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First Page: First page from YA paranormal Balancer

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Ellen…4months ago

The core of it all was that the girl had to get my heart; that part was certain and I’d already set the dominos in motion that would mark her as the only match for the donation. But I had to die for that to happen—a task easier planned than executed. Reaching my hand toward the dashboard, moonlight washed over my forearm making my skin appear ghostly. The foreboding accuracy of the image sent a chill up my spine and it took a few tries to get my shaking hand to flip on the heat.

I tightened a webbing strap that ran along my narrow waist and sandwiched my chest between the two steel plates that I’d had molded to fit around my torso like a vest. It looked like part of an elaborate Roman costume, but with how much it weighed, it would have been impossible for even a strong man to wear while standing. Good thing I wasn’t a man. The plates were thick enough to take a bullet and allow my heart to keep beating, but this…

Hot air spewed from the vents across my shivering hands but did nothing to warm them. I nosed the VW a few inches further. The ancient engine rattled. It was a sound that had become comforting to me over the past month, like the voice of an old friend, or more like my only friend.

A mere 12 inches away, the perpendicular traffic blazed by as the VW rattled on, oblivious to what I had planned for us. My eyes climbed to the dashboard clock. 11:23.

Inhaling deeply and trying to relax the muscles of my body, I reviewed what I had seen in the vision. Previously, my mind would have been full of numerous ones that I could choose to review, but lately, my sight had narrowed—focused down to a singular point in time. Every dream for months now had been an exact replica of the one I’d first had a year ago.

The vision.

It always started off the same. At a diner only one mile away sat two men—the harvesting crew from the Lifeflight helicopter. They lounged at a red vinyl booth. Somewhere in the kitchen a platter clattered to the floor and back at the booth, the older man—the  pilot—turned toward the noise. He’d never been able to turn away from an accident, no matter how inconsequential and that gawking tendency had carried him into the organ retrieval business.

“My first time in Philadelphia,” the heavy-set pilot grunted.

“Hmph. You haven’t missed much,” a young, slick-haired surgeon by the name of Kale said from across the table as he shoveled a forkful of blueberry cobbler into his mouth.

“Well, this place is good.”

The surgeon only chewed, ominously quiet. Kind of like a volcano that could blow at any moment, Rob thought. This was only his second flight with Dr. Lars Kale, but rumor had it that the good surgeon could be sweet as sugar one moment and cruel as a snake the next. And this snake was way up there on the corporate ladder with the authority to fire boring helicopter pilots, no questions asked.

The thing about today was that Dr. Kale had been provoked. Only an hour ago the two of them had touched down at Philadelphia Mercy Hospital on an organ retrieval call. Motorcyclist; no helmet, was all that Rob had been told. He and Dr. Kale had made the short flight from North Carolina Regional only to be turned away at the Philadelphia hospital. There had been some kind of mix-up. There was no motorcycle death, no organs, not even a red cooler full of ice.

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

10 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 06:46:56

    I think there’s a really cool premise here, and I like the idea of starting with a bit of mystery. For my taste, I think you went a bit too far with the mystery, though. There’s a fine line between intriguing and confusing, and I think this is on the confusing side.

    Maybe it’s because there are too many mysteries. A non-human? creature wants to donate his/her? heart to some girl we don’t know? for some reason that isn’t clear? in some way that involves – metal plates? and the heart is somehow? guaranteed to go just to that girl.

    And while I’m still trying to sort through all that, you take us to another scene, one with a shift in POV that I don’t understand because I THINK this is the previous creature’s vision… do visions include deep POV insights? And while we’re there we get some characterization about people I’m not sure I need to care about, and some more mystery about this accident that didn’t actually occur…

    I know, we’re supposed to leave readers wanting more, and we’re supposed to jump into things. But I feel a bit dizzy. For me, I’d prefer simplification.

    Also, I feel like the first sentence is a bit of a mixed metaphor. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it later in the story, but first sentences get a lot of scrutiny.

    Overall, though, I think it’s definitely worth the time to sort through – the premise is intriguing, and if there were fewer mysteries to confuse me, I think I’d be hooked.

  2. ang
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 07:15:31

    After reading through twice, I’d have to say ditch the first part. It’s just plain confusing. Although I do like these two pieces of sentence — The core of it all was that the girl had to get my heart — But I had to die for that to happen. That, to me seems to sum it all up quite nicely. What to do with it, I don’t know. It’s your story. But if you put those two pieces together you have an awesome first sentence, for either the novel, the pitch or the query.

    Truthfully, I would ditch that whole first part and begin with the second. I like the fact we see two lifeflight guys having breakfast. This engaged me, drew me in, especially when we find out why they’re there and the mystery is about to begin. There’s enough there to keep me reading to find out who sent the call, and why there’s no parts.

    I think the first part about Ellen is off putting. I don’t want to see someone die, or wonder why she’s wearing armour in a VW. It doesn’t really ground me into the story as much as the helicopter guys.

  3. Marianne McA
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 07:47:54

    I agree with Kate – it hooks me in as a story, and I want to read on, but I had exactly the same reaction to the vision as Kate did – I wouldn’t have expected the woman having the vision to ‘see’ the other characters thoughts and feelings. Plus while it reads very plausibly that someone moments from killing herself might be hyper-aware of details like her skin’s appearance, or the noise of the car engine, it seems implausible that she’d be recollecting the minutae of someone else’s thought processes at that moment.

    Apart from that, I had a couple of nitpicks with the actual writing – ‘foreboding accuracy’ doesn’t sound right and neither does ‘a singular point in time’.
    Also, ‘Previously, my mind would have been full of numerous ones’ just sounds a little clunky as does ‘I’d already set the dominos in motion that would mark her as the only match for the donation’. (I’d almost rather that part was omitted so the first two lines just read ‘…that part was certain. But I had to…’)

    (And I spell dominoes with an ‘e’ though that might well be a British English thing: ‘dominos’ makes me think of pizza.)

    Sorry, so nitpicky. It’s only because I think it’s good, and I want to know what happens next. I liked both the story and the voice that was telling it.

  4. jch
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 08:01:10

    I agree that this is an interesting premise; I would definitely want to know more about all of the characters you’ve introduced. I was intrigued by the beginning paragraphs, wondering who the girl was who needed the heart, and why she was so important that Ellen would be willing to die to provide it. That alone would keep me reading.

    However…the vision is where it all broke down for me. The word itself — “vision” — implies something which is seen, viewed. I can’t buy a vision that includes deep glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of the vision’s inhabitants, or into their reasons for doing what they do or being where they are — unless those things were presented in a way that could be seen, or heard in the way one hears something in dreams. For instance, if Ellen saw a name tag that said “Rob”, and if the two characters were openly discussing the mysterious call about the motorcycle accident, etc. But the way this is presented, from Ellen’s POV, doesn’t allow for the in-depth POV shift. If you clearly switched to Rob’s POV, rather than a description of someone else’s vision, it would work fine as is. But as Ellen’s vision, it lacks credibility and would present an issue for many readers, I think.

    Just to mention one other thing, which is a pet peeve of mine and probably other readers as well: characters who describe themselves too descriptively. Her “narrow waist,” is an example. Much like when characters describe long, golden hair or cerulean blue eyes when they look into a mirror, or other such adjectives that no one would really use when they look at/think about themselves. In Ellen’s case, in particular, I felt that it rings even less true due to the seriousness of the moment — I doubt that whether or not her waist is narrow would occur to her while on her quest to (presumably) kill herself.

    Hope my comments don’t come across too harsh.
    As I said before, I do think it’s an interesting premise, and I wish you the best with it. Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. anonymous
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 08:34:44

    Honest critiques like these are priceless, thank you, sincerely, thank you for the consideration and time you’ve taken! I wish I could mail you each cookies– really gooey, chocolaty, ones. Thank you!

  6. Wahoo Suze
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 12:21:28

    I was really intrigued until

    A mere 12 inches away, the perpendicular traffic blazed by as the VW rattled on,

    I guess perpendicular is correct, but it totally threw me out of the story as I tried to figure out what it meant, and then searched for other ways to describe it.

    I eventually gave up, came back to the story (which is a really good sign, because it’s Saturday morning, and my concentration is shyte), but The Vision stopped me cold. Because of everything jch said.

  7. Tasha
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 13:29:27

    Agree with the others said. If you do decide to keep the first paragraph, please correct the third sentence (Reaching my hand . . .) to remove the dangling modifier. I’d assume that would be corrected during editing, but that kind of grammatical error right off the bat would push me toward not buying a book.

  8. theo
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 16:53:34

    I agree with most of the other comments as far as content and POV though had I a blue pencil, I would make these suggestions:

    Keep the first paragraph.
    Dump the second.
    Keep the third, fourth and fifth.
    Dump the “The Vision” line.
    Cut everything from “He’d never been able” in the seventh.
    Cut Kale’s name out of the ninth.
    Leave the “Well, this place” line.
    And end it something like this:

    The surgeon only chewed, ominously quiet. Kind of like a volcano that could blow at any moment.

    She knew from her dream that the two of them had touched down at Philadelphia Mercy Hospital on an organ retrieval call. Motorcyclist; no helmet. But the only death they always ended up retrieving from was hers.

    The rest of the information is either extraneous to the moment and can be worked in later, or is a monumental switch in POV which in this case, will only confuse your reader.

    Someone willing to give their heart to another is a story that piques my interest, but not if I have to sift through a lot of information that isn’t relevant or doesn’t enhance the immediate.

    Good luck!

  9. Lexie Exile
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 00:30:01

    I am a huge YA reader and I agree that there’s alittle too much going on here. I loved the beginning then just had too much info to process. I’d need some quick resolution/explanation or I would just give up. The paragraph about the surgeon chewing…please give up or change.

  10. Karenna Colcroft
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 13:55:13

    I agree with what the other commenters have said, and would add that this doesn’t read–to me, at least–like a YA. The character’s voice doesn’t sound like a teenager to me. Which is fine if he/she isn’t a teenager, but then I’d wonder what makes this a YA story.

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