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First Page: Sing a Song of Murder

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"Tracey, give me a reason to stay."

I remained speechless for a moment as I stared into Scott's sky blue eyes. My stomach tied into knots I'd probably never uncoil. If I told him I loved him, would he stay? Resent me forever for holding him back and possibly forestalling or ending his writing career?

Scott had blurted out the story of a lucrative job offer presented by his literary agent with all the enthusiasm of someone who'd won the lottery. If he took the position, he'd leave immediately and move across the country. He'd become a top managing editor for a publisher of mystery books. An added bonus would be a flexible schedule allowing time for concentrating on his own writing career.

Scott's aftershave filled the air surrounding us. I loved its heady aroma and the way it welcomed me into his world. I could make him happy and would live each day to please him. Why couldn't that be enough incentive for him not to move from California and head to New York?

He ran a hand through his hair, effectively scattering the golden brown curls into disarray. How I itched to do that myself but I needed to stay focused. The man I loved stood within reach and had asked me to tell him not to leave.

Damn. The psychic song title vision I'd had in the morning while blissfully unaware of his offer had warned me of this. "Say Goodbye" had repeatedly resonated in my head. I now knew its significance and would hate myself for pushing him away for his own good.

My heart and brain warred over the right thing to do and say. A sweeping sadness cascaded through my body, but I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't beg him to stay. Guilt would plague me forever as that might take his dream away. Plus, would he blame me and regret losing out on his big chance to further his career? I'd have to let him go and suffer the onslaught of heartache and emptiness in my life that his leaving would create.

In desperation, I searched for one logical way to justify my telling him to leave-other than focusing on his career possibilities. One important issue hit me square in the face, and made my decision to let him go easier.

Scott hadn't asked me to move with him. I'd have jumped at the opportunity to go, but that offer hadn't been suggested. His omission in asking me to make a commitment and move spoke volumes about how each of us apparently viewed our relationship. In short, I placed more relevance on our being a couple than Scott obviously did.

Those same knots twisted again inside my stomach and threatened to send an acid taste up my throat and into my mouth. I gulped back the disappointment threatening to color my next comment. "Scott," I smiled prettily and added a lilt to my voice, "we've only dated for six months. You said it yourself when we first met. Your career came first so no ties and no commitments." I broadened my smile. "You're a wonderful writer and I hope this move will only accelerate your career."

He reached out and grabbed my hand. His warmth encased it and sent flashes of an all too familiar and passionate heat careening throughout my body. "You don't want me to stay?"

_Hell, yes_.

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. Vannessa Jaye
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 06:28:12

    I would absolutely read more! This is one of those first pages that I wished was already published.

    Really like the author’s/main protag’s voice and–based on the book title and single text reference–I’m intrigued by what I assumed will be the heroine’s special powers re the pyschic use of song titles.

    Had one main niggle, though–just about every single paragraph refers to Scot leaving/what if she made him stay. Verges on feeling a *tad* heavy handed, especially in a one page sample and I’d be a little leery (as a reader) of having to deal with that type of constant repetition for another 50-100 pages.

  2. jmc
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 07:15:31

    I…would probably put this book back on the shelf. Not because of the writing, which I liked, but because of the content. Opening with the narrator lamenting that her boyfriend doesn’t feel the same and then making a Big Sacrifice rather than saying what she wants? Meh. Feels passive aggressive to me.

  3. joanne
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 07:21:43

    I rather like your writing style but the actual story would not make me want more.

    The heroine is turning herself inside out to avoid saying what she really thinks and feels so she starts out- in my mind- as a martyr and rather immature.

    Perhaps she would be thinking about running her fingers through his curls but personally I would be thinking about puling his hair out by the roots.

    Maybe it’s that the first line reminded me so much of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Give Me One Reason To Stay’ song and consequently you lost me.

    Still, it’s going to appeal to many and I wish you the very best of luck with your writing. Thank You.

  4. Jane O
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 07:32:08

    I’m afraid I have a lot of trouble with the logic of this one.
    1. Why should he want her to give him a reason to stay? There doesn’t seem to be any reason she has to stay. It would make more sense for her to ask him why he doesn’t want her to go with him.
    2. He’s been offered a job as “top managing editor” at a publisher and thinks this is going to leave him plenty of time to write? That seems more than a little unlikely. Most editors I have known think they are grossly overworked and underpaid. (And why “top”? This is a specialized publishing house and has more than one managing editor?)
    3. What makes him think that working for a publisher is going to further his writing career? If he wants to write, he needs to write, and that is something he can do anywhere.

    Then some of the writing sounds to me a bit off. “forestalling or ending his writing career”? Do you mean delaying? “Forestalling” seems like the wrong word.
    And “scattering the golden brown curls” makes me think the hair is flying off his head.

    You seem to have a good idea here with the songs, but I think it still needs a bit of work. I’d be interested in seeing the next version.

  5. Stephanie
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 07:37:46

    I’d pick this up because of the title, but I’d probably put it back on the shelf because the content doesn’t seem to match it. “Sing a Song of Murder” sounds like the title of a mystery, possibly set in the music world–I happen to like that mix very much. But except for the brief reference to Scott working for a publisher of mystery books, this reads like a contemporary romance between an overly self-sacrificing heroine and a commitment-shy guy (unless Scott is not the hero, after all). Not my thing, although the writing is technically sound.

  6. RebeccaJ
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 08:23:26

    I probably would not read it because I’m a dialogue person. I love lots of dialogue, esp in the beginning pages. This entire page had only about two lines of dialogue.

    Plus, for some dumb reason, the whole aftershave comment distracted me. It came when she was pondering her entire future and sounded totally out of place.

  7. job
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 08:33:39

    I love the idea of a psychic power that expresses itself in popular song. This sounds like so much fun.

    But I have a problem with the voice. To me, the writing feels cliched and a bit purple. Would it be possible to rework phrases like;

    sky blue eyes
    stomach tied into knots
    blurted out the story
    its heady aroma
    I would live each day to please him
    the golden brown curls
    blissfully unaware
    for his own good.
    Guilt would plague me forever
    to further his career
    suffer the onslaught of heartache and emptiness

    Simpler, more specific language is just a tiny adjustment away.

    denim blue eyes
    stomach tense and sick
    spilled out the story
    its spicy aroma

  8. Polly
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 08:39:59

    I wouldn’t read more. On a style note, it seems a bit overwritten to me (sweeping sadness cascading, brown curls scattering into disarray).

    On a content note, communication where people aren’t actually communicating annoys me a lot. Why can’t she just tell him how she feels and what she wants? Why can’t she own up to having mixed feelings? Ditto for him. Or at least ask, “what does this mean for us?” Not go straight for the big sacrifice (at least, not before I’m convinced it’s necessary or justified). And how is his job actually going to leave him time to write while also being a full-time editor?

    Best of luck to you, but as it stands, it’s probably not the book for me.

  9. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 09:02:09

    I agree with the others who say they hate a heroine who will allow heartbreak instead of saying one sentence about how she really feels. I abhor the Big Misunderstanding in all its iterations. The writing is nice, if a tad too much. I also enjoy more dialogue – there’s a lot of navel gazing for a first page.

    This line completely tripped me up: The psychic song title vision I'd had in the morning while blissfully unaware of his offer had warned me of this. “Say Goodbye” had repeatedly resonated in my head. I now knew its significance and would hate myself for pushing him away for his own good.

    Then someone pointed out that it’s likely a reference to the title. Oops, I didn’t get that at all and spent way too long thinking what the ^&%&^@ is a “psychic song title vision”? Not a phrase that trips trippingly off the tongue… er, brain. I would have put it down there. Good luck!

  10. okbut
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 09:23:05

    I’m not a romance reader and found the title more enticing than the long first page that could have been written in one paragraph instead, leaving room for a sysnopsis of what this book is REALLY about.

    If it starts with the guy leaving with a new job waiting for him, and the woman is unable to handle the situation with some savvy. I’m reading about 2 inane jerks who don’t know what they want. Guy says give me a reason not to leave… Girl thinks does he or doesn’t he want a relationship with me….

    If either of these people are your protagonists, I’m bored already. I agree with all the other comments regarding style, clichees, and overly elaborate phrasing.

    This need a complete overhaul. Sorry if I sound harsh, honesty is best here, and I commend you for submitting your work.

  11. evie byrne
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 09:35:35

    Consider the opening “give me reason to stay” line. Is that the correct line for this particular breakup? It’s a classic breakup line, but not one that seems applicable here, since his mind is already made up. It’s also a bitter line–the kind of question someone asks when they know there’s nothing keeping them with the other person except habit. Seems to me this is a different species of breakup.

    Also consider mentioning the fact that he didn’t invite her along right at the start– at the very first opportunity. It was the first question I asked, but one of the last answered.

    I’d also second the other comments, particularly Jane O’s and Polly’s.

    It’s a really good start. Best of luck with it! And a tip o’ the hat to you for having the courage to put your page up.

  12. Carolyn
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 09:38:00

    First person POV can be limiting in the description department. I got hung up immediately on ‘sky blue eyes’. If there’s one thing First Page has taught me, it’s that people don’t think that way and since this is first person, these are her thoughts. Same with ‘golden’ brown curls. The thoughts cascading pulled me up short too.

    I found myself wanting to skim toward the end; essentially the same thing was being said: she doesn’t want him to go but won’t say why; he wants her to say it.

    I agree with RebeccaJ. I would have liked these issues brought out through dialogue. I don’t know Tracey and I’m not ready to jump deeply into into her POV. An emotional dialogue, followed then by introspection would work better for me.

    Also (and sorry, this is picky), three paragraphs start with ‘Scott’. We know it’s Scott, and there’s just the two of them. ‘He’ could be substituted for at least a couple of Scotts.

    The psychic song idea is unique and interesting, but as it stands, I don’t think I’d read further.

  13. Eileen
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 12:23:44

    There was a lot to like in this, but two things stuck out for me.

    – As was mentioned before: How is being an editor going to help his writing career? Why is his literary agent involved at all in this hiring process? I work in publishing so these things really threw me out of the story as they didn’t ring true to me. Now if he wants to be an editor that’s something different- but I can’t tell what he’s looking for/motivated by.

    – Why is his asking her to give him a reason not to go? If he wants to be with her I would assume he would ask her (then there is a conflict about if it’s a good idea for her to move cross country and give up her life for a guy she’s known six months) or he doesn’t want her to move with him in which case I’m not sure why he’s asking her to give him a reason to stay.

    I like the voice of your main character, but I think this scene would also be helped along with some action. What’s happening? So far he’s asking a question and she’s thinking. Where is the scene taking place- can we up the ante by having it be at a big party where she feels like she has to smile and be nice while people come up to congratulate him on the offer? Or they’re visiting his family? If the scene is so focused on her internal conflict then you run the risk of losing a reader who isn’t yet sold on her voice.

  14. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 19:41:32

    Here’s the thing. Whoever you send this book to will either be a literary agent (who knows that agents don’t find editing gigs for writers) or an editor (who knows that editors don’t have flexible schedules). So you’ve lost that crucial audience on page 1 with insufficient research—yes, the average reader might not know that this is a wrong note, but the people you need on your side to get your book into the hands of average readers will.

  15. Maili
    Jul 31, 2010 @ 23:15:54

    He'd become a top managing editor for a publisher of mystery books. An added bonus would be a flexible schedule allowing time for concentrating on his own writing career.

    I have to admit, I laughed when I read that bit. I hope he’ll discover later in the story that he was fed a massive lie. :D

  16. Marianne
    Aug 01, 2010 @ 00:36:56

    Thanks to all for taking the time to comment. Some great remarks for me to ponder.
    The editor/writing time aspect: I hadn’t thought much about it since it isn’t mentioned again except to say it didn’t work for him and he quits. Deleting the prologue would eliminate my job reference mistake and actually may be a better beginning for my story.

  17. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 01, 2010 @ 07:31:01

    At the start, I thought it was going to be something good. There are a few phrases that need cutting, “For a moment” being one, but then it dived (dove?) into a morass of introspection and backstory.
    If I’m a new reader, I don’t care. You’re explaining it all, when I want to be plunged into the action and made to care.
    For that reason, if I were an editor (a real life one), I’d read more just to see if something starts happening, then I’d ask for a rewrite, and to cut all the stuff on the first page. Because there’s something interesting about the style.
    The editor stuff is so wrong. If you’re a writer, the reason to take an editor’s job is because it’s interesting and the actual work appeals, and to meet influential people, maybe network a bit and find out more about the industry.
    I didn’t get the song reference at all, because it’s lost in a morass of other stuff. But keep at it, this could be great.

  18. theo
    Aug 01, 2010 @ 15:07:53

    Though first person is not my narration of choice because the author has to walk such a fine line to keep the reader’s interest, I really like the premise, but it reads like two different stories to me. The first line: “Tracy, give me a reason to stay,” and the last: “You don’t want me to stay?” sound like lines where in between, there should be great dialogue about how she thinks this is the big break he needs, and he’s going on about his indecision. Instead, I’m reading about his glorious hair and her waffling about what he’s decided, coming to the conclusion that since he didn’t ask her, she needs to make the choice for him. And if he didn’t ask her, and is asking her to give him a reason to stay, it sounds to me like he’s looking for affirmation that turning down the job is the right thing to do.

    Instead, I got a lot of third person descriptions from a first person POV and the premise has been lost in the inconsistencies of your first page. Either she wants him to stay or she doesn’t, but the way it’s done here, I was waiting for her to be a Joan of Arc and I don’t want to read about a Hn like that.

    What it boils down to for me is, she’s a martyr and he’s a putz, because neither knows what the other wants.

    Beyond that, I have to agree with the other comments regarding the flowery phrases, incorrect assumptions with being a ‘top managing editor’ and info dump which by her indecision, is what this amounts to.

    Kudos for putting it out there. I know how hard it is. But I think that dropping this first page and even starting where she’s opining about his having left for the job would be a better place than this.

  19. sao
    Aug 01, 2010 @ 18:31:48

    Too much introspection for me. It’s a critical moment in their relationship, but you have too much explaining to do between the opening line and her response.

    Plus, I’m not keen on her wanting to stay together and not saying so. That’s the sort of problem that high schoolers have in their relationships, not adults.

  20. Joe G
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 01:21:07

    Oh yikes. There was a cliche in nearly every sentence, and you were really laboring on trying to get us to care about this moment for them with all that emotional exposition. I should hope that your narrator is more interesting than this. This girl sounds like a drip, like that friend who’s falling in love with someone new every few months and can’t shut up about it. I would work on being more creative with my descriptions and imagery and figuring out what the plot is, or if the narrator has a personality beyond how she relates to the dude. There’s just not much point of view to this for me.

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