Week 4 Mini-Critique Winner

Christine M.

The Rock Star’s Respite

Spicy Contemporary

Cassandra grabbed her phone before it rang a second time. Her printer spit out expense reports as she tucked the phone between her ear and her shoulder. “Hello?”

“Cass, I stopped at your parents and they said you’d gone up the mountain early.”

“I have an off season guest coming. Don’t worry, Finn, I’ll have my taxes to you in plenty of time.” For the four hundred and forty-fourth time, she wished Finn had a body and personality to match his exotic name, but he’d spent most of his life training to be as boring as possible. The rest of the time he’d spent pursuing her. He never seemed to realize one goal was in total opposition to the other.

“Taxes? Oh, good.” Finn seemed surprised she would mention her taxes. Odd considering he was her accountant. “You have a guest coming? Now?”

“It’s not going to make a difference on my taxes. It’s after the new year.”

“Sure, sure. No difference on your filing. I didn’t know you had a guest.”

“Some office contacted me a couple days ago and booked the room. Whoever it is they’re willing to pay four times high season rate.”

“Cass, if you’re going to start taking guests all year, we should talk. It’s going to change your fiscal outlook.”

“Don’t worry, Finn. I’m not going to change my season.” Cass looked out the window for headlights. The guest’s plane should have landed at Pittsburgh hours ago. He could be here any time. If it was a he. J.P. Barnswallow didn’t give much of a hint except that it sounded fake. The setting sun reflected off the snow gilding the world. “The money went to my head.”

“Oh, well, if you need any help getting your records ready I can come up.”

“It’s practically done now. That program you recommended is great. Thanks.”

“Yea, good.” Finn sounded less than happy about his recommendation. “I mean, that’s great. Are you coming to town soon?”

“I doubt it. I’m all stocked up and I don’t want to leave my guest up here alone.”
“Angela said you laid in supplies,” Finn said wistfully. Cass assumed Angela at the grocery store was equally wistful about the conversation, but for a different reason.

“Well, thanks for the call, Finn, but I want to get back to this and my guest should be here soon. So I’ll talk to you in a week.”

“Give me a call and we can have lunch at Ida’s.”

Cass cringed. Lunch at Ida’s was always great, but lunch with Finn? She could predict what he would have based on the day. Of course all she had to do was tell her parents and they would show up to run interference. And Paul was sure to be there. “Sure, Finn. See you then.”

Cass hung up the phone and studied the computer screen. Three more reports and she could clip everything together and stuff it in an envelope.

Lights splashed across the wall beside her.

A black Buick LeSabre pulled into the parking space closest to her door. The most expensive rental at the Pittsburgh airport. Not suited to the terrain.

She pulled on her coat as she walked to the door. Scooping up the cabin keys, she walked to the front door, wondering how she’d allowed herself to be conned into renting out a cabin during her off-season in the first place. Money not withstanding, this was her vacation.

Cass stopped in the open door, letting her heat out.

Her guest slammed the door of the rental car, stomping his feet to get the feeling back into them. She recognized his lean six foot one frame and long black hair before he took off his sunglasses and confirmed he was indeed Jason Callisto, guitarist from Touchstone. He wore a long black wool coat, black gloves and black Converse sneakers making him appear longer and sexier than she’d ever imagined.

He squinted at her. “Are you the owner of this place?”

“Yes,” she squeaked. Her breath log-jammed in her lungs around the vicinity of her heart, which wanted to pound right out of her chest.

The office that booked the cabin should have warned her so she would have had time to prepare. But how could they know she’d be more dumbfounded by the sight of Jason Callisto on her doorstep than anybody else in the world, past or present, real or fictional?

Ok, fictional might have thrown her, but she would have been able to breathe if Ishmael had appeared on her doorstep claiming to need a break from hunting the white whale. And to be honest, preparation would have consisted of a lot of semi-hysterical gibbering. One does not prepare for the appearance of one’s long term, unattainable lust on one’s literal doorstep, one merely hopes not to make a fool of one’s self in the impossible event it should happen.
She needed to stop squeaking, start speaking in complete sentences, and not let her knees unhinge.

“I guess I’ve got a cabin reserved here for the next two weeks,” he told her, staring at the trees. His voice was richer than she expected, like digital recording couldn’t quite capture its depth.

Cass clutched her parka closed. She wasn’t dressed to meet Jason Callisto. Her usual ensemble of loose jeans and faded sweatshirt did not suit the guest. And she didn’t own a red carpet or anything.

She swallowed. “Sure, I’ve got your keys here. It’s the one with the boards off the window.” She thought she was missing something but she couldn’t place it. Give him the keys, show him his cabin, one more step. Five years of campground owning and suddenly she couldn’t remember her job. “Oh, I need to have you sign some papers.”

“Can we do it inside? It’s freakin’ cold out here.” He started toward the door.

Cass stumbled backward holding out the keys like she would hold a cross to ward off a vampire.

Leigh here:Hi, Christine – I like a lot of things about your opening scene, especially how you start with action and get us right into a dialogue which begins to tell us about the main characters, the background, and the situation. I like Cass, especially because of how she wants to let Finn down easily.

You’re a good writer, and this is technically quite an accomplished piece of work. The dialogue doesn’t need explaining, and you’ve resisted the urge to tell us how everything was said and to fill in all the background. The story flows along smoothly, and you’ve got some great touches, like how Cass wouldn’t have been thrown by Ishmael from Moby Dick showing up.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the way the initial conversation seems to drag on. There’s a lot about taxes and software programs and Angela at the grocery store – it feels as if we’re marking time, and unless these people and things are going to be important in the story (for instance, if the mystery guest had turned out to be an IRS auditor instead), it might be better for the story to dispense with what seems a fairly random conversation and get on with the action.

Unless Finn is the hero, which seems unlikely from the title, I wondered why we learned so very much about him. (I rather like him, and I felt a bit sorry for him, chasing Cass without success, and oblivious to Angela at the grocery store when she’s apparently quite attracted to him). The extent of the detail we get about him indicates that he’s going to be very important in the story – so you might think about whether you’re leading your reader astray by doing this. If Finn isn’t a very important, pivotal secondary character, then telling us so much about him up front is setting up a red herring – leading the reader to expect something that’s not going to happen. I’m wondering if you’re setting Finn up to be the hero of a later sequel, which is a dangerous thing to do – it’s tempting to spend too much time on the secondary character, to prepare the ground for the later book, that the initial story doesn’t get off the ground.

Is it realistic that Cass would instantly – with no warning of who her guest is — recognize the guitarist from a rock group? Okay, she’s a fan, but still… If he’s hiding out, wouldn’t he have made some effort to look like something other than a rock star?—I mean, I can see her saying, “Gee, you really look like Jason Callisto”, but would she know, absolutely know, that it’s him so quickly and so certainly, when it’s dark out and she’s just come out of a well-lit house? (And why is he wearing sunglasses to drive if it’s dark enough for headlights?) It’s more than just the plausibility factor here, too – by letting her recognize him right away, you may have given away a story element which could have provided some suspense and some potential for conflict.

A thousand words isn’t very much, and it’s fine that we don’t have the entire conflict laid out for us within the first few pages – but it seems that there really isn’t any reason they aren’t going to get along just fine. He’s sexy; he’s paying a lot of rent; she’s helping him out; they don’t know each other so they have no bad history; it’s to her advantage to help him hide… what’s going to cause tension between these two people? If it’s that he wants to have an affair with her and she’s holding out,or something like that, you might think about how you’ll keep the story moving. Stories where there’s more going on than just attraction tend to be much more emotionally involving for the reader. Especially when she’s so very attracted to him right off the bat, it may be difficult to keep the reader turning pages.

You’re a very good writer, and you’ve got a classic situation with two people thrown into each other’s company, which always offers interesting potential for story development. I think looking at ways to develop the potential for conflict and tension between the hero and heroine would make the story much stronger.

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6 responses

9 10 2007
rachellechasebooks

Hi Christine – You write extremely well, thus it was only the items Leigh mentioned above that prevented your entry from being a contender for the weekly Finalist. And since I’m looking strictly at the first 1,000 words, the #1 reason was [what felt like] excessive conversation about taxes, as this caused my attention to wane, with the #2 reason being confusion about Finn’s role in the scene. A hint about why he was important and/or answering my question as to why so much time is being spent on him if he’s not the hero, would have addressed this second concern.

Speaking of Finn, I loved these lines:

“For the four hundred and forty-fourth time, she wished Finn had a body and personality to match his exotic name, but he’d spent most of his life training to be as boring as possible. The rest of the time he’d spent pursuing her. ”

I straightened in my chair, as the fact that she wished she was attracted to Finn, coupled with the fact that he trained himself on being boring (cute!), gave me the impression that this was going to be the conflict between them. In other words, that Finn is the hero – and he’s really not boring, he’s just trying to be so for some unknown reason. Kind of a Clark Kent/Superman thing. 🙂

Anyway, I think you’ve got the hard part down – wonderful writing. Tweaking this scene to make it compelling is the easy part. 🙂

Thanks for entering the contest!

Best,
Rachelle

10 10 2007
Melissa

Hi Christine. I really like your writing, but I was a bit confused about who the hero of this story should be.
On one hand I imagine her accountant revealing his true self and perhaps his personality/inner strength shining through when the rockstar (jason) isn’t the heart throb she assumes – and suddenly Finn isn’t so boring afterall.
On the other, Jason sounds like hero material:- tall, dark, handsome…and more than a little bit dangerous. And love how you show his rich voice. But perhaps there needs to be more fizzle, more magnetism between Jason and Cassandra – not the one-sided attraction that seemed to be felt only by the heroine…?

10 10 2007
Christine Morris

Thanks for the great comments. I’ve been steadily chopping off the front of this story for months now. It originally started with three pages of Cass doing her taxes. I have some more cutting to do. Finn isn’t meant fo anything more than this story. He ends up with Angela by the end of the story. I was using them to establish the claustrophobic community she lives in.

The conflict is he wants a fling and she is worried about everyone finding out, then later he finds out that she’s a long time fan and thinks she’s been trying to trap him into a relationship.

As for the sunglasses, it’s just sunset when the glare is really bad and he’s got daytime running lights.

Thanks again for the wonderful tips.

10 10 2007
Rachelle Chase

Hmmm. Well, then, if Finn is not the hero, does the story need to start with him at all? Unless I’m missing something (which I probably am), the exchange with him serves to introduce their relationship and set Finn up for Angela (which can be done some other time), plus give us a glimpse into Cass’s everyday world (which also can be done/woven in at another time).

Why not just start the story with Jason? If you want to weave in her every day world, you could have Finn interrupt her with calls about taxes, he could notice she seems a bit distracted, could get the impression that there’s another reason that she can’t talk than simply because there’s a guest, especially after he finds out he’s male. She could apologize to Jason for the interruption. Finn can call again. Jason can be amused, and his curiosity aroused. Cass can be embarrassed. This would be one way to weave in her “claustrophobic community” via Finn, while giving us a glimpse into her real life, while still moving the story forward.

I’m just brainstorming here, throwing out an example that may or may not work for you, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. 🙂

13 10 2007
Christine Morris

I may just dump it altogether. After I read your comment I realized that I have almost exactly the conversation you suggested but with Cass and her mother.

Thanks again.

23 10 2007
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