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First Page: Out of Time

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London—September 1, 1861

Agent Julia Richardson prided herself on her ability to make herself nearly invisible; it was the only way to survive at the agency—The American Bureau of Inter-dimensional Travel. Having worked as a field agent for nearly eight years, Julia had been to a lot of balls in a variety of eras, but the one she was at that night took the cake.
This particular ball, which was being thrown by Lady Winchester with hopes of finding a bride for her son, Matthew, the Duke of Westhampton. Julia watched as dozens of girls—all around the age of eighteen, which was a full twelve years younger than the duke—throw themselves at him. It was like watching Survivor: Victorian Era as it was obvious that Matthew wanted nothing to do with any of them.

There was a reason for that, of course. It was a thinly veiled secret that Matthew had been involved with the very married and recently deceased Lady Caroline Witherbee. Having studied portraits of the dearly departed, Julia can understand what he saw in her. Unfortunately, at least for Matthew, his interest in Caroline was the reason that Julia had traveled all the way from the twenty-first century to Ye Olde England—she was sent to investigate anyone and everyone that knew Lady Witherbee in the weeks before her untimely death at the hands of what appeared to be Jack the Ripper, despite the fact that the first documented Ripper killing wasn’t for another twenty-seven years. Chances are that Caroline wasn’t killed by Jack the Ripper, but Julia’s boss, a Ripperologist in his spare time, was willing to take the time and considerable expense—not that he would be paying for it himself—to check it out just in case.

So, here she was in Victorian England, watching all these young girls parade themselves around for a man who could possibly be the most notorious serial killer in history—not that Julia really believed that Matthew was Jack the Ripper; he was far too old to be the man that profilers have spent over a hundred years studying. That didn’t, however, mean that he wasn’t Caroline’s killer.

Julia had spent the last week and a half investigating him as well as Caroline’s husband, Arthur Lord Witherbee, and a stable boy that worked at Witherbee House, and the only one of them that she could see as a murderer was Matthew. Arthur White-Garrot, Lord Witherbee appeared to be crushed over the death of his wife—of course he could be faking his grief, but it smelled sincere. Julia was able to clear the stable boy—whose name was William—not Willie or Bill—Bryant—as he hadn’t actually been having an affair with Caroline. It only appeared as if he was because he was involved with her ladies’ maid, a girl named Jennie.

Julia snapped back to attention as the music changed from a country dance to a waltz. She looked to see where Matthew was only to find him coming her way—maybe she wasn’t as invisible as she thought she was.

“Mrs. Fairbanks,” he called, and Julia jumped to attention as that was the name she was going by for this mission.

“Hello, My Lord,” she replied as he stopped in front of her.

“I would be most pleased if I could have this dance,” he said, his eyes sparkling.

“I’m sure that there are more…suitable girls with whom you could be dancing.”

“More suitable? Maybe. More interesting? I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he replied.

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. Rhian
    May 18, 2013 @ 04:48:02

    There are a few grammatical errors in the first paragraph:

    This particular ball, which was being thrown by Lady Winchester with hopes of finding a bride for her son, Matthew, the Duke of Westhampton. Julia watched as dozens of girls—all around the age of eighteen, which was a full twelve years younger than the duke—throw themselves at him.

    Having Julia say “Hello, My Lord” is an anachronistic use of hello – until the telephone was in general use, it was a call to attention rather than a friendly greeting. She would also address him as “your Grace”.

    In general, I don’t feel very present in the scene. The story set-up sounds interesting, but there is a lot of set-up here for the first page. There’s no description of Julia’s surroundings at all. We’re told that the ball “takes the cake”, but apart from a slight mention of girls throwing themselves at the Duke, we’re not shown why Julia thinks this. (I found the mention of Survivor really jarring, and I don’t fully get the reference as I’ve never seen the show.) A more natural and interesting way to begin might be to describe the scene, and then to home in on the characters. Telling us that Julia is a time-traveller in the first sentence is a hook, no doubt, but I also wonder if that information would be better kept to a couple of paragraphs in – her view of her surroundings could be written in such a way to make the reader feel that she has some strange insights for a Victorian woman, for example, and then you could reveal the truth.

    All the backstory about her boss being a Ripperologist and the people Julia’s been investigating can be kept until later – it’s overkill to include it all here. Give us more time with the people in the scene: what they look like, how they’re behaving, etc. That’s a more engaging use of your first page.

    Finally, it surprises me that a Bureau of Inter-Dimensional Travel is letting one of its agents potentially change the course of history by being present at a major social event. Surely their policy would be to have agents be literally invisible during their observations, and not just metaphorically? I would feel much better about the concept if this point was sorted out early on.

  2. Maria M.
    May 18, 2013 @ 05:09:52

    While I like the premise, there are several problems. One is the use of the present tense where it does not belong – e.g. “Julia can understand”, when it should be “could understand”. There also is a problem with the correct use of titles – why is the mother of the duke of Westhampton Lady Winchester? It could be possible if she is a widow and remarried, I suppose. However, a duke is not called My Lord but Your Grace, if one wants to use the title at all.
    Also, the author is trying to cram too much backstory into the first page.
    However, I do think this has potential, and if the problems were fixed I’d be inclined to read on.

  3. Marianne McA
    May 18, 2013 @ 08:02:26

    I’d agree with Rhian and Maria – there are a few niggles – in addition to those mentioned you have: ‘profilers have’ rather than ‘profilers had’ (though maybe that’s a time travel thing) and three surnames beginning with ‘W’. And I don’t know why the detail about the stable boy’s name is necessary.

    Also, like Rhian, I don’t get the Survivors reference – I’m in the UK which might be why. It’s clear from context what she’s imagining, but if the idea is to give the reader a clear idea what decade of the 21st century she comes from, it’s perhaps not a universal enough reference.

    I also agree with Rhian I’d like more of an idea why this ball was so special. Also, while most of what I know about the Ripper murders comes from a Maureen Johnson book, it suggests that what would mark out a murder as possibly a Ripper case is the mutilation of the body. So Lady Caroline’s body must have been mutilated in a similar way. And to introduce the man who is presumably our hero as a man the heroine believes could do that to a lover: that’s a tough sell. Sparkling eyes suggest madness in that context, rather than charm. (But if he’s a killer, and she’s going to end up with William: good times.)

    Having nitpicked the page to death, I have to say that overall it worked for me, and if there was a ‘Buy now’ button, I’d be buying.

  4. Cara Ellison
    May 18, 2013 @ 08:02:30

    I like the idea of this, but read like a summary of a first chapter. I couldn’t get inside the story at all. I think if there was some fleshing out of some of the ideas, I’d be happy to read on.

    It was, overall, a promising but undeveloped start for me.

  5. Becky Black
    May 18, 2013 @ 08:34:26

    There’s too much back story and exposition for me. You’re answering questions I haven’t even had time to ask yet. It’s telling me too much up front.

    Lady Winchester makes no sense. Surely she’s the Dowager Duchess of Westhampton if she’s his mother. And it might be just a personal thing, but these days I tend to say “not another bloody duke!” We don’t have that many. It’s is about the top title someone can have short of King. Lords are ten a penny though. :D But that’s might just be a bugbear of mine.

    Is it deliberate that you’ve got so many names starting with W? Winchester, Westhampton, Witherbee, White-Garrot and William. Might be a few too many there…

    And, well, is there any reason why she has to come back to some time after the murder and investigate it? Couldn’t she just zap back to when and where it happened and see who did it? Same with her boss the Ripperologist. He’s got access to time travel. The Jack the Ripper crime scene locations and times are very well documented. Couldn’t he just go and see who it was? I can buy them having a rule about not interfering with events, even horrible murders of innocent women – butterfly effect and all that – but they can’t just go take a look?

  6. wikkidsexycool
    May 18, 2013 @ 08:37:49

    Hello Author

    Of course I’d read this!
    I had the same idea, and my self pubbed ebook’s due out this summer. I wanted to do time travel with an African American steampunk agent from the future, who lands in England during the same time period, teaming up with a female illusionist and . . . (well, you can tell I’m quite excited, so I hope you’ll follow-up on Dear Author and let us know if you either self-pub or get picked up by an agent). The only thing I can say is I agree there’s a lot of backstory. But I really enjoyed your first paragraph, and I find myself picking up tips (like the one about Survivor). I think the above suggestions should help you whittle this down and also figure out what you need to do next. But I’d gladly give a go at reading it since I think you’ve got a good premise. Great minds think alike :) :)

  7. Lil
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:00:09

    Okay, I’m going to be thoroughly nit-picky here. You have what looks like an intriguing idea here, and I would probably like to see how it works out, but the completely avoidable mistakes and errors are driving me crazy.

    The ball “takes the cake.” That’s a set-up phrase if I ever saw one, but you don’t go on to explain why. Certain expectations need to be fulfilled

    “This particular ball, which was being thrown by Lady Winchester with hopes of finding a bride for her son, Matthew, the Duke of Westhampton.” Apart from the fact that she is not “Lady” Winchester, this is not a sentence. You can use fragments in your writing, but they are most likely to be in dialogue or inner thoughts. You can’t use a fragment here.

    “Julia watched as dozens of girls—all around the age of eighteen, which was a full twelve years younger than the duke—throw themselves at him.” Either she watched them throw themselves or she watched as they threw themselves.

    “It was like watching Survivor: Victorian Era as it was obvious that Matthew wanted nothing to do with any of them.” I also don’t get the reference, but it doesn’t seem necessary.

    If I had picked this up in a book store, I would have put it back at this point. It reads like an unedited, unproofread draft. And that is unprofessional.

  8. Maili
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:19:10

    Even though I’m bored with the Jack the Ripper trope (which shows up a lot in films, TV drama and fiction), I quite like the premise, but I agree with the others on issues they highlighted. An internationally known film would make a better reference than an American reality TV show, for instance. There’s also a bit that confused me a bit for a moment: Ye Olde England. It prompted a change in background from Victorian-era England to Tudor-era England, which is what I associate Ye Olde England with.

    I would definitely buy a copy if you drop Jack the Ripper in favour of Spring-heeled Jack. His chaotic appearances would make it tough for a time traveller to pin-point the exact time and date when they could see him if they were to time-travel to that moment. FWIW, anyway. Thanks and good luck.

  9. Moriah Jovan
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:38:46

    I like it. The premise is interesting, the voice is attractive, and the storytelling is engaging. the nits and picks and quibbles can be worked out later. I’d want to see how the author develops this story.

  10. reader
    May 18, 2013 @ 10:34:38


    I think Survivor is a show that’s produced by numerous countries around the world, not just the US. And it’s so long-running, I would guess most people at least understand the reference. I don’t watch the show and I understand it.

    This page does feel too heavy with backstory, though. You write well and I hope you’re going to take more trouble to get the details correct, if you’re going to have 19th century settings. Any historical, but especially time travel with its contrast of past and present, is MUCH more fun to read if the details are right.

    Time travel novels can be tough to write; so many ways to get tripped up. I wondered, too, if your protags have that much control over where they go, why not just go to the documented murder scenes beforehand?

    I like your writing style. It’s very readable. My advice would be to outline your idea in excruciating detail so there are no time travel twists to up-end your plot later. Take it from someone who’s been there, messed that up, and had to go back and fix it.:) Good luck.

  11. Caro
    May 18, 2013 @ 10:40:57

    I got a bit overwhelmed when I had to slog through four paragraphs of backstory before anything really happened. I think your true story may start with the conversation. The rest can be fit in later throughout the dance and the dialogue between the h/h. I’m assuming they are the h/h, of course.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    May 18, 2013 @ 11:20:36

    If you’re setting this story in a real historical context, get it right. I get no feel for the Victorian era in this. If this is nearly 30 years before the Ripper murders, it’s the age of crinolines and paisley shawls. Where are the descriptions of the huge skirts?
    Jack the Ripper killed exclusively prostitutes. Modern FBI profilers estimate his age to have been around thirty. He killed in a short space of time in a small area of London, well away from the fashionable haunts. He was probably of the same class or slightly higher than his victims and may have lived in the same area, since he knew Whitechapel so well. None of this works with your set-up. None of it. Some, meh, maybe, but to ignore everything makes the premise unbelievable. Especially if her boss is a Ripperologist. He’d know all that.
    “Ye Olde England”? Really? And she’s some kind of expert?
    I don’t get a sense of period or place with this story, so maybe richer detail would help.
    Won’t there be a time paradox with her there?
    I live in the UK. We’ve hardly heard of the show Survivor. Never seen it, and there isn’t a UK version as far as I know. I know it’s reality show, nothing else. But I’d let it pass, because she’s American so it’s a natural reference for her.
    Get your title usage right. Your heroine would have done her homework. And yes, in the 1850/60 period, “Hello” is an anachronism.
    In this period, dukes weren’t the hotness they had been half a century before. After two major agricultural depressions, and one more to come that finished a lot of them off, it was the factory owners and entrepreneurs that people wanted.

  13. Laurla
    May 18, 2013 @ 11:28:50

    I’m interested in reading more but there was a lot of telling going on some of which did intrigue me but also had me wishing you’d just get on with the story. I want to know what happens but my brain’s a little bogged down with detail.

    Also, if you’re going to stay with an American reality show as a reference, it should be ‘The Bachelor: Victorian Era.’ The show ‘Survivor’ is about surviving harsh elements as well as the other competitors, whereas ‘The Bachelor’ is about a house full of women competing for one (un)lucky guy. As an American that reference pulled me out of the story more than anything else because I was like: huh? What are they surviving? FWIW.

  14. Loreen
    May 18, 2013 @ 12:29:48

    I like the time travel premise. This is way too much of an info dump and I don’t feel connected to the heroine. Try to start out slower and give us the backstory in smaller doses. Maybe describe the heroine entering the ball, trying to remember the field manuals she read about 19th century etiquette – worrying that her handler may have gotten the period costume wrong….did they really wear such low cut dresses and huge skirts? Etc…
    Like others, I am skeptical about the Jack the Ripper references. There is so much research into this killer – only use his name if you really, really have done your homework. I am also skeptical that the murder of an upper class girl could be connected to him since the murders were all in the world of Victorian prostitutes. You would at least have to have a plausible explanation for why this is so out of keeping with the historical person. I think you would save yourself a lot of trouble just by making up a fictional killer.

  15. Mary
    May 18, 2013 @ 14:16:59

    I agree with most of the other commenters…time traveling secret agent detective sounds cool, issues with grammar, setting and Jack the Ripper.
    I’ll add these things:
    The Bachelor would work better than survivor. IMO. Unless he’s surviving insane women or something.
    the hello my lord part really jerked me out, as did the clarification of the stable boys name, as did all the w names.
    It’s usually okay for time traveling heroines to get details wrong, but if this is her job and she’s been trained to do it I’d like to see that in her.
    Id definitely keep reading, but if it doesn’t improve in terms of writing and setting I would quit pretty soon. I will add that I’m a little wary of time travel…the mechanics and consequences must be well explained so I’m not sure if I’m your target audience.

  16. Daisy
    May 18, 2013 @ 15:57:21

    I thought it was a bit jarring that she thought of him throughout as ‘Matthew’ but then addressed him by his title. If they’re not on first-name terms, wouldn’t she think of him as ‘the duke’?
    Would Victorian girls at a ball really be ‘throwing’ themselves at a man? Surely they’d have to wait for introductions or a dance invitation or whatnot? (As Julia herself does?)
    I don’t understand why we needed to know about what the stable boy is NOT called. Is being a William not a Bill really that noteworthy? It seems more like something from conversation- Julia calls him Willie, he corrects her- than something she’d be thinking about. And why say she’s cleared one of the three suspects on the first page? Shouldn’t that be a main part of the story?

  17. SAO
    May 19, 2013 @ 13:59:30

    This was all tell, no show. I don’t know what anyone or anything looks like. I’m not there, I’m reading a summary. I think you’d do a lot better to have Julia doing something, not trying to be invisible. For example, have her observe the girls, not with faint disgust (“throwing themselves at the Duke”) but in order to perfect her act. That would give you description, have Julia taking action, and allow you to explain at the same time. You’d get some tension because we’d want to know if she could carry it off.

    You started at a boring point. Nothing is happening and she’s already met Matt and started her investigation. Further, why does the Lady’s murderer have to be her lover?

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