Friday, November 30, 2012

(21) Women's Fiction: MAKING ARRANGEMENTS

GENRE: Women's Fiction

Battling cancer, Lang Ellis spent her final year of life making sure her adored soon-to-be widowed husband could manage without her. Ha. After he drops dead on the tennis court, Lang, miraculously cancer-free, learns one of his many secrets could cost her the most important thing she has: her family.

Lang leaned heavily on the shovel and tried to slow her breath.

A florescent cardinal perched jauntily on the feeder, dapper and energetic. She scanned the garden for his mate, and found the drab-feathered female scuttling in the leaves. Lang and Jack Ellis if they were birds.

Lang put all her weight on the shovel, balancing carefully as the earth gave way and the shovel easily slid in the damp November ground. She hadn't smelled the earth in over a year. She closed her eyes and breathed in the rich, damp scent of dirt.

She should be packing for the celebratory trip for her one year remission, not futilely trying to divide a wayward Lenten rose. She waited for her breath to slow as she went over her list, deleting the big floppy hat. After this past year, she didn't want to ever wear a hat again. Her hair was still chemo-short, but at least her scalp wasn't visible. At first glance, anyway.

Lang knew better than to smile about the love letters she'd written Jack, but she pictured them stacked and tied with the pink ribbon. She didn't want to tempt fate, trash-talk God. Still, she felt a tiny bit smug knowing she'd covered all her bases, that the letters she'd written him after her diagnosis were tucked away, unopened. Unnecessary after all.


Dear Jack,

I shouldn't feel glad at all after the news.

But I do. I'm grateful for the warning. That it wasn't sudden.


  1. I really like the writing here, especially the description of the birds. I am a little confused by the timeframe/tense in both the logline and the excerpt (she spends the last year of her life, etc., only it isn't the last year of her life). However, I think the premise is good. I'd read on!

  2. Your logline is intriguing, and the word "Ha" sets a certain tone. The first page is gently written, so I have to trust that the whammy is coming.

    (I think I read more into "covered all her bases" and "unnecessary after all" than I would have without the logline. Something darker, or humorous, that isn't really there.)

    I like the metaphoric cardinals, but you might consider dropping/changing "florescent". "Jauntily" captures the male ego; nicely foreshadows the husband (?).

    I'd read on.

  3. I really like the image of the birds and the comparison with Lang and her husband. That's intriging. (Although I'm not sure "florescent" works.)


    I'm having trouble with the last paragraph (before the letter starts). It comes out of nowhere - she was just thinking about her chemo-short hair and suddenly she's trying not to smile about love letters. It's too abrupt a change. I also don't get why smiling about them would tempt fate or trash-talk God. I don't get how she's covered all her bases by tucking away the letters. There just isn't enough context or connection. I have a vague idea of what that paragraph means because of the logline, but if I hadn't read the logline, I would be lost.

    Of course, this could just be me. :)

    I do really like the concept. Good luck with this!

  4. The logline here is interesting, but then I got confused as to when the excerpt is taking place and had to re-read. I'm also not sure what she means about not tempting fate or trash-talking God. Could that be cut or elaborated on?

    I really like the bird comparison, although I'm not sure I've ever heard cardinals described as florescent before--maybe a different adjective?

  5. (This logline also sounds familiar.)

    There’s something sweetly touching about caring so much for someone that you spend your last days making sure they’re taken care of instead of vice versa. So I’m not sure if I’m fully on board with the twist of going into remission and the other person dying instead. For me, personally, it seems to deflate the affection of the premise. So it better be done well, with enough surprises to keep it from being predictable. (If he was having an affair: predictable. If she learns to value every day as if it’s her last: predictable.)

    Also, this may not be the best starting point. I don’t think it fully conveys the appreciation Lang has for being alive or even how shocked she is to be in remission. There’s not much indication that she wanted to take care of Jack upon her death, or that she adored him so much. Planting the rose bush is a little pedestrian, in my opinion. If she’s supposed to be packing for a trip, why isn’t she? Maybe show her happiness rather than mired in a solitary activity and thinking about the letters. We could also see her reading the letters instead.

  6. I've seen this entry before in another contest, and it is has been reworked. So happy you did.

    However, if I'm being honest, I'm still confused.

    First, I don't understand the "Ha." in your logline. It really distracted me. What is meant to be sarcasm? Also, do we really need to know that her husband drops dead on a tennis court? Why give this sense of irony away?

    "Lang and Jack Ellis if they were birds." I had to read this three times before I deduced she was talking about herself and her husband. I kept thinking, 'who is Jack Ellis?' Just a thought.

    I think you shift gears too quickly from chap 3 to chap 4. She's digging in the dirt and then going over a list of things to pack for a trip (in her mind, do you mean?). Then the next chapter is about love letters to Jack. Is the reader supposed to believe that she is still in the garden, thinking about packing lists and love letters? Your last action was that of her sliding a shovel into the dirt. I'm just confused.

    I think chapter 4 ("She should be packing...") makes more sense as chapter 2. Then the cardinal can snap her out of her daydream about packing and her short hair. JMO.

    Or maybe you could mention the hat in your first sentence to give us a visual of Lang leaning on the shovel. Perhaps she could be wearing a hat as she dug in the garden and she pushed up its brim to wipe her forehead (I realize it's November, but you mention twice that she has to slow her breath - maybe she's exhausted?)

    Anyway, my point is, to think of a packing list and 'delete' the big floppy hat comes out of left field where it is right now IMO.

    I too do not understand the reference to "trash-talk God."

    I think there are some important details missing from Lang's thoughts in order for us to connect the dots.

    Good luck to you!

  7. I also remember this from a previous contest, and I think you really nailed your logline this time (with the possible exception of "ha" because I don't get the feeling that the book is going to be lighthearted or humorous.

    You have some beautiful imagery and strong writing in the excerpt, but I'm confused on what's happening. Why is she planting a rose bush? Has her husband already died, and if so, why isn't she heartbroken? Where did the love letters come from, is she actually reading it right there in the garden?

  8. You write with beautiful tone. I could smell the Earth, but for a brief moment, I wondered why she was digging in Nov. I would place the statement about the Lenten rose immediately afterward she smells the dirt.

    I agree with all of the above comments regarding the last paragraph and the letter. The transition needs to be smoothed.
    Best of luck. -sm