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First Page: His Charming Seductress

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Chapter One

Lancashire England – March, 1819

No one said anything about snakes.

Dylan Crosby had agreed to this misbegotten rescue mission less than a week ago. He’d traveled in a cramped carriage in the company of his doltish friends for most of the week in question. Yet neither of them thought to mention the prodigious thick snake stretched across the pink marble floor at the entrance to the conservatory of Wicken End.

“I say, lads, look at this snakeskin. What a beauty.” Hightower squatted down and reached out to touch it. “Odd sort of place to display the thing, Tildenbury.”

“It isn’t a snakeskin if the snake is still in it, Hightower,” Dylan drawled. He took a leisurely step back toward the doors just beyond the giant banana tree. “Especially if it’s still moving.”

With a squawk of fright, Hightower fell on his arse and scuttled backwards like a misshapen crab. Once he got to his feet, he shoved Dylan aside and rushed toward the expansive French windows that led, one hoped, into the main house. Tildenbury, their erstwhile host, did what he always did in a complete shambles of a situation. He looked at Dylan, blinked a few times, and laughed. In mere moments, they stood alone, save for the snake, while Hightower, no doubt, ransacked the nearest drawing room for something to calm nerves he later would profess not to suffer.

“Tildenbury, remind me again why we didn’t enter the house through the front doors.” To his credit the cold sweat Dylan had broken into didn’t show in his voice. He’d outgrown his childhood aversion to snakes. Then again, perhaps not.

“Can’t take you chaps in the front door at this time of day. Last time we did some poor fellow nearly had his arm bitten off.” The man had a way of uttering the most ridiculous things and making them sound almost rational. Almost.

Dylan waited a moment for the logical explanation he knew would never come. Devil take it. He had to ask. “There are snakes at every door?”

“Certainly not.”

“Your butler bites?”

Tildenbury blinked at him again, confused. He wasn’t the only one. “Don’t be ridiculous. Can’t have a servant who bites. Especially a butler, beneath his dignity and all that. Bit of an old stick, our butler. I’m not even sure he has teeth. Never seen them that I remember.”

A sharp pain pulsed behind Dylan’s left eye. “Then who bit the man’s arm off?”

“Didn’t bite it off. Nearly did.”

“Tildenbury!”

“The dog.”

“What dog?” His head was about to explode. At least he hoped it was. Death was far less painful than getting a sensible answer from Tildenbury.

“What? Oh! My cousin’s mastiff, of course. Big ugly brute’s always at the door between four and five of an evening, waiting for him to come home.”

“Your cousin the earl?”

“Indeed. Master of the house and all that.”

“What does the dog do when the earl does come home?” Dylan couldn’t stop himself. The conversation had become a runaway horse bolting into a burning barn.

Tildenbury blinked furiously, a sure sign he was deep in thought or something very like it. “No idea. Dog’s been waiting for him to come home for ten years.” He looked down. “Oh dear.” His face burned bright red, a startling contrast to the bottle-green hue of his jacket.

His lips twitched into a weak smile. “I’m afraid the snake has you a bit tangled, old man.”

“The snake?” As casually as he could manage, Dylan glanced at the spot he’d last seen the reptile in question. It was still there. And across the floor. And coiled around his—

“Not to worry, Crosby. It’s not poisonous, you know.” Tildenbury flashed his most beatific grin. “It just squeezes things to death.”

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

40 Comments

  1. Dani Alexander
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 04:24:04

    I’m not sure I can find anything wrong with your first page. I was so entranced with the story/dialogue/hilarity, I forgot I wasn’t reading for pleasure.

    I haven’t read a historical in I can’t remember how long, but please tell me when this is out. I’m on that like a dog on bacon.

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  2. Nessa
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 04:55:00

    I love it. I can just imagine wanting to strangle Tildenbury and finding him adorable at the same time. :D

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  3. Sunny
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 07:07:21

    Best First Page ever!
    Please, you Must let DA know when it’s published

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  4. Dani D
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 07:26:45

    I want more, I really enjoyed it.

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  5. danza
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 07:29:54

    Loved it. I haven’t read historical for some time and this sounds good.

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  6. Lil
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 07:44:56

    This is why I love historicals! Terrific. I can’t wait till I can read the whole thing.

    I hope the title gets changed though.

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  7. SAO
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 07:48:24

    I thought this was a great start. Tildenbury is funny. I thought there was room to improve it. These are mostly small nits.

    1) The opening was a bit disjointed. “No one said . . .snakes” does not smoothly flow into “Dylan had agreed. . .” I’d recommend something on the lines of, “No one . . .snakes, but that (description) lying in the doorway to the conservatory was definitely a snake. ”

    2) Your introduction of Dylan was his POV he’s on a stupid mission, he thinks his friends are dolts, he doesn’t come across as a nice guy. You set the tone in the first paras. Set a positive one.

    3) French windows or doors are made of glass, I’d expect everyone could see where they lead.

    4) I don’t know why Tildenbury is erstwhile. He seems to be the host.

    5) You didn’t describe any of the chars, when you say, “The man had a way of uttering the most ridiculous things and making them sound almost rational. Almost.” You are telling, but not showing and it’s noticeable because this was a place where I’d like to see Tildenbury.

    6) Lines like ‘his head was about to explode’ (very modern phrase, BTW) , and a sharp pain pulsed behind his eye are excessive for the situation. Plus, they make Dylan seem a bit cranky. I think you are really telling the reader what we can figure out to wit: “The conversation had become a runaway horse.” Give Dylan a character in responding, not just a ‘Gosh my funny friend is so doltish’ response.

    7) The situation makes one not notice little things like if Tildenbury is a friend, presumably Dylan knows if his cousin is dead and the house belongs to Tildenbury or some unmentioned host. And if Tildenbury is a friend, presumably Dylan knows him and the way he is, meaning Dylan would roll his eyes as Til being Til, not say his head is exploding.

    8) Most people ask if unknown big snakes are poisonous. England’s snakes are small. I presume this is England.

    9) ProdigiousLY big.

    But, all in all, a good start.

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  8. Anne Gresley
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 09:13:44

    Just wanted to say I love this.

    I also disagreed with all of SAO’s points, except no. 3. This is not to say I’m right and SAO is wrong, but I wanted you to know not everyone agreed.

    Regarding the size of English snakes: Yes, they’re small, but people do keep exotic breeds as pets, so I don’t think it matters.

    Good luck with this one.

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  9. SAO
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 09:41:50

    I want to clarify that I think this page is good, but I think it could be better, which I understood as the point of the First Page exercise. If this is merely a vote on whether we’d read on, I’d read on. But if the point of the 1st page is how to improve it, I think it can be improved.

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  10. Elyssa
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 09:59:29

    I didn’t find Dylan to be too mean-spirited but the snake aversion did make me think of Indiana Jones, especially that scene when he’s forced into a pit of withering snakes. I think he even has a line of: it always has to be snakes or something to that effect.

    The only thing I would suggest is that I think it takes way too long to get to the punchline. The snake bit carries on a little bit too long for me, like a SNL skit that starts off a little funny but drags on and doesn’t know when to end.

    You’re obviously setting this up that this historical romance is going to be a romp. So I would suggest tightening things so that we get to the snake wrapping around Dylan’s whatever (and I actually wouldn’t em-dash that but state exactly what it is) and then his friend’s line. I think that if you can do this–along with correcting the grammatical errors and the French door bit–that you could have a much stronger first page and manuscript.

    And I also vote on changing the title. It does nothing for me.

    Best of luck!

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  11. Lori
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 10:18:53

    The only thing I didn’t like about this was the title. Otherwise I would happily settle in for a good long read.

    I’ll add my name to someone who wants to know when this releases. I’ll happily buy a copy.

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  12. JB Hunt
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 10:21:41

    This is marvelous. I would definitely read on!

    My only suggestion would be to get rid of one or two of the adjectives in the second paragraph. You have misbegotten, cramped, doltish, prodigious thick (I agree with SAO that this is awkward), and pink. They get in the way a bit, and that’s a shame. I don’t think you want to slow the pace down too much at that point because the next (third) paragraph really grabs the reader. It hooked me, big time!

    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the story one day.

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  13. Jane
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 10:27:02

    I’m obviously an outlier here but I’m having a difficult time orienting myself. Dylan sounds like a laconic cowboy rather than a person of the period.

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  14. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 10:29:16

    I wouldn’t change a thing. I loved this and am itching to hit “buy.” Not everything needs to be shown to death and I am already in love with your characters. I enjoy the tension that builds as the ridic dog story goes on and on, giving the snake time to do his thing and for Dylan to forget it’s there (but we don’t) until it’s too late. Few write with the innate and subtle humor you’ve got going — good luck! DA, let us know when this one is available to buy :)

    PS: “Prodigious thick snake” made me laugh out loud. Prodigiously is technically correct, but isn’t “prodigious something something” a turn of phrase? Anyhoo, I liked it, but then I am prone to make up words and gently extend my middle finger to the rules on occasion, especially for the sake of humor.

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  15. Maggie Robinson
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 10:38:54

    Love. That is all. (And prodigious w/o the “ly” is perfect for the period dialog)

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  16. Patricia
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:05:18

    I really enjoyed this, but based on the title I expected not to. I most likely would have passed over this on the shelf without cracking open the cover, and that’s a shame considering how amusing I found this first scene. Please consider changing it to something that better reflects the humor and voice of the story.

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  17. Sunita
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:09:56

    I like the voice and the imagination, but there are a number of little things that trip me up and take me out of the story. I’d probably keep reading, but skeptically.

    (1) Someone who would mistake a snake for a snakeskin hasn’t seen either. It’s like mistaking a corn husk for an ear of corn.

    (2) Erstwhile means former. That’s probably not the word you’re looking for.

    (3) Why would anyone wonder if the conservatory doors led to the main house? It’s either attached to the main house or it isn’t. Or did you mean the public rooms (as opposed to the servants’ quarters, for example)?

    (4) Why does the dog only wait between 4 and 5? When my dogs are waiting for someone, they wait pretty much 24/7 until the person comes back. Or are you invoking this story?

    (5) It seems odd that Dylan Crosby is referred to as Dylan, while the rest of the characters are referred to by last name.

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  18. evie
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:38:24

    Ah hell, you’re getting off too easy here, so I’ll add my two nit picks:

    1) I’m all for more humor in historicals and low snake humor is all the better, but I did roll my eyes a bit when Hightower mistook a live boa-type snake for a snake skin. Snake skins are notably flat. I felt my credulity pushed too far at that point for the humor to work. Perhaps you meant he took it for a stuffed/taxidermy snake? I’d buy that. But I’d need that point to be clarified. Alternatively, Hightower could be incredibly shortsighted–I’d buy that too–and that could provide fodder for future hijinks.

    2) I’m puzzled as to Dylan could not notice the (prodigious great) snake creeping up his leg (I assume?) until it was pointed out to him. That pushes the humor into cartoon-land. IMHO better the slow burn kind of humor of Dylan noticing a strange tickle about the ankle while his host is rattling on about the dog and his dawning horror as he realizes what it is.

    Actually, I’ve just realized that my 2 nit picks are actually the same objection. I prefer it when the humor arises naturally from the situation instead of forcing it by limiting the natural perceptions of the characters. Allow them their 5 senses. The best humor will come out of the quirkiness of their reactions to the world, not from author-imposed cluelessness. IMHO. There are different schools of humor, I know.

    3) If I were you, I’d consider SAO’s points, as well.

    But I do back you on the “prodigious great” construction! It’s period slang. (Or at least Patrick O’Brian says so. ;) )

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  19. Linda Hilton
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:44:32

    Was I the only one to make a connection between “His Charming Seductress” and the snake, as in snake charmer?

    Other than that, nothing to add except my name to the list of those waiting to read the rest. Most excellent!

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  20. meoskop
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:51:50

    Put me in the minority, but I was unengaged. The first line made me think of Indiana Jones (which I assume is the intention). For me that’s starting off on the wrong foot because I think “Oh, trying hard to be clever” instead of “Wow, this is clever.” By the time the character who doesn’t know the difference between a snakeskin and a snake is running off like an extra in a Keystone Cop short I was counting commas.

    I think part of the problem is that I am not the audience. I like humor books but it is so hard to start off with humor. Dylan’s friends are tedious to him, so why is he there? It made him seem above them and therefore I was less sympathetic. I see a lot of talent here which is why I commented, but this page wouldn’t sell me. (Obviously, it would sell many others.)

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  21. Jane
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:52:43

    @meoskop: Yes, the Indiana Jones in Britian thing is very strange for me.

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  22. Emma
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 11:55:16

    I agree with Lucy that not everything needs to be shown to death. A quick “tell” can set the stage and move the story along, especially when introducing characters.

    I loved the quirky humor and did not let nit picky details like French doors or dogs detract from the writing or the story.

    Bravo! Keep writing!

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  23. DesLivres
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 12:31:14

    Generally liked it very much.
    However, found the exchange about the dog/earl/biting a bit “doltish” and laboured. Also, one would notice a boa constrictor curling about one’s boots – they are quite heavy.

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  24. Erin L.
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 12:47:42

    My first thought was also Indiana Jones. I liked it well enough, but for someone with a snake phobia to take their eyes off a snake long enough for it to touch them seems implausible.

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  25. coribo25
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 14:15:19

    A sub heading saying Lancashire England kind of builds an expectation the location is important and I’d like to have seen some tie in up front with perhaps the exotic snake and the moorland or the industrial landscape. Without that the opener feels a little random and self indulgent. Like those scenes an author writes then culls in edits. Likewise with the title v opener. I’d like to see a little more to connect the title to the characters. A well written scene, but I’m not sure it belongs at the start of the book.

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  26. Lil
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 14:29:59

    I’d like to add a thank you to the author. So many of the recent first pages were nothing I’d want to read (in large part just a matter of taste, not necessarily quality), that I was beginning to fear that nobody wanted to write the kind of book I want to read.

    I am greatly relieved.

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  27. Marianne McA
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 15:17:33

    Just to be awkward, it didn’t really work for me. But I think humour is subjective, so I don’t think that signifies anything. I did find the part about the butler funny.

    Apart from that, I didn’t like the first line: “No one said anything about snakes.”
    I’d rather it was: “No one had said anything about snakes.” The other sounds too modern, or something.

    I’d disagree with Sunita about the use of ‘Dylan’ – I can’t imagine he’d refer to himself as ‘Crosby’ and you have his friend using ‘Crosby’ when he speaks to him, so I thought ‘Dylan’ in the rest of the passage sounded fine. Though it’s a hard name to place. Dylan sounds Welsh, Crosby not. (As I’m not from Wales, I don’t know. Perhaps there are lots of Crosbys. Or maybe he has a Welsh mum and an English dad. It’s more that if he’s definitely to be Welsh, a more well-known Welsh surname would clue this reader in.)

    And I’d agree with DesLivres and Erin that, even allowing for it being a humorous piece, it’s hard for the reader to buy into the idea that a huge snake that he finds terrifying has coiled round him unnoticed. I think I could buy into the idea that it slithered over to him while he’s distracted by being told about the dog: I think I’d find it funnier if Tildenbury drew his attention to the snake, Dylan looked down and as he did so, the snake coiled around him, and then Tildenbury delivers your punchline. But, as I said, that’s very subjective.

    Good luck.

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  28. Maili
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 16:43:24

    As an English historical romance, it didn’t work for me, I’m afraid. Would work a lot better as an Americana romance for me. It would fit in with the likes of Pamela Morsi, Stef Ann Holm and similar (I love their books).

    @Marianne McA: Yes, Dylan is a Welsh name, but pretty much non-existent as a given name until Dylan Thomas came along. If I remember one documentary right, his parents took his name from an ancient Welsh mythology ballad.

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  29. Sunita
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 18:10:04

    @Maili: I found this wiki page on Dylan ail Don when I was looking to see how common Dylan was (I remembered you saying that it wasn’t a common first name). It pops up in Google ngram a little, but not much. And when I looked at how it was used, I found that there was an earldom of Dylan, a place called Dylan, and the mythical Dylan. But no instances of Dylan as a first name.

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  30. Karenmc
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 18:37:22

    Although an editor needs to tighten up some of the things others have already mentioned, this has a classic romp feel to it. Change the title, give Crosby a formidable heroine, and I’d pre-order it.

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  31. Maili
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 19:09:15

    @Sunita: Thank you for that link. I didn’t realise there’s an entry for it. The etymology section is just too cool. Wish every Scottish name entry has that kind of attention and details. It’d reduce a lot of confusion. Anyroad, so it looks like Dylan is part of the Devon club (historically may be common as a place name or surname, but not as a first name)?

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  32. Sunita
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 20:56:39

    @Maili: Now you’ve done it. Coming in 2013, the first of a trilogy in four parts, starring Dylan and Devon, the identical twin Dukes.

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  33. Jacques
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 22:16:20

    I like it. The broad swath of the humor is very engaging. But lots of good suggestions here.

    There is some non-period speak here and there. It may not matter, but some readers will notice.

    I like “prodigious thick snake” too. The double adjective construction has an amusingly English feel to American ears, at least to mine.

    Unlike some, I don’t care for pluperfects in narrative. I think a little tense imprecision can make for better immediacy. If you parse the past too carefully, it starts to sound stale.

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  34. Marianne McA
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 04:11:24

    @maili. Things I never knew, part 311. I’d assumed it must be a traditional Welsh name, because I only knew it from Dylan Thomas (and, of course, The Magic Roundabout, but I always assumed that was a Bob Dylan reference. )

    Actually, that’s got me wondering: because there are several Dylans among my childrens’ generation. I can’t imagine that all their parents can be great Thomas fans – I wonder did the singer or the rabbit do more to popularise the name?

    Apologies to the author.

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  35. Maili
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 07:28:37

    @Marianne McA: I can answer that, actually! =D Excuse me for putting the Name Nerd hat on. Generally: There is a huge spike of British-born (mostly Welsh-born) children being named Dylan after poet Dylan Thomas’s death in 1953. Meaning 346 children in Britain were named Dylan between 1953 and 1956. Before his death, it was roughly 120 children during his public lifetime, but it cropped up more in the US.

    The 1960s/1970s parents named their kids after the growing trend of the name (due to kids from the 1950s), poet Dylan Thomas, local Welsh footballer Dylan Evans (who incidentally was named after Dylan Thomas), American musician Bob Dylan and, believe it or not, Dylan the rabbit from The Magic Roundabout. :D The popularity of name grew in the US as well. No idea if it’s due to Bob Dylan or whatnot.

    1980s-1990s-early 2000s turned out to be the biggest wave for Dylan: The majority of the 1990s-English/Welsh/Australian/American/Canadian parents named their kids after Dylan (played by Luke Perry) from Beverly Hills 90210. And in 2000, Dylan’s popularity shot up worldwide after actors Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas chose the name for their son. To a lesser extent, the 1980s-1990s-Welsh/Irish/Scottish parents chose Dylan due to the increasing common presence of the name (probably due to kids from the 1970s and 1960s).

    On a smaller scale, the 2000s-to-now parents of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland are naming their kids in support of reviving their regions’ traditional names including Dylan.

    But the rest during the 2000s-to-now period: Dylan is a common given name, pretty much worldwide.

    The majority of later generations weren’t aware that the trend of Dylan originated with poet Dylan Thomas. Most assumed it was a ‘common Celtic name’, not realising that it was, outside folk literature, largely forgotten for a few centuries. :D So yeah, it was fun and weird to trace the trend to Dylan Thomas. Or rather, his parents. I bet they would freak out if they knew. :D

    Author, apologies for rabbiting on about the name. You still can keep the name for your hero as there’s absolutely no reason why his parents couldn’t do as what Dylan Thomas’s parents did: Naming him after a Welsh mythic/folk figure.

    Good luck with your story, anyhow. :)

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  36. Anne
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 08:28:07

    @meoskop:

    Not the only one. I find this trying far too hard. But this may be just a personal taste, I dislike anything which tries too hard to be something (engaging) too fast. Comes over as forced.

    I wouldn’t read on.

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  37. DesLivres
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 09:03:37

    It’s an interesting dilemma – this first page thing is obviously a vehicle for an author to get as much constructive criticism as possible, to improve their work.

    Sometimes I will have a look, … and just hate “the sort of book it is” which is nothing at all to do with the quality of the writing or the ability of the author. Much as I’d love to (in a ranty way) I try to avoid posting something like “I Westerns about wersquids” (or whatever it is) Other times I just adore the first page, want to read the rest of the book, but know that constructive criticism will be more useful than “I loved this!” I love Sao’s critiques – he/she just drills right in there.

    Having said all that, the humour is a bit try-hardy, but I loved the style generally, and want to find out what happens to the snake, who, so far, appears to have the most likeable and interesting personality of everyone so far introduced.

    The comments reminded me of this: http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/badgers

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  38. LeeF
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 10:00:59

    Perhaps I missed it while skimming the nitpicks but isn’t it venomous when speaking of a snake as opposed to poisonous?

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  39. loreen
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 11:06:17

    Cute. I might read on, but I would get tired very quickly of the doltish friends. There would need to be a great heroine who enters the scene quickly.
    Cut back a little on the adjectives and it might seem less strained.
    Also, you quickly need to tell us more about Dylan because I have a much clearer picture of Tilbury than the presumptive hero.

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  40. LouisaCornell
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 23:43:12

    Thanks EVERYONE for the insightful comments and information! I was at the RWA Conference in Anaheim when this posted and I just got home. I truly appreciate everyone taking the time to read my first page! Off to rethink the title and to to implement some of these suggestions!

    ReplyReply

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