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First Page: Unnamed Romantic Suspense

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. The original sent to me was quite long so I made an editorial decision to cut it down. If it ends abruptly, that’s all on me.

***

Not for the first time, Kyra Merrick wished she had a family that veered a little more towards the normal. Or at least a less virtual and more real-world relationship with her younger sister Antara.

Were there any other two siblings in the world who were best friends in cyberspace but hadn’t actually been able to meet since childhood? She doubted it.

She had decided she must confide her fears about Antara to their mother. Roxanne Garrison would probably be of little help, given her own peculiar relationship with her younger daughter. But she had to tell Roxanne the news about Antara anyway. Antara needed a favor and this time for a change, Roxanne had to come through.

She parked her red Toyota outside her mother’s apartment building and got out. LA’s balmy, if impure, air   wrapped around her as she made her way up the stairs to her mother’s apartment.

She jabbed the doorbell and waited impatiently.

Footsteps approached, then Roxanne opened the door.

Kyra always appreciated how well her mother had maintained herself.   Unlike a   lot of women in their late forties, she had kept her slim figure and youthful appearance.   Kyra liked to think she would inherit those genes.

She had been fortunate to have inherited her mother’s rich auburn hair and desirable high cheekbones, not to mention naturally thick lashes that enhanced her sea-green eyes and made mascara optional.

There the resemblance ended. The two differed widely where personality and character were concerned.   Kyra sometimes wondered if this was the reason they were not close, but she knew the distance between them was due to something more than that.   The fact that Roxanne had never been able to give Kyra a stable family life but had gone through three husbands before deciding serial dating trumped marriage was only part of the problem.

Kyra entered and was greeted by the smell of onions frying in oil. She saw that Roxanne had an apron over her T-shirt and slacks.

"Did you read my email?" Kyra asked.

"I’ve been busy all day, so I haven’t checked my messages.   I was going to check after dinner."

Kyra inhaled.   “Smells great.”

“Chicken curry.   Your favorite, so you have to stay.”

The only positive memory Roxanne seemed to have of her years in India was of the food. Kyra had never heard her speak with praise of anything else Indian.

"I’ll help." Kyra headed to the kitchen and seized a potato and peeler from a dish lying on the counter. She started wielding the peeler like a weapon.

"What’s wrong?" asked Roxanne.

"I forwarded you an email from Antara."

"Is she okay?"

"If being on the brink of screwing up your life is okay, then yes."

Kyra sometimes wondered if any two sisters had as odd a relationship as she and Antara. She knew it was highly possible in this day of fractured families, but she still doubted it.

Twenty-two years ago, her mother Roxanne had gone to India on a teacher-exchange program soon after the death of her first husband, Kyra’s father. There she had met Jay, an Indian man who had become her second husband. Kyra had been a year old at the time. Her sister Anatara was added to the family a year later. When Kyra was ten and her sister eight, Roxanne and Jay had divorced and Roxanne had returned to America with Kyra, leaving Antara behind to be raised by Jay.

Initially heartbroken at being separated, Kyra and her sister had gradually adjusted to the situation and had written religiously to each other once a week. For a time they had looked forward to those letters with an anticipation they felt for little else.

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

26 Comments

  1. Lori
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 06:42:15

    Wow, info dump central with nothing happening at all.

    I don’t believe the whole start with the action schtick but in this case start with something.

    Everything here was telling. It was all detail and no story. It was boring as heck.

    Dump it all and start in the story where something is happening. And stop telling! If your characters can’t do something then you won’t have a reader left.

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  2. theo
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 08:12:38

    Not meaning to sound harsh, though I know I will, and this is MHO only, but: Kyra, Antara, Kyra, Kyra, Roxanne, Kyra, Roxanne, Roxanne, Kyra, Antara…it reads like an attendance list from grade school. With a bit of reworking, you don’t need to use someone’s name to identify them in almost every sentence. It kills any flow you might have to the overall story. Trust your reader to figure it out. They’re pretty smart.

    Kyra and Antara, coupled with the cyberspace comment immediately made me wonder if this was classified wrong and should be Sci-Fi. I have no idea if Antara is a typical Indian name, I would have to ask the man who works for my husband, but it sounds too futuristic here.

    As to the info dump, “she” wished, doubted, parked, made her way up the stairs, jabbed the doorbell, waited…then we get a two paragraph description of mom and daughter for comparison.

    Stop telling the reader what’s happening. Yes, there’s always a certain amount of telling that has to be done, but worked throughout the story in a way that keeps the reader from losing interest.

    **The smell of frying onions assaulted Kyra the minute her mother opened the door. A few bright yellow spots on her apron meant Chicken Curry. Yum.**

    Q&D but you get the idea.

    This needs a serious reworking, then placed somewhere in the story that won’t put the reader to sleep. At this point, I don’t care what Antara is doing. I can’t imagine what is so terrible that Roxanne *has to come through*. If you want to keep my interest, start with that. Not a description of your characters and backstory that has nothing to do with the problem at hand.

    Kudos for putting it out there and good luck.

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  3. DM
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 08:20:23

    Boring and repetitive. Not only does nothing happen, a lot of nothing happens twice:

    Were there any other two siblings in the world who were best friends in cyberspace but hadn't actually been able to meet since childhood? She doubted it.

    Kyra sometimes wondered if any two sisters had as odd a relationship as she and Antara. She knew it was highly possible in this day of fractured families, but she still doubted it.

    Yikes.

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  4. Jamie
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 09:29:16

    Haven’t read anyone else’s comments yet so I may be repeating things someone else said.

    Kyra and Antara sound like fantasy/made-up/cheesy names, that’s my first impression.

    The description Kyra gives us of Roxanne seems forced–my mother is good-looking and fit for her age, but I wouldn’t really be thinking about that every time I see her. She’s my mother, I see her all the time; my first thought is more likely to be the important conversation I’m about to have instead of how attractive she is. It seems too authorial here.

    Likewise the part that basically describes Kyra’s appearance by saying what’s inherited from her mother seems awkward, and her appearance unrealistic. I’m of the opinion that an author should tell us as little as possible about the heroine, or at least tell us in small snippets throughout the novel and not just one paragraph on the first page. You’re telling here, not showing.

    And the next paragraph about their respective personalities is an infodump. I should be able to determine the relationship between mother and daughter through their interactions and the way they speak to each other, not the author stepping in and telling me. And as for the mother’s backstory, it would be far more effective to say something off-handedly later, like… “Roxanne wore an apron that Kyra remembered from Husband Two–or was it Three?” to establish the mother’s tendency towards multiple men.

    And at the end is an info dump about the girls’ histories… meh.

    The positive things I see here are that there are no grammar/spelling mistakes, and you do have my curiosity up about the relationship between the sisters, but otherwise this passage feels like far too much tell-not-show, several info-dumps, and details that I’m really not concerned about, like basics of appearances, etc.

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  5. Suzanne
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 09:49:19

    Afraid I have to agree with the others. Major league backstory/info dump with little action and a lot of excessive words telling the story. No wonder you edited.

    Still there wasn’t enough of anything there to make me care about the characters. My advice would be to revise and try again. Dribble out the relationships over the course of the story.

    From the info dump, this book sounds like it has promise, but the pace needs to quicken from a crawl.

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  6. Kristie (J)
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 09:58:12

    Sorry – but my eyes kind of glazed over and I couldn’t finish it. I did take great offense though to this line:
    “Unlike a lot of women in their late forties, she had kept her slim figure and youthful appearance.”

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  7. alisa
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 11:51:16

    I agree with the info dump and way too much tell. I also agree with the comments on the names.

    You’re reporting from about 20 feet away, not in the character’s head. LA weather/air quality report? Unnecessary.

    Roxanne comes across as a contrivance to place the sisters on opposite sides of the globe. A contrivance with rich auburn hair and sea-green eyes even. New widow taking infant around the globe in teacher exchange program. Immediately meets man, gets pregnant. Stays 9-10 years, then dumps one child, and goes on to serial-marry at least three more times in (by the adding up of her going to India 22 years before) in twelve years, less than.

    Kyra is distracted by curry. And she emailed her mother instead of *calling* or at least leaving repeated messages over this great crisis with her sister. Where is the worry? Or the irritation with her mother being out of contact, unreliable (which does not add up with teacher exchange program). She doesn’t seem too concerned if she only sent one email and is distracted by curry.

    The spelling and grammar are good. The concept could be interesting with the relationship between the sisters, and presumably some of the story set in India. You need to work on the characters’ voices, and getting the character to tell the story, not authorial reporting from back way over there.

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  8. may
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 14:22:17

    I’m a big fan of rom.susp…. and this isn’t it. I expect some big bang on page 1. It doesn’t have to be actual action, but something has to happen. If you info dump me I expect you’ll keep stalling out on ‘action’ to pause and dump like this throughout book.

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  9. Marianne McA
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 17:26:43

    I’d agree with everyone else – I thought it a bit stilted. I found the second sentence hard to read:
    “Or at least a less virtual and more real-world relationship with her younger sister Antara.”

    And I thought the daughter using her mothers full name in her thoughts a bit peculiar.

    Didn’t sound very natural.

    And – one of those odd things that may not be fair at all, so more just to mention it because it might throw other readers off -I’ve never put a potato in my chicken curry, so the potato threw me completely out of the story. Maybe everyone else adds potatoes as a matter of course. (If they do, is it nice?)

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  10. BlueRose
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 18:32:24

    I’m the worst audience for this kind of story. I have had enough family drama of this kind in my life that I feel no need to read about it. That said, BORED ALREADY!!

    @ Marianne McA – yes potatoes are a regular occurance in indian curries – you can get some fantastic pototo curry recipes. I think Aloo is potato in indian?

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  11. Gennita Low
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 19:20:28

    Off Topic, my apologies:
    @Marianne McA,

    A curry is not complete without potatoes.

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  12. Pamela Turner
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 19:49:45

    Off topic here, too, but I have to comment.
    Kyra is not a made up name. It’s just not very common. Think Kyra Sedgwick.

    Cheesy? Not necessarily. Depends on one’s frame of reference. The name’s one of my favorites.

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  13. jmc
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 20:07:28

    As others have said: awkward, full of telling rather than showing. Is there a point to the Toyota product placement?

    This does not read like the intro to romantic suspense. Instead, it reads like chick lit or a contemporary that will attempt comedy (IMO).

    ReplyReply

  14. Nicola
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 22:08:59

    I have two major gripes. The first is that the sister is referred to as both ‘Antara’ and ‘Anatara’. This is pretty sloppy. Also, I found the sentence fragment that showed up as sentence No. 2 jarring and I felt like after that I couldn’t trust the author’s abilities. Whilst sentence fragments can work perfectly fine in fiction, I really didn’t think this one did. I would prefer it if it read something like this:

    Not for the first time Kyra Merrick wished she had a family that veered a little more towards the normal–or that at least she had a less virtual and more real-world relationship with her younger sister Antara.

    Like some other commenters, I also thought this might have been sci-fi with all the references to cyperspace and the name ‘Antara’.

    Also, massaman curry is the best and it is full of potatoes!

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  15. author
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 03:12:22

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    I was a bit taken aback by the infodump comments, mainly because I have read many novels, especially thrillers, where the author goes on for pages about the character’s past, his history, family relationships etc. A recent one I read was Stephen J. Cannell’s Riding the Snake, set partly in China.

    Is this a big no-no in the genres of romance and women’s fiction?

    Perhaps I’m just not getting the difference between infodumps and acceptable character descriptions?

    Some people said it didnt sound like rom suspense. I intended the suspense thread to be rather minor. Think Jayne Ann Krentz, especially novels like Grand Passion and Deep Waters.

    Is rom suspense where the suspense is only a minor thread not acceptable?

    I intended the story to focus more on family drama and character relationships. Perhaps that kind of thing would be more suited to women’s fiction?

    Thanks again.

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  16. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 07:06:00

    Author: I didn’t comment yesterday, because I agreed with everyone else.

    If this is your first book, you need to start the book with a hook and an inciting incident. Readers don’t know you, don’t know your work, so you haven’t established the trust that has to exist between reader and author.
    Backstory is boring. Only you know your characters, so ask yourself why a reader should care? Give them a reason to care.
    Also, this story sounds familiar. I haven’t read it before, but I’ve read all the elements somewhere else, but not in the first chapters.
    Cut the backstory. It drags the pace of the story right down, whatever the genre. Tell the reader what he or needs to know, when they need to know it. Not before.
    Another way of looking at it, is the Maas way. You’re writing a “sequel,” not a “scene,” and a book should always start with a “scene.” I think a study of “Writing the Breakout Novel” might help you.
    And don’t let it get you down. We’ve all been there, or I have, anyway. The heroine who wakes up, gets out of bed, makes a coffee, checks her appearance in the mirror, sets off for work in her car and so on. I still write those scenes, just to get me into the book, but I always cut them before I send the book to my editor.

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  17. Eve Paludan
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 09:09:59

    I love reading romantic suspense, but the first page should start with a bang! And by that I mean some sort of danger, action, shocking revelation, a dead body, etc. There should be risk on page one.

    Instead of “did you read my e-mail?” maybe start with the e-mail that could be the hook.

    Thanks for being brave and risking judgment by sharing your work in progress!

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  18. sao
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 10:12:26

    Author:
    To me the difference between infodump and acceptable character description is in the action.

    She wished she had ” a less virtual and more real-world relationship with her younger sister Antara. Were there any other two siblings in the world who were best friends in cyberspace but hadn't actually been able to meet since childhood? She doubted it.” This is telling, infodump.

    We work it to Kyra reading the letter and expressing some feeling. Then an aside like, it had been 20 years since she’d seen her sister’s face, would seem okay.

    Because hidden in this opening page is the hook. Some letter from Antara has Kyra worried. We don’t see the letter, we don’t know what it is. We don’t see Kyra reacting, so we aren’t seeing Kyra’s character.

    “She had decided she must confide her fears about Antara to their mother.” Again, telling. You could start the book, letter in hand, reading it to Mom. Show (not tell) Kyra’s emotion. “Mom, you have to do something! Antara’s on the brink of screwing up her life. She won’t listen to me!”

    Instead, Kyra says, “If being on the brink of screwing up your life is okay, then yes.” We still don’t know what the problem is. It’s hard to care about it.

    More Telling: Kyra sometimes wondered if any two sisters had as odd a relationship as she and Antara. She knew it was highly possible in this day of fractured families, but she still doubted it.
    We’d figure out that the relationship was odd if you showed us.

    I get the impression that you’re goal is to tell us that the relationship is odd. But I don’t really care — until I know the characters.

    If you show us the letter and the problem, then the relationship between the sisters becomes a constraint, a problem. Then, I care. But, then, you’ll have showed me.

    I wouldn’t be too discouraged. It’s very hard to write an interesting first page and hook your reader. The fact that we all found it kind of boring means you have to work on page one, it doesn’t mean your book isn’t going to be great.

    But you should learn the difference between show and tell and get your characters in action. It’s much easier to get into a character when they are acting than when they are musing or talking.

    It’s hard to give more concrete advice since we haven’t read the letter and don’t know what is about to happen. Just make it happen sooner.

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  19. Sunita
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 11:08:07

    Since other commenters have done such a good job explaining the telling-not-showing problem, I’ll chime in on the context. First, Antara *is* a perfectly reasonable Indian name, but it’s not common and it’s also the name of a prescription drug. I’d go for a more familiar name. And “Jay an Indian man” sounds clunky; why not call him Dev or Ashok or Raj, which are clearly Indian names and will show rather than tell?

    Second, while potatoes are normal in southeast Asian curries that have Indian antecedents, I’m having a very hard time thinking of an Indian chicken dish that has potatoes in it. And Indians don’t call curries “curry,” they call dishes by their more precise name unless they’re speaking to someone who wouldn’t understand the variations. Curry’s a generic term more often used by non-Indians about Indian (or Indian-derived) food. If Roxanne spent several years in India and came away with a love for the food, she’d know that. The fact that she doesn’t makes me more skeptical that the family/character bits are going to be well done.

    Third, you seem to be setting up an unusual family dynamic to explain the years that have passed since the sisters have seen each other. It certainly could happen, but why? And why aren’t they constantly on the phone/skyping or IM/texting? That’s what my Indian relatives do when they’re separated. Moreover, if they’re so close, why have they not managed to see each other in over a decade? Have they been forcibly kept apart? Are they too poor to travel? This kind of Parent-Trap separation thing doesn’t seem likely in the 21st century. Again, it’s possible, but you need to hint at why from the outset.

    Finally, if you want to concentrate on the family dynamics and the characters, you might want to do something different with Roxanne in this opening. She has a difficult relationship with the daughter she kept, she’s presumably not seen her other daughter since she left India, and she’s been married three/four/five times. Is she the villain of the piece? Because if not, I need something about her in this first page that offsets the stuff you’ve presented. Right now I’m hoping she gets run over by an LA mass transit bus.

    Good for you for putting this out there! I would love to read a book with Indian characters, so I’m hoping you keep going.

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  20. Marianne McA
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 12:47:23

    Entirely O/T. Thanks for the potato info. With having carbohydrates in the rice and the naan bread I just wouldn’t have thought of putting potatoes in, though I would chuck almost any other vegetables I had to hand if it looked like the chicken wasn’t going to stretch.
    I’ll try potatoes next time. Thanks.

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  21. author
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 19:58:55

    Thanks again for your feedback, everyone. I don’t want to be pushy but no one so far has answered the question I asked before and was anxious to hear the answer to:

    “Some people said it didnt sound like rom suspense. I intended the suspense thread to be rather minor. Think Jayne Ann Krentz, especially novels like Grand Passion and Deep Waters.

    Is rom suspense where the suspense is only a minor thread not acceptable?

    I intended the story to focus more on family drama and character relationships. Perhaps that kind of thing would be more suited to women's fiction?”

    Sao, thanks for clarifying the difference between infodump and acceptable character description. Would anyone else care to weigh in on this and give their opinion regarding this difference?

    Thanks!

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  22. theo
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 20:22:01

    I’m probably not the best to answer this, but I will chime in to say that “romantic suspense” at its best is an even blend of the romance and suspense. If you read Krentz’s first page of Sizzle and Burn, which you can do on Amazon, you can feel the suspense from the start. That first page hasn’t got one ounce of info dump. It’s all showing. And it’s all suspense. Because we expect the romance from her, we are getting the tone of the novel on the first page. We know the heroine hears voices in her head, we know someone despicable is going to be involved and we know because it’s Krentz, there will be a hero who will assist the heroine as well as win her.

    From your first page, your reader has little to go on. Is this suspense? Is this going to be a romance? Is this just a novel of family dynamics like Steel Magnolias? You need to make a statement on the first page, not only to set the tone of your novel, but to draw the specific reader you had in mind when you started the story.

    Your first page leaves me wondering with too many questions and frankly, too much that I don’t care about. Let the reader read what’s in the email Antara sent;

    “Dear Kyra,

    Someone’s trying to kill me.”

    Then pick it up where Kyra starts to help.

    Right now, what the commenters here are trying to tell you is, regardless of genre, and at this point, we don’t know from the first page what that is, we have no reason to care.

    Read novels by authors in the genre you’re interested in writing in. Lots of novels. That’s the only way you’ll get a good feel for what needs to be on each page.

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  23. Polly
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 22:24:20

    To the author: If you have to ask us, it seems as though you haven’t read enough in the genre to know the conventions, which is a bit of a problem when you’re writing in a genre where the readers will have clear expectations for something labeled a particular way. I’m not really sure exactly how to address your specific question about exactly what is or isn’t acceptable. I think a minor suspense plot is acceptable, so if the suspense doesn’t start on page one, that’s ok. Not having anything start on page one is not. Right now, it seems like people aren’t getting invested in the characters from the get-go, and while readers don’t need to like the characters right away (or at all) they do have to want to keep reading about them. Especially in a book that’s going to be mostly about family relationships.

    I’ll second Sunita that there’s just something off about the relationships. If the two sisters are mostly connected via the internet, they could still skype all the time, if they wanted to (and I have plenty of friends and relatives in India who do). And yeah, plane tickets are expensive, but if you’d be staying with family while you were there, a trip to India wouldn’t need to cost much more than the plane tickets, and most people could save up the $1100-1500 eventually if visiting a relative was a priority. Is there a reason they haven’t met in so long? India’s hard to get to, but not that hard to get to anymore. And ditto all the stuff about “curry.” Someone who learned to cook in India wouldn’t call it curry to someone who learned to eat it in India; the name would be much more specific.

    As for infodump, I guess a good rule of thumb would be that if there’s not a good reason to tell us now, don’t. On this page, for example, why do I need to know about the heroine’s auburn hair and sea green eyes? It’s not even an observation someone else is making–it’s the character thinking about herself. Why is she doing that? It doesn’t really have a function except to tell the reader about her appearance, and unless her appearance is why we should be interested in her, it doesn’t need to be one of the first thing’s we learn about her. Yeah, plenty of books get published that have infodumps in them, but I, as a reader, still don’t like to read them, and when I find them in books, it’s generally a harbinger of bad writing to come. Reveal information where it works in the story, not just sits.

    I hope that helps. Good luck.

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  24. sao
    Apr 05, 2010 @ 02:53:37

    I’ve read plenty of romantic suspense where the suspense was a minor plot line. Tami Hoag’s Lucky’s Lady comes to mind. But they all start with the romance. I wouldn’t worry about genres or conventions, write a great book.

    It seems to me that the majority of readers weren’t drawn in by your page one. It can be hard to explain a gut reaction of ‘Meh,’ so people try.

    The other thing to remember is that this is not a reaction to your book. It’s a reaction to your page one. You need to focus on improving it, not worrying about whether you have the right genre for your book. If we were grabbed by the family dynamic and Kyra’s character on page one, we might not have cared if the suspense didn’t show up.

    Here’s advice from a Harlequin author on first pages:

    “Start with a grabber
    Get conflict on the page, preferably internal
    Do you really need that backstory?
    On your first page, have your character acting, not reacting.
    Make your writing work for you”

    You don’t have a grabber — although the letter could be one
    You don’t have the conflict on the page.
    You have backstory
    Your character isn’t acting or doing much reacting, she spends half of her time musing about her relationship with her sister.

    Now, all of these elements could be on your page one with not much reworking, unless your book suffers from a main character without much character.

    I like this first page exercise because having only page one and no blurb to tell you what the story is about forces a lot onto page one. It makes the reaction to your writing be solely about page one. Ultimately, to get published, you need a really great page one.

    I’d recommend reading a bunch of these first pages and maybe some on Amazon that were published. But don’t go beyond page one. Read a lot on one go, to make you slightly bored with the exercise. That helps the good stand out from the not-so-good.

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  25. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 05, 2010 @ 05:31:13

    Author:
    For any genre, or any kind of fiction, the same thing applies. A first time writer has to grab the reader from the front page. You’ve got to hook the reader in, make her want to read more, but on this page, you haven’t.
    Authors who indulge in backstory have either been around long enough to have a guaranteed list of readers and fans who trust them, or they’ve been writing a long time. Or both. A new writer can’t expect this, is expected to write in a new, fresh style.
    Writing is extremely competitive, in a non-competitive way. That is, we compete for spots on a publisher’s list, we don’t compete against each other. Very few readers only buy one author’s books, and then dump them for someone else.
    But if you send in a sub with that first page, you won’t find that out because these days competition to attract the attention of editors and agents is more fierce than it ever was. You will find your work rejected.
    That’s irrespective of the genre.
    To answer your question a little obliquely, I won a romantic suspense award (the EPPIE) with a book that was more romance than suspense, and the suspense proper didn’t start until around chapter five, although I wove in foreshadowing and presentiments to keep the reader interested. So no, it is what you make it. But although I started that book (“Devonshire,”) with a seemingly passive scene and front page, I worked in a few hints that indicated more to come. And I tried very hard to show not tell. Instead of telling there was a wedding in the offing, I had a few of the congratulatory messages tumble off the mantlepiece, for instance.
    It was my second published book, so I’d hardly worked up a readership base, and because there was a first in the series, there was some backstory to get through. But I remembered the principle of only telling the reader when the question “Why?” arouse, when the reader needed to know. And mostly, she didn’t.
    On the other hand, my friend Allison Brennan writes books that are sometimes more suspense than romance, and she usually starts her books with a bang. She’s won awards, too, and her romances are always perfectly satisfactory.
    There are no hard and fast rules. If you have romance, if you have suspense, then it’s probably romantic suspense. If you have family relationships, then it might be women’s fiction.
    All I can say is that I didn’t think “I’m writing romantic suspense,” when I wrote “Devonshire.” I was just writing a book.

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  26. Julia Sullivan
    Apr 05, 2010 @ 13:05:19

    Dear author,

    Don’t think you can get away with the same kind of lapses (in terms of tightness of plot) that established best-selling authors can get away with. A new author breaking in has to have everything as polished as possible, because readers aren’t going to give you a chance based on your previous track record.

    I might put up with a lot of exposition at the front of a Stephen J. Cannell book because I’ve enjoyed other books by him in the past, and know that eventually the story will get exciting. If I picked a book up in the bookstore and saw this first page, I would put it down again.

    This is not to say that the first page has to be “Kyra felt the cold steel of the Luger against her throat” but you need to give the reader something more engaging than this very clunky setup.

    Good luck! The idea of sisters who are close online but who never meet in real life is a very intriguing one.

    And you know who reads books? Women in their forties, the majority of whom, statistically, are not slim. Don’t diss your readers by implication.

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