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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript – contemporary romance

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“Now?” One of the porters yelled to the driver behind the wheel of the jeep.

“Nope! Nothing!” The driver yelled back. Samir couldn’t understand why they were yelling. The desert was deathly silent, a vast sea of salt plains without sounds of life for miles around. The pale moon hung low in the sky, a bright light source that bounced off the salt marsh and rendered their lamps and torches irrelevant.

The whine of the engine cut across the plain as the driver tried yet again to start up the jeep. What a fucking disaster, Samir thought. Their convoy of two jeeps and a Prado was stuck in the middle of nowhere. There was no cell coverage so they couldn’t call anyone, and while one jeep had stalled and refused to start up, the other one had a flat tire and no spare. The Prado was fine, but they were a group of fourteen people and they couldn’t all fit in one SUV, no matter how luxurious it was. He’d have to send someone back to Mithi and have them bring back a spare tire and a mechanic.

Samir surveyed the group of people scattered around the Prado. He should probably send a few of the ‘guests’ along as well. As many as will fit in the Prado. But who goes? Older guests first, then the goras, have to keep them happy. Zulqarnain needs their money. That’s seven people right there. Seven plus the driver—they could squeeze in, he thought. It was a three-hour drive back to Mithi but the seats in the Prado were fantastic, the shock absorbers as phenomenal.

Behind him, the porter and the driver were still at it. He marveled at their patience. He’d have given up on the damn jeep thirty minutes ago. His gaze swept over the remaining three guests—a young college kid, interning with their organization for the summer, and two women. Zulqarnain’s friends along for the thrill of being able to tell their high society cronies that they were doing ‘charity’ work.

He’d met them all for the first time less than six hours ago. They’d arrived in Mithi the night before and it was his job to ensure they got to Nagarparkar without incident. He didn’t remember their names, nor was he interested in learning about them, except for her.

She definitely did not belong in the desert. She was elegant, casual and the epitome of an elitist bitch. She barely looked at him, or at any of the staff working in Mithi, but everyone had taken a second glance at her including him, albeit reluctantly. Her hair was shiny, her skin smooth. Her hands were perfectly manicured and it looked like she’d just stepped out of a beauty salon. What the fuck was she doing in the middle of nowhere?

Yeah, she’s definitely staying, thought Samir. A night in the desert without a hairdresser or manicurist would take her down a peg or two.

“Listen up.” Samir raised his voice as he strode towards the stragglers. “I’m sending a few of you back to Mithi along with Nasir Jan here. He’s going to bring back a mechanic and some supplies for us.” There was an immediate clamor from the group.

“Some of us?”

“Go back???”

“Why not all of us?” Donald was a stuffy older man, prim in appearance, fastidious in his actions. He had regretted coming on this trip the moment he had left Hyderabad. He’d envisioned a smooth highway to Mithi, a comfortable trip with a view of the desert on either side. Nothing, so far, had gone as expected. One day into the expedition and he was ready to go home. He was sure he wouldn’t be included in the convoy back to Mithi. Surely this he-man would be sending the women back first?

“Because I can’t fit twelve of you into the Prado. I’m good, but not that good.” Samir’s voice was dry.

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

48 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 04:54:42

    I need a sentence that explains why they can’t cannibalize the broken jeep to get a tyre for the other one.

    Also, because most of the page is from Samir’s pov and the ‘Donald’ paragraph starts with an external description, I expected that paragraph to be from Samir’s pov too. So there was a tiny moment of confusion when it turns out to be Donald doing the thinking.

    As for the page as a whole, I don’t think I’d read on, because Samir seems to be the hero and the sort of bloke who thinks a woman needs taken down a peg or two because she is well-groomed – he just reads as small-minded. And I don’t like men who are unkind to women.
    But that’s personal taste – there are a ton of jerk-heroes out there.

    Good luck.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 06:39:13

    I have similar hesitations to Marianne’s.

    I think it’s POSSIBLE to have a hero who starts as a jerk and then gets better through the story, but a lot of the things Samir is thinking seem pretty ingrained, so it’d take a lot of work to get past them. If that’s his main character arc for the story, maybe this novel would work for me, but I’ve read too many books where the hero stays a jerk all the way through and the heroine inexplicably falls for him anyway. They’ve made me a bit gunshy, and I tend to stay away from books that even hint they may go in that direction.

    And I’m not sure the POV shift is justified – I certainly don’t think it should happen mid-paragraph. But does it need to happen at all? Is Donald’s perspective on all this important? If so, maybe we could start with him, and see all Samir’s actions thus far through Donald’s eyes? But then I’d feel like Donald was a main character, and I really don’t think he is… so I’d go back to saying we don’t need the POV shift at all.

    I’m intrigued by the setting, though, especially if you’re able to write about it authentically. (I’m already a bit concerned about a cross-desert caravan that didn’t bother to bring a spare tire).

  3. CG
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 06:43:59

    All I can think is why not take a good tire from the other jeep? Other than that I probably wouldn’t read on as there’s lots of telling and very little showing. And Samir sounds like a dick.

  4. Nemo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 07:59:23

    I’m glad everyone else thinks Samir is a dick. It’s not really his actions for me, but how they’re written. I understand disliking tourists. We have a lot of jokes about snowbirds down here, but the superior and hateful undertone he has is grating. I understand disliking a well dressed person because you’re working a physical, menial job. It doesn’t come across like that. He zeros in on her with cruelty that’s unusual and a warning sign in my book. I also can’t tell if he’s stereotyping everyone and is an unreliable narrator or not. If not I would put this book down.

    Otherwise there’s a lot of overwriting and things that just didn’t seem to make sense as stated by other reviewers.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 10:14:46

    Hi Author and thanks for sharing.

    I might read a page or two further, but only on the hope that Samir gets his comeuppance from the elitist bitch. That I’d like to have happen, and fairly soon.

    There is something interesting about the setting and the cast of characters you have assembled. I like when people are stuck in situations that take them out of their comfort zone.

    However, if Samir is your hero, you’re going to lose me pretty quickly. I like antagonist heroes. When I write, my heroes usually start out pissing off the heroine big time. But the difference is, my heroes are also likable. They may be asses, but underneath that is a guy worth reading about, and a guy the heroine will fall in love with, and by extension, one the reader will fall in love with. Samir isn’t someone I’d be interested in at all and I’d be leery of any woman who falls for him.

    You have a big POV shift when you introduce Donald’s thoughts. Why is that? If you’re in Samir’s POV, then you should stay there, at least until a logical break for a POV, such as a scene or chapter break. Typically though POV goes between main characters, not secondary ones. So you’re kind of setting Donald up, in my mind at least, as a main character.

    If you’ve continued the POV shifts past the first page, into the heads of the other passengers, that’s called head-hopping and it needs to be fixed. Head-hopping between main characters is one thing (not advisable) but between all characters is maddening and not good writing at all. You could change to 3rd person omniscient, but that’s an even more removed way of writing.

    You have some issues that a good proofread or editor could clean up. Jeep is trademarked…there’s actually a code of conduct on Jeep’s homepage: http://www.jeep.com/en/rules-of-conduct/

    Jeep is not just any 4-wheel drive vehicle, it’s a brand.

    Tiny thing, but it’s one thing I notice when I read stories that include trademarked names (I worked in a patent office, so there’s that). Probably same with the name of the SUV.

    A salt plain and a salt marsh are two completely different things. I don’t believe there is a tidal salt marsh in Pakistan, or at least where you’re describing.

    It’s unclear to me what the ‘organization’ is…at first I think they’re on a sight-seeing adventure, but then later there’s references to charity and organizations…so who these people are and why they’re in the Pakistani desert is unclear.

    ‘…the shock absorbers as phenomenal.’ I think as should be some other word, such as were.

    And, like the others, I’m lost why the guy who’s responsible for getting them safely across some huge desert is ill-equipped with no spare tire? Or apparently not able to figure out to use the tire from the other Jeep, and know how to change the tire. It’s a bit on the unbelievable side, and when you veer into unbelievable in one are, readers start to not believe you in other areas.

    Aside from the unlikable and unbelievable (all things that could be fixed) your writing isn’t bad.

    Thanks for the submission. Do you have a blurb that includes some indication who your heroine is? And if Samir is the hero?

  6. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 10:15:34

    I have so many issues with this first page.

    Car/SUV engines don’t ‘whine’ when they’re starting. They roll over, they chug, they sputter…they only ‘whine’ when they’re running and above 1500rpm at that. The whine one hears with a running engine is the rhythm of the crank rolling, the pistons rising and falling and the lifters on the push rods so that was my first problem.

    Jeeps, except for their fancier siblings, are pretty much interchangeable, regardless of their year so having every single person in that group absolutely stupid to the fact that they can’t change one wheel for another makes me wonder how the rest of the story goes. That coupled with the fact that they’re crossing three hours of desolation and no one thought to check any of the vehicles prior to departure is a second stupid strike for me. Samir is pretty lousy at his job if he’s in charge and didn’t bother.

    A luxury SUV in the middle of the dessert might be a nice little thing, but if they need two jeeps for accompaniment, then they took the wrong vehicle and don’t buy that. If you want a luxury SUV, the Prado is only a Toyota. Why wouldn’t they use the high end line then which is a Lexus? Or a luxury Hummer? Or Cadillac Escalade? Or I could go on…

    I had to look up Mithi. I’m not familiar with Pakistan. If that’s your only clue as to where this is, then it takes the reader unfamiliar with the city out of the story to look it up.

    There’s nothing going on here but a bunch of people standing around staring at a small group trying to get a jeep started because they’re too stupid to change a tire out.

    And your hero is an incompetent jerk. I’m sorry to sound so harsh, but if his only thought about the classy female which I’m thinking is going to be your Hn is that she’s an elitist bitch that needs to be taken down a peg or two doesn’t bode well for a future romance.

    The POV shift at the end of the page was a bit of a shock as well. I had to stop and read that section over again because for a moment, I though this was still Samir talking to himself in third person.

    I’m sorry, I know this sounds really harsh, but there are just too many things on this page that don’t work. If the rest of your novel is like this, you’re going to have trouble selling it. As it stands, unless I was critting it or beta reading it, I’d stop here.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 10:37:00

    What they said. Samir is a dick. You have to give the reader some reason to read on, so give Samir a redeeming feature.
    However, this piece needs some serious editing. When your first sentence has a mistake in it, it doesn’t encourage going any further. When a tag is part of a sentence, it’s not capitalised, so your sentence should be; “Now?” one of the porters yelled to the driver behind the wheel of the jeep.” Lower case O.
    In the second paragraph, you don’t need “Samir thought.”
    Too much “telling.” Make him get his cell phone out and check it – again and find no bars instead of just stating it. Then make his fear, and his temper get the better of him, which is why he hates the world and the “bitch.”
    In the fourth paragraph you slip into the present tense for no discernible reason. If they are direct thoughts, they need italicising. If not, then they’re past tense.
    Then the last paragraph, you abruptly change point of view. It’s disconcerting.
    With some work it could be an interesting start, but it’s not ready yet.

  8. Sunita
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 11:26:42

    I agree with the commenters about the POV switches and the technical problems with the writing. Some of the other criticisms I’m not so sure about, though.

    Mithi is near the Indian border, in the Thar Desert, and it’s adjacent to the Rann of Kutch. Definitely salt-marsh territory.

    A Prado would probably be thought of as a luxury SUV; in India these Toyota models look huge and luxurious next to a lot of the other cars. “Jeep” is a generic term for rugged 4-wheel drive vehicles, perhaps because they were the most common in the 20thC until other SUV type automobiles showed up (it was basically the army Jeep version, very basic but popular among the affluent). I agree that it makes no sense not to cannibalize the stalled jeep’s parts, but maybe there’s a reason why they can’t leave that Jeep (or the luggage they can’t get into the two vehicles, or some such thing.

    I didn’t have as much of a problem with Samir’s attitude, perhaps because I’ve seen a lot of Western tourists in India and they can be appalling. Presumably they’re going to see some tourist attraction in near Mithi, starting from Hyderabad, and even in the back of beyond many of them expect their comforts. If he’s already spent a few hours with them and he’s dealing with a breakdown, he could be fed up at this point. And maybe someone else (Zulqarnain?) had responsibility to ensure the cars were in good working order.

    I agree that he has no reason to treat the (presumed) heroine as if she’s a bitch, though, and you want the reader to feel that he’s competent (if he’s the hero). A couple of sentences of backstory on this would help me a lot.

    Good luck, and thanks for submitting.

  9. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 11:55:07

    @Sunita: Actually, the original Jeep was produced by Willys-Overland in the early 40’s and they trademarked the name around 1950 or 51, I believe. So though it can be used generically, if one is planning on making money from it, the current owner which is Fiat/Chrysler, LLC would need to be consulted if I’m not mistaken.

    And the size of any generic, wartime style jeep which, without any other descriptions to go by, is about the same size as the Prado. The wheelbase is very close so it wouldn’t be much off. Because I have no way of knowing if it’s a Wrangler, Rubicon or army issue, my jerk reaction is to picture an army jeep first. Since it’s desert terrain, that is also adding to my picture of an army style jeep. And I’m being a bit more picky because cars have been my life since I was a child. Other readers probably wouldn’t be, might not even notice it, but cars are such a part of me, I notice those things.

    And I don’t believe India is so out of touch since it is a touristy place that people wouldn’t have seen luxury SUV’s and not even take a second glance now. Maybe I’m wrong,

    All this is to say, since I’m probably more the norm general knowledge wise, reading something like this than someone who is either more well traveled or who is better versed in their geography, this setting other than the city name, gave me nothing to go by.

  10. Ridley
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:06:14

    I disagree with the criticism of Samir. I’ve spent enough time working service jobs in the thrall of rich, manicured tourists who look right through me to have concocted plenty of revenge fantasies, and I was generally the same race and culture as they were. I empathized with him completely. Gotta get your jabs in when you can.

  11. Sunita
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:07:35

    @theo: I’m speaking from my experience of being Indian, growing up there around car-crazy people (my father, grandfather, and cousins all imported American and UK cars at great expense before the market opened up). As of two years ago, Toyota Land Cruisers still looked big. I have also been in numerous backwater but tourist-frequented places in India (including the Thar) and those kinds of cars are not common and they’re used almost exclusively for tourists. I agree the “luxury luxury” thing is a bit of a stretch, but not as much in my experience as you are suggesting. But that’s India; maybe Pakistan is different.

    I’m also speaking from my experience of my Indian cousin’s Jeep. It was a long time ago, and I certainly don’t have your expertise with automobiles. But it barely fit five people, rode like you were on the back of a jackrabbit, and had flaps instead of windows. My understanding is that those types of Jeeps are still used in Kutch (on the Indian side), and you’ll find both older and newer models. Sure there are other models now, especially in the major cities, but for a lot of people [ETA: people in South Asia, where this is presumably set] “jeep” still means the older army-style ones.

    There are also several indicators besides “Mithi” that this is set in Pakistan: (a) The tourists originate from Hyderabad (there is also a major city called Hyderabad in India but there are no deserts nearby); (b) the desert and salt marsh, which given they’re starting in Hyderabad probably means the Thar; and (c) the Muslim names, which tells you if they’re in a desert it’s probably Pakistan because of (b). Moreoever, if there’s a marsh in addition to the salt plains, it’s probably monsoon.

  12. Suleikha Snyder
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:17:04

    I actually liked this first page a lot, and though it could use some editorial polish and the POV fixes suggested above, I related to Samir’s frustration and look forward to him learning the presumed heroine isn’t who he thought. I also didn’t notice/nitpick about the Jeep/SUV; I don’t know that a lot of average readers will get bogged down by brand vs. generic and tire swapping.

    A lot of romances are about the hero and heroine’s initial expectations getting knocked down, so it doesn’t bug me that Samir has a massive chip on his shoulder. Like Sunita and Ridley, I expect that given the socioeconomic and racial politics of the region. Would a white driver named Sam broken down with a tour group in the Mojave be as much of a dick to western readers or just a sexy alphahole? I wonder…

  13. Ros
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:19:57

    @Carol McKenzie: Carol, as far as I could make out, that code of conduct applies to the Jeep website (presumably they have forums), not more widely than that. It is a brand name but in many, many places it’s used generically to describe a particular kind of vehicle, so I think it makes sense for the characters in the story to use it in that way.

    To the author: I’d love to read a romance in this setting, and I haven’t written Samir off just yet. I like a hero who isn’t perfect and one who has his own journey arc. Please keep writing and let us know if and when the book will be available!

  14. Ros
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:32:20

    @theo: “And I don’t believe India is so out of touch since it is a touristy place that people wouldn’t have seen luxury SUV’s and not even take a second glance now. Maybe I’m wrong.”

    I can’t speak to India, but I can say from my experience of cars in the US compared to the UK that US cars are significantly bigger and more luxurious than those I’m used to here. Yes, there are some super-luxury cars here, but I don’t know anyone who drives something the size of an Escalade. I think that the US is not actually a great point of comparison for the rest of the world, with respect to cars in particular and standards of living in general.

  15. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:36:27

    @Sunita: You grew up in that area though. I did not. Unfortunately, I only have the US and Europe (because that’s where my family hails from) to go by. I have no idea of the geography, cities, areas, what have you in Pakistan, India or any other area there other than what I’ve been told or learned many, many years ago in school or now on the news. And the news is generally only when there is unrest or a tragedy. My point is, since not all of the readers have familiarity with that area, the few small concessions to it here only made me stop reading and look everything up in order to find out where this is placed. The last thing you want unless you’re writing something non-fiction or historical only, is to have people stopping right off the bat to find out where this is.

    And as a side, from the early Willys up, the army jeep has typically either seated two with a bed in the back that they packed the troupes in or now, fancy luggage, or it had four seats (back and front) to drive the dignitaries around. What you describe is the smaller wheelbase, two door, removable windshield/door/plastic window model. I agree, that’s tiny, but that’s not the model I got from the writing.

  16. Ridley
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:47:39

    @theo:

    My point is, since not all of the readers have familiarity with that area, the few small concessions to it here only made me stop reading and look everything up in order to find out where this is placed.

    I’d suggest you don’t universalize this reaction for a few reasons:

    1. I know fuck all about the area and I kept reading. It made as much sense to me as a UK or Australia set story. This is set in S. Asia somewhere, and that’s all I need to know.

    2. There are readers who aren’t white Westerners. Not every book needs to be written with us in mind.

    3. It’s only one page.

  17. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 12:56:41

    I liked this a lot. I’m not sure if Zulqarnian a place or a person, real or fictionalized, but that was my only tripping point. I agree about the POV switch and prefer one POV per scene or chapter. Other than that, the writing is confident and I’d love to read more. I just finished Deanna Raybourn story about a safari and I always enjoy interesting settings & outdoor adventures.

    Good luck!

  18. Sunita
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 13:23:12

    @theo: That’s the whole point. This first page is written from inside a particular cultural context, as most genre romance novels are. The difference is that it’s not the predominant or default cultural context, i.e., that of the parts of the US and UK romance readers are familiar with.

    People from outside that context have to google, look up words, ask around to figure out the parts that are unfamiliar to them if the early pages are interesting enough to them to keep going. When those readers pick up books, they’re expected to figure it out. Why shouldn’t that be the case here?

    I understood the page better than you because I’m reading with greater cultural knowledge. But if my ignorance about, say, medieval Spain isn’t enough to require an author to eradicate implicit cultural references within the book, why should your ignorance of Pakistan be enough to require that here?

    The author did a bunch of things wrong in terms of craft. But in terms of hinting at the setting and the relationships, I think this is well done. And unless Samir is a prince-in-hiding, he’s that rare hero: a person in a normal job. He may also be an insensitive jerk who (as Ros put it) needs to make his own emotional journey, but it’s not being justified (yet) by his being a prince or a sheikh or a billionaire.

  19. Janine
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:06:54

    @Ros:

    I can’t speak to India, but I can say from my experience of cars in the US compared to the UK that US cars are significantly bigger and more luxurious than those I’m used to here.

    The same holds true in Israel. Gas is more expensive there and people’s incomes generally smaller.

    @Jill Sorenson: Zulqarnain is a person. See this line: “Zulqarnain’s friends along for the thrill of being able to tell their high society cronies that they were doing ‘charity’ work.”

    I agree the style of writing is confident, and although the viewpoint shift to Donald jarred me and I agree with others on the tire issue, I would read more.

  20. Deirdre
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:13:45

    I always have trouble getting into books when the characters start off arguing. Walking in on an argument is a hard way to get to know someone.

  21. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:18:25

    @Sunita: But if my ignorance about, say, medieval Spain isn’t enough to require an author to eradicate implicit cultural references within the book, why should your ignorance of Pakistan be enough to require that here?

    Okay, where did I say at ANY time in any of my posts that the author should eradicate all references? I said I wanted MORE of a reference to where this is taking place and since we don’t get any kind of blurb with a first page, a better reference is a joyful thing.

    However, if I pick up a book about medieval Spain, I know that because it is or should be labeled as such. We’ve had Paranormal Romance here where there isn’t a lick of paranormal in an example twice as long and I’ve commented as such. This is labeled Contemporary Romance and I have no point of reference except my poor, white, American mind to expect it to be anything other than a non-exotic locale. With the city reference, yes, I know it’s not in the US or Europe, but then where? Could be Thailand for all I know because I don’t know that area. Since I’m reading this with a critical eye and a hope that some small comment I make can help, I’m going to comment on those things I read that I think need clarification or improvement. I’m not foisting my cultural background on the author. I’m asking to know the place better, that’s all. I don’t expect anyone else to agree. Contest judges and beta readers won’t agree on things either. The author can take from my comments whatever he/she feels might be helpful. As such, I would have enjoyed the page much more (barring the other problems) had I had a better sense of place, though the hero is still a dick and not necessarily one I want to spend 250+ pages with.

  22. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:20:51

    @Sunita: One other thing, you say the author’s hinting at where this takes place is good. That’s coming however from someone who lived there. For someone who has no knowledge of the area, it isn’t. So while you’re reading this from your cultural advantage, I, and probably many others, don’t have that.

  23. Carol McKenzie
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:26:28

    I feel writers have an obligation, if they want to be good writers, to make the location of the story clear. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be uppermost in any writers mind to make sure their readers know where the story is taking place, regardless where the reader resides.

    I write primarily for a Canadian audience, but my stories are set in the US, so I want to make sure my Canadian audience can identify where the story is taking place. I also want a West Coast American to be able to know where the story is set, if it takes place in Philadelphia. I make no assumptions about what my readers do or don’t know, culturally.

  24. cleo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 14:51:12

    I didn’t read Samir as a dick. I really, really hate asshole heroes and he didn’t push my asshole buttons. So far he hasn’t pushed my hero buttons either, but I’m interested in getting to know him more. Hero misjudging the heroine isn’t my favorite romance trope, but I’d probably read on since the rest of it is interesting.

    As for the location – I’m American and I located this in So East Asia, maybe Pakistan – I’ve heard of Hyderabad but not Mithi. I could use a few more location cues, but I’m willing to read further to figure out where they are. I also assume that the blurb would include the location.

  25. Shaheen
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:02:33

    I have to admit, as someone who has lived in Pakistan, my first assumption was that this was set in India :shameface: [This is an expectation fail on my part – I have read romances set in India, but never even heard of one set in Pakistan – I am very excited by this.]

    However it is pretty clear that this is taking place somewhere in South Asia. I don’t know that it is necessary that the author establish exactly where on the very first page.

    Also, regarding Samir’s attitude towards tourists, I have encountered (and indeed felt) very similar ones towards “loud” Americans when I lived in Britain (Germans and Japanese tourists have their own set of stereotypes). Yes the local economy benefits from tourists, but locals almost always have an attitude of amused disdain towards them – they stand out, expect exactly the same things as they have at home, and loudly proclaim everything to be quaint or cute. If Samir was Sam (white male) or Sammy (white female) I don’t think this would come across as jarring in the least.

    My criticism would be that if Samir was in charge of the trip, he ought to have been more involved in attempting to solve the problems. Otherwise, this seemed an interesting book, and I would certainly be interested in reading further.

  26. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:21:23

    @Janine I’m sure you’re right. I thought it might be one of those made-up country names.

    @theo: You’ve told the author that she’s going to have trouble selling her manuscript because of its flaws. That does sort of imply that you expect everyone to agree with your critique. But I don’t, and many others don’t, so it follows logic that some editors might also like this page quite a bit more than you do.

    I used to comment on first pages a lot, but now I rarely do. The advice given here is often contradictory or just not very constructive. I also don’t feel as qualified to comment because the market has changed so much in such a short time. Books I consider poorly written are huge successes. Who am I to say what needs work or will/won’t sell?

    The more I learn about writing, the more I realize how little I know.

  27. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:24:59

    @Shaheen:

    I’m going to disagree with you and whoever else it was who said that if Samir had been Sam we wouldn’t think he was a jerk.

    I actually whitewashed this character in my mind (problematic, but in a different direction from your assumptions). I was seeing him as white, and disliked him. So, reading comprehension fail and I need to look at myself and figure out why that happened, but…

    Seeing him in the context of being a local pissed off with white tourists makes it easier for me to like him. But for that to work, I need him to be pissed off at ALL of them without the extra focus on the one woman, unless she’s done something worse than being well-groomed.

    I think for me, it came down to the word “bitch”. I just have an instant, negative reaction toward men who use that word.

    So, the joys of intersectionality, I guess! In the privilege olympics, does her white privilege override his male privilege enough to justify his use of the word?

    If this book is going to be an insightful exploration of issues like that, I think the use of the word is justified (and I’m really excited about the book!). But if it’s a more conventional romance, it might be less troublesome to change the word, and maybe ease off on his attitude a little. I mean, it’s his incompetence that got them all into this mess – they paid for him to get them across the desert, he hasn’t done so, and HE’S pissy? Really?

  28. Shaheen
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:43:54

    @Kate Sherwood:
    I’ll just note that nowhere in the segment above is the woman identified as white. She is described as “elegant, casual” and “elitist”, “Her hair was shiny, her skin smooth. Her hands were perfectly manicured and it looked like she’d just stepped out of a beauty salon.” So far we don’t know her name, and we have no description of her clothing or skin/hair color to clue us in. In fact, Samir has already decided to send the whites back first, [I admit this is insider knowledge – gora means white], which implies that in fact she is not white.

    Not sure if this makes it better or worse.

  29. Shaheen
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:48:49

    @ Kate Sherwood:

    I’ll just note that nowhere is the woman identified as white. In fact, Samir has earlier decided to send the whites back first – this is admittedly insider knowledge on my part as “gora” means white – which implies that she is not white. She is not yet named, nor are her skin/hair color or clothing described.

    Not sure if this makes things better or worse.

    P.S. an earlier comment was apparently considered spam – not sure why.

  30. Sirius
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:55:22

    I also almost never comment on first pages – do not feel qualified to point linguistical issues and rarely interested enough to talk about content, but I personally love to read about locations I know nothing about – finding out stuff, learning new stuff. I mean I know little about ancient China and I love that Jeannie Lin immerses me in the world which is almost an unknown to me. I would read on – absolutely. Again not commenting on grammar issues – see some but not qualified to critique.

  31. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 15:59:49

    @Shaheen: I’m just whitewashing everybody today! Yikes. (In my kind-of defence, I think I saw her as white based on other comments, not on the text itself).

    So it’s just a class thing that makes him resentful? I guess there’s no “just” to class issues, but, yeah, I think that does cut back on my sympathy for him. Especially since he’s not exactly the lowest of the class hierarchy present –the porters are the ones doing the grunt work while he stands around and supervises/acts grumpy/brags about being “good”, without doing anything to show what he’s actually good at…

    Yup, I’m back to not liking him. Grrrrr.

  32. Sunita
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 16:15:19

    @Shaheen: I fished it out, no idea why it went there.

    I didn’t think she was white either, but I slid over the “charity work” reference. Maybe Samir works for an NGO or something like that (the reference to “staff” in Mithi and the intern with their organization) and the group includes both tourists and volunteers? Or they’re all charity tourists, similar to eco-tourists, people who go work on a farm for their vacation.

    @Kate Sherwood: Class is never just class here, as you say. It’s also “high society” v. people who work in impoverished areas, the way the powerful families suck all the money out of the economy and squirrel it away for themselves, the ethnic-group hierarchies, etc. etc.

    I can totally understand why “bitch” set off negative visceral reactions for readers, but if this is a story about both Samir and the spoiled rich heroine learning about each other, I’m definitely reading on, especially if the technical issues are dealt with. I have no sympathy with the rich, corrupt Pakistani elites who are basically fiddling while their country burns, and in this case it would be the heroine who I would need to be won over about, not Samir.

    I really hope the author comes and tells us what’s going on in the book. I have a feeling that apart from the location I’ve basically got everything wrong. ;)

  33. theo
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 17:45:00

    @Jill Sorenson: The flaws in the writing, head hopping and other issues, yes. The content or jerk hero, probably not, but I agree, I’ve seen some awful writing sell really well so you’re right, what do I know?

  34. Kaetrin
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 19:42:44

    I’d be interested in reading more of this book. I wondered if Samir was maybe in charge of security? Which might be why he’s keeping an eye on things rather than pitching in. I guess in hindsight I’d like something about why a tyre from Jeep 1 couldn’t be put onto Jeep 2 because my own default would be that they’d be the same unless told different but I admit it didn’t particularly strike me when I first read it. And the Donald POV confused me initially – I thought it was still Samir there at first.

    I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was set but I had worked out it was in South Asia somewhere – I expect it would be on the blurb of a published book or obvious from context a bit further on – it’s not something I need to see on page 1.

    As for Samir – it looks to me like a story where he’s going to find out he’s wrong about the “elitist bitch” or he’s going to find out he was right but she’s going to find out she was wrong. Either way works for me. It seems to me like a type of “enemies to lovers” story and I usually like them. Nothing Samir said or did in the first page put me off him. I don’t mind an alpha-hole hero so long as the heroine isn’t a doormat. But even so, I understood that he was basing his judgement of her on the many before her. They’re a type he’s used to seeing. Anyone who’s ever worked in customer service knows that there are “types” which send out red alert warnings for high maintenance (and usually low return). The context to me felt like Samir was used to being treated badly by customers – especially the rich ones. We don’t yet know whether the heroine will immediately surprise him or will become “worthy” through the events of the story but I expect, either way, she will end up knocking him on his butt and I like those books.

    There are plenty of books where the hero starts off as a bit of a jerk (though I’m not sure Samir qualifies merely for using the word “bitch”). There are plenty where the hero starts off as a major jerk (Tack kicks Tyra out of his bed in the first scene and tells her to leave her number by the bed in case he wants seconds – that’s complete jerk and I ended up loving him. The alpha factor doesn’t bother me so long as the heroine pushes back and forces the hero to compromise.).

    The first page has some editing issues sure, but the story is intriging and interesting, partly because it is set in a place and culture I don’t know a lot about. That’s win for me.

    Good luck with it – I hope I can read it one day! :)

  35. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 07:38:47

    you know, as a regular reader and at the risk of causing controversy (God forbid!) – the setting is the least of my worries about this piece. I was brought up in a community which was multi-cultural, but about as far from India as it’s possible to get. Most of the people I knew, although Indian or Pakistani in ethnic origin, had never seen India or Pakistan in their lives. This setting would be as foreign to them as it is to me. It feels right, and that’s all.
    Why should these details be any more accurate than the ones where the sheikh swills champagne and is as gorgeous as all-get-out, and doesn’t have any terrorist problems in his country, who has never heard of extremist Muslims? Or the historical where they say “Okay” and call dukes “My lord”?
    Me, I love the first, avoid the second like the plague. But that’s my choice. I’ve given up trying to get publishers to at least do basic fact-checking so I can pick up a historical in the knowledge that it has at least a little bit of history in it. I stick to the authors I can trust, occasionally pick up a new one to try (no luck so far) and write my own.
    For this piece, I wouldn’t read it because the editing is so bad. I’d give the hero a chance, if it was better done. I don’t much like him, but he might have a hangover, or maybe his dog died or something.
    What I’m saying is that is it okay to get it right sometimes and not in others? And if the answer is yes, why is that?

  36. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 08:10:10

    @Lynne Connolly:
    I’m not sure if I’m on the same track you are (and I’m pretty sure we’re both way beyond a response to the OP!), but for me…

    It’s way more important for things to be as accurate and respectful as possible in a contemporary setting, because the story is representing a group of people who currently exist and could be affected by attitudes that are fed by fictional representations. Especially when the contemporary group is otherwise marginalized or frequently misunderstood.

    Does that make sense? I mean, if there’s some contemporary duke out there who gets upset when he’s not called Your Grace (or whatever)… I don’t really care. And I sure as hell don’t care about the historic Dukes who may be offended. I can see why the mistakes would be annoying, and annoyance is definitely contrary to reading for enjoyment, so, sure, avoid books written by people who you can’t trust to get it right. But it’s a pretty small detail, to me, compared to reading something that misrepresents a currently active group.

    But this is probably beyond the scope of this thread, right? For this thread, we’re looking at, what? Whether it’s realistic for the jeeps to be disabled as they are, whether a Prado is a luxury SUV, and whether there would be a salt marsh in the place described?

    I think for that, it comes down to different readers feeling confident in their knowledge. I haven’t done much research into common historical settings, so it doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment to read something that someone else would know was wrong. For someone who HAS put the time in and KNOWS that it’s wrong, I’m sure it would be annoying.

    In the page under discussion here, and with the people posting responses, I think we have a variety of levels of knowledge about the setting. I had to look it up to know where this was set. I have no knowledge of the region. But someone who knows the area better might be annoyed by any inaccuracies (assuming there are any). And to go back to my original thought, I guess, someone who is part of the culture being written about might be even more annoyed than others, especially if they’re used to seeing their culture misrepresented or misunderstood. (Again, not saying that’s the case with this piece of writing – I really have no idea about that!)

    Remember the fuss a while ago about some novel that was set at a US university? I can’t remember the details, but I think the heroine was a too-young grad student who joined a sorority? And there were some problems with terminology about the football team, or something?

    I didn’t read the book, but if I had I don’t think I’d have been aggravated by the inaccuracies b/c that’s not my culture. The people who WERE aggravated were, I think, mostly graduates of US universities and/or fans of US football. It’s THEIR culture, and they didn’t like it being misrepresented. But I didn’t care too much, because it’s not mine and because I didn’t feel like I needed to learn any more about that particular subset of society, so I didn’t care if I was being fed wrong information.

    I don’t know… this was a lot of rambling thoughts, wasn’t it? I guess my main point is that readers are generally annoyed when they’re either part of the culture that’s misrepresented, or when they’ve put considerable time into learning about the culture.

    The rest of us? We don’t know it’s wrong, so we don’t get too bothered by it! But if someone points out the errors, I’m more worried if the errors misrepresent an already marginalized or under-represented group than I am if it’s messing up details about long-dead dukes, or whatever.

  37. theo
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 08:23:00

    @Lynne Connolly: @Kate Sherwood: I love a good historical romance, but I also understand that though there might be thousands of dukes in print, in reality, there were only a few small handfuls in real life. That, I can suspend for the enjoyment of the read though my author reading list has dwindled considerably over time because I still expect the historical aspect of the story to be as accurate as possible under the circumstances.

    But I agree that if one is writing in a contemporary setting, a ‘here and now’ if you will, getting the details wrong is, if nothing else, just lazy writing. Something paranormal or urban fantasy is somewhat forgiven by me because the author is building an alternate world, but if one is going to use current places, things and events, there’s no excuse not to get things right.

    Lynne, your question would make a great blog post all on its own!

    In this first page and because of my background, I expected better research into and fixing of, the jeeps. I asked for a bit more detail on where this was taking place because I am completely unfamiliar with the area after looking up the city. That’s not to say I wouldn’t read it were all of the writing issues in it cleaned up, I just want a bit more grounding. Someone else didn’t have trouble with the jeeps but is from that area so she picked up right away on where it was placed.

    I don’t necessarily think you have to ‘write to the reader’ as I’ve heard it put, but the more bits of grounding one gives might entice a reader who otherwise would have put the book back on the shelf.

  38. Marianne McA
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 08:31:09

    @Lynne

    I think my answer is yes, because books are a hodge-podge of things including the story, the writing, the research and sometimes the physical object.
    So it’s sort of like Top Trumps: each book has its strengths and weaknesses. For me, a great story can compensate for sloppy research, and great research can make up for a discursive story. And if something is stand-out in one category, that can be enough. (I bought ‘S’ because I wanted the object: I’m not sure I’ll ever read it.)

  39. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 08:53:35

    @Kate Sherwood: I think it matters, because we owe the dead as much respect as we do the living. And without a knowledge of history, we’re condemned to repeat it (!) But there’s a difference between stretching plausibility, which some of my favourite writers do really well, and the impossible. As long as there aren’t more than 25 dukes per series or per novel, I can cope with it, although they weren’t all young and gorgeous! But calling a fictional duke “the Duke of Devonshire,” ? No. Because there was one, and I can’t get that image out of my head and make a completely new one. Besides, any author who doesn’t know about the real Duke of Devonshire, hasn’t just not done research, they’ve probably never opened a history text book without pictures on every page at all.
    I think I feel differently partly because I live in a country where history exists. I used to live near Chatsworth. I now live near Tatton and Lyme Park. These people and these things aren’t dead and gone, they are here and with me every day. If I get the bus into town I pass the inn where Oliver Cromwell stayed before one of the big Civil War battles. What happened then directly affects the way I live now, the laws I live under and the places I live. It’s not dead, they’re not gone.
    But we’re in agreement, I think. Because the better the details are done, whatever the setting, the better the book and characters tend to be and the more in depth they are. They become three dimensional. All my favourite historical romance writers made mistakes, but all of them tried not to, and gave a rich picture of the life of the time, not just a background but part of the characters’ lives. So even if you don’t spot the mistakes, the level and depth of research affects the whole reading experience.

  40. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 10:03:49

    @Lynne Connolly: “I live in a country where history exists”

    Since we’re a bit off-topic by now anyway, I suppose it’s OK for me to ask if you were meanting that you live in the country where that history (i.e. the kind in Regency romances) exists?

  41. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 10:22:47

    I’m not a stickler for historical accuracy and I don’t ask for 100% realism in contemporary portrayals of privileged people. But I think that authors who are writing about unusual settings and minority groups have a greater responsibility. These people and places are underrepresented in fiction. Getting it wrong can perpetuate harmful stereotypes in a way that getting a duke’s title or whatever wrong does not.

    I’ll never forget the time I read Not Without My Daughter, about a white woman who married an abusive Iranian man and got stuck in that country. IIRC, the descriptions of Iranians were about how disgusting and dirty they were. Eating with their hands on the floor. Hole in the ground for a toilet. I read this as a teen or preteen and I can’t remember if I questioned the portrayal or just thought “yuck.” Looking back, I’m still disgusted. By the author.

    What if that book was the only representation of these people I’d ever encountered, never challenged or questioned? I’ve probably seen and read more negative than positive depictions of Muslims. This is a problem in America and I assume it extends to other western countries.

    I don’t know that this page has been more heavily criticized than others. Every first page gets its share of criticism, some warranted, some not so much. But I think that readers are more critical of unfamiliar things, especially in romance. Perhaps Samir reads as a little more negative because we are trained to see “foreign” men in a bad light.

    Just yesterday a popular author made a joke on twitter about a couple of Aztec-inspired paintings. They both depicted strong warriors and swooning women. The author joked about human sacrifice. Because her only familiarity with that culture is negative. This attitude is pervasive and it’s something to be aware of when we read, write and interpret.

  42. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 11:18:48

    @Laura Vivanco: Sorry, yes, exactly. Where that history exists. Pardon!

  43. SAO
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 14:06:29

    I thought this was interesting. I wasn’t turned off my Samir, in fact, my interest sparked when he said, She was definitely staying, but when I read the comments, I saw the point. So, I guess Samir hasn’t yet alienated me, but he’s probably at some risk for doing so.

    I think you need a tighter focus on the scene and Samir. You start with an insignificant character and Samir merely observing the scene for most of the page. I’d make him more active. If I were going to start this with a line of dialogue, it would be Samir saying, “Okay, Plan B.” and then the driver and porter stop trying to start the car. That would highlight Samir as the driver of action.

    To me, a Marsh is land made uninhabitable because of too much water and a desert is land made uninhabitable by too little water. If they are really together, you need to describe them better.

    I don’t see why the porter is pushing. Either the car is stuck in mud, in which case mud is splattering, or the problem is the motor, in which case pushing won’t help, but towing the stuck vehicle with the Prado might.

    For me, this has promise. I’d recommend more focus on the Samir, getting the details right and having the beautifully manicured lady be part of the scene.

  44. Janine
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 14:49:57

    I hope the author of this first page remains encouraged! You have strong writing skills and I want to read more.

  45. Meljean
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 15:44:19

    @Janine: I hope so, too. And to remember that this is only one page. It’s okay to raise questions that are essentially “what the heck is going on/where are we/why are things happening like this?” in one page. Page two might include more about the setting, the season, why the tires couldn’t be switched, and a whole lot more. Don’t try to do everything on the first page or you’ll lose readers by boring them with details.

    There are technical issues that need to be addressed, but when doling out information it’s okay to go slowly, especially if we get a good look at a character, instead.

  46. Amara Royce
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 15:49:54

    I’m intrigued by this first page and would keep reading. While, as others have pointed out, there are a few technical difficulties, I found myself thrust into the environment and into the moment and would want to see how we get from this potentially irritating male character (and presumably “opposites attract” female character) to a satisfying HEA.

    I found the setting appealing and would look forward to getting more details as the story unfolds.

    If anything, I think romance needs more writers capturing this kind of experience and environment, both of which appear to be unfamiliar to some readers. I’ve never been to Pakistan or India, but–as has also been said–the author’s voice in this page seems so assured, so distinct, that I’d be willing to follow along for a while and see where it goes.

  47. Nancy
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 16:46:59

    I would definitely keep reading after this first page. I do agree with some of the previous criticisms, especially the POV switch. A POV switch is rarely a good thing on any first page as the readers want to spend time with the character they’re first introduced to. I don’t know who Donald is in the story, but be cautious about including POVs other than your primary characters and make sure it’s necessary to the story.

    As for Samir’s attitude to the woman, I wasn’t too bothered. I know how awful tourists can be and her being dismissive of the staff is enough of a reason for Samir to dislike her, at least for me. However, I will say the word “bitch” startled me and made me think Samir wasn’t going to be an affable hero. If that’s what you’re going for, it wouldn’t stop me from reading for the hero’s and/or heroine’s redemption. But be aware it does create a negative image of the hero that won’t work for every reader.

    Setting a romance in the Pakistani desert would be a HUGE selling point to me and, I believe, many other readers, as long as the local culture is treated respectfully and accurately. I hope the setting will be included in the blurb and promotional language around the book. This might also clear up any confusion about the geography that wasn’t made clear for some readers. But I love your voice and that you’re writing about this part of the world.

    Good luck!

  48. Janine
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 17:25:26

    @Meljean:

    when doling out information it’s okay to go slowly, especially if we get a good look at a character, instead.

    Yes, I agree. It takes skill to dole it out bit by bit, as the author has done here, instead of starting with a long infodump, a mistake newbies sometimes make. Hooking the reader should be a priority in a first page, and this author has successfully done that for many of the readers here, judging from the number of “I want to read more” comments.

    Also, while there has been a lot of talk about setting accuracy in this thread, so far no one has found one inaccurate setting detail. The “inaccuracies” that were pointed out turned out to be accurate, it was readers’ misconceptions that caused them to flag these things. So from what I can tell, the author has done her research *and* she can write. Kudos to her.

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