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First Page: Wings of the Past

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“Hey, um, Marta,” I said softly, leaning closer. “It’s the oddest thing. Lately, I’ve been having all these wild crazy thoughts about getting married.”

There, I said it. My heart sped up and I felt shaky. I’d finally voiced out loud, albeit shyly and hesitantly, what I’d been thinking about for the past three months. Who would believe that I – Zoey Avery, dedicated work-a-holic extraordinaire – would find herself suddenly afloat, lost in imaginary worlds, daydreaming about tulle and veils and gowns. Why? Hadn’t a clue.

I held my breath, wondering how my best friend Marta Wilkinson would respond to my shocking revelation. Would she scream, laugh, raise her eyebrows in surprise? I just hoped that after her initial reaction, she’d get around to taking it seriously, because I meant it. Never before had I mentioned ‘marriage and thinking about it’ in the same sentence. I’d never aspired to achieve such a union.

“What’d you say?” she yelled. “I can’t hear you over the music.”

Damn.

Karaoke was in full swing at O’Toole’s Irish Pub in downtown Burlington and a trio of businessmen slugging back beer, jackets off, ties askew, were singing and gyrating to Gangnam Style. They were making total fools of themselves, but such was the fun of amateurs on Karaoke night – a time to let loose.

“I want to get married,” I yelled, just as the song ended and there was total silence. My words rang out, hovered, and I swear every person in the bar turned to look at me. It was one of those ‘time stood still’ kinda moments, only not in a good way.

Guess this really wasn’t the proper venue to spill my guts, but I’d only recently gotten up the courage to confess and tonight was the night. It’d been bugging me so much, for so long, that I couldn’t hold it in a moment longer. I needed to talk about it. After all, Marta and I shared everything and I’d been holding out on her. I wanted to come clean.

“I’ll marry you, little lady.”

Embarrassed, I looked over to see a jean-jacketed man straddling a stool, leering at me.

Oh no! I could feel my face redden.

He jumped off and swaggered over to our table, slowly and dramatically, as everyone in the room began clapping and cheering him on.

“Howdy, ma’am,” he said, tipping his cowboy hat, disturbing a cloud of dust that flew up into the air and rained down on my head. “Don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you.”

Feverishly flicking off the dirt, I watched in horror as he slid a cigar out of his shirt pocket, pulled the band off and got down on one knee. Holding up the paper ring, he placed his other hand against his heart, exclaiming, “My sweet little cupcake, will you marry me?”

Cupcake? I wanted to puke. Go figure! My very first proposal came from someone I didn’t know, in a crowded bar, surrounded by strangers staring wide-eyed at the two of us.

Frantic, I looked around for some help but Marta, ignoring my dirty look, was laughing so hard, tears streamed down her face as the crowd started chanting, “Say yes, say yes.”

Oh hell, I knew it was in fun and in another place or time I might have found it hilarious, but not tonight. I was in serious mode.

“No, thank you,” I said firmly, shrinking down on my chair, wishing I could disappear.

A groan echoed throughout the room. Someone led a chorus of boos, another hissed.

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. SAO
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 04:44:26

    I like the proposal from a stranger, that part of the scene worked for me.

    What I couldn’t figure out was the confessing she wanted to marry bit. Normally, that kind of thing is inspired by love or being tired of dating. And why is it shocking? Why does she need to confess to Marta? If it’s because Marta is her love interest, she needs to focus a lot more on Marta’s reactions. Or is this just a set-up to get her to the proposal from the stranger? In which case you need to make the set-up more natural.

    Maybe I’m getting old, but I can’t get into the idea of marriage for the dress and the party. Yes, one can daydream, but think about actually getting married without focusing on the to-be lifetime partner?

    Lastly, the scene doesn’t really tell me anything about your MC or plot. Where is she going from here?

    I think you have an interesting concept and with a few tweaks it could be a winning page, but it needs some work.

    Nits: As a nit, people dancing to Gangnam style tend to do a sprawling gallop thing, not gyrate. And is it Burlington, Massachusetts? I’m sure the cowboy hat doesn’t fit. Burlington, Vermont? Still iffy about the cowboy hat.

  2. Jane Lovering
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 05:26:46

    I, also, thought she was proposing to Marta. ‘Interesting’, I thought. And then promptly lost interest when it turned out that she was really just thinking about it in the abstract, without, seemingly, even having a likely candidate for the post. It’s a bit like me suddenly announcing to you all that I’m thinking about spaniels – I’d get some polite smiles and a ‘that’s nice, dear’. Probably. Why on earth would she announce this fact in a crowded bar, as though it’s really important, when it’s an abstract idea? She’s thinking about gowns and tuille and doesn’t know why? Maybe she’s just been reading a lot of magazines during Fashion Week…

    I agree that the mock proposal is great – except that it reads as though it comes off the back of her proposing to her friend – is the red faced cowboy hat man prepared to be laughed at for trying to muscle in on a tender moment?

    I like your style and I like the awkwardness of the mock proposal, but I don’t think the story starts here. If it’s a story about a woman going out to look for a likely candidate to marry…no, that’s not the sort of thing I want to read. If it’s a story about a woman going out to find *herself* before she will make a decent life partner for anyone – then I’m your reader!

    But good luck with this, I think you have a good ‘voice’, you just maybe need a little more focus.

  3. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 06:57:34

    Hi author and thanks for sharing!

    You lost me. I thought…maybe still think…she’s proposing to Marta.

    I’m lost in the setting. Karaoke in an Irish pub…with a guy with a dusty cowboy hat and businessmen dancing to Gangnam Style? The Burlington I’m familiar with is in Vermont (I think there’s one in Iowa) and I’d be surprised to find a dusty cowboy in an urban bar full of businessmen.

    Other than that, a few quibbles: thinking of marriage and thinking of weddings, to me, are two different things. She’s thinking of weddings, as in tulle and veils. Not marriage, which includes a second party. If she’s not marrying Marta, then she’s thinking of the trappings of a wedding, and that, for me, makes me think she’s shallow, looking to play princess. Maybe she goes on to explain she’s also fantasizing about having a relationship, which sets up the scenario she’s now going to look for someone to fill the bill. Not sure I want to read about a woman who’s searching for a live person to replace the cardboard cutout of her fantasy.

    I’m not sure you’d ever get total silence in an Irish pub, except if it’s closed. :)

    I might read on, if I had a blurb and another page or two of writing.

  4. MJones
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 07:08:57

    I’m not lost about who you’re proposing to. I’m of the age where women decide they want to turn their minds toward getting married. The first thing that comes to mind is that big, fluffy dress. Come on, there are women who’ve planned that day to a tee and don’t have a man to speak of. I get it.

    What did lose me was the cowboy and the dirt(??? How is someone that dirty, out on public). The fake proposal didn’t actually work for me. I wouldn’t read past that.

    The voice is interesting. We get such short snippets that it’s just so hard to tell what a piece is about.

  5. Holly Bush
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 07:34:58

    Oh, I enjoyed that! I liked your voice and sense of humor. However, the opening sentence had me picturing a couple in bed with a man talking to a woman. And then I realized it was a woman talking to a woman and thought this may be a genre that is not usually in my wheel house. But then we find out that she’s talking to her best friend. Once I had the scene in my head clearly, which happened about paragraph 3, I really liked this.

    I don’t know how the story plays out but it had a zany feel to it, which I’m a fan of, and I started thinking about what kind of goofy things Marta and Zoey would get embroiled in to get Zoey married.

    I think the book starts at “Karaoke was in full swing . . .” and work in the “tulle and veils and gowns” somewhere else. Hope this is helpful!

  6. Hillary617
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 09:04:40

    Just looked it up and there are 20 Burlingtons spread out across the US, according the USPS. I immediately thought of Massachusetts and Vermont which pretty much precluded dusty cowboys in Irish pubs.

  7. Holly Bush
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 09:41:42

    The dusty cowboy was a little out there, but since I owned a bar for 20 odd years, it didn’t bother me much. I could tell you things that I saw happen that you would never, ever believe. But I get it that it is a little jarring beside the businessmen. It could easily be solved with another ‘type’ character.

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 10:06:43

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I really enjoyed this.
    I have to agree with Holly, that your story and first page starts with this line:

    “Karaoke was in full swing at O’Toole’s Irish Pub in downtown Burlington.” That line brings up a variety of scenarios regarding a packed club with people wanting to perform, and your description was quite good.

    After that, I could see her having so much fun that she leans over to confess to her friend about getting married. Maybe one of the Karaoke singers has just proposed marriage and the whole crowd is feeling the glow of such a feel good moment.

    Maybe her friend is of the opposite opinion, that marriage isn’t needed and she doesn’t want it, but your lead character feels differently.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I need a bit more lead time before she just pops out with “I want to get married.”

    The cowboy was cute, up to a point. I have to agree that when he tipped a dusty hat, that might be a bit much. He’s already using a cliché like “little lady” so unless this Karoake night at an Irish pub has people dressing up as characters, then I think a little less caricature about his dialogue and appearance would make this work better, imho.

    I was a bit confused about her getting seriously upset with him for proposing, but I liked how you left the reader hanging, and I’d definitely read on. I wish you all the best with this, and I hope you’ll post a short blurb on the premise.

  9. jamie beck
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 11:13:42

    Hi author. Thanks for sharing.

    You definitely have a smooth style and your own voice. My biggest problem was being confused about her relationship with Marta. I thought she was proposing to Marta at first and then later I doubted it, but never felt very clear on the matter. Also, and this could totally be my age, but your MC sounds very immature in her thinking (from the way she’s thinking about marriage, reacting to talking with her BFF about it, etc.). Her nervousness about this “confession” seemed over the top for what she was actually saying, especially if Marta is NOT the object of her affection. Perhaps this is New Adult and you can get away with it (not a genre I enjoy), but for me, I wouldn’t be very interested in her. Even the way she handles the mock proposal from the cowboy, who sounds like he was just being a pleasant flirt, wasn’t fun or witty or interesting (although I loved the crowds response). But that’s just my opinion, doesn’t make me right or even in the majority.

    I think you have talent, so take the advice you like, and forget the rest and follow your own vision for your character and story. Best of luck!

  10. Mary
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 12:51:25

    Add me to the list of people who was absolutely certain your protag was proposing to Marta. I wasn’t certain that she wasn’t proposing to her until this line: “After all, Marta and I shared everything and I’d been holding out on her. I wanted to come clean.”
    Still not totally certain she *isn’t* proposing to Marta, in all honesty. I was thinking that the situation was that the two of them were dating, and that Marta had wanted to get married, but Zoey didn’t, and now she had finally changed her mind.
    Also, I sympathize with your character. I would feel very uncomfortable if I was ever fake-proposed to by a stranger in a bar. I would be really pissed at my friend (girlfriend?) for not helping me out. However her reaction is a little odd to me. I think it’s this line : “My very first proposal came from someone I didn’t know, in a crowded bar, surrounded by strangers staring wide-eyed at the two of us.”
    I wouldn’t consider it a real proposal, for one thing, and also I don’t like the phrase “my very first proposal”. Is she planning on getting proposed to multiple times or something? This could just be my read of it, of course.
    Also, I’m only 20, but even I know that while girls/women might plan their dream wedding years before meeting the man of their dreams (I’ve seen the Pinterest boards), that’s not really something I respect or admire. A wedding is a celebration of the union of two people. The important thing is the marriage, which is why I kept assuming that she was proposing to Marta. So I really hope the plot of this book is your protag realizing that what she’s dreaming about is a wedding, not a marriage, and that you can’t just decide you want to get married.
    I would keep reading, in the hopes of seeing what happens next and hoping for character growth. I guess it really depends on the blurb here.

  11. theo
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 13:13:31

    Add me as well. I thought Marta was going to be the love interest.

    This right here though is why I rarely read first person:

    <em“Hey, um, Marta,” I said softly, leaning closer. “It’s the oddest thing. Lately, I’ve been having all these wild crazy thoughts about getting married.”

    There, I said it. My heart sped up and I felt shaky. I’d finally voiced out loud, albeit shyly and hesitantly, what I’d been thinking about for the past three months.

    If you cannot convey in word and action (I said softly, leaning closer) that she was saying it hesitantly and shyly, then I’m not reading it. First person doesn’t leave any room for a narrator. The first person IS the narrator but we don’t narrate our own lives and your character better not either. And because she thought that, I can’t trust you not to make the same mistake again.

    I did like the proposal however. I’m guessing this is set somewhere that working ranches abound and if so, it’s not uncommon for the ranch hands and occasional owners to show up for a drink after a grueling day. But I still have no idea if she said no because it’s Marta she wants or if she said no because she’s dying of embarrassment. That should probably be established early on to determine your reader base.

    I like your voice but like I said, I’m not usually a first person reader so take this with a grain of salt. Good luck!

  12. theo
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 13:15:59

    @theo: Sorry, I put the HTML tags in, but they didn’t take.

  13. Viridian
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 13:55:02

    I, also, thought she was proposing to Marta, and was interested up until the point where I realized she wasn’t.

    The fake proposal didn’t work for me. If Marta isn’t the object of her affections, then why is she so nervous? If they’re in the middle of a club, why is she whispering? If getting married has nothing to do with Marta, why is your narrator treating it like such a big deal?

    I don’t mind being misled a little, but this goes too far. The details you’re including to make it seem like a proposal (I’m assuming you made it look like a proposal on purpose) just don’t make sense in context. As a reader, I feel lied to.

    I think the situation is interesting, and that’s enough to keep me reading. As someone who has previously dealt with extreme social anxiety, I liked her reaction to the stranger proposing. It rang true.

  14. Author
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 08:07:33

    Howdy!!!

    Wow – I had noooo idea that it came across as if Zoey is proposing to Marta. Yikes! Not what I intended at all. Thank you so much for your very helpful comments. They were awesome!!!!!!! I think I will delete those first few lines and begin with the karaoke sentences at the bar. That’s a wonderful idea. Also – I wasn’t clear as to where it took place – it’s Burlington, Ontario, Canada. And the more I think about it – I didn’t need to have cowboy guy so dirty. THANK YOU SO MUCH. Oh – and here’s a blurb about the book:
    Twenty-eight year old Zoey Avery gave up on love at the age of fifteen, when a drunk driver killed her parents and two weeks later Travis Terrace, the boy she planned on marrying, announced he was gay.
    Running from her pain, she throws herself into her studies, carefully and methodically constructing a safe, orderly world. Now, vice principal of Maitland High School, she thinks she is happy until visions of tulle, lace and veils dance through her marriage-phobic head, and she is stunned to realize the groom in her dreams is not her current lover Liam O’Malley but ex-boyfriend Travis. As memories of her lost love preoccupy her, the pain of losing her parents comes back full force and she breaks down while introducing a guest speaker at a school assembly about the dangers of drinking and driving.
    Past sorrow exploding inside her, she remembers the sage advice of her dad, “Sometimes you just have to step away, take a break, then you’ll come back stronger than ever.” Desperate to sort out her feelings, risking the loss of kind, sweet Liam, she rents a cottage in idyllic Port Dover where she discovers her elderly neighbor, retired Police Chief Charlie Miller, bears an uncanny resemblance to her father, both in manner and looks. Drawn to him, Charlie becomes her confidant and pushes her to face her pain, allow time to grieve the losses engraved in her heart and come to peace with her past, coming back ‘stronger than ever’.

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 08:22:15

    Hi Author! Thanks for posting :)

    Please, not fifteen. I don’t want to read about a fifteen year old that was planning to get married, even in backstory…yikes!

    While there are some girls that age that might be self-possessed and mature enough to know they want marriage, and who they’re going to marry, the vast majority aren’t in any position to make a mature decision about their future. Case in point, the kid she’s planning on marrying is gay. Not saying every woman who dates a guy who is gay always knows…but in this case, it may just point up how inexperienced and unaware she really is. It takes away any power that whole scenario you just explained has to tug at our emotions. It just, IMO, makes her sound like an immature fifteen year old.

    Also, traumatized by her parents’ death, that I get. But the boy is gay; he’s not dead. I can’t wrap my head around that as a second reason to give up on love…give up on trust, maybe?

    Also, a fifteen year old girl planning on getting married hints at underage sex…even if she didn’t have any. I don’t think that would fly with all your readers.

    Pick a different age, please. Nineteen or twenty, old enough to have some life experiences and at least enough dates and relationships to know what she’s giving up. Keep the gay fifteen year old relationship, sans marriage; add a few more failed attempts, make her fiance part of the crash that kills her parents. Give us a series of events that really make her sympathetic to the reader.

    Are there cowboys in Ontario? Is it dusty there? I always picture Eastern Canada as one big forest, with all the cowboys out west in Alberta, where it’s big and flat.

  16. Viridian
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 12:44:50

    I’d love to critique your blurb, but it’s difficult to critique on this website in this format. Try Query Letter Hell on absolutewrite (it’s for blurbs, query letters, and synopses, not just query letters). You’ll find more help there, I think. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=174

  17. Viridian
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 12:48:07

    … just realized that link probably won’t work unless you’re already a member of absolutewrite. Whoops. Well, anyway, go to http://absolutewrite.com/forums/. If you register, you can use the password “vista” to enter a forum called Share Your Work, then Query Letter Hell.

  18. author
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 14:10:21

    Hey Carol – sorry. I probably shouldn’t have thrown in that blurb. I’m not coming across very well. Yikes – no, Zoey wasn’t engaged at 15 or really planning on getting married. I work with teenagers and I modeled her after some of my sweet, innocent 15 year olds who think they are in love for the first time and moon around thinking the boy is ‘the’ one for them in a fantasy kind of way – purely innocent. But my book is mainly about someone who has locked away a lot of hurts, never mourned or faced them, until her past catches up with her and confuses her. She then goes off by herself to sort things out. Marta is her best friend who is getting married herself. Thank you so much for your comments, though. You’re making me think hard and I so appreciate that. And thanks also to Viridian for thinking of critiquing my blurb – I appreciate the thought. :) I’d love to hear your thoughts but I know this isn’t the venue – so thanks for thinking of me. :)

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