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First Page: unpublished manuscript – contemporary

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Abigail Wells watched the sleek black car turn into her long driveway. A spume of dust rose high as the car gunned its way toward the house.

It jerked to a stop at the porch steps, the door opened and two large work boots hit the ground, raising more dust. The man in the boots pried himself out of the car and stood up with a groan.

Idiot ought to know better than to stuff his fool self into a car like that.

Abby had recognized him right away; Jake Bigelow, who had certainly lived up to his nickname of Big Jake, familiarly known as Big. She’d always thought it stupid, but that was high school for you. People, both male and female, idolized the football team, especially the quarterback, the wide receivers and Big Jake, the anchor of the offensive line.

She lowered her gaze to the pan of peas in her lap. Damned if she’d slobber over him the way people had done all his life. She had to admit he’d aged well though. He’d lost that dewy look of youth all young folks seemed to have, but even the rough stubble and the dark hair that brushed his shoulders couldn’t hide the fact he was one fine looking man. She noticed he still hadn’t subdued the errant curl that insisted on falling over his right eye. That curl had been instrumental in the choice of her private name for him. He was still big and it was a sure bet all of it was muscle. He had no business driving a low slung sports car. She sneaked another peek just as he bent over to touch his toes.
Her mouth went dry. Tight jeans molded a fine looking butt and muscular thighs and threw her into memories of the past when her favorite hobby was lusting after this very same body.

He turned and caught her looking. Wasn’t any harm in looking, she thought defensively. Lord knows she’d done enough of it when it came to Big Jake. As usual, she went on the attack.

“Well hey there Jake, this sure is a surprise. Don’t often get rich and famous folks in this neck of the woods.”

He walked up the porch steps and leaned against the railing. “I’m looking for Lee Wells. He still live here?”

“Not anymore. Can I help you?”

“Not unless you’re a carpenter.”

“Just so happens I am.”

“No offence, but I’d rather have Mr. Wells. I know his work.”

“He’s not here.” She blinked rapidly and abruptly decided to quit picking at him. “He’s dead, Superman. Last year. Heart attack.”

He studied her, from the top of her messy ponytail to her bare feet with the chipped purple polish on the toes.

“I’ll be damned, you’re Abby Wells. You’re the only one ever used that name. I never would have recognized you.”

“Things change and so do people.”

“Yeah, you got that right. Sorry to hear about your daddy.” He paused, jingling the change in his pocket. “I’m moving back, Abby. The old man died and left me everything

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Upstart
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 08:02:16

    I liked this. You could probably break up some of the longer paragraphs, but overall it was smoothly written and enjoyable. Well done.

  2. BHG
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 08:54:29

    It made me want to read more. I really enjoyed the dialogue – it was very realistically done, and drew me right in. I also liked this sentence:

    He studied her, from the top of her messy ponytail to her bare feet with the chipped purple polish on the toes.

    I would read on.

  3. theo
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 09:13:53

    I’m not sure whether I like this or not. The writing is fairly smooth, but some of the things are too contrived. Most people don’t turn completely sideways to put both feet on the ground when they get out of a car unless they’re elderly. And a big man in an itty bitty sports car certainly wouldn’t. There’s no way he’d be able to turn that far and get both feet out from under the steering wheel. He’d put one leg out the door, find the ground with his foot then ooze out of the car using most likely the wheel and the door frame for support. I know this because a.) I know cars and work with them on a daily basis and 2.) because my 6’5″, 290 pound DH had to do just that to get out of the ’70 Vette we owned. So that didn’t ring true to me at all. It was for visual value which fell flat.

    Same with her getting a great look at his backside. He’d be facing her when he got out of the car and would probably turn sideways to close the door. Not turn his back to her. And unless he’s trying to impress her, why in heaven’s name would he bend over and touch his toes? What did he do? Brush his boots off? Pick up something he’d dropped? Twerk her because he wants to? It’s just too contrived to me so you can get his full description on the page.

    We don’t need his complete description. He’s a big guy, he played football, he’s still in shape and she had an unfulfilled lust for him. Give us that much in your description though not like that laundry list, and we’re fine to start. Work the rest of it in as you go.

    The other thing that didn’t ring true to me is, he might not know her daddy died, but I’m guessing this is a small town so she’d surely know his did. It should come as no surprise then when he eventually returns to town. And since it’s small and probably a bit close-knit, he wouldn’t tell her his dad died. He might comment, ‘daddy left everything to me’ and leave it at that because he’d know she knows.

    Beyond that, I have a description of the former high school jock who either turned pro and has money or is already sucking up daddy’s and a woman who must not have fared well with the passage of time the way she’s portrayed on this page. I have nothing to care about because you’ve spent almost the entire page on the description of the jock and little about your Hn so unless this really got interesting in the next page or two, it would be a back-on-the-shelf for me.

    And Jane? I can’t find the notify me of comments box…

  4. QC
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 09:23:34

    Sign me up! I want more.

  5. Lori
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 09:25:30

    I like. Like the image of the big hero with the wrong car and the heroine with a wandering eye and chipped polish. I do agree with Theo though that Jake wouldn’t be able to turn and get both feet on the ground so thinking about it, true.

    Also, unless I read it wrong, Jake not knowing Abby’s dad had died works but nowhere did it suggest Abby didn’t know Jake’s had. He just made his comment. She didn’t.

    I like. It’s casual and would keep me reading a few pages more to see if I wanted to continue.

  6. Zippy
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 09:52:37

    If someone handed me a book and it started like this, I would definitely keep reading it.

  7. Nemo
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 09:56:49

    In the interest of keeping hurt feelings down, I’m going to say upfront that I think this is good, but needs some editing to be great. So I will be nitpicking and questioning all your choices, because that’s that stage this is at.

    This feels like you wrote it, edited it and edited it and never stepped back to really look at it. There are parts that could be cut or redone.

    It feels like maybe you’re trying too hard to establish a voice, too. She is constantly omitting her first word, but the sentences don’t reveal her character and they’re combined with too many phrases like “lord knows” and “damned if she” and “fool self” that fit the sentence, but not the narration. I’m not sure why, but they scream “I’m using dialect here!” to me. Which is odd because I use a lot of these phrases myself. Maybe it’s all just a little too heavy so early in the novel? I’m sure someone is going to disagree with me.

    Parts like “things change” are pure cliche and I really think you could come up with something more unique, the better expresses the character.

    Also: “dewy look of youth all young folks seemed to have” is over writing. See what I mean when I say it feels like you didn’t step back? I know that when I first edit I try and keep everything and just rearrange it all because I don’t have the distance yet to know when to cut. For all I know you did step back for a few weeks or days and edit it again, but it reminds me of what I do. Don’t waste words on saying things twice. When she goes on the attack, make it obvious she’s attacking him and don’t tell us what she’s doing.

    Other things stick out to me too. Remembering that she called him Superman, being close enough to have a nickname, why does he say “You’re Abby Wells” as if she’s some legend he’s only heard of? It just seems too distant for two people who apparently knew each other rather well. And didn’t she say it was a private name?

    The first two paragraphs use too many action words. Abigail watched, dust rose, the car gunned, it jerked, the door opened, boots hit the ground, the man…pried…and stood up. It’s just description with no grounding and it’s too much active description too. Instead of feeling the car racing towards me, I started counting the verbs. It doesn’t help that a lot of the description is plain and done before. It’s the typical way to write about a speeding car and if it wasn’t your first few sentences it would be fine. You don’t want to pull your reader out of the story with flowery prose in the middle of a car chase. However here it goes on too long without any emotional investment or interesting twists of phrase to pull me in. I would alter/cut everything before “The man in the boots pried himself out of the car and stood up with a groan” and reword it to bring that first thought forwards so we meet a character quickly. Or make her description of the speeding car more interesting/characterizing.

    I’m focusing so much on this because I think it’s really close to being done. The hook at the end is nice, the set up is interesting, and I’d like to read about a woman who gets to ogle her high school crush. A few tweaks and some editing would make me read on. Good luck!

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 10:04:11

    Hello author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I really, really like your “voice”. It’s something most new authors would kill for, because what you’ve got is clear and true and wrapped me as a reader, like a favorite sweater. I felt as if I already knew your heroine, because she didn’t mince words, didn’t filter her thoughts (especially when it came to appreciating the male form) and didn’t bit her lips or push back her hair (the scene on the porch where he takes a good look at her was priceless. I think another poster also mentioned this: “He studied her, from the top of her messy ponytail to her bare feet with the chipped purple polish on the toes.”

    The messy ponytail and the chipped purple polish sold me on her, and I’d read on just as long as she keeps that earthy, honesty about herself. I really hope you post an update on this, or at least some sort of blurb. You’ve been given some great suggestions on how to clean this up, so I won’t add to it. I’ll just say that the settings, the characters and the dialogue appealed to me. I wish you all the best with this.

  9. wikkidsexycool
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 10:07:54

    Oops, I forgot the editing feature had to be turned off, so I’ll just add that this: “bit her lips”
    in my post should be “bite her lips”

    and “settings” should be setting.

    sorry about the typos :)

  10. Deljah
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 12:30:35

    I liked it and would read on. I did wonder how he turned and showed her his butt, but that’s a minor quibble. I liked it.

  11. DS
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 14:23:31

    When the “two large workboots” hit the ground I thought at first someone had tossed them out of the car.

  12. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 15:21:45

    Well written, but I don’t think I’d read further. I do like your voice though and this is obviously a story that appeals to some and that’s what you’re looking for.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my nits:

    “Jake Bigelow, who had certainly lived up to his nickname of Big Jake, familiarly known as Big.” A nickname is a familiarly known name, so this seems redundant and a bit clumsy. My mind and my tongue trip over familiarly, wanting to say “familially” which makes me think he’s known as Big by his family. Which I don’t think is what you mean.

    “He’d lost that dewy look of youth all young folks seemed to have…” That’s redundant. Youth are young folks. End the sentence after youth.

    “…but even the rough stubble and the dark hair that brushed his shoulders couldn’t hide the fact he was one fine looking man.” I’m not sure why stubble and long dark hair would make him anything but a fine looking man. Those attributes are not the antithesis of a fine man, IMO. They’re pretty much de riguere at the moment. If we were in the age where clean cut men in three-piece suites was the epitome of handsome (nod to Roger Sterling…) then maybe those characteristics would be considered out of the norm.

    Getting out of the car is awkward. As commented above, exiting a low-slung sports car, unless you’re a woman sans panties who doesn’t want to flash her parts, would be one foot, then the other, using the door frame as a hoist to pull himself up. I see a big guy who actually has to push up with his legs to exit the car, and I see that as one leg, arm up, torso ou and other leg following. And that takes away big work boots hitting the ground.

    Why is he touching his toes? And why did he turn around with his back to her? If he got out of the car as you describe, he’d be facing her. If he got out any other way, he’d be perpendicular to her. She’d either see him from the front or from the side. The toe-touch thing just sounds awkward. Up till now, I’m envisioning Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Senfield) but then it morphs into Robin Williams from The Birdcage. Not the image I want! I like Puddy…I want Patrick Warburton in tight jeans. But I don’t want him doing toe touches. If it’s because of him getting out of the car with a groan, which makes him seem far older than he should be, then it’s not working, at least not for me.

    I’m confused why, if she greets him by name, he’s not clued in that she might know him, and if he knows Lee Wells, knows him enough to ask for him specifically, and knows this is where Lee Wells lives, he should be smart enough to realize he’s talking to Abby Wells. If not, his IQ has just dropped him into Puddy level and while he’d good to look at, he’s TSTL for me. Either than or he was a real jerk in high school and has no clue who she is. But still, if he recognizes her by the use of Superman, then he knew her well enough back in the day.

    As said above, this story does need some fine tuning and tightening. It’s well written and the voices of your characters are good. I’m not fond of what sounds, to me, like deep South, laws ‘a mercy, aw shucks, jess folks sound. If overdone, it gets as annoying as the Scots dialect, when that’s overdone. Just a pinch here and there, like a dash of spice in a stew. Enough to give us the flavor, but not enough to make us walk away from the bowl.

    Thanks for sharing your work. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. And sometimes when we think we’ve nailed it, we get told it’s not quite done yet. I sent a story to a client and got back a page and a half of edits and changes, some of which will require a rewrite of large parts of the story. But it’s all good, because it makes us look at the story from the reader’s perspective and not our own.

  13. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 15:27:15

    Pardon the typos, the edit feature doesn’t seem to be functioning today, nor the subscribe for additional comments.

  14. Lilly Vance
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 16:34:24

    A couple of things stop me. Abby at first comes across as older, the way she talks, thinks. I was surprised to learn she and Big went to school together. The touching toes is silly. If he wants to work out cramps, have him stretch. Nice visuals.
    Good luck, author.

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 18:37:31

    One more nit and then I’m done :)

    I’m assuming there’s a reply by Abby that let’s us know she knows Jake’s father died and it falls on the next page. If she lived in the same town, it would probably be something she’d know.

    All these are easy fixes, time-consuming, maybe, but not brain surgery. They’re things with the story, not with your writing. It’s far easier for a skilled writer to fix a story than it is to learn to write. Other than the overwriting mentioned above, which may also be a product of over-editing, or not knowing when and how to kill your darlings…those phrases we love (or characters) and just can’t bear to have leave the page, the writing is good.

    My comment that the story wouldn’t interest me has nothing to do with the writing. There’s something about this that just doesn’t grab my interest. Maybe with a blurb and a few more pages…but I’m not interested in high school friends? lustful fantasies? ex-boyfriends? coming back in the present. That’s just my view…like I said, you have several unabashed “feed me more” comments above, so you so have an audience. It’s probably just not me.

  16. Author
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 18:56:52

    Hi, author here.

    Just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to critique this piece and to say, yes, a lot of the answers are on the next page. :-)

    They weren’t bf/gf in high school; they never dated. She was a Goth outcast and he was a popular jock but they had a connection that was never acted upon. Gazes meet across the hall sort of thing. Well, it’s high school. *shrugs*

    Jake’s father has been dead for five years. Um – they didn’t get along.

    Thank you again. There are many things here that I’ll implement.

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