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First Page: Unconventional Urban Fantasy

Welcome to First Page aka Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page (or query) read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the first page itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

As a warning, there is profanity following.

***

Sometimes it helped to have a necromancer as a business associate. Dem bones, dem bones, dem dryyyy bones…

Smiling, Ivan Kurtz, magus, ruminated further as he gazed at the eldritch thing on his black lacquered cocktail table. Nice find, the Prism of Nezrabi. Wonderful big glob of magical whup-ass glass. The sight nearly made him salivate. It had taken four years and a hurtful bundle of money to secure the perfect deliverer of payback, but the wait and expense would soon be worth it.

Is revenge sweet? In this case, the cliché was a gross understatement. In this case, revenge was reclining on a yacht in the Mediterranean, eating the finest chocolate and sipping the finest wine, while the multiple hard dicks you had growing all over your body fucked the tightest pussies and asses in all the universe without the rest of you having to break a sweat. Revenge was food, drink and a chain-chain-chain of effortless, transporting orgasms…at the end of which was your own personalized paradise, infinite and eternal.

Oh, yeah. Jackson Spey was gonna get it. But good.

Ivan snickered then gulped some not-so-fine wine. “Wizard.” He chuffed in contempt. “Okay, big balls, we’ll see how much of a fucking wizard you are.”

He pulled his feet off the cocktail table and dropped them to the floor so he could lean forward and study his prize. A vellum-bound book lay beside it, but Ivan hadn’t yet perused it. He would do that first thing in the morning, when his mind was fresh. For now he was content simply to savor his victory. There would be plenty of time to figure out how to activate his instrument of vengeance.

The Prism of Nezrabi was a symmetrical chunk of what appeared to be crystal, roughly three feet in circumference, its surface expertly faceted with various geometric forms set one on top of the other. The intersecting circles etched into the crystal’s surface all contained relief-carved hexagons, then pentagons, then triangles. The center of each figural mound was set with a small stone, no two of which were alike. Thin lines extending from these stones formed an intricate grid in the crystal’s interior, at the core of which sat a silvery black sphere surrounded by tiny metallic flakes that seemed to float around it like stars.

It was impossible to say what, exactly, the lines were. They could have been precisely placed fractures. They could have been hair-thin infusions of some foreign material-simple water, perhaps, or a mixture of organic or inorganic compounds. Legend had it the crystal contained dragon’s blood. But there were just as likely other legends that claimed it contained fairy dust or the sulfuric vapors of hell.

Conclusion-it didn’t matter what the damned thing held as long as it worked. And if it worked, it would soon be holding Jackson Spey.

Ivan took another hefty swallow of the fruit of the vine just as Bothu, the necromancer, glided back into the living room from the bathroom. He folded his long, ashen form into a burgundy leather easy-chair, crossed his legs and splayed his bony fingers over the chair’s arms.

“It better do what you claim it can,” Ivan murmured, sliding him a glance. He hated looking at the guy. Bothu’s complexion reminded him of snow saturated with dog pee and vehicle exhaust. The stringy red hair that seemed coated with shoe polish sure as hell didn’t improve his appearance any.

***

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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

24 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    May 17, 2008 @ 04:44:53

    I’m torn. It’s an interesting premise, and we’re thrown into it immediately which is good, but the writing style is very overblown and tiresome to read. There’s a lot of padding, and lines like this:
    Ivan snickered then gulped some not-so-fine wine. “Wizard.” He chuffed in contempt.
    Made me itch for a red pen.

    I think, to be honest, the idea of reading an entire novel in this style just wouldn’t appeal. The character grabs me, but I don’t really like how his voice is being presented. It wobbles back and forth from crude, rough sensuality, to pomposity. It wouldn’t keep me reading if I picked the book up in a store.

  2. Leah
    May 17, 2008 @ 07:18:13

    I like the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy–a wizard coming back from the bathroom? Has that ever been written before? And I find Ivan really interesting–just not very likeable. If he’s the villain, and you’re just starting with his pov, then fine. Otherwise, I don’t know that I could stick with him through the whole book. My husband, otoh, likes bad guys, and probably would. It’s just a matter of taste. and speaking of, I thought there was just a bit too much raw language for a first page. I know that you are using it to establish the kind of person Ivan is, and it does that job well. But as the middle-aged mom of small children, I find it a little off-putting. Aside from that, though, I think you are a good writer and your descriptions were vivid. I think I got a realy good feel for your characters right away. I would not be surprised to see this book on the shelves one day.

    (Edited to add husband’s opinion)

    I just had my husband, who is less squeamish about language than I am–and also a big SF/F fan. He liked the premise, but thought that that one revenge sentence was off-putting, and would probably cause you to lose some female readers. You could cut that sentence without losing the effect of the description, I think, and without sacrificing your vision of your character. Just a thought.

  3. Jill Sorenson
    May 17, 2008 @ 07:55:16

    I usually wouldn’t open a book without reading the back cover blurb first to find out who the main characters are. This first page has me wondering if Ivan is the villain and Jackson is the hero. Either way, I like it. The profanity doesn’t bother me. If Ivan is the villain, why shouldn’t he be a bit foul?

    But what’s a necromancer? Does it have something to do with bones? The first few sentences almost put me off. I enjoyed the prism description and the immediate presentation of mystery + conflict.

  4. Meriam
    May 17, 2008 @ 08:03:53

    I kind of loved it. It flowed, made me smile once or twice, and I wanted to read on. (And I don’t usually like urban fantasy). Doesn’t immediately read like a romance, though.

  5. Gennita Low
    May 17, 2008 @ 08:13:30

    This first page is difficult without the knowledge of whether the character is the bad guy or not. Nonetheless, to catch immediate attention, I would drop the first two paragraphs and start with:

    Is revenge sweet? In this case, the cliché was a gross understatement. In this case, revenge was reclining on a yacht in the Mediterranean, eating the finest chocolate and sipping the finest wine, while the multiple hard dicks you had growing all over your body fucked the tightest pussies and asses in all the universe without the rest of you having to break a sweat. Revenge was food, drink and a chain-chain-chain of effortless, transporting orgasms…at the end of which was your own personalized paradise, infinite and eternal.

    Oh, yeah. Jackson Spey was gonna get it. But good.

    You set the tone immediately. Then perhaps, the second paragraph can be used after this:

    Smiling, Ivan Kurtz, magus, ruminated further as he gazed at the eldritch thing on his black lacquered cocktail table. Nice find, the Prism of Nezrabi. Wonderful big glob of magical whup-ass glass. The sight nearly made him salivate. It had taken four years and a hurtful bundle of money to secure the perfect deliverer of payback, but the wait and expense would soon be worth it

    This beginning introduces your first character, his motivation, and the smoking gun.

    Thank you for letting me tinker with your story. I think, depending on genre, you have a good setup page here. Just so you know, my first impression is that this is the prologue/bad guy POV. Jackson Spey sounds more like a hero’s name.

  6. (Jān)
    May 17, 2008 @ 08:30:01

    The story might be an interesting one, but the sentences were just too bogged down for me. It was overly descriptive in parts, containing things I didn’t need to know, and one description I couldn’t even picture (“Bothu's complexion reminded him of snow saturated with dog pee and vehicle exhaust.” What kind of complexion is that?). It also sounds like it’s trying too hard to be hip. The character’s voice isn’t coming through to me amidst all of that, and I find it very tiresome to wade through what’s extraneous in each sentence to get to the meat.

    While I might enjoy the premise, I don’t think I could read this as is, sorry.

    Oh, to the person who asked, a necromancer is a wizard whose magic involves the dead.

  7. JulieLeto
    May 17, 2008 @ 08:41:55

    I have to agree…the writing needs serious tightening.

    The paragraph about revenge confuses…does Ivan *want* dicks all over this body? He wants to fuck multiple pussies and asses and drink fine wine and eat chocolate? I don’t get that paragraph at all…and it is NOT the language that’s bothering me. I don’t understand if he wants this (and if so, why? He certainly can’t be the hero at this point) or if he wants to subject this on someone else, which makes no sense.

    I like Gennita’s suggestion, too. Great way to fix the initial opening, but you need a bit more. The writing style would put me off. I don’t want to work that hard when I’m reading. Less is more.

  8. Tawny
    May 17, 2008 @ 09:27:47

    It’s interesting–reading the comments/responses–how varied our tastes truly are.

    I liked the character’s voice. I loved this line: “Wonderful big glob of magical whup-ass glass.” And if I picked up this book in a store, flipped to the above first page, and read it, I would definitely plunk down my cash to take it home.

  9. ilona andrews
    May 17, 2008 @ 09:32:16

    The idea is compelling, and I liked it. But you’re trying too hard to be clever. If you have a gag in every sentence, they begin to blend and just get tiresome.

    The multiple dicks line threw me off. If this is the hero, multiple penises will be a problem as most women have hard time getting excited about a penis-studded mutant.

    Also, you’re missing a bit of sensory detail. Your descriptions are good, but only visual. There are no scents, sounds, or tactile perceptions. The opening is the part where you typically smack the reader in the face with “Look! Magic!”, so there probably should be some otherworldly ambiance to the scene.

    The prism, is it magic? Are there currents of power within it? Does he sense them? Does it feel him with dread when he touches it? Is there a tiny sharp spark of power that pierces his fingertips when he brushes one of the gem stones? Does he sense the dormant power? He is in the necromancer’s apartment or his own? If he is in the necromancer’s apartment, are there other weird objects exuding power? Does he smell incense burning mixing with the stench of formaldehyde and the sticky, sweet aftertaste of putrid flesh, rotting in the necromancer’s work room?

    Do you see what I am saying? Submerge the reader into the world.

  10. Ann Aguirre
    May 17, 2008 @ 09:42:35

    I agree with Gennita on the starting point. I really like the style / voice, though, and I like the word usage. I would definitely read on.

  11. Kimber An
    May 17, 2008 @ 09:59:22

    I’m not into Urban Fantasy. I just wanted to say I think you’re incredibly brave to post your First Page! With courage like that and a desire to learn, you’ll make it into print one day.
    ;)

  12. Vivien Dean
    May 17, 2008 @ 10:19:29

    Would the first page interest me? Oh yeah. Is it perfect? No. Overuse of the description waters down the effect of some of the really nice original imagery for me. But I really like the voice, and some of the imagery just jumped out. Like…I actually really liked the description of the complexion. Pocked and stained, with enough hints of foulness to cast a taint over the character. If that was the intent, it most definitely worked.

  13. Marissa Scott
    May 17, 2008 @ 12:08:37

    It’s a bit wordy for me. I agree with Julie Leto, this needs tightening. And I also agree with Gennita about the starting point and rearrangement of paragraphs. “Is revenge sweet?” grabs me more than the current first line.

  14. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    May 17, 2008 @ 13:05:29

    I liked the tone and the description, and the revenge line made me smile. I would continue onward, and I don’t read this type of story much myself. But the voice was intriguing and I would want to know more.

  15. Anion
    May 17, 2008 @ 14:35:20

    I agree with Jan (sorry, don’t know how to do the long-vowel mark). The writing here is so convoluted I couldn’t make sense of it. It feels like someone is trying so hard to dazzle me with their vocabulary and cleverness that they forgot everything else. I’m sorry, but I found it superficial, and couldn’t even finish.

    All the 25-cent words in the world won’t help make your writing sparkle if those words aren’t actually conveying anything.

    Also, does this bit:

    while the multiple hard dicks you had growing all over your body fucked the tightest pussies and asses in all the universe without the rest of you having to break a sweat. Revenge was food, drink and a chain-chain-chain of effortless, transporting orgasms…at the end of which was your own personalized paradise, infinite and eternal.

    Deliberately jump into 2nd person? Because it totally confused me. I didn’t get the POV switch and I didn’t get what it’s supposed to mean either (at least the first bit.)

    You’re not a bad writer, but you need to trust in yourself more and tone down the gimmicks.

  16. DaWriter
    May 17, 2008 @ 20:19:09

    Thank you all very, very much for taking the time to respond. This has been incredibly enlightening.

    Yes, this page is from the Prologue, which is only a hair over three pages long. Yes, it’s in Ivan’s voice — or maybe I should say, in a tone that suits his personality. He’s definitely not the hero. The scene takes place in his apartment. (Later though, Ilona, there is some of the necromantic atmosphere you suggested. In fact, there’s quite a bit of sensory detail, relating to all kinds of situations, throughout the novel.)

    Ivan is blustery, pompous, and profane. Bitterly envious, too. He’s a wannabe-magus embroiled in a rivalry, largely of his own making, with the wizard he mentions. As it turns out, Ivan is quite the clueless bumbler — definitely not a standard villain — and not in control as much as he would like to think. (The fact you smiled once in a while, Meriam, was an appropriate reaction to him. Dude is pretty much a big blowhard.) Bothu, the ashen-faced and jaundiced necromancer, is just plain creepy. He’s the one who “secured” the Prism and sold it to Ivan.

    Yes, Jackson is the hero, and his pov takes over beginning with Chapter One. His is a considerably more modest and straightforward voice. His male lover, who’s introduced later, evolves into something of a co-hero. So this is indeed a romance, and one that gets quite intense at times. There’s also [gasp] s-e-x in the book. It, too, is intense but neither frequent nor gratuitous.

    The Prism of Nezrabi is at the center of the story. Sorry, but I couldn’t cough up all its secrets in the first page. At this very early stage in the story, an outside-looking-in description seemed to suffice.

    You’ve all given me a lot to think about. If you have more suggestions or criticisms, please bring them on! I don’t have a crit partner, so I’m extremely grateful for the feedback.

    And thank you, Jane, for this opportunity.

  17. Lizzil
    May 18, 2008 @ 00:24:42

    My first impression is that it is “SW” influenced. The mental image I got of Jackson reminded me of Han Solo. I wouldn’t have read past the first page. My eyes jumped all over the writing as much as your writing jumped all over the page. It is very wordy, it tried to grab me but I dodged. You don’t need to say wine-fruit of the vine more than once. You only need say he drank, and we’ll remember what he was drinking. This is just one example of your errancies. Not all of your characters need detailing (“…,the necromancer….”), especially on the first page. If their roles are integral components of your story, we’ll get the mental image of the characters as you carry us along the story line.

  18. Meriam
    May 18, 2008 @ 13:27:19

    Good luck with your manuscript, DW.

    I did enjoy it and, based on further information you provided, the style seems to be very much in keeping with the character of Ivan (who, mercifully, isn’t your hero).

    Tightening the prose and ridding your work of excessive wordiness is always a good thing, but I hope you don’t lose your ‘voice.’

  19. DaWriter
    May 18, 2008 @ 22:12:15

    Thank you, Meriam (if you’re still checking back), for your parting words. Interesting you should mention authorial voice. Quirky, elusive creature, that. I suspect some readers find it difficult to accept heterogeneity of voice in popular fiction.

    Decades ago, Mills & Boon/Harlequin seemed to strive for homogeneity in the romance genre. I suspect, but can’t be certain, that other genres have their hallmark “voices” as well (you know, a kind of workmanlike adherence to certain phraseology and cadences and images, plot tropes and characterization). Deviation from the norm might throw some readers off or even alienate them.

    But, the way I see it, some characters and situations simply require a broader brush bearing gaudier paint, while others demand subtlety. And on top of these layers is, of course, the author’s own voice and vision. It’s a hell of a juggling act!

    (I’m still trying to figure out my book’s similarity to Star Wars, not a single episode of which I’ve ever seen. Ah, the absorption-of-criticism process…)

  20. Ann Somerville
    May 19, 2008 @ 01:09:25

    I suspect some readers find it difficult to accept heterogeneity of voice in popular fiction….Deviation from the norm might throw some readers off or even alienate them.

    It’s got nothing to do with genres, or publishers. It’s just what’s easy to read. You can have a completely distinctive voice that doesn’t make the reader tired or confuse them.

    The fact you have these facile explanations at your fingertips makes me wonder if this issue of overwritten and unattractive voice is something that’s been raised with you before. Instead of making excuses, you maybe should consider that it’s actually a problem for you and a barrier to getting your work accepted.

    Just saying, is all. If the readers aren’t getting it, it’s your problem, not theirs. They can move onto other books.

  21. Anion
    May 19, 2008 @ 06:19:51

    What Ann said. Exactly.

  22. Da (Failed) Writer
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:33:11

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the Alpha and Omega of fiction writing. So please, Ann, feel free to rip apart my single page with every last drop of vitriol you can muster. Do keep in mind, however, that there’s a huge difference between opinions and assumptions. And if your assumptions were any lamer, they’d have to be euthanised.

    The fact you have these facile explanations at your fingertips makes me wonder if this issue of overwritten and unattractive voice is something that's been raised with you before.

    Uh, actually, no.

    This rather makes me think of reading “Jabberwocky” then responding with, Yo, Lew, better return your writing quill to that goose’s ass . . . because, dude, you’re a babbling idiot! Do you honestly assume that the tone and tenor of this lone page — from a three-page prologue related from a bombastic antagonist’s p.o.v. — is representative not just of this novel in its entirety but of all my work?

    …you maybe should consider that it's actually a problem for you and a barrier to getting your work accepted.

    Whoops. I think it’s time to pull out the Windex and clean the old crystal ball. I’ve actually had eighteen novels and novellas accepted for publication by a number of different companies, none of which is called “Self”. Fifteen are currently available; three await release dates.

    Sorry. I do hope this hasn’t made you lose all faith in the publishing industry.

  23. MD
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:23:37

    This excerpt doesn’t work for me personally. I agree that it is overwritten and comes across as a newbie writer trying to show off writing skills, rather than a writer really interested in creating a sympathetic character. Please keep in mind that this is just one reader’s opinion, but I didn’t find the character one I could connect to or sympathize with, and that’s what keeps me reading, so I wouldn’t keep reading this. Clever writing does not alone make a likeable story.

    Ann does have a point, in that if your readers aren’t getting it, it is your problem, not theirs. You shouldn’t knock your potential readers by assuming they’re not bright enough to deal with different styles of writing within genres. Your wittier-than-thou tone is a little off-putting–and, as you can see by my assumptions about you, it’s easy to assume things about a writer when you only see his comments and can’t hear his voice or see his expressions–and you know absolutely nothing else about him, not even his name. I can honestly see why Ann assumed you were a newbie.

    And arrogance does not make a likeable writer, either. :) You don’t need to cast aspersions on self-pubbing. I’ve read some really remarkable self-pubbed work. Some people choose to self-pub because epubs are falling down in droves. Can you blame them? And not all epubs are particularly picky about the quality of stories they’re willing to put under contract. Are your eighteen novels published by the big houses in NYC? Just curious.

    I wish you good luck with your latest effort.

  24. Ann Somerville
    May 20, 2008 @ 15:13:03

    Do you honestly assume that the tone and tenor of this lone page -’ from a three-page prologue related from a bombastic antagonist's p.o.v. -’ is representative not just of this novel in its entirety but of all my work?

    Let’s just say that between your style of writing and your manner of conducting yourself over criticism offered in the spirit of assistance, I won’t be looking out for this novel – or anything else by you. Somehow I can’t believe someone this antagonistic towards advice could produce anything I would consider wasting eyeball space on.

    And not all epubs are particularly picky about the quality of stories they're willing to put under contract.

    You know, MD, that’s a remarkably accurate observation. :)

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