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First Page: Untitled Contemporary Romance

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Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

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Genre: Contemporary Romance (set in a Caribbean island)

Author Background: Unpublished. I have not shopped it, or any other work around to agents. Apart from the readers here today, only my eyes have seen this.

First Page: Untitled

When your baby sister – yuh sweetheart, yuh darlin’ – threw a house party to celebrate the premiere of her glorified-porn-star music video, you deserved a little alone time. It was a legal right, like bereavement leave.

When that baby sister – yuh baby – threw the mad-ass house party in your living room, you didn’t get any of that alone time. Instead, you spent the first half of the night – the half you would otherwise have spent wondering where you had gone wrong – fending off the drifting hands of a nasty blast from the past ex-boyfriend. You also watched your stupid-ass mother guzzle Carlsberg after Heineken after Carib, before taking to the makeshift dance-floor to embarrass herself and the family name straight into an impromptu wine-a-thon.

But no, embarrassment required at least an iota of self-awareness, so the wine-a-thon only really managed to embarrass you. Everyone else enjoyed it.

For the second half, you fielded telephone calls from pissed off neighbours alternating between complaints about noise pollution and enquiries into why they hadn’t been invited to your latest fête. Standing out from the rest would be one not so politely phrased f-y-i that until the government decided otherwise, Tuesday was still a work night.

Then, when out of the fawning multitude of men currently vying to sit at the feet of the porn star, one hopeful spilled stink-ass beer on your goddamn rug, you had three choices. One. Kill the fucker. Two. Kill the fucker. Three. Kill the goddamn motherfucker.

But being a good girl and because the knives were dull, you got as far away from temptation as possible in the confines of your over-priced, small-ass townhouse.

This carried Féyi Gordon to her front porch where she interrupted the hot prelude to a heavy shag against her ivy trellis. What was society coming to that the nameless and faceless dared enjoy that outdoor sport before she had the chance? One verbal smack down later, she walked out onto the street.

The night breeze cooled her skin. It felt good. The sky looked good too, bright with more stars than she’d expect for a cloudy November night. This – the pretty sky, the teasing breeze – she summed up as the placid, romantic interlude to her horror movie but she’d been primed since earlier that afternoon on the blood and guts effect of a sister gone wild, so it went unappreciated.

The cars forming haphazard lines on both sides of the road all belonged to Zahra’s adoring public and their owners were being too well fed and too efficiently plied with drink for any to consider leaving before midnight. She wondered if all the cars would blow up, domino-style, if she set a torch to just one of them. Like maybe the tricked-out Honda across the street. It had some nice paintwork if you were into nude female airbrushing and it could either be poor street lighting, her four eyes, or for real, but the rims were still spinning a couple hours after being parked up.

Féyi continued to contemplate arson as she tucked her thumbs into the front pockets of well-loved jeans and tugged downwards, releasing some diabolical waistband pressure off her stomach. Though she couldn’t see it, the feel of her tummy left to hang free was bliss. In her current frame of mind, soothing Caribbean breeze and celestial wonder suffered into pansy-ass wind and flecks of space shit in comparison.

There was only one other feeling that could trump a liberated tummy, and that was when she returned home on evenings, kicked off her boots and undid the clasps to her bra. God yes. Thinking about it, Féyi rocked back on the heels of her Timbs and inched the waistband down further.

***

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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

29 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 07:08:50

    There’s lots of good things in this – some funny lines like “You had three choices. One. Kill the fucker. Two. Kill the fucker. Three. Kill the goddamn motherfucker.” But it’s a little hard to get into. The second person voice threw me, and again when it switched to third without explanation. The first section in second person voice is the hardest to read – it comes off as an info-dump, yet if it were in third, I think it wouldn’t have. It’s hard to say from just a single page, but some of this might work better if it was played out on scene to avoid telling us rather than showing us.

    The second part, in third person, is much more engaging, though the narrator’s name is a tad too unusual for likeability (I don’t like real-world made-up names). The descriptions are vivid and interesting, though “Though she couldn't see it, the feel of her tummy left to hang free was bliss ” needs the first part excising – it’s unnecessary.

    I think this page would induce me to at least flick through the rest of the book to see if the second person voice has a purpose or reappears. Second person is a stretch to maintain in a novel length story. The narrator has a nicely bitter and cynical voice which intrigues me but I would like to see it pulled together better – if the second person at the start was switched to third, then this would be a borrow definite, buy possible. I’d certainly keep reading.

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  2. kardis
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 07:30:13

    I agree with Ann’s comments about the POV, once it switched to third person the story was easier to get into. I don’t usually decide to buy a book based on the first page alone and I am interested enough to read more to see if I would buy it. (Sorry, no caffeine yet so the previous sentence is a bit nonsensical.) Good luck!

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  3. Meljean
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 08:53:44

    I liked it all — the sharp and distinctive voice, the fantastic (and funny) lines. Regarding the POV at the beginning: IMO, just putting it into present tense will help make it clear that it’s the narrator ruminating (typically, for me, narrative = past tense and thought = present tense, even if she’s thinking about what has already happened to push her out onto the porch).

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  4. Leah
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 09:29:10

    Same thing with the POV–and I liked the third person better. However, having a psycho family (and friends with even more nut jobs in theirs), I could relate to the heroine’s feelings! I think the names are fine. I would probably buy this book, but I hope she doesn’t stay angry all the time. Best of luck with your career!

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  5. cecilia
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 09:52:35

    I didn’t mind the “second person” bits. It didn’t come across to me as second person to me, but third person limited, with that generalized reflecting that people do in “you” form.

    I had trouble with some of the language choice. The “yuh darlin’” etc. bits had me thinking it was a male perspective, for some reason. I don’t have a younger sister, but if I did, I can’t imagine (even in these circumstances) thinking of her in terms like that. The contrast between the “yuhs” and “___-asses” and words like “impromptu” and “iota of self-awareness” was disconcerting, and I kept wondering where in hell people talk like that. (I would not include the assorted “fuckers” in this confusion, of course, because that is universal. Or should be.)

    It’s hard to say if I would read this, because a lot would depend on what kind of hero you’re adding to the mix. Cold-eyed billionaire? Hot detective? Sensitive carpenter? That could make a big difference.

    PS – Ann, I don’t think the names are made up, just uncommon-foreign.

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  6. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 10:06:32

    Personally, I wouldn’t allow anyone (especially a younger sister) to have a party in my house unless I wanted a party in my house. I’m no longer in my twenties and maybe I’m uptight, but straight off I don’t identify with the heroine. Why doesn’t she kick these doofuses out?

    Everything after “night breeze” is better. Taking off your bra after a long day? Now that I can relate to. At this point, I want to know what she loves about the Caribbean, or a little more about her. But she seems more focused on negative distractions (the cars outside).

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  7. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 11:14:34

    I like the voice. Definitely like the voice. I don’t so much mind the shifts in POV, but there’s something just a little jarring about the way it shifted.

    However, I’m interested enough I’d probably read more-so mark it a + for me.

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  8. Leah
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 11:16:06

    I assumed that the sisters were roommates. Plus, I’ve had those “family steamroller” experiences, where you can be continually taken advantage of by their collective force of will. It took me until I was in my 30′s to even begin to tell some sisters that their bus stopped here, so I definitely identified with the heroine.

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  9. Lori
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 12:14:29

    The switch in POV’s was jarring for me but I really did like the voice. And I’d love to know what the story is going to be. Would I read more? Yes, I would.

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  10. CT
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 12:24:04

    I agree that the second-person section would flow so much better if it was in the present tense. As I was reading, I was converting it to present tense and I found it to flow smoothly.

    I found some of the adjective choices to be unusual. “…one hopeful spilled stink-ass beer on your goddamn rug…”–I’m not quite sure why the spilled beer is hopeful. Unless I’m reading this wrong and “hopeful” refers to the guy who wanted to get with the sister. But the construction of this phrase does not make that clear.

    Overall, I enjoyed Feyi’s attitude, but there were some really muddled sentences I had to read three or four times before I understood. If I have to reread sentences on the first page, I won’t typically continue on. This sentence in particular really confused me at first: “This – the pretty sky, the teasing breeze – she summed up as the placid, romantic interlude to her horror movie but she'd been primed since earlier that afternoon on the blood and guts effect of a sister gone wild, so it went unappreciated.” I think maybe a semicolon between “movie” and “but” will help. You know, this is an awesome sentence once it gets a little clarity. In fact, I love this sentence! I’m not ashamed to say it!

    I love the party scene, especially the mother. I wonder if she continues to make an appearance, because I love an out-of-control mother. (I wonder what that says about my own mother experiences?)

    I agree with the poster up above about the hero. He would make a huge difference in my decision to read this book. I know, strong female characters are great, blah, blah, blah; unfortunately, I’m really just here for the men. Hee.

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  11. Brie
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 13:42:28

    The first page piqued my interest enough to want to read on. And if the back blurb was enticing, sure, I’d buy it.

    The shift between second (or third person limited) and third person jarred me a little. Maybe because I didn’t see it coming. But I agree with those who say that once it hit third person it felt tighter and more engaging. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but perhaps if the second person was italicised, the shift to third person wouldn’t have felt as jarring as it did.

    And I’m assuming that the use of “stink-ass” “small-ass” and other “insert adjective-add ass” is a cultural slang. Otherwise I don’t see why it would be needed to such a great degree.

    Aside from that, I liked it, and would be interested in reading more.

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  12. Anion
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 14:24:48

    Sorry, I didn’t like this at all. I didn’t connect with the voice and didn’t like the MC. It felt like one big tell instead of a show, too.

    And I’m saying that because this is a subjective business, so when you start querying for real…don’t be disheartened by rejection. Obviously, for every one like me, there’s at least one who really likes it. :)

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  13. The Writer
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 15:13:04

    Hi everybody, thanks so much for your comments.

    I don’t actually use the ’2nd person’ again in the novel. I started off like this years ago when I first began and have never truly overhauled this opening scene. I may have to I think though I’ve grown attached to it.

    But I will definitely mix things up using your comments and see which suits me best. Also, I will attempt to make my language clearer. I have a tendency to have long, run-on sentences so I know I have to tighten that up.

    Re the -ass endings: we meet the heroine on a bad day basically and on good days she has a potty mouth. I think I’ll have to tone that down as well for marketability. But the usage of -ass for cuss words is normal in the Caribbean.

    The hero: he’s a popular comic strip artist and is the island’s Golden Boy. Feyi (which is an African name, not made up!) is cynical as someone mentioned above and he’s all happiness and light.

    Thanks again for all your comments. I’m going to sit down and go through each one so that I can take my writing to the next level – a publication-worthy level!

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  14. katieM
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 15:32:08

    I liked the first part and I liked the second part, but the two parts didn’t mesh. I suggest you choose one voice or the other. I’d definitely borrow from the library and possibly buy it.

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  15. Miki
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 20:18:54

    I’m afraid I couldn’t even follow this. I kept being pulled out by the deliberate…this is going to sound prudish, but…crudeness of the tone. This is not a person I’d be likely to hang around with and it’s unlikely I’d get past the back cover and/or story description on that one.

    As Anion said, there will be those who love something and those who don’t. For me, this is a don’t.

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  16. Chez
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 20:41:42

    I’m with a couple of the others and found I couldn’t follow this very well. Mainly I think because I kept reading “Yuh” as “Yuk” I’ve read “Yo” before, but haven’t really come across “Yuh”. I suppose it is written to be an accent, but since I have not heard this one, it just didn’t work for me. Also the heroine says she’s a “good girl” then the ….ass descriptions and jealousy of others “daring to enjoy outdoor sport” before her jars as well. I’m sorry but it just doesn’t work for me.

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  17. Sue
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 23:43:26

    I’m going to agree with Miki and Chez. The Yuh bothered me, the crudness of the “voice” (I thought it was a guy). The names were cool though and while I did have a problem, once the second part (third person) got started, I liked it better. So, for me, if I was opening the first page in a bookstore, I would have put it back at the first couple of paragraphs (even with a few cute lines and yes, you totally had some great ones). I like sassy, not crude and definitely not a female narrator who sounded male. Good luck!

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  18. SonomaLass
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 00:06:56

    Feyi sounds like someone with whom I’d like to have a beer, or several! I like the idea of a tough gal like this at the center of a romance, especially if it isn’t suspense — seems like the only tough heroines I get are cops or PIs, as if you couldn’t be cynical and somewhat crude without being physically “tough” too.

    Count me in favor of rewriting the POV to avoid the strange shift, and tightening up some of the sentences for clarity, and showing more/telling less. Be sure to let us know how this fares, and good luck!

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  19. kirsten saell
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 01:00:03

    IMO, just putting it into present tense will help make it clear that it's the narrator ruminating

    Totally.

    And I have no problems at all with the crudeness of her inner voice. I swear like a sailor myself, so I don’t think a tendency toward profanity has much to do with a person’s level of intelligence.

    I won’t say I would read this, because contemp is not my thing. But the voice does tug at me. If this was lying around and I was in need of something to occupy me, it could well serve the purpose, regardless of the genre. Which says a lot, since I won’t read something that doesn’t grab me, no matter how little there is to do.

    I would hope that at some point soon, this woman will make her feelings known to those around her. I don’t think I could read a whole novel filled with her frustration–it’s one reason I got so infuriated watching “Meet the Parents”. By the time that movie ended, I just wanted to smash something.

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  20. Erika
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 02:42:38

    If the 2P section is her thoughts, find a way to set them apart and make it clear. Italics are the usual method, and should work well here. The rest looks pretty good; a bit harsher a voice than I’d normally read, but it lends itself well to the character. Could you slip in a physical description, maybe, or at least a few flecks of one between the ruminations? Having an image to go with that voice might give the opening page a bit more punch.

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  21. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 10:19:37

    I like the second person POV a great deal, and I would transition more smoothly to the third person. Other than that, I liked the opening up to us “all” as the you.

    I did notice (and this is minor) a lot of dashes and hyphens in the second person part. They grate on the eye, so if you keep that as it is, remove a few.

    What is in both the second and third person sections, though, is a great deal of telling. I don’t feel like I am actually in this scene, and I think I deserve to be. It’s wild and there are things going on I’d like to feel a part of (even if I am hiding in the corner). Some dialog, some sensory “feel” here–my god, I’ve never been in such a throng, and I want to at least look, feel, taste, touch, etc.

    But a clear strong voice, a great set up, and good flow.

    J

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  22. The Writer
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 12:46:39

    Hi again everybody,

    The issue of ‘slang’ or cultural tone is something that I have forever been grappling with. My characters are Cbean nationals. They aren’t Americans or English or Australians living abroad. So someone earlier on had said they’d be interested in reading about why Feyi likes the Cbean – but apart from the odd ‘I love NY’ ‘I love small towns’ interjections I see in some novels, it wouldn’t flow well (I think) to discuss her emotions with respect to her location. It just ‘is’.

    This is a problem because I do want to get published and the market is American so I can’t write as if my reader is from the Cbean and expect a foreign market to ‘understand’. At the same time, I don’t want to cut away so much of the colloquialisms that it becomes, for all intents and purposes, an ‘American’ book. (The States pretty much being the default location for any setting that is not specifically stated imo.)

    So this is also something I have to figure out.

    And the additional comments underline the point that I’m not very clear! Worrying but unsurprising given that sometimes when I read it aloud I trip myself up. Yeah, red flag.

    With respect to less telling, more showing, right after this excerpt, dialogue begins and I think the novel on a whole is very dialogue intensive. The first chapter (and 1st page) does hold a heavier narrative-dialogue weighting than what follows. To whomever is still reading (hello!) does the fact that dialogue is soon to come change your thoughts about ‘showing vs telling’ or does the 1st page still need to have a greater balance?

    Crude language: I’ve tried to excise a great deal of the swear words from the narrative and I do fear it would make Feyi appear immature and unintelligent to some. But then, to others it would simply be ‘realistic’. I suppose this is a ‘you can’t please everyone’ situation. Of course if an agent or publisher tells me to wash her mouth with soap, they will immediately become the Everyone and yes, I will ensure that Everyone is pleased.

    But what I’m really clocking in again for, is to ask whether anybody reading or who has commented is looking for an online critique partner (or knows someone who is looking)? I have been searching since Christ was a child for someone to be my sounding board and vice versa.

    If anyone is interested, e-mail me at heymissybookstore at gmail dot com.

    I give good crits, I promise.

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  23. Moth
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:29:07

    writer: “I may have to I think though I've grown attached to it.”

    Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings. Step back. Pretend you haven’t written it. Revise it or cut it altogether. I myself have problems with this but I am getting better. If you’re trying to sell this to publishers then you have to consider the reader first and what you the writer like second. Personally, as a reader, I felt the 2nd person was a whole lot of tellin’ not showin’ and it did not draw me in. Put it in third and let me feel like I’m at the party. Let me see the drunken mom and the slutty sister. I feel like I couldn’t do that as written. You have strong voice.

    To whomever is still reading (hello!) does the fact that dialogue is soon to come change your thoughts about 'showing vs telling' or does the 1st page still need to have a greater balance? My big problem with all the telling is that it doesn’t draw me in. I am not hooked at all by this opening so I wouldn’t keep reading probably to get to the dialogue. There’s your probem to me, if you keep it as is you might lose readers off the bat. I don’t necessarily defer to the back of the book or look at the rest if I can’t even get through the first page.

    RE: the swearing. Clarify for yourself why you want it in the book. I have no problem with it myself, but some people do. I recommend taking a look at books from publishers you might try and counting the swear words. After that maybe allow yourslef half that many swear words because you are not established so you won’t get as much leeway as a published author. Really think about where a good f-bomb will pack the most punch for either comedic effect or character illumination. You can use swear words no problem, but they can’t just be thrown around willy nilly in something you want published.

    RE: critiques. I would say for a really good shake-down on your first 10 pages and your query (when you write it). Go to Electra’s Crapometer. They are all writers there and they are very good at tearing things apart and then putting them back together in wonderful ways. Same goes for Evil Editor’s blog. He does first 150 words, short synopsis and query letters. VERY useful blog for getting your submission packet in order. Also, I’ve heard good things about the Critique Circle site thought I myself haven’t used it.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents. Best of luck!

    ~Moth

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  24. The Writer
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:53:38

    Thanks a lot Moth, will check those out.

    Re my darlings: To get through with that, I will have to murder them dry-eyed and save the uncontrollable weeping for after the fact. But it must be done, yes.

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  25. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 14:37:55

    The first page of your first novel has to sing outloud. And there are so many ways to do this, but since you have an amazingly wild opening scene, why not plop your reader right there in all the ways you can. Maybe by slowing down, and showing us more of what this party is like and letting us hear literally your character rather than letting the narrative voice do all the work.

    I don’t have much for you on the critique front, but a great place (and I am not trying to toot my own horn) is through a class. I teach through UCLA Extension, Romance 1 and 2 (more creative titles than that, but I can’t quite remember how they are worded) online. Another writer teaches romance there as well–so I would assume that you could find a class that would allow you to run through a manuscript or partial in order to get teacher and fellow student feedback. Just a thought.

    Good luck.

    J

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  26. The Writer
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 17:57:22

    Thanks Jessica. I have never thought of online classes.

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  27. Gail Dayton
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 15:27:51

    I know I’m coming in late–don’t read weekend blogs till Mondays–but overall I liked this. I’m not a big fan of 2nd person, but would be willing to go with it, if it went to present tense, and the transition got cleaned up. Thing is, you can use the same voice in 3rd person, get the same feel, even the same words, and might work better. Can’t hurt to try it. You can’t get attached. Save it, and use it for a “website extra” if you love it that much.

    If Feyi is an African name, I’m assuming she’s black. Which actually was what I thought from the first few lines. It was just something about the rhythm of the voice, which fit the character. You might want to play up the Caribbean location a bit more (does actual English ivy grow in the Caribbean? It doesn’t do well where I live, and I’m on the Gulf coast…) because I didn’t catch that on first read.

    I liked this, liked the voice and saw potential in the story, but the long sentences were hard to wade through (and I like to write long sentences myself, and then have to go back and break them up). The wine-a-thon confused me. Do you mean Feyi goes on a wine-a-thon? Or somebody else does? I got confused a lot reading this, and while I admit that I confuse easily, there were a lot of potentially confusing things here. The 2nd to 3rd Person thing being one of them. I was just getting used to the 2nd when you switched it and lost me again.

    There are really only two rules of writing fiction that can never be broken, and everybody’s touched on both of them. #1 is DO NOT BORE THE READER and #2 is DO NOT CONFUSE THE READER. If you’re not boring them, you can get away with confusing them a little bit, but you’d certainly better not do both at the same time, and never, ever bore them. Ever. Never.

    What you’ve got going for you here is the voice, and Feyi’s attitude, holding back the Boredom. That’s what is keeping the reader interested. So, even though this is a short excerpt, you might want to tighten it up some and thin out some of the cool description language (I know, I know, more darlings going under the knife–but you have to be ruthless. Get out that samurai sword…) and speed things up to reach that dialogue just a smidgen quicker. Good luck!

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  28. The Writer
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 16:24:36

    Thanks for the comments and the good luck wish Gail!

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  29. Cindy Troy
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 20:48:07

    I hope this blog is going to be updated. I read through and then noticed the early dates. Keep it going! Cindy

    ReplyReply

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