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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary Romantic Comedy Action Adventure

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***

Maddie flicked over the page of a dog-eared graphic spy thriller and burrowed deeper in her office chair, her red Converse hightops propped on an open drawer containing scientific articles, chunks of quartzite and the odd gemological tool. God, she would love to be kick-butt Modesty Blaise coming face to face with that big ape-man Delicata. Wham! Blam! Look out ma’am! She would look so hot in black leather.

At her elbow, twenty million dollars worth of pink diamond glowed in a tiny pool of light beneath the stereomicroscope.

Whirrr. Click. The cuckoo bobbed out of the clock with a mechanical chirp. One o’clock. Maddie closed her book and tossed it in the drawer. Scooting her chair up to the microscope she pushed her glasses up her nose and peered through the stereo eyepieces. Strands of wavy brown hair escaped her ponytail and fell past the shoulders of her Geology Rocks! T-shirt. Tomorrow the gem would go on display in her Aunt Grace’s jewelry shop. Until then, it was Maddie’s to drool over.

She rotated the zoom knob to deepen the focus, moving through layers of facets in the heart-shaped diamond. The Rose was huge for a fancy pink–28.2 carats. And flawless, not a feathery fracture or a mineral inclusion anywhere. The cut was stunning; the edges clean and sharp, the pavilion carved to the perfect depth to reflect light internally so that sparks of iridescent fire scattered deep within its heart sparkled out of the crown.

The sheer sensuality of the jewel held her captive. The deep cranberry color, intensely saturated, was as rare as it was seductive. Maddie lost herself in the lush pink glitter of facets so numerous they resembled the petals of a real rose. A deeply pleasurable sigh escaped her lips.

“Did you know that the Contessa Antonia Licciardo circa 1750 could reach orgasm simply by looking at a beautiful gem?” a deep and cultured English male voice enquired from directly behind Maddie.

“Jesus H. Christ!” Maddie jumped, spinning around on her wheeled chair so fast she almost tipped over. A man loomed above her. A tall, dark-haired intruder in an impeccably tailored charcoal suit. Her heart racing, she gasped, “Where the hell did you come from?”

“London. Oh, you mean just now? Through there.” With a slight movement of his well-groomed head, he indicated the electronically-locked state-of-the-art security door leading onto the alley.

Impossible.

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

30 Comments

  1. A
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 05:40:26

    Please remember taste is subjective.

    Not bad, not great.

    The opening does not “grab” me. I’m unclear on what information is relevant. The opening paragraph introduces us to the heroine and setting, but the introduction is somewhat fractured, diluted by Maddie’s detailed interest in Modesty Blaise. The first sentence is lengthy, maybe too lengthy, and would read better divided into two sentences.

    I’d suggest opening your first paragraph in reverse, editing the opening sentence to reveal Maddie’s enjoyment of her novel:

    God. I’d look so hot in black letter.

    A lot of the information seems overwritten, I think some things could be condensed and expressed more smoothly.

    I AM interested in the story itself. Saw just enough of the heroine and her unexpected visitor to want to know them better, but in all frankness, the writing needs tightening up for me to be willing to read further.

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  2. Kat
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:05:55

    Hi there. I thought this was really well written. I got a great sense of the heroine (considering it’s only one page) through your description, and the set-up is different than anything I’ve read before. Maddie seems like a sassy woman in a stereotypically nerdy field. She’s probably intelligent but not afraid to embrace the more ‘earthy’ (sorry for the pun – it was bad, I know) aspects of life.

    As someone who’s not into gems or geology, I was able to understand what was going on and be interested in reading more.

    My only caution would be about writing an English voice. I have no idea if you’re American or English or what, but as an American married to a Brit and living in London for four years, I find it really grates on me when writers create stereotypical Brits. I don’t know anyone who uses the word ‘circa’ when speaking, and I work with some really clever people.

    Overall, very well done, and good luck with the rest of the novel!

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  3. sarah mayberry
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:17:30

    I really like this. I like how smart it is. I like the attitude, I like all the little clues to who the heroine is that are seeded in through these first few paragraphs. The Modesty Blaise reference, the T-shirt, the sneakers, the way she tosses the book when work calls. Even the cuckoo clock – it’s all very idiosyncratic and charming and interesting. I want to read more. I am not into jewelry but for some reason all the technical stuff about the gems also really fascinates me – it tells me that the writer has done her homework, that I’m going to learn some interesting stuff, and that this book is going to be about priceless gems. Lots to like about this, very engaging, more please, author!!!

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  4. A
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:23:08

    @Kat:

    I don't know anyone who uses the word ‘circa' when speaking, and I work with some really clever people.

    LOL…This is funny, I liked the character’s turn of phrase. I agree “circa” qualifies as an unusual word in some circles, but it’s also adds to the character’s uniqueness. Given his historical knowledge, if he has a background in historical research/education, it might not be too unusual for him to use the word.

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  5. Anne Douglas
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:30:20

    A couple of little niggles people mentioned above…but pretty shiny’s and a desire to kick arse like Lana Croft… I like it!

    (oh and I agree with A on the circa business, it didn’t bother me too much)

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  6. A
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:36:32

    Another suggestion: I would advise changing Maddie’s name, or Modesty’s name. In my read-through, I became confused as to which heroine was your book’s heroine. The names are a little too similar.

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  7. joanne
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:44:45

    I had to go back to search for the use of “circa” but I often have to edit myself when I use it in emails or comments, so it’s a favorite word for (odd, old, weird) me.

    I liked this set up, a lot.
    I liked that you show the heroine(?) in her downtime and then at work in a fascinating profession. I loved the hero’s(?) sudden and unexplainable appearance through the locked door.

    I did get a ‘flash’ to Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Blood where the hero gives the heroine a full-sized diamond rose but that may not affect other readers.

    Too many words when less would do but that is the easiest of fixes if you care to edit the work.

    Nicely done, thank you and much good luck with your writing!

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  8. cecilia
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:48:52

    I liked this. I’d maybe move the detail about the sneakers to the part where she closes the book, because that opening is kind of too much, but I would read on. The “circa” didn’t bother me, in the context of the generally mocking tone of the remark, and on the whole this seems like a fun read.

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  9. Kat
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:56:10

    Okay, maybe I was being too picky about ‘circa’. Maybe it was just the way it’s inserted in the middle of the sentence that got me. It just didn’t sound natural to me in spoken English (to test this out, I tried reading the sentence out loud in my deepest, most cultured English accent and stumbled over it several times. It’s a good thing my husband’s not here, or he would have pissed himself laughing at me).

    Also, I couldn’t imagine such a quirky woman wouldn’t pick up on the stuffiness of it. If I were her, I’m pretty sure my first thought would be, “What a twat.”

    But if he is a bit of a stuffy character, I think it’s a fantastic set-up and will produce lots of tension between them, because I don’t get even a whiff of stuffiness from her.

    And I don’t want to get hung up on one word. My point was more general, that it’s harder to write a foreign character than people usually think, and it’s something to watch out for when you’re writing. I think this is well written and I’d definitely read on.

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  10. mina kelly
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 06:56:28

    There’s a little too much detail in here – is the fact she’s wearing red hightop Converses crucial, for example? – but overall this is pretty strong, and the tone is light and funny. There’s a few too many adjectives when you hit the paragraphs about the jewel; the jewel may be pink but your prose is edging towards purple.

    I am wondering what such an expensive and unusal jewel is going on display in her aunt’s shop – unless her aunt is top shot somewhere like Tiffany’s I’d expect something so rare to be museum or private property (or up for auction, if it’s on sale).

    Oh, and real love for the Modesty Blaise reference. She deserves the attention Bond gets.

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  11. DS
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 07:11:38

    Liked the Modesty Blaise reference also. Also liked the red hightop reference. The cuckoo clock in a high tech lab was also fun. I did wonder if Antonia Licciardo reached orgasm circa 1750 or was born circa 1750. If the author wants to make him sound erudite better to make up two dates for Antonia Licciardo rather than one.

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  12. Stephanie
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 07:57:20

    Hmm. An interesting start, though I agree with readers who suggest getting into the heroine’s head faster and perhaps paring down the abundant descriptive details. But the set-up–with the jewel and the mysterious stranger–has potential to be intriguing. Enjoyed the reference to Modesty Blaise–it lends a note of verisimilitude to use the heroine of a real series of books. Maybe the similarity between the names Maddie and Modesty is intentional?

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  13. Terry Odell
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 08:02:24

    (sorry if this double posts – I clicked the wrong button first, and then I got a ‘sorry you’ve already said this’ post when I tried to back up and resubmit)

    I’m following the comments here, because although I found the sample interesting enough to want more, it pushed a few of my “description” buttons. I don’t know when I’ve ever paid attention to the length or color of my hair except immediately after a visit to my stylist. I’ve had long hair, short hair, and enough variations on curl and color to populate an entire novel, but when a character does something with her “shoulder-length red curls” it pulls me out of her head. I see thinking about hair that’s getting in the way, but beyond that, I don’t need more. Yet. Let me see these things later. At this point in the story, for me, what she does is more important than what she looks like.

    Likewise to brand names or other clothing descriptions. Once I put on a t-shirt , I don’t think of it as my “Will Sell Husband for Chocolate” shirt. It’s just the shirt I’m wearing that day.

    Product placement and personal descriptyion references always seem contrived to me, and will pull me out of a story. I want to see them from another character’s POV, not the POV character who’s wearing them. Red hi-tops is fine, but I don’t need the brand name. (But at least I recognize Converse here — too many times I’m clueless. With the exception of my New Balance workout sneakers, I couldn’t tell you the brand name of a single pair of shoes in my closet.)

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  14. theo
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 09:03:18

    I liked the Modesty Blaise reference. Since she’s been a ‘real’ character for many, many years, that wouldn’t be something the author can change. I’m guessing the Maddie/Modesty is intentional and for me, it works. Especially since I’m also guessing the Modesty character is not going to be a focal point in the overall story.

    There were too many other tiny details which made my eyes glaze a bit. I don’t need to know every single thing in the first three paragraphs. Perhaps the man who entered the locked room could notice her tennies and a few other of her personal details.

    Pink diamonds are generally of a more fluorescent quality, and a brighter pink. Cranberry is too dark a color for a pink diamond. Granted, diamonds are carbon and rubies corundum, but after working for a jeweler for many years, I learned a lot about color variations and the cranberry reference doesn’t work for me. The price of $20+ million works as recently, a 5 (or 7ct pink diamond, the size escapes me now) was expected to sell in the 7 million dollar range. But even that would have been in a private collection so the reference to that expensive a diamond being in a display case in a shop makes no sense to me. Also, if you’re going to use the cranberry to make this the rarest pink diamond ever, then no, there’s no way I’m buying into it being on display in some shop window. If it’s going to be that rare, use it to your advantage.

    I say all this because…if you want to use objects in stories that are grounded in fact, and your remaining description of the 3Cs is accurate, then don’t toss something as unbelievable as displaying that item in a shop in. It makes my trust in the author drop. I agree with whoever said it would be much more believable as going on display in a museum or private collection.

    I would break up this sentence:

    The cut was stunning; the edges clean and sharp, the pavilion carved to the perfect depth to reflect light internally so that sparks of iridescent fire scattered deep within its heart sparkled out of the crown.

    because I had to read it twice and it still didn’t flow with the way it’s written. There are a few other sentences that are rather long which could also be broken up a bit more.

    I like the premise, I got a chance to see the heroine through the extraneous info and like her! But I think some editing and cleaning up of checkable facts would go far in making this a nice, tight first page.

    Good luck!

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  15. Kate Hewitt
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 09:19:20

    I thought this was very well done, and hooked me pretty quickly. I agree with others about paring down just a few of the extraneous details: the color of her hair or sneakers, for example. They feel a little too much like telling.

    I also wondered at a $20 million diamond displayed in her grandmother’s case. ‘Her grandmother’s jewelry shop’ makes me think of a cute little mom and pop shop, which obviously wouldn’t have such an expensive piece of jewelry. So you probably want to lower the price tag or clarify the shop reference.

    Great job!

    Kate Hewitt

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  16. Castiron
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 09:49:22

    Very interesting so far! I like the heroine (the world needs more geek heroines). I haven’t read the Modesty Blaise books, alas, but I know of them, so I caught the reference.

    I agree with those who questioned a gem of that value being displayed in a shop; if it turns out to be a (fictional) shop that rivals Tiffany’s, though, or if it’s a shop attached to a gemological museum, it’d make more sense.

    The only wording glitch that jumped out at me: “A deeply pleasurable sigh escaped her lips.” This sounds like an outside viewpoint, not hers, and “pleasurable sigh” makes me think the sigh’s what’s giving the pleasure, not a sign of pleasure.

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  17. maddie
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 10:20:27

    OK, not being bias because of her name but this is something I would read.

    Sounds quirky and reminds me of JAK earlier work, which I loved.

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  18. Jane O
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 10:46:04

    I like this for the most part, but I have one problem. A girl with a pony tail reading a Modesty Blaise graphic novel and wearing red Converse high tops sounds to me like a teenager. Is she? (And no, I don’t expect a grownup to be wearing a power suit and heels.)

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  19. Carolyn
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 10:51:17

    I liked this. I like books where I learn new things, I devoured Dick Francis (so to speak).

    Perhaps cut back on the adjectives a bit: ‘deep’ voice instead of ‘deep and cultured English male voice’ (work in his nationality a bit later), or ‘strands of hair’ instead of ‘strands of wavy brown hair’. To me, all those extra adjectives sound forced.

    But I would certainly read on. I really like your heroine and I think I would like your hero too. I think they’re gonna strike sparks off each other!

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  20. S
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 11:04:55

    Re: the shop reference. When I read that I just assumed she came from lots and lots ‘o money. That she thought of gramma’s shop the same lack of awe the descendants of William Hearst had for Hearst Castle when they referred to it as the “summer cottage”.

    Actually, I thought the author was telling us “rich girl” without using the words and I was really impressed. Now I really want to know if I was right.

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  21. Lori
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 11:21:04

    Oh I liked this!

    Nothing about this made me stop and say oh that’s too much or that’s not enough. I could probably go back and find a nit to pick but I just liked it. I wanted to keep reading.

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  22. DS
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 11:50:56

    @Jane O: I thought geek rather than teenager. Geology generally makes my eyes glaze over but I have known some enthusiasts.

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  23. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 11:56:35

    Nice. You’re good to go. Surprised she’s reading Modesty Blaise, but it might be she’s into old spy stories. And the shoes stopped me a little because I don’t own a pair of trainers/sneakers/whatever, so I have no idea what they’re meant to convey except that she’s wearing a pair of casual shoes to the office.
    I’d read more. And I’m British and I say “circa.” Not very often, but I’m an art historian, so I’ve had occasion to use it.
    Isn’t cranberry a bit dark for a pink diamond?

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  24. leela
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 12:39:29

    I saw Modesty Blaise and immediately thought, so the story is set in the 60′s? Because there’s a been a hella lotta kick-ass heroines between now and then. Just sayin’. (And I know Blaise ran for 40yrs but she’s possibly best known in the US, at least, via the campy mod-era Modesty Blaise mid-60′s film.)

    As for circa, well… I’ve used the term in conversation, in a tongue-in-cheek way, and assumed the character is either poking fun at historian types, or is one himself. I’d put it in commas, though, to make it easier to read and clearer that it’s an aside: Did you know that the Contessa Antonia Licciardo, circa 1750, could reach orgasm simply by looking at a beautiful gem? That gives it even more of that pseudo-academic feeling, which works better for the sly humor that’s only revealed when it’s set against the rest of the sentence, seeing how it’s about the last thing you’d expect a professor to say.

    All the other adjectival details, I’m with some of the other folks: I got so much in the first three paragraphs that I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to remember, and it ended up a blur. The bit about the million dollars of diamond got my attention, except that it’s after the first paragraph and the first time I read I was skimming fast by the end of the paragraph and ending up skimming right over that hook-ey sentence. (What made me go back and try again were the comments here, to be truthful.) Maybe drop some of the details — do I really need to know she’s wearing red converse, this early in the game? — and try to get to that bit about the diamond in the very first sentence.

    The end of the page… well, to be blunt, I’d only keep reading if it turns out her first impulse upon hearing an unexpected voice was to hit the panic button right as she jumps up. Because hello, when you’re talking ‘twenty million dollars’ worth of anything, let alone ‘pink diamond’, then you’d have to know that no security is perfect, and you always have a backup, and that people would most definitely kill for such a thing. If I get to the next paragraph and the cops don’t come busting through the door thanks to that panic button, then I’m consigning the character to the land of Too Stupid To Keep Reading, and call it a day.

    I’m not saying she has to be paranoid, just that I appreciate a dose of realism in my comedy. Unless she’s supposed to be a teenaged prodigy in hightops, and maybe is that naive about what people would do to get a million dollars. But then I wouldn’t read the story anyway, since little bores me like clueless teenaged scientific prodigies.

    One reader’s cute is another reader’s boring.

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  25. JoB
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 15:36:46

    My first posting seems to have disappeared. Let’s try again.
    *******

    Nicely crafted. A good showcase beginning for the character. Nice general ‘shape’, if I can put it into my own terms.

    .
    What you’re doing– I don’t have to tell you this — is setting up the character’s dichotomy (a trichotomy, I guess,) of running shoes, action fantasy, and geeky expertise. Then we go right into story action when the man walks in. All in one page. Good.

    .
    Suggestion.

    You could tighten the structure a bit by removing the ten minutes of stage business.

    .
    What I mean.
    The action of reading-thinking-hearing the clock is stage business and could be cut. We could go directly to the looking-at-the-jewel action.
    The iconic images and the internals could be placed during the inspection of the diamond.
    We’d eliminate that empty five or ten minutes of lead-in.

    .
    A structure to do this might be:

    .
    1) You could start with the lovely:

    The sheer sensuality of the jewel held her captive. The deep cranberry [sic] color, intensely saturated, was as rare as it was seductive.

    .
    2) Go to the paragraph:

    She rotated the zoom knob to deepen …

    .
    3) Bring the iconic objects in. Have her reach over to pick up the frogglesprocket which happens to be sitting on top of the Modesty Blaise book.
    You use that moment to describe her working desk.

    .
    4) Then connect the Modesty Blaise internal to the POV character’s immediate situation, rather than letting the internals float free, without reference

    She sees the book and thinks . . .
    If [insert villain] broke in to steal the jewel I’d kick him the– She looked at her red Converse All Stars sneakers. Hmmm. Not good for kicking butt. Maybe I’d knee him in the groin.

    .
    5) Then we start the story with ‘the man walks in.’

    .
    Two suggestions on wordage.

    .
    Strands of wavy brown hair escaped her ponytail and fell past the shoulders is a classic, but not in a good way. Leave out the wavy brown and you can do the rest.
    Find a place for the ‘brown hair’ later.

    .
    – Drop a good 20% of the modifiers.

    Lookit your first paragraph, stripped down 20%.

    Maddie flicked a page of the graphic novel, her red Converse hightops propped on a drawer containing scientific articles, chunks of quartzite and the odd gemological tool. God, she would love to be Modesty Blaise coming face to face with that ape-man Delicata. Wham! Blam! Look out ma'am! She would look so hot in black leather.

    Fewer modifiers. Same ‘picture’. Faster pace.

    As an aside, you may put me with those who found the Modesty Blaise reference to be dated. If the POV character is under thirty there are many other kick-but characters who are more likely in that spot.

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  26. Joan Kilby
    Oct 24, 2009 @ 16:55:05

    Hi, author here. Big thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and make thoughtful comments, they’ve been really helpful. Paring back seems to be universal so I’ll definitely take that to heart. My usual writing is fairly spare so I was experimenting with a richer style. Clearly I’ve gone too far.

    I like the idea of the panic button. Right after the last paragraph posted I have Maddie reaching for her cell phone but a panic button is better.

    The diamond is from the Kimberley in Western Australia which is a region known for its pink diamonds. My research tells me that the deeper and more intense the color, the rarer and more valuable the stone is with cranberry being the most rare. The only stretch to the truth here is that generally such dark pink diamonds are much smaller than Maddie’s diamond.

    Maddie is a gemologist/mineralogist and it was she who actually found the rough diamond while on a research trip which is why the diamond company is allowing her aunt to display the cut stone prior it going to auction. Various versions have had more of this information up front. It’s hard to get all the important stuff on the first page!

    The stranger is British Secret Service, a James Bond type, on the trail of a jewel thief who is trying to steal the diamond. He’s there to warn Maddie. For various good reasons she disregards his warning. The diamond is stolen, she’s suspected and the pair join forces to go after the thief.

    Re the comment about writing foreigners. Getting it wrong is a pet peeve of mine, too, so you can be sure I’ll be watching that. I’m Canadian living in Australia and have English friends so my ear is tuned to the English way of speaking. Not that I personally know any aristocrats, lol.

    Circa stopped a few people. I admit I didn’t like it either and tried to find a way around it. I’ll have another think about it.

    The thing that pleased me is that quite a few people said they’d like to read this story. I’m pubbed in category and this is my first attempt at single title. All the agents I queried with this liked the premise, characters and writing but said there was no market for this type of story. This exercise has given me renewed inspiration to get the ms back out there.

    Thanks again. And thanks to Jane Litte and Dear Author for this site.

    Joan Kilby

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  27. blabla
    Oct 25, 2009 @ 10:00:02

    Okay…I'm just gonna com out and sound like a critic here: she's got Millions of Dollars worth of Diamonds just lying around, and what does she do??? Read some action/thriller book instead of working??? Why is she so unethical? I also don't like how the hero bested her. Is this going to be a norm through out the book? Smart hero, outwitting dumb, lazy heroine? If so, I'm not reading this.

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  28. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 25, 2009 @ 10:42:04

    The “circa” thing is wrong, that’s the problem. The problem isn’t that it’s pedantic, it’s that it’s incorrect.

    People aren’t “circa” anything. Their birth and death dates may be “circa” something, but if only one date is known for a person, the term used is “floruit” (sometimes Englished as “flourished”).

    Nobody who was pedantic enough to use “circa” in conversation would use it incorrectly, I hope.

    What an historian would actually say there is either “The eighteenth-century Contessa Antonia Licciardo could…” or “Contessa Antonia Licciardo, who lived around 1750, would…” or, if they were the most pedantic and fusty person ever, “Contessa Antonia Licciardo, floruit 1750, would…”

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  29. brooksse
    Oct 25, 2009 @ 19:01:08

    @Joan Kilby:

    I don’t have any constructive criticism to add. Just wanted to say that as a reader, I enjoyed it and would keep reading. Especially after reading this part of your post…

    The stranger is British Secret Service, a James Bond type, on the trail of a jewel thief who is trying to steal the diamond. He's there to warn Maddie. For various good reasons she disregards his warning. The diamond is stolen, she's suspected and the pair join forces to go after the thief.

    This makes it sound like a screwball 1960s romance starting Audrey Hepburn, and I would consider buying the book because I loved those type of movies. In which case, the Modesty Blaise reference would fit nicely, if that’s what you’re aiming for. I would consider the reference quirky rather than dated. And the hero saying “circa,” I would also take that as quirky rather than stuffy. Although I do agree with leela (comment #24) that adding commas would make it flow better.

    ETA: I didn’t read the “circa” sentence as the person being circa 1750; I read it as the action took place circa 1750. Maybe that needs to be cleared up, being in reference to the person or to the action.

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  30. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:08:48

    I didn't read the “circa” sentence as the person being circa 1750; I read it as the action took place circa 1750. Maybe that needs to be cleared up, being in reference to the person or to the action.

    That could work: “The Contessa Licciardi wrote, circa 1750, that…”

    ReplyReply

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