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First Page: The Demon Hour

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Some women will say that time metaphorically stands still when the man of their dreams gets down on bended knee, but for me time literally did. Of course, I’m pretty sure most people would say the same thing in the face of the most horrifying tragedy they could ever imagine. For me, they were one in the same.

“Sit down. Right here. Aww, c’mon, Ana. Just trust me.” Danny’s voice compelled me like the most euphoric drug.

I eyed the scuffed blue paint of the derelict bench he was pointing at. Someone had sharpied devil horns and a mustache onto the real estate agent’s picture, but it seemed otherwise free of anything gross or dangerous. No gobs of spit or discarded syringes, as far as I could tell. Then again, this was Parkdale, land of the addicted, dispossessed and those naïve enough to think they were making a difference in their community. So far, I only fell into the latter category.

This bus stop was exact the spot where Danny and I first met. I rode the 127 bus to work every day for the past five years until we started dating four months ago. He always drove to work, except for that one time his car was in the shop and he had to take the 127 to get from Parkdale to downtown. We would have never met if it weren’t for that busted carburetor. Now we carpooled every day in his Vantage roadster. God, it was a sexy car.

But in the five years before I met Danny, I never once actually sat down on the dirty bench. He just kept smiling ridiculously at me until I complied.

Darn. There was no resisting those dimples. Or those cobalt blue eyes and messy blond hair. I sighed and planted my butt on the least offensive section of the bench, hoping that my shirtdress wouldn’t get too dirty. It was the nicest outfit I owned. I couldn’t figure out why Danny was so insistent on my dressing up today if we were going to be riding the bus.

At least I was wearing all black. Unless Party-Marty, the homeless guy who slept here most nights, suddenly developed a cocaine habit, my dress would still look relatively clean no matter what I sat on. The pamphlet I’d given him a couple weeks ago for the new soup kitchen nearby was lying on the ground near my feet. Symbolically trashed, but at least the information was still visible to any passerbys, I thought optimistically.

Caught up in my thoughts, it took me a few seconds before I noticed Danny was crouched down in front on me, one knee dropped to the dusty pavement.

My mouth fell.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small navy box.

My stomach sank.

He opened the box and pulled out the yellow-gold ring with a huge teardrop sapphire.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Ana Lee Wight, will you—”

Too soon! Don’t do this, Danny. I opened my eyes again.

And that’s when everything froze.

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

17 Comments

  1. Tasha
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 04:33:18

    One *and* the same. Not “in.”

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  2. Jennifer Murdock
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 09:00:18

    I liked this. I liked the voice and would probably continue on for at least a few more pages. That being said I do feel it could be tightened. I got sick of reading about the bench and how clean it is, where the best place to sit was, how dirty her dress would get, etc. I got the point she didn’t really want to sit on the bench. I also did not like the first paragraph, I don’t feel that it added anything.

    Kudos for putting it out here for critique and good luck with it.

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  3. E.D. Walker
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 09:51:38

    I was interested because of the time freezing stuff, and then you lost me once you started riffing for all those paragraphs about why she couldn’t sit on the bench. My eyes started to glaze over right around the Party-Marty section as I’m thinking, “Just sit on the bench already and get back to the time freezing part!”

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  4. A Torontonian's opinion
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 10:48:58

    The voice is quite wonderful. I like the sarcasm infused in the character’s thoughts. And the style is easy to read. The hook at the end of the page is well thought out, especially with the foreshadowing of the sharpie marked real estate agent picture. I would read more.

    I always read these, but never comment, and I’m only commenting because I live in Toronto.

    So here’s my nitpick: The descriptions could be shortened on the area. Your eyes do glaze over especially when you see the heavy narrative followed by A LOT of white space.

    Parkdale (often referred to as Crackdale by the locals for all the crack ho’s that used to tramp through the area in the nineties and early 2000?s) isn’t all that bad a place, as described. And while there might be a lot of homeless in TO, most are mentally handicap and joking about them (unless they play some sort of role in the story later as a humourous character) seems unnecessary. Hey, after awhile, you get to know the homeless in your area, and yes, you do watch out for them because they are part of your neighbourhood.

    Also, you make Parkdale sound so far away from downtown. You can easily bike the distance in under twenty minutes. Driving the distance seems like a very odd thing to do (not to mention it’s probably twice as long with car and transit traffic).

    For the last line: “And that’s when everything froze.” feels past tense. Is she seeing everything slow down before it freezes? When she opens her eyes is everything already frozen? Give us some senses like did all sound stop? The wind quit? etc., etc.

    Lastly, it’s passersby not passerbys.

    Wishing you much luck with this manuscript.

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  5. Darlynne
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 11:24:13

    There is so much to like here and I would have enjoyed seeing what happened when time froze. Instead, I became weary of the dress-bench explanation after the first mention.

    “Sit down. Right here. Aww, c’mon, Ana. Just trust me.” That little sliver of Danny was completely charming, but it gets buried by the info dump that follows. Five paragraphs later, she realizes he’s down on one knee. More skillful reviewers could tell you how to incorporate the same information in other ways, I just know that you lost me in the avalanche.

    It’s a small quibble, but you don’t need “metaphorically” because it’s understood, particularly when you use “literally” closely after.

    You have terrific potential for an interesting and well-told story. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  6. Jill Myles
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 11:28:53

    I think you can ditch the first paragraph – all it does is confuse the reader. Beyond that, tighten up some of the overlong wordplay about the bench and I think it’ll read better.

    I was also a little confused at a shirt-dress being the nicest thing she owns? Because when I think shirt-dress, I think slobby chic, usually over leggings. Is she dirt poor?

    Other than that, this had a nice voice and I’m intrigued by people freezing.

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  7. JB Hunt
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 11:38:18

    I liked the description of Parkdale, Party-Marty, and the Sharpie graffiti. (And I didn’t feel that you were trivializing the plight of the homeless. The narrator’s work suggests the opposite.)

    But I agree with others that there’s too much bench. I also think some of the bus/car paragraph interrupts the flow.

    I would love to feel a connection between Ana and Danny before disaster strikes. Could you give us more interaction between them?

    The cliffhanger intrigued me, and I would want to read further!

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  8. katieM
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 12:17:40

    I really liked the story so far. The first paragraph didn’t bother me, but there was a bit too much said about the bench. I also wanted to know if the dress was a shirt dress or a shirt waist dress. The former is not dressy, but the latter can be.

    I would keep reading this story.

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  9. Sharon
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 12:22:33

    I liked the first paragraph. It intrigued me and made me want to keep reading. I do agree with other reviewers that “metaphorically” could be cut and that it should be “one and the same.”

    And I definitely agree that there’s far too much about the dirty bench. A sentence or two on that topic is plenty, even though you were weaving good details in at the same time. I not only became bored reading about the bench, it also made me feel that our heroine must be fussy and superficial to be making such a big deal out of it.

    I would also cut part of the paragraph about carpooling. It’s not necessary at this moment, and it interrupts the emotional flow.

    Nice start, though! It just needs some tightening.

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  10. Author
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 13:45:45

    Thank you all for your comments and critiques.

    I’ve been struggling with the set up this page, especially with the first paragraph and wondering whether it’s too gimmicky to start with the heavy foreshadowing. I didn’t necessarily intend for the first page to end on a cliff hanger (the action pretty much starts up next paragraph), it just happens to be where the first page ended.

    It certainly makes it easier to accept critique when every commenter is in agreement! I will definitely clean up the bench descriptions and bits of info dumping. And the shameful grammar & spelling problems.

    @Torontonian – the story is set in a fictional city, but I appreciate you pointing out how awkward it is to use the name of well known neighbourhood. As a former Torontonian myself, I used the name in part as a placeholder with the intention of changing it when I polished the manuscript, but also in part as an homage to my beloved city that I miss dearly :)
    Your comments have helped me make the decision to change it to something more neutral.

    ReplyReply

  11. DS
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 14:39:05

    The thing that made me blink was the Aston Martin. He drives an Aston Martin but when its in the garage he takes a bus instead of a taxi or renting a car. Something doesn’t feel right about that– unless he spends all his money on car, gas and insurance.

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  12. theo
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 16:36:51

    I agree with the bench. It’s dirty, it’s in a not so nice part of town and the area around it is shabby at best. You could probably cut 2/3 of the description and end up with a nice, tight opening that still covers everything you’re trying to convey.

    My alarms went off when I read the Vantage Roadster and like DS, shook my head at the thought that a man who can afford a car that costs at least $130K would ride a bus to work when the car was in the shop. Any man who can afford a car that costs that much has another car in the garage for just such occasions as the Vantage breaking down. He can drive a Camaro, a Mustang, a Challenger RT and then yes, I can see him having to take the bus.

    Vantage owners? Not so much.

    ReplyReply

  13. Author
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 19:31:51

    @DS & Theo,

    Thanks for your comments about the car. That was another issue I was struggling with and I’m grateful to have some much needed feedback on it. The uber-expensive car is a plot point that comes up again a few chapters later and it is meant to be out of place, but I think I might be trying to stuff too many little details into the first few paragraphs and ending up making things more confusing than necessary.

    ReplyReply

  14. Cara Ellison
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 23:56:52

    This is really thick with muck and backstory. I do not need to know that much detail about the bench or the bus or how long Ana and Danny have been together or the names of the homeless drug addicts. I got a little excited when I read about time standing still. I thought that was the hook, but you just skimmed right past it. Also the first paragraph repeats a lot of info:

    Some women will say that time metaphorically stands still when the man of their dreams gets down on bended knee, but for me time literally did. Of course, I’m pretty sure most people would say the same thing in the face of the most horrifying tragedy they could ever imagine. For me, they were one in the same.

    The bolded is almost the identical thought to the previous one. And I think you’re diluting attention by adding what “most people” and “some women” think. You don’t need both comparisons (and I’m not convinced you need even one but it isn’t going to kill the story.)

    I think it could be streamlined to two basic thoughts:

    1. Some women will say that time metaphorically stands still when the man of their dreams gets down on bended knee, but for me time literally did.

    it took me a few seconds before I noticed Danny was crouched down in front on me, one knee dropped to the [dusty - you don't need this] pavement.

    2. Reaction: My mouth fell / Stomach sank/ time froze

    He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small navy box. I think this belongs with him on his knee. You’re dividing up the action with unnecessary exposition.

    My stomach sank. I like this. It is unexpected.

    He opened the box and pulled out the yellow-gold ring with a huge teardrop sapphire.
    I squeezed my eyes shut.

    “Ana Lee Wight, will you—”

    Too soon! Don’t do this, Danny. I opened my eyes again.

    And that’s when everything froze.

    After reading the whole page – the first page, the most prime real estate! – we ended up right where we began. You repeated that “time froze”. I’d just say something like:

    Some women will say that time metaphorically stands still when the man of their dreams gets down on bended knee, but for me time literally did.

    And this is what it was like:

    I like the voice a lot, but I think the construction needs some work.

    I hope you keep at it – I’m really curious how the “time freezing” device plays out.

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  15. annie
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 02:58:05

    Where is the demon?

    ReplyReply

  16. Nat
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 05:43:40

    You lost me at ‘one in the same’. It’s ‘one and the same.’

    I thought if a writer got that wrong, and didn’t know the correct turn of phrase, then the rest of the page wouldn’t be too good.

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  17. Author
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 11:26:42

    @annie – on the first page, of course :)

    @Nat – Can’t blame you for being put off by a typo in the first paragraph, but I do appreciate you pointing it out so that I can fix it.

    ReplyReply

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