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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary Suspense

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***

Serena was pacing around her hotel room for the second time when her cell phone rang. She picked up on the third ring.

"Miss Chirk?"

"Yes." What a stupid question. Only Jones knew where to find her. But if she didn’t answer, he might send someone to this faceless hotel to check on her.

"Not good enough," the male voice snapped. "Ms, not Miss. Remember your persona. Young, sassy, independent. Get it right every time, you hear me?"

She sighed. "Sure."

Jones continued to harass her, as he always did, treating her like a child. "You can speak freely if you wish, but only on this phone. You understand?"

"Yes." She was new to this business, not stupid. But she knew if she tried to tell him that, he’d only repeat what he’d told her a thousand times before and make her recite it back to him so she didn’t think it worth the bother of responding to him now. It would only prolong the tedium. His insistence on treating her like a child infuriated her.

This whole situation made her nervous as hell. After tomorrow, she would become someone else, going undercover for the first time. And hopefully, the last. She never imagined an academic career specializing in medieval weapons would ever lead to this. Who would?

Disgraced, and trying to earn her reputation back.

She was an academic, not a politician, although as things turned out politics wouldn’t have been a bad extracurricular course. Better than fifteenth century metal manufacturing techniques in the Low Countries, as matters had turned out.

The man she knew as John Jones-‘and there was a fake name if she ever heard one-‘ had become her immediate boss. Until further notice although if she performed this one task well, she could get out that much faster. Or so Jones had promised her.

Like she believed that any more. She snorted, but when Jones said "What?" she explained, "Just a drink going the wrong way."

"Put the drink down and listen to me. You have tomorrow to get your act together, then you’re on. From the moment you get on the plane to New York, you are Serena Chirk, and you’d better remember that. You know how important this is, so shape up and get on with it."

Her body hummed with anger, but Jones didn’t let up. "I want you in bed early, thinking hard about the assignment. This is your first, Serena. You might find you like it. We might want to keep you."

Yeah, like she’d become a regular FBI agent when this nightmare finished. If they wanted to keep her, she’d want her reputation back, and that was just for starters. "I know you’ve got me over a barrel. So fuck me and get on with it." The new, cruder language came with the job. Not that academics didn’t use their fair share, once out of the classroom.

Anger and recklessness filled her heart. The constant checking, the reinforcements, the reminders infuriated her. Her hand tightened on the receiver. "You know what, Jones, or whatever your name is? You’ve shoved national security at me, destroyed my life, threatened me every chance you’ve had. I’m tired of it, do you hear me?" For the first time in six months she felt empowered, a new resolve filling her veins with fire. "I’ll do your job and I’ll do it well, but you know what, tonight is mine. Before I start your fucking job, before I get the sword back, I’m having tonight. Don’t send anyone to look for me, don’t call me because I’m off duty." She didn’t wait to hear his answer. If he sent someone after her, she’d see just how good her self-defense lessons turned out to be. Kicking a man in the balls might alleviate some of the sheer fury she felt when she recalled how easily they’d used her.

She cut the call and immediately switched off the phone.

Jones had the ability to use her any way he wanted to, until she worked out a way to get out of this unholy mess, but tonight she’d kick back.

That crack about keeping her came as the final straw. One assignment, using her particular specialty and they would make sure she had her life back, they’d said. Now they wanted to renege on that?

Anger filled her heart. She could do nothing about this situation. They had the only proof that she hadn’t cheated, hadn’t stolen and attempted to defraud her university. The FBI held her qualifications and her life in its greasy little palm.

Well fuck them. Fuck them all. Tonight was hers, the last night before she went into servitude for God knew how long, posing as someone she wasn’t, lying and stealing in the name of justice. If she were to be someone else, she’d act like it, really get into character. Maybe get drunk, maybe find a man to flirt with.

Striding to the closet, she grabbed her jacket then went back to the table where she’d thrown her meager belongings. She found her hotel room card, her wallet, and then paused and stared at herself in the mirror.

Shoving her long, dark hair back off her face she secured it with a clip, leaving the shorter strands at the front to swing free. A quick application of lipstick and she’d done She was nobody. Just for tonight, she was nobody. A symbol, caught between one life and the next, and her slate completely blank. She could write whatever she wanted on it, and nobody would know. Neither Serena Forrester nor Serena Chirk would be responsible for her actions tonight.

***

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37 Comments

  1. Kristie(J)
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 06:59:42

    I know others with a better handle on technique will be able to give better technical advice, but as a reader on a visceral level, I really liked it. After reading this page, I’d get it to find out more.

  2. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 08:21:40

    The voice worked for me. I’m kind of wondering, though, about this part:

    Jones continued to harass her, as he always did, treating her like a child. “You can speak freely if you wish, but only on this phone. You understand?”

    Yeah, cell phone are generally considered secure, I think. But would there be a possibility of bugs/transmitters wherever she is going? The cell phone might not be tapped, but her area could be.

    Also, while I’m more than happy to suspend disbelief when reading, there would need to be some serious explanation on why an academic was pulled into the FBI-I’m assuming it’s because she specializes in weapons, but my immediate thought while reading through was, the FBI probably has people who specialize in almost everything so why isn’t there an agent covering this?

    While the idea in general is interesting, the opening line seemed to lack something. It’s just not attention-grabbing enough.

    Those were the only major things, personally, for me.

    Good luck and good job…I’d read on.

  3. Anon
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 08:49:46

    Um – it’s the author.
    Just wanted to say – it’s a paranormal romantic suspense not a contemporary. I had real problems with this one, which is why I posted it here. I’ve since written a different first chapter, action stuff with the hero, but I’m still not sure. If you want that first page, I’ll post it, but this is how I sent it out. It’s unpublished, uncontracted.

  4. Barbara Sheridan
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 09:21:52

    I liked this a lot. It was smooth enough for a first read through and left enough unanswered questions to make me want to read on.

    The only thing that gave me pause was what Shiloh brought up: the FBI thing. I’d really want a plausible reason for her to be brought (or from the sound of it) coerced into this undercover thing.

  5. NCKat
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 09:26:41

    Why the FBI? Why not the CIA? That would make more sense to me.

    I like it overall – it’s just that the opening sentence is a bit passive for me. It could be something like this:

    Serena answered the cell phone on the third ring. She’d been pacing around the hotel room just to make him wait.

    I’d read this.

  6. Marsha
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 09:29:44

    Speaking from a reader’s perspective, here.

    I’d read on but would look for more ooomph very soon. The FBI here reads as the bad guy(s) but the voice doesn’t sound authentic, to me. Unless Mr. Jones is Bad Cop? The names also don’t grab me. “John Jones” strikes me as cliched (although perhaps that’s part of the point?) and the surname Chirk doesn’t seem heroine-ish to me.

    But, yes, I have some questions I’d like answered so I’d keep going: Does she meet someone when she goes out that can help her? Someone who’s been trailing her? Does Mr. Jones turn out to be the hero, someone who needs to keep her at arm’s length?

  7. joanne
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 09:42:09

    I like the voice, I like the pace, I like the heroine enough to wish the FBI had given her a name other then Chirk.

    I re-read it starting with

    This whole situation made her nervous as hell. After tomorrow, she would become someone else, going undercover for the first time. And hopefully, the last. She never imagined an academic career specializing in medieval weapons would ever lead to this. Who would?

    by eliminating the (to me) odd conversation it starts with here it really, really worked for me as a reader.

    Much good luck and thank you.

  8. Erastes
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 10:22:08

    I quite like the beginning but I don’t like the woman at all – but that’s not so unusual – I suppose she has to go through her own journey and learn to grow up, perhaps. She strikes me as whiny, it doesn’t strike me as him being harrassing, and she overeggs the “treats me like a child” thing – then goes and acts like one – but as I say – she’s probably got some maturing to do within the book.

    I don’t know why it’s not a contemporary though – even if it’s paranormal – with cell phones it seems pretty contemporary.

  9. Maya M.
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 11:23:47

    My impression is of repetition, in theme and actual wording;

    – paced a secondtime, on the thirdring, told her a thousandtimes
    – treated like a child, treated like a child
    – infuriated, infuriated
    – never/ever

    I’m also a little confused about her perspective. Nervous, irritated, angry, in tedium. I understand that a mix of emotions, even contrary ones, happen IRL all the time. But for someone who’s an academic (= very smart) she somehow doesn’t give the impression of understanding some basic things about her situation. She’s an untrained person going out on a sensitive mission for the very first time, and admits to being nervous herself – why would it be hard for her to understand that this Jones character, presumably responsible to some degree for how everything would work out, is trying to do everything in his power to use the last remaining time to best effect? For her to be bored with his repetitions makes sense, but should be par for the course for anyone starting a new job (forget about a critical one). For her to become ‘infuriated’ at such a relatively minor thing, IMHO, makes me question how sound her judgement will be during the mission rather than having sympathy for her.

    I did like the idea of a female specialist in obscure medieval weaponry, though.

    Good luck!

  10. karmelrio
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 11:25:40

    My first vibe when I started reading this was “Witness Protection Program.” It took a re-read for me to get that she was working for – or was being blackmailed(?) to work for – the FBI.

    I agree with Erastes that Serena sounds a little whiny. I can understand why Jones might treat her like a child.

    I agree with Shiloh on a number of technical/research points: very, very few cell phones are secure – unless they’re using paranormal technology which you establish is superior to ours. And any (typical, human/Earth-bound) law enforcement agency would have to have a VERY VERY unusual situation at hand to even consider putting a civilian – much less a civilian academic – in an undercover situation.

    Does the law enforcement agency have to be the FBI? If this is a paranormal, could you create a new agency with similar concerns, but which uses different, perhaps questionable, tactics? This might give you an opportunity to start planting some hints that this is a paranormal – which I didn’t get AT ALL from this excerpt.

    Great last line.

  11. Emmy
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 12:04:21

    OMG- finally, a book that had some editing done! I could actually read it at normal speed.

    I liked the first page and would be interested in reading further, although that Jones guy irritated the snot out of me.

    One assignment, using her particular specialty and they would make sure she had her life back, they'd said

    That made it sound more like a paranormal. What particular specialty could an educator have that would get an object back for the feds?

  12. Seressia
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 12:08:02

    A nitpicky comment: she’s on a cell phone, she could be anywhere. So the “Jones knowing where to find her” doesn’t exactly track. Maybe she thinks something like, “Who the hell else would it be? He’d bought the disposable mobile for her two weeks ago, when this farce began.” or something like that.

    There’s also a little repetition:

    She was an academic, not a politician, although as things turned out politics wouldn't have been a bad extracurricular course. Better than fifteenth century metal manufacturing techniques in the Low Countries, as matters had turned out.

    “treating her like a child” in two successive paragraphs. And both characters say “Get on with it” also in two successive paragraphs.

    Another nitpicky moment for me:

    This whole situation made her nervous as hell. After tomorrow, she would become someone else, going undercover for the first time. And hopefully, the last. She never imagined an academic career specializing in medieval weapons would ever lead to this. Who would?

    Disgraced, and trying to earn her reputation back.

    The “who would?” of course is rhetorical, but it is a question. What you have following it is not the answer, it in fact is the punch line to the sentence before the question. Me, I’d strike the question.

    This paragraph comes across cumbersome, especially with the brevity of the others:

    Anger and recklessness filled her heart. The constant checking, the reinforcements, the reminders infuriated her. Her hand tightened on the receiver. “You know what, Jones, or whatever your name is? You've shoved national security at me, destroyed my life, threatened me every chance you've had. I'm tired of it, do you hear me?” (I’d put a paragraph break here) For the first time in six months she felt empowered, a new resolve filling her veins with fire. “I'll do your job and I'll do it well, but you know what, tonight is mine. Before I start your fucking job, before I get the sword back, I'm having tonight. Don't send anyone to look for me, don't call me because I'm off duty.” She didn't wait to hear his answer. If he sent someone after her, she'd see just how good her self-defense lessons turned out to be. Kicking a man in the balls might alleviate some of the sheer fury she felt when she recalled how easily they'd used her.

    I agree, if it’s paranormal, change the agency to some shadowy organization. Otherwise this opening scene seems too normal and therefore not plausible. The FBI would use a civilian to wire tap if said civilian knew the perpetrator, but using a civilian to go solo undercover? You can’t use the CIA because they aren’t supposed to operate on American soil. A weird-sounding agency will help place us in a paranormal frame of mind, and helps us suspend our mundane beliefs.

  13. DS
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 12:29:51

    Nitpick– the Miss/Ms thing. Does anyone actually get snarky over that these days? Even if they are young and *ugh* sassy (hate sassy as much as I hate feisty).

  14. Anon
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 12:49:47

    It’s the author again.
    You’re highlighting the problem I had with this scene, so thank you for confirming what I thought!
    It doesn’t say “paranormal” and it’s not clear about what’s really happening. Serena is being set up and it’s not the FBI at all, but they’ve blackmailed her into this.
    When she meets the hero in the next chapter, he smells big fat rats and takes her in, because he IS an agent of a paranormal organisation. Serena has been moved and kept short of sleep and harrassed, so yes, she’s whiny, and I don’t think that’s fully explained, either. I was hoping that at the end of the first chapter, when the reader learns she’s been sent out into the field after six months’ training, they’d guess, but it just looks as if the writer hasn’t done her research.

    here’s the start of the new chapter one. Serena gets chapter two now. I’m hoping it’ll explain the setup better, and since there’s a bit of swordplay later on, a big start.

    Michael stood in the alley, his senses on high alert. He allowed the other part of him free rein, the dragon that was as much Michael Patrick as the man. If anyone saw him now, they'd see the glow in his eyes, the slightly distorted pupil but because he was fully dressed, it would be harder to see the scales shimmering across his skin in waves. He felt them in prickling shudders that sent a mix of heat and apprehension across his body. Rats shuffled at his feet, and the stink of unwashed humanity attacked his nostrils, both effects magnified now he’d shifted.

    Who knew Pittsburgh had such dark, stinking byways? But every city had them, if you knew where to look. Living in the shadows was what he did best, along with his compatriots who strove to live normal lives while hiding their gifts. This was just one more shadowy operation against a shadowy organization, his against theirs, the people who wanted to destroy him and his kind.

    He fingered the note in his pocket that he'd found shoved under his hotel door.
    A movement behind him made him spin around and flatten his back against the wall behind him, heedless of his clothes against the grimy brickwork. This could be Victorian London, with Jack the Ripper lurking in the shadows. But it wasn't. These days weapons were more lethal, with less contact between attacker and victim. Michael bared his teeth. He missed the old days.

    A door opened, a crack of golden light gleaming through. “In here,” a low male voice said. Michael didn't move. “Serenissima.”

    The code word. Michael murmured the response, “El más sereno,” and moved forward.

    Once inside the gloomy lobby, he allowed the man to search him for weapons. He forced the dragon deep under the surface. He could shape-shift faster than this bruiser could produce a weapon, and break the man's neck with little effort. Not that he wanted to. That wasn't what he'd come for, but if it happened, it would be a welcome bonus.
    If they'd damaged the sword, he wouldn't hesitate to kill them all. The weapon had been stolen from the Metropolitan Museum, along with a number of other valuable medieval artifacts, but the sword held something the others didn't. It was now the only item from the haul still missing, and probably the true reason for the theft. As well as being one of the few surviving examples of a superb period of design, the sword held a secret, one his enemies would happily kill to obtain. A container for the very essence of a shape-shifting dragon, given to the weapon with the lifeblood, and capable of making another shape-shifter.

    The muscular man led the way to an inner office. Bright lights illuminated a well appointed office, with a large mahogany desk and a display case containing a number of weapons. A laptop computer lay on the desk, and nothing else, not even a phone. No window, sadly, so if he had to get away in a hurry, it would have to be through one of the two doors, one the way he came and the other leading to the inner part of the building.

    Nothing here felt like DI, enemy to all his kind. The bastards would have lured him in and captured him, and that would have happened by now. These people were what they claimed, ‘honest fakers' who came by the sword by accident. They'd contacted his office as a way of making some money but keeping out of the official picture. Not unusual for his organisation (named in the original).

    So if these people really had the sword, he had to move fast, because D.I. could be hot on the trail.

    The muscle left and Michael guessed he was to cool his heels and grow nervous. Not a chance.

  15. Tracey
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 13:01:46

    I was just completely turned off by the heroine. My reaction was, “Ho-hum, another whiny, immature heroine who thinks that losing her temper makes her both sympathetic and badass.”

    Perhaps she’s supposed to undergo the hero’s journey and grow up, but I didn’t sense that. I saw a woman:

    1) who is described in attractive terms;
    2) who can apparently get a man any time she wants (she’s going out to find a guy, get drunk and get laid, at the end)
    3) who is an academic whose expertise is in esoteric fields and yet is going to take an action role as an undercover agent;
    4) whose “flaw” is that of an extremely bad temper;
    5) who doesn’t suffer any consequences for chewing out her boss (like a normal person would);
    6) whose boss is supposed to be a consummate jerk but who doesn’t seem t all unreasonable, given that he’s working with a civilian who’s never worked undercover;
    7) whose boss works for an evil organization that is pulling the strings of the heroine’s life;
    8) who wants revenge on the evil organization;
    9) who has survived a plethora of bad things with ease;
    10) who will end up with a dragon shapeshifter;
    11) and who is named Serena–the ultimate Mary Sue name…

    …well, then, I’m not seeing a character that I expect to mature as the book goes along. She’s beautiful, intelligent, expert in esoteric areas, capable enough so that the FBI went to HER for help instead of picking a trained agent, able to defend herself, forced to work with a law enforcement organization she despises, has a nice flaw (a bad temper directed only at those who are wrong, i.e. those she doesn’t like or agree with), will get involved with at least one shapeshifter and can get fucked any time she wants. What does she need maturity for? She’s already Anita Blake!

    And frankly, I think that one Anita Blake is already more than enough.

  16. Seressia
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 13:32:49

    Thanks for posting the new version (will get to it in a moment) but it leads me to a question:

    Why didn’t you email Dear Author and ask them to replace your first page with the new version, especially if you already knew you didn’t like this one/didn’t want to go with it/would rather have feedback on the new version?

    I’m not trying to be antagonistic, honest. Just wondering at the spate of folks who put these up and say it’s changed or it’s a just a rough first draft or what-have-you without it being polished to within an inch of its life.

  17. Anon
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 13:41:28

    Because I still wasn’t sure which one to go with. I love the first bit, but readers don’t so much. The second page could be chapter two, since the events are happening at the same time, the chapters could go either way around. So I’d really like to know which one you think makes the best first page and what faults are there. You’ve helped me hugely so far.
    And she’s no Anita Blake (not that I’ve ever read that). She sucks as an agent, and she hasn’t had a man for years.

  18. Doreen Orsini
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:05:20

    While I agree that the FBI would have an expert, that left me wanting to know what else they had on her to be able to force her into servitude. This excerpt ended perfectly. I can’t wait to see what happens during her last night of freedom, but I also am dying to see what her assignment entails and if she’ll bump into Mr. Jones.
    Doreen

  19. Jage
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:20:33

    As a reader, I have to say it grabbed my attention but I never took it for a paranormal, which, depending on how well you are at peppering hints throughout can work, but I think the new chapter one could help clear things up if you put them together? Because it could be jarring to go from reading about a Dragon to Serena being whiny.

    Also, is there anyway to show her nervousness about this instead of just her irritation? I’d feel more sympathetic to someone who’s lashing out because she’s nervous, scared and doesn’t feel in control.

    And for the new chapter:

    A door opened, a crack of golden light gleaming through. “In here,” a low male voice said. Michael didn't move. “Serenissima.”

    The code word. Michael murmured the response, “El más sereno,” and moved forward.

    Why wouldn’t the Thug have said the code word first if there’s a response to it to make sure Michael was the right man before inviting him in?

    A container for the very essence of a shape-shifting dragon, given to the weapon with the lifeblood, and capable of making another shape-shifter.

    I don’t understand. I’ve reread it a few times and maybe I’m being slow, lol, but the only thing that makes sense to me is that with the sword, a sword they’ve left in the hands of a human museum although it’s dangerous to them, someone can create another shape-shifter. How? By killing a shape-shifter with it and then an Immortal style power transfer happens? By taking the blood of a shape-shifter and putting it in the container?

    Other than that, the voice is catchy. I can understand part of her anger but it would be nice if you added a few more layers to it. Even if she doesn’t think she’s scared, mentioning something taht we as a reader can see is a result of fear and not just anger would be nice, make it easier to feel for her.

  20. cecilia
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:27:43

    Nitpick- the Miss/Ms thing. Does anyone actually get snarky over that these days? Even if they are young and *ugh* sassy (hate sassy as much as I hate feisty).

    I sure don’t care, although I do often notice what people use. Although I did go quietly bananas when my bank put “Miss” on my cheques when I’d ordered the cheques to have no title at all.

    More to the point, I think Tracey raises some really good points about this. Even though you say she’s no Anita Blake, she does come off as the type. And the academic expertise that this character supposedly has seems more like a plot device than an authentic aspect of her character. For instance, the reference to her specialty in Medieval weapons seemed really generic.

    Other things seemed like they needed to be tightened up:

    It would only prolong the tedium. His insistence on treating her like a child infuriated her.

    This whole situation made her nervous as hell.

    A bit of a rollercoaster – three emotions in three sentences? Bored, furious, nervous? Didn’t ring true.

    Her body hummed with anger
    Anger and recklessness filled her heart.
    Anger filled her heart.

    I have to say, tired or not, she is not a person I’d want to spend my reading time with. Maybe mentioning the sleep deprivation early on would help though? A reference to how happy she is to be in the hotel, because of the treatment she’s been getting? I don’t know. The constant allusions to her anger and how things infuriate her really put me off, though. I like my action heroines stoic, I guess. And is her name intended to be ironic?

  21. Dana
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:29:16

    The first version, I didn’t get the sense of the paranormal, but I’d still want to read the rest. It’s got swords and an expert in medieval weapons and I like the voice. I’m there!

  22. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:43:04

    Nitpick- the Miss/Ms thing. Does anyone actually get snarky over that these days? Even if they are young and *ugh* sassy (hate sassy as much as I hate feisty).

    Umm…. yes…lol. I’ve had my head taken off any number of times for such an error.

  23. Leah
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 14:51:54

    Not a big shape-shifter fan, but I love academic heroines/heroes. I didn’t really have a problem with Serena’s voice, etc., except that I kept thinking that, if it were me, I’d be more nervous, more anxious to do a good job, and kind of scared of my bosses, esp. if they had that much power over my future. I’d want to get everything right, to make sure I could get back to my normal life. But then, nobody has ever described me as “feisty.”

    As far as the Miss/Ms thing goes…when I was in my teens and very early 20’s, I liked “Miss,” because it was proper and a little ingenue. After I passed 25 w/o securing an MRS, I was more in favor of “Ms,” as “Miss” implied that I was weak, naive, and, um, a virgin. So I was a little snarky abt it (in the 90’s). I do think “Serena” is a lovely, exotic name, and not MarySue-ish.

    As far as the 2 excerpts go, I like following the story from a heroine’s point of view, but your second start flows much better (the first seemed choppy to me for some reason), and gets to the point of the book more quickly.

    Best of luck!

  24. Maura
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 17:27:49

    I’ll also agree with the Ms./Miss thing– it snapped me out of the story instantly when Serena’s contact got on her case for not correcting him. I’m single, 35, and about as independent as they come, and while I have a strong preference for “Ms.,” I’m not going to correct a casual contact, store clerk, etc. who calls me “Miss.” From the responses here, it seems as if some people are very particular about it, but since we don’t know from the get-go whether Serena is one of these people (I found it a little confusing when her contact told her to be independent and sassy, not quite seeing why this was supposed to be a big deal or unforgivable slip-up), her not calling attention to it didn’t seem like a red flag at all to me.

  25. JoB
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 18:35:29

    The first example — your current Chapter One – seems a bit static. Essentially, the protagonist sits and talks on the phone and thinks about her problems.

    Would it perhaps be more interesting to encounter this character when she’s doing something that will alter the course of the story?

    A reader might feel more sympathetic to a character who is creeping down the fire escape, trying to outwit the organization that’s attempting to ‘use’ her. — “Of course I checked in. Yes. Yes. I’m going to stay in the room all night. I won’t answer the door.”

    Then she tosses the gym bag into the alley and jumps down after it, muttering, “Damn it, Jim, I’m a historian, not an acrobat.”

    The Chapter Two you propose is an excellent Chapter Two. I’m not sure it would work well as a Chapter One, because we get no glimpse of the central relationship or a problem it will take two to solve.

    And if you want to hold off telling the reader about the paranormal element for a full chapter, I’d say you can. Just let it be something you do deliberately, for a story purpose.

  26. Susan/DC
    Nov 15, 2008 @ 18:38:03

    Another nitpick, but generally when someone goes undercover wouldn’t they be given a different first name? Especially with a fairly unique name such as Serena, it would be easier to connect her role and her real life. I seem to remember reading that when detectives go looking for someone who’s gone missing, they search for people with the same first name and/or the same initials, because people have a hard time giving up such a basic part of their identity. So while Serena is a lovely, if she’s truly playing with top-of-their-game opponents, she should probably have a different first as well as last name.

  27. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 09:24:22

    Dear Author in this case is me.
    Thank you everyone for contributing to this, it really helps me enormously. That first chapter has been driving me crazy for a while now, and I’ve reworked it so often I can’t see it straight any longer. Then a lovely agent told me what she wanted to see and some light dawned, and I wrote Michael’s scene. But I knew there was still something wrong with Serena’s scene, and I couldn’t see what it was. You helped me hugely.

    She’s being used, and she knows it. I didn’t put her dilemma strongly enough in that scene, and that was one of the mistakes I made. She’s been accused of having sex with a minor, which for an educator is devastating. It will lose her her job, her reputation, and her liberty. She didn’t do it, of course, and the organisation she thinks is the FBI has the evidence that will free her. They’ve offered her the deal – authenticate the sword, and she can go. (There’s a substitute “Serena” doing her jail sentence while she’s doing this ‘favour’ for the FBI). She’s not an action queen, she sucks at it, which the reader will shortly discover. She also sucks at the secret agent thing (Michael bubbles her almost immediately).

    I found in my research that medieval hand-made swords have almost a “fingerprint” in the way the steel is tempered and hammered, and Serena is one of only a handful of people who can authenticate it and be trusted enough by the art community to be believed. But the sword holds another secret, and this is where Michael comes in.

    And then I wrote Michael’s scene and it just flowed and since the two events are happening at the same time (Michael getting the sword and Serena pacing her hotel room) it doesn’t really matter to the plot which one I start with. So I needed help with that, too.

    Anyway, I’ve been hammering away at this thing for months when I’ve not been working on my published and contracted work, and I got to a stalemate.

    So after your advice, here’s what I’ve decided to do:
    I’ve decided to start with Michael, because it gets the reader straight into the ‘world’ and then move to Serena’s more reflective scene. Then they meet, and, well, if this ever finds a publisher, you’ll discover what happens next.

    I’ve decided to refine Serena’s scene, start with her nervous (hand trembling when she picks up the phone) and angry later, a definite trigger when Jones says something and turns her mood. I’ve written a link between Michael and Serena (he sees her on the way back from the job and knows what kind of R & R he wants) so it flows better.

    I told you this because I’ve taken part in Query Saturday and I’ve often wondered what happens afterwards, and rarely discovered it.
    So wish me luck finding an agent for this baby, because I’m really going to need it in today’s climate! And if you have anything else to say, please do, I’d love to hear any advice you have.
    Thanks so much for your help, it’s deeply appreciated.

  28. Ciar Cullen
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 11:29:36

    I’m really surprised, Lynne. I would never have pegged this as your voice, although I think I’ve read everything you’ve pubbed. This screamed category romance to me, and that surprised me when I saw it was you. I was thinking that the writing was really clean, and this wasn’t someone’s first shot at a book.

    Now I’m going to sound whiney. I’m so tired of hearing that heroines ARE whiney. Can’t someone be in a crappy situation and be a bit annoying? MUST they be women of steel, able to leap past bad decisions, bad situations in a single bound. Give the character a chance.

    I know you’ll do just fine with this book. Get the para clearer up front, and you’ll be golden.

  29. cecilia
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:36:36

    Ciar, I agree on principle that characters don’t have to be perfect – perfect is often irritating, too. The first impression is pretty important though. I was thinking earlier that if there’d been a short prologue or something that showed “normal” for this character – doing her job, in her regular mood, whatever, that all the revved-up emotion later would be more in context, feel more warranted. (I get that starting in medias res is more exciting, and I don’t suggest that all that backstory should be shown, so not something extensive). I was thinking about what actors sometimes say – if you start at a high level of emotional intensity in a scene or play, then where can you go from there? And how are you going to get the audience to be with you?

  30. Jage
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:43:17

    I agree with Ciar. I have nothing against whiny unless it’s in the first few pages. And even that I can forgive if I can believe she has a reason to whine. For this one it felt as if her ‘boss’ was being reasonable if a bit condescending since she’s new to the field and has never done it before so her whining made her annoying. Maybe if a few chapters in she’d been whining about I don’t know; having to wear a dress/heels/ etc. to steal/look at a sword or whatever we’d be more sympathetic since heels and stealthy situations are never fun. Or if we’d seen how she was regularly and then we see the fact that she’s been put in a situation outside of her comfort zone, the whining would’ve made more sense.

  31. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 15:02:28

    I think you’re overegging this because you’re trying to do too much incluing at once: there’s a lot of “and this was different from her life as an academic expert in medieval material culture” blah-blah.

    Also, the “Miss/Ms.” thing is just too artificial, coming from a standing start like that: if her controller expects her to get snappy about one mistaken honorific, he’s an unrealistic micromanager.

    Let the story unfold a little more slowly. The readers will catch up with you. It’s a great idea, and it’s going to work.

  32. Dawn Kunda
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:11:26

    Overall, I think the storyline has potential. You could have created a lot of tension and questions from that first page, but you gave away half the answers already. Show rather than tell on the first page. I am curious as to what kind of “trouble” she is going to create on her night off. If it’s paranormal, maybe she should command the cell phone to her hand through thought or something to let us know we are in another world. Pick more appropriate names to create the characters before we even know anything else about them. You have some unique descriptions, so keep writing.

  33. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:14:06

    I changed the Ms/Miss thing back to the original. She’s a doctor of philosophy, because I agree, it doesn’t work the other way.
    Ciar, you made me laugh! I will probably layer this up a bit more, because that’s how I work (and I can’t leave well enough alone, either!) but also, because I tried my hand at category romance recently. Still waiting to see about that one, but it taught me that category romance is enormously hard to write.

  34. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 22:11:34

    Now I'm going to sound whiney. I'm so tired of hearing that heroines ARE whiney. Can't someone be in a crappy situation and be a bit annoying?

    man, you put me in a bad situation, you can guarantee, I’m going to whine at least a little.

    I’d probably try to keep ‘most’ of it tucked inside, where I’m the only one who knows I’m whining, but since we’re supposed to get inside the heroine’s head…eh, in all honesty, it’s unrealistic to think characters shouldn’t ever come off as whiny.

    Most of us, at some point in our lives, have probably been a little whiny. more than likely, it’s happened at a bad time/stressful time/tumultuous time. But us writers just love to put our characters through the wringer, so those bad times are going to come. I don’t think I mind a little whining, if it’s justified, and not over the top.

  35. tls
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:11:09

    I think an academic who was asked the Miss/Ms. question would snap back “Dr.” Since she’s supposed to be using another name, I guess that’s irrelevant.

  36. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:58:17

    Because we never get this either, this is fyi, and thanks for helping! This is the new, revised scene. I think I’ll still start with Michael, to get the reader into the world and the main external goal, but Serena follows right up.

    Serena was pacing around her hotel room for the second time when her cell phone rang. She waited until the third ring to pick it up, after she'd taken a couple of deep breaths. It could only be one person. Let him wait until her racing heart recovered.
    Dispassionately, she noticed her fingers shook when she picked the cell phone up and thumbed the call button.
    “Miss Chirk?”
    “Yes.” What a stupid question. Only Jones knew where to find her.
    “Not good enough,” the male voice snapped. “Doctor, not Miss. Remember your persona. Newly qualified and proud of it. Get it right every time, you hear me?”
    She sighed. “Sure.”
    Jones continued to harass her, as he always did. “You can speak freely if you wish, but only on this phone. You understand?”
    “Yes.” She was new to this game, not stupid. But she knew if she tried to tell him that, he'd only repeat what he'd told her a thousand times before and make her recite it back to him. And then she'd end up with another sleepless night worrying about the task ahead. He'd wound her up spring-tight over the last six months, until strain, tension and lack of sleep had turned her into someone she hardly knew.
    After tomorrow, she'd become someone else, going undercover for the first time. And hopefully, the last. They wanted her, they'd asked her, she'd said no. So they'd made her an offer she couldn't refuse. If she didn't do this, she went to jail for something she hadn't done. Some choice.
    She was an academic, not a politician, although as things turned out politics wouldn't have been a bad extracurricular course. Better than fifteenth century metal manufacturing techniques in the Low Countries, as matters had turned out.
    The man she knew as John Jones-‘and there was a fake name if she ever heard one-‘had become her immediate boss. Until further notice although if she performed this one task well, she could get out that much faster. Or so Jones had promised her.
    “You were seen today, out shopping. I told you to stay put. What the hell did you think you were doing?”
    A spark of anger touched her, and like flame to a fuse, it began to fizz, burning away her despair and fear. “Like you said, shopping. I thought I'd go stir crazy in this place.”
    Jones sighed. “Okay, we're pushing you hard. But you know how important this is. Tonight, get some R&R. Just a little. Have a good meal, a drink or two. Kick back and get used to being Serena Chirk. I’ll put someone on to watch you.” It sounded like a good idea. All except the last part.
    “I might.”
    “I want you in bed early, thinking hard about the assignment, so don't stay out late. This is your first, Serena. You might find you like it. We might want to keep you.”
    That last sentence sounded like a threat rather than a promise. Jones had dragged her into the Bureau against her will, forced her to go through training she still sucked at and then shoved her into the field. Only the one fact-‘that she was one of the two experts in the USA in this particular field-‘stopped him from throwing her to her fate, or so he'd said repeatedly over the last six months. If she didn't succeed, she could wave goodbye to Serena Forrester, or serve the jail sentence.
    Anger and recklessness filled her, replacing the despair and nervousness that had consumed her up until now.
    Her hand tightened on the receiver. “You know what, Jones, or whatever your name is? You've shoved national security at me and you’ve destroyed my life. I'm tired of it, do you hear me? After this, I want my life back. And tonight, I'm taking a bit of it back for myself. Before I start your fucking job, before I get the sword back, I'm having tonight. Don't send anyone to watch me, don't call me because I'm off duty.”
    She didn't wait to hear his answer. If he sent someone after her, she'd see just how good her self-defense lessons turned out to be. Kicking a man in the balls might alleviate some of the sheer fury she felt when she recalled how easily they'd used her. She had to admit her fury was aimed at herself, just as much as the Bureau. It had proved childishly easy for them to use her.
    She cut the call and immediately switched off the phone.
    Before now she'd had nothing but respect for the law enforcement agencies. Now…?
    Well fuck them. Fuck them all. Tonight was hers, the last night before she went into servitude for God knew how long, posing as someone she wasn't, lying and stealing in the name of justice. If she were to become someone else, she'd really get into character tonight. Have a few drinks, maybe find a man to flirt with. Something completely out of character for the dedicated academic from a prestigious university. Serena Forrester had never managed to walk into a bar on her own and flirt with strangers, so maybe Serena Chirk might. Who the hell cared, because she didn't. Not any more.
    Striding to the closet, she grabbed her jacket, the only thing left there, then went back to the table where she'd thrown her meager belongings. She'd already packed, having nothing else to do with her time, and her case stood by the door, ready to wheel out the next morning.
    She found her hotel room card and her wallet, then paused and stared at herself in the mirror.
    Shoving her long, dark hair back off her face she secured it with a clip, leaving the shorter strands at the front to swing free. A quick application of lipstick and she'd done She was nobody. Just for tonight, she was nobody. A symbol, caught between one life and the next, and her slate completely blank. She could write whatever she wanted on it, and nobody would know. Neither Serena Forrester nor Serena Chirk would be responsible for her actions tonight.

  37. First Pages That Have Sold | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:01:34

    […] Connolly’s First Page entry sold to Ellora’s Cave and will be coming out as a Red Heat. The release date and cover art is […]

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