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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary

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Chapter 1

I should never have hired him. I'd fire him as soon as I figured out what to say. The truth wouldn't impress Human Resources: "He's the most efficient and organized assistant I've ever had." Followed by: "My department has never run so well, but, I can't keep my hands to myself anymore. Every time I see him enter the office I smother a moan. I want him to nibble on me not the pen he's holding."

Sure, that'd go over well. A lawsuit just waiting to happen. So until I thought of a good reason to get rid of him or forced him to quit on his own, I was stuck.

Stuck lusting after my assistant, who wasn't interested and even if he was, I wouldn't touch him. Dating co-workers was never a good idea. Dating subordinates went way beyond "not good" and hit "worst idea in the history of ideas."

So, why had I hired him? If only I had a good answer. All I could say was: hubris. Sheer hubris. I thought I could handle it. I'm a tough girl. I've got will-power to spare. Chocolate cake? No problem, I'll pass. Double shot latte with caramel syrup? Thanks, but no thanks. Tall, dark and handsome assistant? Please, I'm not that kind of girl.

Except, it turned out I was exactly that type of girl. And today, my personal version of the fiery depths of hell would be increased by a thousand percent for I had, for some inexplicable reason, agreed we could have an office party. And that meant I'd have to watch him casually work the room and worse, watch the hangers-on drool over him.

I'd spent the day off-site to fortify myself for the hour to come, but I'd barely walked into my office when she appeared. The worst of his fan-club. A perky, cheerful, perpetually simpering annoyance.

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. brooksse
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 05:20:47

    Sorry but this doesn’t work for me. I lost interest in the first paragraph. Wanting to fire someone, not because of his work performance, but because she (the boss) has a personal problem. Not a good first impression.

  2. Milena
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 06:39:43

    If I’m reading this right, it’s a nice attempt to turn the classic “boss falling for the secretary” trope by reversing gender roles. However, at least to me, that particular trope has always been a little distasteful, and remains distasteful with the roles inversed.

    That aside, the biggest problem with the first paragraph is that it’s all telling. The first sentence is good, but it’s followed by a long chunk of backstory that we really don’t need at this point. Also, the setup — again — makes the heroine seem silly: the man in question is incredibly efficient, but she wants to get rid of him because she can’t stand to look at him every day? Is she thirteen?

    This impression is further strengthened by her exaggeration (dating subordinates is the worst idea in the history of ideas? Really?), examples of her strong will (which all centre around sweets) and completed with the description of her “rival”. I understand that this is supposed to be humorous, but it comes off simply as childish. So we’ve got a too-good-to-be-true hero and an infantile heroine. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t continue on to page two.

  3. SAo
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 06:49:19

    I really liked this. Nice voice, nice conflict.

    I like the twist on the standard boss and secretary theme. I like your kick-ass heroine.

    Five stars from me.

    I’ve been a boss and I’ve had the experiences of 1) being stuck with someone you want to get rid of, 2) the miserable process of firing someone you like.

    Of course, the other solution is to get the man a promotion out of your office. You come off as a great boss, selflessly helping the careers of your subordinates. If you do it badly, people see through it and won’t touch the guy with a 10 foot pole.

    I buy this totally. I’d read on. In fact if you need a beta reader, let me know.

  4. query1
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 06:50:36

    Sorry, subject matter doesn’t work for me. I started tuning out after the first paragraph and unfortunately have no interest in critiquing the actual writing or words presented. Which probably says more about me than the piece.

  5. Scarletti
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 07:02:27

    I liked the voice. I liked the premise.
    I just liked it.
    At 50, I have friends who have been in this position. They feel like they are 14 and in major crush mode, but they also know the adult world ramifications of one wrong step. It is fun to fantasize. What you do after the fantasizing is what really matters though. I would keep reading. And I think we all know people at work we would like to see be gone for any variety of immature, irrational reasons.

  6. Jane Lovering
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 07:02:42

    I like the style, the voice and the writing, but the subject matter doesn’t appeal. So, she’s recruited a bloke who’s good at his job but gorgeous, because she thought she’d dare herself? I betcha, IRL she’d stop noticing how he looked after a week or so, he’d simply be ‘Dan’ or ‘Mike’ or whatever. If she’s going to be so superficial that all she thinks about is how cute he is, then she’s probably not that great a boss.

    Sorry. The old ‘he’s too cute, I can’t stand it/help myself’ thing is not my kind of book. But thanks for putting it out here!

  7. Pat
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 08:07:49

    Put me with the ones who like this. I like the upside-down setup and the screwball comedy potential. The biggest danger I can see is that the narrator could turn into too much of a ditz to be believable as a boss.

    The diametrically opposite views of this book from readers are interesting. There are always readers who will like or dislike a book because of the characters/setup/tone/whatever, but no one seems to think this is badly done. So, author, you should feel encouraged.

  8. Elizabeth
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 08:51:47

    I enjoy the voice quite a bit. I probably wouldn’t pick this one up off the shelf based solely on the blurb because the trope isn’t my cup of tea, but it sounds like it would be a fun read.

    That being said, I’d hope the actual action gets started right after this section and wouldn’t mind seeing it begin earlier.

  9. Lori
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 09:19:52

    This could be a fun read but it’s a bad beginning.

    It’s hard to accept this woman with the voice you’re presenting as being a competant boss since she sounds too young. It’s an office large enough to have an HR department … where do they work What do they do? An office party for what occasion?

    There’s no action. All telling and not telling us anything except she has a thing for him.

    Give us a kick-ass opening. It’s not my favorite trope but I’ll bet the story could easily win me with an opening that shows an intelligent woman who’s waging a true war with herself over a man who is exceptional.

  10. okbut
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 09:34:19

    I also like the voice, must have, as I was smiling as I read.

    Of course, too much tell and needs editing, more action, fewer words for a first page.

    Thanks for submitting, good luck.

  11. vanessa jaye
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 09:44:07

    Here’s another vote for liking the voice. Even though there’s alot of tell and no action/dialogue, the reading of it moves along at a nice pace and very smoothly (for me). But I will agree with the general concensus that some sort of action/interaction needs to happen soonish.

    I don’t feel one way or the other about the boss/employee trope, but I would need to read the synopsis/blurb to get what other hooks/conflicts are in play to ultimately make my buying decision.

  12. DS
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 10:04:41

    I read right through it without stopping to note some problem or other. That is very, very rare. Whether or not I like the finished product would have to do with what happens after the lusting on the job. If the author deals with the potential legal issues in a sane manner rather than just have the two overcome by lust I would go with it.

    I’m not impressed by the jealousy issue introduced at the end. It’s too obvious a way to go and I’m not interested in reading the obvious.

  13. coribo25
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 11:57:19

    First thing that popped into my head was..I want to be there when she finds out he’s gay. Now that’s a story I’d read.

  14. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 11:59:37

    “Female boss lusting after male assistant” is an interesting twist on a trope.

    But she shouldn’t be trying to fire him—that makes her seem like a complete jerk, especially in the current economic climate. She should be trying to transfer him to another department without revealing why. Just making that change will make her seem a lot more appealing.

  15. Kristi
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 12:38:41

    Am I the only one that was tripping over the tenses? Sometimes it seemed like you were trying to write in first past, others first present, and I had a hard time with it.

    It’s all the “would” in the opening. “I’d fire him as soon as I figured out what to say.” Is a good example of this. When you use would, it throws the narrative into the speculative future, but then you use “figured.” which is past, but the voice sounds like she’s talking to us the reader in the present.

    If you’re sitting around chatting over coffee, which is the voice I think you’re shooting for here, you don’t use the past tense to talk about what you are going to do in the future. You’d say, “I would buy another car as soon as I figure out how to make the payments.” Not “I would buy another car as soon as I figured out how to make the payments.”

    If you want to go first past, you need to structure the “speech” a little differently. Either get rid of the “would” and say, “I needed to fire him as soon as I could figure what to say.” Or change it up to the present if you are going to use the speculative so much.

    Here’s another example of one that goes a little awry. “So, why had I hired him? If only I had a good answer. All I could say was: hubris. Sheer hubris.”

    If you’re creating this immediate intimacy like she’s speaking to us, then speech directed at us needs to be in the present. “All I can say is: hubris…”

    Secondly, I do think this would be much more interesting in the moment. Let’s see this too good to be true guy and judge for ourselves.

    “You’re firing me?”

    What? No, I mean. Damn it. My assistant Matt stared at me with the same calm efficiency he showed in everything he seemed to do. I didn’t want to fire him. I just needed him away, somewhere, anywhere. Just away so I could breathe.

    “No, I’m not firing you,” I stated, trying to keep cool even though my face burned suddenly. “Why would I do that?” (Then write a bit about how he’s been good for the office but she has developed a complete crush on him, and that’s not like her.)

    “You keep talking about new opportunities…”

    Something along those lines.

    Make it yours. I think the potential is there, and I too like the switch up of the boss/secretary relationship, but this isn’t quite there for me yet.

  16. FunnyGirl
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 12:47:16

    I like the twist on the trope, but there are two major problems.

    1) Firing someone because you lust after them is not heroic, and she’s supposed to the heroine. The end. I would not read a story that started out this way because the heroine is an ass. Keep the conflict, lost the part where she tries to fire him. It’s petty, it’s mean.

    2) A page of telling me about the problem reads slow and navel-gazey. Show me. Put him in the room, being efficient, and cute, and with his butt looking amazing that day. If it’s the day of the party, don’t tell me about it, show him working the room and her feeling dizzy by the time he gets to her. Lust crazed + trying to maintain a professional conversation = conflict. Good luck!

  17. Author On Vacation
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 13:44:44

    I’m not enamoured of this work for several reasons.

    1. We live in a tough, competitive job market. The idea, even in fiction, that an employer would dismiss a blameless subordinate for personal reasons just doesn’t “gel” with me. If “Boss Lady” considered quitting her job, or seeking a transfer (comparable or better position) for her “distracting” assistant, I might be more okay with it. I’ve seen enough people fired because their bosses “didn’t like” them, I found it despicable, and I don’t think much better of the heroine’s excuse of “liking too much.”

    2. I’ve never been crazy about the “snark excess” growing more and more popular in fiction. Snark is okay, and a well-placed line here or there can definitely act as a tension-breaker or interject humor to offset tragedy, but the trend has reached epidemic proportions, I never liked it much to begin with, and I’ve gotten tired of it fast. It seems like every first person heroine is echoing Cher Horowitz (“Clueless”) or borrowing Joss Whedon dialogue.

    3. Another “unlikeable” trait: the heroine admits to hiring her “eye candy” assistant simply because he WAS “eye candy” and it stoked her ego to have a “cute” assistant. Yes, there are many RL employers, male and female, who discriminate this way. It’s not likeable or respectable.

    So far I have no reason to care about the heroine: she hired a cute assistant and now wants to be rid of him because he’s cute and she’s “in lust” and cannot handle a professional relationship with him. She doesn’t even have the ethics or sense of professionalism to consider how firing her competent, capable assistant might impact him (being out of work, fired from his most recent job.)

    Likeable or even interesting people don’t behave this way or think this way.

    4. Although a description of the heroine isn’t included, I perceive her as unattractive. Most of the employers I’ve known who are “into” having “pretty” employees are usually older and far from meeting conventional standards of attractiveness.

    I realize this is the first page of your manuscript and there’s probably much more to your heroine, but this isn’t a good start. I not only don’t like her, I actively dislike her. She sounds extremely selfish and self-absorbed with little sense of professional responsibility.

    The writing quality, overall, isn’t the best. Some sentence structure is a bit abrupt and “bumpy” instead of flowing well.

  18. hapax
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 15:46:56

    I loved the voice, liked the twist on the trope a lot.

    The “I’d fire him if I could” and other over-the-top sentiments didn’t bother me, because I took them as hyperboles expressing her emotional frustration, not as serious plans.

    Perhaps this would come across better if you showed it in real time interactions, something like this:

    *I should never have hired you. I'd fire you if I could figure out what to say.*

    I was ashamed of myself the minute the thought passed my mind, but I couldn’t help it. When he entered the office this morning, I barely smothered a moan.

    Sure, he’s the most efficient and organized assistant I've ever had. My department has never run so well.

    I don’t think that that Human Resources would think it’s that I can hardly keep my hands to myself anymore.

    Oh, no. Now he’s picked up a pen from his desk and is biting the tip. I want him to nibble on me instead.

  19. Marianne McA
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 16:08:44

    I’m in the ‘liked it’ camp.

  20. RebeccaJ
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 16:43:08

    Sorry, but the minute I see the word “I”, and realize the story is told in first person, I drop that book like a hot tamale.

  21. Karen
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 17:11:50

    My heart skipped (and not in a good way) when in the 3rd para your heroine declared that she’s “not that kind of girl”. What is the point in saying it when you took the time to establish para’s before what a fun loving girl she is? Hmmm? Most women are fun loving and we crave sex just as much as any hot blooded man and times are changing and its cool these days for us to say how much we enjoy sex. But please, oh please; don’t let me find out in the middle of the book that shes still a virgin! I’d puke my guts out if that happened. Things didn’t go over much better when you clearly described the “other woman” as a “perky, cheerful perfectly simpering annoyance” when in fact you spent the good half of the first page trying to establish that your heroine was just that. Do you see the hypocrissy in that one?

    Also, maybe my fortune telling days are getting better, but what are the chances that the guy is actually a billionare playboy who perhaps owns the company that our girl works at? Hmmm?

    Anyways, reading the 1st half of your page led me to believe that you might be writing some Samantha Jones, SATC-style, fun romp about a girl who sexually harasses all the cute guys at the company that she also owns. But I am an experienced reader who had been disappointed before by author who tried to pull similar stunts. Will you also be the same?

    Also, just so you’d know… Grown women forming fan clubs for a colleague? I mean, huh? Don’t you think thats a little bit childish? I get that they like him and you wish to establish what a hot man skank our guy is; but for them to actually form such groub is just bizzare. Who are your target audience? Post Twilight, teen fangirls who had never seen the back of an office before as opposed to some hot blooded working class women? I’m also guessing she gives up her job near the end? *sighs* Crickey mate!

  22. Gennita Low
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 17:51:02

    I really liked this first page and would immediately flip to the second and third to find out about the party. I want to see how the heroine deals with this situation; the fact that she’s thinking of doing something “unheroine-like” doesn’t bother me at all since it is the first page and the voice is fun and so far, engaging to me.

    I also want to meet this creature, so I could judge whether he’s a jerk or a really nice guy, and to see how they interact. In my imagination, he is the real boss in disguise, like some ‘Boss Undercover’ episode. Now that would really crack me up.

    The first POV has me thinking that this might be a combo of contemporary women’s fiction/chick lit. I don’t usually read those but this one caught my interest.

    Good luck with this!

  23. HelenK
    Nov 13, 2010 @ 18:52:47

    Thank you, everyone. I’m sorry it didn’t work for some of you, but am beyond happy it worked for the rest.

    I’d like to clear up some speculation if I can: She’s not a virgin. She would never fire him – she’s far too pragmatic and he’s far too valuable as an employee. The other employee has always been too upbeat and cheerful for the heroine to like.

    She’s older than the hero and is fairly cranky. She doesn’t give up her job. (did I get them all?)

    Again, thank you. I’m normally a lurker on DA and today I feel like a fan girl. Gennita Low thinks my voice is engaging! DS read my entry through without stopping to roll her eyes at grammar issues! SAo offered to be a beta reader! Marianne McA liked it!

    I don’t know any of you, but I see your names when discussing and dissecting other books so it’s a thrill. /fan girl moment

    I love the complete honesty this format allows for.

  24. Heather
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 01:59:31

    Oh look, it’s Rachel and Tag from “Friends”. That’s the first thing that popped into my head when I read this.
    The second is that she’s a silly twit.

    The writing isn’t bad but I wouldn’t continue. Mostly because I don’t read contemporaries, they bore me. Also I don’t like her

  25. okbut
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:45:57

    There we have it.

    Everybody responds to the written word differently. Some people are unhappy because they feel the premise is all wrong, especially in these economic times? I would say lighten up to those folks, it’s fiction…

    Others complain about the contruct, the grammar, the verb tense, the introspection, etc etc etc. This is a character that is musing and brooding internally, having a conversation with herself. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in that state, every sentence in my head is not perfect prose or sensical. I jump from one aspect to another of my current discomfort.

    That’s how I approached this reading, a personal musing of a situation that is coming to a head for the woman in question. I agree it should be further down in the storyline, with more facts and action (the show) established in the beginning. Otherwise, it was fine with me.

  26. JenD
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 23:56:42

    It just didn’t click with me. I don’t have anything that I feel I can relate to with the heroine.

    I don’t go ga-ga over cake, coffee or eye-candy and my personal history with adults who act like teenagers turns me off. I’m expecting her to drink appletinis and complain about sweat on her gym equipment next, perhaps later she’ll laugh over a Cathy cartoon.

    If I’m wrong- then I’d like more info on her that doesn’t feel like it comes from a focus group about ‘things women like’. I want to know what’s different about her; what sets her apart.

    I like that you’re turning the trope upside down. I’m not a fan of first person, yet I thought it had good flow.

    Thank you for submitting this; I’m very glad you’ve had such great responses!

  27. shelley
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 12:35:01

    I did like it…a lot!

    This kind of stuff just flips my switch provided it stays light and funny and doesn’t blur into distasteful. There’s a time and place for that stuff.

    I say make any minor changes you need to and go for it.

  28. Jaclyn
    Nov 17, 2010 @ 19:46:27

    I’m in the “I like the voice” group and would like to read more. :)

    Like with some others, the subject matter somewhat problematic for me. An office romance storyline works for me, in fact, I’ve read a few recently, but I have a really tough time with the supervisor-direct report story because I always imagine the potential law suit. But based on the voice, I’d suspend my disbelief and read the story.

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