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First Page: Unnamed Historical

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***

England, 1811

His boot heels rang against the cobblestone street, which glistened in the light rain. Street lamps did little to ward away the shadows of the evening, leaving his countenance unreadable beneath the brim of his hat. Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.

The gentleman slipped a miniature portrait out of his pocket and inspected the face of a young woman no older than sixteen. It was not a beautiful face, for it was too narrow, the cheeks too prominent, and the chin too pointed. But that was easily substituted by the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes and the arch of her lips. Finally, after all these months, he had found her.

Reaching the threshold of the brothel, he carefully tucked away the portrait, and glanced up. The small letters above the door read Harleton House.

"She should be two-and-twenty by now,' he thought, and dropped the cheroot. Its stub hissed in a puddle before he ground it out with his heel. He raised his fist and knocked on the door of what he'd been told was one of the best houses in Brighton. It was soon opened by the keeper of the establishment who, upon seeing how well the stranger was dressed, favoured him with a fawning smile. "Good evening, sir."

He gave her a curt nod. "I'm here to inquire after a young woman."

"Oh?"

The open door left a picture frame which allowed him a better view of the woman's voluptuous body, her powdered face, decorated with a patch at the corner of her lips, and the crowd of harlots and drunkards behind her. His eyes returned back to the Madam, as she asked:

"Of who, pray?"

Instead of replying, he pushed against the door; the woman at once opened it. When he stepped in the laughter and cajoling that had filled the brothel sank into hushed murmurs. The debauched creatures stared at him as he walked past, the Madam sauntering behind. Before he got far, a plump hand grabbed his arm, dirt lining the crescent of the nails.

"Oh, look at "em legs," cooed the woman, eyeing his figure. "Never saw such long "n lean ones in the whole of me life. I wouldn't mind a pair of "em wrapped around me."

He glanced at her yellow teeth encased by her smiling red lips. He peeled her fingers off and walked on. "Good lord," he muttered, realizing that this was not the finest house in Brighton. His journey here would indeed prove cruel if Amanda had turned out like this lot. Frowning, he looked around, searching for the face from the portrait. Seeing no one similar, he turned to look at the Madam.

"I'm looking for an Amanda Hollingworth-‘" and he added, that nothing should hinder his scheme "-‘I took an interest in her."

"Amanda? She may be a sweet lass, but she's only a maid, sir. We've got girls who know how to properly please a man," she replied, grinning, even daring to nudge him with her elbow. But the grin faltered when she was subjected to his indifferent stare.

"No, I've come for Amanda, no one else," he replied, and to nullify any suspicion, he offered her a bag of coins. "Now, where is she?"

The Madam snatched the coins from his hand. Her brows rose high as she stared into the bag. With a smile, she declared him to be the best gentleman that ever breathed! And then she called out in a stentorian voice, "Amanda! Amanda!" A pause. "Amandaaaaa." Another pause ensued before it was followed by a sudden: "Ah! There she is. D'you see her, sir?"

He scanned the crowd. In the far corner of the brothel, he saw the face from the portrait: the common brown eyes, the brows which were oblique, dark slashes across her white skin, her long cascade of brown hair. She wore a vulgar dress and white threaded stockings. Her countenance no longer held the vigour and sparkle which had so defined the girl in the painting. Whatever had stolen the youth from her had transformed her features to sharp angles.

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

27 Comments

  1. jmc
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 06:19:51

    This first page needs some a lot work, IMO.

    Switching POV (from I to she) within the first two lines was very distracting, as was the alternating long sentences and paragraphs with short sentences or fragments. The language did not flow well and some of the word choices were odd, like pillars of fog. Fog in pillars? As in vertical columns? What? Also, the repeated use of “virgin” in the first paragraph (miracle of virgin birth and virgin snow) should probably be avoided unless virginity is of particular importance to this passage or the book as a whole. Evil Knievel is a proper noun and should be capitalized as such.

    And so forth.

    As it stands right now, this first page would have me returning the book to the shelf and moving on.

  2. SAO
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 06:29:56

    The writing is good, the images well done, but I had to re-read often to figure out who was who and time transitions.

    In the first para, ‘I’m still alive’ with no marker transitioning to 3rd person, ‘She’d just outrun’ was confusing.

    Next: A blur with fangs, transitioning to her warm breath. I assumed the breath came from the mouth with the fangs.

    The werewolf *had been* stalking her, a shift in time. Then back to the present with Sloan showing up.

    I had to re-read a few times to figure out what the blood was. And again it had something to do with a time shift. The blood was from before the killing, right?

    It’s obvious that she’s just sunk her knife into the beast, but we only find out from Sloan. Huh, what? We’re in Hope’s POV and we don’t see the beast she’s just outrun and killed? Which presumably is lying on the snow next to her?

    I was just too confused. But, the serious issue is this is a scene about Hope killing a werewolf and the werewolf is missing from the scene. Even if you want to start just after she’s killed it (mistake in my mind, you’d capture attention better showing it) you’ve got to show the corpse (or explain what happened to it).

  3. SAO
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 07:12:21

    My first comment got lost for some reason. Sorry if I repeat myself.

    I feel like the two main characters of the scene are missing: The wolf, which we never see, but is presumably dead at her side. And Hope, whose POV we’re in. We don’t see her reaction to the events. In her POV, we get the impression that she’s just outrun (and lost) a beast. It takes Sloan telling us that she killed the thing, and viciously.

    When you rewrote this, you lost bits. The pillars of fog don’t make sense unless you know she’s lying on her back, but then how would she see the blood on the snow? And if she’s just stabbed the beast, wouldn’t his blood be all over her, too?

    Hope tells us she’s lucky to be alive, but we don’t feel it. Sloan turns up, implying he watched the whole thing from a distance and didn’t bother to come help her. That shows us this was a routine thing and Hope wasn’t in any real danger. Otherwise, she should be furious at him.

    I’d start with her pulling her knife out when the wolf’s eyes go dead. Then, have her collapse and watch pillars of fog.

    But other than that, I was confused and had to spend time figuring out who was who. The I’m still alive transitioning to she. The Blur of fangs followed by warm breath, which I initially assumed came from the mouth with fangs.

    I also had to work to sequence events. Hope deliberately cut her self to be bait (step 1). Then the werewolf scents her and wants dinner (2) Next she’s running.(3) Next she kills him (4), next she’s lying in the snow looking at stars (5), Then sloan comes over (6). Your order of telling us was step 5, step 3, step 2, step 1, step 4, step 6

    That’s way too many out-of-order events for any page, not to mention the first.

    And of course, the wolf that she’s just viciously killed, to Sloan’s erotic delight (you’re making him into a real jerk, here, It’s not funny repartee in this version) was not just a blur with fangs. She carved up a body, presumably with blood spurting everywhere.

  4. joanne
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 07:15:38

    A slightly different version of the first page we read on January 9th.

  5. Taymalin
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 07:58:19

    I think you meant aurora borealis, not aura :)

    Personally, I’d like to see this start in the action. Her vs the werewolf, rather than just being told about it.

  6. Tiffany Clare
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 08:07:25

    I have to agree with jmc.

    You open with a ‘life or death situation’ then go on a tangent for description. You need to speckle it in, not hit the reader over the head. You need to continue the action or you lose your reader with your pretty descriptions.

    A few other things that jerked me out of the story: it’s Aurora Borealis. Virgin twice in first paragraph. Missing words in some of your sentences. Grammar is off too.

    This needs a lot of polishing. Actually, I prefer the older version you posted. This version reads like you’ve stiffled your voice.

    This is my opinion only, but if the book is done, I recommend that you put it aside (work on something else in the interim) and come back to it in a few months. If the book is not done, continue writing to the end before trying to figure out the beginning. Truth of the matter is, your first book(s) generally collect dust bunnies under the bed, but they are a necessary evil in learning how to write. Not always the case, but I suspect it is the common way of things.

  7. Jane
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 08:16:04

    @joanne Is this the same? I didn’t realize. (I usually do a search to see if I’ve repeated).

  8. Karenna Colcroft
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 08:19:56

    I think “I’m still alive” and “That was way too close” are supposed to be internal thoughts, in which case they should be italicized. Maybe they were and the formatting was lost in the posting; giving the benefit of the doubt on that one.

    I agree about the repetition of “virgin”. It’s distracting.

    “Aka” isn’t a word… I usually see it written “a/k/a”. I guess as the first thing in the sentence, the first “a” should be capitalized, but it looks weird to me.

    As mentioned, “Evel Knievel” should be capitalized. So should “Ripper” in “Jack the Ripper,” because it’s considered a proper noun.

    The sentence “…reminding her just how lucky she was that was the blood she’d lost” just doesn’t make any sense to me, but maybe I just need more caffeine.

    The whole thing confuses me. She’s just outrun a were-something, and at first I thought she was still running, then realized that apparently she’s standing still. And sorry, but her partner? Employee? mentioning his hard-on made me go WTF.

    Wouldn’t keep reading. Probably not past the second sentence, to be honest.

  9. Ros
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 08:20:56

    @Jane: Yes, it looks like a revision of the one you posted a few weeks ago.

  10. Jane
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 08:25:28

    @Ros Okay! Am pulling it down. Sorry folks.

  11. LizA
    May 01, 2010 @ 05:31:34

    Seems like I am the first to comment on the historical!
    I think it is an interesting starting point, but it needs work. Sorry, but a cigarr will not light up a face enough to see eye colour for example. Eye colour is fairly hard to see anyway and it serves no purpose here. And if it is really fairly dark the guy won’t be able to see all the details of the miniature anyway. And why does he pull it out why walking?
    Apart from these quibbles, the page definitly made me interested in reading the book. Sounds like there is quite a story there!

  12. Ros
    May 01, 2010 @ 06:21:57

    Weird – I wonder how those comments from the old post ended up here!

    Anyway, onto the historical.

    For me, the story is potentially intriguing, but the writing doesn’t work too well. And since I derive most of my reading enjoyment from the use of language, I wouldn’t be reading on, sorry. Here’s some examples of things that I would pick up on:

    His boot heels rang against the cobblestone street, which glistened in the light rain.
    ‘His boot heels’. Hmm. Try ‘The heels on his boots…’ Or just ‘His heels…’ Also, the glistening in the rain is superfluous to that sentence.

    Street lamps did little to ward away the shadows of the evening, leaving his countenance unreadable beneath the brim of his hat. Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.
    I don’t believe that the cigar gives greater light than the street lamps. Also, who is trying to read this unreadable countenance? And again, that second sentence is clumsy with the double participle, ‘smoked glowed’. Technically it’s correct but it’s not elegant.

    But that was easily substituted by the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes and the arch of her lips.
    Substituted is the wrong word here; it doesn’t make sense.

  13. Joanne
    May 01, 2010 @ 07:04:46

    @Ros: Bless you Ros, I thought I had entered the twilight zone.

  14. Kimber An
    May 01, 2010 @ 07:05:48

    Your voice and style engaged me. Since I’m no grammar goddess myself, I rarely notice those kinds of mistakes.

    I really liked this-

    ‘Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.’

    I can see that, as the reader, but who in the story is seeing that? Is this Omniscient POV? Fine by me. In fact, head-hopping is a-okay with me, but I hear agents and editors aren’t fond of it. So, you might want to pay attention to that.

    You brought a story to live vividly. I could smell it. I felt sorry for the the main character and the girl he was searching for. See this one through!

  15. job
    May 01, 2010 @ 07:48:32

    This is an interesting premise. I think we could be at the start of a lovely story.

    .
    Would you consider moving us out of Omniscient Narrator and into this fellow’s POV? Writing in Character POV tends to make body movement and sensation more realistic. As it stands, I have questions. For instance —

    Would a man not drop his cigar and stub it out before he removed the miniature from his pocket?

    Could he stand in the near darkness, studying a miniature painting, and see the girl’s features in detail? See the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes

    If small letters above the door read Harleton House, would he be able to read that?

    .
    I tripped up a little on some historical details of the house. This is not saying ‘wrong’. Just wondering.

    Would a house in 1811 Bristol have its ‘name’ posted or written above the door?

    Would the front door of a cheap Bristol house open to the main salon? It’s generally very large Georgian houses where the front door opens to any kind of room. In ordinary townhouse plans of the time the front door opens on a hall that also contains the stairs.

    Would the front door be at street level (so there can be a puddle next to the door to toss the cheroot into?)

    .
    And there are a few minor awkwardness that can be dealt with fairly easily in the next draft.

    The open door left a picture frame which allowed him a better view . . . he pushed against the door; the woman at once opened it.

    And, perhaps, ‘created a frame’ or ‘was a frame’

    There are a few times when I feel the word choice is not just exactly right — ‘cajoling’ and ‘hinder’ maybe.

    .
    And finally, when you say — to nullify any suspicion, he offered her a bag of coins. — it’s not clear what she would be suspicious of. Would giving her a bag of coins — many times the price of a ‘three penny upright’ whore — make her less suspicious?

    But mostly these are issues of ‘visualization’. I think moving into deep character POV will take care of them.

  16. DS
    May 01, 2010 @ 08:20:40

    I’m not sure regular boot heels are going to “ring” on cobblestones. Maybe if he had some metal taps on them–

    I think this might be improved by either some observation of the conditions being described or some reading of what streets were like in England in 1811. They are going to be very different if walking in a well to do neighborhood in London or a shady back alley. Many romance characters in low light situations have amazing ocular powers.

    I also began to think that Clint Eastwood in the character of the man with no name had somehow gotten into the story.

    Dropping the cheroot in a puddle and then stepping on it (and in the puddle)seems odd.

    Finally, the scene at the brothel was basically unbelievable in the setting. Take a look at some prints of scenes of low life from the period. This just sounds like what a caricature of a brothel would look like. This, for instance,

    “Oh, look at ‘em legs,” cooed the woman, eyeing his figure. “Never saw such long ‘n lean ones in the whole of me life. I wouldn't mind a pair of ‘em wrapped around me.”

    sounds more like what a man would say about a woman.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I would never get past the first few paragraphs to buy the book, the way it is now.

  17. gwynnyd
    May 01, 2010 @ 08:45:40

    I cannot imagine a 22 year old whore in a low-class brothel who could be described as a “maid” and characterized as inexperienced.

    “I am here to inquire after a young woman” well, d’oh. It’s a brothel. I’d think he’d be welcomed in with open arms and no questions asked.

    I liked the general tone and the premise intrigues me – who is she and why is she there? what is he to her? ohh, a truly fallen woman as the heroine? pulling that off is ambitious and ought to be exciting! – but I agree that the details are just not quite “right” enough. They are the mistakes of someone who got the historical details from other novels rather than properly researched them and It makes me wonder about the integrity of the whole plot. I’d hate to get invested in the interesting characters but be so annoyed at the “differs from historical reality” details that it ended up DNF.

    I know that it not being historically accurate will not bother some readers, but it will annoy those who care.

  18. Debra
    May 01, 2010 @ 10:11:35

    I liked this and would like to read more. I want the whole story.

    I am kind of new here so I have a question. Do you ever let us know if these book ever get published? I know I would buy some of them if i ever got a title.

  19. El
    May 01, 2010 @ 10:28:29

    @Gwynnyd:

    I took “maid” to mean cleaning woman, not young woman. Which is in itself unlikely–a formerly vivacious 22-year-old working in a whorehouse and not plying the trade? But it makes it easier to see her as a romance heroine if she’s just been cleaning the place.

  20. theo
    May 01, 2010 @ 11:26:35

    @El:

    I’m with you. I too took the ‘maid’ to mean a cleaning woman.

    Generally though, they weren’t young and weren’t attractive in the least. I realize the author has made an attempt to make the Hn (if that’s what the girl is) to be plain, even if she were fairly homely, young and clean had a lot going for it in a brothel and I doubt she’d be cleaning.

    I have many of the same concerns as the others do. POV changes are fine for me as long as it’s from each person’s head and not the narrator/character/narrator/what-have-you.

    It’s possible to open a locket while holding a cigar between your teeth, but if it’s lit and smoking and you have a hat on, you won’t see the picture well. My dad smoked cigars forever and would hold it between his fingers if he wanted to see something, never between his teeth. Just one of the many small details that need to be cleaned up.

    Also, someone else said a truly fallen woman as the Hn can be a wonderful story, but this one needs much cleaning and clarification before it gets that far.

    Good luck and kudos for putting it out there.

  21. TKF
    May 01, 2010 @ 12:01:43

    Boot heels are leather. They can't “ring” on stone.

    Whose POV are we in as the scene opens? It feels omniscient, which IMO is drab and robs the scene of immediacy. You don’t need to describe him to us, wait until you get to the heroine’s POV and let us see him though her eyes.

    “Substituted” can't possibly be the word you were looking for. It makes no sense in context.

    The use of thought tags (‘She should be two-and-twenty by now,' he thought) especially when the thought is being set off with quotes pushes the reader out of the character's POV. We're in his head. It's his scene. Just let the thought happen (She should be two-and-twenty by now. He dropped the cheroot. Its stub hissed in a puddle before he ground it out with his heel). We already know who's thinking, or we damn well better.

    Of whom (unless the incorrect grammar is purposeful).

    The image of the whore wanting the hero's legs wrapped around her seems to be backwards. Normally, at least in my experience, women are the ones who wrap their legs around their partner.

    The idea of a 22 year old young woman being “just” a maid in a brothel is HIGHLY unlikely.

    There seem to be issues with staying in one POV (unless the hero thinks of his own stare as indifferent, which seems odd).

  22. Marianne McA
    May 01, 2010 @ 13:06:06

    I think the word ‘substituted’ is just wrong – ‘that was compensated for by’ or ‘redressed by’ might be better. I’m also, and this might be just me, a bit unconvinced that you could tell someone had an animated face from a portrait.

    Some of the writing:

    ‘His journey here would indeed prove cruel if Amanda had turned out like this lot.’
    ‘he added, that nothing should hinder his scheme’
    ‘to nullify any suspicion’

    reads a bit oddly. I absolutely don’t write, but the impression I get is that the slightly archaic phrasing is chosen to evoke a sense of period, but it just reads awkwardly to my ear.

    So, for instance, with: ‘His journey here would indeed prove cruel if Amanda had turned out like this lot.’

    it doesn’t sound natural to me that anyone would conceive of journeys being cruel, and then it doesn’t sound natural that someone who begins a thought that poetically would end the thought with the phrase ‘like this lot’. And I’d have thought that if he didn’t know her, it’d come more naturally to him to think of the girl as ‘Miss Hollingworth’ rather than Amanda. (Unless he’s her long lost dad, but if he is, he’s taking the whole thing rather calmly.)

    Sorry to be so nitpicky and negative – in real life I don’t read this closely. Good luck.

  23. Anon76
    May 01, 2010 @ 13:20:32

    Woof! For a moment I thought I was losing my mind when I read comments about a blood and wolf story.

    Now I see the excerpt has changed.

    Dang. With working 7 days a week forever, that totally messed me up. LOL

    Will offer opinion on New post later.

  24. Lynne Connolly
    May 01, 2010 @ 13:50:40

    Some of your historical details are out a bit, but not too bad. I take it from the cheroot that he’s a military man?
    Houses in this period didn’t have a label or a sign outside, that came later.
    Mainly, it’s the actual writing. I think the pov is too distant. We’re not in his pov, because the reader sees the eyes and the way his face is lit up, so it must be omniscient, which tends to take immediacy away from the scene.
    As others have said, what happened to the hallway? Look at the plans of houses of the period. Only the cheapest, most run down would have doors opening straight on to a living room.
    The whores and the madam are cliches, all raddled and ugly. There were some beauties around, too.
    You need to watch run-on sentences and commas. It was difficult to read because of that. But an interesting start, and if you revised you’d have an intriguing first page.

  25. vivienne klaus
    May 02, 2010 @ 05:06:45

    Well, I liked it. Very effective the description at the very beginning.The boots, the cheroot light on his face, the rain and the dark. May be not that original the brothel description…If I knew the title i’d go on with the reading.
    Regards

  26. LL
    May 02, 2010 @ 05:48:09

    I’d be interested in reading it after you get some kinks ironed out.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned (it might have been). Does he need to grind out his cheroot if it already went out in the water? He heard the hissing already.

  27. Celia Yeary
    May 02, 2010 @ 06:18:13

    I’m hooked on First Page Saturday. This one–too many descriptive phrases; POV messy (he wouldn’t comment on his own gray eyes); His EYES did not return to the madam, his GAZE did;awkward sentences made me stop and back up–not a good thing. Celia

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