Week 3 Finalist

TITLE: Out of Hope
AUTHOR: Lynette Curtis
CATEGORY: Romantic Suspense

Thursday, June 5th 1:42 PM
Sixth Street Bridge; Pittsburgh, PA

“The cops are behind us, the cops are behind us!” Michael, the youngest of the Mathison children, yelled at the top of his lungs from the minivan’s rearmost seat.

Hope Works gaze shot to the rearview mirror. The boy was right. Her fingers tightened around the steering wheel as she watched the white patrol car with the yellow and brown logo flash its lights at her.

Despite the air conditioning blasting bursts of cold air inside the van, beads of sweat rolled down Hope’s dark skin. She removed one hand from the steering wheel and pulled her blue shirt away from her suddenly sticky body.

“Cool,” another brother cried out. “Maybe we’ll go to jail.”

Excited chatter erupted from the Mathison’s four young boys. They swiveled in their seats and goggled out the window, even their parents turned to look.

Hope couldn’t. She jerked her gaze away from the rearview mirror, reached over, and flipped the air-conditioning vents toward her in a futile attempt to cool her suddenly overheated body.

This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t. Who was in the cruiser behind her?

Hope dared another peek at the rearview mirror. Sun glowed through the windshield and penetrated her eyes. She blinked underneath the Chanel sunglasses she wore as the city flashed before them. Was it him? She couldn’t tell. Her day had been terrible enough without adding him to this mess.

It wasn’t even two o’clock yet but Hope had felt she’d put in a full day. She had spent the last four hours schlepping the Mathison clan from house to house in search of the perfect home to call their own. Phil Mathison was never satisfied, Linda Mathison never spoke, and their sons never heard the word no. Yet, she’d still managed to make the sale. She wasn’t one of the most successful real estate agents in the city for nothing.

Besides, she couldn’t afford to be picky. The twins’ tuition was due.

She just wanted to go home. Why was the cruiser behind her?

Hope shook off the feeling of dread and focused on the road. She had just crossed onto the Sixth Street Bridge. The large yellow structure had no shoulder so she couldn’t pull over. Hope swallowed and turned to look at Phil who sat scowling in the passenger seat.

She had to keep it together.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong so this shouldn’t take long.”

Phil had the body of an ex football player gone to seed which made sense as he worked for the Steelers as a defensive coordinator. His gaze stared through her as if she didn’t exist before he turned and glared at his wife in some silent communication Hope couldn’t penetrate.

“You ran a red light when Linda distracted you,” he answered sourly once he finished the stare down with his wife.

What was with this guy? Was his attitude because she was a woman or did he just not like her? Whatever his problem, she couldn’t afford to alienate him. The potential referrals she’d make from this sale were too substantial.

She smiled through gritted teeth. “I’m sorry. I know you’re in a hurry.”

“I need to be in Latrobe,” his voice was thick with warning.

She flicked a glance at him and nodded. “I understand.”

When they finally reached the other side of the bridge the tension in her shoulders eased. She found an empty space to pull over in front of the many businesses and vehicles lining Fort Duquesne Boulevard and parallel parked in front of a printing shop. The cruiser double-parked beside her. To Hope’s immense relief a burly, Caucasian man with black curly hair exited the patrol car with a German Shepherd at his side.

Not Brandon.

She smiled brightly at the officer who approached her window. “Good afternoon.”

“Are we going to jail?” one of the kids asked.

“Can we pet your dog?”

“Is your siren broke?”

The boys strained against their seatbelts and yelled out question after question. Their childish, high-pitched voices were akin to nails scraping across a chalkboard.

“Ssh,” Linda cautioned meekly. Out of the corner of her eye, Hope saw Phil roll his eyes yet he made no move to help corral his kids.

The officer had better patience than she did. He took it all in stride. He waved at the kids before he returned her greeting. “Good afternoon. I’m Officer DeCarlo, may I see your license and registration please?”

“Of course.”

Hope reached over Phil, retrieved her registration from the glove compartment, and pulled her license from her gold and white clutch before handing it over to the officer.

“Thank you,” he said politely. “I pulled you over because you ran a red light back at Federal and Isabella.”

“Yes. I realized it afterwards. May I please just have the ticket? We’re in a hurry.”

The officer’s bright green eyes narrowed slightly, he bent his head and examined her license a little to close for Hope’s comfort. The German Shepherd at the officer’s side sniffed her van. The dog’s paws scratched the paint while his head jerked up and down and his tail wagged furiously.

Was the animal possessed?

“Is your dog okay?”

Officer DeCarlo followed her gaze. When he looked back, the pleasant expression on his face vanished as his pupils contracted and his mouth closed. He dug out a hand towel from his pocket and tossed it on the ground in front of the dog who barked happily. The officer knelt down and rubbed behind the dog’s ears for a few moments before he stood.

“Excuse me,” Officer DeCarlo said, “I’ll return shortly.”

“I want to pet the dog!” one of the boys demanded as he left.

Officer DeCarlo didn’t answer as he turned and strode back to his patrol car.


Now, this could have been a common/unoriginal scene – heroine gets pulled over by the police. I’ve seen that a lot. But, the author prevents me from being turned off by a potential cliche by immediately thrusting me into the action – in a fun way – without giving me a chance to even think about it the number of times I’ve seen this situation.

I had to smile at Michael’s exclamation. Then, chuckle at the other brother’s enthusiasm about going to jail. And I’m wondering what Hope is doing in the car with these kids that aren’t hers — and why she’s suddenly sweating at the thought of being pulled over. I’m feeling the tension grow and I’m intrigued.

And, then the author gives me the necessary details, i.e., why she’s in the car, why she’s feeling anxious, who the Mathisons are (while showing me their personality traits — not telling me who they are — which add to her stress), etc.  All of this is done as part of the story, without bogging the pacing down.

When the boys pipe up again, I have to chuckle. And, when the dog starts going crazy, I’m left thinking, “uh-oh,” and am anxious to turn the page.

Lynette, you did a great job of taking an everyday situation, throwing in a lot of action, making it interesting — and making me want to read on!


17 responses

28 01 2009

Lynette, I really like the way you give us such clear characterizations in such short bits — we know all we care to about Phil Mathison just from a couple of comments, and I could just picture the tentative Linda. (And those boys of theirs just might be the Houseguests from Hell who visited me a few years ago…)

I agree with Rachelle that you’ve handled what could have been a commonplace opening in a fresh and fascinating way. And I’m dying to know what the dog smells.

28 01 2009

Wow! I’m totally honored to be chosen as a finalist. I’m over the moon and find myself unable to concentrate here at work. You’ve just made my 2009.

28 01 2009
Tamara Hughes

Great opening, Lynette. I only we could read more to find out who this Brandon is. Very nice descriptions and emotional detail.


29 01 2009
Belle Scarlett

Hi, Lynette,
Yup, you’ve made me curious, all right! 😉 Good job!

29 01 2009
Darlene Torday

Wow! You have me hooked and I want to read more, a lot more. Great job. 🙂

30 01 2009

Hi Lynette,
I’m totally hooked. The build-up of tension in this short scene is marvelous. Your characterizations are spot on! I want to slap those kids (and Phil). I’m dying to know who Brandon is and his role in this story. I guess I’ll have to wait until this is published (and I’ll bet money it will be). In my writing I’m working on “show, don’t tell” and I’m going to use this as a great example of “showing”.

31 01 2009

Awesome Lynette!
You took on a huge challenge – introducing so many characters in a short space of time. And a dog too! Every single one was engaging and authentic. I loved the balance of humor and tension. Made me think of many a hectic car ride with mum and dad.

2 02 2009

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment this week. There are some writers who believe everything they write is golden and others who angst over every word and think this word should’ve been different, deleted, or changed. I’m in the latter group! It’s nice to know people I haven’t met enjoyed what I’ve written and that I’m headed in the right direction of making my dreams come true. Good luck to everyone.

4 02 2009

Congratulations, Lynette!
And I have to pull out my favorite line: “Phil Mathison was never satisfied, Linda Mathison never spoke, and their sons never heard the word no.” Perfect!!!

4 03 2009
Theresa Stevens

This is very good. I see real skill in the way you unfold the scene so that we can keep all the characters sorted out. I never got confused over who was who, or who was where, and that’s quite a feat given how packed these paragraphs are.

I have an urge to tinker with the way the first few paragraphs are organized. There might be just a bit too much space between the first boy’s dialogue and the second’s. Moving the second line up, though, puts off the moment when you let us identify the point-of-view character. One possible solution would be to open with the lights in the rearview mirror and then give both lines of dialogue from the boys. But this is not a big issue and did not detract from my enjoyment of the piece. Just wanted to make you aware that it was on my mind as I read your opening.

Good luck!

6 03 2009
Laura Bradford

There is a ton of stuff going on in this sample and it is hard to know quite what to focus on: the cop, the kids, Hope’s discomfort, Phil, whoever is the mysterious Brandon. I wasn’t quite sure whether Hope and whoever Brandon is have anything to do with the Mathisons or whether the Mathison’s are serving as bystanders to her life here. The kids are great, so kudos there. I definitely found myself wondering why the dog reacted to her car, but I sense some disaster looming. Disaster is good and looming disaster is great because it makes the reader want to turn the page. Solid writing. Very nice work.

8 03 2009
Raelene Gorlinsky

I can just picture these kids! Love the one who is interested in going to jail, and it’s so natural that they’d want to pet the police dog.

A lot of information is conveyed very well. But overall, I found it rather disjointed and confusing. I think some reorganization would solve that. It took too long to find out what was going on, and to understand why she didn’t pull over right away.

I’d definitely keep reading to find out what the dog alerted on.

10 03 2009
Faith Black

You’ve done a great job showing rather than just telling and the rate at which the information is revealed is just perfect, stringing the reader along in suspense waiting to find out the next piece. I’m already hooked. Although the name of the protagonist, Hope Work is throwing me a little. At first read it seems like the name of some sort of hospice or community service center or something. Two nouns can make for an awkward name (speaking as someone with a noun and an adjective myself). A minor detail but I think if her last name was different it might work better.

10 03 2009

Wow. Thank everyone for the excellent comments. The feedback has been invaluable and has helped me with the editing process. Once again, I wish everyone good luck.


16 03 2009
Elaine English

This certainly is an action-filled opening. You’ve handled it very well, introducing and distinguishing each character in a very short period of time. The scene in the car really springs to life and you know that whatever is about to happen with the officer and the dog is not going to be good. I did feel at times that I was acquiring information a bit too slowly — who were these kids and what where they all doing in Hope’s van, but before I got too far lost in my own questions, you had set things straight. I also stopped on Hope Works name. It seems a bit awkward and the sentence where it is introduced, “Hope Works gaze” is missing an apostrophe and maybe for that reason as well it seemed a bit confusing and awkward. It’s never good to have a sentence that stops a reader without there being a good reason and I found that sentence to be stumper.

17 03 2009
Katie Gilligan

I was initially concerned about the opening being too “full”–being pulled over, the boys in the car, Phil, this looming “Brandon,” and all the rest. But you managed to insert all of the detail and information in a very cohesive manner, while also being true to Hope’s character. I would love to see a bit more of her in the narration–she seems feisty and I think you could add more if it intrigued you to do so. I did pause a bit over Hope seeming so panicked and submissive at the beginning, yet pulling out a Chanel clutch and claiming to be the best agent in the city–this hopefully sorts itself out later, that’s the peril of reading just the opening! A very intriguing beginning and you definitely make the reader intrigued.

20 03 2009
Megan McKeever

There’s a lot going on here, but you handle it all nicely. I like the set up, the dialogue, and especially the boys. Still, I wasn’t completely drawn in enough to want to desperately keep reading, which is what you need for romantic suspense. Hook your readers right off the bat, and keep up the pacing so they keep turning the pages. Good, solid start but make sure you go somewhere quickly.

%d bloggers like this: