Wednesday, October 14, 2009

38 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women's Fiction

As I walked to class, the wind slapped my face, waking me from a stupor. Wake up, Elizabeth. Life is short. Get over it and stop feeling sorry for yourself. In the distance, I saw a woman lift a baby from a carriage. The blanket billowed behind her. I averted my eyes and quickened my pace to the arboretum, fighting against the wind and my despair.

My sensible shoes clicked along the sidewalk as I passed other students. I gawked at one group collected under a tree so young they could have been my children. Domestic life in suburbia felt worlds away from this college campus. Apparently, new fashions had hatched: pierced noses, low-riding jeans, bare bellies, all inviting me to stare. I remembered wearing jeans and baggy sweatshirts in college, and had stepped into this time warp here and now. Feeling conspicuous, I adjusted my new book bag to conceal the pink and green polka dotted cardigan.

I thought about what brought me to this class and remembered the flowers that appeared on my doorstep. Such a sweet gesture, really, but perplexing as the attached note read:

Dear Elizabeth, We hope you feel better soon and wanted to share with you a class we think you would absolutely love. It is called “Plants Like People.” Hope to see you back at the club soon. Warmly, Your friends at the Forest Hills Gardening Club.

“Why on earth would the women at the gardening club send me this?”


  1. I thought this could have been smoothed out some more. I don't like seeing versions of the same word in consecutive sentences (waking ... wake), and I didn't see the point of the woman lifting the baby from the carriage, either.

    Plus, if I'm supposed to feel sympathy for her, a pink and green polka dotted cardigan doesn't help. Isn't that a Fashion Don't at any age?

    I don't read women's fiction, so take this with a grain of salt, but what's at stake here? The mystery of the garden club note is not a lot of looming mystery or conflict.

  2. I'm going to disagree with JohnO a little. The first paragraph really drew me in, probably because I HAVE BEEN IN EXACTLY THAT SITUATION. I assumed that Elizabeth has just suffered a pregnancy loss or had a child die, and now she's seeing babies. Everywhere.

    The early mention of her gardening club might be adding dimension to her character - or it might just be cluttering things up. I can't decide.

    But I would definitely read on, because I see myself in Elizabeth (and I think a lot of other women might, too).

    P.S. Loved the pink and green polka dotted cardigan. I guess we can't all be fashionistas.

  3. I'm intrigued!

    I did, eventually, understand that her sorrow stems from being childless, and that's very powerful to me. I think that would be more clear if the thought "Wake up, Elizabeth. Life is short. Get over it and stop feeling sorry for yourself." came after seeing the baby and not before. Cause and effect.

    Love the polka-dot cardi... I can feel her dowdiness through the computer screen.

  4. I like this. I agree with Lucy's suggestion for cause and effect. And your second sentence in the second paragraph needs a comman between tree and to avoid confusion.

    I foresee an interesting story, so I would definitely read on.

  5. This pulled me into the scene at once, straight into elizabeth's world. The question at the end threw me, though. That's exactly the kind of gift I'd imagine from her gardening club. Might need to elaborate on why she found it so strange?

  6. I'd start with the note from the gardening club.

    You do a good job describing the MS's emotional state. I really like the fashion descriptions and her pink and green polka dot cardigan. Although, I don't think they are strong enough for the opening paragraphs of a story.

    Good luck!

  7. Pink and green, making me think retro, as in my mother in highschool circa early 60's. Either this lady is collecting her SS check, bought the cardigan at the Salvation Army, or it just adds to her lack of current fashion sense. (As if I'm qualified to say anything about fashion sense).

    I am not sure why she would find it an odd gift from her garden club friends. It seems they are expressing their sympathy for the loss of her child/baby...

    I agree to put the wake up part after seeing the baby.

  8. I'd read on, but it doesn't grip me. She's a fish out of water who has lost a child (I assume) and I assume will heal at the class. Instead of wondering why the gardening club would send her to the class, I'd wonder how they thought the class would help. Good luck!

  9. Slightly hooked. I like the first paragraph. Great way of telling us what happened without telling us.

    I'd read on to see what happens.

  10. I love the mood you set! I also sympathize with the character right away. 2 things: You use the word "wake" twice in first para. And I'd change the phrase "sensible" shoes to something more specific, like flat heeled, or some brand. Dunno, sensible just rang wrong by itself.
    Maybe she could be wearing those hideous "crocs" lol!

  11. Intrigued. I think you almost give too much away. Maybe show her through someone else's POV? I'm not sure if this is a young woman who dresses really badly or an older one in a zingy cardie.
    I too assumed that she's lost a baby and I too have been in that if you don't want people to guess this too soon, think again about this paragraph.
    Her surprise about the class might work better if she wasn't already in a gardening group.
    There's almost an Anne Tyler feel about the set up - I'd definitely read on.

  12. The "under a tree so young" sentence nags at me ... how it is now, it's stating the *tree* is so young, not the kids. :)

    This didn't exactly hook me, but I also wouldn't put it down at this point - I'd keep reading to see how things read over the next couple pages.

  13. The first paragraph tells the reader this is a woman who wants a child, but I have a hard time believing anyone of child-bearing age in this country would be unaware of the fashions she describes. I think that bit makes her seem a tad too out of it.

    I do like the part about a garden club giving her the class, although she shouldn't be so clueless about why.
    That's the problem for me--the MC is too clueless, though I do feel for her. I'm not really hooked.

  14. I think the line "Domestic life..." would be a pretty good hook for you if she's going to attend college full-time.

    If she's going for only the one class, you might be better off starting with the note.

    Hope that helps you out a bit :)

  15. This is interesting. You should start here. "Wake up, Elizabeth. Life is short. Get over it and stop feeling sorry for yourself."

    Unfortunately the only other interesting item was this.
    "In the distance, I saw a woman lift a baby from a carriage. The blanket billowed behind her."

    But there's no follow through.

    We're repeatedly told she's fighting despair. We need to know why.

  16. In my mind, walking to class indicates this is a very young woman, even though it says the genre is women's fiction. I only realize she's not college age with the "I remembered wearing jeans and baggy sweatshirts..." but it's not a revelation, it's more like an "oh ok." I would continue reading as I'm intrigued. I also disagree with beginnig with internal dialogue or the note. I prefer to find something out about the protag right away - the most telling sentences to me are "I saw a woman lift a baby from a carriage..." and the rest of that graf. I would follow that with Elizabeth walking to class. Her spotting the baby and her despair are what is interesting to me.

  17. The conflict is here but partially hidden by layers of distracting clothing description. I suggest trimming and getting on with the conflict.

  18. This is slow paced, but I like it. I want to follow along and see what she's going to do with her life! I suppose that means I like the voice. :D

  19. Well, I was ready to pass on this. There was too much emphasis on everyone's clothes and I couldn't figure out why it mattered. All I saw was an older woman attending college and having to deal with a younger world.

    But before I wrote this, I read the other comments, and I never would have guessed that she had just lost a baby. It wasn't even on my radar. Once I knew that, I saw things that had significance, and it made a difference - to me, at least. SHe's lost a baby, she's not as young as she use to be, maybe she'll never have another.

    Someone said you shouldn't give away the loss of the baby so early, but I didn't get it at all, and I'm guessing there are other people, probably women who haven't gone thru that, that wouldn't get it either, which makes me think you should make it more obvious (or perhaps I'm just really dense and it's just me)

    My point, I guess, is that you don't want to lose readers because they don't get what you're writing about. Knowing about the baby made a big difference in how I saw this. I'd say be sure that's evident early.

  20. I'm really having a hard time pinpointing Elizabeth's age here. I'm guessing that she just lost a baby. However, she comments that a group of college students looked young enough to be her children.

    I am curious, though, to find out how she fits in to her new college class. I'd read on.

  21. I'd keep reading--identify with the longing for children, and want to know more about the MC. I'm curious about why the last line is in quotes, since all the rest seems to be in the MC's voice anyway.

  22. I'm with Barbara. I didn't get the loss, either. I thought the baby blanket was a clumsy description of the weather. I like the premise more now that I read the other comments.

  23. I'm hooked and think your target audience would get the character and feel sympathy for her. It wasn't slow for me. I felt her pain at every step. Good job. I'd keep reading.

  24. Overall I like the setup. I can see this dowdy woman, who probably looks, dresses and acts much older than she actually is. I like her sensible shoes and cardigan—IF you want her to come across as hopelessly out of it. Not sure how a person could live in this world and not be aware of pierced noses and belly shirts. Maybe she shouldn’t be surprised by the “new fashions” but simply observing them and noting how they differed from her own college days.

    I don’t like when a character says “I thought about…” and “remembered…” I’d prefer to just be told what she’s thinking. Maybe you could transition from the polka dotted cardigan to something like, “The flowers that had appeared on my doorstep were a sweet gesture, but the note perplexed me…”

    Then I would change her question at the end to something that makes more sense. I think she knows good and well why her friends would send her this. What’s her real question? Maybe something along the lines of, “Do they really think a college class is going to help me put my life back together?”

    I’m not totally fascinated but I’m hooked enough to read on and see if I can engage with this character.