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FIRST PAGE SATURDAY: Untitled Women’s Fiction

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"I bet they made love in here. They'd finish dessert and he'd lift her up on the sink counter."

"And in walks a servant," Tess said, pointing out this was absurd.    "Besides, they'd never eat in a kitchen."

"Mm, true.    Why here, when you have the ballroom.    The gazebo.    The billiard table."

"Maeve." Tess glanced around.

"There's no one here, Tess."

Sliding back her chair, Tess got up to make more tea.    Oh yes, her sister could be crude. But it was really just bluntness, practicality taken to extremes.    This realization had come to her a decade ago in the apartment Maeve rented on her earlier (ridiculously brief) return home.    The trash bin had been overflowing, and Maeve had scooped up her small son, holding him up as he stomped down cereal boxes and egg cartons.    A proficient, living trash compactor.

"What's  really crazy," Maeve went on, "is the way they have that blood dripping down, sizzling on the stove and all.    I mean, it's tin, isn't it?"

"What is?"

"The ceiling." Maeve pointed overhead at the lace-patterned squares.    "Tin, not plaster."

Yes, tin, Tess nodded. She knew firsthand, of course, having restored the house. "So?"

"So no blood would seep through.    A body would have to sit there for weeks."

"Maeve-’no one was murdered here.    Ashton Locksley never murdered anyone."

"Well, not so anyone noticed."

"Maeve-’no one even  died here, except of old age." Tess clunked the kettle on the stove, turned the flame up blue.    "For godsake, the Locksleys were real people.    If someone goes to the trouble of making them into a movie, why not tell the truth?"

If there was one thing she knew, it was the Locksleys, the couple who'd built her house back in the 1870's.    The film in question was their 1940's makeover.    Just reissued on DVD-’a double-disk "commemorative" edition, mind you-’the Hollywood Classics channel had been running it on cable all week.

Tess wasn't about to watch it.    Digitally re-mastered or not, it was still the same travesty.    The way they'd tarted-up the house, all pillared verandas à la  Gone With The Wind, hoop-skirted starlets posing like ruffled layer-cakes. It was shameless when the real house was a Second Empire masterpiece.

"Almost forgot." Maeve rummaged in her carryall. "For you."

A manila envelope slid across the table. One look and Tess knew what it was.    Sighing, she considered letting it sit there, collecting crumbs and tea stains until it could be thrown away.    But no use prolonging agony.

LOCKSLEY HALL ~  It's Not Just Any Old House! was printed in purple font across the mockup brochure she found inside.  VICTORIAN ERA VALHALLA!  Romantic RETREAT of a NOTORIOUS ROBBER BARON and his CELEBRATED WIFE! it shouted, spliced between pictures of her house labeled  front and  side like mug shots.

There was also a contract,  Strategies for the Sale of Your Home. Touching it, Tess pictured the realtor's mouth curling up like a jack-o'-lantern's, and what she meant as a small shove sent envelope and all scudding to the floor.

Leaning down, Maeve fished up the papers.    "Victorian Era Valhalla…" Eyebrows rose.    "Locksley has Vikings?"

Tess sighed. "Ridiculous."

"True. No one would spend eternity in Ohio. Anyway, I told you. Sell it yourself.    Why let Odious Realty siphon off seven percent?"

"Odin Realty." The nerve of them.    How many times had she said she wasn't interested?

"Either way, you make a fortune."

"I don't want a fortune."

"That's because you have one."

Tess sighed.    She had blisters from sighing.    "If I had money, Maeve, I wouldn't need to sell my house."

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

20 Comments

  1. DS
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 07:51:39

    Maeve’s name appeared way too many times. Also, I’m not necessarily a start-with-action fan, but this just seemed to wander around without going anywhere until the envelope arrived. Much of the information provided– history of house for example, could be slipped in later after the reader is hooked on the story.

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  2. Berinn Rae
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:07:14

    First, I quit about a third of the way through since this is way, way longer than a first page should be. 600 words? Wowza. We’re not a critique group.
    I’m with DS, it wandered. I wanted sure exactly what was going on. I recommend revisiting this page, thinking exactly what you want to get across to the reader, and rewrite it around that plot point.
    Other than that, I would clean up some of the wording. For example “they’d finish” should be “they finished”.
    It has potential – just needs tightened up. Thanks for sharing and good luck.

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  3. Jane
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:11:59

    Length is totally my fault. I asked for the original piece to be cut down and suggested 600 words. Sorry people! Probably should limit it to 400.

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  4. hapax
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:39:47

    Your opening sentence is an attention grabber, but then seems to lose focus.

    I’d cut from “oh yes her sister could be crude” to “Second Empire masterpiece”. All that is good stuff, but can be dropped in later.

    This will bring what (I assume) is the central conflict of the story right up front.

    Good luck!

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  5. Ros
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:41:21

    @Berinn Rae: I disagree. It’s a hypothetical: ‘They would finish dessert and…’

    I thought it was pretty well written, actually. And for a women’s fiction I’m happy with a slower pace and a slower start. I liked the hints of what the house’s history was and I was intrigued to know how it had come into Tess’s possession. I’d keep reading.

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  6. SAO
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:45:36

    I was a little confused, but intrigued. Too much detail about extraneous stuff, like Maeve and her trash compactor son, but make it clearer and tighter and I’d be eager to read it.

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  7. theo
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 09:53:33

    A winding labyrinth with no real direction. I forged on and read it all, but wasn’t interested in the majority of it until I got to the printing on the envelope.

    This is labeled as Women’s Fiction, but I get a distinct paranormal feeling from it. I’m not sure that’s what you intend, and if not, that section needs to be reworked and inserted as we go. Right now, I know more about the house and it’s former occupants than I do about what I’m guessing is supposed to be your main character.

    Also, and this is just me, but…why would one sister have money and the other doesn’t? Whether the homeowner really does or not, that was the most interesting part to me. Were I to redo this, I would start with the statement:

    “If I had money, I wouldn’t have to sell the house.”

    Go from there with the brochure and then toss in a little bit of the house background and also why she is forced to sell.

    Others mentioned the ‘hads’ and such which need to be addressed as well. As it stands, it was too unraveled for me. Definitely needs tightened up. I think you can though and can find an interesting story in there.

    Good luck and kudos for putting it out there.

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  8. L.A.D.
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 10:03:27

    I agree that it wandered. Some words could be cut out. Without the clutter, I would have gotten to the part with the envelope sooner.
    The story should have started with the envelope scene. The conversation in the beginning didn’t feel like it was there to advance the story. I couldn’t figure out why I needed to know the history of the house.

    Can someone tell me how sighing would give someone blisters? I feel like maybe I missed something there.

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  9. Darlynne
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 10:43:55

    @Berinn Rae: I also disagree about the length, precisely because we don’t get enough of a feel for where something is headed with the usual few paragraphs. We aren’t a critique group, but I want the author to show me her stuff. Some latitude to do that is, for me, welcome and, in this case, refreshing.

    Perhaps for that reason, I really enjoyed this submission, for all its wandering. I liked the banter between Maeve and Tess, the image of Maeve’s son as a trash compactor. And I even understood how sighing so often could leave blisters, just as any repetitive action can.

    Dear author, tighten it up as others have suggested and keep going. I would read more.

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  10. Berinn Rae
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 11:41:00

    @Jane: Thanks for the heads up, Jane. I had too short of attention span for a Saturday morning. :)

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  11. Barbara Wallace
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 11:48:48

    I liked it. The meandering didn’t bother me because of the intended genre. I would read more.

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  12. Carolyn
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 12:40:25

    I liked it too. I like getting to know characters, no matter what the genre. The human trash compactor was hilarious – been there, done that, lol.

    I even understood the too many Maeves, I could feel Tess’ frustration. I would certainly read on. :-)

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  13. JB Hunt
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 13:56:18

    I was intrigued. I would read on.

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  14. Lori S.
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 13:58:32

    I’m sorry, but my eyes glazed over. Pass.

    Oh, and can someone please explain how one gets blisters from sighing?

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  15. DM
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 16:50:23

    First pages don’t need to be packed with action. They don’t need to start in the middle of things. You can take time to introduce the characters slowly.

    But that’s not what we have here. This isn’t a slow introduction to Maeve and her sister. This is a rather dull slice of Maeve’s life that doesn’t tell us why she’s worthy to be the heroine of a novel. She’s priggish, she restored a historic house, she’s hard up for money. These are facts. None of them reveal character. Add in all the random information, none of it needed on the first page, about the Locksleys, about the improbable real estate agent, about Tess’s child rearing practices, and you have a real muddle.

    If you want to see it done right, read the opening to Joanna Bourne’s Forbidden Rose. It’s the heroine, a rabbit, and a decision. Nothing else. No action. It doesn’t dump us in the middle of things. It’s a quiet moment, of slow character introduction. That tells us everything we need to know about Maggie in a single page and hooks us into the story right away.

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  16. Valerie
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 22:26:11

    I’m sorry, but i suspect this book will be too precious for my tastes, given this first page. My eyes were rolling over the crude sister bit, and by the time I reached Victorian Valhalla, I was done. Odin Realty… Nail in the casket. I’d probably have quit reading at that point, if not earlier.

    Also, I got a little lost in the various trains of thought. I had to reread the trash compactor bit to get what you were trying to say. i was expecting a revelation connected to Maeve’s verbal crudity. The blood from the roof thing lost me too. I got what you were going for, but it didn’t land properly for me as a reader.

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  17. galwiththehoe
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 02:29:45

    I had to read it twice to understand. At least I hope I do ;)

    The getting frisky in the kitchen is Maeve’s speculation, and the blood dripping down is her recollection of seeing it in the movie, right?! I was confused by the use of different tenses.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  18. loreen
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 03:28:09

    I like it. However, I don’t really like it when books start with dialogue because we have no idea where we are or who the characters are. Everyone now seems to start a book with action or dialogue, but there is nothing wrong with a well-written descriptive paragraph that sets the scene, especially if the house and its history is a major part of this novel.

    At first I thought Maeve was the heroine and I was not at all interested. Also, it was unclear who the people having sex in the kitchen were and why these women would be speculating about it. It would make a lot more sense if we knew something about why the previous owners were famous. Did they have a tragic love and die young? Because most people don’t speculate on the sex lives of people who have long and happy lives and die at 80. Too much like thinking about grandma and grandpa having sex….

    I think you need to prioritize the information that the reader needs: Tess owns a huge mansion previously owned by a famous pair of lovers (why does she own such a huge house? Did she inherit?)
    She needs to sell it.
    Odin wants to sell they house for her (is this the villain, or the hero?) If neither, is it important?
    I like the rapport between the sisters, but I think you can keep a lot of the details for later in the chapter. Is Maeve going to be an important character? If she is just a foil to show Tess’s character, I would hold her off a little and start with a scene of Tess trying to figure out what to do with the house.
    Like others, I am wondering if this novel is going to have a paranormal-time-travel element. Or is it going to switch back and forth between past and present?
    Good luck!

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  19. JenM
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 12:10:27

    I don’t need immediate action on the first page, but I do need some coherence. What’s the main point? There’s way too much extraneous information. The blood? The tin roof? The trash compacter kid? Potential for having sex in the kitchen? The fact that a movie was made in the 40′s (either about the house or the couple who lived there – I couldn’t tell which)? Not to mention the Odin Realty and Valhalla references that just seemed to come out of nowhere.

    Also, not to be nitpicky but if the heroine (Tessa, I assume), hadn’t yet agreed to let Odin Realty represent her, it’s pretty unlikely that they would have printed up a marketing brochure on the house. They might have presented her with a mock-up, but not a finished brochure – or maybe I’m misunderstanding that paragraph also. This is all just way too confusing for a short excerpt.

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  20. Suzanne
    Feb 23, 2011 @ 16:47:31

    I liked the description of the house best and loved older versions of this when the house actually felt alive and held a million secrets. Also enjoyed learning something about the relationship between the sisters. Got lost with the blood on the tin roof…didn’t know what that was about and could have done without the image of them having sex in the kitchen. I missed the old references to literature and time. I miss the clock…

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