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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript – New Adult

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I knew that he saw the sweat glistening on my forehead and beading between my breasts. Romeo smirked when I pulled the zipper of my sweatshirt up higher, and wrapped my arms around myself to ward off the chill.

“Ma, I think your body might be confused right now. It’s gorgeous out here and you’re sweating while them goosebumps all fucking over ya’.” Romeo laughed, knowing damn well why my body was reacting like this.

I hated my drug dealer. The sound of his deep voice was slightly slurred from having a few half gram bags of heroin tucked in his mouth, between his cheek and teeth. Dealers do this often so they could swallow the drugs and get rid of the evidence if the cops ever showed up.

“Don’t call me Ma, my name’s Gabby, and quit the games, Romeo. You know exactly why I’m like this right now. I’m hurting and I need your help,” I snapped.

“Get some dough and you can fix that shit right now,” he told me and crossed his arms over his chest, signaling the end of the conversation.

I shook my head, “I don’t have any money. Can’t you front me?”

“No dough, no dope. You know that shit, G. And don’t act like you don’t already owe Cahko for that finger. He wants his loot.”

I opened my mouth to protest but dry heaved instead. The look on Romeo’s face was one of pure disgust even though he dealt with people like me on a daily basis. I wiped the spit from the corners of my mouth with the back of my sleeve and looked at Romeo with pleading eyes. “I’ll do anything Romeo,” I started lowering the zipper of my hoodie despite my chills. I knew nothing was sexy about a dope sick girl, but his nasty ass couldn’t get pussy any other way.

Romeo’s eyes lit up with understanding, but held a hint of uncertainty. “I don’t want your ass puking on me when you’re giving me some brains.”
I fought back the revulsion I felt about touching this dude, and focused on the prize. “Maybe you can hook me up with a little shot before we get started? And when we’re done, you can give me that other bag.”

After a brief moment of hesitation, Romeo scanned the area and nodded his head for me to follow him. I struggled to keep up as we weaved our way in and out of the Pine Projects. My heart was pounding and my body was screaming, knowing that it was about to get the release it’s been begging for. Even though I’m yearning for that shot containing the power to fix my problems, my conscience always found a way to rear its ugly head and try to show me reason. Even with all the fucked up things I’ve endured throughout my life, there’s still that part of my brain that shouts what I’m doing is wrong. I don’t have to do this.

But if I didn’t get high, I’d be dealing with things a lot worse than screwing my dope dealer. Heroin blocked out the terrified screams of my friends before their last breath was stolen. It hid the images of sadistic and cruel men hovering above me, men that were supposed to be my friends. It’s as if there was a never ending list of all the things that heroin could dull the pain of. When my choices were between constant pain and suffering versus about fifteen minutes of letting this man have his way with me, I chose being this dude’s toy. It would just be added to the list of things heroin blocks from my mind.

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. SAO
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 07:11:17

    This isn’t right up my alley, but I might get into a well-written redemption story BUT:

    1) She is offering sex with a disgusting man who has zero respect for her to get a high which will briefly block out memories of disgusting sex, and some other stuff. I admit to some middle-class prejudices about drug users, and you’ve played right into them. I’m left thinking Romance with Romeo will be one more thing she needs drugs to forget.

    2) You’ve offered me the possibility of an eye witness account of them doing the nasty. Not a way to make me willing to turn the page.

    I want to read about chars taking charge of their lives and dealing with their problems. You need to give me a lot stronger hint on page 1 that this is going to happen. Or, preferably, show it happening. Without it, I’m out of here.

    All that said, you have no description of Romeo. You talk about his nasty ass, but Romeo sounds like a hero and so I can’t picture him. Further, how does he laugh with bags of dope in his mouth?

    Your writing is smooth, you’re taking on a challenging story and I’m probably not your reader.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 07:32:06

    I think this heroine may be a tricky sell, but kudos for trying it.

    That said, I feel like your writing is TOO smooth for first person narration of this moment. Certainly the heroine’s dialogue seems too smooth, almost prissy, especially compared to his slang. I don’t get a real feel of desperation when she’s speaking, OR from the smooth narration.

    For me, the only way this scene will work is if the writing and the character’s thoughts are jerky and rough. We have to understand what’s going on, of course, but we have to FEEL it, too. And I didn’t feel anything from this.

  3. Marianne McA
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 07:44:29

    My experience with addiction is through a family member with alcoholism, so that’s unlike this in two ways – alcohol may be quite different than drugs, and an outsiders perspective must be very unlike an insiders experience.
    So I can’t know how accurate your portrayal might be, but it lacked believability for me as a reader, and therefore I wouldn’t read on. Your protagonist’s thought processes seem too coherent, too self-aware – too discursive even: in the midst of her craving is she really going to think about why drug dealers store bags in their mouth?

    I could be entirely wrong about that: but I hope it’s useful to know how different readers approach the page. I’m not an easy person to sell a book about addiction to anyway, but if I felt that sense of familiarity, that she might give me some sense as to what it’s like to suffer with an addiction, I’d be more likely to read on. (For instance, and this sounds horrible, if she hadn’t had qualms about her actions I’d have believed in her more. Cynically, I’d have expected her conscience to kick in after the event, not before. )

    Good luck.

  4. Jasmine
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 08:28:41

    Although it’s not something I’m proud of, I personally have a bad history of drugs. Specifically heroin. I know a ton of people who do, too. I know that the withdrawal and craving of heroin will lead you to do things that you normally wouldn’t do if you were clean and sober. I feel for this character and what she does. It’s wrong, absolutely. But it’s real.

    I would read on to see what happens next. I want to see where this story leads, and see if she can pull herself from her addiction. I’m hoping there is some guy that she meets and falls in love with, and helps her realize that she doesn’t have to live that life. I don’t see Romeo being her love interest. Not at all. The sex is more business than anything. Like a prostitute. It’s obvious she doesn’t want to really have sex with him, she just feels she has to. She says that she gets high because of bad stuff that happened in her past. Maybe someone she meets can help pull her out of that.

    I’d read on to see if her life changes, and if it does, I’d like to see how it changes.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 08:47:11

    Repellent. Both characters. I see nothing to make me want to read on.
    I agree with Marianne, she’s too self-aware to be an addict. In the throes of addiction they will do anything. Skanky sex is the least of it. She should be glad he doesn’t want to pass her around to his friends. The addicts I’ve known that have managed to stay off the stuff after the “cure” have had a reason to do so, and it’s always the same – they are doing it for themselves. Her half-hearted “I shouldn’t be doing this” won’t work. And to be honest, addicts tend to be boring.
    If this was the beginning of a thriller, then yes, I’d read on, because it’s reasonably well written, apart from a few glitches, and it’s colorful. I don’t have to care about characters in a thriller.
    Glitches – some tense problems, as in: “my body was screaming, knowing that it was about to get the release it’s been begging for” – “it’s” always means “it is,” so the jumble is confusing. “it had” instead.
    And the exposition about the heroin bags. Not needed unless she’s actually talking to someone and this is a flashback, in which case it could be framed better. Otherwise it hooks the reader out of the scene.

  6. wikkidsexycool
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 09:55:51

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to share this.
    For me, Romeo’s use of the slang greeting “Ma” and then use of the word “dough” gave pause. Imho the word “dough” isn’t something a contemporary criminal/drug dealer would currently utter. You may also want to be careful, as the scene is veering into a stereotypical speech pattern for Romeo. Authors are generally advised not to write exactly as individuals speak, but you’ll want to do just enough to help your readers understand what they’re saying. So “dough” can simply be “money.”

    For her to say “Don’t call me Ma” also threw me off, because it’s a term of greeting that even I still get from time to time, so I’m wondering if you’ve read dialogue from other authors or overhead the term and decided to pick and choose the phrases to use, without knowing the context. If she doesn’t want him being overly familiar/friendly, and yet she’s still willing to have sex with him, then as a reader I have to wonder where her indignation at “Ma” comes from.

    Also, drug dealers come in many varieties, from the articulate co-worker or even other females. They aren’t always of the urban male variety. As a writer, you can push boundaries with your character depictions, if you choose to.

    I’m also of the mind that you’re starting your story in the wrong place. You want the readers to bond with your lead character, and this may not be the right point in your tale to do it.

    The good news is that your writing is smooth, and your talent is evident. I’m someone who’d be your potential reader, especially for gritty New Adult. I hope you’ll post a brief blurb regarding the premise, and I wish you all the best with this.

  7. Jane
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 09:58:11

    I’m not offended by the subject matter in this first page. It reminded me a little of the daughter from Traffic and I assume that this is the start of a redemption story. I would agree with the earlier criticisms that the dialogue of the female protag is a little too smooth for someone who is anxious for her next hit.

    It’s an interesting premise and one that I think could be interesting to read.

  8. Maura
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 10:05:27

    This reminds me a lot of one of my favorite UF series, Stacia Kane’s Downside series, in which the heroine/POV character is also a drug addict. I love those books because the h and her struggles feel totally real- yours do too, so far. But I’m going to need a reason to connect with her besides feeling sorry for her. Kane’s h is usually introduced in medias res, so we see her doing something along with getting distracted by thinking about her next fix; it gives her a little bit of an extra hook. All I know about Gabby right now is that she’s in bad shape and she’s willing to do things she’s not proud of for a hit. It will be tricky to show-don’t-tell why I should be pulling for her, but I think you can pull it off.

  9. Sunita
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 11:01:38

    I don’t have a problem with the (un)likability of the characters, I’m more than willing to read about addicts if the writing pulls me in. Right now the writing is not doing that, though. There’s an errant comma in the first paragraph and there are jarring tense shifts in paragraphs and even within a sentence.

    I agree that the internal monologues provide backstory in a way that doesn’t fit how I’d expect an addict in need of a fix to be thinking, so it comes across as an as-you-know-Bob thing. I also agree that the dialogue feels stereotypical rather than authentic, if this is supposed to take place in an urban US neighborhood.

    Good luck, and thanks for giving us the opportunity to comment.

  10. JenM
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 11:02:54

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with a drug-addicted lead character, but I would need a reason to care about her pretty quickly so I don’t know if this is quite the right place to start the story. It’s hard to tell without a longer excerpt, of course. Aside from that, your last two paragraphs need a rewrite. The grammar is jarring – I think you’ve started to drop into present tense, then pulled back into past tense. Also, when she thinks of him, she is using the word “dude” and that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of her internal conversation.

  11. theo
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 11:54:53

    This is not where your story starts. Your Hn comes across as weak and repulsive. So does Romeo. If that’s what you’re going for, then you’ve accomplished your goal. Because I cringed at both of them. Don’t want to read any more about either. No reason to care = no reason to read on.

    Your story starts at the life-changing action that drove her to become a drug addict. The little bits of backstory you’ve dropped in here aren’t enough to make me care at all about why she is what she is. I’m not a big fan of prologues, but in this case, I’m thinking if you can’t fine a better place to start, one might be warranted.

    And it needs cleaning up. Tense changes and anachronisms that don’t fit the ‘contemporary’ you’re trying for make this a mess. When I started counting the tense changes, it pulled me out of any story that might be there.

    Now, if both of these characters are going to be murdered while going at it, you might have something that will really hold my interest. But it still needs to be cleaned up for me to find out.

    Also, having grown up with an alcoholic father, I do know in most cases, one does not clean up for someone else. They do it for themselves. Just a comment…

  12. theo
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 11:56:30

    @theo: Should be, if you can’t find, not fine. The edit function isn’t working :(

  13. Lynn
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 12:33:51

    I agree with many of the other comments that the protagonist doesn’t seem likable. I don’t really mind her being a drug addict. I think it’s a difficult topic and has a lot of potential. My problem is that I don’t want to be stuck in her head for the next few hours while I read this book. It may be because I don’t know or understand how far she has fallen. I don’t have the chance to really care about her before she becomes desperate for the drugs.

    Good luck!

  14. Gloria
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 13:18:08

    I don’t mind the heroine but Romeo is just too stereotypical for me to take seriously. He needs to be rewritten, I think. The little bit of back story we got at the end does make me interested, but not enough to continue the story. My recommendation is to start the story at a different point, perhaps by showing the effects of remembering her classmate’s deaths in order to make us understand why she chose heroin.

    My other suggestion is that you spend some time reading drug user forums and sites, such as Erowid or Something Awful’s TCC (The Crackhead Clubhouse) subforum if you or someone you know has a Something Awful account. fake edit: actually since the thread got gassed it’s visible to non-members.. When writing about addiction it is really helpful to spend some time reading about it from the addicts point of view, especially things written while they were in the midst of their addictions (although reading about recovery is important too, especially if that’s part of your story). This will give you a better handle on how your heroine talks and thinks about her addiction and give her a more genuine voice.

    Your writing is quite smooth, and I would certainly be interested in seeing what else you’ve written even if this book isn’t really my cup of tea.

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 14:00:27

    Thanks for showing us your work. I agree that this may not be where the story starts, but since this is what you’ve submitted, here’s my thoughts on what you have.

    There’s issues with the writing. You have an “Oh, by the way…” line, where you explain to the reader why Romeo has the drugs in his mouth. It’s an obvious tell, rather than a subtle show. You want to explain to us why he’s slurring his speech, because you found this nifty bit of information and you want us to know that. But rather than show us, you lose the impact by having Gabby tell us. And I’m not sure a drug addict in that much need would even notice, or care, that he has heroin in his mouth. Unless he spat it at her and she took it and ran. But it’s too much coming from Gabby.

    “His slurred the words. The little bags of heroin tucked in his cheek, ready to swallow if he saw a cop, made him sound drunk. But I knew better.” Clumsy still, but it doesn’t sound like a documentary on the habits of drug dealers on the streets.

    “I knew that he saw the sweat glistening on my forehead and beading between my breasts. Romeo smirked when I pulled the zipper of my sweatshirt up higher, and wrapped my arms around myself to ward off the chill.”

    This could be deeper. When you write from first person, you can leave out the “I felt” “I saw” “I knew” phrases…we know she feels, sees and is a sentient being. There’s no need to use up words telling us what she sees, or hears, or knows; she’s going to SHOW us what she knows (not tell us…).

    “Romeo smirked, his eyes traveling over me, taking in the sweat on my forehead, beading between my breasts. I tugged up the zipper on my hoodie and wrapped my arms around myself, chills wracking my body. His smirk deepened.”

    “I fought back the revulsion I felt about touching this dude…” Here too. She’s revolted; you’ve shown that in “I fought back the revulsion.” And since she’s telling us that, adding “I felt” takes you out of her telling and into you narrating the story. It makes for shallow writing.

    “I fought back a sudden wave of revulsion, the dry heaves threatening to return. Touching Romeo was my slice of purgatory, before I got to the hell of my fix.”

    Your second to the last paragraph could use an overall tightening up. If she’s in as bad a shape as you indicate, her prose is very wordy. I’d like it to be shorter, choppier, something that helps convey the screaming ache she has for her fix. Her speech patterns seem far to organized and well-written for someone who’s forced to give her dealer head for a fix.

    “After a brief moment of hesitation, Romeo scanned the area and nodded his head for me to follow him.”

    “Romeo hesitated, scanned the area and then jerked his head for me to follow.”

    I have no problem with the content, either the drug addict MC or the dealer. But you don’t give me enough reasons to either like or dislike them. There isn’t enough information on the page to really make any decisions about how I feel. So I’m left with, eh, a shrug and not much else. A blurb, a few more pages, maybe I’d have an idea if Gabby is someone I could care about or if Romeo really is that much of a prick. But not from just this.

    Thanks for letting us take a look at your work. I think you may have a good story here, but it’s hard to tell, just from this snippet. Good luck!

  16. JL
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 15:44:39

    My first thought was Stacia Kane, too, even though it’s a different genre. Her series is worth the read. The addiction issues are really well portrayed. The big difference between the two is that the protag in Kane’s series is extremely compelling. The addiction issues are integral to the plot and complicate the storyline in fascinating ways. Here, I’m not finding the protag particularly sympathetic and if having sex with someone repulsive to score a fix is the main conflict in the story, or even in this scene, I’m not that interested. While you may be aiming for a bit of shock value to draw readers in (and I could be wrong about that), sex in exchange for drugs is not particularly unique in the world of addictions. As a reader, I find nothing about this to set it apart from anything else and make me want to read it. That being said, I’m not at all the target audience for this and I do think that the page itself was well written. You’ve gotten some great advice from others on how to tighten it up in places. Good luck!

  17. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 15:58:14

    I intended to say that all the things I mentioned are easy fixes. Your writing is smooth in some parts, you do paint vivid images and your use of language (except for the it’s versus its issue) is good.

  18. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 17:29:51

    Other people have commented on this page, so I won’t do that, but I’m just wondering if anyone else is feeling the glut of NA stories with over-traumatised heroines? I’d love to read an NA with a heroine (and hero!) who have fairly ‘normal’ issues. The amount of rape, abuse, addiction, etc, in NA stories is really putting me off them, but I seem to be in a minority.

  19. Nemo
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 19:23:44

    This feels very distant and cold to me. The casual way she describes why she’s doing drugs “Heroin blocked out the terrified screams of my friends before their last breath was stolen” seems like an obvious, clumsy lure.

    The writing feels off-hand when it’s trying to be close and intimate. I could get behind an addict who is trying to down play their addiction. One of the narratives in House of Leaves has a man who constantly lies and makes light of whatever horrible past he has. It makes you want to read on. I could get behind a a heroine who takes drugs because she was horribly traumatized and is still hurt as long as the narration reflected that.

  20. hapax
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 19:47:16

    @Kate Hewitt: It’s not just you.

    I’m not that much of a fan of angst in the first place, unless it is character-driven rather than plot-driven, but backstory-driven is the worst of all. For me, the “NA” tag pretty much translates into “Not Appealing” unless it has a very very strong hook otherwise.

  21. DS
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 11:57:33

    @Kate Hewitt: Nothing to do with the posted first page, but I’ve been following a thread on Amazon Discussions where romance readers are talking about what this group describes as wallbangers although the books appear to be popular with other readers considering their Amazon ranks. There are many spoilers by the way if someone goes looking for this thread. I haven’t read any of the books but I have been fascinated about the amount of angst, adultery, and sexual assault described. It has a definite ole skool vibe.

  22. Sylvie Fox
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 21:24:05

    I have no love of first person present tense in NA right now.

    That said, I’d read on. I like a book that challenges me and this has challenge written all over it. Write on!

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