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First Page: Possum Dance (Contemporary)

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“If size really matters, I’m in trouble.”

Riley set in place the last of the new shipment of fairy figurines she’d been shelving and turned to the customer who had spoken behind her, a practiced smile of welcome readied for him.

The smile froze on lips gone stiff. And for one insane moment Riley thought sure the fairies at her back were not the dainty bits of ceramic they appeared to be but evil sprites come to life. How else could she account for whatever nasty spell had materialized the blast from the past standing three feet away and grinning at her like he figured she’d find him irresistible, and, really, why not?

Bren Reynolds, as she lived and breathed. Come back to mock her.

He dangled before him one of her better sellers — a T-shirt with a caricature of Bigfoot she’d drawn herself, a caption beneath it stating: Size Matters. “I don’t think I can compete,” he said, jiggling the shirt at her, that grin he’d once aimed at any female over the age of twelve lighting a face little changed from the near-man who’d come and gone out of her life a decade before. His face was maybe a little fuller. Paler too, the tone no longer a surf boy tan. His hair was different as well — a darker shade of blond than she remembered. Still though it was that wild of overlong locks she had once thought made him look like a cherub turned rogue — every high school girl’s image of the perfect Bad Boy.

Her own image of him not quite so perfect, she resisted with difficulty an urge to grab the nearest heavy object and throw it at him. Instead, she gave him a look up and down, playing it all Ms. Cool and Unimpressed as she shrugged and said, “You can always take up knitting.”

His grin stretched wider, reminding Riley of just how long it had been since a good-looking and unattached male had flirted with her — or even wandered into her store totally oblivious to her presence there. Unless she counted the one guy the week before who’d offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.

“You must be Riley Dare,” he said.

Obviously he didn’t remember her. And really, why should he? She’d only sat in the desk ahead of him in World History for all four of the months they’d shared their senior year and had even trounced him soundly in the one debate in which they’d been pitted against each other.

She shot out a hand to a heavy resin statue of Gandalf. No sooner though did she tighten her hold on it than she relaxed it. Another customer could come in at any moment, and she didn’t think she’d be able to pass a bloody corpse off as just another oddity for sale.

She straightened Gandalf, as if she’d only been tidying a bit, and assumed a tone of boredom as she said, “Got it in one.”

He lowered the shirt, and that grin of his eased into a smile that invited her to share in some joke private between them. Making the joke plain, he said, “I have to say, you’re not what I expected when my aunt told me about this place.” He waved a hand that took in not only Gandalf surrounded by a cadre of fairies, but Imagine’s entire stock of the fanciful and decidedly odd.

“Oh?” Riley said, like she had better things to do but was too mindful of a potential sale to go do them. “What did you expect?”

“A tin foil hat for one thing.”

“It’s in the shop. The messages from Mars had gone a bit staticky.”

Ten years later, and nothing had changed. She was still a joke to him.

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. Sally
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 06:55:08

    This may be strange, but I think you need to change the hero’s name. It’s just too distracting. I immediately thought of Burt Reynolds and it never left my mind. Otherwise I thought the story sounded interesting.

  2. Bev Stephans
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 07:01:52

    I think both of their names should be changed. Otherwise, I kind of like it.

  3. anon
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 07:13:20

    There is so much going on I can’t keep track of it. I did not retain one sentence. It’s very confusing. And very rough. I had to read this more than twice, because so many of the sentences fail to make real sense. There is no connection to the heroine.

    Some of the sentence structures are very awkward. Take this for instance:
    The smile froze on lips gone stiff.
    How about: The smile on her lips stiffened. But then, I’d want to know why. Is she loathe this see this man? Is she shocked?

    What does this mean: She shot out a hand to a heavy resin statue of Gandalf.
    Is she planning on throwing it at him?

    If this is supposed to be funny, ‘Unless she counted the one guy the week before who'd offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.’ it’s not.

    I suggest you read this aloud. You’ll probably hear most of the strange sentence structures you’ve chosen. I’ve only listed a couple. There were many other problems in this others will point out.

    I wish you luck. It’s brave of you to share this, and it’ll make you a better writer down the line if you take some of the advice you might get here.

    Your closing line (sentence really) has no weight. How can she still be a joke when she’s stating he has no clue who she is.

    Your words are backwards in a lot of places too. This for instance: some joke private between them. should be: some private joke between them.

  4. Leah
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 07:20:50

    I like her name–but when I first saw “Bren Reynolds,” (as I was scrolling up, before the male descriptions), I expected a female ex-high school nemesis.

    I like it. I’m wondering why she’s so bugged by him, when their previous contact seems to be so minimal, but I assume it’s a great backstory. I also think this passage is a bit wordy. For example, you could cut “Making the joke plain, he said” w/o losing anything.

    Also not sure why he expected a tinfoil hat–I associate those more w/paranoia, not with people who are into fantasy, fairies and Gandalf. And as far as no men coming into her store…who then is buying a best-selling T-shirt w/Bigfoot on it? If she’s selling fantasy paraphernalia, gaming stuff, etc., I’d venture to say she has a fair amt of guys coming in, not necessarily all unattractive, but prob a fair amt single, simply because once a guy gets married, the income and time for hobbies diminishes some. (IMHO)

    But I like it, and depending on the rest of the plot, I’d buy it.

    Good luck!


  5. DS
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 07:37:25

    He doesn’t recognize her after being in the same school for four months? How many years ago? How shocking. Maybe the author should have Riley acknowledge that this is a bit irrational. Obviously whatever happened had a bigger effect on her than him. Unless it is some major trauma like assault, people do move on with their lives after high school and don’t stay stuck in some emotional drama that happened when they were teens.

  6. Lori
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 07:58:18

    It’s been awhile since there was a first page I really wanted to keep reading so this was a welcome change. Thank you.

    Rather like you got me at hello, you got me at Possum Dance. A clever title that immediately made me want to find out more.

    I had no problems with the character names, in fact, I liked them. And I liked the sound of the store. It sounds very tongue in cheek for the character in many ways and therefore, I expect the reader will be having some grins with it later too.

    The problem I saw was that there was some over-writing.

    He lowered the shirt, and that grin of his eased into a smile that invited her to share in some joke private between them.

    A grin easing into a smile is like starvation easing into hunger. Perhaps He lowered the shirt and his grin lowered into a more intimate smile, like a joke shared privately between them.

    Anyway, sign me up as one who would want to read more. And thank you for sharing this.

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 08:11:14

    I liked the heroine’s snappy comebacks. The hero is a little too smiley for me. That much grinning makes a man seem smug, I guess. And I’m not sure what he’s done to warrant a statue being thrown at him. Overall, this is cute.

    I don’t like the title at all. Possums give me an unpleasant mental image.

    Kudos to you for submitting and good luck! : )

  8. theo
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 08:48:30

    @anon: What you said.

    Way too overwritten for me. Almost every line has too much description *for me* but I got dizzy both times I read it.

  9. Jen
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 09:20:37

    I really like this! You could make some minor changes- I’m also confused by the Gandalf-statue-grab– I immediately assumed she was going back to stacking her shelves, but actually she’s thinking of throwing at him. Why? Maybe this will be explained by the backstory, but throwing objects seems like an overreaction to a high school crush not remembering her. Otherwise, there might be a bit too much description of how the hero’s changed over time. And I agree with the people who think you should change the names. But on the whole, I like your writing style and would totally keep reading. Great first line, btw!

  10. Silver James
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 09:40:53

    I don’t read contemporaries as a rule. That said, I would more than likely read this one. I like the title and if I saw it in a book store, I would have to pick it up and check out the blurb. I also like the names of the characters. I’m guessing Bren is short for Brendon? I got a real sense of Riley’s personality and her view of Bren is clouded by memories of those high school slights. Ten years…think back to a ten year high school reunion and her reactions make perfect sense to me. (My fortieth is coming in the near future, but I still remember with perfect clarity that first one.) I get the sense that Riley is impulsive and has a temper (grabbing Gandalf and the urge to bash Bren) and that she is wickedly sarcastic. I enjoy those traits in a heroine.

    On the downside, the sentence structure is a little stilted but not so much that I’d stop reading. Tighten that up, and I think you have something very interesting. I love the first line, btw. Good luck with it!

  11. anon_rdr
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 09:46:24

    Well I love contemporary romance, but I’d be on the fence due to writing style. I don’t think you should have to go back and re-read passages on page 1 because of confusing writing. It took me a minute to work out who’s POV we were in, if the person coming in was male or female, etc.

    While the writing was muddled at times and not sharp as it could be, I’m always interested in high school peers revisited!

  12. Shelly @ Bewitched
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 10:49:15

    I want to start with the positive. I think I would really like Riley. She seems plucky and I like my heroines to have some sass. I didn’t get a good feel for Bren, as he doesn’t have much to do directly in this first page, but I would probably read the story. Love the shop!!

    But the writing was very wordy as some of the others pointed out. But editing it down and making things tighter is really all you need to do. The name Bren was a little “eh” for me and possibly I would just mentally substitute Bran when reading it, but I would look forward to seeing what this story is about!

  13. RKB
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 11:09:31

    I don’t read contemporaries either, but I would pick this one up. I’m not a writer or an editor, but I can tell the writing needs some work. You caught me with the tag line,“If size really matters, I'm in trouble.” but then I didn’t understand how the tag line worked with the next two paragraphs.

    Weirdly enough, I *really* want to learn more about the shop than the main characters.

  14. likari (LindaR)
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 11:15:04

    I’m in the too-many-words camp.

    I think the problem is you aren’t trusting the action. There’s a lot of back story and description and irrelevant cutsiness that stops the flow.

    For instance:

    His grin stretched wider, reminding Riley of just how long it had been since a good-looking and unattached male had flirted with her -‘ or even wandered into her store totally oblivious to her presence there. Unless she counted the one guy the week before who'd offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.

    could be something like:

    His grin stretched wider. How long had it been since a good-looking, unattached male flirted with her?

    I think all the other stuff obscures what you’re trying to say.

  15. MS Jones
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 11:41:50

    I liked it, I’d keep reading, but have to agree that some of the sentences are too long/confusing, like:

    that grin he'd once aimed at any female over the age of twelve lighting a face little changed from the near-man who'd come and gone out of her life a decade before


    She'd only sat in the desk ahead of him in World History for all four of the months they'd shared their senior year and had even trounced him soundly in the one debate in which they'd been pitted against each other

    These need to be broken up somehow, or maybe just provide the backstory info later in the chapter?

    It also seems to me that Riley is coming off as kind of narcissistic, like it’s all about her – she concludes he’s come back to mock her, to torment her, but then it develops that he doesn’t even recognize her; so that conclusion is wrong, and she leaps on to anger because he doesn’t remember her. What?

    And their limited relationship (at least as given in the first page) doesn’t seem like enough justification for her to bean him with a statue. I realize that these days, romantic heroines MUST be feisty (it’s the “kickass uber alles” syndrome) but there are other ways to show strength in a woman (instead of, or in addition to, a willingness to hit people on very little provocation).

  16. Marianne McA
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 12:30:12

    I have to admit, I read the hero’s name as Burt Reynolds the first time through. Created a really odd, if intriguing, scene.

    I sort of like it: I’d read on a little anyway. I’d want to know why she dislikes him so much: as others have said, she seems to be over-reacting to the situation – unless Bren got her sister pregnant, or maliciously ran over her cat, it’s hard to see why she’s so upset with him. (And if there is a real reason, wouldn’t that be the first thing to come to mind? You wouldn’t recall the World history class, you’d be thinking about poor dead Marmaduke.)

    But I’d need there to be a good reason for her strong reaction.

  17. Xandra
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 15:53:24

    ‘Unless she counted the one guy the week before who'd offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.'

    I happen to think this was very funny, in fact, that one little bit really caught my interest.

    The Sentences are a bit racy, but the colorful characters made up for it. I suggest, perhaps, cutting up the sentences a little. The title, by the way, is simply wonderful. Very unique!

  18. Shay
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 15:58:21

    Possum Dance – cute title!

    “If this is supposed to be funny, ‘Unless she counted the one guy the week before who'd offered to show her where aliens had implanted a homing device in him.' it's not.”

    You know what? Not everyone shares the same humor. I found the passage funny (possibly because I reside in the state known for it’s fruits, nuts, and flakes) but it struck a chord in this reader.

    I’m not going to offer constructive criticism on your sentence structure, there’s plenty of others who can do it much better than I can. I just wanted to post to let you know I think you are on the right track. Don’t get discouraged.

  19. KristieJ
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 17:05:07

    I’m a fan of contemporaries and I really liked this. I’d keep reading and very possibly buy it. A bit wordy in a few places as others have said, but it certainly is a great start!!

  20. Leah
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 18:23:05

    Just want to add that I also thought the title was terrific.

  21. Cheryl S
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 19:52:27

    I laughed out loud at the tin foil hat reference and the implanted homing device too. They were absolute keepers in my opinion.

    I liked the title too, but my image of a possum is probably different since I’m in Australia.

    I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of heroines with ambiguously gendered names, so I’m with others on the name change suggestion. Yes there were some over-worked sentences, but they will tighten up with more editing.

    I really liked your heroine’s voice and would read further just on the strength of that though. The notion of her eclectic and slightly eccentric shop pulled me in just as strongly.
    I’m intrigued with the idea that she’s angry with Bren after ten years, but is it about more than the fact that he doesn’t remember her?

    I wish you luck with this and thank you for sharing it.

  22. Kristi
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 21:36:11

    I’ve got to be honest, my reaction was very bland. If I had to choose to buy this, nothing here caught me.

    The name Riley is masculine, yet that is the heroine. The name Bren is feminine, yet that is the hero.

    The hero is trying to make a joke about “size” with a bigfoot t-shirt in a kitsch shop, and the heroine is really really mad at him for some unknown reason, but all I got out of it is that the hero has an immature sense of humor if he thinks making jokes about “size” makes him seem sexy. That seems like something a 12 year old would do. Not a man who is going to stand up in a story and make us dizzy because he’s smart and masculine.

    I guess I’ve put up with too much immature humor from my brothers.

    For what it’s worth, the thing I did think was funny was the metal hat, alien conspiracy crazy stuff.

    The heroine also struck me as immature. At ten years past high school, I had trouble naming class mates, and certainly didn’t feel angry to the point of throwing things about any of my high school drama. A character that is still hung up on high school, always strikes me as immature, and I just can’t relate.

    My bottom line impression is that these characters came off as too immature for me to relate to, and I’m barely over thirty, so not too far off these character’s ages. Granted, I’m not a huge contemporary reader, but if I’m going to pick one up, the characters have to be real to me.

    These ones struck me as caricatures.

    I’m sorry, but that’s what I see.

    I did like the shop, I think that could be a really fun setting. I like that there’s an air of kookiness, and I think if you stuck with it, you could really do something awesome. My advice would be to work on characterization and conflict so they don’t seem artificial, bolster your strength, which is your setting and contemporary world building, then work on writing clear and concise.

    Good luck.

  23. Gennita Low
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 00:12:08

    I think this has potential for a long contemporary-style story in the Silhouette or Harlequin lines. The beginning reads like one to me.

    I like the way the first page set the tone. It gives the reader an idea what the story is about immediately and leaves enough out to make me want to turn the page to find out more. I enjoyed the heroine’s voice, even though I have to wonder what the hero could have done to set off a ten year grudge. But you didn’t go overboard with the wrath/angst (not yet, anyway), so again, no problem there.

    There was some awkward phrasing of sentences but it didn’t stop me from continuing. Revision/polishing will correct those problems. I also love the title!

    For me, your first page succeeded in hooking me in. Good luck!

  24. HeatherK
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 01:38:19

    I can’t stand it anymore. I must speak.

    The title. I know that says “Possum” is generally accepted as correct, but it’s not correct. “Possum” is spelled with a silent O at the beginning. Opossum. It’s just bugging the snot out of me to see it missing.

    On the awkward phrasing, I must agree that the offering is littered with them, however, it is still an eye catching piece and I would continue to read on. That is, if I can get over the annoyance that the title stirs in me.

  25. Natalie
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 03:08:53

    We have possums, not opossums, in Australia (and New Zealand) so if the author is either nationality, it’s correct. They’re cute but super annoying if they get into your roof!
    Oh forgot to add, I quite liked it, but I do think it needs tightening up to really draw me in properly.

  26. Leslee
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 04:34:48

    I agree with Silver James, except that I do read contemporaries. I loved the uniqueness of the setting, characters, title. It does need to be tightened but other than that, I would so buy this book. The names don’t bother me a bit, just adds to it. The title lets me know that I am in for a quirky, fun read.

    I hope to see it in a bookstore soon cause I was quite disappointed when the sample ended.

  27. Ciar Cullen
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 15:42:40

    I liked the writing very much. Cute, light contemporary tone. Like some others, might go for different names. Other than that, would keep reading this!

  28. Carolyn
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 17:15:05

    Opossums – known in the south as ‘possums; also known as road kill. ;-)

    Loved the shop, not so much the names and would like to read more.

  29. Merrilee Faber
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 19:20:21


    A possum is also an Australian marsupial.

    Guess what? The USA is not the only country on the planet. Try to get out more before you accuse someone of ignorance – you only display your own.

  30. Julia Sullivan
    Jun 07, 2009 @ 20:46:34

    “Possum” is spelled with a silent O at the beginning. Opossum.

    This quibble isn’t accurate. “Opossum” and “possum” are both correct in US and Canadian English for the marsupials of the order Didelphimorphia; “possum” is more colloquial than “opossum”, but it’s not incorrect. (And the word “Opossum” is pronounced “Uh-poss-um”, not “poss-um”–it’s an Anglicization of an Algonkian word.)

    And, as others have said, it’s always “possum” in Australia and New Zealand, where it refers to the marsupials of the order Diprodontia. That said, it’s pretty clear that a gift shop with Bigfoot T-shirts and figures of Gandalf is somewhere in North America.

    Speaking of clarity, I found this very difficult to follow. The gender-neutral names probably aren’t a good idea if you want to sell this to HQ–“Bren” is most familiar to me as a) a nickname for “Brenda” and b) a gun, and if it’s a nickname for “Brendan” I’d suggest changing it because it took me a while.

    The heroine seems demented, not feisty, with the amount of backstory we’ve got here. Fill in more or tone her down: either “she’d never forget that day he humiliated her in front of the whole school, and now he was back for more of the same” or something that doesn’t imply she holds minor grudges for 10+ years.

    The gift shop stuff struck me as funny, too, and I’d love to see a pared-down version of this.

  31. Jeanette
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:26:14

    I really liked this and would read more. I liked Riley and her sense of humor. I loved the line about how a customer could come in…. Anyway a big part of why I would like a book is both the H/H have to be likable and/or redeemable. As long as Bren gets to redeem himself without being a complete jerk I’m good. I hope the title stays so I will recognize it and can buy it when it comes out!Good Luck!!!!

  32. Tammy
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:31:04

    Initial impressions:

    The names weren’t a hit with me. Someone upthread made the Bren/Burt Reynolds association (I think Burt R is really skeevy). “Bren” strikes me as a female name – if his name is Brendan, maybe have Riley refer to him by his full name the first time? “Riley Dare” is a little TOO stereotypically spunky for me.

    The title doesn’t resonate for me. I don’t know anything about possums so my initial association is roadkill. With no back cover blurb to describe the story, I don’t think I’d pick it up.

    In the first three paragraphs, it seemed to me that Riley’s smile took a REALLY long time to freeze on her lips. First, Bren talks. Then Riley positions figurines. Then her smile freezes. I noticed that Bren seemed to grin a lot – it bugged me a little.

    I don’t think it’s realistic that Bren wouldn’t remember at least Riley’s NAME if they sat close to each other senior year in high school. With a last name like “Dare” I imagine she’d be an occasional recipient of lewd “dare” jokes from her male classmates? But if he didn’t remember her, how could she be a joke to him too?

    My interest was lost at the Gandalf bit. It wasn’t clear to me why Riley was so pissed off at Bren, so the action she seemed about to take struck me as extreme, and not appropriately motivated.

    I enjoyed Riley’s sense of humor but agree with others that the writing, while good, is very densely packed and could benefit from some editing/simplification.

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