New manuscript - needs help!

Posted by Patrice Wilton | 12:28 PM | 12 comments »

Hi everyone,
I've been knee-deep in edits and have to jump back in again. Apparently my first book in my "hero series" needs more emotional conflict, and I would like to share the first chapter with you, and humbly ask for suggestions and guidance. I would be forever grateful, if anyone out there could lend some support and help me get this contract that's dangling before my eyes.
The title is A HERO LIES WITHIN.
Here is the first chapter--

CHAPTER ONE

“Kari, can you come into my office?” Tom Delaney spoke in a hushed tone that Kari Winslow knew meant trouble. He stood behind her desk, looking none too happy.

Kari worked for the Palm Beach News channel as the morning and noon anchor, and Tom was one of the producers. That meant that along with editing the news, deciding on content, and numerous other tasks, he was also in charge of the hiring and firing of his staff.

 “Yes, sir,” Kari said. “I’ll be right there.” Her stomach jumped and her palms were damp, but she smiled at Tom, putting on a brave front. She’d always liked and respected him, and she wanted to make his life easier. Even if he was firing her.

She stood up, straightening her jacket and smoothing her skirt. She wore a lemon-colored Armani suit that she’d bought on sale at the end of the season last year. At least she still had enough pride to look like a competent TV news anchor, even if she didn’t sound like one.

She followed Tom into his office and closed the door behind her.

Tom whirled on her. “What’s going on with you, Kari? This is the third time this week you flubbed a line. You’re a professional, for Christ’s sake!”

Her jumpy stomach did a butterfly kick. She looked into his eyes, hoping to see a little compassion. If it was there, it was well hidden. She considered her options: attack or defend. “I don’t know what to say. Except that Jeremy—“

“Jeremy, what?” he growled. “You can hardly blame him if you screwed up. All you have to do is deliver the lines. If you can’t do that, we’ll find someone who can.”

Dammit, she needed this job, and if Tom fired her, what would she do?

On the other hand, she had blown her lines and deserved whatever happened to her. Not that it had been her fault. Not entirely. When Max Hammond, their evening anchor, had suffered a fatal heart attack, Tom had brought Jeremy Chandler in to replace him. Everyone in the news station had known she wanted Max’s job. She’d been around the longest and deserved the promotion, but it had been offered, conditionally, to Jeremy instead. He’d moved from Chicago to join their network, and according to Tom, they were lucky to get him.

Kari knew he’d only committed to a one year contract to try out the market, but the network hoped to extend the contract to five years. As of now, the terms had not been agreed upon, so she had a limited time to convince her boss that she was the better person for the job. Trouble was, around Jeremy, she wasn’t stellar. He unbalanced her, threw her off her game, and she had no idea why. For her to stammer and mispronounce a word was unthinkable. Unacceptable. She’d better shape up fast if she hoped for even a chance at the nightly news.

“All I can say is I’m sorry.” Her chin went up and she met his gaze head-on. “Jeremy stopped by to deliver me a personal message--right before my noon report. I knew he was trying to upset me.” 

“I don’t care what he said. You can’t let your emotions affect your work.” Tom’s ruddy face grew even redder, and she suspected his rising blood pressure was brought on by stress--namely her. “You’ve been here long enough for me to know that you’re a professional, but something or someone is distracting you. Have you and Jeremy got something going on that I should know about?”

“Holy crap, Tom. No! I don’t even like the man.” She remembered her reaction the first day he’d stepped on the set. For one startling moment, he’d reminded her of the one man she could never forget. His strong face, his dark hair, the color of his eyes were all Jake. Then he’d opened his mouth, and the resemblance was gone.

“Well, what is it then?” He settled into his chair, folding his large freckled hands over his wide girth.

“He’s an ass. He thinks I’m an amateur who doesn’t belong in the same room with him.” Kari sat down in the chair opposite him, acting nonchalant, even if her heart was hammering like a woodpecker on speed. She crossed her legs and leaned back too. “I miss Max. He got along with everyone; the newsroom had this easy, relaxed atmosphere. With Jeremy, it’s just different. He rubs everyone the wrong way.”

“It sounds like you need an attitude adjustment. The station’s offering him a five-year contract, and it’s in your best interest to get along.” Tom’s bushy brows furrowed, and he glared at her. “Get your act together, Kari. I can’t have you stumbling over your words anymore.”

“I know. It won’t happen again.”

She’d make sure it didn’t. It wasn’t like there were dozens of TV networks in the vicinity aching to hire her. It was a small community of professionals, and the competition was tough. That was part of the reason she wanted the evening anchor job; it would give her better job security and a higher salary. Plus, it would provide greater visibility, more exposure. And one day, her sister might see her and come home.

“One more thing,” Tom said in a gentler voice, as if he’d read her mind. “This missing children series of yours. You know I’ve always been a big fan and it boosted our ratings at the beginning, but people are tired of it. They want a feel-good story.”

“A feel-good story?”  She felt sick inside. That was exactly what Jeremy had told her—that the station was axing her special half hour show. She’d thought he’d only said it to upset her. Which it had. His timing had been perfect.

“Come on, Tom.” Her gladiator spirit rose to the occasion. She knew when to pick her fights, and this was one of those times. “I’m doing something really important here. I’m bringing attention to missing children and runaways, closed cases that the authorities have given up on.” She fought back the feeling of panic. He couldn’t do this. Her sister was still missing.

“Please reconsider, Tom. This series has done a whole lot more than boost our ratings. We’ve actually found a few missing kids since we started this show.”

He shook his head. “Sorry. George and I talked about it, and we’re in agreement. It’s done.”

“George? He never said a word to me.” George Collins was Tom’s boss, the executive director, and he’d even congratulated her on a good show after her weekly broadcast last Friday evening.

Her temper flashed. “This isn’t right. We’ve brought children home. How ‘feel good’ is that?”

“Look. I know you have a personal motivation to keep this series alive, but we can’t let our emotions get involved with our decision making. The show has lost its oomph. We need something to engage our viewers, and it’s not stories about runaways. Nobody gives a shit anymore.”

Kari’s already bouncy stomach seemed to plummet, and a dull but familiar pain spread inside her. She held on to the edge of the desk to steady herself. Gladiators didn’t buckle. They held their ground. “You really mean this.” She stared straight at him, letting him see her determination, but her mouth trembled. “Don’t you? You’re really cutting the show?”

“I’m sorry.” Tom looked away. “I know how much this means to you, but yes. We’re starting something new the first of the month.”

Kari said nothing, deflated beyond words. Tom stood and opened his office door, signifying that she was free to leave.

She walked to her desk, sat down for a moment to check her computer for messages, and avoided the curious glances from her co-workers. She kept her head down, not allowing them to engage her in conversation. Let them think what they wanted—she wasn’t going to give them fuel for gossip. She kept her chin high as she walked past the reception area and out the door.

Inside her car, her chin quivered; her hands shook. Actually, her entire body trembled. How could he do this?

After several minutes, she inhaled and exhaled deeply and started the car. She had learned long ago that some things were out of her control, and dwelling on them did no good at all. If the show was cut, if she was fired, life would still go on, whether she ever found her sister or not.  

Routine was Kari’s method of coping. So she coped. She made her stop at Publix on the way home and picked up a package of skinless chicken breasts, a small pork tenderloin, then headed for the seafood counter, where she asked for two nice pieces of tilapia. Although she lived alone, she still bought enough of everything for two. She liked to be prepared in case her sister Alaina decided to come home, or her world-traveling boyfriend showed up. In any case, it limited her trips to the store.

She grabbed a package of asparagus, a head of broccoli, and a couple of packages of prepared salads. Next on her list were a couple of bottles of good wine. Once she’d made her selections, she checked out and headed home.

She drove a late model Mercedes, and parked underground in her usual spot. She lived on the fourth floor of a relatively new building in CityPlace, West Palm Beach, which had nearly every convenience imaginable except concierge service.  She entered the lobby and was dismayed to see only one elevator available—the other in service for someone moving into the building.

Balancing the bags and her handbag, she watched the numbers as the elevator crept downwards from the eighteenth floor. Patience was not one of her strong-suits, and she pushed the button again as if that might hurry it along. Just then the occupied elevator reached the lobby level and the door opened up.

“Hold that elevator,” she heard a man shout.

Before she could move, he rushed forward, wheeling a large suitcase and a dog carrier.  The dog was one of those small yippy things, and it barked ferociously when Kari tried to slide past.

The man’s suitcase bumped into her, and the bag holding the wine slipped out of her hands, hitting the ceramic tile. Red wine splashed her legs and coated her new pair of Manola Blahnik heels.

“Oh, my God!” She let out a small cry.

“I’m so sorry. Did I do that?”

“Your bag bumped into mine.” She glanced up from her once-beautiful shoes and met the eyes of the fellow who’d ruined them.

Jake. Her Jake. He was back from war.  

Her heart speeded up; her mouth went dry.

How long had he been home? Why had she not known? Not that they kept in touch, but still, it was surprising she hadn’t heard a word about his return.

He had been her first love, the first boy she’d slept with, and the first man to break her heart. Of course, she’d been over him for years, and had a wonderful guy in her life who she adored. Jake had been nothing but an unpleasant memory for a long time. So why was she flustered at the mere sight of him?

He’d always been the handsomest man she’d ever known. Tall, broad-shouldered, physically fit, with a strong, square chin, flashing blue eyes, and a smile that could make a woman drop her panties and never look back. But he was thinner now, his thick wavy hair was shorn, and he looked older than he should. 

“Kari.” His eyes registered shock, which mirrored her feelings. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same.”

She took a step back, almost as if she were protecting herself, which was silly really. He didn’t have the power to hurt her anymore. What had happened between them was done. Over. Like yesterday’s rain.

“You owe me a new pair of shoes.” She knew it was a ridiculous thing to say to someone she’d once loved, and hadn’t seen in years, but it was the first words that popped out. “They’re Manolos and they’re ruined.” Why was she talking about shoes? And why was he here? She’d thought of him today. How strange that he should suddenly appear.

“I’ll be happy to buy you a new pair. This was an unfortunate incident.”

“You said it.” She stepped around the broken glass, needing to put some distance between them until she got her breathing under control. “I’ll get someone to clean this up.”

“Hold Muffin. I’ll get someone.”

“No, the dog hates me.” She eyed the quivering snowball with little pointy teeth, snarling at her. “I can’t believe you have a poodle called Muffin. I thought you hated small dogs.”

“Long story. I just figured he had a right to live.”

“I didn’t say he didn’t. But with you?”

Someone from security showed up with a bag and a broom. “We’ll take care of this,” he said, and proceeded to do so.

Jake held the elevator door for her. “Go ahead. I’ll take the next one.”

“There’s room in here for both of us.” She punched her floor number and stepped back.

Jake put Muffin on the floor, and wheeled his bag in. He hit number three, one floor below hers.

“So, I’m still curious.” Kari spoke to his back. “Why this dog?”

“He was about to be put down.”

“Really?” She glanced down at the unfortunate critter. “Looks healthy enough to me.”

“He lost a leg. Got out somehow, and was hit by a car. Tiffany, Dad’s new wife, decided to ease his pain.”

“Tiffany? How old is she?”

“I’m guessing forty. I don’t know, but she’s a real bitch.”

“I’m sorry. About your mother too.”

The elevator stopped at his floor and he picked up the cage, and Muffin fell over.

“Well it was nice seeing you again,” she said in a cheery voice. “Good luck in your new apartment.”

He turned his head and his piercing blue eyes held hers. “What’s your number? I’ll replace your wine.”

“Don’t bother. I can live without it.”

“I insist. Where do you live?”

Her chin lifted. “Four-0-four, but please don’t.” She didn’t want to see him. Not now. Not ever.

He smiled, and butterflies zoomed around her stomach. He’d always had that reaction on her, and she would not allow that to happen again. Not for one damn minute.

“Goodbye, Jake.”

He stepped out, but shot her another glance. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Not if I can help it,” she muttered under her breath.

She entered her apartment, still feeling very unsettled by this unexpected encounter with her old love. She’d successfully dealt with his betrayal and harbored no ill-feelings for him, or so she’d thought. But running into him like this brought it all back, the pain of losing him and her sister both, in that one terrible year.  

She poured herself a glass of white wine from the open bottle in the fridge, kicked off her shoes, and sat down on the sofa. She took a big sip of the Chardonnay, hoping it would take the edge off, but knowing from experience she’d need to do a lot more than that.

Feeling restless, she got up and went out onto her poor-excuse-for-a-balcony. Her tiny two-bedroom condo in CityPlace was across the bridge from the glorious mansions in Palm Beach. She loved the fact that outside her door were several restaurants and bars, a big movie theater, shops and boutiques, all situated around a lovely and quaint town square.

Lots of people were milling about during the pre-dinner hour. For several minutes she enjoyed watching the activity. She spotted a few couples heading out for dinner, a group of young women apparently having a girl’s night out, and several teenage boys with their hats on sideways, pants falling down, waiting in the square where some musicians were setting up.

She finished her wine and went into the kitchen for a pitcher of water. Returning to the living room, she dumped the water into a sick and gangly plant that looked like it was about to take its last breath.

She headed for the bedroom, unzipping her skirt as she did so, when the telephone rang. She picked it up eagerly, seeing from caller ID that it was Sean. He was the perfect boyfriend, intelligent, interesting, charming--and absent most of the time. She was proud of the fact that he was an award-winning freelance photographer, and thrilled that his career was as important to him as hers was to her.

“Sean! Where are you?”

“Hunan, China, but we leave tomorrow.” His New Zealander accent was more accentuated when he spoke quickly, as he was doing now. “We’re doing some shots on the Mengdong River, and then a place called the Fairyland of Peach Blossoms. It’s been really crazy for the past few days, that’s why you didn’t hear from me.”

“Tell me everything. I miss the sound of your voice.”

“No time. I’m rushing right now, but I’ll be in Beijing in a few days and can call again then.”

“Sean. Don’t hang up just yet. Can’t we talk a little longer?”

“Sorry, honey. I’ll have more time in a couple of days.”

“Okay.” She whispered half to herself, “I need you tonight.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” For just this once she’d like to unburden herself, but she knew and accepted the fact that he lived with one foot out the door. “Do you know when you’re coming home?”

“I can’t say for sure, but it’ll be within the next couple of weeks. Maybe sooner.”

“Good. I have so much to tell you.” She hesitated for a second, then blurted, “I miss you.”

“Glad to hear that.” His voice deepened. “When I get home, we have things to discuss.”

“Like what?” she said, suddenly on guard.

“Things that need to be discussed in person.”

“Sean. Tell me.” She wondered if he wanted to change the relationship. End it or step it up a notch. Neither prospect appealed to her.

“Can’t tell you right now, but you’ll know soon enough.”

“Okay. Be mysterious. See if I care.”

“I miss you too.” His voice sounded different, almost romantic, and it made her heart yearn.

“Give my love to Beijing,” she said to keep things light.

He laughed, and they said good-bye.

She headed for the bathroom to take her shower, feeling more unsettled than ever. Sean was a darling, but they spent so little time together that she never completely knew where they stood. They were lovers, but were they in love?

While the warm water washed over her body, her thoughts returned to Tom’s sudden decision to cut her runaway series. Every instinct in her wanted to fight him on this, but the management had made up their mind, and there was not a damn thing she could do about it. She would get him his “feel-good” stories. Hell, if Tom wanted her to bend over and show her backside to the world, she’d do it. Whatever it took to make the boss happy.

12 comments

  1. bloggedin // June 7, 2012 at 1:24 PM  

    Hi, I suggest you open with action, show Kari wrapping up the morning news, show her making a mistake and how she immediately turns to Tom standing in the corner of the room to check his reaction, hoping he missed it. And when she sees his face frozen with anger, she feels that familiar acid rising up her to the pit of her stomach. So, first show us the dynamics of their jobs, later you can drop more clues about their job descriptions and power to hire and fire etc. Open up with tension and keep it going, giving us clues about Tom's demeanor, how he shakes his head slowly, wating for the commercial break to strut over to her and scold her. Good luck!

  2. Autumn Jordon // June 7, 2012 at 2:42 PM  

    I think bloggedin had a good suggestion.

    If I was to write this chapter, I'd probably start with Kari's conflict with Jeremy (action), show her frustration with him as she goes in front of the camera (or maybe he lets is lip about her show being cancelled) and her angst that her boss is watching. When she fubbs her lines, she can see the writing on the wall by Tom's expression. End the scene with her acting strong and setting a plan in place to achieve her goal. If continuing that series is her goal, she can't rollover because management does want it. She has to be determined and make them see that people do care and it's important to continue on.

    Also, I think you have two bare bones scenes here. One is the work conflict and the other is the old boyfriend showing up. Why is his presence important? That has to be explained, not just told this is what happens next.

    Just my opinion. I hope I've helped.

  3. Autumn Jordon // June 7, 2012 at 2:47 PM  

    One more thing, Kudos to you for having the guts to put your first chapter up and asking for opinions and help. That really takes moxie, lady. I hope more offer their opinions.

  4. Patrice // June 7, 2012 at 2:51 PM  

    Thanks Autumn and IB! Your suggestions for the opener is good, but it's the romantic conflict that my editor is having trouble with. The old boyfriend is the "hero" the man she could never forget, so I need to pump up her reaction to him, and not let them get along so well right from the getgo.

  5. Jan Washburn // June 7, 2012 at 6:40 PM  

    I think the comments are right on. You have put in too much back story and details about office politics. I'm confused about all these men in her life. At first, I thought Tom was going to be the romance. Then it sounds as though Jeremy will be the one. You mention George, and then there's Jake and finally Sean. Who should the reader be rooting for? Losing her "Lost Child" program and her sister is another important story and needs more time and space. Maybe save that for the next chapter.

  6. Patrice // June 7, 2012 at 7:11 PM  

    Thanks, Jan. I didn't realize I had complicated the issue. All your comments everyone are greatly appreciated.

  7. Tamara LeBlanc // June 7, 2012 at 7:59 PM  

    Hi there!
    I agree with what Autumn said about the two separate bare bones scenes. Her suggestions made sense.
    First, for me, make sure you start a chapter, or a novel for that matter, with action. You begin yours with dialogue, which works, but you slow the momentum immediately when you dump the info about Kari's job, and then add some of Tom's responsibilities in too. These details can be woven in later (very sparingly)
    Also, why would she want to make Tom's life easier, "Even if he was firing her," as you said? That sentence contradicts some of the things she thinks later on.
    She says: Dammit, she needed this job, and if Tom fired her, what would she do? She also mentions having a gladiator's spirit and plans on fighting for her job.
    To me these sentences show some spunk.
    I like the spunky Kari better than the one wanting to make a boss's life easier so he can fire her :] But you also want your heroine's character, her beliefs, her thoughts, her dreams to be consistent.
    These are small things, easy fixes. Your a good writer and can make it work.
    Also, watch your use of was. You tend to use it alot and its passive. Make sure your writing is active.
    Example, you wrote: She looked into his eyes, hoping to see a little compassion. If it was there, it was well hidden.
    You might instead write:
    She studied his expression. If he felt any compassion, he hid the emotion well.
    Just a suggestion:)
    Hope this helps a little.
    Have a great evening,
    Tamara

  8. Mary Marvella // June 7, 2012 at 9:20 PM  

    Patrice, you got some excellent suggestions and comments. You might bring it back again for comments after you work on it.

    It has real potential.

  9. Mona Risk // June 7, 2012 at 11:07 PM  

    Patrice, I agree with Jan. I didn't understand who the hero is. I thought it was Jeremy, and found it an excellent conflict as they fight for te same job, but then you introduced Jack and then Sean, and you lost me.

    If Jack is the hero start with the elevator scene where she's obviously upset and then show us her work problems.
    Is Jack going to help her?

  10. Mona Risk // June 7, 2012 at 11:09 PM  

    I forgot to say I love your voice. I don't think you lack emotion. I think you need to reorganize the paragraphs, remove the useless description, and concentrate on ONE problem.

  11. Josie // June 8, 2012 at 12:14 AM  

    Patrice,
    I agree with everyone. All the conflicts are excellent but they're a lot to keep track of. Because the hero and heroine have a past, and she's working on the lost child story, maybe they had a child together that she was forced to give up because she was so young? I believe you mention that he's the first man she ever slept with.
    BTW, you have a wonderful voice!

  12. Patrice // June 8, 2012 at 11:13 AM  

    Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I appreciate the help, and will work on these details.