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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary Romance

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***

Vermont was a wasteland.

Trees stripped of leaves, their branches curved upwards to the sky as if pleading for salvation. But there was none to be found in the dark night sky. White, crystallized snow covered pastures, meadows, and hills. The stark nakedness of the state showed all its flaws, none of its beauty.

Welcome to hell.

Aubry Riley tightened his hands around the steering wheel. The car wound through the roads in the direction of the highway. According to the GPS system, it was seconds away. He could barely contain his excitement. The bad weather forced his private plane to land at a smaller airport, a couple hours away from Burlington. He was supposed to be at the lake house by dinner, but he’d be lucky if he got there by midnight.

Normally, he wouldn’t care how late he arrived except he told his daughter he’d be there. And at six years old, Roxie was too young to be disillusioned. With a father like him and a dead mother, the cards were already heavily stacked against her. It made him even more determined to grin and bear it for the next month.

He turned right onto the directed highway, and the road smoothed out to a straighter path. His stomach still hadn’t settled. Not once in the past fourteen years had he gotten used to traveling and had always needed to take something for his motion sickness. Since coming out of rehab almost six years ago, Aubry hadn’t touched one single drug or a sip of alcohol. He didn’t even use caffeine.

But, he’d forgotten how bad his motion sickness got . . . his throat was dry and his stomach empty. Aubry grabbed a bottle of lukewarm water and hoped it would ease his nausea. Taking the sip, he tasted the bitter tang of a lemon. It didn’t help. All he wanted to do was to crawl in a warm bed and fall asleep.

He opened the window a crack. The freezing wind whipped across his flesh. It was a welcome relief, and he inhaled clean air and fresh pine. There were pine trees of varying sizes lined along the highway like an army waiting to open fire.

Shoot me, he thought. Shoot me and put me out of my misery.

As if someone upstairs-’or if someone downstairs had heard his thoughts-’little pellets of round hail pinged against the windshield and through the open window. A couple shards of ice struck the side of his face. Closing the window, he brushed it off. Already, in the heated cavern of his car, the balls of hail melted on his fingertips.

The snow started to fall sideways, so he increased the windshield wipers’ speed. It was as if he was in a snow globe, and someone had tipped it upside down and shook all the loose flakes around. The snow was falling all around, making it hard to see beyond the white. That’s all there was-’white and more white.

Then, he saw red. A bright spot of red off to the right some ways ahead of him. From here, it could be anything. Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely). When he drove closer, he could finally make out what it was: a car.

A very beaten up car with the backseat on the driver’s side concaved inwards. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood.

He was late. Tired. Not feeling well.

And he didn’t want to stop.

***

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33 Comments

  1. Mary Winter
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 05:07:40

    Over all, if I got this in my submission inbox, I’d read more.

    A few minor nit picks.

    Axe your first sentence and go through and see if you can do the same to every was and were. SHOW us, as you did somewhat, with your description that Vermont was a wasteland. Plus, that first sentence made me think of a post-apocalyptic world or something. LOL!

    Hail is not snow. If it’s snowing, unless it’s some serious nasty thunder snow it won’t be hailing, because of what hail is (water droplets thrown up that freeze and then get lifted over and over again by gusts of wind until they are too heavy and fall to the ground. You won’t get that kind of convection even in thunder snow unless under pretty extreme conditions.)

    You have some beautiful lines in there though, such as the last one in the second paragraph, do don’t let the nits stop you and keep writing!

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  2. DS
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 06:01:54

    He gets motion sickness while driving? As a kid I had horrible motion sickness when in the back seat but never as a driver. There are other ways of coping with travel sickness that do not involve drugs. I had a friend who used a wrist band that seemed to work for her.

    Also too much information all at once. Some of this could easily be worked into the story later– especially if he is just getting ready to meet the other protagonist.

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  3. Cheryl McInnis
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 06:13:35

    I like it, and would definitely read more. I’d like to know what happens next!

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  4. Courtney Milan
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 07:37:26

    I actually loved the first sentence. I have no problem with “was”–in fact, it is the perfect word to use when you are trying to emphasize a strong noun (in this case, wasteland)–and you do a really, really fantastic job of merging description with character emotion and reaction.

    I do think there are a few, tiny nitpicky things you need to do to get this ready for an editor’s eyes, because you have a handful of sloppy errors here that suggest that you could use a slightly heavier hand in proofing. E.g., “Closing the window, he brushed it off.” You want “it” to be “shards of ice” but the closest words are “window” or “the side of his face.” Or, “As if someone upstairs-’or if someone downstairs had heard his thoughts-’little pellets of round hail pinged against the windshield and through the open window.” If you remove the phrase in em-dashes, the sentence is still supposed to work. But here this comes out as “As if someone upstairs little pellets of round hail. . . .”

    I also thing that this can be tightened–not a lot, because it’s already pretty tight–but just a twitch. You have a whole paragraph, three sentences long, of how snowy it is. I’m not sure what each sentence adds, besides, “yup, it really is snowy. No, I mean it–you have never seen this much snow. Holy crap, that’s a lotta snow.” Don’t need to overdo it.

    BUT–these are truly, truly, minor things, and one final careful editing pass will find these things and eradicate them. Otherwise, I really, really liked this and would keep reading.

    My only warning is this: From this page, my only worry would be if the pace didn’t pick up. I think this page is great, because with the undertone of all this great description (trees lining up like sharpshooters) is that nothing is happening NOW, but you are signaling to the reader, PACE ABOUT TO PICK UP, fasten your seatbelts! And that is a *great* thing to do, and you’ve done it so well.

    If the pace does not in fact pick up when he gets to that car (e.g., suppose he drives by the car and starts thinking about how snowy it is), I will immediately put this down and buy another book, because this page promises me action is coming.

    Given the skill with which you’ve done this page, I doubt you’ll fall into that trap.

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  5. Leah
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 07:49:29

    I like it. Same point about the hail, but that’s just terminology. Also, I don’t get motion sickness while driving (don’t get it at all), but I do get panicky in all modes of travel, esp in bad weather, in unfamiliar terrain, when I’m tired, etc. It can feel awful, like I’m one second away from disappearing. So I could relate to your hero…. Maybe you don’t want him panicky, exactly, (although he seems to have had a lot of stress–did he just get out of the military, or a deployment?), but I can see the discomfort thing working.

    But I like it–I really, really like it.

    Good job and good luck!

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  6. joanne
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 08:13:14

    There is enough good writing and information on this first page for me to be interested in what happens next but I have to agree with Courtney that the pace, for me as a reader, is problematic.

    The landscape descriptions are great but maybe some of them could be used later in the chapter? There is also the problem (for me) of the sentence “the backseat on the driver's side concaved inwards”. It’s such a nit-picky thing but it brought me to a halt in the reading. I assume you meant ‘back door’ but that’s not what is on the page.

    Thank you and much good luck!

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  7. sheila
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 08:28:53

    I agree with cutting that first line. A line of description (instead of stating what you’re about to show us) would work better for me. While I do really like the descriptive writing, all that negative (he’s carsick while driving?), the place sucks, he’s late, he had to go through rehab and now doesn’t touch 1 drop of anything (was he addicted to multiple substances?), he doesn’t want to be there anyway… and I dislike him already as a character. I find myself wondering if this is how the whole story will go.

    Cranky scrooge meets wonderful woman and falls in love? Mends his ways? Maybe not, but that’s the guess I made.

    How you handle the scene with this car he has to (I assume) stop for would definitely make me decide yes or no…

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  8. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 08:29:36

    I’d read more. The few little things I did see weren’t anything that would make me stop reading or set the book aside–mostly there was a lot of information coming in at once, but it was still fun to read.

    Good luck!

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  9. Cathy
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 08:50:12

    I thought it was good, but I didn’t like the hint that I got that Aubry doesn’t like his daughter and doesn’t enjoy spending time with her (that’s how I interpreted the paragraph starting “Normally, he wouldn’t care…”). I’m not saying he needs to find his daughter perfect and amazing, but I also don’t enjoy reading about parents who find their kids a burden – especially single parents with the tragically dead ex. Feeling nervous and off-kilter around her makes sense, but needing to grin-and-bear being around her turns me off.

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  10. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:15:41

    I like the opening line. But then the description sounds kind of beautiful, not a wasteland. And then the hero (?) thinks he’s in hell. But he’s so excited he can’t contain himself. Or is he? He’s ill, and has to grin and bear the time spent with his daughter. Then he opens the window, feels better, and in the next breath, thinks “Shoot me.”

    All of these details are contradictory, and therefore jarring. The hero seems kind of gloomy. Being nervous or sick is understandable, but you want a hero to come across as strong AND sympathetic in a first page.

    I hope this helps, because the writing itself is very good. Kudos for submitting your work here (it’s a tough crowd!) and best of luck to you.

    ReplyReply

  11. Darlynne
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:28:49

    I liked your descriptions and the first sentence because you’re giving us a pretty good look at Aubry’s rather bleak perspective.

    Now for the nitpicks:

    Then, he saw red. A bright spot of red off to the right some ways ahead of him. From here, it could be anything. Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely). When he drove closer, he could finally make out what it was: a car.

    A very beaten up car with the backseat on the driver's side concaved inwards. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood.

    He was late. Tired. Not feeling well.

    And he didn't want to stop.

    OK, is he hoping for a delay, because no one would want to see fire on a presumably deserted road, late at night. As someone who has come upon an accident, the typical response, in spite of one’s state of mind or car sickness, would be a rush of adrenaline at such a sight. He may not want to help, which is certainly understandable, but I think a more authentic initial reaction is one of alarm.

    A car wouldn’t be “beaten up”. It can be beat up, old, falling apart, etc. and “concave,” if used as a verb, must have an object.

    Finally:

    Aubry grabbed a bottle of lukewarm water …

    Since you’re already talking about Aubry in this paragraph, you don’t have to use his name again here.

    Very nice, all around.

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  12. Maya M.
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:34:55

    I also liked the first line, because it is so totally opposite of what most people would associate with rural Vermont covered in a crystalline blanket of snow – so that intrigues me right there, and gives a clue about the mindframe of the protagonist. I loved the second sentence, and the third, right up to the point that the word ‘sky’ was repeated (too soon after first mention). This kind of quick repetition of words happened in a couple of other places as well.

    He hasn’t taken any drugs – I’m guessing this is intended to mean, including the prescription variety, since there are legal drugs out there that can combat motion sickness. Might be worth making the distinction. I’m also guessing the motion sickness began in the plane, and hasn’t gotten better in the heat of the car. This might go some way to answering the legitimate question of how he can have motion sickness as the driver.

    Personally, I was put off by him wanting to be shot, so soon after thinking about his waiting little girl. Rationally, I can suppose that this is intended to show how ill he feels at that moment – but the way it is, it just makes him seem self-centered, and seems too casual a reference to death considering the ‘dead’ mother info so soon before. Similarly, the ‘he could only hope’ comment after thinking of the possibility of a fire, without any thought of how it could mean someone’s house or car is burning, maybe with that someone inside.

    Good luck!

    ReplyReply

  13. JulieLeto
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:38:04

    Gotta say…in all the Saturday submissions I’ve seen where people say, “The writing is good, but…” this is one of the few where I really do think the writing is better than good. The pacing of the sentences, the turn of phrase, the evocative description…part of me wanted to say, “but nothing is happening” and the other part of me shouted louder, “yeah, but that’s okay because I’m intrigued by the writing.” Seriously.

    However, I think you could tighten it up just a little bit so that you get to the broken down car just a bit faster. That said, it’s still awesome and I would read more.

    BTW, I don’t know of anyone who gets motion sickness while driving. It has something to do with the driver anchoring themselves on the steering wheel. I do not get motion sickness often, but when I do, one of my solutions is to take over at the wheel. Not saying it’s not possible…if someone has serious motion sickness, I suppose motion is motion. This obviously would not stop me from reading…but unless this is a big plot point later in the story, it seems a bit extreme and makes your hero not so much flawed as really weak. (Not saying that people with motion sickness are weak…just saying, if this is the hero, we’re not seeing him with such an extreme form of weakness that it might be a little hard to see him as heroic later on.)

    Again, it would NOT stop me from reading more. Great work!

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  14. shenan
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:39:44

    —Vermont was a wasteland. Trees stripped of leaves, their branches curved upwards to the sky as if pleading for salvation. But there was none to be found in the dark night sky. White, crystallized snow covered pastures, meadows, and hills. The stark nakedness of the state showed all its flaws, none of its beauty. Welcome to hell.

    I’m lost. Is this a Contemporary Romance? Romantic Suspense? SciFi? Urban Fantasy (taking place in a non-urban setting)? Horror? How is Vermont a wasteland? Was it nuked? Doesn’t sound like it from the description that followed. So why describe what is apparently a normal winter scene as a wasteland and hell? And okay, that kind of winter scene would be MY idea of hell, seeing as any temperatures below 70 make me want to grab the first plane to Arizona, but why is the hero seeing it as hell?

    How is the “stark nakedness” of the winter scene showing all Vermont’s flaws if, apparently, the entire state is covered in snow? Wouldn’t snow cover a multitude of flaws? And how does snow or bare trees or whatever “stark nakedness” refers to show flaws? How is snow on the rural ground not a thing of beauty? Even I — who thinks snow is the work of the devil and that evil doesn’t get too much more evil than cold and snow — can see the beauty in snow-covered ground.

    That second sentence doesn’t work for me as an incomplete sentence. It doesn’t follow from the one that goes before it. It’s just dropped into the story in such a way that I had to go back looking for the verb.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — descriptions leave me flat. So I’d probably ditch any book (except maybe a literary novel) that opened with any description, much less one that tries that hard.

    —-Aubry Riley tightened his hands around the steering wheel. The car wound through the roads in the direction of the highway. According to the GPS system, it was seconds away. He could barely contain his excitement. The bad weather forced his private plane to land at a smaller airport, a couple hours away from Burlington. He was supposed to be at the lake house by dinner, but he’d be lucky if he got there by midnight.

    This paragraph opens up with short, choppy sentences. A shopping list of what happens.

    Why is he excited? And maybe it’s just me, but that emotion doesn’t flow from “wasteland” and “hell.” Which made me think Aubry is the Bad Guy. The mad scientist responsible for the wasteland.

    How did we get from Aubry driving to the plane landing? Where’s the segue? How does it relate?

    —-Normally, he wouldn’t care how late he arrived except he told his daughter he’d be there. And at six years old, Roxie was too young to be disillusioned.

    Just out of curiosity — what is the right age for disillusionment?

    How is Dad arriving late a disillusionment? Has Roxie not learned in six years that people are sometimes late? How is it going to affect her negatively to have to wait a bit longer to see Dad? What am I missing?

    —-With a father like him and a dead mother, the cards were already heavily stacked against her. It made him even more determined to grin and bear it for the next month.

    I’m lost. This doesn’t make any sense. What does it have to do with anything?

    —-He turned right onto the directed highway, and the road smoothed out to a straighter path.

    What’s a directed highway?

    —-His stomach still hadn’t settled. Not once in the past fourteen years had he gotten used to traveling and had always needed to take something for his motion sickness. Since coming out of rehab almost six years ago, Aubry hadn’t touched one single drug or a sip of alcohol. He didn’t even use caffeine.

    Again there is no flow. No segue. New information is simply dropped into the middle of a paragraph.

    Why the bit about the past fourteen years? Is it important? And really — how is it he hasn’t always suffered from motion sickness? I’ve heard of it going away (or easing somewhat) but never developing in an adult. Unless there is some physical reason for the change?

    The bit about Aubry not taking something for his motion sickness was confusing. I had to read those bits twice to get that he hadn’t been able to take anything for his motion sickness due to a reluctance to take any kind of drug.

    —But, he’d forgotten how bad his motion sickness got . . . his throat was dry and his stomach empty. Aubry grabbed a bottle of lukewarm water and hoped it would ease his nausea. Taking the sip, he tasted the bitter tang of a lemon. It didn’t help.

    If the taste of lemon is bitter, I wouldn’t think it would help one’s nausea. Not sure why Aubry thought it would help.

    —-All he wanted to do was to crawl in a warm bed and fall asleep.

    When I’m car sick, all I want is for the car to stop. Right then. Right there. Forget about continuing to drive so I can get home and crawl into bed. Not to mention, once the car stops, my nausea goes away. So I wouldn’t need to crawl into bed to relieve it.

    —-He opened the window a crack. The freezing wind whipped across his flesh. It was a welcome relief, and he inhaled clean air and fresh pine.

    Is he naked? And okay, so maybe it’s just me. I’d expect the wind to whip across his face, not his flesh (which sounds like a whole lot of exposed skin).

    Clean air and fresh pine doesn’t sound like my idea of hell. Actually, it doesn’t sound like Aubry’s either.

    —-There were pine trees of varying sizes lined along the highway like an army waiting to open fire.

    We go from hell to fresh country air to pine trees waiting to open fire. Which is it? Nice or hell?

    —–Shoot me, he thought. Shoot me and put me out of my misery.

    His misery refers to what? His nausea? Seems a bit of an extreme cure for nausea. (Hey, buddy, stop the car. Give your stomach a few minutes to settle.)

    —–As if someone upstairs-’or if someone downstairs had heard his thoughts-’little pellets of round hail pinged against the windshield and through the open window.

    Your second dash is misplaced. Read the sentence without that phrase that’s been set off, and you’ll see what I mean.

    —-The snow started to fall sideways, so he increased the windshield wipers’ speed. It was as if he was in a snow globe, and someone had tipped it upside down and shook all the loose flakes around. The snow was falling all around, making it hard to see beyond the white. That’s all there was-’white and more white.

    Is the snow falling sideways, down, or all around?

    —-Then, he saw red. A bright spot of red off to the right some ways ahead of him. From here, it could be anything. Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely). When he drove closer, he could finally make out what it was: a car.

    How can someone mistake a red car for fire or a stoplight? And is it to the right or ahead of him? Is it on the road or off? And why would Aubry hope there was a fire ahead? Again he sounds like a bad guy. Like a Mad Scientist hoping to take delight in the destruction he has wrought.

    —–A very beaten up car with the backseat on the driver’s side concaved inwards. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood. He was late. Tired. Not feeling well. And he didn’t want to stop.

    Concave = rounded inwards.

    Is this car crashed or sitting at the side of the road (with or without a driver) with an overheated radiator? From the description, it could be either.

    As for Aubry not wanting to stop — He thinks someone in the car (in the middle of a hellhole of a snowy Vermont wasteland) needs help and his only thought is that he doesn’t want to stop? I hope he isn’t the story’s hero. (Again I say, he reads like the bad guy.)

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  15. KristieJ
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 09:58:32

    I’m another one who loved the first sentence. It grabbed my attention right off the bat.
    As for the rest – I loved it!! I found it very well written and interesting and really set the mood. There isn’t a question I’d want to keep reading this one.

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  16. LindaR
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 11:18:40

    The writing pulled me in, and I’m not a fan of straight contemporaries.

    However, when I got to “shoot me,” that’s close to what I was thinking. Story please? Clarity please? I worship at the altar of JK Rowling who teaches us: Good writing is lovely; good storytelling is essential.

    Your writing is so good that it takes a while to figure out that some of it doesn’t make sense — as pointed out by others.

    I think you’ll be able to fix it easily, because you have the skill, and the flaws don’t seem essential to your plot. You need him to be sick. Let it be chills and a fever coming on. For one thing, you lost all credibility with me when you told me he had chronic motion sickness, yet he had been piloting a small airplane. At least, I had the impression he was the one who flew it.

    You’ve got a lot of telling instead of showing. Take out the telling, and the pace will tighten up. Kill your babies:

    Vermont was a wasteland.

    Dramatic. Interesting. But still telling. Even this:

    The stark nakedness of the state showed all its flaws, none of its beauty.

    is telling instead of showing — and do you really want to use “state”?

    You’ve also got sayittwiceitis:

    Aubry Riley tightened his hands around the steering wheel. The car wound through the roads in the direction of the highway. According to the GPS system, it was seconds away. He could barely contain his excitement. (telling what you just showed)

    How about something like:

    According to the GPS, the highway was around the next bend. Aubrey Riley tightened his hands on the steering wheel of his rented car.

    For all the flaws, I’m interested enough to wonder what’s going on — but I’m certainly not invested yet and would put it down if I have to keep working this hard to make a story out of all the pretty pictures.

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  17. LindaR
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 11:20:33

    @shenan –

    What's a directed highway?

    Thank you for asking this! I wondered about that too.

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  18. vanessa jaye
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 11:25:11

    The pacing of the sentences, the turn of phrase, the evocative description…part of me wanted to say, “but nothing is happening” and the other part of me shouted louder, “yeah, but that's okay because I'm intrigued by the writing.”

    Ditto everything Julie Leto said.

    Obviously, the heroe’s on some sort of redemption arc re his character so it’ll be interesting to follow along for the part of the journey the story covers.

    I know this is only the first page, but… like a few others have said, if the leisurely pace re the developement of the story/plot continued in the long run, I’d probably bail.

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  19. Tasha
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 12:24:57

    I am apparently unusual in that I do get motion sickness while driving as well as being a passenger, and that this started as an adult. As a child I could read sitting backwards in the back of a Suburban. That being said, I agree with the person who said it doesn’t make sense to have someone with chronic motion sickness flying a small plane. Perhaps make it clear that this was a charter flight?

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  20. Anon76
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 13:30:27

    I think I’m going to have to agree with Shenan on most points.

    To me it felt like too much information was shoved in and not melded together at the right points. The segues need some work. Point A isn’t always connecting with Point B.

    And while I feel the descriptions have merit, they are also distracting. Sometimes too much of a good thing is just that, too much of a good thing. And with too much, they sometimes don’t all fit together. Especially with the bouncing of the internal thoughts.

    Just my two cents.

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  21. KC
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 14:17:17

    I loved the writing here, it’s beautiful and evocative. Whatever small things have been pointed out are easily fixed, and I’d definitely read more!

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  22. JoB
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 14:21:23

    Good writing. Some evocative lines. Sounds like an interesting story.

    I have no problem with the paragraphs of description that start this segment. Description and a slow approach to the action is fine, IMO.

    I would, however, pull out almost all the backstory.

    For instance, howsabout you don’t go into two paragraphs about the history of Roxie and his problems relating to her. A possibility would be to show the protag calling her on the cell phone and his immediate feelings about the call. Bring in the history that explains their feelings later.

    Pulling out the background and immersing us fully in the here-and-now of the story will solve any slight pacing problems that exist, ISTM.

    .
    First Random Thought is that the opening atmosphere seems uncanny. I, too, wondered whether we were in post-apocalypse-Vermont or urban-fantasy-Vermont.
    This might be solved by the book cover. Might be solved by a little recasting of the first ten or twelve sentences.

    .
    Second Thought is that car sickness doesn’t strike me as a madly heroic trait.

    Vertigo from a head injury acquired saving small kittens from an avalanche —
    Sexy. Check.
    Half a lifetime of being unable to drive thirty miles without wanting to stop and vomit —
    Not so sexy.

    he'd forgotten how bad his motion sickness got

    This man hasn’t driven outside Burlington, Vermont in fourteen years? But there’s a lake house … doesn’t he drive back and forth to that?

    .
    Third Thought. The redemption story.
    Already unimpressed with the hero’s anti-heroic mal de car, I’d put down the book when I hit drug and alcohol rehab.
    Redemption stories are not my cuppa.

    Could you change the opening to get me to read deeper into this story?

    You’ve put this former-druggie information right up front. That’s good. That means you’ve been upfront with the reader as well. It’s the way I’d do it.

    But you’re going to lose some readers, (like me,) when they pigeon-hole your story and decide they won’t like it.

    Another possibility would be to move the rehab background info to page five or seven. That would give you a chance to draw readers in with your prose and your characterization and your action before they see that this is a sort of book they don’t normally care for.
    Not a suggestion. Just a comment.

    .
    Next Thought. The single parent of a six-year-old might worry about her when he was going to be late. Cool and good.

    But knowing he would be late, he would have called and told her so. Or, discovering he would be unexpectedly late, he’d pull out his cell phone and tell the baby sitter and then talk to Roxie and reassure her.

    A heroic man in charge of a small child Takes Care Of the small child’s emotional needs. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself about it all and meditate on how unfair this is for her and do nothing useful.
    Which is what this opening feels like, just a little.

    .
    . . . and some trivial comments.

    As if someone upstairs-’or if someone downstairs

    My kneejerk reaction is — ‘How kittenish’.
    Other’s mileage may vary.

    Shoot me, he thought. Shoot me and put me out of my misery.

    Over the top reaction to car sickness and the necessity of driving on a snowy night.

    If he lives in Vermont, why does the snow and the bare landscape strike him so poignantly. This is his home. He should accept its whimsical freeze-icality without surprise.

    Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely).

    I’m not a big fan of parentheses in fiction. Just me.

    A very beaten up car with the backseat on the driver's side concaved inwards. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood.
    He was late. Tired. Not feeling well.
    And he didn't want to stop.

    Wait a minute. It’s freezing. It’s a deserted roadway. It’s night.
    The car is on fire.
    There seems to have been an accident bad enough to visibly mess up a car.
    There’s no driver standing around, so somebody may be inside the car, hurt.

    ‘OMG, somebody could be hurt! I’ll need the emergency kit. Where’s the warm blanket. I’ll call 911.”
    would be my immediate thoughts.

    He thinks, ‘Oh, bother. Now I’ll have to stop. How tiresome.’

    Wow. I hope I’m never hurt in an accident and he’s the car that comes along.

    Final Thought. Overall, my own sense is that the characterization has to be nudged a little to make the protagonist more appealing. Since I don’t read redemption stories and don’t know how one presents the original unappealing aspects of the character, I’m not sure how much nudging — if any — is needed.

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  23. LindaR
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 15:42:06

    JoB, as usual, has great comments.

    Half a lifetime of being unable to drive thirty miles without wanting to stop and vomit -’
    Not so sexy.

    spew.

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  24. Stephanie
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 15:48:28

    Some really striking nature images in the beginning, but the story began to lose me during Aubry’s internal monologue. A combination of too much info-dump re the kid and the substance abuse problems and too much self-pity. I don’t actually have a problem with a protagonist who starts out tired, grumpy, and even a bit queasy, but I’d hope he’d have the decency to try to help someone who’s in a much worse situation, even if he does it muttering and cursing under his breath.

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  25. Marianne McA
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 17:27:12

    This may well be a British vs. American English thing, but because I’m used to seeing the name spelt ‘Aubrey’ the ‘Aubry’ spelling looks odd.

    Also the phrase ‘He could barely contain his excitement.’ – I’m not sure how to read that – in the context, where his plans are coming unravelled, my instinct is to read it as a sarcastic thought: ‘I can barely contain my excitment at the prospect of driving farther in these terrible conditions’ – because I can’t imagine being that excited about reaching a highway (relieved, perhaps, but not excited.) And the ‘Shoot me’ thought later on seems to indicate that he’s not during this passage overcome with excitement about his reunion with his daughter.

    Just for myself, it’d help if I knew for sure if it was a sarcastic thought, or, if not, exactly what he’s excited about.

    And other minor point: I’d have thought someone who had a private plane would, almost by definition, be someone who travelled a lot. And it’s hard to imagine how someone who travelled a lot wouldn’t be very aware of the fact they didn’t travel well. Makes me wonder how he came to forget that fact about himself.

    Still, those are all really minor, minor points: I would read on if I was browsing – if the encounter he’s about to have is interesting, I’d buy the book.

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  26. Mischa
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 19:54:01

    @shenan

    What's a directed highway?

    I think it means that he got on the highway the GPS directed him to.

    I’m surprised at everybody who liked the writing. A bunch of it read very choppy and awkward to me. The “directed highway” being one example. Also, given the snow conditions,

    The snow was falling all around, making it hard to see beyond the white. That's all there was-’white and more white.

    I don’t understand how he could see a red car. Maybe he is seeing the car’s brake lights? But how in the world could he mistake either for a fire in the middle of a snow storm? If it is just wishful thinking, it should be a little more obvious that he knew it wasn’t really fire.

    etc, etc.

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  27. SonomaLass
    Mar 07, 2009 @ 20:32:08

    Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely).

    I'm not a big fan of parentheses in fiction. Just me.

    I don’t mind parentheses, but you need to punctuate them correctly. The period should be inside the closing parenthesis if the whole sentence (or stand-alone fragment) is within as well.

    That’s a tiny nit I’m picking; a good proofreader would catch that, along with the misplaced em dash in the upstairs/downstairs sentence.

    This intrigued me, and I’d definitely read more, but I’m with the other commenters that something needs to happen with that red car and its occupant(s). We have been inside Aubry’s head long enough and need to see him in action.

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  28. DS
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 08:04:46

    It’s possible to own a small plane and employ a pilot as well. I used to work for a firm that had a six seater– the pilot was skillful, but I was on that plane through some truly horrendous weather. If driving a car makes the protagonist sick I would not like to be in a small plane with him in a storm bad enough to force a landing.

    I don’t know if anyone mentioned this– “with the backseat on the driver's side concaved inwards” Did the author mean back door? I also have to wonder why anyone who had a problem– wreck or otherwise in a Vermont snowstorm would get out and prop open the hood. Roll the window up on a colorful piece of cloth to indicate distress would be my first thought.

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  29. Anion
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 09:38:11

    Didn’t really grab me, and I agree with others on the idea of seeing a red car as a fire or traffic light. Huh?

    Also, this is a personal nitpick, but it drives me crazy to see the consumption of caffeine-containing drinks or foods written or spoken of as “using” caffeine. If you mean he didn’t even drink coffee or soda, say it that way. (Does he eat chocolate, btw?)

    It sounds better anyway, and doesn’t leave people raising their eyebrows at the idea that drinking Coke makes them drug users.

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  30. Ann Aguirre
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 11:02:03

    The writing is lovely, and I like an anti-hero, so the qualities others have noted wouldn’t put me off. And I have no problem with someone being brutally honest in the confines of their own head. Thoughts alone don’t reveal what kind of person someone is — it’s actions also. So if he stops, even though he’d really rather not, that illuminates his character for me.

    One minor point: the repeated “y” sound in Aubry Riley makes it sound like comic book name to me.

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  31. MD
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 11:21:13

    I'm not a big fan of parentheses in fiction. Just me.

    Me, too. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. Parentheses make me aware of the fact it’s just a story I’m reading. I’m aware there’s an author and it takes me right out of the story and back into the real world. I dislike parentheses in fiction so much that if I page through a book in the store and see them, I put the book back and look for something else.
    I don’t believe they belong in fiction.

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  32. vanessa jaye
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 14:32:22

    On the point of the motion sickeness: Maybe it’s just me, but I assumed that he was still feeling nausea from the plane ride (small plane+ bad weather must have made it particularly heinous), and not that driving in the car was making him sick.

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  33. Mireya
    Feb 27, 2010 @ 18:42:10

    Looks like the spammers are loose. The message above my post is the second or third message I get in my feed that has nothing to do with the topic, and the person posting links to the same chocolate website (despite having different names). May be be worth checking the IP and blocking it. Please feel free to delete this post after you look into it. Thanks.

    ReplyReply

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