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First Page: White Spirit (Urban Fantasy)

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Tristan Johnson ignored the cold chill sliding down his spine. It was starting again, building in the pit of his stomach and growing until it consumed him. He walked into the room, trying to block the images appearing and disappearing around him. A ghostly young man ran through the apartment. An angry young woman threw luggage out the door, her voice echoing in the hallway as she yelled at someone he couldn’t see.

He closed his eyes. “Shut it out. It’s not real,” he muttered.

He imagined walls surrounding him. Big, thick, red bricks building up layer by layer. As each brick settled into place, the cacophony surrounding him died down to a low roar. He let out the breath he was holding and opened his eyes. No one was in the apartment with him. No echoes, no shadows. Tristan was alone.

He expected this. It always happened the first time he walked into a building. No matter how strong his shields were, the energy in every building was different. Sometimes the past barely broke through, and other times, it charged through like an elephant. This particular apartment building seemed to be somewhere in the middle.

Hidden Forest Apartments was three stories high and had a total of fifteen apartments. It sat on the edge of the small Blackwood College campus near Asheville, which meant Tristan could walk to work and to his classes.

He scratched the dark stubble on his chin as he surveyed the apartment. It had Tommy Keane, his best friend, written all over it. Standing in the doorway, the living room and dining room spread out in front of him, giving the place a spacious feel. A second-hand black couch took up most of the living space with an entertainment center across the room from it. He stepped into the room, his shoes squeaking on the wooden floors as he took in the horror movie posters surrounding him. Across the room, a large sliding glass door led out to a balcony. Tristan took in the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. Beside that was a small hallway.

He followed the hallway and peered into the first bedroom. The bed covers were twisted into a ball and clothes covered the floor. He noticed framed record albums and the same wooden floors with a window across the room from the door.

He passed the bathroom and then made his way to the second bedroom. This one was empty with the same white walls and wooden floors. But this room had two windows, one across from the door and one to his right.

“Looks a lot better than my last place, doesn’t it?” A hand slapped Tristan on the back. He turned to see Tommy standing beside him with a huge grin on his face.

Tommy was five inches shorter than his six foor two frame. His short blond hair stuck out of the Duke baseball cap he always wore. His smile reached his hazel eyes.

“Yeah, it does. Your last place was a dump.” Tristan shuddered when he remembered the basement of the old house Tommy lived in before. He only visited there once because the house itself was a hundred years old and he couldn’t block the visions out.

“I think you’re going to like it here, man. This building isn’t as old as the last one. I think your brain will handle it better.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 06:28:11

    It’s a fairly smooth one, but this is really just an info-dump, I think. I mean, in terms of plot… your character is looking at an apartment. The only interesting thing is the back story, and I think I’ve read this setup or something similar enough times that it’s not really grabbing me. I mean, if I’d never read about a medium/psychic whatever being plagued by unwanted visions, this page would be hugely exciting. As it is, though, you have a fairly generic character (seems nice enough, but nothing really jumps out at me) doing an incredibly mundane thing, and the only addition that would make it exciting is something that isn’t exciting because I’m already familiar with the idea.

    I don’t mean to be dismissive of the main idea of the book. I’m sure there are really fascinating new ways to use this sort of mental ability/disability in a novel. You just aren’t showing me any of those ways right now.

    In my comment yesterday, I said I wasn’t sure if it was fair to be judging books by their first pages; I worry that maybe it’s promoting books that start with a bang rather than those that have a slow-build, and a slow-build book can be great. But in this case, I feel more confident saying that you could have a better opening for this book.

    I think it’s hard to trust our readers to follow along without the info-dump. We want readers to know right away THIS IS A PSYCHIC, GUYS, because we think THAT’s the important part of the story. But really, the important parts are the characters and the plot, while the “being psychic” is just one character trait. If you can hint at things and let the readers’ understanding grow more gradually (without ever completely confusing them) I think you’ll have a more interesting book.

    In this case – could you start somewhere else? Where does the action start in this story? For the characters (and, as I said, for the readers) there’s nothing unusual happening on this page. What’s the first unusual thing that happens in this story? I think maybe you should start writing there.

  2. anon
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 08:55:09

    It sounds like the little kid in Stir of Echoes grown up and gone to college (I love that movie, btw). It’s a familiar concept.

    There’s really nothing here to make me care about Tristan. He and Tommy are looking at an apartment (I assumed an empty one and it threw me for a moment that it wasn’t…) but other than a huge info-dump and one graph describing Tristan’s initial reaction, it’s just a real estate listing of the apartment.

    And it’s not a visceral reaction by Tristan…no heart thumping, no shallow breathing, hands trembling, etc. “It” starts but I don’t know how it makes him feel. I want to feel what he does, be scared if he is, have sweaty palms if he does. Does he watch dispassionately as the girl throws the luggage or does he flinch when the suitcase hits the floor. Does he want to cover his ears when the yelling starts? Does the sharp sound of her voice hurt his ears?
    I’d like more oomph for a first page, something to draw me in further.

    But I think I’d also like this story to start someplace else.

    Within the descriptions, a few nits to pick:

    “He scratched the dark stubble on his chin…” From this POV (his), unless he’s looking in a mirror, he can’t see his stubble.

    “…the same wooden floors with a window across the room from the door.” Your floor has a window?

    Given this first page, I’d read further because I do like this genre, but unless something to hook me happens within the first five pages or so, I don’t know that I’d continue with the book.

    Thank you for putting your work out there.

  3. Patricia
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 09:08:03

    The opening of your story, with the visions, intrigued me, but the extended tour of the apartment and furnishings that followed didn’t hold my attention. I had to force my mind back to the text multiple times as I started thinking about other things. This scene shows us a guy successfully negotiating the mundane task of apartment hunting, and it’s about as dull as apartment hunting in real life. I really think this story needs to start someplace else.

  4. hapax
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 10:36:19

    Thank you for having the courage to put this out there, Author. Your writing is smooth and competent, but I’m afraid that this one isn’t for me.

    I usually like psychic heroes, but there wasn’t anything here to grab my attention. I found myself skipping chunks of text during the description of the apartment, and that’s not a good thing on the first page.

    Nits: In the very first sentence, the hero has a “cold chill sliding DOWN his spine.” In the next “it” has started again in “the pit of his stomach” — it took me a moment to realize that “it” didn’t refer back to the chill, and frankly, cold sliding DOWN from his stomach left me with a pretty unsexy image.

    Then we get the ghosts, generically described as a “young man” and a “young woman.” Is age really the first and only thing he notices? Not ethnicity, hair color, clothing (or lack thereof)?

    You describe an apartment and say “it had Tommy written all over it.” How? All we find out is that it has furniture in it. Was it classy? Messy? In his favorite colors? Filled with paint supplies or Legos or law books or manacles? Or are the horror movie posters we see much later supposed to be a hint? All we find out about Tommy when we meet him is that he is short, a Duke fan, and his last apartment was a “dump”, nothing that matches what we see in this apartment.

  5. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 10:54:46

    Hey, writer! I agree with the others that this is a bit mundane. Some nitpicks:

    “Tristan Johnson ignored the cold chill sliding down his spine.” You say “ignore,” but then he spends a couple of paragraphs describing what’s happening in his POV, which is the opposite of ignoring. Maybe “fought to ignore” or something — a struggle, not a done deal. You also say it “consumes” him — how? It seemed fairly easy for him to get rid of.

    I think you are overwriting some of this. I get that description can be boring and you’re trying to change it up, and that’s great, but things like this are overwritten: “He noticed framed record albums,” and “Tristan took in the counter that separated” We’re in his POV, so everything he sees is him noticing and him taking in — to say so is redundant. “Tommy’s favorite framed record albums greeted him from all sides” (or something) says the same thing more directly.

    “Tommy was five inches shorter than his six foor two frame. ” Does he really know exactly how tall Tommy is, or is this just a way to shoehorn the protag’s height into the narrative? It reads like the latter. We don’t need to know this now; perhaps it can wait until another POV character is thinking about Tristan’s height. Be wary of characters describing themselves unnecessarily — the “dark” stubble is the same thing. When a man scratches his own stubble, he’ll notice it’s there, because he can feel it, but I doubt he’d think of the color to himself, because why?

    I really don’t need the layout of the whole apartment, especially not in this touring style and all at once. Something needs to happen in the first few pages — doesn’t have to be explosions or anything, but something. Determine where your story really starts and go there. Backstory and such can be weaved in in smaller amounts as the thing is happening.

    Good luck! I like psychic stories, and I like that it’s a dude.

  6. SAO
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 11:05:18

    The first few sentences didn’t make sense to me. The cold chill slides down his spine. I assumed from neck to coccyx. Then, “It was starting again, building in his stomach . .” What is “It?” I took “It” to be the cold chill, but how did it leap from sliding down a spine to starting to build in his stomach? So, I was confused by the first few sentences, which set the tone for me. I might have been more positive if I hadn’t choked on the first para.

    The house tour was boring, encouraging me to nitpick. He talks about a “spacious” feel and then says the entire room is taken up by a couch, which says dinky and cramped to me.

    Here, “Tommy was five inches shorter than his six foor two frame,” the sentence’s grammatical sense doesn’t match your intended meaning. A pronoun refers to the last named matching noun, meaning Tommy is shorter than Tommy’s frame. I hated Wolf Hall, which was full of stuff like this, assuming the reader could guess the person a pronoun referred to. Often, I couldn’t. It did win literary prizes, which my book club viewed as a failure of the prize committee.

  7. Mary
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 11:41:03

    I really like that this is an urban fantasy with a male protagonist (I’m assuming Tristan is your protagonist), maybe it’s just me but I haven’t read a lot of those. I also like your descriptions of what he feels in his psychic moments.
    Unfortunately, the descriptive writing in the rest of the page doesn’t do it for me. I do get a sense of what the apartment is like, but rather than just dumping it all in two paragraphs you could work it in more subtly when action happens, or even when he’s talking to Tommy.
    And, speaking of Tommy:

    Tommy was five inches shorter than his six foor two frame. His short blond hair stuck out of the Duke baseball cap he always wore. His smile reached his hazel eyes.

    This paragraph stands out to me as the most awkward. The first sentence has an unclear pronoun. Although it is easy to figure out who “he” refers to, it’s still a little jarring. The second sentence is okay, but the third doesn’t work as a follow up. As a whole, I think the paragraph is unnecessary. Just work in the descriptions later, we don’t need to know exactly what Tommy looks like yet.

  8. Vanessa E
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 12:14:18

    Not a bad effort overall. I can’t find any major problems with the flow or style of your writing. I agree with the other posters that it’s a bit dull, though. The psychic thing is pretty cool, but I can’t pick up on anything else about your character that I might find interesting. Also, there’s too much detailed info about the dimensions about the room and whatnot that I really couldn’t care less about. Spend a little less time on background exposition and a little more on action and/or character building, and this might be a first page of a book I would consider reading.

  9. Amy
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 12:20:15

    Thank you so much for the comments, everyone. Keep them coming. My three beta readers all said different things so this gives me a new way of looking at it. You guys are awesome! Keep the comments coming; I’m taking notes. :)

  10. JL
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 12:38:48

    I agree with all the other posters: good, but not enough to grab me. The first paragraphs seem a bit contradictory and info-dumpy. If he’s seen ghosts his whole life, I would expect him to have build some form of coping mechanism by now, otherwise he would be locked up in an institution by now, not living a fairly normal life. Having him say out loud ‘it’s not real’ felt off to me. If he is going to school and working, then seeing ghosts clearly hasn’t derailed his life much, so the whole set up doesn’t grab me in anyway. I suspect this is just a case of starting in the wrong spot. Good luck.

  11. Viridian Chick
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 12:48:37

    I agree with the other posters. This just doesn’t grab me. It’s not bad, it’s just… not good enough. Start somewhere else.

  12. Lexxx Christian
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 12:50:45

    I thought this was a good start. That being said, when you go back through, make sure to eliminate details that aren’t important to the story at that particular moment. We want to get to know Tristan, but not in the first page. Remember, a reader/ acquisitions editor needs to have a firm grasp of the pacing of the story and the tone in the first paragraph, so make it count. Grab them in the first sentence and be sure to leave something to the imagination. Overall, I think you’re an excellent writer and definitely keep plugging away. I’m interested to see where this goes.

  13. katieM
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 14:24:24

    I agree with the other posters. I would like this story to start someplace else or let the ghostly presences be more disturbing. Also, “six foor two” should be “six foot two”. That sentence threw me out of the story and I couldn’t get back in because I was looking for the next spelling error.

  14. Maria
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 03:32:29

    I would probably buy this book if it were published. I loved the start, no awkward phrases and although I have read the trope before, I thought you executed it well.

    But … the pace drags with all the descriptions of the apartment, where it is etc. After something about energy shields it drags, then with all the stuff about Tommy, it drags.

    What does your character need? Why are we in this story? What propels the plot? The need to find an apartment? I hope not. Place that need at the start, he fights his visions, but what does he need?

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