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First Page: THE STONE KILLER – Paranormal romantic suspense

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Note from Jane: This is a violent scene. Possibly triggering.



He breathed in great ragged gulps of air as the sweat rolled down his face and back, soiling the white T-shirt and waistband of his jeans. They had been fresh and clean just ten minutes before. Ten minutes! He marveled at how little time it had taken to end the woman’s life. The planning and anticipation over the past two weeks had kept him riding a high almost as intoxicating as drugs or booze, but better.

After stripping her down to her gaudy underwear, he had securely tied the bitch spread eagle with ropes run through strong steel pitons. A heavy leather strap held her head in place so she couldn’t move. She wouldn’t have been able to move much anyway, the drugs would have made sure of that.

He could tell by her eyes that she was awake, fully aware of what was going on and would feel everything. The blows he would deliver with his own two hands. The stones were round just like a baseball, but heavier and rougher. It was not the weight, but the speed that did the job. And he could throw a baseball at 85 miles an hour. His baseball days had been an unfulfilled dream, but even after all these years, he still had the touch.

He threw the first stone. When it struck the targeted knee, shock widened her eyes, and a quiver ran up and down his body. With the next blow to the other knee the excruciating pain rolled her eyes up into her head. His insides grew hot with excitement and sweat formed on his upper lip. He savored her attempt to scream when he shattered first the right and then the left elbow. The destruction of the left shoulder closed her eyes, indicating she had passed out. He threw a bucked of water in her face. Her eyes flew open and her features contorted in agony. His blood lust intensified. The destruction of her right shoulder expanded the terror and filled her mind to bursting with the knowledge of her impending death. His heated excitement continued to grow as he delivered the coup de grace, the final blow to the head that smashed her brain to gray mush.

At that pivotal moment when the stone struck the right side of her face and the spark of life left her eyes, it filled him with an overwhelming wave of heat that dropped him to his knees. He delighted in the waves of ecstasy washing over him again and again until it faded. But the exhilaration was too short lived. Now, she hung lifeless on the close fitting wooden beams that formed a large X. The structure was attached to the end of the basement wall for just this purpose.
He stood and turned to stare into the deep shadows at the opposite end of the room, feeling the anticipation beginning to rise again. It surprised him that it was starting so soon, but he welcomed it, knowing he had to control that feeling. Acting too quickly would spoil all his plans. He had to let this need simmer and come to a boil, releasing it only when it was time.

It didn’t matter that it was a woman, but the act itself that sent his heart pounding and the blood roaring through his veins. He had never felt so alive. The exhilaration made him feel empowered as God over life and death. Even now, the shadows hid the form of his next subject, all bound, gagged and immobilized. He would force himself to wait another day. The anticipation would heighten his senses and appreciation. So, reluctantly, he turned back to the lifeless body held upright by the ropes. Now, all he had to do was hose the bitch down and get rid of her.

He was thankful he had purchased this house, one of several old two-story homes on Wood Avenue, with a private driveway. Its basement was a long windowless room running the width and half the depth of the house. The only lights were an overhead bulb and the two spotlights he had clipped to the ceiling beams closest to the woman. The overhead light was off keeping him hidden in the shadows and the woman blinded by the spotlights. He didn’t care if she had been able to see him or recognize his face; her fate had been sealed for some time. The end with the cross beams had concrete walls and a floor that sloped a little to a drain set down in the cement just past the midway point. The other end of the room’s floor was still packed dirt where coal had been stored for the furnace. The chute opening had been walled up long ago, but the dirt floor remained. It had been a great convenience.

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. Dallas
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 07:28:14

    Ew. I see this is labeled as paranormal romantic suspense, but I see nothing paranormal or (most importantly) romantic here, nor any foreshadowing of either. This looks like one of those gruesome crime novels that are so popular but that I eschew because I hate that type of stuff. (Which reminds me, I miss the old Tami Hoag, the one who wrote delicious romances before becoming a crime novelist.)

    I’m going to assume that the author really wants feedback and isn’t just having us on. In that case, I would not make this the first page. Or I suppose you could add in some paranormal elements to try to draw readers who like the paranormal. Other than that, as the saying goes, “I got nothin’.”

  2. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 08:09:26

    I’ll read pretty much anything…except this. If I picked this up, read this first page…I got as far as the fourth graph…I’d drop it. Literally. Not even bother putting it back on the shelf. A killer and the (apparently excruciatingly detailed) description of the murder of his unnamed victim are neither paranormal nor romantic.

  3. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 08:12:24

    Not for me.

    There are some little grammar issues that should be tidied up, but I don’t want to read it again to find them.

    There are scenes that are hard to read but that are important and create a strong emotional response in the reader. Then there are scenes that are just unpleasant. This was one of the second, for me.

    I wouldn’t read on.

  4. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 08:12:26

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this, especially since there’s no romance or paranormal element to the first page.

    As someone who reads just about everything, and even researches real crime, I found your hero . . . well, this is textbook author dumping backstory instead of being in the moment with your “killer”.

    Too much of the author working the craft is intruding here, so I had a hard time even being shocked by his actions.

    You ended up telling and not showing, so while I’d be intrigued to wonder how you turn this into a romance. In it’s present form I wouldn’t read any further unless changes were made, but not for the reasons you might think. Imho, you’ve got to either make him as stone cold as your title suggests, or you push yourself to be more inventive with sentences and your character’s voice. As it stands, he’s not interesting even though he’s doing something despicable.

    Think Breaking Bad or Dexter. Or even Hannibal Lector. If you’re gonna stay in his head, then he needs to have some sort of personality, which he doesn’t have right now. Especially if you plan on putting him front and center, he needs something to draw the reader in. Right now I’m afraid for those who read crime novels this isn’t enough, and for those who read romance, he’ll turn them off. Sow here does that leave your book? I hope this makes sense. Right now you’re somewhere in the middle, so you’ve got a decision to make.

    Sentences started getting clunky by the end, with a lot of “he” thrown in, and the last paragraph where you explain the house could be cut imho.

    I wish you all the best with this, and if you can, could you post a short blurb on what this is about? Who’s the hero and heroine, and is the killer merely an intro, where the main characters appear in the next chapters? Or does your heroine inadvertently get involved with the killer?

    Thanks in advance.

  5. anonymous
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 08:56:29

    Sorry, I would never buy this book, The delight of a torturer as he kills a woman is pretty much the LAST thing I would spend my money on.

  6. Jamie Beck
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 09:13:22

    I agree with others who’ve noted this doesn’t offer or foreshadow anything paranormal or romantic, so this forum is probably not the best place to get feedback. It is a gruesome scene, which may play well for people who are expecting a story about a serial killer…but not so well on a site dedicated to romance and happy endings.

    Wikkidsexycool gave you some good advice (show more than tell us what he’s thinking and feeling, and give him at least one unique personality quirk soon). Sentences beginning with things like “He marveled” “He savored” “His heated excitement” and “He delighted” are telling us how he feels. Get creative and show us those things instead…if he’s marveling and savoring, is he staring wide-eyed and touching her…is he tossing the stone back and forth in his hands, taunting her? Is he licking his lips?

    I don’t really read this kind of story, but I think there is some promise here. For the most part it is smooth. Eliminate the back story elements and dig a little deeper inside his head to round him out a bit. Good luck!

  7. anonymous
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 09:25:14

    the first page should never be a lie, and this first page screams thriller/crime fiction and absolutely not paranormal romance. if this is paranormal romance, then the first page needs to solidly reflect that.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 09:26:45

    Definitely not romance, or the start of romantic suspense. It’s horrid. What’s more, it’s not particularly well written. If I watched an episode of “Criminal Minds” and wrote down what I was seeing on the screen, it would come out as this.
    There’s no insight. Too much telling. To really pull a scene like this off you have to delve right into the perpetrator’s head. There’s no self-justification, no indication of the kind of twisted thinking that leads to behavior like this. If it turns him on, so what? A lot of killers get a sexual hit out of killing (not all!) But there has to be more than that to explain why he does this and why this way. Since stoning is involved, I’d have thought there might be a religious element, for example. No, nothing.
    Having said that, if I’d read this as part of a thriller, I might have read on. As part of a romantic suspense novel, no way.
    There are quite a few errors, like “Bucked” instead of “bucket.”

  9. Shaya Gilford
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 10:24:07

    I see two overarching problems that need to be addressed. The first is the rule of “know your audience.” You are categorizing this book as paranormal romance. As you can see from the previous comments, romance readers are not going to read past the first couple of paragraphs here. You have dumped a backstory so opposite to your audience’s expectations for romance that the reader is immediately turned off. This scene could be played out in small doses interspersed with the main romantic story.

    The second problem has been pointed out already. By telling and not showing, you have managed to create a flat, bland seriel killer. Make your sentences more active and more fitting to the chaotic thought processes of a killer. For example: ” Ten minutes! He marveled at…” could become “Ten minutes! So little time to end a life.” Play around with sentence structure and carefully choosing active words. You could cull a good bit of the words from this scene and still come out with a more powerful passage and believable killer.

  10. Lindsay
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 10:39:38

    I would have stopped reading at the second paragraph if this was in a store or online. Even in the first paragraph I probably would have stopped because there’s no need to do a flashback to ten minutes ago when your book could start there, and flashbacks pull the tension from the moment because it’s clear that whatever happens, the person doing the flashing back comes through in one piece. This is the equivalent of “she woke up and lay in bed, thinking about stuff”.

    At one point it’s mentioned that it wouldn’t matter if it had been a man or a woman victim, but throughout the first page there is a lot of very clear misogyny and in the first page I can’t trust that is the character’s take or the author’s. If that’s the tone that’s going to be set, it’s one that usually carries through the rest of the book and I’ve no interest in spending money on it.

    The disconnect here is that this is listed as PNR/RS, which has a pretty strong expectation of introducing the protagonists quickly, as the book is going to be centered around their lives and the reader’s connection with them. This does not introduce either of them (I hope!) and while they may be involved in chasing this killer down, I’ve already distanced myself from the book because it’s basically a torture porn scene. You’ve lost me. I’ve read PNR/RS that contain things from the killer’s perspective (although I tend to skip those chapters, honestly, as they rarely add something to the book) and they’re introduced later on because you want your audience to already care about what’s happening.

    I think Kate Sherwood really nailed it regarding unpleasant scenes.

  11. Mich
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 18:56:55

    Hi author,

    Kudos for having the stones to put your work up for review!

    The opening definitely doesn’t read paranormal romance. Ideally, in a romance, your opening introduces the hero/heroine and gives the reader a grounding of who/where they are at the beginning of their character/story arc. This opening suggests a psychological crime thriller, which often begins by introducing what sort of depraved psycho the hero/heroine will have to face.

    If the rest of the book strongly features the romance, you should start there and get to the nasty bits (or not) once your couple has been established. Then, considering the major divide between the genres, you might want to keep more of the nasty off the page and leave only the basics. The main romance audience generally expects works within the genre (even with crime/mystery elements) to not spotlight terror and gore, so the odds of squicking folks out are pretty high (as the sampling of opinions here would support). If your book gives anything close to equal time to the grisly stuff and the psycho’s head, you might want to consider beefing up the tension (maybe adding a ticking clock element, if you don’t already have one) and classifying as UF thriller with romantic elements. You’ll stand a much lower chance of disappointing readers. Plus, you’ll be more apt to catch crossover readers like me who can dig some squishy love hidden like a treat inside darker stories.

    As an avid reader of thrillers and noir pulp, fair or not, I’d take the distant nature of the text, especially the flashback of ten minutes, as the author’s unwillingness to ride along in the killer’s head during the main event. I’d drop that book and find one that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty. Jamie Beck’s comment nailed the bits that pull the reader too far out of the killer’s real mindset and remove us from the action. His sections should feel like a black funk squirming over the page, and this is too sterile to give a thriller reader the creeps they want. It’s disturbing as hell to even graze that level of depravity but, to pull off a good thriller, you have to wallow in it. The killer, like any other character, thinks he’s the hero of his story. So, when you write him, you have to as well. At a certain level, you have to love your killer and empathize with him and his feelings, f’ed up as they may be. You have to cheer his ingenuity in constructing his crimes and avoiding exposure. Because that’s what needs to come across in your writing. This dude LOVES what he does and revels in the power he feels in the atrocities against his victims. It’s not an easy thing to spend large chunks of time focusing on enough to create a character who lives and breathes on the page. Sadly, though, if you don’t go to very dark places in your mind to craft him, he’ll be little more than a paper tiger instead of the terrifying threat he should represent to your protag(s). For a good example, you might want to pick up some of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill books.

    My best advice, for what it’s worth, is to go all the way or don’t go there at all. If lovingly describing a kill isn’t your cuppa, beef up the chase and don’t breach the killer’s mind. Plenty of writers go that route, with stories that focus more on the killer as a cypher to be solved and the impact of the case on the hero(ine), and their stories don’t suffer a bit.

    Whichever route you choose, good luck with it! This community was a HUGE help in deciding to trunk my last book for future overhaul and structuring my WiP to appeal to the right audience for my writing style. Respecting reader expectations within genre is critical to the success of a book, so hopefully the critiques have helped you decide which direction to take in revisions.

    Thanks again for sharing your work!

  12. Holly Wood
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 10:50:23

    Whoa, whoa, whoa… This is paranormal romance? Damn, I’m scared. I don’t think I’ll be able to recover. I really really hope that girl doesn’t end up falling in love with HIM and making him whole again.

    I think, as an average American reader, I think you did a good job with the thriller aspect but this is not my cup of tea. Way too graphic and disturbing

  13. cleo
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 11:28:56

    I’m afraid I’m not your audience – I actively avoid stories with serial killers. I didn’t make it past the first paragraph.

    I do have a few thoughts about genre norms to add to the other comments. I know I’ve read RS and PNR that start with a prologue from the antagonist’s pov, and then the first chapter introduces the protagonists. If the killer in your story isn’t the hero, making that clear in the blurb and chapter headings could solve some of the reader expectation problems mentioned above. If the hero is the killer, I don’t have any good advice except to agree with wikkedsexycool that he should be more interesting.

  14. Dreamah H. Lockwood
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 13:09:50

    First off, I would like to thank everyone for their constructive criticism. You are correct when you state this is not a paranormal romantic suspense. I intended it to be, but the characters had a different idea. It has become a crime novel with a paranormal twist. Maybe I write murder and mayhem better than romance. If that is the case, that’s fine with me. Anyway, sorry some of you found the first part gruesome, but life can be gruesome. After working an emergency room for a number of years, you probably can’t imagine the things people do to each other. Unfortunately, it is the real world. If crime pays better than romance, then I guess that is what I will write. Again, thank you for your critiques.

  15. Dreamah H. Lockwood
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 14:32:10

    @Holly Wood: I loved your review.

  16. RowW
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 15:46:32


    I concur w/ Mich. This has potential … but not as the 1st page of a paranormal *romance*. Good premise of a villain(ious) guy who clearly relishes what he is doing; although many readers, myself included, did not.


    ps – sweat doesn’t soil a shirt … it dampens. just a nitpick that I **had** to point out. It bugged me. A lot.

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