Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #8

GENRE: Women's Fiction (Historical)

I stood alone in my chemise and drawers in my dressmaker’s fitting room and closed my eyes, imagining I was somewhere else, anywhere else. Anywhere, but here.

Haggling voices cut through my reverie. “Mrs. Rose, I understand your difficult financial situation, and I sympathize, but the fact remains the balance on your clothing account is sizeable and well overdue. I must demand payment.”

I pushed the drapes open a fraction, and my fingers played with the rich red velvet as I waited and watched.

My mother. She’d extricate us from this rough spot with my dressmaker, but which technique would she use? She’d been extinguishing fires like these for the past few months, ever since Father had fled the city with all our money. She’d become good at it, proving a debutante’s skills never became obsolete, even if her debut ball occurred over twenty years ago.

Mother placed her hand on Mr. Volkov’s bare forearm, near the crook of his elbow, and her fingers slipped a bit under the thick cuffs of his rolled shirtsleeves. When her fingers first grazed his skin, thatched with dark hair, his eyes widened. She smiled that smile I knew so well, sweet and sticky like melted caramel, and I knew she’d get what she wanted, what we needed. More time.

“We’re civilized people, Mr. Volkov. We should be able to come to an amicable arrangement. One that will suit both our needs,” she said.


  1. Interesting and well written. I wonder if this should be YA historical rather than Women's Fic. The MC's voice sounded young.

  2. The title promises a lot of adventure!

    But I'm not getting any from the first sentence. This is a first person POV, and when you're imagining you're somewhere else, you're probably actually imagining a place and time rather than just some vague otherwhereness. I'd like to see something more specific and possibly foreshadowing.

    The rest of this is interesting, with the ladies down on their luck and trying to swindle people into letting them maintain their lifestyle. I'd like a little more voice from the girl to indicate how she feels about it. Is she proud of her mother's skills? Embarrassed? Worried about the money problems?

    What does the more time lead up to? I don't need to know exactly, just more whether there's some kind of deadline here... Do they need more time in general to figure out what to do? Or do they need more time until her mother's latest plan to solve all their problems pans out?

    The writing is nice, and I like that you started in a scene with conflict and put us right into the problem.

  3. This was a good scene, but being historical, I'd really like to know the time and place. The name "Volkov" suggests a European setting, but "Rose" doesn't really go with that. The time could be anywhere between about 1700 and 1920. (Granted, a query letter or book jacket would make this clear, but it would only take a few words to ground the reader on the first page.)

    I wasn't sure why the MC had the thought in the first paragraph that she'd rather be anywhere but the dressmaker's shop. Is it purely embarrassment about the financial trouble? Is she getting outfitted for an event she doesn't want to attend? Why is she buying new clothes if she doesn't have any money?

    Finally, the mother gets most of the attention in this passage. I've got a good sense of her personality, but no sense at all of who the MC is. You might consider starting with a scene in which the MC is more active.

  4. I like this set up, and I think you have a good scene to start. A few places could be streamlined, including the first sentence. Chemise paints a lovely picture, "and drawers" does not. I don't think you need to mention both to get the idea since it's also stated she is in the dressmaker's fitting room. Breaking up the first line into thoughts might also work better, just a thought.

    On the line: I pushed the drapes, I think you can lose "as I waited and watched." because that's implied--we are with the character watching and waiting, she is standing in her chemise. It's repetition of what we already know.

    A good spot to work in the time period might be where the debutante ball is mentioned, after twenty years ago" if it's tied to an event that readers would recognize, like "back when the Confederates still marched toward victory," or whatever.

    When it's described about the mother touching Mr. Volkov, you can just say his eyes widened without the set up "when her fingers first grazed" since the previous sentence shows us that.

    I don't mind so much that the MC isn't doing much yet, as long as the character has some action of her own on the next page. I think this opening represents similar historical fiction I've read.

  5. I enjoyed reading this. I love historical fiction and this was interesting. A few thoughts: the MC seems like a teen Is this actually YA? Could you give us a little more details about the reason the MC needs the dress and why she dreads being there? In fact, maybe this was just a little too much watching of other characters in conflict for the beginning of a book, instead of having the MC engaged in the conflict. Without the MC involved a little more I can't really get to know her and am not as engaged as I might otherwise be.

  6. I like this, but as the others mentioned, I'd like to have a clearer idea of time and place within this page if at all possible. I also agree with Stephsco's suggestions and the suggestion to add more specifics/foreshadowing in the first paragraph.

  7. Overall, I thought this worked pretty well. You've worked in enough info that I'd keep reading, but I do think you could add more.

    WHy does she need this dress she can't pay for? Just to keep up her previous lifestyle, or is there an upcoming event she needs it for, perhaps her own debut? ANd why doesn't she want to be there? Is she embarrassed by their inability to pay, or does she not want to take part in whatever event she needs the dress for?

    THe answers to both questions could be slipped in easily, probably in that first parg. because thinking about those answers will put some actual thoughts in her head, and those thoughts will make the 'haggling voices cut through my reverie,' sentence work. As is, it doesn't work, because you didn't show us any of her thoughts.

    I would also like to know where and when I am. The mention of debutantes made me think American south, the male dress maker had me thinking Europe, probably London, and then I thought Paris when Father fled, thinking perhaps he wanted to avoid the revolution. So it would be nice to be grounded somewhere instead of having to guess.

    I liked how you set up their situation and gave us a bit of backstory with just half a sentence, 'ever since Father had fled the city with all our money.'

  8. I think this has a stronger finish than beginning so I'd concentrate on the narrative to make it flawless. For example 'haggling voices cut through my reverie.' is a bit stilted and could be more simply described. Also look at the length of your sentences and the rhythm of the dialogue. I am curious about the world created and would probably read a few more pages to get an idea of where the plot was heading. Good luck!