Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #92

Genre:    Women’s Fiction
Word Count:   93,000


Like a blade of grass pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk, sometimes the buried past has a way of resurfacing... 

Thirty-eight-year-old Valene Del Monaco is a talented expert when it comes to designing the interiors of luxury homes for a small list of clients in New York.  She satisfies their needs with all the extravagance their lifestyles demand.  Yet when it comes to her own surroundings, she likes her life just the way it is—ordinary.  

But life hasn’t always been ordinary for Valene.  Surviving an abusive stepfather, a teenage pregnancy, and a marriage of convenience, she’s determined to suppress her troubled past and keep it where it belongs—buried, along with the rest of her romantic notions. 

Everything changes when she receives a mysterious letter from her ex-best friend, Allyson. No communication for over twenty years since their friendship-ending quarrel had all but convinced Valene she would never hear from Allyson again.  Dredging up the past is the last thing Valene wants, but unless she’s willing to return to California to gain closure with Allyson, she fears the haunting memories of her past can never be put to rest. 

Valene may be resigned to let bygones be bygones, yet nothing prepares her for Allyson’s revelation, her true motive for reconciliation—their rekindled friendship has an expiration date stamped on it, a date of Allyson’s own choosing

First 250:

Last night, I dreamed I was dying. I lay beneath a bright, cloudless sky in a lavish garden, surrounded by pink jasmine and white gardenias. Dandelions peeked above the blades of grass at the edge of my blanket and I reached for one, plucking it gently from the earth so as not to dislodge its fragile seeds. Clutching its stem, I closed my eyes to make a wish. With my last breath, I blew the seeds into the wind and watched them float through the air and out of sight.

Visions of my perfect dream faded into harsh reality when I awoke this morning to the sound of thunderous rain. No wish could change my impending fate. Perhaps I knew deep within my subconscious mind, wishes only come true in  dreams—yet for me, there would be no more wishes, and no more dreams.
Exactly four minutes ago, with my friend at my side, my life ended.

Silence echoed through the room. Several minutes passed before Valene lifted her head and let go of my hand. After drying her tears with the coverlet, she pushed the hair back from her face. Her eyes, red and swollen, made her appear much older than her thirty-eight years and I thought perhaps I should never have allowed her to accompany me here today.
She stared at me for a long moment, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Finally, she reached for the call button. Her finger hesitated for only a moment, and then she summoned the doctor.


  1. Very nice writing. Love the first sentence of your query. You supply enough info in your query to make the plot clear, but you don't weigh it down - just enough to make me curious to know what happened in her past to make her hide from it.

    Your first 250 words are quite lyrical IMO. I remember this entry from another recent contest.

    Well done. :)

  2. I got confused, since the POV in the query seems to be Valene's but that's not how the first 250 read. I liked the writing in the first 250, but the query didn't grab me. For instance, I didn't know why we needed to know her profession in the query - the query should focus on the important elements of the story and her profession doesn't seem to be critical and doesn't make me increase my desire to read the story.

    Good luck!

  3. @Anonymous, why are you hiding behind an anonymous username to post your comment? Makes me wonder.

    Anyway, I like the query. I thought her profession was mentioned to show contrast in her lifestyle vs her customers. At least that was my take on it. Maybe the opening (nice too btw) could be part of the past she's hiding? Makes me curious. And I guess that's the point of a query, right? To get us curious about a story?

    I'd read this.

    Good luck!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Noticed a really annoying typo sorry.

    There have been a few anon posters in other threads. It's not someone commenting on their own work (i.e. it's not a ludicrously positive comment or string of comments adding nothing more than 'wow author, the sun shines out your butt'), but I don't think that's the case here. The crit isn't overly harsh or anything either? A few entrants posted on their own work (responded to others' crits) anonymously too. I think some people just like to post anonymously for whatever reason.

    'Last night, I dreamed I was dying. I lay beneath a bright, cloudless sky in a lavish garden, surrounded by pink jasmine and white gardenias.' I like this but I think perhaps there might be too many descriptors - bright, cloudless, lavish, pink, white makes quite a busy sentence.

    'Dandelions peeked above the blades of grass at the edge of my blanket and I reached for one, plucking it gently from the earth so as not to dislodge its fragile seeds.' Nice - I think it might possibly work better as two sentences though - both opening sentences are quite long. If you dropped 'and' and then made 'I reached...' a new sentence it might read better?

    'Clutching its stem, I closed my eyes to make a wish.' This gives me a middle grade vibe - wishing on a flower doesn't really seem like an adult thing to do.

    'With my last breath, I blew the seeds into the wind and watched them float through the air and out of sight.' - up till this point, I had no idea she's still describing the dream. I thought 'last night I dreamed I was dying' was the end of it, to be honest. I might have missed the boat, but it also might need to be clearer.

    'No wish could change my impending fate.' interesting - makes me wonder what's going to happen.

    'Exactly four minutes ago, with my friend at my side, my life ended.' This totally threw me for six. She dreamed she was dying, now she's dead? I did a huge 'wait, what?'

    'Silence echoed through the room.' - I like this, but should also point out silence cannot 'echo'.

    Your writing is quite lovely. I liked this piece. The mention of Valene as the friend makes me pretty confused by the query. I do think some tightening up will make this wonderful and I'm interested to see where it's going. I think we need, mainly, a bit more clarity surrounding the dream and, later, whether she's actually dead? Anyhow good job overall!

    1. Thanks, Jess, for your comments. (Thanks to all, actually.) I appreciate your input.

      In answer to your "wait, what?" comment, yes she is telling about a dream she had last night about dying. Now, she is indeed dead and her spirit is lingering in the room, watching the scene.

      Spoiler alert: She knew the night before that she going to die, and like a lot of dreams, we tend to dream about things that are on our minds when we fall asleep.

      The story revolves around relationship between both characters, but Valene is the overall MC.

      Thanks again for taking the time to give me such detailed feedback.

  6. That's okay! I hope it was helpful :) So the dream predicted her death, that's interesting. So after the charater in the 250 dies it shifts to Valene? Or will it continue to be from that MC's perspective?

    1. She didn't predict her death--it was 'planned.' First chapter only is Allyson's POV, first person; rest of book mainly Valene's POV, third person omniscient.

  7. I like this entry. The lyrical writing and vivid imagery allowed me to step into your world. I could almost smell the fragrance. You have a lovely voice that makes me want to keep reading.

    I'm really interested to know what "a date of her own choosing" means. Sounds ominous. Makes me want to read more.

    Great job!

  8. This totally hooked me. I practically held my breath as I read. Another commenter called your writing "lyrical." That seems like an apt description, based on what I've read. I would definitely keep reading.

  9. I liked the query. The only little thing that made me pause (and it's really little and totally up to taste) is i'm not crazy about the ellipses at the end of the first paragraph. I think you could get away with just a period.

    I very much enjoyed the 250. I worry that it opens with a dream, weather, and someone waking up, just because i know agents and editors frown on all of those things, but for me, it worked fine. Your voice is great!

    Good luck!

    CAGI 72

    1. That's true on the dreams. Starting a story with a characer waking up is a pretty huge cliche. Some good posts by Kristin Nelson and Nathan Bransford:

      Doesn't mean you have to cut it obviously, but it's like the age-old prologue argument. Do you really, really, really have to? Really, really? If so have at it, but if there's another way you'll avoid the 'ugh' factor - which is pretty much inevitable with 'wake up' openers.

    2. Ah, but she's not waking up from a dream. She's only telling of a dream she had last night. :)

    3. I thought the same thing WG.

      No rule-breaking here. I think it's great just "as-is".

  10. You write very well and this definitely drew me in and made me want to keep reading.

  11. Lovely writing! The first 250 hooks the reader in right away. I'd be interested to see where this goes :)

  12. As others have said, your strength is crafting beautiful images. I love that she's seeing the room and her friend from outside her body. I'd definitely keep reading! Nice job.

  13. Like a blade of grass pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk, sometimes the buried past has a way of resurfacing...

    This is a logline, and it doesn't belong in your query.

    I also was very thrown by a query that makes it seem like Valene is the protagonist, only for the book to open from someone else's point of view. In general, I think this is a thing to be avoided - and it may well hurt you.

    Additionally, if this is the only portion of the book from this character's POV, either make it a prologue or ditch it.

    I advocate the latter - as someone else pointed out, it opens by recounting dreams, weather, and waking up, all of which are hugely cliched, and the "I just died but am going to hang around and narrate" is also very, very cliched, and tanks your genre from Women's Fic to straight-up paranormal.

    I think the query is more or less fine, but I'd recommend rethinking your opening chapter. You want to start on the best and strongest foot your book has to offer. That foot is Valene, and what she wants, and the conflict she faces.