Week 5 Finalist

AUTHOR: Donna Cummings
TITLE: I Do. . .or Die
CATEGORY: Chick Lit/Mainstream with Romantic Elements

You just don’t expect to see gunfire at a wedding.

I know, because I’ve been in a lot of weddings, despite my well-known aversion to them. “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” is not just a cautionary adage, it’s my personal credo.

Having a gigolo for a father might have contributed something to that philosophy. Who really knows for sure?

Today Alexa, my best friend since grade school, glided down the aisle of the chapel, accompanied by a string quartet playing an elegant Handel air. For this wedding she wore a white strapless dress, complete with tulle and beaded embroidery that made all the women sigh as she passed. The low v-back and body-hugging mermaid shape, along with her icy blonde beauty, provoked quite a different response from the males in the congregation.

I clutched my single calla lily, watching her entrance with a mixture of awe and disbelief. How had Alexa persuaded me to be her maid of honor, again?

And again.

And yet again.

“Shelby, you’re my good luck charm,” she had cooed while I suffered through the circle of hell known as “trying on bridesmaid dresses”.

“How do you figure that?” I had asked, peeling off a poufy satin monstrosity the color of Mountain Dew. “Every time I’ve been your maid of honor, you’ve gotten divorced!”

“Oh, that has nothing to do with anything. Everything goes off without a hitch when you’re there.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. If I weren’t around, there would be some sort of hitch, and then you wouldn’t be hitched.”

I admired Alexa’s wildly unwavering enthusiasm for weddings, and commitment, and all that “’til death do us part” stuff. Especially since none of her marriages seemed to last very long. Two years was the record so far, and that was because her husband was working overseas for one of those years.

Which was supposedly the reason for the end of that union.

That, and the next husband was already in her sights.

When the evil wedding consultant gleefully rolled in another torture rack crammed with dresses for me to endure, I shuddered. “Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, marriage isn’t right for you?”

“That one.” Alexa pointed to a strapless hot pink mini-dress that could have worked–if Hooters ever decided to cater weddings. “And why all these concerns? Don’t you like Jordan?”

“Of course I like him, silly. He seems perfect.”

He was handsome, loving, and completely ga-ga for his bride. Alexa told me during our numerous wedding planning get-togethers, which thankfully required a great deal of wine, about Jordan’s great sense of humor, and even greater job.

Who wouldn’t want him for a husband? If I was the marrying kind, even I would want him for a husband.

Although, as I recall, Husbands One through Three were pretty darn perfect too.

Alexa smiled, spinning her index finger to indicate I should twirl in front of her. “Maybe, Shelby, you’re afraid all of these weddings will change your mind about marriage.”

“Ha!” I, the eternal bachelorette, scoffed, and quite eloquently. Alexa raised her eyebrow as if debating whether to get out of her chair and start the Heimlich maneuver on me.

In the end, I gave up trying to make Alexa see the multiple incredible benefits to staying single. I’ll probably be her bridesmaid when we’re bunkmates in the nursing home, although by then I’ll be adjusting the tapes of her adult diaper, rather than the tiers of her lace-edged wedding veil.

I agreed to be her maid of honor—-just this one last time.

Of course, I didn’t realize when I made the promise this would be Alexa’s final chance to stand at the altar.

At the minister’s signal, Alexa handed me her bouquet of cascading white lilies and then she faced Jordan, ready to promise to love, cherish, and obey the (fourth) man of her dreams. She beamed at him, a vision in his single-breasted designer tuxedo, eliciting a few more wistful sighs behind us.

The minister asked Alexa to repeat after him the vows she most likely had memorized many ceremonies ago. I had heard them often enough that I could have stepped in to recite the words if either of them were prevented from completing their duties.

“I, Alexa, take thee Jordan—”

A ray of June sunshine chose that moment to burst through the chapel windows, highlighting the promise contained in the newlyweds’ expressions. Even I felt swept up in the optimism that accompanied each and every one of Alexa’s weddings. My heart beat with hopefulness, and I wondered if someday I would–

Out of nowhere, gunfire erupted, a quick succession of pop, pop, pop.

Screams quickly followed, along with the frantic sounds of the congregation scrambling for shelter under the wooden pews.

“Sonofabitch!” I tossed the bouquet over my shoulder, as I’d seen Alexa do millions of times, and darted towards my best friend, knocking her to the floor to prevent any further harm.

I looked up and saw the minister cowering under a pew, tugging at the tulle swag that moments ago had been decoration, not flimsy protection against wayward bullets. My heart pounded while my brain struggled with two wildly different thoughts.

One, the blood spurting from Alexa’s shoulder ensured I would never have to wear this peach-yogurt-colored dress again.

And two, who could possibly hate weddings more than I did?


Donna, nice opening line. It grabs my attention – because who, indeed, expects gunfire at a wedding – and makes me read on because, now, I have to figure out why there is gunfire at the wedding.

Also, you’ve done a great job with backstory. Many times when authors start with the present, then immediately switch to backstory, it doesn’t work. Because it feels like a knowledge dump that has no bearing on the story and is not information the reader needs to know NOW. But, because Alexa and Shelby’s conversation is interesting – and not just two friends talking about the mundane details of the wedding – it feels like this is something I need to know, even though I’m not quite sure why I need to know it. Like perhaps the fact that she’s been through multiple weddings may be why there’s gunfire.

Love Alexa’s matter-of-factness about the reasons for Shelby being a “good luck charm” and her attitude on marriage. Love Shelby’s being a good friend and hoping for the best, despite her doubts. Two very different characters, both likeable. Nice humor, original setup, and you leave the story at a great place. I’m anxiously awaiting the next page. Great job!

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35 responses

10 02 2010
A Variety of Entries « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 5 Finalist […]

10 02 2010

I thought this was super funny! Favorite line: “Even I felt swept up in the optimism that permeated each and every one of Alexa’s weddings.” HA!!!!!

10 02 2010

Awesome! I think one reason the backstory works is that it is chick-lit, where we get totally into one person’s head. Plus the backstory is funny and engaging AND essential to the moment. After all, this is going to be our only chance to see what Alexa is like. She’s going to get shot in a minute, so we need to be filled in right away! The backstory informs all of Shelby’s feelings and thoughts during the scene, so it works.

Great job. I want to read the rest of the book!

10 02 2010
Kimberly K

I agree. The opening line got me, too.

I also enjoyed the characters. They are fun and real, and manage to bring life to your story in an instant. (Don’t we all know someone like Alexa?)

You gave me enough information that I’m left wondering if there is a future romance in store for Shelby and Jordan. (Assuming that if it’s “Alexa’s last chance to stand at the altar” she’ll be out of the picture?)
I really enjoyed it and I want to know what happens next! 🙂

10 02 2010

Rachelle, thanks so much for your kind words. You have truly made my week! I’m glad you like the characters and the humor. I’m also glad you think the backstory works, because I know it can be a tricky thing sometimes. Wow. I feel like I don’t need caffeine now!

Lara — LOL — I love that line too, since it says so much about Shelby.

Grace — thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And again, I’m glad to hear the backstory worked for you. I liked your description of WHY it works. 🙂

10 02 2010

I love the humor in this. I also agree that you’ve woven in the back story very well. Great opening line!

There are so many funny lines in here but I just loved this one. ““Sonofabitch!” I tossed the bouquet over my shoulder, as I’d seen Alexa do millions of times,”

I definitely want to read more of this.

10 02 2010

Loved this!!! You made me wish I could turn the page and keep reading. Great opening line. One little quibble–you don’t see gunfire, you hear it. Nice job, and congratulations on becoming a finalist!

10 02 2010
Christine Bell

GREAT! Just really great! I can’t wait to see it on the shelves.

10 02 2010

More please!

10 02 2010

Sue — thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the humor. I really had fun writing it.

Jessica — D’oh! I hadn’t really thought about not “seeing” gunfire. LOL I’m also thrilled you wanted to turn the page. 🙂

Christine — you’re so sweet. I would love to see it on the shelves too. LOL

Kim — thanks!

Everyone has made my day! Thanks again!

10 02 2010
Victoria Dixon

Yes, this was fun, though my first reaction was, “Kill Bill.” Well done. I’d keep reading. (And no, this is not my normal cup of tea.)

10 02 2010
Leigh Michaels

Hi, Donna – To start with, I love the title, which instantly draws me in, and then the first line seals the deal. When you follow up with the throwaway lines about her father the gigolo (and you don’t explain) and the dress Alexa chose “for this wedding”, I was cracking up.

I love the heroine’s sense of humor, and the offbeat friend, and how they’re just being themselves – they’re not posturing for the reader as often happens with a first-person narrative, or even showing off for each other. They’re just being their natural wacky selves. A wonderful start to a story that I’d like to keep reading!

10 02 2010

This is a great beginning. I can’t wait to read more. I loved the different descriptions of the dresses she had to try on. Been there, done that! Hope to she it in print some day! Congratulations.

10 02 2010

This is fab, Donna, worthy of publication. Great title, great first line, great last line. You’ve got a sympathetic protagonist with an accessible and humorous voice. Like the others, I loved the gigolo throw-out and the bouquet-tossing line. The bit about diapers in nursing homes made me giggle.

All in all, a very strong start. I would buy and read this, and so would my daughter.

10 02 2010

I am new to this site and have been lurking for sometime but I just had to comment and say that I just LOVE this story! I am SO frustrated that I can’t read more! I am envious of your ability to get Shelby’s wonderful personality across so quickly without it feeling like we readers are getting a data download.

This is the sort of book where I would read the first chapter in the store (as I often do), tuck it under my arm as a “definite” and head back to the shelf to see what else I could buy with your name on it. You can tell a lot from an opening and this has serious promise!

I can’t wait to see this in the stores!

11 02 2010
Julie T.

The first line is great! Excellent hook. I too wanted to keep reading. Alexa already drove me nuts, Shelby I sort of wanted to shake & tell her “Snap out of it!”, and the descriptions were quite humorous. (I can only imagine the horror of a bridesmaid’s dress the color of Mountain Dew.)

Congratulations and hope to see more someday!

11 02 2010
r. hennessey

Love this Donna! If the rest of this is as funny as this first scene then I agree with everyone else and can’t wait until it’s published:)

11 02 2010

Thanks, everyone, for your enthusiastic responses! It really is thrilling. 🙂

11 02 2010

I don’t usually read romances, but loved this. Funny, fun, intriguing. Yes– what’s next??? I would definitely keep reading.

12 02 2010
Phyllis Campbell

Very good attention-grabbing start! I loved that first line…and the fact that Alexa had been married…and married…and married. lol And the ending sure made me want to keep reading!


15 02 2010

Loved it! You have a great ability to show us the characters and get us inside their heads ultra-fast.

Ditto for me with your first line. Awesome. Well done! It definitely made me want to keep reading, to get to the gunfire. 🙂 And I loved the “And again. And yet again.” lines.

I’m a big fan of chick lit and I would want to keep reading. Well done!

16 02 2010

Like coco I am a lerker – love to read these – and I too LOVE LOVE LOVED this one. I am not normally a 1st person book reader and won’t even try to read it if I see that. But this was amazing! So do we get some hints of what happens next?!

20 02 2010

I’m not a lurker…..just a wanna be. LOL!!!

The first thing that caught my interest was the part where you decribe the bride’s clothing and how the men see it. Then giving us the detail of how many times this friend has been the same person’s bridesmaid was very humorous. It makes me want to know more about Alexa. Why do her marriages end so quickly.

I’ve been a bridesmaid, myself, and your description of having to try a lot of dresses on to finally wind up with something that makes you look awful was very funny. Took me back to those times.

It will be interesting to read on and find out why someone would want to fire gunshots into a wedding. What hatred did someone harbor and who was the intended victim.

25 02 2010

Donna –

I love Alexa’s voice. She definitely sounds like a heroine I’d want to go on an adventure with and your opening promises a lot of trouble and fun ahead. You struck just the right balance between backstory and present action, too. Well done!

3 03 2010

I was actually trying to read this with a critical eye and didn’t find a false note. Congratulations! Although I was motivated to continue to read after the first line, my favourite lines were the last two! Very funny. I would love to read more.

6 03 2010

Cute story. I’d read it, but can also picture it as a movie. Hmm, now who could they get to play the herione…

7 03 2010

Thanks, everyone, for your enthusiastic responses. I’m glad you find it fun AND funny. I’ve enjoyed reading all of your comments–and I love seeing everyone try to figure out where the story is going next!

10 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

I really liked this – the voice, the humor, the story.
To be honest, this story is currently in my closer look pile.

I can’t disclose more than that 😉

Good luck!

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

I really liked this piece. I think that anything approaching chicklit can be a bit of a harder sell, but the voice here was quite fun. The opening line is wonderful, the protagonist is zazzy and delightful and altogether I found this to be a rollicking beginning to a light and funny story. I would definitely like to know what happens next. Really excellent job!

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

You had me at the first line. I zipped right through it, loved it all the way through, and would keep reading if there was more to read. I don’t know what else to say! Even that time break in the middle enhances the overall effect of the piece. Great job!

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hello, Donna. “I DO…or Die” is great fun and I would love to read the whole thing. I’ll send Rachelle a note about this.
I would ask you two things. First, please don’t call it “chick lit.” Call it “A Smart woman’s read.” Supposedly, “chick lit” doesn’t sell these days. But the audience is still looking for entertaining, easy to swallow, romantic stories–especially if they’re funny. So be as funny as you can. Then read the whole thing out loud to make sure that every word you’ve chosen is the correct one.
One tiny nitpick: I don’t think the heroine could clutch a singly calla lily. The juice would leak all over her gown and the stem would melt. Calla lilies aren’t that sturdy. There would have to be a bow around it (or 3) with something to cover the ends. Also, I don’t think the prose needs to be so choppy. Use 2 or 3 sentences in each paragraph, not just one. Another nitpick: the use of the word “multiple” before incredible benefits to staying single. You might use “many” instead (but I doubt that there are that many).
Onward! Best, Elizabeth

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Donna–as everyone has said, great opening. It sets the tone for the story and definitely captures the reader’s attention. Shelby seems fun and funny, although getting the entire run-down of Alexa’s relationships felt like a lot of information all at once. Also, as you continue, make sure that the fun tone of the story matches the events. I don’t know what happens to Alexa, but the information we have implies that Shelby and Alexa are very close, so should something bad befall Alexa, the tone should reflect that.

Happy Writing!

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

Hi Donna,

I love this one! Cool situation, great voice!

I hope it finds the success it deserves.

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

Good funniness here, and a good fast pace. I wasn’t sure though about the credibility. The world didn’t seem real to me–the gigolo father, the shooting at the wedding, the bride on her fourth full-blown wedding. I know it’s meant to be comedy, but I was having trouble suspending disbelief. I do like the voice quite a lot.

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Hi, Donna:

Writers who can do humor always amaze me. I laughed out loud in several places reading your piece and would love to read more. I wish you much success with your writing.


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