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First Page: Re•union (women’s fiction)

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Six weeks. In six weeks Rainey Forrester would be leaving home, the only place she’d ever loved. Been loved, Felt loved.

In six weeks she’d be handing over the keys to someone else. To prepare, she’d written notes. Endless notes explaining why the last door in the hall didn’t match the rest (a fire in 1897) or why the kitchen floor looked so ancient compared to the rest of the house (reclaimed lumber.) It made her feel better and it was the least she could do.

She loved the house, loved its arching doorways and the wavy curved glass in the bay window. She’d sat for hours with a toothbrush and a nail file, cleaning paint from the carved bannister. Tracking down the historically accurate wallpaper for the hallway had taken months, but the house deserved it. It had sat, abused and abandoned, for so long. Rainey felt its pain as she poured into it all the energy, all the time, she’d once reserved for her job.

“You love this house more than me,” Doug had said. And she couldn’t argue. It was likely one of the reasons they were divorcing. Rainey didn’t know when she’d stopped loving Doug. It had built up over their 30-year marriage, growing like mold in the basement, unseen until someone shines a light in the right corner.

That slimy corner had held Doug’s girlfriend, probably one of many. Rainey refused to learn her name. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t her fault. This divorce had been coming for a long time and now that it was finally here, she faced it head one. No one could say Rainey Forrester wasn’t a realist. She’d come out of this looking like a winner. It hurt a little, but not as much as losing the house.

Still, she couldn’t be there while the furniture was hauled away, to be stored in an old brick warehouse until she and Doug could stand being in the same room to divide it. Instead, she drove to the cottage. The lake in Wisconsin. There, Marin and Laurel, her eternal best friends, would meet her, carrying bottles of wine and bags of food like they had every summer. As the days fell shorter, the three friends would sit in dock-side adirondack chairs, staring at the sparkling water as they recalled their high school days. Their college days. Their weddings. Rainey’s was the first divorce they’d have to discuss and she felt a perverse pride, like she’d accomplished something none of her friends had attempted.

They would arrive late, having left Concordia mid-morning. Rainey, left at dawn, taking the back roads from her Chicago neighborhood, ignoring the tollway. It calmed her to see the factories turn into subdivisions, then into farmhouses and small towns with a single stop sign at the middle of town.

The cabin smelled of wet towels and dead mice. A mason jar of wilted daisies sat in the center of the farmhouse table, the petals, curved like fingernail clippings, littered the linen tablecloth. Chairs and couches still wore the summer white of slipcovers. By now, she would have taken out the fleecy throws, laid the wool rugs on the painted floorboards. The screens would be stored and storm shutters readied to close against the winter. She would have come up weeks earlier — her and Doug — and prepare for winter. Instead, they’d prepared for court.

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. pam mathews
    May 24, 2014 @ 05:32:05

    I like this start. It is a good start to a story that pulled me in just this first page.

  2. Marianne McA
    May 24, 2014 @ 05:56:11

    The main problem with the page for me is that I get interested in the house, and then Rainey leaves it. I did like the way she wrote endless notes: it tells the reader so much about her character – and I can see that the fact she cleaned the banister so meticulously also defines her – but there’s a lot of description for a place she immediately leaves.

    I’m useless at commas but “Rainey, left at dawn,” seems incorrect. And there are a few other minor blips: ‘prepare’ for ‘prepared’ etc.

    While I understand that you want to show us her negative mood as she arrives at the cottage, the petals like fingernail clippings was a strong simile to use – it’s just a little stomach churning.

    I’d consider reading on – I haven’t bought into the story yet, nor am I identifying with Rainey (even though I’ve been married the guts of 30 years and have renovated a house with wavy glass that I found hard to leave.) If the blurb sounded interesting, or the reviews were good, I’d consider it – there’s nothing in the page that puts me off. But I’m not hooked by the page either.

    Good luck.

  3. Kate Sherwood
    May 24, 2014 @ 06:10:08

    I’m with Marianne, I think – there’s nothing here that pushed me away, but nothing that pulls me in, either.

    And I’m a little confused about the timing… when you open with something as bold as “Six weeks. In six weeks….” it seems like the six weeks is somehow important. But she seems to be leaving the house NOW, not in six weeks… unless she’s going to come back to the house and live without furniture? Is she staying at the lake for six weeks? That seems like a long time… yeah, sorry, I don’t get the timing.

    For other changes – well, as I end up saying so often: this is all back story. That’s not necessarily BAD, but it may be why neither Marianne nor I are feeling pulled in. (But Pam was interested, so… not an overwhelming majority, so far!). But for me, I’d prefer to open with some action (not, like, a shootout, but with SOMETHING happening other than this woman driving to the country). I think this information is all good to have, but you could probably stick it in after we’ve seen a bit of what’s happening in the current time. Or you could throw it in via conversation, which would help establish not only our MC, but also the characters of the people she’s talking to. If her girlfriends all tease her about the notes they know she left, but one of them stands up for her and says of course she’d leave the notes, the house is important, and another one seems a bit more bitter when she scoffs at what a perfectionist the MC is, etc… same information, but presented in a slightly more dynamic way.

    Good luck with it!

  4. cleo
    May 24, 2014 @ 07:07:10

    I’m interested in this, but I’m also confused. I don’t understand the timing. Marianne McA mentioned some of it. I’m also confused about the time of year – first I thought it was spring or summer, but the last bit about not preparing for winter confused me. And I think the tenses change, but I’m not an expert in that.

    One picky thing. I live in Chicago and the whole paragraph describing her trip had me going – wait, where does she live? The backroads from her Chicago neighborhood took me out of the story, since I think of backroads as being in the country. I’d say surface streets or side streets. I do like the description of the shift frim urban to suburban to rural – I’ve made similar drives many times. So that worked, even though I’m having trouble visualizing driving past factories on the way to Wisconsin (not saying it’s not possible, Chicago is so big and there are many industrial corridors, just hard for me to visualize since I live on the far north side).

  5. pam mathews
    May 24, 2014 @ 07:11:26

    I guess not being in the majority is not saying much. I got pulled in by the fact it felt like”Rainie” could be anyone of us feeling this. The six weeks left me wondering but not enough to question. If I had more than just one page my opinion migjt change, but until than I guess I will stay onthe side lines.

  6. Kate Sherwood
    May 24, 2014 @ 07:18:06

    @pam mathews:
    I don’t think majority or minority matters!

    And I agree, I felt like I could identify with Rainie, for sure.

    (Don’t stay on the sidelines! The sidelines are BORING. Come frolic with us in the main field!)

  7. Nemo
    May 24, 2014 @ 08:35:31

    The backstory actively repelled this reader, at least. It sounds too common, a repeat of so many now-I’m-leaving narratives and it isn’t written very enticingly.

    Now, a woman who uses physical space (houses, cabins, ect…) to define or express herself and deal with her world? Brilliant. The start of interesting literature. She already focuses more on the house and the cabin than anything else. Those parts are good.

    But the beginning just doesn’t stand out like that. It sounds crammed full of things we don’t need to know yet or that really aren’t important. Do we really need to know he was cheating on her? Does anyone actually think “come out looking like a winner”? She sounds more like she’s switching satellite providers!

    Maybe it’s because I feel mismatched. She’s focusing on the divorce, but it doesn’t give her pain or pleasure or relief. She’s focusing on the house, but doesn’t seem to be serving any purpose yet. So while I’d like to meet this woman in person and chat about period authentic lighting, I don’t think I want to spend any time inside her head.

  8. Carol McKenzie
    May 24, 2014 @ 09:07:17

    Hi author and thanks for sharing.

    This is nice…but I’m not drawn into your story, or into your character. I actually like the house more than Rainey. Or at least I feel sorry for the house. But not so much your MC.

    Which, I guess, means you’ve invested a lot of time and loving effort describing an object and not so much on your MC.

    I’m slightly bothered by her reaction to the divorce, the “perverse pride” comment. That makes me frown, and not in a good way.

    I’m also confused over time, both the timeline of the story, and the age of the MC. Based her thoughts, I have Rainey pegged as mid-30s…but being married 30-some years puts her closer to my age (which is not mid-30s). She seems far younger…and by that I mean less mature…than she actually is. There’s no deep introspection about her feelings about the divorce, how painful it was. “It hurt a little” doesn’t seem the right reaction to the end of a 30 year marriage.

    The six weeks, end of summer, getting ready for winter thing is confusing as well, as others have stated. It almost seems she’s staying at the lake for six weeks, since the house is sans furniture. I’m assuming it is her cottage, since she’d have been the one putting the rug down on the floor, etc.

    And in regards to the cottage (I’m from Wisconsin, and for some reason cabin feels like the wrong word. Cottages are by lakes, and cabins are further up north…past Minoqua and Rhinelander…in the middle of the woods. People in the southern part of the state have cottages by .) Dead mice stink…badly. Dead mice also eat all your food and make a general mess of the place. For someone who seems so devoted to structures, dead mice in her cottage strikes me as wrong. Wet towels (mildew) and dead flowers (those sitting on the table) or just stale air would suffice.

    And I share Cleo’s picky travelogue question. You get backroads after you leave all the stuff you described, not on the way to it. Back streets would work though. And if she’d driving from Chicago to Wisconsin, avoiding the Interstates and tolls, and hits every one-stop-sign town along the way, it’s going to take her forever to get anywhere.

    Your writing is smooth, and other than a few errant commas and other fiddly grammar things, it’s appealing. I might wander a few pages further, but only if something happens, or someone shows up for her to have dialog with, so I can get a better sense of who this woman really is.

  9. Theresa Weir
    May 24, 2014 @ 09:12:33

    I LOVE this and want to read more, but I agree that it’s a bit confusing as far as time, etc. A few suggestions:

    In six weeks she’d be leaving home FOR THE LAST TIME. something that lets us know that this is yet to happen even though she’s also leaving today.

    line: They would arrive late … delete this, because at first we think everybody will arrive late. next line tells us that’s not the case, but we don’t need that first line to temporarily confuse the reader.

    The cabin paragraph… Because previous paragraphs deal with imagined scenes (have happened and to happen) that aren’t taking place in real time, this cabin paragraph is confusing. You just need a tweak to clue the reader. such as: The cabin, once she finally arrived, blah blah.

    very minor issues, but issues that are related.

  10. LK Rigel
    May 24, 2014 @ 10:09:48

    I like it. I think it just needs a few tweaks – and if you let things happen “in real time” that puts some movement on the page. It’s easier for me to show than explain, so here are my suggestions:

    Six weeks. In six weeks Rainey Forrester would be leaving home FOR THE LAST TIME, the only place she’d ever loved. Been loved, Felt loved.

    In six weeks she’d be handing over the keys to someone else. To prepare, she’d written notes. Endless notes explaining why the last door in the hall didn’t match the rest (a fire in 1897) or why the kitchen floor looked so ancient compared to the rest of the house (reclaimed lumber.) It made her feel better and it was the least she could do.

    She loved the house, loved its arching doorways and the wavy curved glass in the bay window. She’d sat for hours with a toothbrush and a nail file, cleaning paint from the carved bannister. Tracking down the historically accurate wallpaper for the hallway had taken months, but the house deserved it. It had sat, abused and abandoned, for so long. Rainey felt its pain as she poured into it all the energy, all the time, she’d once reserved for her job.

    Still, She couldn’t be there while the furniture was hauled away to be stored in an old brick warehouse until she and Doug could stand being in the same room to divide it. Instead, So she drove to the cottage AT THE LAKE IN WISCONSIN. Rainey, SHE LEFT AT DAWN, taking the back roads from her Chicago neighborhood, ignoring the tollway. It calmed her to see the factories turn into subdivisions, then into farmhouses and small towns with a single stop sign at the middle of town.

    “You love this house more than me.” Doug had said. DOUG’S ACCUSATION CAME WITH HER ON THE DRIVE. And she couldn’t argue. It was likely one of the reasons they were divorcing. Rainey didn’t know when she’d stopped loving Doug. It had built up over their 30-year marriage, growing like mold in the basement, unseen until someone shines a light in the right corner.

    That slimy corner had held Doug’s girlfriend, probably one of many. Rainey refused to learn her name. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t her fault. This divorce had been coming for a long time and now that it was finally here, she faced it head on. No one could say Rainey Forrester wasn’t a realist. She’d come out of this looking like a winner. It hurt a little, but not as much as AND losing the house HURT MORE THAN LOSING THE MARRIAGE.

    The cabin smelled of wet towels and dead mice. A mason jar of wilted daisies sat in the center of the farmhouse table, the petals, curved like fingernail clippings, littered the linen tablecloth. Chairs and couches still wore the summer white of slipcovers. By now, she would have taken out the fleecy throws, laid the wool rugs on the painted floorboards. The screens would be stored and storm shutters readied to close against the winter. She would have come up weeks earlier — her and Doug — and prepare for winter. Instead, they’d prepared for court.

    Marin and Laurel, her eternal best friends, WOULD ARRIVE IN A FEW HOURS meet her, carrying bottles of wine and bags of food like they had every summer. EVERY SUMMER, as the days fell shorter, the three friends would sit in dock-side Adirondack chairs, staring at the sparkling water as they recalled their high school days. Their college days. Their weddings. Rainey’s was the first divorce they’d have to discuss. and She felt a perverse pride., like She’d accomplished something none of her friends had attempted.

  11. LK Rigel
    May 24, 2014 @ 10:14:21

    Well, darn. That didn’t work. This one deletes the my deletions:

    Six weeks. In six weeks Rainey Forrester would be leaving home FOR THE LAST TIME, the only place she’d ever loved. Been loved, Felt loved.

    In six weeks she’d be handing over the keys to someone else. To prepare, she’d written notes. Endless notes explaining why the last door in the hall didn’t match the rest (a fire in 1897) or why the kitchen floor looked so ancient compared to the rest of the house (reclaimed lumber.) It made her feel better.

    She loved the house, loved its arching doorways and the wavy curved glass in the bay window. She’d sat for hours with a toothbrush and a nail file, cleaning paint from the carved bannister. Tracking down the historically accurate wallpaper for the hallway had taken months, but the house deserved it. It had sat, abused and abandoned, for so long. Rainey felt its pain as she poured into it all the energy, all the time, she’d once reserved for her job.

    She couldn’t be there while the furniture was hauled away to be stored in an old brick warehouse until she and Doug could stand being in the same room to divide it. So she drove to the cottage AT THE LAKE IN WISCONSIN. SHE LEFT AT DAWN, taking the back roads from her Chicago neighborhood, ignoring the tollway. It calmed her to see the factories turn into subdivisions, then into farmhouses and small towns with a single stop sign at the middle of town.

    “You love this house more than me.” DOUG’S ACCUSATION CAME WITH HER ON THE DRIVE. And she couldn’t argue. It was likely one of the reasons they were divorcing. Rainey didn’t know when she’d stopped loving Doug. It had built up over their 30-year marriage, growing like mold in the basement, unseen until someone shines a light in the right corner.

    That slimy corner had held Doug’s girlfriend, probably one of many. Rainey refused to learn her name. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t her fault. This divorce had been coming for a long time and now that it was finally here, she faced it head on. No one could say Rainey Forrester wasn’t a realist. AND losing the house HURT MORE THAN LOSING THE MARRIAGE.

    The cabin smelled of wet towels and dead mice. A mason jar of wilted daisies sat in the center of the farmhouse table, the petals, curved like fingernail clippings, littered the linen tablecloth. Chairs and couches still wore the summer white of slipcovers.

    Marin and Laurel, her eternal best friends, WOULD ARRIVE IN A FEW HOURS carrying bottles of wine and bags of food like they had every summer. EVERY SUMMER, as the days fell shorter, the three friends would sit in dock-side Adirondack chairs, staring at the sparkling water as they recalled their high school days. Their college days. Their weddings. Rainey’s was the first divorce they’d have to discuss. She felt a perverse pride. She’d accomplished something none of her friends had attempted.

  12. Pam Mathews
    May 24, 2014 @ 10:39:33

    @LK Rigel: I like how you wrote out your suggestions. It does move the story better. I still would want to read more.

  13. Author
    May 24, 2014 @ 10:51:10

    @Nemo:
    Thank you for your comments. I’m curious what you mean by mismatched?

  14. theo
    May 24, 2014 @ 13:08:56

    I agree with Nemo in that she has major things happening to her. The divorce which she seems apathetic about, leaving her home where she seems more interested in going over everything she did to it rather than the life it held, and she’s not upset about those memories. I understand the mismatched statement. What is going on in her head doesn’t come across as life changing events usually do for most of us. We’re moving soon and I’m leaving behind the land I grew up on. The land has been in my family since 1935. I’m still growing a car in the backyard because the flathead Ford engine just surfaced enough to finish digging up and I’m sure other pieces will be surfacing soon. But the new homeowners will have to deal with that. Though I took down the tiny house I grew up in and built a new one,m it’s the property and memories on it that are tearing me apart to leave, but I have no choice. My husband and I never lived more than 10 minutes from here and he knew my wish was to come back and live. I’ve had that chance. That will have to do now. But I cry sometimes when I think of leaving it.

    I don’t feel any of that with your MC though. I’m not sure how to get that across, but right now, I feel more sorry for the house than her. I agree with Carole McK as well because I think she’s hit that on the head. Theres much more loving detail of ‘things’ rather than you MC. If you like those things so much more than you MC that you would spend so much time on them when I’m wondering if they’ll even matter by chapter 2, I have to wonder if you like your MC enough to make me like her too.

  15. Kate Sherwood
    May 24, 2014 @ 13:41:31

    And just to make things complicated, I LIKED it that the MC spent so much time thinking about things, and was emotionally detached from the divorce. It makes her more interesting and complex, for me; this isn’t OUR divorce, it’s hers, and this is how she’s reacting to it.

    I feel like we learn a lot about the marriage this way. It just sputtered out and somehow the MC didn’t really notice until her husband’s affair woke her up. Now, I expect, she’ll spend the book coming back to life and getting energized. So I like it that she’s not that way at the start!

  16. Theresa Weir
    May 24, 2014 @ 15:13:48

    I totally agree with Kate!

  17. Nemo
    May 24, 2014 @ 19:24:35

    I think I feel mismatched because I see two different stories being told. The one is about a divorce and feels very typical and is only lightly fleshed out. It doesn’t feel to me like she’s apathetic or not emotionally invested, it just feels shallowly drawn.

    The other story (that I liked more) is about a woman who is trying to deal with the coming changes by rooting herself firmly in the physical and in the past. Her house seems like a sanctuary, a place she’s carved out meticulously as a way to deal with her emotions, possibly over giving up her job when she didn’t want to. The notes signify that she can’t let go of the past and of her control. That perhaps she isn’t ready for the changes, even if she is ready for the divorce. When her focus turns to the cabin this impression gets even stronger. It feels like she is working through her feelings indirectly by dealing with these houses.

    For me personally, I would have been drawn in by a woman who is obsessing over leaving her house, over the tiny details of it while avoid thinking about what’s really troubling her all the first chapter and then end it with “She would have come up weeks earlier — her and Doug — and prepare for winter. Instead, they’d prepared for court” because to me THAT is a powerful line. It shows the break with tradition and habit that she’s had to go through and hints at the divorce. Here the divorce seems to be nudged in there where it doesn’t belong, especially if the story focuses mostly on her journey and not on the divorce and her husband.

    I really enjoyed the parts where she thought about the house, the cabin, and her friends. Some of the lines about the divorce were really good. They just felt shoehorned in.

  18. SAO
    May 26, 2014 @ 00:02:12

    You have a lot of nice details here, but not really a scene. It’s the second sentence of para 6 that we’re actually watching Rainey do something in the here and now. But all she does is drive, then, one presumes, open a door.

    I like the line that she’s leaving the only place she felt loved. But when I thought about it, it made no sense. She doesn’t appear to have kids and if she does, they certainly aren’t here supporting her. So, who loved her? Doug? Or the house? If the first, I’d think she’d spend more time on what-might-have-been. If the latter, then either this is a paranormal and she’s leaving her ghosts, or she lives in her own world.

    And if she’s lived with cheating Doug for so long, what precipitated the divorce? He wanted a new wife? That says a lot about Rainey; she’s passive. If she did, then she’s hoping for a new start and a chance at love, focus on that.

    I’d happily wander around the details of someone’s life, but only if I’m sure that she’s moving forward. I’m not sure about that here. It’s not for me.

    As a nit: It’s “She would have come up weeks earlier — she and Doug — and prepare for winter.” Because the pronoun is referring to the subject of the sentence. You’d have said, “She and Doug would have come . . .” not “Her and Doug would have come . . .”

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