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First Page: Safe, Sane and Supernatural

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Genre: Urban fantasy

The Great Witch of Manhattan took another sip of her drink. Even in the harsh summer sunlight, she looked younger than her age. Not that Serena actually knew the Witch’s age – she wasn’t sure anyone knew that. But her clear skin and easy movements still made her look younger than… than whatever anyone’s assessment of her actual age was. She just looked – younger. Serena wasn’t sure if it was some sort of magical effect, or simply Aunt Jill being herself. She leaned towards the second option.

“My dear girl”, said Aunt Jill. “I run a coven, not a military unit.”

“But…?” said Serena. Next to her, her sister twitched. Serena ignored it. If she caught Sylvia’s eye, they’d both giggle, and that would Not Be Good.

Aunt Jill smiled. “_And_,” she said. “I’ve got an and first. And I agree that you need – no, you _deserve_ a break.” She took the long spoon from her glass, carefully licked all the remains of the fruit juice off it, then suddenly pointed it at the building across the street. “Shoo,” she said, as if talking to an overly confident pigeon.

Serena cast a glance over her shoulder. The greenery surrounding the terrace where they were sitting blocked most of her view of the building, except for the upper floors. She saw a small wisp of mist near the roof. It could have been a puff of exauhst smoke. Or an evil spirit in disintegration.

“A gremlin?” she ventured. Gremlins were the curse of Manhattan; tiny knots of ill will from so many different sources that they lost their goals and were reduced to aimless, petty acts of malice: hiding keys, breaking heels, dropping mobile calls.

“Just an ill wish,” answered Aunt Jill. She returned the spoon into her glass with a sigh. “I miss the tobacco days,” she said. “Casting dispersive spells was so much more elegant when one could do it with a cigarette holder.”

“You smoked?” said Sylvia with surprise.

Aunt Jill laughed. “Everybody smoked, my dear. Don’t you watch _Mad Men_?” She finished her drink, slurping aloud like a six-year-old.

Serena let out a quiet sigh of relief. Aunt Jill wasn’t being the Crone. She could be, when she wanted to, despite her always-younger appearance. You didn’t become the Great Witch of Manhattan without the ability to Crone, although Aunt Jill’s own coven was… less than traditional.

With the discussion of Don Draper’s authenticity gurgling in the background, Serena relaxed for a moment and closed her eyes. They really didn’t look like a coven. Except for Sylvia. With long, unruly hair hennaed into a fiery shade of red and charms on her wrists jingling with her every move, she looked like a cross between Dharma and New Age Barbie: the perfect Witch Maiden.

Aunt Jill never looked like the Crone. Not even when she held herself rigid and narrowed her eyes to scare a horde of young werewolves into behaving themselves. And Serena herself…

She forced herself not to put a hand on her belly. With her almond-brown hair cut straight at the shoulders, just long enough to stay in a ponytail, and her usual jeans-and-T-shirt uniform, there wasn’t a single motherly thing about her.

She caught herself pressing fingernails into her palm, and relaxed with a conscious effort. She would never be a mother. Not that she particularly wanted to. But it did feel… embarrassing, at least, to be the Mother, and yet to know that choice was taken from her.

By her own stupidity.

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. pamelia
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 07:50:51

    Ooh! I like this! Just get rid of the __ (dashes) in the dialogue (not sure why they’re there…) It’s got a good voice and a nice set up for more to follow.

  2. Liz Talley
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:05:24

    Loved the first line. Really caught my attention. Your voice is particularly good, but you might want to streamline the interruptions a tad bit. They distract the reader from your intent. I tend to do this, too, so I can alway spot when voice interferes in the progression of the plot.

    Some of your sentences need a little tightening.

    She took the long spoon from her glass, carefully licked all the remains of the fruit juice off it, then suddenly pointed it at the building across the street.

    She took the long spoon from the glass, licked it clean, and pointed it at the building across the street.

    I think the second version reads cleaner (no pun intended) but is as effective without really losing your voice.

    But otherwise, I’d definitely keep reading – I love a humorous voice in paranormal. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Laura Florand
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:12:29

    This is nice. I think you could still tighten it a bit more. (Go through and see if you can cut ten words from it, for example.) And that semicolon + colon is distracting.

    I also, personally, might start with the dialogue and blend the description in a bit more. “My dear girl.” Aunt Jill sipped her drink. “I run a coven not a military unit.” Even in the harsh summer light, the Great Witch of Manhattan looked… [Or you could place the Great Witch tag with her next line of dialogue, instead, so that we see Jill a little better before we realize she’s, I assume, the most powerful witch in Manhattan.]

    But I like this. It reads well and is intriguing, and I want to know Serena and her sister and aunt better.

  4. Anonymous
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:26:57

    I agree with the others… I like it, but want it tighter. I’d say there’s quite a bit more than ten words that could go.

    And I agree that starting with the dialogue would drag me in faster. Your current first paragraph is cute, but I was a bit tired of it by the end. Switching the first and second paragraphs around would work better, for me.

    And it might just be me, but I got the two younger girls confused. Too many S names, at least this early in the book.

    To be honest, there’s a LOT of back story crammed into this short excerpt, and I do think you get away with it because your voice is so strong, but if you were able to postpone some of it, I think I might be dragged even further into your world.

  5. Gianisa
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:28:52

    This caught my interest, and I like the idea of taking a vacation from a coven. The way you’ve written their conversation and the description of their surroundings flows really well and I think that this is a great first page. But you need some careful editing. There’s a whole lot of smaller stuff that caught my attention and I’m not very good at grammar, etc.

    There are too many ellipses; they pulled me out of the story.

    made her look younger than… than whatever anyone’s assessment of her actual age was.
    “But…?” said Serena.
    own coven was… less than traditional
    And Serena herself…
    But it did feel… embarrassing,

    That’s a lot of ellipses for one page. On the other hand, this is a great use of punctuation to show how somebody would think or say the description:

    She just looked – younger.

    That awkward little pause where you can’t think of a better way to describe something. It feels like you’re overusing punctuation instead of letting things flow a little more naturally.

    Also, if it’s a question, you ask it.

    “But…?” said Serena.
    “You smoked?” said Sylvia with surprise.

    In America, we drop cell phone calls. Nobody ever calls a cell phone a mobile (unless your character is British or European or from somewhere where they use ‘mobile’).

    hiding keys, breaking heels, dropping mobile calls.

    I’ve assumed that you’re using the underscores in place of italics so that there weren’t formatting issues when you submitted this, but since you’re referring to a specific word in the sentence, I would put single quotes around it to make it clearer:

    Aunt Jill smiled. “And,” she said. “I’ve got an ‘and’ first. And I agree that you need – no, you deserve a break.”


    With the discussion of Don Draper’s authenticity gurgling in the background,

    ‘Gurgling’ is kind of a strange word here. I just think of a stream. How about ‘meandering’ or something else?

    the perfect Witch Maiden.

    If you’ve got the Crone and the Mother, shouldn’t she just be the Maiden? Written this way, it read like the titles are Crone, Witch Maiden, and Mother.

    With her almond-brown hair cut straight at the shoulders, just long enough to stay in a ponytail, and her usual jeans-and-T-shirt uniform, there wasn’t a single motherly thing about her.

    This sounds like the uniform of all the soccer moms in my hometown (SF), so I’m not sure what’s not supposed to be not-motherly-looking about her. Is she too young?

    And on a personal note, I hate it when writers use sentence fragments and random capitalization to emphasize things. I think of it as “Joss-writing”, after Joss Whedon who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firely. All of his characters talk in a very specific way and it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. You have a little bit of this going on, and it’s probably only bothering me, but, well, it does bug me.

    and that would Not Be Good.

    Is this a super-duper special kind of “not good”? 20X more powerful than normal “not good”?

    By her own stupidity.

    I’m fine with this sentence fragment floating out all by itself because you’re clearly using it to emphasize but please don’t put lots of them in or I’d give up reading your book in frustration.

    Don’t be disheartened by this crazy list – I really liked the page and I would love to read your book when it gets published. :)

  6. Terri
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:43:44

    Loved it. I think you have a great voice and an interesting beginning. I would definitely keep reading. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Gillian
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:55:51

    Loved the first line. Really drew me in (I usually skip these on my RSS feed!) But then you lost me in the first paragraph. Too much exposition about her age or assumptions of her age. I agree with the others, you have a great voice and the bones of a good story here, you just need to tighten up the pacing more and lose some of the dead weight.

  8. Klio
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 10:15:44

    The folks above have beaten me to some of the comments I would make (except that I do call my cell phone a mobile, but usually only in writing :) ). I agree with the idea of putting Aunt Jill’s dialogue first. It’s a rather typical device, but it works. It’s a tremendous opening line, it carries hints about our heroine (rather than about Aunt Jill), and it makes me much more interested in hearing about who and what Aunt Jill is, rather than simply being told about her before I’m curious. Getting so many details in about her in the first paragraph, to me feels like a short story’s more packed pacing. (Of course, if this is a short story, never mind…)

    I’d also suggest trimming back the long explanation about gremlins. In fact, remove it!

    “A gremlin?” she ventured.
    “Just an ill wish,” etc.

    I tend to explain nifty concepts the same way, inserting the whole story about them at once, and lately I’ve been calling myself on it :) You can just give us a hint of what gremlins are, then show us what they DO later in the story, as part of the plot if you need the heroine to lose her keys, or if you need her riled up and iritated by a lousy day. The gremlins will still be nifty later, you don’t have to front-load them. Alternatively, if they aren’t going to be part of the story later, the readers don’t need to learn so much about them on the first page–it’s a bit like describing the purpose of a manhole cover on the first page because the story is set in Manhattan. Interesting, if you’re into manhole covers, but distracting from the action.

    Speaking of manhole covers in Manhattan, I’d love to see more descriptive details about the non-magical city, not just as your story goes on, but on this first, establishing page. So far, we’re in a generic space. Could be NY, could be Austin. The look and texture of the mundane city will make the unusual touches twisted through feel all the more real.

    I always enjoy magical takes on Manhattan (am in the middle of writing two, myself, so, who know, maybe someday I’ll actually finish a whole first page of one of them), so your first page definitely intrigues me!

  9. Anne
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 10:48:40

    I really like this and would definitely read on.

  10. Author
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 10:54:38

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, everybody! And thanks for the kind words. I know I’m inclined to be verbose, but it’s a great help to see that the underlying structure, at least, is sound.

    Thanks again!

  11. Lil
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 11:26:45

    I love that first line. Amazing how much information about setting and subgenre and tone you pack into eleven words.

    I love the rest of it too, though I agree about the overuse of dashes and ellipses. (I notice that because I do it myself.) I’m not sure about cutting the gremlins, though, unless your word count is way too high. I kind of like them.

  12. SAO
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 14:00:19

    I kept trying to figure out what Jill was younger than. Was she 18, but looked younger? Was she 95 by looked younger. I get cranky when I start off para one with a question of that sort.

    I think you have a great world, but not much is happening on this page. A lot about Jill, who does seem like a witch. Not much about who Serena was, who seemed more like an observer than a witch good enough to have ben a possible for some position. This is fine if the book is about Jill, not so good if Serena is the main char.

    I agree, dump the explanations and tighten. Start with conflict that involves the main char.

    This is a promising start, but I think it needs work.

  13. Allison
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 17:29:23

    I usually skip these, too, but I really loved yours! The premise is interesting and I would definitely read more! I agree with a smidge of tightening. Some of these coven/witch paras can seem too precious but yours isn’t.

  14. Cara Ellison
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 23:32:36

    I really like this! I think maybe you should tone back the whole “youth” thing at the beginning, but overall, I liked the voice and the world building. Just tighten it up a bit and keep going. Nicely done.

  15. DS
    Aug 07, 2011 @ 09:27:48

    Agree with the problems with punctuation, didn’t mind the first paragraph, but I was interested down to the last two paragraphs. Those two lost me. I have a hard time seeing anything interesting coming from a paranormal (I know it says Urban Fantasy, but this page screams PNR) where fertility issues are raised so early. Well unless we’re going to head deeper into Golden Bough testimony and knock off a handsome young man– thus was Adonis slain. Somehow I don’t think that is in the future for this story.

    (Also.the title made me expect BD/SM.)

  16. Kinsey
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 18:34:44

    I really really like. I would read on….

  17. My5cents
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 10:31:54

    this is basically a day in a life of a character, i.e. boring.
    this is what I got: three modern day witches are just sitting around, doing nothing in particular; we join them in the middle of a confusing dialogue then one of them randomly makes a gremlin diappear, a dialogue switches to gremlins, then switches again to Aunt Jill’s smoking habit. I have a feeling it will switch to something completely different on page two, or maybe just end abruptly.
    the first two sentences made me think the story is written in 3rd person omniscient, but then it switches to Serena’s POV. that was confusing.
    also, I couldn’t place Serena’s mood so I didn’t know how I should feel about the scene. she was “ignoring” Sylvia to avoid a “giggle” so I assumed it was a serious discussion, but Aunt Jill “smiled” and “laughed”, then Serena is “relieved” and “relaxed” then she “forces herself to relax” and she feels “embarrassed”. the transition between her feelings/moods is not smooth enough.
    “She forced herself not to put a hand on her belly” felt like effect preceding the cause. it’s confusing and unrelated to the previous paragraph. and when you explain it later it loses the emotional impact it was supposed to have on the readers.
    there’s a lot of (unnecessary) description and basically no action at all. I don’t need to know how young they look or the color of their hair, unless it’s crucial to the story. I need to know what will happen to them and why it matters. the scene has to have a goal, an obstacle and end with a disaster/cliffhanger in order to keep the readers’ interest. I don’t see a hint of any of the above in this scene.
    and finally, I hope this wasn’t too harsh and that you will find it useful. I’m writing my first novel too and I’m not a native English speaker (you might have noticed that:))
    good luck with your novel!

  18. Valerie
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 11:40:45

    Anything I would have said has already been covered here, days ago, but I had to pipe up to say that I love love love “the ability to Crone.” Nice turn of phrase, lady.

  19. Laura
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 03:57:19

    I agreed with the comments above. Wanted to say the ‘…’ ‘-‘ ‘_’ threw me off, especially the ‘_’ and I can’t recall seeing that in any books. Also was not sure why “Not Be Good.” are capitalized. The words themselves provide some impact, and the capitalization made it feel a bit forced.

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