Justine: What My First Drafts Look Like

unhappy skierI’ve been playing around with a contemporary story (inspired by a ski trip to Utah over the holidays) tentatively called The Lesson. I don’t have much to it yet…just two chapters, one of which I hammered out while on the plane flying home. I thought it’d be fun to throw it out there for the world to see, and also to get your comments (critical or otherwise — I can take the heat, so long as you’re polite).

I’m also putting it out in the internet-ether to demonstrate what first drafts can look like…sorta clunky, not-much-making-sense kind of things. There are a few good lines, but as my CPs have pointed out, there’s plenty of stuff that needs work, a few things that are confusing, and some useless stuff.

However, as Nora Roberts once said, “The only page I can’t fix is a blank one.”

So happy reading and do give me your feedback in the comments section. Seriously!


I’m going to make this mountain mine.

Jennifer Pringle played with the edge of her napkin. She sat at a small table inside the restaurant overlooking the pool and courts at the five-star hotel in Beaver Mountain, Utah. Her bosses’ words rang in her ears and an uneasy feeling quivered through Jennifer’s body.

For the first time, she wondered whether she should move on. Twenty years ago, the job of reporting to Geoff Standish seemed like a dream come true right out of law school. She’d been his aide, then his sole counsel, doing all the legal work for The Standish Group as he took over Southern California one multi-million dollar home, strip mall, and tract of land at a time.

For a reason she couldn’t quite explain, his proclamation of owning the ski resort outside Beaver Mountain felt wrong, like a tag that rubbed against your neck or a rock in your shoe.

Maybe it was because Beaver Mountain was in Utah? Geoff hadn’t ventured into Utah…yet. He was quickly making his way east, though, having just bought up some broken-down retirement communities outside Phoenix and a few small hotels on the wrong end of the strip in Las Vegas. His intention, of course, was to revamp them, stamp them with the Standish name, and charge exorbitant prices that would more than make up for his initial investment. It had worked like a charm for years and Jennifer had been the sole legal representation for Geoff during most of it.

But a ski resort?

Jennifer’s initial concerns — that it wasn’t a buy/rehab/sell, that he’d have to manage employees and customers, that establishing a casino at the resort was impossible — were all shot down like tin targets at a BB gun arcade. It will work, he’d said. You’ll see.

Geoff’s loud baritone wafted from the front of the restaurant and Jennifer steeled herself. Why was she so nervous, anyway? She’d never had a problem telling Geoff that one of his ideas was off base. He usually took her advice, too. So was she anxious because he wasn’t taking it this time?

She watched him walk from the reception area past the bar and rose as he drew near. “Good morning, Geoff. How are you today?”

Geoff nodded and held out her seat. “Splendid. Just splendid. How about that snowfall, eh?” He gestured outside with nod of his head at the six-plus inches that had fallen overnight, then took the seat to Jennifer’s right.

A server came up immediately. “Coffee, sir?”

Geoff turned his coffee cup upright. “Yes, please. Black and hot.”

“Right away. Please feel free to help yourself to the breakfast buffet or perhaps you’d prefer to select something from the menu.” He pointed to the cardboard list of à la carte offerings laying on the table.

“Thank you.”

The server nodded and left to fetch the coffee. Geoff turned his attention to Jennifer.

She mentally steeled herself. For what? “So, you’re still interested in pursuing an opportunity here.” It was a statement more than a question.

Geoff nodded. “Absolutely. However, I’ve been thinking about your concerns and there may be some merit to them. Particularly the one about employees. Never really had to deal with that, except for the peons we have in the office.” He chuckled and took a sip of the fresh-squeezed orange juice on the table.

Jennifer offered up a wan smile. “I hope I don’t fall into that category.” Jennifer gingerly sipped her coffee.

Geoff scoffed, making a pooh-pooh motion with his hand. “Of course not. You know how invaluable you are to me. The fresh pair of eyes I need.”

Jennifer’s coffee cup clanked as she set it down. May as well be direct. “This fresh pair of eyes is telling you that taking on Beaver Mountain may be more than you bargained for. It’s not a strip-and-flip.”

The server returned with a silver carafe and poured Geoff a steaming cup.

“Leave the carafe, please.” Geoff tapped the left side of the table. The server placed the carafe where Geoff indicated, then left. Geoff leaned in towards Jennifer. “I know it’s not a strip-and-flip. But I want this mountain. And the ones in Idaho and Wyoming. Snowflake Resorts has already bought up most of Colorado and California. Hell, they bought up California right under my nose. That’s my state. There isn’t much else left in the way of independent resorts, unless you go east, and I’m not doing that.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. “But skiing? Since when do you even care about skiing? You’ve never been skiing a day before in your life.”

Geoff’s eyes drilled into hers. “Marla skis.”

Jennifer’s eyebrows shot up and she gave a punctuated laugh. “Marla skis? You’re doing this because Marla skis?” Marla was Geoff’s current mistress. Not girlfriend. Mistress. Calling her a girlfriend would imply that there was some sort of reciprocity, that Marla would give something — anything — to the relationship besides sex. But sex was all she gave, and she took plenty for it. Clothing. Jewelry. Cars. A stunning beachfront home in Malibu. Cash.

“Girlfriend” would also imply that she might someday be “fiancée” or “wife.” But Geoff had no intention of marrying her. He couldn’t, with his estranged-but-not-yet-divorced wife of 25 years still living in the first house Geoff had owned in Beverly Hills. Apparently, keeping his wife and paying her bills was cheaper than a divorce, or so his divorce lawyer had advised him.

“Marla skis, and so will you.”

Jennifer had taken another sip of coffee, but at this remark, she choked, nearly spitting it all out. “Me?”

“Yes, you.” Geoff pushed his plate aside and leaned on his elbow, his head close to Jennifer’s. “I want this mountain and I need your help getting it. I need you to be able to wine and dine the locals on the slopes. I need you to get a feel for the folks who work here, who run the place. I need you to understand what it takes to manage a ski resort, and the first place to do all that is with private lessons.”

Jennifer stared at him. He had to be kidding, right? She wasn’t the sort of girl who did physical activity — at all — which probably explained why she was a five-foot-five size 14. And it wasn’t like she was young and agile. She’d spent her entire career with The Standish Group and was on the downhill slide to 50. It was a little late for this bitch to learn new tricks. “Geoff. I understand your goal here. But to be quite frank, I don’t ski.”

He shrugged. “Neither do I, but I’m going to learn. And so are you.”


Her boss raised his hand to silence her. “No. You’re going to do this.”

Her shoulders popped up imploringly. “But I don’t even have ski clothes.” Okay, so that was kind of stupid, but she was kind of desperate.

“You have your corporate Amex. Use it.” He stood. “Your first lesson is today at 10 a.m. I suggest you high-tail it to the ski shop and get yourself outfitted.”

Jennifer stared open-mouthed while he finished off his cup of coffee. “Geoff, I have several important calls and a meeting with a potential client this morning.”

He shrugged. “Reschedule. Now, if there’s nothing else, I am supposed to meet Marla for a spin class.” He turned and strode out of the restaurant.

Unbelievable. She had to take a fucking ski lesson to help her boss buy a mountain he shouldn’t even be on.

Jennifer looked at her empty plate. She intended to survive on coffee alone this morning. She’d done it plenty of times before, but always when she was busy on the phone. Interacting with people. Distracted. But now she had to ski. In the cold. She hated the cold.

She hated feeling hungry even more.

Fuck this. If she had to ski, then she would damn well do it on a full belly. She spun around in her chair. “Waiter?”

The young man came to her table immediately. “Yes, ma’am. What can I get for you.”

Jennifer looked down at the menu and smiled. “I’ll have eggs Benedict, please, atop the fried chicken.”

4 thoughts on “Justine: What My First Drafts Look Like

  1. How old is Jennifer, Justine? In her 40s (20 years since law school and on the downward slide to 50)? I assume she’s going to take control of her life and make some major changes, hopefully including getting rid of Geoff, he’s horrible and (I expect) up to no good. I did wonder why she never even thought about making a change before. I’m guessing this is going to be women’s fiction (Jennifer’s journey of self-discovery) rather than a romance?

    • I’m not sure yet whether it’s WF or romance. I haven’t gotten that far in the story, actually. As much as this story may be about Jennifer’s self-discovery, it’ll be mine, as well. I’ve never tried to write contemporary (or even thought about it, really) and going into this, I didn’t think about it being WF, but depending upon what happens with Jennifer, that’s where it may fall. Time (and discovery!) will tell!

    • Oh, and to answer your question about age, she’s early/mid 40s. I’m trying to write a character that *I* can relate to! Besides, all of the women in my skiing class (there were 4 of us) were in our late 30s/early 40s.

  2. Oh, he is deliciously evil.

    You may want to talk to an older woman who’s a size 14 . . . I don’t know if bone fragility could be a problem with that sort of exercise. I’m bigger than that, and if you paid me a million dollars, sure, I’d give it a go. (I’d only have to do it until I broke something, right? I have a feeling that would be accomplished in about 15 minutes.) But I think I’d tell Geoff where he could stuff his job for anything less. A smaller woman might play for smaller stakes. (Does skiing use a lot of ankle work? For a woman who’s a desk jockey, it might be a problem.)

    Sounds like a good set-up, and a very solid first draft. Marla could go either way (either Jennifer changes her mind, or Marla really is evil incarnate — both could be fun). Geoff is going to get a comeuppance. And . . . there will be someone very interesting and delicious at the ski resort, right?

    I hope there’s cocoa!

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