Friday, September 19, 2008

Novel excerpt

Here's another installment of my not-yet-named novel. I wrote this novel for National Novel Writing Month, and I am now getting into the parts of the novel that I've spent less time on, and I would really love to get some feedback about ways to improve things.

So please, feel free to either leave constructive criticism in the comments or e-mail me at


Tina picked up the phone and dialed James' office. She made it through the voice mail system to get to his assistant, a woman in her 40's named Leslie.

"Hi, Leslie," Tina said, "is James available?"

"Good afternoon," Leslie said, in full professional mode. Tina wondered if one of the partners was nearby. That thought was confirmed when Leslie continued, "Yes, Mr. Torvald, Mr. Conroy will be available on the 17th at 10a.m. We have off-street parking located behind our building. Yes.....yes.....certainly, Mr. Torvald....." and then, Tina heard Leslie whisper conspiratorally "okay, he's gone. It was Clapsaddle, he gets cranky about any conversations that aren't billable."

"I figured," Tina said, sitting back in the office chair.

"So how's the wedding planning going?" Leslie asked, "is everything decided, have you arranged the seating so no fights break out at the Bari-Conroy nuptials?"

"Everything is settled except for one biggy," Tina said, "which is the dress, but I'm going to pick one out tonight, which is why I need to speak to James."

"Let me check if your honey is available," Leslie said, "he is here, so that should help."

Tina listened to the awful on hold station – she was being forced to listen to Chris DeBurgh warble "Lady In Red". She made a mental note to make sure the DJ at the reception did not play this song. It made her ears bleed.

"One sec, hon," Leslie said, and then Tina heard James rich baritone in her ear. She found the tone of his voice reassuring and calming.

"Hi, J," Tina said, "how's your day going?"

"Oh, you know," James said, "depositions, research, memos...the usual paper shifting. So what's up?"

"Kell is going to help me pick out a wedding dress tonight, at 6ish, so I was going to see if you wanted to meet me for and early dinner at Uncle Vito's at around 4:45 or so." Vito was her mother's younger brother who owned a restaurant around the corner from both James' law office and only a couple of blocks north of her aunt Dinella's dress shop.

Tina heard James let out a deep sigh. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

"I can meet you," he said, not answering her question, "I just have to get moving on one client and do a little reshuffling with a meeting I was going to have with Leslie....oh, she just yelled in to me that she can wait until tomorrow to talk to me, that I should go have a good time with my girl."
"Great!" Tina said. "I'll see you then. Love you, J."

"Love you, T," he said. Tina hung up the phone and looked at it for a moment. She had noticed that James became withdrawn and quiet everytime their conversation turned to talk of their upcoming nuptials. Tina was not comfortable with confrontation, but she wondered if he was experiencing the proverbial cold feet. “Maybe I can bring it up at dinner tonight”, she thought to herself. It might be good to get both of their fears out on the table. "In fact," she thought, "maybe he's acting exactly the same and I'm the one who is getting distant." She sighed and stood up. She had to get ready for a small group of Girl Scouts, they were trying to train a dog for a badge of some kind.

Tina walked out of the office, around the front counter and down a short hallway to the main play area. Tina had helped Tabby find the site for the facility, and she felt a certain amount of ownership of the place. It was always spotless, and although it smelled like dog, it smelled like clean dog. She opened the gate to the main play area and said hello to the excited canine throng that greeted her. The Dog House was located in an Industrial Park, and when Tabby first rented the building, it was basically just an open warehouse. But they had put up drywall and painted, laid down some easy to clean flooring that the dogs wouldn't slip on, and gated the 1 acre lot behind the building so the dogs could get time outside everyday. They planted trees and even had a garden of old fire hydrants that had been painted bright colors, just for a touch of fun.

"Quiet!" Tina ordered the dogs, calmly but forcefully. She had a manner that dogs seemed to respect, and she rarely raised her voice or had to repeat a command.

As the din quieted down, Tina gave the command for outside, and the dogs ran to the doggy door that let them out into the fenced yard.

"Laura," Tina said, as the diminutive older woman started heading out after the dogs and the other assistants who worked at the facility.

"Yes," Laura said, an affectionate smile on her face.

"I have some Girl Scouts coming in a half an hour, and I'm going to work with them in the training room, and do you have a minute?" Tina surprised herself by asking this last question.

"Of course, Randy and Joelle can handle the dogs outside," Laura said. "What can I do for you?"

"Well....I think I might need some advice from someone who's been married," Tina said.

"I've been married twice," Laura said, "so I'm not sure I am the best person to give you advice,"

Tina flushed a little. "Not your current marriage," Tina said, "but when you were married to a man." Wow, this was awkward, she thought to herself. Laura considered herself married now, but the law didn't recognize her current marriage, to a woman her age named Rose. Tina loved Laura and Rose, and she considered them a perfect pair, but she also knew that Laura's marriage to her husband had not been a happy one. She didn't know that Laura's husband had been abusive, but Tina knew that Laura was happy to have her ex-husband out of her life.

Laura smiled a sad smile, "James is nothing like the man I was married to." Laura had survived a brutal marriage, something she rarely talked about and tried hard not to think about, as well.

"Of course, I know," Tina said. "But do you think it's normal for a man to act…I don’t know, strange before he gets married? Like, distant, somehow?"

Laura tipped her head back, like she was thinking. "I'm sure it's normal, Tina," she said. "I think marriage – committing for a lifetime, can be scary, and they aren't sure how to deal with fears like that. But what do you mean by distant?"

Tina thought about it for a minute. He was sleeping in the guest bedroom, for one thing, but of course her mother had guilted him into that. But she couldn't really point to anything in particular as being odd or off about his behavior. James had always been a man of few words, and he'd never been the most affectionate man, either. He was tender and loving, but he never seemed to have some of the fire that some of her previous lovers had - there was something about his desire for her that was off. She didn't want to get into all of that at work, though.

"I guess it's nothing, Laura," Tina said. "Maybe I'm so scared that I'm projecting onto him."

Laura smiled and wrapped her arm around Tina. "It's natural to be scared when you make a big change. But just to be smart, make sure you listen to your fears to see if they are trying to tell you something." She saw a look come over Tina's face, "I'm sure it's nothing, in this case, because James is a sweet boy, but don't dismiss your feelings, either,"

Tina looked at the tiny woman. "How'd you get so smart, Laura? Tina asked.

"Lots of mistakes, Tina," Laura said, "lots of mistakes."

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