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First Page: Urban fantasy M/M romance

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The gutters on GÃ¥sgränd were overflowing again. Ranulf stepped over the brimming cobblestone-rut with a silent blessing; February rain draped the alley in drizzling shadows. Late day might as well have been twilight, given four stories of medieval townhouses looming overhead, and Ranulf kept his pace slow. He wasn’t one for watching his feet in a literal sense, but neither had he ever been one for falling flat on his ass from an imbalanced step on a slick cobblestone. Besides, good coffee deserved to be sipped, not splattered on him and the street.

He came up short at his building’s doorway. A young man huddled in the narrow sheltered archway, dark hair slicked back. A thick tail of hair rested on his shoulder, bound or braided in some manner, the tail-end of a comma to punctuate the long pale face, high brow with a widow’s peak, straight nose, firm jaw. He brought to Ranulf’s mind the silent watching saints frozen in cathedral windows.

The resemblance stopped there, though; the young man’s arms were folded, long fingers gripped his elbows, and the outer-facing side of his jeans jacket was soaked dark-blue from the incessant rain. Ranulf stared, wondering if this were a questionable type like those of his landlady’s frequent complaints. The stoic profile was imperfect: a slight movement of the eyebrows, a tightening in the mouth. The kid had his head down and one ankle hooked over the other in a defiant pose, but if he meant for casual, he was failing miserably. Shivering, every muscle tensed, he was clearly watching Ranulf as closely as Ranulf was in return.

Ice-cold rain hit the back of Ranulf’s neck; that was enough of that. He had better things to do than ogle street kids, medieval glassworks complexion notwithstanding. He perched the coffee cup-holder on the dinner boxes to free a hand for pocket-searching, and the kid finally spoke.

“You Sørensson?” Rough, low, one of those whiskey-and-cigarette voices. The kid sneezed. An oncoming cold, instead, then.

“Who-‘” Ranulf started when the kid swiped the cup-holder. “Hey-‘”

“You were about to spill it.” The young man held it out, like he had no interest in it, but two fingers reached over the edge of the holder to curl closely around one of the cups. His other hand clenched, fisted; at the unintentional twitch of Ranulf’s brow, the kid’s chin jutted, and he shoved his free hand deep in a pocket, mouth in a flat line. The overhead lamp cast peculiar shadows, hooding his eyes and hollowing his cheeks.

Ranulf shrugged mentally, if with some amusement at the prickly reactions. He unlocked the door and motioned the kid to proceed. Once inside, he took the coffees back without a word, busy recalling the outstanding contracts. What other deliveries were due?

The young man shifted from one foot to another, gaze darting around the small breezeway, studying the metal gate that blocked the entrance to the courtyard; that original impression of a rain-soaked saint was fast fading into something more akin a filthy stray. Finally he squared his shoulders -‘ sneezed with unexpected force, sniffled, scowled at Ranulf as though this were all Ranulf’s fault, and attempted to settle himself enough to look intimidating again.

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

18 Comments

  1. Rissa
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 05:58:35

    I apologize for being a total nitpicker, but if the setting is Stockholm’s Gamla Stan and if the kid is not a Norwegian, then “Sörensson” would ring more authentic than “Sørensson.”

    Unless, of course, there’s an explanation for the “ø”. :)

  2. DS
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 06:11:28

    First paragraph was ok, even interesting. Too much detail in rest. Does “glassworks” = figure in a stained glass window?

  3. joanne
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 07:01:12

    I’m not sure what is going on with this opening. This may be the way some Urban Fantasy stories begin but to me there’s too much telling about nothing at all.

    I still don’t know where we are, when we are or who the protagonist are or what they look like other than wet. As an opening to a story there is nothing that would make me want to continue reading. For me it reads more like notes for background descriptions rather than an opening page. Others may enjoy it more.

    Thanks so much for the entry and much good luck with your writing.

  4. Darlynne
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 07:38:50

    I really enjoyed this, especially the little details such as the kid’s hair, the landlady. For me, you’ve set the scene and I’m ready to see where it goes. Best of luck.

  5. Lori
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 07:56:30

    I would have taken out this line.

    Ranulf stared, wondering if this were a questionable type like those of his landlady's frequent complaints.

    It’s clunky and doesn’t fit Ranulf’s own awareness of his surroundings and the young man.

    I liked the description and the comparison to stained glass saints was lovely.

    I had a squabble with the idea of the kid holding the coffee cup holder with one hand and the other in his pocket. If it’s the kind of cardboard thing I’m thinking of, that’s a 2-hander all the way.

    I thought the writing was beautiful. I don’t read M/M romance so I wouldn’t be reading this but I can promise that if it were another genre your writing would hook me. I liked the detail, I liked the effect of the commonness of it and the otherness.

    I hope you have great good luck with this. It’s very well done.

  6. blabla
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 08:01:50

    The story is very engaging but I must advice you to cut down on the over description all over. The descriptions of the young boy was so long and filled with so many difficult euephimisn that I couldn’t comprehend and really made it cumbersome for me to read. I would defenitely buy your book if it was in a bookstore but would really think twice after reading that cumbersome paragaph of yours. My advice: keep the description short and in a manner that is understandable to all. I am guessing this is a gay romance? If so kuddos to you, more and more women are finally coming out these days and declaring their love for the gorgeous gay men.

  7. FoolsErrant
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 09:03:22

    I rather enjoyed this. I do agree that the descriptions could use some trimming but I liked the bit about admiring the glassworks — it let some of Ranulf’s sarcasm shine through. I don’t read M/M but if the overall world setting was intriguing enough (i.e., not your generic emopires and wangstwolves) then I might overlook that and pick it up because I like your writing. Let me know if this gets published!

  8. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 10:10:29

    I like it! I agree that the description could be trimmed down. Some readers prefer lots of details, but I find them cumbersome and want to get a sense of the story very quickly.

    I also wondered about the “questionable type” sentence. Ranulf has never seen a shady character? That’s odd. A clue, maybe.

    There is some repetition. Many semi-colons, the word cobblestone. I would recommend that you find a way to describe the kid’s face with less words. He is sitting, head down, face in profile, looking at Ranulf? This could make a striking visual, but I had a difficult time picturing it.

    Good job and good luck. : )

  9. md
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 10:54:32

    The amount of description worked well for me. It created the scene strongly and put me in the world with your protagonist. I liked the details of the rain flooding the gutters and veiling the alleys. Very visual and tangible. Also think you did a nice job of giving us a small taste of Ranulf’s personality in his interactions with the world around him and the kid. This looks like it will be a very readable book.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m likely to read it, despite the fact that I love m/m romance, because I don’t care for a wide age difference between the couple (that’s assuming Ranulf and “the kid” are going to be your main couple). I don’t like the younger man-older man trope at all. One of the reasons I love m/m is the equality in the relationship. Younger man-older man might as well be het. =)

    However, I believe I am far in the minority in my tastes and this is a book that will sell very well. It reads much more vividly and is better written than a large portion of the m/m I’ve read.

    Thank you for sharing it. Good luck!

  10. Michelle
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 16:48:19

    I really enjoyed this and count me in on the side that enjoys the extra details. Let us know when this gets published, I would buy it. Good luck.

  11. blabla
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 05:44:49

    by md July 11th, 2009 at 10:54 am
    The amount of description worked well for me. It created the scene strongly and put me in the world with your protagonist. I liked the details of the rain flooding the gutters and veiling the alleys. Very visual and tangible. Also think you did a nice job of giving us a small taste of Ranulf's personality in his interactions with the world around him and the kid. This looks like it will be a very readable book.
    Unfortunately, I don't think I'm likely to read it, despite the fact that I love m/m romance, because I don't care for a wide age difference between the couple (that's assuming Ranulf and “the kid” are going to be your main couple). I don't like the younger man-older man trope at all. One of the reasons I love m/m is the equality in the relationship. Younger man-older man might as well be het. =)
    However, I believe I am far in the minority in my tastes and this is a book that will sell very well. It reads much more vividly and is better written than a large portion of the m/m I've read.
    Thank you for sharing it. Good luck!

    Yeah, but didn’t it feel like TOO much description???

  12. Lori
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 07:44:43

    @blabla It didn’t feel like too much desciption to me because it was well done and I like description that sets a tone and makes me feel like I’m there and part of the world.

    Individual tastes is what it’s all about.

  13. kaigou
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 08:53:42

    Author here. I just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to leave comments. It’s hugely appreciated!

    Lori, Blabla — I think you’re both right. I can see places where I can slim down the description, but that doesn’t mean remove it altogether. It just needs to be tightened up. Realizing that is a big help, because it tells me I need to do that throughout the story. (Although possibly more heavily on Ranulf’s POV, since he’s the semi-colon using, larger-vocabulary, better-educated voice of the two.)

    I wasn’t sure if the etiquette allows for the writer to speak up (it seems some do and some don’t?) but I just wanted to add these two comments: Rissa, I’m willing to bet you’re only one of nine readers ever will who peg Gamla Stan just from the street name, and possibly one of an even smaller group who will twig on the fact that Ranulf’s surname is a clue he’s not native Swedish. My inner researcher did a little dance to know someone noticed.

    FoolsErrant, no emopires and wangstwolves here — but if you haven’t trademarked those words, I’ll be stealing them now. Those made me laugh so hard. Perfect!

  14. md
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 11:17:05

    Yeah, but didn't it feel like TOO much description???

    Oh no, not at all. But I’m an older reader who grew up surrounded by literature with a good deal more description than this. We had one tv with three channels and I did far more reading than tv watching. I like richly built story worlds where time and place come alive and the setting creates a mood and often reflects a character’s mental state. I think that’s why I find 99 percent of the e-published books so anorexic and unsatisfying. They generally seem to have one to two lines of description and only go into real detail during the sex scenes (which is pretty much the opposite of what I prefer, but I know I’m in the minority there, too.) And that applies to het as well as m/m e-published.

    Kaigou’s writing is the perfect amount of description for me. He/She probably could have added more and I would have enjoyed it. I think I may have to read it despite my dislike of the trope, because e-published books with real meat on them are becoming more scarce by the day. I’d be interested to know if this author has other works available.
    I have to add that I’m surprised this good entry got so little feedback (compared to the m/f first pages.) I thought m/m was a booming genre? Maybe I’m mistaken.

  15. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 14:59:07

    I think this is fluently written and evocative, but here are some snags:

    What “dinner boxes”? It took me a minute to figure out what you meant–that Ranulf was carrying food packed in cardboard or styrofoam boxes, and carrying more than one cup of coffee in one of those frames for carrying several cups of coffee, because you didn’t say that.

    Similarly, “You Sørensson?” is confusing, because we don’t know that that’s Ranulf’s last name. Better “Are you Ranulf Sørensson?” so we can gage Ranulf’s reaction to him with that knowledge.

    if he meant for casual, he was failing miserably.

    That’s not idiomatic English. “If he meant to be casual” or “if he meant that to be casual” would be idiomatic usage.

    Once inside, he took the coffees back without a word, busy recalling the outstanding contracts

    I don’t know what this means. If what it means is that Ranulf is delivering food to customers, “orders” would be a more idiomatic English word, unless there’s an Australian or New Zealand usage of “contracts” in this context that I don’t know about.

  16. FoolsErrant
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 19:20:30

    @Kaigou:

    I think the TM on Emopires and Wangstwolves is owned by A Series of Tubes, LLC. Or Stephenie Meyers. But you are more than welcome to use it :D Like I said, let me know if this gets published.

  17. EditorWoman
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 16:45:01

    Yes, descriptive in some places, but in this humble editor’s opinion, it only needs trimming just a little. Your voice is wonderful. I don’t usually read many pieces the whole way through due to something about the prose not striking me, but I liked this–a lot.

    Keep at it. I’d buy it just for the rich voice. I could lose myself in it one Sunday afternoon, snacks on hand, feet up on the couch.

  18. Lee Goldberg
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 00:46:36

    The writing is detailed (perhaps too much so) but evocative.

    For example, this bit was particularly good:

    “A young man huddled in the narrow sheltered archway, dark hair slicked back. A thick tail of hair rested on his shoulder, bound or braided in some manner, the tail-end of a comma to punctuate the long pale face, high brow with a widow's peak, straight nose, firm jaw. He brought to Ranulf's mind the silent watching saints frozen in cathedral windows.”

    The details and metaphors are really quite good. But it is undone by two references back to it within just a few lines.

    “He had better things to do than ogle street kids, medieval glassworks complexion notwithstanding.”

    “that original impression of a rain-soaked saint was fast fading into something more akin a filthy stray.”

    It’s overkill…and feels a bit self-indulgent, like the author is so pleased with his description he can’t resist going back to it a couple of more times.

    There are also some awkward lines, like this one:

    “Ranulf shrugged mentally, if with some amusement at the prickly reactions.”

    How do you shrug mentally? Why doesn’t he just shrug?

    All that said, the sense of place is palpable and the writer is clearly very talented.

    Lee

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