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First Page: Love’s Little Gator Bites~working title

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Chapter One

Cowboy Down

Loud knocking saved Bobby Jean’s face from the sharp teeth of the piranha, this time. Waking up, she reached for her husband, but her hands landed on the cold satin sheets. He must have snuck off right after my little blue pills kicked in, she thought. One pill calmed her down; two pills knocked her out. Last night, she had needed two.

She could hear the aquarium bubbling behind her and the fan whirring overhead, but nothing else. Must have been part of the dream, she thought, sitting up and rearranging the wall of pink ruffled pillows behind her back. The Piranhas, alerted by her movements, raced around the aquarium in a frenzied school.

Big Jim had bought the “custom built” headboard for their wedding anniversary. The way he had carried on about his “spectacular” gift had made her think he was going to give her a new diamond or maybe a fine strand of pearls. He was, after all, the so-called “Cattle King.” And wasn’t she — “Bobby Jean the homecoming queen”. It had seemed reasonable to expect something nice. Instead, he had blindfolded her, carried her into their bedroom, and dropped her on the bed. For a moment, she had thought he wanted to fool around, but he had only positioned her before removing her blindfold. As her vision cleared, she had seen nine sets of pointy piranha teeth. Vaulting from the bed, she had run out of the room. That had been three weeks ago, and every night since, she had closed her eyes to the sound of piranha thumping the glass above her head.

Nauseated, she reached for her saltines. Nibbling on a cracker, she thought about her husband. He had no trouble “adding to his story” as they say in the L.L.S. (Living Life Sober) meetings. Big Jim had enough first-day-sober tokens to make himself a belt. In his latest “spectacular” thriller, he had driven his new truck into a canal. And it would have stayed there had Deputy Wayne Ryder not stopped to pee. At the moment of discovery, Deputy Ryder had been “trying to pee on a turtle’s back” (according to his police report) when he had seen the bright red truck in the water below. Stopping “midstream,” he had run back to his motorcycle to call it in before “heroically” diving into the canal. Deputy Ryder had not found anybody to rescue. Divers had been called to the scene and after searching for three days, they had found nothing, but a couple of old tires.

The truck had been a mangled mess. Most people thought Big Jim Walker was dead and his body had been taken by a big gator. Not Bobby Jean, she had known all along that the only thing dead on her husband was his pickled brain.

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. SAO
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 05:18:24

    You’ve got a lot of interesting ingredients, but this isn’t working for me. You’ve broken a bunch of rules, which shows me that there’s a reason for the rules.

    Rule 1) Start with action. This is a sit and think. BJ is sitting in bed and thinking over past events. She’s not doing anything. Because BJ isn’t doing anything, the piranha headboard becomes the focus of the page. It’s a fun detail, but it reflects badly on BJ. She gets nightmares, but she doesn’t tell her husband that she won’t sleep in the awful bed. She takes pills instead. Sure, I’d give it another page or two, but I’m skeptical. I see an MC who has problems and solves them with pills, not action.

    Rule 2) Don’t start with a dream. You had a strong opening sentence with lots of sensory detail, loud knocking, sharp teeth. I was ready to plunge into that world. The next sentence tells us that it was a dream, so, I’ve had to dial back from fast-paced excitement to nibbling nauseating crackers in bed, musing over past events. You don’t use the dream to say much about her emotional state or to link it to events. It’s just a function of the stupid headboard and her failure to assert herself.

    3) Avoid info dumps, parcel out information slowly. You’ve got a page full of info dump. We hear about the piranha anniversary gift, about the truck in the river, the Deputy’s peeing habits. What we don’t have is an MC we know or the beginnings of a plot.

    I think you might have a fantastic book, but the rules are there for a reason. Start with action, ditch the dream and let us get to know the character and the conflict before you start in on peeing on turtles, custom-built headboards, and the color of her pills.

  2. Willa
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 06:03:06

    After reading the whole page I am still none the wiser to what genre I am reading. Is it a mystery, a comedy, women’s fiction? The writing doesn’t give any clues . .

    I did find the Piranha headboard unique and amusing . . . . but there is no hook there to make me want to read on. Agree with SAO that the heroine doesn’t assert herself except to escape with pills . ..

    Also the repeated use of quotation marks was irritating . . whilst understanding the usage, by the time I was reading the 5th or 6th one I was being jerked out of the piece. When I had reached the 9th I was done.

  3. Nessa
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 06:35:30

    I’m actually confused. Big Jim is her husband, right? The guy who isn’t in bed when she wakes up on this particular morning, gifted her the piranha headboard three weeks ago … and [at some point] had disappeared after driving into a canal? Obviously, he isn’t dead/gator-food and had somehow escaped (how?), so, why does she decide to tell us _this_ anecdote? And why right now? Either I am missing the connection or the excerpt ends at a really bad place.

    Basically, there is too much happening, too many time jumps. I do like the individual elements, but right now they aren’t telling a story.

    Good luck!

  4. Cara Ellison
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 09:43:22

    There is absolutely nothing I hate more than a novel that starts with a character waking up in the morning. HATE THEM. They’re dull and boring.

    But I loved this. I loved the absurdity of it, and the voice was slightly similar to Carl Haaisan (incidentally, that is a voice I am wacky about). If you’re going for a zany, silly, whoop-de-doo thrill ride, you’re there. Boom.

    If you need a beta reader, contact me. I wanna read the rest of this

  5. Wahoo Suze
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 11:41:59

    I really like the voice, and I’m intrigued (which surprises me, because it kinda feels like middle-aged chick-lit rather than romance, and I’m really not into chick-lit), but SAO and Willa are bang on. I especially found the overuse of quotations annoying.

    I’d read a few more pages, but if it doesn’t turn into a romance, or at least more coherent, I’m gone.

  6. Avery Shy
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 11:46:07

    I feel a lot of these first pages could be improved if the author, before submitting, took the time to read other first pages submitted here. It’s amazing how many break the same rule: start with something happening.

    The first paragraph is alright (the opening sentence was definitely an eye-catcher). And you start off with a conflict: her husband is missing. Right off the bat, the reader is wondering why. Did he sneak off for some reason? Is he having an affair? Maybe he’s a workaholic, and he wanted to get some work done. Whatever it is, we want to know.

    But then you meander into backstory. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the piranha backstory. It’s funny and different, and says a lot about the main character, her husband, and their marriage. But still. Backstory.

    The subsequent paragraph concerning Big Jim’s inebriation is, similarly, amusing. Love, love, love the voice. Love the joke about the belt of tokens. BUT this probably needs to be worked in somewhere else in the story. Because here we have two small tales (the piranhas and the drinking) that serve the same purpose: to amuse the reader and characterize Big Jim. We don’t need two, especially not on the first page. (Hell, we probably don’t even need one, but I do like the piranhas.)

    IMO: keep the piranhas, cut the drinking story. If the drinking story is immediately necessary to the plot – like, say, a police officer is about to show up with questions about Deputy Ryder’s disappearance – cut it from the first page and work it into that scene instead.

    Get into the action. She wakes up, her husband is missing. We learn her husband is a little weird. She goes to find him. That’s what needs to happen. Conflict and action.

    Other things:

    – “And wasn’t she – ‘Bobby Jean the homecoming queen’.” Grammar isn’t my strong suite, but it seems to me there’s something wrong with that sentence. I get what you’re trying to say (I think) but the wording needs to be re-worked, or the structure or something.

    – Why are there quotation marks around “custom built”? It *is* custom-built. It’s an aquarium headboard.

    – Those quotation marks around “spectacular” are not necessary. The reader will pick up on the irony of that word, even without the quotation marks to point it out.

    – Every quotation mark (except for maybe “Cattle King” and the “homecoming queen” thing) is unnecessary, especially the latter ones. Delete them all.

    This is a good first page, but it falls into that gray area of “I’m interested, but not enough to keep reading”. Tweak it a little, and you’ll do great.

  7. Lori
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 12:09:40

    You don’t need to start in action. It’s a so-called rule that was made up by so-called rule makers.

    This needs editing, absolutely and there’s too much back-story absolutely and I love it. Absolutely.

    It does have that Hiassen voice which I adore. It’s quirky and amusing and I’d keep reading. But agreed that it needs trimming. I got confused about Big Jim missing and I wasn’t sure if when she woke to a knocking sound if someone was at the door or the fish were knocking at the glass (which wouldn’t make noise). So I was assuming someone was at the door and she was still sitting in bed thinking about Big Jim.

    I really want to read ths when it’s published. Please please please post here when it’s being released.

  8. ren
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 13:00:45

    The tacky rich man, with a thing for piranhas, and the has-been homecoming queen.? I think I’ve seen the video to this book. It’s ‘Earls Gotta Die” by the Dixie Chicks.

    There is way too much happening, with nothing to hold me interested. I don’t care about Barney Fife’s peeing habits, or that she eats crackers in bed. Why woud spend more time there than need be if you hate it?

  9. Ren
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 13:17:50

    @Lori: If you’re not going to start with some form of action, it had better be some amazingly interesting inaction.

    Sitting around on a stakeout can be interesting because despite immobility, the character is performing a purposeful task with built-in anticipation of future conflict. Sitting around in bed pondering expository information lacks momentum or tension and is therefore merely stagnant.

    “Action” doesn’t mean gun fights, car chases, and explosions. In every scene, the character should have a goal and actively pursue it from line 1. Characters are what they DO. Characters who DO nothing are uninteresting, no matter how “colorful” you try to convince the reader they are.

    Get her out of bed. Even if it’s just trying to get to the bathroom before she pukes on the carpet, get her moving. Hell, have her puke in the fish tank. But until you make her TAKE ACTION, nothing’s happening, and most readers have very little tolerance for that.

  10. Theo
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 13:57:34

    Aside from the fact that nothing really happens here, you lost me when I started counting how many times you used the word “had.” When my mind wanders enough to pick up on something like that, it means there isn’t enough to keep my interest which in turn, makes me wonder if the entire book will be like this. Consequently, it goes back on the shelf because right now, neither H nor Hn or the circumstances interest me enough to keep me reading.

  11. wendy
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 15:09:50

    Loved the voice and the story and can’t wait to read the book!!

  12. Pharmer
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 18:32:07

    Firstly – is this a romance? I think it would help if we had an idea of the genre.

    I see an interesting beginning that reveals two unusual characters.

    The husband, a larger than life character, Big Jim Walker (The Cattle king who buys his wife a piranha tank headboard). He’s a successful business man attending sobriety classes and failing. Now it appears he has staged an accident to look like he’s dead. Why?
    Then there’s his long suffering wife, Bobby Jean, the ex home coming queen who pops pills and eats crackers in bed. She in on the scam.
    Fascinating set up. Original characters.
    I would read on.

    Like Lori, I was confused by the loud knocking. I assumed someone was banging on the door and that’s what woke her from her dream about piranhas. So I had to stop halfway through, go back and re-read. (I dont have an aquarium, but I think, at most, fish would make a muted thumping.)

  13. Jacques
    Oct 27, 2012 @ 20:00:03

    I like the voice too. This is promising.

    But I definitely agree with Theo about all the hads. Pluperfect only makes sense when you’re trying to place one past even prior to another one, which you’re not doing here. “she had needed” “Jim had bought” “he had carried on” “she had thought” “he had only positioned her” “she had run” “she had closed” “he had driven” “he had seen” “he had run back”. She needed, he carried on, she thought, he positioned her, she ran, she closed, he drove, he saw, he ran back. You get the picture.

  14. karen
    Oct 28, 2012 @ 06:14:59

    I am reading this and this is 1 of the best and promiSing writing I have seen.

    having said tha, there is nothing interesting happening in the first page. therefore word the bottom line is concerned, if it for me I would not have what the book. make something interesting happen.

  15. Patricia
    Oct 28, 2012 @ 09:43:01

    After reading this, I feel like I know a lot more about, and am a lot more interested in, Big Jim than Bobby Jean even though she’s the POV character. It feels to me like this is his story and she’s just along for the ride. Perhaps that’s what her life with him has been like. Nevertheless, if I’m going to commit to spending an entire book in her POV I would want her to be at least as compelling as people who aren’t even in the room.

    You write with a very engaging voice. This has a lot of promise. Good luck.

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