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First Page: Matryoschka Sarah, Science Fiction

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.  This piece is billed as Science Fiction but about relationships.


The Donut:

Behold the Donut. Hold it up and look at it closely. If you see the hole as a hole, that you lost something for that hole to be there, then you are a zero-sum-mentality. If you see the hole as a clever way to cook evenly the dough, the work it took to make it so, the creativity, the inventiveness, and the possibilities for more creativity, then you are a more-than-the-sum-mentality.

Sarah:

I get a lift from an acquaintance to settle up at the motel, having moved the remainder into the “new apartment” earlier in the day. I then spend 3 hours looking for jobs. Saving on a taxi, I walk back to my apartment from downtown. I sling my work-out duffel over my shoulder and walk up the hill to Campus. My plan is to “short cut” through the University campus, through the athletic complex, then down the hill to the cluster of older apartments where I had rented. As I am a semester early, my plan is to get a job, and save up and have funds for the expenses of my first Frosh semester. I am happy, ecstatic.

Mom and I wept, but kept a good front, as I got into my “ride”, 4 girls and one guy sharing a compact Toyota and hotel expenses. Mom and I had been close, probably too close since Dad, my older sis, and younger brother died in an accident when I was 8. Mom went back to work, I became the “good girl.” Never, well not too often, being a problem to her. I concentrated on good grades, and being the best student I could be. Mom always reminded me that if I was to get ahead, I had to be “serious” about my “job”, namely graduating from High School with honors to get the scholarships that would allow me to get an education. In my Senior Year, I had great grades, a few points behind the salutatorian. My serious, bookish demeanor plus natural shyness resulted in only one date, the Junior Homecoming. I was chaffing under this self-image, with the “inner-Sarah” demanding her metamorphosis.

I talked my mother in letting me move to the college town, Pullman, 3 months early, lock the rent for the year in when the rents would be cheap, and make money. No car, no serious expenses except for rent, I expected to make a major dent in the college book and course fees, and take out a small or maybe even no loan. My only concession to my inner Sarah was a quick whirlwind shopping spree of all the sales in Omaha, judicious use of my employee discount at the Department store where I worked, and some careful purchases at Goodwill. I had a very non-bookish wardrobe. Yes, as I walked, I can not stop smiling and periodically giggling.

It was an hour after dark when I finally leave campus, and start downhill into the residential part of town where the cheap apartments were. I am tired. Apparently the short cut over the hill was not a great idea. I note that going around the hill will be my route if I could not work out the bus routes to and from work. That was when I make my worst mistake ever. I leave the lighted street, and cut down an alley to get home quicker. A couple minutes later, an intense green light baths me. Behind the light I could barely make out a Captain Hook wanna-be, sans costume, with greasy hair, and a stereotypical comic book villain leer on his face.

“Hey!” I feel strangely cold … and empty …

Alex:

Am I beat! I hate this job. I am retail clerk in a venerable, but failing national chain. Built in the thirties, with hand painted murals on cracking plaster, it was depressing. My fellow workers are beat down drones, the management reminiscent of the first “Miracle on 34th street.” No wonder I am beat. This is not the way I saw things working.

I hope the new showerhead works with the low pressure in the apartment. Strange, this is the first time I am on my own, and my first purchase is a showerhead. But, as a prepubescent kid, reading how James Bond came in from a rousing time of wrenching and saving England for…well what exactly was the type of world that would be created by a semi-misogynist, closet-anarchist, stone cold killer, chain-smoking, inebriated, wisecracker? No matter, what stayed with me was that he came home to an invigorating shower of needle sharp spray. It was my first purchase after my best friend dumped me to be with my best buddy.

The apartment is an efficiency. From the front door, it takes me seven steps to get to the bathroom. I was going to have a two-bedroom apartment, with a real living room, a kitchenette, and a full sized bathroom with a large shower. Unfortunately, my high school bro, Quentin, who transferred from State this semester, backed out when I introduced him to my best buddy here in college, Katie. They hit it off, and I heard from neither for four days until I see Katie helping Quentin move out of our apartment. He was a good sport about the security deposit, not asking any back, but I was stuck with an apartment I could not afford. A quick trip to the Super and I moved to the efficiency. This is not a “Mary Richards” efficiency, but a cramped “Rhoda Morgenstern” efficiency. Even the mice were hunchbacked. Still, I am independent.” And alone.

Closing the hall door, I leave a trail of sweaty clothes from the door, past the hideaway into the cramped bathroom. I can almost touch the walls with my arms out, and I am only 5’ 11”. The old-fashioned hexagonal mini-tile is cracked and heaved in places making you correct your stance as you walked. The vanity is warped from lack a water sealing around the small sink bowl. The walls are pink and medium grey tile. The shower has the same tile, up to six feet. Above that, the paint is peeling from the walls and ceiling. However, I have that James Bond showerhead.

Refreshed, I step out of the shower and towel dry. I remember that I had bought some cologne, and it is still in the satchel. I will then get into my best suit and get on with it.

I look for my satchel. It was just outside of the bathroom, where I tossed it when I opened the apartment door. I reach in and find something cold, not exactly slimy but smooth and shifting. I jump back, trip and fall on my but on the tile floor. My ring finger has something beige on it extending back to the satchel. I try to shake it off, but with a slurping sound, more comes out of the bag. In a couple of seconds, my elbow is enclosed. Jumping to my feet, I shout.

“NO!” “Stop it!” It moves down my chest to my legs. I am numb and warm at the same time.

“How do I stop it?” Past my abdomen, down both legs, across my chest and down my other arm. Less than ten seconds, I feel it work its way up my neck, tickle inside my ears, and the creeping numbness make my short hair stand on end as it came over the top. The last thing I see in the mirror is my mouth and eyes being covered.

 

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

8 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 06:41:46

    Verb tense issues (I know you’re shifting from telling about what happened in the past to telling what’s happening in the present, but within those two frameworks you’re messing up the consistency sometimes), and WAY too much back story.

    I only skimmed the second part of this because you’d already lost my interest by then. I wouldn’t have read that far in a bookstore.

    The donut thing was a bit strange, too. If you’re going to open with something that random, you need to make sure it’s REALLY good. My brain focused on the “you are a ___ mentality” phrasing, and was totally distracted. The usual construction would be “you HAVE a ____ mentality,” and I was trying to figure out whether the weird word choice was deliberate or not. And then I had to decide whether the donut thing was really a good explanation of the zero-sum mentality (I decided it wasn’t) and then how I felt about the addition of a made-up term to contrast with the standard zero-sum idea, and … all of this was time I was NOT reading your story, and NOT really savouring your writing.

    I’d ditch the donut thing. It’s essentially a prologue, and it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose here. I’d also cut a LOT of the back story out of the rest of the writing. You can give us this information eventually, but we don’t need it right away.

  2. Jamie Beck
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 06:48:46

    I hesitated to comment because this is not a genre I read. However, I think the more feedback you receive, the more benefit you receive (which you deserve for putting yourself out there), so I’ll share my initial thoughts.

    There are three broad issues you might want to revisit: the opening paragraph, back story dumping, and defining your protagonist’s GMC.

    The opening: I’ll admit it. It confused me. Conceptually I assume you are trying to set a theme or message that runs through the story. The problem is that, placed up front, it isn’t connecting to anything the reader knows about the characters or story. It doesn’t grab me. I think most readers care foremost about the characters of a story. The most effective way to hook the reader is to quickly put them in the mind of the protagonist with action and/or dialogue. The donut theory doesn’t do that.

    Back story dumping: In this excerpt, we meet Sarah and Alex, and we get a lot of minutia about what they are doing that day and a ton of summarized personal back story. There isn’t much forward motion, nothing propelling us into a story. Back story is important, obviously, but is better when sprinkled judiciously throughout a story than when overloaded right up front. Rather than summarize who Sarah is, show me who she is by placing her in a situation where I get to see her thinking/reacting/emoting to whatever is going on. You can tell me about her mom, her dead family, etc., later … as and when relevant to the actual story.

    Goal/Motivation/Conflict: I’m assuming Sarah and Alex are experiencing these situations on the same day. I have no idea if they know each other, if they are in the same city, if Alex will be a love interest or a villain or some other force (I’m assuming Sarah is the protag since you placed her first). I think you’ve withheld some critical information hoping the mystery will enhance the tension. However, you’ve withheld so much, that I’m feeling mostly perplexed by what is going on…and not particularly intrigued yet. Based on what I’ve read, it looks like earth is being invaded by some sort of creatures (although the creatures are vague and don’t appear to be related yet). Obviously the main character’s life is going to be at stake, but that’s all I really know.

    I might start the story right when Sarah bumps into the scary guy in the alley…and then show us things about her character through her response/reaction to that conflict. Make us care if she lives or dies or defeats the bad guy.

    As for the writing, there are some technical issues you should address (like verb tense, one example…”it WAS an hour past dark when I finally LEAVE campus…should be IS/leave, and misuse of quotations throughout the narrative).

    I’ll leave you with these remarks, which are just one person’s opinion. Thanks for sharing your work. Good luck!

  3. Nemo
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 08:20:18

    You have a first person POV with none of the intimacy that makes that perspective worthwhile. The MC is narrating themself. “I did this, I did that, this happened three days ago so I did this.” A good first person gets us deeper into the character’s thoughts. There’s a lot more wiggle room for interjecting thoughts and showing emotion in first person.

    “It moves down my chest to my legs. I am numb and warm at the same time.” This is a very flat voice. I don’t want to spend too much time with a protagonist with this voice.

  4. Marianne McA
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 08:24:54

    I found the quotation marks puzzling – at first, given this is sci-fi, I imagined you were making the point that in this future language has changed, and the speaker is assuming that phrases like “short cut” will be unfamiliar to her readership. But the rest of your language doesn’t seem to have evolved, and you use – job – in one place and – “job” – in another, so I’m baffled.

    Apart from that, I found Sarah boring – she just assumes I’ll be interested in her life, and proceeds to tell me about it in too much detail. And it’s just not a very interesting life. I’m sorry that she had a family tragedy, but not sorry enough that I’m interested in whether or not it’ll be a good idea for her to take the bus next time she comes home. Like Kate, I’d have stopped reading before Alex was even introduced.

    Just to show how contrary readers can be, the donut was my favourite thing about the page. (That and the showerhead.)

    Good luck.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 09:20:46

    I’m willing to give the first graph a pass, because it is so odd and unexpected, and I did like the imagery. But after that, I had a hard time with what has been so clearly and expertly detailed by the above readers.

    This is my genre. I love this stuff. But unless you were trying to put a cold, distanced feel to your story, then you’ve lost me. As said above, this is a first person narration, and it’s a shallow rather than deep first person story. I have no idea how anyone feels about anything, even the shower head (love that bit, btw).

    If you really want that much detail about a bathroom, show me how Alex is in that space. Don’t give me the real estate tour.

    “I trip on a cracked tile, that weirdly shaped kind you find in old apartments . The floor is so heaved in places its like walking across the deck of boat sailing in choppy water. The color scheme–pink and gray–makes me think of elephants and the circus.”

    Also, the quotation marks scattered about seem like you’re trying to either point out something important or you’re being ironic. If neither is the case, then please lose them. The numbers should be spelled out…if you’re unsure when to spell or not with numbers, find a good grammar book, or a site like Grammar Girl, and learn the rules.

    You may also want to think carefully about word usage and sentence structure. “Short hair” as in “we have them by the short hair” means pubic hair. Now I know that’s not what you meant, but in that sentence that was the image I had.

  6. wikkidsexycool
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 10:23:06

    Hello Author,

    This reads like a hybrid of anime and YA, with a touch of New Adult added. If I had to say whose story drew me in more, I’d have to go with Alex. Also, the donut theory reads too much like the Matrix spoon explanation, and I don’t think you need it.

    I write and read lots of scifi, fantasy and paranormal romance, so I would be your audience. However, much of what you’ve written reads like a checklist on how a westernized heroine/hero would sound and act. I’m thinking you’ve got more skill at this than you’ve shown in this first page, and you’re still searching for your “voice.”

    If Alex and Sarah are destined to be together, then you’ll want to stay in one character’s head for a few more pages, because its important that the reader bond with your character enough to care what will happen to them. By just giving backstory and then throwing a villain at them or some special power, you’ve gone from A to Z in record time. I have to agree with the earlier comments, so I don’t have much more to add except that you’ll have to work on your world building, because right now I’m recognizing a number of overused tropes.

    I wish you all the best with this, and thanks for having the courage to share this with the public.

  7. Deirdre Saoirse Moen
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 11:23:21

    When you jump into backstory on page 1 (or, really, on any page), you’re saying that the backstory is more important than the narrative present. So the first question that comes to mind when this happens in the opening is: did the story start in the right place? If the backstory is that important, why not start with that as the narrative present?

    Also, backstory blocks are like stopping a chess clock on the narrative present. You can do it every once in a while, but pick carefully. As a general rule, page 1, is not the place. (Nor are pages 2-5.) I’d urge you to avoid anything more than implying the backstory in the first chapter. Let the narrative present be the story.

    Unless this is set in the mid-70s, you are severely limiting your audience with the Mary vs. Rhoda reference. Rhoda started airing almost 40 years ago, and you’re saying this piece is science fiction. If it is mid-70s, add a couple more references that make that clear. I don’t recall having access to any great showerheads in that era, not even in hotels.

  8. Terry Gene
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 12:40:33

    Wow!
    Do a cautionary bing/google search on key phrases in my nacient novel, I came upon this. My work, and I completely forgot about it. I apparently lost the URL before I read the critiques. THANKS everyone. All the critiques would have helped , immensely, if I could get back. I’m re-submitting, the new, “improved” story. This time, I promise to not loose the URL.

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