FIRE TV STICK Giveaway! First Pages feature with Laura Heffernan

First Pages is a before-and-after series featuring an early draft of a book’s first page and a short commentary from the author describing how that draft evolved into its published form. I’ve read thousands of first pages, and I started this series to study how authors get it right. It takes a lot of courage for authors to share their first or early draft, so these are a real treat!

In this installment of the series, we look at AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR, a contemporary romantic comedy by debut author Laura Heffernan (Mar 2017, Lyrical Shine).


Summary


AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR
by Laura Heffernan

Adult Romantic Comedy
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Release Date: 7 Mar 2017

Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer…


First Draft of First Page


“Leanna?”

Wham!

Ow!

For what must have been the fifteenth time that summer, I had just walked into a glass wall in this stupid all-glass, Fishbowl-shaped house. Sometimes, I swore the walls moved when we weren’t looking.

I wasn’t the only one, either. Before the first week of the competition ended, all twelve of us were covered in bruises.

So, how did I, Jennifer Read, midlevel assistant marketing director for a Seattle-based multinational corporation wind up living in a glass, fishbowl-shaped house in Los Angeles with 11 strangers? Why was I doing this, and what was it like to be videotaped around the clock for several weeks?

Well, let me tell you all about it…


Commentary from the author


Yes, this is clearly a prologue. Yes, some of you may be aware that I am steadfastly anti-prologue now. But when I first wrote this first page, I didn’t know how much agents hated prologues, and I didn’t understand why for several months.

This first page received ZERO requests out of my first batch of queries, but my PitMad pitch received several requests. None of the agents asked to read more. About a month after I’d sent it out, an agent tweeted wondering why so many writers started their books with onomatopoeia (a word or sound associated with its name, like “WHAM!”) Her rejection landed in my inbox seconds later, and I started revising.

Here’s Take 2, in which I cut the prologue and decided to focus on the things in the MC’s life that made her want to go on a reality show.


First Page – Take 2


I’ve got something 2 do 2night, but u can spend the night if u want 2 hang.

I gaped at my phone. Hours later, this was the text I got in response to asking my boyfriend if he wanted to go out for dinner? He’d taken so long to reply that I’d not only eaten a sandwich, I’d also bought an umbrella, tried on half a dozen pairs of shoes, and walked 10 blocks to get home.

Plus, I could sleep there if I wanted to “hang”? Gee, how romantic!

But, still, I hadn’t seen him in a week or so…

You shouldn’t let yourself be at his beck and call, I told myself.

I’m not! I insisted. I am a strong, liberated woman who would like to spend time with her boyfriend this evening. I was the one who suggested getting together at the last minute.

It didn’t take long to pack a bag.


From Laura


This version didn’t get any requests either, but it did make it into Michelle Hauck’s Sun vs. Snow critique workshop, which is when I learned that I desperately needed a critique partner. After a couple of false starts, I stumbled across #CPMatch, where I found CP Love with an amazing writer. People in the critique workshop didn’t like that my main character was putting up with such an obviously awful boyfriend. Thus, a third first page was born.


Take 3 – First Page


My keys jingled in the lock. I balanced dripping shopping bags on a raised knee, my purse digging into my armpit. My apartment door stuck. Again. I braced myself against the jamb. One good shove usually did the trick.

My phone, cradled between my chin and shoulder, beeped. Bags, purse, and umbrella crashed to the floor.

Ugh.

“Hey, Ash, listen to this.” I raised my voice to read the text to my friend on the other end of the phone. “‘I’ve got stuff to do, but you can come hang if you want.’ Isn’t that romantic?”

Ashley’s voice dripped with disdain. “You shouldn’t be at Dominic’s beck and call.”

“I texted him, Ash.”

“You asked for a hook-up?”


From Laura


This is the first page I entered in Pitch Madness, which is a great contest. I didn’t get in. One of the slush readers offered to give one-tweet feedback to those who didn’t make it. When I inquired, she told me that my main character came across as a doormat. Ouch. Not what I was going for at all.

I wound up giving the boyfriend character a total makeover and combining the best friend you see here with another character.  Which lead to another draft – focusing on introducing the main character first, then digging into her relationship.

By this time, I was getting some requests, but more from blind queries than queries with pages. Still, I thought I was making progress. And four months after I got my first query, I received a very thoughtful R&R from an agent that helped me immensely: the crappy boyfriend wasn’t working.

There was no sense of urgency. The main character was going on a reality show because she had nothing better to do, which didn’t give readers much of a reason to root for her. I made extensive changes to the full manuscript, and my next few drafts had first pages that remained fairly similar to the final version. Here is the final first page of AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR. (For the eagle-eyed among you, yes, I did wind up changing the spelling of my main character’s name somewhere during revisions.)


First Page – FINAL VERSION


I huddled at my desk, wrapping a blanket over my hoodie. Maybe one day management would trust employees to turn the heat above sixty degrees. Until that glorious day, I held my caffeine molecule-painted mug close to my body, futilely trying to gain warmth from the steam pouring off the top. The coffee tasted like pencil shavings and feet; drinking it wasn’t an option.

With my right hand, I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, scanning the jokes, cartoons, and mindless banter. It was against the rules, but everyone did it. “Marketing assistant” apparently was code for “exhausting bursts of activity punctuated with lots of sitting around.” The irony wasn’t lost on me. After working insanely long days all week to include last-minute changes on a major project, I appreciated a few hours’ break while my boss reviewed it. The craziness would start again soon enough. I turned up the volume on my computer to project my music over the howling November storm. My toes tapped the linoleum floor.

A message popped up at the bottom of my screen, informing me of a new email. I hit alt-tab to switch programs, expecting the feedback I needed before starting my workday.

No such luck.

It was Seattle General Hospital’s billing department. “Dear Ms. Reid, Thank you for your payment…”

Silently, I cursed them for the reminder.

If only the debt could be erased with the same easy click that sent the message to trash. I’d been in perfect health during my high school and college years. So, naturally, my ankle broke a week before my insurance with McCain & Webster kicked in while showing off my impression of Miley Cyrus’s latest MTV Music Awards performance. When I slipped on the wet grass and fell, they’d laughed until my tears started. No one realized the fall wasn’t part of the act.


Thoughts from Colleen (CM McCoy)


Perfect rhythm!

AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR is an adult contemporary romantic comedy by Laura Heffernan. I’m so excited about this book for so many reasons, it’s hard to focus my thoughts. Before I tackle the first page, I have to mention the premise of a quirky millennial entering a reality TV show pegs my “oh hell yes” meter. I’m not sure if I’d rather see her succeed in a happily ever after or fail in the most horribly epic way. One thing’s certain. I’m sure as hell glued to this impending train wreck.

I can’t thank Laura Heffernan enough for this feature and for giving us an intimate peek into her revision process.What a treat!

About this first page… There is something magic about writing that “flows.” For me, that magic is rhythm, and it’s something you can’t teach an author. Like hovering a helicopter (or maybe balancing a bike is a better metaphor), learning to string words and sentences together with a pleasant rhythm takes practice, practice, practice, and more practice until at long last, something subconsciously CLICKS! (to put it onomatopoetically) 😉

And it’s no surprise given Heffernan’s obsession with her opening that she nailed it.

But it’s not just the rhythm that makes this first page sing, it’s the carefully woven backstory. Now excuse me while I wreck something beautiful… What could have been horribly put as “I loved watching TV and showing off, and that caused me to break my ankle” became through Heffernan’s practiced story-telling a far more pleasant reading experience. So instead of shoving the fact that this main character loves TV into my face, she gave my brain a fun anecdote that made it conclude on its own, “wow! this chick loves two things: TV and being the center of attention. Plus she’s a clutz.”  I love her immediately. And that is a prime example of my other favorite page-magic: white space. Don’t tell me everything, let me figure it out on my own. In other words, tell me but don’t tell me. Just as over-controlling wrecks the bike, over-telling wrecks the story. Reading these first-page revisions is like watching Heffernan balance her writing bike, The result is an awesome first page, and Laura Heffernan is definitely an author to watch.

This first page does a lot:

  • Readership: Adult. The main character is past her college years.
  • Genre: It’s not so clear in this first page. Without the benefit of the blurb, I might have guessed women’s fiction. The cover doesn’t scream romance or comedy, and neither does the first page.
  • Mood and voice: The mood is decidedly uncomfortable: cold and bored. The voice rings true as that of a hard-working, yet dissatisfied and possibly whiny millennial who let her insurance lapse.
  • Setting:  Perfect feel of an office, quite possibly a cubical, without hitting me over the head with it.
  • Tell me more” factor:  Even though there’s no question in my mind at the end of this page, and even though there’s no adrenaline yet, I’d keep reading for the rhythm, the voice, and what the blurb promises will be an intriguing romance. Well done! I enjoyed this opening!

This first page earns 4 North of Normal stars! I’m buying this book in paperback right now.


Buy the Book


 

AmazonB &N | Kobo | Google Play | Apple iBooks | Goodreads

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

Laura loves connecting with readers and other writers. She spends far too much time tweeting about writing, junk food, and query contests at www.twitter.com/LH_writes.

website | twitter | facebook | goodreads


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