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First Page: Romantic Suspense, Dead and Buried

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When Momma died, Timmy and I ran.    The way I saw it, any man who'd stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn't hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life.

from  A Bad Day To Die by Lucy Sadler Caldwell [DRAFT]

"You have to do something about her."

"Hmm?"    Ethan purely hated having his breakfast disturbed.    Not that he hadn't expected it.    The hum of gossip when he'd arrived, along with the fact that the level had dropped almost immediately as the occupants became aware of him, had set his instincts singing.    He'd felt the weight of the diners' stares viscerally, in a way he hadn't since first moving to town nine months earlier, and had fully expected one of the clusters of gossip-mongers to appoint a delegate to approach him.    The foreknowledge, however, didn't soothe his irritation, especially when he saw who they'd chosen.    With a sigh he did his best to hide, he put aside the paper, swallowed the last bite of his fried egg sandwich, and focused on the seventy-three-year-old woman who'd sat herself down across the table in his favorite booth at Maxie's diner.

"That girl is nothing but trouble.    None of us want her here, and it's your job to make certain she understands that."    Clara Mae Wilson considered herself the arbiter of Dobbs Hollow taste and sensibility.    Painfully thin with the posture of the ruler she no doubt used on her students' knuckles at Dobbs Hollow High, the woman brought out the teenage rebel still lurking inside his thirty-eight-year-old frame.

Clara had made a point of coming by the station his first week as Dobbs Hollow's Chief of Police.    She'd brought him a tuna casserole.    Not because she approved of him–her nephew was Chief of Detectives with the Adams County Sheriff's Department and should have been promoted before they hired some city boy–but because it was her Christian duty.    As Ethan couldn't abide tuna casserole and had little patience with small town politics, his first impression of Clara hadn't been positive.    And given that she had a new complaint every week, he hadn't had the chance to find out whether absence would make his heart grow fonder.

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

35 Comments

  1. Danielle D
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 05:24:19

    Ok, you hooked me — I want more.

    ReplyReply

  2. KristieJ
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 06:06:45

    I’m hooked as well. I love the big city cop comes to small town trope. And I like that it starts from the hero’s POV.
    Now I want to know who she’s complaining about and why – heck, I just want more too.

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  3. jody
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 06:33:47

    I heart Clara Mae and her tuna casserole. More please.

    ReplyReply

  4. Jane O
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 06:39:09

    Nasty, narrow-minded old woman who thinks she runs her small town wants to run some other woman out of town -’ I’m sorry, this is a cliche I particularly dislike.

    You may have surprises waiting for me further along, but I would have stopped reading here.

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  5. Suzanne Rossi
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 06:57:13

    I like being in the hero’s POV, too, and while its too wordy for my taste, I’m hooked and would read more.

    Not quite sure what the excerpt has to do with the entry, but I was a trifle confused by blood soaking into the carpet and running down the grout lines at the same time. However, I’d read more of that, too.

    I write romantic suspense and always give it more of a read than other subgenres.

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  6. KristieJ
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 07:06:27

    @Suzanne Rossi: I’m guessing here – but I think the woman Clara Mae is complaining about is Lucy Sadler Caldwell – the writer of the draft at the beginning.

    And since this one really has me wanting more – I’m curious to know if you ever do follow-ups on First Page Drafts and whether the author goes further and gets published. Because I really, REALLY do want more of this story!

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  7. Marianne McA
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 07:43:10

    I think it’s great.

    Being really nitpicky – ridiculously so – I like the ‘purely hated’ because it feels intimate and in a mild way the sentence ‘he felt the weight of the diners’ stares viscerally…’ then by comparison feels a bit formal: but I know I’d never notice that if I was reading this in real life.

    I’d like to buy this book.

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  8. Jane
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:08:18

    @KristieJ: I liked this entry too. I always hope that the first page authors tell us if they sell a book but we haven’t had one report back yet.

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  9. DS
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:14:01

    Some of its ok, some of it isn’t. A couple of adverbs too many. I could live with purely hated, although it sounds more like small town than big city. But I could have done without “almost immediately”, “viscerally” and “fully” or just pick one of the three.

    Clara Mae Wilson is 70+ and still teaching high school? Can’t tell from the way it’s written. I also got my knuckles rapped with a ruler– in 1962, in grade school. High school was detention or paddling by the principle and while my high school didn’t rate a Hollow, it was named after a Creek.

    I’ve met everyone of these characters before in fiction– more than once or twice, so maybe some effort at creating fully rounded characters would make this a story I would be more interested in reading. As it stands it is all too predictable.

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  10. Stephanie
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:16:32

    I’d like to know what the relationship is between the excerpt at the beginning and the main story. At first, I thought the hero–writing under a female pseudonym–was the author, but now I wonder if the as-yet-unseen heroine will be. So I’m definitely interested enough to read on.

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  11. Ciar Cullen
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:32:16

    Reads like an already published HQN suspense to me. I think it’s very good.

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  12. Darlynne
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:41:56

    I like the voice a lot, but wish the sample had been longer, as in long first page. The opening quote was also intriguing and that is a thread I would very much like to follow, carpet/tile notwithstanding. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. coribo25
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 08:44:54

    I think it’s a fun premise but the writing needs a lot of work. The pov shifts from Ethan (he hates having his breakfast interrupted) to Clara (she considered herself) not sure if that was intentional.
    Too much flashback/infodump bogging it down. We could easily have seen the reaction of the diners in real time rather than being told. Again with the tuna casserole, another flashback/infodump rather than him reacting to seeing her and thinking of the hated casserole.
    Word choice could be more specific, which in turn would aid characterisation. For example,… who’d sat herself down across the table…. We all sit down, but it’s how we do it that sheds light on character. She can sit down, or she can slide along the bench, insert herself, lower herself carefully, thus giving a little more than just a bare action.
    Best of luck to the author with getting it published.

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  14. Terri
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 09:34:33

    This is terrific. The initial excerpt from Lucy’s book hooked me from the get-go. I like everything about this piece. I do NOT think the writing needs “a lot of work.” Far from it. I think some of the criticisms are off the mark. For ex: The POV does not shift. It’s Ethan’s take on Clara’s opinion of herself.

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  15. Carolyn
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 09:52:05

    Have to agree with Terri. Some folks are really stretching to find fault.

    And I must love infodumps, because I consider what was written necessary to establish character – both Ethan’s and Clara’s. I had no problem with it at all.

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  16. Debra
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 10:26:22

    I want more!! I had no issues and would buy this book. I hope the author lets you know.

    ReplyReply

  17. Ros
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 10:35:40

    @Jane: I got a rejection this week from M&B for my first page that was featured back in November.

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  18. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 11:12:47

    Great start. The most important thing from a first page is, I think, voice, and you have that.
    I’d cut out a little of the backstory, but not all of it. And I’d add a little atmosphere, you know, the chink of cutlery, quiet voices, maybe the sound of a radio drifting through from the back.
    These are all touches I like to put to my own work, but they tend to come in the polishing stage, when the story’s in place.

    BTW Jane, the page I sent a while back became the second chapter of a book currently with my agent. While it hasn’t yet sold, it did help me to get the agent. I was really pleased with the help I got as I always have problems starting the story. Oddly enough, the story tends to stop when it stops. I write and write and then think “Oh, that was the last sentence.” Very odd, but useful. The first page I sent became the second chapter, which was one of the pieces of advice I got. Either that, or it was one of the books I sold to Ellora’s Cave, I can’t find the entry now, it was quite a while back.

    And I’d love to hear about the fates of other first pages. Where they went, if they were sold or rejected. Some of them were stories I’d have really wanted to read.

    I think the authors who comment here are fussy because so few books ever make it to publication. YOu have to hit the editor or agent at the right time and place with the right book, and that’s so hard to do. So the first page has to be as good as it can be.

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  19. DQ
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 11:21:21

    There is nothing wrong with the premise of this story, or the characters revealed so far, IMO.

    I would rearrange the sequence of paragraphs and tighten the text somewhat. For instance, drop the beginning draft insert and use it further into the work. Start the page with “You have to…” and identify the speaker.

    Too many explanations as to why the Chief of Police is suspicious while having his breakfast. A simple ‘the room hushed as he walked in..” would suffice. Same with the annoyed breakfast interruption, instead try ‘With a quiet sigh he put aside his newspaper..’ this conveys his irritation without elaborating.

    The fact that Clara made a pest of herself could also be shortened by starting your paragraph with the last sentence ‘The Chief had no chance to find out if -absence makes the heart grow fonder- as far as Clara Mae Wilson was concerned.’

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  20. Polly
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 11:42:11

    I’d be more careful with the POV. To me is feels like it’s switching between limited omniscient from Ethan to limited omniscient Clara. If all the comments about Clara are what Ethan knows about her and consistent with his limited omniscient view, I’d add in a “he suspected,” “he imagined” etc.

    I didn’t like the “purely hated” which seems more country than big city, unless the “big city” is only a big city in comparison to the small town.

    Also, what school district still allows any kind of corporal punishment? If she’s still rapping knuckles (and seriously, she hasn’t retired?), then say something about how no one has the guts to make her stop, changing laws notwithstanding.

    There’s definitely promise here, and I look forward to reading more someday.

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  21. evie byrne
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 12:37:14

    As others have said, this has a great voice and premise. But I did find myself stumbling repeatedly in the first proper paragraph (The one starting with “Hmm..”), because–imho–it is somewhat awkwardly constructed.

    That section could be cleaner, tighter and clearer. Tiny tweaks will make a big difference. If this paragraph were buried in the middle of the book, I might not come down on it, but it’s the first thing the editors and agents will read, so it must shine.

    Personally, I’d like to know he’s in a diner right off. It would help ground the first few sentences. A bit of sensory detail (just a teeny bit–smell of coffee, that sort of thing) would help, too–throughout we’re stuck deep in his thoughts, and not seeing the place at all.

    And I’d also say that the emotional stakes seem too high when you use words like “viscerally” and tell us his nerves are “singing”–when in fact he’s just being pestered by an old pest he already knows.

    He starts off the page irritated, and ends the page irritated, but the words you choose to describe his state along the way seem to imply a greater intensity than irritation. It makes him seem edgy–not your basic long suffering small town cop just trying to finish his breakfast, but a man who is a little paranoid or nervous. Do you want that? It’s a matter of tone, very subtle.

    I’m not against dumping backstory here, but if you’re going to do it, make it crisp. Something about the grammar in this sentence confused me:

    “He'd felt the weight of the diners' stares viscerally, in a way he hadn't since first moving to town nine months earlier, and had fully expected one of the clusters of gossip-mongers to appoint a delegate to approach him.”

    I had to read it three times because as I read it, I thought he expected the townspeople to come up with their delegate 9 months earlier. Maybe that’s my own confusion? I don’t know. But to me, this sentence cries out for help.

    I didn’t see a POV problem. I read those insights into Clara character as coming from him, not her.

    Again, it’s very engaging, and excellent start. My suggestions are all very grain of salty. Best of luck!

    p.s. Is “purely hated” a regional thing? Southern? I’ve never heard the phrase in my life. Just curious.

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  22. Maili
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 13:08:11

    @evie byrne: “Purely hated” is used in England as well, both urban and the countryside. For what it’s worth.

    ReplyReply

  23. Mason Canyon
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 13:15:49

    I’m definitely hooked. I want to know more. Who’s the girl, what has she done and why don’t they like her? More please.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  24. Adobedragon
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 13:19:14

    “He'd felt the weight of the diners' stares viscerally, in a way he hadn't since first moving to town nine months earlier, and had fully expected one of the clusters of gossip-mongers to appoint a delegate to approach him.”

    I had to read it three times because as I read it, I thought he expected the townspeople to come up with their delegate 9 months earlier. Maybe that's my own confusion? I don't know. But to me, this sentence cries out for help

    Yeah, this sort of confused me as well.

    I also wondered why he took the job of police chief if he had no patience for small town politics. Maybe he didn’t know what he was getting into?

    But overall, I thought this was good.

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  25. Barbara
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 14:04:36

    I loved this excerpt written in a lovely literary style. There is no POV jump. This is very well written, and sets the main character up nicely. Hopefully the author will find a home for this engaging story.

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  26. Scarletti
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 19:00:36

    I enjoyed it. I like small town police chiefs. I like old biddies. I like small towns and small town politics.

    There is definitely some polishing that needs to happen, but that is what the editors are for. The voice is good, and that is what I am looking for.

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  27. Lori
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 19:32:08

    The set-up is good and the voice is strong.

    The opening paragraph with the book excerpt however threw me right off with Mama’s blood soaking into the carpet and then running down in rivulets into the tile grout in the kitchen. I don’t think it’s going to do both. Reverse order and it might make sense.

    Otherwise, I think everything else would be picking nits. This is well written.

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  28. Chez
    Jun 19, 2010 @ 19:50:12

    I’m hooked, would like to keep reading this one.

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  29. LauraKCurtis
    Jun 20, 2010 @ 10:15:29

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! I am still reworking some of the later parts of this manuscript that my agent has trouble with, but I will be sure to let folks know if/when it sells, I know I can be wordy, so I am grateful to those who pointed out instances of that!

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  30. KristieJ
    Jun 20, 2010 @ 13:04:43

    @LauraKCurtis:
    I’m wishing you best of luck! Of all the first page entries here, this one has piqued me the most :-)

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  31. sao
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 02:25:09

    I was quite caught, but thought the second half of the page was wasting too much space on Clara.

    Readers want to know meet the hero and heroine and get an idea of the plot of the book. Clara’s tuna casserole and the ambitions of her relatives are doing none of that. Get it off the first page (and don’t stick in on p.2,3,4, or 5).

    This reads like you are trying to find conflict with a little old lady. You probably have plenty of plot conflict. Show us that.

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  32. JenD
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 07:02:54

    I really liked this. There were some small slippery patches but nothing I don’t think five minutes could fix.

    One thing did bother me- he decided he didn’t like the old woman, in part, because she brought him a tuna casserole?

    It seems a bit shallow and at odds with everything else I felt about him. If she bothers him by taking up too much of his time- fine no problem there. As a Southern girl myself, I can say I felt shocked that he didn’t like her (in part) because she made him a tuna dish. How was she supposed to know what he did like? She didn’t know him.

    I know this is nitpicky as hell- it just made me think he was a selfish person. Doesn’t want to be bothered, doesn’t care about the community politics (understandable) and judges people by their casseroles.

    That nitpick aside- I’m very interested to read his story. Good luck!

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  33. mischab1
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 12:15:28

    No, you’ve missed the bigger issue. She made sure that he knew she was only giving the casserole because it was her ‘Christian duty’. That screams sanctimonious prig to me and I completely understand why he wouldn’t like her.

    It’s not necessarily his fault that he doesn’t like tuna casserole either, but it would seem right in character for Clara Mae to be personally offended if he hadn’t accepted it.

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  34. JenD
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 14:40:49

    I just re-read it and it’s not stated that she told him this. We have no way of knowing how he came to this realization. The Author doesn’t mention if she said ‘I wanted my nephew here and not you’ or if he just heard it through the grapevine and assumed that’s how she operated.

    I would hope she doesn’t turn out to be Small Town Character Number 27- Mean Ol Biddy. Perhaps something more is going on under the surface- guess we’ll have to read the book to find out.

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  35. okbut
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 08:38:27

    I know this writer, she notified her large circle of friends and acquaintances that she was posting her fist page here today.

    That’s why you have such a disparity between comments: from ‘it’s just wonderful’ to ‘it needs a lot of work’ to ‘it’s awful’.

    Then she actually post herself and gives her name, not wanting to miss the opportunity to market herself again, something she is very experienced at. It’s an odd situation when a writer excells at promotion but not at writing, if you consider this first page belongs to a novel 3 years in the making, which her agent refused again after this Saturday’s effort. No big surprise.

    I think Jane’s idea is an excellent one. We all need feedback, and the more honest the better, or how else are we going to learn and improve.

    To stack the deck in your favor where it is not anonymous for half the posters, defeats the whole process and is a great shame for all who participate.

    ReplyReply

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