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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary

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The cold air wafting from the open refrigerator did little to relieve Marin Reiling's irritation-’much less her pounding headache-’as she lounged on the cheap vinyl flooring of her apartment kitchen.

Did people across the country actually think global warming was a  myth?

Even spending her formative years in the southern climes of Auburn, Alabama, hadn't prepared Marin for the radiating heat of this blistering city summer in Chicago. Her poor, vintage fridge worked overtime to keep its contents from spoiling; but coupled with hundred-and-two-degree weather shimmering in the alleyways and through the streets, she didn't expect to bask in comfort here for more than ten minutes longer before she risked the appliance shutting down permanently.

And Marin couldn't afford fridge repairs right now. If she'd had any extra capital to her name, she'd have bought a floor fan from the hardware store thirty feet away down North Avenue. The fact that a mere twenty bucks escaped her desperate financial grasp even now made her physically squirm, her butt wriggling uncomfortably against the humidity-induced stickiness of the floor.

To distract her bitter conscience, she studied the contents of the fridge, composing a mental grocery list. Not that she could shop for anything until tomorrow's paycheck was automatically deposited.  Eight a.m., and I'll be solid again.

She jumped, startled, as a churning, chugging noise sounded from the rear of her fridge. "No, no,  no," she muttered as she lunged forward to lovingly stroke its chilled side, wedging her hand in the dark space between the appliance and the kitchen's battered cabinetry topped by a chipped, green laminate counter. Marin loathed those countertops with every molecule of her forcibly buried, genteelly southern soul, but as a renter (a poor one, at that) she wasn't in any position to demand renovations of her stingy landlord.

"Come on, baby." Her fingertips traced gentle circles (in what she hoped was a coaxing manner) as she willed the refrigerator to keep pumping blessedly cool air. "Come on, and I'll put fresh baking soda in there tomorrow. I'll even scrub you out this weekend."

The fridge sputtered in seeming disbelief. "Okay, maybe not this weekend, but soon. And I'll stop letting the milk go bad."

Its rumbling whir slowly dropped an octave as it prepared to die, and Marin's forehead landed with a dull thump against the white-painted fridge frame. When silence filled the thick-aired room, both woman and appliance emitted a sigh of surrender.

One final, metallic  thunk had an unwilling smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "You're right, of course-’I always let the milk go bad."

With that, she used the door to yank herself up, shutting it and rolling stiff shoulders still sore from last night's shift. The only thing left to do-’the only promise of relief-’was to pull on clean clothes and go to work. At least the restaurant was air conditioned, she reasoned as she tugged her wrinkled tee shirt (a bleach-stained baby blue which proudly declared her an alumna of the "College of Hard Knocks") over her head, using the soft hem to wipe the sweat beading against the tops of her eyebrows.

"Out of this kitchen, into another," she murmured, wandering with heavy footsteps into her bedroom to scour her tiny closet for a clean chef's coat.

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

27 Comments

  1. Willa
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 06:14:11

    A whole first page about a woman stroking, talking to and coaxing her fridge not to die?

    And finishing with her wiping the sweat from her face on the bottom of her T shirt before heading off to work – ewwww.

    I’m sorry – there is no ‘hook’ for me here, nothing that grabs me to make me want to turn the page and see what happens next.

  2. Moth
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 06:44:54

    My thoughts as I’m reading through this…

    The third and fourth paragraphs feel clunky, laden down with backstory that’s just dumped there for no good purpose. There are probably other, more organic places where you can integrate her Southern background and poor finances.

    I’m not sure what “bitter conscience” means…

    The writing could be tightened. You give good details, but I feel like you’re giving too many of them per sentence. F’r instance:

    she muttered as she lunged forward to lovingly stroke its chilled side, wedging her hand in the dark space between the appliance and the kitchen's battered cabinetry topped by a chipped, green laminate counter.

    This sentence just feels like its rambling to me. “lovingly stroke” “chilled side” “dark space” “battered cabinetry” and the piece de resistance: “chipped, green laminate counter”. Every word has an adjective or an adverb tacked onto it and they are weighing your sentences down.

    Maybe it’s just me but I think the sentence would read better more like this:

    …she muttered as she lunged forward to stroke its side, wedging her hand in the space between the appliance and the kitchen's battered cabinetry.

    And if you really need to mention the counter you could insert a sentence about her hoisting herself up by the corner of the chipped, green laminate counter.

    And, finally, my biggest issue is: unless the fridge is going to be the romantic lead of this piece I would devote WAY less time to it and way more to establishing your character and your conflict.

  3. C
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 07:21:12

    I have to agree with the first commenter about the lack of hook.

    My understanding of Marin based on this is that she lives paycheck to paycheck, doesn’t have the guts to stand up to her landlord and doesn’t understand the science of climate change. Boring.

    Now if Marin managed her money well and was a George Monbiot fan, THAT would be more interesting. I feel like telling her to get herself together and give me a call when she’s ready for the story to start.

    You’ve got a nice style to your prose and I’m curious to know the larger plot, but this setup or heroine don’t feel fresh or original in any way. Maybe start at the restaurant and let the character details come more naturally through interaction with other people. Backstory should never be told to a fridge — the fridge isn’t listening.

  4. SAO
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 07:39:00

    A good romance has a heroine, a hero, and a plot. You need at least 2 on page one. Unless, as Moth suggested, the fridge is the hero, you have only one.

    Since there was nothing but the fridge, I was thinking about how stupid Marin was for risking the fridge breaking down when she had no money to fix it. Further, kitchens are hot, but there were no thoughts about that.

    In short, rather than drawing me into your story, I’m taking potshots at your heroine because I have nothing else to think about.

    The other thing is that I hate victims. She’s a victim of poverty. She’s a victim of heat. She “wanders” to her closet to get ready for her job. She’s not devoted to pulling herself up by her bootstraps. Make her take action on page one. Take that step to solve her problems!

  5. SAO
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 07:41:43

    I have to say, I love this exercise. It really shows you what is important. It’s so easy to start a novel and actually reach the start on page ten or so. Very hard to start it on page one.

  6. theo
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 07:58:20

    I rather liked the bit of story beneath the verbiage, but by the end, I found that I was bobbing my head as I ticked off each entry on a list of facts.

    This first page could be tightened, refined a bit and cut in half, leaving you room to introduce either plot or hero in some way. Right now, it reads like a grocery list and I have one of those. I won’t pay for another. And don’t start your first page with a TSTL heroine. I’ve been poor. Very poor. The last thing I did was to encourage something I couldn’t afford to replace to fall apart.

    I want to care about your heroine. Not smack her.

    Kudos for putting this out here. Good luck.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 08:24:33

    What they said. This whole scene should be skipped, since it’s one of those “driving to work, she thought over what had got here there” scenes.
    Make something happen. And backstory on the first page – no.
    It shows signs of overwriting, as if it’s been worked on a lot, so it might be a case of “killing your darlings.” Get that knife out and slash it away.
    And I dislike a first sentence that includes the first name and surname of the person. I never think of myself in those terms, and if you’re in her head, neither should she.

  8. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 09:10:34

    The writing works well enough, but there’s nothing there to keep me reading.

    There was a workshop I went to a few years ago-Dianne Castell was giving it and she gave the advice-”Start where the trouble starts”.

    Unless the entire book is going to hinge on her frigde, I’m not seeing the importance of an entire page devoted to it.

    The writing itself works well for me, but the scene? Not so much. Sorry…and good luck!

  9. Juliana Stone
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 09:18:36

    Everyone has pretty much covered it. This seems like a total newbie mistake….You have to remember to start with action….draw the reader in, make the reader want to turn the page….

  10. may
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 09:42:51

    Ok so I kept thinking, if she’s a renter then her landlord has to fix the flippin fridge so how is that a problem.

    The whole thing reeked of a “poor sad little me” heroine and I can’t stand that ever. Plus I’m wondering when the story is going to start. So much writing and it boils down to:
    hot day. poor heroine. broken fridge. off to work.

    No hook for me.

  11. Anne Douglas
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 09:54:30

    While maybe it is the wrong place to start a book, I actually read this with a smile on my face as I’ve been there and done exactly that with an appliance – coaxed and petted and bargained with it, asking for it not to die until payday…

    Like May I was thinking ‘why’s she worrying about it, it’s the landlords problem’ which made me wonder if the author wasn’t native to the US (appliances might be the norm in the US, they aren’t elsewhere in the world)

  12. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 09:55:46

    Oh, I love a down-on-her-luck heroine! But have to agree that the fridge is the star of the show here, and I’d rather see her interacting with humans.

    Good luck!

  13. DM
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 11:21:04

    I agree with all of the comments above, but wanted to point out something about the fridge. I know nothing about Chicago, but there are definitely major American cities (Los Angeles, for one) where refrigerators are not standard equipment. Some apartments come with them, but others don’t, and the tenant has to supply their own.

    That said, The Innocent Virgin’s New Refrigerator would not be on my to-buy list.

  14. Polly
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 11:32:51

    Every place I’ve rented has come with a fridge, and if this fridge is part of the deal, it’s totally the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. Plus, if your fridge is dying, you wouldn’t leave the door open for ten minutes (or at least, I wouldn’t).

    Too much description–green chipped countertops, white-painted fridge frame, cheap vinyl flooring, etc–feels overburdened to me rather than atmospheric.

    I don’t mind if the first scene is about one more thing not going right in her life, but there needs to be more action in some direction. I do agree with the poster who said that this feels a little too “poor me.” She can be down on her luck and still not be a total victim.

    Good luck, and I like the shout out to Auburn.

  15. job
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 12:40:09

    I’d like to get a sense of oncoming conflict even as early as page one, so I’m going to agree with the comments that say this may not be the place to begin the story.
    .
    One thing you’re doing very well is giving the character voice. We get a great sense of who she is and what she sounds like. Yes!

    .
    A minor writing technicality —
    you might consider stripping out modifiers and organizing the thoughts more straightforwardly.
    .
    Consider:
    .
    Even spending her formative years in the southern climes of Auburn, Alabama, hadn't prepared Marin for the radiating heat of this blistering city summer in Chicago.
    .
    versus
    .
    She’d spent her childhood in hot, sweaty Alabama, but it hadn’t prepared her for Chicago in July.
    .
    or
    .
    Her poor, vintage fridge worked overtime to keep its contents from spoiling; but coupled with hundred-and-two-degree weather shimmering in the alleyways and through the streets, she didn't expect to bask in comfort here for more than ten minutes longer before she risked the appliance shutting down permanently.
    .
    versus
    .
    She could steal ten minutes of cool before the food would start to spoil and the fridge — vintage to put it kindly — might just up and die.
    .
    You don’t have to be lyric or to overthink. Trust the reader. You don’t have to list radiating, blistering, hundred-and-two-degree, and shimmering.
    Chicago + July says it all, as do the character’s actions.
    .
    Two niggles:

    .
    –Once you give us Marin, you can use ‘she’ for every other reference until somebody else walks on stage.
    – bask means to relax in the heat.

  16. Submission's Author
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 12:48:51

    Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment-’I appreciate your feedback. Since submitting this, several things in the story have changed, and it is no longer the novel’s first page. Your advice is invaluable, and I look forward to putting it to good use!

  17. Brandi
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 13:57:04

    @job: Bask can also mean to take pleasure in a situation. Doesn’t have to be anything heat related.

  18. Emily
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 23:58:29

    Is this a contemporary or a futuristic? Because sure, Chicago summers can be hot and humid SOME of the days, but 102 degrees is certainly not typical. That is a bit excessive even in a hellishly hot southern city like Houston which is justly famous for heat and humidity. If the heroine could handle an Alabama summer, then Chicago would be a piece of cake. So this beginning put me off.

    Then the whole fridge seduction scene added to the unreality. That was some strange stuff, and the whining about the countertops was annoying. Doesn’t this person have any real problems? What is this story going to be about?

    In the end though the deal killer for me was the t-shirt with the words “College of Hard Knocks”. Normally I’d be intrigued by a heroine who was a chef, but I would not be able to make myself read about a character who owns and proudly wears such a shirt. I am not the target audience for this story.

    Good luck with your writing.

  19. LizA
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 06:08:04

    I just thought the whole “using the fridge as air conditioning” thing was pretty stupid, esp. if she could not afford to replace the fridge (if it was her responsibility to replace it).
    And I kept expecting that she’d find something while stroking the fridge (a hidden stash of diamonds, a letter, something) that would start the real story….

  20. Olivia
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 10:19:10

    Sorry, but no hook for me. The whole lovingly stroking of a decrepit fridge just didn’t do a thing for me unless the fridge is the hero of the story, then there’s another reason not to read it.

    We’ve all lived paycheck to paycheck at some point in our lives and I can relate to that, but the whole focus of the fridge just didn’t work.

    The heroine comes off rather whiny to me and wears a t-shirt promoting said whine. Plus she’s heading to work while being a sweaty mess. Yuck. And she’s a chef to boot.

  21. jmc
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 10:37:08

    Agree with all the comments about the lack of hook. At this point, the narrator is not very sympathetic, and I probably wouldn’t bother reading more.

    Some of the language choices seemed inconsistent with the scene the author was trying to set up. For example, if she’s wandering, should her footsteps be heavy? Wandering implies aimlessness or lack of direction, and lightness, which are inconsistent with the walking heavily toward the closet to get ready for work. Also, if the closet is tiny, why must it be scoured? Implication is looking hard, high and low, but if it is tiny, is that really the right verb to use?

  22. brooksse
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 10:43:12

    @Emily:

    Because sure, Chicago summers can be hot and humid SOME of the days, but 102 degrees is certainly not typical. That is a bit excessive even in a hellishly hot southern city like Houston which is justly famous for heat and humidity.

    The bit about Alabama summers not preparing her for a Chicago heat wave pulled me out of the story too. But then I live near Houston, so that probably has something to do with my thoughts on the matter.

    @LizA:

    I just thought the whole “using the fridge as air conditioning” thing was pretty stupid, esp. if she could not afford to replace the fridge….

    That was my thought as well. Especially when followed by a reference to her air-conditioned workplace. 102 degrees in Chicago is what, about 15 degrees above normal? Certainly not an every day occurrence. So why doesn’t she just hang out at the restaurant for an hour or so before her shift? Unless she hates or job or works for Scrooge (boring), that would be better than sitting on the kitchen floor, risking fridge and food.

  23. job
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 10:43:41

    @brandi
    .
    Bask can also mean to take pleasure in a situation. Doesn't have to be anything heat related.
    .
    This is very true. Speaking generally though, when we use a word we have to take all of its meanings into account.
    .
    Lookit the very similar case of the word fishy.
    Fishy is ‘creating doubt or suspicion.’
    But it also means ‘like a fish.’
    .
    So we can say, ‘There was something fishy about the approaching motorboat.’ We will get unintended amusement with ‘There was something fishy about the approaching mermaid.’
    It’s one of those ‘all the meanings matter’ situations.
    .
    That’s why ‘basking in the cold’ is likely to jar. We’re aware of all the meanings
    .
    I mentioned ‘bask’ because there are some imprecise usages in the excerpt.
    .
    she lounged on the cheap vinyl flooring
    (one meaning of lounge is to sit or recline comfortably)
    .
    in the southern climes of Auburn, Alabama
    (one city would probably have a single clime, rather than a couple of climes, in it.)
    .
    and so on.
    .
    This is small stuff, but something for the author to think about in later drafts.

  24. Eve Paludan
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 18:05:14

    Poor is a state of financial distress, but the first scene deserves a hook more powerful than the conflict of a hot summer, a fridge about to give up the ghost, and another hot kitchen waiting for the heroine. I like her though and there’s good writing here. Not for the opening scene, but back up in the heroine’s life to the thing that threw her into this situation.

    A bad breakup? A runaway heiress? Make her life a train wreck in the beginning and you’ve got my attention. Punish her, slam her around, take away everything she holds dear, and then…fix her life and love situation.

  25. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 23:45:22

    I’d read on. I’d like to see how the author creates the atmosphere in the other kitchen.

    And adjectives are a lesser sin than having no voice. There is obviously an interesting voice here, so the adjectives don’t worry me so much.

  26. Joe G
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 03:10:58

    Okay, I’m going to dissent slightly here. Eve said:

    “A bad breakup? A runaway heiress? Make her life a train wreck in the beginning and you've got my attention. Punish her, slam her around, take away everything she holds dear, and then…fix her life and love situation. ”

    Not being snarky, I just ask what novels you read where, on the very first page, we get such a huge info dump that the heroine must be reduced to her absolute lowest point? Most novels keep their plot twists in their pocket at the very least for most of chapter one!

    I actually enjoyed that this story began with something so mundane as a conflict with a refrigerator. It was kind of funny. There are no original plots so one that finds its way to the story in a unique way is what really captures me as a reader (and, I suspect, most people).

    That said, she does come off as pretty stupid. If she’s meant to be stupid, make her stupid. There have been plenty of stupid protagonists.

    I don’t feel that she’s meant to be stupid. As a reader, to me she seems to takes things far too well. She anticipates breaking the fridge, tells us at length just how bad it would be for her if it broke, it breaks, and she shrugs it off. She’s comes off as a ditz and I’m laughing at her instead of with her, and I don’t think she’s meant to be laughed at.

    Worse, you’ve taken a dramatic situation (Oh no, the fridge is gonna break!) and drained all the life out of it. Now it’s just something that happened so you could set the scene, and then she went to work.

    A story can start with a broken fridge. You can give us some time to get to know her before the vampires break in through the windows. But stories are composed of small dramas that add up to larger dramas, each one of some importance (or you shouldn’t be telling us of them).

    I guess long story short is, the writing feels passive rather than dynamic. It should always be dynamic, even if it’s just a broken fridge. Not that I’m saying veer off into Cartoon Land.

    I think the criticisms of the writing others have expressed are very valid, although I think you have a nice eye for detail and write nice prose. Just maybe tighten your belt so my eyes don’t skim. I’m one of those readers who doesn’t care what the shirt says unless the shirt says something that is integral to the character (she went to NYU), truly amusing (think Frank and his hats from 30 Rock), and not a slogan somebody else made up–or a well worn cliche that tells me that this is a heroine who is enchanted by cliches, wears them on her shirt, and is probably not worth reading about (unless you do that deliberately to make me laugh at her). If she’s proud of having been to the college of hard knocks, she doesn’t seem to have learned much!

    In other words, every detail counts and should FEEL like it counts. As does every small incident. And every chance encounter. And every day in the life. And every exceptionally strange week. And every life changing event. And every vampire through the window.

  27. Stephanie Giancola
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 18:34:18

    I’m not sure what this story is about and not hooked enough by the character or the voice to read further and find out.
    I think it gets started too slow and the character is more whiny than amusing.
    More work could whip this into shape, though!

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