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First Page: Unpublished Vermont love story

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With all the crisp clarity of the Indian summer afternoon, he saw her, black and white against the intense blue of the sky, the trees in red and gold, the spruce-green clapboard siding he’d painted a year ago. The truck coasted down the slope to its usual spot in the shade of the big maple, where it apparently parked itself on the carpet of fallen leaves. The brakes, the key – he couldn’t remember touching either one. He saw only the woman at the house across the road, unloading groceries from the back of a shiny new SUV. She was a slight thing, not short but thin. His mother’s words came out of nowhere, her assessment of the first girl he brought home from college – “best choose someone else to bear your children.” Though why on earth he should think of that now…

Her pale blonde hair contributed more white than gold to the landscape. She wore black jeans and a long-sleeved button-down top, white, like a man’s dress shirt, but with a soft sheen to it. And beautifully fitted, slithering to her hips. With a couple of plastic Hannaford bags looped over her wrist and a box balanced on her forearm, she stretched up and pulled the trunk lid down. The movement exposed a narrow strip of skin at her waist. He imagined the silky feel of that fabric, the softness underneath…

The lights flashed, once. She’d learn that folks who lived here in Terbury Falls never locked their cars, unless they’d just been to Bennington to buy a new TV and had to run into the Jiffy Mart for something on the way home. She climbed the stairs to the front porch, then disappeared inside.

His throat tightened, and his chest, even his groin. How ridiculous was that? He was past thirty, for Christ’s sake, way too old to have that kind of reaction to a stranger he’d seen for less than a minute from twenty yards away. Or that’s what he’d thought. Anyway, he’d never really gone in for the skinny ones. That ass, though…

He should have been expecting her. Aunt Matty had said she’d be arriving today. But he’d been with a crew in the orchard all morning, picking good apples for sale and blemished ones for pressing, and had never thought about their new tenant at all. It would sure help to have someone paying rent again over there – they’d spent a bundle on the place since the last people left.

He dropped his dirty boots beside the mat on the back porch and pushed open the screen door, stepping into the kitchen in his socks. Like the ones they used to make those sock monkeys out of back in the day. Still did, apparently, since Tracy had given him one last Christmas, along with the socks. They still made him smile sometimes. But right now, most of his mind was still out in the street.

“There you are, Brendan.” His aunt sat at the old oak table with one of her romances from the library. She’d probably read it three times already – the library’s selection of large-print books was pretty limited, and she couldn’t read anything else without magnifiers, which made her dizzy. Her empty lunch dishes had been pushed aside. She flipped the book over to keep her place and yawned. “I put your sandwich under the bowl over there.”

“Thanks.” He stopped to acknowledge the dog, part-retriever part-whatever, tail thumping a welcome against his bed in front of the heat register. “Hey, Migo.” Brendan rubbed the dog with his foot. It was supposed to get down in the thirties tonight – they might actually need the heat, though it hardly seemed credible right now. He turned toward his aunt, and Migo sighed and went back to sleep.

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. Marianne McA
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 04:45:13

    Had to google ‘sock monkey’ and now I want to make one…

    I know this scene isn’t Christmassy, but the set up is so warm and cosy – beautiful setting, friendly town, loving family and faithful mutt – that it feels really seasonal. I’d love to be reading something like this right now. And I’d buy it based on this page.

    Good luck.

  2. SAO
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 06:37:14

    You have a definite tone and it was done pretty well. Notably unlike the average insta-lust opening, which this was. I’m not entirely sure your tone, which was decidedly nostalgic fit with the details — insta-lust in a guy (I’m assuming) barely over 30. However, being different made it interesting. I’d read the next few pages and the back blurb before I made up my mind.

    So, I liked the tone, but I didn’t like many of the words. Your opening line is awful. Rearrange it slightly, and you will understand: “He saw her with all the clarity of a summer afternoon.” Huh, what? Putting the phrases in a different order doesn’t change the meaning. We can figure out what you mean, but it takes away from immersion in your scene. This is easily fixed, “In the clarity of . . . he saw her.”

    I thought it odd than in a page of insta-lust for a stranger, you say remarkably little about what it is that she has that attracts Brendan. Black and white is clothes. Slight thing is figure, but not all that sexy, and he doesn’t describe it as sexy. So, you have a lot of description, but little to the point you are trying to make.

    To sum up, I like your detail, but don’t let it get in the way of your story.

  3. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 07:59:05

    I might read further. It’s a little too sweet for my taste, but smooth and well-written. I’m not a fan of the first sentence and I, too, would like to know how Brendan feels. You’ve written in great detail about the surface of things; I’d like to read more about how it affects Brendan, more than just the physical parts of him affected by seeing the woman.

    I’m from Wisconsin originally, so I know what sock monkeys are. Nice touch.

  4. Willa
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 09:22:55

    I love your voice – it is very smooth and draws me in . . but then there is too much detail about ‘stuff’ that doesn’t matter in the long term that pulls me out.

    The first sentence – it is all about colours – unless the guy is an artist I can’t imagine someone thinking in that way. And the second paragraph is back to the colours again.

    You have a habit of mentioning something and then having backstory around it – that jerks me away from the immediacy of the story ie socks and sock monkey, working that morning and sorting apples, Aunt Maddy and her romances and library stock. The dog in front of the heat and then thinking about the weather forecast. Some tidbits are interesting and make the story flow – but too many and it just pulls me out.

    As SAO says – don’t let the detail get in the way of telling your story ☺ Good Luck!

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 09:31:38

    The voice is good, but you’re trying just a little bit too hard to hit all the bases. And the pov is a bit distant, especially at first. although you’re obviously a visual writer, it wouldn’t go amiss to add other things – smell, for instance, to enrich the texture of the story.
    And I felt so sorry for the aunt – has nobody bought her a tablet or a Kindle? As a miniaturist, I can definitely sympathize – working for more than an hour with a magnifier makes you horribly dizzy, whatever your age. I have one of those helmet things with inbuilt spotlight and different strengths of magnifiers, and it does tell you in the instructions not to work for too long.
    Too many details. I liked the bit about the car lights, that places the story nicely. But not the sock monkey. If the sock monkey doesn’t appear by chapter three, ditch it (think Chekov’s gun).
    The insta-love seems misplaced. It doesn’t fit with everything else. Try having him think that she was very pretty and he’d like to see her face, or something like that. The caveman approach isn’t always the right one!

  6. Mary
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 10:22:29

    “Or that’s what he’d thought. Anyway, he’d never really gone in for the skinny ones. That ass, though…”

    This is the line that bothered me the most. I agree with the others that the first sentence is confusing, and that there are a lot of color descriptors that don’t quite make sense unless your protag is an artist. I personally don’t walk around describing things solely in terms of their colors, but I have an artist friend who does.
    But anyways, back to this line. Up til now he’s just been kinda checking her out, wondering why he’s so attracted to her and then BAM “That ass though”. See, I’m a college student, and my friends and I have a habit of saying to each other “dat ass” and that’s what came to mind. And it’s not just a personal thing-it’s a very common meme. So it brings in something that I don’t think you want your character to be associated with. I know it’s very minor, but that makes it easier to fix! Honestly just changing it from “that ass” to “her ass” would be better, IMHO.

  7. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 10:26:12

    I agree with what Mary wrote…my 19 year old son says ‘dat ass’ all the time…as in ‘say it with me now…dat ass.’

    Her ass…or the way her jeans hugged her ass…or something other than that particular phrase.

  8. Anonymous Author
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 10:50:41

    The voice is good, but you’re trying just a little bit too hard to hit all the bases.

    I agree with Lynn Connelly. When I read this, my overwhelming takeaway was of an overabundance of detail…of reading descriptions that the author had worked to within an inch of their life, but that I didn’t feel expressed this character’s point of view in an authentic way. I was more aware of the author’s craft choices than in the story she was trying to tell.

    On several occasions, the level of detail stalled the story’s forward motion in its tracks. Almost a full paragraph about sock monkeys, on page 1? Do we really need to know how many times he thought the aunt had read the book she’d just put down? IMO, no. Page One of any book is very precious real estate. Make sure the information revealed there is “need to know – NOW.”

  9. Melissa
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 12:49:08

    I’m not sure I can diagnose exactly why this wasn’t working for me. There was nothing overtly annoying. Perhaps as others have suggested, there is an overabundance of detail. I felt bored and found myself skimming.

  10. Ros
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 15:11:44

    You don’t have to be an artist to think in colours. I do it all the time. But it is a particular character trait. Don’t have every character doing it, and make it part of who your hero is. Have him choosing paint colours with care, or taking trouble over matching shirts and ties.

  11. Elizabeth
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 17:19:49

    Am I the only one who thinks the first few paragraphs were a little creepy? Watching her across the road, from inside his truck under a tree? (He’s hidden and she’s exposed?)

    It’s not initially clear whether or not he knows her, is surprised to see her, etc. Only wide-angle details are mentioned (colors, shapes). So there’s nothing specific attracting his attention/lust, to anchor or explain it. Context doesn’t appear until paragraph 5. Nor does he have a distinct voice; it may be kind of bogged down in physical description (of his surroundings, not of him). So he’s just a featureless guy under a tree watching his hot neighbor.

    I liked it much better when he went inside: the sock monkeys, the large print books, the sandwich under a bowl. It suddenly swung from creepy to cozy. In a bookstore, I’d skim the first couple of paragraphs, peg this as the stalker’s-eye-view opening to a suspenseful storyline, and most likely put it down before I got to meet Aunt Matty — which would be a pity, because his home life looks sweet.

  12. Holly Bush
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 19:56:59

    I enjoyed this very much. It was very visual for me and the color added a dimension that made the scene clear in my head. I was a tad confused in with the first few sentences, though, and had to reread them. It wasn’t immediately clear to me that he didn’t remember the key or the brakes because he’d seen ‘her.’ If the fourth sentence (or sentiment) was inserted somehow between the first and second sentence, I think it would be clear (and intriguing) to me that he was befuddled at first sight. I liked this!

  13. cleo
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 20:46:19

    I thought the beginning was a bit creepy and stalker-y too. I’m not a fan of insta-love, so maybe I’m just not the audience for this, but it seemed sudden even by insta-lust standards. He’s never seen her before, hasn’t actually talked with her, and he’s already thinking about having children? That didn’t work for me.

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