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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript

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It was the most perfect of nights.

There was good wine, good music and good food. Not good women, but he really wasn’t being picky at the moment. Just having a bed to sleep in that didn’t have a maggot nest hidden in the middle of the mattress was good enough. Oh, and the sheets. The sheets. The bed actually had them. Wasn’t that marvelous?

Best of all, he was alone.

He wasn’t jammed into a dormitory with other men that smelled and snored and did all sorts of things in their sleep that caused him to stare at the ceiling and count the hours until morning. He wasn’t sharing a bed with his partner, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but she was a bed hog. He wasn’t sleeping under a tree, in a ditch or a cave, or any place else that was exposed to the elements.

The gods had finally blessed them with a meager amount of luck and a job that paid enough to net them two rooms, hot meals, even a bath. It was enough to make his toes curl. It was like all of his dreams had been answered.

He fluffed his pillow, closed his eyes, and prepared to sleep like the dead.

“Felix!”

No, no, no, no.

Felix shot up as the door burst open. His partner ran in and slammed it behind her, pressing her back to the wood. “I think we better leave.”

He buried his face in his hands. “Nora!”

“There’s a mob coming for you!” She ran to the window and tried to open it. Her nails scraped against the glued-down wood. “Couldn’t you get a room with a window that actually opens?”

“That cost extra!” He could hear the mob now, thundering up the stairs, chanting his name and probably armed with the usual assortment of pitchforks, old swords and torches. He grabbed his clothes from where he’d left them beside the bed. “It was a choice between you getting your own room and a window that actually opened.”

“I think the point is moot now!” She raised her fist to smash the glass. He hopped across the room — one leg in his pants — to grab her arm. “Oh, come on, it’s not like we’re coming back here!”

“I still don’t want to pay for that glass, and you won’t shatter it with just your fist. You hit like a girl.”

“I am a girl in this form! Well, get us out of here then.” Nora’s braids whipped around as she quickly took in his appearance. “Aren’t you ready yet?”

As the mob began to hammer in the door, Felix swirled on his cloak and grabbed a bag that he’d hung over a bedpost. He rummaged through it as Nora shifted from foot to foot. “Where’s my gamil root?”

“Oh, I don’t know, just teleport us out!”

The wood splintered.

“I can’t unless I have the root!”

She threw her hands in the air. “What sort of sorcerer are you?”

“One that’s out of gamil root!” Felix gave up and turned to the window. “Epxil!” The glass exploded, thousands of tiny shards shooting into the night sky and falling to the street below.

“Maybe I should transform,” Nora said as she grabbed the sill to boost herself out.

Felix covered her back as the door burst in. There was nothing like an angry mob that spurred one toward making poor decisions. “Do it!”

Nora leaped, removing her pendant as she did so.

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

17 Comments

  1. Katie T
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 04:40:26

    Whoa! Twists! Turns! I like it! Just enough descriptions to keep me hooked and not too excessive in details. I expected a military man, you gave me a Mage. I expected “partner” to be a romantic interest, and you gave me a gender-changing…shape shifter thing who is actually his partner. I would definitely read on; this has caught my interest.

  2. Ankaret Wells
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 05:20:44

    I enjoyed this a lot. I was vaguely expecting this to be a historical, maybe a Western, from the first couple of paragraphs and then TILT! it’s a fantasy. I really liked the little details about the team’s lack of money meaning they had to make choices about privacy versus security, and the way they tease and snark at one another. The world and the characters come over as very real. If this was a first page I was reading in a bookshop, I’d definitely buy the book.

    The only thing that confused me a little was ‘He wasn’t sharing a bed with his partner, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but she was a bed hog’ – it took me a while to work out that it was sharing a bed rather than *not* sharing a bed that wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

  3. Liz Talley
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 06:53:32

    Nice hook – love opening into the action. Thought the actual storytelling was fine, so I’m going to be picky :)

    The first sentence is weak. I don’t like any book starting with “It was…” Unless it’s Charles Dickens. Think you could use something more evocative. Maybe “Ah…clean sheets, soft bed and no one snoring next to him. Perfect.” sort of thing.

    Also, you tend to use “that” quite often. EG: “He wasn’t sleeping under a tree, in a ditch or a cave, or any place else that was exposed to the elements.” You don’t need “that was” at all. Also if you are refering to a person, it would “who” instead of “that.”

    Yeah, that one sentence about not sharing the bed needs reworking – it confused.

    I was also confused as to where the voice in intial dialogue came from. I had to reread to figure out it was from the door. Maybe give a directional in that instance. Also I wondered why the door wasn’t locked if he had folks after him that often, but maybe Nora used magic? You just need to clarify so it reads easier.

    Otherwise, I really like this beginning – you make me interested in the chracters, and I already get a sense of who they are from your dialogue. I feel like fantasy romance is on the brink – feels very fresh.

  4. Patricia
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 07:05:17

    I really like this. I loved Felix’s rapture about the sheets. The one thing that threw me was the word “partner.” I spent too long trying to figure out if he meant romantic partner or business partner or something else. Other than that, I have no complaints.

  5. Helen
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 07:15:57

    To me there is something weird about this story. I think it is the exclamation marks in the dialogue. Having said that, I enjoyed it and would probably read more.

  6. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 08:35:39

    Paranormal grifters! I like it! And a sex shifting changeling! It’s like, the Odd Couple, with Felix as the sensible one who was also named Felix on the show, and the shifter is Oscar!

    Okay, that’s all for the exclamation marks. Your writing’s strong enough to do without most of them. You’ve set a tone of action and there’s enough of it to show the reader that they’re both pretty frantic about the mob coming after them.

    This is a great opening. I hope you do a follow-up so that readers know if the book is self-pubbed or with a publisher. I’d definitely read on and purchase it. Thanks for submitting, and I wish you all the best.

  7. Beth
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 08:40:51

    The setup is fun and twisty, but the prose itself needs some tightening and polishing, in my opinion, and while the scene is brisk and entertaining, I felt it wasn’t quite in focus yet. Some thoughts as I read:

    Paragraph 2. Very awkwardly worded.

    Paragraph 4. Prose is clunky and bland. I’m also unsure what kind of setting we have here. Sounds modern?

    Paragraph 5. Getting impatient with the backstory. Maybe rework the intro to combine paragraph #4 with paragraph #2 and trim the whole thing? Still sounds as though this could take place anywhere–almost a white room effect.

    “I think we need to leave.” Weak. She needs to be forceful and say, “We need to leave.” And Felix’s reaction feels off. A mob is about to storm their inn, and he drops his head into his hands? Better if he acted startled, panicked, or something with stronger emotion.

    Pitchforks? What? You need to establish more clearly what kind of fantasy this is. My first impression was a guy in a modern motel room. (In spite of the mention of maggots.) Then you refer to a mob with pitchforks, and I wasn’t sure if the pitchforks were real ones, or he was thinking of the cliché. You shouldn’t weigh the text down with loads of description–that would be fatal–but a few vivid, precise details in the first paragraphs would help establish if this is our world or a secondary world fantasy, and whether it’s modern or some other era.

    “As the mob began to hammer in the door…” Okay, there’s a mob, but all through this section, they are nameless, faceless, and voiceless. They also appear rather ineffective, since Felix and Nora have time to have an argument. Ratchet up the tension by have the door splintering. Or maybe they start a fire. You could even add a line of dialog from one of the attackers. Make the threat real, immediate, and specific. Otherwise they might as well be a cliché.

    Nice ending to the scene. In spite of all my quibbles, I am tempted to read on for another page or two.

  8. Becky Black
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:19:40

    That was lots of fun, raising plenty of intriguing questions. The prose could use some polishing. You use “was” and “wasn’t” a lot in the first few paragraphs. It makes things a bit flat. I agree that there are a few too many exclamation marks (and I like exclamation marks! :D) The mob seemed to take an awful long time getting through the door. I’d say either pull them back a bit so they arrive and bust in quickly, or say something about it being a heavy, strong oak door or something.

    The very last sentence bugs me. The “removing her pendant as she did so.” weakens the “Nora leaped”. For one thing, did she remove the pendent while actually jumping out of the window? That seems like a tricky maneuver. And why is she doing so right then anyway? I’d have her take it off first and then finish off with “Nora leaped.” (Though I’d prefer “Nora jumped.” but maybe that’s just me.) Then it’s more of a hook. What’s next? What’s happens to Nora after she jumps? Adding the bit about the pendant takes away the suspense.

  9. Jules
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:25:58

    I agree with the other commenters, but I just wanted to jump in and say that I would keep reading :)

  10. Amanda
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 10:03:01

    I agree with the other comments about “partner,” the stronger first sentence, and the exclamation points. However, I would keep reading this one and paranormal/fantasy isn’t my usual genre.

  11. JenM
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 10:22:12

    I noticed the somewhat clunky grammar in the first two sentences, but you had me as soon as Felix started going on about the sheets. The other commenters had great suggestions about tweaks that could improve this passage, but in general, this is a very strong first page. I’m not usually a straight fantasy reader, but this drew me right in and I hope you are able to polish and publish it (and do let us know if you do).

  12. theo
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 10:23:44

    This may sound too picky, but the presence of maggots indicates fresh or almost fresh biological matter of some kind. Rotting flesh, meat, blood and other things I’ll refrain from mentioning are what usually attracts the flies that lay the eggs that grow into maggots. So, that said, I can’t see anyone sleeping in a bed with a maggots nest in the middle because the picture is just too grotesque to imagine. And really, if he’s willing to do that, I’m not sure I want to know him because that says a lot about him that I would find…just ugh. There must be another description that’s not such a questionable thing.

    Beyond that, others have pointed out those things I would as well about the overall writing. And I’m not much for this kind of story unless there’s a romance in there somewhere, and if there is and it’s tightened up, and the maggots thing disappeared, I’d read on.

  13. Beth
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 11:08:08

    theo: No, you’re not being picky. I was bothered by that too. It’s as if the author wanted to make a quick reference to something filthy and awful, but didn’t bother to check if the imagery made sense. Fleas or bed-bugs, yes. But not maggots. (And maggots don’t nest.)

  14. R. Bailey
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 12:15:12

    Second what others have said regarding need for a little prose polishing and definitely clarifying the sentence regarding the occupation of the bed with and without partner. Also second enjoying it and would happily read on.

    Re: maggots. No. As mentioned above, decomposing animal flesh required, so unless he’s been sleeping on a rotting battlefield……. However: I remember hearing, when I was young, an old New Zealand man talking of his experiences as a very young man in World War 1 France. One story he often told was of a village that had been taken by the Germans and then retaken by the Allies. The townsfolk were delighted to see them and offered them hospitality. The lady of the home led the way upstairs and proudly flung back the covers of the master bed for the use of these tired soldiers. There, in the middle of the bed, curled tightly for the remaining warmth, was a knot of body lice, left by the German soldiers who had abandoned those comfortable sheets earlier. He would explain at this point that it wasn’t the lice, so much, as he and all the Allied soldiers were as lousy as the Germans by then; it was that they were GERMAN LICE. And, he said, relishing the point, he was very ashamed of it, but he was so tired, he had gone ahead and slept with those German lice.

    (I have no notion whether it could or did actually happen that way. I’m happier not knowing for sure. Old Bill Lawrence is long gone now, but I expect he’d enjoy knowing his story has been told at least once more. I hope so.)

    So. Maybe lice in the bed?

    Please be sure to announce when you publish; I will look forward to it. An ARC contest, perhaps? Also, I use a Kindle for a great deal of my reading; remember electronics. :-)

  15. JL
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 15:35:09

    LOVED this. Great job, author. The only things that didn’t work for me, as PPs mentioned, is the word partner and the maggots. Simple fixes. The rest had me salivating for more.

  16. LisaC
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 16:03:48

    Very enjoyable. I look forward to reading the whole story someday.

  17. Meg
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 23:48:51

    Hi! Author here. And wow, thank you for the helpful criticism! You’re all correct in your observations. Something about the scene was bugging me, which is why I swallowed my nervousness and submitted the manuscript. I wanted to see what I was missing, and having the third party perspective really helps. Thank you all.

    The story came about when I was doing some research for the comic I work on. I began sketching out a character who was a mage that wanted to solve mysteries, but instead he’s trying to keep from being conscripted into the military because of his powers. The original pitch I made to my comics partner was the following:

    All I ever wanted to do was solve crimes. You know, grim mysteries and grizzly bodies with no clue how they got there. You get it. Unfortunately, no one here does.

    We’ve got a military, and they don’t like it when someone steps on their toes. It’s largely because they’re behind a good bit of the crime in this city.

    My other problem is that I’m a sorcerer. A damn good one. Do you know how many town I’ve fled because they keep trying to conscript me? But, I don’t want to create mayhem. I just want to solve it and find justice for those involved. Really, how hard can that be?

    And if that wasn’t enough, my partner is considered illegal in both human and animal form in 23 kingdoms, towns, abodes, municipalities, and counting.

    “You forgot the village we were run out of last week.”

    Right. 24.

    The mysteries he stumbles into are based upon mythology. There is romance. And, it’ll most likely go out as an ebook first, but right now it’s still a manuscript.

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