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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » A Stab in the Front

   
Author Topic: A Stab in the Front
MattLeo
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(update 2: I've changed the name of the story to "The Keystone"; "Cordelia" is now "Kate" and "Bill" is now "Archie"; Since the first chapters highlight Kate's social ineptitude, I decided to add a prologue showcasing her derring-do so readers aren't wondering what the heck Archie sees in her.

As the story took shape I realized I have to turn some of the mores of the remarriage genre on its head for modern readers, because modern blue noses are more apt to preach excessive informality than excessive propriety -- their real point remains the same, which is that whatever you are, you're not good enough. I'm not sure how or whether to work that into the summary.)

Logline

A gruff but heroic space captain always manages to give her gregarious ex-husband the slip, but this time he's coming after her with something she desperately needs: a job.

Summary

Captain Kate MacClaine is decisive, resourceful and self-reliant, but after ten years solo piloting a tiny scout spaceship her people skills are a bit rusty – and they weren't that great to start with. Kate's a loner who treats people like she does the machinery on her ship: with no allowance for feelings.

Next to Kate with her can-do self-sufficiency, her gregarious ex-husband Archie Spencer appears helpless as a baby. He can't restart a damaged spacecraft engine or tune-up a balky ray pistol. What Archie's good at is convincing other people it'd be fun to do those things for him. In a galactic civilization of thousands of billions of souls that's a priceless skill. Archie's military career has rocketed him to the very apex of galactic society, while Kate is preparing to eke out a living on its margins using her service bonus: a surplus scout ship.

Archie's like a giant, genial black hole: if he's interested in you he won't give up until he's drawn you into his orbit, or in Kate's case, crushed her in his never-ending embrace. Archie's tried twice to catch Kate, the second time maneuvering her all the way to altar before she escaped to the farthest reaches of navigable space. So when Archie shows up on the day Kate takes command of her new ship, Kate's sure it means he's back for a third go at her.

Kate has to move quick; if Archie ever catches up with her pretty soon he'll talk her into living with him again. But when she tries to give him the slip she's brought up short by an unpleasant shock: a bureaucratic snafu has stranded her ship in port. There's only one man who can help her, and before she can stop him Archie's moved into her little ship, and he's brought along an even bigger shock for Kate: his new fiancée. She's a social climbing anti-prude who can give him everything the gruff but diffident Kate can't.

The Keystone re-imagines the classic 1930s “comedy of remarriage” movie in a Science Fiction Golden Age setting of slipsticks and spaceships.

Prologue (first 13)

Kate felt a sting on the back of her leg, and an instant later another like it in front. She looked down to see an atavist arrowhead poking out of a rip in the front of her coveralls' thigh. Her first reaction was that it was narrower in cross-section than the typical atavist projectile point. Her second was that if it had nicked the circumferential artery she was in big trouble

As she turned to see where the arrow came from, she thought, “Oh, God, just give me five minutes back on my ship, that's all I ask.” Her thigh didn't hurt that bad yet, it just burned like hell. That would get worse. Everything in this mucky jungle was filthy.

--------

I've been noodling around for another story to work on, and came up with this. The working title is an allusion to an Oscar Wilde quote: "A true friend stabs you in the front." I've got a few chapters done. I envision it as the screwball romantic comedy/sci-fi movie Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant never made.

(update 1)

Summary

Captain Kate MacLaine is competent, resourceful and self-sufficient, but after ten years solo piloting a tiny scout spaceship her people skills have got a bit rusty – and they weren't so great to start with. She treats people like the systems on her ship: with good intentions, but no concern for feelings.

Next to Kate with her can-do self-sufficiency, Archie Spencer looks helpless as a baby. He can't restart a damaged spacecraft engine, jury-rig an emergency atmosphere scrubber, or tune-up a balky ray pistol. What he can do is make doing things for him interesting and rewarding for other people. In a galactic civilization of thousands of souls, that's a priceless skill. Archie's military career has rocketed him to the very apex of galactic society, whereas Kate is preparing to eke out a living on its margins with her service bonus: a surplus scout ship.

Archie collects people; if he's interested in you he's like a giant, genial black hole: He won't give up until he's drawn you into his orbit. He's tried twice over the years to collect Kate without success.

When Archie shows up the day Kate is to take command of her ship, it can mean only one thing: he's back for a third try. She'll have to move quick to evade his grasp, but before she can ship out Archie has moved into her tiny spaceship, with his motley entourage and insufferable fiancée in tow.

Opening 13

“Hold it,” Captain Kate MacLaine said, stopping the space dock supply clerk before he opened the boarding tube. She tugged a shower cap over her scalp and tucked her ponytail into it.

“Bit paranoid, aren't you?” the clerk said, eying her disposable coveralls.

“It works for me,” she said. “I notice the gauge is showing a slight overpressure in this tube. Anything you aren't telling me?”

The clerk tugged at his collar. “What, ten kilopascals? That's nothing. Gauge probably needs calibration.” He ran his hand through his hair.

She fixed him with a gimlet-eyed glare. “Your *atmosphere* gauges are out of calibration? What are you, some kind of moron?”


(original)

Summary

Captain Cordelia MacLaine is competent, resourceful and self-sufficient, but after ten years solo piloting a tiny scout spaceship her people skills have got a bit rusty – and they weren't that great to start with. She treats people like the systems on her ship, which is to say extremely well, but without any concern for things like feelings.

In contrast to Cordelia's can-do self-sufficiency, Bill Spencer appears helpless as a baby. He can't restart a damaged spacecraft engine,jury-rig an emergency atmosphere scrubber, or tune-up a balky ray pistol. He needs other people for those things. He's not stupid, he's just never had to learn. He's extremely good at making doing things for him seem interesting and rewarding to other people, and in a galactic civilization of thousands of billions of souls that's a priceless skill. Bill's military career has rocketed him to the very apex of galactic society, whereas Cordelia is preparing to eke out a living on the margins with her service bonus: a surplus scout ship.

Bill collects people. If he's interested in you he's like a giant, genial black hole: he won't give up until he's drawn you into his orbit. He's tried twice over the years to collect Cordelia, but without success. When he shows up the day Cordelia takes command of her ship it can mean only one thing: he's back for a third try.

Opening:

“Hold it,” Captain Cordelia MacLaine said, stopping the supply clerk before he opened the docking tube. She tugged a shower cap over her head and tucked her ponytail into it.

“Bit paranoid, aren't you?” the clerk said, eying her disposable coveralls.

“It works for me,” she said. “I see the gauge is showing a slight overpressure in this tube. Anything you aren't telling me?”

The clerk tugged at his collar. “What, ten kilopascals? That's nothing. Gauge probably needs calibration.” He ran his hand through his hair.

She fixed him with a gimlet eye. “Your *atmosphere* gauges are out of calibration? What are you, some kind of moron?”


[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited August 01, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited August 27, 2011).]


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hteadx
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Lois McMaster Bujold. She is who you will be measured against when you write about space sci-fi with a main character name Cordelia.
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MattLeo
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Not Shakespeare?

Never read any of Bujold's stuff, but a not-so-amazing coincidence checking on Wikipedia shows that *her* Cordelia is the captain of a survey ship too.

I chose that profession as being a convenient sci-fli cliche. My intention is to give my story a kind of raygun and slipstick retro feel; the kind of story that would be in the pulp magazines when Howard Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby" was on the big screen.


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LDWriter2
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Could be where Bujold got her names from also.


But I'm not sure what to say, I think it fits with what you are trying to do. I was going to say something about gimlet eye not being a good fit here but than again maybe it is with the type of story it is.


I think you should put in something about it being her ship but only if you can keep it short.

That's all I see but I can miss things that need help so listen to any other hatrcakers who speak up.


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MattLeo
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Hmmm. Maybe "Kate MacClaine" and "Archie Spencer", in honor of Kate Hepburn and Cary (né "Archibald Leach") Grant. "Kate and Archie" has a 30s movie couple ring to it that harmonizes with the sound of a martini being shaken with crushed ice. What I'm less sure of is whether screwball comedy harmonizes with space opera, but what the heck.

This is not her ship, by the way; it's a junker the clerk is trying to foist on her after she's returned her old vessel in mint condition. That's a set-up for a comic vignette in which she tries unsuccessfully to browbeat the clerk into giving her her old ship back, only to have Bill arrive and charm the man into doing it. That annoys her because she knows justice and reason were on her side and feels that should have been enough to win the argument.


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LDWriter2
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Which explains why the guy is worried.
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MAP
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I like this. The writing is good. The story sounds fun from the summary, and the first thirteen gives me a good feel for Cordelia. My only complaint is that I'd like to be a little more grounded. It is not clear what Cordelia is doing.

quote:
“Hold it,” Captain Cordelia MacLaine said, stopping the supply clerk before he opened the docking tube. She tugged a shower cap over her head and tucked her ponytail into it. (I'd like some idea of what she is doing because all I got to go on is a shower cap which makes me think she is going to take a shower and this guy walks in on her. Can you give a little internal thought to help us know what she is preparing to do?)

“Bit paranoid, aren't you?” the clerk said, eying her disposable coveralls. (I'm not sure why her coveralls are disposable or why that makes her paranoid, but I'm thinking now she isn't going to take a shower. Sure would like to know what she is going to do )


“It works for me,” she said. “I see the gauge is showing a slight overpressure in this tube. Anything you aren't telling me?” (Don't have any problem with the rest. I'm finally getting a sense of setting, but I still would like to know what they are doing in the tube)

The clerk tugged at his collar. “What, ten kilopascals? That's nothing. Gauge probably needs calibration.” He ran his hand through his hair.

She fixed him with a gimlet eye. “Your *atmosphere* gauges are out of calibration? What are you, some kind of moron?”



I read a fair amount of romance type of stuff. One thing I've noticed is that they seem to heavy on internal dialogue whether written in first person or third. I think a little internal dialogue would help clear things up and better establish the situation and the character. Go a little deeper into Cordelia's POV. Let us see what she is thinking and feeling.

Just my opinion take it or leave it.


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MattLeo
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@MAP -- I have some friends who are romance writers, so I have respect for what they do, but I'm thinking along more cinematic lines, like "Adam's Rib".
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KathiS
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You had me at Kate Hepburn. :-) I love the summary, sounds fun, light-hearted and entertaining. Your character descriptions are excellent.

I have to agree with MAP on not being clear what Cordelia is doing. A shower cap also seemed a bit normal, if that makes sense. But what I really wonder is why is she putting it on and where are they.

Also,the "gimlet eye" threw me. I know what it means but it seemed a little out of place. In only 13 lines, however, it's hard to say. It might be perfectly in place.

Overall, well done. The kind of ms I'd pick up.

kls


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MattLeo
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KathIS -- The question is whether the confusion with the shower cap in the first 13 makes you less likely to read on.

On the next page we'll learn the reason for the coveralls and the shower cap. Mutated mold and fungus eating away at circuit boards and insulation are a serious problem in old ships (as they were in MIR: [URL=http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.bbc.co.uk%2F2%2Fhi%2Fworld%2Fmonitoring%2Fmedia_reports%2F1209034.stm&ei=Cbc2TsbSH5K10AGjkOy gDA&u]http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.bbc.co.uk%2F2%2Fhi%2Fworld%2Fmonitoring%2Fmedia_reports%2F1209034.stm&ei=Cbc2TsbSH5K10AGjkO ygDA&u[/URL] sg=AFQjCNHF1-hd3lbTE3pJQUF_6CatLQCFMw&sig2=cDqKJCVzfRBG8SWufc3lbQ). Cordelia (now "Kate") is taking precautions against picking up spores which would contaminate her ship. That also explains her suspiciousness about the airlock pressure.

However none of that needs to be explained here; what needs to be clear, I think, is that the setting for this scene is a space dock.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited August 01, 2011).]


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Crane
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When the clerk asks, "Bit paranoid...?" its obvious to us that Kate/Cordelia knows what she's protecting herself from and the clerk knows what she's protecting herself from, but we readers don't know yet. I think that instead of that question exactly, he could mention specifically what she's afraid of. For example: "aren't scared of space fungus, are you?" something like that. I think there's an opportunity here to give the reader something to sink our teeth into a little bit.
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