How good is your first page?

April 18, 2007

Page One is probably the most important page of your manuscript. It’s so important that we’ve given Page One its own room at the Field’s End Writers’ Conference this year. We call it the Moose Room thanks to the trophies on the walls. And no, those are not the heads of failed writers. They’re just part of the audience. A staff of expert instructors–Editor Veronica Randall and authors Robert Dugoni, Garth Stein and Katherine Ramsland–will be on hand to critique and comment on your page one, which will be read aloud to the group. Scary enough for you?

For the courageous, the workshop will give you invaluable feedback from seasoned professionals. If you wish to have your work considered, bring one page, between 250-300 words, double spaced, in a 12 point font.

For the timid, you can learn from listening and watching, and perhaps joining in the discussion.

So I’m feeling courageous. Here’s Page One of Just Breathe, which will be published in hardcover in September 2008. I have a horror of reading my own work aloud, but for the sake of my art, I humbly submit:

Just Breathe

© 2007 Susan Wiggs

One

            After a solid year of visits to the clinic, Sarah was starting to find the décor annoying. Maybe the experts here thought that earth tones had a soothing effect on anxious, aspiring parents. Or perhaps that the cheery burble of a wall fountain might cause an infertile woman to spontaneously drop an egg like an overly productive laying hen. Or even that the soft shimmer of brass chimes could induce a wandering sperm to find its way home like a heat-seeking missile.

            Forty-five minutes, flat on her back with her hips elevated, was starting to feel like forever. It was no longer standard procedure to wait after insemination but many women, Sarah included, were superstitious. They needed all the help they could get, even from gravity itself.

            There was a quiet tap on the door; then she heard it swish open.

            “How are we doing?” asked Frank, the nurse practitioner. Frank had a shaved head and a soul patch, a single earring and a tattoo. At six foot two, he looked a bit incongruous in pastel pink surgical scrubs with little bunnies on them. Mr. Clean showing his nurturing side.

            “Hoping that it’s a ‘we’ this time,” she said, propping her hands behind her head.

            He smiled, offering a look so filled with compassion and hope that Sarah wanted to cry. “Any cramps?”

            “Plenty. Maybe that’s a sign that things are working.” She lay quietly on the cushioned, sterile-draped exam table while he checked her temperature and recorded the time.

            She turned her head to the side. From this perspective, she could see her belongings neatly lined up on the shelf in the adjacent dressing room: her cinnamon-colored handbag from Smythson of Bond Street, designer clothes on padded hangers, butter-soft Manolo boots set carefully against the wall. The keys to her SUV, bought in anticipation of the blessed event that refused to happen. Her mobile phone, programmed to dial her husband with one touch, or even a voice command.

            Looking at all this abundance, she saw the trappings of a woman who was cared for. Provided for. Perhaps – no, definitely – even spoiled. Yet instead of feeling pampered and special, she simply felt…old. Like middle-aged, instead of only twenty-six, the youngest client at Fertility Solutions. Most women her age were still living with their boyfriends in garrets furnished with milk crates and unpainted planks. She shouldn’t envy them, but sometimes she couldn’t help herself….

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