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First Page: The Farther I Fall

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“Stay with me, stay with me.” Acrid smoke burns in her throat, the crackle of flames from the explosion echoing the crackle of small-arms fire, with the occasional boom of something larger. Pressure point, she has to find the pressure point.

She puts all her weight on the wound and the woman beneath her groans in pain. So much blood. Blood everywhere. Bleeding too much, bleeding out.

She’s screaming, and then she can’t breathe. Turner’s face, pale and still, is the last thing she sees.

Swim up from blackness. “Sergeant? Stay with me. Come on. Look at me.”

More distant, urgent, “Where’s the fucking evac?”
Gwen jerked out of a broken sleep, gritting her teeth against the pain in her shoulder. Her physical therapist said the

pain would eventually go away completely. The scarring never would. When they’d first taken off the dressings, she’d asked for a mirror. Sam had been there, trying to be reassuring. Gwen had smiled and said, “Well, I won’t have to worry about bikini season for a while, anyway.” The exit wound was the worst, a red-purple starburst nearly the size of

Gwen’s palm just to the left of her collarbone. The nurse holding the mirror said something about the scar fading, about possible plastic surgery. Gwen looked at it and thought, I survived you, you bastard.

She swung her legs around the edge of the narrow bed in her sister Sam’s guest room, looking at the time. Not like that mattered. Not like she had anywhere to be. She scrubbed at her face and looked at the clock. 4:30 AM. It was already afternoon in London, and her body’s clock hadn’t adjusted yet. If she showered now, she’d wake up Sam. Instead, she lay back down with one arm across her forehead. Out of the corner of her eye, the Royal Army Medical Corps tattoo on her upper arm, Aesculapius’s staff with a wreath and crown with the words “In Arduis Fidelis” inked underneath, seemed to mock her. She turned her face away.

When she went before the Medical Board, Major Woolston had declared her unfit for duty thanks to her injuries and the results of her psych evaluation and gave her extended medical leave. He’d pulled her aside afterwards.

“Take some time to recover,” he’d said. “After that, well, even if you’re discharged, we could still use you and your skills, Tennison. The TA can always use instructors of your caliber.”

“As a civilian,” she’d said. Training weekend warriors.

Woolston had nodded. “Think about it. You have my number.”

That was when she knew this leave was just the precursor to a medical discharge. The Territorial Army wouldn’t be enough. Nothing would be enough. She wouldn’t even properly be part of the TA, either, just another civilian working for the Crown. Thirty-four years old and the one career she’d wanted more than anything was over.

But she was alive. Turner would still be alive too, if Gwen had been just a little faster, if the gunman had been just a little slower. Janet, whose kids would never see their mother again, who used to try to set Gwen up with her brother-in-law. Janet had been looking forward to going home. She’d had a reason to leave the service.

Damn it. Gwen pushed herself up off the bed with more force than strictly necessary and pulled the nearest pair of jeans and t-shirt on. Even though it was still dark outside, she couldn’t bear to lie there anymore. It would do her some good to go for a walk anyway.

And if she was really lucky, someone might try to mug her. Punching something sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. SAO
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 05:12:04

    In general, this is a good start to a story that looks like it could be interesting. However, I spent too much time being confused. I’ll detail what’s not working for me and let you figure out how to fix it:

    ““Stay with me . . .” Acrid smoke burns in her throat.” Who is talking and whose throat is burning? Are they the same person? If so, to whom is she talking? It’s pretty clear there are two people in this scene, but we don’t see one of them.

    “She puts . .. and the woman beneath her groans in pain.” Finally, I can parse para — unnamed protag is very upclose and personal with a woman. I hate it when I’m putting a puzzle together, rather than being drawn into the scene.

    “She’s screaming, and then she can’t breathe. Turner’s face, pale and still, is the last thing she sees.” Who’s screaming? I’m at the end of the page and I don’t know, if it was Gail or the woman. Who is Turner? Gwen, the woman or someone else? I don’t figure this out until the end of the page.

    “Swim up from blackness. “Sergeant? Stay with me. Come on. Look at me.” More distant, urgent, “Where’s the fucking evac?”” Gail seems to be a healthy medical worker working on a victim, so who is nearly fainting? Who’s asking for the medevac? I need to do more work to guess this.

    When Gwen wakes up, I’m still not entirely sure if she’s the patient or the medical person.

    “Sam had been there, trying to be reassuring.” Good, Gwen has Signifcant other, but maybe he’s struggling. Oops! A bit later I learn Sam is a sister. Next you mention London — the only place mentioned, so I focus on it, only to discover that London is exactly where she isn’t. I’m assuming Sam is in the US, but who knows. And if so, why does Brit Gwen have an American sister? It wouldn’t be an important point if I wasn’t constantly wondering about who, what and where for the rest of this.

    So, this wasn’t working for me, but this could be easily changed. Once you do change is so I know what is going on, the scene is mostly backstory and I wonder why a medical work in a war zone has nightmares about someone who died — one presumes she’s seen a lot of this in her career — but given that your MC looks interesting, I’d probably overlook these issues if I started with a scene that didn’t leave me constantly revising what I thought was going on.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 06:05:55

    I’m with SAO – I was confused, but I wanted to get past the confusion because I think what’s underneath all that might be pretty intriguing.

    If you can work on clarity with your pronouns in the flashback and then give us a BIT more information in the main part of the story, I think I’m in, at least for a few more pages.

  3. Willa
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 06:27:10

    That was great – really enjoyed your voice. Agree with Kate and SAO that it needs a bit more signposting about who is talking in the flashback section, and a bit more tightening of the main part.

    Good luck!

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 07:37:18

    This is not a first page, to me. It’s all backstory. Instead of starting here, telling the reader everything she needs to know, or everything she thinks she needs to know, start with action.
    Her first day on the job, when her shoulder is giving her trouble. The first time she meets Him. Anything. But one of the biggest cliches in writing is the one with someone waking from a bad dream. And yeah she’s had a bad time, she’s on a low, but so what?
    the problem all writers have and yes, that includes me, is that we’ve lived with our characters for a while, we care about them and we can’t understand why people don’t warm to them immediately.
    Technically the style is good, but it’s very much like books I’ve read a lot of recently, Harlequin Intrigues and Romantic Suspenses. So if that’s the line you’re aiming for, you’re on the right track.
    But make something happen. Get your heroine out there and doing for a first scene. Show her injury in action, so to speak.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 09:11:21

    This is confusing and this is not, IMO, where your story starts. It’s back story dumped out in a dream. While dreams can be powerful things, they’re also maddeningly confusing, to the person in them, and to the person reading about them.

    The writing is clunky in spots: you mention Sam, then need to tell us, later, Sam is the sister. But in the character’s POV, she’s not going to think “I’m in my sister Sam’s guest room.” You can finesse that information in with a little more subtly.

    You could finesse all of this in more subtly, IMO. I still have no idea where we are. I don’t know who many of the people you mentioned are, although if I think about it, I can assume they’re part of her squadron, or platoon, or whatever they’d have been a part of. As it is, I still don’t know who Turner is.

    I do like your character, for her spunky, against the norm thinking. I’d like to hear her say “I survived, you bastard.” or something like that. I want to hear her speak, get her out of her head and onto the page.

    Unless I had a blurb, I’m not sure I’d read on. I don’t know if this is a romance, thriller, military or something else. While I like books with intrigue and I don’t need (or want) to be told everything on the first page, I don’t like being confused at the end of it.

    You have those words as prime real estate, for readers, but first, for editors and agents. Get very clear on exactly what you want to show them and write that. Start with action, with her getting out of bed, or with her first day as…whatever she is after her discharge. I’m not clear there either, if she is discharged or still waiting. You’ve got her in limbo and I’m in limbo as well. Not where you want your reader to be.

    Thanks for sharing. I wish you luck with your endeavors. It’s a big first step to put your stuff in front of readers. I congratulate you on taking that step.

  6. theo
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 09:21:07

    I have to agree with the others here. There might be a story I would read at one sitting because I think the underlying story seems really interesting. But when I need a pencil and paper to make a road map of the first page, this doesn’t work for me.

    I understand that you think the dream might be a good intro. I’ve tried that as well. It usually doesn’t work for the reasons the others stated. Rather than a dream, put us in the moment with your character. I’m not a huge prologue fan but sometimes they really work and I think it would here. Put us right in the middle of the action with your Hn so we feel everything she does. The dream itself is really very flat because it’s beyond disjointed. We have no basis for it because we don’t know your character yet to care. You can make that dream a one page, happening right now prologue IF you ramp it up enough that we are standing there with her. Then open the book where she’s having the bandages removed or where she’s staying with her sister and her sister is examining the wound for her. I’m guessing the exit wound is on her back. Somewhere that will tie us in to what just happened in the prologue.

  7. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 09:55:49

    Maybe think of dreams this way: while they seem like action, they’re really not. Sort of like pseudo-action. Things are happening, but not directly to your character. Another form of shallow POV; things are happening _to_ her, but one step removed.

    Also, on a second read, I’m confused over where the exit wound is. Front or back? Left of collarbone puts it, in my mind, on the outer edge of her arm, which makes me think her entire shoulder would have been shattered. If it’s on the back, then it’s the scapula it would be left of. I can see a palm-sized scar on the back, but I’m having a hard time getting a palm-sized star-burst on the front of her body.

    Also, I’m not sure the pain from that severe an injury would ever really fade away. Unless you’re planning on playing up the psychic pain versus physical pain angle of her wound, I’d hedge my bets and alter that sentence.

  8. Willaful
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 12:44:12

    I enjoyed the gender reversal of a very typical scene here. :-) I guess I’m the sort of reader this appeals to, because I didn’t find it confusing or showing too much backstory. Not perhaps the freshest opening, but certainly interesting.

  9. Jamie Beck
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 13:48:37

    @Willaful: Like Willaful, I’m interested in this heroine. I don’t think I’ve read many romances featuring a military heroine. In fact, right now I can’t think of a single one. This concept makes me curious about who the hero will be, too. Will be super interesting if he is NOT an alpha-military guy.

    I’d read on further at least to get a hint of the hero/romance, but I also think the suggestions made by others will tighten up the writing. I’m often told opening with a dream is frowned upon, but I don’t mind reading them when they are done well. That said, I agree with Carol, this dream is back story (rather than, say, foreshadowing/protag fantasy) and may not be your best starting point.

    Good luck!

  10. Kendra Leigh Castle
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 16:07:43

    I normally lurk, but this opening really caught me. Well done! Your heroine is interesting from the get-go, and you’ve got a lovely, polished voice. I would absolutely read on. Best of luck with this!

  11. Joyce
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 16:08:31

    When does something happen? I’d like for something to happen.

    Also: What happened to the “you can comment anonymously” part?

  12. Anon
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 16:29:48

    @Joyce: You can reply anonymously by just putting Anon (or something else) in the name.

  13. Anon
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 16:36:08

    Well, scratch that, since it pulls up my Gravatar. But for you, I have no way to identify you, other than you posted your name.

  14. Jane
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 17:58:15

    You need to use a fake email address. Gravatars are attached to emails.

  15. Rachel
    Mar 03, 2014 @ 15:08:48

    I agree with the confusion – particularly in the dream – and with the a bit too much back story comments, but I really liked your voice and would be interested in reading more.

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