Friday, November 29, 2013

(1) Psychological Suspense: A TEMPORARY CONVENIENCE

TITLE: A Temporary Convenience
GENRE: Psychological Suspense

With a useless doctorate in Scottish history, Beth won't chuck the lucrative position she inexplicably snags as a successful DC art dealer's "protégé" just because the business records are hinky. However she can't overlook her boss’s stream of lies or the claim her predecessor went berserk, vandalized the shop, and then vanished. A historian can’t resist uncovering the truth, whether it involves simple incompetence or something far more sinister.

"People don't appreciate being told they're wrong, even in academia. With two degrees only useful for life as a professor -- and having turned those bridges into charcoal  -- I became an office temp. But I've always longed for a permanent position where truth is valued."

No, Beth. No. The longer I sat in my car outside the imposing gates to the Campbell’s Potomac estate, the more idiotic became my imagined interview answers. I lacked a polished spiel. This was my first shot at a permanent position, and it had come without much time to prepare. I had to finesse this. Miss Brooks, owner of Capitol Temporary Services, claimed I shouldn't mention my degrees to potential employers lest I seem too overqualified or snooty to tackle their grunt work. My defense-attorney dad said the same thing: don't volunteer unfortunate facts.

I suppose they were right. For instance, I’d told Miss Brooks she’d misnamed the firm. There was no capitol in Columbia, Maryland. Capital was a more accurate and positive word, associated with both useful resources and the hockey team popular in the area. She hadn’t appreciated my insight.

I’d impressed her this morning, though. Dorie Campbell, art dealer and luminary of DC society, had called Capitol to say she wanted a new permanent assistant: me. However, I didn't know how she might have heard of me or, having so heard, why she'd want me. My art background was minimal. This situation was…peculiar.

I exhaled slowly. Time to charm Mrs. Campbell. I hoped my Macdonald ancestors forgave that thought.


  1. I find this story set-up very intriguing. It's just the kind of thing I like to read. However, I would rather have her in the interview fielding questions, perhaps thinking how to avoid answering penetrating questions using some of this back story, rather than presenting it as straight narrative. It would help ratchet up the tension.

  2. I like the logline, and I'm a sucker for the genre, so you got me there.

    I do wonder a bit about the tone of the opening, though. It seems very humorous for psychological suspense, though I suppose you can't start out too heavy or you have nowhere to go.

    Bottom line, I'd read more. Humor is a fine way to introduce a character's perspective. But because of the genre, I'd expect a little more gravitas of tone in the next little bit. Without the baggage of the genre type, I'd probably assume this was a lighthearted mystery, though. So it really depends on what the rest of the novel is like. Either way, I'd read more.

  3. The logline is really compelling and fun. I love that word “hinky”. Sounds like a fun romp. Maybe, instead of saying “a historian,” in the last sentence, and thereby taking it out of her POV (seeing you’ve already set her up as a historian in first clause), you might say “Whether it involved simple incompetence or something more sinister, Beth can’t resist uncovering the truth”, making it direct and personal.

    Both the first paragraph in quotes as an inner thought, and “No. Beth. No” seem a bit belabored efforts at getting backstory in and sort of unnecessary at this point. Also, “two degrees” , “even in academia”, and “lest” sound a bit pretentious. Is she supposed to be a bit unlikeable or troubled by a captious personality? If so, this is a great set up for a complicated character. Maybe the humor of the trouble it lands her in rather than her inner monologue would make her more likeable and funny.

    When Miss Brooks told her she shouldn’t mention her degrees, because future employers might be cowed or put off thinking she may be too snooty or overqualified to do their ‘grunt work’—doesn’t the MC’s use of the words “grunt work” in reference to prospective positions, in fact, reveal that she considers these jobs lowly and beneath her? Along this line, the fact that she must live up to the high expectations of her “Macdonald” ancestors seems a way of telling the reader how influential and important her family/ancestors/lineage is. Also, being told her dad is a defense attorney matter seems a detail that can be worked in later and a bit of self-importance.

    That said, the MC’s difficulty maintaining jobs due to her pointing out people’s shortcomings and mistakes can be stuff for really comic situations. The setting is compelling—beginning the story preparing for an interview portends something, and also the fact that she is off her game, feels underprepared, could be stressed more, and moved down to follow the setup of her funny interchange with Miss Brooks over “Capital” or “Capitol”. Perhaps her ambivalence around feeling overqualified and underprepared reveals a quirky, flawed (and even possibly snobby) character who could be really likeable and fun to read and watch. Stressing how she gets in her own way could be really a great read, but I’d just be a bit more careful about how special she is up front and give the reader something more to sympathize with her over by stressing the trouble she is in unable to get or keep a job. It’s all there, just maybe a little rearranging might help.

    Sounds like a fun read and a complex plot. The character seems complicated as well. I would just maybe show a little bit more how her captious personality gets her into trouble.

    Congratulations and good luck!

  4. I really like the premise of this one. A generally overqualified individual offered a job out of the blue for which she's actually under-qualified. I very much want to know why?

    I had a little more trouble getting through the actual entry itself, however, because it's cramming in a lot of back story that I don't yet care about. In fact, I wonder if it isn't coming in slightly too late, i.e., would starting her day earlier with a conversation with Miss Brooks and having much of this come out in actual dialogue (or even have her think it during dialogue) be more effective than having her think back on these details? Just a thought.

    Best of luck with it!

  5. I like the idea here, but this opening doesn't excite me. The writing is good but it is all forced-in backstory, and I found it boring after a couple of paragraphs. Maybe even your last paragraph would be a better opening and then go from there.

  6. I was a bit confused here. It seems you want the reader to think she's been picked by Campbell out of the blue, but in the second last parg, you say she had impressed Dorie Campbell this morning. That implies she must have done something Campbell noticed and liked. But then you go on to say she doesn't know how Campbell knows about her, when obviously, Campbell either saw, or heard about, whatever it was she had done that morning. So for me, that didn't make a lot of sense.

    Also, if Campbell asked specifically for her (for whatever reasons) then it would seem Campbell had already made up her mind about the MC, so why the need for an interview? WHy wouldn't she just go there and immediately start working?

    I do think the premise you seem to be going for will work (that she's being hired by someone who asked for her specifically, when there doesn't seem to be a reason why she would have been asked for specifically, and isn't that weird?) I just don't think that what you've written actually conveys that.

  7. I think your logline is good.

    I had a similar experience as REG. One small thing that would help me is taking changing the part about burning bridges. Right now "those" refers to her degrees, which I don't think she burned. It's more specific relationships she burned, I assume.

    Maybe the opening could start with her looking in the mirror, making the dialogue more clear. Or maybe the dialogue in first paragraph could be shortened and made more simple, so it doesn't take as much effort to fill in what's not said. Then you can take more time to fill in the backstory later, such as how she burned bridges, etc.

    I like the part of the capitol vs capital, however if you're going to do this I would make it clear what the definition difference is, because most readers won't know and otherwise they may feel unwelcome into this world. Make sure the world is welcoming to all. Great job!

  8. I like MargotG's idea of starting with the actual interview (or Wade White's suggestion of starting w/ the convo w/Miss Brooks) -- It'd be interesting to put Beth on the spot and you could still show her struggle with how to answer truthfully w/o shooting herself in the foot.

    I think that the Capitol/Capital is clear enough -- it sets the tone that this is going to be a 'smart' novel and that you're not going to dumb stuff down for the reader.

  9. Your logline is great. What trips me up is that we start with dialogue that is backstory, and not necessarily backstory the MC is going to just throw out into the world. Would you go into a job interview and tell the interviewers that you were applying because you'd eliminated all of the other options in your life?

    It just strikes me as off somehow, so try starting somewhere else. On the other hand, your writing is good, so you can surely pick up in another spot and weave your story together.

    Good luck!

  10. I was thrown with the first paragraph because I had no idea who was speaking, or of what. It took several sentences into the second paragraph for me to get my bearings, then I reread the beginning to digest the background info given to me there. I also agree that starting in a different place (getting the call that she's got an interview works for me because all her issues can come up in that dialogue) would help fold all these ideas in better. I think I would feel more sympathetic if she were having her issues thrown in her face by the temp lady, because right now I find Beth snarky and unlikable. Overall, I would continue reading to see how Beth's sharp mind helps/hurts her, and to know why she was the one to get the interview.

  11. I think the logline could be more specific. What truths must she unveil? What is the larger, external conflict that she’s facing? Stakes for if she fails?

    The opening reads well—you have a fantastic voice that instantly drew me into the character. Her sense of humor is clear and I love that. With that said, I’m not sure how the opening dialogue applies to THIS job—I think rather than focusing on information that could be expanded upon later (her father/the temp boss) you could raise the tension for what’s so crucial about getting *this* job. And why her ‘searching for the truth’ would be used to exemplify her work ability for such a job. While you tell us her art knowledge is minimal, you spend a lot of time detailing how smart she is—but readers haven’t been told what her expertise IS in.

  12. Oh! And good luck! The premise and voice are very intriguing--I wanted to read more!

  13. The logline tells me about a book I would want to read! Lots of strong and compelling elements.

    In the writing, I like the suspense of wondering if she will get the job or bungle the interview. The details of her character, someone who cannot resist explaining the difference between "Capitol" and "Capital," are very winning.

    My only suggestion is, what are stakes? Is she running out of money? Otherwise, since she is already working as a temp, it seems not that necessary she get a permanent job, especially one that seems outside her expertise.

    Nancy Bilyeau

  14. Should be 20 (and consider this the first bid)