Friday, December 2, 2011

#20 Mystery: Pro Bono

TITLE: Pro Bono
GENRE: Mystery

Identity theft, computer hacking, murder—and it’s only Monday for TV’s top news jockey, Quindley Dempsy. A former embedded war reporter, she has raised a mountain of cash to build a rehab clinic for treating injured combat veterans. When her friend’s body drops from the rafters during the clinic’s dedication, Quindley sets out to nail the bastard who killed the chief finance officer of her mega-bucks foundation—only to expose an embezzlement ring that is looting her fund and is poised to rock the national treasury.

The spring gala was the social event of the season—until a friend dropped in.

I descended the grand staircase of my spanking new Five Angels Rehabilitation Clinic teetering atop bling-studded stilettos, and faltered past a guy guarding the buffet table, fretting I might cartwheel into his chocolate fondue fountain. Bow-tied waiters proffering trays of champagne and canapés slalomed through the crush of people like Olympic skiers as I inched to the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this war is creating a painful and expensive legacy. We can measure its cost in wheelchairs and prosthetics. One high-tech leg starts at sixty-thousand dollars.” I took stock of Cooter Ferry’s moneyed elite, noted philanthropists, and local celebrities. “Cheers to each of your two good ones. Now, how many limbs will you buy tonight?”

“Every time I see you, Quindley, you have your hand out,” said a prominent commercial contractor. He studied my emerald gown with an approving eye. “This clinic some kind of vanity project for you?”

“Our injured vets need more than yellow ribbons.” I tiptoed from the podium and snatched his folded cashier’s check.

Tonight’s plan was straightforward—raise enough scratch for Five Angels to sooth my nagging guilt over a probable departure from Eagle 7 News for a coveted network assignment.

The pug-faced mayor barreled toward me, his stately wife in tow. “You’ve really outdone yourself,” he said in an over-articulated drawl. “This clinic is Grade-A. I can almost forgive you being a Yankee. Almost.”


  1. I like the voice and having read the logline I want to read the "friend dropping in" part.

    Good Luck.

    #7 Death by High Heels

  2. If you're talking about injured combat veterans, their prosthetics are covered by the government. They'll be going through the military for treatment, and once they're discharged (if they are, that is), they can go through VA for medical care and disability benefits. So I don't quite understand the Rehabilitation Clinic idea as you've presented it.
    It may be useful to check out:
    for one take on the military's efforts to rehabilitate its injured.

  3. I really like your premise, but there were several things about this piece that didn't ring true for me, and that was before I read PCB's comment above.

    The first was the grand staircase. From the 'spanking new' statement, I'm guessing this clinic was purpose-built. If so, why would Quindley waste donors' money on installing a 'grand staircase' in a rehab facility for veterans? What use could it possibly have? Even if she had raised a mountain of cash, the appearance of using money wisely is very important when dealing with philanthropic funds. I'm guessing the only reason there is a staircase is so Quindley can make an entrance in this scene. If the facility is a refurbished Southern mansion, such a staircase would be fair enough, but you need to make that clear.

    Secondly was her speech. It would take all of thirty seconds to deliver. Speeches at functions just aren't that short. I've been caught like this before too (eg. having two characters meet in a restaurant, have a discussion that would last all of three minutes, then leave). My other issue with the speech was if the people present have raised money towards construction of the facility, she would generally start by thanking them.

    The line 'this some kind of vanity project' didn't sound like something someone would actually say. I think these sorts of projects are usually vanity projects to some greater or lesser degree, especially if the opening features the fundraiser making a grand entrance on bling-studded stilettos. Everyone there would know it, but I doubt anyone would be crass enough to say it, at least not so bluntly. I do like Quindley's reply though.

    Lastly, I don't see how raising money for this project will soothe Quindley's guilt over leaving for a network job. They're completely different issues. It feels like she's just thinking that so we know she's probably going to be leaving for a better job. I'm sure you could get that information across in a different way.

    So, I know it sounds like I've torn your first page to pieces, but I do like your writing. I just think it's important to establish credibility and if you have people feeling that aspects of a scene aren't realistic, you'll lose them as readers pretty quickly. I'd get rid of the issues I mentioned and tighten this first page, which will hopefully mean you can get to the body dropping from the ceiling - the hook - sooner.

  4. I concur with the other critiques, and those are easy fixes. You have a great voice for your character -- which is most important. Critique partners will catch logic or other errors.

    I absolutely LOVE the first line. However, if the story is unfolding linearly, she wouldn't know a friend is about to drop from the celing. I did the same thing in one of my drafts before and a writing buddy caught it. I was really wedded to starting that way because it was a strong line.

    Your story is strong -- so don't worry if you have to move the line or use it for backcover copy one day.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Politics aside, I think this story and this MC are a good fit for the times. I love the voice and the MC's fiestyness. The first line offers a great sense of foreboding, that I am looking forward to reading.

    The story seems quite plausible and very compelling. I'd love to read more.

  7. I think I see where you're coming from; the Center for the Intrepid was built with private funding (50 million) from over 600,000 donors. But, its day-to-day operations are funded by the Army. That makes sense, given the medical care costs involved.

    Regardless, the main point I was trying to make was that your protagonist appears to be pushing for funding because the prosthetics themselves are expensive ("how many limbs will you buy tonight"). . . and that doesn't quite line-up with the fact that the military pays for prosthetics for its wounded. If she's doing more fundraising for specialized rehabilitation or additional services (which the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund does, too), maybe you could have her say that. Then, when other veterans pick up your book, they'll be able to relate to her good intentions without any doubts as to accuracy.

    Best of luck!

  8. The logline sounds very good. I like that the MC wants to make a difference in helping injured combat veterans. That gives the story a modern feel.

    It's smart to start with a fundraiser interrupted by a murder. Has a filmic vibe.

    For me, the sentences are kind of complicated: "I descended the grand staircase of my spanking new Five Angels Rehabilitation Clinic teetering atop bling-studded stilettos, and faltered past a guy guarding the buffet table, fretting I might cartwheel into his chocolate fondue fountain." Throughout the story, there are so many adectives and adjectival phrases. "prominent contractor" "pug-faced mayor." "over-articulated drawl." It feels like a suitcase packed too tight. Wonder if it would be a swifter read if you were more sparing with the descriptions. But this is just my personal take.

  9. Nice writing.

    I noticed: [. “This clinic] should not be a new sentence, but instead: [, "this clinic]

    for clarity I would add "clinic" after "five angels" and perhaps make it clearer earlier on that she's there to raise money for the clinic. when the guy first said, "this clinic your vanity project?" I didn't know what clinic he was talking about.

    good luck!

  10. I concur with the comments above. Love the first line, though I'd love to see it followed by the incident it describes, instead of being jolted right backwards in time.

    What hung me up were the names (Quindley Dempsy, Cooter's Ferry), and the fact that the sympathetic character is wearing teetering stilettos and talking about the urgent need for prosthetic legs.

    I need to know your MC a little better and like her a little more for that juxtaposition to feel amusing; right now it just feels hypocritical, and it hurts my ability to develop empathy for her.

    The same with the staircase. Passionate pleas about wheelchairs and prosthetics would suggest grand accessible ramps, not grand stairs. The grand staircase, if its existence is not justified early on, *does* make the clinic feel like a vanity project, and also hurts the empathy I want to develop for Quindley.

  11. This is my favorite among the mystery /thriller entries. Great premise. Electric voice. Vivid cinemagraphic detail (I get a Hepburn/Tracy, Bullock, McConnahey, Kunis/Timberlake vibe).

    Fab details in above crits, but not needed in the opening. In only 250 words, we know:

    WHERE - Upscale Intrepid-like rehab clinic specializing in limb replacement (at a minimum). I love the union of glamour and warrior. The tricked out clininc is a great alternative to the old Walter Reed (save the lecture...I was there). The grand staircase is not a problem for this single amputee--though I'm moving to Cooter Ferry to trade my gov-issued leg for a "high-tech" one.

    WHY - to raise more money for injured vets (noble).

    WHO - MC is smart TV reporter - former war reproter bent on a mission. Gorgeous - she's on TV, right? Witty - yellow ribbon reply.

    MC's GOAL - Network job.

    From my perspective--we join the party already in progress. Speeches and thank yous presumably made before or after we arrive in the scene. The first dialog is a pointed appeal for cash (probably not the first or last pitch she may make in the scene). I'm surmising the MC's stiletto "teetering" may be due to her own prosthetic leg (?). Regarding the "vanity project" question--the author is either sinfully teeing up the wonderful yellow ribbon reply, else he/she is artfully showing the MC's interaction with another character in the scene.

    I agree some of the descriptive stuff can be pared in the next edit...but I found nothing disingenuous about the MC's motive or her initial presence in the scene.

    I'm "all in" for the next 250 - 80,000 words. I want to see where/with whom/how the Pro Bono work applies. After all, this is a mystery...where every detail may be a clue.

    Best of luck in th auction.

  12. Write on, writerdude! I am a mystery reader...not a writer, and I agree with writerdude's interpretation. Love the writer's insight. There may be five clues in the opening....

    This entry appealed to me.