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First Page: Trace of the Past – Paranormal with romantic elements

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The aura surrounding the woman wavered between black and blacker. Not a good sign.
Naturally, I wouldn’t tell her that. At Shed Some Light, the premier metaphysical bookstore in Revere, Massachusetts, we prided ourselves on giving our clients hope and good news. Telling Mrs. Friedenhopfer she might be dead within a month probably wouldn’t fit that mission statement.
However, the future is easily changed. Mrs. Friedenhopfer probably didn’t know she had a—I squinted through the black to take a good look at her entire energy field—tumor on her left ovary. Not surprising she wouldn’t have suspected it. She was well past the age of ovulation, and probably figured any pain she had in her side came from just plain old age.
To protect the reputation of Shed Some Light, I couldn’t tell her about her impending demise. I could, however, do something to try to prevent her from dying.
“The pain you’re in requires a doctor’s attention,” I said.
Her eyes widened. “You know I’m in pain? You do have skills, Chandra. I haven’t even told my children.” She put both hands on her left side, just above her hip. “Right here, sometimes it hurts so bad I can’t even stand up. Can’t even breathe.” Her voice dropped to just above a whisper. “I thought it was, you know, movement problems.”
I managed not to chuckle at the woman’s inability to discuss her bathroom habits without being embarrassed. She came from a different time, one where real ladies didn’t talk about bodily functions. Which might put a crimp in a doctor’s attempt to find out what was wrong with her.
“It isn’t,” I said, keeping my tone low and soothing, the way I always spoke to my clients when I did readings or healings. Mrs. Friedenhopfer had asked for a reading. The hands-on aspect of the energy healing form I practiced turned off a lot of the elderly people who came to the shop. Some of the younger ones, too. Not that a healing session involved any weird touching, just my hands resting on the body on or as close as comfortable to each of the seven major energy centers in turn.
Some people just hated to be touched. At all. Ever.
So I was doing a reading for Mrs. Friedenhopfer. Probably a good thing, since even my skills as an energy healer weren’t up to dealing with cancer.
“Then what’s wrong with me?” she asked.
Now I put on my act. “What I see is somewhat clouded.” Not exactly a lie, since the black aura obscured anything else in her energy field. “However, it appears that it may be a serious medical problem. Mrs. Friedenhopfer, it’s imperative that you see your doctor as soon as possible and allow him or her to do a complete examination. Even the parts of your body that you aren’t comfortable letting a doctor see.”
“I haven’t had a… you know, one of those exams in years,” she said, horrified. “Not since shortly after my last child was born. I’m eighty years old, dear.”
“I know.” I did. I’d seen her driver’s license when she wrote out the check for her session. We required payment in advance, since a few too many people had tried to stiff practitioners.
Her face reddened. “We don’t… I don’t think I need that kind of exam. I know they say women’s health is important at all ages, but honestly, at seventy I should have my hoo-hah looked at?”

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
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 05:55:31

    This was hard to read with the lack of formatting. If you just posted it, I recommend editing on-line to get the formatting right. Even posting for amateurs to look at one page, you want to look professional.

    This page does a good job of showing what Chandra does. However, if you’re looking to improve it, I’d suggest:

    1) Showing more of the immediate scene. I assumed Chan was behind the counter, but a reading implies they were sitting somewhere comfortable and private. For the touching, is Mrs. F standing, sitting, lying down? Is she fully clothed?

    2) Given that Revere isn’t Salem and not exactly a big or rich city, being the premier metaphysical bookstore isn’t very impressive. Besides, most of your audience is not going to know Revere. This is why showing is so important. Carved walnut bookcases with glass fronts, velvet upholstered wing chairs, etc.

    3) I find it hard to believe a woman who can’t talk to her doctor about her private parts or toilet habits will openly mention her “hoo-ha” to someone in a bookstore. Nor is it easy to believe she’d call it a “hoo-ha.” Private parts, lady bits, down there all seem more in keeping with someone who’s too much of a lady to mention them.

    4) Chandra accepts the rules of the bookstore without questioning them. She slightly breaks them, but where there could be more conflict (losing her job, versus Mrs. F’s life) you slide over it.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 06:19:27

    Posting went wonky – apologies if this is the second version of this to appear:

    She’s seventy, or eighty?

    I wasn’t really hooked, but I think I’d probably read on for another few pages. The writing seems smooth, although I’d nitpick whether “aura surrounding the woman” isn’t a bit redundant – what else would an aura do than surround someone? And may be not “Naturally” relating to not telling the woman. To me, the most natural thing possible would be to tell her, so maybe you could change it to “Unfortunately” or something.

    Although, even with the switch, I’m not crazy about the idea of the store policy being so important that the narrator won’t do the most direct thing to save the woman’s life. I’d at least want to see the narrator really struggle with this and say why she needs her job so bad – if she can diagnose people as easily as she seems to have been able to here, I’d assume her skills are in high demand, so why does she have to appease her bosses at the potential cost of someone’s life?

    (Possible work around – maybe it’s not the bosses’ policy, maybe she’s found in the past that telling people too much too fast just makes them shut down and not believe her? So the soft sell (assuming it’s important that she do the soft sell) is actually more effective?)

    So, like I said, nothing really hooked me. The narrator seems pretty emotionless, having to choke back laughter a moment after she’s realized the old woman is seriously ill. If she gets a bit more interesting and if she’s given something she cares about pretty quickly, I’d keep reading.

  3. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 07:48:17

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I’d read on, but imho you’re repeating what readers will view in the first few paragraphs later on. So its like you’re both telling and showing the entire scene by having Chandra “tell” the reader beforehand when showing will do just fine. Perhaps merging the two together might cut down on the repetition.

    For example, Mrs. Friedenhopfer’s elderly state is either mentioned or mulled over several times in the piece, and finally at the bottom her age is mentioned twice. Unless this is a character who’ll play a major role in the book, all the details about her seem unneeded.

    I agree with Kate Sherwood that a description of the store would be welcome. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but Mrs. Friedenhopfer’s ailment is taking up so much of your first page that your lead comes off as very clinical in viewing and diagnosing her.

    The “hoo-hah” dialogue/internal I’d give over to Chandra, to give her a bit more personality. I dunno. Maybe something else needs to float or step forward from this woman’s aura, otherwise its just a scene about the mundane aspects of Chandra’s job. And that’s not to say detecting cancer is mundane. On the contrary, Chandra will be saving this woman’s life, and that’s a good thing. It’s just that she’s so ho-hum about it that as a reader, so was I.

    I suspect as this keeps going its even meatier, so I’d keep reading because you’re very good. And while no action has to take place on the first page, it would be nice to know something else is bubbling in such a magical store. I’d think items around the place would either be talking to Chandra or flying off the shelves, and she’d have to excuse herself to get them to settle down. I guess what I’m saying is that somehow the store needs to be more a part of the story. But judging by the title “Trace of the Past” Mrs Friedenhopfer may be some sort of link for Chandra to the past.

    If they do some sort of body switching thingy and Chandra ends up going into the past, I hope she gets to keep most of her powers. I wish you all the best with this, and thanks for sharing.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 07:50:23

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing,

    I don’t buy this at all. She’s a professional energy worker/healer? Yet she’s chuckling over her client in apparent disrespect? She puts on an act? Is she a real healer, working with chakras and what seems like Reiki, or is she a charlatan and a cheat? She certainly does not come across as a professional.

    You’ve lost me as a reader completely with your depiction of your “healer”. Having worked with Reiki in a setting much like you describe, I’m pretty appalled at the depiction. And no one I’ve ever worked with. either as a reader or as a client, has ever asked for payment in advance. Ever.

    I’ve climbed off my metaphysical soapbox for now. The writing is okay. It’s clunky in some sections, a little “oh, by the way” telling in others. We don’t know what “naturally” is for this place. But “naturally” for someone doing this kind of work would be to try to tell the person she’s got something going on. Even if she’s squinting through the black–which could be so much more evocative; auras aren’t quite like mood rings. They’re much more nuanced. You could have used that to your advantage there.

    I get she’s probably not supposed to give a medical diagnosis (which WOULD be irresponsible and probably illegal), which a tumor on the ovary would be, but she has a responsibility to tell the lady something is going on. The whole “protect the reputation” of the shop is suspect.

    I have no sense of where these women are, if the client is on a table, in a chair. I get images of them sitting around a table, but when you describe the touch aspect, and the specific area, she’d almost need to be lying down. Show us that, give us details.

    You also lost a major point of conflict for your MC, if she’s not supposed to tell clients the truth but chooses to do so. How does that make Chandra feel? Anxious, scared, defiant? Like she’s fighting the good fight by helping her client? Or guilty because she’s defying her boss?

    Telling a story is so much more than transcribing events. You need the emotion behind character decisions, what drives them to make those decisions and how they feel about the consequences, real or implied. I have no idea how Chandra feels, other than apparently finding humor in her client’s discomfort. (You really did lose me completely with that chuckle of hers, and as you can see, I’m pretty much put off by the rest of the page.)

    And is your client 70 or 80? In either case, I’m also not entirely buying your client. She’s my mom’s age, and my mom is “from a time” when women learned the importance of “those kind of exams” and she has a yearly physical. I’m also not buying the hoo-hah reference from your elderly character. And your “real ladies” line is a bit condescending.

    I wouldn’t read on, obviously because I’m not liking your MC and her attitude. But second to that–and probably what other readers might pick up on, or agents or publishers–is the lack of any deep POV from Chandra. The page lacks emotional depth. Mrs. F. has some; she’s horrified, she’s embarrassed, she’s impressed. (although the “You do have skills” line is a bit much. “Oh, you’re good” or “Oh, you can see that?” ring a little more true. The line as it reads sounds like teacher/student, rather than professional/client).

    I’d also not read on because I don’t know what your MC wants. Characters need to want something, to have a goal, even something simple. What does Chandra want? Simply to give a reading? If so, she’s done that. Granted it’s only a first page, but I still want to have a reason to turn the page. A goal for the MC would give me that incentive.

    This all sounds a bit harsh, but you really did hit a nerve with your depiction of Chandra and her abilities. Readers will drop your book over almost anything that reads as false. And if they continue, they will suspect everything after that. I once threw a book written by a famous author (Dean Koontz, I think) against the wall because he depicted my home state of Wisconsin totally inaccurately. The story might have been excellent, but I couldn’t get past what I knew to be wrong about where I grew up. And it wasn’t just him taking artistic license; it was just plain wrong.

  5. cleo
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 08:13:04

    I was also put off by this, although I’m not exactly sure why.

    Part of it is that I can’t really tell what’s going on physically – is the client sitting or lying down? Are they in an office? Out in the open in the book store? Out in the open in a bookstore seems like an odd place to do an energy reading, and even odder place to do energy healing, but that’s just me.

    But the thing that jarred me the most was this line – “However, the future is easily changed.” It is? I can’t tell if this is a throw away line I’m supposed to just agree with or if it’s important forshadowing. Either way it confused me. Especially because what follows (telling her client to see a doctor) doesn’t seem like it’s going to dramatically change the future. Maybe I’m missing something.

  6. Author
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 08:18:28

    Thank you, everyone for the feedback so far.

    I’m not sure why the piece is formatted the way it is; maybe one of the DA folks can fix it?

    I definitely understand and agree with what some of you have said about the chuckling. As for Mrs. Friedenhopfer, she’s based on my grandmother, and speaks the way she does. But if it seems inauthentic for a woman that age, it can be changed.

    @SAO- The “premier metaphysical bookstore in Revere” comment was intended as sarcasm on Chandra’s part, but it apparently didn’t read that way.

    @Carol- again, I agree about the “chuckling” and will remove that. As for the payment in advance, I’ve done energy work and readings at three different metaphysical stores, and all required clients to pay for sessions prior to the session, so while that may be contrary to your experience, it is accurate to mine. Other aspects of what you mention, about Chandra’s personality and lack of professionalism, can be changed.

    Again, I appreciate all the feedback so far. I originally wrote this in 2011, and am in the process of reworking it for another attempt at finding publication, so all of this is valuable to me.

  7. BHG
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 08:18:37

    Well, since I seem in the minority, I just wanted to chime in and say that I actually liked it. Aside from the formatting (and a few sentences here and there) I thought the writing was smooth, and caught myself chuckling at least once.

    If this was a book I picked up off the shelf, I would read on.

  8. Michele Mills
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 08:37:46

    I liked it too. I was genuinely interested and wanted to keep reading. I think the changes everyone suggested are valid though and if implemented will tighten the story and make it pop. Good luck, I think this has great bones.

  9. Kristi
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 13:50:12

    Thanks for posting, Author. It definitely drew me in and kept me reading although the hoo-haw part threw me off and pulled me out… and the comments about the chuckling as well (as you already noted). I think you got some great feedback here though.

  10. Lori
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 15:10:22

    The hoo-haw part also didn’t work for me or a woman in her 80s being embarrassed by her vagina.

    I liked the premise and would read more. But I’d have to get an idea of what the real plot is quickly to keep me reading because I don’t think it’s Mrs. Friedenhopfer. But the writing is smooth and the premise is cool.

  11. haruko
    Oct 18, 2014 @ 21:15:00

    I know I’m late to this party, but…

    I really enjoyed it. It made me laugh in the first sentence, and that alone would keep me reading for at least a chapter, so I’m probably your intended audience :)

    I am, however, also a pretty nit-picky reader in general. From my initial reading I thought it was a urban fantasy, and this first page is an awesome start for a fantasy. Then I double checked the heading and realized it was a paranormal So the other commentators complaints made more sense to me.

    I could be wrong, but in general I think of paranormal as books in the “normal” world where a select set of characters have extra-normal powers – urban fantasy assumes the entire world is permeated by magic, even if most of the inhabitants are unaware (or recently aware, like in Mercy Thompson).

    In Paranormal, I expect characters to behave like they are from the “real” world – why is a conservative old lady getting a reading at all??? In Urban fantasy, I suspend belief until you, the author, tells me the rules of your world.

    So, my advice is basically that if it is a paranormal, you need to explain why a normal person is at a reading to begin with. If she’s a hippie/crazy old lady, why on earth is she worried about the doctor seeing her?

    And if it’s an Urban fantasy, explain they world they are in within the first few pages.

    Overall, I’d love to see more :)

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