Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: Teacher’s Guide to Wildlife, a Paranormal Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page (or query) read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

NOTE: We are dropping query Saturday altogether and focusing on First Pages only. I spoke with some editors at RWA who read the blog and this is the feature that interests them the most. We have actually had one editor, from a major New York publishing house, ask for the information of the author of a First Page submission because the editor was interested in seeing more of the work. There are plenty of other places that people can get query help and this is a more unique service.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

***

"Show your tits! Show your tits!" The chant penetrated Faith’s head and she looked down at her camisole to make sure everything was covered. She straightened the light sweater she wore. It was unbuttoned, but she wasn’t bold enough go without a bra or covering. The shout grew louder and threatened to smash her two-rum-and-coke buzz; not for the first time this evening, she wondered what the hell she was doing here.

Here was Mardis Gras. No, not the hedonistic New Orleans blowout that preempted Lent, but a small town bar in New England that attracted a mixed crowd of frat boys and locals alike. The walls ran amok with posters of New Orleans, purple-gold-green neon, and gator heads while the servers brought beads with every drink. Out of place didn’t begin to describe her nervousness tonight and the only virtue of the bar was its proximity to her condo- one block. She let her best friend drag her here on a semi-regular basis, but this wasn’t the type of place she’d frequent by herself. After the chaos of the summer and her divorce, work, grocery store, and home were the only places that provided security.

Still, if she were home, she’d be eating microwave s’mores and halfway through the newest Nora Roberts’s paperback, not the best celebration of the end to another school week.

The crowd went crazy and Faith had a glimpse of twenty-one-year-old breasts- perky as she who

owned "em- before the woman was buried under an avalanche of beads and blocked by a couple of frat boys

taking a closer look. Lethe, Connecticut, hadn’t shaken its Puritan heritage in hundreds of years.

***

Interested in participating in First Page Saturday? Send your submission to jane at dearauthor.com. All queries are kept confidential. If you are an author, either aspiring or published and want to participate, send your first page to jane at dearauthor.com or use our handy dandy input form.

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

33 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 04:10:57

    I’d have to say I’d pass on this. The very first paragraph bored me – three sentences to talk about someone’s clothes and if they’d remembered to cover their breasts properly? – and I found the writing rather stilted. The second paragraph is an infodump. The third – no idea what was going on, really.

    Nothing grabbed me about the set up or the character. The ‘Show your tits’ opener I guess was supposed to shock and hook our attention, but I found it a little revolting, and my overall impression of the first page was that I’d wandered into a soft porn novel.

  2. Erastes
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 04:39:37

    What a shame that you are dropping the Query section – I think that it’s very useful.

    I agree with Ann, I don’t get any flavour of what this is about. Why they were yelling that? Surely she wasn’t dancing on the bar?

    The locals would have “bought” beads, I think, not “brought.”

    This sentence: After the chaos of the summer and her divorce, work, grocery store, and home were the only places that provided security.

    should have a semi colon after divorce.

    There’s quite a few editing issues that I’m sure others will mention but it’s not something, personally, that I would bother to read if I picked it up in a library.

  3. Lori
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 05:28:07

    This is a perfect example of when not to submit to First Page Saturday. There have been some great first pages previously that open directly in the action with interest immediately piqued. This isn’t one of them.

    And the problem here is that we’re told it’s a paranormal, which I assume will unfold further as the story is told, but the first page doesn’t give any of the story yet. Is it bad writing? No. Some stories unfold slower, give information at a different pace. Maybe the heroine leaves the bar, is accosted by a rogue vampire pack and meets Mr. Right as the werewolf biker gang (with leather jackets emblazoned Born To Bite comes to her rescue.)

    Anyway, I’m sure there’s a lot of critique that could be offered but the author should recognize that this was not the right kind of first page for a first page critique. (Maybe even teaching the lesson of know your market before submitting.)

    This is one of the reasons that as much as I’ve wanted to submit, I haven’t. The first page of my prologue and first page of my first chapter are not indicitive enough of the story to be a good fit for this. Which is a shame because I adore this DA feature.

  4. Erastes
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 05:36:52

    That’s a very good point, Lori – I have a first page which would not do here because it’s just narration of a street as the “camera’s eye” moves up and along it – it doesn’t work at all without the synopsis that would be sent along with it, to any publisher or agent.

  5. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 05:56:00

    “the hedonistic New Orleans blowout that preempted Lent” – Preemption means “the action of pre-empting or forestalling. 2 the purchase of goods or shares before the opportunity is offered to others.” Maybe what’s mean here is “preceded”?

    “The walls ran amok with posters” – To “run amok” means to “behave uncontrollably and disruptively” and this description therefore creates an idea in my mind that the walls are running around wildly, hand-in-hand with some posters.

    “Out of place didn't begin to describe her nervousness tonight” – I can imagine that someone might feel nervous because she felt out of place. It would seem that “out of place” quite literally does not “describe her nervousness” because it describes how the character feels, not how her nervousness feels.

    “After the chaos of the summer and her divorce, work, grocery store, and home” – the placement of the commas initially made me think that “chaos” was intended to describe the summer, her divorce, her work, the grocery store and her home.

    “she'd be eating microwave s'mores and halfway through the newest Nora Roberts's paperback” – there’s something rather awkward about this phrase. I can almost imagine that she’d be eating both the s’mores and halfway through eating the newest Nora Roberts paperback.

  6. Jody W.
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 07:26:57

    I agree with Lori and Erastes — not every first page lends itself to this type of exercise. That doesn’t mean the book or its first page stink.

    With this first page, there are some areas where details are fuzzy and the phrasing feels convoluted. And I must ask: why in the world aren’t microwave s’mores and a great book the best celebration of, well, anything? :) Does it ever bother anyone that staying home and reading (romance) novels is so often a shorthand for being an unexciting person…within the text of a romance novel itself?

  7. Leah
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 08:23:11

    I found myself kind of interested. To me, the writing was a little awkward, like there were words missing. It didn’t always flow well and I had to read a couple of sentences several times. Also, the frat boys mobbing the topless girl seemed rather less than puritan to me. I could also see the heroine allowing herself to be dragged to the bar once, but if she’s never liked it, or is not the kind of person who likes a raucous bar atmosphere, I think she might pass after that. That being said, I guess I kind of identify with the heroine, and I’m curious to see how she’s pulled into something paranormal. If I read paranormal, I tend to like the ones in which the central character is a regular person, discovering the world isn’t quite what she thought it was. I also don’t mind when a book doesn’t start with full-out drama, but since the first pages which got the most praise here were paranormals that started right in the middle of the action, you might want to rethink your beginning. The commenters here seem to really like paranormal, and if they prefer a story that begins in medias res, with no info dump (I caught it for that!), then you want to take their advice. It’s a matter of knowing your audience. In fact, just thinking off the top of my head, you might want to begin just when the main character meets up with the paranormal, and do the bar thing in a teensy little flashback. Something like: “She saw him as soon as she walked into the house. She was buzzed and headachy from too many drinks at that ridiculous Mardi Gras party, but even with her bleary vision, she couldn’t miss the tall dark figure sitting in her armchair, silhouetted against the window. It wasn’t Steve. He’d given her his key when he filed for divorce. It wasn’t anyone who should be there. She reached for the door knob, ready to bolt outside, when he stood and turned……”

    Or something like that. That’s not all that great. But you don’t need to know about bar posters and Mardi Gras beads and 21 yr olds with good breasts, I don’t think anyway. And you can establish that your main character is an introvert who is most happy when she’s home reading, and is more modest in her dress and behavior in the next few pages, so it’s not like those keys to her personality go unmentioned. I do like it though–I am curious to see what happens next.

    Keep writing, and best wishes!

  8. Leah
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 08:28:19

    Btw….So EXCITED for the person whose page inspired the editorial interest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who is it? I mean, don’t hijack this person’s comments, but tell us all about it when you can!!!!!!!!! WOW!!!

    I will miss Query Saturday, too–esp. since I should finish my book next month (if I quit being distracted by the internet), and then will have to work on my query, which is scaring the crap out of me. But Janet Reid does have Query Shark, and she doesn’t limit her critiques to books that fit what she represents, so people could submit to her as well.

    Again, so thrilled for this person! Hope something wonderful comes of it!

  9. Jody W.
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 09:09:24

    Wanted to elaborate — yes, first pages that begin smack dab in the middle of the action lend themselves to positive reactions in first page exercises like this, but that doesn’t mean that every book needs to forego Vogler’s “Ordinary World”. I don’t know how the rest of this person’s book and plot fall into place, so I don’t know that I’d advise cloning the mid-action opener that’s so popular right now…unless the author wants to tackle another first page exercise :).

  10. almost there
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 09:36:57

    Disclaimer: I’m anonymous, so you have no reason to give weight to my comment. But I hope you’ll bear with me anyway.

    This first page, in my opinion, has potential. Showing (not telling) character is just as good a way to open a book as in the middle of action. I think the author has accomplished showing character here. However, as others have mentioned, the writing itself needs polish.

    Also, again in my opinion, the page is missing The Promise. If a story doesn’t start with action – the ubiquitous in media res – there should be something on the first page that promises something interesting will happen. It doesn’t have to be anything extensive. Just the suggestion that all is not well in the land of the story, and something is about to happen to the character. Your first page can certainly be, as one of the other commenters notes, a description of a street. But there should be something on that street that isn’t right, something that makes the reader (whether it’s a pleasure reader, agent or editor) think: what’s going on here? I have to read more and find out!

    Regarding the query vs. first page: in all the time I’ve been writing and trying to better my craft, a certain piece of advice keeps popping up from published authors and agents and editors that is hard to believe, but absolutely true. It’s all about the writing. If your writing is engaging, you don’t need an action opening (though, truth be told, it does help). If your writing showcases your voice and sparkles all by itself, your query doesn’t have to be perfect. This is the reason nearly every agent and editor today asks for sample pages along with the query. They are interested in the writing. They want to be grabbed and left longing for more of your writing.

    This is also the reason why a kick-butt query will not get you an offer of representation or a publishing contract, if your writing is not just as kick-butt. And your skills need to show on the very first page, whether it’s a character or world-setting piece, or a heart-pounding murder or chase scene.

    I believe Dear Author readers are just as adept at spotting good writing as agents and editors, even in non-exploding first pages (LOL) and since editors are interested in seeing more first pages, I think sticking to them is a great idea. Kudos to the Ja(y)nes for providing such a great service for writers!

    To the author of this first page: best of luck! I think you have something here, so keep working!

  11. Bev Stephans
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 10:01:34

    Uh,uh. No way.

  12. Seressia
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 11:21:38

    Each sentence is too heavy. You’re trying to convey too much with each one, and that makes them convoluted.

    Still, if she were home, she'd be eating microwave s'mores and halfway through the newest Nora Roberts's paperback, not the best celebration of the end to another school week.

    I like ending my work week with a pitcher of mojitos and a good romance, so telling the reader (who is reading a romance) that it’s not the best celebration is a little…not the best way to go. Now if she’d said she’d rather be home doing this than suffering drunken frat boys and stale smoke infecting her clothes and hair, she’d win brownie points.

    I get what you’re trying to say, but with everything else, it’s just not translating well. You really don’t want to force your reader to re-read sentences to understand what’s going on.

  13. the writer
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 11:56:16

    I wrote this first page. I want to thank you all for your comments; you’ve given me a lot to use for some heavy revising. I appreciate it very much.

  14. Karen Templeton
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 12:28:41

    Showing a character in her “normal” world — especially before (we assume) something blows that normal world wide open — is a perfectly legit way to start a book. For max impact, a story should begin during, right before or right after the moment that changes the character’s world forever. And sometimes it takes a bit of trial-and-error to decide which one would be best for this story.

    However, the writing definitely needs to be tighter and the character more compelling for this to stand out. You’ve got all the elements; now you need to polish them.

    Warning: I’ve taken HUGE liberties with this, just to give you an idea of the possibilities, because I do think there are plenty here.

    “Show your tits! Show your tits!”

    The skull-rattling chant made Faith’s eyes drop to her own chest even though she knew the girls were all safe and sound beneath her cami and sweater. The shouting got louder, threatening to smash her lovely rum-and-coke buzz and making her wonder — again — why the hell she’d let Sandy drag her here.

    Again.

    Here being Mardi Gras, not the hedonistic New Orlean blowout that preceded Lent — sadly — but a small-town New England watering hole crammed with blue-collar locals and clueless frat boys. The dive’s decor ran to ‘gator heads and bilious purple, green and yellow neon; its major, and only, selling point was how close it was to Faith’s condo. Where God knows she’d rather be now, scarfing down microwave s’mores and blissfully lost in the newest Nora Roberts paperback. A much better way to end the work week than–

    The crowd went nuts; Faith caught a glimpse of young, perky breasts before they were buried in an avalanche of shiny plastic beads and a crush of rowdy boys trying to get a closer look.

    –this.

  15. Tina Burns
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 13:42:54

    I agree with Karen, her rewrites show what I was going to say. That this opening scene isn’t horrible, just not focused on pulling the reader into the book and connecting w/ Faith. Show how the bar looks through Faith. How does the bar and the atmosphere affect Faith?

  16. Maya Reynolds
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 14:51:33

    I agree with Jody’s comment about starting in Vogler’s “ordinary world.” I personally believe that’s important in a paranormal.

    And Karen’s rewrite proves you can begin in your heroine’s world, but still hold the reader’s interest.

    Good for you, Writer, for accepting the comments in the spirit they were offered. Good luck as you do your rewrites.

  17. Jessica
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 15:24:15

    I should start by saying that I don’t purposely read paranormal romance, thought I will always read a good book, no matter the genre.

    I think the writing has great potential, I wouldn’t drop the book after this page. Karen T’s rewrite shows how this could explode off the page. The opening line is very good.

    The rewrites take the information and make it far more compelling w/o all the media res fascination of the moment. I always like a little back story – ordinary world and all that, before the meeting, event, thing happens – so I would not push the writer to start with action assuming that is everyone’s taste.

  18. Maya
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 17:49:09

    I liked the title, and so I really wanted to like the page.

    But so far it hasn’t grabbed me. I’m guessing the more interesting bits come after page 1?

  19. the writer
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 20:13:05

    I wanted to thank you all again for your opinions, insights and suggestions. Karen, the rewrite was wicked cool for you to do and very generous.

  20. SonomaLass
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 21:11:48

    I think I would like Faith as a heroine, as I’m also one of those readers who likes a normal central character in a paranormal story. Plus I’m a sucker for teachers as heroines.

    Frankly, I’m a little tired of the “straight into the action” story opening. It makes me think of television, the sort of Star Trek formula where the episode starts with an action “hook” (before the first commercial break). I enjoy a gentler start, learning the POV, a main character and the world a bit first. But I agree with others here that for it to work, it must be tightly written. It’s harder to write a start like that, IMO, than the slam-bam action start, but a welcome change if you can pull it off (especially in a paranormal).

    Good luck, and here’s hoping we encounter Faith in the future!

  21. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 22:47:26

    I read paranormal romances and write them, and I hate the word tits. I don’t care that a man said the word, it makes me want to go back to watching the Olympics.

    And then, do we have to be in New Orleans again? How many writers have brought us there? I’d love a new city to have some biting happen. Where? Des Moines? Burbank? Olympia? If I were an editor, I might say, damn straight, let’s have me some N’Orleans so I can sell this puppy. But as a reader, I’m thinking, damn, can I have me some Portland, Oregon? So maybe ignore all that.

    Jessica

  22. B
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 23:13:56

    And then, do we have to be in New Orleans again? How many writers have brought us there? I'd love a new city to have some biting happen. Where? Des Moines? Burbank? Olympia? If I were an editor, I might say, damn straight, let's have me some N'Orleans so I can sell this puppy. But as a reader, I'm thinking, damn, can I have me some Portland, Oregon? So maybe ignore all that.

    The text clearly indicates Mardis Gras is a club in New England, not that the action is taking place in New Orleans.

    BTW, that doesn’t happen to be the Mardis Gras in Rhode Island, does it?

  23. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Aug 09, 2008 @ 23:26:45

    Okay, didn’t even get past that to New England. Chaulk it up to teaching sex scene writing in LA today, a place where Mardi Gras should happen. And then, again, Mardi Gras. Why always?

    J

  24. Treva Harte
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 02:19:27

    Maybe I’m crazy but while “Show your tits!” is an attention grabber, it immediately makes me feel defensive. I start shutting down because that’s what you tend to do in RL if someone yells that. I’d need something immediately after that yell to make me get in my comfort zone and continue reading.

  25. kirsten saell
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 03:23:17

    I liked the opening line–but then I’m kinda a dirty girl at heart, lol! Everything after was kinda meh. I loved Karen’s rewrite–it really punched the piece up, but I’m still not sure I would read on, if only because this is paranormal.

    And Leah, you could try Evil Editor for your query letter. He does query face-lifts, writing exercises and opening pages–with a humorous twist. And he’ll take any genre.

  26. Emmy
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 16:39:38

    You lost me with “Show your tits!” If I had picked this up in Borders and read that while flipping through the pages, I’d have buried it in the stacks. Ick.

    Can you please not start a story with the milk bags? Kthx.

  27. Moth
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 19:19:11

    I know I’m kind of a pimp for these sites but for anyone who was thinking about submiting their query here and can’t now, Evil Editor and Crapometer will tear your query to shreds for you too. And unlike Query Shark (which is valuable too, of course) they post ALL queries they receive.

    Just FYI.

  28. Moth
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 19:23:43

    About THIS first page: The show us your tits line lost me right out the gate. I’m not a prude by any means but this just seemed crude and unpleasant to me. I didn’t want to read more after that but I tried to.

    Then you lost me with all the sweater business and the infodump on the not-Mardis Gras.

    The people who are saying you don’t have to hook right in with action are right but there still does need to be some kind of hook on this page- a character, an emotion- something that I didn’t get from this.

  29. Ann Somerville
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 20:45:30

    Can you please not start a story with the milk bags?

    Ironic to complain about ‘tits’ by using a much more disgusting term. Was this really necessary?

  30. Karen Templeton
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 21:59:23

    IMO, the whole purpose of the opening line is to convey the disgust and out-of-placeness the heroine feels. So if readers are recoiling, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    The thing is (and this is directed toward the writer), if half the readers here hate the first line, and half either love it or don’t care, it’s a wash. Not to discount individual reader reaction ;-), but outside personal taste shouldn’t drive a writer’s choices. In any case, the ultimate decision remains with the editor who buys your book (and no editor is going to categorically reject something based on one line), since she knows what that imprint’s readership will generally accept or not.

    Much more important are the general comments — of needing to strengthen the characterization right out of the gate, to give the prose more punch. That done, then you decide which editors/houses are the best fit for the work as it stands (after rewrites, of course). The value of presenting your page in an open venue like this is in being able to get a consensus of what works and what still needs work. But at every stage of the process — either pre- or post-publication — you’re going to run into differing opinions. The trick is in learning to pick which of those resonate with your own vision for the book, and which ones don’t. :)

  31. kirsten saell
    Aug 11, 2008 @ 04:05:57

    IMO, the whole purpose of the opening line is to convey the disgust and out-of-placeness the heroine feels. So if readers are recoiling, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Agreed. It isn’t like it’s the hero chanting.

  32. Moth
    Aug 11, 2008 @ 12:24:22

    Agreed. It isn't like it's the hero chanting.

    That would be interesting. I’d be interested to see if any author could pull that off and redeem a hero who starts out like THAT. :D

  33. First Pages That Have Sold | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:01:17

    [...] Syke’s Teacher’s Guide to Wildlife was featured on First Page Saturday last August and is now for sale by [...]

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