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First Page: Riding the Line, Contemporary Romance

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“I don’t care if I drop an entire paycheck, I am getting myself a hot piece of bachelor biker tonight.”

Kendall smiled at the group of giggling women climbing the winding staircase up to the banquet room. The inky, San Diego night sky over the bay greeted her through floor-to-ceiling windows. She was mentally planning some shots with the twinkling skyline in the distance when her sister spotted her and gave a little wave. Kendall watched her ease her way through the throng of women with a practiced ease, schmoozing along the way.

Charlotte beamed at Kendall when she finally reached her, squeezing her arm. “Can you get over this turnout?”

Kendall laughed. “I’m surprised it took you this long to think of auctioning off men.”

Charlotte gave her a playful punch in the shoulder, making the side boob she was desperately trying to keep in place jostle for attention, then whistled and twirled her around for a full 360-degree view. “Girl! I knew you’d fill out that dress!”

Kendall smoothed the slip dress down over her hips, trying to make the slit not ride up so high on her leg, but that only reminded her that the low-cut back was already dangerously in photographer-crack territory. She dropped her hands. “Not exactly the right dress for making sure I get good shots.”

Charlotte waved her off with a well-manicured hand. “You always get good shots. You’re a natural.” Pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes, Charlotte waved a bidding number adorned with a charcoal print of a vintage Harley in front of her face, “But I also expect you to put your camera away at some point and bid on one of my ridiculously hot bikers.”

Kendall protested, laughing. “No way, Charlotte. I’m strictly press tonight.”

“Bullshit.” Charlotte poked her, pressing the number against Kendall’s chest. “You need to get out. Take it. No arguments.”

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. SAO
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 05:25:10

    This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I think you need to go somewhere similar to your scene and take notes.
    1) You start off with one of my pet peeves, unattributed dialogue.

    2) Kendall smiles at the women on the stairs, but is she smiling at their backs? Because the view “greeting” her suggests she was going up the stairs, too. Or did she turn to smile at them? Or was she walking up with them?

    3) The sky “greets” her through the huge window, giving me the impression of open space, but then her sister makes her way through the throng. Does Ken arrive at a crowded room? Or an open space where the view is the first thing you see? And is the room dark? Because generally, it’s hard to see much of a dark view from a well-lit place.

    4) What’s a side boob? The side of her boob? It jostles for whose attention? Does anyone actually pay attention? Who is the “she” who is desperately trying to keep her wandering boob in place? Charlotte was the preceding proper noun, but I think this pronoun means Ken, but the next one “her” means Charlotte, but since I’m not sure, I’m wondering who said the line of dialogue.

    5) Ken’s here on business but she’s wearing a dress that is so skimpy that she has to “desperately” try to keep her breasts covered, her exposed butt crack is in danger of attracting photographers, and I doubt she can crouch down in the dress (might have to to get a good shot of that skyline) but she’s there strictly on business? I’m not buying that.

    I couldn’t picture your scene at all, because the details conflicted with each other. I didn’t get a sense of who Ken is, except someone who wears way too skimpy clothes to assignments she considers professional — not something that makes me respect her.

    Go to some crowded event and take notes. Find some sexy clothing that might make sense for a photographer. And while you’re at it, it might help to make this unique. Not a horde of sex-starved women drooling over hunky guys but a quirky cause and a quirky crowd to support it. Make it save the snail-darter and put some people in hiking boots in the crowd. Make it a cure for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and put some uncomfortable nerds or seniors in the crowd.

    But also, focus on Ken’s goal. What is she taking pictures of? Is she shooting drool-worthy guys for a women’s mag? Finding celebrities for a gossip rag? Is she passionate about Char’s cause and wanting to further raise funds for it? Get more notice in the newspaper for it?

  2. Caro
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 08:15:26

    The writing is smooth but the premise is weak.

    1) I’m already thinking Ken is a TSTL heroine because of what she’s wearing. Unless she was forced into the dress only Mylie Cyrus could love, I’m not buying it. Or her.

    2) This is cliche in the setup. Heroine who is not interested in men/only wants to do her job is forced to bid on hot man because sister/bf/boss demands she do so. Sigh.

    3) There is a lot going on – boobs are juggling, crowds are surging, sister is joshing – but I don’t connect to Kendall. She’s just “there”. I get no sense of what kind of person she is at all. Which makes me not really care. Especially when I’m heading for a cliche romantic set-up.

    Here are some thoughts – and please, throw them all away if none of them connect, but here ya go anyway:

    1) Put Kendall in her usual work gear – black pants, turtleneck, no makeup. She’s all biz and her focus is on making her baby sister’s new gig a success. This would give me a lot on what makes Kendal tick. Charlotte can be grumpy that she didn’t slip on the Cyrus dress she sent her, but when did Ken ever listen to her baby sis?

    2) Photographers are good at blending in – even disappearing. Make Ken be that kind of person. She doesn’t like to be noticed, she just likes to do her job. So her whole focus is on finding the dark corner, getting the shots right, sizing up the crowd on who’s going to “star” in her pictures. When Charlotte tries to bring her out, she’s gets an immediate reaction of – no way.

    3) So then you have a determined heroine who has an agenda of being non-descript and non-memorable and just doing her job – and bang… the reader KNOWS she’s going to get pushed into the spotlight with a guy who’s more gorgeous than Brad Pitt. I’d read on for that.

    Cliches can work if you give them life. Currently, I’m not feeling very lively about this piece.

  3. Kate Sherwood
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 08:20:25

    I agree with the previous two comments. I didn’t get a good feel for the character, and what I did get I didn’t really like. If she’s all about business, make her be all about business. You can always save the caterpillar-turns-into-a-butterfly scene for later in the book!

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 08:27:47

    I might read further, but only a few pages, to see what might happen. But this isn’t really grabbing my attention. It took me a minute to understand Kendall was taking photographs and not the object of them. It took reading SAO’s comment about to finally figure that out.

    I know what a side-boob is, but the comment about “photographer-crack’…I just figured it out as I was writing this comment. You don’t want you jokes to confuse readers. I read it as she was the object of the photographs, and her low-backed dress was perfect fodder for photographers…there are all kinds of celebrity photos of bare-backed celebrities in revealing dresses. Again, if I’m unclear who or what Kendall is, I’m going to misunderstand what your intent is and get lost pretty quickly. And then probably leave the story.

    I was distracted by the writing…read the first two words of each graph, save the first and the last…”Kendall smiled” “Charlotte beamed” “Kendall…” “Charlotte…” It’s repetitive and I suspect continues past the first page.

    Without a blurb to go on, it also feels a bit predictable, in that Kendall’s a fish out of water, her sister seems more popular and at ease here, and there’s the hint of some set up romance with a guy who’s a bad boy biker. That’s all fine if the story’s well written but it’s been done.

    I’d like something out of the ordinary…she’s a wildlife photographer who Charlotte roped into shooting her event for free. Kendall’s the wild one, untamed and annoyed at being confined to a building. The biker guy has a PhD in neuroscience and is actually a geek, with a passion for Harley’s and can explain in detail how the engine works but can’t abide being outdoors except on his bike. His friends submitted his name as a way to get _him_ out of his shell. They get thrown into….something…unexpected. And then the sparks fly.

    Thanks for sharing your writing. It takes courage and it takes thick skin sometimes to read the critiques. But if you write, it’s what happens. And it’s how we learn and improve. Good luck! And if you have a blurb, I’d be interested in reading that.

  5. Anonymous
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 09:08:19

    @Carol McKenzie:

    The biker guy has a PhD in neuroscience and is actually a geek, with a passion for Harley’s and can explain in detail how the engine works but can’t abide being outdoors except on his bike. His friends submitted his name as a way to get _him_ out of his shell.

    Oh, wow, that sounds great! Personally, I would LOVE to read something with a hero like that.

    I always really want to like ‘shy caterpillar leaves chrysalis’ stories, but they almost always fail me in the execution, and I can already tell from this page that this would not be one of the exceptions. Your heroine is the sort that never lets herself come out to play… but she lets her sister talk her into stepping outside her comfort zone while she’s working? I can’t root for someone like that. Like Kate says, you can say the exit-chrysalis scene for later. You don’t need to do it all at once. If the point in putting Kendall in a Miley-Cyrus dress is to make the biker think she’s a different sort of girl… find a more plausible scenario than this one. It just doesn’t work here. Caro’s suggestions are really good, and much more realistic for this setting.

    If you combine Caro’s and Carol’s suggestions, you get something like: Kendall’s a bit wild, she’s totally happy wearing skimpy clothing, but she’s also super-professional when she’s on the job, so she turns up dressed to blend in (much to her sister’s disappointment); the biker guy is the one who needs to get out of his shell; both of them end up with completely the wrong impression of the other. I’d be all over that.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 09:29:11

    just a bit of realism – I’m not a bike enthusiast but I do seem to have spent my life surrounded by them, starting with my Dad. I’ve come to an agreement with my DH – Wednesday is bike day, and the dining room is his and his mates’.
    Since the Hell’s Angel style biker wouldn’t be seen dead at a bachelor auction – and please, take that literally – I’m assuming they are the bike enthusiast type. Those guys are, take it from me, really boring if you’re not into biking. So if Kendall is, then great. They can talk carburetors all day. You could put this into the story, for instance, when she’s given the Harley badge/placard thingie, she can recognize the model and say what’s wrong with it, like, “That model doesn’t have a kickstand” or “that’s the wrong insignia for the electra glide.”
    What everybody is saying above is spot on about your heroine. I can’t see the point of the dress, because it’s deeply impractical. Give her the cojones to say no and dress her way. Give her something different that makes the reader want to root for her.
    What really makes a great book is detail. That’s why Julie James’s books stand out. She knows what she’s talking about, and she takes us, sure-footed, through her stories with a wealth of detail that goes to character. So if you’re writing about bikers and photographers, do your research, find out what makes them tick and go from there, instead of writing a generic character.

  7. Ani Gonzalez
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 09:44:58

    I like this. You put us right in the action and give us a lot of info right away. Well done. The first line of dialogue has to be attributed to someone. At first glance, I thought Kendall was the speaker. The characters and setting could be made a bit more distinctive (I love the snail darter suggestion), but I suspect you cut out a lot of description to comply with Dear Author’s 100 word limit. I don’t mind the revealing/impractical dress, the hero will probably make a lot of mistaken assumptions about the heroine based on that dress and that will be a source of conflict later. I think this is a good start to a Blaze-type category romance.

  8. Vanessa
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 10:02:31

    The writing flows well, and I don’t mind the photographer crack joke. I also like the opening line, and think it would be nice if the woman who said it could be some sort of recurring character (a friend of the heroine perhaps, who’s prone to saying embarrassing things at the wrong time? There’s always one such in a group, I find).
    What I don’t get is a real feel for the main character. It seems as though she’s getting lost in the action around her, though there is not much of that in the first place.
    An auction is not a terrible place to start, and I might read on, but you need to dive into the interesting bits soon, and try not to make the heroine’s personality be too complacent.

  9. Fae
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 15:24:43

    @Carol McKenzie: I want to read your version of this story, Carol! Sounds amazing lol.

  10. Author
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 20:58:42

    Thank you for all the feedback! I clearly haven’t done my heroine justice because she isn’t the shy, fish-out-of-water type. I cut out quite a bit because I thought I was too much in Kendall’s head and perhaps took out too much. Or, more likely, this opening scene isn’t giving an accurate portrayal. I’ll have to re-work the dress or change what she’s wearing. I’m noodling around different ideas.

    @SAO: I had this page critiqued at a book festival this weekend as well and one of the editors said the exact same thing regarding unattributed dialog, so duly noted!

    @Carol: I am struggling writing scenes with two characters of same sex, so I need to look again at keeping things clear without the repetition.

    @Caro: She doesn’t end up bidding because her sister wants her to, but I can see how this first page gives that impression. I am taking into consideration the cliche critique and may just remove that part so her reason for bidding seems more organic.

    @Lynne: They’re not 1%ers but not just enthusiasts either, they’re somewhere in between. I think I’ve made a good case later in the story for why they would do the auction, but I’ll re-visit that as well.

    @Ani and Vanessa: Thank you for the positive comments on the writing!

    @Anonymous: Like the others, you point out that I haven’t given an accurate picture of Kendall because she isn’t the type that never comes out to play. Back to the drawing board on that.

    Thanks again for all the great feedback and suggestions.

  11. job
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 09:32:07

    What everyone said. And may I add something about dialog? Here’s yours:

    “I don’t care if I drop an entire paycheck, I am getting myself a hot piece of bachelor biker tonight. Can you get over this turnout?”
    “I’m surprised it took you this long to think of auctioning off men.”
    “Girl! I knew you’d fill out that dress!”
    “Not exactly the right dress for making sure I get good shots.”
    “You always get good shots. You’re a natural. But I also expect you to put your camera away at some point and bid on one of my ridiculously hot bikers.”
    “No way, Charlotte. I’m strictly press tonight.”
    “Bullshit You need to get out. Take it. No arguments.”

    What it is, I feel like the dialog is a little ‘As You Know, Bob’. Your characters seem to be laying down information for the benefit of the reader. When they say, “I plan to bid on these men.” “I consider you a good photographer.” “I’m serious about my photo work.” — isn’t this already obvious between the two of them? Would they need to stand there and tell each other this stuff?

    Dialog could be directed to what’s new and specific.

    So maybe not so much — “I plan to bid on one of these hot bikers.” which isn’t a surprise to either of them because they must have talked about this last Tuesday,
    but more — “I like that hot biker boy on the end. The blond one.” which is something they couldn’t have previously discussed … and it conveys just as much information to the reader.

    Maybe not so much — “I’m surprised it took you this long to think of auctioning off men.” because why does this concept suddenly strike her now? She’s known about the auction for weeks.
    Maybe more — “I’m surprised so many women showed up for your meat auction.” because that’s something she’s just seeing right now.

    Maybe not so much — “You always get good shots. You’re a natural.” which reflects a situation in place for ten years,
    but more “You don’t spend enough time photographing half-naked studs.” which has immediate application.

  12. Thatswhatsheread
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 11:15:30

    I love “job”‘s ideas; dialogue needs to be less “stiff narrative”, and more “casual conversation”. Possibly what the author could do is use a recording device and read the page and listen back; what sounds stilted and uncomfortable? I think it’ll be easy to pick out what needs adjustment!

    I also found the opening dialogue uncomfortable; if I was being picky, I’d say it’s the alliteration that makes the actual dialogue sound jumpy. “Bachelor biker”; it’s not something someone would actually say…

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