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First Page: Katrina

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Some days Katrina Villalobos could barely manage the strength to get out of the bed. After opening her eyes from a particularly good dream, she’d be glad to be alive and next to the person who she cherished more than her very life. Then she’d roll over and greet nothing but cold pillow still indented with her corazon’s head print. Then pain and memory so sharp she felt as if she were performing an exercise in self-mutilation would wash over her. She’d grab for the pills she kept next to her bedroom, take two to get rid of her continuous headache, then stop and deliberate whether she should take another twenty. For whole minutes, she’d stare at them, mesmerized by their bleached white pureness. Her alarm would go off for the second time, she’d drop the pills onto their assigned spot and get out of bed.

Those were the good mornings.

On the bad mornings, she’d wake up from nightmares of Lucia dying. She’d shot straight up, like heroines in the movies, and have to struggle to grasp a real breath. Seconds stretched into lifetimes as her lungs would try to give her heart a reason to get the blood pumping. But her heart had died a long time ago and her body was housing the ghost of long dead memories. She’d stumble into her living room and fumble under the sofa cushions for the gun bought after Lucia, sunshine, and flowers. Her fingers would stop their trembling as she cocked it and placed it next to her head. Before she’d close her eyes to watch her life flash before her eyes, her eyes would settle on Lucia’s drawing of them together, holding each other so tight it seemed they merged into one another. She’d put the gun down, take a deep breath, and either light a cigarette or pour herself some wine before she took a cold shower.

This was one of those mornings. The very violence of these kinds of mornings did not scare her. Quite the opposite. Katrina took a small amount of pleasure from the painfulness of her existence. Any other way of living would be an affront to the memory of her corazón. She could not pretend that her very reason for living was anywhere but six feet under. Her solace in the midst of her mental self-torture was pure because it meant that Lucia had meant something to her and would always mean something to her.

Katrina had become used to cold showers. She even liked them. They would hit her like cold tears from heaven, the kind that fell on her girlfriend’s coffin as they lowered her to the ground. Although it hadn’t been raining when she’d had Lucia buried, whenever the dream memory would hit her there would always be rain. What she wanted desperately as she was showering was a cigarette. She wondered what stopped tobacco companies from creating a cigarette that could be smoked in the shower. She’d gotten used to cigarettes as well, the kind that scratched at her throat and made her voice sound like she’d been up all night making love to sandpaper. Lucia had loved her voice, had told her that it sounded like cashmere over silk as Katrina whispered soft words across Lucia’s thigh.

Her landline rang as Katrina got out of the shower. She owned a cell phone but didn’t have the energy half the time to charge her phone. The one person who she wanted to talk to was gone.

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. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 07:14:38

    I was a bit lost. I don’t know what “corazon” means, so your first paragraph was confusing. Later on you use the word “girlfriend” (and also use corazon with an accent-be consistent!) so maybe you could use “girlfriend” in the first paragraph for those like me who don’t know the other word? (I was then confused by who Lucia was – I thought maybe she was the MC’s daughter, b/c she’d made a drawing, in which case maybe corazon means ‘daughter’, but then why were they sleeping together, or maybe the MC had lost two people, or…?)

    Anyway, re-reading after I knew what was going on… you have the line “Katrina took a small amount of pleasure from the painfulness of her existence,” and that’s really what I’m feeling from all of this. I feel like she’s wallowing in the pain instead of trying to get over it. Which is understandable, for a human, but not too appealing in an MC. If I could see her at least TRYING to get on with her life I think I’d find her more interesting. All of this pain stuff could be included, but maybe in smaller bits?

    OR, if you really want to stick with this opening, I’d recommend diving into the pain instead of skimming over the top of it. This whole passage is “telling”. We’re safely removed from it all. We don’t FEEL the MC’s pain, we’re just told that it’s happening. Especially because we’re presented with the repetition of these events, the fact that she’s done the same thing many times before, there’s no real feeling of risk. I’m not too worried that she’s going to kill herself, because I know she’s chosen not to all the other times. She just feels like she’s wallowing.

    You could bring us right into the scene – have her waking up, if you must, from pleasant dreams, have her turn over and feel the pain, and then STICK WITH THAT ONE EVENT. Make it visceral. Show her fight against despair, show her lose, and then show her deciding to go on with her life anyway. And then show her actually trying to get on with her life.

    That said, I’d start the story somewhere else. I didn’t care about this character yet, so I’m not really going to want to dive into her grief. Give her an action, something I can care about, and then give me the grief later on.

  2. Marianne McA
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 07:30:17

    I found the first couple of paragraphs confusing in small ways. Part of that’s my fault – I didn’t know the word ‘corazon’, for example – but partly it’s the writing.
    The second sentence contradicts the first, and that momentarily confuses the reader, and not – for me – in an interesting way. Then there’s the indented pillow, and the way Katrina wakes up unaware of her loss, which both, to my mind, would suggest that the death happened in the last couple of days – where other details in the passage suggest a longer time frame. And then there are a couple of mistakes, like the pills being kept ‘next to her bedroom’, rather than next to her bed. And I think that lack of precision meant I wasn’t drawn into the passage, and wasn’t really ‘seeing’ Katrina lost in her grief.

    So that’s my excuse. Either that, or I’m just a terrible person.

    When I reach the line: ‘She’d stumble into her living room and fumble under the sofa cushions for the gun’, I laugh. I’ve tried to work out why and can’t exactly. I think it’s partly that I’m not empathising with Katrina, partly the rhythm of ‘stumble’ and ‘fumble’, and partly that her bad-morning ritual strikes me as silly.

    I know none of it would be silly in real life, but this page doesn’t touch my emotions yet. Sorry.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 07:30:52

    Nothing happens here. It’s all backstory. Make something happen. I had to force myself to read this, because I don’t know your heroine and sadly, I don’t care enough about her to sympathise with her. Engage.

  4. SAO
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 09:06:25

    I was skimming before the end of the page. You could have covered this substance on this whole page in one para and then moved on to your story.

    You describe a morning in para one, a different morning in para two, but it’s only the last two lines of the page when we are actually in the here and now of your story and then the most exciting thing happening is a phone ringing.

    The “those were the good mornings” is really snark. It’s saying “Yo, reader. you think this is bad? Ha!” But frankly, I don’t see a big difference between grabbing a handful of pill and putting a gun to her head. And if she does one or the other every morning, it’s really melodrama. She’s not going to pull the trigger or swallow the pills. She’s doing it for the audience, which is us.

  5. Jamie Beck
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 09:30:30

    I’m probably not going to explain this as well as I’d like, but I’m going to try. As others noted, this doesn’t feel like it is starting in the right place. It’s basically all back story…being “told” instead of shown to the reader…which is why it isn’t connecting with us emotionally.

    Katrina has a bad situation (dealing with the loss of a loved one), but that isn’t an inciting incident…it doesn’t tell us what is happening in the present that is about to cause trouble for Katrina. It doesn’t give us any hint about the journey she’s about to take or why we should care if she succeeds or fails. All we know right now is that she’s struggling with suicidal thoughts because of grief. Unless you are writing literary fiction, that’s not really enough to hook the reader and get a story going.

    Look at your plot and start where the “new” action begins, then feed in this back story to enhance our understanding of why the protag reacts to the new situation however she does. Does that make sense?

    Sorry if this didn’t help. Thanks for sharing your work. Best of luck!

  6. Mary
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 09:34:42

    I am finding it difficult to sympathize with such an over the top heroine. She seems like a drama queen, and her grief seems very exaggerated. It almost seems like she’s taking a very sad situation-the death of her girlfriend-and making it all about her.

    On the note of the word “corazón”- in Spanish it should definitely have the accent. Also, from what I recall from when I lived in Spain, it’s a common term of endearment, used for children or significant others. You would call someone mi corazón, meaning “my heart”. Translating it literally is a bit jolting with “her heart’s pillow” but even stretching it to a more idiomatic translation, saying something like “her darling’s pillow” or “her sweetheart’s pillow” sounds odd, especially as the first introduction to the character. I would say to use Lucia’s name in the pillow part, and then introduce the endearment later on.
    It also was a bit jarring to me, as someone who is bilingual and who knows many others who are, that corazón is the only Spanish word in here, especially as we are in her thoughts. If she were speaking out loud to English speakers, then it would be understandable that she’s sticking to English until she needs a word or expression that is better in Spanish. It just, for whatever reason, really seems weird to me, that it’s just the one word. I think it’s contributing to other people seeing the fact that they don’t understand “corazón” as a big deal. If there was more Spanish flavoring thrown in, I think corazón would stand out less.
    Good luck!

  7. theo
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 10:59:56

    First off, I’m not a reader of M/M or F/F or 3-ways so take this with a grain of salt. What I do have is depression. Often times severe. The depression here was insincere and didn’t ring true. Also, I started skimming almost immediately because nothing grabbed me. Nothing at all. Not the girlfriend’s death which we have absolutely no information about because we’re so centered on the ridiculously depressed person. People as depressed as you’re trying to explain are beyond the normal day to day existence. They don’t get out of bed. They don’t eat. They don’t shower. They don’t do anything but lay in bed. They have no reason to continue and generally end up in the hospital. I know. I’ve been there. So the over the top drama and florid writing does not make me want to read 300 pages of her getting her life back together. Especially if her happiness will depend on someone else in her life. Depression rises from the ashes because the person experiencing it wants it to. Not for anyone else. As soon as something happens to the other person, an argument, a change in routine, anything like that, and the depression returns. Since she’s getting out of bed and has the ability to consider ending her life, this drama was just too much for me.

    Other nitpicky things:

    If the indentation of her lover’s head is still on the pillow, I would expect that the death happened within the last two days. Three at the most. I don’t want to read about an Hn who has been sleeping in the same sheets for months without washing. Yes, I know, depression, but I don’t want to know. Even depressed people who are still motivating go through the routines. Not often, but they do. It’s almost rote memory for them.

    Your tenses are all over the place. This needs a lot of editing. You have five paragraphs plus one line that repeats the same basic theme over and over. Get past it. Her lover died, she’s depressed, how will she cope? This does not bode well because it makes me think the entire thing will be overwritten with drama galore.

    I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but this needs a sharp eye to edit and a rewrite. Definitely not for me at this time.

  8. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 12:22:43

    Theo’s first paragraph… There is no better explanation of what’s wrong with this first page. The rest, the typos, the tenses, all that is technical stuff and relatively easy to fix. But even if, technically, it was perfectly written, nothing of what’s there rings true for me.

    This is a pass for me, big time.

  9. Lindsay
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 16:16:35

    Agreeing with Theo, and I’m definitely not your target audience — suicidal ideation and self-harm on the first page have me putting the book down immediately, and I wouldn’t have read past the first paragraph if I picked this up in a store. That’s my self-care issue, not yours, and I’m actually glad it’s right there on the front page, because I can’t read about them without evoking severe emotions that will prevent me from enjoying the rest of the story.

    I would also be very wary of a story with someone this badly depressed who comes to a HEA without a lot of counselling or therapy and possibly antidepressants, and would be immediately suspicious that her depression would be cured by magic wang — and that would just make me furious. I’m also surprised she has zero support — no family, no friends, no neighbours, no co-workers? I know a big part of depression is self-isolation, but if this was caused by a sudden event is there really no one at all in her life who cares about her?

    Just to note, too, that it’s fairly general knowledge that overdosing on painkillers won’t kill you, just make you miserable — it’s a quick google search, and someone who is at the stage of full ideation will likely have a way that works. Having a gun would make her extremely unlikely to take pills as it is a faster, easier, more painless solution. Someone that far down the rabbit hole may have really messed-up priorities, but wallowing in pain isn’t one of them — it’s about stopping the pain.

    PS Theo, internet hugs.

  10. Kilian Metcalf
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 16:56:30

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I liked this. I think the author did a good job of communicating the deep pain and lassitude of depression. Since I’m Hispanic, I knew what corazon meant (agree about consistency with accents), but it wouldn’t hurt to use a synonym to explain the word. My takeaway is that the author does a good job of showing how depression sucks all the energy out of a person’s life. I’m assuming the inciting event will come with the phone call. I’d keep reading.

    I think a sharp editor would help with catching the inconsistencies. For example, she keeps the pills ‘next to her bedroom,’ and then when the alarm rings she gets out of bed. So if the pills aren’t in the nightstand, has she gone back to bed after taking them? These are little things, but they can pull the reader out of the story. This portion could be trimmed and tightened, but I was drawn into the character’s pain.

  11. theo
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 18:45:35

    Lindsay, thank you. :)

    I can tell you from experience that a deep enough depression doesn’t allow for the strength to plan to kill yourself. In your slide downward, if you haven’t tried prior to hitting rock bottom, you can’t bring yourself to do it. You have no physical strength even to pick up a gun let alone hold it to your temple (and most women don’t shoot themselves in the head. Vanity, regardless of how depressed you are.) They don’t have enough strength to push the knife in deep enough to cut their wrists and you don’t want to cut the wrist. You want to cut the vein the length of the arm if you want to do it and succeed. All they do is sleep. Twenty-three and three quarters hours a day. And the quarter hour you’re awake is spent trying to drag your sorry arse to the bathroom because something inside you tells you that you really don’t want to lay in that and to clean everything is just beyond comprehensible.

    There’s more, but I’ll stop. On this first page however, the contradictions outweigh the real thing and like I said, the only one a person can crawl out of the depths for is themselves. Nothing else will last.

  12. Maura
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 18:52:30

    Once again, I’m left asking myself why I should care about this person. I knew what corazon meant (though, yes, should have the accent), but this didn’t make me feel your heroine’s grief. It felt like a recitation of “she is sad. she is very sad. she is so sad.” If you’re going to start with a character in this situation, I need to empathize with her from page one, and I don’t think this is the place to start. Nothing happens here, and I don’t really feel that she’s at the bottom. Having something happen to show how her life has been affected- maybe her boss calling her to fire her for not showing up (at the beginning, not where you have the phone ringing here), a hint of outside perspective- might help. Is she staring at emails from her family, unable to answer? How are the messages on her phone stacking up? Is anyone at all reaching out to her?

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