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First Page: It’s a Love Game (contemporary sports romance)

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Chapter One

“Do you believe this?” Lizzie hit her racket against her heels and looked over at her doubles partner, Dave, her eyes flashing. Jack Archer was complaining of leg cramps and had called for the trainer. “Getting a leg massage right here on court when he’s down 6–3 in the deciding set tiebreaker! The next thing you know he’s going to take off his shirt and demand a full-body massage!” Just then, as though Jack had heard Lizzie, he pulled his shirt up to reveal his six-pack abs.

“Jack, I want to have your baby,” a female voice yelled from the crowd.

“Jack, I want to be your baby,” shouted another.

Lizzie shook her head. “Unbelievable!” Before she could get the word out, Jack’s shirt was off and lying alongside him as he leaned back slowly in the chair. The trainer smiled up at Jack, working his fingers farther up Jack’s thigh.

Jack’s thighs were famous in the tennis world. He had appeared in ESPN magazine’s Body Issue three times. He had even appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue with one of his former girlfriends, who was a model. The editors of the magazine thought the photo so sexy they had chosen it for the cover. Even the trainer seemed to appreciate Jack’s thighs as he kneaded his fingers up toward the edge of Jack’s shorts. Jack leaned back and let his legs fall open. But the edge of Jack’s shorts remained stiff, as though at attention, and did not follow the direction of Jack’s flesh—revealing wide-open spaces between the stiff cotton material and his flesh. It was as though the air in that pocket of space between cotton and thigh were of a different quality. The trainer seemed to suffer from it, as his hands moved closer toward the great divide. It was as though he had ventured to a high elevation and was being deprived of oxygen.

“I suppose, Sam, we should be using this time to comment on the status of the match,” Mattie Frank said from the broadcasting booth. “But I can’t help wondering if this crowd wouldn’t prefer that we comment on the status of Jack’s thighs.”

“I must admit this is somewhat unorthodox” Sam Peppers replied.

“What is going on here? What can they be talking about?” Lizzie was fuming. She grabbed the bottle of Gatorade that Dave handed to her as she watched Jack chatting in a friendly manner with the trainer. The trainer looked up at Jack, adoringly. Jack threw back his head and laughed.

“Jack, let me show you what you can do with those pearly whites!” came another female voice from the crowd.

“He does appear to be enjoying himself just a little too much,” Dave said.

Christina came up behind Jack. She was Jack’s doubles partner and latest girlfriend. She put one carefully manicured hand on his shoulder and leaned down and whispered something in his ear. His eyes sparkled. She turned quickly, her silken blonde ponytail falling over her small shoulders. She strutted back to her bag along the sideline, the diamond tennis bracelet dancing on her wrist with the sway of her slim hips. When she bent over to pull out a new racket from her bag, Jack couldn’t help but admire the shape of her long legs.

Everybody loved Christina. Those emerald green eyes, the long golden mane, the heart-shaped face, and those pale freckles that deepened in color when her cheeks spent too much time in the sun would have charmed a rock.

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

20 Comments

  1. Willa
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 06:56:34

    I really enjoyed your voice and I love tennis but a whole first page about the gorgeous Jack & Christina under the guise of their suspected gamesmanship . . . . it just needed something extra for me. By the end of the page all we know is Jack is buff, everybody loves him, from his pearly whites down to his 6 pack and if he is going to be the the hero then that is a given.

    And a little nitpick – if you are saying someone is down in the game, it is said they are 3-6 down not 6-3.

    Good luck :D

  2. SAO
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 07:49:46

    My personal opinion: I don’t like Lizzie or Jack, who I take to the the MCs. Lizzie complains, “Can you believe it?” and “Unbelievable,” but she doesn’t do anything. She neither protests to the judge, consults with her trainer, taunts Jack with the fact that a rest will improve her backhand. So, she comes off as shrill or a complainer. Further, if this is a professional match, maybe Jack has done this before. They should have a strategy. In reality, she do any number of things, from complaining to the umps, taunting Jack, saying the break was just what she needed, etc. Then Lizzie almost disappears in the crowd of other people on this page.

    Jack comes off as an narcissistic jerk. His grins suggest that he’s not in any pain and doesn’t really have a cramp, but he’s happy to have his male trainer on his knees massaging his thigh and female fans admiring his pecs. I’d find it easier to see him as hot if he’s doing something (like playing tennis) rather than looking like he’s posing for Playgirl and smirking about how hot he is.

    There’s a homoerotic vibe with the trainer, and nothing will turn me off faster than M/M sex.

    This is personal taste and a slight change on this page might make me like this a lot.

    For general advice, you have a lot of nice detail here, but I wonder if it’s not overwhelming your page. I mean “the diamond tennis bracelet dancing on her wrist with the sway of her slim hips?” That’s a finicky detail that reads more like a writer trying to be different than a thought in what I assume is Lizzie’s POV. I couldn’t picture Jack’s shorts and there was a lot of detail about it.

    You’ve named 7 characters and had a few more unnamed chars speak. By the time I got to Christina, I was ready for something to happen, not one more person to keep track of. Most of these characters aren’t doing anything important except adding color or telling us Jack is hot.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 08:49:21

    Who is this book about? presumably, since it’s in Lizzie’s POV, she’s the heroine. I don’t like her, and she seems naive for a professional tennis player. But who is the hero?
    If Jack’s the hero, that’s me out. Selfish, narcissistic and bratty. You have to give us some redeeming feature. If he’s not the hero, why is so much of the first page allotted to him? Lizzie isn’t connecting with anybody, and there would be more dynamism if she were allowed to interact with someone, even the awful Jack.
    Would something as bright and shiny as a diamond tennis bracelet be allowed in a professional match? I don’t know, but it seems to me to be the kind of distraction that opponents could object to.
    There are a few technical problems. In the first sentence, if we’re in Lizzie’s pov, she can’t see her own eyes flashing, so it’s a pov switch. Then we go into backstory. Jack’s already done this, so we, the readers, have missed the action. Make it happen on the page.
    But a promising start. A bit less Jack and a bit more Lizzie and it might come alive. And something to make us root for Jack, if he’s the hero.

  4. Elyssa Patrick
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 10:35:32

    I love a good hate to love story, but yours is not working for me at all, and this is why:

    1. Lizzie comes across extremely unsympathetic and unrelatable. I don’t have to like her, although that’s a definite bonus, but in the beginning, there needs to be something that gets me to understand her motivation, her character, and root for her. So far, I think she’s a jerk. Even if Jack doesn’t come across well at all, the fact is that she immediately throws a fit because he’s got a leg cramp and presumably hurt. We don’t have any info that Jack has pulled this before, but we just get that Lizzie gets pissed when someone gets an on-court massage when presumably hurt.

    2. Believability. I really, really had a hard time that if Jack were hurt that they would immediately treat it on the court. Why not carry him off stage and treat it in the facility? And I also have a hard time that there would be catcalls at a tennis match, but this just may be me.

    3. Jack comes across as a jerk. Why would he even fake something like that? That just seems so unprofessional and unsportsmanlike to me.

    4. This is a little typical with the set-up. I immediately thought, oh, she’s going to fall for Jack, blah, blah, blah. I think you could twist this a little so that while we get it’s a hate to love thing happening that it stills feel fresh and not so obvious.

    5. Too many people. There are way too many people at the start, and it’s hard to keep track of names. I would limit it to a few so that we can connect more with your hero and heroine. If you want to keep the set-up where she gets mad at Jack for faking an injury (and there really, really needs to be a good reason for that otherwise he just comes across as a major douchecanoe) then you could always open it where she storms into the locker room or wherever Jack is getting massaged and maybe a part of her is worried for him, and then she gets mad because he says something wrong. But basically what I’m trying to get at is that there are so many different ways to get at what you want to do and make the heroine more relatable and so that we emotionally connect to her, too.

    Good luck.

  5. Fae
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 10:36:01

    Mostly I’m left very meh about this and a good bit confused. There actually doesn’t seem to be any POV. The first part seems to be Lizzie’s, then it switches to the commentators in the booth, then it switches to what seems to be the trainer’s POV and finally to Jack’s POV. It’s all over the place and yet, because nothing interesting is happening, it’s not really anywhere at all.

    I’d not read on because, honestly, everyone who’s been introduced seem like people I wouldn’t like IRL, and the ambiguous POV would drive me absolutely batty trying to figure out whose head I’m supposed to be in.

  6. Avery Shy
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 10:55:54

    Definitely some (unintentional, I assume) m/m vibes here. Which is fine with me, but it might confuse your readers if your target audience is m/f.

    I’m not really engaged with any of the characters. The whole scene is amusing, but Lizzie is that special kind of angry that makes me roll my eyes — the “I’m the fiesty heroine and I’ve got opinions, but I’m not going to do anything about them!” kind of angry. Is she actually going to do something about Jack’s ploy? I vote for her taunting him. That sounds like an opportunity for some fun.

    This paragraph confused the hell out of me:

    “But the edge of Jack’s shorts remained stiff, as though at attention, and did not follow the direction of Jack’s flesh—revealing wide-open spaces between the stiff cotton material and his flesh. It was as though the air in that pocket of space between cotton and thigh were of a different quality. The trainer seemed to suffer from it, as his hands moved closer toward the great divide. It was as though he had ventured to a high elevation and was being deprived of oxygen.”

    I don’t know if it’s because I just woke up or what, but it took me five tries to figure out what you were trying to say. (Flesh has a direction? Like… wood grain? And the whole thing about a gap between his flesh and the shorts — that sounds painful.) From what I understand, the edge of Jack’s shorts are standing up a bit, rather than lying flat against his skin. For whatever reason, the trainer does not want to massage there. (Why not? It’s his job. He’s done it hundreds of times, no doubt. Is he afraid of looking gay? Too late, buddy. Too late.)

    In the paragraph about Christina, you jump into Jack’s POV for a second. It’s not confusing, but it is a little disconcerting. We go all this time observing him from the outside, and suddenly we’re in his head. I’d recommend that you leave out the bit about him being forced to admire her legs, and instead tell us that his head is tilting in that direction. We’ll get what you mean, and we’ll be able to stay outside his POV.

    Overall, not bad, but it’s not something I’m going to read.

  7. JL
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 11:00:54

    I liked the voice and with contemporaries, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a fair bit, but it is a challenge to balance the fluffiness with enough seriousness to keep me invested in the characters. I love a good antagonistic relationship between the heroine and hero, so that also draws me in. I do agree with most of the other posters’ comments, though, particularly in regards to point of view issues. I think the likeability factor is just too low for both characters. At the very least, I’d suggest having Jack getting treated on the side of the court rather than right on it to add some believability, if possible. I’m also curious, since I’m not really a tennis watcher, can the athletes actually hear the announcers on the court? That threw me a bit.
    These slight criticisms aside, I would absolutely keep reading for a bit with the hopes of finding out why Jack is a redeemable character. If that doesn’t happen in the next few chapters, I would probably put the book down.

    Edited to add that I really like the title :)

  8. Jane Lovering
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 11:18:08

    This is nicely breezy, and fairly whips along, congratulations on putting it out there.

    But. I got no further than the ‘as you know, Bob’ of the first paragraph before I wanted to bite someone. Why is she telling her doubles partner what he can plainly see is happening in front of his very eyes, and of the score (which he also, presumably, is quite aware of)?

    I agree with the other posters, make them likeable, give us a bit more story from the off, and don’t try to introduce quite so many names on the first page, my head was doing the whole ‘tennis match’ thing (internally, obvs), trying to keep track of who they all were.

    But you have a nice, approachable voice, and what I think could be a good story. Best of luck with it.

  9. Kim
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 11:42:14

    I had a few problems with the tennis aspect of the story. For instance, if Jack has a minor injury, he would probably wait until the changeover before he called for the trainer. If it’s a more serious injury or if the trainer calls a medical timeout during the changeover, then the trainer can work on the player for 3 miniutes. Under both scenarios, the other players would sit down. Lizzie wouldn’t be on the court waiting for Jack to return. She and her partner would sit down to take advantage of the timeout and discuss strategy and/or rehydrate. As for the announcers, Lizzie would have no idea they were talking, unless the jumbotron was displaying a picture of them in the booth. As others have suggested, there was way too much emphasis on Jack’s physique. It didn’t really move the plot forward and just put Jack in a bad light.

  10. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 12:49:53

    I’d keep reading. They sound interesting and I like bitchy heroines. This must be “approachable” and “likable” and “relatable” business on the first page annoys the hell out of me. Especially when we know that the ultimate reader will have read a back blurb, which benefit we do not get here.

    I don’t know anything about tennis, but the logistics of who was moving where when and why kind of confused me. That wouldn’t keep me from reading to figure it out, though.

    The would-be homoerotic content sounds like a red herring or deliberate trick to me, but I don’t know and I’m intrigued and I want to know how that plays into the story.

    This: “the diamond tennis bracelet dancing on her wrist” a previous commenter didn’t like it, but I did. It gave some ambiance to the piece and a detail that the heroine either has money or access to it (a sugar daddy, which would intrigue me like crazy). I like ambiance. I like detail and description. I like the microscopic clues as to the characters’ lives.

    Honestly, I just don’t think we (publishers, editors, agents, writers, and some readers) give other readers enough credit for knowing their own tastes and limits and what they’re willing to tolerate or not. In many cases, the lack of a back blurb/story synopsis only cripples these first-page exercises to the point of uselessness.

    Jane, is it possible we could get a brief story synopsis in the future? I would like to comment on these more, but not knowing the end game is frustrating. The people who buy these books don’t do it on first page alone, after all.

  11. SAO
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 13:42:40

    I like heroines with character, which can mean bitchy, but they have to do something. Lizzie was annoyed at Jack, but her sole action was to grump to her partner, who was equally inconvenienced. That’s what made me think of her as a whiner.

    I view these pages as a vote. If you note, people say things like, “I don’t like Lizzie,” “If Jack’s the hero, that’s me out,” “I wouldn’t read on,” “I got no further than…” It’s not what the commenter thinks some generic reader might like, but what they personally think of this story.

  12. theo
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 13:43:55

    @Moriah Jovan

    I agree. Some kind of synopsis or the back blurb would go a long way sometimes in giving more context to the page since most (not all!) people are drawn to an unknown book on the shelf by either the intriguing cover or the back blurb.

    That said, I found this page boring. You have who I’m guessing is the Hn, bitching about an opponent, but not doing anything about it. You have who I’m guessing is going to be the H, laying there being an ass, and the only one who is doing anything at all on this page is the trainer! And frankly, I’m with SAO that the m/m vibe is not my cup of tea but I know it is for many and that’s great.

    I’m being told a great deal by a lot of POV’s and when the page is done, I don’t know much more than when I started except that as it stands right now, I don’t care for anyone because they’re all shallow caricatures except for maybe Dave, who makes the astute observation that maybe Jack really is enjoying himself too much.

  13. JL
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 14:08:49

    @Moriah Jovan:
    I have to say that I really agree about not always needing to relate to a character. I have to find them interesting and not obnoxious, but I don’t need them to be sweet and bland. I want to ‘like’ a character but the liking can be because they are bitchy or screwed up in an interesting way. I really liked Molly O’Keefe’s contemporaries for that reason. I think that’s also why I’m drawn to urban fantasies, since the heroines tend to be snarky loners with a bad case of rage and bloodlust. A lot more interesting than many paranormals where the heroines are so frequently sweet & innocent virgins.

  14. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 14:21:35

    @theo:

    I can only speak for me, and I know that I am a minority voice in almost everything, but I buy solely on back cover blurb. First pages do nothing for me because I know I’m going to wade through however long until I either get sucked in or start bitching. At which point, I will either continue the book in order to see if it gets better or I will DNF it.

  15. Avery Shy
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 14:31:43

    @Moriah: I don’t think anyone here is trying to speak for the author’s audience as a whole. More like each person here is saying how they, as a reader, felt about this. It’s good that you have a differing opinion. It supplies some perspective.

    The great thing about having so many people comment is that it gives you a good idea of what’s a serious problem and what can be gotten away with. The author isn’t expected to apply every single piece of advice.

    And yeah, we could come here and say “Let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt.” But that’s not what they put their first page up here for.

    (I actually like “bitchy” heroines, too. I think they’re funny. The problem here is not that she’s “bitchy”. It’s that she’s ineffective. It’s a “oh, look, silly heroine is upset” kind of scene.)

    EDIT: *definitely* agree about the back blurb. The reader, after all, is going to read that first, and it can really change how a first page is read. Maybe that could be something first page authors include here?

  16. Patricia
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 15:04:24

    I did not have a problem with the female lead, unlike so many others. Feeling angry and verbally venting to her partner seemed perfectly ordinary to me in light of Jack’s probably fake leg cramp. However, the situation as a whole did not feel real to me. I have never seen a tennis match as sexed up as this one felt. I’m not an expert where tennis is concerned, but the various people’s actions didn’t make sense to me. I had to wonder if that is really how things are done on the pro circuit. And how come the heroine can see Jack’s six-pack so well from all the way across the court but we can’t tell what her partner is like when he is standing right next to her (or at least close enough to talk)? I think this scene would work better if it stayed tightly focused on the heroine’s POV and we got to hear her and her partner analyzing the situation and assessing how they should respond.

  17. CG
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 15:27:07

    /holds up hand/ Another vote for a back blurb style preface for the first page entries.

  18. theo
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 15:57:19

    @Moriah Jovan: Oh, I’m the same way. I would have never picked up Carrie by the cover alone. It was the back blurb that did it and started a love affair with all things King as far as his horror stuff goes. In fact, I’ve found a lot of new to me authors based solely on the back blurb. But I’m also more of a peruser rather than an eBook buyer too. I’d rather spend hours walking through a bookstore and picking up all the books to read the back than scrolling through pages of an online store.

    That’s not to say I don’t have an eReader (Nook HD+) or that I don’t buy eBooks because I do, but most of those are copies of paperbacks I found from the back blurb and then bought in eBook format to take when I travel so I’m not packing 20 paperbacks in my luggage.

    So yes, the value of a back blurb or some type of brief synopsis here would probably go a long way to a more useful and constructive criticism from most of us. I realize though there would probably be many submissions that wouldn’t have that, but if they do, it would be nice to read as well.

  19. Angela Booth
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 18:20:27

    I adore sports romances, and bitchy heroines, so I was intrigued by the first sentence. Then you lost me with the exclamation marks. Sorry. Would she be yelling or shouting while she’s chatting to her doubles partner? (That’s what I assumed she was doing, anyway. As someone else said, if there was a delay in the match, the other players would be seated, resting.)

    You’ve got the makings of a story I’d definitely read, but as others have said: too many people, H seems a jerk, h is a whiner, and the trainer… I’m not a fan of anything m/m in a m/f romance.

    I’d enjoy hearing from First Page contributors when their books are published — is that possible? Then we could read the final first page. :-) If the first chapter and blurb attracted me, I’d read this, in its final form.

  20. Irish Lass
    Jan 20, 2013 @ 08:34:16

    Believe it or not, I think this is a real commercial / pop fiction flow, with bona fide potential. I’d say keep your leads as they are, (Jack, sun god narcissist, her bordering on shrill). It’s an effortless read.

    Your female lead reminds me of some of the female characters on F/X’s animated “Archer.” “Archer’s” male lead is a hoot as an unapologetic lout and chauvinist and the female lead screams at him a lot. Right now, for me, (I can’t speak for anyone else), your opening’s a little flatter emotionally, all surface appeal. But I’m thinking, you deepen the understanding of your characters, you’ll really have something here… because your writing’s easy to read, it’s quick and I think you’ve got a flair for being entertaining.

    Right now, I feel as though I’ve stepped onto a Kardashian set where a few people are playing tennis. That’s okay, a lot of romance novels have a glitter backdrop, but an author like Susan Elizabeth Phillips takes that celebrity backdrop and infuses deeper emotion into it. A brilliant author like Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is able to keep a reader turning pages despite unlikable leads. Flynn’s novels are so refreshing, such a reason to celebrate, because she not only bucks convention, “make your leads likable,” she also bucks the “too stupid to live” movement. She writes so skillfully that you’re hooked, no matter what.

    Why is your female lead here, at this particular moment? Is she on the court, then? Is Jack playing a game and asks for a massage? (that’s pretty outrageous) What is at stake for her, what’s her GMC? Why does her path cross with Jack’s? Why is she having such a disgusted reaction? (Because she could shrug it off, say, “There’s the poster boy for narcissism. That dude came out of the womb holding a mirror.”) Is he interrupting her game, then? She’s playing doubles with a guy, (David), right? Is Jack playing opposite her, along with Christina? I’m not entirely clear on what’s happening.

    If she’s playing, wouldn’t she be more concerned about her own performance than Jack’s thighs? I’d be angsting about my last serve, whether I’d placed it right, how hard I was returning the ball, etc. And man oh, man, if this was my doubles game, and Jack was my opponent, I’d be on the ref’s to get on his tail for bucking the rules.

    One sentence could help ground me, e.g., “Lizzie wiped the sweat on her forehead, preparing to wop one mean tennis ball serve at her doubles opponent, when her concentration was interrupted by a sideline show.” (Jack) (OR) “Lizzie was about to smote the ruin of Jack Archer and his too-perfect girlfriend in a doubles game when Archer did the unthinkable – said he had a leg cramp and called for a sideline massage from his lascivious trainer.” See? It’s like one or two sentences and it clears up the confusion.

    How about a couple of setting details, too? Where are they playing? How big is the crowd? A couple of thousand or a huge stadium’s worth? Are there lots of sponsors present, e.g., Nike, etc. How does this venue compare to a Wimbledon? What’s the weather like? How is it affecting your lead?

    I would cut the stuff back on his thighs and make her roll her eyes and provide one sentence on her purpose / goal.

    There does seem to be a POV shift from hers to his at the “Christina came up behind Jack” part.

    Also, how can Lizzie hear what the broadcasters are saying? Meaning, if she’s sitting in a bar and watching the TV, she’d hear them, but if she’s on the court, playing, how could she hear them? I haven’t attended a live tennis game, so I’m not sure if they have oversized screens there and pipe in the broadcast simultaneously… I’ve been to White Sox games and I don’t think they do this. They feature players and advertisers on the giant screen, but not the play-by-play by WGN or whoever is covering the game.

    Maybe I’m sick and depraved, but I don’t mind that the male trainer is salivating over Jack, (reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Boogie Nights,” except Hoffman was tragic, pathetic, desperate). In other words, maybe Jack laps up everyone’s attention, male and female. Other (straight) men might be uncomfortable with this, but Jack’s laughing – sort of intrigues me.

    If this is a light sports contemporary, you’ve got this headed in the right direction. There are movies like “The Main Event’ with Barbra Steisand and Ryan O’Neal, (old movie) – which is light-hearted and spoof-ish, versus the dark and powerful “Million Dollar Baby.”

    Kudos to you for posting this and having the courage to share your work. Hope my suggestions are helpful. Remember, it’s your story! Best of luck.

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