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First Page: Title Impaired / YA contemporary

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CHAPTER ONE

My parents first had me committed when I was six years old. They found me floating above the tiled bottom of the pool, with the pockets of my sundress filled with rocks. The second time, I was eleven. I jumped off the lower deck of the cruise ship we were holidaying on, in the middle of a wicked storm. Now I am seventeen, and have just been dropped off at the Royal Alexander Centre for Mental Health for the third time in my short life. The process has remained the same; Mom hugs me, all tear-stained and snotty, my brother stares at me, his eyes brimming with tears as he wrings his ball cap, and Dad stays in the car. My doctor, an attractive man in his mid forties, Rick, takes me to his office. An orderly is undoubtedly putting my bags in a room, after thoroughly searching them of course.

“Sit,” Rick orders as he points to a well-worn leather sofa. I obey, popping my sandal-clad feet on the coffee table and unwrap a candy from an old-fashion jar. I take a deep breath, enjoying the familiar scent of the old books he stocks his shelves with, but doesn’t read. “I saw you last month; you were fine. What happened?”

“I just needed to be in the water,” I murmur as I stare longingly at his aquarium. If I were a fish none of this would be an issue.

“I know you need to be in the water,” Rick says as he reaches for a sucker. “But you also need to breathe.”

“I don’t,” I protest, feeling a sense of familiarity as we slip into a conversation we’ve already had. “I was only down there for six minutes; I would’ve come up if I knew they were there.”

“You were in a public pool,” Rick replies, clearly exasperated. “The lifeguards found you, floating face down in the deep end. Mothers wailed, kids screamed, people thought you were dead.”

“I was just trying to catch my breath,” I protest as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.

“You fought against the lifeguards when they tried to pull you out. You kept diving back into the water and swimming to the bottom. It took three of them to restrain you until your parents got there.” Rick’s blue eyes drill into mine, wordlessly asking for an explanation I’ve already given a hundred times.

I sit in silence, remembering the bliss of being underwater. The call of the calm, blue, serene pool was too much to ignore. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be around water unsupervised, but I just couldn’t help it. I had meant to come up before the morning swim class got there, but I lost track of time. I maybe have overreacted with the lifeguards, they were just trying to help, but they took me out too soon. People don’t understand that I need to be in the water. Rick and my family have classified my need as a number of different things ranging from suicidal tendencies to schizophrenia. I’ve tried to tell them the truth, but it makes Mom cry more and Dad mad. My brother used to believe me, but not anymore; he’s all grown up now.

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

63 Comments

  1. Karen
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 04:53:15

    Holy shit! When is this book coming out and how soon can I read it?

  2. galwiththehoe
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 05:30:49

    I can’t really explain why but I really, really like that I am thrown into a familiar situation. The circumstances may be odd and foreign but I like that everyone, main character, family and doctor, is so very been-there-done-that-here-we-go-again. It pulls me right in.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck.

  3. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 05:43:34

    This was very readable and pulled me right in. The only comment I really had were the way Rick talked to the protagonist, and it felt like it was coming from a peer rather than a doctor. ‘I saw you last month, you were fine. What happened?’ doesn’t seem like something a medical person would say to a patient he knows has issues–unless there is something that hasn’t yet been revealed?

  4. Anne Gresley
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 05:50:14

    I don’t read YA, but I liked this. I don’t have anything helpful to say, except to point out a couple of tiny quibbles.

    First: “I maybe have overreacted with the lifeguards, they were just trying to help, but they took me out too soon.”

    It should read: “I might have overreacted with the lifeguards. They were just trying to help, but they took me out too soon.”

    I also thought that Rick’s “I saw you last week…” bit didn’t quite work because he’s telling her something she already knows. It would be better if he said “When I saw you last week you seemed fine” or something like that.

  5. Cara Ellison
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 06:39:59

    Excellent! The only quibble: calling the doctor by his first name strikes me as odd. Even if she knows him, Dr would be a better form of address even in her thoughts. Otherwise, this was very good.

  6. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:11:41

    I’m going to buck the positive trend a LITTLE bit…

    I LOVE the premise, and am absolutely intrigued, but I feel like this could even stronger if we were sucked into the action rather than starting with backstory and then a visit to a psychologist. I agree that talking to the doctor is a great way to get some exposition taken care of, but I want to hear about the protagonist’s attraction to the water as she’s in it, not afterwards. Does that make sense? I think this part is well-written enough to overcome the lack of immediacy, but for my taste, I’d love to see the same quality of writing in a more dramatically relevant scene.

    (And on a more prosaic note – she was in the pool for only six minutes, but that was enough time for the morning swim class to arrive? Sounds like she was cutting it pretty close, if within six minutes of her going underwater there were lifeguards, mothers, and kids all there to see her activity).

    (And one more prosaic note – I hope at some point you’re going to address the issue of people noticing that she’s not drowning… like, if she was six years old and had a pool in her backyard (b/c otherwise, how would she have made it to the pool on her own), she’s probably been spending a lot of time in it, supervised. I would think parents would notice if she routinely went underwater for long periods and emerged without incident…)

  7. Patricia
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:13:05

    I agree that the relationship with the psychiatrist seems unusually casual, especially calling him by his first name only. Perhaps there is a reason for that, but at this point it jarred me a bit. Other than that, I can’t think of a thing to change. I really want to read this. Please let us know if/when this gets published.

  8. SAO
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:21:31

    On the whole, I liked this a lot. You’ve got an interesting situation, but at core, it is the mermaid telling what happened earlier, not you, the author showing it. It’s a sequel, not the scene. The advantage of a scene is that you can show feelings while things are happening and characterization through reactions. I think you’d have a far more powerful start if she’s enjoying the serene water and gets yanked out by the lifeguards, cried on by Mom and marched to the facility by Dad.

    I also suspect it is the set up, not the beginning of the book’s conflict. If so, I recommend starting with the book’s conflict, which, I suspect, happens under water. If you know the beginning of Star Wars, Luke starts out with a simple quest to return R2D2 to ObiWan, who offers him a completely new world, which he rejects because of family obligations. You have the family obligations dragging the mermaid down with no quest, no goal, no motivation and, not much conflict.

    I don’t know the book’s plot, but if she was attracted to something/someone (ie the beginning of your plot) under the water (probably not in a pool, but the ocean) or met someone who she was intrigued by, then when she is yanked up by lifeguards, she has a reason to fight, we have a reason to root for her and have a tantalizing hint of the plot to come, keeping us turning pages.

    Your character is misunderstood, but seems resigned to it. Resigned generally signals passive, not fighting to free herself. She doesn’t show much emotion, but presumably she had a lot when fighting the lifeguards. Show it and why. Where did that anger go? Or where did it come from?

    For quibbles:
    Rick could stand more characterization. She obviously knows him, but you describe him as ‘an attractive man,’ which implies the mermaid finds him attractive. You’d do better with the Mermaid’s analysis, which is probably about Rick’s interactions with her and his role in her life, which I presume is gatekeeper to the asylum. If she’s known him since she was six and sees him when institutionalized, I’d bet she has a much stronger opinion and it was partly formed when she was locked up at age 6. You’ve made him bland and forgettable. If he’s not important, you could at least make him an individual.

    But again this points to what is missing from this page, what the mermaid thinks of her family and Rick’s assessment of her actions. Is she really resigned to being banned from water for life?

    I think you write well and you have an interesting start, but you could make it a lot stronger.

    As a side point, have you heard The Great Big Sea’s mermaid song? It’s really funny and makes a telling commentary about men.

  9. Marianne McA
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:52:07

    Really liked it. It was the first paragraph that sold me the book, so I’d be in the ‘don’t change a thing’ camp.
    I’d buy this on the strength of this page.

  10. Des Livres
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 08:28:39

    Dayamm! Everyone should have refused to critique that until the author put up the second page. When’s this book coming out? Where can I get it?

    Two points: I call my psychiatrist the equivalent of “Rick”. He’s a very senior psychotherapist, and he would probably ask his long term patient that exact same question, with very similar wording.

    There might be professional issues with eating while seeing a patient though.

  11. Lori
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:10:01

    This is well written, interesting and different. Nothing jarred, nothing was out of place. In one page you managed to give us a clear narrative voice, share back-story without info dumping, make us interested and want to read more.

    When I was a teenager I had a therapist I called Marty and we used to walk around the neighborhood and chat. So Rick seemed right to me.

    I got no criticism. I just wanted to keep reading. I’d wish you luck with this but if the rest is as well written as this page, instead I’ll just tell you that I’ll be buying the book when it releases.

  12. Ashlyn Macnamara
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:36:59

    The author of this page has broken some ‘rules’ by starting out with backstory and set-up. So did Suzanne Collins when she opened The Hunger Games with the heroine waking up. So does Sherry Thomas when she opens her books with omniscient POV backstory. Those authors still manage to engage me, and that’s what counts.

    So does this author. I want more. Great job. I could nitpick a thing or two, but I’ll leave that to your editor. Rock on.

  13. Avery
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:42:28

    I’d buy this in a heartbeat.

  14. Jacques
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:54:25

    I’m joining my voice to the positive crowd. I like it! You made us want to read more. That’s what a first page is supposed to do.

    This first page probably shows one of the few moments when the usual wisdom about showing/telling and active/passive may not apply quite so rigidly. In a 1st person narration, the narrator’s act of telling her story (especially when she’s not “normal”) is a mode of showing and an action. Not every story has to be about Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (oops, did I just date myself there?).

    That said, you only get a pass for about another page, or you’ll lose us. Start showing us what happens.

    Quibbles:

    A middle aged man “attractive” to a seventeen year old girl? Only if she’s really impaired and its going to be a major story point. Sorry, old dudes (that includes me), but this isn’t how seventeen year old girls think (father talking here). It sounds like an empty narrative gesture, like describing the drapes.

    Three lifeguards? This may be a UK/US thing, but over here the popular notion of lifeguards is big, muscle-bound guys (or hot girls). Maybe in the UK people imagine them as skinny kids. But if not, you’re setting us up to think the narrator has some special physical prowess you may not intend.

    “Now I am seventeen…” This caught my ear (maybe another US/UK thing), but it sounds a little formal for a teen narrator. You’ve handled this well elsewhere on the page. Contractions are one of those places that can go wrong (or right) in 1st person.

    Is it really YA? It may not have to be. A seventeen year old narrator can tell a more broadly aimed tale.

  15. Author on Vacation
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:57:18

    I think you’ve got a real winner, here as far as the story goes.

    I found the writing a bit awkward, though, and I think you could tighten up your craft quite a bit to take this from an interesting, unique story idea into a full-fleshed readable story.

    1) Lose the dialogue tags. They’re superfluous and are cluttering up your work.

    2) Split the first paragraph. “Now I am seventeen…” should be a new paragraph.

    3) Fine-tune your sentences so they flow better. This:

    I obey, popping my sandal-clad feet on the coffee table and unwrap a candy from an old-fashion jar.

    reads awkward, both in my head and when I read aloud. Try matching the elements of the sentence better:

    I obey, popping my sandal-clad feet on the coffee table and unwrapping a candy I plucked from an old-fashioned glass jar.

    Your prose is also too telly in places and distancing type language dilutes emotional content.

    “I don’t,” I protest, feeling a sense of familiarity as we slip into a conversation we’ve already had. “I was only down there for six minutes; I would’ve come up if I knew they were there.”

    This edit pushes the reader farther into the narrator’s experience:

    “I don’t.” We’ve already had this conversation, familiar as the candy’s toffee center melting on my tongue. Buttery, mellow, and oddly sweet despite the rough edges. “I was only down there for six minutes; I would’ve come up if I knew they were there.”

    I would keep reading this book “as is” but I would probably end up rating it a “C” for the clumsier writing. A good idea deserves the best writing.

  16. Abbie Rhoades
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 09:57:25

    I enjoyed this first page! Good job author.

    I wanted to offer my expertise on Rick since some people have mentioned the character’s interaction with him.

    I’m a mental health counselor and work in a psychiatrist’s office. Not everyone understands the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. Psychiatrists spend 10-15 minutes with patients and their sole job is prescribe medication–I’ve heard rumors of ones who spend an hour with people, but never have met one. Psychiatrists are medical doctors.

    Psychologists are Ph.D’s. They do mental health testing and also provide counseling services. Their sessions last 50 minutes to an hour.

    Counselors have a Master degree and have to be licensed by the state. Counselors spend 50 minutes to an hour with their patients.

    Rick as you’ve portrayed him is spot on for a counselor or a psychologist, but not a psychiatrist. With a psychiatrist the patient would call him doctor. There would be no eating, no putting the feet on the table. Seeing a psychiatrist is much more formal than seeing a psychologist or counselor and it’s all about the medication.

    I have candies in my office. My office is set up like a living room. And my teenage clients and I are very informal in our conversations. With teenagers you have to be on their level or they won’t open up.

    Happy writing.

  17. cbackson
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 10:24:35

    @Abbie Rhoades: I have to disagree. I’m not a mental health professional, but I am a veteran consumer of mental health services, and I saw more than one psychiatrist in the days of my youth. They did prescribe, but it wasn’t “all about the medication”; I saw both of them for talk therapy. One had an office that looked, as you describe, like a living room. The other (whom I adored) had an office that was more like a professor’s office. Neither was more formal than the various therapists and psychologists I saw at one point or another. Neither was referred to as “doctor.”

  18. Renda
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:10:04

    I liked it.
    I have heard my daughter and her friends refer to a guy as “hot, even though he is old” (by old, anything over 25, up to and including Harrison Ford).
    Rarely would I say trust your voice, but if you trusted your voice for this page you should be confident enough to continue the trust.
    I like the laidback attitude fo the protag. She knows that what she does freaks her family out, she doesn’t want to worry them, but yet it is what speaks to her and she is compelled to give in. I don’t think her attitude makes her weak. I think she probably has found ways to be in the water without her family knowing about it, except for the few slipups.
    I would buy it, and I don’t do mermaids, ever. This would be my first.

  19. Abbie Rhoades
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:16:51

    @cbackson: It’s funny. I hear rumors of those kinds of psychiatrists, but have never met one. None exist in my county or any of the surrounding counties in my state. And the psychiatrist I work for isn’t like that. But like I said–I hear they exist! Awesome that you had found some. Seems to me it’d be a more efficient experience–seeing one person versus having to see a psychiatrist for meds then a counselor for counseling.

  20. Sarina
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:22:10

    Quite interesting! Definitely pulled right in and like the way this is going. Love the detail of staring at the fish tank and “finding breath” underwater.

    However, DROP THE SPEECH TAGS. Believe me, we will know your character is protesting, we will pick up on her murmur.

  21. Karen McCullough
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:36:21

    I like this a lot. It sucked me right into the story. I only found one jarring note. In the first paragraph, I’d lose the phrase “in my short life.” It stopped me for a moment and seems like an author intrusion, since most teenagers I know lack the perspective to realize they’ve lived only a short time compared to their likely lifespan.

  22. Des Livres
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:39:31

    @Abbie Rhoades: In Australia most psychiatrists are about the drugs, with 15 minute or 1/2 hour consultations, but there are a subset who get additional training as psychotherapists and do either 40 or 70 minute consultations, which are covered by our public health system. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found an excellent one who agreed to treat me.

    We also have (of course) clinical psychologists and counsellors of different sorts who are less covered by our health system.

  23. Jcques
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 12:11:53

    Author on Vacation: good read, excellent critique. I missed what you caught–must have forgotten to put the tin foil back in my editing hat.

  24. Maggie
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 12:31:10

    Intriguing! I would snap this up, based upon that first page.

  25. cbackson
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 13:49:59

    @Abbie Rhoades: Yeah, I was really lucky to get great care. I had anorexia, and I would definitely not have made it through without some great doctors. I will say that making my insurance company understand that I needed hour-long talk therapy, not just a 15-minute medication check and a prescription, was QUITE the battle.

  26. Author On Vacation
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 14:11:56

    @Jcques:

    Thanks! I really think this is a fabulous opening page and I can see how any editor would be thrilled for a crack at this read.

  27. Anne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 14:44:22

    I’m entirely against the trend here. I disliked it so much that I was barely able to read this one page through.

    I hated the voice, it was artificially snarky (something which is currently fashionable but in essence is quite awful when you meet with it in reality), and completely beside the point and reality. I hated the content, both making light with teen suicides and sexing up in a particularly obnoxious way the contact with the psychologist. This whole thing was an extraordinarily vile read.

    I probably have to state that I lost two very good friends in secondary school. Both committed suicide, one with 14, the other with 15, with the latter being clinically depressed and the former weighed down by a family situation and sickness. So I really hated to see teen suicides exploited and ridiculed in this way.

  28. Wahoo Suze
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:21:30

    Great beginning! I’d buy it, and I hope that when you finish it, you let us know.

    Actually, have any of the first page features ever been published? That would be a very exciting followup kind of thing.

  29. Darlynne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:29:16

    @Anne and others: Whoa, did I miss something crucial here? Because suicide never entered my mind, not for a minute, not entirely. Mermaid, yes. Wanting to live in the water, yes. Not fitting in, yes. Where that might lead, no idea. Am I that obtuse?

  30. Wahoo Suze
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:36:32

    Darlynne, if you’re obtuse, I’m exactly the same shade of obtuse.

    sexing up in a particularly obnoxious way the contact with the psychologist

    Wha? Using the world “attractive” is sexing things up?

  31. Anne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:36:46

    @Darlynne: It doesn’t read like PNR to me. If it is then this page fails to make clear what it is about and is rather tasteless on top of that.

  32. Anne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:50:09

    @Wahoo Suze: Yes. The last thing I would expect of anyone against her will in a mental institution while being interviewed by her doctor is thinking about how attractive or not he is as if sizing him up. That’s not what I’d consider even vaguely normal behaviour.

  33. Author on Vacation
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 15:55:29

    @Jacques:

    A middle aged man “attractive” to a seventeen year old girl? Only if she’s really impaired and its going to be a major story point. Sorry, old dudes (that includes me), but this isn’t how seventeen year old girls think (father talking here). It sounds like an empty narrative gesture, like describing the drapes.

    OK, I confess I’m madly in crush with Kevin Costner sine my mid-teens and our age difference is sufficient for me to feel vaguely self-conscious about it. I actually think he got better-looking when he reached middle age. Better acting, too. His looks in his earlier pictures strike me as kind of bland.

    More and more, age really is just a number. There are some incredibly attractive people in middle years and senior year range. Teens aren’t immune.

  34. Avery
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:19:14

    @Abbie Rhoades:
    @Des Livres:

    As a teenager, I attended therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. I’m not sure how similar they are to a therapy session with a psychologist, as I’ve never met a psychologist. But: they usually lasted an hour, with only the last few minutes being devoted to talk of medication.
    They do exist! :)

    @Anne: whoa, whoa, whoa.

    I think you’re reading it a bit different. For example – when she says “I don’t need to breathe”, I didn’t take that as a snarky comeback about how she wants to kill herself. I took that as she literally believes she can survive underwater; and it seems she’s correct, given she hasn’t managed to kill herself yet.

    You’re right, it doesn’t say “paranormal”. But if it is, and this gets published, it’s gonna be in the paranormal section. It’s gonna make it clear on the back. The readers are going to have context we don’t.

  35. Anne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:27:20

    @Avery: I didn’t just mean her comeback to the doctor. I’m talking about the whole inner voice which I find rather distasteful, nasty with regard to her family and other people and artificial in tone.

  36. Avery
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:28:26

    I don’t think describing someone as “attractive” indicates the narrator is actually attracted to him. I find Katy Perry attractive; I’m not attracted to her, but I know in a kind of non-sexual sense that she is physically attractive.

    If the narrator was supposed to be attracted to Rick, I don’t think we’d get a single adjective – “attractive” – to indicate that. It’s a very vague and detached word that means she’s not really noting specific features or having an emotional reaction. I think if she were attracted to him, we’d get a description.

  37. Avery
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:29:44

    @Anne: I suppose voice is a very objective thing.

  38. Wahoo Suze
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:38:13

    Rick and my family have classified my need as a number of different things ranging from suicidal tendencies to schizophrenia. I’ve tried to tell them the truth, but it makes Mom cry more and Dad mad. My brother used to believe me, but not anymore; he’s all grown up now.

    I think this makes it very clear that it isn’t about suicide.

    Also, if you find the tone unbearably snarky, you must be new here, and you must be completely unfamiliar with YA and real-life teenagers.

  39. Anne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 16:47:27

    @Avery: Sorry, I’ve been in enough hospital situations in my youth and the very last thing I consciously would have thought about – or heard anyone else ever comment on at that age – is that some consultant is attractive. If you notice, especially at that age and with that age difference, you don’t do it idly. A doctor is not someone you normally think of in such terms, a psychiatrist or psychologist – that’s skeevy.

    @Wahoo Suze: I noticed (and stated) it has become a staple. That doesn’t mean it’s nice or acceptable. None of the teens I know and work with talk/behave like that. Thankfully. Most are far less acerbic and more polite than this.

    I don’t necessarily see this as proof, given that she might be schizophrenic there’s no way you can tell whether she is a reliable or an unreliable narrator. It doesn’t matter though, either way the use of teenage suicide in such a manner is quite distasteful.

    But I agree, it is an objective thing.

  40. Avery Shy
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 17:02:03

    @Anne: I find it hard to believe that some people DON’T idly notice physical appearance. Am I the only one?

    When I was a teenager, I remember thinking on several occasions “Wow, she’s pretty” in regards to my dentist. She was over twice my age, married with children, and we’re both women. It’s not necessarily a sexual attraction.

  41. Jane
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 17:49:49

    Count me as one of the many who loved this first page piece. It’s the first one in a long time that made me want to buy the book. I did think that it was a paranormal and not a suicide attempt.

  42. Shelly
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 18:23:07

    Okay, yes, I liked it just like everyone else, but I’m going to be the one dissenting voice in the crowd and its not a “I don’t like this one” as so much as a “Why?” Why did you chose the to tell the story from the first person point of view? I see first person ALOT in YA novels. Some do it well (it can not only lend a personal voice to the story but immediately give the reader a sense of place, time, tone, etc. — one of my fav examples, Beautiful Creatures), but other authors to me could have just as easily used third person to tell the story. It actually yanks me out of a novel when I’m supposed to be reading from a teenager’s point-of-view and language starts to sound like its not coming from a teenager (even a precocious one).

    Example: “I was just trying to catch my breath,” I protest as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.

    Protest? Hmm, would the speaker really use this word? This isn’t to nitpick but to really ask why did you chose this point of view and is this helping you to accomplish the goal of your story? And if you do decide to use this voice (which is cool), just stay within character throughout and chose your words carefully.

  43. Elyssa
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 19:52:49

    I really liked this first page. I hope that whenever it does sell that the author lets Jane know so those of us who liked it can go and buy it.

    The only things I would suggest to the author that the set-up is going really great and the little twists (like calling the psychiatrist by his first name, etc)….I would just keep those little surprises throughout the mss. And I wonder at the significance of the first scene–if the main character and Rick are going to be a constant thing, or if this meeting between the two is the only one that happens in the book. I think if it were the latter that I might consider axing this opening and get to the scene that is of utmost significance. But if Rick is a constant character in the book, I think you’re fine. My only concern is that reading pages and pages between the heroine and Rick could stale fast.

    Best of luck!

  44. LisaCharlotte
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 19:58:52

    I must admit that as I read the first couple of sentences I immediately thought suicide also. I eventually figured it out as I read further, but I’m afraid that first impression tainted the rest of it for me.

  45. Des Livres
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 21:56:18

    I was generally along for the ride in the story. At first I thought it was ongoing suicide attempts, but only as I read further it looked like something else might be going on.

    It would be great if there was a follow up thing – if DA first pages end up getting published, we could be notified. I thought one way to do it, and spare DA the work, was to give us the chance to sign on directly with the author for email updates. In the alternative, DA could do the update thing with the A BN etc links for us to buy it…(I suppose the author could contact DA again when the book is out ) have it’s own little page, like “need a rec” – called “first pages all grown up” or something with the original first page and then the Buy links.

    Another thing – with many of these first pages I would be quite interested in reading further into the manuscript and providing feedback – if authors wanted more critical readers an avenue to that might be useful. Maybe this sort of thing exists somewhere already?

    Hmmmm off to think of more work for Dear Author.

  46. Anonymous
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 23:03:11

    I wanted to share my thoughts about the suicide issue. While it quickly became clear to me that the character hadn’t been trying to commit suicide, her flippant attitude toward her hospitalizations bothered me more than a bit. I spent several involuntary days in a psych hospital a couple of years ago and it was by far the most depressing and BORING experience I have ever had in my life. It was no vacation. There was no candy. And that was the place you get to go if you have the good insurance.

    Your heroine seems to have no emotional reaction to the fact that her whole family thinks she’s tried to kill herself. She doesn’t have any concern or guilt over how her actions have affected others. She acts like being at the Royal Alexandre Centre is her chance to relax and catch up with her pal Rick. Sorry, but no matter how swanky the place is, it’s still a psych center which means it’s filled with depressed, mentally ill people, most of whom are there against their will. When you’re in such a place, the only thing you want to do is get the hell out. And the only way you can get out is if you convince your psychiatrist that you’re no longer a danger to yourself. There is nothing that the narrator says in this scene that would convince a psychiatrist that she is no longer a danger to herself. Sorry, but as someone who’s been in a similar situation (not the mermaid/naiad part, unfortunately), the narrator’s attitude toward the whole experience didn’t ring true for me. I hate to say that, since I so enjoyed the writing.

  47. Other Anne
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 02:48:47

    @Anne

    I get that, because you’ve had some personal experience with some of the issues raised, you’re offended, but your experience is not the only experience. Other people in the same situation behave and process things differently. Just as there is no one right way to grieve, there is no one right way to behave when you’ve been commited/are struggling with mental health issues.

    As for the teen voice, it reminded me of ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Some people hate the protagonist of that book (me included), but that didn’t do it any harm in the long run.

  48. sao
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 07:36:31

    Well, I’ve never had any experience with mental illness or being committed, but I did notice that:
    1) The mermaid doesn’t seem to care that she made a huge uproar and her mother and brother are in tears. They’re scenery on this page, not people she cares about and,

    2) I’ve never heard or imagined that a mental health facility would be anything but miserable and Rick’s the gatekeeper, so I’d be interested in getting him to get me out. Since the mermaid (now really, how hard would it have been to give her name? Rick could have used it in dialogue) didn’t think she was suicidal, and didn’t seem to be motivated to change her desire to be in water, so either she’d be there forever (and no matter how nice, she locked up away from family, friends, and water) or she lies, which she must know, since she’s been there before.

    These points, which I, like Anonymous, noticed, didn’t seem that important on page one. However, if I kept turning pages and Gertrude continued to be indifferent to the pain she’s causing her family and the mental health facility continued to feel more like a country club than a gilded prison (it can look like a country club), it would be a wallbanger.

    This is one reason why I think starting with her being in water would make a more powerful opening. If we saw why she was there, then it would be easy to root for her if that drive/motivation/goal were so strong that she temporarily forgot the consequences and she can feel remorse. As it is, she did something she knew would majorly upset her family and we don’t know why.

  49. JennaDanielle
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 10:14:29

    Good Morning!

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment on my work.

    I constantly struggle with dialogue tags, ask my CP, i’m a dialogue tag nightmare.

    Perhaps it’s my personality, but I’ve always been on a first name basis with any medical professional from therapist(who had a constant supply of gummy bears, then again I was five)-OBGYN (who does not have candy, unfortunately). I understand it’s a different situation for everyone, and will take the first name basis into account.

    When I picture this as a movie * every writer does that, right?* She’s narrating from underwater before getting pulled out. I will try to rework the first pages to start with some action :)

    Melia, my MC, suffers from deliberate self harm, she is not suicidal. The mermaid part is a delusion she uses to cope. Suicide is addressed toward the end but I assure you I do not make light of the situation at all. My most sincere apologies if I offended anyone.

    I have always been attracted to older men, then again that most like comes from my early aged therapy appointments, so it seemed normal to describe him as attractive.

    Wait….am I even supposed to be commenting on this?

    Thanks again everyone for your invaluable insight. I’m entered in a agent-judged contest on Wednesday and will furiously be “replacing any trace of a cursed dialogue tag,” she groaned loudly.

  50. reader
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 11:31:25

    @JennaDanielle:

    As an experiment, replace every dialogue tag with “said” and then read your dialogue to see if your character is conveying emotion simply through her words. If she is, your work will be a much more powerful read. If a certain scrap of dialogue is necessary but doesn’t lend itself to conveying emotion as clearly as you want, try to insert some physical action or internal thought to cue readers. I find that once you start doing this regularly, it becomes a pleasure and challenge to root out all those unnecessary tags and let the dialogue itself do all the conveying.

    It will amaze you, really, to read through your work and see how much stronger it is without the tags. It also vastly improves your ability to write dialogue, I’ve found.

  51. Loreen
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 12:47:07

    I love the voice as a paranormal but I am not sure it works if it is a straight up contemporary about a mentally ill teenager. I would be willing to give it a try, but the hurdle would be great. For one thing, have you tried to hold your breath under water? It is practically impossible to deliberately drown yourself in a pool if you know how to swim. Your instincts kick in and make you surface. (I know because i used to pretend to be a mermaid as a kid). I am not sure why the lifeguards would even notice a kid holding her breath underwater for a few minutes or why she couldn’t just explain that she was fine and practicing. For people to believe that she is suicidal, she needs to do something truly dangerous like jump off a boat and swim into the open ocean where she has a chance of drowning. Floating around in a swimming pool while pretending you are a mermaid is something “normal” kids do all the time without attracting attention.
    That being said, if you do make this a paranormal the reader will suspend disbelief a little more.
    I think you should consider writing a paranormal as everyone here seems to love the book as a mermaid story.

  52. Des Livres
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 12:59:49

    FWIW I assumed she was mentally ill – I didn’t even know there were books about mermaids.

    The detached way she was recounting the story made complete sense to me. It’s similar to how I recount Bad Things and how other people I know who have been mentally ill have recounted Bad Things to me.

  53. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 15:03:33

    Ooh. If it’s not supernatural, I think I have some additional hesitations…

    Like, she was underwater for six minutes? The world record for unaided breath-holding is apparently about nine minutes (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1736834,00.html) so I guess it’s not impossible that she could do this, but it seems unlikely that she would do it without serious effort, preparation, and risk. And surviving her other attempts seems less likely, as well.

    And if it’s not a supernatural, she really IS risking her life, which makes the tone a bit harder to accept.

    I feel like maybe we need to start seeing back-cover blurbs for these first pages, because I’m no longer sure where this story is going…

  54. Infiniteworlds
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 15:33:57

    I liked this when I thought it was about mermaids. I was sad when the author commented that it was not. :(
    My issue was that the whole dialog felt like ‘as you know, bob’ infodump. Not something they would really talk about, but simply a way to let the reader know what happened. There are better ways.

  55. Anonymous
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 17:55:07

    Yikes, the clarification from the author really changes my reaction to this piece. In light of the new info, the MC’s tone and flippancy do not work for me at all.

    Part of the issue at that this scene lacks emotion and conflict. As someone else mentioned, it has a really passive feel to it. Beyond the MC’s need to be in the water, there’s no hint of an internal struggle or deep emotion; that means there’s very little with which to build reader sympathy. Some readers may have difficulty accepting a character who is struggling with mental illness (in particular, suicidal behavior) so you should start building sympathy immediately. Good luck.

  56. Renda
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 18:46:15

    I, too, have a different feeling about the first page with the new knowledge. I wondered about the title. “Impaired” certainly made me think mental illness, but reading it I just immediately (incorrectly) jumped on the mermaid train.

    I would not get this. Not my cuppa tea. Don’t do dystopia, don’t do self-mutilation. I read for light enjoyment. The end of the world as we know it and hurting yourself just don’t do it for me.

  57. JennaDanielle
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 19:01:00

    @Renda – I think she named it Title Impaired because I didn’t include the title :) It’s actually called Washed Up.

    It’s actually more of a contemporary romance to be honest, I think the first page makes it out to seem a little darker than it actually is. The mini synopsis is below if anyones interested.

    This is great feedback though, I’m recommending this to all of my writer friends.

    Seventeen-year-old Melia Dawson has been in and out of the Royal Alexander Center for Mental Health since she was six years old. Convinced she can breathe underwater, Melia has spent the majority of her young life waiting to complete her transformation into a mermaid. What her parents think are multiple suicide attempts, are actually Melia’s way of trying to begin her life, not end it. When a stunt at the local pool lands her back in the Center, she meets fellow patient Kass Mercer. To Melia, It seems like the stars have finally aligned; not only does Kass believe that she can breathe underwater, Kass thinks he can fly. Somewhere between broken curfews and lame horror movies, Kass and Melia fall in love. Together they explore the boundaries of their supernatural abilities through skydiving lessons and late night swims, all while appeasing their therapist, Rick.

    When a fellow patient dies unexpectedly, Melia begins to question whether she and Kass are special, or just sick. Meanwhile, in hopes of curing Melia of her delusions, Rick sends her on a surprise trip to the ocean, where she can finally complete her transformation. When the experiment doesn’t go as planned, Melia sinks into depression, dragging Kass down with her. Together they teeter between reality and delusion as they struggle to accept themselves for who they truly are, before one of them pushes their limits too far.

  58. Ridley
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 20:20:49

    Well, I have no writing advice, but my reader feedback is that knowing it’s *not* a paranormal makes me much more interested in the story.

    Good luck.

  59. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 11:08:36

    This is really interesting to me, because when I first read it I assumed it was not a paranormal, and I was hooked. Then I read the other comments and realised it must be a mermaid thing, which was a lot less interesting to me–but I tend not to like paranormals. So I’m glad the author clarified this, because I’d much rather read about a teen struggling with mental illness than her secret life as a mermaid. But that’s just me :) It’s also fascinating to see how people’s reactions change based on the genre. There’s a blog post in that, I’m sure!

  60. Susanna Kearsley
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 13:57:40

    @JennaDanielle:

    Jenna, this is good.

    I mean, this is Really Good. Your voice is very, very strong.

    You want to know what I would do, if I were you? I’d change: “I murmur as I stare longingly at his aquarium.” to “I stare longingly at his aquarium.” I’d change: “I protest as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.” to “I explain as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.”

    And I’d leave all the rest exactly as it is. And find an agent.

    Soliciting advice from a pile of people can be useful, sometimes, but sometimes (and especially when you haven’t yet been published) you end up trying to change what you’ve written to suit everyone, and what happens is you lose that Voice that made your writing special in the first place. I’d hate to see that happen, in your case.

    I don’t for a minute doubt that this will find a publisher, if you have the patience to keep on submitting it until you find the right agent or editor on the right day, at the right moment. This is Good. And I wish you the best with it.

  61. Nephele Tempest
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 14:57:59

    @JennaDanielle

    I’d be interested in taking a look at this. If you’re interested, please drop me an email and let me know where you stand in the submissions process (if the manuscript is complete, etc.) Thanks!

    Nephele Tempest
    The Knight Agency

    [email removed - contact made]

  62. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 16:16:30

    Either way (mermaid or mental illness) I’d read it. I agree with keeping your voice, even as you fix dialogue tags, etc. It’s a great first page, so I hope you don’t change it too much.
    Much success to you.

  63. Kaetrin
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 21:13:15

    I’d be interested in reading this one too. I’m late to the party but I hope we find out when it gets published. :)

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