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First Page: Sherlock in Boston, a Romantic Comedy Mystery

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The puce-colored punch looked like poison, but she didn't care. Grace braced herself and took a swig of it anyway because no one else had. Mabel would be devastated if she found out her punch was a bust. So what if the color was a perfect match with her psychedelic-seventies panties.

Grace shuddered and smacked her lips. "I wonder who that man is?" she asked her friend Sophia. She ladled some of the punch for Sophia.

"What man?" Sophia asked, right behind her on the would-be punch line. "Hey, isn't this punch the same color as those panties you bought…"

"The distinguished-looking tough guy – over there." Grace pointed as discretely as was humanly possible when one had fingernails painted in brilliant orange. "Just drink the punch. It's not going to kill you."

"Nice nails." Sophia said, then sipped her punch and cringed. "You do realize that "distinguished-looking tough guy' is an oxymoron." Sophia looked up at her with a puckered expression. "Are you sure this punch isn't lethal?"

"You're right. I'm secretly a murderer disguised as an interior decorator and my biggest ambition is to kill my best friend at a Beacon Hill party filled with cops from the Boston Police Department." Grace took a breath. They both looked around.

They were surrounded. It would be a great night for a murder anywhere else in the city of Boston.

"Don't whine – the punch tastes fine. It's mostly the food coloring," Grace said over her shoulder to Sophia. Her ploy to make the punch look appetizing wasn't working, Grace thought. No one was venturing even close to the punch bowl. She stole another look at the oxy-moron as she looked around the room. He stood in the middle of some stuffy older men. But then that's the only kind of men there seemed to be at this particular party. That could be because the hostess -her friend Mabel- was old enough to be thankful for the end of prohibition.

Sophia stopped short. "What?"

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. sao
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 05:40:27

    Prohibition was repealed in 1933. If Mabel was old enough to remember it and care, she was older than 13 in 1933 and 90 something now. If your story isn’t set in now, you need to let me know sooner.

    If this is the 70s, Grace isn’t going to be calling her undies psychodelic-70s panties. If you want to set the party in the 70s, play Jefferson Airplane and have Grace say it’s their new song.

    So, either I didn’t grasp the time period or your details don’t add up.

    Next, Grace points out a guy, but your description is vague. If this is the hero, show him.

    Puce punch is funny, but I haven’t met the hero and I don’t have a clue about the plot.

    BTW, what time zone is DA in and what time do you post for the day. I get Saturday’s page well after lunch time on Sat.

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  2. may
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 06:22:55

    The topic intrigued me – sherlock, boston, rom.com… I’m in!

    Until I read your first page and find myself confused entirely. When is this? Who’s talking? What does anything look like? I’ve got no visual except puce punch.

    “cops from the Boston PD” bothered me – seems redundant. Maybe Boston PD’s finest? You don’t need to tell me police and cop in same line. I get it.

    The thing that frustrates me is this would totally be a book I’d pick up with intent to buy – but your first page would kill it for me. I need something to happen, or if they’re going to stand around a punch bowl a bit more description/detail.

    Good luck – I hope you can work this idea out!!

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  3. Joanne
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 06:56:40

    It seems like you’re trying too hard to tell us everything and don’t actually tell us anything.

    The time/era, the main protagonist — because I’m not sure if it’s Grace or Sophia — and is she (whichever) a cop or an amateur sleuth?

    Like the others I was pulled in by the (wonderful) title and really want this to work.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is just tell the story and save the ‘cute’ for later when we know where and who and why.

    Thank you for putting your work here and much good luck!

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  4. Darlynne
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 09:16:29

    I think this has great potential and would enjoy reading more. Little things threw me–her punch, her panties–because I wasn’t sure whose item you were talking about. If Grace quips about being disguised as a murderer, then she doesn’t need to include “secretly.” Mostly, take a breath, slow down, you know what you’re doing here and the story will roll. Good luck!

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  5. Tracey
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 12:36:28

    The title intrigued me, as I’m a huge fan of well-done Sherlock pastiches. Then I read the first page…and was lost.

    Why was this called “Sherlock in Boston”? There was no connection to Sherlock Holmes. I would have settled for the party having a Sherlockian theme and Grace costumed as Sherlock. But no.

    The story wasn’t bad; I liked Grace and her friendship with Sophie. I can only hope that the horrible-tasting punch is important later, though; after all the fuss about it not being poisoned, it’s practically obligated to poison someone now.

    That said, I’m confused about the timeline. When is this taking place? Not in the 1970s, because the seventies weren’t called “the psychedelic seventies” back then. The story has to take place at least twenty years later. So…somewhere in the mid- to late 1990s, right?

    Well, at the same time, you’ve got Mabel, who is “old enough to be thankful for the end of prohibition.” Okay. Well, Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920 and was repealed on December 5, 1933. If Mabel is old enough to remember to remember Prohibition being repealed (and care about it) I think she would have had to be of legal drinking age in 1920–twenty-one, in other words. So she would have had to be born around 1899. That would mean the hostess for the party is close to 100. Even if we figure that she was born in January 1920 and grew up under Prohibition, she’d be close to fourteen at the time of repeal. And she’d still be in her late seventies at the time of this party.

    So…yeah. Mabel’s age doesn’t jibe very well with the relative youth of Sophie and Grace. She seems rather old to be a friend of theirs.

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  6. Brandi
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 13:35:45

    Mabel being “old enough to remember Prohibition…” didn’t bother me at all. I read it as a sardonic comment, like when I tell people that my GM at work is old enough to remember the extinction of the dinosaurs.

    I just assumed it was set in the now. Personally, I’d have kept reading. I liked the voice–but if the punch wasn’t poisoned, I’d have been very disappointed.

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  7. Isobel
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 14:01:42

    I counted at least 11 punches. Was that intentional? Be careful of that kind of repetition!

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  8. Lori S.
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 14:55:05

    What kind of party is this? Is it social? A fundraiser? Policeman’s ball? Costume party? (If not, why are the heroine’s nails bright orange?) We have an elderly woman hosting, a bunch of seniors, a heavy contingent of police officers, and the heroine (I’m guessing this is the interior designer) and her friend.

    With so many references to the punch, I’m hoping it relates heavily to the plot. Otherwise, as a reader I would feel like you wasted my time. Ditto for the psychadelic panties.

    Sorry, but without a lot of polish and editing, I’d have to pass on this one.

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  9. Lori
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 15:37:29

    I want to tell the author to take a breath. Wow. Too much crammed into one short scene and I had no idea what was going on.

    I have a feeling you might have something good under all that but you crammed way too much in while trying to portray something that wasn’t quite working out.

    Take a deep breath. Focus on something and tell us about it.

    You need to take it slower and trust that we’ll follow.

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  10. Marianne McA
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 16:43:50

    I’m another who would automatically be attracted by ‘Sherlock in Boston’.

    And, like Brandi, I read ‘old enough to…’ as intentional exaggeration on Grace’s part, not literal fact.
    I was more tripped up by the assertion that distinguished-looking tough guy is an oxymoron. But perhaps that’s a British English vs. US English thing.

    And the punch didn’t bother me, but her friend knowing the colour of her panties somehow did. (I’m at a loss trying to imagine puce coloured psychedelic panties anyway: but I was at school in the seventies, and we only had the sturdy bottle green variety.)

    So what I liked was this: “They were surrounded. It would be a great night for a murder anywhere else in the city of Boston.”
    The punch and the panties didn’t make me laugh (humour: subjective) but that sentence did: I’d read on for that, and because of the title.

    ReplyReply

  11. job
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:36:23

    This looks like the setup for an interesting story, but I feel a certain ‘stiffness’ in the writing.

    Look at the dialog just on its lonesome.

    ****
    “I wonder who that man is?”

    “What man? Hey, isn't this punch the same color as those panties you bought…”

    “The distinguished-looking tough guy – over there. Just drink the punch. It's not going to kill you.”

    “Nice nails. You do realize that ‘distinguished-looking tough guy' is an oxymoron. Are you sure this punch isn't lethal?”

    “You're right. I'm secretly a murderer disguised as an interior decorator and my biggest ambition is to kill my best friend at a Beacon Hill party filled with cops from the Boston Police Department.”

    “Don't whine – the punch tastes fine. It's mostly the food coloring,”
    ******

    Can you be more idiomatic? In this conversation, I don’t feel two people responding to each other’s words.
    Could this be because they’re exchanging information you want to pass along to the reader?

    And I’m wondering how easy some of this dialog would rest in the mouth.

    Not a better take on this — this itsn’t what you’re trying to do — but just an example of what I mean by idiomatic and responsive to what the other person says —

    *****
    “Who’s that?”

    “Where?”

    “The tough in a tuxedo over there. You know him?”

    “Never seen him. I think he came in with Twink. I dunnoh about this punch. It looks . . . rabid.”

    “Just drink the drink, already. Jeesh. It's not going to kill you. And Mabel’s watching.”

    “You know, tough in a tux is an oxymoron. Are you sure this stuff isn't lethal?”

    “It’s grenadine and diet Fresca. Pretend it’s cyanide and get it down. And smile.”

    “When I’m writhing in my death thoes on the carpet my last words will be, ‘She done me in.’”

    “Right. Like I’m going to off you in a room full of Boston cops.”
    ******

    So my suggestion would be to pull the dialog out and look at it in isolation. Are these people talking to each other? Does one respond to what the other has just said? Do they hold a conversation. I don’t think you need to worry about conveying information to the reader. You got lots of pages to do that.

    .
    As a purely small and technical matter, it’s not necessary to tag the dialog with a speech tag and an action.

    .
    Grace shuddered and smacked her lips. “I wonder who that man is?” she asked her friend Sophia. She ladled some of the punch for Sophia.

    Grace shuddered and smacked her lips. “I wonder who that man is?” She ladled some of the punch for Sophia.

    .
    “What man?” Sophia asked, right behind her on the would-be punch line.

    “What man?” Sophia was right behind her on the would-be punch line.

    .
    “Nice nails.” Sophia said, then sipped her punch and cringed.

    “Nice nails.” Sophia sipped her punch and cringed.

    ReplyReply

  12. Maili
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:45:35

    It reads as if it’s meant to be a screwball comedy, but this scene makes both characters look as if they suffer from attention deficit disorder. Maybe it’s trying too hard to be witty and clever. Slow down a bit.

    “distinguished-looking tough guy is an oxymoron”

    I’m probably that dense, but I don’t get it. Take James Bond, for example. He’s distinguished-looking and tough.

    Other that these, I’d read on to see where it’d go. Good luck!

    ReplyReply

  13. Susan/DC
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 18:09:57

    My question is: why did Grace die the punch the same color as her underwear? (I assume she’s the one who added the food coloring because it says “Her ploy to make the punch look more appetizing wasn’t working.”)

    ReplyReply

  14. Nadia Lee
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 22:55:30

    The title intrigued me enough to make me read the rest. However, I can’t follow the dialogue at all. It reads like they’re talking to some invisible beings that only they’re aware of because I certainly don’t know who & what verbal stimuli they’re responding to.

    The description’s okay, but again, it doesn’t tell me anything about the time, setting, characters, etc. I think there’s too much stuff crammed into the 1st page.

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  15. Anon76
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 23:08:38

    I think “job” nailed my thoughts on this submission.

    Plus, in the dialogue, Sophia seemed to mimic Grace’s internal thoughts more than once. Basically I got a double dose of panties, nails and the like.

    Also, be careful of situations like this…
    “Mabel would be devastated if she found out her punch was a bust. So what if the color was a perfect match with her psychedelic-seventies panties.”

    You just spoke of Mabel, so the following sentence leads the reader to believe the panties belong to Mabel. I squicked a little at the thought of Grace knowing the color of Mabel’s underwear. LOL

    And here:
    “Don't whine – the punch tastes fine. It's mostly the food coloring,” Grace said over her shoulder to Sophia. Her ploy to make the punch look appetizing wasn't working, Grace thought. No one was venturing even close to the punch bowl.

    This leads the reader to believe Grace placed food coloring in the punch. If that is your intent, fine, but I and others are up in the air as to whether it was. And if it was your intent for it to be Grace, then why would she feel like the punch looked like puce-colored-poison? That would be a mean thing to do to her friend Mabel.

    You’ve got the basis for a good story here, just be careful in your execution so you never leave the reader wondering who did what.

    ReplyReply

  16. elisa
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 06:21:28

    a pet peeve: it’s “discreetly” if you’re not being obvious, and “discretely” if it’s a quantifiable item, like a discrete piece of cake.

    also, I don’t know what puce is. I know it’s a color, but I don’t know what color it is, except that it sounds disgustingly like puke. That’s just my own personal thing, but now I’m thinking it’s like a psychedelic color. but what does that mean? does it mean it’s bright pink, or that it’s bright blue? or somehow swirled into both? (my images of psychedelic). I’m having a hard time getting a visual of the punch, which is bad because so much of this first page is centered on it.

    I did like the “punch line” pun – it’s the punch line of the main character’s internal joke, and the punch line, literally, of waiting for the punch.

    the ending: “What?” I had to scroll back up to figure out what she was reacting to. there was too much in between for it to be obvious.

    and finally, as others have pointed out, this first page doesn’t really match the title of Sherlock in Boston. I actually thought it was going to be a story “set” in the world of Sherlock, like Laurie King’s Mary Russell series. the first few lines soon disabused me of the notion, but like others said, I was a bit confused on the setting. I thought present day, til the crack about Prohibition. yes, it could be an exaggeration, but there’s a reference to the hostess being old, so that meant I had to stop and calculate how old she’d actually have to be to remember Prohibition. by the time I figured out that this WAS an exaggeration, the momentum had been lost.

    I don’t mean to be overly harsh, I would probably read a few more pages to figure out why the Boston PD was there and who was getting killed, but I think it does need to be cleaned up.

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  17. Tracey
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 06:34:23

    @ elisa:

    Puce is a kind of dark pinkish-reddish color, sometimes with brown mixed in.

    ReplyReply

  18. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 07:02:42

    Puce. You might like to know that there is a “Puce club” amongst Regency authors. If you read “puce” in a book, it’s probable that the author is a member of the Regency yahoo list and has decided to play. Georgette Heyer used the color a lot, for her matrons and disapproving dowagers particularly.

    As for the piece – what the others said. I really dislike the traducing of the Holmesian myth, with a few exceptions (Carole Nelson, and the Mary books) and after the recent film, I expected more of similar silliness to ensue, so it wouldn’t be fair of me to crit this piece as purely personal prejudice has put me against it from the start.

    ReplyReply

  19. JenD
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 22:58:48

    I’m so torn about this first page.

    I love their voices. I am eager to read more and I really enjoy what humor I’ve seen.

    Yet, the flow is too fast. I feel like I’m reading a tennis match played at double the normal speed.

    Perhaps try for a rhythm that you can repeat. Quick wit, quick wit- then longer pause of calm, repeat.

    I think what you’re aiming for is the quick humor of say Steel Magnolias or Miss Congeniality (say what you will, the dialogue pacing is excellent in both). What makes those work, in my opinion, is that they give you a break to appreciate the wit. If it’s all snazzy one-liners there’s no time for absorption by the audience and we’re left feeling rushed and confused.

    The title doesn’t bother me. I assumed that her last name was Sherlock or Sherlock was simply part of the book- not automatically a Holmes retelling. That was my take.

    I’m very eager to read this once you’ve honed it down a bit. I really want to see where it’s going to take me. A big kudos to you for putting this out here for us to talk about. Thank you.

    ReplyReply

  20. Anonymous Author
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 07:29:17

    Thank you all so much for your feed back!

    ReplyReply

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