Friday, May 17, 2013

First Page Friday

Before we get started today, the second round of voting in the 2012 RONE awards is open and you can vote for my book All Fall Down.  (You do have to register to vote, but it's free and easy).  If you are so inclined, please go here to vote for me!  (We're on Week 5, the thriller/suspense category).

It's finally Friday and I'm so glad.  Today on First Page Friday we're learning about looking for audience and pulling your readers in.  Thank you to Ms. Shreditor and our author for all their hard work.  See you next week!

The Entry
The Sex Stone of Agassia
by Richard Maitland

[NOTE: In view of your submission requirements about "no sex", I should mention this is a British comedy, and so the nudity on the first page is intended humorously]

Detective Constable William Lilley shuffled his feet and gave a nervous cough. “You absolutely sure about this? Seems a very funny way of getting into the Freemasons if you ask me.”

In the darkened Briefing Room of a north London police station thirteen candles flickered. The lambent light played over a pentagram inside a circle, the wobbly outlines drawn with sand on the linoleum floor. A trail of gritty debris and cigarette butts led back to the shadows where a plundered fire bucket lay on its side. Desks had been shoved against walls; chairs stacked in corners; telephones unplugged; tea-trolley pushed under the window. Gray venetian blinds barricaded the windows.

“Get on with it”, snapped Detective Inspector Marigold Bateman from the centre of the pentagram. “We haven’t got all night.”

Bill slowly removed his tie and stepped into the circle, unbuttoning his shirt with reluctant fingers.

D.I. Bateman advanced. Pounced. In a lightning movement unzipped his fly – yanked his trousers and underpants down to his ankles – threw off her raincoat – stood before him. Naked.

Too shocked to react, Bill could only stand open-mouthed as Inspector Bateman wrapped herself around him, pressing her ample flesh against his fear-shrivelled member.

A moment later he came to his senses. Prising her fingers from his outraged buttocks, he fought to break her grip. But D.I. Bateman was strong. And slippery. And with no clothes to give him purchase, Bill had only handfuls of Metropolitan Police flesh to grapple with. In a silence broken only by harsh panting they struggled together as Bill tried to fend her off and at the same time reach down to grab her coat and wrap it round her shoulders.

The room blazed with light. Detective Chief Inspector Bradshaw stood framed in the doorway, his hand on the light switch. He took in the terrible scene with one sweep of his eyes.

“You two. My office. Tomorrow morning.” The door slammed shut.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This sample ran longer than a page when I double-spaced it (in keeping with Julie’s submission guidelines). Several of the samples lately have run long, and I don’t want to keep beating this poor horse to death. It may seem nitpicky for me to take a submission to task for running a paragraph or two over the allotted length, but I’m trying to give you all the best chance for success when you submit to an agent or publisher. Submission guidelines are, among many other things, a litmus test of your ability to follow directions, which will become increasingly vital as you move through the various editorial and production phases.

I wanted to address the note that accompanied this sample because it raises a crucial point: NOTE:  In view of your submission requirements about “no sex”, I should mention this is a British comedy, and so the nudity on the first page is intended humorously. The disclaimer gives us some context, but the problem here is audience. I’m not offended by raunchy humor or occasional nudity, but that’s neither here nor there because I’m not really the target audience for this blog. Julie’s “clean” guidelines echo the preferences of her readership. An audience of clean readers will find the paragraph that begins “Too shocked to react...” jarring.

You don’t want to submit your piece to the wrong agent or publisher, so here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to insert a disclaimer explaining why your piece doesn’t quite jive with the guidelines, you might not be submitting to the right person. Make sure that, if/when you submit this for publication, you submit to a publisher for whom the disclaimer would be unnecessary.

If you are looking to publish in a clean market, you might reconsider your approach to the nudity on this first page. In a national market, this scene would likely be an attention grabber, but in a niche market of clean readers, it might be offensive. Perhaps there’s a way to tone down the nudity so that the narrative doesn’t pause too long to gape at the “ample flesh” and “outraged buttocks.”

I do have a few important questions about the story itself. What exactly do Bill and Marigold need to do to enter the Freemasons? Why do they need to enter in the first place? Is the nudity/attempted seduction part of the ritual, or does Marigold spring that on him out of the blue? It seems as though they’ve gone to great pains to prepare the room for it, and then Bill suddenly chickens out moments before their boss enters the room. I’m not all that familiar with Freemasonry, so forgive me if I’ve missed something.

A brief word about semicolons: they’re not necessary in the list that begins “desks had been shoved against the walls...” Commas will suffice here because 1) the list isn’t made up of independent clauses, and 2) the list doesn’t contain compound items (i.e., individual items that contain commas or other punctuation). You might recast the passage to eliminate the list structure if the commas seem awkward.

It took me several paragraphs to get here, but here it is: I really do like this first page. Audience issues aside, it grabbed my attention. A sentence or two made me laugh. The author has a strong sense of setting and is able to paint a vivid scene for the reader without stopping too long to smell the discarded cigarette butts. As I mentioned above, the premise is still a little foggy to me; I’m not sure exactly why the two main characters end up naked. But I sure am curious to find out.


Debra Erfert said...

I laughed...and I'm ashamed of myself for doing so. *hangs head*

Robert M Starr said...

In defense of Richard, who is an experienced editor and has many times given the same advice of following the submission rules precisely, I believe he probably read the same submission guidelines I did (asking for the first chapter rather than the first page?). He may have taken a bit of license with the disclaimer he added, seeking a second opinion from another 'fictional' editor (Richard is among those who do edits of opening pages, short pitches, etc., on another site for aspiring authors). I know almost nothing about freemasonry, and Richard's humor may sometimes be a little too subtle for me to grasp the nuances (perhaps, the differences between the backgrounds of a Brit and a Texan), but I like the way he puts words together.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Debra, I laughed, too. It's definitely got my curiosity piqued! :)

Robert, no defense needed. I enjoyed both the passage and the critique myself. :)

And just to clarify, Ms. Shreditor is not fictional, she is real, and has a real job as an editor at a national publishing company. She critiques on Fridays on my blog in her effort to help others in the writing community and I'm grateful for her time.

Richard Maitland said...

Good grief, I had forgotten all about this... !

First of all, the disclaimer: It was solely for the purposes of this submission, appreciating that the difference between American and English humour is extremely pronounced, and not wishing anyone American (in view of the request "No sex, please") to be offended by taking the nudity--or, indeed, the entire piece--seriously.

The opening scene is all entirely tongue in cheek (I was tempted to start "It was a dark and stormy night" to make this clear), and would be readily understood as such by any British reader, agent or publisher. No disclaimer would be necessary.

To answer your other questions: Freemasons are an all-male organisation (I suppose a bit like American "Lodges") of mutual aid, fellowship and charitable work.

English Freemasonry, however, unlike American Lodges, is a highly secret society, and their lengthy and bizarre rituals for initiation--which include dressing-up in weird clothes, passwords, and showing the Initiate a special handshake by which other Masons can recognise one another--are popularly supposed by non-Freemasons (who find the Society more than faintly ridiculous) to involve the rolling-up of a single trouser (pants) leg and the sacrifice of a chicken. They don't, of course, but mockery of Establishment is the hallmark of the English sense of humour.

Marigold--a 40-year-old virgin who is desperate to experience sex, and who is in the throes of a nervous breakdown--is using Bill's oft-voiced wish to be accepted into the Masons, to seduce him, by spinning him a yarn that she has seen a program on TV about the initiation ceremony, and will run him through the basics of the ceremony so that he is prepared in the unlikely event he is invited to join the Masons--it is usual for senior police officers to belong to the Society. (The true reason for the seduction comes out later).

Bill--a decent, honourable middle-aged man, and more than a little suspicious--is entirely innocent in all this, but is so used to doing what his superior officer in the Police Force tells him, that he obeys with little demur. Hence his horror at Marigold's actions.

As I said, there is a difference in humour either side of the Pond. "Ample flesh" and "outraged buttocks" would not offend even a bishop in England. So it was precisely out of respect to what you have termed "clean readers" (just how squeaky-clean can they be?!) that I added the disclaimer.

The full tale is some 200,000 words long, with a story arc wider than the span of the Golden Gate Bridge, and comprising several discrete, but intertwining, strands of complicated storyline.

Thank you so much for your opinion. I'm glad it piqued your curiosity--and made one or two readers laugh.

Wishing you a happy and successful New Year,

Richard Maitland