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First Page: The Bluebell Girl

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The first time Jake Lawson spoke to me, I was crying underneath the bleachers of the high school football stadium. The game was over, and with it the revelry that had stained the crisp September night orange and blue.

The lights had dimmed. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs was fading. Only the faint whoosh whoosh whoosh of the janitor’s broom as he swept away the trash left by careless fans interrupted the call of the cicadas and the deep throaty murmurs of the bull frogs from the pond behind the football field.

I was not just crying, I was ugly crying; wheezing for breath between sobs, shoulders shaking, face puffier than usual crying. My sobs were so loud I didn’t hear the tell tale echo of footsteps on metal until it was too late, and Jake had dropped down between the bleachers to land in front of me in a crouch.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked bluntly. My breath caught as I saw who it was. Jake Lawson, notorious bad boy, womanizer, and all around hard ass, did not suffer fools lightly. And there was no greater fool than a seventeen year old girl crying her heart out under the bleachers because some boy called her fat.

“N-n-nothing,” I stammered, lifting my chin to stare at Jake from eyes that sparkled brightly with tears. Swiping clumsily at my runny nose, I sniffed back the snot that threatened to spill out while Jake made a sound of disgust and stepped back, leaning against one of the support beams.

His black leather jacket tightened around his chest as he raised his arms and cupped his hands behind his head. “Chubby Mia Woodrose,” he said with a sigh. “I should have known.”

Crossing my arms defensively over a chest that in now way, shape or form should have belonged to someone of my age, I lurched to my feet. “D-d-do not call me that.” Drawing wildly on what little self confidence I had left, I tried to sound tough. Jake just laughed.

“Ain’t that what those boys were calling you? Chubby. Fat. Ugly.” He said the words with ruthless precision, and I felt my stomach clench tighter with every slur that spilled from his lips.

“S-s-stop it!” I cried, hating when my voice broke, but unable to force the words out without an audible stammer. It had always been like that. Whenever I got too emotional my vocal chords simply refused to cooperate. My parents had dragged me to doctors, speech therapists, even a shrink – nothing had worked. My mother’s suggestion? Stop talking.

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

15 Comments

  1. Cervenka
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 04:15:12

    The first paragraph grabbed me, but then you lost me by staying in the past. Perhaps if the excerpt were longer and showed your transition back to the present I’d have a better reaction, but because this is literally all backstory, I have no idea what the book is about, so based solely on this page I wouldn’t be able to decide one way or the other if I wanted to keep reading.

    Also: it’s vocal CORDS, not chords :-)

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  2. Willa
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 04:38:08

    Overweight girl sobbing, cocky, arrogant teen appearing to taunt . . . have read combinations of this many times before. And it is old. Makes me think she is going to turn into a stunning beauty and have her revenge on her hometown. Please . . no.

    For me there isn’t a strong first page hook that would make me continue.

    And chords is the English spelling.

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  3. Katie T.
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 04:38:35

    I liked this as a flashback, but it’s a little slow in development for the beginning of a book, save some backstory for later, maybe? A few comments: some sentences ran on too long, and the characters’ dialogue felt stilted. I know she’s supposed to be suffering from a speech disorder but the way she speaks doesn’t seem natural.

    Also “Crossing my arms defensively over a chest that in now way” that should be “no way.”

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  4. SAO
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 05:39:05

    I thought this had a reasonable opening. Some conflict, some emotion. The content on the page was good. (I’m not much into YA, so it’s not for me.)

    However, while much of it seemed well written — you set the scene better than many first pagers — at times the effort was strained. I spent time trying to puzzle out what was meant by, “revelry stained the sky blue and orange.” I didn’t succeed. You could cut back on adjectives, too.

    But my real problem was that many of the details didn’t ring true. Most girls are done with puberty by 15. The ones who are going to be DD, often are D by 13 or 14. So, I didn’t get how her chest didn’t belong on a 17 year old.

    Unless Jake is a lot older than Mia — which would be a problem — HS kids are generally not called womanizers, notorious bad boys and don’t suffer fools lightly. I’m not up on the latest slang, but you should be. And it’s flagrant telling.

    She knew her eyes were “sparkling brightly with tears?” That seemed out of place with ugly crying and snotty nose. And her problem, which is she feels ugly. It was also a POV slip.

    She can’t hear Jake’s footsteps on metal bleachers, but she can hear distant sweeping and crickets? Scene and setting have to be integrated.

    You have too many of mixed messages and no reading of Jake’s face. Crouching implies concern, “what the hell are you doing?” implies anger, “I should have known” and the sigh implies resignation, laughing at her is making fun of her misery, etc. I don’t know who Jake is or what he thinks of Mia at this moment. And this is the guts of your scene. I need to know.

    All this added up to my inability to believe your scene.

    You could do a lot more showing. Something like, My sobs were so loud, I didn’t realize I was alone until a pair of feet dropped in front of me. My gaze travelled over (nice bod in classic bad boy attire, maybe motorcycle boots, jeans, leather jacket ) to see Jake Lawson checking out my chest. It shows Jake as bad boy and womanizer.

    Next, Mia has a reaction. How does she feel that it is Jake who finds her? That he’s estimated her bra size. This way, all your definition of Jake and Mia would be shown, not told.

    And I’m pretty sure it is vocal cords. They are called that because they physically look like cords, not because they are related to musical chords.

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  5. Carolyne
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 10:10:44

    SAO’s comments very tidily summed up the sort of line-by-line notes I would have given you, but I do want to add a bit. After being rather disinterested as I read through most of the page, that very last line snapped me up: “My mother’s suggestion? Stop talking.”

    It’s sharp and painful, what a parent can do with such a cutting suggestion. Finally, on reading that, I was engaged with the story; I wanted to know what this would do to an obviously vulnerable girl, how she reacts to it, what kind of person it makes her, and what it will have to do with her story (a Mia/Jake romance?). Is she going to stop talking, there under the bleachers? Is this going to be a story about a girl who doesn’t speak up, ever, and how she overcomes that? (Maybe not, since she tries to be tough with Jake.) Is it the story of a girl who has to struggle against parents who tear her down/are timid themselves/just plain give bad advice? I don’t get to read the back cover copy, so I’m stumped as to where this will be going, but if that hook had come sooner, I would want to continue and find out more.

    That said, I don’t need the whole plot and all the characters set up on the first page (YMMV), but I’d have liked to see a first page that wasn’t so, well, stereotypical. Because the set up is so stereotypical, it could be dispensed with quickly. Or, we could have seen Mia’s power of speech failing when she was insulted the first time, rather than hearing that she had been insulted in the past. I’m not sure why this needs to happen twice–if it’s because we need to know that Jake is the kind of guy who’ll kick a girl when she’s down (rather than being the kind of guy who does the first kicking), get to that right away, and show us the jerk he is instead of telling us about him. A tighter opening–and of course this is only my suggestion for the sort of direction you might take–maybe along these lines (with a nod to SAO):

    The first time Jake Lawson spoke to me, I was crying under the bleachers. I wasn’t just crying, I was ugly crying; wheezing for breath between sobs, shoulders shaking, face puffy, because another bunch of boys had called me fat. I didn’t even hear the sound of footsteps on metal until a pair of feet dropped in front of me. My gaze travelled over (nice bod in classic bad boy attire, maybe motorcycle boots, jeans, leather jacket ) to see Jake checking out my chest before he finally looked up at my face.

    “What the hell?” he said bluntly.

    “N-n-nothing,” I stammered. Swiping clumsily at my nose, I sniffed back the snot. Jake made a sound of disgust and stepped away, leaning against one of the support beams.

    His leather jacket tightened around his chest as he raised his arms and cupped his hands behind his head. “Fat Mia Woodrose. I should have known.”

    Crossing my arms over my chest, I lurched to my feet. “D-d-do not call me that.” Jake just laughed.

    “S-s-stop it!” I cried. Whenever I get emotional my vocal cords refuse to cooperate. My parents had dragged me to doctors, speech therapists, even a shrink for it. My mother’s suggestion? Stop talking.

    The lights around the football field had dimmed. Other than my sniffling, the only other sounds were the call of cicadas and the deep throaty murmurs of bull frogs from the pond behind the field before [something else happens...! Jake insults her some more? Jake relents and offers to drive her home? I do wonder what will happen next in your story...]

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  6. Lorelie Brown
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 10:41:36

    I actually disagree that all the setting needs to be cut. It goes a wee bit over the top at a couple points, but dialing down would probably be sufficient.

    You’re so close. I read the whole thing from my google reader and then clicked through and I can’t even remember the last time I did that for a First Page. It’s been a long, long time.

    What I don’t get is why one boy calling her chubby would so devastate her as to leave her ugly crying under the benches yet she’s somehow able to tell the notorious bad boy of the school to stop? Not just once, but twice? I don’t buy it.

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  7. Avery Shy
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 11:08:56

    I really liked this. Would definitely keep reading.

    It’s not really a flashback, is it? I mean, sure, the first sentence implies this is being told from a point in the future, but that’s not enough evidence for me. Calling it a flashback implies you start in the present and then go back. [/quibble]

    Anywho, you can definitely cut back on some descriptors. Like here: ‘“N-n-nothing,” I stammered, lifting my chin to stare at Jake from eyes that sparkled brightly with tears.’ This could easily be cut to ‘“N-n-nothing,” I stammered, lifting my chin to stare at Jake.’ The important thing here is that she’s lifting her chin, because it shows she’s trying to compose herself and stand up to him. Whereas the looking and crying bit aren’t important at all, because we already know she’s crying, and we can damn well assume she’s looking at him.

    Besides, you clearly have some talent — you can do better than tears that “sparkle brightly”.

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  8. Irish Lass
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 11:41:57

    Wow, I loved this. Very skillfully written, kudos! I agree with Lorelie, Carolyne and SAO (SAO, you always offer terrific insights — Lorelie, Carolyne, et al, I’m sure I’d agree that you do, too, but I’ve seen more of SAO’s comments). Nice advice you’ve gotten from folks here, I’m not sure if I can add much.

    Hoo-kay. See some telling here, and this sounds like an adult writing a YA. The writing has a self-conscious quality, which I don’t entirely mind, but it feels calculated. Maybe a shade forced? It’s a bit too sophisticated, although I do think some teens are super brainy and I could buy her being smart and self-conscious. Maybe you try reading a couple of great YA titles, see how the story’s told, get some ideas.

    I might describe the bad boy in terms of what he physically looks like, what kind of ‘tude (attitude) he projects. His actions. “Womanizer” is especially distancing in a YA, I’d think. Class A horndog, player, etc., sheesh, if I weren’t so fatigued, I might be able to suggest more. Lower the formality, relax. Come up with your own slang, be inventive… not obtuse with slang, but clever. Your writing indicates you have a great imagination — especially with those sensory details. Check out a couple of Urban Dictionary slang terms. I often have a good chuckle reading through slang terms on that site, a word of caution, though, some are coarse /vulgar, if you’re sensitive and not used to that. But I suspect guys come up with a lot of these terms.

    RE: adding slang… nothing that’ll make an adult reader go, “Huh?” but a couple of terms, e.g., Epic Fail, “My bad,” etc. Not overboard, either, because too much slang will date your novel. What’s cool for one generation fades in five years or less, if that, given the constant morphing of pop culture.

    As for some of the reactions here, I suppose it might be a common plot, bad boy, chubber girl, but as a Chubster myself, I relate! Try to inject one inkling of spunk into her, that we know she’s got the moxie to be a fighter, or that’ll be part of her arc. But you know, that’s just my opinion — it’s your novel. Introduce her moxie later in the book. I loved her insecurities. Agree about the mother being dismissive, that would only make the poor girl more self-conscious. Sounds very cutting and painful, indeed.

    The stereotype element might have validity. It’s so interesting RE: the notion of stereotypes, because we humans fall back on them… time and time again. When I think of the stereotype nerd, there’s Napoleon Dynamite, The Big Bang, the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” a plethora of such characters, all interpreted in fresh new ways. As long as your novel is unique, different, I’m not sure the stereotype matters. Because, truth be told, a lot of us relate to those stereotypes… human nature does not change. Technology, medicine, other advancements, sure. Human nature? It’s kinda constant. Right?

    Sometimes I want to laugh. I write romance and I can imagine someone sneering at me, “Oh, boy meets girl, get outta here, that’s so been done before.”

    This is extremely skilled writing, beautifully paced and felt. Won’t appeal to those who might need a butt-kicker heroine, but I love the underdog. You’re getting the emotion across, and man, that’s big. A writer can be a great craftsman and still not resonate with readers. Deepen your writing, make it more authentic YA, and you’ll write with real power.

    Best of luck to you. You’ve shown courage for posting this — ’tis a far easier thing to do — be a critic — than to be a creator.

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  9. Lucy Woodhull
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 11:49:16

    I really liked “revelry stained the sky blue and orange” — I knew exactly what you meant and it was unusually phrased. I do agree that she could not see her own sparkly tears, so watch describing things that cannot be in the POV character’s purview. I didn’t get overwhelmed with adjectives.

    The only bugaboo for me was the stammering. It seemed like too much on top of the other things your heroine is self-conscious (and the kids are cruel to her) about. Does she have a rash, or maybe some boils, too? I kid, I kid, but it’s almost one too many.

    Good luck!

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  10. Maura
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 15:35:50

    If she’s crying that loud, is there some reason the janitor hasn’t come to see what the commotion is rather than waiting for Alpha Jock to do the honors?

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  11. Shelley
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 21:09:56

    I liked it. Yeah, it could use a little tightening but I would definitely keep reading. Great job!!

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  12. MetalQueen
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 20:36:10

    I really enjoyed this too. I won’t add to what’s already been said. I’m not a YA reader, but this story I’d read.

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  13. Lori
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 00:34:41

    I think there are some very valid critiques that are worth thinking about. I also have to say that your writing voice is lovely. I don’t read YA and don’t plan to start but if I encountered this voice in a genre I do read, I know I’d be compelled to continue reading. You have a talent. Good luck.

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  14. K8899
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 07:00:16

    I would not read on unless someone informed me that Jake wasn’t the hero. The behaviour he shows in this exert is not what I consider heroic. It is what I remember from a horrifically abusive relationship from my own teenage years, and I am sick of seeing abuse dressed up as romance in the YA genre. YMMV but I would substantially reduce the cruelty of his behaviour if he is indeed the hero.

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  15. Jo Ramsey
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 09:13:16

    I agree with much of what’s been said. The voice is a bit too old for a high school student, even a 17-year-old. I write YA myself, and I know it’s hard not to sound like an adult when you are one, so just something to work on. Try to put yourself back in your own teen years.

    “eyes that sparkled brightly with tears” yanked me out of the reading. How does she know her eyes are sparkling brightly? She can’t see herself, can she?

    The last line about her mother’s statement, as someone else said, was where I really started caring about this character and what was going on with her. Carolyne’s suggestion on how to rearrange this bit is good.

    And yeah, what K8899 said. If Jake’s supposed to be a jackwagon, fine, but if he’s supposed to be the hero, he’d darn well better redeem himself fast. It sounds like your heroine is already dealing with emotional and verbal abuse from a lot of people, her own mother included. If Jake’s supposed to be a good guy, he shouldn’t be giving her the same crap as everyone else.

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