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First Page: The Bronte Curse

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Here’s one thing that I kept to myself during the months of Preparation at the time travel institute: I can’t stomach the Brontës. So what brought me to that moment, to a dark Yorkshire night in 184-, all steampunk glory in mutton chops and a frock coat, for my new role as curate of Haworth, previous holder of the post having died of cholera? I was wondering that myself, truly I was, as I walked down that dark endless road that I hoped led toward Haworth, and sort of hoped didn’t, hands buried in my pockets, hat jammed on my head, wind in my face, walking faster and faster, yet feeling the cold insinuating itself under my clothes and slowly into my bones. I wanted to be by a fire, drinking tea, and even more I wanted to see Rachel, who had arrived two weeks ahead of me, to know she was all right. These are the only things in the world I want, I thought, then it started to rain.

The nearest portal the institute could manage was in Ripon. I missed a connection in Leeds and waited hours for the next train, arriving in Keighley after dark to find all the hired carriages already spoken for or their horses tucked into bed. A person of sense would have spent the night at the town’s one inn, fleas and bedbugs be damned; I decided to walk to Haworth. How bad could it be? I was tired of sitting. I had that jittery feeling that can be a side effect of time travel. Mental confusion is another, as I remembered later.

By the time I saw lights in the distance that promised — and eventually delivered – the village, a forbidding confection of tight-packed stone cottages fronting muddy streets, I was wet through, shivering uncontrollably, and making bargains with a god I don’t believe in. At the top of a steep hill, past the jagged teeth of the churchyard’s gravestones, the black rectangle of Haworth Parsonage loomed up like something in a fever dream, and despite the prospect of shelter (and maybe tea) the sight made me hesitate.

 

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

13 Comments

  1. Holly Bush
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 09:15:08

    I’m not a reader of this genre, and am assuming it is Steampunk since that word was used. It’s a little odd to me that the narrator used that word, steampunk, because I thought that referred to a literary genre. It would be like me having my heroine say, “Here in this historical romance,” but then maybe the time travel aspect makes it work! I don’t know but it is a small thing.

    I liked your voice and the way your sentences reflected the narrator’s thoughts. I was little confused once but still liked it. I always like being in a character’s head. There’s a whimsical quality to your word choice I liked too. I think your 3rd paragraph is your opening paragraph, though. Read your third paragraph out loud and then follow with your first paragraph, beginning with the second sentence. Bam! Done in that order, I’m totally in your story, on a dark street with the narrator, in the rain, in another time, contemplating why he was where he was and where he wanted to be.

    Hope this is helpful and happy Saturday!

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  2. QC
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 09:18:41

    Those very long sentences in the first paragraph reminded me of someone telling a story and trying to spew out too much information in one breath. (Then having to stop and inhale deeply before starting again.) As I read on, though, I liked the voice and the way the story unfolds in these three paragraphs.

    Perhaps you could break up the long sentences and knock out some of the extra words in the first paragraph?

    So what brought me to that moment, to a dark Yorkshire night in 184-, all steampunk glory in mutton chops and a frock coat, for my new role as curate of Haworth? I was wondering that myself as I walked down that dark endless road that I hoped led toward Haworth–and sort of hoped didn’t–hands buried in my pockets, hat jammed on my head, wind in my face. I walked faster and faster, the cold insinuating itself under my clothes and slowly into my bones.

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  3. Garrett
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:12:44

    The only thing that lets out to me was what the first commenters said: I don’t think somebody in a steam punk world would refer to it as a steam punk world. It’s a genre that we use to differentiate it from our own. For example, in a contemporary literature novel, set in today’s world and today’s society, you wouldn’t have somebody say, “I was in Los Angeles, all contemporary glory…”

    Other than that I like your prose and description.

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  4. Marianne McA
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:52:33

    I always seem to like the time travel pages – and this is no exception.

    I didn’t have a problem with the word ‘steampunk’ – I agree it would be peculiar in a steampunk book, but this is time travel.

    I’d buy this.

    Good luck.

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  5. Carolyne
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:53:49

    I have no problem with a time traveller sardonically using the term steampunk. I found it endearing and like the tone of voice.

    I like @Holly Bush‘s suggestion of putting the third paragraph first. Great atmosphere, and setting up an agnostic(?) as headed to a parsonage. But then I’d keep the second paragraph second (“The nearest portal the institute could manage had been in Ripon”)–it lets us in on the secret (time travel!) in a subtle way by giving some insight into how our narrator’s brain is just scrambled enough to have forgotten how it scrambles the brain. Then the first paragraph third (“So what brought me to that moment…”). Some tweaking to work out when it starts raining. Et voilà, your opening page turned inside out :)

    The comment about the Brontës is cute, but I’d be content to wait for it to come up later, maybe even puzzling someone in conversation.

    I’m an easy mark for time travel stories, but this one starts out with a nice dose of brooding atmosphere and a promising voice and a sense of urgency–is Rachel, who is important to our narrator, all right? I’d definitely keep reading.

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  6. QC
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:57:58

    I liked the steam punk reference. (I don’t think this is a steam punk story.) I can see myself ironically describing my appearance as being steam punk if I time traveled from contemporary to Victorian time. Steam punk is also a form of dress. You can find steam punk sewing patterns and various sites from which to order the clothing.

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  7. Philly
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:59:16

    I took the “steampunk” reference as the narrator being sarcastic about his own 19th century attire. He is a time traveler, so his knowledge of 20th/21st century slang didn’t seem odd to me. But, I don’t think this is supposed to be set in a steampunk world. It’s more like To Say Nothing of the Dog.

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  8. hapax
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 12:11:30

    @Philly:

    Have to say, I got a very To Say Nothing of the Dog vibe from this too — Victorian setting, slightly snarky voice, time portals and institute, mental confusion, problems with the trains, need to catch up with with the female time traveler who was sent on ahead, etc.

    Normally being compared with Connie Willis is a good thing indeed, but I wouldn’t want a reader constantly thinking of that masterpiece while reading my book.

    Also, this may be a plot point later on, but a curate is a fairly important position in a small village. I don’t think much of a time travel institute that would put someone in the position who can’t conceal his disdain for the people, the job, the entire time period, even in his private thoughts; such an attitude is bound to slip out sooner or later.

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  9. Vanessa
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 13:01:57

    I’m more into contemporaries, so this isn’t really my genre. Still I rather liked your beginning. You give us the setting, an interesting heroine, and even a possible mystery to look forward to, all in just three paragraphs.

    Your writing is pretty good. I do love your descriptions. The only problem I have is that some of your sentences can be a little long. It makes them seem a kind of info-dumpey. Your first paragraph shows a tendency to do this. The second is okay, but the third has only two sentences and both are run-on.

    You can make them easier to read by chopping them up a little bit, like so:

    “Finally I saw lights in the distance that promised — and eventually delivered – the village, a forbidding confection of tight-packed stone cottages fronting muddy streets. By that time, I was wet through, shivering uncontrollably, and making bargains with a god I didn’t believe in. At the top of a steep hill, past the jagged teeth of the churchyard’s gravestones, the black rectangle of Haworth Parsonage loomed up like something in a fever dream. But even despite the prospect of warm shelter (and maybe tea) the sight made me hesitate.”

    You can polish it up more, of course, to sound less awkward, but I think this is a little easier on the eyes.

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  10. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 19:20:39

    Steampunk is more than a literary genre; it can refer to an attitude, or to an entire life-style for some some people. So someone from now traveling back to 184- and referring to themselves as steampunk does make sense, if they were aware of that culture now and how it was influenced heavily by the time period they find themselves in. But, if the reader is unaware of all of that, then it’s not going to make much sense.

    The first graph is unwieldy and has odd capitalization. As far as an agnostic or atheist who is assigned as his time travel role that of a curate, I’m not sure I buy that. Unless he’s been very thoroughly trained, it comes off as an improbability or poor planning on the part of the Time Travel Institute.

    Even with that, I’d read further. It’s odd, quirky and I like steampunkish works, even if this isn’t one (would be nice if it were). I do want to know why he’s there, and who Rachel is.

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  11. Angela Booth
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 23:24:50

    I’m with @hapax. I got the To Say Nothing of the Dog feeling about this snippet too. Excellent, one of my favorite books; I need to reread it.

    Re the “steampunk” reference a few posters mentioned. I read it as the narrator’s voice: snarky. I liked it. Maybe you could snark it up a bit more, so it was obvious?

    Also loved the idea of time travel to Haworth — much better than endless Jane Austen time travels.

    All in all, I adored this first page and would definitely be reading the book, if the blurb showed promise.

    Kudos to you, author — well done. Keep writing, I want to read the book. :-)

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  12. Kay
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 15:56:49

    I’d love to read this! Is there a way to subscribe for notifications to see when and where one of the “first page” novels becomes available?

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  13. Kathleen
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 17:39:52

    @Kay:
    Dear Kay,

    I am the author of this first page, and you can’t imagine how your comment made my day.
    In general, I think a notification system of this kind would be an excellent idea, because I also often wonder about whether any of these first pages turn into books.

    And certainly if and when I finish The Bronte Curse, I will try to get it reviewed on this and other sites.

    But even before that, any news of this kind will be mentioned on my blog, thejaneaustenproject. Please feel free to subscribe to it (click on the avatar thing). You will get an e-mail when I write a new post (which isn’t too often, don’t worry) but will otherwise not be harassed, I promise.

    thanks again for your encouraging words.

    ReplyReply

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