Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The Company of Old Ladies
GENRE: Women's Upmarket

The two old ladies sit in the Panera Bakery Café near downtown Denver. Tall and bony Esther, strung together loosely as a starved cat, drinks a soy milk latte. Hyacinth sips a small, Equal-sweetened, hazelnut decaf to battle her life-long plumpness. She makes a face and adds two packets of sugar, then resumes the women’s customary discussion, a courteous—if heated—dialogue over the benefits and burdens of advanced age.

At sixty-eight, Hyacinth struggles to accept her deteriorating exterior while her interior still feels about thirty-five. “I think old people are completely indifferent to society’s restrictions. They simply don’t care about what’s proper or improper. If they want to be blunt and opinionated, they are. They’re willing to take risks, appear foolish. A big bonus that compensates for any physical discomfort, even conditions like the hemorrhoids plaguing me.” She shifts on the hard chair to search for respite.

Clamp! Instead of arguing, Esther squeezes Hyacinth's arm, halting her mid-thought.

Hyacinth knows she must freeze in obedience to Esther’s nonverbal command, that Esther, the elder by fifteen years, likes to take the lead in pointing out items of interest, perhaps an especially dirty homeless man, or a newspaper headline blazing panic over a new environmental danger. Hyacinth slowly sweeps the room with her gaze, never moving her head. Then she nods to indicate she’s seen the curiosity.

And there it is. By the cashier. Something truly strange and wonderful. Whether male or female neither Esther nor Hyacinth can tell.


  1. I like your opening paragraph. You set the scene and we get very good glimpses into your characters.

    In the second paragraph, you narrated Hyacinth's speech. Trust your characters to tell the story.

  2. I like the descriptions of the characters a lot, and the way they are searching for something weird and wonderful in the cafe. I think I've met them!

    I wonder if this beginning would capture my attention more, however, if it started with a tidbit of Esther's interesting speech. Then maybe weave some of the first paragraph descriptions around a few more lines of speech or dialogue?

    Right now, we get one big clump of description followed by one big clump of dialogue and a tagline that tells us something about Esther instead of shows us who she is or what she's doing. I think this would be more effective if you broke these paragraphs up a little, maybe left some of it for later and got to the mystery man/woman/whatever sooner.

  3. I actually prefer the later paragraphs to the first two! I feel like you're talking yourself in to this scene in the beginning. I think the immediacy of Esther's grasp and the sudden focus on "what are they looking at?" is more engaging than a general (and honestly, not entirely authentic-sounding) discourse on being of a certain age.

    I'm hooked, but I feel like I might have been lost by those first two paragraphs if I hadn't forced myself to make it to the third and further.

  4. I have to agree with charlotteashley. I found the first two paragraphs a slog, although I did like the description of Esther as "strung together loosely as a starved cat." I began to get interested in the story when Esther grabbed Hyacinth's arm.

    The distant, omniscient narrator isn't really working for me here. For the first two paragraphs, I felt like I was watching an old-school nature film. ("And here we have the aging American female...") Hyacinth's dialogue also seemed quite stilted. But this is a matter of taste. Others might like the voice.

    On a technical level, the writing is very good, and I think it works for your genre.

  5. I am not a woman's fiction reader. It doesn't generally catch my interest.
    That said I think you had some really strong writing here. Good descriptions and strong verbs. My attention was caught by your last lines especially. I would read on to find out who this curiosity was.
    Good job and good luck!

  6. There's a lot of potential in this type of story but you need to make the characters come alive for te reader. The rule of 'showing not telling' is very important and we should lean about the characters through their actions and not what the author tells us. eg. show us the conversation rather than say 'resumes the women's customary discussion...' Good luck and enjoy the journey to becoming a writer!

  7. You have created two potentially interesting characters in Hyacinth and Esther. Pretty certain I have seen them in our local Panara. Great character names, and I really liked the description "strung together loosely as a starved cat." I could picture Esther right away.

    I agree that you need to bring us into the story sooner with more dialogue and action. Let us hear their chit-chat and debates.

    Well done and best of luck with your story.

  8. I wasn't caught by the observations in the first paragraphs. They feel distant and somewhat academic. But the last part intrigued me. What did they see? We have action and a question so I'm hooked.

  9. My suggestion would be to take this out of the narrator's POV and let these women act on their own. I've a feeling that neither of them is the MC though, that it is probably whoever they see at the counter. If that's the case, perhaps show that character through the eyes of one, or both, of the old women, rather than the narrator. It would be much more interesting, I think.

  10. Sorry to be so late to comment. Your last couple of paragraphs really grabbed me, while the beginning seemed to have too much telling. I am interested about POV too, and I agree with Barbara.