Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: Unnamed Women’s Fiction

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously.

***

Fate had painted a bull’s-eye on my back. The ironic thing, I didn’t believe in fate or karma before my brother left a message on my office’s answering machine that was the equivalent to Armageddon dropping a line just to say hey. Being the self- designated, birdie-flipper of fate I had to know if listening to the message would be like Darth Vader-’Phoenix, I am your brother.

After six years of silence, only one reason would have made Samuel call me. Earlier this week the family had been going through the family bible, and would I mind if they whiteout my name?

But, no, instead of letting the call stay a mystery I helped fate change my course, and pushed that stupid button to listen to the message. At least to my credit, I braced myself to hear what my brother had to say.

"I really don’t want to leave this message, but I don’t think you would call me back." He paused, and it felt like one of those moments that last a lifetime.

“Mom died last night.”

Maybe I didn’t hear him right, but from the way the air left the room I think I did. I was sure I heard Samuel right when my limbs felt heavy from the weight of them. The words "Mom" and "died" refused to come together in my mind. I moved slowly as if in water. I saw my hand push the button to save the message. The cold plastic against my finger brought me into reality for a moment. I unplugged the machine from the wall.

Definition of something bad: A woman you haven’t talked to in six years, who happened to give birth to you, is dead.

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

19 Comments

  1. anon
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 07:43:09

    I’ve read it 3 times now, I just don’t get it.

    You’re raising questions here, and telling me ‘fate painted a bullseye on my back. I don’t believe in it. But I do now.’ but the news is just that her mom died. Unless she’s an immortal of some kind, it’s not crazy or apocolyptic for a mom of an adult to die. Sad? Yes. View changing? Sure. But the reaction you’re showing us paints a protagonist I don’t want to follow- the writing isn’t pulling me in but rather encouraging me to walk away.

    Why is she mentioning Darth Vader? Did the family white out her name in the bible, or that’s just what she thought they’d call about? Clearly she has family issues but the way this is written my mind has to wonder if it’s going to be legit and good conflict – or just a load of crap.

    You give me a whole lot of nothing in this first page, and I think if you’d done it in a way where we can see her a bit better, get some kind of image of her or where she is or something, and give me some reason why I should side with her or want to know more instead of repeating over & over “words like fate. karma. 6 years…” several times I’d feel differently.

    ReplyReply

  2. DS
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 07:45:37

    I like it. I would go on reading. I can’t come up with any criticism at all.

    ETA: And these are clearly two diametrically opposed first posts. Maybe it has to do with life stage.

    ReplyReply

  3. Marianne McA
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 08:00:15

    I had a different take on it than May. I quite enjoyed it. I agree, the first paragraph was confusing, but apart from that, I thought it read well.

    I didn’t take it that fate’s bullseye had anything to do with her mum’s death, just that the phone call was the beginning (from the character’s pov) of a chain of events that would lead her to believe that she’d been targeted by fate.

    As I said, I don’t like the first paragraph – small things niggle. Armageddon can’t say ‘hey’ because it’s a place. One of the horsemen of the Apocalypse could, I suppose, or Nemesis (remembering Heyer’s ‘Friday’s Child’.) But that, and the Darth Vader reference – the paragraph kind of skitters all over the place, and I did need to reread it to have it make any kind of sense.

    But the rest, I liked. I’d read more.

    ReplyReply

  4. Eliza Evans
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 08:11:00

    I would read on.

    There’s something weird about the tenses, though, that I can’t quite put my finger on. Starting the story in past perfect (I think. I had to look it up.) just seems a little off to me.

    You know, I might have just figured it out. We’re in past tense, here, and the tone is kind of flippant. There’s the line about the family Bible — which is funny! — and then boom, dead mom. If it were in present tense it would work better for me.

    Good luck with your project. Thanks for sharing it today.

    ReplyReply

  5. Ros
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 08:34:32

    I’d stop after the first paragraph, I’m afraid. It doesn’t make sense to me and there are technical problems too:

    Fate had painted a bull's-eye on my back. The ironic thing was that I didn't believe in fate or karma before my brother left a message on my office's answering machine that was the equivalent to Armageddon dropping a line just to say hey. Being the self- no space here designated no comma needed birdie-flipper of fate I had to know if listening to the message would be like Darth Vader-’Phoenix, I am your brother.

    I may not be your target audience – I have never seen a Star Wars film. But there is just too much here that says nothing. In three sentences you have: fate, the painted bullseye, karma, Armageddon, birdie-flipper, Darth Vader, Phoenix… It’s exhausting to read, even if you get all the references. Say what you want to say and don’t wrap it up. All you’ve got here is that her brother has left a message on her machine. The way you’ve built it up, I’m expecting War of the Worlds or something.

    The only moment that felt real to me was her unplugging the machine. That made me feel like I could care about this woman. The rest of it – lippy, self-centred, overly-dramatic – I couldn’t care less.

    ReplyReply

  6. Fae Sutherland
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 08:46:54

    I like it. I swear I’ve read this elsewhere, might have been Karin Tabke’s contest, but I can’t recall if I know who wrote this. LOL. So anyhow…I like it. I like the flippant tone and the wit. I do, however, think there’s a bit of ‘trying too hard to be clever’. Especially in the first paragraph. It’s clear you’re going for quick and snappy and funny. Very cool. But the first paragraph is about four different ways to say “I was jinxed.” Pick the best one, imo, and ditch the rest so as not to confuse the reader. Or, if you insist on keeping so many, placing *such* emphasis on her jinxed status…give us more than an estranged mom dying to finish it off. I need more if I’m not going to think ‘Wtf, she’s flipping out like that over a mom she hasn’t had contact with in years? What kind of fit is she gonna throw when something *really* bad happens?”

    I think it’s a great first page, I just think it tries a little too hard to be great and I wonder how much of that wit and biting snappy fast humor can be sustained. I find I see a lot of this in contests and such, where the first few pages or even first few chapters are so polished they gleam because those are what go in contests, while the rest…disappoints. I’d only suggest toning it down a tad. But overall I’d definitely keep reading. This first page would buy you at least a couple of chapters to suck me in.

    ReplyReply

  7. theo
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 09:05:12

    I’m one of the *scratches head* readers here.

    The first paragraph to me was too scattered. It was awkward to me, and the Darth Vader reference, no, didn’t work for me at all. And is that your hn’s name? Phoenix? Because Phoenix to me is rising from the ashes, not Armageddon or Darth Vader.

    I see several punctuation issues, some that were mentioned, which also made it cumbersome to read for me. That and the fact that I kept wondering how the hn knew in advance that it was her brother on the answering machine *before* listening to the message. Did she look at the caller ID?

    **Definition of something bad: A woman you haven't talked to in six years, who happened to give birth to you, is dead.**

    The definition was too flip and would only work for me if she either couldn’t stand her mother or had killed the woman herself. Other than that, you haven’t made me care enough about the hn to worry one way or the other what happens and why it bothers her that her mother (who she doesn’t even call her mother) is dead. The definition of bad would be if she cared that her mother was dead. And she doesn’t. At least not from this.

    I’m most likely not your target reader here, but I’d have put it back after the first two paragraphs.

    ReplyReply

  8. Jill Myles
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 09:10:52

    Hi there! Intriguing start, but it needs a little work. I think you’re starting your book in the right spot, but you’re not quite sure HOW to start.

    IMO you can ditch the entire first paragraph and part of the next one. The part where I really sat up was when the story stated: Earlier this week the family had been going through the family bible, and would I mind if they whiteout my name?

    That’s hardcore! Love it! You should start there.

    That being said, I think your writing needs tightening. It’s hard to put my finger where, but your sentence structure has a very rambly, loose quality to it that makes it almost difficult for the reader to follow along. They’re not BAD sentences, mind you, but something about the way they are strung together makes it hard to keep…immediacy? Tension? I’m not 100% sure, it’s just a feeling I have. (I know, that so does not help with a critique, right?)

    Look at this paragraph:

    Maybe I didn't hear him right, but from the way the air left the room I think I did. I was sure I heard Samuel right when my limbs felt heavy from the weight of them. The words “Mom” and “died” refused to come together in my mind. I moved slowly as if in water. I saw my hand push the button to save the message. The cold plastic against my finger brought me into reality for a moment. I unplugged the machine from the wall.

    The first sentence is one I had to read twice to understand. The I think I did means she doesn’t even trust her own thoughts, and basically you are over-explaining. Since we are in her head, she doesn’t really have to ‘tell’ us how she’s feeling as much as you just have to narrate what she is experiencing, if that makes sense. Like, what if you did this?

    The air left the room. Maybe I didn’t hear him right?

    Just a thought. This (from my own experience with writing) is a super-tricky thing to fix. It’s almost like you’re wobbling into 1st person omniscient and the narrator feels very detached from things. You want 1st person past-tense immediate (say that 3x fast) so we feel like we’re right there with her.

    I hope that helps! I like your set-up, and I think with some nudging, you’d have a great first page.

    ReplyReply

  9. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 10:53:52

    Don’t try so hard. There’s just too much here.

    Armageddon is an event, not a person, so “Armageddon dropping a line” is very jarring. The “Darth Vader” business, as others have said, is hard to follow.

    Rethink the name “Phoenix”—maybe you need it, but I think a lot of people would find it horribly off-putting.

    I’d like to see you starting with the phone call. That’s where I started to pay attention.

    And fix the errors, because they really detract from what is otherwise quite fluid and professional writing.

    I would probably read on, but if I were your editor I would send you a strongly worded memo about fixing the first page. I bet this gets better after you stop trying to make such a big splash.

    ReplyReply

  10. Lori
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 13:05:16

    Wow. I thought this was a hot mess.

    It was trying so hard that the very essence of a truly traumatic event (the death of a mother) was being used as nothing but a diving board for glibness. And the one liners had no cohesion. Drth Vader and Phoenix? Huh?

    I like contemps, chick lit and women’s lit but this wouldn’t get me turning the page. Chuck the overwhelming humor, rewrite and work on the cohesion.

    ReplyReply

  11. JMHO
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 14:02:39

    I like the idea of starting with the second paragraph. It’s less confusing and less awkward, more concise… and overall, I ‘got’ the humor in it better.

    Elsewhere, you have some over-writing issues like previously mentioned. I think if you got a good beta/CP, they could help you clean that up.

    And this is just an aside… something niggled at me while I read this, like it did Fae Sutherland. Finally, I remembered: this reminded me of the opening sequence of Garden State. [Minus the crashing plane, obvs, lol.] Very similar set up [bad news over an answering machine, estranged family, dead mom], kinda similar dialogue. Definitely not a bad thing, because I seriously doubt it was intentional. Just something to think about. :)

    ReplyReply

  12. wendy
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 14:42:22

    @Marianne Mc
    Thanks for the Heyer, I remember a time when my sister and I dropped *that Greek fellow following us around* into our chats just because.

    @Jill Myles
    You hit the nail on the head.

    Dear Author, you have a fan. I didn’t want this story to stop.

    ReplyReply

  13. JoB
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 15:07:47

    I have the feeling the story that’s going to unfold is cool. I’m getting just a hint of it and it looks good.
    But I have problems with the writing as it stands.
    So frustrating.

    Like Eliza Evans, I find the tenses odd. This voice doesn’t ‘flow’ for me. There’s a build-up of many small errors and awkwardnesses in expression.

    Mostly though, the tone of this opening page distresses me. It’s — I’ll go with the wonderful word, ‘glib’, used in one of the postings above.

    It would be hard to coax me into reading a protagonist who so casually dismisses anyone’s death. Whose reaction is so self-centered. There are a hundred ways to play the loss of a mother. Anger, sorrow, outrage, guilt . . .
    Glib doesn’t work for me.

    ReplyReply

  14. A
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 18:05:28

    This is some of the most schizophrenic writing I’ve ever read.

    The technical writing problems combined with first person narrative make the work “jumpy” and not in a good way. If the protagonist is suffering mental illness, cool. If not, the work needs work.

    Get rid of passive voice whenever possible. Passive voice alienates readers and adds unnecessary length. Use fewer being verbs to smooth out the writing.

    example:

    The ironic thing, I didn't believe in fate or karma before my brother left a message on my office's answering machine that was the equivalent to Armageddon dropping a line just to say hey .Being the self- designated, birdie-flipper of fate I…

    Pure irony, I don’t believe in karma. My brother’s nasal tones imitated Armageddon dropping a hello on my office’s answering machine. Self-designated birdie-flipper to chance, I…

    The simile “I had to know if listening to the message would be like Darth Vader-’Phoenix, I am your brother.” makes no sense. Listening to a message and Darth Vader…apart from exploited pop culture references, I don’t “feel” anything to the comparison. Maybe tweak it to “I had to know if Brother’s message matched Darth Vader-esque revelations — Phoenix, I am your brother.” (even that sounds “off” ’cause, well, Phoenix recognizes Brother is his sibling earlier in the paragraph.)

    The main emotion being thrown through this page is chaos. I don’t trust the narrator.

    ReplyReply

  15. Castiron
    Oct 31, 2009 @ 21:42:36

    I generally agree with most of the above comments. There’s a lot of really good phrases and ideas, but they’re put together very awkwardly.

    I’m having trouble with the idea that the phone call is what changed her course. If she hadn’t gotten the phone message, wouldn’t she have ultimately found out about her mother’s death in some other way — a registered mail letter, a lawyer asking if she wants to contest her mother’s will disinheriting her, contact from somebody she knew as a child, etc.?

    Reading this, I wonder why, if her relationship with her family is so estranged, she thinks her mother’s death is so bad. Because she hoped her mother would reach out to her, and now that’ll never happen? Because deep down she really wanted to reconcile, and now she’s lost the chance? Because she only gets to live in her house or run her business out of its current location while her mother’s alive, and now the property’s going to someone else and she’s screwed? This wondering might keep me reading for another page or two, though something more is going to have to grab my interest to get me further into the book.

    ReplyReply

  16. evie byrne
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 01:06:35

    I didn’t think this was bad at all once you get past the first paragraph. I hit “read more” to continue after the jump, and that’s saying something because I have the attention span of a gnat.

    The first paragraph is tangled up in itself and working too hard. If I were editing it, I’d cut most of those jangly, discordant bits and whittle it down to the central idea. I know you want to mention those key words like Armageddon and Darth Vader because they tell us about the character, but you don’t have to do it right away to give us a sense of her voice. You can work all that in down the road, once the reader trusts that you’re giving them a story they want to read.

    So my suggested revision would read something like:

    I didn't believe in fate or karma before (until?) my brother left a message on my office's answering machine. – hook this straight into this next bit–> After six years of silence, only one reason would have made Samuel call me. Earlier this week the family had been going through the family bible, and would I mind if they whiteout my name?

    But fix the slightly awkward phrasing in those last two sentences. It sounds like they were really going through the bible that week and the mc knows about it. Do you see what I mean? Just rephrase it. The whiteout idea is funny, and worth keeping.

    And after that it reads fine. I’m willing to wait to find out what it all means.

    ReplyReply

  17. Maura
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:35:36

    I’d be interested enough to read further, but I was puzzled by the Phoenix reference too– is that the heroine’s name? If not (and if so, really? Really?), then I’d lose it altogether, and if it is her name, then I would separate it from Darth Vader, or lose Vader completely, so that genre-savvy readers aren’t confused into thinking it’s another comic book reference. From looking at some of the other readers’ comments, it seems that is a source of confusion for more than just me.

    ReplyReply

  18. Zealot
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 00:48:39

    Reads up the comment list…

    Wow…tough room.

    As for the confusion many people are experiencing over Phoenix, I am your brother, I assumed that the name of the person speaking was Phoenix…and maybe I am odd but I got the point of the first paragraph, the slightly self-depreciating, bad-karma world weariness, wrapped in pop culture geek-hip. Story of my damn life.

    As for the rest of the page, it rang very true to me, I had a very similar thing happen to me, and I could completely understand the “one step removed” feeling that some people have called flippancy.

    I like it, it smells real. Keep writing it.

    ReplyReply

  19. Venus Vaughn
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 03:40:23

    I want to like it but something is off with the tone.

    The first three paragraphs are upbeat and use the kind of hyperbole that I get a kick out of reading. I mean, the target on your back, and Darth Vader and all seem to be a set up for something like a missing button before the big interview. The huge build up before the comic let-down.

    But instead, it’s a comic build-up for a seriously depressing topic. Losing a parent is almost universally devastating and I think you’re risking turning off your reader before they even have a chance to care about your (character’s) problems.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: