First Page Contest with Literary Agent Victoria Marini

Posted by on June 25, 2011

Blessed are the Dead:
A Gabriella Giovanni Mystery
About 73,000 words

Another boyfriend pissed off at me over a dead body. The silence on the other end of the line confirms it. Snapping my cell phone shut, I turn my attention to the view out my windshield.

Flashing red and blue lights and yellow crime scene tape mar the beauty of the trees framing the distant San Francisco skyline.

“One-Eighty-Seven,” a cop’s voice crackles through the speakers of the police scanner bolted to my dashboard. It’s the California penal code for murder. “Looks like a double.”

Two bodies? I forget about my limping love life — the clock is ticking. The paper goes to bed in four hours so I’ve got to hustle.

A group of people clusters at the bottom of a driveway that snakes its way up into a thick stand of trees. The crime scene tape strung between two trees blocks the drive and the cops aren’t letting anyone any closer.

Peering up the hill, I can just glimpse a hint of the A-frame house with its huge deck on stilts facing the bay. The view off that Oakland Hills deck must be spectacular, with tonight’s sunset transforming the San Francisco Bay into a glowing pink and orange inferno, sending sparks off the rollicking waves.

I can’t help but think how the two dead bodies inside that house will never see that stunning vista again.


30 Responses to First Page Contest with Literary Agent Victoria Marini

  1. Tania. F. Walsh

    Great intro… really hooked me in…. and tells us a lot about the protag. From what I’ve read I get the impression she is a journalist of sorts and trying to get a story about a new double murder. So you’ve got me in the intro paragraphs, but then it dwindles with the last one when we start talking about scenery – I’d rather stick on the crime not the bridge. Use this space to bring in another element that really hooks us in to continue reading.

    Good luck.

  2. Valentina Hepburn

    This is just great. There’s nothing I like better than a feisty lady running the show. I love the interaction between the developing story and the scene setting and the intro has lots of promise. Well done, Kristi and good luck with the contest.

  3. Tina Moss

    I love the voice from the main character. Even though she’s in the middle of the crime scene, I get a sense of her personality – fun with some sass thrown in. My suggestion is to lose “the clock is ticking” line, because it feels a bit cliche and out of the MC’s voice. Maybe try something like “I forget about my limping love life with a deadline creeping up on me.” The paragraph about the sunset loses me. I think you were going for the sadness of the dead not seeing the view, but I don’t know anything about these dead people so it doesn’t move me. What if the MC had this twinge of sadness as she stared over the dead body? It might ground it more to the scene. I hope these suggestions help. Overall, I think you’ve created a great atmosphere and a likable MC. Nicely done.

  4. Tricia Clasen

    I really enjoyed this beginning. The voice is strong, and your descriptions are exellent. I did think the last bit took me in a little different direction than I would have liked. As Tania said above, it might be good to focus on what else you can bring in to set the mystery a bit more. LOVED her comments about boyfriends and her “limping love life.” Good luck!

  5. Tanya Reimer

    Damn this is good. The voice had me hooked instantly. I love it.

    I stumbled over “tonight’s sunset.” Those two words pulled me from the magic.

  6. Elizabeth Arroyo

    I loved this. At first I wasn’t sure if it was her who was the reason behind the dead body, which was nice. It kept me wanting more info! Good job.

  7. Susan Oloier

    This is wonderful! I honestly have no suggestions. I like the absolute suspense, scene setting, and character development that has gone into your first 250 words! Wow!

  8. Steena Holmes

    LOVED your opening! Fantastic!

  9. Mary Strohmayer

    Wonderful, I want to read the rest of the book and then the sequel!

  10. Stephanie

    I like it a lot. I get a sense of who she is already and it’s attention grabbing.

  11. Gwynne

    This flows really well, but I would love to see the heroine fret or even think a bit more about the boyfriend (even if she will be throwing him away later for a new and better man). She comes off a bit cold and her attitude is a bit dismissive, which makes it appear as if she doesn’t like people in general.

    Other than that the writing is strong and the scene is intriguing. I’d definitely turn to the next page.

    Good luck in the contest!

  12. Lorraine Anderson

    Nice opening. The only concern I might have would be the difficulty of sustaining first person present tense throughout the whole book. Other than that, I’m hooked.

  13. Linda Ulleseit

    Oh, very nice! Great description, great emotional impact right away. Love it!

  14. Lissa

    Oh yes, so very interesting. I am guessing the MC is a journalist. This was good, although it’s not really my thing – but I am sure it will be very appealing to your target audience.

  15. Amy

    Great piece! It definitely has me hooked to want to know more! :)

  16. Michelle

    You know, I hardly ever read non-YA books, but this is such a great opening I would definetly read on. Nothing to nitpick over at all. I’m left with emotion and a great big literary impact!

    Good luck!

  17. Linda Gray

    Great opening. Love how you subtly establish personal life in the midst of her work life. I think the present tense is generally pulled off well, but trips you up a bit in the last para. I have no problem with her thinking abt. the sunset, I think the problem is that the first sentence is awkward because it’s present tense. Maybe try putting a period after ‘spectator.’ Next sentence: “Tonight’s sunset transforms. . . Or, “. . . spectacular, with tonight’s sunset transforming . . .” (sometimes a gerund works!)

    Great voice. Definitely would read more.

  18. Christina Garner

    I agree that this is an engaging first page. I also agree with one of the other comments about present tense. I find it a little jarring at times, but that is just a personal preference. Good luck!

  19. Louisa Clarkson

    The first line definitely had me hooked. Great writing and voice. I really enjoyed this. I agree with the above comments (except Gwynne’s about the MC’s attitude toward her boyfriend). Her voice establishes that she’s dedicated to her job and can focus on the job, even though her love life is possibly falling apart. Surely the boyfriend ‘s the jerk for being pissed off that she’s doing her job? He has the tantrum and hangs up.

    My only suggestion is that you merge the second last paragraph and last paragrapgh together, because they both discuss the house and its deck.

  20. Miranda Hardy

    I am hooked, too. I am intrigued by the boyfriend status, and what exactly it is she does on the murder scenes. The descriptions were great, as well.

    Good luck with the contest!

  21. Brenda Drake

    Oh, loved this!!! You totally hooked me. I think you did an awesome job with present tense. It’s difficult to do and you mastered it. Great job and good luck! :D

  22. Riley Redgate

    Oh, love this!

    A couple thoughts:

    “I forget about my limping love life — the clock is ticking.”
    I feel like this line would be stronger if she’s telling herself she NEEDS to forget about her limping love life. Either that, or showing it in some way rather than straight-up saying she forgets it. (“All thoughts about my limping love life fly out the window, into San Francisco Bay…” etc. Or something less silly. You know what I mean.)

    One other thing – I feel like this clause: “with tonight’s sunset transforming the San Francisco Bay into a glowing pink and orange inferno and sending sparks off the rollicking waves.” Could be stronger as “, tonight’s sunset . . . inferno, sending sparks off the rollicking waves.” The previous sentence also has a ‘with’ construction, so at the risk of sheer nitpickiness, I’d advise snipping the echo. It’s a very long second clause, too; I feel like replacing the ‘and’ with a comma smooths it out somewhat.

    The very best of luck; great job!

  23. Sarah

    Just chiming in to say that I liked it and I also love your title. That alone would get me reading.

  24. Tami Absi

    Wow, someone may have already left this comment, but you have so many I didn’t read all them.
    You have a typo: A group of people clusters at the bottom of a driveway that snakes its way up into a thick stand of trees. You meant “had clustered” or “people continue to cluster.”

    I think perhaps you’re a bit hard-hitting on the beauty of the night. If this MC knows she’s walking into a grzzly murder scene, and she just had a fight with her boyfriend, it’s hard to believe she’s even paying much attention to the sunset, no matter how lovely. (Just my opinion.) Hope you visit my YA novel blog and reply!

  25. Stephanie Diaz

    This is generally very well done! I love the opening line; it adds tension right off the bat. I suggest hyphenating “deck-on-stilts,” because I had to pause for a sec to get that visual right. Other than that, great job. Good luck with the contest! And thank you for your comment on my first page :)

  26. Tom Hoefner

    I would combine the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, and the 5th and 6th paragraphs. Other than that, great start! Nice hook! – Tom H

    Check out my first 250?:

  27. eJade

    Hmmm, I like it as is but responding to others’ suggestions perhaps going with:

    “Two bodies? I forget about my limping love life — the paper goes to bed in four hours so I’ve got to hustle.” would be better.


    “Two bodies? Forget about my limping love life — the paper goes to bed in four hours so I’ve got to hustle.”

    And maybe this change;

    “Peering up the hill, I can just glimpse a hint of the A-frame house with its huge deck on stilts facing the bay. The view off that Oakland Hills deck must be spectacular –

    I can’t help but think how the two dead bodies inside that house will never see that stunning vista again.”

    I don’t consider “clusters” a typo – I feel it keeps everything in the more active voice and feels more fast paced. Even if it may not be perfect grammar. And I can be a grammar Nazi. Ex: Tammy, I believe you meant ‘grisly’ not ‘grizzly’ unless of course you know more about the plot than I do and it turns out that bears committed the crime. :)

    I also prefer the shorter paragraphs – keeps things moving along and contributes to what I read as your ‘voice’.

    Don’t lose your voice in an effort to adjust to others’ critique!

  28. AKM

    (Disclaimer: I am not a writer, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.)

    I love your voice, the book title, the fact that the heroine is Italian-American, the San Francisco setting, and the promise of a great mystery. I also think the first sentence is clever and powerful and it drew me in. I’m looking forward to reading the rest!

    I don’t think that the dismissal of the boyfriend is necessarily cold or unfeeling; I’m betting that they weren’t too serious or that you will explain that story in greater detail later. I do agree with some of the suggestions about the “clock is ticking” sentence. I’m on the fence, though, about whether it should be “clusters” or “clustered,” as others have mentioned…hmm. I would hyphenate “deck-on-stilts” as Stephanie said, and I liked the “inferno” passage.

    All in all, It’s very intriguing!

  29. Cindy

    Just read the first page of “Blessed are the Dead” from your blog. Wow!!! I can’t wait to read more. I’m usually not a mystery fan, but the first paragraph had me wanting to learn more about Gabriella & the newspaper life!

    Actually, those first 3 lines had me looking for more! The first line may grab women who get frustrated with some men who are self-centered enough to think “dead bodies” are our doing!

    Plus, reading the blog comments/responses about the “clock-ticking” was interesting. Personally, I was happy to read a woman’s “clock-ticking” had to do with her job and NOT with her love life. It seems “clock-ticking” always means biological clock and that finding Mr. Right is the most important thing. I love it that her clock-ticking was not in reference to her love life! Yet, it also sets up that she does have a love life! Wonderful!

    Again, I’m not a mystery book reader, but Gabriella and the whole newspaper reporting story already has me wanting more!!!

    • Kristi

      Thanks so much Cindy — and interesting insight/comment on the whole clock ticking thing — I love it! Part of the theme of the book is the conflict between Gabriella loving her career so much and trying to reconcile that with a desire to have children … Cool.

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