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First Page: Unnamed Historical Romance

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Coastal Maine

May 1851 

The scent of the sea wafting in through the tavern’s open window did little to drive out the stale odor of unwashed tables and floors, and even less to dispel the equally stale aroma of the unwashed men at the table by the door.

One of the sailors at the table ran a sleeve over his mouth, letting the grubby fabric absorb the ale that had dripped down his bristly chin. “There should be a law,” he sneered, eyes shifting from one to the other of his two smaller but presumably like-minded companions. “I say we send ‘em all back where they came from!”

The three men raised their mugs in enthusiastic mutual agreement, turning their collective glare toward the dark haired stranger sitting alone at the bar.

Aiden McCullough chose to ignore the loud commentary at the other end of the room, keeping his attention instead on the valiant efforts of a large brown spider constructing her web behind the bar, delicate threads stretching between the edge of a high shelf and a dusty brown bottle. Taking a stand each time another loudmouth in a tavern overheard his accent had grown increasingly tiresome. He’d walked in wanting nothing more than to rest for a time, quench his thirst and then set about tracking down the man who might help him find work. Confronting this trio of fools was the last thing on his mind, and observing the industrious arachnid’s efforts seemed far more worthwhile than reacting to the ignorant remarks emanating from the corner table.

“You got a point there, Lloyd,” a second voice at the table piped up. “Seems they just keep comin’, even though we keep reminding them they’re not welcome.”

Aiden finally tore his gaze away from the dusty shelf and stole a furtive glance at the men. They’d been settled there for quite some time already, judging by the number of mugs and pitchers that littered the table. All three looked tired and worn, faces chapped red and grimy from recent time at sea or on the docks. Experience had taught Aiden that the wearier men like these were, the more volatile they tended to become, especially when they’d been celebrating heartily. And this particular group certainly seemed to fit that category.

“Too damn many of ‘em, that’s for sure.” Lloyd raised his voice once again, emphasizing the point by slamming his mug down. Ale splashed over the side and pooled on the gouged wooden table. “Last thing we need is more of ‘em taking all our work. Next you know it’ll be like that Five Points, and we’ll be crawling with ‘em.”

Aiden tensed his jaw and tightened his grip on the half-empty mug in his hands, willing his temper into submission once more and resolutely keeping his gaze away from the men.

Lloyd gestured to the innkeeper behind the bar. “You oughta hang up signs like they do out in Portland. Keep out the undesirables!”

The innkeeper glanced quickly in Aiden’s direction.

“Money is money, boys,” he said. “Makes no difference to me whose pocket it comes from.” He reached up to the shelf and grabbed the bottle that formed the east wall of the spider’s web. The fragile creation drifted down, threads unraveling to settle into the dust on the shelf as the spider scrambled up and disappeared into a crack in the wall.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Terri
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 09:51:16

    You have a very nice voice, the descriptions you write are lovely, unfortunately, nothing is really happening on this page. I’d like to see more insight into your character. Your first page should jump out and grab the reader by the throat, or at least make us interested enough to keep reading. Just my two cents. Thanks for sharing, and you really do have a nice style. Best of luck.

  2. Matt
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 10:13:12

    I felt like I read the same passage three times in a row. Xenophobic comments, guy looks around, xenophobic comments, guy looks around…

    In general, I wouldn’t download the whole novel if it began like this — not because of the repetitiveness, but because I’ve seen this scene numerous times in many different mediums. It’s even been satirized in this famous clip.

  3. Marianne McA
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 12:27:59

    Nitpicky to the nth degree, but on the off-chance he’s Irish, it’s an unusual combination of names. (Aiden = Irish, McCullough = Ulster Scots.)
    But perhaps that’s intentional, or perhaps he’s Scottish, or perhaps I’m wrong and that combination was more common in the 1850s. I just thought I’d mention it in case it was chosen as a typically Irish name.
    (I think I only noticed it the first place because the passage invites you to try and work out where the hero is from and the name left me unsure.)

  4. Cara Ellison
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:02:57

    You have a good voice. The first line was very evocative. I would have liked to see more action – or at least tell me why I should care about these rather unpleasant men grousing in a bar. I’d give it another page or so, but if I didn’t see some action, I’d probably put it down and wait for the next book by this author.

  5. theo
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:03:35

    Unfortunately on a first page, there sometimes isn’t ‘room’ for heavy action. Frankly, I’m tired of reading something where I’m plunked into heavy action on the first page or first three pages only to find that the remainder of the novel falls far short of the opening.

    In this case, I like this entry from the standpoint that the voice is good and the descriptions were well written. Enough so that I worried for the spider when the bottle was removed.

    I need to worry about the hero. That’s the problem I see here. However, I’m interested enough to read a few more pages in to find out what happens and I’m guessing that the spider disappearing is the trigger for the hero to act.

    As to the “famous” clip, I’d never heard of it and I’m sure I’m not alone. But yes, I’ve read or seen in movies a variation of this many times. The question is, how interesting does the author make it? In this case, it’s interesting enough for me to want to read on. He’s different, looked down on, a survivor and man enough to hold his tongue. You’ve managed to establish a lot about him in a small space. That’s as hard to do as the action.

  6. Lilly
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:30:15

    The first sentence sets the scene well, but I had to read it several times. More than 40 words of description at the start can often be difficult to process. I had no stumbles with the rest — very nicely written.
    Several instances of repetition. The locals say the same thing several times; the hero “walked in wanting nothing more than ….” then in the next sentence “Confronting this trio of fools was the last thing on his mind…” The second sentence isn’t necessary.
    I’d like to see the hero interact with someone sooner, not just tighten his jaw and muse.
    That said, I like his thoughts about the spider, they show that he’s an educated man.
    I’m interested enough to read more.

  7. DS
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 14:51:16

    To be frank, I thought the opening scene was cliched. If an opening makes me think “I know what going to happen next” and it happens just as expected then I don’t bother to go on I don’t need to be dropped in the middle of the action, but I do want something interesting.

    I wondered about Aidan’s ethnicity given his name, That led me to imagining Aidan wearing a green bowler with a shamrock on it, carrying a shillelagh and sporting a pinback with “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” on it.

    Also, while Five Points did have a bad rep as a slum, I’m not sure why a working man in Maine would care all that much about it– some more local reference maybe?

  8. Lil
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 16:04:09

    I like the writing a lot, and it would keep me reading. A few things, however, puzzled me.

    I too think of McCullough as an Ulster name, one I’d expect to encounter in Appalachia rather than Five Points. If it’s not supposed to be surprising in that way, you might want to change it.

    Something about Aiden bothers me — he seems too gentlemanly. There he is wondering about an industrious arachnid and remarks emanating. That doesn’t seem like the language of man who would be threatening the jobs of a bunch of barroom drunks.

    Unless he isn’t Irish. If he is, for example, black, either a freedman or an escaped slave, that could explain everything — the name, the education, the fear for low-level jobs.

    I hope you are planning to surprise me one way or another.

  9. ang
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 08:49:07

    I liked this page. I liked the voice, the description, especially of the spider. As someone said above, he seems to be educated.

    However, what I’d really like is one or two sentences for the REASON he’s there. Yes, you say he’s there to find work, but I want the reason why. Is he hiding? Wanted for murder? Running away from his wife? Trying to find a job to send money home to his wife?

    I don’t necessarily like action on the first page either, and I know he’ll probably get into a fight with the drunks on page two so that is kind of cliche. As an educated man, I would think he’d just walk away. However, I don’t know what happens but I would keep reading.

    Very nice job though. Nice work. Best of luck with this.

  10. SAO
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 15:15:40

    I liked the voice, but I thought the drunks were too cliched, the way they were depicted and I didn’t have a good enough sense for why Aiden was at the tavern. If they didn’t like Irish, the guy he’s waiting for wouldn’t have suggested it, right?

    I thought too much time was spent on the spider at the expense of Aiden.

    My first guess was that Aiden is a woman’s name and to me, Five Points is in Georgia and Portland in Maine, so I was really confused about where this took place.

  11. Author
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 18:28:14

    Just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read and comment. It’s so helpful to get several viewpoints and opinions, and really helps me focus on the most problematic areas.

    For those who wondered, theo is correct about the spider’s movement triggering Aiden’s. He actually does get up and act in the next sentence, I promise! :)

    You’ve given me much to think about in terms of reworking the scene, making it a bit shorter and maybe toning down the whole xenophobe vibe so it doesn’t read quite so cliched.

    Again, thank you so much for your comments. They are truly appreciated and will be invaluable during my much-needed rewrites! :)

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