Just over a month ago I posted what I thought was the new title of my novel in progress. I was wrong. I also posted what I thought was my new opening scene. I was wrong. Will I ever learn? Apparently not, since I’m posting an even newer title and opening scene. Ah, the power of a blog. I considered not saying anything, but then there’d be a form of lie in the ether, and it feels better to admit it than to ignore it.
The first title GREAT WHARF didn’t say enough. It helped to keep me focused while I was still inventing the place, the people, the events, but it wasn’t a title to intrigue a readership beyond my personal circle. The second and short-lived title TOWN OF SECRETS said more but was still too general. Worse, the opening scene to Town of Secrets misled the reader to assume s/he was about to read a thriller or murder mystery. In fact, my novel is best characterized as women’s fiction. It has elements of mystery and romance, for instance, but it’s not bound by the formulas for those genres.
Thanks to reader feedback from a variety of sources, I’ve junked both earlier titles and I think “she’s finally got it” (apologies to Professor Higgins) with the new one, which is WHEN MRS. COOK GOT OUT MORE. This title does something the others didn’t. It creates a specific question in the browser’s mind that will be answered by this book and only by this book. The intrigued browser will not be disappointed.
I’ve deleted the misleading material from my earlier (Town of Secrets) post, which had a “hater” and a “victim” and cloaked events in a way the rest of the novel never does. Below I offer you an opening scene much closer to my ideal reader’s expectations and more reflective of how it will feel to read the book currently titled When Mrs. Cook Got Out More.
What do you think?
Latest Draft… [since posting this originally, I’ve updated the draft being shown as of 6/19/2014; basically the same but fine-tuned]
Chapter 1 [start of it]
Being alone, Mallory and Dwight Cook claimed a smaller section of bench than necessary at the picnic-style table. Their shoulders kissed while their eyes and ears attended to the swivel television on the counter between the dining and kitchen areas. As usual during dinner, they watched the regional TV news broadcast out of Portland, Maine. Like a one-celled amoeba, their small town of Great Wharf squeezed a pseudopod, or “false foot,” into a portion of the southern Maine coastline between Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.
Five minutes into tonight’s broadcast Mallory said, “Dare we hope? It looks like no new bad news tonight. I mean, just updates on old bad news. How refreshing!”
Dwight murmured his agreement, but Mallory knew he was just biding time until he finished eating. He’d been wanting to say something ever since he got home. But she had hurried him into washing his hands and sitting down to catch the start of the news. She had, as usual, looked forward all day to seeing him. He was her anchor, always had been.
At the first commercial break, Mallory picked up her empty plate and flatware, swiveled, and swung her legs over the bench. She laid the dish and utensils on the counter by the dishwasher. Then she turned and asked, “Ready for more wine?”
“Not yet, still nursing this one. Why’d you jump from the table so fast?”
“I didn’t jump, just got out normally.”
“Yeah, normal like a scared jackrabbit.”
“What would I have to be afraid of?”
“Mal, you telegraph your emotions in all sorts of ways, not that I’m going to give away my secret store of knowledge. But thirty-six years and three grown kids later, I’ve learned how to read you.”
Mallory harrumphed and refilled her wine glass. Turning to face Dwight again, she waved it slowly in an arc from left to right in front of her. “Did you notice the amazing cleaning job I did on this room today?”
“It always looks clean in here. Sorry. Tell me what you did.”
“I washed under the counter edges, and I dusted everything including the leaves on the fern. I even risked life and limb on the stepladder to dust the overhead light. Little did you know while you were chatting with tourists at the trolley museum that your wife was this close to a fatal fall.” She held her arms out from her sides and swayed (careful not to spill the wine).
Dwight shook his head. “You really need to get out more, Mal. I’m starting to think you’re hiding out in here, like someone in the witness protection program. Or an actual hermit.” He chanced a grin over his nearly empty plate, but a question hung in the air. Mallory gave him a lopsided smile.
So, he had raised the subject after all. She didn’t want this conversation. She grabbed the sponge and swiped it across the sparkling counter.
“Sorry, babe.” Dwight backed off. “I didn’t mean to stick a label on you. I’m just concerned.”
“Tell you what, I promise to do something out of the ordinary tomorrow.”
“Outside the house and away from the yard?”
The next day Mallory left the house twenty minutes early for a doctor’s appointment Dwight knew nothing about. In the spirit of her promise, though, she was tacking on a detour to Byways Gift Shop. That would add ten minutes to the walking time. Another ten minutes in the store should be enough to form an impression of the proprietor, a woman named Angie Weller.
Mallory’s neighbor had been after her to do this. This neighbor watched the townspeople of Great Wharf the way some people watch soap operas—with a vengeance, Mallory thought. She hated the gossip mill that Doris Hillobenz ran. But she’d hate it more if Doris decided her immediate neighbors were the ones needing scrutiny. So Mallory had promised Doris she’d meet Ms. Weller and report back.
“Please do, Mallory,” Doris had implored. “I know you don’t like making unnecessary trips; you’ve always been careful where you put your time. I understand that. But this Angie Weller is quite the mystery woman. I can’t find a single person who’s ever seen her outside of her shop. I’ve heard she goes to Rotary sometimes, but I’m not in that crowd, being retired and all.”
“Why do you care, Doris?” Mallory knew it must be driving Doris crazy that she hadn’t dug up any dirt yet, not that Doris would admit that.
“I’ve been in her shop, of course,” Doris said. “I think things are overpriced, but I guess no more than anywhere else these days. But she watches every move I make, as though I’m going to steal something. Just see what you make of her. Humor me?”
“Okay, I’ll humor you. I won’t be running right over there, but I’ll let you know.”
That was two weeks ago.
On her way out, Mallory took a steak knife from the kitchen drawer and slid it to the bottom of her purse. A number of news stories recently attributed violence against innocent citizens to an increasing desperation in a down economy. Sure, these stories centered in towns nationwide more than Great Wharf. In fact, only a few burglaries had occurred this year in Great Wharf, but still more than last year.
Now that Mallory thought about it, she wanted a switchblade. What if she grabbed the wrong end of the steak knife while rummaging for her cell phone? The thought of bright red blood dripping into her purse, let alone coming from her own finger, gave her a shiver.
Blood was on a lengthening list of things that made Mallory queasy, including elevators and crowds and most recently driving her car. But blood headed the list because the sight of it actually made her faint once. Usually it just disabled her, like when Dwight cut himself last week and asked her to get a Band-Aid. Her gaze fixated, instead, on the crimson bubble and she couldn’t move from her chair.
Dwight got his own Band-Aid. Later he said, “You didn’t used to freak at the sight of blood, Mal. You used to handle the kids’ accidents just fine. What happened?”
“I don’t have a clue.” She avoided his gaze, but in fact she really didn’t have a clue.
Dwight, sweet man, had dropped the subject. Last night’s conversation, however, was a sign that Dwight wasn’t going to keep dropping subjects. She needed to get back in control of herself, if she only knew how.