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First Page: untitled M/M Paranormal Romance

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Lukas von Rainer was at the hotel bar with his fellow Wardens when the priest passed. Everyone’s eye was drawn to him, not only for the black vestments which brought out his dusky complexion and dark hair, but also for the rugged shape of his jaw and the surety of his movements.

Then, as if he’d sensed Lukas’s interest, he turned. Their eyes met, and Lukas was instantly lusting after him.

“He’s a priest, Lukas.” Olivia jabbed his arm with her elbow. “Put that tongue back in your head.”

“I bet you a hundred dollars I’ll have him in my bed by the end of the conference.”

“You go too far this time,” Jean-Claude said. His arm was around his half-incubus companion, a pretty brunette named Eugenie. “He’s a priest. Priests are celibate.”

“Most priests are celibate.”

“Merde,” Jean-Claude muttered and glowered at his wine. He turned to kiss Eugenie. “What do you say, ma petite? We find him a cambion like you and then he’ll stop his wandering ways.”

Eugenie looked Lukas up and down, then turned her lips into a pout. “I don’t think anything will stop him from wandering, though we could try…”

“We?” Jean-Claude smiled. “Oui.”

But Lukas ignored them, instead glancing up just in time to see the priest exit through the double doors leading to the conference area. “I’ll be back.”

Padre Rafael Esparza noticed the blond man following him and not trying to hide the fact he did so. Stranger still, Rafael could sense nothing from him. For a while, he ignored the man, moving from table to table to pick up his name tag and a schedule which fortunately had been translated into four different languages including Spanish.

Most of the attendees were as he’d expected, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and practitioners of every sort of healing he could imagine. This man was…different, though Rafael had learned long ago not to judge by appearances. He was in his late twenties, which made him about ten years younger than Rafael, and while he didn’t look like a man interested in alternative healing arts, the little Rafael could sense told him the man had a strong drive to aid others.

“I help you with something?” Rafael said formally in English. “You ask for confession, maybe?”

To his amusement, the blond man’s eyes widened in surprise. “I—no thanks, Father. I merely wanted to ask if you needed help finding your way around. This is my third time here and I don’t believe I’ve seen you before.”
He dressed like an American, and his speech patterns were American, but the German accent hinted at a different ancestry. “You are kind, but I am tired from travel and wish only my room.”

“I’ll help you find it. What’s the number?”

The man’s insistence annoyed Rafael. Besides, he smelled like beer and cigarette smoke, neither of which Rafael cared for. “There is a reason you wish me alone? It is a spiritual matter?”

“Forgive me, Father.” The man was instantly contrite. “I have offended you. Let me apologize by taking you to dinner in the hotel’s restaurant at, say, seven o’clock? I’ll answer any questions you have about the conference or Rome or…anything.”

The blond now intrigued him. He wanted Rafael’s company for something other than spiritual matters, and while Rafael had a guess, he wanted to wait to be certain. “I agree. The hotel restaurant. Seven o’clock.”

The man beamed, and for an instant, Rafael was taken by the roguish smile. “Thank you, Father. See you then.”

Rafael watched him leave and found himself looking forward to the night’s engagement.

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

15 Comments

  1. Cara Ellison
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 05:37:40

    The first few sentences seemed off to me, particularly “everyone’s eye”. I also would like to know why the priest was so attractive that Lukas goes bananas for him instantly. I just didn’t buy that it was one brief look and instant lust.

    It feels a little forced and like it needs to be developed a little bit more. Not too much – you did a great job of getting to the point. But just some flavor here would be good.

    Your vision is very clear and your voice is good. Good luck with it!

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  2. Gianisa
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 10:26:16

    “when the priest passed”

    Just FYI, “passed” == “died” and “passed by” == “walked by”. I didn’t realize that you meant that the priest was walking by until the second sentence, and I thought that your protagonist had some kind of psychic powers and knew that the priest had died.

    Also, unless your protagonist’s backstory includes an aristocratic family, you may want to reconsider his last name.

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  3. Avierra
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 10:53:07

    Jean-Claude is the name of a bisexual main character in Laurell K. Hamilton’s books, who calls the protagonist “ma petite” a lot– in fact it seems to be his epithet of choice for her. I am sure the name thing is a coincidence, but it bugged me (mostly because I hate those books).

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  4. Karenna Colcroft
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 11:35:14

    The first two sentences threw me off a bit, and I only read on out of curiosity.

    “Lukas von Rainer was at the hotel bar with his fellow Wardens when the priest passed. Every eye was drawn to him…”

    I’m having trouble explaining what bugs me about the first sentence. Mostly it feels very passive. Was he sitting or standing at the actual bar? Is the bar crowded? I feel like you have the beginning of a setting here, but I still don’t have enough of a sense of place. The second sentence threw me because until I got to “black vestments”, I wasn’t sure whether “him” referred to the priest or to Lukas.

    “Lukas was instantly lusting after him.” Again, a somewhat passive phrasing, to me, and very abrupt and telling. If Lukas has to be instantly lusting after the priest, *show* us. What is he feeling that demonstrates lust? Is he hard? Do “flames of arousal” shoot through him?

    I agree with Cara. What’s so special about the priest that *everyone* was looking at him? What makes Lukas “instantly” lust after him? And then Lukas sounds very arrogant to me when he makes the bet with Jean-Claude. I already don’t like Lukas, which isn’t good if he’s your hero.

    The point of view switch partway through is off-putting as well, though that would be easily fixed with a scene break.

    I also agree with Avierra about the name “Jean-Claude”. I don’t know what Wardens are in your universe, but that name combined with the sprinkling of French words and phrases remind me too much of LKH’s books. The French words and phrases grate on me in those books and grated on me here; that’s just one of my pet peeves in books involving multi-lingual characters because it feels like the author thinks he/she has to keep reminding the reader, “Hey, this person’s French, remember?” (or Spanish, or whatever).

    You have more guts than I do, putting your first page out here, and I think you might have an intriguing concept, but for me the concept is lost because I kept getting hung up on the phrasing and the insta-lust.

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  5. Susan/DC
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 11:52:28

    Maybe it’s just me, and maybe this will be explained later in the story, but if priests take a vow of celibacy then I find it offputting that someone seems to be so careless about tempting a priest to break that vow. Could be that in the worldbuilding the author explains that celibacy is encouraged but not required so it’s less of an issue. If not, then a big part of the story would be how Rafael feels about breaking that vow. Lucas had better be worth that, and I don’t get a sense that here. I also don’t care for his come-on to Rafael, as it’s so clearly a come-on which I personally would have no trouble saying no to as there’s nothing special or clever or appealing about it (or maybe I just spent too much time in bars in my misspent youth and am far too cynical).

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  6. Abbie Rhoades
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 11:55:10

    Hello Writer of the M/M Paranormal Romance.

    Any suggestions I make are only suggestions based on my impression as I read though this. Don’t make any changes unless they feel right to you. This is your world, your creation, and you are the master of this universe.

    My first thought was this entire piece lacked a deep pov. Closely related to that I felt there was a lot of telling rather than showing. “To his amusement, the blond man’s eyes widened with surprise.” If this was written in deep pov you wouldn’t have to ‘tell’ the reader that the priest was amused, the reader would be so into the priest’s head that they would know that.

    IMO–there’s too many people introduced too early: Lukas, Olivia, Jean-Claude, Eugenie, Rafael. With so many characters, it’s hard to care about any of them. And you take the focus off of who is really important. Lukas and Rafael.

    Beware of ‘was’. You use ‘was’ a lot when you could be using more active verbs.
    “Their eyes met, and Lukas was instantly lusting after him.” Try this: “Their eyes met, and Lukas instantly lusted after him.”

    I have read some m/m romance, but it’s not a genre I’m completely up on…so maybe the standards are different, but IMO I felt Lukas was unlikeable and Rafael was TSTL. Again, maybe standards are different, and I apologize if they are and I’m just not aware of it… but I saw Lukas as a guy who only wanted to have sex with a priest. I saw nothing redeeming or likable about him. And Rafael, the priest, just seemed too stupid to live. “Let me apologize by taking you to dinner in the hotel’s restaurant at, say, seven o’clock?” This is one of the world’s oldest pick up lines and the priest falls for it? Sounds like he ‘wants’ to break his vow of celibacy.
    –Once Rafael agrees to go, I’m sorry to admit, I would not have wanted to read any more. To me, there’s no conflict, no chase. I feel like I know what’s going to happen. They’re going to go eat, then end up in bed somewhere.–That may not be what happens, but it seems like where this is leading. As a reader like to be surprised. And if I think I already know what’s going to happen, there’s no reason for me to keep reading.

    I am very interested in the paranormal aspects of this and really want more about them: What are Warden’s and what exactly does the priest sense about people? Those things maybe could be developed a bit more. For example if Lukas is a Warden, maybe dropping a line or two about what Warden’s do may be all you need to give Lukas a redeeming quality.

    Remember, this is just my opinion. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

    Good Luck and Keep Writing!

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  7. Courtney Milan
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 13:05:57

    The writing feels sloppy on multiple levels.

    1. Why is Warden capitalized? It makes me think this is going to be something paranormal, but there’s no other hint about who these people are or why they’re set apart, and so it ends up feeling like sloppiness.

    2. Where are they? Hotel bar, yes, but it seems like there’s an international crowd–where is the hotel? Why are they there? This gives the setup the feel of plot-fakery: “I must get all my people together in a bar.”

    3. When you tell us why everyone looks at the priest. This is problematic for multiple reasons. First, it’s a point of view slip. Lukas doesn’t know why everyone’s looking at the priest. Second, it doesn’t make sense. Surely not everyone in the bar goes for men of the cloth. They’re in a hotel bar at a conference. Third, it suggests that your crowd is constructed of monolithic entities–people who all go for darkly-complected priests at conferences–and that rings a false note, and makes me think that you’re not thinking of the people on screen as characters, but as pieces to move about to prove points.

    But most importantly, it subtly undermine’s Lukas’s reaction. If you’re trying to communicate how hot the priest is, the fact that Lukas’s attention is wandering to people other than the priest to see what they’re doing suggests he’s not that interested. If Lukas really is that struck, he shouldn’t be seeing–or thinking about–anyone at all. The world is going to collapse to that one person for just a second. By having everyone look at the priest, you make this moment of first sight about everyone instead of about just them.

    I could go on and on–do priests normally offer to hear confessions from random people who follow them at random conferences?

    But I think all of these things are symptomatic of a broader problem: This does not feel like a real world. These do not feel like real people. They aren’t acting and reacting like real people; the extras on screen feel like bad CGI in a corny movie–the same action, replicated at large.

    If you’re going to write a paranormal romance, you absolutely have to get the world-building down pat. Right now, this does not feel like a fully-realized scenario. It may be in your head, but what is in your head is not translating onto paper.

    Finally:

    He dressed like an American, and his speech patterns were American, but the German accent hinted at a different ancestry.

    Pet peeve: In one sentence, you manage to conflate nationality, country of origin, native language, and ancestry. These things are not the same.

    Pet peeve 2: What, exactly, do Americans dress like? And talk like?

    Don’t answer; whatever you come up with is going to piss off some group of Americans who don’t dress and talk like that.

    This is sloppy shorthand. “Levis and a drawl” convey a lot more information than “American.”

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  8. Dani Alexander
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 13:34:31

    First off, it’s so brave to put your words up there for crits. I didn’t have the guts to do it with mine. The closest I’ve come is to put a chapter up on my website. So, congratz for having the guts to do this. Now onto what I came away with.

    The opening bothered me a lot. So much so that I didn’t get past the first maybe 300 words on the first read. I couldn’t really pinpoint what it was (or it was too many things). I didn’t want to crit because that didn’t seem fair.

    Then I read Courtney’s crit and I just think she hit the nail on the head with:

    “This does not feel like a real world. These do not feel like real people. They aren’t acting and reacting like real people; the extras on screen feel like bad CGI in a corny movie–the same action, replicated at large.”

    That’s exactly how I felt and what I couldn’t put into words. And it makes me wish that Courtney was my beta and that I’d been brave enough to put my stuff up there.

    I do have really great betas, so I know what it feels like to have something ripped apart. But one thing that’s missing in all crits – which should always be there (imho), is what you did right.

    1. This was very cute and I snickered a little.:

    “We?” Jean-Claude smiled. “Oui.”

    2. I liked that you included this, smells can be very involving for a reader and especially smells which show your character traits:

    Besides, he smelled like beer and cigarette smoke, neither of which Rafael cared for.

    Unfortunately, after going back and reading it twice, those were the only things I could find that I really enjoyed.

    I would definitely pay close attention to the other crits here. They are invaluable. In fact, I go back and read the first page crits a lot just to find those types of things. It was first page crits that turned me onto a big problem in my writing: filter words (watched, saw, felt etc).

    Good luck to you!

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  9. Katie
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 13:34:48

    I really liked this . I thought it was great. I don’t usually read M/M , but if I did, I would read this.

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  10. Rachel
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 16:15:20

    @Gianisa: Just FYI, “passed” == “died” and “passed by” == “walked by”.

    Just FYI, “passed on” and “passed away” = “died,” as does “passed.”

    “Passed by” = “walked by,” as does “passed.” That’s the primary dictionary definition of the word “pass,” in fact.

    “Passed by” also can indicate being overlooked.

    “By” would get cut in editing, in an ideal world because it’s superfluous and clouds a meaning that is clear in context but more likely because people are (in most cases) needlessly paranoid about ending sentences with prepositions.

    If it was a past/passed faux pas, I would be right there with you making an issue of the word usage, but that is just silly.

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  11. eggs
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 17:20:58

    I stopped reading at the paragraph that had “Jean-Claude” and “ma petite” in it. These two names used in combination in the paranormal genre are taken, full stop. I would even use extreme caution in using just one of them, so strong is their association with LKH’s work. Anyone who likes to read paranormal (i.e. your target audience) will be thrown out of the story every single time they read those names, especially in combination like that.

    Unlike the others, the “passed” in para 1 doesn’t bother me, but the POV threw me entirely. von Rainer is introduced first, so I assume he is the protagonist. I therefore also assume the description is of von Rainer, and the vestments are attached to the office of “Warden”. Para 2 sets me right, but then I have to go back and reread para 1 to sort it out in my head. That level of confusion in para 1 isn’t good.

    You introduce 5 characters in 5 paras. At this point I have no idea which of them is the main protagonist of the story. This is indicative of a serious POV problem. For me, even without the Jean-Claude/ma petite, I would stop reading right there at para 5.

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  12. Author on Vacation
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 18:16:11

    Lukas von Rainer was at the hotel bar with his fellow Wardens when the priest passed.

    What was Lukas doing at the hotel bar? Enjoying a drink? Sipping it? Chugging it? Contemplating his empty glass and considering breaking his one-drink limit? Use Lukas’s behavior/habits to clue in readers about his character.

    Sentence ending is awkward. What did the priest pass? An object? A person?

    Then, as if he’d sensed Lukas’s interest, he turned. Their eyes met, and Lukas was instantly lusting after him.

    If “everyone’s eye was drawn to him,” why does Rafael only sense Lukas’s interest and look back?

    Insta-lust from a look is so cliche. If you must describe insta-lust, describe it.

    Unless Jean-Claude is Catholic, I’m doubtful he considers clergy off limits romantically.

    Do you know anything about Catholic priests? They don’t normally offer confession to strangers in a hotel lobbby. I think it would make more sense for Rafael to simply greet Lukas.

    Rafael goes from being annoyed and offended by Lukas (for his insistence and beer/cigarette odor) to being intrigued because … he suspects Lukas is picking him up?

    Build your world a bit more and beef up your characters. Give them greater motivation then simply being present in a hotel lobby and indulging in casual pick-ups.

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  13. Laurie Douglas
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 23:41:54

    Kudos to you for putting yourself out there, especially in this forum – that’s not easy to do, and that means, to me, you have what it takes to go after publication, if that is your goal. :-) Just don’t stop putting it out there and trying to improve.

    In another “life,” I’m an acquiring editor, so I’ll give you my two cents, and I sincerely hope it helps. If this story came to me, I would see three main flaws on this page. None of them are serious enough to reject the story, but every flaw makes it a bit harder for the writing and storytelling to overcome.

    First of all, the use of pronouns, especially in a same sex piece, is very tricky.
    “Lukas von Rainer was at the hotel bar with his fellow Wardens when the priest passed. Everyone’s eye was drawn to him, not only for the black vestments which brought out his dusky complexion and dark hair, but also for the rugged shape of his jaw and the surety of his movements.”

    First, we’re told that Lukas is at the hotel bar with fellow Wardens, and after having been told this is a paranormal m/m, I would guess we’ll be told later what a Warden specifically is. Then you say “Everyone’s eye was drawn to him…” but using “him” when you’ve just mentioned two men specifically – Lukas and the priest. So it’s confusing to the reader to just say “him” when you’ve mentioned two hims and haven’t given a clue to which him is being looked at.

    Then you say “him” is wearing vestments, so one would think okay, she means everyone is looking at the priest. But then we think oh, but we don’t yet know what Wardens are either – maybe they too wear vestments, or maybe in this world vestments doesn’t mean the same thing, and could be body armor or some sort of military uniform. So whether the reader takes this as a POV jump or just confusion, anytime the reader has to go back and reread ANYTHING, it needs work – your goal as an author is that this never happens. If it does, it tosses the reader out of the story.

    So it would be better to find something to set the “hims” apart and use that – you could mention up front that Lukas has piercing blue eyes, then you could say something like “his piercing blue gaze was drawn to the man,” for example.

    Secondly, you use the passive “was” too much. As mentioned by another commenter, find a way to change that to active. Examples:
    His arm held his half-incubus companion against him, a pretty brunette named Eugenie.
    He appeared to be in his late twenties, which made him about ten years younger than Rafael.
    Instantly contrite, the man continued.

    And thirdly, anytime you are setting up characterization, when you show a character making sex into a game or contest to be laughed at with his friends, unless he’s the villain, you risk alienating the readers. Readers in romancelandia generally want protags who are a bit more judicious and have a more respectful attitude, both toward their prospective partner, and for sex in general. You don’t want your hero to sound like a man-ho. :-)

    As a last suggestion, I would say that one of the most often given pieces of advice and hardest to learn is never use three words when one will do – make your prose as clean and succinct as possible. If you’re going to use “extra” words, use them to show characterization and body language rather than description or filler. Examples:

    “Forgive me, Father.” The man was instantly contrite. “I have offended you.”
    Better – “Forgive me, if I have offended you.” His words show he’s contrite, so you don’t have to tell the reader.
    “Rafael watched him leave and found himself looking forward to the night’s engagement.”
    Better – Rafael watched him leave and grinned, looking forward to the night’s engagement.”

    Best of luck to you – you’re off to a great start!

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  14. Author
    Dec 25, 2011 @ 05:19:10

    Hi folks,

    Thanks for all the insightful comments. I’ve read the LKH books and totally forgot about Jean-Claude–yeah, that name, if not his nationality, will definitely change.

    Some of the issues are because of a lack of space for this particular exercise; I suppose I sacrificed a few things (characterization) in order to make the word count and to start with more action than insight. Mostly I wanted to know if that first encounter (and overall plot) was plausible, and I definitely got some good answers. :>)

    I appreciate your time and consideration in reading and commenting, and am happy to note a book related to this one just got a pub date for March with Loose Id.

    Author

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  15. Tasha
    Dec 26, 2011 @ 05:24:49

    @Rachel: As an editor, if I could not get the author to rewrite the opening paragraph, I would add “by” to “passed” to clarify that he’s still alive–I thought the same as many other commenters, which was that he was dead. In this case, the lack of preposition is causing confusion.

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