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First Page: New Adult Novella, romance/light science fiction

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Life is all around; in the roguish giggles from the set of twin girls sitting across the waiting room, the bouquet of lilies perched on the reception desk, and the rush of nurses’ feet from one hallway into another. I can only focus on the sense of death and the Styrofoam cup of black coffee in my hand. It smells like a dirty woodstove, but right now I need something to clear my head. If that mean having to swallow down ash flavored whatever-the-hell-this-is, I’m all for it.

Macy hated coffee.

Don’t think about Macy.

“Sir?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose and seek out the source of the voice. A pigeon-toed nurse stares up at me with sharp, moss-colored eyes. The blond twist of hair on top of her head barely reaches my shoulders. She clings to a clipboard and watches me with expectation, as one waiting for an answer.

“Sorry, did you say something?” I hate hospitals. I hate everything about them; the smell of antiseptic, the squeak of sneakers across the linoleum, the unforgiving fluorescents, and the way noises travel for miles and miles from one corner of the building to another. Nothing’s sacred here.

“Are you the one who came with Miss Calloway?” the nurse repeats.

She means Macy of course. Macy Calloway; beautiful, disastrous woman. “Yeah, that was me.”

The nurse looks down at the charts, and back at me. “Are you her… husband? Boyfriend?”

“No.” But I wanted to be. I wanted to be everything to Macy Calloway. “We’re tenants in the same apartment complex.”

“Ah, I see.” She scribbles something quickly on the papers. “Does Miss Calloway have any family we should call?”

A gurney rolls through the ER doors and, for a moment, I stare at the little boy strapped to it. Bright spots of blood bloom through the gauze wrapping one of his legs from the ankle all the way up to the knee. From behind, a nurse calls for a room. I catch words like “bite”, “dog” and “stitches”. Looks like he’ll live. A knot catches in my throat.

“Sir?” the pigeon-toed nurse prods, and I make eye contact again. “I was asking about Miss Calloway’s family?”

“Right, um…” I exhale and every ounce of my strength saps away. “She said both her parents were gone. No friends.”

Macy didn’t have friends, she had visitors; strange men who’d drift quietly through her door like a November morning fog. When they left again, the sadness on her face always grew more pronounced—more permanent.

“What’s going to happen to her now?” I ask, the flatness in my voice masking the soreness of these fresh memories.

The nurse runs a finger along the edge of the clipboard, a nervous habit no doubt. “They’ll take her body down to autopsy.”

“Autopsy? Even when it’s obvious the narcotics killed her?” I declare, appalled at the thought of a knife against Macy’s skin. It’s not like she’s going to feel it, but it still seems so wrong; like defacing a work of art.

“If a patient dies before they reach the hospital, it’s policy that they undergo autopsy, Mr…” She tilts her head, prompting me to give her a full name.

“Um…” It seems I have nothing to offer, just the static in my mind. I grope and fumble in it, looking stupider by the second. Damn my noncompliant brain. Damn Macy. Damn the whole world.

And then it comes, a white flag raised sheepishly amongst the dead and dying.

“It’s Will,” I mumble at last. “Will Harper.”

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

18 Comments

  1. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 07:51:03

    Hello author,

    Thank you for having the courage to submit this.

    I liked it. Your writing skill is evident. However, your protagonist reads like a much older male. I’d guess him to be around thirty something. I actually like him better older, because the detail you give in the hospital room is spot on. Your descriptions are so good, that I think they shouldn’t be cut. I guess it all depends on the genre you’re going for. I know NA is hot right now, but you may well have success with this in genres like mystery, or thriller, or even general fiction, paranormal (and also lite scifi, as suggested by you). A recent book that comes to mind is Gone Girl which is what this opening sort of reminded me of, because you’ve laid a foundation of romance, and other elements that I’ve picked up on in this opening. I like your male lead. He’s caring, snippy, opinionated, and he didn’t get the girl. Maybe this isn’t where you’re headed with this character, but imho Will could actually be the hero of a series. Hapless, hopelessly falling in love with the wrong females, yet he trudges on, and readers adore him. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Okay, I’m gonna stop :) But it’s just that I can see how much potential this has, so I think you’ve got a winner here.

    Good work on your first page, and please either come back with a blurb, or some sort of update on this piece. I usually like to follow up on first pages that are intriguing, and yours is.

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  2. Linda Winfree
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 08:39:36

    If it truly is NA, I am not the target audience for this, but I liked it. It reads cleanly and smoothly, the descriptions put me in the time and place without detracting from what’s going on.

    I’m not a fan of first person, but I liked it here. I also thought the narrator felt older — late twenties, early thirties — because he feels mature, like he’s lived through life events that molded him. There’s almost a Nick Carraway vibe to him, and I think that’s what sucked me in to his first person voice.

    The cop’s wife/RS writer part of me hit the autopsy part and thought, “Dude, they are so about to look at you as a suspect.”

    I’d read on.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Holly Bush
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 09:22:58

    I like the feel of this story. I like Will’s randomness, and his distress and helplessness were strong. This is a great opening to watch a character as he wanders through this event and other events that often define twenty-somethings. I do agree with some others here though, that the character felt a little older than I expected, and for me, there were a couple of words that made me feel that way. One was ‘lilies.’ I would expect a nineteen-year-old to say flowers and the other was ‘narcotics.’ Drugs, I think, is what I’d expect this fella to say. The first sentence troubled me though. I had to reread it a few times. I assume you’re setting the contrast up – ‘life and death,’ and I like the use of that, but the wording for me was awkward. Still, a compelling start.

    All the publishing news seems to be about NA, but I’m not exactly certain what the genre is, except that it seems to fall somewhere between YA and women’s fiction, character age wise, and there should be some angsty, dramatic type feel to the language and subject matter. I like to think that this genre is author driven by the Indies. Young authors who have grown up in the digital age and have been surfing fan fic pages and Smashwords from the beginning and assume that the web will give them a platform for their stories. They’re writing about their generation, and the themes peculiar to it. Bravo!

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  4. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 09:55:27

    I agree with the previous comments, but for some reason this just didn’t grab me.

    I wonder if it’s a limitation of the “first page” aspect of things… If I’d read a blurb I liked or gotten a recommendation I would certainly have kept reading based on the quality of the writing. So maybe this is one of those times when a first page isn’t a good indication of the book. But for me, I wasn’t grabbed. I feel like we’re coming in at the end of one story, and I’m not getting any idea of where the actual story of THIS book is going to go.

    Again, though, I’m not sure we NEED to get that in a first page. With this format, no, I wouldn’t keep reading. But if this were a published book I’d have at least a bit more information about it, so you wouldn’t need to be selling it to me based on just one page.

    So, I’m ambivalent I guess. I liked the writing, though, and the character seems interesting.

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  5. hapax
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 10:04:06

    I really loved this too, although like everyone else the narrator felt much older than NA to me. I supposed unrequited love for a self-destructive woman could have aged him beyond his years.

    The first sentence threw me a bit, too, although I see what you’re trying to do. Maybe re-cast it as something like “There was too much life in the room” or “Everywhere I looked was full of life” or something less abrupt?

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  6. Willaful
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 11:24:18

    I’m very interested in reading more! I agree with the others that NA is not the feeling I got from this.

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  7. reader
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 11:27:04

    I really loved your voice. Your writing is strong and crisp and your characterization is great. I had a well realized picture of both Macy and Will in my head by the time I finished the page.

    You made me care about Will’s feelings without even knowing much about him, which is a rare talent.

    I also love some of your descriptions, like the coffee and the hospital. I think you veer a little into the purple with some of them, such as the white flag thing. That didn’t work for me. But your descriptions work, for the most part, and add immensely to the visual feel of your writing.

    I don’t mind first person at all. In fact, I like it. I wish there were more novels written in first. I think it works beautifully for your story because you have a solid grip on Will’s voice and personality.

    All that said, if this is a book you get published, it’s likely I’ll never read it. I loathe–absolutely, unreservedly despise–present tense stories. It’s jarring and weird to read, and it pulls me *constantly* out of even the most well-written of books. I think it’s gimmicky and it does more harm to a story than good.

    It makes me sad that this story is in present tense, because otherwise I’d be looking forward to buying a copy.

    All the same, I think you’re an excellent writer and I don’t believe you even need me wishing you luck with this one. I think you’re going to sell just fine.

    eta: The first sentence didn’t throw me at all. It’s exactly the reaction I’d expect from the character in this situation. I thought it was perfect.
    Also please do not listen to any suggestions to dumb this down or angst it up to appeal to a younger audience. I applaud an intelligent younger character. We need more of them. Too many YA and NAs now are full of immature characters drowning in melodrama. That’s stereotyping. It’s not real.
    Your story comes across as real. Don’t change that to please critics or editors.

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  8. JL
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 12:40:47

    I thought I would hate this just based on the type of novella it is, and the fact I really don’t even enjoy novellas, but I was hooked from the first word. I absolutely loved the voice. Almost everything made sense to me, including the protagonist’s sharp sense of detail in the moment. I do, however, strongly agree that the protag reads as though he’s at least in his 30s. I would have trouble believing he’s in his teens/twenties. As for where the story is going to go (light sci fi to me means sexy aliens. Maybe I’m way off base?), I don’t know. But I really enjoyed reading this first page. Good luck!

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  9. Linda Winfree
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 13:21:59

    @JL:

    I, too, wondered what the light sci-fi angle would be. I’d considered if perhaps Macy would regenerate before/during the autopsy. I thought maybe the men visiting and leaving her sad played a part in the sci-fi part. But sexy aliens would definitely be good!

    I think one of the reasons this page works for me is the author is not trying too hard to put all the answers out there on the first page.

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  10. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 13:26:06

    Only a few nitpicks… The semicolon in the first sentence is incorrect, as least to my reading. Items on either side of a semicolon must be complete sentences in their own right. It jarred me, and that’s not something you want in the first sentence of your book. I don’t object to semicolons as a general rule, but you might consider simplifying your first thought. The first paragraph also has a typo (mean when you meant means).

    The nurse’s height confused the hell out of me, as I assumed that he was sitting (he’s in a hospital waiting room), making her very, very small. If he’s standing/pacing, you might want to say that.

    The “she means Macy of course” — who is that for? He knows it’s Macy, the nurse knows it’s Macy. It’s for the reader, and that throws me out of the action. It’s a subtle “as you know, Bob,” but it’s one all the same. I’d also take out the “I declare.” I’m not an “only use said!” Nazi, but that one reads like a Southern belle saying, “I do declare,” and it’s odd to my mind.

    The writing is good, but this is so not my thing. Reads too overly serious and navel-gazey for me, more like a gritty thriller with a macho lead to my mind, not NA, as the others have said. But you paint words very nicely! Good luck!

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  11. anon
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 14:48:37

    I’d very much like to read more. Aside from the nits mentioned above, I like the voice.

    I’d like to see a blurb to know how this would be NA, in as much as Will seems a bit older than a NA character. He seems a bit world-weary, a worn-at-the-edges kind of guy, and one who seems to have been around enough hospitals to get the descriptions down to a T. I’ve worked in hospitals and yes, the coffee does smell and taste like that.

    For what it’s worth, I was also confused by the pigeon-toed nurse’s arrival, although I do like the description of her. I assumed Will was seated, staring at the floor, and then seeing her toes in front of him. So I had to make a bit of an adjustment to make him standing…but standing where? I know he’s in the waiting room, but again, I assumed he was seated across from the evil twins. But that’s an easy fix for you, dear author.

    Thanks for posting. It takes courage to put your work out there for critique.

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  12. Viridian Chick
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 19:56:31

    I liked this a lot. Love your voice. Very smooth writing. I’d definitely keep reading. I’m interested to see if the dead girl is the love interest and something science-fiction oriented is going to revive her, or if another girl will fill the role. I’m hoping for the first one.

    The only thing that threw me was the moss-colored eyes thing. Why would he notice that about a random stranger?

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  13. Author
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 21:56:30

    I wanted to say thanks for the overwhelming positive reaction to my work. There were several great suggestions that I can’t wait to work with while editing, especially the mention of sitting vs. standing. Just to clarify, Will is 20. I get what you guys mean about voice, and how he comes across sounding older. It fits well with who he is and what he comes from. The manuscript is titled SOULMATE, and here’s a rough working blurb you guys asked for.

    Sometimes we have to face death before we can really face living.

    Will Harper (the third) has been in love with Macy Calloway since the day he moved into the apartment across the hall from hers, and he’s been working up the nerve to tell her for over a year. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Macy and Will come from two different worlds. Will is a college kid who’s spent a lifetime trying to escape the legacy of the first two William Harpers, while Macy, a dancer at a popular night club, seems to be willing herself to self-destruct.

    When Macy finally pushes her own limits too far and gets her wish, it’s Will who discovers her body and has to deal with the aftermath. His lonely and quiet life is blown to hell when he receives a phone call from a doctor who claims he can give Macy a second chance at life. Plagued by a single question—did Macy actually mean to take her own life—Will accepts the doctor’s offer. But is he ready to know the answer to that question, and is Macy ready to live, really live, for the first time in her life?

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  14. anon
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 22:08:41

    Hi Author:

    Thanks for the blurb! I really like the premise and clearly would read more.

    Now, the only tiny question I still have is with Will’s age: college kid, who is 20, who has known Macy for over a year. That would make him something like 18+ when he first moves into the apartment building. Does that make him a college kid, as still in college?

    A final comment: please make it be more or less logical for the doctor to have called Will about the second-life thing for Macy. Not just because he’s the guy who brought her in…maybe out of desperation, because that’s the only number the doctor could find to call and it’s highly irregular and all that…

    But having worked in a hospital in a different life, it’s incredibly difficult sometimes for non-family to be told anything about someone, even deceased individuals.

    Good luck! Post back when you’re published.

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  15. Author
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 22:25:08

    Yes. Will is still in school, studying law. And yes, the doctor’s reasons for contacting him are logical ones. I’m lucky enough to be the daughter of a RN, and plenty of research was done over morning coffee in my mother’s living room. :)

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  16. Holly Bush
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 07:03:20

  17. SAO
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 07:41:08

    The blurb is interesting to me. I thought the first page was good but could be better. You some colorful metaphors. Having one at the exact right place is really powerful. Too many, not-quite-right metaphors takes away from the writing. For example, I thought the “raised the white flag” metaphor, didn’t work. A white flag denotes surrender, but Will has no reason to withhold his name, so offering it isn’t really a “surrender.” In the right place, it would be great. There, it just felt a bit purple.

    I offer another vote of hatred for present tense. Try using it when talking with your friends about your weekend. Does it feel natural?

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  18. coribo25
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 08:40:39

    @SAO: Re your last question. Feels natural to me. If you listen, people often mix and match past and present in speech for dramatic emphasis. Quite often the past is used to introduce a story and then the speaker slips into present. They might slip back into past when concluding their tale. Or they might slip in and out throughout.

    “I had this awful dream last night. I’m standing in front of the queen and I’m there in my underwear. And she’s staring at me like I’ve grown two heads. Prince Charles walks in and laughs. And then I woke up.”

    As a general point, I think it’s the difference in speech between reporting facts and conveying an experience. Ie, talking to friends, or telling the principal about a fight in the schoolyard. And I think authors really need to listen to their target characters speaking in real life if they want them to come alive on the page. Otherwise we will write them according to generalisation or how we think they should be speaking. YA/NA use the present in speech all the time to add drama to their tales. I think first person present serves this genre well.

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