Friday, November 30, 2012

(17) Women's Fiction: The Meaning of Orchids

TITLE: The Meaning of Orchids
GENRE: Women's Fiction

After hiding underneath oversize sweatshirts and baseball hats for fifteen years, Shane Phillips, born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome—a genetic intersexed condition that left her physically female but genetically male—decides to embark on a journey of self-discovery to understand what it means to be a woman.

I was born healthy–technically. The doctor told my mother he had never seen such a well-developed baby girl. Ten fingers. Ten toes. And, as we later discovered, something else. My mother wanted a girl; my father, a boy. They both got their wish.

These thoughts bang around my mind as I step out of the shower and peek at my naked body in the partially fogged mirror, my 36 D breasts and hairless vagina—the body parts that suggest I’m a woman. But as I run a towel in tight circular motions across the surgical scar on my stomach, I feel less like my adapted gender.

I slip on a sleeveless black dress, apply a stroke of mascara, and dab on a lick of lip gloss. With every move toward preparation, I second-guess my decision to attend tonight’s event. It’s not any place I want to be–not in the mood I’m in. Feelings of dejection, confusion, and loneliness are unwelcome guests to a party.

Not that I’m not grateful for a night of superficial happiness. To the colleagues and clients who’ll be at the party, I’m normal–an average woman who can grow pubic hair, menstruate, birth babies, and pass gender tests. In some ways, I’m better than normal: I move with a ballerina’s grace and my statuesque body is the perfect accessory to any kind of clothing. I stand eye to eye with most men while my breasts compete with those of Playboy centerfolds—only mine are real enough, and close enough, for men to touch.


  1. Love the title!
    Some minor things that tripped me up a bit. You refer to her hairless vagina (def didn't wake up today thinking I would be saying those 2 words in a critique ;p)but then you say she can grow pubic hair? Men can of course grow pubic hair as well so maybe leave this mention out and refer to breastfeeding? Just a thought to help solidify her womanhood.
    And I'm kind of wondering does she want to be a woman and have men like her? I hope this makes sense and please take this feedback with a grain of salt, as I don't know enough about this trans gender topic but I would def read on.
    Good Luck!!

  2. Fantastic concept and I love your opening paragraph! I think that your second paragraph could be removed. There's lots of info out there that suggests you shouldn't describe your MC by looking in the mirror and your following two paragraphs give me the same idea of how Shane looks. Is there a way you can include the surgical scar in another place?
    LOVE "Feelings of dejection, confusion, and loneliness are unwelcome guests to a party."
    Yeah, I'd read the rest of this in a heartbeat.

  3. I agree with both previous comments, especially the idea of looking in the mirror to give physical description to readers.

    This is an intriguing premise -- and I suspect there'll be a rich story arc.

    I think a stronger opening would be:
    My mother wanted a girl; my father, a boy. They both got their wish.

  4. I love the feel of this opening, especially the line, "My mother wanted a girl; my father, a boy. They both got their wish." The internal conflict is here and definitely engaging.

    The "hairless vagina" did trip me up--aren't all vaginas hairless? They're also not something you can see in a mirror so that's something that might need tweaked. Also, I'm not sure about "I’m normal–an average woman who can grow pubic hair, menstruate, birth babies, and pass gender tests." Not all of these things seems like issues the clients would be thinking of.

  5. Very intriguing premise. I’m not familiar with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome—is it different than being a hermaphrodite? I’m thrown by physically female but genetically male; it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. I would think male genetics lead to male bodies, so did Shane have a penis too? It’s hinted at with the scar, but not on her stomach…

    The opening sure does just throw it all at you, which could go either way for me. It’s kind of necessary knowledge to make the rest of the sample interesting (otherwise, it’s just someone getting out of the shower), but on the other hand, I want to be shown this in a subtler manner. It feels almost like you’re going for the shock rather than creating an interesting scene, and I kind of think the end of the first paragraph is enough of a clue to last for a while until you reveal a bit at a time and explore Shane’s body issues and life more naturally. And I can’t help but think there’s a lot of focus on the physical, which comes off as a man writing about a woman in an almost sexual tone (so much about breasts, vagina, pubic hair). I can’t see women wanting to read that. Consider making Shane an interesting character with more external conflict, then use her gender issues to color that in. As it is, she seems fairly used to being female, so the “journey of self-discovery” in the logline sounds like a short trip.

  6. I have to admit, this whole subject matter is completely foreign to me, so take my comments with a grain of salt.

    I'm not sure if Shane wants to be a male or a female. I'm curious to know if this was 'her' decision or 'her' parents' decision.

    The sentence, "The doctor told my mother he had never seen such a well-developed baby girl" threw me. I can't imagine a doctor saying such a thing. What makes a baby girl so well-developed that a doctor had never seen one before?

    I think a mirror-scene, although something we are told to avoid in writing, can work if it is told at the right time. Since this story has to do with "body parts," I think you can get a way with it here. However, a surgical scar on 'her' "stomach" might be changed to "lower abdomen" or "pubis" - ?? But a scar on your stomach gives me a visual of an appendectomy or cesarean section scar!

    Was Shane Phillips given the name "Shane" at birth? The first name itself is androgynous. Makes me wonder if the parents were not sure which gender their child would be in the future. And the baseball caps/sweatshirts for fifteen years makes me curious if that was when Shane had made the decision which gender 'she' wanted to be...? Just my mind wandering here.

    Lastly, I'm curious to know why this genre is classified as 'women's fiction.' I guess I'd have to read the book, huh? For me personally, this is a book I would only read if someone had recommended it to me. It is a niche market IMO, and not your typical women's fiction story.

    Good luck with it!

  7. Okay, I like the premise alot. I did get a little confused about whether or not your main character wants to be a woman. I'm guessing if she had the surgery that she did. She seems old enough to me where she'd be making her own gender decisions. But if she wanted to be a female, then why is the book about her journey in discovering the female side of herself. She was born with a female side and unless she was suppressing it for some reason she would have already taken this journey. UNLESS now that she's had the surgery she can begin to discover her female sexuality also. That would be interesting. As you can see I have alot of questions, which is good because it means I'm definitely intrigued. The writing is rich and I don't have a problem with the character describing herself in the mirror. If the surgery was a recent one then she would still be adjusting to seeing herself as fully female and would want to visually inspect her body frequently. I think you could hint at how long it's been since her surgery by describing the scar. A new scar might be tight and itchy. Red and inflamed. An older scar begins to pale and blend into the unscarred skin.

    I hope this helps. I'd definitely keep reading.

  8. Hmmm, like some of the others, I'm still a little bit confused about Shane's journey to discover what it means to be a woman. If she has the physical characteristics of a female, and was raised that way, doesn't she already know? Wouldn't she be more interested in discovering what it's like to be male?

    I personally would rather see this scene open somewhere else. I just don't need to read about anyone's vagina on the first page.

    Good luck!