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First Page: Unnamed Historical

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***

London
December, 1845

She was beautiful, as far as whores went.

Skin luminescent beneath a layer of artfully applied rice powder. Lips of a shape that brought to mind carnal pleasures. Kohl-rimmed eyes that focused only on him.

He had paid for the best tonight and it seemed he had gotten it.

He closed his eyes as she kissed him. She tasted of brandy. Probably used it to rinse her mouth between appointments. Her perfume had been applied with a heavy hand, strong enough to make his stomach turn but not quite enough to cover the odor of feminine perspiration or the remnants of an earlier assignation. He tried to focus on the feel of her rather than the smell, waited for the rush of pleasure that such expert tangling of tongues was supposed to bring.

Pleasure, however, remained inconveniently out of reach.

The woman’s fingers plucked at his trousers and a cool rush of air signified her skilled hands had found their mark. Now. Now. This was where foreplay was supposed to turn to promise, where his body nodded its agreement with what was offered.

How many times had he done this? Dozens, certainly. Hundreds, probably. Lusty widows, a string of willing mistresses – these had made up the fabric of his romantic entanglements since he had turned sixteen. This, then, should be nothing new. He could do this with his hands tied behind his back.

Had done it that way. Several times, in fact.

But despite those memories his body refused to cooperate.

The prostitute drew back. The frown on her face struck him as being the first unpracticed emotion she had displayed this evening. “Is something amiss, Monsieur?” The false French accent hovered on the obscene, given that in the crimson-draped parlor downstairs the woman had shown a propensity to drop her h’s in true Cockney fashion.

“You tell me,” he said. “I paid for an expert.”

She gave him a sultry pout and set about proving why she was worth her exorbitant fee. For five endless minutes, she worked on him. Nipped. Prodded. Teased. Implored.

Still nothing. He remained as limp as a wet hemp rope.

Finally, irritation won out over hope. “Enough!” He pushed her gently away, wishing he was somewhere – anywhere – but here, proving himself less than a man.

The mattress sagged as the prostitute pushed herself to sitting. Her mouth creased to shadows. Christ. He had managed to upset her. Clearly, she was unused to patrons who did not respond to her attentions. It made him feel worse, if such a thing were even possible.

“It’s alright,” she offered. Her voice thickened, the French accent dissolving beneath the weight of her evident discomfit. “It ‘appens sometimes.”

But it didn’t. Not to him. Counting back to two months ago, it had never happened, not even once. He certainly couldn’t claim that anymore.

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

37 Comments

  1. FiaQ
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 07:50:04

    drop her h’s in true Cockney fashion.

    Buzzzz! Since you’ve made her an Eastender, I need to address this issue. Dropping Hs is a working-class trait that exists in many towns all over England and Scotland (no idea about Wales and N.I.). It’s not a Cockney trait. Never was. It’s a stereotypical class trait.

    “True” Cockney is basically a geographic-specific vocabulary of local dialect, loanwords (a crazy collection of Essex (mostly), northern English, Scottish, Irish, and non-British including German, yiddish, Chinese, West Indian, French and more, which is not a surprise as the East End is historically home to immigrants), and class specific.

    Example (I have a hangover so excuse my crappy attempt): “Her ‘doors is ‘aving a bit of barney wiv our soddin’ ‘un. Aah, ‘m off to wet me whistle at me local.”
    (My wife is having trouble with our young child. Aah, I’m off to have a drink at a pub. ‘Her indoors’ = wife. Barney = scuffle/fight/row/quarrel. Whistle = tongue. Local = a favourite pub; usually the nearest to home.)

    I think it would be a good idea to drop the Cockney mention and perhaps just refer it as ‘local accent’ (even though London alone has more than 30 native accents). It’s better not use something you’re not familiar with. I believe many readers don’t like seeing written accents in dialogue as well.

    (I feel sorry for the East End sometimes as their language has to be one of most misunderstood and misused stereotypes in literature. It shouldn’t be used as a short-cut to describe the poor and working classes’ accent, anyway. :D)

    Thank you and good luck.

  2. Elle J Rossi
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 08:18:07

    I’ll keep it simple. I liked it. I liked it a lot and would definitely read more.

  3. Berinn Rae
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 08:33:46

    I love, love, love how this scene starts off. I thought you really nailed it. In fact, I read through the entire first page completely hooked on the story and forgetting to critique. So I won’t. Your first page hooked me. That’s what it’s supposed to do. Great job.

  4. B
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 08:42:31

    I didn’t think I was going to like it at first, given what my expectations for the scene were after reading the first paragraph, but I ended up really liking it and would have read on. Good job.

  5. Patti
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 08:49:13

    Great job. I was hooked from the first sentence. I actually want to know what happens next :-)

  6. Polly
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 09:11:02

    Nothing wrong with the writing, I’m just not a fan of meeting the hero in a whorehouse, whether or not he can perform. I’d probably skip this one.

  7. Aspexi
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 09:20:57

    I liked it so much that I would even pay an exorbitant ebook price to purchase it.

    My only quibble is this description: “He remained as limp as a wet hemp rope.” It made my mind wander along these lines of – hmmm, doesn’t that seem awfully thin? Does that mean the hero is very long but thin? How thick is a hemp rope anyway? Maybe the hemp ropes used on ships are thicker than regular rope?

  8. Nightwriter
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 09:46:57

    While there’s no doubt this is well written, I’m also not fond of the whorehouse opening. The whore is not the heroine, of course. This first scene is meant to show us how bored and dissolute the hero is. It’s all about his flagging libido. And I’m sure that in his very next scene, he’ll meet the feisty, unconventional miss who will get the furnace below going again. Personally, I’m tired of the jaded ruling class.

    But again, this IS well written. Good job with that, and I’m sure readers who can’t get enough of this trope will love it.

  9. Janine
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 10:15:24

    This is quite well written, though you should know that since the POV character has been with so many women, I found myself hoping he was the villain, rather than the hero.

    I’m also wondering if rice powder and kohl were applied to the face and the eyes in 1845, even by prostitutes. A quick search in Google Books did not turn up references to such uses.

    That question did niggle at me as I read this excerpt. I liked it otherwise.

  10. Gwynnyd
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 10:32:27

    Interesting beginning.

    Unlike Nightwriter, I think it’s clear he met whatever caused this – the woman of his dreams or nightmares? – two months ago. I would certainly read on to find out.

    I am not an accents expert, so the cliche of the dropped h as a marker of lower class did not bother me. You could just leave off the qualifier phrase “in true Cockney fashion” and solve the quibble even to FiaQ’s satisfaction. However, the “alright” made me cringe. That new modern spelling might be (marginally) acceptable in a contemporary, but it felt wrong, wrong, wrong for a historical and tossed me right out of the story for a beat. Two keystrokes to make it “all right” and that quibble is solved too.

  11. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 10:36:48

    The “gotten” niggled at me. Unless your character is American, it’s not usual in English English. Yes, it existed, but to the modern reader, “gotten” screams “American.” (I did a poll once in the RNA, the Brit Romantic Novelists’ Association and from the question “What one word tells you the novelist is American?” the word “gotten” screamed home – with no prompts from me).

    Also, “alright.” It’s “all right.” Always.

    The Cockney reference has been covered. I think the word had come into use by then, but the accent isn’t right for a Cockney lass. In the UK, there is also “Cockerney,” the cod-Cockney exemplified by Dick Van Dyke (I thought he was trying to be Irish when I first saw “Mary Poppins”!) This is definitely Cocknerney

    Apart from that, it’s well done and well researched. A little clean up and you’re good to go.
    My main problem is different. None of the above would stop me from reading on if I cared about the hero. I want some indication that he’s more than a man-slut who frequents brothels. He doesn’t interest me enough, yet. He reads like a bit of a sleaze, and I just thought he was getting what he deserved and his limp willie might be because of the disease he undoubtedly has by now.

  12. Jo
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 10:53:24

    I get weirded out by the men who have been to whores probably ‘hundreds’ of times. I think eeew! Diseased! Just can’t go on from there. I hate it when reality intrudes, but there you have it.

  13. Las
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 10:57:01

    I’m currently bored with that type of hero, so I wouldn’t rush to read this. It’s not the whorehouse setting, per se, it’s just that the “bored and dissolute” hero has been done to death, and I need a break. But I really like the writing, and as long as the whole book doesn’t go on and on about the hero’s reprobate past and how he’s so bored with it all–and as long as the woman who’s brought him to this point isn’t a totally innocent virgin because good GOD am I sick of that pairing–I would definitely add this to my TBR.

    By the way, do we ever get updates on these FPS posts? There have been several that I’d like to know if they’ve been published.

  14. Aislinn
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 11:05:46

    I like the writing here. I think it’s engaging. Agree on “gotten” and “alright.”

    I’d like to point something else out here, though. A dropped “h” is characteristic of a native French speaker, because the “h” sound doesn’t exist in French, and therefore a French speaker has a great deal of difficulty pronouncing it. So using the dropped “h” as an indication of the prostitute easing back into her usual accent doesn’t work for me.

    Best of luck with the story.

  15. Mari
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 12:04:50

    I’m not a huge fan of rake heroes, and there’s not much here to differentiate this one. Maybe it would be better to keep the scene but not as a starting point? Also, your opening line – “She was beautiful, as far as whores went”. Wouldn’t it have been expected for an expensive prostitute to look good? I’m not sure it needs to be pointed out like this.

    You write well and it has potential. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

    p.s. I second Las’s request for updates on past first pages.

  16. Ell
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 12:41:09

    @Lynne Connolly: According to Dick Van Dyke, his dialect coach was in fact Irish.

  17. brooksse
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 13:48:43

    @Jo:
    “I get weirded out by the men who have been to whores probably ‘hundreds’ of times. ”

    I had a different interpretation to that paragraph than you did. I interpreted the ‘hundreds’ of times he had “done this” to be the number of times he had had sex, not the number of times he had visited prostitutes. And perhaps not necessarily a reference to sex with ‘hundreds’ of different women. The fact that the paragraph went on to mention mistresses and widows, without mentioning prostitutes, gave me the impression he didn’t normally visit whorehouses. But whatever happened two months earlier had left him desperate enough to visit one.

    So I might be interested in reading more, to find out what had happened two months prior, and to see if the hero lived up to the potential of being something other than a rake waiting to be reformed. (I liked that he felt bad about upsetting the prostitute. It made me think the character might not be just another bored rake.) It would depend on whether the blurb sounded interesting.

  18. Terri
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 13:50:40

    I really like it. I would definitely read more. Good job and thanks for putting it out there.

  19. sarah t
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 14:10:14

    I loved this. Really. I would read on for days. But I do second the reference to wet hemp rope, and the distaste for him having done “this” hundreds of times. I’m really fine with him having slept with hundreds of women…but just not hundreds of working-class prostitutes. Maybe, after two months of limpness, he goes to this cheap prostitute as a last resort?

  20. Linda Winfree
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 15:05:39

    I would read on. As a reader, historicals are my glom of choice, and I like this guy, rake or not. I also assumed brothels were not the actual topic of the “hundreds” of times, but that he was sexually experienced with women of his class. Actually, I further assumed he was in fact with the prostitute now as he’s been impotent for two months and would not want that bandied around if he failed to perform with a woman or women of his class.

    The voice is smooth and well-written to me. I would want the payoff, i.e., what happened two months ago, to be something awful and awesome, not simply a minor hook to suck us in.

    Think I would want to know if this one sells so I could read it in its entirety.

  21. job
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 15:26:38

    I like the writing. I like the clarity and good narrative drive. I would read onward a ways, looking to see what’s ahead.

    In re accent: Any mention of the dropped ‘H’ is likely to embroil one in lively controversy. Speaking of the insertion of etymologically unjustified ‘H’s or Cockney diphthongs does not.
    And one can avoid this altogether with a simple ‘the speech of Seven Dials’ or ‘Whitechapel’.

    When we come to the membrum not-so-virile.
    This has a certain gritty realism. I like breaking tropes. I should applaud breaking the hero-as-rampaging-steed sterotype.

    And yet . . . And yet . . .

    If this is a Romance, will I be able to forget the hero’s limp noodle?

    Finally, I get tired of the misogyny of the hero using women sexually while being contemptuous, but this is — God knows why — common in the genre

  22. Barbara
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 17:30:55

    I would definitely want to keep reading, but as many have pointed out, a little more research. The accent for one, but also the make-up attributed to the woman. That does not ring true. I did wince at the wet hemp rope, a different analogy would read better.

  23. Romily Bernard
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 17:48:17

    I love this! Would snap it up right away in a bookstore.

  24. Joy
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 19:36:56

    I would want to continue reading this. I want to know what happened 2 months ago. Although some little snarky thing in my head make me wonder if this was a 19th century Viagra commercial.

    I believe many readers don’t like seeing written accents in dialogue as well.

    As long as it’s done well. But not with the detail of Shaw in the opening of _Pygmalion_. If you can’t do cockney correctly, leave it vague.

  25. Sandy Williams
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 19:48:04

    I’m hooked! Great writing and an engaging set up. Like a few others mentioned, though, I’d like a reason to like the hero within the next few pages.

  26. Julia Sullivan
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 20:30:10

    It is risky to start from over-the-shoulder of the hero being a creepy misogynist user with ED, as others have said. But I’d be interested to see if you could pull it off.

    If this is actually an M/M romance, then you intrigue me even further…

  27. Amber Shah
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 21:49:59

    I do like this and would definitely want to keep reading. I’d just really hope that the reason behind his impotence went beyond the bored-rake-syndrome.

  28. galwiththehoe
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 04:08:29

    I dislike the character and it overshadows my enjoyment of what I think is fine and competent writing.

    This doesn’t mean at all that your first page is bad. I think quite a few previous posters see the potential for a redemption story. However, I will snap a book shut, if the very first line is already a misogynistic insult. Hot button. Pushed.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  29. Author
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 06:55:29

    Thanks for everyone for all of their comments! This is such an incredible service to newbie authors… very, very appreciated.
    I am already revising based on some of the insightful comments… for example, wet hemp rope. Gone. Makeup changed to rouge (I know rice powder and Kohl were around, but probably more eastern than European?) Cockney– gone. Gotten — gone (yes, I’m American. LOL). I am struggling with a desire to at least keep a generic dropped h, although I know this may be a point of contention for some readers.

    So lots of discussion on the premise… hopefully some of you will be pleased to learn the hero is not a bored rake. In the next page, you will learn that his visit here is an anomoly, a last ditch attempt to try to see if he is really impotent or not. Brooksse (Comment #17) correctly interpreted the ‘hundreds of times’ comment – it is a totality of experience, with not that many women. I think it comes out more clearly on the next page, but perhaps I need to soften it in page 1. Las (comment #13) – I think my heroine may be up your alley – not anything close to a virginal miss (but also not the whore in scene 1). Could an impotent viscount be paired with anything less? LOL

    At any rate, thank you to everyone for the fabulous comments and even the criticisms – they were all worth the chewed nails of putting this out there! I am as yet unpublished and this is my newest WIP that isn’t quite finished yet. I do have a website (www.jenmcquiston.com), but I don’t have anything on this work up yet. However, if anyone has a burning interest to read chapter 1, you can email me ([email protected]) and I would be happy to send it along.

    Thanks again!

  30. FiaQ
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 14:05:34

    @Joy:

    As long as it’s done well. But not with the detail of Shaw in the opening of _Pygmalion_. If you can’t do cockney correctly, leave it vague.

    I vote for “when in doubt, leave it out”! :D In fact, unless you were brought up with a certain accent or dialect, it’s better to have it checked with a native or not to do it at all. Even Judith Ivory couldn’t pull it off. My eyeballs recoiled in horror when I came across her attempt for one character in one of her historical romances. (Sorry, DA Janine!)

  31. FiaQ
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 14:10:14

    @Author: I missed your comment. Dropping Hs to hint at a character’s background is completely fine as long as ‘cockney’ isn’t mentioned in association. :D I’m sorry that I didn’t mention this in my previous comments – I like your first page. I’d read on. Many thanks.

  32. sarah mayberry
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 16:52:58

    I want more. Great first page. Really nicely written, smooth and polished. I didn’t have problems with anything. But clearly people know more about dropped h’s than me. I also thought the sex reverie was about girlfriends and widows, not prostitutes. And as I don’t know how old he is yet, not sure how much of a man slut he is. But I want to know more, and I thought he showed a glimmer of conscience and heroism when he was dismayed by the prostitute’s upset. She’s not just a commodity to him.

  33. Las
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 17:53:53

    @Author: Ah, then I’d definitely keep reading!

  34. Shelley
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 18:52:53

    Loved it. Would definitely keep reading.

  35. bettie
    Apr 18, 2011 @ 00:58:25

    Engaging and well-written. I want to read more.

  36. Helene B Lawrence
    Apr 18, 2011 @ 03:51:56

    I definitely want to read more!

  37. Maura
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 13:09:34

    That’s a lot of makeup for 1845, even for a whore. “Powder” and “paint” had been around for quite some time in England, but their use was frowned on and often satirized- a popular character in Georgian farces and cartoons was the “mutton dressed up as lamb” lady trying to make herself look younger, and her painting ways were a common source of ridicule. A naturally good complexion was much more prized, and if a woman were to resort to paint she’d want to be subtle about it. I don’t think a man looking at a heavily made-up prostitute would find her gorgeous so much as cheap-looking. Maybe for a streetwalker this might work, but it sounds like she’s meant to be a high-class hooker, and so she’d be more likely to affect the natural look unless she was going for a particularly “exotic” theme.

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