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First Page: Untitled Contemporary

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***

I did it, I thought as I slid into the warm bath water and gulped my cold white wine. For six months I’d tried to mend my marriage to Eyeball, but one person can’t fix a broken relationship. Tired of working on a two-person project alone, I’d asked Buster Traywick, my attorney, to file the papers for my divorce today.

Lemon Drop, my little white mutt, put her front paws on the side of the tub. I scratched her head while she licked the water that dripped off my fingers. The wine and soothing bath were doing what I’d thought nothing would do that night, making me sleepy. I closed my eyes and drifted off.

A bark stirred me enough to take another sip of wine, but Lemon Drop’s a yip dog. I shushed and petted her, for all the good it ever did. She ducked out from under my hand and ran from the bathroom, yapping as if a herd of kittens had moved in.

The house rocked as an explosion tore through it. Bath water sloshed out in the floor. A couple of candles fell off the counter, one in the tub, the other on the bath mat, which began to smolder. I dropped my wine glass in the tub with the candle, jumped out of the bath and threw the smoldering rug into the mix. I pulled on my robe and ran dripping through the bedroom and down the hall. "Lemon Drop!"

My feet slipped on the wood floor as I tried to stop myself from running into the living room sofa that for some reason blocked the hallway. I tumbled over the side of the couch, breathed in a lungful of drywall dust that covered the cushions and banged my head on the hall light fixture that sat in the center of the sofa, which was not where I’d left it.

I looked to my right and found the reason. The wall separating the living room from the hall was gone. Jagged drywall and electrical wires hung in the empty space. A 1951 Chevy pickup I recognized as Sophie Trucker, its headlights shining in my eyes, its wide gold grill grinning at me, rested with its front half in my living room and its back half outside on the porch.

***

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26 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 05:06:32

    I liked it, though I have no idea where it’s going. But keep going!

    If the Chevy has a female name, it might be better to refer to it as ‘she’ – the name threw me, reading quickly. I expected the narrator to refer to the car by the owner, not its pet name.

    Not being a dog owner, this:
    A bark stirred me enough to take another sip of wine, but Lemon Drop's a yip dog.

    Struck me as being a non sequitor. I’d have expected something more like
    A bark stirred me enough to take another sip of wine. I shushed Lemon Drop but she's a yip dog.

    Or something. Maybe I’m missing something obvious.

    But you throw us into the action nice and fast, the narrator comes off as capable, a number of intriguing plots lines are hinted at, so yeah. Good start.

  2. Treva Harte
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 07:09:07

    This is supposed to be seen from the narrator’s POV so I’d try to make it more immediate in some spots.

    I did it, I thought as I slid into the warm bath water and gulped my cold white wine could be changed to: I did it. I slid into the warm bath water and gulped my cold white wine.

    And would she name Lemon Drop as her little white mutt or just call the dog Lemon Drop?

    But I do like crash. Nothing like a good explosive crash to start things off.

  3. Lori
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 07:33:13

    Those last two paragraphs were simply, exactly right.

    I think Treva is right about the opening line: I did it. I slid into… Sets up the immediacy right there then ka-boom.

    I want to keep reading so much. Great job Author!

  4. joanne
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 07:36:42

    You have very interesting things going on in this opening. Some of it is too cute for my taste, but that’s subjective as I’m sure you know. Eyeball and Lemon Drop and the truck with a name would put a stop to the reading for me. It’s not so much an info dump as a sugar high. Maybe a little later in the first part of the chapter would work better.

    Only from a readers point of view: first person writing takes some editing of the “I”s. Too many ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ and ‘I thought the other’ is a strain on my patience.

    It also sounds like you’re going someplace fun with this story.
    Good luck and Thank you.

  5. Leah
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 07:54:18

    I liked it, but I’m not too sure about “Eyeball.” Is he a gangster or something? Does she just nickname everything?

    Another question: if there’s alcohol in the tub, and she throws a smoldering bath mat (and the candle falls) into it, would the alcohol ignite? or would it be too diluted?

    Also–and this is just me–since it’s 1st person, would she even understand right away that what happened was an explosion? Unless she’s experienced them frequently, wouldn’t she wonder if it was a tornado, or an earthquake, or a plane crash or a truck smashing into her house? It seems like you step outside of her head a bit to describe what happens, and it loses a little bit of emotional impact. I It’s not fatal, however, nor are the nicknames. I’d read more.

    Good luck!

  6. shenan
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:12:13

    —– I did it, I thought as I slid into the warm bath water and gulped my cold white wine. For six months I’d tried to mend my marriage to Eyeball, but one person can’t fix a broken relationship. Tired of working on a two-person project alone, I’d asked Buster Traywick, my attorney, to file the papers for my divorce today.

    She did what? Filed for divorce?

    I have to say I’m really interested to know how Eyeball got that nickname.

    —Lemon Drop, my little white mutt,

    Just out of curiosity — if the dog is white, how did it get a name like Lemon Drop?

    —- put her front paws on the side of the tub. I scratched her head while she licked the water that dripped off my fingers.

    The visual reads to me like the hand the dog is licking is unoccupied, but I assume the reference is to the hand holding the glass of wine. Otherwise the POV character has one too many hands.

    —- A bark stirred me enough to take another sip of wine, but Lemon Drop’s a yip dog. I shushed and petted her, for all the good it ever did. She ducked out from under my hand and ran from the bathroom, yapping as if a herd of kittens had moved in.

    I’m not getting the segue between the bark and the sip and the dog being a yip dog. Nor do I understand what a yip dog is. Do you mean the dog is a yappy little thing?

    Does the dog bark, yip, or yap?

    I like the visual of the herd of kittens.

    —- The house rocked as an explosion tore through it.

    When you say “explosion,” I assume you mean something exploded. Like a bomb. Or a natural gas water heater. From the description we later get, it appears the noise heard wasn’t an explosion but a truck running into the front of the house. Did something also explode? Or did the heroine just think the noise was an explosion?

    —- Bath water sloshed out in the floor. A couple of candles fell off the counter, one in the tub, the other on the bath mat, which began to smolder. I dropped my wine glass in the tub with the candle, jumped out of the bath and threw the smoldering rug into the mix. I pulled on my robe and ran dripping through the bedroom and down the hall. “Lemon Drop!”

    I’ve never had my house explode. Never had a truck run into the front of it. But I’m pretty sure that if I was in a house that had either happen to it, I wouldn’t notice water sloshing. Nor would I sit while a candle falls onto a rug and gets around to almost sort of setting the thing on fire and then notice that had happened and then have the presence of mind to toss the rug into the bath. And if I did have the presence of mind to notice and do all that, I think I’d also have enough presence of mind to set the glass down instead of dropping it into the tub. (Although actually, I probably would have dropped it as soon as I was startled. And I probably would have screamed or yelped for good measure.)

    By the way, you might want to substitute “on” for “in” in that first sentence.

    —-My feet slipped on the wood floor as I tried to stop myself from running into the living room sofa that for some reason blocked the hallway. I tumbled over the side of the couch, breathed in a lungful of drywall dust that covered the cushions and banged my head on the hall light fixture that sat in the center of the sofa, which was not where I’d left it.

    How short is the hallway that she didn’t notice the couch blocking it before she ran into it?

    Did she tumble over the side of it or the back?

    What wasn’t where she left it? The fixture or the center of the couch?

    What kind of light fixture? A lamp? A ceiling light? A wall sconce?

    You use both “sofa” and “couch.”

    —-I looked to my right and found the reason. The wall separating the living room from the hall was gone.

    Found the reason for what? Why the light fixture (or the couch) wasn’t where she’d left it? They weren’t where they were supposed to be because the wall was gone? Or because a truck ran into them and knocked them out of place? I’m confused.

    The business with the wall and the hall and the living room is completely confusing. The wall is gone, but the heroine has to look to her right to notice, even though it normally separates the hall from the living room? So the hall doesn’t lead into the living room? And if the wall wasn’t there, why wouldn’t she have noticed before she fell into the living room?

    What happened to the wall anyway? The use of “gone” makes it sound like it disappeared. If the truck rammed into the front of the house and made it all the way across the living room to the wall, I would think the wall would be partially collapsed. Which would mean that drywall and bits and pieces of wall studs (and electrical wires as we later see) would be in the hallway — along with the front part of the truck. And I would think she’d notice that truck as soon as she stepped into the hall. Again, the visual is completely confused.

    —-Jagged drywall and electrical wires hung in the empty space.

    What empty space? The space where the wall used to be? But isn’t the couch there? Shouldn’t the truck be there?

    —-A 1951 Chevy pickup I recognized as Sophie Trucker, its headlights shining in my eyes, its wide gold grill grinning at me, rested with its front half in my living room and its back half outside on the porch.

    No one is in the truck? Doesn’t sound like it since no mention is made of anyone inside the cab. In which case, how did it ram into the house? From the way this is worded, it sounds like an evil truck took a notion to destroy the woman’s house and then sat grinning happily (or… you know… evilly) at the evil it had wrought.

    How did the truck knock down an interior wall if it only made it halfway inside the house? How small is the living room?

    For all my nitpicks and my problems visualizing what’s going on, I actually like the start of this and would keep reading to find out if the truck is evil, if Eyeball was behind the wheel, and to find out what Eyeball looks like. Oh — and I like the First Person POV.

  7. DS
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:19:05

    Well, I would not have named a white dog Lemon Drop unless there is a story behind the name. But I thought this story had possibilities. Unless this is going to be short story I’d leave the lawyer’s name out of the first paragraph. At that point the name is extraneous information.

  8. Seressia
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:23:00

    Very engaging. Are we sure that the truck is named Sophie Trucker, or did the author forget a possessive? Granted, the truck displays some animated characteristics–grinning, resting, etc, like it’s proud of what it’s done and wants a treat now.

    “1951 Chevy pickup I recognized as Sophie Trucker‘s” would be more appropriate if someone named Sophie Trucker owns said truck. If that’s the truck’s name, then I have to agree with the person who said the cutesy names were beginning to get to her.

    In my opinion, your heroine’s POV is too formal after the explosion. This is a serious “WTF?” and “Oh God, Lemon Drop!” scene, and I’d expect her thoughts to be a bit more scattered and choppy to convey the emotion of the moment.

    @Leah: that’s not enough alcohol to ignite, certainly not in a tub full of water. Mythbusters actually did an experiment with a cigarette, a toilet and gas. Or something like that.

  9. Gennita Low
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:27:59

    I have no problems visualizing this scene at all. The explosion was unexpected and really moved my interest. I’d have flicked to the next page immediately.

    Good voice, good movement of story–from lazy relaxation to sudden panic, even a good mystery right there on the first page. I like it. Good luck!

    Can I say I’m worried about Lemon Drop? Hope the doggie isn’t hurt.

  10. Maya M.
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:57:39

    ref: names –
    I liked ‘Eyeball’ since it’s clear that’s a nickname from recent times rather than when the relationship was fresh and new. I didn’t like ‘Lemon Drop’, because she is specified as not blond (like a golden retriever mutt, or something) and so the emphasis on ‘yellow’ leads my brain to the unpleasant reality sort of yellow associated with owning a dog. And for the lawyer to be called ‘Buster’ makes me think he is either extra sleazy or else from some dodgy firm. Which then makes me wonder why she would have chosen that sort of lawyer – something about the way things worked out with Eyeball, or something about the heroine herself?

    The truck not just having a name but a first and last, together with human characteristics, kind of threw me. Because it really does seem like this turned into a paranormal story of demonic vehicle possession (since a whole lot of emphasis is placed on the truck with zero mention of its driver).

    Altogether, I must admit that what’s happened so far is really gripping.
    Good luck!

  11. Moira
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 09:59:49

    I really liked this and I would read more.

  12. Marianne McA
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 11:16:50

    The names in the first paragraph ‘Eyeball’, ‘Buster Traywick’ – made me think this was a Evanovich sort of book – primarily comedic writing – and at the same time made me think it wasn’t a book that I personally would find funny.
    In a bookshop, I wouldn’t have read past the words ‘Lemon Drop’ – the third odd name in a row just killed it.

    Which doesn’t say anything, because humour is very subjective – there are books that are reviewed as LOL funny which haven’t amused me at all, and vice versa.

    Good luck.

  13. Maggie Robinson
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 11:32:16

    Sophie Tucker, folks. I know she’s been dead a long time, but still. Cute reference.

    The book sounds like fun, maybe a little too cute to start, but I’d read it, and I’m not fond of first-person contemporaries.

  14. Marianne McA
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 12:15:21

    Re my earlier comment (#12) – I was thinking about the excerpt while I cooked tea, and worked out why I’d have put the book down, and thought it might be useful to explain.

    Books written in the first person like this are often funny, so when I get to ‘Eyeball’ in the second sentence, I assume this is comic writing. However, the word ‘Eyeball’ also reads like a punchline to me – there’s a witty reason, or a funny story why she calls her ex that – but the author isn’t telling me the joke, I have to wait, and hear it later in the story. Then I get to ‘Buster Traywick’ and – given that I’m reading the paragraph as comic writing – I read that as an amusing name. Should, to my mind as I’m reading, belong to a quirky kind of character. But then I don’t meet him – in a sense, it’s another punchline without the attached joke.

    By the time I get to ‘Lemon Drop’ I’ve no patience left. The name strikes me as another punchline (You’ll laugh later when you find out why she named her dog that…) and three’s the charm – I don’t want to keep reading on in the hope that all these punchlines have funny jokes attached.

    But, as I said, humour is very subjective, and it obviously worked for most of the readers here. And it could be that the book is romantic suspense, not comedy, and I’m reading it all wrong.

    (Maggie: Sophie Tucker leaves me none the wiser – must be a US reference?)

  15. Karen Kennedy
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 12:43:57

    From the author–

    Thank you all so much for your insight and kind, compassionate critique! You have offered up wonderful suggestions and highlighted things that I should have caught, but which, once again, illustrate the need for editors!

    This is romantic suspense, with lots of humor. It is the second book in a series. (I have an agent, who has the first book, and is working diligently to sell it in this oh-so-unwelcoming economy. Oh, well.) And I wanted to see how the second book was going.

    You are all so right about too many cute names on page one. They’re gone, well, Eyeball and Buster Traywick are. Sophie Trucker is the name of the truck. (Sophie Tucker was a singer and comedian in America in the early 20th century. The owner of the truck is an old man, who always liked her, so named his truck after her.) I don’t mention the driver on page one because Fiona (the protag) hasn’t spotted him yet. He’s slumped down in the seat. She rushes to him in the next paragraph.

    The comments about the “explosion” and Fiona’s too formal reaction to it were also helpful. I’m still not sure what to call it, but I can change it to “what I thought was an explosion” or something until she’s sure what it is. And work on the the description and her actions following it.

    Thank you again! I love this First Page feature. It has been very helpful to have your comments!

  16. Seressia
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 12:44:41

    I don’t know Sophie Tucker, either, and the only Wikipedia reference came up with a reference to a singer/comedienne famous for performing in blackface. However, since the truck’s last name is Trucker, and that other Sophie died in 1966, I’m guessing hoping most people aren’t making that association.

    ETA: Oops, looks like I was wrong. That would probably have me putting the book down then.

  17. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 12:59:08

    The comments about the “explosion” and Fiona's too formal reaction to it were also helpful. I'm still not sure what to call it, but I can change it to “what I thought was an explosion” or something until she's sure what it is. And work on the the description and her actions following it.

    Karen, you could always just change “The house rocked as an explosion tore through it” to something like: “The house rocked as though an explosion had torn through it.”

    Best of luck with both books.

  18. DS
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 13:41:02

    Sophy Tucker was a bawdy performer– check Youtube for some of her songs.

    I mainly associate her songs with drag performances 1975-1985 and Bette Middler during her bathhouse days, but a 1951 Chevy pickup named Sophy Tucker sounds right to me.

  19. Elyssa Papa
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 13:48:09

    I liked it, too. I would continue reading, although I thought the person who’d driven through the house might have been Eyeball. It does start too cute, but I think the author has established a voice and tone for the novel.

  20. LizA
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 13:51:30

    What I find interesting is that nobody commented on the info-dumping! Usually people here are very zealous about that, and very often I do not mind, but here it really bothered me and kept me from enjoying the set-up, which shows a lot of potential. Anyway, I felt all the explanations needed to go, like XX, my attorney (she knows he is her attorney, and people should be able to figure it out if she has him file divorce for her, I’d think. Same with the dog – when you have a dog, you do not think to yourself “Lemon Drop, my little white mutt” – you know it’s a white dog already…..
    I thought the entire first paragraph was too “static” for lack of a better word. It read, to me, like a summary of “what happened before”…. things do pick up later on and I love the idea of a truck crashing into the living room – that’s certainly unique! Good luck….

  21. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 16:14:05

    You need to take away a few of the tellings, most notably – “The house rocked as an explosion tore through it. ”
    Let us experience it with her, instead of telling us what is happening. She won’t know it’s an explosion, and in fact, it isn’t. Telling like that really reduces the impact. And Liza has a point – junk the infodumps, it weakens it, too.

    I’m British, but I have so heard of Sophie Tucker, and really, people, it’s your loss. Bawdy singer and comedienne from the thirties. Amazing lady, one of the Mae West school, independent and feisty. I can’t believe memories of her are so weak in her own country.

  22. joanne
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 19:10:12

    Oh, well sorry, I’m thread hi-jacking here, but honestly Sophie Tucker was like Mae West in that she was brash and funny and loved to skirt around the censors with her songs about sex & men … try youtube for her “No One Man” …. it sounds as old and dated as it is, but the words are a hoot!

    Karen: I hope you get the story published and tell Sophie’s… er, the truck’s…. story!

  23. Julia Sullivan
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 20:44:23

    This has a strong voice, and you’ve really caught a certain style. Everyone else has raised pretty much my objections, but let me just amplify:

    The thing about “Sophie Trucker” is that it’s too bald right there. Something more like “I recognized the ’51 Chevy my friend Joe had lovingly restored and named ‘Sophie Trucker'” would be a lot easier to follow than “a truck I recognized as Sophie Trucker.”

    And in addition to the “too many cute names” issue, there’s too much “I thought” and “I felt” for something in the first person. That’s distancing, which isn’t what you want in this style. “The cold wine felt good, and so did the warm bathwater” or something more immediate would work better.

    Best of luck with this! I’m sure you’ll find an appreciative audience.

  24. Baba
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 21:26:41

    As one of the few people to have read Book One, none of the cute names threw me. I was just curious about Sophie Trucker, a new ‘character.’ Keep up the good work, Karen. It’s great to read all these other comments.
    Your number one fan.

  25. Susan/DC
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 09:05:52

    I agree there are too many cute names that come at the reader too fast, but I like that it starts immediately with a literal and figurative bang. As for Sophie Tucker, I don’t think she performed in blackface; Al Jolson was the star of that era famous for singing the song “Mammy” in blackface. My favorite of Tucker’s lines was her explanation for why the older man/younger woman dynamic was wrong and why it should be older woman/younger man: “It’s simple math. 20 goes into 40 a lot more times than 40 goes into 20.”

  26. Julia Sullivan
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 19:46:13

    Sophie Tucker actually did begin as a blackface performer, but abandoned that fairly early in her career.

    She was the child of Russian (I think?) Jewish immigrants; many of the white entertainers who performed in blackface between 1890 and 1930 were Eastern European Jews. Jolson is the best known partly because he worked the shtick long after others had abandoned it.

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