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First Page: Kusanagi: Song of Death (action/adventure)

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Author Sylvie Fox shared that the first page she submitted here can now be read in Puppy Love published by Crimson Romance.

She smacked the office door with the flat of her palm. The dull, tin echo fit the building, one of those steel frame structures with corrugated siding, probably a warehouse originally, then a machine shop or some sort of mechanic’s lair. The greasy dirt in the yard suggested as much. These days it contained a roadhouse, really an enormous bar, big enough to accommodate dozens of motorcycles out front in one long row like tilted metal dominos. Her dirt bike held down the end of the line, incongruous in that company.

The office abutted the main building on the far end, little more than a metal shed added on as an afterthought. Some loud grunting presaged the grizzled and quite large, paunchy fellow who eventually opened the door. He squinted at her in the afternoon light.

“Whaddya want, girly?” he snarled. “The front door’s over there.”

“I’m here to see you,” she said pushing him backwards. He might have thought to stand fast, tiny as she was in comparison, but giving way seemed strangely irresistible. “Would you turn off the security cameras for me?”

“Get outta here,” he snarled and reached out to grab her.

She parried and twisted his hand until she could enforce compliance with a light pressure from her thumb applied to the back of his hand. His forehead hit the concrete floor before he realized he was entirely at her mercy. A slight further twist brought tears to his eyes.

“I’d rather not have any record of what might happen in there. Shall we smash your equipment?” she asked, tipping her head toward the computer terminal on the desk. “Or just unplug it?” One more twist and he nodded vigorously.

She released him and watched as he dusted himself off. Unsurprisingly, he lunged at her again, apparently expecting to pin her against the wall. Another parry and twist, she controlled his wrist much more aggressively this time, and he found himself tumbling head over heels. After an awkward landing on the edge of the desk, he fell to the floor with a thud. He looked up at her foggily until she struck him sharply across the nose with the heel of her palm. He subsided into a heap, blood oozing across his face, and troubled her no more.

At the desk, she quickly found the program to disable the security cameras. Another one sent a short web video to the TV screens in the main room. She set it to repeat. When she entered through the door behind the bar the video was already playing. All heads were turned to watch it as she made her way through the middle of the room.

On the screen they saw a young woman take on about a dozen of their number in a dimly lit parking lot. The violence was intense, even gruesome. Some of them cringed at what they saw. Broken limbs and joints, the girl left a bloody wake behind her as she spun through the crowd. The gang finally capitulated, limping off carrying their maimed, though that was not captured on the video. The final image showed the girl glowering, an unholy fire in her eyes. Whoever held the camera must have flinched at the sight and stopped recording. A caption appeared under her face: “Have you seen this bitch?”

She stood directly in front of three men at a table off to one side, a smaller man with a bandaged throat and an arm in a cast, and two quite muscular men. She took them to be the leaders of the gang.

“I got your message,” she said loudly, gesturing to the large screen on the wall behind her. “I’m here. What do you want?”

The room came to a hush as people gradually recognized her. Hard looking men moved toward her from all directions. A female voice cried out from across the room.

“It’s her, that bitch! There she is.”

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. Cervenka
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 09:29:56

    I’m afraid I’m a bit critical of this opening and would read no further. For one thing, I can’t figure out who your POV character is because you’re jumping into everyone’s heads except for the girl. I’ve learned nothing about her or what she wants or why she’s there, and that doesn’t make this a compelling start for me.

  2. SAo
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 10:28:19

    This doesn’t grab me. I don’t know what she is doing or why. I don’t feel much emotion. No fear, no victory, not much defiance. I don’t get much sense that it’s a challenge for her, either. I have no investment in this character and don’t really care if she takes on a bunch of bikers and wins.

    In fact, it’s kind of like taking out the trash. You wouldn’t expect your readers to be excited by “she grabbed the bag and heaved it into the dumpster,” or that she’d successfully transferred trash to dumpster, would you?

    In addition, she’s walked into a place which, as far as I know, is full of strangers and attacked them for no reason. Not behavior that I consider heroic.

    I think you need to start with some emotion and motivation.

    The head-hopping isn’t helping you, either. We need to get to know your unnamed char and that is best done inside her head, not viewing her as a stranger might see her.

  3. Avery Shy
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 12:17:44

    I’d probably read further. I’m not fond of the main character (she seems like every other action-movie badass, impossibly powerful and confident, beating up hordes of faceless henchmen). However, I’d still like to see what happens next.

    One thing that bothered me: the opening sentence. She slapped the door? Really? That’s just so… obnoxious.

  4. Anne
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 13:55:27

    I’d not read further, in fact I stopped reading after “vigorously”. I already don’t like badass alphaholes. I dislike the female variant even more. Nothing I’d like to read and the prose isn’t doing anything to engage me either.

  5. Heather
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 14:32:31

    I wouldn’t read any more. I like badass chicks, but the girl doesn’t come across as one. She’s just a bratty cliche. Even in this brief look there is nothing likeable about her. Good luck


  6. evie
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 16:15:35

    With a few changes I’d read further.

    But I actually drifted off into daydreams while reading the first paragraph. Not good. The second time through, I began to wonder if maybe she had some kind of special power that was dependent on a building’s structure or history. That probably doesn’t make sense, but let’s just say my active imagination was trying to justify the wealth of unnecessary detail packed into the first two paragraphs. So I was disappointed when it turned out all that build up was just about knocking on the door.

    It’s okay just to start with her knocking on the door. You can squeeze in description as you go. And more important than description of the setting is a description of her interior life. Use you words wisely. Tell us how she’s feeling, reacting –make us see her world through her eyes.

    You describe this as action/adventure. Is it an adventurous romance, or a straight-up adventure story? It makes a difference. Different audiences expect different things and you are presenting this to a romance audience.

    Anyway, if this is, say, a Kill Bill type story, I think that the fight scene is appropriate, as is her bad-ass entrance into the enemy’s lair, and the details of her fighting technique are good, but again, let us in on her experience of these moments a little more. You hold everything at a distance. Old action novels do this: the mysterious hero goes around efficiently kicking ass and you never have any idea what he’s thinking or if he feels pain or anything. These days I think readers expect to be “closer” to the main character.

    I was confused about the video–about the whole last part, actually. I might be slow. If I’ve missed the obvious, please ignore this. But did she bring the video? I assumed she wanted it looping when she walked in the bar. That’s why she took that poor guy down, right? But I also assume her enemy produced it — the gang she seems to have fought with very recently. So why loop it for them? To make a grand entrance? Seems like she could have just showed up and skipped that part.

    I’d think a skilled fighter, one who has numbers against her, would be very selective about every encounter she initiates. No matter how good she is, each encounter holds risk. That video guy might have had a gun. She could have sprained her wrist or broken a finger or done any number of things that would put her out of action or put her at a disadvantage at her coming showdown in the bar.

    All this is just to say that if you want her to look smart, she shouldn’t do showy things for no reason. For what it’s worth.

    Keep working on this. Don’t get frustrated. Follow your vision.

  7. JD
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 21:09:27

    Thanks so much, everyone, for taking the time to look at my first page. This is very helpful.

    I was experimenting with not defining the POV character too closely in the opening scene, at least until she identifies herself on the next page (sorry about that!). My aim was not to describe anything that isn’t available to the perception of the POV character, but to avoid going inside her head initially. Your responses tell me it isn’t really working. Her motivation isn’t clear.

    She goes to the roadhouse to protect the bikers from the govt baddies hunting her who will descend on them if they find that video online. But protecting them, means confronting them, and risking another fight. I hoped to emphasize the paradox of her motives by staying outside her head. But now it looks as if I just mistook surprise for paradox, and surprise is not what I’m after.

    Maybe it would be better to announce her motives more clearly at the outset in a conversation with one of her protectors before she enters the bar. Something like:

    “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Connie asked.
    “They got what they deserved that night by the lake. But they don’t deserve to die for it.”
    “Yeah, but is it really your problem?”
    The sorrow swimming at the bottom of Emily’s eyes stopped her short. It was just one more incongruity in a girl capable of so much violence.
    “Fine. But Ethan and I are bringing the cavalry in exactly three minutes.”

    I didn’t think there was any head-hopping, but now looking it over again, I found two spots (thanks, SAO): “He might have thought to stand fast, tiny as she was in comparison, but giving way seemed strangely irresistible” and “…before he realized he was entirely at her mercy.”

    I started this story for my 13yo daughter, who’s a bit of ninja and quite fond of wuxia tales and YA fantasy. There’s this old Kendo saying—the true master can have no friends—which affected her greatly. So I tried to imagine various stories as a way of exploring what it might mean. The idea behind this one is to watch how the heroine comes to the conclusion that she must break up with the boy she thinks she doesn’t love. Maybe her life is too dangerous for him, or maybe he would get in the way of the spiritual journey she must undertake to escape the violence of her life. So it’s kind of an action/romance.

    I put in the scenery because the YA adventure stories my daughter reads seem a little thin in that department. But it sounds like I may have overdone it in the other direction. On the action front, I’ve been trying in other scenes not to describe the fighting from the heroine’s POV because I wanted to convey what it feels like to lose to her, the puzzlement, disorientation, etc.

  8. SAO
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 00:33:25

    You can’t just add a conversation before that scene and expect us to believe she cares about the fate of the bikers. You can do it with adding a bit to the scene:

    “Get out of here, Girly.” He reached to grab her.
    She dodged, “Wait, you need to know this. The Feds are —” she broke off as he lunged again, forcing her to grab and twist his hand. His forehead hit the concrete, bringing tears to his eyes.
    And she came here to save them! She looked down at the trickle of blood on his forehead.
    “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean —” Hell, she didn’t have time for apologies, she had to . . .

    And the thing you note about this, is that it stops being a generic fight scene with a generic MC, but gives us a reason to see your MC as being human, conflicted, and interesting.

  9. Wahoo Suze
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 09:59:30

    The best piece of writing advice I’ve heard lately is “If you have to explain what you were trying to do, you didn’t pull it off. Rewrite.”

  10. JD
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 10:06:54

    Thanks, SAO. I like your idea of making the fight the vehicle for her reflections. BTW, I was thinking of recasting the entire scene, not just the opening lines.

  11. JD
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 10:10:37

    Thanks, Wahoo Suze. It’s a good quip. I wasn’t explaining what I was tried to do, though. I was acknowledging people’s suggestions, and thinking out loud about how I might actually begin the rewrite.

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