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First Page: Unnamed Paranormal Romance

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***

Matsu’s soul tore free of its human vessel.

Whether severed from Chieko’s body by Hatakeyama’s sword or ripped asunder by her own despair, she was reborn in a netherworld of the damned, in an icebound Naraka, a Buddhist hell fashioned from her own karma.

In temporal terms, only a day had passed since she and Chieko first met. With every faculty concentrated on survival, Matsu had given little thought to what had happened at the bathhouse in Kudoyama. But slowly the events of that late summer afternoon blossomed in her mind.

In order to escape the Shogun’s forces, she had disembodied her physical being and melded Chieko’s soul with her own. That meant Chieko’s body was her body. Chieko’s husband was her husband. And Chieko’s unborn child-

Matsu had destroyed what she loved and what she had no chance to love. An eternity of suffering was her rightful reward.

The infested waters of the Sanzu River gave up her shipwrecked soul to the permanent midnight of a windswept tundra. The bitter air stabbed at her lungs. The aching cold wracked her body. Her tears froze before striking the ground.

But the pain was a flea bite compared to the millstone of guilt strapped to her back. So many lives would have been so much better off had she never been born.

She had one recourse left to her–to embrace the hell within and be reborn as a hungry ghost. Every time Hatakeyama and Ouchi died, she would await their reincarnations and hunt them down and haunt them to their miserable deaths.

In her mind she could hear Priest Gendo quoting his gods: “Self-mortification is as grievous a sin as self-absolution.” And Chieko quoting hers: “Vengeance is mine.” But vengeance was hers and she would repay. She gritted her teeth. Placing one frostbitten foot in front of the other, she set off toward the bleak horizon.

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

29 Comments

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  2. Rose Fox
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 08:48:59

    Huh. Interesting. The setting will certainly be new and intriguing to many Westerners. I’m curious to know how a hungry ghost finds love and romance. I like the rhythm of the language, though too much description will slow down the action. I’d want to see more.

  3. theo
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:19:13

    At first read, I took this to be a fantasy rather than paranormal because of all of the names and place names I had to stumble over. That would be the first turn off for me.

    Then you’ve tossed in five other characters without giving me any idea of why any of them are really there.

    I’m going to guess that Matsu is your Hn? And Chieko is female? And Matsu moved into Chieko’s body? So that would mean since her ‘soul tore free of its human vessel’ that she’s still disembodied.

    The Sanzu river gives up her shipwrecked soul and then she’s walking and the ‘The bitter air stabbed at her lungs. The aching cold wracked her body. Her tears froze before striking the ground’, she’s found another body to inhabit? Because I need a much better explanation as to how a ghost can feel, if in fact, she has become a ghost. Or is that what she’s going to do? Since the river gave up her soul, and you talk about her having torn free of her human body, I’m having trouble making sense of this.

    And this sentence: ‘Placing one frostbitten foot in front of the other, she set off toward the bleak horizon.’ Same thing, I don’t get if she’s a disembodied soul, how her feet can be frostbitten.

    I an wait another page to find out why it would be better had she never been born, and I can wait another page to find out why she would want to haunt Hatakeyama and Ouchi, as long as I have a reason to care now. And I really don’t.

    Perhaps it’s just that I don’t understand and have never studied anything to do with Buddhism and that’s why I don’t get most of this. But I’m willing to guess that you’ll have a limited readership if your explanations aren’t sufficient to answer a layman’s questions.

    Kudos for putting it out there. It takes guts. I know. But this would be a definite pass for me at the end of the second chapter.

  4. theo
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:23:01

    That should be “definite pass for me at the end of the second paragraph.” That’s what I get for trying to type with my Chatty Cathy daughter talking at the same minute…

  5. Ciar Cullen
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:44:25

    I enjoyed this. Different. A little weighty to get through for the opening, but still, refreshing. I would read this. Someone else said it might be better labeled fantasy. It surely reads that way…

  6. hapax
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:55:21

    For all I know, the author could be a devout Buddhist with a doctorate in Japanese history.

    However, this opening page *reads* like an intriguing first sentence (although I would prefer “her” to “its”, since the feminine pronoun is used repeatedly later, and it would help to ground readers with the unfamiliar names and also to prompt identification with the heroine)

    …followed by a lengthy, incomprehensible infodump that could have been cribbed from Wikipedia.

    Don’t give me Matsu’s backstory as an essay. Let it unfold from her thoughts, feelings, and actions. Show me her fear, her grief, her anger. Let me feel the confusion of being “melded” with a person different from myself, the chill of a netherworld that can freeze even a soul.

  7. LVLMLeah
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:58:46

    This attracted me because I love Japanese themes- Buddhist and ghost themes.

    However, I found this first page very confusing and I had to read it several times before I got that Matsu is the person being talked about.

    Your sentence:

    Matsu had destroyed what she loved and what she had no chance to love. An eternity of suffering was her rightful reward.

    Had me wondering if Matsu was some other person who had destroyed the person whose POV you’re talking about. This made it a bit confusing.

    Also, I feel there’s just way too much info with no back story to grab me.

    You introduce, Matsu, Chieko, Hatakeyama, and the Ouchi as well as the Shogun, hinting at past stories, but it’s too much for me. It’s like you assume I know information I don’t at the moment.

    I would love to read a story like this, but based on this first page and the confusion, I probably wouldn’t read past that.

  8. LVLMLeah
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:00:11

    Sorry, can’t edit… but my sentences got block quoted as well.

  9. job
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:04:58

    What hapax said.

    — Put me in the POV character right from the beginning.

    — Make me care about her.

    — Give me a place and time and ongoing action. Give me visuals. I want a setting I can hear, see and touch.

    — Feed in two or three teaser mystery questions. No more.

    — Skip the infodump. Tell me story. Feed backstory information only after I have bonded with the characters.

    That said, this has the makings of a snap damn good story idea. The writing is colorful. The images original. I’m surprised the story-telling skill does not match the prose skill.

    Is this perhaps a prologue?

  10. Anon
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:21:56

    Overwhelming info dump. I guess you’re making bunch of references to a lot of Buhhdist concepts and famous samurai clans (the Hatakeyama & Ouchi clans), but almost all the people who are reading this are just going to be confused by too many unfamiliar concepts and names.

    Also:

    And Chieko quoting hers: “Vengeance is mine.” But vengeance was hers and she would repay.

    — this sounds way too Christian & jarring in a story so full of old eastern concepts & Japanese history.

    From Romans 12:19 — Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

  11. Courtney Milan
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:28:10

    In order to escape the Shogun's forces, she had disembodied her physical being and melded Chieko's soul with her own. That meant Chieko's body was her body. Chieko's husband was her husband. And Chieko's unborn child-

    Honestly, that sounds like a lot of really interesting action, as well as a morally ambiguous decision, with attendant emotion.

    Any reason why all that interesting action–with the Shogun forces coming after her, and her desperate enough to dive into a pregnant woman’s body, and willing to do that–is not on the page?

    As it is, my eyes glaze over for the infodump. Which is a shame, because if someone told me a book had someone escaping Shogun forces and jumping into someone else’s body, I’d perk up and say, “Let me see it!”

  12. hapax
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:30:38

    Sorry, I had to run and deal with a laundry explosion. I didn’t want to end on a negative note, since this is truly an intriguing setup and a different sort of story. Besides, I love me some vengeance.

    To give an example of the sort of thing I was talking about, consider this:

    “Matsu's soul tore free of her human vessel.

    The infested waters of the Sanzu River gave up her shipwrecked soul to the permanent midnight of a windswept tundra. The aching cold wracked her body-that-was-not. The bitter air stabbed at the memory of lungs still determined to breathe . Phantom tears froze before striking the ground.

    So this is Naraka, she thought. The netherworld of the damned, fashioned from my own karma.

    Yet even these pains were a fleabite compared to her guilt, her grief. And not just hers — it had been less than a day, as the world counted time, and already her memories were confused with Chieko’s, to whose body Matsu’s soul had fled, hiding from the Shogun’s vengeance. She was wracked anew with love for Chieko’s husband, Chieko’s unborn child …

    … and Chieko’s agony, as Hatayekama’s sword ripped through her — their — body.

    Matsu had destroyed what she loved and what she had no chance to love. An eternity of suffering was her rightful reward.”

    And so on.

    Yeah, that’s awfully choppy and rough, but I think it gives the same information while putting us in the heroine’s mind from the start.

    Good luck with this!

  13. query1
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:50:58

    I like that it’s something different. I enjoy some of the images that come to mind but there’s too much backstory stuck right there in beginning.

    Matsu's soul tore free…

    Since the character feels the cold later I assume the “soul” would feel being ripped from the body and would react directly to the stimulus even if it didn’t know what had caused it. does she feel gut wrenching pain, terror, peace…??

    After the immediate stimulus-reaction sequence, then the character has a moment to take a look around at her surroundings. Where is she, what does she feel all this before she ponders her backstory unless she knows exactly how her human vessel died. I’m curious as to why she doesn’t know. Does this being sleep, can she be caught so unaware, is it a limitation of her host? And if this being took over/shared the vessel should it be called a soul per se? That’s a limited human perception and this being is far advanced from that, right? It’s great imagery because the reader can be gripped by the opening line but…

    Somewhere in between all this the character even a non-human one needs to go through the grief cycle.

    Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, grieving, acceptance.

    As a reader I didn’t see/feel those stages distinctly. If I had then I might have felt more attached to the character.

    The infested waters of the Sanzu River gave up her shipwrecked soul to the permanent midnight of a windswept tundra.

    If the character doesn’t know how she died, then how was this determined? Also at the beginning death by despair is mentioned, does this mean that the character was already suicidal? If so, why jump into a different human vessel at all, why not end it when given the chance?

    A final personal pet peeve and you can take it for what it’s worth: I dislike self-pitying characters out of the box. I expect a bit of self-pity as part of the grief cycle but it should come after the anger/revenge bit. Revenge is an overwhelming out-front and center desire there’s shouldn’t be much room for “I deserved to die” mantra at the same time.

  14. query1
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:54:18

    Also I’m left wondering why the story starts “after death.” Why not start when the being takes over the host?

  15. Karen
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 17:13:21

    Way too many name droppings in the first para alone! Very confusing! Also, wtf are you doing starting in the middle of the action? I get the feeling you watch way too many anime. See, in the live motion industry its okay to start in the thick of things if you wanted to convey an actioney begining. However in books where our imagination is limited, its very messy for us to picture it. Remember actual visual is always faster than imagination.

    Also, who are your target audiece? It better be teenage anime fans such as yourself because you’d have a hard time selling it to the regular English novel reader.

  16. Brandi
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 17:57:56

    People with interest in Japanese culture would read a book like this. People who are sick of paranormals with white heroines and sickly pale vampire heroes would read this.

    There seems to be a big call in genre fiction right now for books that aren’t so filled with white, Western characters.

    I would buy a book dealing with Japanese themes and characters, and I am neither a teenager nor an anime fan.

  17. Ann Bruce
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 19:25:24

    @Karen:

    wtf are you doing starting in the middle of the action?

    Are you serious?

  18. Jeannie
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 19:58:49

    The opening line is compelling. The mention of the Buddhist hell of one’s own making is a nice drop in for worldbuilding. There’s also some interesting imagery such as “her shipwrecked soul”. The choice at the end to go for vengeance instead of following the enlightened advice of the priest is also an intriguing point showing the character’s decision , but needs to be sharpened more as the execution is a bit muddled right now.

    The current opening splits the focus into two protagonists: Chieko and Matsu. Matsu speaks more about Chieko’s pain and her opinion on vengeance than Matsu’s own, which is confusing.

    The POV itself feels a bit distant as Matsu speaks about death and pain. Perhaps that is intended as she’s now in a disembodied state, but it lends a sort of “prologue feeling” to the opening with me waiting for the story to start. Also this opening sets her up as a ghost narrator, which automatically lends a hint of sadness to her (which is okay) but also a bit of omniscience and distance. I’m not sure whether to connect with Matsu as a narrator or not, as she may end up being a god-like creature or spirit narrator. This keeps me from committing to her and connecting.

    I think a lot of the confusion can be cleared up by addressing the very many names dropped and also clearing up the narrator’s POV. For unusual names such as the Japanese ones, this is doubly crucial. For example, is there a reason Chieko needs to be mentioned by name here? Hatakeyama can also be similarly referred to as the Shogun or the warlord and have his backstory filled in later. Ouchi’s name isn’t needed–I’m not saying all secondaries need to be removed, but removing a few and focusing on Matsu and her predicament may streamline the opening as well as make her POV clearer.

    I think the manga market is a very viable market for crossover into mainstream fiction given the avid fanbase, the many teen readers who will be moving into the adult market, and the current trend toward making graphic novels out of mainstream novels. Best of luck with this.

  19. Jane O
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 20:07:02

    @Karen:

    wtf are you doing starting in the middle of the action?

    Are you serious?

    I sure hope she is serious, because I am sick to death of books starting in the middle of some sort of violence and expecting me to read pages and pages before I find out what on earth is going on.

    Okay, I am not an editor, and maybe that is what editors expect, but as a reader I long for a book that introduces me to the characters and their background BEFORE all hell breaks loose.

    Here, there is a setting that is intriguing, but I’m sorry, but I have no idea who these people are and what is going on and I’m not going to bother finding out.

  20. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 21:08:05

    So much infodump here that it feels rushed, and it’s interesting stuff but confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with it (i.e., me). Either you’re cheating us of walking through a fascinating story—how did she bond her soul with Chieko’s, and why? Why do ghosts have physical sensations in this world? What happened at the bathhouse? Etc., etc.—or you’re starting at the wrong place in the story.

    If this is a prologue to what’s going to be told later through flashback, I’d rethink that strategy entirely. If this is where your story starts, there’s too much in it all at once; a ghost experiencing a private hell and suffering physical pain is fascinating enough without all the backstory.

    If this is a sequel to another book in which all the stuff—the soul-bonding, the soul-severing, the death, the vengeance—happens, I would also suggest another strategy than the first-page infodump for easing the reader into a complex world that will be unfamiliar to many.

    Good luck! I feel like there are some great ideas here, but it’s hard to figure them out right now.

  21. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 21:16:10

    Jane O, I agree with what you’re saying. Starting in medias res, in the middle of something exciting, is a great strategy, but it has to be handled carefully. The reader should be able to follow what’s happening without having a lot of information (or infodumps) right there. Unfortunately, a lot of people get the first part but don’t pay attention to the second.

    To use an example that isn’t this text sample in question, it can be great to start with “Jane’s feet pounded against the frozen ground. If they caught her, they’d kill her, so she had to keep running” because we can understand what’s happening there without other information.

    Starting with “Jane’s feet pounded against the slib go’mrqu!ta. She could hear the hydrogen-powered vehicles of the Galactic Emperor’s fleet, each armed with laser cannons that could destroy a t’lacthipqui on sight. Bl’mbaqq was gaining more power in the city” isn’t confusing, not exciting; is Jane running away from the Emperor’s fleet? Is she on Bl’mbaqq’s side? What the heck are all of these things anyway?

    Right now, I’m in “what the heck are all of these things, and who the heck are all of these people” mode with this draft. I am confident that the writer can fix it, though.

  22. JenD
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 21:53:03

    What a fascinating story idea. You have me at the premise and I have no doubt once you do some tweaking this will be an amazing story.

    Whether a book starts in the action or before it- it’s crafting that can keep the reader. I think it would be helpful to ask yourself why the story starts here; what makes this moment the perfect jumping in point?

    If this moment truly is perfect, then I would recommend keeping some of the names/broader concepts simplified until we can gain our bearings as readers.

    I can’t wait to see the finished book- the premise is just so interesting to me. Definitely something different. Thank you for sharing your work.

  23. Mai
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 04:42:47

    It may be a good idea to remove ‘hungry’ from ‘a hungry ghost’ because in Japanese context, hungry ghosts have nothing to do with revenge and haunting. I think you’re describing either a ‘goryo’ or ‘onryo’? (Female ghosts of Ring, Ju-on (The Grudge), Shibuya Ghost Story and so on are the onryo/revengeful ghost type that does haunt.)

    I also think you may need to make it a bit clearer that ‘the Sanzu River’ is a mythical river to the afterlife, not an actual river.

    This is not crucial at all, but it’d be nice if it has a date header, such as ‘the Muromachi era’ perhaps, because without it, I wondered which period of the real-life Hatakeyama and Ouuchi shogunates it is using. I decided it must be the Muromachi era because the lack of Shinto influence and an historic incident involving both clans. I’m still unsure if I guessed correctly.

    All that said, this page largely doesn’t work for me because it reads like a summary. My reaction should be disregarded, though, because I can’t tell if I’m too familiar with the works that this page feels ‘incomplete’, or my indifference to Japanese historical novels (it’s almost always about shogunates, evil daimyo, wronged women, power, star-crossed lovers, suicides, clan feuds, murders, and politics. And those pesky revengeful ghosts*. :D).

    *if anyone wants to know what inspired Ring/Ringu and many works, do read or watch Ghost Story of Yotsuya.

    In spite of my lukewarm reaction (I’m sorry), I’m thrilled that you’re penning this story. Please do keep working on it because I know many would love to read something like this. I’d read it if it doesn’t end with a double suicide (way too popular in historical romances. I know the lovers finally have their HEA in the afterlife, but just for once, I’d like them to have their HEA in this life).
    Thank you!

  24. DS
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 08:38:21

    I thought for a minute that I was reading a teaser for a narrative and not an actual narrative. As a reader I wasn’t pulled in at all. I don’t know what you could do to fix this, but I would suggest making sure you have the the cultural details nailed down.

  25. Ann Bruce
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 11:49:54

    @Jane O: I stopped reading books that make me go through three chapters of back story before the main protagonists meet or the first dead body is discovered.

    A good author will reveal the back story throughout the book seamlessly.

    Vonnegut’s Fifth Rule of Writing:

    Start as close to the end as possible.

    Then again, I’m a comic book-reading, action movie-watching who likes fast-paced novels.

  26. Ann Bruce
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 11:50:59

    Ah, where’s the edit function?

    Insert “reader” between “-watching” and “who” in the last comment.

  27. sao
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 13:03:26

    Call me completely and utterly confused. I’m not sure what Matsu is. Does she have a human form? is she a ghost? There’s a huge cast of other people. most of whom seem to be dead (so why should I care about them) and I have know idea who they are.

    Next, souls ripped asunder, severed by sword, or shipwrecked, an eternity of suffering, embracing hell. I’m just not feeling it. It seems like a lot of purple prose and it’s putting me off from feeling any of it.

    I agree with other commenters that the idea is intriguing, but this page isn’t doing anything for me.

  28. Jane Lovering
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 13:25:49

    I was intrigued but Too. Many. Names. Introduce me to one character and only then give me more names to remember. I really can’t process huge lists of names when I have nothing to pin them to.

    But, nice idea. Original. Keep going.

  29. Karen
    Sep 28, 2010 @ 06:49:17

    Some of the terms you used had me scratching my head so I had to do a quick Google search. But you have to keep in mind that not all of your readers are going to Google it in the bookstore as they are quickly reading through your first page. I myself did not mind the Japanese names, as I am used to watching anime every now and then, but some of the other terms truly escaped me.

    Also, as I have previously mentioned, I did not like the multiple name droppings in the second paragraph as it prevented us from connection with your heroine. No sooner had we come face to face with Matsu, we are introduced to a whole host of other characters which made the experience very jarring.

    You might think anime's are fashionable because that's all you watch, but you still have to understand that many, many people don't watch anime… or other TV programmes for that matter. From my experience, people who like to read books don't usually watch TV much. Of course, I'm not saying every person who reads books does that; but from my personal experience, there have been quite a few bookaholics who don't bother with the TV. So forget your anime, they're probably not even familiar with Grey's Anatomy. This is why I have significantly reduced your Japanese name droppings. Check out the rewrite and I hope you are able to take some pointers from it.

    *******

    Matsu's soul tore free of its human vessel.

    Whether severed from her host's body by Hatakeyama's sword or ripped asunder by her own despair; she was reborn in an icebound underworld – a Buddhist hell fashioned from her own karma.

    With every fibre of her being concentrated on survival, Matsu gave little thought to what had happened at that bathhouse. But slowly the events of that late summer afternoon blossomed in her mind.

    Only a day had passed since she and Chieko met. In order to escape the Shogun's forces, she had disembodied her physical being and melded Chieko's soul with her own. That meant Chieko's body was her body. Chieko's husband was her husband. And Chieko's unborn child –

    In this underworld, the infested waters of the Sanzu River gave up her shipwrecked soul to the permanent midnight of windswept tundra. The bitter air stabbed at her lungs. The aching cold wracked her body. Her tears froze before striking the ground.

    But the pain was a flea bite compared to the millstone of guilt strapped to her back. So many lives would have been so much better off had she never been born.

    She had one choice left to her – to embrace the hell within and be reborn as a hungry ghost. Every time Hatakeyama and his friend Ouchi died, she would await their reincarnations and hunt them down, and hunt them to their miserable deaths.

    In her mind she could hear the Priest quoting his gods: “Self-mortification is as grievous a sin as self-absolution.” And Chieko quoting hers: “Vengeance is mine.” And vengeance was hers and she would repay. She gritted her teeth; placing one frostbitten foot in front of the other, and she set off toward the bleak horizon.

    *******

    You might have figured the whole plot out in your head, but for us it can be really irritating when you don't lay it out simplistically. I had also solved the mystery of how Matsu had gained a new body when she was a ghost. Technically it was all there in your writing, but the way you wrote it, that information was buried under an avalanche of other info dumps.

    I also kept your first line, as I thought it was very effective in pulling the readers in; however, your subsequent prose might have deterred a few. Also, who the hell is Ouchi? You yet again dropped the name of another character to which we have no clue. Sure, you've got it all worked out in your head, but for the rest of us, we're just scratching our own. Anyways, I figured Ouchi might me Hakateyama's friend so I just put that there. However, in your head whoever Ouchi is in relation to Matsu, you must say it then and there. If he is her brother, say so; if he is her friend say so; if he is her whatever say so “Every time Hatakeyama and ___ ________ Ouchi died, she would await their reincarnations and hunt them down and haunt them to their miserable deaths,” and be done with it.

    I have also eliminated Priest Gendo's name. I figured you can just reiterate his name when the character comes face to face with him again, and say it was his quote Matsu remembered in that frozen underworld.

    @Ann Bruce:

    Yes, I am serious.

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