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First Page: Seeking Arrangement – Contemporary Romance

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That Keshia hadn’t done a facepalm when Tessa turned up at her store was about all.

“You can’t go in your own clothes!”

“Why not? My little black –“

“You’ll be playing a part, so you have to dress up to look the part. What about this one?” Keshia pushed a bunch of hangers out of the way with her elbow, making the clothes rack screech in protest.

An above-knee-length, sleeveless leather dress with a modest boat neckline. In baby pink.

“Can I say ‘mixed message’?” Tessa said glumly, staring at her reflection in the mirror five minutes later.

Keshia sank onto the plush, slightly grubby sofa that Keshia’s Classy Closet offered to exhausted boyfriends and husbands.

“Nothing ‘mixed’ about it,” she said. “You send the man any message he may want to hear. He wants to hear sex ‘n’ leather, you’re there. He wants to hear rosy innocence, you’re there. He wants to hear business casual, you’re there. Remember when Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts what her name is, and she says, What do you want it to be?”

Tessa, still skeptical in front of the mirror, turned to glare at her friend through narrowed eyes.

“Look, I know you think I shouldn’t do this, but I have no cho– ”

“Me?” Keshia raised her arms in a gesture of innocence that made the bangles on her wrists jingle.

“Child, I think nothing. You say you have no choice? Then you better make sure he has no choice either. I’m helping you. Now. Pink heels, or black?”

Tessa was staring at the leather-clad image opposite her again.

“I draw the line at pink heels.”

They had been exchanging emails for a week, and Tessa knew that putting off the next step was the act of a chicken. And yet when Stuart – she still didn’t know his last name – suggested they meet for a drink, she hesitated.

Boston02493: How about, as a sign of good faith, I let you choose the place.

A sign of good faith? Tessa felt it was more of a test. It was also too much of a temptation.

Architecta87 : You know the IHOP on Soldiers Field, off the pike?

It was a full minute before he replied.

Boston02493: You’re either kidding, or we’re history.

Architecta87: Sorry ;-) So – anywhere I like?

Boston02493: Don’t forget I mean to spoil you.

Right. Deep breath.

Architecta87: I haven’t been to the Marriott on Long Wharf since they made it over.

Boston02493: The Marriott it is. Sat 20:00.

Architecta87: Yes, sir.

She grinned. So far, this wasn’t hurting. Oh, wait –

Architecta87: Will you be playing with a sugar cube, or how will we –

Luckily her inbox pinged while she was still typing.

Boston02493: Wait in the lobby. I’ll recognize you.

If he didn’t, she’d be wandering around the Marriott hotel looking like a hooker on the make. Huh.
He seemed to think that his zip code spoke more than a thousand photos. It was probably more impressive than his face. He was bound to be – Tessa phrased it warily: unattractive by conventional standards. But then, what did that mean? If he had a sense of humor, wasn’t smelly, creepy or cruel – what did it matter to her if he was short, or overweight, or bald, or just plain ordinary? Heck, ordinary was fine.

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. Marianne McA
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 04:42:27

    It worked – I’m intrigued. I’d read on to find out why she had no choice but to meet him, why she has to play a part.

    Quibbles: I don’t like your first line: “That Keshia hadn’t done a facepalm when Tessa turned up at her store was about all.”
    It’s convoluted.

    ‘Plush, slightly grubby’ confused me momentarily, because I initially read it as ‘luxurious, slightly grubby’ – if it was written the other way round – ‘slightly grubby plush sofa’ – I think I’d have read it correctly. (That might not read as well, but it’s clearer.)

    And ‘and Tessa knew that putting off the next step was the act of a chicken’ – again, it’s a bit long-winded, or something.

    The hooker thing: “she’d be wandering around the Marriott hotel looking like a hooker on the make” changes my impression of the dress, and actually makes me less interested. I just feel like I’ve been reading that plot forever – shy but pretty girl forced by circumstance to dress provocatively and shenanigans follow. A less harsh comparison would work better for me ‘she’d be wandering round looking like a valentine-themed Bratz doll/risqué Elle Woods’ – that sort of level (but ideally something funnier.)

    I do like ‘Keshia’s Classy Closet’.

    I would absolutely read on, so the page works for me.

    (I know he has to be gorgeous, because genre, but wouldn’t it be nice if he actually was an overweight and balding heartthrob for once?)

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 05:34:01

    I agree that the first line is peculiar, but I didn’t have as positive a reaction to the rest. I was reading ‘hooker’ from the Pretty Woman line, and the rest of it was just… a cipher of a character deciding what to wear for her first ‘date’ as a prostitute. Maybe she’s dressing it up as looking for a sugar daddy, I don’t know, but this definitely feels like a set-up for transactional sex, to me.

    Which could be fascinating, really, but I’m getting no hint that it will be from this page. I know a hell of a lot more about the clothes and the store than I do about any of the characters.

    Now, I don’t really have any patience for innocent heroines and loathe 50-Shades-style relationships, so I just may not be your audience for this book. But there obviously IS an audience for that style of story, if that’s what you’re going for, so possibly my feedback should be ignored!

  3. Mary
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 08:07:22

    The first line confused me. I still have no clue what it means.

  4. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 08:41:23

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I liked you voice and the premise, so I’d read on. As I kept reading your skill level increased, and by the last paragraph I think you hit your stride. I agree that the very beginning should be cleaned up. For me, the start of a tale is the hardest since I’ve been self-pubbing, so you’re not alone in that regard. Also, you don’t want the reader to work so hard to figure out who’s talking. There’s nothing wrong with a dialogue tag:

    “Why not? My little black –“ Tessa said.

    If you want to add a bit of description (a sentence or two) that might also help the reader visualize Tessa, since she’s your lead character):

    “Why not, My little black-” Tessa said, before being cut off by her oldest, but very opinionated best friend.

    From what I can tell, some of the formatting is off because in a few instances the character speaking has their dialogue on the next line:

    Tessa, still skeptical in front of the mirror, turned to glare at her friend through narrowed eyes.

    “Look, I know you think I shouldn’t do this, but I have no cho– ”

    When it would read smoother (imho) like this:

    Tessa, still skeptical in front of the mirror, turned to glare at her friend through narrowed eyes. “Look, I know you think I shouldn’t do this, but I have no cho– ”

    I’m just chalking that up to formatting, so its an easy fix.

    What I’d suggest is more description of the shop and your lead character. Perhaps something right here:

    Tessa was staring at the leather-clad image opposite her again. Her short, bouncy curls didn’t work with this outfit, so she’d have to do something with her hair. But the pink worked against her skin tone, etc (I think you get where I’m going).

    I wish you all the best with this, and the only other thing I’d do is change the title. Perhaps just shorten it to The Arrangement, and make it part of The Arrangement series. That way you can work in Keisia and other characters who utilize her store.

  5. Laura Jardine
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 08:58:40

    I think there’s some good stuff hidden under the confusing parts. Sometimes it took me a moment to figure out who was speaking. Like: “Me?” and “Child, I think nothing…” both appear to be spoken by Keshia. But because a new paragraph was started, and no dialogue tag was used, I was momentarily confused. I read the first line in the sample a couple times, and I thought I knew what you meant but wasn’t 100% sure. And I initially assumed we were in Keshia’s POV, but later it became clear we were in Tessa’s. Stuff like this slows me down and drags me out of the story, but I think it would be easy to fix. IMHO, you need to focus a little more on clarity.

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 09:17:35

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing:

    I am confused over place. Reading the first section, up until what I think should have been a scene break, I thought we were in England. But the rest is supposed to be set in Boston? It’s not convincing to me. Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing but I don’t think your characters sound like Boston residents.

    “I haven’t been to the Marriott on Long Wharf since they made it over.” This, to me, is not quite American English, especially after reading the first scene. “…since they redid it.” “…since it was remodeled.” “…since it reopened.”

    I’m not really that interested in Tessa. I actually find Keshia more interesting. Maybe because I have the image of Kesha, the singer, in my head. But your secondary character is stealing a little bit of the show from your MC.

    Your MC is passive; she’s being manipulated into clothes. She’s being manipulated into meeting a guy she’s met online…whose last name she doesn’t know? Really? Back in the day when I did a brief stint (I typed stink not-so-accidentally…) of online dating, I found out everything I could about any potential guy, including their last name. In this day and age, background checks aren’t unheard of for women venturing into the online dating world. That she didn’t know his last name is something else I’m shaking my head at.

    But back to Tessa. She’s passive. She seems to think she HAS to meet Stuart simply because he asks her too. Where the heck is her backbone? Does she do everything everyone else suggests? If she continues to be passive she will also be boring.

    So for me, it’s not only Tessa’s dress that’s sending mixed messages, but Tessa herself, and on a larger scale, your whole first page. I think she’s is a flake, or out for casual sex, or feels forced to meeting in person someone she met online. She’s passive.

    Kate Sherwood mentioned 50 Shades and I agree: there is far too much here that reminds me of that. You’ve also mentioned Pretty Woman and followed that up with a hooker reference. If you keep throwing references into the story, eventually I’ll start thinking along those lines and you’ve succeeded not in selling me your story, but making me think I should go watch Pretty Woman on Netflix, or remember I really should clean my bookshelf and toss those 50 Shades book ends. Tell me your story, without using someone else’s as a reference.

    Some nits I choose to pick: You have a zip code that’s not actually Boston, but Weston, a suburb of Boston. I think you’re trying to get across the guy lives in a really upscale neighborhood. You might need to reinforce that somehow. I’m not sure many people outside that area are going to get that reference.

    Who speaks in military time when asking for a date? Unless that’s a joke I didn’t get…

    Other nits: Marriott Hotel, capitalize the H. You need some kind of clear section break between “I draw the line at pink heels.” and the exchanges between Tessa and Stuart. It reads almost as if she’s having emails with Keshia. In your last paragraph, you might consider replacing the colon with a dash matching the other. I can’t comment on comma usage because I’m hit or miss with my own commas.

    Clarity of language: You have some really convoluted sentences, starting with your first. I think I know what you mean, but I’m not sure. The “act of a chicken” is another. Acts chickens commit usually include eggs. That’s not the visual you want me to have. :)

    Would I read on? Eh…maybe. Maybe only to see if Stuart will be drop-dead gorgeous or ordinary (pretty sure the first). Possibly to see if Tessa grows some confidence and starts acting on her own. Maybe to see if Stuart really is a Christian Grey clone (how DOES he know he’ll recognize her? That’s creepy in and of itself.)

    I think you might have something here, but it’s lost on me, through unclear sentences, references that whipsaw me between visuals or in my own confusion over location and with a passive MC.

  7. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 09:25:00

    @Carol McKenzie: Oh, yeah, I didn’t pick up on the zip code at all. I thought it was just a weird username.

    Damn, that makes me like the male character even less.

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 10:26:37

    @Carol McKenzie:

    ” “I haven’t been to the Marriott on Long Wharf since they made it over.” This, to me, is not quite American English, especially after reading the first scene. ” ”

    It’s English. I flip my speech and writing all the time, depending on the audience and circumstance. If the author is marketing this in both contemporary and IR (interracial romance) or possibly African American romance (I don’t want to assume) then little touches like this help give a novel some cultural flavor imho.

    But when an author does this, writers should be aware that you may lose some readers while gaining others.

  9. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 10:30:42

    @wikkidsexycool: I get what you’re saying. I guess if it were couched in well enough not to be obvious…it wouldn’t stand out to me. Does that make sense? It shouldn’t be jarring or confusing to the reader. Bits shouldn’t stand out. It should just be there as a cohesive whole, imo.

  10. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 11:12:59

    @Carol McKenzie:

    Yes, I understand.

  11. Author
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 11:45:24

    Thank you all very much for your feedback! I hear ya about the name tags and the syntax.
    I’m really unsure whether to proceed with this or not, because here’s the thing: Seeking Arrangement is a website on which students can meet sugar daddies to finance their college degrees. Stuart-no-last-name-yet is wealthy and middle-aged and will pay Tessa for her “company”. There are reasons why she feels she needs to earn money in this way. She will come to understand that these reasons are bad reasons. Steep learning curve. The echoes of 50 Shades are absolutely meant to be there, NOT because I want to imitate it (I’m not a fan), but because I want to try and wrestle with some of its themes and issues: power, money, manipulation. So, yes, Tessa will have an affair with Stuart, but Stuart is not the man with whom she will be HEA. Stuart’s son is.
    Is there even any point in writing a romance novel in which the heroine is paid for sex by a man old enough to be her father and then falls in love with his son? If you think it’ll just get a reaction of “Double Ewww!!” from readers, I won’t bother finishing it… I dunno.

  12. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 11:57:08

    I have to say I’m really more intrigued now, reading your reply.

    I guess your question would only be answered if you wrote the story and gave it to beta readers. Personally, I’m of two minds on how I’d feel about this. I can see the rather cold aspect of her being paid for sex and I’d prefer she “suffer through it” rather than have any kind of relationship with Stuart (I knew that sounded like an older man’s name…lol).

    Then again, yes, it’s kind of icky. And for me that is probably the echo of 50 Shades. That book has ruined so much, IMO. And as you can see, even the merest hint of it sends some readers off right away. Quite possibly it’s Tessa herself who is so much like Ana Steele that there’s that instant connection.

    But then, there is something deliciously taboo (mildly so, but still) about a woman having an affair with a father and son. Depending on how it’s written, both going on simultaneously would either be fantastic, or the double ewwww you fear.

    I’m no help here whatsoever…lol… I like the premise now and wish it were a little more clear in the beginning. Even a hint, the merest blush of the reason, might color how I feel about this first page.

    I do think though that Tessa cannot come across as so easily manipulated from the start. She needs to have some redeeming strength, or as I said earlier, she will just be a boring doormat from the start. If you want to delve into the issues of manipulation and all that, at least make her someone I can cheer for from the first page.

    I’d actually love to be a beta reader for this, now that you’ve explained where you’re headed.

  13. Author
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 12:08:06

    @Carol – aww, bless you! If I ever get this finished, I’d be so grateful for a beta reader, you cannot imagine! It IS a gamble, a plot like this, but I’m really itching to have a go. See whether I can make it work. So watch this space, but don’t hold your breath ;-)

  14. QC
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 12:45:37

    @Carol–Just a small nit of my own…:-). Unless “hotel” is part of the official name of the hotel in question, it isn’t capitalized. It’s the same with mines and ranches. So you could have a place called The Barkley Ranch next to a place called The Quarter Circle. In the latter case, it would be written as The Quarter Circle ranch (so as to make clear it’s not The Quarter Circle mine or The Quarter Circle hotel.) It all depends on what the place is actually named.

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 12:49:28

    @QC: Touche…it’s the Boston Marriott Long Wharf. Nice catch. I’m slipping up on my fact-checking :)

  16. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:04:53


    “Is there even any point in writing a romance novel in which the heroine is paid for sex by a man old enough to be her father and then falls in love with his son?”

    Hell yes. Books have been written on all sorts of subjects, so why not? There have even been movies (the one with Jeremy Irons, where he has an affair with his son’s girlfriend comes to mind), It just depends how dark you want your novel to go. There was also a classic movie called The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman, where he has an affair with the mother (Anne Bancroft) of the girl he eventually falls for.
    Such good acting!! I watch it whenever it comes on. Though Dustin’s characters wasn’t “paid” in money, when his affair is revealed he must fight to win the girl he loves (it is a bit stalkerish when viewed now).

    Imho this shouldn’t be simply about Tessa being forced to do this, but its something she wants to do at the time. And I’d be very careful with slut shaming here, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.

    What you have to do successfully is make readers relate to her. Tessa is the key here, so I’m wondering if first person might work better, but I don’t know. I wish you the best with this, and I hope you’ll post an update at some point.

  17. cleo
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:16:04

    I’m intrigued by the concept – more so than the first page. I think my reaction could go two ways (ooh interesting vs eww ick) and would depend a lot on the execution. And the blurb and marketing.

    I personally like books that upend expectations and conventions, and I’d love to see you flip 50 Shades and Pretty Woman. I say write it, if it really insists on being written, and trust that it’ll find its audience (although it may not be a big audience, I suspect that your readers could be excited / grateful to find a subversive romance).

    I think the blurb will be key to managing genre romance expectations – you need to at least hint that Stuart isn’t the hero, so readers don’t get turned off by him or too attached to him. We tend to assume that the first guy is the hero, but I can think of a few romances where the heroine was with someone else first – most of them have elements of women’s fiction though.

    Misc thoughts on the first page:

    I didn’t read Tessa as being very young. Maybe because her best friend has her own shop, I assumed they had to be late twenties at least, maybe early thirties.

    I agree that the writing gets smoother as the page goes on – I think you can tighten a lot of this.

    I think you need to give a greater sense of urgency, and of Tessa’s motivation. I don’t know what I should be rooting for – for her to win her sugar daddy (even against my better judgement) or for her to come to her senses. Right now I don’t much care about Tessa – I just want to hang out with Keisha.

    Like Wikkidsexycool, I got an IR or AA vibe, maybe because of Keisha’s name or the use of language, but I’m not honestly not sure why.

    I’m not sure about the pink leather dress. I need a more vivid description of how it looks on her.

  18. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:16:18

    The Jeremy Irons movie is called Damage. and it was based on the novel by Josephine Hart. I’d meant to add that:

  19. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:34:41

    I’m with cleo – I like the concept better than the page.

    The page felt too fluffy, to me, for a subject like that. I mean, worrying about her outfit? Bonding with her bestie? I’d love to read a well-done book about something like this, and I could see it as a romance for sure, but it’d be a pretty dark romance, really. I definitely picked up on the sugar daddy vibe, but it felt like you were going to be treating it in a… well, in a Pretty Woman way, all sanitized for our protection.

    Sugar Daddies might not have quite the same nastiness as being a street walker, but it’s still a pretty desperate move, right? I’m not getting any of that desperation from this page.

    Maybe open a bit later, when she’s in the bar waiting for the guy? Or even after that, when she’s at the end of the date and realizes that she doesn’t really have a choice in the matter… if he leans in to kiss her, she’s going to have to kiss him back or blow the whole deal. Show us some of the drama, right away, rather than showing us the fluff.

    I don’t know what stage you’re at with your writing, or what your natural writing style/interests are. Based on this page, I think you might be naturally inclined to lighter writing, but I could be totally misreading that. I think this story, as you’ve described it, is pretty ambitious. It would be GREAT if you could pull it off, but I think it’ll be pretty hard to do.

  20. Author
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:47:31

    Yes, I know the movie with Jeremy Irons, and The Graduate is brilliant – but neither of them is category romance; in fact, Damage is a tragedy. Anything goes in tragedy! So I think you’re right, the difficulty would be to make the reader root for Tessa and really take the reader on her emotional journey, starting from the point at which she kids herself that she will be able to handle an affair with a rich, powerful man.

  21. Author
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 14:56:46

    @Kate: I share your doubts about whether I could pull it off. But the fluff in the first scene is actually not my natural preference but started out as a sort of angry echo of the first scene of 50 Shades. That’s easily changed, though. (I’m rewriting it as we speak.)
    Thank you again for all your thoughts!!

  22. Sunita
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 15:10:17

    @Author: It’s not quite the same as what you seem to be writing, but Temptation, a Harlequin Presents category by Charlotte Lamb, has a heroine-father-son triangle. It’s an unsettling book but very effectively written. I’m sure there are more categories with father-son triangles, and there are certainly some with mother/older-sister and heroine triangles, but I can’t remember any names offhand.

  23. Author
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 15:23:38

    @Sunita: Thanks for the rec! I’m on it!

  24. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 16:15:27

    @Author: you know, most first pages, and lots of times first chapters, get pitched. Sometimes YOU need to write them but we don’t necessarily need to read them. Sometimes first chapters are our warm ups for the “real” thing that comes later.

    If you have an idea for a story that’s compelling, and it’s stuck in your mind, then write the story. Having doubts is normal, but have the perseverance, stubbornness, stick-to-it-tiv-ness (real word there) to see the project through. I think you can do that :)

  25. Marianne McA
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 18:02:07

    @author – I think you should write what you want, but I can’t imagine buying that romance. You lose me at the ‘I’ve got no choice but to prostitute myself’, because I don’t think you can convince me that this character has no choice.
    I’d find it easier if she just decided to do it because she thought being a mistress would be easier than her other options. (I’ve a vague memory of Helen Gurley Brown’s book here – how she wrote about being a useless mistress: a character like that could be fun to read about.)

    Having said that, if you’re writing a book that’s in coversation with 50 Shades, that dynamic might not be the one you need. I haven’t read 50 Shades, so I’m in the dark.

  26. Janine
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 20:41:29

    If it was well executed, I’d read it!

    But the fluff in the first scene is actually not my natural preference but started out as a sort of angry echo of the first scene of 50 Shades. That’s easily changed, though. (I’m rewriting it as we speak.)

    Keep in mind that your book may have some readers who haven’t read FSoG (they exist, I’m one!) and aren’t familiar with the scenes you’re riffing on, so what you write has to work for both sets of readers, those who have read FSoG, and those who haven’t.

    One of the things to try to stay aware of when writing a book that is a response to another book is whether what works in the original book will also suit your book. You don’t need to include all the aspects that hit a nerve when you read FSoG, just those that serve the story you’re telling.

    Beta readers can be a big help with figuring which those are, but so can thinking about how you felt when you first read the scene in the original work (in this case, FSoG) that you may want to riff on. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, why did it work or fail to work, and will those reasons why apply to your own story which is after all a very different book — those are good question to keep asking yourself with a project like this one.

    Good luck with it, your plot description sounds like it could be awesome if done right.

  27. Karenna Colcroft
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 11:02:36

    I’m a Bostonian…

    It’s Marriott Long Wharf to most locals. Not “Marriott on Long Wharf”, and of course a local would leave “Boston” out of the name. (Minor nit, but if your characters are Boston natives, you’re going to want them to refer to local landmarks the way a native would.)

    Some of the phrasing in the narrative and the text conversation strikes me as more British than American. (Examples: “Made it over”; “a hooker on the make.”) I could be wrong, but that’s how I read it. If you hadn’t stated Boston as the location, I probably would have assumed London.

    As far as not knowing the last name of someone you meet online… It does happen. My husband and I met online, then in person at a mutual friend’s barbecue, and I didn’t find out his last name until about a month into our relationship. Likewise with a man someone I know recently started seeing; they emailed for a month, met in person and started dating, but didn’t exchange last names until their fifth or sixth date. While that isn’t always *wise*, sometimes if someone strikes you the right way, and you click, you just don’t think about that kind of thing. So I can buy the heroine not knowing the guy’s last name, particularly given the type of site through which they’ve met.

    The first line confuses me. I don’t understand the intention, and to be honest, after reading that line I skipped straight to the comments, and only went back to read the rest of the piece based on others’ responses.

    The “Child, I think nothing” paragraph isn’t attributed. Because it’s a separate paragraph from Keshia’s “gesture of innocence”, I initially thought Tessa was speaking. I’m assuming it is actually Keshia, in which case it should be part of the same paragraph as the gesture of innocence.

    Personally, to me, your story starts with Tessa’s agreement to meet BostonWeston (02493 is the zip code for Weston, MA, which is on the outskirts of the MetroWest area, about 15 miles from the Marriott Long Wharf according to Google Maps). I might suggest placing that conversation first and *then* sending Tessa off to Keshia’s store to get styled.

    And if/when you finish this and get it published, I sincerely hope you’ll write a sequel featuring Keshia as the heroine…

  28. Karenna Colcroft
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 11:04:10

    @Karenna Colcroft: Didn’t read the comments carefully enough; Carol had already identified the zip code. Sorry!

  29. Author
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 14:26:05

    Okay, girls: I take your point about a hotel being made over – apparently people get make-overs, but not buildings. But I must defend my hono(u)r re: “a hooker on the make”. A significant majority of the 91 citations in the Corpus of Contemporary American English for “on the make” use the phrase in the way I have used it above:
    I feel duly chastened on the Bostonian lingo, though. I will definitely need someone to check that. If and when…

  30. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 15:06:05

    I love these picky little discussions over language! Looking up things is a great way for me to feel productive, without actually having to do my own work :)

    Well, here’s what Brewer’s Phrase and Fable has to say… “On the make: looking for one’s own personal advantage or gain; intent on the MAIN CHANCE. Main chance: Profit or money, probably from the game called hazard… (and then there’s more that describes how the game is played.)

    I’ve always viewed Brewer’s as primarily a British reference book.

    I love your Corpus of Contemporary American English. Excellent. But…I think it really matters the context of those entries. The first, for example, is from Newsweek, from a writer who lives in Beijing. I would suspect she uses a British turn of phrase.

    I’m really not picking on you or trying to talk you out of your phrase…but there is a definite British tone to the page and that phrase sort of reinforces that.

    Maybe “on the prowl” or “on the job”? Or maybe…nothing at all? Just a hooker in the Marriott?

  31. Sunita
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 15:44:52

    I agree there are Britishisms in the first page, but the OED describes “on the make” as having originated as US slang. And in the 91 examples at the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there are several current examples from US television.

    My memory may be faulty, but I associate it far more with 20thC US fiction than with English fiction. It may be that US usage is more often about financial/career ambition than about sex.

  32. Author
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 02:29:51

    @Carol @Sunita — The more I think about this, the more complicated it gets. From the language issues (having been outed as a non-native speaker of AmEng) I get to the question of to what degree personal experience and imaginative writing (should) go together. If I wrote a novel about a sugar-daddy-sugar-baby relationship, it would not be confessional writing! So I’d be imagining what that sort of situation would be like. But then setting it in a cultural and linguistic context that isn’t my own: is that one writerly challenge too far? But then again, that’s what we routinely accept in historical fiction, and most contemporaries aren’t set in the writers’ hometowns. Okay, so there’re few speakers of 16th-century English around, who could show us up for our mistakes (cf. the most recent First Page), while thousands (I’m an optimist) of American readers would be annoyed if I got my Americanisms wrong.
    \end fruitless meandering about the vagaries of fictional writing\

  33. Ros
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 05:05:05

    @Author: Don’t give up! Write your story and do your research. Then make sure you send it to at least two US readers (if you can get actual Bostonians, so much the better) to help check for any details which would catch them out. Plenty of people write plausibly in contexts which aren’t their own. It takes work and you can’t do it without help, but you can do it.

  34. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 05:07:56

    @Author: I’ve started this reply over and over, and end up with my own fruitless meanderings about the vagaries of fictional writing.

    What I end up saying though is this: write your story. Worry about the language nits later. You can always find beta readers who can help. You can always find someone in Boston who’s able to untangle the regionalisms that might not be spot on. You’re not in a vacuum. There are all kinds of wonderful resources out there to help.

    Point is, get the big picture on the page. And no, you don’t have to write from personal experience. That’s why it’s called fiction. Yes, something of you goes into every story, your experiences, your views..I think it does for most writers. But you also get to imagine what someone else might do, might think or feel, that’s totally opposite how you’d behave. That’s the beauty of writing! You get to make it all up.

    I write erotic romances for a client with a subscription-based website out of Canada. She sends me a request and I give her a story. This month it’s a Scottish werewolf. Pretty broad request, and actually pretty vague. I’ve never been to Scotland and I’m not a werewolf. I also don’t live in Canada.

    But through the alchemy of my imagination and her editing (she turns my American English into Canadian English), along with beta-readers who are just as nit-picky as any First Page readers, something comes out that her readers enjoy–and continually amazing to me–are willing to pay to read. I can’t always explain how it happens, but it does. It’s a challenge at the beginning, and sometimes I despair I’ll ever meet my deadlines.

    But then I remember the story, what I want to say…hang how I say it for the moment…and get on with writing the thing. I think like a werewolf for an afternoon (a male werewolf, nonetheless). I think like a woman who’s insecure (not so much a stretch, but still…). I think like a pretender to the throne who’s murdered the pack Alpha (really fun).

    And in the end, it all comes together.

    Long ramble meant to be encouraging. And long ramble that also says you can’t please everyone all the time, and opening yourself up to critiques will sometimes drive you mad. But you can’t let the madness stop you.

    *end of insomniac meandering written before coffee, which hopefully makes some sense.*

    Write the story.

  35. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 05:20:02

    Besides, if you don’t write the story, all the other stuff is a moot point anyway :)

  36. Author
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 06:49:47

    *Sits down to write the story*

  37. Sunita
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 07:03:08

    @Author: Echoing what Ros and Carol said, write the story in *your* head and then get help to make sure that you’re communicating that effectively to readers. In my opinion, the critical comments about setting and character are the ones to pay the most attention to. The Britishisms jump out on a first page, and you definitely want to get rid of them throughout the manuscript to the extent you are able. Having beta readers and editors who can catch them is key. But readers buy books set in Britain that are rife with Americanisms and vice versa if the story grabs them. Caring is important, but don’t be paralyzed by it.

    I agree that contemporaries require world-building that is analogous to that done in historicals, and the fact that you treat it that way is a good sign to me as a reader. I’ve read books that get places I know wrong and enjoyed them in spite of it, just as I’ve enjoyed wallpaper historicals, because the story grabbed me.

    When you’re talking about language usage, unless it’s something obvious like pavement instead of sidewalk, boot instead of trunk, etc., people may disagree about the Americanness of a phrase, just as we did here. Carol thinks “on the make” is utterly British. I disagreed, because it echoed 20thC novels to me. I’d argue that a phrase used by John O’Hara (the OED’s example) and Sinclair Lewis (my recollection, which turns out to be correct), is about as American (in the literary sense) as they come. But if you haven’t read or don’t remember O’Hara and Lewis, you won’t have that frame. Every reader brings her own experiences and expectations to a book. If you grab her with the big stuff, she’ll forgive you a lot of the rest.

    Good luck!

  38. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 07:12:47


    I know you’re conversing with Sunita and Carol, but I thought I’d jump in again.

    I could’ve written that opening sentence as “you’re having a conversation with Sunita and Carol” but I chose not to, though on first glance it would make those who loathe improper grammar cringe. See, even someone whose native language is English can break the rules intentionally, or unintentionally. No one’s perfect. I’ve been on internet message threads where someone will correct a poster for their misuse of language only to have their correction corrected.

    At some point you’ll make the decision to go ahead and push forward with what you write, regardless of who loves it and who doesn’t. What more experienced writers know is that taste is subjective. What good writers know imho are what the rules are, even when they decide to break them.

    Just write your book.
    Because the only one who knows the twists and turns and how your original idea should go, is YOU. That’s not to say you won’t get a reader or two or more who may point out your errors. And with betas and a good editor, you can limit the errors. But even books published by the majors can contain errors (a big whopper was when a best selling blockbuster mentioned the death of civil rights leader by gun shot, then the lead character later claimed he’d died by being beaten to death)

    Now, while that wasn’t a misspelling or typo, I’m just using it as an example of how even a book with lots of eyes on it can still go to print with an error that should have been caught.

    So again I say, just write your book. Taste is subjective, and while some may put your book back on the shelf or delete it from their ereader for whatever reason, others may think you’re quite talented and look for more of your work. So get ready for either a sequel or to work on another novel because in this day and age, waiting one or two years to put out another book isn’t a wise thing to do, especially if you’re not a known author.

    But I’m an example of someone who breaks the rules not just in language but also in storylines and somehow, I’ve found an audience. Some examples of my work include a book about a streetwise teen inmate who trains service dog and falls for wounded young Marine. Another is about a Somali Bantu refugee and an Outlaw motorcycle gang member falling in love. a historical about a free woman enslaved during the 1860s in Japan. Okay, that’s it. Sorry about the long post, but I’ve been where you are and I’m chewing my nails because I’m working on an independent film of one of my novels.

    But if any of the comments here can get you to just do the dang thing, then DO IT :)

  39. Sunita
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 07:16:36

    @Author: After surfing around some regional American English sites, I’m reminded that since your book is set in Boston, you have the whole regional variation language issue to contend with. New England has specific word usages that are different from the rest of the country, and if your characters are native to that area, you’ll really want a beta reader from there to read with that in mind. Or, shorter version, listen to Ros.

  40. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 07:28:14


    *Sits down to write the story*

    Ha! Just saw that. good for you!! (in my defense, I think I was still composing my long winded reply so I missed your response).

  41. Ros
    Aug 25, 2014 @ 18:14:23

    @Sunita: #rosisright. ;)

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