Week 2 Finalist – 2nd Place Winner

TITLE: Still Sucking in San Francisco
AUTHOR: Jessica McBrayer
CATEGORY: Paranormal Romance



“Suicide Prevention, this is Lilith, how can I help you?”

“Hi, is this where I call to get free drugs for anxiety?” a slightly blurred voice asks.

“No ma’am. This is the number you call if you are having thoughts about harming yourself.”

“Oh. Oh, I am. I really need the free meds, you know like Xanax?”

“No ma’am. We can’t help you with that. I can offer you free counseling. Would you like to talk to one of our counselors tomorrow?”

“No, I just want the freaking drugs.”


Well so much for caller number one. We have to keep a complete account of every phone call. As I fill out my log I see my supervisor stalking me, great.

“Lilith, oh Lily…”

“Yes, Meredith?”

“Did you fill out your requisition forms yet? You know that if you don’t you can’t get your medical.”

“Ummm, I don’t need medical.” I really don’t need medical.

“Lily, what is this on your desk? You know we can’t have anything personal on our desks. You are going to have to remove all this stuff,” she says with a sniff.

“It’s only cleaning supplies, Meredith, some handi-wipes and some Lysol. I don’t see how this is personal.”

“If you get cleaning supplies then Dan gets pictures of his kids. Remove them.”

She walks away.

Just love her. With all my heart. I put my supplies in my bag for easy access. Grumbling, I push button number two.

“Suicide Prevention, this is Lilith, how can I help you?” I say in my most cheerful voice.

“I’ve been thinking of killing myself,” he whispers.

“What’s your name.”


“Craig, why are you feeling so down that you want to harm yourself?”

“My girlfriend left me for her dentist and there’s nothing left for me,” he sobs.

I give him a moment to collect himself then encourage him to see one of our counselors. He agrees finally. We enter into a verbal safety contract and he goes to his sister’s to spend the night until his appointment the following morning.

I give him the location of Dr. Garcia’s office. Write a summary and hope he shows up. A lot don’t. Thinking about them makes me reach for my hand sanitizer.

The lines are busy tonight. I finish my notes and my line is blinking again.

“Suicide Prevention, this is Lilith, how may I help you?”

“Lilith, I’ve been trying to kill myself but nothing works,” he says in a weary voice.

His distinct English accent sends a frisson of excitement through me.

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve tried jumping in front of a BART train, jumping off a building and electrocution.”

“You what!”

“Are you having trouble hearing me? I’m on the bridge. My reception is usually good but…”

“No, no I hear you fine.”

“Oh good, like I was saying…”

“Wait!” I’m trying to catch up with the conversation. “Why are you trying to kill yourself?”

“I’m tired, Lilith. I’m just tired,” his voice, full of pain.

“Maybe you just need a rest? Some peace, not an ending.”

“I’m sick of the predictability of this life. There’s nothing to stick around for. When you’ve seen as much as I have… it’s painful to see things repeated over and over again.”

“Do you have anyone to share with?” I say, I know what he means.

Day after day, no one to share my life with, an eternity of endless, black nights with no fire. Just an occasional spark. Vampires don’t call help lines.

“No, there’s no one.”

“Well, you can start with me, you have me. What’s your name?” I ask.

“You can call me Aidan.”

“Aidan, what’s got you so tired with life, is it your job?”

“I’m between jobs right now and not actively seeking employment,” he says, dryly.

I sense an opening.

“I’ve felt like you. The days run together, so I got a job. What type of work have you done?”

“It was slavery in its basest form.”

“I hate my boss too, but it couldn’t have been that bad.”

“Oh I assure you dear, Lilith, it was shackles and chains all the way.”

So much for my window of insight.

“What about friends. Have you never had a friend that has made a difference in your life?”

“I’m a loner. I like to observe humans not befriend them.”

I can empathize. Vampires tend to stick to their own kind, too. It’s not nice to play with your food.

“Would you consider observing one of our counselors? It might be amusing?”

He chuckles.

“Lilith, I am in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge with the intent of jumping off. I thought I would call and get your opinion on whether this is a successful method of dying or not. I admit I have found our conversation enjoyable.”

“But… but we’re suicide PREVENTION! We don’t give advice on HOW to commit suicide!”

“So far you have managed to delay me quite satisfactorily.”

His voice sends a shiver across my nerve endings. Did I mention he had an English accent? Stop it Lily what’s wrong with you? Focus! I’m getting ready to beg which breaks all our rules.

“What can I do to change your mind? What can I say, Aidan?”

“Hmmm…. Would you be willing to meet me on the bridge in half an hour to talk? No police officers – I’ll know – and I’ll be gone if you do,” he warns. “Just you, and I make no promises.”

I’m quiet for a moment. There is something about this guy. Am I a super mojo wielding vampire or what? I know a few tricks. I’m not worried about my personal safety.

I blow a gust of air, which isn’t easy for someone who doesn’t need to breathe.

“I’ll meet you in the middle in half an hour. Wait for me in case my bus is late.”

He laughs and hangs up.


Jessica, you piqued my interest with the first line, had me chuckling by the second, and I was rolling my eyes in empathy at Meredith’s rules (I can’t tell you how many corporate memos I’ve seen regarding personal items in the workplace!!).

I love Lilith – her ability to remain calm, no matter what — or who — is thrown her way, her genuine desire to help her callers, her humor, and her loneliness. And you’ve got some great laugh-out-loud moments here! Like, the hand sanitizer and her asking Aidan to hold off on jumping off the bridge because her bus might be late (and if she’s taking MUNI, it probably will be late).

What a fun story! Can’t wait to see what happens when Lilith gets to the bridge. Great job!

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66 responses

20 01 2010
Decisions, Decisions… « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 2 Finalist […]

4 03 2010

Jessica, You had me from the first. I would love to read the whole story. You have combined my favorite things, romance and the undead. I found your writing delightful, you have a knack to keep the reader curious as to what happens next, and entertained at the same time. Keep up the good work.

20 01 2010

Thanks Rachelle!
It was a lot of fun to write too. I really took to heart the critique from last week and started my story from an action sequence. I’m so excited it paid off 🙂

20 01 2010

This was fun! I really enjoyed the banter between Lilith and Aidan, and I would definitely read more of this. (I’m still chuckling about her telling him it’s suicide PREVENTION — LOL)

I was a teeny tiny little bit confused — probably because I haven’t had my coffee yet — is she a vampire as well? I think so, but I just wanted to know for sure.

Great job — this is an enjoyable read.

20 01 2010

What a joy to read. I love that she doesn’t need medical. Funny. Nice little tidbits you’ve shown about her throughtout. Great job! I am curious why an English accent would excite her? Is this something about vampires that is standard or just her?

20 01 2010

Thanks Donna, She is a vampire. That devlopes more in the next chapter. I had more back story in the first chapter and took it out. I am undecided about whether or not to bring more in about this. I like the ambiguity too.

20 01 2010

Thank you Becky, LOL, I love English accents! But later in the book you find that Lily has a penchant for accents so it is just her that gets excited. 🙂

20 01 2010
Tory M

I liked some of this, though I had to go back and read it twice before I realized both of them were likely vampires. I have issues with the fact that she’d go off to meet someone, honestly. I mean, if she’s working for a suicide prevention line amd somehow I would suspect that is very firmly on the “do not do” list. I did like the whole “personal item” interplay. Probably one of my bigger issues was it was in the present tense + first person. I don’t like either, and find it a bit distracting. Then again, Kim Harrison writes first person and rocks!

21 01 2010

I knew going into this that the present tense first person was going to be a risk but it just felt natural to tell Lily’s story this way. You are right going out to meet a client is a BIG no no. That’s a critical risk she takes. Lily is a vampire but Aidan is not, he’s not human either. I was once told I had too many pictures of my children in my cubicle and had to take them done. Ever since then the “personal items” rule has been in the back of my mind. Thanks for the feedback.

21 01 2010
Leigh Michaels

Jessica, I was delighted with your opening scene — complete with laugh-out-loud lines like “It’s not nice to play with your food.” Though I’m not generally a fan of present tense narrative, you do it so well that I was right there with you and after a few paragraphs I didn’t even notice. Love Aidan, too, and how even in the midst of trying to off himself he still has a sense of humor… and knowing that Lily’s a vampire meant I wasn’t nearly as concerned about her going off to meet a client as if she’d been a regular person. Now I’m dying to know what he meant by chains and shackles (literally?) and what he is…

Thanks for a delightful opening!

22 01 2010

Thanks Leigh!
I know a lot of people can get turned off by the present tense first person narrative but I was hoping it will be like it was for you, a seemless transition after a paragraph or two. Lily is an obsessive compulsive vampire, a germ warrior and pining for the ‘right guy’. Aidan is something special… 🙂
Thanks for your wonderful comments.

21 01 2010
April Morelock

I want to read this!!!! I’d buy this right now. Hurry up and find a publisher!!!! Or if you need a crit partner…

22 01 2010

LOL! I can’t ask for a better endorsement! Thank you April!

22 01 2010
Mary B

Jessica, Lily is feisty, like it. Also, like the present tense, first person, though I usually don’t like present tense. In this case it gives the story a sense of immediacy and action. I want to know more about Aiden, and what happens when she gets to the bridge. Good work and I’ll look for it, I don’t think I’ll forget a title like that.

22 01 2010

Thanks Mary,
I like the title too. I wanted the reader to know that this book was going to have elements of humor throughout it. Hopefully someday the book will be out there 🙂

22 01 2010
Jeannie Lin

Many delightful surprises in this opening. The characterizations are colorful. It took me a moment to realize Lilith was a vampire, but not too long. Then I had a moment of wondering are vampires “out” in this world or not.

You definitely have me hooked. Really nicely done!

23 01 2010

Thanks Jeannie,
My vampires are still walking a delicate line. They are out to the paranormal world… witches and the like but definately in the closet to the rest of us, carefully blending in. Thanks for the happy thoughts!

23 01 2010

Confession: I’ve never read a vampire story before as they don’t normally interest me. NOTE: I said *normally* – but wow – what a GREAT opening. I can see why the judges loved it! I want to read more…… Caroline x

25 01 2010

This story is above all a romance and the vampires are just the people falling in love. Hopefully there will be many more readers like you that will cross over. Thanks for the kudos!

24 01 2010

Really really nice! I would go out and buy it right now. The early bit felt a little forced, but it really came together for me about 1/3 of the way down and by the end of it I was really interested, intrigued and already really invested in Lillith for some reason. Great, great job!

25 01 2010

I wish you could go out and buy it! I did some editing at the early on and I may need to go back and look at it again. Thanks for your feedback. It always helps to have fresh eyes look at your work.

26 01 2010


Well done. I was bummed to get to the end and I’m hooked or horrified bythe first couple pages. They are my buy or pass decision makers.

I’m not usually a first person POV reader either, but you did this very well.

Good luck!

5 02 2010

Thank you Candi,
I think a lot of people will over look the first person POV by getting hooked in the story. At least that is what I am hoping!

30 01 2010

Wow, Jessi, that’s even more grabbing than the first draft was!

Folks, I’m not AT ALL into this genre, but when she asked for my opinion on this, after I got my arm back in its socket and my lungs reinflated, it wasn’t the krazy glue that made it impossible to put it down. Like you guys, I was hooked right away, and I couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. Even in first draft, I couldn’t find anything more seriously wrong with it than the first-person present-tense, and as you’ve noted, Jessi makes it work. There’s a lot of good twists and turns, and the interactions and characterizations really grab you and make you empathize with them. Even the antagonists were well thought out and humorous and sympathetic. Best of all, it didn’t turn me gay!

Can’t wait until the final draft. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

– Jaycee

:waves shyly at Leigh before departing:

5 02 2010

Thanks Jaycee!
There have been many revisions since you have read it! I’m glad I can still grab your attention and keep it. 🙂

1 02 2010

Great first line. We, as readers, immediately get right into what one of the main characters is doing…..we know the setting right away.

I didn’t pick up that she was talking to a vampire right away and I was a little confused why someone would try to commit suicide because their boss was too tough. Get rid of the boss. But then it fell into place for me and “I got it.”

Love the humor: Don’t play with your food. That was a good line. Then I loved the line where she says she tries to prevent suicide, not give advice to be successful at it.

I’m a true coward. I think I wouldn’t want to meet the vampire knowing it would lick its lips every time it thought about my blood. I’d want to keep a distance. LOL! Having the vampire laugh at the end of this piece was good and made me want to know more. Did he laugh because he had a sense of humor or because a blood snack was on it’s way.

Good job and congrats on being a finalist.

5 02 2010

Thanks Tessa,
In the story Lily is the vampire and she is not sure what she is going out to meet. She thinks it is just a normal human.
It is good to know that I made people laugh. Sometimes when we write in a vacuum it sounds funny but the true test comes when a number of people have read it to see how it translates to them. Thanks for the comments.

9 02 2010

Hi Jessica,

I really, really liked this scene and I’m not usually a fan of the paranormal nor of the present tense narrative. But you hooked me right away.

What an usual heroine—a OC vampire who mans (womans?) a suicide prevention hot-line. And then you introduce a hero who’s apparently indestructible, yet is attempting to end his life.

You taken some dark subjects and infused them with humor. Well done. I enjoyed every moment and would definitely read more.


17 02 2010

Thanks Suzy!
You made my day!

24 02 2010

Hi Jessica –

I usually don’t like the present tense, but it didn’t bug me here at all – well done. The premise of a vampire getting so bored that she resorts to working at a suicide hotline is really fresh and fun. I would definitely read on to find out what happens on the bridge. 🙂

25 02 2010

Thanks Gwen,
I know the present tense is hard for some people but I am hoping it flows well like it did for you. Thanks for the good karma.

3 03 2010

Nice job. Flows well. Entertaining read.

3 03 2010

Thanks Brian 🙂

3 03 2010


This is great! It kept my attention, made me laugh, and I was very intrigued by the possibility of their “connection”. I would buy this at a store if this was the back cover! Love it Love soo proud of you.


3 03 2010

Thank you Sarah!!!! You will get the first copy if it makes it “out there”. Remember to vote for me and pass it along to your friends. 😀

3 03 2010
Marcy Burroughs

Great job Jess, I was it definately kept my concern and wanted to see what happened.


4 03 2010

Thanks Marcy,
Love that you checked it out! I’lll keep you posted!

4 03 2010
Nancy Smith

Great job Jessie, I want my copy signed when I get it.

Vampires are really in this year, so you are in good company.

Good Luck

4 03 2010

Thanks Auntie! And thanks for voting. Tell Tigger I appreciate the good company and words of wisdom 🙂

4 03 2010
Tigger Smith

Dear Jessie, I sniffed this out to be a really good story, I would love to chase a vampire, a ghoul, or Auntie Mo’s gator in her back yard. But I would never bite a vampire, I know better then that.

Goooooooooood night and Gooooooooooooooood luck
from Tigger

5 03 2010
bambi bevill

good jess – would be interesting to know if the vampire working suicide prevention has a surprising respect for life – a nice complement to the playing with her food comment – which i loved. wasn’t really crazy about the title – but maybe that fits with the story and setting – as i’ve never been there.

how cool to read your writing again – after like – 25 years! wow!

6 03 2010

Thanks Bambi! The main character does have a strong regard for human life. NOt something you expect to find in a vampire. The title is kind of a pun. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years shhhh you are not supposed to say things like that! 😀

6 03 2010
Beverly Geyer

Thoroughly enjoyed and want to see what happens on the bridge.

7 03 2010

Thank you Beverly!

9 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

This story has great potential, but it isn’t quite there yet IMHO.

What I enjoyed about the story: It has irony, humor, and a few catchy one liners. What a hilarious idea – a vamp who works for a suicide hotline 🙂 Now that’s a unique vampire story!

Problem areas: I wish the beginning had more “dazzle” – it was too slow for me; there were a few places I was confused and had to go back and re-read; the dialogue seemed forced in spots; talking heads – nothing to anchor us to the “here and now” (could use a bit more of the 5 senses).

I wish this author luck with this project!

10 03 2010

Thank you for the wonderful feedback. I will get to work on your suggestions right away! Thank you for taking the time to read it.

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

This has the potential to be a fresh take on a vampire romance but I didn’t find the opening as hooky as I would have liked. Lilith’s personality is really only coming through in her internal thoughts rather than anything she is actually saying and that can be a tough way to introduce a character. You are telling me how she feels rather than letting it reveal itself through her actions and words. I will also admit that the fact that she is getting turned on by a sexy voice that is calling a suicide hotline is a bit weird for me. Yes, she chastizes herself for it but it makes it harder for me to get who she is and it seems like an element that has been kind of inorganically thrust into the story. I would think she is doing this work on the suicide hotline because it is important to her (not for the money if it is even a paid position)…I would expect her to have a lot of empathy and sensitivity and given the previous calls and her exchange with her boss, those aren’t the vibes that are coming off of her in waves. She isn’t unsympathetic but I have no idea what drives her. Aidan on the other hand feels way more compelling right off the bat. His tone is dry in a way that I find appealing and I like that he laughs and hangs up at the end of the sample. I am very curious about what it will be like when these two meet so I do feel hooked enough to want to know what comes next. I think the opening needs some work to become a bit more sparky, but you are on your way, definitely.

11 03 2010

Thank you for the feedback. I had more feeling in the first chapter and ended up cutting a lot to fit the hook into the 1000 word limit. I see exactly what you are saying and need to revisit this. Than you so much for taking the time to read this.

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

Why does a vampire work on a suicide prevention hotline? I don’t get the sense that she has strong feelings of sympathy or mission. My first guess is that she’s looking for dinner. I mean, Craig wants to die anyway, and she needs sustenance. She can find out where he is and attack later, and console herself that his was a lost life with or without her. (I could be wrong, but I raise this as a way of suggesting you clarify her motivation early on.)

This is a good piece but it has one or two snags. It’s slow to get going. I would cut the Craig sequence, tighten the Meredith sequence, and try to get from the xanax call (which is amusing) to the British guy more quickly. There are other ways to raise the pace here, but that’s what I would recommend you try first. If that doesn’t work, you can try something else. You can try keeping a condensed Meredith and then go straight to the British guy. That might work, too, but you would lose some of the bright mood if you got rid of the xanax call.

She capitulates a little too quickly to his request that she meet him on the bridge. I want to see her resist, and I want her to at least acknowledge that there’s more than physical safety at risk here. This guy is already playing with her head a little. She’s walking into an emotionally risky situation, and this would work better for me if she did it after some deliberation.

As to the present tense issue raised by some other commenters, I think that if this were on submission, I would keep reading to see if you leverage that narrative choice. If you use this as a method to enhance tension or suspense, then it’s less problematic. Just make sure the narrative style has a purpose.

Congratulations on making it to the finals. I think with some tightening and clearer character motivation, this could be a very good opening. You’re definitely on the right path!

12 03 2010

Thank you first of all for taking the time to read my entry. I’m finding that I have a lot of work a head of me for this opening segment. I really appreciated your feedback and am going to be working on it.
Thanks again,

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hi Jessica!
You certainly have a great imagination. Alas, I’m simply not a fan of present tense prose. And making this first person also makes the read more difficult because you haven’t fleshed out the character and given her a unique voice. Why would a vampire be in such an awful job? Or any job? Aren’t suicide prevention people supposed to NOT get personal? I was surprised that she’d want to go meet him. (And if so, why did she have to take a bus? She’s a vampire!) I feel that there’s too much talk and not enough action here. I’m sorry, but even fantasy has to be believable within the world you’ve created. It’s nice that she’s named Lilith.
Keep at it!
Elizabeth Pomada

13 03 2010

Thank you Elizabeth for taking the time to read my entry. I will take your feedback into consideration.

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Jessica–there are some really nice details here. I liked how she reaches for the sanitizer when she’s stressed–it tells you a lot about her. And linking her being to a vampire to her empathy for those who call her is very clever and helps to create the character in a really believable way. I do wish there had been a bit more background and a little less dialogue, only because I didn’t get a strong sense of either Lily’s motivation from the excerpt here.

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Happy Writing! (I posted too quickly!)

16 03 2010

Thank you for reading my entry. I left some of the back story out and I go back and forth on whether that was wise or not. I bring it back in during the first part of the second chapter. I really appreciate your feedback.
Thank you,

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

Hi Jessica,

This is a really cute idea. Unfortunately, there was so much dialogue, I never got a sense of who the heroine was, why she’s in the situation she’s in, what her life is like, etc. All we see is what she says to others. And that’s just not enough, especially when she’s essentially talking to strangers. While the dialogue and situation is humorous, it would add so much more if you gave us more of her perspective, more insight into how she thinks – obviously, a vampire working at a suicide hot line would look at the world a little differently. It would be nice to identify with a character like that. But you haven’t given us enough.

It’s also worth mentioning that first person stories are a hard sell right now. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be done. But they need to be done exceptionally well.

Luckily, the premise you’ve come up with has the potential to be done really, really well. Good luck!

16 03 2010

Thank you Brenda for taking the time to read my entry and for the words of encouragement. I am seeing from the other feedback along with yours that I need to put in some back story or internal dialogue into the opening of this ms. I really appreciate your feedback.

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

This got fun for me when you (finally) let the reader know that Lily is a vampire. Up to that point, it felt slow. The boss was one of the best parts–hilarious. The premise of the suicide prevention hotline was a little tough–one of my criteria is that there should be a hero the reader can fall in love with, and I can’t really recommend that with a suicidal hero. You clearly are good with dialog. First person POV is very, very tough to sell in the romance category. I worry also that the title is too clever for its own good. It doesn’t read “romance” to me at all. That said, I think there’s some promise here–the sense of humor is great once it gets going, but there are also some elements you might want to rethink.

17 03 2010

Thanks for the feedback and taking the time to read my entry. Aidan very quickly becomes a bad boy to fall in love with. He’s a jinni. His interest in Lily quickly turns his world inside out. I never looked at it from your point of view though and you have me thinking. The title was meant to be funny but I see your POV and it doesn’t say romance. I meant it to be along the same lines as Mary Janice Davidson and the Undead and Unwed series. I might be missing the mark though.
Thank you again 🙂

17 03 2010

Jessica – PS, I wanted to tell you that I love your title, even if it does’t imply romance. In fact, one of the engineers I work with went to vote and came back to me saying “Well, I voted for you, but it was tough … that ‘Still Sucking in San Francisco’ was so catchy.” 😉

17 03 2010

Thanks Gwen! I like the title too 🙂 I love you story and can’t wait to see it published!

20 03 2010
And The Winners Are… « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] – Week 2 Finalist – Still Sucking in San Francisco by Jessica […]

20 03 2010
Donna Cummings

Jessica, congrats!

20 03 2010

Donna – Thank You!

20 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Jessica, congratulations on your 2nd place in this contest! 🙂 Good luck submitting it to agents and editors!

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Jessica:

Enjoyed reading your entry. Congratulations on your second place win. I liked the light touch with the suicide hot line angle. Good twist. Best of luck to you with your writing.


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