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First Page: Unnamed Paranormal Romance

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“Nawlins ain’t nothing like what yer used to, McDunna. You may be a specialist where you come from, but here you ain’t shit.”

Dianna McDunna rubbed the center of her forehead, trying to chase away the voices of doubt which had nagged her since she’d left the police precinct. She’d been here a week and hadn’t managed to make much of an impression on her coworkers, at least not the kind of impression she wanted to make. Barry, at least, seemed willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and time, but Longstreet was a misogynistic dirtbag and already making arguments to get her assigned to a desk or busted back to patrol. She hadn’t worked patrol in almost eight years, the very thought was insulting.

The spires of the St Louis Cathedral rose closer and Dianna shoved her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket, closing her fingers around a crisp business card. If the other officers had any idea what she was doing tonight, they’d doubt her even more, which was why she hadn’t told anyone and didn’t plan to-not unless it worked.

She crossed Jackson Square at an easy pace, not in too much hurry or too little, feeling eyes on her the moment she entered the square. There was very little cover and Dianna knew she was easy to recognize. There weren’t any other thirty something year old red headed female cops who worked this beat. Irish descended cops may have been common in New York, but here she was a rarity.

Dianna pressed her elbow against her side, comforted by the weight of the gun riding against her rib cage. She’d wanted a meeting with de Vega, but she wasn’t stupid enough to come unarmed and didn’t expect he would. From everything she’d read and heard he was a balance between smooth businessman and totally vicious son of a bitch. Whatever happened on the streets he either controlled or knew about. If she wanted to know what was going on and try to enforce any kind of order on it, he was the one she had to deal with. It wasn’t safe, but she didn’t expect it to be. It wasn’t entirely above board either, but twelve years dealing with street gangs and street weirdness had taught her that sometimes she had to step into the cesspool if she was going to clean it out.

The wind rose crossing the Mississippi and gusting down into the Square, bringing with it the smell of the sea. Dianna took in a deep breath and shivered. She missed her city, her New York, but Jesse was there, and she could never go back. The thought of Jesse turned her stomach and she resolutely pushed it away, adjusting her course towards the narrow alleyway between the cathedral and the Cabildo. The old Spanish fort was one of Dianna’s favorite places in New Orleans, there was something regal about it, powerful and familiar. She looked up touching her fingertips to the stone. It was warm.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

The voice was soft, but sent a chill up Dianna’s spine. She turned, putting her back to the wall and peering towards the speaker. He was a man of obvious Spanish descent his features all strong angles and arrogance. His hair and beard were trimmed neatly, a gold stud winking in one earlobe. The look went with the black silk and leather of shirt and pants, fitted close to the skin. He was trying to make an impression and it was working.

“De Vega?”

He smiled, his teeth very white against his skin. “I was referring to the building, but I could be beautiful too. For a woman such as you I could be many things.”

Dianna rolled her eyes, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms. “Save it for someone young enough to be impressed, De Vega. This is a business visit.”

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

26 Comments

  1. Naomi
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 05:56:41

    Maybe it’s just me, but I had a big problem with the opening dialogue. It wasn’t clear to me at all whether this was Dianna thinking aloud or someone else (Barry or Longstreet) talking to her. And on that note, I think writing in dialect is dodgy territory, and here, for me, it doesn’t work.

    I thought “she missed her city, her New York” was slightly redundant since you’d already referenced her New York background earlier. Just “she missed her city” would have done and perhaps been a bit punchier.

    I found myself skipping a lot of the description from the third paragraph onwards, mostly because the voice didn’t grab me, but de Vega’s arrival caught my interest again, even if he does (from this tiny snippet!) seem likely to be a rather generic “dark, mysterious stranger” type, which has been done over and over in paranormal romance, as have female cops in over their heads. I’m not sure whether I’d read on or not, but I do think there’s a market for this kind of story.

    Good luck with it!

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  2. DS
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:14:24

    Was she in uniform? If she wasn’t how would an observer know she was a redheaded cop? Maybe if a rank was mentioned it would help. I also cannot think why a cop would even comment to herself on the fact she is carrying. That just totally struck me wrong. Cops usually feel odd if they aren’t carrying from my experience. Also might want to specify a season because the only time I had been down there and would even have considered wearing leather was in January.

    One last thing– better double check the Nawlins thing. I’ve been told more than once that its how they tell someone is a tourist.

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  3. joanne
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:14:42

    I think I’m the target buyer for this story since what would be the blurb for this book would grab my interest. New Orleans or New York (any place but the West Coast), cops & paranormal. With that excitement at a new story/author I would read this first page and then put the book back on the shelf.

    It’s all too much, too heavy, if you will. Too insistent on telling the reader everything at once without really showing them anything. If you started with your heroine crossing Jackson Square you’d still get to where you’re going with the scene while drawing the reader into the story quickly.

    If you’re fortunate some authors will come along and suggest ways to tighten up the writing. As the piece is now —although I’m interested in the main character and the villain(?) — I wouldn’t continue reading for much longer.

    I do hope you have great success and thank you!

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  4. Ashwinder
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:22:59

    The opening paragraphs were confusing to me. I originally thought that someone was addressing Dianna directly, so that when you mention her leaving the precinct, I wasn’t sure what that referred to. My initial impressoin was that she was talking about leaving a former job and whoever was making the opening comment to her was a new co-worker. I had to go back and read again to understand that the opening line was Dianna recalling something someone said to her at the precinct.

    I agree with Naomi about the dialect.

    I think you need to go back through this and look at your punctuation. I noticed a couple of places where it needs work. For example:

    The wind rose crossing the Mississippi and gusting down into the Square, bringing with it the smell of the sea.

    You need a comma after “rose”.

    The old Spanish fort was one of Dianna's favorite places in New Orleans, there was something regal about it, powerful and familiar.

    You have a comma splice in this one. You need stronger punctuation between “New Orleans” and “there” — either a semi-colon, an emdash or a period.

    I’m not a paranormal reader, so I can’t really comment on whether your tropes are overdone, but like Naomi, I immediately perked up when de Vega showed up.

    Good luck!

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  5. Stephanie
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:40:32

    The choice of setting is interesting and hasn’t yet been done to death. But there is a lot of info-dumpery in the opening paragraphs, and I wondered about how prevalent the dialect would be, because my own gut feeling is that dialect should be kept to a minimum. Might read on for another page or two, though I don’t usually go for paranormals.

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  6. Leah
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:44:33

    Obviously, New Orleans is an insta-buy for some, but for me, well, it seems overdone. Not that you should change it–I’m sure the setting is essential to your plot. Just a comment. Sometimes it seems like the paranormal/romantic suspense/police procedurals world has 4 cities: NY, LA, NO, and maybe Boston, with everyone taking a jaunt to Nantucket/CapeCod/the Vineyard.

    I liked it–whether or not I would buy it depends on the back cover. The only thing that I found confusing was the beginning, when she thinks about being busted back to patrol, where she hadn’t been for 8 yrs. This made me think that she’d been in New Orleans for a long time. Then, when you mention that she’s missing NY and came down here because of someone else, I got the impression that her move was more recent. I know you want to avoid the info dump, but I’d clear that up, and explain who Jesse is/was fairly soon.

    Good luck!

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  7. theo
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 08:11:11

    If you want to stick to that opening line, italics would at least let the reader know someone’s not standing in front of your Hn speaking directly to her. I was confused by that, too. I thought maybe it was leading to a confrontation, but when it didn’t, the paragraphs became confusing.

    Of course this is just me, but your Hn didn’t grab me at all. She came across, to me, like she was in the midst of a pity party.

    She’s told she’s not shit.
    She’ll go back to driving a patrol car.
    She’s doubting what she’s doing.
    She left NY because of someone else.
    She can never go back because of that someone else.
    She has enough self-doubt that she has to keep checking to make sure her gun is at her side.

    She comes across as having very little backbone. I’m not big on those Hns though that’s just me.

    One other thing, she thinks “the old Spanish fort” is one of her favorite places in NO, but she’s only been there a week and if she’s been working full time (and beyond which is common for detectives (I’m assuming she must be one)) how would she have time to ‘sight see’ the city?

    You’re trying to stuff way too much information into the first page. Because you are, you’re not allowing yourself enough room to give the reader depth to anything there. It’s all little snapshots and could be much stronger if worked in later.

    Where I thought the story got interesting was when de Vega showed up. Then it caught my attention. Up until then it was too much info and not enough to make me care.

    Again as always, MHO

    Good luck.

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  8. Stevie
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 08:18:55

    It’s really hard to get accents right, and you are compounding the problem by attempting it in the very first lines of your story.

    A lot of people would stop reading there and then, including me…

    ReplyReply

  9. Jinni
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 09:49:57

    I liked it, though I don’t read paranormal, so if it were shelved with ghosty looking images, I likely wouldn’t read it. But keep writing.

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  10. Sela Carsen
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 09:52:32

    Aside from the opening dialogue, which was far too heavy-handed with the redneck dialect, this got me: “Irish descended cops may have been common in New York, but here she was a rarity.”

    Really? Seriously? Because the Irish flooded New Orleans about the same time they came pouring into New York in the mid-1800s. A lot of them died of various fevers, but a lot of them lived and stayed. The Irish Channel used to be the Irish neighborhood in NO, near the Garden District.

    #researchfail.

    ReplyReply

  11. Anon76
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 10:07:42

    Hmm…

    It’s interesting how tastes differ. Except for the opening paragraph, I enjoyed this. I might change a few commas and some word choices here and there, but all in all, a good page that made me want to read more.

    Mind you, I don’t think the opening paragraph should be removed, just reworked. To flow properly it may require reworking the beginning of the next paragraph to make it clear that she is remembering this conversation in her head.

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  12. hapax
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 10:31:42

    I’d have liked this a lot better if you had started at paragraph six, and worked the rest in later.

    ReplyReply

  13. AnonWhoLikesIt
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 10:39:01

    I’m very surprised most of the commenters here don’t like the writing style. I thought it was great – not too heavy, but just perfect. The writing here actually reminds me quite a bit of Tanya Huff’s writing (which I adore).

    The only thing that sort of threw me off was:

    “I was referring to the building, but I could be beautiful too. For a woman such as you I could be many things.”

    I thought that was pretty cheesy, banal dialogue. It didn’t give me, really, any clues to what sort of person de Vega was, other than someone who liked to indulge in bad pick-up lines with red-headed cops. ;)

    Anyway, this is the first Dear Author “First Page” that I’ve actually been able to read all the way through. I would definitely read more. Good luck!

    ReplyReply

  14. Lori
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 10:42:09

    I thought it was crafted well but huge info dump right at the beginning. So we have her back story in one page but you lost my interest in doing it.

    And I think there’s no question you are a skilled writer, I enjoyed the clarity of the writing. Relax your reader into it, this is good.

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  15. Stevie
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 10:43:38

    Even if the author ditched the dialect and got the Irish bit right I would still have major problems with any story which kicks off with the heroine remembering a conversation, particularly when the sole point of it appears to be to persuade us that our heroine is the archetypal feisty woman in a man’s world.

    There are a lot of books out there about feisty women in mens’ worlds, and they not infrequently involve the heroine doing very stupid things in order to create some sort of plot.

    A cop going out to meet a major criminal without any sort of back-up, or even the knowledge of her colleagues, certainly fulfils the stupidity requirement, but does the author really want to demonstrate on page 1 that her heroine deserves to be busted back to being a patrol officer?

    I’m assuming not…

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  16. Ari
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 11:43:51

    I stopped reading after “yer” in the first line. Painfully bad, inconsistent dialect.

    ReplyReply

  17. lizbeth
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 11:57:38

    Hasn’t been on patrol in 8 years, but feels she’s noticeable as the only red-headed female cop in this precinct. That, the gun thing, the meet with the bad-guy thing, all lead me to believe this writer needs to talk to a real cop. (Most cop shops have someone willing to do pr if you ask.)

    So far nothing that pulls me into the universe, let alone the story. No big writing errors, just nothing compelling.

    ReplyReply

  18. Kristi
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 16:01:49

    I liked the style. I think there’s a lot of skill here. It’s hard to judge from a first page, but a couple of tropes caught my eye.

    One was that she was a red headed heroine. And I’m assuming she’s feisty.

    I do like her voice, though I thought the comment that she was having a mental pity party was astute. I like that she comes off as naturally tough, just don’t sacrifice her to that.

    A agree about the Nawlins, thing, as well.

    Here’s my suggestion.

    Have her out sightseeing. Have her not be a cop for a second, and have de Vega approach her, when she’s unprepared, unarmed, nervous but can’t show it, and a little scared because she can’t call for backup.

    That will prevent the “she’s being stupid” thing. It will give you a chance to let her think about New Orleans and New York, and then her world will become really scary really quick.

    Overall, this is the most potential I’ve seen in one of these as well.

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  19. Ann Wesley Hardin
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 16:17:18

    I think this author has a very alluring voice. I can never get through most of the submissions here, either, but even through this has flaws, the author’s voice sucked me in and kept me. There’s a nice cadence to it. It sounds professional. The rest can be learned. Voice can’t.

    I really liked it. Good luck, whoever you are!

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  20. FoolsErrant
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 16:19:45

    Have to agree on those saying that the cop bits are inaccurate. I’ve got a lot of friends and family in law enforcement and it would be nice to see it done right for a change. For one thing, female LEO’s are generally accepted by their male colleagues as equals in larger departments, especially one like NO — the important thing about the officers you work with is whether they’ve got your back, not what kind of undies they wear. If this was set in a VERY rural area (like the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont, where there’s more lakes than people) this might be a plausible gender-based situation, but definitely rings wrong for New Orleans. Ditto on the gun bit, as well; it’s definitely more likely for a LEO to notice they’re not wearing a gun than it is for them to notice they’re wearing one. Also, she’d be risking her job big time doing this one-on-one meet with the crime lord of NO. Public safety jobs are extremely reactionary and a lot of times will fire you if there’s even a perception of misconduct. So meeting with a crime lord by yourself? Looks like you’re taking bribes, oops, see ya, so long, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and our lawyers will call your lawyers.

    And she would definitely have back up or at least have let someone know. They have tests to be detectives that weed out the TSTL ones.

    Also, must all cops be Irish? Srsly.

    Sorry for the rant. I probably should have said this at the top of the comment (especially since I hate being mean on these things, believe me I know how hard it is to put yourself out there), but the writing style seemed pretty good to me. The sentence structure started falling apart a bit when it got to the last couple of paragraphs, but otherwise, it worked for me as a reader.

    I think I would pick this book up from the library if I saw it come out. If you fix the cop bits to be a little bit more accurate, I might — Maybe — buy it.

    Oooh, unless she’s a vamp/were/whatever that’s doing supasecret paranormal stuff that she can’t let the precinct know about because paranormal critters aren’t known yet, so that’s why she doesn’t have back up?

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  21. Valerie
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 17:41:11

    First off, I have to agree with a lot of the other commenters that that opening line, in dialect, irks me. If I had picked up this book in a store, I’d have put it down after reading just that line. Writing in dialect has to be done very carefully and sparingly, if at all, and certainly not in the first line. If whatever character is speaking here talks like that through the whole book? Wall banger.

    Provided I’d read past that line, as a book browser, the rarity of an Irish cop in New Orleans would have landed this book back on the shelf. Really? No. Also, I’m sick to death of red headed Irish women. The vast majority of Irish women I know ARE NOT red headed, but in Romancelandia? Wouldn’t you know, they practically all are.

    Aside from that, there’s a lot of info dump, and the feisty heroine who gets crap from her coworkers because of her lady bits is SO very tired.

    twelve years dealing with street gangs and street weirdness

    Please, please cut out “street weirdness.” The phrase isn’t nearly specific enough, and it scans oddly.

    I feel like I’m trashing on this, which isn’t my intention. I actually do like the author’s voice, but the page is so overladen with hackneyed tropes, I don’t have a lot of specific positive things to say. I’m interested in De Vega. I hope he’s the villain of the piece, because the gold stud earring? GAG.

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  22. Tammy
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 18:46:40

    ‘Nuff already said about the first line of dialogue being confusing.

    What struck me the most about this sequence was its pace. It felt nearly stagnant to me. The lack of action makes the info-dumps feel more obvious than they might otherwise have been. I felt there was too much description of the setting, and too much time spent on the heroine thinking about what others thought about her – at a time when an experienced cop would be paying more attention to her upcoming meet. This issue, in addition to some of the other issues others have raised about representation of New Orleans cops, led me to not quite trust this aspect of the storytelling – which drew me out of the story entirely.

    There are some very nice descriptions in this excerpt, but all things being equal, I much prefer to be dumped into the action – and if the heroine is a cop, I’m expecting a LOT of action. I wouldn’t give this story too many more pages to pick up the pace.

    I would find this excerpt a lot more compelling if it started at “Beautiful, isn’t it?” – the meet with DeVega. You can find other opportunities to drop key backstory throughout the first few chapters.

    You’ve got a great start here, and have received some great feedback. Keep going!

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  23. BlueRose
    Jun 28, 2009 @ 01:13:21

    I liked this, its a bit over descriptive but not so much I was turned off. The thing that *did* turn me off was the lead name

    Dianna McDunna

    McDunna as a last name is just AWFUL in and of itself but the two triple syllable words with ‘nn’ and both ending in ‘a’ – bad bad combination.

    And not every Irish name is a ‘Mc’ (or an ‘O’) btw – a quick google gives me this

    http://www.ireland-information.com/heraldichall/irishsurnames.htm

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  24. Julia Sullivan
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 10:11:12

    Here’s what I like: the idea, and some of the language. Don’t give up on writing, submitter! You’ve got a gift, but right now it’s buried in technical problems.

    Here are some of the technical problems: The comma splices are just horrific; there are a couple in every paragraph. I would reject based on that alone, if this submission crossed my desk.

    The opening line, which pretty much everyone else has singled out as jarring, is also an inaccurate representation of any specific New Orleans dialect. Julie Smith does this accurately (though I’m not crazy about it, ever), and there are several very in-depth webpages by NO natives about it.

    To me, it works better to put in representative sentence structures and word choices rather than to try to spell the sounds phonetically: “Hey, partner, where you at? I thought I’d pass by your office, but they said you was over to St. Bernard Parish” or similar.

    “McDunna” is a HORRIBLE choice for a name, because it’s a misspelling of the much more common name “McDonough” (or “McDonagh”). Yes, I know that there are people whose last name that is (and it’s a famous Chicago bar as well), but that’s because someone–either the immigrant or an emigration official–misspelled it when the first bearer of the name came to the US. It’s not a logical variation of the Irish spelling, and it would drive me nuts to see it in a book.

    Everyone else has already covered the whole “there are no Irish police officers in New Orleans” canard. It’s really important not to get this stuff wrong these days–editors all have Google now, so the days of Krakatoa: East of Java and other similar factual blunders are long gone.

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  25. Tammy
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 12:18:46

    Krakatoa: East of Java

    Thanks for the B-52′s earworm, Julia! ;-)

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  26. Maura
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 09:59:42

    I’m not a NO native, but I just got back from a trip down there and am in the first stages of moving plans, and I get the sense that *I* might have done a lot more research than you, unfortunately. Following up on #20- not only would she be risking her job in ANY precinct by meeting with a crime lord, she’s meeting with him in about the most public place in the entire city. Jackson Square is swarmed with tourists *and* cops just about 24-7 (you mention “tonight” as the setting, too– the Place d’Armes, the “Square” proper, is locked up in the evening, so she couldn’t be crossing it after dark). The New Orleans police department has a reputation for being famously corrupt, and if any of her superiors catches the slightest hint of this meeting, she’s going to be out on her ass before the papers can pick up on it and make the department’s PR problems worse. And to top it off, it sounds like she’s meeting with him in uniform? No, no, no, no.

    Others have covered “Nawlins” (saying that is a good way to get yourself labeled a tourist) and the strong Irish presence in the city. One society lady around the turn of the 19th century was especially well known for her bright red hair, so this wasn’t unheard of even 200 years ago. Now, given the enormous melting pot that New Orleans has become, it’s going to be completely unremarkable. Assuming this is a contemporary, neither a female cop nor an Irish one is going to get so much as a second glance.

    I really, really recommend you go back and do some more research. Read as much as you can about New Orleans’ history– it is a unique and fascinating place, but the only way to understand it and avoid some of these glaring mistakes is to understand where it comes from. There isn’t enough here to know where your paranormal elements are coming from, but in particular if they are meant to be NOLA-specific, you absolutely have to have a strong feel for your setting that I feel is lacking in this excerpt.

    ReplyReply

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