoy melodramatic stories, so was not particularly bothered by most of the criticisms mentioned here, and think the basic set up would keep me reading. However, I have to agree with all the comments about technical issues. Take some time to learn the mechanics of writing, or hire an excellent editor, and you could have an entertaining story.

  12. Patty H.
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 22:04:05

    Thanks for being brave enough to submit. Yes, you need a heavy edit, especially on punctuation. However, I was curious where you were going with this. I hope there are good reasons Annabelle devoted herself to her father, and I hope her father wasn’t the a$$ he seemed to be at the end. The first page doesn’t give you much room, but you have to give us good reasons to root for her.

    I’m wary when people say, “That would never happen.” Unbelievable stuff happens all the time. Example, an airliner with over 200 people disappears. We can enumerate all the ways this would never happen, yet it did. Just so you know, a dear friend of mine lost her brother suddenly last year. That brother asked her years ago to be his executor. He was very wealthy, but had a wife so my friend never thought she’d have to actually do anything. Brother got pancreatic cancer last year and died within months. His wife had gotten sick and died suddenly only months before him. My friend sat in her brother’s attorneys office and listened to reading of the will. She was shocked to find herself beneficiary of several large sums of money. Melodrama from sister-in-laws relatives who thought they should be getting something–went and looted the house. Unethical lawyer who’s loyalties were with sister-in-laws family. She got a backbone and hired her own lawyer. Melodrama squashed. Writer, please pull us along and make us care about your characters and know that anything can happen–you just have to make us believe it.

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