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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript – Paranormal/urban fantasy

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“Pink hair, Randy? Did it have to be pink?” I’m annoyed, but I keep my voice down. I don’t want to wake Zoe. A thump in the hall tells me I’m too late. Then again, I should know better than to expect her to be asleep, anyway. Not tonight. She always knows when it’s a drop night, even when nobody’s told her anything; it’s like a sixth sense. “Could you think of anything more conspicuous?”

“Well, I was going to get a neon sign with a big flashing arrow pointing at my head, but I didn’t really want to carry it around.” Randy doesn’t meet my eyes; he’s too busy picking at a loose thread on the cuff of his sleeve. He’s dressed like I am: long-sleeve black shirt, black pants, black boots. He looks strange, diminished somehow, like he’s been swallowed up by the dark. His pale skin contrasts sharply against the black turtleneck. “Seriously, Davin. It’s fine. I’ll have the mask on. Nobody’s going to notice.”

“What’s going on?” Zoe appears from the hallway, faking a huge yawn so I won’t notice that she hasn’t been sleeping. She’s wearing her pajamas, but her hair is still tied back and her eyes are sharp and awake behind her black-framed glasses.

“Go back to sleep.”

“Yeah, right.” Zoe crosses her arms over her chest, giving me a well-practiced look of defiance. She’s had sixteen years to work on her pouting skills, so she’s very good at it. Unfortunately for her, I’ve been her brother the whole time, so I’m pretty much immune. “What’s happening? Are you two going out? Is it for The Underground? Can I come?”

“Zoe, you already know the answer to that,” I say, checking the time. 10:30. The drop’s scheduled for 11:00. We’ll be cutting it close, and that’s if everything goes smooth, which I’m not counting on. “We’d better get going. You’re going to lock the door behind us and shut off all the lights. You can watch TV if you don’t want to go to bed, but keep the volume down. We’ll be back in a couple of hours, tops.” I glance at Randy. “You ready?”

“Waiting on you,” he says, pulling a ski mask from his pocket and looking at it disdainfully.

“Zoe – I mean it. If anything happens, you call me, okay? It shouldn’t be too long.”

She looks like she’s about to say something, but meets my eyes and backs down. “Okay.”

I heave the duffel bag over my shoulder and Randy follows me out the door, pulling the ski mask over his face. The deadbolt clicks behind me and I know Zoe’s standing on the other side, listening to us leave. Randy and I don’t say anything to each other. There’s no point. He hesitates for a moment beside his car, a cherry-red Mercedes that crouches in my driveway, ready for action. But we can’t take it. Like Randy’s hair – like everything about him – it’s too flashy, too obvious. If anybody sees it, they’ll remember it, and they’ll know who we are.

So we leave the car and start walking. I have an easy time of it, but he lags behind a little. He’s at least a foot shorter than me and compact. He has to take two steps to keep up with each of my long strides, and I’m walking fast.

“Can I ditch the mask?” Randy asks. He’s tugging at the edge of his ski mask, running his finger around the gap between it and his neck. “It itches like hell and there’s nobody around to see us.”

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

7 Comments

  1. SAO
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 05:28:25

    This is a promising start. Here’s what you could do to improve it:

    1) Davin didn’t sound like a guy. I think it’s the first line “Did it have to be pink, ” I’m annoyed but I keep my voice down. It’s not until para 2 that we find out that Davin isn’t expected to wear feminine pink, which was my first impression. Show the annoyance, don’t tell us and make that first line clearer.

    2) Randy looks “strange and diminished”, but later you tell us everything about him is too flashy. I’m not seeing it. You need to reconcile the descriptions.

    3) This should be a fairly tense scene. Davin has a job to do that requires him not being caught, he’s worried about Sis and Randy’s an idiot, but none of that comes through. Not much of his thoughts or character comes through. I’d recommend getting Zoe out of the scene and having Davin think about what he’s doing. Or starting where the story starts, which is probably where the hair causes a problem.

    4) Randy is an idiot, I hope this isn’t a particularly risky venture where the neon hair brings attention to them.

  2. Jo
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 06:25:31

    I really like it! I thought the start was funny and I’m curious to see what’s going on. I think Zoe sounds a bit too young for sixteen. I thought she would be ten and then when she came out she sounded like a ten year old with the fake yawn and how her brother treated her. Plus the pouting.

    I took the “flashy” comment to mean his lifestyle choices – pink hair – cherry red car – rather than his physical self. Otherwise I agree with SAO’s comments.

  3. Carol McKenzie
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 09:57:12

    Hi Author. Thanks for sharing your work.

    I’m missing something with this. It’s muted, or blunted…I don’t know how Davin feels about this mission, or drop. He’s annoyed at his sister, he’s annoyed with his friend/co-conspirator. But is he scared? Is this dangerous? Routine?

    Truthfully, I barked out a laugh when they walked out onto the sidewalk wearing ski masks, but Davin avoids Randy’s car, because it’ll draw too much attention. Really? I think two guys, dressed in black wearing ski masks, one carrying a duffel bag over his shoulder would be alarming enough.

    I was confused at Zoe’s age and with Davin’s gender. I first thought the narrator was female, and Zoe was a baby. Then I thought she was ten or so, by her actions and description, and Davin is her brother. Then I was mildly surprised to discover she’s 16.

    Something is off with the character descriptions of your guys. I agree with SAO about lack of clarity with the “diminished” description of Randy, as far as his physicality. I get the image of a wraith-like guy, or at least a skinny kid with pink hair. Then he’s described as stocky later on. If I’d had “stocky frame somehow strangely diminished by the black clothing” I might have gotten a firmer image of Randy in my head.

    As far as height…a foot is a huge difference in height. You’re looking at something like this: a shorter than average Randy at 5′ 5″ and a taller than average Davin at 6′ 5″. That’s going to draw some kind of attention from almost anyone, simply because of the disparity.

    And that’s where my suspension of disbelief starts to dissipate and I’m shaking my head. Mutt and Jeff dressed as robbers wearing masks, walking down the sidewalk on a secret drop mission, trying to remain unnoticed. You’ve lost me simply because I can’t reconcile what you’ve told me about the characters with what they’re doing.

    Your writing is smooth, no grammar errors (something that seems the norm rather than the exception) and it flows well.

  4. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 10:57:21

    I think I might like this story, but it feels more YA than adult paranormal/UF. Was that deliberate? (And I agree with the others about the age of the sister – she felt much younger than sixteen).

    I also agree with the others that I’m not really GRABBED by anything, yet. I’m not feeling a sense of urgency. I mean, if this is a life or death mission, then pink hair is a weird way to open the story. I’d expect your narrator to either ignore it, if it really has no impact on their safety, or be genuinely angered by it, if his friend’s stupidity is going to risk his life. Does this make sense? You’ve opened with something, and then told us that the something doesn’t really matter. So… why open with it? (I think that’s part of what’s making this feel YA to me. The idea that self-expression is more important than whatever it is they’re up to. That’s not a very adult idea, unless what they’re up to really isn’t that important, in which case we’re back to this being a strange place to start.)

    I do love stories with bands of teenagers uniting to save the world, so if you can grab me, I’m in!

  5. theo
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 11:09:29

    @Carol McKenzie: Mutt and Jeff was exactly the same thing I got from the descriptions!

    My husband is 6’5″ and though we’ve been together many years, I still am struck with his height every time he stands next to someone shorter which is most people. That difference alone would draw the eye.

    I agree with the other comments and have one to add. Where is this? When is this? What’s an Underground? What’s The Drop? What the hell is going on? They could be going to a rave or a robbery. And since I don’t know, do I care? They have a duffel bag. Are there tools to rob someplace in it? Or dark things to decorate some underground music goings on?

    I don’t need everything spelled out on the first page, but there’s nothing here to tell me what, when or where.

  6. Elizabeth
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 11:37:17

    I like this, and it left me curious to know where they’re going and what this drop is. It piques my interest: two inept conspirators, skulking down the suburban street in ski masks, leaving a pouting, ponytailed, pajama’d teen behind to disobey in some way.

    But here’s the thing: I’m not sure you mean Davin to sound inept. Maybe you do? I don’t know. I don’t get a sense of that character at all. Since he’s relying on Randy the Idiot and his little sister is getting in his way, he comes across as not cut out for (or not accustomed to) whatever secret mission he’s on.

    I’ll walk you through my reading experience. In the first paragraph, I thought the narrator was Zoe’s mother and I expected Zoe to be about 6. In the second paragraph, Randy was sarcastic, but I also caught a more serious vibe (all that costumey black clothing! the diminishing!) and some uncertainty from him, establishing his character as weak. And a name. I’m not familiar with the name, so I still wasn’t sure if the narrator was male or female. In the third paragraph, Zoe appears and I still think she’s six so I’m surprised at how flat she is, like an ordinary adult. In the fifth paragraph, Zoe and the narrator fall into place as plausible siblings and probably both teenagers; they both sound like teenagers now. Finally in the sixth paragraph, the story takes on more weight: things might not go smoothly, Zoe better lock the door.

    At this point, It has to be an ABC afterschool special about drug deals, an international espionage comedy, or something paranormal.

    As the excerpt ends, Randy is whining and struggling to keep up with Davin as they hurry down a dark (suburban?) street, in ski masks — so on the whole it’s a comic note on which to end. This isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, but it also doesn’t have enough weight or sense of danger/consequence to make their midnight exploit seem anything BUT amusing. I’m not sure what kind of story this is. I think that at this point, I would have kept reading long enough to find out — so that’s great, because I routinely read this much and put the book back on the shelf. But I think it would be better, and would hook me more firmly, if the story had a better sense of its own identity at this point. Not necessarily more details/answers (by all means, keep your readers curious) but a more consistent tone, more tension, and more personality from the narrator.

  7. Arabella
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 17:25:00

    I don’t like Randy already, I don’t understand why he isn’t taking something called The Drop having to do with The Underground seriously. Davin kind of feels like a nag. Complaining about things that ultimately don’t matter in this situation? The way he deals with his 16 year old sister like she’s a much younger child… There’s no sense that what they’re doing is dangerous or anything, so… I don’t know. I would probably try to punch that up a bit.

    Zoe DEFINITELY sounds like a child. If possible/not disruptive to the story, I would shave about 6 or 7 years off her age and just make her a child since she sounds like/is treated like one. At this point, I don’t see any chance of her not becoming an obnoxious character that is going to make me feel annoyed every time she’s in a scene.

    I’m assuming this is YA. It sounds like YA, like the others said, so if that’s what you’re going for, good job!

    Obviously I would like to know more about what is going on, but if I could read the blurb/more of the book, I would know that. I would also keep reading at least the first chapter to see if I get a better sense of what’s going on, but if it’s supposed to be something serious/dangerous and the mood isn’t there, that would be a shame, and I’m not certain I would continue.

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