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First Page: Instinct, a Paranormal Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously.

***

“Casey Parker, if you’re not out here and ready in 5 minutes I will drag you out kicking and screaming!” Heather calls to me while pounding her hand on the bathroom door.

“Not if I lock myself in here, you won’t,” I holler back, while quickly checking the locked door handle in front of me.

Catching a glance at myself in the mirror I try to figure out how I let myself get into this mess. Whatever possessed me to let her use this temporary blue hair dye on me? At least she didn’t cover my entire head in it, just a few highlighted streaks. It doesn’t really look horrible with my straight black hair and it’ll wash out easily enough, but it’s just so, not me-

“In case you forgot, the apartment’s in my name- don’t make me call Uncle Dean to bust you outta there. We’re just going to the Java Lounge Case. Come on, it’ll be fun!”

Two months ago this seemed like such a good idea. Starting at the Boston Police Academy was the perfect time to start fresh and try to make friends. It was so nice of Heather to offer to help me accomplish this, but but I should have known that she’d go overboard? What keeps possessing me to let her use me as her own life-size dress up doll? At least tonight’s just hanging out with some of her boyfriend’s friends and not another blind date, I hope-

“In case you failed to notice, it’s February out there! Do you want me to catch pneumonia?” I whine while following her into the living room, afraid to look down at the short jean skirt and dangerously high black heels she expects me to wear. “Why can’t I make friends wearing jeans and sensible shoes.”

“Sometimes you have to suffer for fashion, Case,” she replies very seriously while fastening her own leopard-print, peep-toe heels.

“Maybe you do, but not me,” I mutter before turning and bolting into my bedroom, leaving the black heels sitting where I stood a moment before.

Quickly locking the door, I turn and attempt to hop over my air mattress, not quite making it and falling very ungracefully onto my face – stupid skirt!

I quickly change into a comfortable pair of jeans and begin slipping on my favorite pair of black doc martins while I hear Heather fumbling with the door knob. The white knit top and little black vest isn’t bad, I’ll keep that on. At least she picked part of an outfit that I like this time, maybe she’s learning after all.

“You’d better not be doing what I think you’re doing!”

Plopping my dark gray fedora on my blue streaked hair, I open the door and grin at my furious best friend, “Ready when you are.”

Eying my modifications to her perfect outfit, she says through gritted teeth, “You’re so lucky we’re running late-”

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

31 Comments

  1. Leslee
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 04:21:36

    I am intrigued. I would read on. I found it very smooth. I would like to see more to find out what is paranormal about it.

    Good luck!

  2. Edie
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 04:32:10

    I am not good at this.. but it feels a bit choppy for me, I didn’t read it smoothly if that makes sense?

  3. reader
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 06:15:46

    I’m kind of tired of first person paranormals. I think the voice can come across wrong…and in this case, I would not have suspected this was a paranormal romance, but rather a YA humorous romance.

    Watch for overuse of ‘quickly’ I think you used it 3 times in that one section.

    Also, would blue hair dye be that noticeable on black hair?

  4. sirayn
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 06:23:09

    Not hooked. The protagonist feels generic, there’s no real conflict, and I was constantly jarred by the repetitive dialogue tags, all in the format: “Dialogue,” [subject] [verb]ed while [verb]ing.

  5. Barbara Sheridan
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 06:55:56

    To be honest, you began losing me at the description via mirror and totally lost me when you put in the Boston Police Academy. The pov came across as a highschool kid not someone I’d want on the streets with a gun.
    And this :

    Java Lounge Case

    makes it sound like the name of the place is Java Lounge Case. I’d work the character name in elsewhere.

    Sorry to be such a Negative Nancy. Too many small, yet nagging things, aren’t working for me in this piece.

  6. Stephanie
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 07:29:57

    Not a big fan of present tense. And I had a hard time believing the heroine was a cop in training. She seemed very young, almost YA-ish to me–especially when she’s introduced cowering in the bathroom like an angsty teen because of what’s essentially a bad hair day. I don’t want to sound harsh, but you could substitute the name of some fancy prep school or college for the phrase “Boston Police Academy” and the selection would read exactly the same. The heroine’s interactions with her best friend, who seems to walk all over her, reinforced the impression that she’s immature. I’d keep wanting to tell her to grow a spine and stand up to this person, which would prevent me from caring about her romance or other adventures.

  7. Leah
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 07:45:19

    Present tense and first person don’t bother me, but I do think present tense in this case makes the book seem as if it’s going to be a light paranormal. The big thing for me is what everyone else pointed out. When I started reading, the tone and the situation made me see these characters as older high school or younger college students. When you threw in the Boston Police Academy thing, I just couldn’t see it. You can do a funny cop paranormal, if that’s what you’re going for, but if it is, perhaps you should start with a humourous rookie situation, rather than girls who are messing with each others’ hair. Also, wouldn’t the Academy have all sorts of regulations regarding appearance?

    The dialogue was very good, though. You probably just want to start with another scene.

  8. Carolyn
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 07:46:20

    Too many uses of ‘while’ – I kept waiting for the next one to pop up and sure enough it did. Perhaps you can reconstruct some of those sentences, even make them two sentences.

    I like light romances, so I’d probably read on a page or two, to see exactly what’s up here.

    Good luck with it. :-)

  9. anon
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 08:01:53

    Honestly? This kind of read like a 1st draft. rough.

    This just isn’t working for me. I have to agree she sounds like a teenager, and I had a hard time buying that temporary blue die actually worked in her black hair. My black hair wouldn’t ever work with temporary colors except to barely show – unless her hair was bleached or they used stuff that is more like paint than true dye.

    That question bothered me, as well as how this page tells us a lot, and yet tells us nothing. I don’t feel interested, I can’t see them. The blurry vision I have in mind is a cranky teen-wannabe cop (not buying that!!!) and her older roommate. That’s just not pulling me in.

  10. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 08:20:48

    I like the idea of a young lady in a police academy, and I think this is cute. I agree that the voice sounds very young–I thought a mother and child (not even a teen) were arguing in the first exchange.

    You have a repeat of “but” and some punctuation errors, question marks in place of periods and vice versa. Maybe saying the sentence out loud will help you there. Also, the dialogue tags need work. Not every statement needs a tag, and usually plain old “said” is best. You have call, holler, whine, reply, mutter. Sometimes the reader can already hear the tone (hollering) within the dialogue. You can just describe whatever action the character is doing to indicate which one is speaking.

    Hope that makes sense. You might look up “dialogue tags” because surely someone else has explained that better!

    Also, “In case you forgot,” sounds a lot like “As you know…”

    Kudos for submitting and good luck.

  11. theo
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 08:52:50

    I hope this was a first draft because there are too many punctuation mistakes, too many dialog tags as sirayn mentioned and the overall feel of the piece is very amateurish, as if this is a “gee, do I want to go forward with these notes” type of thing. I know I sound harsh, but between those things and the first person, present tense this just isn’t working for me. It makes me think it was written by a YA for YAs and needs work.

    But, that’s just me.

    **as a side note, my DD2 has done the blue streaks of dye in her blond hair and still had to bleach out the original color before the dye would take and show.**

  12. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 09:30:04

    Holy comma splice, Batman! Please work on that.

    Also, lots of said-isms. Use the word “said” at least 90% of the time; it’s invisible, whereas “replies” mutters” “hollers” “whines” stick out. As a very broad rule of thumb, you should probably have only one dialogue tag per page that isn’t either “said” or “asked”.

    And this heroine feels cliched to me. The ass-kicking female cop/detective who’s too ass-kicking to wear a silly old dress or makeup is played out.

  13. Likari (LindaR)
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 09:36:55

    Just as technical information, my current hair color is almost-black brown with two purple streaks and one blue streak. I have a professional job, and this is done tastefully, but it’s fun at the same time. My stylist had to bleach out the strands with the blue and purple before she put the color on.

    My point is: if putting unconventional colors in your hair has become acceptable and done by not-so-young court reporters, it’s probably not something worthy of causing the fit your character is having. It doesn’t make me think she’s cute — it makes me think she’s an unimaginative idiot.

    I agree with the others about the dialog tags. (The comments in this feature are SO useful!) For instance, I already thought she was whining when I read “I whine” so it smacked of sayittwiceitis.

    The good news: You have a great sense of pacing. There is a lot of life here. A good exercise might be to step back and really think about the story you want to tell. Is this it?

  14. Pamela Turner
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 09:40:48

    I’ll keep this short. No point repeating what others wrote, whether I agree with them or not.

    “5″ in the first sentence needs to be spelled out. Also, you could probably leave out “her hand” since it’s implied that’s what she’s using to pound on the door.

    Consider your word choices. I think you can find stronger ones that will punch up your story.

    Yes, it’s rough but not unreadable. Find yourself critique partners who will give you honest feedback and keep writing and rewriting. Good luck! :-)

  15. Teresa
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 09:47:34

    I agree with the first person /paranormal… it’s getting old and I’ve stopped reading most of them, unless they’re exceptional.

    Agree with everyone about the blue in the hair too. I’ve had blue in my Asian-black hair and it doesn’t really show up at all. I’ve also had red and purple and I have to be standing in direct sunlight for it to show at all, unless the hair has been bleached beforehand.

  16. ann
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 09:52:45

    Disclaimer: I’m no author; I’m just an avid reader, and I’ve never commented on “first page” before. Please take the below with a grain of salt.

    I would keep reading this to see where you were going. I’m OK with your easing me into the storyline as this is just the first page. I enjoyed it being lighthearted. I concur, however, about using present tense as I’ve not read a lot of books where it was done well and remained seamless throughout the book. One more thought: if Casey is entering law enforcement, then she is a strong enough woman (or is this a young adult book?) not to be badgered into wearing a miniskirt and heels in the dead of a Boston winter, no less.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment. I hope to get a chance to read your book. Best wishes for fantastic success.

  17. anon2
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 12:28:04

    To be honest, you lost me on the second paragraph. But that’s just because I don’t often read books written in first person. For me, first person feels like reading a diary or journal instead of a novel. It’s Ok if it’s meant to be deeply personal, such as someone’s journey or a coming of age story, or if it’s meant to have a gothic feel to it. Mostly, I prefer third person and rarely buy books written in first person.

  18. Shannon
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 13:46:55

    I think you need more showing instead of telling. I had a hard time believing the MC would join the police academy to make friends.

    I do think there’s potential, though. And first person paranormal is my favorite.

  19. Elizabeth
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 14:24:42

    Blue dye on black hair = problem

    My daughter has deep brown hair. To dye the ends purple, she bleaches the last 6″ (out of 36″) and then applies the purple hair dye. After a few weeks, the dye gets light enough for people to notice and comment on. The effect is really quite subtle at first.

  20. Cathy
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 15:07:30

    The initial interaction and Casey’s inner monologue really made me think she’s a teenager. I’d have trouble reading a story with her as the central figure unless she matures rapidly.

    One other small nit to pick — the shoes are Doc Martens, not doc martins.

  21. Masha
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 16:13:00

    A lot of people are objecting to the hair dye thing, so you probably want to change that. In my experience, the spray-on, wash out stuff shows up really well on black hair. I’m assuming you’re talking about the kind people get for Halloween or to show team spirit for a game. So you either need to be clearer about this or you need to take it out.

    I probably would have stopped reading when Casey starts going on about how she doesn’t like heels and miniskirts. They’re not my favorite either, but so many romance heroines, whether it’s contemporary or historical, seem to hate dressing sexily and I’m sick of it.

    My other problem with this is that if she’s letting herself be talked into stuff she’s not comfortable with repeatedly, then 1) she’s not mature enough to be in the police academy and 2) I’m expecting her to turn out to be TSTL.

    One last thing-’Casey’s outfit of choice for going out is 90s-ish. If you’ve set your whole book in the 90s because that’s when you were young (or dressed them that way even if it’s set in 2009), please consider this carefully. I’ve read a few books (romance and other) that were set in the 90s and yet had no real connection to that time. This rarely works. In one of them the author tried to pass off the mid-90s as 2002 or 2003-ish and it really didn’t work.

  22. Leela
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 19:12:09

    I don’t mind present tense; I don’t mind first-person. But what I can tell you is that the combination of the two doesn’t work. When we read first-person, that creates a “I am there in the moment” sense, because we’re seeing the story through one person’s eyes. When we read present-tense, it can do the same. When the two are together, it’s overkill and you end up with a kind of negation in the styles. Either do third-person present-tense, which can be a strong narrative voice if done right, or do first-person past-tense. (I know someone’s written a better explanation of what’s going on, but now I can’t recall who. Maybe it was Orson Scott Card’s book on voice and style? Hrm.)

    The punctuation got in my way several times, as well. Maybe it’s a muck-up from email to posting, but there were question marks in odd places, like:

    It was so nice of Heather to offer to help me accomplish this, but but I should have known that she'd go overboard?

    My immediate reaction: are you asking me, or telling me?

    (Plus a lot of superfluous words: “so” and “very”.)

    And then other points where there’s no question mark, and I’d expect one, like the last sentence in this paragraph:

    “In case you failed to notice, it's February out there! Do you want me to catch pneumonia?” I whine while following her into the living room, afraid to look down at the short jean skirt and dangerously high black heels she expects me to wear. “Why can't I make friends wearing jeans and sensible shoes.”

    On the whole, that paragraph alone demonstrates the reasons I wouldn’t keep reading, in a microcosm of what I see repeated several times in just this first page.

    First sentence is an “as you know, Bob”. There are ways to set the time of year, but this particular way is clunky and heavy-handed. Second sentence works on its own, but it tells me nothing about the character. It’s flat. (As opposed to: “I’ll die of frostbite of the kneecaps,” versus “I’m going to freeze my tits off,” versus “I’ll trip and fall on the ice and break my leg” — each gives a slightly different set of priorities or anxieties, and aren’t quite so bland.)

    Third sentence, as others mentioned, is repetitious as well as awkward. Whine, yes, that’s covered by the words expressed. I barely noticed that, myself, too busy being tripped up at the odd visual in this combination: “afraid to look down at the short jean skirt and dangerously high black heels she expects me to wear”. The use of expects implies that the friend is planning for the outfit to be worn — that is, the future tense at the end of the sentence leaves the impression it’s a to-be-done event. Yet the character “looks down” on the clothes. Why? Is she so tall as to be gargantuan? Are the clothes laid out on the floor?

    It took three re-reading before I managed to parse that the clothes are already on, and that the confusion could be fixed by editing the last four words in the sentence. Try rereading but replace the last four words with “forced me to wear.”

    By the end, my thought was mostly: cut this entire scene and skip right to whereever the story actually starts. Then you can sprinkle in any pertinent back-story in the second chapter, or you may even get to that point and realize you don’t need to.

    Characterization-wise, someone who waffles over dressing up (while fussing about never dressing up) does come across as young. Like, early HS-young, and that’s because women are socialized from very early on to want to be pretty and ‘girly’, etc. If the character has been accepted at the Boston Police Academy, then she’s probably got at least a 2-year (associate’s) degree, and possibly a bachelor’s, already, which puts her at 20 to 22 yrs old, minimum: if she’s not a traditional girly-girl, she’s had at least a decade already of either telling people (and eventually, telling people off) that thanks, but no thanks, or she’s learned to shut up and put up when the situation requires.

    If this were dressing as someone’s bridesmaid or for some other formal occasion, perhaps, I might forgive the waffling and whining, because a majorly formal event can also be intimidating (and the real cause of the lack of backbone). But by 22, she’ll have had at least six years of ‘going out to meet people’ at all levels, and probably as many years of well-meaning friends trying to smush lipstick on her face, and in turn, six years of her saying, “thanks, but STOP.”

    Hiding in the bathroom is for girls who are 14 and aren’t comfy with girlyness but don’t have the experience/self-confidence to assert themselves. In this world, if you’re non-traditional, non-girly, you assert yourself, or by age 22, you shut up, put on the heels, wear the makeup, and deal with it. If at this age, a character can’t assert herself but insists on fussing while still going along, I’d say she’s hugely insecure and fishing for compliments, or a drama queen, or just a perpetual whiner. Since I don’t like saying that about characters I’ve only just met, I’m left with the alternate explanation: the character is actually 14. That isn’t much of an improvement, since I don’t want to read that, either.

    For the rest, writing’s a craft. I can’t tell from one page whether you’ve got the storytelling knack, but a willingness to write and keep writing is half the battle for that. For the craftsmanship, your technique needs work, is all. That’s just a matter of practice, and the number of repetitions and unnecessary words and awkwardness here and there, I’d suggest you try and track down a copy of Gary Provost’s Make Every Word Count and give it a good read. Its main thesis (pretty much summed up by title) looks to me like one you may find helpful.

    Good luck!

  23. DS
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 19:14:35

    I’ve noticed– going back decades, that lots of writers tend to have their heroines dress and have musical interests from the period in which they were dating. I have no idea how many times I read books in which the heroine liked classical music– “not the noise that passed for music these days.” Really cringeworthy when the heroine is otherwise portrayed as quite young.

    I know there was a big thread about brand names recently, so I had to grin at the Doc Martens (not doc martins).

  24. FoolsErrant
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 21:29:28

    I have a bit of a problem with the heroine’s living situation. Most Police Academies I know of are residential and paramilitary. Granted, New York City has a commute-to academy, and the Boston Police Academy’s website is currently down so I can’t get the details on it, but to any reader who’s ever known a cop or even watched the Police Academy movies, this set up will ring very wrong. And having a set up where the reader immediately wonders if you bothered to do 20 minutes of research on Google is probably not good.

    As far as I know, most police academies are residential, paramilitary (so strict rules about when/how you leave campus, dress codes, even alcohol consumption — although that last one almost always gets lost by the wayside), and maybe (MAYBE) let you go home on the weekends. Someplace like Boston, where there’s most likely a waiting list to get on with the department (up in VT we had a lot of folks going for state trooper because the waiting list for Massachusetts State Police was way too long, so it’s probably the same for Boston itself), someone like the heroine would most likely be more focused on getting through the training (which is like Boot Camp) than on making friends and redefining herself. Plus she has to be over 21, and that doesn’t feel like the case in this excerpt.

    I hate to be so harsh on something that is actually decently written and I’m mildly curious about — I want to know what the paranormal element is. However, one of my pet peeves is when an author watches two episodes of Law & Order and reads Generic Crime Novel X and then feels qualified to write about law enforcement characters. Especially in the day and age of Google and Wikipedia.

    Again, sorry to harp.

  25. Meljean
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 22:08:57

    I agree, the voice sounds very young with the yelling back and forth. I’d start here:

    “You'd better not be doing what I think you're doing!”

    Plopping my dark gray fedora on my blue streaked hair, I open the door and grin at my furious best friend, “Ready when you are.”

    Eying my modifications to her perfect outfit, she says through gritted teeth, “You're so lucky we're running late…”

    Not that the rest of the information shouldn’t be in there — she changed the outfit her friend picked out, she’s not so happy about the color in her hair — but the running back and forth while she changes just isn’t grabbing me. It’s all information that could be relayed–very quickly–as they head off, along with the explanation about why they are heading off. I don’t know how to explain this better, but the changing feels like filler action, whereas going somewhere is actually movement. So even if it slows down for a paragraph or two as the explanations come in, it still feels like they are going somewhere.

    I’d keep reading, though. It does read a little rough, but it has energy, which helps bring me along even through the rough patches. Great submission, and good luck!

  26. Lee Goldberg
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 00:33:52

    “I will drag you out kicking and screaming!”

    It’s never good when your first line contains a cliche. Even worse, it’s followed in the next paragraph by the lazy gimmick/tired cliche of having the lead character look at her reflection as way to give us her description.

    Also, everyone speaks while doing something else…

    “Heather calls to me while pounding her hand…”
    “I holler back, while quickly checking…”
    “I whine while following her…”
    “she replies very seriously while fastening…” etc. etc.

    It’s sloppy…and repetitive.

    The page itself is not a grabber. It’s mundane and it’s exposition. There’s nothing to hook the reader into the characters or the story. To be honest, and with no offense intended, it seems to me you need a firmer grasp of storytelling and writing basics. I recommend that you take some creative writing classes to hone your craft a bit more before attempting to write a novel….

    Lee

  27. Maura
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 10:06:23

    This didn’t grab me at all. The heroine sounded whiny and young– definitely not like any police officer I’d want protecting me– and it was a few paragraphs before I realized I wasn’t reading a YA book. I really dislike first-person present tense; far from sounding immediate and pulling me into the action, it forces me to decide within a paragraph or two if I like the narrator enough to want to be with them every step of the way (at least in past tense, the narrator can add some nuance with the benefit of hindsight, or be deliberately unreliable, or…) and in this case I wanted to be quit of her as quickly as possible.

    Complaining about being expected to dress up is a common opener for teen stories, and I’m pretty sure I wrote some awful ones as a teen featuring this specific motif… it makes both you and she sound immature. (“Stupid skirt!”) Is she supposed to be dressing out of the 80′s? There was a big fad for fedoras in the Duran Duran days, but I haven’t seen a woman wearing one since then. With the Doc MartEns and streaked hair, she’d fit in great at a Bananarama concert, but at a coffee place in Boston right now? No.

    Also, I don’t believe there is a “Java Lounge” in Boston that I know of, so that loses me too as someone who’s familiar with the city. There’s a “Java Room” in Chelmsford, but that’s quite a drive. Between the hair color and this location, I’m wondering if you’ve done your research on the city of Boston, expectations for police cadets, etc.

  28. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 14:12:04

    Most Police Academies I know of are residential and paramilitary.

    The Boston Police Academy is not residential.

    However, you have to have been a resident of the city of Boston for one year at minimum to be admitted to the Boston Police Academy, and they check. So it seems odd that she would have been sleeping on an air mattress for a year and two months.

    I don't believe there is a “Java Lounge” in Boston that I know of, so that loses me too as someone who's familiar with the city.

    There isn’t, but I never have any issue with people creating fictional restaurants in real locales. There might be a Java Lounge by the time the book is published, or some seemingly permanent mainstay of the city (Anthony’s Pier 4, for instance) might be closed by then.

  29. FoolsErrant
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 18:08:29

    @ Julia Sullivan:

    Thanks for clearing that up. Unfortunately the BPA website was not operational while I was writing my comment and apparently there is no Wikipedia entry for it. Is it more of a collegiate setting or is it still very much like the highly competitive, paramilitary academies I’ve had experience with?

    @ the author:

    A wee bit of an infodump about the Boston Police Academy would have been helpful to readers like myself. Also, I agree with Julia Sullivan about the fictional restaurants/nightclubs/etc in real locations.

  30. blabla
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 05:00:56

    The story is engaging but…Okay, how old are these ladies that they are behaving like high school kids??? For some reason, I got a real bad feeling that they might end up being dumber than bricks as the story goes on. If you do that I wont buy your book as I have this strong urge to tear heroines like these limbs from limbs as they end up being too stupid to live-you have been warned!!

  31. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 11:32:24

    Unfortunately the BPA website was not operational while I was writing my comment and apparently there is no Wikipedia entry for it. Is it more of a collegiate setting or is it still very much like the highly competitive, paramilitary academies I've had experience with?

    It’s more like a commuter-university setting than like West Point in structure, but the training days are long and rigorous and the cadets are well prepared.

    The website perhaps not so much.

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