Week 10 Mini-Critique Winner

Sara H.

Gallery of Lies

Romantic Suspense

“Trust me,” Coriander Sull said as she pressed a plastic card into Renee’s palm and bent her hesitant fingers around it. “It’ll be a blast, just like old times.”

Renee Lange’s shoulders drooped as she sighed. She had just flown 10 hours from London to Miami, and while she was glad to see her friend, she was tired.

“Come on, Renee. Surely the last nine years in Europe with your fancy art jobs haven’t turned you into such a prude that you would pass up a party like this. Movie stars. A-list. How can you even think of saying no?”

“We aren’t invited,” Renee reminded her for the third time. This conversation had started as they left the airport, and now they were standing in the parking lot of Cori’s apartment complex.

“Nonsense.” Cori flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder and extracted a cell phone from her purse. “I have it on good authority that Ladonna Wilcox, trophy wife of Hollywood superstar, Ty Penix, is a total lush. A friend obtained her cell phone number for me, and since it is now four o’clock in the afternoon, she will be totally smashed. I am about to produce for you, as a welcome home present, a personal invitation for the two of us to attend their private party tonight at their Miami vacation home.” She dipped into a dramatic bow in front of Renee and dialed.

“Cori, I just don’t know about this,” Renee protested one last time, but Cori shook her head and pressed a finger to her lips.

“Ladonna!” Cori purred into the phone, “It’s Bianca Price. I’ve been meaning to call you and catch up.”

Renee raised her eyebrows as Cori continued to pour on a story about her superb experience with the masseuse Ladonna had recommended. Bianca Price? Uneasy, she studied the driver’s license Cori had forced into her hand. Okay, so Cori was Bianca Price and Renee was Jennifer Smith. As if crashing a high security, celebrity party wasn’t bad enough, they were assuming false identities as well. Renee was pretty sure that was a crime.

“I’d love to come!” Cori exclaimed, “It’s just that I have a friend who’s visiting from out of town. Could you be a dear and add her to your guest list as well?”

Cori was good at this. Renee was sober and she was starting to believe Cori actually knew the woman. If Ladonna Wilcox was drunk, she was surely falling for it. This was wrong, Renee knew, but she couldn’t deny that she liked the exhilarating tingle dancing in her stomach. Renee hadn’t felt this burst of excitement that came from delving into mischief since she and Cori had been in college.

Cori had always called Renee a scaredy cat, and it was true. Renee’s natural inclination was to follow the rules, but Cori loved to cross the line, and more often than not, she had convinced Renee to follow. As Cori spelled the name Jennifer Smith so Ladonna could add it to her guest list, Renee realized her years in Europe hadn’t changed her as much as she had thought. So much for being the well educated, consummately professional art gallery director. She had been back in the states for less than two hours and she was acting like a kid again. Renee took a deep breath and mentally extinguished any reservations about going to this party. Yes, it was childish and crazy, but she was on vacation and deserved a little fun. She would go. What could it hurt?

Cori smiled smugly as she snapped the flip phone closed. “It’s a done deal.”

“All right, so we’re invited. But why can’t we go as ourselves?” Renee asked, waving the Jennifer Smith ID in the air. “And where’d you get this picture of me?”

Cori rolled her eyes. “Heaven help me, you really have forgotten how to have fun. It’s about the thrill of the experience. You could end up going home with one of Hollywood’s hottest tonight Ms. Jennifer Smith, and it’ll be a heck of a lot easier to extract yourself from the situation in the morning if he never knows you’re an internationally acclaimed art expert. Don’t you want to have some fun before you have to start your stuffy new job in New York?”

The words took Renee back to their college years when she, Cori, and Pete Cannon had used fake IDs, sneaking into clubs, buying alcohol and cigarettes, and engaging in various other activities that teetered on the line of legal. Pete got the IDs for them and he always made up the craziest names. He had often said something about extracting yourself from a situation more easily if you were someone else. “Do you ever hear from Pete?” Renee asked.

Surprise flickered on Cori’s face before it was replaced with a wistful smile. “Yeah, once in a while. He’ll give me a call sometimes when he’s in town.”

Renee was sorry she had dampened her friend’s mood by bringing up thoughts of exes. Cori had been crazy about Pete in college, and Renee had expected them to get married but they had separated after graduation. Then Renee left for graduate work at the Louvre and lost touch with her friends for a while. She hadn’t realized mentioning him would still be a sore spot for Cori.

“Do I have time for a nap before this party?” She asked, hoping to turn the focus back to happier things.

Cori’s eyes sparkled again. “Nope. We’re running upstairs so you can throw your stuff in my apartment and then we’re leaving. You’re about to meet Raul, the hair and make-up god. He’s going to transform us into such hot fake celebs that the real ones will be jealous, and judging by those dark circles under your eyes, it’s going to take him the rest of the afternoon to do it.”

Leigh here –Sara, you’re an excellent writer. Your dialogue really sparkles and moves the story along. And you’ve got a fun and energetic pair of characters here. Two old friends pulling off a masquerade like this – especially when one of them is famous enough that she could be recognized – offers a lot of opportunity for madcap action and unexpected twists and turns of the plot.

But though this section of the story is great fun, the opening reads more like chick lit than like romantic suspense. After reading the first 1,000 words I went back to the top of the entry and looked again to be sure I’d seen it right. I haven’t had any hint yet of suspense, of danger, of a threat to the characters, so I’m having a little trouble feeling scared for them.

You have lots of characters here – eight of them, in fact, which is a lot of named characters for such a short section (Cori, Renee, their alter egos Bianca and Jennifer, the stars Ladonna and Ty, Pete the old flame, and Raul the makeup artist). Right now the reader doesn’t have any idea which of these characters will actually be important to the story, and it’s confusing to try to get them all straight. Unless all these people are going to continue to be important in the story, it might be better not to have so many full names.

Another thing to consider is whether your secondary character, Cori, might be more fun and more lively and more memorable than the heroine is. Since secondary characters don’t have to follow the same rules as heroes and heroines do (especially where living on the edge and general bitchiness are involved), they can sometimes run away with the story. I don’t think that’s the case yet, but Cori could easily take over if you don’t keep her reined in – and Renee may suffer by comparison with her exciting and daring friend.

However, the most important concern here is that the story may actually start in the wrong place. It seems likely that what happens at the party will be crucial, threatening, and dangerous to Renee and/or Cori. But is it really important for us to see all the buildup? Is it important for us to know, for instance, that Raul is going to fix Renee/Jennifer’s hair? If all this is scene-setting, it might be better for the story if you were to start closer to the moment when the danger begins, when action starts to draw these characters into the events which will change the rest of their lives. On the other hand, if the mention of the stars, and the way Cori gets the invitation, and Raul’s hair styling are all bits of foreshadowing, then you might want to begin with this scene but look for ways to speed up the pace a bit.

You’ve got great characters and terrific dialogue, and it will be fun to see how Renee and Cori get themselves out of the trouble they’re bound to land in.

One response

20 11 2007
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