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First Page: Unnamed YA Urban Fantasy

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The first time Christopher cut me, it was as though the knife sliced his flesh as it did mine. His hands shook so much, the blade sunk deep into my back while nicking the side of his pinkie.

I healed within the hour. There was fey blood in me. His wound, however, was raw for a week.

It was one month later. With one experience under his belt, Chris was steady and poised. He drew lines as a guide to where he was to cut: the juncture just beneath and beside each shoulder blade, where buds was beginning to protrude.

At the first touch of the permanent marker on my skin, I shivered. "Maria," Chris said worriedly. "Are you all right?"

"Of course," I said steadily, but my breath came out in a shudder. "I’m fine. I’m fine."

"You know I want to be a surgeon one day," he said half-jokingly. "You have to be truthful with me, to improve my technique."

"You’re doing fine," I told him.

He kissed me on the forehead before he began, murmuring sorry. I wanted to tell him he had no reason to apologise, since I was the one who asked him to do this in the first place, but the words would not come out.

The first blood drawn is always shocking. The pain is always surprising. As blood slid down my bare back and dripped onto the floor, I bit down on the piece of cloth shoved between my teeth. My hands clenched to fists and tears ran down my face. I tried my best to stay still, and eventually, I succeeded.

We were to do this once a month, Chris and I. It was a cycle, where lumps continuously grew on my back. There was one at the inner edge of each shoulder blade, framing my spine. If they continued to grow, they would sprout into white feathery monstrosities. No one else I knew had wings, and I could not hide them. The only way was to hack them off every month before the growth became prominent.

My mother used to do it for me. Just before the protrusions became obvious, she would use the sterilised kitchen knife to slice them off, making sure to cut deep enough so the entire lump was carved away.

But my mother was dead. My father was incapacitated with grief. There was only Chris, and Chris was willing to help me.


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Leslee
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 04:50:56

    Wow, I was shocked at the force as I was sucked in and then was a little disoriented as it ended. This was well done. I would like to see more!

  2. RKB
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:13:36

    Although the snippet sounds a bit like one of the various origins story of X-man’s Angel in context, I would definitely want to read more. Pretty please?

  3. Natalie
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:17:13

    I definitely want to read more too!

  4. Jordan Castillo Price
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:28:19

    This is very compelling! I’d also love to read more. The pacing feels very good.

    Consider stripping out your adverbs. I don’t think they add anything, and they weaken the prose. For instance: ““Maria,” Chris said worriedly. “Are you all right?” It is obvious in what he is saying that he is worried; you don’t need to say “worriedly” to demonstrate that to your reader. The content of what he says carries it just fine.

  5. Diana Peterfreund
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:32:02

    Very strong opening!

    I’d adjust some of the grammar issues, though. “buds was beginning to protrude” and then later, a tense switches around at light speed: “we were to do this.”

    ButI love the situation and how much backstory you’ve got packed into such a thrilling opening.

  6. joanne
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:43:41

    This is a wonderful first page entry, I absolutely loved the first line and would definitely continue to read.

    I would only hope the cutting would end fairly soon in the story (but that’s only because I suffer from Wing-Envy).

    Thank you and much good luck!

  7. vanessa jaye
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 06:56:23

    Fantastic, I would absolutely read on! Or if you’ve already sold this, come back and let us know.

  8. Leah
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 07:09:39

    The topic does not appeal to me, so I can’t say I would buy it, but this was a great opening all the same!

  9. katieM
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 07:37:17

    Wow! I was pulled in immediately. The “buds was” was a bit jarring, but that’s an easy cosmetic fix. I want more. You have to let us know when this comes out!

  10. AnneD
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 07:37:55

    It’s a little rough (the tense and thing people have already mentioned), but I would read on for sure! Very dramatic opening, lots of background without being too heavy handed with it – nice cause and effect style to giving you backstory.

  11. Fae Sutherland
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 08:07:00

    I would absolutely read on. I wasn’t caught from the beginning because it gave, to me, the impression that the first cut was a test of some sort, like “Can I heal if he cuts me?” and squicked me out. But upon realizing it’s a monthly ritual to keep the wings from sprouting, it made much more sense.

    I’m dying to know if this is an angel or what. Because the white feathery wings says Angel to me. Faeries tend to have the sheer, membrane and vein wings or butterfly wings, not feathers.

    Very interesting, I hope you keep writing.

  12. Stephanie
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 08:18:10

    Although I don’t generally read urban fantasy, this one has a striking and unusual opening. I couldn’t help being a bit reminded, as some others are, of the X-Men, but the scene was intriguing enough to make me want to see more.

  13. JoB
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 09:19:23

    Talking just technique . . .

    I’d like to see the opening stick to one particular scene — one place; one time; one incident.

    Can you put the reader firmly in the ‘now moment’? The ‘telling’ about what happened the month before and in her childhood, and plans for what would happen next month could, perhaps, be subordinated to what is happening now.

    You have intriguing action. That’s a good draw. But ‘character’ is an even stronger play, and it’s a card you can lay down at the same time you’re running the action.

    Looking at the ‘commercial’ side. (And I preface this by saying I’m not an expert on marketing in any way shape or form so you can take this with a good bit of salt. )

    Your opening tells us what the whole book will be like.

    If your overall story is full of gore and mutilation and torture and splattered blood and brain consumption and the other delightful standbys of current YA literature,
    then you’re doing the opening right.

    OTOH, if what you got here is an unusual scene — if the consensual pain and blood-letting is not followed by chapters and chapters of Kushiel-Dart sorta plot — then you have lost much of your proper audience by plopping the horrid-and-sanguinary up front.

    If folks who lay the book down at ‘The first time Christopher cut me,’ would have hated the rest of the book,
    you’re golden.

    If you’ve just lost readers who ‘do-not-read-books-about-people-cutting-themselves-no-thank-you-no’ but who would have loved the rest of your story . . .
    then you are not so golden
    if you see what I mean.

  14. DS
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 10:08:24

    I did find the surgeon statement a little strange. It’s an “As you know, Bob…” statement when it could be turned around to an attempted joking statement about improving technique for medical school, barber college or where ever the characters in this fantasy go for surgical training.

  15. gwen hayes
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 10:42:19

    Aside from the grammar issues–you have a truly solid hook. Had to keep reading and still want to keep reading.

  16. Melissa Blue
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 10:59:32

    I would keep reading, but I do have to agree to sticking to one incident. Letting the information unfold as the scene goes on. But damn, it’s good.

  17. kirsten saell
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 11:10:39

    “You know I want to be a surgeon one day,” he said half-jokingly. “You have to be truthful with me, to improve my technique.”

    That is a bit “As you know, Bob.” Something more like “If I’m going to be a surgeon, I’m gonna have to be able to do this,” would serve better there.

    Also, “buds were” not “buds was”. This was cool, but it could be tighter and cleaner. It just needs a buff, though, not major body work. :)

  18. Charlotte Stein
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 11:19:09

    Really good stuff. I’d read on. Just give it that little buff other people have suggested, and you’re golden. For me, this is vying for first place with the other first pages I’ve read here.

  19. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 15:26:08

    I’m of the “I don’t read about people cutting themselves” school. I only read on because I do this exercise every Saturday because it has improved my own writing so much to do it. I’m selfish that way!

    And it didn’t take many sentences before I was hooked. I want to know what happens!

    Technical suggestions only:

    The first time Christopher cut me, it was as though the knife sliced his flesh as it did mine. His hands shook so much, the blade sunk deep into my back while nicking the side of his pinkie.

    I healed within the hour. There was fey blood in me. His wound, however, was raw for a week.

    It was one month later.

    I would tighten up:

    The first time Christopher cut me, he caught his own flesh in the process. His hands shook so much the blade nicked the side of his pinkie as it sunk deep into my back.

    I have fey blood; I healed within the hour. His little wound was raw for a week.

    That was a month ago.

    Another thing, this page reminded me of the warning to beware of the ly siblings: ug, beast, and most heinous of all, writer. In other other words, get rid of the adverbs.

    I still want to know what happens . . .

  20. Gemma
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 15:28:40

    I was hooked. As I was reading it, and as I write this, my brain has lit up with different ideas of how she might try to do this herself if she didn’t have Christopher on hand. Ranging from some species of reach-around to moving her body in a sawing motion against a fixed blade. Any book which makes my brain light up like that is worth buying. :)

    [As an aside: I didn’t read the heading (with the genre) so when I read the opening words “The first time Christopher cut me” my brain defaulted to a much-loved genre and I pictured a Regency heroine being cut by a disdainful, brooding hero, in the middle of a busy London street!!]

  21. Jill Myles
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 16:32:40

    I loved this. Would definitely read on. I kind of disagree with a lot of the ‘tighten’ up comments because I feel that the loose, casual wordiness is part of your style.

    Good stuff! One of the best ones up on First Page Saturday so far. :)

  22. JulieLeto
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 17:17:11


    Don’t change a darned thing. I was completely sucked in by your writing and your voice (like Jill said, casual and loose) and the story.


  23. hapax
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 21:43:40

    I’ll be honest. The opening hook was great but…

    as a YA librarian and a YA fantasy reviewer, this would definitely end up on my “Errr, problematic” pile.

    Not that actual teens don’t love the gore and violence and angst. But BREAKING DAWN would never have made it as a YA novel if Meyer hadn’t had the billions of sales behind her, and I know plenty of high school and public libraries that wouldn’t put it in the teen section. A first time author has a much higher hurdle to jump. (Of course, you may already have a solid sales record and are just trying to break into a new market, in which case things are a bit different)

    Either tone it down a bit, or go for an adult audience. Only you know where the story is going from there, and which option would work best.

  24. Elise Logan
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 15:47:40

    The grammar issue threw me out – I think Diana Peterfreund pointed my issues out admirably, so I won’t rehash them.

    I’m semi-hooked, in that I like the idea and the set up, but as RKB pointed out, it is similar to the X-men set up for Angel/Archangel. Also, I agree about tightening up the first bit – it’s awkward to start in the past and move to the present in the manner you have done here.

    But, I think it has real promise. Good luck.

  25. Stephanie
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 19:54:25

    Also, a similar setup was used in another best-selling (adult) novel by a high-profile SF author.

    More importantly, ditto to the people who said that it’s a bit problematic for a YA book: either it’s not representative of the book and people who might have otherwise enjoyed the rest are going to put it down after the first sentence, or it is representative and you’re going to have a hard time selling it as YA as a first novel.

  26. Julia Sullivan
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 19:54:30

    Others have mentioned the grammar tweaks needed, but there is a larger issue in the opening:

    The first time Christopher cut me, it was as though the knife sliced his flesh as it did mine. His hands shook so much, the blade sunk deep into my back while nicking the side of his pinkie.

    See, if he cuts himself while he’s cutting the narrator, it’s not “as if” he’s cutting himself–he’s actually cutting himself.

    I think this is a good idea and a strong voice, and my hope is that you’ll fix the redundancies and glitches on the next edit.

  27. Tae
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 06:36:43

    Julia – that’s exactly what I was thinking about Christopher cutting himself.

    Wow, this sucker punched me in a good way. I am definitely interested in more, but I agree that I was also distracted by some of the grammatical mistakes. I hope you’ve got more and this will turn into a book.

  28. RachaelfromNJ
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 18:11:22

    Great job! I’d read it. Sounds great! :) Send me a copy when you publish it!

  29. K
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 08:10:34

    Thats amazing what is it from?

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