Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Chasing Carmen Miranda
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

Suspicion is such an ugly word, and trust me I am not happy that I’m full of it. The deeper it settles, the more intense the isolation, as if I’m alone on a ship rocking further and further from the shore. How far I sail away will be determined by what my mother says tonight. Because tonight I’m going to ask her about something that has shocked me to the core, a shock hand-delivered to me yesterday: that I may not be her biological daughter.

I was early to Bandera, a dimly lit steakhouse overlooking Michigan Avenue’s hubbub of designer stores, just a few blocks from my office. I slithered onto a tall barstool and began studying the wine list; a smooth, velvety glass of wine was exactly the antidote I needed for my nervous stomach.
Not caring how overpriced it was, I chose a solid cabernet from California, and I think my voice hinted to the bartender that he ought not take his pretty time in retrieving it for me. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to bring up this peculiar topic with my mother, nor if I was totally prepared for whatever answer she might give. The more ways I practiced my opening line, the more wine I drank, and at this rate I’d be slurring by the time she arrived.

“Goes down easy, huh?”

I looked up to see the bartender smiling at me, his eyes nodding at my nearly emptied glass.


  1. Not my genre, so I might not be hooked in any case, but I felt that this was way more telling than showing.

    Obviously you were able to drop the info on the biological relationship very quickly this way, but I think I'd rather get it organically through a strained conversation.

  2. Not really sure what differentiates this from "regular" women's fiction to make it "upmarket". Perhaps I'd need to read more.

    For some reason, the first two sentences work to distance me from the MC rather than make me care, and that's not a telling vs. showing thing. I think it's more that the last sentence of the first paragraph needs to somehow become the first, or become more prominent. Or make the first paragraph begin with "I was early to Bandera...". That might be attention-grabbing.

    I get that this is an emotional situation for the MC and she's nervous, but talking about getting sloshed this early on sorta puts me off as well.

    But I do like the voice, and I'd be interested to know what this woman does for a living, and how the info was "hand-delivered" to her. Good luck!

  3. The tense change between para's one and two made me think that the scene in the bar was going to be the "hand-delivered revelation" scene, so I was confused when it became clear we were moving forward, even though we'd switched to past tense.

    I think this would catch me more if we started either with the revelation scene or with something visual and active to take us straight into confronting the mother. Making dinner at Mom's house together, or something like that, something that offers us lots of details that don't take many words to paint a picture (cutting vegetables, washing hands, etc.)

  4. I know you're trying to add something of the lyrical and powerful to your opening lines, but I think you're giving too much away. Yes, it's good to make the reader care about the mc, and even though I sympathize with her plight, I'd be more interested if you left the reader wondering why the mc was so desperate for a drink (or three) before meeting with someone/her mother.

    I need more than just an okay voice to keep reading, so I don't think I'd read on.

  5. Agreed with Marlene above. This isn't a genre I'd normally read (and I'm not clear what differentiates "Upmarket" from regular women's fiction).

    I'm afraid I wasn't hooked. The focus seemed to be on the wine when it should have been on how she felt about this possible lie she's been living with. That's what would have drawn me in.

  6. Not hooked I'm afraid.

    I think maybe seeing the actual scene where she finds out that her mother may not be her biological mother, rather than her reflecting on it, may be more interesting.

    Also, you choose to put it as 'I may not be her biological daughter' rather than 'she may not be my biological mother'. I realise that that's just semantics in a way, but it still makes it sound like it's something happening to the mother rather than the mc, if you see what I mean.

  7. Not hooked for many of the same reasons others have mentioned, but I did want to say that I love the juxtaposition of 'suspicion' and 'trust me' in your first sentence. That set up really worked for me.

  8. I would read on but I do have some of the same issues as Kathleen Basi and Teri Kirkland.

    I would deliver less info on the first paragraph or simply cut that and dive right into a brief, but well developed scene of her mother giving her the news.

    Your mc feels real to me and I like the voice here.

    Good luck!

  9. seems like too much telling and not enough action. Start with action and feed in back story...

  10. I'd like this a lot better if you cut the first paragraph. It's all telling and it doesn't draw me in. The reveal at the end actually serves to lessen my interest, because I don't know enough about the character at this point to care that her mother might not be her biological mother, and I feel like you've given away the ending of the first scene.

    If you start with the second paragraph however, you start with showing, not telling, and I would have been left wondering what is the 'peculiar topic' (I don't think peculiar is the right word here btw) she wants to raise with her mother. I would have read on to find out, but you've already given that away in this version.

  11. I echo the other comments; suggest experimenting with different sentence length. Long sentences can be hard to read if not cut up a bit.

  12. Agree that there is a lot of telling rather than showing, and I would love to see some of the drama played out rather than told through inner dialogue.

    For ex. the discovery that she might not be her mother's daughter would be a really powerful scene. I would write that as the opener because it is really the inciting incident, is it not?

    Nits: I don't like the word "slithered" for this, for it makes her seem less likeable. "Slid" would be good enough. I would think you would save a verb like slithered when you want to convey someone who is snake-like, unlikeable. JMO. Also "hubbub" usually refers to noise and so it would be hard to "overlook" a "noise". I think you are trying to describe a busy or crowded market but hubbub would refer to noisy.

    Good luck!

  13. It seems you're starting this in between scenes, and by that, I mean what happens both before and after this scene seem to be the more important, and more interesting parts of the story.

    I'd suggest either starting with her receiving this hand delivered shocking news, or sitting across the table from her Mom as she confronts her.

  14. Is finding out she's not a biological daughter the main conflict? Or do you have another big one later? If it is the big conflict, I think you need to spend a good portion of the beginning setting up how wonderful, trusting and deeply connected the mother daughter relationship is. Then when the bombshell happens, it's a bigger deal and the reader has invested care into both characters who will suffer from the disclosure of the news.
    I don't believe that the opening scene of a book, especially women's fiction, needs to be an angst driven one. I like the genre, that's what I write, and I like introspective detail. A scene where she is enjoying doing an activity with her mother, that re-establishes her ideal childhood, and describes all the senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste) could paint a wonderful opener for your book.
    Also, there is a percentage of the population who will not care to read so much about wine consumption, me included. As an author you have to make your choice on what to write knowing it could chisel away the audience size, but as longs as it is a consciously made choice, then you are forewarned.

  15. Not really my genre, I’m afraid. I was also a bit struck by how emotionally shut off the narrator was; “peculiar topic” seems an odd phrase for asking if you’re adopted. This could be simply because the narrator really is that closed off, but if so, it will be a greater uphill battle to make the reader care for her. Try for more immediacy and in-scene action, rather than narration revealing all the protagonist’s thoughts.