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First Page Saturday: Unnamed Contemporary

“I am not disgusting.”

Quinn stood naked in front of the mirror. She had four choices.

A.) Hate her body
B.) Love her body
C.) Be reasonably dissatisfied
D.) Indifference

Naked was not a good look for everybody, but today she wouldn't consider option A. Option A had almost killed her plenty of times. She'd finally gotten the message loud and clear. B and D were pipe dreams.

Option C, I choose you.

“I’m doing better. I’m ready for this.”
Dressed in sweats and an over-sized tee shirt, she left the house and got in her car. The radio was silent as she drove. She was alright. This was something she could do.
Barely forty minutes later, Quinn pulled her car into a parking spot. The longest route wasn't very long at all.

Listening to the soft rumble of the engine, her fingers tapping on the steering wheel, she found herself staring at The Chayton MMA and Fitness Center. The corner of her eye twitched. She looked away. When she looked back the muscles around her eye went into another spasm.

A hulking block of gray concrete stared back at her, stoic and unmovable. The gym was a renovated warehouse, one of the only occupied buildings in the district. It couldn't have been more intimidating. Then again, if it had looked like a fairy tale castle, was under a rainbow and had unicorns out front, it still would have scared the crap out of her.

Screw second thoughts. She winced when she shut the car off and yanked the key from the ignition. It was like ripping off a band-aid.

As she was walking towards the building, Dr. Cartwright’s voice was sounding in her head, proud and encouraging. She wasn’t inside yet but she'd made it farther than last time.

A few weeks had passed since her last attempt. Yes, it was seven months worth of weeks but everyone moved at a different pace and that was okay.

Inside, just across the threshold, she was bombarded.

She caught the locker room smell of sweat and her eyes settled on the crowd of people. The clang of metal hitting metal rang in her ears. She saw some more people. There was an underlying sound of fists pounding flesh and leather and, even in the middle of the day, there was a whole lot of people.

Because she wasn't moving, she looked down at her feet. Mutiny. Betrayal.

Et tu, feet?

“Miss Quinton James?”

Her stomach rolled. Bile burned her throat. She swallowed hard, sucked in air, waited for the tightness in her chest to ease.

A handful of seconds passed before she looked up. Finally, she gave her attention to the man in front of her, focusing on his question. “Yes, that’s me. Please, call me Quinn.”

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

40 Comments

  1. Karen
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 05:03:29

    I don’t know why I just found myself wholly dissatisfied with the whole story. Kind of made me think of another story where the heroine was disgusted with her body and the author did her darndest best to make the readers think she was FAT only for her to reveal in the last pages the heroine was actually skeleton thin.

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  2. Louise
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 05:28:36

    I thought the writing style in this was really accomplished and immediate. I really liked ‘Et tu, feet?’ and pulling the key from the ignition feeling like ripping off a band-aid, and Quinn’s inner voice throughout most of the page.

    That said, I probably wouldn’t pick this up because I’m not fond of stories that focus on the heroine’s body image issues. I’m sure it’s a good example of that kind of book, but it’s just not a kind of book that I’m personally interested in reading.

    Best of luck with it, though – someone else will probably love it.

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  3. SN
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 07:42:42

    I’d definitely prefer to see ‘alright’ written correctly as ‘all right’!

    I would like to read more – there wasn’t quite enough here to give a clear picture of what’s going on. It’s really good to draw us in by not telling us everything at once, but I’d prefer to have the basics revealed to me pretty soon after this excerpt ended or I might not want to continue.
    Basically, I want to see a bit more!

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but my pet hate is those stories where the hero spends most of the book declaring how much he hates slender women, and what a turnoff they are (apparently it's a crime for a woman these days even though the heroes always look like supermodels and have a six-pack!). I find those stories really insulting actually, like I’ve committed a crime for not being overweight.

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  4. Joanne
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 08:22:09

    Ah well, my mind went in a totally different direction from ‘fat’ since I thought the heroine was suffering from Anorexia and/or some other type(s) of psychosis.

    I’m not a reader of chick lit but if it were marketed as a romance I would hang in for a few more pages to see if she has the strength to make it further into the gym.

    I like the writing style and would be willing to give the story a chance with a longer excerpt.

    Thanks for putting your work here and much good luck!

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  5. CT
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 09:04:07

    I was really put off by the beginning, as I’m not one for body image issue stuff. (We’re just so bombarded all the time, I just can’t get into it in my reading.)

    But by the end, I was disappointed I had to stop reading. I like Quinn’s voice, and when she was heading into the gym I was intrigued to see what was happening.

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  6. SAO
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 09:40:14

    I, too, thought eating disorder more anorexia than obesity. I’m a bit leery about a romance with someone with weight issues, because too often it’s too unrealistic for me.

    I think it’s there were a whole lot of people.

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  7. Kristi
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 09:50:04

    Yep, I was going with the anorexia thought as well and I don’t know if I would have kept reading either. It felt more like fiction to me and not a romance. Maybe hurry up the details to what is actually going to happen?

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  8. Lori S.
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 09:55:46

    @SN:

    Amen, SN. That’s also one of my pet peeves.

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  9. Berinn Rae
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 10:17:24

    While contemporary isn’t usually my preferred genre, I really enjoyed the writing style and voice. I would’ve read for a few more pages. With that said, I found a nagging thought in the back of my mind that I hoped this wasn’t another story about a mousy girl with self-image issues. The heroine needs to have at least one respectable attribute so I want to follow her, and if I can’t find that in the first chapter, I’d stop. So, I hope the rest of the chapter builds on her character. So, potentially, you may want a different starting point for your story to endear us to your heroine more quickly. I love your voice and writing. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Darlynne
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 10:28:03

    I enjoyed the writing style and would have liked to read more to get an idea of where the author is headed. Thanks for sharing your work.

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  11. Fae
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 10:36:45

    I thought the writing was competent and the voice was good, but I really, truly hate books that focus on body image issues. Fat, thin, whatever. It inevitably makes me think of my own issues and I would prefer my happy time (reading time!) not be filled with my real life neuroses. Also, I have had such bad experiences with books where the author insists the heroine is fat and then it turns out she’s, like, a size 10 (and is 5’8″ on top of it) or something. Hello, not fat. So I will admit I judge books like this expecting them to be insulting. And that’s no fun, sitting there expecting to be insulted, so I would not read this and would, in fact, throw it back on the shelf immediately.

    Sorry, it’s a very hard subject and it has little to do with your writing style or ability, OP. I’d just rather get my teeth drilled than read about the subject of your book. :(

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  12. Renda
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 10:46:35

    I liked it. I don’t have issues with body image tropes.

    But seeing “alright” makes me grind my teeth.

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  13. may
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 11:09:03

    I find myself wanting to read more – but only if I was sure this wasn’t going to be a “girl battles her body image/eating disorder/thinking she’s fat but she’s not” book. First page alone? I’m not so sure…

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  14. DM
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 11:33:39

    The level of detail in which you describe a scene is an important choice. When events of great moment are occurring, slowing down the action, describing each movement the character makes, will draw out the suspense and add weight to drama. But the stakes must be high for the reader to invest in this level of detail.

    This is a scene in which a woman decides to go to the gym. We don’t know this woman. We’ve just met her. Perhaps, if we’d known her for a few hundred pages, and this was the culmination of a long battle with herself, this level of detail might be appropriate. But this is the first page of the book. If you’re going to give us this much detail, you need a scene with stakes. The heroine is in prison. Or her husband has just died. Or she’s about to be hanged. Not I don’t feel like going to the gym today.

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  15. JB Hunt
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 11:50:59

    Echoing what DM mentioned, this doesn’t feel like the first page of the story. I think the scene is really well written, but it feels as if it should be the third chapter — something that happens after we’ve already gotten to know the heroine at work, perhaps, or with her (dysfunctional?) family, or maybe after she’s already met the hero?

    That said, I would have kept on reading, even with this opener.

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  16. galwiththehoe
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 12:17:09

    Love the idea of beginning with four options. Generally speaking, if the character picks the one I prefer or the one that promises an interesting story, I’m in. I think you need to start with “Quinn stood…”, though, because the opening dialogue gives away that A is not an option.

    I must admit I don’t understand why “reasonably dissatisfied” makes someone do something that pains them so. And why it pains her so to go to the gym in the first place. I guess it is because there is a history? Or is she recognized because she is famous? Notorious?

    I like the writing style and voice, not sure about the story (because there isn’t much of it yet). Good luck.

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  17. Elle
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 14:42:06

    Interesting. I liked this. I didn’t get a sense that this really has to do with weight. I think it goes far deeper than that. I could be wrong, but my first clue was the distance to the gym and the fact that is was one of the only occupied buildings around. Something more goes on in that gym. It serves a purpose. I’m thinking Quinn was abused in some way and within this “gym” she will find strength. I really got the sense that this is so much more than extra “pounds”.

    I like the voice and would absolutely keep reading. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Charlotte
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 15:00:12

    I enjoyed it and wanted more.

    I think the struggle is shown to be against her own head, not her body. I think the problem is clearly psychological (or possibly even psychiatric in the form of anorexia or bulimia), not physical. And I think it is clear that the protagonist is very aware of this. This lays most of the concerns I have with the body image trope to rest.

    The writing flows smoothly without any stumbling blocks that threw me out of the story, good sense of character, funny (Et tu, feet? is a great line) and I’m really curious to see who she’ll match up with.

    I actually had to fight the impulse to go look the book up online :)

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  19. BethanyA
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 19:56:58

    I thought the hook in the beginning was fantastic. I have never commented on one of these–I am more of a reader than writer right now, so look at that. You hooked me. I also have the body type of your heroine, so I was never thought anoerexia (sp?) Also, I truly doubt the unnamed contemp. romance would have a heroine with a serious eating disorder–give the author a little credit, people. This is contemporary romance, not women’s fiction.

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  20. JenD
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 20:15:42

    I have no idea who this woman is.
    I have no idea what she’s doing beyond going to the gym.
    I have no idea what size she is or why her body terrifies/disgusts her.

    I don’t care. I’m in.

    The hook works, the voice is engaging and had me laughing truly out loud many times. Fix the ‘alright’ issue and perhaps space out the metaphors a bit further and I’m along for the ride and loving it.

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  21. FiaQ
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 20:53:19

    @BethanyA:

    Also, I truly doubt the unnamed contemp. romance would have a heroine with a serious eating disorder-give the author a little credit, people. This is contemporary romance, not women's fiction.

    There are contemporary romances – mostly category romances – that have various social issues including heroines with eating disorders. The heroine of Linda Howard’s Shades of Twilight is anorexic, for instance. One of LaVyrle Spencer’s roms has a heroine with bulimia, if I remember rightly. I hesitate naming the following example as I can’t remember the title any more, but for what it’s worth, there’s one with a hero who has bulimia. I believe he’s a sportsman? Anyroad, this kind of social issues exists in historical romances as well. Basically, there really isn’t a taboo in the romance genre. Especially in category romances.

    That said, I quite like this first page. I’d read on.

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  22. Cara Ellison
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 23:27:41

    I think she started in the wrong place. I think it should start with the woman actually entering the gym because all those thoughts and stuff could be supplied after she’s already done this scary thing.

    Totally subjective of course, but I prefer to see action in the first paragraph.

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  23. Pat
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 07:18:44

    Now I wasn’t thinking either over- or underweight. I was thinking scars/injuries/painful recovery–something of that sort.

    But I definitely found it intriguing, and I liked the voice. The rebellious feet are wonderful. I would definitely keep reading.

    But I am another who gets jarred by “alright.”

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  24. Paula
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 09:11:04

    I laughed out loud – this is an awesome character, dealing with painful issues with her best strengths. These strengths include a quirky sense of humor and a wide-open, full-throttle mind.

    Personally I would start with her in the parking lot, and keep everything pretty much from there. The “Screw second thoughts” paragraph can be improved by taking out “She winced when” and simplifying that sentence.
    Her body issues can be hinted at if her enormous t-shirt gets hung up on gym equipment, or if she sees herself in the mirror there, or if her silent mantra while working out is “I am not disgusting. I am not disgusting.”
    Placing the body image as the very first thing the reader learns sets up the idea that this is a superficial thing. The struggle of going into the gym speaks much more to the deeper psychological issue.

    Since her problem also involves her going to a doctor to help solve it, I figured this was more than simply hefty girl goes to gym. Either she is morbidly obese plus agoraphobic, she is anorexic/bulimic plus agoraphobic (which makes the gym an odd choice, because the primary battle would be to eat something and keep it down), or she has suffered a major physical and psychological trauma that has left her physically weak and emotionally devastated (rape recovery comes to mind).

    I think the stakes are high, the voice is strong and interesting, and this is the beginning of a crucial time in Quinn’s life. If the story began any earlier, we’d still have her cowering at home or listening to the doctor. If it began much later, there might not be quite this sense of how hard it is for Quinn to deal with her problem.

    However…

    I expect, no, I require her to be very freaked out by this man she’s meeting. With this sort of setup, somebody looking directly at her is going to test her willpower. I do not want her to “instinctively trust,” “feel reassured,” or any other variation on “There’s a man! Everything’s okay!”

    You’ve done a great job of giving her the reins. If she turns them over to the personal trainer, I will throw this book across the room.

    In short, I love this. I have great hopes. If I was in a bookstore, I’d be on the brink of buying it.

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  25. Lynn S.
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 10:18:30

    One of the better First Page Saturdays I've read. Not sure about starting off with the short dialogue and the multiple choice, and I might pull some of those paragraphs together, but overall it's compelling and well written and something I would be interested in continuing with based on this lead in. I missed the “alright” so apparently that's not one of my many grammar peeves.

    @Fae: True. If you are a size 10 at any height, you're fitting within the guidelines for a normal weight. I can see how you would be leery of the subject matter which, from the clues given, appears to be about some type of eating disorder. I've had real weight issues most of my adult life and, unless an author has been there, it's a hard thing to understand; and not a good choice for a reading escape either way.

    Finally, am I the only one, given the body image theme, who is disturbed by the L.A. Banks ad next to this post on the front page.

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  26. Wahoo Suze
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 12:50:39

    I skipped past this week’s post several times without opening it, because I was repulsed by the opening lines. It’s an anti-hook for me.

    However, I do like the voice. There’s an engaging tension, and I think I’ll like the character.

    I second Paula’s recommendation. That mirror scene is not a good place to start off. If I’d picked this up in a book store, I would have given myself papercuts putting it back too quickly. And that would have been a shame, because it got really interesting once she got to the gym.

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  27. Praxidike
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 13:50:15

    I might read this. As an actual fatty who has significant body-image issues, this lady’s internal monologue didn’t really ring true to me in terms of my own experience. Maybe she’s further along with her body acceptance journey than I. Either way, however, because I am intimately familiar with what it’s like to be fat, the book didn’t engross me because my brain kept disagreeing with the protagonist’s internal and external reactions.

    Of course, this protag appears to have some kind of aversion to the gym, which is is apparently trying to overcome, so maybe that’s another aspect of it.

    Voice was good. If this turns out to be a novel about a fatty, let’s make her actually fat and not a size eight. ;) I would definitely pay to read THAT.

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  28. liz talley
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 15:41:35

    I’d definitely keep reading this. You’ve got voice and the characater is interesting. I’m dying to know what her problem is, and I so feel her vulnerability. As an author, you’ve done a good job of establishing a bond between reader and character.

    I didn’t really think of a weight issue. I thought it sounded more like a former athlete who’s suffered some sort of trauma and is starting over…maybe with a significant physical limitation. It could be weight, but as someone who is not “thin,” It’s never taken 7 months to drive to a gym because of my self-image. Face it – plenty of overweight people in a gym, so what’s so traumatic about that? I’m thinking it’s much deeper.

    Only tip I’d give is to change “was walking” and “was sounding” to “walked” and “sounded” but that’s personal preference.

    Good job :)

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  29. Jane
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 17:11:44

    So, I don’t really understand why a heroine with an eating disorder could not be a romance heroine?

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  30. Joanne
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 19:23:02

    @Lynn S.:

    Finally, am I the only one, given the body image theme, who is disturbed by the L.A. Banks ad next to this post on the front page.

    It’s often subjective of course but with this cover I’m going to go with saying that I think she looks fine (the male behind her has wings which I find fascinating so my taste may be a tad off…).

    I think the model looks like a pretty and sexy young woman of color — who may or may not have wings, too. On closer inspection I think someone went overboard re-touching the makeup on her right eye but the girl’s got booty and doesn’t have air-brushed thighs or a 14 inch waist and – I dunno – I think she looks healthy.

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  31. Kelly L.
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 19:30:14

    I like the Banks cover too–with all the whitewashing B.S. that’s gone on lately, I’m thrilled to see a cover that features a beautiful African-American woman in the typical “badass UF scene.”

    She’s slender and showing her midriff, but that’s kind of par for the course on these UF covers. (And maybe it shouldn’t be. But it’s common enough that I don’t see this cover as unusually bad in that respect.)

    On another topic, I agree with what previous posters have said about fat heroines–I am so sick of reading books where the author sets up a character as OMGFATZ and then toward the end her weight or dress size is finally mentioned–and she’s maybe a twelve or fourteen.

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  32. Willamae
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 20:05:44

    I really hope that this is about scars, or a recovering athlete, because that would interest me a whole lot more than another “I’m mildly overweight and very sad about my body” book.
    I could go on forever about how I’m tired of those books, because I’m skinny, and people give us plenty of crap for our “unnatural” and “unwomanly” bodies, and, besides,, the first lines made me think that this was a build-your-own-tropeful romance, not an actual book.
    Once I got past that (and I didn’t, really, but I kept going) I enjoyed it more, and was interested in finding out if her issues were related to weight, or if as another reader suggested, she was an athlete, or hell, if she was anything other than what she seemed like.
    Also, this may just be because I read so much Crusie, but when I first read the name Quinn my immediate thought was “overweight and sassy.” I really do think that name affected how I see the heroine.

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  33. Barbara
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 20:49:05

    Strictly in terms of the body image issue, I didn’t get the impression this character’s problem had to do with weight. It seemed to be something more like an injury – the references to a Dr. Cartwright encouraging her and seven months of attempting to actually set foot in the gym said to me that she’d had something traumatic happen to her.

    I’m making an assumption that she was an athlete based on the very first passage – that hating her body had nearly killed her plenty of times. Maybe after her injury she was so traumatized by what happened and by what she’d been left with, she wanted to give up?

    There are way, way too many things left to guess at for this to be a first chapter, it seems though.

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  34. Lynn S.
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 21:48:27

    @Joanne: It’s a gorgeous cover and she’s definitely rocking the fit body (not sure how real the breasts are though) and her not looking good or healthy wasn’t what disturbed me. Let’s say you’re a mother of a teenage daughter battling anorexia and ask yourself would you show her this cover model as a goal. Let’s face it, most of the cover models look like the one on the Banks book regardless of whether the book is historical, contemporary, paranormal, or urban fantasy but real women comes in all shapes and sizes and if you don’t have an hourglass figure no amount of exercising or weight loss is going to change that. (Apologies to Dear Author as I know you have no control over the ad placement; and it’s now Jill Sorenson’s Blue Man next to the post so people following the thread are going to wonder what the heck I’m rambling on about.)

    Gosh, I really want to read this book. I want to know what the heroine’s problem is. I’m still thinking eating disorder based on the hating her body almost killed her reference. Whatever it is, the author has a great hook.

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  35. Sharon
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 22:08:46

    Here’s what I got out of it:

    She’s struggling not to hate her body, and she spends a lot of time and energy on this struggle. As others have said before me, I really don’t want to read about body image issues when I’m reading for pleasure. Not fun for me. I wouldn’t have read past the first few lines.

    Hating her body has endangered her life, which sounds like anorexia to me. Also not a topic that interests me, personally; I just can’t relate to it. That doesn’t mean that plenty of others wouldn’t love it, though.

    For some reason, she’s absolutely terrified to go to the gym. Abnormally terrified. So there’s something more going on here than just an eating disorder. I’m thinking that the doctor she’s seeing is a psychiatrist, because there would have to be some sort of serious trauma or mental illness to explain why she would be so terrified of the gym.

    The fact that someone was waiting to greet her by name also suggests that this isn’t simply a fat girl starting a weight-loss program.

    It’s a vivid, compelling description of a woman facing her fears, but until I know why it’s so frightening for her, I’m having a hard time caring. It’s always a struggle for an author to decide what to reveal when, but for me, I need something more up front to make me like this character enough to care about her struggle.

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  36. Sirisha
    Apr 10, 2011 @ 23:57:53

    I like the hook. I think its a perfect place to start a book. I just had to know more. My first thought was BDD – maybe crazy pageant mom? Or married too young to a verbally abusive guy who chipped away at her confidence. Little things over long duration can do significant amount of damage. I don’t necessarily see the gym angle as pointing to a fat girl story. Maybe its about exercising to feel good – you know releasing good endorphins etc etc! I think its promising that the heroine is showing strength by trying to overcome whatever it is she has. I would read this, and what’s more, i would really like it too – just as long as the rest of the story wasn’t about her handing her self confidence over to a man to build up while she sat back and went all boo-hoo I’m ugly, yada yada.

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  37. Ros
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 02:49:01

    @Jane: Totally agree. Did you get to the story in the Bad Blood collection which shows that it can be done?

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  38. Jane
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 08:57:49

    @Ros I did and I was thinking of it when the issue popped up in this thread.

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  39. Anon76
    Apr 13, 2011 @ 00:09:05

    I admit I skipped by this post numerous times because of the opening.

    Perhaps it was the knee-jerk reaction of, “No please don’t use the old gazing in the mirror thing to describe your heroine.” Truly, that drives me crazy.

    Then I finally read the submission and was pleasantly surprised. Even the car trip was a short affair and with a purpose. No long, drawn out account about the heroine’s past while infusing purple prose about the sites she sees as she drives. No info dump.

    I find the fact no one who read this can actually pin down where the author is going Exactly the reason why it is such a good first page. I think some would even flip to later points in the book just to verify whether their love/hate relationship with the story is valid.

    That is a good thing, IMO.

    Just my two bits.

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  40. orangehands
    Apr 14, 2011 @ 17:38:33

    I’d definitely keep reading this. I assumed anorexia and some kind of trauma, and I also assume she’s young. I really liked the voice and am curious to see where it goes.

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