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First Page: Historical Erotica

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The horse was spooked, and so was he.  Something, or someone, was out there.  He knew that even in darkness, death wouldn’t give up its chase.
He looked around, straining to see past what little light the campfire offered.  As he palmed the grip of his gun, he studied every shadow.  He looked for any hint of what had made his horse skittish.  The only sound he could hear was the crackling of the wood as it surrendered to the flames.  His senses heightened, and his finger threaded around the trigger.  His mind raced as he fought back the fear.
“Is this it?” he thought to himself.  “Is this how it ends?”  It was hell living with a bounty on your head.
Suddenly, a small pocket mouse ran from behind a nearby bush, desperately seeking refuge from the open air.  Jake watched as the anxious rat burrowed under a rock.  Any other man would’ve shot the nasty little prowler, but Jacob McCain wasn’t any other man.  This rat would live to die another day.
“Lucky you,” he muttered while holstering his gun.  Pax snorted, frustrated at the intrusion.
“Easy girl.”  He stood and stroked the mare’s neck.  “Just a desert rat.  No need to fret.”
As if understanding his every word, the coal-black mare raised her head and nudged his shoulder, causing him to smile.  She was his only friend, as he was hers.
Settling back on his bed roll, he willed his body to relax.  Had he stayed in the last town he passed through, he might have bought himself the company of a woman.  At least then he’d be sleeping sated on a decent bed instead of dirt.  Then again, probably not.  He’d never paid for a night of pleasure before, and he damn sure didn’t want to start now.  Such pride didn’t change the fact that he knew how good it would feel to be wrapped in the legs of a primed and eager whore.  It had been too long since he’d nestled himself inside a woman and he grew frustrated thinking it’d be a long time before he would again.  He had a killer to catch.  Pleasure would have to wait.  Believing he‘d never earn the love of a decent and proper woman, he decided then that once this hunt was over, he’d make up for these lonely nights even if he did have to pay.
Tomorrow, if he made good time, he’d reach the next town before noon.  Maybe someone there could give him information he could use, if they didn‘t take aim at him instead.  He tried not to think that he’d never find the one responsible for Ellie’s death, or that the trail had grown too cold.  She may have been nothing more than a nickel whore who’d ripped his heart to shreds, but he never wanted her dead.  Cyrus Barnes did.  For now, the law blamed him instead, and until he could find the bastard who killed her, he knew he’d be held accountable for putting a bullet through her head.  He’d be the one to swing with no one giving a second thought that they might be hanging the wrong man.
“Somebody would have to give a damn,” he mumbled as his fingers traced the leather patch that never left his scarred face, a permanent reminder of the day Cyrus sliced through his left eye with a blade aimed for his throat.  But Jake knew no one did, not even the sweet young nurse who had given him a reason to live; the same determined healer who was now headed towards the same sullied town as Jacob Eli McCain.

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. Katie
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 04:57:43

    I would keep reading. Take out the part where you say he “thought.” You don’t need that, we know who is doing the thinking. The writing is good but I would start with a scene where H/H are together because there was a brief moment when I thought this might be a story about a man and his horse.

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  2. SAO
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 06:27:32

    The formatting was awful, for which I don’t blame you, but it made it hard to read.

    I like to know a Char’s name right off. I don’t like wading through any Hes.

    I had problems with the logistics. I presumed he was on the horse, then he’s patting the horse’s neck (ie standing) then he’s settling back on his bedroll, which I assumed to mean lying back down from sitting up. I wasn’t sure how he’d see a mouse in the shadows. I have a mice problem in my kitchen and they dart in the shadows with amazing speed. So that part didn’t read true for me. I didn’t think you ‘palm’ a gun. I think of that as being a term to take something without being noticed. Further, if he’d been sleeping, it wasn’t on his belt. If he was ready to shoot, he grabbed it, cocked it and panned with it.

    Next, he never pays for sex, but, without much motivation, he’s now ready to. I wasn’t sure why. Next, Ellie is a whore, so how did Jake meet her? The term presumes that he met her in the course of her business. Further, identifying her as a ‘nickel whore’ doesn’t explain why Jake cares.

    I think you have a lot of good elements, but not in a great order. We find out it’s a mouse before we know why he’s spooked. So, when we learn the backstory of Ellie, there’s no tension.

    The info that some nurse was heading to the same town as Jake seemed odd. There to tell the reader of fun ahead, rather than something that Jake would actually think.

    I think if you had him leaping to his feet, aiming at shadows, while thinking about the backstory. “A rustle of leaves, not enough to be a gang. Could it be Cyrus himself? 3 on one was more Cyrus’s style, although he’d been brave enough to take out Ellie on his own.” (Okay so this is a lame example, but you get the idea) you’d have much of the same material in a much more compelling scene. As it is, he’s spooked by a mouse and then muses on back story.

    There’s nothing wrong with leaving us unsettled and not sure it was a mouse.

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  3. Patricia
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 08:09:48

    Is it a pocket mouse or a rat? Pocket mouse = “Aw, cute.” Rat = “Ew, yuck!” I got so hung up on this inconsistency that I had to reread the section that follows several times before it stuck with me. Heck, I even went and looked up pocket mice on Google. Seems they are neither mice nor rats technically, but you need to pick just one term for this piece and stick with it.

    It seems like there is an awful lot of backstory on this first page, far more than there is actual action. I would rather see the main character in the moment and start to get a sense of his personality from his actions and reactions. Also, what happened to spook the horse? The character was so unsettled he was musing on how “death wouldn’t give up its chase,” and then moments later he’s distracted by a mouse, reminiscing about his dead prostitute girlfriend and wondering when he’ll get laid again. I guess whatever spooked the horse wasn’t that serious after all, leaving me feeling let down.

    I think there is a good story in here. You have plenty of time to tell it, so slow down and let us see the character first. We can learn about his tale of woe later, after we know and care about him.

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  4. Melissa
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 08:22:13

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t care for this at all. The hero’s extended musing just didn’t interest me.

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  5. Abbie Rhoades
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 08:34:42

    Hello Author of the Historical Erotica!

    First off, Kudos to you for putting this out there for everyone to read. That takes some serious courage! Keep in mind any suggestion I make is just a suggestion from a stranger and holds no weight.

    I believe this piece has the potential to be really good. I didn’t skim any of it!

    I agree with everything SAO said.

    In the first 2 sentences you use the word ‘was’ three times. Find a more powerful, punchy way to say what needs said. ‘Was’ is passive–telling not showing. Usually if you show something you cut down ‘was’ usage. These are your first sentences. Really hook the reader with good ones!

    In paragraph two, you need to make some changes regarding the beginnings of your sentences. Twice you start sentences with “He looked”–which is telling again.

    I felt that the vast majority of the piece was an info dump. I’d prefer to see more action. You don’t need to ‘tell’ the reader everything about Jacob on the first page. Take the reader along with Jacob so they can be ‘shown’ his life rather than ‘told’ about his life. There’s power in ‘showing’ rather than telling. Readers empathize more with a character when they walk in the character’s shoes, experiencing the character’s life.

    Not meaning to be picky, but there’s a giant difference between rats and mice, yet you use the two as if they are the same.

    I think if you inserted more action, using showing instead of telling, and switched the order up, then this could be really fine opening.

    Good luck and keep writing.

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  6. Mia
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 08:44:40

    I found the entry intriguing. If this was the first few paragraphs of a full story, I’d be interested enough to continue reading.

    The palming of the gun? I thought that was a nice visual. If he is wearing his gun belt (as I would think he would since he seems to be continuously waiting for someone to jump out at him), the image of his palm on his gun makes me picture exactly how his hand is seated at his hip. I can fill in the holes – do we have to be told “he stood/he sat?” I liked that there was movement in the entry, but it wasn’t remedial and too wordy.

    There has to be more to the relationship of Ellie and Jake. This, being the assumed beginning of the story, we are being laid the groundwork of the upcoming plot. It says he never paid for sex, I wonder if that is because his girlfriend was a whore? I’d be curious to learn more about this dead girlfriend and what happened there. But, what we know from this entry is he’s accused of her death – wrongly – and he is running for his life.

    The formatting was off, and it was a bit distracting, but sometimes things get screwed up in translation and computers don’t talk well to each other. The writing is very descriptive. I could feel the place and time (old west based on the horse and bedroll) and I think you do a nice job of showing us what is happening. I’d definitely keep reading more.

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  7. DS
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 09:19:22

    I know it’s erotica so the fans expect sex to show up ASAP, but the MC seems to be remarkably uncaring for his safety. You are being chased by someone, so you stop for the night and build a fire. Then you hang out in the light of the fire and stare out in the darkness, having probably screwed your night vision. That’s not going to work. Who is going to be in danger here? At least he didn’t try to attract more attention by shooting a mouse!

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  8. Author on Vacation
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 10:19:32

    I pretty much liked this until I reached the last two paragraphs. You established scene and characterization quite well, but the “information overload” in the two paragraphs is too “tell-y” instead of “show-y.” Could some of this information be revealed at a later time in a different way, preferably through action or creative dialogue?

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  9. Courtney Milan
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 10:23:07

    I found this hard to wrap my head around. When you first start talking, you say “someone, or something, was out there,” which indicates that the main character has a non-specific fear: the horse is spooked (which, depending on the horse, doesn’t mean much of anything), and he’s alone at night. You then go to “death wouldn’t give up its chase”–making me think that either he doesn’t have a nonspecific fear (and you should be indicating that with a more specific fear earlier: e.g., “the sheriff was out there”) or he’s a fraidy cat who is seeing death in every shadow.

    Going from ruminating about sex to ruminating about how people are liable to shoot him to ruminating about his scar doesn’t help. I’m not sure what emotion I should be getting from this scene. It’s all over the place. If he’s scared that people are going to track him down, let him feel that. If he’s feeling his mortality and wishing that he could screw a woman one more time, for old time’s sake, let him feel that. If he’s thinking that Cyrus Barnes needs to be brought to justice, and if he is the one hunting, then stop having him feel so hunted.

    I also agree that I find his fire baffling under the circumstances, and found the transition from mouse to rat confusing.

    The end result is that I feel like there’s a lot of immediate inconsistency–in emotional tone, in depiction of the scene–and I can never really sink into the story.

    Stylistically, you have a lot of sentences that are of the form “A verbed X.” I think you could benefit from changing that up.

    Also, a note on commas:

    “Easy girl.” <– He's telling his horse she's easy, and given that he then gets to thinking about what he wants to do to easy girls, this isn't the best way to introduce your hero.
    “Easy, girl.” <– He's telling his horse to settle down.

    I think there's a lot of promise here–most of what I'm griping about is really saying that I think you need to step back and take a holistic look at what the scene is about and what you're trying to convey, and then make sure that every sentence moves in that direction.

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  10. Lucy Francis
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 12:07:14

    I like the idea of erotica set in the Old West! There is some good, clear conflict here to drive the plot. However, this opener is written in a way that leaves distance between the reader and Jake. I’d like to see the POV much deeper, especially if this erotica, so the reader connects solidly with Jake. As it stands now, the reader is not in Jake’s head, and there’s too much telling rather than showing.

    Much of the backstory he’s considering is info-dumpy and can be threaded in later. It isn’t vital information in this moment. And though he’s moving from watching his back to horny to thoughtful, there’s no emotion going on. As a reader, it’s not enough to be told what he’s thinking. I want to feel what he’s feeling, otherwise I won’t really care what happens to him. This goes back to deepening the POV. Let me feel his frustration at being wrongly accused, his fear that he won’t be able to clear his name in time. I want to feel why the nurse is responsible for his will to live. Make me care.

    Don’t tell me that “Jacob McCain” would or wouldn’t do anything, show me. Show me he’s different from other men through his actions and leave it at that. And unless he thinks of himself in the third person, I’d give his full name at the beginning of the book, and then only use it again when he introduces himself or when the story is running in another character’s POV.

    There is a lot of potential here, a decent set of bones to build on. Good luck with it!

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  11. Tasha
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 12:47:30

    Call me nitpicky, but starting a book with the cliché of Something’s out there! Oh no, it’s just a cat/mouse/rabbit! Everything’s fine! Ha ha, I’m way too keyed up! is a good way to make me stop reading right then and there.

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  12. Amy
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 16:19:09

    I know how tempting it is to get all of your great characters and storyline out there for the reader, but rather than hooking us and making us want to read on and see it all fleshed out, putting so much in the first page has the opposite effect. It does seem like you’ve got some good things going on here, and some good writing, but it feels a little crowded right now. Don’t be discouraged– just slow down and spread it out a little, keeping some of your intriguing elements: he’s on the run, he’s blamed for a crime he didn’t commit, there’s a woman out there somewhere, etc.

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  13. Bren
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 17:16:51

    There are 2 reasons this passage (though an intriguing set up) didn’t work for me. First, I saw lots of telling in the opening paragraphs. I’m not a fanatic of the “show don’t tell” adage, but for an opening page, it should definitely by heavy on the show with very little tell.

    Here’s what I mean:

    The horse was spooked, and so was he. [Telling... what is the horse doing to show that it is spooked? What spooked the main character? Is his heart racing, his breath coming quick? His blood running cold? etc.)

    Something, or someone, was out there. [Telling..how does he know this, did he hear something, is it just a feeling? etc.)

    His senses heightened [describe what is happening rather than saying the senses heightened], and his finger threaded around the trigger. His mind raced as he fought back the fear.
    [What does the fear feel like and how is he fighting it back? etc.]

    The second reason this passage didn’t work for me is because after the initial action (which turns out to be a horse spooking at a rat) nothing else is going on here. It’s just a lot of backstory about Jacob being a wanted man, framed for murder of some woman who broke his heart, that he’s an outlaw and that he is really horny.

    All this is internalization… no dialogue (except for the one sided comments to his horse) and no action. Hook us in with something interesting going on and worry about informing us of him being an outlaw/framed/etc. later.

    Good luck with your revisions!

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  14. Emily A.
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 19:17:56

    “Believing he‘d never earn the love of a decent and proper woman, he decided then that once this hunt was over, he’d make up for these lonely nights even if he did have to pay.”
    This sentence was too long for me. It seemed to go on forever. I recommend breaking the sentence up. I also believe in using real conjunctions (and, but, or, nor) rather than just stringing the sentence along with commas.
    I had no problem with the rest of it. I would totally read it. I was not confused. It definitely could use some polishing though. Maybe make the transitions a little clearer as you go from point to point.
    Good Luck!

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  15. Unbiased Observer
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 01:46:52

    If there was a like button I would click on comments 9 and 7.

    These lines – Any other man would’ve shot the nasty little prowler, but Jacob McCain wasn’t any other man. This rat would live to die another day. – took me out of it. I mean, since when are pocket mice marked for death? He’s the only man in his world who wouldn’t shoot that mouse? Now, if that’s intentional hyperbole on McCain’s part then it makes him either a self-aggrandizing fellow or the old west’s version of an internet tough guy…or drunk, which would explain his thoughts vacillating between old flames and buying hookers, come to think of it.

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  16. Sherry
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 18:00:08

    This story has peaked my interest. I definately would keep reading. Plus, I want to know more about this nurse.

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