Week 6 Mini-Critique Winner

Carol B.

Dangerous Desires

Single Title, Historical Western

Chapter One

“Betrothed…you can’t be serious!”

Calvin O’Donnell watched his daughter jump to her feet, knocking the chair to the floor. He knew this would be difficult and she would be unhappy, to say the least, but even so, he was shocked by her outburst of anger.

“Now, Mairin, lass, calm down.” He had to be firm or else he’d never go through with it.

She stood just in front of his desk, arms perched on her hips, waiting for his explanation. He noticed she wore those Godforsaken clothes again. The kind the common women wore. She looked more like a Mexican peasant than the well brought up daughter of the most successful ranch owner this side of the Rio Grande. He’d have Rosa speak to the lass about her choice of dress again. He couldn’t have his daughter going around looking like a poor peasant woman.

But not now. Not today. Not after the news he’d just sprung on her.

“I don’t understand. How can you do this? This isn’t Mexico, for God’s sake. This is Texas. The United States of America-and to my knowledge, a free country. Things just aren’t done that way here!”

Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink, and seemed to grow darker by the second. Her blue-green eyes flashed, and tears threatened to spill. She stared at him with disbelief and Calvin’s heart twisted in his chest.

He opened his desk drawer and reached for a bottle of whiskey. Damn, it was more than half-empty. He’d need more than a few swallows to get through this.

Calvin had always thought of himself as a hard man. A man that could take anything that came his way. He’d fought and almost lost his life in the Mexican war. He’d done his part in the War Between the States, which, thank the good Lord above, finally came to an end this past year. In the early days, as a Texas Ranger he’d fought bandits, Comanche’s, Apaches and Commancheros. He’d be more than glad to do any of those things over again if it meant he could take back the promise he’d made in regard to his only daughter.

“Marin, ’twas decided a long time ago. Before you were born.” He pulled the cork from the bottle and took a swig of whiskey. “You have to understand, lass, ’tis just the way it is.”

“But Da, I’ve never even met Don Garcia de Quintanilla. He may be my grandfather, but I don‘t know him. How can you send me to Mexico to live with this…stranger?” Her voice increased a notch and her chest heaved with anger. “How can he decide who I will marry?” She asked, a look of total disbelief on her pretty face.

“I won’t do it, I won’t!” She stamped her foot so hard the pins fell from her hair, releasing thick, waist-length auburn tresses.

“I’ll run away. I’ll go to Ireland. We have family there. I’ll…”

Calvin slammed the bottle of whiskey on the desk and jumped to his feet. “Hells fire, girl, you’ll do no such thing!” He leaned forward, arms braced on his large, oak desk, his face inches from hers.

“You listen to me girl, and you listen good. In one month’s time you’ll go to Mexico and marry the man your grandfather has chosen for you, and that be the end of it!”

His ire was up now as well. Father and daughter, so much alike glared at one another, each unwilling to back down.

“I won’t do it. Do you hear me, I won’t!” Mairin ran from his study, slamming the door behind her.

A warm flush crept up Calvin’s neck, spread over his face and his hands began to tremble. With an effort he eased his tired body into his chair and stared at the door.

He felt old. The leg wound he’d received in the Mexican War pained him more and more these days. Not to mention the everyday aches and pains that came with old age. He took a good, long swig of his Irish whiskey and ran his fingers through his once red hair, now peppered with gray.

If it weren’t for the promise he’d made his dear departed wife, Angelina, God rest her soul, he’d never have allowed this. But how could one refuse a dying woman’s wish? He never was able to refuse anything Angelina asked of him.

Dammit. Calvin swore. He wished he’d never made Angelina that promise. But he did, and it was done.

He was a man of his word.

Leigh here:.Carol, you’ve got an interesting and classic twist on the forced-marriage theme. Though it’s a story type which has been used over and over again, there’s a reason why we have so many forced-marriage stories – it’s because readers love them and the setup offers such good potential for conflict, for sensuality, and for emotion. And this is a delightful piece of writing – it’s well-constructed, and it gives us a wonderful portrait of a character.

At first I thought this was a prologue, setting up the rest of the story by giving the background of what makes Mairin run away, or maybe setting up how she gets sent to Mexico regardless of her wishes. Of course, I’m assuming here that Mairin is the heroine and it’s her story.

But then I realized it’s Chapter One instead, and that left me with some questions. The main one is why we’re in Calvin’s head, getting his POV, rather than in Mairin’s – especially if the story is about her going to Mexico, because in that case her father really has no continuing role in the story once he has set events in motion.

I really like Calvin, and I sympathize with him – dealing with a daughter he’s no doubt spoiled rotten by raising her alone after the death of his wife. I like getting hints about his history, which tell me a lot about the sort of man he is. I really like that he’s a man of his word, and I like that he regrets being a man of his word.

But unless Calvin’s the hero and the story is about his falling in love with the widow next door or with the housekeeper after he sends his unruly daughter off to Mexico, then why am I getting all this detail about him?

I suspect that you really want me to be sympathizing with Mairin instead. But that’s hard to do when I’ve only been able to see her from the outside. I’ve watched her yell at her father and stamp her foot and threaten to run away, and that’s all I have to go on, so she looks spoiled and a bit childish. Since I don’t know what’s going on inside her, I don’t know if this is typical behavior for her.

Because you’ve created Mairin, you know what a lovely person she is – how charming, how loving, how delightful. But the reader only knows what you show her, and as yet, what you’ve given us is a picture of a great dad who’s caught between his promise and his difficult daughter. We’d like to sympathize with Mairin over the ridiculous idea of someone she’s never met choosing her husband, but our initial emotional response rests with Calvin instead, because you’ve made him a much more three-dimensional character than she is.

This isn’t an uncommon problem, because when we look at what we’ve written, we don’t just see the words on the page (which is all the reader can judge by) but we remember what we were thinking and feeling as we wrote it. It’s one of the reasons that writers need editors or critique groups – because what we think we put on the page isn’t always what the reader actually sees, and only a new reader can tell us that.

I’m betting that when you wrote this you were feeling Mairin’s outrage. If the readers are allowed inside her head, we’d feel it too.


8 responses

23 10 2007
Week 6 Winners Announced « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] In the meantime, check out this week’s finalist and mini-critique winner! […]

23 10 2007


Thank you so much for choosing Dangerous Desires for this weeks mini-critique. I never really expected to make the finals, but I was hoping for a mini-critique, as I can use all the help I can get. 🙂 I’m so excited!

Your comment that this was a delightful piece of writing was so nice to hear and it made my day. 🙂 Thank you so much!

This mini-critique couldn’t have came at a better time. I just finished a writing class and I realized/questioned some of the very things you’ve commented on.
Such as…
Prologue or First Chapter?
I’ve struggled with having this beginning as a prologue, (which it was originally), or as the first chapter (I changed it sometime back and this is one of the very things I questioned after the class – should I change this from Calvin’s POV if I have it as the beginning of the first chapter?).
I realized, as you pointed out, that the reader should sympathize with Mairin, and you’ve helped me see this. My question is answered! Thank you. 🙂

Your comments about Calvin was right on. That’s exactly how I’d hoped to portray him. And your comment that Marin was spoiled and a bit childish told me that I successfully conveyed some of her character traits to the reader (weather or not they’re good traits is is the question). As the story moves on, she will change and grow out of this behavior.

I don’t want to keep going and make this look as if I’m explaining my writing. I’m just want to show you how you’ve helped. And believe me, you have!

I know that as the day goes on I will think of more things I wish I’d said. But the one thing I know I will not forget to say is Thank you.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to put together this contest. This was a great opportunity and I’m honored to have been chosen to participate in the mini-critique. Your comments and suggestions have helped more than I can say.

I wish you well in all your writing endeavors.



23 10 2007

I don’t know why my post didn’t format correctly. I didn’t intend for it to come out that way. 🙂

24 10 2007

You’re very welcome, Carol. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your entry – the writing is smooth, with a nice balance of narrative and action, which gave it just the right pacing. And, I love forced marriage stories. In fact, in my first class with Leigh, I wrote a modern day forced marriage story, and she pointed out the many ways it was not believable. (She was correct). LOL Well, you obviously do not have this problem, as yours is believable. 🙂

The only point I want to make is regarding the prologue vs. chapter one comment. If I understand you correctly, you say that you are still toying with making this the prologue.

If you did so, it still would feel a bit odd to me if this is not Calvin’s story. Why do I need to see Mairin through his eyes, if it is not his story? If this is her story, I need to see her spoiled, childishness, through HER eyes, so I can see her growth – and the impact that that interaction with her father had on her – as the book evolves. If it’s left in Calvin’s POV, we never truly experience that, unless you reflect upon it in backstory throughout the book while in her POV, which I don’t think would be as effective.

So … despite the fact that it’s a well-written scene, I vote for rewriting it in Mairin’s POV, regardless as to whether it’s a prologue or chapter one. Unless, as Leigh has pointed out, you decide to make it Calvin’s story.

At any rate, much success to you with this story. You’re a talented writer with a great story idea and I’d love to find out what happens to Mairin at Don Garcia’s house. 🙂


25 10 2007


Thank you so much for the 2nd critique. And the very nice compliments. Again, you guys have made my day. It can’t get better any better than this. 🙂

Thanks for taking the time to explain why I should have this scene in the heroine’s POV. I totally get it now!

I think for some reason I thought that if I showed this scene in Calvin’s POV, I could describe the heroine right off the bat. Her flashing blue-green eyes, her waist length auburn hair. But, if I change POV’s, the reader will feel what the H is feeling and that’s more important right now. Now I understand the difference and the reason behind it (thanks to your explanation).

I can get my description in later (but not too much later as she will meet up with the hero soon & HE will be the one to describe). I get it now. 🙂

Thank you both so much for your help. As I said before, I’m so excited to have been chosen for this weeks mini-critique I don’t know what to do.

Now I’m off to make my changes…for the better, thanks to you and Leah.

Best Wishes,


6 11 2007

Hi Leah and Rachelle,

Are we allowed to re-submit the same entry even if it’s been selected as a Mini-critique winner?

8 11 2007
Leigh Michaels

Carol, the rules say: “Winners of the weekly mini-critiques may not re-submit that particular entry, but may submit the first 1,000 words of a different work.”

So we’d love to have you submit again, but it does need to be the opening of a different story.

Best of luck,

10 11 2007
Carol Burge

Thanks, Leah!

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