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First Page: Unpublished manuscript

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OK, so, this isn’t one of my hard-and-fast rules or anything, but I generally don’t trust men who wear red jackets. I guess a red blazer would be an exception, since he’s probably an usher or waiter or something along those lines. I mean that he’s required to wear it. But I’m definitely not trusting a man who wears a red jacket of his own free will.

Unless it’s Michael Jackson. He’s the other exception. Michael Jackson can wear a red jacket, and I will extend my trust.

But this guy? This guy who is currently at my apartment door in outwear that’s decidedly not country club-issue and who was never, to my knowledge, a member of the Jackson Five?

No trust.

And he wasn’t helping matters by leaning against the hallway wall, arms crossed, head cocked slightly to the side. This was confidence, pure and plain, and my guard shot up like the mercury in midsummer Miami.

Then, he spoke. “Are you Nora?”

Oh, but he had a lovely voice. Deep, low. And there was some sly come-hither curl to it, too, even in those few words. It felt like someone had poured pepper on my forearms. Still, the tingling only complicated things further. He was overconfident, wrongly resplendent in red, and how did he know where to find me, anyway?

So maybe I’m not Nora today, maybe not for him.

“I was told she lives here. I’m Rob.”

Rob suited him. It was a bit boyish, masculine but not macho. The jacket did seem especially dubious now, though. Maybe it was meant to be ironic. Either way, my trust was not inspired, and I stayed silent. Which meant there was nothing for us to do except stand there a while longer and look at each other, both of us not yet admitting any of it was getting awkward.

All the while, the pepper traveled up arms, across my shoulders and settled in to my spine.

Of course, I am not a fool. I recognized this ploy. All this silence is intended to make me uncomfortable, to break me, and I’m supposed to begin to fill the empty space with my blather, revealing everything. But Red Rob has only just met me. He can’t possibly know that in my 26 years, I’ve wrangled more than my share of meaningful glances, withering stares and penetrating gazes.

They’re an occupational hazard, and I’m immune to them.

And finally, after what feels like 20 minutes but was probably only four, he smiled. But it’s another ploy. Now, I am supposed to feel victorious, believing I outmaneuvered him – and begin to fill the empty space with my blather, revealing everything.

Sorry, Red, no goofy grin from me. I tried to keep my face from registering any expression. Honestly, it was hard; his smile’s pretty good, just the right mix of warmth, humility and humor.

“I don’t want to bother you,” he began. “I’ll leave a message for Nora. Could you give it to her?”

I bobbed my brain. Hey, that’s not acquiescing, after all. So far, I haven’t given him any indication that I recognize the sounds coming out of his mouth as the English language; some sign of that is overdue. And besides, I can take a message for myself without giving anything away. Surely, he has puzzled out who I really am, but unless I whip out my driver’s license, Nora is still ostensibly out.

“Thanks,” he said. “Tell her that Jane sent me. Tell her it’s about the Peregrine Blue.”

The pepper turns to ice and stiffens me where I stand.

See, I knew I was right about that jacket.

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

14 Comments

  1. MJones
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 08:26:54

    I enjoyed reading this. Aside from starting the first sentence with OK, it flowed well and I was interested in finding out who this guy in the red jacket was. Not saying I would continue reading because it seems younger than I normally read but not altogether terrible. Actually very good.

  2. SAO
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 08:40:28

    If this scene were half it’s length, you’d have sold me, but she just read way too much into a red jacket and so on. I got the impression it was so you could end the page with a great hook. But really, in a manuscript you send to an agent, you can format page 1 to start halfway down the page and get us to great hook faster.

    Then, you’d have time to get your story on the page.

  3. Willa
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 08:41:39

    As a first page it doesn’t grab me. I came away with just two impressions – the heroine doesn’t like red jackets, of which the entire first page was almost about and there were strange analogies to pepper.

    I understand what you were trying to say with the pepper but it just struck me as strange and pulled me out of the story. Could be down to the fact that I use peppercorns and I was imagining them bouncing on my forearms!

    I would also rethink using Michael Jackson as a symbol of trust. He roused lots of different feelings in people and for many ‘trust’ wasn’t one of them. And he was trustworthy just because he wore a red jacket? Bizarre!

  4. Sara
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 08:56:31

    This opening goes on a beat or two too long, but it does exactly what a first page should do: sets things up, lets us know some crucial things about the main character and her personality, and leaves us wanting more. None too sure about the traveling pepper-turning-to-ice thing (nor, these days, the Michael Jackson bit) but this is smooth, well-constructed, with tension artfully threaded through it. I’d turn the page for sure.

  5. QC
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 09:23:50

    Hello author — I like your voice. I agree with the others that pepper doesn’t work. Bobbing the brain brought me out of the story, too. I’d cut a few references to the red jacket–even though they’re well written, there’s just too much about the jacket. I enjoy the silent face off with Rob and the fact that she’s not falling for anything. I also liked “So maybe I’m not Nora today, maybe not for him.” I’d definitely read on. Thanks for submitting.

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 09:25:08

    I like this. But not so much Michael Jackson. And now I have the image of the character from Thriller standing at her door, with the yellow eyes and hairy hands. Not the image I think you want.

    I’m lost with the pepper thing. Black pepper? Cayenne pepper? Green peppers? I get you want heat; could she not just have the sensation of fire? A slow burn that creeps up her arms, across her shoulders, down her spine. And then turns to ice?

    Also not fond of the brain-bobbing image. Can she just nod her head instead?

    I’d read on. I like the set up, the intrigue, the heroine’s voice. I’d like to know who Jane is and what Peregrine Blue is.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. cleo
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 09:36:01

    I think you have something here – I’d keep reading, even though I don’t think this is my usual genre. It does needs some tweaking. I like your narrator – she’s compelling and kept me reading through her babble about red jackets and Michael Jackson and arm tingling. I enjoyed the sparring between her and Rob. For my taste, you don’t need so much info about either the red jacket or her tingling, it slows the story down – I found myself skimming.

    I agree with Willa – Michael Jackson is a weird choice for talking about reliability. It also makes me wonder when this is set – if it’s set in the 80s, well then, the reference works, but if it’s contemporary, I’d leave out Michael Jackson.

    Good luck. I like this one.

  8. Kerry
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 10:52:38

    Was no one else bothered by the fact that MJ is long dead? And yet she trusts him (present tense)? If it is set in the past, that should be made clear sooner. That and the brain bob were very weird to me. Also agree about too much internal dialogue/time lapse between his spoken words. Cut some – but only a bit, because….

    All that said… I LOVED your voice, was totally intrigued, and want to know who Nora is, why she’s so practiced at fending off guys looking for her, and who Jane and Red Rob are, too. So, as others have said, minor tweaks, but otherwise, draws me in, just as a first page should. Great work!

  9. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 11:19:30

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. Like the others, I really enjoyed your main character’s voice. But I have to agree that the Michael Jackson reference should be re-thought. Once you added in the Jackson Five reference, it dated your twenty-six year old character. That’s not to say if she’s an old skol buff, it wouldn’t work, but that’s an unknown. I’d think more current acts might come to mind. Keith Urban? Blake Shelton? Bruno Mars? Will Smith? Cee-Lo or Justin Timberlake?

    Your protag reads older imho in way she phrases things. The writing is very skillful. I do think the names of the other characters seem older than your leading lady, but since I’m not sure if this is set in the 90s or the present time, that was just something I picked up on.

    And almost four minutes at a door with a stranger not saying anything may be stretching it. One minute of silence would be uncomfortable, especially if there’s a stare involved with an unknown male.

    I wish you all the best with this book, and I hope you’ll post a short blurb on the premise.

  10. MJONES
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 11:25:03

    Everyone seems really caught up on the mention of Michael Jackson, but do you not remember the iconic red military jacket? I kind of agree that only someone like Michael Jackson could walk down the street and a bright red military jacket and not be thought of as odd. Otherwise? I would think a man weird to be wearing that. Just my thoughts but it doesn’t bother me that much.

    I don’t think it dates the character, as there are many 26-year-olds that you know who Michael Jackson is. I don’t think it matters that Michael Jackson is dead and I don’t think it matters that people may have odd recollections of him. All I can think about is that red jacket.

    I’m not even sure who she could use as a replacement instead?

  11. Lynn Balabanos
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 13:48:30

    I would turn the page. I agree with the others that it seems like the character is rambling a bit internally and I think you could cut that down but the protagonist is interesting. You have exactly what a first page should – I’m interested in knowing more. You’re voice is great, your protagonist comes across as likable and (even though the Michael Jackson and pepper thing didn’t seem to work based on the above comments) I like the fact that you are stretching yourself with the description. I think that if you trim this, you’ll really have something great. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 14:31:11

    Add another voice to the ones that like your voice but were distracted by Michael Jackson as a figure of trust AND by the pepper thing. I’m tempted to go to my kitchen right now and grind some pepper onto my skin to see if it burns, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had pepper on my skin before – no burning.

    And, yeah, FOUR MINUTES of two adults staring at each doesn’t really seem like a contest of wills, it seems like two really creepy adults. Maybe you could cut the timeframe down a little?

  13. Marianne McA
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 15:16:52

    The pepper didn’t work for me in two ways – the pepper I’m imagining wouldn’t make my forearms tingle, and I’m bewildered by the idea of registering a sexual attraction firstly in my forearms. (Ever in any part of my arms: I’m not sure they’ve ever been attracted that way to anyone.)

    I was less worried about the Michael Jackson reference – he wouldn’t inspire trust in me at all, but I can take a heroine who feels differently. And it’s funny, and I’ll forgive an awkward reference if it makes me laugh. But I’d agree with the consensus, if you can find an alternative red jacketed celebrity/cartoon character that might be better. (Prince William wore a red uniform at his wedding – that’s all I can think of offhand.)

    However, I really like this heroine. I’m intrigued to find out what’s made her so mentally tough, and she makes me laugh. And Peregrine Blue sounds nicely Maltese Falconesque.
    I’d read on.

  14. Amanda G
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 19:49:29

    HOOKED! This is exactly the type of first grab I look for. Love the beat of her internal monologue and am definitely looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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