Week 7 Mini-Critique Winner

Author: Petrina A.

Title: Spy Grandma

Genre: Romantic Thriller

Good thing Maggi Price held a black belt in karate or she’d never be able to handle this fiend of a dog. The poor baby was probably scared, but he weighed better than 100 pounds. His owner, standing by, seemed more interested in looking her over with his amazing blue eyes than keeping his pet quiet on the table.

She positioned the head of the Collie facing up and clasped his snapping jaw shut. “Watch out, Killer. If you don’t lie still and let the shot take over, I’ll have to pull every tooth in your head.”

Killer’s owner finally recognized Maggi’s difficulty controlling his pet, or so she thought. He still seemed to be looking down her cute doggie and kitty printed smock, but he spoke soothingly to his dog and held his head while Maggi lined up her instruments.

She opened the pup’s mouth and peered inside. “His chart says he’s only two, but he sure has a tartar build up.” She poked around with the dental probe. Looking up from her patient, she addressed the owner. “You can leave while I clean his teeth, sir.”

“Sir? Not me, Doc. I’m Vince Coletti, Amy’s buddy from college days.”

Hmmm. Amy was ten years younger than Maggi, who’d just turned 49. He held out his hand, but Maggi had her own hands too full to shake.

Instead, she nodded and smiled. Ten years wasn’t much. Vince was one dishy guy, if you could use such a word for a guy. The six-footer sported black hair, startling blue eyes and well-defined muscles under his black tee shirt. His tight jeans fit like he’d left them in the dryer too long. Yum.

Leaving clothes in the dryer too long would mean he’s a bachelor. She wondered about his marital status. Note: Must ask Amy.

Jerking her head away, she focused on her patient. “I’ve only been here a week, but every other cleaning I’ve done the owner dropped off the pooch and picked him up later. How come Amy let you in?”

“I told you, she and I go way back. Besides Killer is a handful. This is the first time we put him under. He seems awfully quiet. Are you sure my best buddy’s okay, Doc?”

Maggi sighed. She wasn’t used to being watched while she worked, especially by someone as distracting as this man. “He’s sleeping, Mr. Coletti. We even put good dogs to sleep when we scrape their teeth. You can call me Maggi.”

“Great, Maggi, and I’m Vince. You seem to have everything under control here. I’ve something to discuss with Amy, so I’ll go find her.” With a wave he was out of there.

The stark operating room seem more austere when the dazzling guy left. Maggi shook the wayward image out of her head and went to work on her canine patient.

* * *

Vince found Amy in her office working on computer records. “Where did you ever find the dentist chick, girl? She’s exactly the person I’ve been looking for.”

Amy turned from her computer and reached for her coffee. “Maggi’s been my closest friend for years. When I moved in next door to Dr. Maggi she ran her busy dental practice while mothering an active toddler and babying a husband who couldn’t function without her constant TLC. I was kind of freaked out on my first vet job. Maggi had a veterinarian degree from George Washington University so even though she now had her DDS and was into people teeth, I spent every spare minute with her, hoping some of her cool would rub off on me. When I needed help here, she came to mind.”

Vince raised an eyebrow. “Husband?” Did he sound as disappointed as he felt?

Amy peered at him over her cup. “With all I said, you picked out the one word. Not to worry, Romeo. She’s been a widow for two years, and except for fix-ups, no romantic attachments. Do you know she has a few years on you? Her toddler now is the mother of twins.”

“So your Maggi’s a grandma, huh? I’ve never dated a granny but with my advancing age why not? The lady knocks me out but I’m not interested in a romantic interlude. I have other plans for a super babe like Maggi.”

Laughing, Amy reached across her desk and pinched his arm. “That’ll be the day. The only thing on earth you’re more interested in than romance is your latest mission for We Do the Impossible, Inc.” She stopped dead looking closer at her friend. “You’re thinking of taking Maggi with you to South America. You only met her but you’re giving off vibes like she has a skill you need for the mission.”

“She’s perfect, Ames.” He didn’t usually fill her in on his undertakings but since she was close to this one, he’d brief her. “Imagine her batting those big brown eyes at Silvio while she works on his teeth. He adores blondes, so I see her digging info out of him and dishing us what we need to complete the mission. Besides she has a black belt in karate.”

Who knew when he made his plans Maggi could fill other basic needs? He’d only thought of her as a possible team member, not a romantic partner.

Amy banged her cup on the desk. “How did you know? You weren’t with her long enough to unearth her life history.” She held up her hand signaling him to stop. “Don’t tell me, I’ve guessed. You knew all about Maggi before you made an appointment to clean Killer’s teeth.”

Amy found him out. He tried to hide his sheepish look. “Not as much as you’ve told me. Kris called her ‘quite attractive’. Shit, she’s a knockout. I don’t think he knows the Grandma part.”

“I should have figured when you told me Kris Bevins, Karate Master, and Maggi’s teacher, was on your team. Did Killer really need his teeth cleaned?”

Hi, Petrina –I’m fascinated by the setup here, with a sexy grandma as the heroine, a spymaster as the hero, and undercover dental work as an angle in chasing some sort of mobster. I can just see Silvio opening wide and asking Maggi about her favorite patients, and she tells him about all the dogs and cats whose teeth she’s cleaned!

What didn’t work for me in this opening was the dialogue. It’s a great idea to tell as much of the story as we can by having the characters talk about what’s going on, and you’ve got a lot of good information in this dialogue. But there were several problems here.

One is that the dialogue doesn’t flow naturally – for several reasons. (1) Amy goes on and on without any reaction or interruption from Vince – like she’s actually practiced this spiel about Maggi’s history.

(2) The talk includes details that simply wouldn’t find their way into a real discussion. For example, “when you told me Kris Bevins, Karate Master and Maggi’s teacher, was on your team”. Read that sentence out loud and I think you’ll see how unnatural it sounds. Amy might have said, “when you told me Kris Bevins was on your team,” but the detailed explanation of who he is makes no sense because she’s talking to someone who absolutely already knows who Kris Bevins is and what he does. It would be like saying, “Your son, whose name is John” – Dad would already know what the son’s name is.

(3) Vince sounds like a woman, as in “Where did you ever find the dentist chick, girl?”

(4) And it didn’t feel right that Vince so cheerfully and easily forked over so much information about his operation and his plans to someone who’s not directly involved. Amy doesn’t even really ask, but Vince falls over himself to tell her. That not only doesn’t sound like a guy, it especially doesn’t sound like a covert-operations guy.

The other problem here is that there’s really very little interaction between the two main characters. They exchange just a few words, and then the important conversation is between the hero and a secondary character. Plus, not only is Amy a secondary character, but she’s probably a minor secondary – we aren’t likely to see much of her during the story, if the real story is about Maggi and Vince going to South America after Silvio.

In short, you’ve missed a fantastic opportunity to show the hero and heroine together. Instead of Vince telling Amy, have Vince tell Maggi. You could set up the initial attraction and tension between the characters by having him try to convince her to join his team, and having her ask questions and pry information out of him — which would be much more believable of a spy than having him bubble over with the details.

If you recast this conversation and keep it between hero and heroine, you can also avoid the storytelling problem which is coming up as you start writing the next page after this segment. The trouble is that the reader already knows all about the setup, but Maggi doesn’t – so either you have to repeat it all as Vince tells Maggi why he needs her (very anticlimactic and slow), or you have to skip over it and miss a very important stage in the developing relationship between your hero and heroine.

It’s a fun setup for a story, and if you revise it so we can listen in on Vince and Maggi as they negotiate all the details, it has the potential to be a winner.


One response

30 10 2007
Pet Aubol

Thanks for the crit, Leigh. I see exactly what you mean, and since I’m about to rewrite Chapter 1, it came at a great time. In the first version Amy was very involved with the mission, as her boyfriend was held captive in S. America. But that’s changed now as Maggi will be going after her own son in law and her daughter will be the heroine of the subplot. But I only hinted at that, didn’t I?

I subbed the story to Harlequin at the request of former Superromance editor Laura Shin. She loved the originality. I got a good reject with many suggestions for rewrite. (not from Laura…she’s gone after saying, “I don’t know where I’ll fit it, but I’ll fit it somewhere.)

So be tween Harlequin and you…I’m off to the races with my sexy Grandma story. (Thinking of a series where a dentist is always needed. My own dentist loves the idea…)

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