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First Page: Kitsune

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Sombra Alara wasn’t who I was, she was who I was supposed to be. The name meant either “ruler of all shadows” or “shadow ruler of all.” Take your pick; it was just a name. As Scorpio, I changed names and appearances as easily as I changed clothes. The only constant was the stylized butterfly I painted on my face before hiding it behind an illusion. After all, Sombra Alara, my cover identity for this assignment, wasn’t Scorpio.

I stepped out of the bathroom and into the entryway where the cool night breeze rustled my damp hair and tickled my nose with the smell of ozone and this rich masculine scent. Whoever else was in my hotel room with me had to be good. I hadn’t even heard him come in.

Instinctively, I reached for the silkwire bands that should’ve been around my fingers, but I had taken them off before my shower. Of course I wasn’t defenseless; I was Scorpio. I listened to the intruder’s steady breathing to pinpoint his location.

Hiding amongst the shadows, I slipped into the darkened bedroom and came up behind him. As I slid my hand under his black hair and reached around for his chin to snap his neck, he elbowed me in the gut. 

I lurched forward, right into his awaiting fist. Turning my head at the last second deflected most of his power. Still, it was a good hit. I’d say I could feel the bruise forming around my left eye and down that side of my face, but I had too much adrenaline pumping through my system for that.

So, that’s how you’re gonna be, huh? I grinned. This should be fun.

The intruder spun to face me. His breath caught, as did mine. Our eyes met, assessing the opposition. A black mask covered the lower half of his face. What the hell was another Scorpio doing here? Was he here to terminate me?

For a Scorpio sneaking about in other people’s rooms, he was not what I expected. Instead of the form-fitting black Scorpio suit, he wore black cargo pants and a button up white shirt with the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up. Still, he had to be hot. I was, and I was wearing shorts and a camisole. His spiky black hair proofed out in an attractive way. And I was quite certain it rose another degree or two in there.

Scorpio or not, I wasn’t going down without a fight.

Without breaking eye contact, I punched. He blocked. Punched. I blocked, grabbed his forearm, and pulled him into a roundkick. Followed by the edge of my hand to the back of his neck. He wasn’t out yet, but neither did her break out of my hold.

I was about to smash my knee I into his face when he shifted his weight forward and tripped us. He might be strong for a human, but I was a Fox. That gave me just enough strength to overpower him. I rolled over, straddled him. As I pulled my fist back to punch again, he lowered his mask.

He’s not Scorpio? Then who the hell does he work for? How the hell did he find me?

No one even knew where I was, except Scorpio. But there was no getting around the subcutaneous microchip between my shoulder blades, compliments of the Scorpio school system. Not unless I wanted to jam its signal, causing them to be more suspicious of my behavior, or cut the chip out, which was a personal fuck you to the Scorpio Lord himself. When we were trained to disguise ourselves so well, not even our families or loved ones could identify us, Scorpio needed a way to keep track of us.

Yet somehow this masked non-Scorpio had found me. Which meant he was skilled enough to hack the Scorpio database. Or knew someone that was.

Fuck.

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

21 Comments

  1. Willa
    May 26, 2012 @ 04:49:16

    I got confused as to who/what Scorpio was . . and the constant repitition of the word in the small piece was jarring.

    And who/what is a/the Fox? I thought they were a Scorpio?

    In the fight scene

    I lurched forward, right into his awaiting fist.

    says to me the assailant has already turned to face her but then later you go on to say

    The intruder spun to face me.

    which jarred me from the mental picture I had formed.

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  2. PC
    May 26, 2012 @ 06:31:08

    I agee with the above comment about the continued use of the word Scorpio, it is alittle jarring. Also the heroine seems to be thinking too much for a fight scene, if you are fighting someone who is intent on killing you, you are not going to be thinking about what the assailant is wearing or how cute his hair is, save that for after the fight when the adrenaline has worn off. I think with a bit of tightening this has the potential to be a fantastic first page.

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  3. Kate Sherwood
    May 26, 2012 @ 06:46:03

    I think this is really strong, although I agree that there’s a bit of fine-tuning to be done.

    The first paragraph, for me, was a bit much. An exotic name that we’re immediately told isn’t important; a familiar word apparently being used in an unfamiliar way; a painted face-butterfly; and magic.

    Not hearing someone come into your hotel room when you’re in the shower doesn’t seem that strange – if she’d been doing something quiet, okay, but the shower gives quite a bit of cover noise. And then he’s obviously NOT all that good, if he hears the sounds of the shower turning off, knows that she’s coming out from a specific direction, and still lets her sneak up behind him…

    “His spiky black hair proofed out in an attractive way.” threw me off. A) I don’t really believe the trope of having people find their attackers attractive, and B) I assume “proofed” is meant to be “poofed”, but still, I don’t think it’s the right word – “poofed” sounds fluffy and cute, not spiky, and it really doesn’t sound like a word that should be used to describe a highly skilled assassin.

    “And I was quite certain it rose another degree or two in there.” Again, this goes back to the “I don’t think people get turned on when they’re being attacked” thing, but I could believe it if you made some sort of reference to it, like acknowledging that the character has a violence fetish and always gets turned on when she fights, or something. We just don’t know this character well enough, yet, for me to believe this weirdness.

    I also got a bit confused by the part where he pulled down his mask while she was straddling him. She didn’t have his arms pinned? And why did she stop fighting when she realized that he wasn’t Scorpio (and I’m still a bit unclear about this whole mask thing, to be honest – is her painted butterfly a mask, or is that something totally different?)? She’d been ready to break the guy’s neck just for sneaking into her hotel room, but now she’s holding off? Maybe it’s because she wants more information, but couldn’t she still punch him?

    As I said, though, these are mostly details. I like the overall approach, the characterization, the writing style… if I’d made it past the first paragraph in a bookstore, I think I’d have kept reading after this page.

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  4. PS
    May 26, 2012 @ 07:25:56

    I agree with the comments and was also confused by the first paragraph. Why advise us of some mysterious symbol and then advise us it is covered up? The details didn’t flow for me, for example the info that she slid her hand under the hair at his nape when she was attacking him – that seems more appropriate for a romantic move than a fight. It slowed my mind down from the idea of two assassins fighting as I tried to picture the logistics. Also I wasn’t clear how a kitsune figures into the story but that may not be apparent on the first page. And I know of at least one instance where the title Kitsune has already been used, although that doesn’t mean it can’t be used again. But you may want to Google titles if you’d like yours to be unique.

    Good job and kudos for posting a first page! Keep writing! :)

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  5. Berinn Rae
    May 26, 2012 @ 09:23:13

    The writing style (e.g., use of Scorpio) threw me a bit, and I found myself rereading each paragraph. Even so, I wanted to keep reading. You have a unique voice, which I liked. This first page is toeing the line of being fabulous. Consider reading aloud to tighten sentences, because I think little tweaks are all you need. Thanks for sharing – I’d love to read this story.

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  6. Bren
    May 26, 2012 @ 10:10:41

    Great writing. My advice?

    LOSE that first paragraph. It’s totally unnecessary and doesn’t really give us any information that we need as a reader. The second paragraph is nice and “hooky” and that’s what you need for an opening paragraph.

    Second, the way you are phrasing the term “Scorpio” is confusing. Is it a name, an organization, a classification of who/what she is? Because you kind of use it as all three. SO… please make it crystal clear. If Scorpio is an organization, then say “I’m an agent of Scorpio” or something like that. And when referring to the other guy “He’s not from Scorpio,” or something similar.

    Good luck with your WIP!

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  7. Darlynne
    May 26, 2012 @ 10:37:27

    Perhaps because I’m a Scorpio, I definitely wanted to read more. I was tripped up, however, by the same things the previous comments mentioned. I hope you’ll continue to write and perfect your skill; there’s a good story here waiting to get out.

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  8. Des Livres
    May 26, 2012 @ 10:52:34

    I agree with the suggestion of ditching the first paragraph. I didn’t like it, but was hooked by the second paragraph, and wanted to keep reading. Praise is easy to give and receive, and constructive criticism is not so available, so I’m going to get critical now on something I think is a pretty strong piece of work.

    I was pulled up a bit here and there by proseclunk, such as feeling the bruise forming when it’s more likely to be swelling, the strange 80s manga hairstyle, and “he tripped us” instead of “we tripped” and the mask thing. The hyper-perfect heroine noticing that 2 whole buttons were undone? That jarred me a bit while reading.

    I do get that the reader is meant to be intrigued by the multiple sense and meanings of scorpio, I was conscious of that as I read, and was prepared to go along with it. I did wrinkle my forehead at the “fox” issue as well. Whatever that is, it could probably wait.

    I interpreted her checking out the guy as being about her not being threatened because she is so kick-ass. Whatever you are intending there, it might be good to spell it out a bit more in her mental monologue.

    I hope you get these relatively minor issues sorted soon, and the book published, because I want to know what happens next.

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  9. theo
    May 26, 2012 @ 11:19:20

    First, let me say I rarely read first person. There are very few authors who can suck me into suck a limited POV. Things have to be clear and all encompassing and still let me know what everyone else is feeling without dragging me from the main character’s sole voice. That said, I found this confusing at best. Between the cryptic references to Scorpio and what it is, the typos and the odd thoughts, I had to read it twice.

    I agree about the first paragraph. Lose it. Or clean it up. The way it’s written, it adds nothing at this point since we have no background to apply it to.

    I understand your reference to Fox thanks to your title, but not how it fits in with whether she’s a Fox or Scorpio.

    She left her silkwires in the bathroom and doesn’t think, oh, shit, or something to that effect? If she’s in a perilous spot and uses them for defense, I’d expect more of a reaction than a passing thought. And that was a big problem I had with the fight scene as well. It reads like a litany of steps. I punched, he turned, we fell. There’s nothing that makes me root for either one because there’s nothing that makes me believe either is in danger. There’ s no tension, no sense of urgency, nothing. And in the middle of what should be an exciting fight scene, she stops to assess how cute he is which only detracts even more.

    Sorry, but the way it’s written now, I wouldn’t read on.

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  10. DM
    May 26, 2012 @ 12:23:53

    Yes, lose the first paragraph. Your writing in general suffers from clunkiness–this:

    Sombra Alara wasn’t who I was, she was who I was supposed to be.

    Pretty much sums up all your problems. Notice how often “was” appears–four times–in a single sentence–that doesn’t actually say anything.

    The problem with what follows is that there is no tension. Action does not equal tension. Why should we care about what happens to either of these people? What does the outcome of this fight mean to the point of view character? What does she want? There isn’t an ounce of emotion–nothing whatsoever to empathize with–in this passage.

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  11. Lucy Woodhull
    May 26, 2012 @ 13:25:40

    I agree — lose the first paragraph. The name “Sombra Alara” sounded so fantasy or alternate universe to me that I thought this was such. Then cargo pants happened and I was a bit confused.

    I feel as if the attacker is the hero? Even if that’s so, I agree with the others that being all turned on in the midst of a life or death battle 1) lowers the stakes, and 2) makes your character detached from the goings-on . I think even a great action character needs a certain amount of vulnerability or she can turn into a cocky, punchy cliche. That’s often the #1 problem I have with action romance — the author wants to make the heroine kick ass (and that is awesome, yes!) so they turn them into the literary equivalent of Pierce Brosnan as 007.

    Your voice is great, though, and even with all that being said, I’d read on and give you more time just because I like being on the page with you. Good luck!

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  12. JenM
    May 26, 2012 @ 16:14:26

    I’m not going to offer any specific suggestions because, I think all of mine have been covered. However, I wanted to chime in to say that as a UF reader, I was intrigued and would definitely read on. This is still pretty rough but it has good bones and I was interested enough to want to know where you are going with it.

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  13. Heather
    May 26, 2012 @ 18:51:19

    Like JenM I’m a UF reader. Unlike her I wouldn’t read on. I was bored. There was no urgency.
    For me there was no tension in the fight scene. There are 12 references to Scorpio. That’s a lot.

    I think the title is good thought and you should keep it if you can.

    Good luck with your writing

    Heather

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  14. DS
    May 26, 2012 @ 20:36:21

    Kitune is Japanese for fox, Sombra Alara (spanish?), Scorpio– the basis of the word is Greek. Too many different cultural references in too short a space.

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  15. Kate
    May 26, 2012 @ 20:53:26

    All of my specific criticisms have already been covered in the comments (spiky hair + proofing/poofing=no good. Poofing to me means either those 80′s bangs that were 5″ tall, or a frizzy, mushroom cut. Too many uses of Scorpio, etc). Unlike the majority, I *loved* the first paragraph- at least the first four lines. You lost me with the painting the butterfly & then covering it up, why bother to do it in the first place? Despite the quibbles, I would totally keep reading. You have an interesting voice and the potential for an intriguing and unique story. I sincerely hope I come across this title again while browsing in a bookstore one day.

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  16. Ani Gonzalez
    May 26, 2012 @ 22:38:13

    Oooh. I like this chapter. I would read on.

    The various Scorpio references were a bit confusing. I would keep the first paragraph, drop the “Sombra Alara” and explain the Scorpio references. Is she a Scorpio AND a fox? Or is she a fox that was trained as a Scorpio?

    Also, I’m unsure as to genre of the work. Kitsune and Sombra Alara sound UF, but the rest of the work (including Scorpio) sounds like contemporary/suspense.

    This may be a nitpick, but I don’t like the fact that she forgot her garrote. I’d prefer it if the intruder disarmed her. Forgetting her weapons undermines her competence and fighting prowess seems to be a very important characteristic for this protagonist.

    Good luck. I think this is very promising.

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  17. Maili
    May 27, 2012 @ 10:25:09

    I strongly agree with @DS on this page having too many cultural references. They’ve conjured a confusing picture for me when I read it.

    For example, I don’t understand the association between a (painted) butterfly, a fox/kitsune *and* a Scorpio. In the case of the butterfly and the fox/kitsune, they are culturally hundred miles apart. A butterfly is, mostly positively, a messenger of death/life or a ‘boatman’ to guide souls to the afterlife. And a fox, mostly negatively, represents wisdom, sex or malice. A scorpion has little or no cultural place in Japanese folklore/culture.

    Western zodiac animals aren’t that well known, too. Better known zodiac animals are Tiger, Hare, Rat, Pig, Horse, Sheep, Dog, Dragon, Snake, Monkey, Rooster and Ox. No Scorpio. Also, a scorpion is usually portrayed as a giant monster or a cute little thing, like a crab. :D

    On top of that, while I was reading this excerpt, I wondered how a Fox/Kitsune can be a Scorpio? So confusing. I then realised I was taking ‘Scorpio’ too literally, e.g. it could be just the name of a specific society, not a scorpion in sense of a fox/kitsune and a butterfly. I also had allowed the title ‘Kitsune’ (and the fact it’s in romaji) to create an assumption that the setting was Japan. *headdesk* Stupid me.

    So yeah, too many cultural associations there in First Page, I’m afraid. Better to simplify, perhaps? Or leave some mentions – e.g. butterfly – for later to make it easier for you or your character to explain.

    But well done, Author, for having the guts to share the First Page. :) Thank you and good luck!

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  18. akaria
    May 27, 2012 @ 12:32:34

    I love active openings but think this one went on a little too long. I don’t know anything about the MC so the play by play of the fight didn’t work for me. She seemed very distant. I think including some sensory details would help get readers deeper into the scene and character. Is she sweating? Is her heart pounding? Did that punch to the gut even hurt?

    I also agree with others that it’s not the right time to notice how hot her opponent is.

    Looks like the beginning of a good story. Keep at it!

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  19. SAo
    May 27, 2012 @ 14:33:17

    I think your problems are:

    1) We don’t know the goal or motivation (or name) of your heroine, so the conflict is confusing or meaningless.

    2) Maybe No-name is a ruler of shadows, but then maybe not. Maybe she’s a Scorpio (which I took to be at various times, her zodiac sign or her name, but it appears to be neither). Maybe she’s a fox. At the end of the page, I’m more confused than ever about who she is and I don’t know her name.

    3) The fight scene is unbelievable. You’re telling us the intruder might be an assassin, “Was he there to terminate me?” but you’re showing us he’s no threat, “He must be hot in those cargo pants.” If you want us to believe she thinks someone’s there to kill you and he’s good at his job, then all her considerations have to be on assessing his skill and how each move is bringing her closer or further from winning/surviving.

    I get the impression that you probably have a pretty good story somewhere, but at the end of page one, I don’t know what’s going on or why I should care about No-name.

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  20. Avery Shy
    May 27, 2012 @ 16:30:08

    I love the flow (except for what’s already been mentioned, ie, the “Scorpio” thing which becomes jarring after the fourth or fifth mention). I think you have a real talent for words.

    That being said:

    Once, my sister almost had her purse stolen by the same guy twice in one day. Both times, he failed, and both times he ran off. Later, the police asked her what the thief looked like. She said, “I think he might have been wearing a red shirt.”

    The point is: people do NOT pay attention to appearance during a fight. I imagine this would be true even for a trained killer. Perhaps especially for a trained killer, who would not give a damn what their victim looked like.

    Give your protagonist a chance to calm down. Maybe once he’s unconscious, she will inspect him. (Or however your fight ends.)

    I’m also gonna add a vote to the “delete the first paragraph” thing. It’s a nice first paragraph, but the second paragraph would be twice as good.

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  21. Carph
    May 28, 2012 @ 00:41:37

    I personally liked that she forgot her primary weapon. Maybe I’ve read one too many stories open up with the protagonist being perfect and the best. It’s nice to see someone make a mistake. And stepping forward rather then going back for them shows a confidence in skill without a weapon.

    Personally, I’ve never been a fan of block discription for any character, which is what the “stop and check out what the sexy guy looks like” section reads as.

    The fight scene reads like a theatre fight choreography manual. But the first paragraph establishes identity as a central theme. And her careful consideration of her opponent and attempts to identify him play well with it. But does it belong in the middle of a fight scene?

    Disagree with some of the comments above. I have no idea of who/what Scorpio is, only that it involves a group. But I’m willing to accept that I may not have the answers on page one. The reference to her being a fox when he was human tells me that Scorpio is an assumed role in the culture while fox is her race or species. So that at least starts to bring it in to focus. I’d give it more then one page to answer my questions.

    ReplyReply

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