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First Page: Unnamed Women’s Fiction / Contemporary

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***

How did this happen?

How did I let this happen?

These are the two thoughts that are circling my mind as I sit hunched on my couch the night of my high school reunion. I stare at the carpet, overwhelmed by the realisation that has blind-sided me this evening.

Which is this: I am fat.

Not just overweight. Not chubby, or nicely rounded, or Rubenesque.

Fat. Obese. Big.

Australia’s answer to Kirstie Alley fat. Oprah on a bad day obese. Pavarotti without his girdle big.

I know what you’re thinking. How can being fat come as such a shock to me? It’s not as though it’s an instant process. I had to work diligently at over-eating and lying around on the couch for years to get to this size. And it’s not as though there weren’t a few clues hanging around along the way, waiting to give the game away. Mirrors, for example, and the size 18 labels staring back at me from my clothing every time I got dressed.

So how can something so obvious sneak up on a person without them noticing?

I noticed. Of course I did. But I told myself everything was okay. That I was in control. That I was carrying a bit of winter coat, but it was nothing I couldn’t deal with. All that was required was some discipline and gym attendance when I finally decided to pull finger and get my shit together.

It’s amazing how long it can take a person to get their shit together. Years, apparently. Because as I stare at the carpet, I realise I have been selling myself the same lie for a long, long time, slipping it past my internal bullshit meter beneath lots of flowing black outfits cunningly designed to hide the fact that I have no waist. Or hips. Or ankles, for that matter.

But tonight, something happened to shake me out of my denial. A sort of cosmic wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee. Or, in my case, the dog shit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You don’t know about the dog shit yet. You don’t know anything about me, not even my name, and yet here I am offering up my most embarrassing, personal truth to you without so much as a pleased-to-meet-you.

Sorry. It’s just that right now, right this minute, I feel the need to cling to the things that are real and true in my life because I’m terrified that if I keep lying to myself and ignoring reality I’m going to keep getting bigger and bigger until I become The Human Pancake. Then I’ll have to buy a specially reinforced bed, and I won’t be able to roll over without the assistance of a team of burly male nurses, and the single career option left open to me will be to star in one of those freaks-of-the-week cautionary tale documentaries they show on the Discovery Channel, the kind that parents make their kids watch to try to scare them into eating more vegetables and less junk food.

I don’t want to be a cautionary tale.

I want to be happy. I want to like myself. And if tonight has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t like myself very much at all.

But maybe you should be the judge of that…

***

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52 Comments

  1. Leah
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:17:15

    I like it….but I have to say that a size 18, which I, at 5 3 am striving to fit back into–while fat– doesn’t qualify, to me anyway, as the kind of fat you seem to be describing. When you are an 18, you can see your feet, you still have a visible waist, you have ankles, etc. (Unless you are lots shorter). You can run, climb lots of stairs, etc. I can still do those things now, and I have not been an 18 since I gave birth to 3 kids…. Also, I have observed that sizes 18-20 (now often a 1X in the fat lady stores)is a very common “fat.” When I was a kid, in the 70s and 80s, it was pretty much the biggest I would see. Now, people are so much bigger, I’m now a (ick) 22, and here in Indiana, it’s not an unusual size….and I see quite a few women who are much, much bigger than I. I would make my heroine a 26, 28 or 30, depending on her height. There, you are arnd 275 or 300, and you get the effects you are looking for.

    But I am interested in seeing where your story is going!

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  2. DS
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:31:33

    Because there was a reference to Australia I checked on online size conversion site and it appears than an Australian 18 is a US 14.

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  3. Barbara Sheridan
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:32:03

    Technically, the writing was well done and flowed smoothly but once I saw the size 18 I wanted to reach through the monitor and smack the heroine.

    While it is well written I can’t say I’m eager to see more. As a woman who has been in the size 16/18 range pretty much forever, I’m not all that interested in trying to connect with a character who sees it as being The. Worst. Thing. Ever.

    Then again I don’t generally gravitate more toward women’s fiction.

    Just saw DS post on the size conversion. The fictional heroine REALLY needs a smack in the head now.

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  4. Tae
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:35:50

    umm…wow.. I just checked and an Australian 18 is an American 14, which I am, and I’m not obese. I’m not even fat. I’m 5’3″ tall and 160lbs and I’m a little overweight, but I’m not the kind of fat that you’re talking about. No one would even say that I’m fat, so I’m a little put off by this description. Oprah at her highest weight was 237. Kristie Allie was 2250-260lbs.

    Sorry to leech onto just the size, but I think if you wrote that an Australian Size 18/US Size 14 is fat, obese, etc. then it’ll upset a lot of women.

    http://www.onlineconversion.com/clothing_womens.htm is where I went to find the size conversions. I know that UK clothes are about one size bigger than American sizes so I think the site is accurate.

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  5. Natalie
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:43:27

    I quite liked it. As an Australian, the size 18 was not jarring for me, but probably going up a size or two would fit better, particularly since the average size in Australia for women is 14. 18 is not a big jump from that.

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  6. Leah
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 05:49:16

    Let me just add that when I was preg. with my 3rd child, I had HELLP syndrome, which caused me to hold immense amts of water. I almost made it to 300 in the last trimester (lost it all in 4 days after delivery). That was when I saw the effects you are describing. When I was an 18, my waist was 33, which doesn’t even hit the “lose it now!” cut off of 35. I wld definitely revise the weight here.

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  7. NCKat
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 06:21:47

    I agree with the others – put in a greater weight. Here in the US, a large woman would be wearing size 20 and above, not 18, and definitely not the Aussie equivalent of a size 14. If you keep her size this low, the character is going to come off as shallow and vain.

    However if you upped the size I can get past that and keep going. It sounds interesting.

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  8. Fae
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 06:57:53

    You have to think about your readership. The average female american (and I say this as a fat girl myself) is around a size 12-14, not a big jump to 18, which is also a VERY common size. Yes, not the thinnest of weights, but not exactly morbidly obese either. You’re going to spend the entire book with your heroine calling your primary reader a fat cow. NOT a good thing. If you want a fat girl heroine, make her fat. Not averagely overweight.

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  9. Maggie Robinson
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:06:36

    Ditto to all of the above on the size issue. And of course the preference now in romance seems to be for big, confident women who love every inch of themselves and find a guy who loves them just as they are too. I note that this is women’s fiction, but I’m assuming there will be a guy in there somewhere.

    My shitometer went off with the four references to shit one right after the other, even if they referred to different things. I’d use some substitutes.

    Good luck!

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  10. Nessa
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:08:45

    The voice is engaging and I was intrigued enough to read the whole page, and then actually be disappointed that there wasn’t more.

    However, a few things jumped out at me….if you’ll permit the nit-pickies.

    First, while I found the voice engaging, there were a few places I felt like it was overkill. Eg, the three-fers.:

    Not just overweight. Not chubby, or nicely rounded, or Rubenesque.

    Fat. Obese. Big.

    Australia's answer to Kirstie Alley fat. Oprah on a bad day obese. Pavarotti without his girdle big.

    We get it. She’s fat (although, based on comments above…maybe not so much.). But the 1,2,3 description, 1,2,3 once more, and 1,2,3 a third time is…well, too much. Trying too hard. We get it. Let’s move on.

    Another thing that stopped me:

    yet here I am offering up my most embarrassing, personal truth to you without so much as a pleased-to-meet-you.

    Mmm…an embarrassing, personal truth to me is something that isn’t obvious by looking at a person. I mean, if she’s fat, it’s not a secret.

    If you mean that her personal truth is the fact that she had no idea how she’d come to this, that’s obviously different…but from the way I read it, it sounded like she was talking about her weight being the “personal truth.”

    This paragraph seemed a little over-dramatic to me, and I found myself skimming it:

    Sorry. It's just that right now, right this minute, I feel the need to cling to the things that are real and true in my life because I'm terrified that if I keep lying to myself and ignoring reality I'm going to keep getting bigger and bigger until I become The Human Pancake. Then I'll have to buy a specially reinforced bed, and I won't be able to roll over without the assistance of a team of burly male nurses, and the single career option left open to me will be to star in one of those freaks-of-the-week cautionary tale documentaries they show on the Discovery Channel, the kind that parents make their kids watch to try to scare them into eating more vegetables and less junk food.

    Might want to tweak that and cut some of the drama. (I also had to think about what a Human Pancake would be, and I had a picture of a FLAT round thing? Maybe the Human Beach Ball would be better?)

    Yes, those are nitpickies, but they’re things that stopped me in the story and pulled me out.

    On the other hand, I love the conversational style, the “you don’t know about the dog shit yet”–which of course really makes me want to know more. And obviously something happened at her high school reunion–and I’m a sucker for reunion stories.

    Good luck!!

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  11. joanne
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:17:10

    Since there are more concerns over the weight and size issue for your story then there are for the writing I would have to say you’ve missed the mark with this first page entry. It might make a great blog page that will stimulate conversation and responses but as a pull into a fictional novel it just doesn’t make me want to read more.

    I only caught the Australian reference because of one of the comments from a reader — because truly– I have no freakin’ idea what “pull finger” means.

    If this is really a WIP then finding a way to have the main protagonist speak so that she does not alienate your readers on the first page would be the way to start.

    Thank you and good luck!

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  12. Renee
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:22:45

    The size thing always gets me in books. In more than one book I’ve read of a heroine struggling to get in better shape and ecstatic when she finally hits a size 8. It’s possible that it’s more because of my body type, I am very small boned, but I’m wearing a size 8 right now and at 5’4″, this is the biggest I’ve ever been without being pregnant.

    What I see at this weight are the lovely rolls of excess flesh above my waist band unless the jeans are practically falling off of me. A muffin top. And the awesome rolls around my bra. It’s not a particularly lovely look and often times these heroines are shorter than I am. It’s really not much of an escape for me since I imagine myself and I’m not all that turned on by my body right now.

    I like where you are going with this. It’s an interesting hook, for sure. I’m just wondering if you can get away with not mentioning a size? I think no matter what size you chose for your heroine, you are going to hurt a reader’s feelings. People know what their physical shortcomings are, but nobody wants to feel mocked by the book they are reading. If you leave the size vague, everyone can imagine what they think of as “fat”.

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  13. Lori
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:39:59

    Interesting discussion…

    Have to agree that the idea of a size 18 (at least American size 18) isn’t exactly morbidly obese.

    And I’m not a fan of the breaking the 4th wall.

    You don't know anything about me, not even my name, and yet here I am offering up my most embarrassing, personal truth to you without so much as a pleased-to-meet-you.

    I love first person but not like this. This pulls me out of the narration faster than anything. I’m not invested in your story yet and this offers a false sense that I am. Personal preference I know but that would stop my reading right there.

    I’m a huge fan of contemporaries and chick lit but this put me off. It’s a strong voice but maybe I just can’t get behind the fat is the worst thing ever storyline.

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  14. Anonymous
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:42:26

    In must agree with the many commenters who are asking you to consider your reader. I like reading about fat chicks. I do not like being insulted by an author. And I positively can’t stand reading someone who is in the throes of rampant self-hatred (especially as it implies that, as a fat chick, I should also be busy hating myself and calling myself names).

    So, as a first page, I would put this book back on the shelf and move on to something less invested in decrying the physical and more invested in elevating the emotional.

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  15. amousie
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 07:56:14

    Overall I enjoyed the authorial voice. Good control in the opening. I’d probably hone this down another 15%. I felt myself getting a little restless and needing to know this wasn’t another if only I’d lose weight I’d be happy stories. The way you laid out your hook and your control with the opening leads me to believe that there’s possibly more to this story, so I’d keep reading to find out what happened to make her not like herself and why her response to that was to let herself go.

    ———-
    Lose the reference to the exact size altogether. Don’t put in any type of measurements. Label size, weight, body measurements. Lose the celebrity references.

    Women of all sizes from a size 6 and smaller to a size 30 and larger can feel this way about themselves so don’t try to define it for the reader. You’ll only get backlash from people who think the size is too small and the woman needs to be smacked upside the head or from people who think the size is gross and disgusting and that no reasonable person would ever let themselves get that way.

    Defining overweight is just a no-win situation IMO. Let the reader imagine it instead.

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  16. K J Gillenwater
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:00:34

    I won’t repeat the size thing…I think that’s been said enough, and is an easy fix. This is a GREAT opening page. I loved it. I would read this whole book in a heartbeat. The voice was very engaging and funny. I immediately felt connected to the heroine. Change the size and you are golden. :-)

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  17. Stephanie
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:07:09

    Yes, this is well-written and the voice seems appropriate to women’s fiction. But like so many other commenters, I was bothered by the extent of the narrator’s harping on about her size. A whole page devoted to how gross she thinks she is and how miserable she feels? Leaving aside the whole Australian 18/US 14 conversion, I was unimpressed by how the narrator dwelt almost entirely on the aesthetic issue of being fat. Why not spare a little thought about some of the more serious consequences, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease? It might make her seem less shallow.

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  18. Alex
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:10:08

    What you’ve got to remember is that Aussies aren’t as overweight as Americans(yet!) so a size 18 over there is pretty damn hefty, comparatively speaking.

    I loved the voice in this piece, and I’d definitely keep reading to see where it’s going. It just needs a few nips and tucks that previous comments have already addressed.

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  19. hapax
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:21:29

    The voice is engaging and makes me want to read more. I agree with everyone else on the size issue, and breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly always makes me cringe.

    Also, I’d drop the repetition of the word “shit.” I’m no prude, but what is it — three? four? — usages on one page is a bit off-putting. Unless it’s important to you that your character be pegged as a bit of a potty-mouth.

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  20. Fae
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:28:19

    I think aside from the “Size 18 isn’t too big”, which can be debated…Stephanie pointed out what bothered me the most, on a reread. I don’t want to read about self-hating people. If the entire first page is this chick whining about how huge she is and she has no idea how it happened (O RLY??) then I can only assume this self-hatred of hers is going to be a driving force in the story. The main motivation. There is very little appealing, imo, about a character who hates themselves. Especially since, as a fat girl, it implies that I’m meant to be hating myself too, because aren’t I fat as well?

    Hell no, I love myself, every inch. I can’t empathize with someone like the heroine who considers being fat the end of the world tragedy. It seems a depressing way to spend a few hours, being told that something I’m perfectly comfortable with, my weight, is this chick’s biggest life tragedy. Kind of like hearing a person with a home and three cars and a timeshare at the beach complain about the economy and how they can only afford a one week vacation this summer instead of two. Woe.

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  21. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:37:51

    I agree with amousie about eliminating the size reference altogether. No matter what size she is, it’s totally normal for her to feel insecure, so there’s no need to be specific. Defining a certain size or weight as fat is sure to insult many women. I remember being annoyed by a Linda Howard book in which the “chubby” heroine weighed 135 pounds…

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  22. KristieJ
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 08:38:48

    Sorry – no way would I read this one.

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  23. Darlynne
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:03:27

    I liked this a lot and was immediately engaged by the voice. For someone who has come to a difficult and–apparently–horrifying realization, the repetition and whirlwind of images seem very believable. The narrator doesn’t like herself now, but I didn’t get the sense this will remain a story about hating oneself. I would love to read more–the dog shit, the fourth wall–all of it. Unknown writer, thank you and good luck.

    ETA: It seems, based on the comments, that it’s the number this writer used that has taken the focus away from the writing. Would a different number or no number have produced similar reactions? Just wondering.

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  24. she reads
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:05:04

    I’m a fan of overweight inspirational stories where a woman embraces herself AND chooses exercise + healthy diet to be a healthy person – whatever size that might be. I am not a fan of books where an author doesn’t get the real struggles of being overweight, gives the heroine zero confidence unless she’s thin, or underestimates how much weight/size is truly FAT.

    No chance would I buy this as is. I don’t care what size conversions are or if size 18 is ‘real fat’ in Aus. or whatever. The heroine sounds like a very negative, sedentary, and lazy person. Right now I’m rooting for her to fall down a deep well and stay there, never to be published.

    I’m not hearing “I’m going to get healthy, start exercising, eat right…” I hear a once slender/average weighted girl who packed on pounds over the years and right now sitting at her high school reunion and overreacting to being chubby. I hear all this fussing and whining and the line about ‘spilling her secrets’ put it over the top. Newsflash: we can all see if somebody is really fat.

    Put a lot more research into what size you write if you’re trying to target Americans to buy this, clarify that your heroine is very fine boned or tiny so this big IS huge on her, or don’t write a size. The Americans you mention were probably 2, 3, even 4 sizes LARGER than your heroine is (if indeed you’re using aus sizing).

    Eve aka she reads- a size 14 (US) woman who has ankles, a waist, and no rolls of fat or worries of becoming obese

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  25. California girl
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:10:20

    Your page basically ends with a question. “Do you care about me yet, or not? If so, read on.”

    Right now, for me, the answer is no. I’d put the book down, even though the writing is engaging. I am just not feeling this protagonist.

    But tonight, something happened to shake me out of my denial. A sort of cosmic wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee. Or, in my case, the dog shit.

    Show me this scene, and I might be.

    This is why I’m not a fan of conversational first-person, either. In my view, the fastest way to get me to sympathize with a character is not to have her chat with me, keeping me on the outside. It’s to put me in her skin and force me to feel what she feels. Instead of giving me the role of observer and spending the opening page courting my sympathy, make me her, give me immediate stakes and don’t leave me a choice.

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  26. Darlynne
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:10:49

    PS (Since I can’t edit my comment for a second time): As someone who was completely derailed by a book that referred to Chicago as midtown, I understand how one thing can throw everything else off (including the book against the wall).

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  27. Kaye
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:22:05

    I think Oprah was a size 14/16 when she posed in a belly top for the cover of her magazine. Anyone watching the photo shoot could tell that she felt healthy and beautiful at that size.

    Whether this story turns out to be a “lose weight and find love” or “keep weight and find self,” it’s not the book for me.

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  28. Anon76
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:42:24

    Now see, while I agree about not naming a particular size, I actually liked this. Sure, it could use a trim here or there, but I “get” it.

    High school reunions can be traumatic in and of themselves, but the mention of the dog shit issue really peaks my interest. I’m thinking something of a “Carry-esque” thing has occured, and the reason this woman is so distressed is because of that. Maybe she’s normally a confident person, but this shook her to the core. I don’t find it odd at all to self-reflect and even self-hate in such a moment.

    I’d read on to find the cause of such distress. PLUS, thinking in those terms, maybe a reference to the size should remain. She’s not obese, she’s not horrid, but her former classmates have made her feel this way by their actions. She’s a normal woman who had something awful happen. Heaven knows I’ve felt that way in my lifetime.

    My more than 2 cents. LOL

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  29. Courtney Milan
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:44:30

    Count me with those who have no real quibbles about the writing but don’t want to read this story. Even if you adjusted the weight to match, this is not to my personal taste at all. I don’t like weight loss stories, or stories about people who think they need to lose weight but just need to find self-lurve.

    So I am not your proper audience, and you should take the next point with a grain of salt.

    After this page, I don’t know anything about the heroine except that she thinks she is fat and needs to lose weight. That describes just about every woman I have ever met–including many who are dangerously skinny–and so I’m not overwhelmed about what makes her different.

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  30. amousie
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 09:57:19

    @Fae:

    If the entire first page is this chick whining about how huge she is and she has no idea how it happened (O RLY??) then I can only assume this self-hatred of hers is going to be a driving force in the story.

    I was willing to give the writer more leeway here because with a little tweaking on the order of Nessa’s recommendations the opening could be much tighter and therefore not as ‘whiny.’

    I’m hoping that we get a story about a woman who initially doesn’t realize that she doesn’t like herself and that the dog-shit incident was her wake-up call to that fact. I can understand the initial focus on the weight. You’re in shock. You look for the easy answers. The superfiscial ones. Weight is visible. It seems like an obvious solution that we can take care of if we only try. But the author addresses that belief system early in her analysis and ends the opening with

    And if tonight has taught me anything, it's that I don't like myself very much at all.

    I assumed that by ending here this means that whatever has happened, it’s a lot more than just weight and that prior to this realization that the woman hadn’t consciously acknowledged her self-hatred. I also assumed that before the story was over, we’d see her deal the actual cause of that self-hatred and not just the symptom (weight).

    If, however, you’re right about the main motivations then I agree: I wouldn’t read much further because the motivation you describe isn’t one I would enjoy reading about.

    That said: Overall quality and authorial voice gets me to read more. I’d give the benefit of the doubt to the author.

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  31. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 10:38:12

    When I see a book in the present tense, I leave it on the shelf. I find the style really jarring. It’s just me, sometimes a present tense book can really do well, but for that reason alone it wasn’t for me.
    I’m British, and it’s a UK 16. That is not fat, not by any nation’s standards. It’s all the things she’s denying in the first paragraph. Rubenesque. So her problem isn’t weight, it’s self image.
    If she gets thin and everything falls into place, job and men and all that, I wouldn’t buy it. If she stays the same size and finds a man to love her as she is, I wouldn’t be interested, because it’s a one-note story, and I want more.
    And with this beginning page, nothing is happening. She is just feeling sorry for herself because she perceives herself as fat. So? Something should happen, even if it’s being dumped, bumping into to someone on the subway who makes a comment, anything. Not just the heroine sitting around.

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  32. Liza
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 11:36:02

    Lost me early on. I know she’s fat, (cause she tells me ad nauseum) I have no idea how fat, size 4 fat or size 44w fat. (Just that celb’s will consider her fat.) There was so much whining going on I didn’t care to read any farther.

    If that is the tone you want to take with your protagonist, then you’ve got it, and good luck to you.

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  33. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 11:59:43

    I don’t see a story anywhere.

    Oh, noes! I’m fat! I hate myself! I’m so embarrassed!

    I have a feeling — totally unjustified, since all I can see is what is here — but I have a feeling that you’d do better to just dump this page.

    Sometimes when I’m writing I realize that the first flow of words, many pages worth, are just warm up. Clearing the throat, so to speak.

    In this section, nothing happens! Maybe you could jump forward to a place where something happens and start the story there?

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  34. kirsten saell
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 12:06:03

    @Lynne:

    I assume this first bit is a prologue, and that once Chapter One starts, it will likely be in past tense. I’ve seen that work before.

    I liked the voice, a lot. This was pretty effortless to read, with nothing really jumping out to throw me out of the story. I don’t read women’s fic, so I’m guessing I wouldn’t buy this. But this small glimpse did engage me.

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  35. Delia
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 12:10:21

    I know that in a lot of stories, getting in shape or being proud of having a larger figure is a substantial part of the heroine’s personality (not saying I think it should be, I think we should be more than our pant size), but as a first page, this feels like the entire novel will be about why it sucks to be fat. My gut response to reading this was cry moar! It feels like she doesn’t even want to do anything about her fat, she just wants the reader to pity her — and as a size 12 who is happy with her weight and doesn’t talk about it every two sentences, I don’t give a hoot.

    Really, the last bit is the part that killed me. She wants to be happy and come to terms with her weight and love herself, but she’s giving up her self-respect and making someone else decide whether she’s good enough. That, to me, is not a heroine. That is a 13-year-old girl baiting an eating disorder. I don’t want to read a whiny, self-loathing, passive heroine.

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  36. Elyssa Papa
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 12:17:13

    I have to agree with all the others. You can write very well, but this heroine does not compel me to read more. I think she is too negative in thoughts, and I had knee-jerk reaction of size 18 is obese? I would omit the size or increase it. Also I kept thinking of the book Jemima J by Jane Green, which was about an obese British woman who loses weight so she can meet the hunky man from L.A. she’s been dating online (because she put up a fake picture and said she was a size 2); let me tell you, I wanted to chuck that book because I was so pissed off at the message.

    What you have is a conversational opening, which is fine but the problem with it is that you have the narrator telling us instead of showing. Put us in the scene or start it at the high school reunion where she shows up and people are like WTF happened to the former beauty queen. (I’m just assuming at one time she fit in the mode of “acceptable” beauty.) But really if she knew she would get shit (and yeah, I would change how many times you use that word), then why would she even want to attend the high school reunion in the first place?

    If this novel is about empowering herself and finding self-love, I think it would be a much stronger choice for you to begin with her taking charge of her life instead of her being a complete Reverend Dimmesdale in that she beats herself up and hates who she is. If she hates herself, then readers will as well. Make her self-deprecating instead of self-abusive and make this about her taking charge as opposed well life sucks and I can’t believe I let myself get so fat and I might as well always be alone. Because readers will quickly lose interest. She can have self-doubts and insecurities but I really believe that you could make this opening so much more stronger if she was less of a pity party and more of a doer.

    Good luck!

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  37. Ciar Cullen
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 12:35:00

    Once again, I find that I am the odd one out. I love the voice and think the dread rings true. I don’t understand why everyone wants to see a fully developed plot in the first page. She mentions the reunion, so I’m pretty sure we know where she’s taking us. Also pretty sure she’s going to learn to like herself.

    I would agree that perhaps let the reader imagine what fat is (rather than making it a number that offends nearly everyone). But my thought was that the character was likening herself to very large people in a kind of self-loathing exaggeration.

    Again, that voice would get me past a lot!

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  38. JaimeK
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 12:52:10

    I agree a lot with Anon76′s comment.

    I would read this book. I am not a contemporary women’s fiction reader – but if I ran across this book or it was talked about here then I would read it. I think if you have ever struggled with your weight you can understand the voice and why she sounds so self loathing right now. I cannot imagine that this voice would continue through out the whole book.

    Best of luck to you!

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  39. Julia Sullivan
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 13:08:47

    This is horrible.

    First of all, size 18 Australian isn’t “obese” by Australian standards. Chunky, yes. But not huge. Unless you’re trying to depict someone with a hopelessly disordered body image, you’re way off base.

    What you've got to remember is that Aussies aren't as overweight as Americans(yet!) so a size 18 over there is pretty damn hefty, comparatively speaking.

    NONSENSE. The average woman’s size in Australia is AUS 14, which is between US 10 and 12. So this woman is two clothing sizes above average and perceiving herself as grossly obese.

    THAT’S MESSED UP. Now, if the book is about her being messed up psychologically, that might be reasonable, but what I’m getting here is that this is the author’s perception, not the character’s perception.

    When Kirstie Alley was at her heaviest, she would have worn an AUS 24 or 26. When Oprah was at her heaviest, she would have worn an AUS 22 or 24. A woman who was similar in dimensions to Luciano Pavarotti in his heaviest days would have been likely to wear a size AUS 30 or 32 or even higher.

    I would never read this book in a million years. There is too much body shame in literature right now; why add to it?

    Even if you were writing about someone whose weight fell into the “morbidly obese” category–and that person would be unlikely to be able to wear AUS 18 clothing–who wants to read about someone who hates her body and hates herself because of her body size?

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  40. Maya M.
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 13:33:20

    I enjoyed it, and would read more! Agree with the ‘lose the reference to size 18′ camp.

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  41. JulieLeto
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 13:33:37

    I like the voice a lot. I definitely would read more. I like the present tense, the breaking of the 4th wall, all of it. I love the pacing. I think the author has a great sense of rhythm.

    As for the size thing…well, it’s a hot button, isn’t it? We all have very different opinions about it. And then there are the facts because anyone who thinks a size 18 isn’t *likely* obese hasn’t been to the CDC website in this regard. I know because I recently celebrated–on my road to a healthier body–the transition from obese to overweight via the CDC standards and I never went above a size 14.

    Few who saw me *probably* would have thought me “obese.” It’s a word that has so many subjective connotations. But damn, I was (and am) overweight, though working hard to get back to a healthy size. Is that an 8 or a 6 or a 10? I’m not sure yet. I’m not after a number. I figure I’ll know it when I get there. But when I was at my highest weight and I’m 5’2-1/2, I had NO waist to speak of. Everyone’s body is different. I happen to think that someone like Queen Latifah, who likely weighs more than I did (since I know she’s much taller,) has a fantastic body. She looks awesome.

    So what is my advice? Don’t know that I have it…except that I think the point is that this heroine is not happy with her size. What the reader thinks about her size essentially doesn’t matter–it’s HER story, not ours. But of course, we read through a personal filter so I might take a few of the concrete descriptors out (the size, the celebrity comparisons) just so that the reader can “imagine” how big the heroine is.

    Bottom line…I’d read more. Great job!

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  42. Jinni
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 13:48:50

    Dear Author:

    I loved your writing, but I find almost weekly that I’m at odds with the other readers here. I’d read on and as a 5’2″ woman who’s been at 120 and 180 – I believe the narrator is obese. I think you can’t buy into American’s (or Brit’s or Aussie’s) denial about their weight. Plug some of those weights into a BMI chart and folks – it’s obese. There’s no way to say it. Thank goodness this heroine realized it sooner(ish) rather than later.

    Keep writing. I’d definitely buy it.

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  43. Sarah Mayberry
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 14:18:16

    Hello, author here. A big thanks to everybody for their comments and thoughts. This has been very, very helpful for me – and a big thanks to Dear Author in general for this service. As I have been writing this book I have been very aware of genuinely exploring the issues of weight loss – I wanted to show the denial, the anger, the triumphs, the defeats as honestly at possible. I know there are some scenes that make me uncomfortable writing them, so they’re probably going to be uncomfortable to read. But this is the book that is calling to me at the moment, so I’m putting the words down. Re: the comments on the size, I will definitely take them on board. I was trying to give people an idea of how big this woman is, but clearly I should have just let everyone imagine their own version of fat. Lesson learned. Maybe I need to work harder to show how feisty and smart the heroine is in the opening pages at this point – another thing I will look at. But who knows? It’s possible the prologue will disappear as I get into revisions. Thanks again for all your comments. If anything, it’s telling me I’ve hit a hot button, which is always interesting… And a quick PS – I am aiming this at an Australian publisher initially, so some of the vernacular/cultural things might be a bit off for US readers. Apologies if you find them too confusing. I quite like reading US and UK writing with their vernacular in it, and I hoped DA readers wouldn’t mind too much…

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  44. proud fat chick
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 15:05:26

    I’m a proud fat chick.

    After losing 92 lbs on Weight Watchers, I got down to a 18 (US size). At that point, for my height, I was only 35 lbs overweight. I see you already commented here, but let’s just say that if the heroine perceives herself as that fat, then the next leap is that the author also preceives people at that size horrifically obese. And no, I’m not reading that book. It hits a button.

    I read a harlequin once where the “big girl” was 150 lbs. I wrote the author, who admitted she thought the heroine was more in the 180-200 range, but the editor thought that might alienate people or sales or some such nonsense like that and slimmed down the character. The author was very apologetic, which redeemed her.

    Getting into the lesson and issues of weight loss is fine, but I think frankly, at least in America, we’re being bombarded with them from Oprah to The Biggest Loser on TV. I’m not sure that issue is going to float a book anymore.

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  45. Gennita Low
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 16:43:26

    The issue of what size is an obese size aside, I like the voice very much. With a hot topic button, it’s always good to use a conversational/confessional tone, revealing the protagonist’s fears and state of being. I don’t mind that the first page doesn’t have anything happening ON THE OUTSIDE. I don’t agree that it’s all tell, not show. The way the heroine talked about herself revealed a lot–the first few paragraphs showed that she has just realized something, that she didn’t like what she had become.

    I get that it’s a woman’s empowerment story and not everyone’s cuppa, but I think it fits the targeted genre (women’s fiction). Good luck!

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  46. A New Writer
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 16:56:12

    I loved your voice, and it rang true to me, as someone who’s been chided for being too thin, and also for gaining weight (I love the weight by the way. I didn’t have a behind before, now I do :)

    Anyway, it was the writing that hooked me, and I hope you don’t change this too much. I think once you adjust the size you’ve got a strong first page, because how many people haven’t felt that kind of hard self assessment, whether it concerns weight or something else. Sometimes touchy subjects can work, and I hope the rest of your book shines like your first page.

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  47. LizA
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 18:22:26

    Everyone is different. What looks fat on one person can look great on another, and vice versa. I must say I find these blanket statements (NO WAY you have rolls of fat at size…) quite weird. Nearly every woman I know has *some*, unless you are half staved or work out like crazy…. .

    Then, do not trust these online conversions! They are WAY off. Total bullshit, sorry for the term. I checked out my own size and it was completely wrong. As someone who owns and wears clothes from several size zones, I know this from personal experience, too. You always have to try things anew, and stick with your “new” size no matter what the label says.

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  48. JenD
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 20:16:56

    I enjoyed the voice very much, right up until the reference to her size. It just alienated me immediately. Weight is such a hot button isn’t it?

    I’m simply tired of hearing my weight in romance novels being referred to as fat, slovenly, morbidly obese and ‘steamship-like’. I honestly can’t take any more books- that I pay for- telling me how fat I am. I’m 5’7″ and Polish- we just come big. *grin*

    I would love to see the opening page be more about her personality because I’m a sucker for a strong heroine. It might help me get over the ‘fat hate’ and see the character as a real person that I can root for.

    If you do re-write it, I’d love to read it because I really like your voice.

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  49. Melissa Blue
    Apr 12, 2009 @ 12:51:13

    Being overweight is definitely a hot button. Some readers would be more willing to accept “I’m in denial about me” if the embodiment was an unhappy marriage, the heroine’s life beingabout everyone else and not themselves, BUT the embodiment of weight…yeah, you’ll some readers.

    But the thing is I love your voice. I would continue to read and I think the only reason the story wouldn’t be for me is if the heroine just goes on and on about “woe is me”. That’s a turn off in any story. Best of luck.

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  50. Renda
    Apr 12, 2009 @ 20:23:53

    As soon as I saw the fat description was pinned to a size, I knew the comments would center on “18 is not that big.”

    I liked it. I had the same conversation with myself once when I was an American size 18. It was a conversation that was needed.

    I have since lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of tone. I know that when the tone slackens, the weight “looks” bigger and feels bigger.

    I liked the voice, I liked the tease of more information to come. Not a big one for profanity at the beginning before we know the character, but I have been told my views on profanity are behind the current norm.

    I would probably buy it.

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  51. Sherry Thomas
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:07:08

    I didn’t even notice the size 18 part until the comments.

    The voice is fabulous. I will read more.

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  52. Julia Mitchell
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 20:07:28

    Queen Latifah is both a great singer and actress, i love this girl.’~.

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