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First Page: post apocalyptic romance

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I am so screwed.

Rachel stood at the front window of her parents’ house, scanning the neighborhood with binoculars in hand. Mountains of rotted trash lined either side of the normally pristine street. She panned the area again, examining every dark shadow and possible hideout. Nothing. Some freak job with a gun could be hiding, waiting to attack, and she’d never know until it was too late.

Or, there could be no one out there. No one at all. Which was equally as bad.

“Godammit!” she choked out.

It seemed like such a good idea, moving out of her tiny apartment and into her parent’s house when they came down with Ruyigi ebola. She’d brought her sister,too, and nursed all three of them, sick after the initial outbreak, praying they’d recover quickly, waiting for the CDC’s miracle vaccine, which did not materialize. It never occurred to her they’d die, leaving her alone and scared shitless.

The streets and houses she’d grown up with twisted into a terrifying episode of the Twilight Zone. Abandoned cars and dead bodies choked the roads and sidewalks. A pillar of smoke rose from a building burning somewhere on the horizon.

Worst of all — she suspected everyone was dead. The streets in her neighborhood were empty and quiet. Too quiet. Maybe all the creeps toting guns and stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down had died from the virus. Maybe the soldiers trying to restore order were gone, too. Maybe the mobs of people fighting over food shipments were dead.

Two days ago, Rachel went outside to scavenge for supplies but found only a few wobbly and feverish individuals roaming the streets of San Diego. The power was still on, hanging by a thread. The TV was fuzz, the cellphones were static and the Internet didn’t work. All those things required people to maintain.

Hot tears ran down her cheeks. She sniffed and rubbed them with the back of her hand.

Rage surged through her body. Breath burst in and out of her chest. She slid her useless smartphone out of her pocket, peeled off the pink protective case and hurled the black rectangle against the wall. It bounced off Mom’s favorite wallpaper and skated across the floor, dented and scratched. Not good enough. Rachel strode over and dug her heel into the front screen until she heard a satisfying crunch.

She’d lived her whole life scared, hiding behind an extra 60 pounds, baggy clothes, a commanding father, and her beautiful mother and sister. Everyone knew she was that way—timid and shy, borderline agoraphobic. Heck, she even knew it. It wasn’t like she was in denial. But she’d recently lost the weight and…she choked back a sob… and now she’d lost her family.

She pushed a lock of hair off her sweaty forehead, pulled on the big girl panties and straightened her back.

Time to do something, even if it’s wrong.

She grabbed the keys to Mom’s Lexus, the only car that had a full tank of gas, and stuffed it with luggage, gallons of water and bags of nonperishable food she’d prepared hours before. Books, flashlight, sleeping bag, a few mementos, pictures of friends and family, and a laptop followed in the trunk. And finally, she forced herself to take Dad’s loaded revolver, wrap it in a towel and tuck it securely under the front passenger seat. Safe and sound. Just in case.

Goal number one: Get the heck out of town.

Goal number two: She’d figure that out after she got the heck out of town.


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. wikkidsexycool
    May 10, 2014 @ 05:54:35

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to share this. Your story grabbed me with the very last lines:

    “Goal number one: Get the heck out of town.

    Goal number two: She’d figure that out after she got the heck out of town.”

    Imho I’d move this from the end of your first page to the beginning, however another reader may feel differently. Your writing is very good. Be mindful when having your heroine do so many things like “pushed a lock of hair” “rage surged” “breath burst” “choked” “sniffed” etc, as it begins to make the writing cliched. I hope I’m saying that right. I couldn’t put my finger completely on what was a bit off about the page, but it may be that there’s a lot of telling about what she’s experienced and no showing. That’s not to say backstory can’t be gripping. But there’s emotion missing even though you write of it. I get no sense of urgency about her situation though it appears dire. Thanks for having the courage to submit this, and with a bit more editing and getting your character’s voice stronger, this could be quite good.

    I hope you’ll post a short blurb on the premise of your tale. My best to you and your writing.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    May 10, 2014 @ 06:27:54

    I’m with wikkedsexycool, I got grabbed right near the end. I like the lines that caught her, but the one that caught me was “Time to do something, even if it’s wrong.” I can get behind a character like that!

    The rest of it? If this were the first time I’d read a post-plague-apocalypse set-up, I’d have been fascinated. But because this is a pretty common setting, and because there’s nothing really unique about yours, it’s not too gripping. (I’m not saying change the setting. I don’t think everything has to be super-new and unique – sometimes trying for that just leads to weirdness. I just don’t think it’s going to grab readers if you OPEN with something so familiar).

    I’d also leave the psychoanalysis (hiding behind fat and family) for later. It adds to your character, but it’ll feel more real if you can show it rather than tell it.

    I love post-apocalyptic stuff and I THINK I’d like your character, but I think this first page could have a lot more kick than it does.

  3. Author
    May 10, 2014 @ 08:40:54

    @wikkidsexycool: Quick Blurb!

    Rachel Donnelly’s conventional life is shattered beyond recognition when a catastrophic pandemic decimates the world, killing nearly all humans. Adam Sanchez, a battle-hardened Marine Sniper becomes her protector, her only companion in this harsh new environment.

    In a fit of alcohol-induced, post-apocalyptic PTSD rage, Rachel reveals her three darkest secrets to this man she lusts after from afar.

    Now Adam knows he’s been saddled with a twenty-three year old virgin, her first boyfriend beat her The Fuck Up, and she’s freaking terrified of guns due to a horrific childhood accident.


    Adam, a man with specific sexual needs, knows this naive, fragile girl can’t handle his heat, so he pushes her out of the kitchen. He vows to protect her from everyone, including himself.

    New world. New Rachel…

    When two sexy, male survivors join their small group, Rachel faces a life changing decision. Will she fold under the pressure and hide away, letting old fears consume her, or will she rock Adam’s world, giving him everything and revealing a passion that brings him to his knees?

    Rachel is irresistible but Adam’s been burned before. Can he trust this woman with his heart, even if she is… the last woman standing?

  4. Linda
    May 10, 2014 @ 08:45:07

    One thing I struggled with in believing your character’s backstory was that it didn’t occur to her that her family would die from a disease with “ebola” in its name. You might want to consider making your plague a bit more stealthy — like an influenza virus that seemed ordinary at first (which would explain why she thought it was a good idea to move in to nurse her parents) but suddenly killed people who had seemingly recovered. Of course, I don’t know the whole story and how the mechanics of the plague affect your plot, so there may be reasons for it to be an exotic and scary-sounding virus (like mass quarantines, xenophobia, or travel restrictions). If so, you may want to clarify whether your protagonist had been seriously in denial when she made those decisions, or if there were other reasons for her to think it was a good idea (or reasons that compelled her against her better judgment). Good luck.

  5. Carrie
    May 10, 2014 @ 09:41:19

    Dear Author,
    I don’t normally read post-apocalyptic fiction, so I can’t say if your set-up is overly familiar.
    I do agree that the ending lines are engaging. So if you move those up closer to the beginning, then you can also move the backstory to later. I think you too focused on giving the reader the set-up and so you’ve focused on that and lost the emotion. Rather than musing about the backstory , what if after using the binoculars, Rachel immediately begins packing? And the body of her last family member is still in the room. She never thought they’d die, but now she’s completely alone when she’d rather be dead too, and now she’s going to get the hell away from town and the stench of death. If the borderline agoraphobia is important, she can pause to screw up her courage to leave the house for the first time in a month. Destroying the cell phone is a good way to show her rage but I’m not sure why she did it. It comes on the heels of thinking about the power grid, television broadcasts, etc. us she angry she can’t make a call or angry that there’s no one left to call? You show the anger well there, I just need to know the why.
    All in all, a good start, and I’m proud of you for sending Rachel out into the world for this kind of scrutiny. Well done!

  6. Carol McKenzie
    May 10, 2014 @ 09:49:35

    Hi Author,

    I agree with Carrie, especially the part about breaking the cell phone. It was a bit confusing, since later she takes a laptop along. The why of both would be helpful.

    I’d like this story to begin with her leaving, and then have the backstory fed to us in tiny bites. I’m pretty sure, given your blurb, there’s a way to work in the weight loss, the baggy clothes…all of that…when she meets Adam. You don’t need to set up the romance/sexual tension part now…I think that can wait till later.

    I like what you’ve shown here. I’d change the name of the disease as well. And while post-pandemic stories are popular and quite possible might be on the verge of being overdone, I think with the added sexual tension elements, your story could be something different.

  7. theo
    May 10, 2014 @ 10:02:13

    I have to agree with the other commenters. This opening is not unique to the few post apocalyptics that I’ve read and though they’re not my main choice, if they grip me enough at the opening, I do enjoy them.

    That said, since you posted the blurb, there’s a glaring oddity between the blurb and your opening. You say in the blurb she’s “freaking terrified of guns,” but in the opening, she ‘forces herself to take dad’s loaded revolver.” That doesn’t speak of terrified to me. That speaks of perhaps someone who is opposed to gun ownership in general and yet knows she may have to defend herself. So, that mixed with moving back to her parents knowing they’ll die because everyone else is and sort of…shrugging it off because though I would do it, I’d be terrified the entire time which doesn’t come across, makes me wonder if you can really grab the tension and complete calamity involved here. She’d gone out two days before to scavenge, but all she saw was a few wobbly individuals. The stench must have been overpowering if the streets are littered with dead bodies. She’s almost agoraphobic and yet, she has no qualms while she’s out there. She thinks nothing of the wobblers. It’s…flat. Flat writing.

    Rather than put out there all of what you have on this first page, I agree that starting with the last couple lines is much more exciting. Perhaps then bundle stuff into the car and as she leaves, let us see through her eyes what the landscape on her street looks like. Later when she meets the hero, let her choke out what happened with her parents. I don’t know. But there’s not a lot here that makes this page jump to life and though the writing is good, the content would have to really grab my interest for me to continue.

    Read the first two pages of Stephen King’s THE STAND. You’re sitting in that gas station with everyone. You’re not an observer, you’re almost a participant. Granted, that book isn’t ‘post,’ you’re along for the ride as the apocalypse happens, but you can feel the underlying disaster coming on the first page. Your disaster has happened, but I don’t feel it yet here. Make the reader feel it and you should have a winner.

  8. theo
    May 10, 2014 @ 10:02:58

    And…the system thinks I’m a spammer and ate my comment :(

  9. J. C. Conway
    May 10, 2014 @ 10:53:53

    This is gripping, from the first words to the last. The only thing I would fiddle with if this were my work is personal-style things, like using one word, “choked” or “croaked” instead of two “choked out.” Especially with “choked back” used later on the same page. But I see no distraction there. What I mean by this comment is that the piece is, in my view, “there.” I especially like the deep third person style in the “rage surged” paragraph. I love the attitude. I can actually feel this character suffer through change in the course of a single page.

  10. hapax
    May 10, 2014 @ 11:05:09

    I rather like post-apocalyptic scenarios, and I’ve read a few bajillion of them, most of which are far less plausible than this one, so I’m sold on the set-up here.

    You should be aware, though, that everything I’ve read on publishing suggests that agents and editors feel over-committed to the subgenre, and are wary of acquiring more. So you’ve got to be MORE than pitch-perfect on this opening page if you’re thinking of the trad route, and you’re not … quite … there yet.

    In addition to the observations that everyone else has made, I’m puzzled about the hope for a “vaccine” — vaccines won’t do a thing for someone who has already contracted a disease, and as contagious as the various Ebola-type viruses are, I’m not sure that this is something research would be concentrated on. Why isn’t the CDC focused on finding a cure, first?

    Secondly — and here I’m in opposition to most of the other commenters — your final sentence make me think your heroine is TSTL. While I can understand the temptation to get the heck out of Dodge, it seems that right now she has food, water, heat, electricity, and shelter not only from the elements, but from other desperate (and possibly diseased) people. Why would anyone — ** especially ** an agoraphobe — leave all that without a plan, without a goal, without any idea whether things might be WORSE outside the immediate area; especially since any government left (or vigilantes, if there’s no government) with half a brain would shoot on sight anyone trying to leave an area filled with contagion?

    You need to give your heroine a more compelling reason to leave than just anger and loneliness. Maybe the power has been cut off, all the food is rotting, and she has no water. Maybe roving gangs of scavengers have taken to breaking into houses to see what supplies they can find. Maybe the government has been sending helicopters dropping leaflets that the area is due for “sterilization”. There could be plenty of good reasons for her to take such a risky move, and picking one could help the reader share her sense of urgency.

    But for the good Lord’s sake, make sure that she takes along all available medical supplies (and any booze, jewelry, and tobacco in the house, for trading) or I’ll lose all patience with her.

    I hope to see this one when it’s finished!

  11. SAO
    May 10, 2014 @ 12:25:37

    The first and last lines were great. In between was musing. In short, this is a sit and think. Show dont tell. You could have her look for someone to help her bury her parents. Have her walk the streets, not muse about whats out there. Then her decision to leave will make sense and we will be drawn into your world immediately.

  12. Willaful
    May 10, 2014 @ 15:02:27

    @Linda: I had the same reaction as Linda; blithely going to nurse someone with ebola feels very off. No other comments, since I rarely read this genre.

  13. Katie
    May 27, 2014 @ 15:09:11

    I LOVED this! You had me at “ebola,” because I’m weird and I have a fascination with viruses – Ebola being my #1!! And add romance to that? I’m sold!! I would read this in a HEARTBEAT!

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