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First Page: ParanormalRomance, Past the Horizon

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Reginald Beckett—England 1790

Like casualties of war, fallen on the field of battle, the glasses were laid out across the wooden table, a testament to my drinking capacity.  Also evidence of my better abilities was my companion, double my size, cheek down in spilt ale, his eyes heavy and nearly closed.  It was a sad reflection on my life when this was all that remained.

I gazed around the smoke-filled room, crammed with drunken disheveled men and whores draped across their laps.  For a brief second, an image of Maggie tending the fire in our cottage—with William hoisted on her hip and Annie clinging to her skirt—flitted through my mind.  The emotions it brought forth nearly overwhelmed me.  I shook my head in the faint hope of erasing the picture and, as I did so, my eye caught a young woman watching me from the doorway.  She was dressed in a cream and gold dress, her hair piled on top of her head; luxurious curls the color of coffee beans cascaded down around her milk-white shoulders and neck.  Her skin appeared dewy and soft, emphasized by the glittering array of jewels adorning her.  She smiled at me through deep red lips, and I had the vague sensation I had seen her before.

I looked back at my companion, resting comfortably across the table, his heavy fingers still wrapped around his drink.  “Hey.” I knocked his glass with my own, and he jolted awake, sloshing the contents as he did so.  He squinted one bloodshot eye up at me.  “Have you seen that lady?” I asked.

He glanced at the door and back, a bewildered expression on his face.  “Beckett, there’s no one there.”  I spun my head around, the room swaying dangerously as I did so.  The doorway was empty.

“You should have another drink mate,” he suggested, his hand lifting his glass up to his mouth in jerky wild motions.  The liquid spilled over the rim before he actually connected with his lips.  I dumped the remains of my mug in my mouth, slapped some coins on the table, and extricated myself from the bench.

“Where are you going?” My companion slurred to me.

I swayed a bit as I stood, steadying myself on the corner of the table.  “Home,” I lied, smiling sardonically at the use of that word in reference to the dilapidated room in which I slept, and lurched toward the door.  The night air was refreshing, despite the smells of decaying sewage that always accompanied the river.  A fog was rolling in, and the air was wet with it.  I lifted my face, closing my eyes and breathing deeply, happy to be free of the stench of stale ale and sweat, pondering which direction to proceed to find the woman.  I needn’t have bothered.

When I opened my eyes, she was there watching me from a few yards away.  She turned and quickly vanished around the corner.  It was enough to entice me.  She looked back every now and then but never slackened her pace, her skirt swirling around her feet.  I followed unsteadily, listening to the clicking of her boot heels on the cobblestones until she treaded silently, the cobblestones melding into the dirt and mud that comprised most of the back roads.

She waited patiently down a darkened street, and I paused, confused as to the nature of her business on a road littered with rotting garbage and puddles.  Her stature and seeming position was out of place for this locale.  No proper lady would be out unaccompanied in a deserted alley.  My curiosity and desire overrode my concerns as I approached her.

“Do I know you, ma’am?” I inquired, attempting to use my best accent.  She smiled slowly, the corners of her mouth turning up, her lips crimson against her stark skin.  She was younger than me, maybe twenty.  Her eyes were a deep gray, like the pewter tea kettle my mother had used.

“No, Mr.  Beckett, you don’t.  But I’ve been watching you.”  I reached out a hand for the wall of the building and, leaning on it for support, contemplated her statement and how she knew my name.


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. Willa
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 05:35:34

    I enjoyed this one – it had a ‘hook’ for me and I would want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

    The only thing that jumped out at me a little in a negative way was the hero’s thoughts on the woman’s appearance –

    “luxurious curls the color of coffee beans cascaded down around her milk-white shoulders and neck. Her skin appeared dewy and soft, emphasized by the glittering array of jewels adorning her”

    Seems a little bit overblown for a man’s thoughts . . .

  2. ang
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 06:16:10

    I felt the beginning sentence was very good and descriptive and pulled me right in although I would lose the first comma.

    Also, I would remove the two sentences about Maggie and the kids. They totally took me out of the scene and put me somewhere else, and it took me a while to regain my reading.

    She waited patiently –. How does he know she was patient? I would leave out the adverb, and it will read a lot better.

    The fog was rolling in — The fog rolled in? I’ve been told to watch ‘was’s’ in my own writing.

    All in all I thought this was a pretty good beginning.
    Best of luck with it.

  3. dick
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 08:42:31

    Good stuff–but I loathe first person.

  4. B
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 09:11:26

    I found it a bit clunky, sorry. Some of the phrasing didn’t work for me at all. Cheek down in spilt ale and smiled through red lips stand out as the two things that stopped me up.

    I had to read about his cheek in ale three or four times before I finally clued in. It just read awkwardly to me.

    The other one stopped me because you don’t smile through your lips, you smile with them.

    Others mentioned a hook, but I’ll be honest–I didn’t get to find out what it was because I couldn’t keep reading. The language was too clunky and vague, and I gave up about halfway through the excerpt.

    It took me two tries to read the first sentence as well. I like that you’re striving for a unique voice, but the comma splice and the possibility of a run-on sentence in the first paragraph is going to stop some people from reading past it.

    This is the sort of book I love to read–drunken depressed heroes are a staple in my own work–so I’d love to see a cleaned up version of this.

    Best of luck.

  5. DS
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 09:47:51

    This is going to sound picky, but considering the period of time would there be that many empty glasses for one drinker? It’s not like in 1790 that anyone would be mixing cocktails. I’ve read empty drink bottles called dead soldiers in historical fiction but usually the hard drinker just refills his glass.

  6. Writer
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 11:06:01

    Though the bit about the glasses hooked me, it also gave me the same reaction as DS. And even if the drinkers refilled instead of getting new glasses, would a rough tavern in 1790 even use glasses for ale? With so many drunks around to break them, that could get expensive.

    A couple of other commenters noted the “clunky” language. To me, it seems that you are using a voice and vocabulary with which you are not completely comfortable, perhaps in an effort to sound British. Brits don’t always use bigger words, they use different words with different rhythms (which, of course, vary by nationality, locality, and class). Do your research, and use appropriate words in a way that will provide color without confusing your reader.

    Another commenter mentioned there being too many instances of “was”. I agree.

    She was dressed in a cream and gold dress

    Why not just, She wore a cream and gold dress…? “Wore” is shorter, eliminates the “was” and avoids repetition of the word “dress.”

    “Home,” I lied, smiling sardonically

    Who describes their own smile as sardonic? And, for that matter, what does a sardonic smile look or feel like?

    Other commenters have mentioned overuse of adverbs, and here is why: Adverbs are not necessarily bad, but they are easily misused. They often provide the illusion of description without the substance of it. When you use an adverb, ask yourself what it is showing. If it is only telling, then you need to write a better description.

    You have talent, you just need to work on your technique. Keep writing, and good luck!

  7. Annette
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 11:22:54

    I read to the end and would definitely read more (and I usually dislike first person), so good for you providing a main character I’m already interested in and the mysterious, intriguing young woman. So for me, in this little snippet, story is already there.

    I disagree with removing the sentences about his wife and kids – they immediately give us a clue as to his current sad state and gave me instant sympathy for him as well as made me want to continue reading to find out what had happened to his family.

    I think a few little things can be addressed in the description, however, and all easy fixes.

    – The description of the young woman. Though pretty and vivid, it was a long list which didn’t feel organic to the story at that point. Perhaps try to be less intrusive with this instance of putting a lot of the description up front, and instead let it flow more seamlessly with his interactions with her, adding another layer of it where it works with the tone/emotion you’re trying to build in the scene.

    – Watch how you use your detail. You’re trying to build a scene with mystery and this intriguing beautiful ‘vision’. Do you really want to mention the smell of decaying sewage the moment he steps out? He’s just escaped the stench of the pub. That jerks us from the beauty and mystery of the night and what is out there waiting for him. We’re pulled back and forth with contrasting images. It might be perfectly correct historical detail, but still, consider emphasizing things like the fog and the dark and perhaps some sounds of the night but use these to build the tone and emotion, not fight with it. Now when you mention the rotting garbage on the street she fled to, that’s a purposeful contrast with her beauty and apparent station in life, so that worked for me.

    – also, consider what level of detail he’s likely to see at night, in a darkened street – can he really see the color of her eyes? Her “stark” skin? Her “crimson” lips? Try this yourself with someone in the dark and see what colors you can see. Probably not this much detail.

    Lastly – watch repetition. Your first line has both ‘casualties of war’ and ‘fallen on the field of battle’ – you can make that line pop if you tighten it. And you have ‘She was dressed in a cream and gold dress…’ more repetition.

    Good luck with this! I really enjoyed it and would love to read more.

  8. Abbie Rhoades
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 12:19:46

    To the Writer of “Past the Horizon”:

    Great job. I think you’ve definitely got a talent for writing. And you left off with a good hook.

    So–Take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t listen to me. It’s just my opinion.

    For some reason I kept thinking the narrator was a woman. Twice I went back up to the heading to make sure I had read the name Reginald correctly. His thoughts just seemed womanly to me. I reread the entire passage trying to pinpoint why I would think that and I believe it has to do with how he describes and looks at things.

    There was something about his looking around and seeing the “drunken men”. If he was a man, then why would he notice they were drunken ‘men’? Wouldn’t he just look around and notice all the drunks? I’m sorry. I know that’s really picky.

    And I know this piece is set in the 1790’s and therefore speech was different back then, but I don’t know any man who would describe a good looking woman like this–“luxurious curls the color of coffee beans cascaded down around her milk-white shoulders and neck. Her skin appeared dewy and soft, emphasized by the glittering array of jewels adorning her.” There are too many descriptors.

    Most men are quick and to the point. Think about how men today identify a good looking woman. “She’s hot.” I’m not saying to be that brief, but give some thought to the differences between men’s and women’s speech. Men are not flowery and descriptive. Most of the time they cut to the chase.

    Good Luck with “Past the Horizon” and Keep Writing!

  9. JenMcQ
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 17:46:22

    My first thought? I would love to see a good historical written in first person. I was enticed to read on, but I think what would eventually lose me here is the paranormal aspect suggested by the title. Not my cup of tea in a historical.

    Curious why the first words gave the person’s name, followed by the place/year – I have not seen this before, wasn’t sure what to make of it. My first sense is that you are probably going to have multiple first person POVs in this, and you are going to use this to anchor the reader to speaker?

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 19:37:36

    England’s a big place, so the placement is a bit nonsensical. there’s a nice atmosphere here, but in this period, a low tavern or inn wouldn’t have glasses, it would have tankards or maybe pottery, and you’d get your pot refilled rather than have a fresh one every time.

    The image of his (dead?) wife and child come from nowhere. Give him a trigger, something on the shelf like one he knew, something like that.

    I agree with the others about the woman. Men don’t think in those terms.

    The writing is clumsy and needs smoothing and polishing, but it’s not too bad at all.
    Be careful writing in the first person (take it from one who knows!) It’s much harder than it seems at first. Think of all the places you can’t go, and the places you can’t see. Also, if the reader takes a dislike to your one pov character, you’re screwed.

    This setup reminds me strongly of Angel in Buffy, or even Louis in “Interview with a Vampire,” so be careful to avoid cliches.

  11. Dianne
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 22:45:39

    Author here. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

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