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First Page: Historical Romance

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Background: Late Victorian England: an avaricious, impoverished widow makes her way through high society, and low society, encountering militant suffragettes, grumpy pornographers, and villainous foreigners attempting to overthrow the government, in search of a sugar daddy (all the while trying to ignore the charms of a stuffy and staid secretary).

The first blow was the death of her husband.

This in itself was no tragedy. For Lady Rosamund Archer was not overly fond of the departed Earl whose death at the age of seventy-two had been, she felt, unfashionably overdue.

The blow came upon the reading of his will.

Her husband – forty years her senior and fourteen years her companion in matrimony – left his entire fortune in the hands of his oldest son, her detested step-son Claude. Claude had no redeeming features; he was brutishly ugly, with a personality as uncharming as his soul was corrupt. Rosamund was not the least bit surprised when he made a measly annual stipend dependent upon the frequent use of her body.

She declined, revolted, sparing no tact in her analysis of his failings as a son, a man, and a potential lover, and was thrown out of the ancestral home before she could reconsider her hasty words.

Still, all was not lost. A small fortune in secreted jewellery and an abundance of beauty and charm (usefully combined with a soul at least as corrupt as Claude’s) allowed her to live independently, taking advantage of rich lovers when the need arose.

And so a year passed in lavish, hubristic splendor.

The second and third blow came with no warning and in quick succession.

On the day her lover (a handsome Russian Prince) unceremoniously and publicly terminated their affair for the charms of a younger beauty, she gambled away her entire fortune in a fit of pique.

“Surely Prince Vasily owes you a diamond necklace for what he did, passing you over for that buck-toothed Irish miss,” tutted her maid, Martha (more of an accomplice, truth be told).

Moodily, Rosamund surveyed her surroundings. She was reduced to renting a small townhouse in Notting Hill – from Berkley Square to Notting Hill! – and the sight of the cramped drawing room, with its parochial furnishings filled her with gloom and panic.

“I threw a crystal decanter at his head. He might be inclined to think us even. Besides, Vasily is like most royals – he doesn’t actually have any money." Her head sank into her hands. "What was I thinking?”

“Mr Collins,” her maid persevered. “He may be pressed upon to lend a hand. With all you know of his predilections, and him being a Member of Parliament, I reckon you could get a few bob out of him.”

“Blackmail?” she enquired, raising a brow. Not yet, she thought. She would not add blackmail to her ever growing list of crimes. Not yet.

“Lord Ashbee, then. You said he is fond of you.”

“Oh." She shuddered at the thought of the rotund Marquess. “I was drunk as a doxy that night, and the villain took shameless advantage. I simply haven’t the heart, Martha. That old rogue will want to pinch my bum and paw and slaver and…” she sighed. When had it become a chore, she wondered. The answer was obvious: when her livelihood had come to depend upon it.

“That American, then – Logan Spencer. He’s as rich as the queen.”

The galling truth was, Logan Spencer ranked amongst that growing group of men now impervious to her charms. “He is in love with his wife. No. What I need is fresh prey. Think, Martha”

Martha screwed her little face into a contemplative scowl.

The silence stretched.

“Lord,” Rosamund flung herself onto a settee in a sumptuous rustle of silk and taffeta. “Is there a man left in this city I haven’t fucked?”


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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. joanne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 07:24:19

    Oh dear. I am finding it hard to know where to begin without a red pencil in hand.

    Everything about the background passage seemed over-written. avaricious, impoverished; militant suffragettes (the reader will know what a suffragette is); grumpy pornographers (tons of ‘grumpy’ pornographers?); villainous foreigners (all foreigners are villainous to her?); sugar daddy (are we still in Victorian England?); stuffy and staid secretary (where did this person come from?).

    Then the ‘blows’ — even though I believe you meant to write “The first blow wasn’t the death of her husband” rather than “was the death of her husband”.

    You’ve told me, in this short passage, everything I want to know about the heroine and the story. Enough certainly for me to stop reading here and not care about her or her next endeavors. What you’ve told me is that her personality and her past actions show her to be a woman who is stupid, petty, shallow and careless with herself and her future.

    And yes, Victorian erotica works… if the woman is smart and interesting.

    When I started to re-read at:

    “Surely Prince Vasily owes you a diamond necklace for what he did, passing you over for that buck-toothed Irish miss,” tutted her maid, Martha

    the first page worked much better for me. So in my opinion as a reader some editing is needed.

    Thank you and much good luck with your writing!

  2. rebyj
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 07:26:24

    Interesting ! I’d read it. Only 1 critique
    Use of () brackets. Kind of a lot for one page .

  3. Courtney Milan
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 08:05:08

    So…. I have a problem with this setup, because legally, it strikes me as fairly unsound.

    First, there’s the concept of her not getting anything upon her husband’s death. As a widow of a wealthy earl, your heroine Lady Rosamund is entitled to dower–that is, 1/3 of the estate’s production for her life, and if he writes a will that completely cuts her out she can go to court to enforce her dower rights.

    Now, you could contract around the common-law dower amount at the time of marriage by setting up marriage settlements (it’s like a pre-nup), and the wealthy often did. In fact, I would assume that Rosamund and her Earl had marriage settlements, and so we wouldn’t look to dower to determine the amount of her inheritance. But that is because it seems as if the beautiful Lady Rosamund only married an elderly wealthy husband because she wanted him to kick the bucket and leave her his money. Why would she agree to a marriage settlement that allowed him to leave her nothing? She should have kicked and screamed (or, rather, had her solicitors kick and scream) and demanded that he settle at least twenty thousand pounds on her upon her marriage. And she should definitely have unrestricted use of the dower house.

    Then, the phrase “jewels secreted away”…. Her husband actually does not have the right to give her jewels to Claude. If he gave them to her, they’re considered hers, and he can’t give them away upon his death. Likewise he can’t give away her clothing. The only way this would work is if they were actually the family jewels–in which case I would imagine Claude and his army of solicitors would know they were there, recognize they were missing, and brutish as he is, would descend upon her like a plague of locusts if she tried to sell a single one.

    But the writing doesn’t bother me; you write very well, and I liked the way you structured the page. In fact, even with all my nitpicking above, I was still engrossed in what you had by the end of the page, and that is definitely not always the case.

    That being said, I probably wouldn’t read on. Errors like the one I described are, for me, like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard, and to encounter so many in close succession would just drive me crazy for the rest of the book.

  4. Keri Ford
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 08:22:42

    I agree with Courtney Milan. Your writing is very beautiful, but your set up was enough to make me stop reading. You can write around a lot of details, make exceptions to the normal rules, but the reader has to know about those exceptions or else ye ol book risks taking a flight into the nearest wall.

    I didn’t find your heroine too likable. She’s desperate, I get that, but her being desperate doesn’t make me care about her. The gambling away her only funds seemed careless of her and really made me not care about her. I knew enough of her by this point to see her as competent–until news of her gambling away her things when she had nothing.

    Best of luck! Your writing is very engaging and nice to read.

  5. The writer
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 08:36:24

    Probably a little early to start piping in, but I wanted to say thank you for some really useful feedback.

    I had a feeling this opening page was one of my ‘darlings’ and maybe I needed to cut it. Is it too wordy, is there too much info dump, too jarring? etc

    Everything about the background passage seemed over-written.

    This is not part of the story, and was just added to give the DA readers a little context to the first page. I dashed it off because in the past there have been complaints that the first page doesn’t give enough of a flavor of the kind of book it’s supposed to be. I hope the rest isn’t quite so overblown? I have to consciously avoid that in my writing. You are so right about grumpy pornographers and villainous foreigners! I wanted it to sound romp-ish, but it came out… not so good.

    Courtney: food for thought. I will have to tighten this up. Ros got married very early and very young. The balance of power was very much with the Earl. She would have had little sway over the ‘pre-nup.’

    However, I will have to think about making it so that her inheritance is simply not what she has become accustomed to, so whilst there is a settlement, it is barely adequate…?

  6. KristieJ
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 08:55:58

    I’m a tad confused too. While I don’t often add my 2 cents worth, I have noticed the biggest complaint is not enough information (which I always scratch my head at – how much is expected on one page?)
    But this entry really got my attention. I’m not good giving critiques – which is why I seldom offer them *g* but this one worked for me. I’d certainly keep reading.

  7. Courtney Milan
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:08:22

    @The writer: The easiest way to get the same effect is to have a settlement on her, held in trust, with the caveat that the Earl gets to invest her trust as he sees fit…. and she finds out on her death he’s put it all in shipping shares for some bankrupt company, or something like that. That way, everything was done properly but she’s in the same predicament.

  8. Fae
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:11:59

    I was really enjoying myself right up to “gambled away her fortune in a fit of pique.”

    I don’t care so much about little historical details, there are enough liberties taken with them over the past 30 years in romance novels that I can easily ignore those. What I can’t ignore is a stupid heroine. And a heroine who gets mad and gambles away her livelihood is, well, stupid. I’d have put the book back on the shelf right there, and been sorry to do so because I very much like your voice.

    Good luck!

  9. JoB
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:13:06

    Nice concept. I could see this story being a lot of fun.

    Couple of thoughts here ….

    — Courtney’s quite right about the legalities of inheritance.

    Storywise, you could get around it by having the elderly husband die bankrupt, having committed ‘waste’ of the estate property.

    — I do have a problem with the organization of this first chapter.

    Just my own preference, but I would try to drop the reader into the on-going action rather than using those opening pages to ‘tell’ the setup and then slip us right to talking heads exchanging backstory.

    So if the ‘story’ is about Rosamund trying to seduce Lord Thomas Drummond, and falling for his secretary instead …

    Could you not open with a scene of Rosamund in the park waylaying Thomas and having a little wardrobe malfunction to attract his notice?
    Or Rosamund out skating on the iced-over pond, running into Thomas full tilt?
    Or Rosamund at the opera, coming to his box?
    Or Rosamund in harem costume delivered to his sitting room rolled up in a rug?

    Such scenarios would show her in action. They would put the reader IN the story.

    And last — if I were picking one line that would make me stop reading, it’s,
    she gambled away her entire fortune in a fit of pique.

    When this is put so abruptly, right at the start, it makes me fear the heroine is going to do one silly thing after another. I get impatient with stupid heroines.

    I’m not saying you can’t show that Rosamund’s self-destructive. That’s an interesting trait, in fact. I’d just suggest you build up to it. Tell us about her grand follies when her character has unfolded and the reader is sympathetic to her.

    Storywise, if you want her to be destitute, you might have her business manager abscond with her funds.

  10. Jen
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:16:42

    My main beef is that there doesn’t seem much to redeem the main character. Why would I be interested in her getting screwed over as it seems that it might be her just desserts. Not that every character has to be likeable, but you have to give her something. She’s a whore-that doesnt’ turn me off to the story as I just finished reading Loretta Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways and LOVED it. But your character seems like such an obvious whore. At this point, she just seems really shallow. I would not read past the first page or so.

    And why did she marry the old man? She was young. So? Was her family poor and he paid them off? I think if you are going to mention that he is really old like that in the beginning you have to at least add a little to why she married him-even if she was forced. Also, where is her family now?

    Of course, maybe there is more to this character and it just hasn’t been revealed yet.

    You do have a good writing “flow”. That is a hard thing to develop. You entice the reader in and surrond them with your story.

    You tell at the start, but you transistion well into the “now” of the story.

    Keep it up. I think you are on to something.

  11. Julia Justiss
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:40:10

    Your story begins when the dialogue does, and that part is very engaging. All the background can be worked in later–most editors and contest judges say the most consistent error they see is too much data dump at the beginning of the story.

    Where the dialogue begins, you intrigue your reader. Why has she gone from opulence to this small room? Why should we care about her when she’s openly conniving for a rich lover? (just a thought or a reference to being thrown out on her own would probably suffice.)

    Definitely make sure you know the legal setup of the time. As previously stated, a reader with little historical background wouldn’t notice, but those who know the period (even if that doesn’t constitute a large number of your audience) are going to be irritated if you get it wrong–and fully prepared to post on message boards or write snarky Amazon reviews pointing it out!

    If you want her disenfranchised, you can make it happen. Maybe she had a lousy lawyer at the time of the settlements who included some obscure clause that enabled the heir to evict her. Maybe Evil Claude has the local judges in his pocket. The fact that she has been cheated out of what should have been her right can make her, and her less-than-honorable actions, more sympathetic to the reader. That’s the fun of being the writer: justify it sufficiently, and you can make virtually anything believable.

    Best of luck!

  12. vanessa jaye
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 09:43:13

    The writing is engaging, and while the heroine isn't likable at this point of the story, she certainly is interesting/intriguing. I'm sensing a Moll Flanders type vibe to this story. My problem would be that this first page reads more as a summation and I was waiting for the actual story to start.

    Just about where the maid enters the narrative is where the story comes more alive, but I think you need to layer in more of the senses to anchor the reader in the moment and in the heroine's pov. I felt like I was just skimming the surface of her character/personality as I read. Technically, you've only outline circumstances of her despair, I don't actually feel it; I don't see her feeling it on the page.

    Meanwhile, the maid seems to have a bit more individuality.

    “Surely Prince Vasily owes you a diamond necklace for what he did, passing you over for that buck-toothed Irish miss,” tutted her maid, Martha (more of an accomplice, truth be told).

    I like the use of ‘tutted’, I can actually hear her no-nonsense tone. Then later:

    “Mr Collins,” her maid persevered. “He may be pressed upon to lend a hand. With all you know of his predilections, and him being a Member of Parliament, I reckon you could get a few bob out of him.”

    ‘Persevered’ was a good choice here, because we see later that she does persevere, bringing up possible names one after the other. Plus the use of ‘reckon’ and ‘few bob’ subtly shows she’s not of a higher class. I know, because you’ve shown it in a couple of short lines, that Martha is pragmatic, with few moral qualms.

    Also compare this:

    Martha screwed her little face into a contemplative scowl.

    to this:

    “Lord,” Rosamund flung herself onto a settee in a sumptuous rustle of silk and taffeta. “Is there a man left in this city I haven't fucked?”

    This last line could show bit more personality for Rosamund with some tweaking. for (crappy) example:

    Rosamund flung herself onto the settee in a sumptuous rustle of silk and taffeta. Even though it was only she and Martha in the room, she still arranged her limbs in their most appealing display. “Lord, is there a man left in this city I haven’t fucked?”

    My example is a lot clunkier than your original, but it does show you right-in-the-moment that this is a vain woman always aware that she must sell herself, etc.

    Lastly, I agree with Jen, I do need a bit more info as to why I should be cheering for her. She doesn’t have to be a candidate for my BFF!!! But you should give me a bit more to be in sympathy with her. She’s a little too cold-hearted at the moment.

    Having said all of that, I think I would have read on a bit more, or skipped to middle, etc;, to see what happens next.

  13. California girl
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 10:13:06

    Here is my question for the writer:
    How do you feel about Rosamund? Do you like her?

    Because after reading this, I had two equally strong reactions.
    1) Here is a very good writer.
    2) Here is an extremely unlikable character.

    And it seems I wasn’t alone in reacting that way. So what that makes me wonder is, do you like her? A woman in dire financial straights is usually sympathetic. And I don’t usually mind a flawed heroine, nor a jaded or promiscuous one. But it feels as though this was written with contempt for Rosamund and her actions. Since it’s the first page…as a reader, I can only feel what you tell me to feel.

  14. bookwormom
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 10:16:05

    I like your ‘voice’. As others have said the part where the maid shows up caught my interest much better than the previous paragraphs. If you were to explain Rosamund better I might be tempted to stick with her. There are readers out there, myself included, who want their characters to be, if not sympathetic, than at least understandable. That is, they have a situation (or motivation or circumstance, etc) that renders him/her comprehensible. Rosamund’s problems currently appear to be of her own making, in her present form I really don’t care what happens to her.

    Unfortunately, my impressions of Rosamund were overwhelmingly negative & it would take much explaining to pique my interest enough to keep going. First, and I’m likely to be a minority here, but to me Rosamund refers to this person or is otherwise a name I associate with older eras. Second, if her husband is so old surely his death wouldn’t have been a blow or a surprise. Third, it appears that she has had no personal growth whatsoever in 14 years. Fourth, the legal aspects of wills and inheritances would’ve dropped me out of the story at least temporarily.

    To my way of thinking, most of these are minor tweaks. A few changes here and there & I’d be likely to keep going with Rosamund to see if she finally grows the hell up. I think there might be a risk in portraying a woman as the female equivalent of a rake in an era renowned for its prudishness. That’s probably a different discussion though.

  15. theo
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 10:21:19

    This first paragraph:

    This in itself was no tragedy. For Lady Rosamund Archer was not overly fond of the departed Earl whose death at the age of seventy-two had been, she felt, unfashionably overdue.

    totally turned me off to the heroine. In those few words, she came across *to me* as shallow, cold-hearted, spoiled and childish and from that point on, I found myself cheering for the circumstances that knocked her down another peg rather than hoping she would find any happiness.

    I don’t like info dumps, but it would be nice to know: Was the earl abusive? Sickly? Constantly absent to the point of ignoring her? Did he force himself on her throughout their marriage? Treat her like nothing more than another servant in the household? I have nothing that tells me why she didn’t think his death was a tragedy other than the shallow fact of his age.

    Beginning, as a few others said, with the maid ‘tutting’ would give me reason to want to know what happened to Rosamund, why she’s in the predicament she finds herself and I would probably read a few more pages to get a better feel for the character.

    I can overlook a lot of things like historical inaccuracies if the characters are strong enough, engaging and sympathetic enough for me to care about them.

    Your writing is quite smooth, the story did flow, and I like the voice, but I wouldn’t read beyond this because frankly, I don’t like the heroine. She seems more like the scheming antagonist to me rather than the character who carries the story and at this point, all I can feel is sorry for the hero who ends up with her.

    Kudos for putting it out there and best of luck.

  16. Jill Myles
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 10:28:49

    I really really really really like your voice. It’s light, it’s funny, and it’s engaging.

    But your character’s motivation/personality is really questionable:

    Claude had no redeeming features; he was brutishly ugly, with a personality as uncharming as his soul was corrupt.

    So she won’t sleep with him. Ok, I follow that. But she’ll sleep with Mr. Collins, Vasiliy, the American, etc.

    I guess the part that I keep stopping at is Ashbee:

    “Oh.” She shuddered at the thought of the rotund Marquess. “I was drunk as a doxy that night, and the villain took shameless advantage.

    I find this HIDEOUSLY creepy. So she’s drunk and a guy she wouldn’t normally sleep with basically takes advantage of her. And she’s all “Gee! Maybe I should sleep with him again for more money!” Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Seeing as this is technically rape-with-a-beer, it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, especially since he’s among the list of guys she has to sleep with to get more money again.

    And all that is better than her nephew? Ugh. I have a hard time buying it. You also mention:

    taking advantage of rich lovers when the need arose.

    Really? Cause it sounds like she took advantage of anything with a wallet and a dick, which does not endear me to her.

    “Lord,” Rosamund flung herself onto a settee in a sumptuous rustle of silk and taffeta. “Is there a man left in this city I haven't fucked?”

    This made me facepalm, and not in a good way. Since Rosamund is shown to be flighty and gambled her money away and now must emergency-fuck-for-groceries, and she has the list of men a mile long, this does not make her into an independent woman, this kind of makes her a whore. Again, not in a good way.

    I am all for a sexually independent, alpha female! I love stories like that! But you have stripped away any likeability that we might have had for Rosamund and at the end of the first page, despite your terrific, witty voice, I wouldn’t read on.

    For me, the fix is not the writing (or even the law stuff since that would fly over my head) as much as Rosamund needing a serious personality revamp. Actually, not a huge one, just a toning down of some of the unsavory elements to make her appealing.

    I hope that helps. It’s weird because I loved and hated this one at the same time. Your voice is so terrific, though. I guess that’s why it makes me sad that it didn’t work for me.

  17. LindaR
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:06:55

    On the day her lover (a handsome Russian Prince) unceremoniously and publicly terminated their affair for the charms of a younger beauty, she gambled away her entire fortune in a fit of pique.

    This reads like the elevator pitch, though I’d modify it to something like:

    On the day her handsome Russian Prince publicly terminated their affair for the charms of a younger beauty, Rosamund gambled away what was left of her meager fortune in a fit of shock and embarrassment. With nothing left but her little black book and a plucky maid for an accomplice, Rosamund determines to make her way back to the ballrooms of Victorian society — even if she has to go through the bedrooms to get there!

    But! That’s still just the pitch, not the actual story. I would love it if your whole first chapter was the scene of disaster where the prince dumps her and she dumps her loot. As each horrible thing happens, (show, don’t tell) you can let out a little of the back story about her husband and stepson and etc. — maybe even have her losing her dough to the guy she’s ultimately going to lose her heart to? (or does that sound cliched?)

    good luck — my main suggestion would be: look at each of these paragraphs and think about how they are summing up what could be chapters.

  18. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:23:19

    Like Joanne, I’m finding it hard to know where to start.
    The writing is grammatically correct, and the authorial voice strong. They are the best bits, except that if this is a romance, authorial voice is rarely used, for a good reason – it’s a romance, and the readers want to get to know the main characters quickly.
    As a general reader – your heroine is so dislikeable, I would definitely not read beyond the first page. She gambles her money away, expects the world to flock around her, and finds herself bereft, probably because she drives all her suitors away with insatiable demands for money to keep her as she thinks she should be kept.
    Legal issues are pretty serious. There is no way the relict of a peer would be left on her own to bring the family into disrepute by becoming what is basically a prostitute. She would not be left completely destitute. Before she married, a settlement would have been signed, one the heir would have been unable to touch. If she misbehaved, they had the power to lock her away in an asylum. However dissolute the family, their public station had to be maintained and a widow bearing the family name, sleeping with men for money in the earl’s own backyard, so to speak, would not have been countenanced. And the earl would have had no choice but to leave the bulk of his fortune to his heir. The big imperative was to keep the estate intact, so even unentailed property would be left to the new earl.
    Technical stuff – the passage is mostly in authorial voice, it’s narrative and it’s seriously overwritten. We don’t need all that backstory, that should be written into the story as the reader needs to know it.
    Speech tags – Tutted, persevered, enquired and the rest. Ditch them. Use action tags or “said.” I hated the phrase “fresh prey.” That’s where I would have dumped the book, because the heroine came across as a selfish, predatory hedonist, not someone who would have interested me in the least.
    And take out all the adjectives and adverbs. Only put them back if you need them.
    A note – the heir would be Claud, not Claude. Claude is the feminine form, at least in Britain. As a widow, she wouldn’t be “Lady Rosamund Archer” but “Lady Archer” (only single ladies were referred to by their Christian names).
    Her use of slang and swear words sounds very modern, and wouldn’t have been seen as clever or even acceptable on her own.
    There are obvious parallels between this beginning and the latest Loretta Chase, but in that book Francesca was truly charming and witty, and she had moved abroad to get away from her husband’s family. Chase provided a plausible scenario – I don’t believe this one for a minute.

  19. Jinni
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:26:48

    I think my taste far differs from others on these Saturday critiques – but I really liked this. I don’t read historicals mainly because the long-suffering, too simpering heroine is bogged down with too many overly legal details about why she is where she is.

    I love that this smart woman (and I don’t really care about dower and courtesy – I learned all I needed to about that in law school) just gets on with things.

    I’d certainly keep reading!

    Good luck with this.

  20. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:35:09

    I like Linda R’s idea! I might be able to sympathize with this heroine if I see her get dumped and trumped.

    I’m all for dynamic, imperfect characters, but I also believe that a woman of this age (after 14 years of marriage) is who she is, to a certain extent. I need something to connect with, a hint of emotion, maturity, or vulnerability.

    I’m not crazy about ugly=evil, either, and I’m confused about Claude. He gets a stipend from her earnings?

    As others have said, you have a talent for words. Best of luck to you.

  21. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:39:12

    Now you hate me. I just read my comments through, and I was a bit harsh there. Sorry. I guess I’ve read one too many published historicals with serious historical inaccuracies.
    You can get around this one a few ways, but since I don’t know the rest of the plot, I’m not sure what you need.
    Make her French – the laws were different there, and moving to England would make her actions a bit more acceptable. Or move her abroad – plenty of aristocratic ladies went to Paris to have a bit of fun.
    Make her fond of her late husband, make him an abuser, or something, to explain her cold, callous behaviour in marrying him in the first place, and then to wishing him dead.
    And as the others have said – start with an action scene. Have her doing something. Even the scene with her maid is a reaction rather than an action. Start where the prince throws her out, or something similar. Jo had some great suggestions there.
    You need to provide the reader with something to encourage her to read on. And yes, killing your darlings is hard. I put a first page up here, and it took the critiquers to finally persuade me to ditch it and start the story with an action scene instead. I just signed with an agent for that book, so it can be done!

  22. Lynn Reynolds
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:47:24

    I think Fae and a few others summed up my opinion as well. You have a good voice and express yourself with a nice tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in places. But I just don’t want to read more about this heroine. She comes across as vain, greedy, shallow and foolish. Unlike Courtney, I was not as familiar with the legal details, so I could buy the idea of her not receiving anything in the will – but then hearing she gambled the rest away in a fit of pique made me feel like she deserves whatever trouble she’s got!

  23. Elly Soar
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:55:51

    what Jill said in comment 16. If Ros is a basically a whore (sleeping with men for money, as opposed to engaging rich lovers because she loves love and the money’s nice too), it might be better to start with the male secretary that she’s going to redeem herself for. If he’s the lead we could see Ros’s potential through his eyes, rather than having to judge her ourselves (cuz reading this my judgement is pretty harsh on Ros and I really don’t want to read any book about her). I’m picturing the secretary’s rela with Ros as something like SEP’s Lady Be Good with Torie and Dex – he’s judging her, but drawn anyway, providing a catalyst for her to reevaluate herself.

  24. Jeannine
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 11:59:54

    Personally, I wouldn’t be stopped by the historical inaccuracies/legalities, but I’m afraid I’d have to agree with those who took an immediate dislike to the heroine.

    As a reader, I need to see something that makes me care about what happens to this character, something in her that makes me believe she deserves more than whatever lot she’s been handed…and here, there was nothing. She’s been given no redeeming qualities and while you may intend to introduce them later, I would need to see at least a glimpse of them to continue.

    I think the suggestions to start the chapter differently are on target.
    You might even consider starting with a scene between Rosamund and Claude, perhaps the moment when he tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him, where the reader will see that even if the heroine’s morals are a bit questionable, Claude’s are far worse? As it is, all of the negativity about Claude is tempered by the statement that Rosamund possesses a “soul at least as corrupt”.
    Comparing the two from the start might inspire at least enough sympathy to make a reader continue.

    As it stands, I was left wondering why she didn’t just give in to Claude’s demands, because it seems she has no qualms about that sort of thing at all…everything else we are told shows us she will sleep with just about anyone with money.

    I’m afraid that the heroine here came off (to me) as simply unfeeling, crass and conniving. I saw nothing that made me want to hope her future would be better, and not enough to keep me turning the page.

    However, I think if you tweak things here and there, you can definitely make her both witty and independent without allowing her to become reprehensible.

    Hope the comments are helpful, and good luck! :)

  25. JulieLeto
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 12:43:41

    I’m all for a bad girl heroine, but this one simply doesn’t work for me at all. I concur with Jeannine’s critique…she about covers it all for me.

  26. joanne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 12:58:26

    Because sometimes the written word is just too good to let pass by:

    Jill Myles: OMG, I love the comment!
    … the trope to avoid right along with insta-fuck is


    LMAO & Thank You!

  27. Evangeline
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 13:08:49

    I guess I’m in the minority because I found Rosamund rather amusing–in a Carole Lombard sort of manner. The only issue is that the tone is very farcical and comes across as a Victorian-era romp, rather than a “historical romance.” Your voice is vivid and very strong, but as Lynne Connolly said, the authorial voice is to be used rather sparingly in romance. It’s about the characters and the story. The first page looks colorful, but I don’t know if there’s enough yumph! to carry an entire 90-100K book. There is a strong possibility that the rompish element will grow stale by page two.

  28. Maya M.
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 13:38:44

    Background section:
    I didn’t get this. Too short to act as prologue, too many details of people/events yet to come that don’t relate directly to this first page. And as a person who was regarded as a ‘foreigner’ for years during a lengthy stay in another country, having her equate ‘foreigner’ automatically with ‘villainous’ (or so it seems) makes me inclined to dislike her before I’ve even read a word of the actual first page. Yes, that may have been a typical attitude in that place and time period – but so was rampant body odor and I don’t want to read about that a whole lot either.

    Opening with contemplation rather than dropping straight into the action:
    I really liked this. I thought it worked well for the story so far, and it made sense to me that now that she’s in a really tight spot, she would think back a little about how the problematical situation developed. I liked the flow, I liked the style, I liked the word choices with a couple of exceptions:

    – why is the American the only one mentioned without a title? Having spoken of Lord this and Prince that, wouldn’t the maid have at least added a ‘Mr.’ before his name? Considering how many period films I’ve watched with couples married for decades still addressing each other as ‘Mr. X’ and ‘Mrs. X’, this seemed odd.

    – The name Logan jerked me right out. Sounds very modern to me. Even if it is historically accurate, it seems to me that it would have a recent, trendy association for a lot of readers with access to kids (When my 12 y.o. started attending preschool and lessons and such, there were no Logans around. When my 8 y.o. started there were occasional sightings, and now that my toddler is starting there are floods of them).

    – Others above have commented about her lack of discrimination in money-providers/bed-partners, her choice to gamble away her funds, her impulsiveness. In case it’s helpful, I’ll mention that this ‘list’ wore away my sympathy to the point that the thought flashed through my head that maybe, this isn’t intended to be the heroine at all, but a secondary character set up as foil for the heroine who will appear later. I don’t think that’s the case because of the little ‘Background’ blurb, but the thought popped up.

    All that being said, I really enjoyed the voice and would keep reading.

  29. The writer
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 13:45:44

    Me again.

    From never having been critiqued to like, 26 – you’ve given me plenty to mull over.

    Just a couple of things –

    Legal – I think this could be quite interesting to research and add as a plot element.

    Writing – thanks to those of you who like the tone and the voice (the bit I was most worried about). I will tone done the authorial voice. A part of me wondered if it was overdone.

    Poor old Ros: What I’m trying to explore with this heroine is how someone who has been used as a commodity her entire life (parents selling her to the highest bidder/ husband using her for similar ends) and has come to see herself in the same way, might break free from such a destructive path/ self-image.

    Ros has come to believe she is nothing more than a beautiful face, and that her livelihood depends on manipulating men… but she’s getting older, her circumstances are increasingly desperate, she realizes that she has lost her friends, and she has the hots for a really poor guy. The story follows her progress from this shallow creature, to her developing some self-worth, recognizing her strengths, finding a way to survive without compromising herself.

    I love writing ‘difficult’ characters, and I see that I might have gone overboard with Ros, but the fun is working out how to redeem her.

  30. Leah
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 14:01:13

    Like the others, I like your voice, but I’m not so sure about the heroine. It’s not that I don’t understand that career options for women were limited, and I don’t really have a problem with marrying for money. But a woman who, when hit with hard times, won’t retrench, blows what she has, and then uses other women’s husbands so she can buy stuff is very hard for me to care about. It would be interesting to see how you redeem her, though! I’d go with the cover blurb to decide on this one.

    Good luck!

  31. rebyj
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 14:01:27

    What I'm trying to explore with this heroine is how someone who has been used as a commodity her entire life (parents selling her to the highest bidder/ husband using her for similar ends) and has come to see herself in the same way, might break free from such a destructive path/ self-image

    That’s a great concept especially considering the social constraits of the time so I hope you’re encouraged to keep on writing it.

  32. Jeannine
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 14:52:56

    What I'm trying to explore with this heroine is how someone who has been used as a commodity her entire life (parents selling her to the highest bidder/ husband using her for similar ends) and has come to see herself in the same way, might break free from such a destructive path/ self-image.

    Ros has come to believe she is nothing more than a beautiful face, and that her livelihood depends on manipulating men… but she's getting older, her circumstances are increasingly desperate, she realizes that she has lost her friends, and she has the hots for a really poor guy. The story follows her progress from this shallow creature, to her developing some self-worth, recognizing her strengths, finding a way to survive without compromising herself.

    That sounds like a heroine I’d really enjoy reading about.

    You’ve described a character I could empathize with, and I’d definitely be interested in reading more about her journey.

    I think if you could find a way to give the reader at least a glimpse into all of that at the beginning, let us see into the character a bit more deeply, it will make a big difference in how your heroine is perceived. :)

  33. Courtney Milan
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 15:02:15

    @The writer: I think that’s an admirable goal re: your heroine’s growth. I think that one way you can take your character from unlikable to likable is to show the reader how she thinks of herself, and do it in a way that they see it as a matter for character growth, and not see her as a waste of space.

    Part of this means, figuring out what she really has to do. Does she have to gamble everything away in a fit of pique? Can you twist that last line–“Is there a man in this city I haven’t fucked?” from one of, “Lord, I’ve spread my legs for everyone,” to something that captures that kind of edginess?

    Personally, I love heroines with a long road to redemption, and I liked that yours was not just giving up and living in genteel poverty. I just think maybe you need to find a way to present her that captures that she’s on the cusp of a change, instead of showing her as starkly unlikable from the get-go.

    The ms I had that eventually sold had a heroine that was loved/hated in contests–and when she was hated, she was REALLY hated, as in, people said “I hate your heroine. She is a con artist and a cheat and this will never sell.” It took a little tweaking before I could get the first few chapters “right” and I’m pretty sure some people will still always hate her. It helped for me that I loved her desperately even from the beginning.

    In this section, I don’t get the feeling that you, the author, love your character, or even love who she can become. I get the feeling that you, the author, look down on her, and you are going to use your considerable wit and writing skills to put her in sexually humiliating and erotic situations. If that’s not the feeling you want to convey, you might want to think about how you present her. Right now I feel as if you are setting her up for growth via humiliation, not growth through, y’know, growth, and that leaves me vaguely uncomfortable.

  34. Karen Templeton
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 15:15:53

    Maybe it ‘s because I just watched all of the first season of Mad Men in three weeks (you wanna talk unlikeable, but fascinating, characters! ;-)), but I’m gonna be the lone dissenter here and say I thought the heroine was a hoot…in large part because the author’s voice works sooooo well for me. In less competent hands I, too, probably would have rolled my eyes and said, “Next…?”

    But then, perhaps I also assumed the gal had some growin’ to do, so her petulance/dumbassedness/whoring ways didn’t bother me on the first page (and the historical inheritance stuff went right over my head). As a writer, I do understand the importance of making a protagonist sympathetic, or at least understandable, so I’m not going to tell you to ignore the other twenty-something comments hatin’ on the poor woman. But what *I* see is a woman with a potentially fascinating journey ahead of her, and I’d go along for the ride in a New York minute. I mean, if she’s like this, I can only imagine the hero who’s gonna take her on — images of TAMING OF THE SHREW come to mind.

    However. If all these people find her that off-putting, then it’s probably best to heed the consensus. ;-) I only hope, as you mitigate her less-lovable characteristics — or at least explain them — that you don’t loose her spark in the process.

    You had me at the earl’s death being “unfashionably overdue.” But then, dark humor will get me every time. :)

  35. Ciar Cullen
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 15:44:15

    I absolutely loved it and would keep reading. Despite a few little phrasing thingeys I think an editor would smooth out, my only complaint is that it’s gonna be hard to get me to like this woman. But it does have that Moll Flanders thing going on, and that can’t be bad. Love it!

  36. Louise van Hine
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 00:27:30

    I was somewhat reminded of the character of Audrey Forbes-Hamilton in the sitcom “To the Manor Born”, which opens at the funeral of her husband and the immediate discovery that the estate is bankrupt. Like your heroine, Audrey has several drinks in celebration of the death of the old fogey, but soon finds herself facing the liquidation of the penniless estate. Of course, there the similarities end. I think that, if you are trying to stay in a romance vein, the heroine has to have some likeable or redeeming quality about her, either that or some focus in the narrative which allows her to be seen as sympathetic rather than scheming. It is very easy for the reader to lose patience with a scheming main character who comes across as cold, so if you are making the story about a woman who does not value herself for herself, it will become necessary to make her much less hedonistic and selfish, and more tormented and lonely. If she is throwing herself at wealthy men because of a complete lack of self-esteem, then there has to be something visibly pitiable and sympathetic about her, and the sitcom-level hard-heartedness would have to be sacrificed.

  37. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 07:28:16

    I’ve been thinking about this character, and how to redeem her. Her feistiness is attractive, but her total lack of concern for everyone except herself is really off-putting.
    So why not make her fond of her late husband? He was kind to her, and surprisingly she warmed to the old coot. So she’s disgusted by the way his heir takes control. The estate would have to be bankrupt, or she would be entitled to her portion, and nothing the heir did could deprive her of it.
    Luckily, in the 1890’s, the aristocracy was on its uppers, and they had to marry rich Americans to restore the family fortunes, so look up the history of a family that wasn’t quite so fortunate in that period, and follow it.
    Maybe she spent money recklessly when she was married, not realizing that would leave them penniless and he was so indulgent that he never told her. That would get society blaming her for the family’s downfall.
    Anyway, that’s only one way you could go to set her up as a more sympathetic character.

  38. The writer
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 07:54:06

    Karen – I love Mad Men. In fact, Don Draper helped me with a huge plotting obstacle once.

    Lynne, what you say is particularly gratifying because the late Earl does play a significant role in the story. Ros married him when she was 16 – he pretty much shaped her. Not because he was some dirty old lech. Actually, he was hugely charismatic and in the first half of their marriage, she was deeply in love/ infatuated with him. When their marriage goes bad is also the turning point for Ros becoming the woman she is at the start of the story.

    This is all very complicated. What has helped tremendously is the feedback on Ros. I was enjoying myself by creating a character who is very greedy and self-motivated, knowing that she has a) huge growth ahead of her and b) a difficult past. I didn’t realize how off-putting that would be to readers who (obviously) don’t have the same knowledge of Ros that I do. I will definitely tone her down.

    Courtney – I do love her! But perhaps I don’t understand her completely, yet. Ros is very different from anyone I have ever written before. She is also very different from me, which is why I find her so interesting, but maybe also the reason for the distance you perceive between myself (the author) and the heroine(?)

  39. joanne
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 08:55:17

    To the writer:
    As a reader I just want to say that I hope you won’t tone your Ros down too much. It seems like so much of what you are going to do with her in the rest of the story is really quite fascinating. You don’t have to make her ‘nice’ — please don’t make her sweet — but her intelligence needs to be seen almost immediately for the reader to care about what happens to her next.

    What I also tried to say is that I often can’t get beyond that first dislike or distrust of a lead character. Others liked her right away. There are choices (a hundred of them) when you write a story but knowing that the lead characters make their first impressions quickly is probably the first hurdle.

    Best wishes!

  40. Stephanie
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 09:48:04

    This work has definite potential, and I’ve developed a certain liking for not-so-angelic heroines. Still, I would have to agree with those who find your lead character problematic. I recently read Julie Anne Long’s Like No Other Lover, which also features a mercenary heroine. In fact, the first time the hero sees her, she is gossiping to a friend about how much money and status various men in the ton have. Naturally, he’s put off by her calculating nature. But when he meets her again, she’s suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune and is trying to make a good match before scandal catches up with her. She’s still calculating but we’re allowed to see her desperation and vulnerability, which makes her a more sympathetic character. Maybe a glimmer of vulnerability is what Rosamond needs to show. At the moment, she comes across as merely selfish and thoughtless–it’s hard to identify with a character who squanders her savings in “a fit of pique.”

  41. Julia Sullivan
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 23:50:41

    You need to do more research, because you’ve got an interesting character here and she’s just snarled up in historical inaccuracies and implausibilities. Please don’t get the fundamental legal stuff wrong, because that will turn a lot of readers off–it’s just as easy to do it right.

    And please be accurate about word use. “Fucked” is spectacularly wrong for an aristocratic woman in the 1890s, even a free-spirited, revolutionary one who’s reclaiming her inner courtesan (courtesans didn’t say “fucked” then, either). It’s jarring and throws one completely out of the story, and again, there’s no need for it–the “spread my legs” that someone suggested above is probably more scandalous for an 1890s aristocrat than “fucked” is for the Kim Cattralls of today.

    The word “suffragette” was not used until 1903, so no “late Victorian” person would have ever encountered a “suffragette”–I assume that your plot point is Millicent Fawcett’s National Union for Women’s Suffrage, founded in 1897, but please do not call them “suffragettes” because that would be a gross anachronism.

    I don’t mean to be so nitpicky, but it’s just as easy to do this stuff right as it is to do it wrong, and I hate to see a good idea and an interesting voice buried by static.

    Please take some more time with this, show us more of what makes Rosamund fascinating as well as hot-headed, and you’ll be great. She’s a wonderful invention: I’m imagining a Becky Sharp seen through the lens of Frank Harris, and that could be really engaging.

  42. rebyj
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 02:26:54

    I just read a book with a less than stellar heroine. Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart. It can be done and darned if I didn’t like her anyway LOL.

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