For your pleasure, I have the first page submission for a project called – Deliverance. I’ll comment on the flip side. Enjoy!
Shelia Martin changed her outfit twice, from a flair-legged jumpsuit to a long black dress with a thigh high slit on the left side. She reapplied coral lipstick that had faded an hour earlier. She brushed her hair back with her hands and headed downstairs to check on Roger’s favorite dish—grilled chicken with garlic and butter sauce, roasted asparagus, and sage rice, which she had timed to perfection so the moment he walked in the door, removed his jacket, washed his hands, she could serve him a steamy hot dinner.
At the bottom of the staircase she surveyed the set up in the living room, sparkling fire, cozy blanket, oversize floor pillows, flute glasses, Moet and Chandon for Roger, and sparkling cider for herself. As of last week, she hadn’t had a drink in three years.
Her feathered slippers clacked across the shellacked floor. She entered the kitchen with its fug of sage, garlic, onions, and vanilla. The moment Shelia heard about Roger’s new advertising contract —something he’d bid on three months earlier to help pull his business out of arrears—she decided to celebrate with a special dinner.
After twenty-three years of marriage, raising four children—two in medical school, one college freshman and a high school junior—and helping her husband launch an advertising firm, romantic rendezvous were few. Her heart pounded and butterflies knotted in her stomach, as if she were entertaining this man for the first time.
Tonight, Shelia baked a pecan pie torte, simple, easy, but his preference.
She swaddled the utensils in linen napkins, carried them into the living room and placed them on the blanket adjacent to the sweltering ice bucket. She looked at her watch wondering what was keeping Roger; their daughter Rose was expected home by ten, and Shelia was counting on a night with only her husband.
Shelia slipped off her slippers and paced the floor. The neighborhood lamppost flickered, the Maltese barked, indicating the arrival of her neighbor’s husband. She looked at her watch, ten o’clock. Rose would arrive fifteen minutes later than her curfew, her method of challenging authority.
Dinner was spoiled. She scooped up the ice bucket and took it into the kitchen. She clicked off the oven. Her stomach growled, but she had lost her appetite.
“Wasted,” she said. “Where is he?” Scraping the food into the garbage disposal, she glanced at the microwave: ten thirty.
I loved the meticulous attention to detail in this submission. Without telling the reader what is going on, this author is showing the woman’s expectation of perfection or her intent to please her husband, her way. I would definitely keep reading.
I love the minimal back story, without embellishment. The fact that she’s having Apple Cider, suggests she’s a recovering alcoholic, for example. Her meticulous staging of her home and the dinner suggests she’s a stay at home wife and mom who likes a tight ship. It reflects her character in what she does, rather than the author “telling” the reader this. That’s the real strength behind this piece. Rather than me focusing on craft issues, I’m able to delve into character motivation and layering of emotional content, but only to the extent of adding a different dimension that the author may not have intended. Here’s what I mean by that caveat.
There is definitely a mystery about her husband not showing up when he’s expected. As a reader, I’m hooked as to why. I don’t find this woman particularly sympathetic or warm, however, but that could be the author’s intention. It’s like Shelia wants to show off her efforts, more than her husband’s accomplishment. This dinner is HER accomplishment. She has expectations for the evening and he’s messed them up, rather than her being worried about why he’s late.
She throws out the dinner, almost as if she’s punishing him for being late (or she doesn’t realize there are starving kids in Africa), when she doesn’t know the facts. If this happened to me, I’d be trying to reach him by cell phone and worried if he’s gotten into an accident. She’s more worried about her dinner being ruined and her plans upset. It sounds as if her husband is very reliable when it comes to his arrival time, if she can time her dinner to him walking in the door. So this would mean that if he’s late, it’s a big deal, right? (Okay, in reality, who can really do this? My husband is working in the yard and I can yell out the back door that dinner is in fifteen, and he’s still late.)
|Roger could have a very good reason for being late for dinner.|
If the author did NOT intend for this woman to read as cold, it would be an easy fix to add more tension when Shelia shifts from being irritated to worried. She could cover her worry by making him a plate (meticulously arranged) that she puts in the fridge, to mask how her nerves are fraying. (She could cut herself on the plastic wrap container. Lord knows I always do. The blood could be a foreshadowing of danger.) Roger’s never late. She loses her appetite from worry, not irritation that he’s messed her up. Ramp up the pacing, take off the earrings, wipe off the lipstick, look at the clock more.
But I find this writing compelling and I would definitely turn the page. Well done, mystery author! I also want to eat at Shelia’s house, except she’d probably make me dress up.
What about you, TKZers? Your comments?