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First Page: Snowbound

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The pounding on the door startled Megan, but she leapt up from the armchair and rushed eagerly to answer it. “You came after all,” she cried.

“Er… ”

Her anticipation turned to surprise. There was a stranger standing in the doorway, trying to shelter from the snow.

“I’m lost. I saw the smoke from your chimney and the light and thought you might be able to help.” The man pulled his jacket collar tighter around his neck and hunched into it. “It’s freezing out here.”

“Oh, come in, please. Yes, you must come into the warm.” She opened the door wide and let the stranger walk past her into the room. Indicating the one and only armchair, she said, “Have a seat by the fire. Can I get you a hot drink?”

“A cup of tea would be nice. Milk, one sugar.

“You’ll be lucky. It’s Earl Grey tea, no milk, no sugar.”

“Fine, thanks.”

Megan busied herself in the tiny kitchen then made her way back into the living room carrying the tray with two mugs. “Here you are. I’m Megan. And you are?”

“Jamie.”

Shaking shattered crisps from a crumpled packet into a dish, she said, “Help yourself.” She took one and popped it in her mouth. “They’re past their sell by date, but they’re all right.” Megan took another one and ignored the odd look he gave her.

“It’s practically a blizzard out there. I seem to have turned off the main road too soon and now I’m completely lost. I’m hoping you can help. The snow has drifted in the wind and it’s blocking the road so I’ll have to turn round and go back the way I came.”

He looked at her cheerfully.

“I don’t know, I’m not a local. I’ve hardly been out since I arrived here.” She stood up and walked round her packed bags and suitcase to the window. After rubbing the condensation off the glass she peered out. “It’s awful out there. It really is a snowstorm.” She turned to look at her visitor. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea having a stranger in the cottage out in the wilds of Scotland although he looked harmless enough. In fact now that she’d had a closer look at him he was quite attractive. His woollen hat didn’t do much for him, but a hat like that wouldn’t do much for anybody. She realised she was staring and took a sip of tea. “Tuck in, please.”

“I don’t usually have prawn cocktail crisps with my tea.”

“Try them, they’re very good, they go well together.” No doubt he’d think she was crazy, but maybe that would encourage him to go sooner and leave her in peace. Although in some ways it was quite nice having someone just sitting there after her miserable days of solitude with only herself for company.

She watched as Jamie’s hand hovered between the mug of tea and the dish of crisps. Rather gallantly, she thought, he picked one up and bit into it, chewing well before washing it down with the weak tea. “I think I’d better make a move before it gets worse. Thanks for the tea and crisps. Delicious.” He grinned at her half-heartedly.

“Okay, good luck. Hope you can find your way back.” She stood up and headed towards the door, anxious now for him to be gone. But why? What else did she have to do? Megan stopped and turned to Jamie. “I think there may be a map or something. Let me see if I can find it.”

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

16 Comments

  1. Willa
    May 11, 2013 @ 04:49:45

    At first I thought this might be a historical – the way Megan speaks to him when Jamie knocks at the door. Their speech has a curious formality to it for a contemporary. She sounds like she is working in a tea shop offering him a seat and a drink.

    Then you mention the kitchen, so it is a contemporary. He says he is lost, although why would he be looking cheerfully at this fact (?) and hopes she can help – they have a bizarre conversation about crisps and tea, and then he is on his way none the wiser . .. she feels anxious for him to be gone, then she calls him back with the promise of a map because she has nothing better to do.

    For me there is no hook. Megan has sat around for days waiting for someone and feeling sorry for herself – wouldn’t she be angry by now? Have contacted this person? Left? I am sorry – but TSTL springs to mind.

    Also the name Jamie and Scotland = cliche.

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  2. Katie T.
    May 11, 2013 @ 05:33:19

    I have not a clue what the story will be about. “Come into the warm” is grammatically incorrect. Heroine is too silly for my liking and the guy seems clueless and overbearing. Ordering milk and sugars, complaining about the food when she rescues him from the blizzard? Douche. You need a hook desperately because so far I wouldn’t read on.

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  3. Ros
    May 11, 2013 @ 06:35:12

    “Come into the warm” is a standard British idiom, so I’m fine with that. But there are other problems with this. If a strange man appeared on my doorstep while I’m at home alone, I’m going to be very wary about letting him inside, let alone giving him tea and crisps. I need you to tell me more about why Megan’s okay with that – give me more about the dreadful weather, or his appearance – does he look trustworthy?, or something that helps me understand her. And then once he’s inside, what’s happening? Nothing, at the moment. I don’t think you have to have your whole plot blurted out on the first page, but there needs to be something that makes me think there will be a plot. Something that makes me care about what happens to these two people.

    Snowbound is a fairly standard trope, so you’ll need to work hard at giving it a fresh feeling. Good luck!

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  4. Jane O
    May 11, 2013 @ 08:49:47

    Megan is staying in an isolated cottage in the Highlands. A total stranger comes to the door. She immediately ushers him in, settles him down by the fire and starts fussing over him, getting him a cup of tea, etc., before it occurs to her that letting a stranger into the house may not have been the smartest idea she ever had? Is she mental?
    He’s stuck in the snow, there’s a blizzard raging, and he’s cheerful about it? Is he mental too?
    Does either of them have a telephone? Shouldn’t they maybe call for help? Isn’t there something like AAA for motorists in trouble in Scotland? After all, if he doesn’t know where he is, a map isn’t going to help.
    I like the prawn crisps, but I need something about these two to either convince me that they aren’t simply idiots.

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  5. Jane Lovering
    May 11, 2013 @ 09:06:14

    Author, I think, once you’ve got this out of your system, there’s a nice little contemporary story going to come out. But you do need to work on your character motivations. Think REAL PEOPLE rather than characters that need to do a certain thing to make another certain thing happen. Would a Real Woman let an unknown man into her house, blizzard or no blizzard? Wouldn’t she actually make him wait on the step/in the porch/ while she fetched a map? Would Real Woman press tea and crisps on this unknown person, and would Real Man accept – unless he can feel the hypothermia approaching and know how important it is to get warm from inside? Would a Real Woman talk like this? Would a Real Woman (given that she’s let him in and sat him down) tell him that ‘he’d be lucky’ because tea was only Earl Grey, black?
    Oh, and the ‘knowing he must be OK because he’s quite attractive’? Just No.
    Read your stuff aloud. Listen to yourself, to your dialogue. Does it sound realistic, or are they just talking because they have to, to further the plot?
    I actually like Megan, she sounds fun and friendly and, dare I say it, cute. But I don’t want to read about her putting herself in the way of rape and murder, just because she’s bored and the guy is good looking. Make her Real. Make him Real (although I do like him being dubious about Prawn Cocktail crisps – I’m fairly sure those aren’t real prawns in there…), and you’ll have something.

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  6. Caro
    May 11, 2013 @ 11:38:06

    “Oh, come in, please. Yes, you must come into the warm.” She opened the door wide and let the stranger walk past her into the room. Indicating the one and only armchair, she said, “Have a seat by the fire. Can I get you a hot drink?”

    I stopped right here and went… WTF?

    Megan might be cute and fun, but she’s the quintessential TSTL heroine. I suppose if you had some internal dialogue in here that told me what could have possibly motivated her to let a strange man into her home, I might have read further, but you didn’t.

    So I didn’t.

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  7. Lori
    May 11, 2013 @ 12:11:54

    You have a pleasant voice and Megan seems like an easy character to read about so those are positives. But I’m in agreement that a set-up like you have makes no sense since allowing a stranger in your home and not bothering to even find out his name or business before offering tea is just TSTL.

    Does she see his car in her drive? How much snow is on the ground? Is he shivering?

    Rethink and then rewrite.

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  8. Becky Black
    May 11, 2013 @ 13:34:58

    Hmm, there’s being hospitable and then there’s being TSTL. I don’t want her to leave him standing out in the snow until he freezes of course, but some normal wariness would be appreciated. Once she’s thought about how dubious it might be to let a strange man in, but decide he looks harmless and also looks like he’s about to die of hypothermia, only then can I believe her letting him in. Okay, she eventually thinks about that, but I wouldn’t get that far if I was reading this first page in a bookstore/ebook sample. I’d think she wasn’t convincing as a person.

    She seems to go back and forth too much. One minute she’s inviting him in like he’s a long lost cousin and offering him refreshments. Then she’s hoping he leaves her in peace soon, and worrying about having a strange man in her home. And wanting to be left “in peace” doesn’t fit with miserable days of solitude. She’s too flighty.

    I think you need to make her more consistent, maybe by giving her a goal in the scene. She wants to be left alone, she says. But this guy arrives and though she doesn’t want him to come in, she doesn’t feel she can let him stay out there in the storm. Though feeling obliged to be a good host and helping him get warm, she serves him tea he doesn’t like and stale crisps, in hope of getting him to push off soon. Anyway, you get the picture. Her actions should be consistent with what she wants in the scene. As it is they seem quite random.

    It’s also not really clear what Jamie wants in the scene. He says he wants her help, but what help exactly? He’s on his way out before there’s any mention of the map. He doesn’t ask if she’s got a working phone. He isn’t even really taking shelter here, not for more than a cuppa and a snack. If he’s just going to turn around and go back the way he came why didn’t he do that right away? So Jamie’s goal in the scene needs to come through too and he needs to act in a way consistent with it.

    Oh and I’m baffled that there’s no mention of phones. Even to say the lines are down and they can’t get a mobile signal. I’d buy that. It’s a remote area and there’s a storm. Believable enough.

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  9. Kierney Scott
    May 11, 2013 @ 17:16:10

    The writing was good but I was worried for Megan’s safety. And then once I knew she wasn’t going to get murdered, I was annoyed at her for letting a stranger inside. I would either get rid of this bit or make it very clear why she would ley him in. You could maybe have her keep him on the porch and hand things out the door to him. Just an idea, but this reader can’t get on board with letting a strange man into the house. Good luck. I would keep reading.

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  10. SAo
    May 12, 2013 @ 14:00:56

    This is the kind of scene that only happens in Romancelandia. Stranger knocks on the door in a blizzard, says “thought you might be able to help” but doesn’t ask for/need anything, as far as I can see. They have a cup of tea together and he gets up to go.

    To go where? Back to his car? Back out to freeze in the blizzard? I mean really, what would drive you to knock on a stranger’s door? How about car stuck, can’t go further, snow not letting up?
    How would you act? I’d apologize profusely, ask for a phone. I wouldn’t take the only armchair in the room, forcing my hostess to hover.

    If I were the host of a guy stuck in a storm, I wouldn’t spend my time worrying if he likes smashed prawn chips with his weak tea. I might say, this is what we have. And I sure hope she has something else, or is she going to be stuck in this blizzard with no food?

    You can write fantasy, offbeat humor, or even have a fairly standard romance in your own sort of world, but you need people to act in a realistic and relatable way.

    You also need to describe Jamie. While I presume he is the hero, you tell us nothing about height, age, clothing, looks. I mean, he could be a gray-haired, elderly midget for all we know. Since we are in her POV, the description is her assessment. Hunched, snow-dusted shoulders, red nose, rubbing bare hands as a blast of frigid wind rushes in when she opens the door would make the immediate response of come in, have some tea more understandable.

    As a personal peeve, I don’t think I know anyone named James who was called Jamie beyond age 5. As a result, I tend to think toddler when I see the name. Obviously, you can’t please everyone and no one else seems to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet.

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  11. Daisy
    May 12, 2013 @ 16:51:46

    I thought it was a bit odd she described the crisps as ‘past their sell-by date’. Who looks at crisps’ sell-by date? Don’t they last forever in the packet?
    I agree with everyone else, something needs to happen plot-wise. It’s incredibly weird that he comes in, says he needs help, but then just has tea with a complete stranger and happily gets up to reenter the blizzard. Surely he wanted to use the phone or something? And why doesn’t she think this is weird? They both seem a bit simple in the head.

    @SAo I can think of tons of grown-up Jamies, both known personally and celebrities. (Jamie Foxx? Jamie Oliver? Jamie Bell?)

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  12. Sylvie Fox
    May 12, 2013 @ 20:53:13

    So I’m reading this, mad as hell at Jaime for asking for milk and sugar like it’s a restaurant. Wouldn’t this theoretically desperate, lost? man take whatever he could get.

    So a friend’s sitting next to me as I read it and she’s all: My momma told me NEVER to let a stranger into the house – no matter the excuse. And I guess that’s what folks above say. Can I say that stuck together for days is one of my favorite romance tropes? So I was willing to suspend reality for that bit – but maybe most wouldn’t.

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  13. Maili
    May 13, 2013 @ 10:54:17

    When I see these words together: Scotland + isolated cottage + snow storm, I think of this: chronic power cuts and the cold. Definitely the cold.

    Landmine phone lines usually go down. Mobile phones? Hahahaha. No such thing. Electricity and everysoddingdecentthing as well. It’d be colder indoors than outside, too. Windows in most isolated cottages and farms in northern Scotland are as old as my great-gran’s knickers, so it’d be pretty draughty (that’s unless Megan’s rented cottage has been heavily modernised). We couldn’t use heater boilers because of the frozen pipes issue, and fireplaces are pretty useless in most cases because the gales usually mess with them. Gas and paraffin portable heaters or wood burners are usually lifesavers. (I can’t think of any residential places that actually used generators, but I’m sure there were some that did.) We rarely went out during snow season because the only way to get out and about is go on foot. We couldn’t leave our village for up to two months every winter because of the snow. Not unusual as we have had snow piling up to ten feet during a snow storm within two days (of course, we had the usual number of tourists, casual mountaineers and winter hikers dying every winter because they underestimated a typical Scottish snow storm). Yeah, northern Scottish snow storms can be pretty brutal, especially when comparing with southern Scottish and English snow storms.

    So I’m somewhat surprised someone had actually rented an isolated cottage out to a non-local during snow season. Local police and council tend not to permit B&B or private holiday operators to rent out for safety and ES budgetary issues. I’m guessing the cottage belongs to a non-local as a second/holiday home? Mind you, the informal ban applies to Wester Ross, so it might be different in other counties.

    I think it might be better if it was during a rain season. Main roads can be flooded, which could force him to turn back. The heavy rain can disorient him into taking a wrong turning. He still can see the cottage’s chimney smoke and light in the rain, which he wouldn’t able to during a snow blizzard. Easier to drive around, too. If you want him to stay at the cottage after all, have him driving into an unexpectedly deep puddle that floods his car. Happened a lot to people including me (sheepface). Anyway, hope this is worth considering. Good luck! :)

    @Daisy:

    @SAo I can think of tons of grown-up Jamies, both known personally and celebrities. (Jamie Foxx? Jamie Oliver? Jamie Bell?)

    Which explains why the majority in the UK still sees Jamie Oliver as an overgrown Labrador puppy and Jamie Bell as a little brother. :D ‘Jamie’ is certainly associated with youth or immaturity for some.

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  14. SAO
    May 13, 2013 @ 11:54:09

    @Maili
    Wow! The Russian cottages have two layers of room and huge wood-burning stoves with complex chimneys, funneling heat through large areas of brick so that the heat doesn’t go straight up the chimney. A traditional Russian stove had enough horizontal space for a mattress, so you could sleep on the warm brick. It was cramped, when you’re down to the inner room, but cozy. Door were staggered from the inner room, so opening the outer door at the same time as the inner didn’t provide a straight path for the icy wind.

    Jamie Oliver is on the cooking channel, and he’s more tolerable translated into Russian where the over-the-top enthusiasm (about oatmeal, really?) is significantly toned down, but I avoid him.

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  15. Maili
    May 13, 2013 @ 12:06:08

    @SAO: :D Sounds amazing. Most Scottish cottages weren’t designed for snow as they were mostly designed to handle the rain and the heat. Weather can be eccentric. Some days, we would have the miserable rain in the morning, sunny spell in the afternoon and cold drizzle in the evening and lukewarm gentle winds in the night. Now and then, a winter would hit us harder than a lorry against a bunny in the road, which would be when everything went down fast. Hated when that happened. :D

    You’re so lucky where Jamie O is concerned. *envy*

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  16. Daisy
    May 18, 2013 @ 07:53:45

    @Maili Don’t really see how your opinion of Jamie Oliver changes the point I was making. Sao said she didn’t know any grown-up Jamies, and I just pointed out that it’s very common (which it is, both in the US and UK, and particularly in Scotland, where this is set). Fine to dislike any name, but no way a writer can accommodate everyone’s preferences on that.

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