HH Com 139

Four women in suburban Chicago share one important thing in common; they are Irish dance moms. With their children elite competitors in the sport, each brings her peculiar drama to this circle of friends. Or shutters it away. Mikey lives vicariously through her daughter, and Eileen irks everyone with a facade of balance. Polly craves approval, and Bet Flanagan would rather take a rap on the shin with a hammer than juggle another demand.

In LESSONS OF THE FIDDLER, together they navigate the slope of international competition, a world in which rivals are stalked, costumes sabotaged, and strategies to hide dance expenses from husbands abound. So consumed are the women in their children's arena, they fail to see the serious erosion their preoccupation carves in their lives. When avarice and envy find a toehold in the popular internet Irish dance message boards, anonymous posters chip away at fragile Polly, leading her to end her life. Truths about the friends' role in Polly's struggle surface, and Bet is jarred into confronting her own shortcomings.

A grounding figure emerges in Bridie Noonan. The 90-year-old Irish expatriate, thought by most to be only an eccentric groupie, rises as a mysteriously sage salvager. It is Bridie who leads Bet to rediscover who she is and what is being asked of her by those who love her. The novel treats human foibles with humor, human frailty with tenderness. It gently nudges those journeying to celebrate life through dance back onto the path they lost.

This has been done done done to death, and I don't mean the elite Irish dancing (which in and of itself makes me howl with laughter) it's the struggling with to come to terms with life women. That's a backdrop or a theme. It's not a plot.

You need to be specific. Focus. Every single character you talk about here is one dimensional.

You've also got the sentence structure from hell. Rewrite every sentence in this form: subject verb object. Once you've done that, you can make some changes but "journeying to celebrate life through dance back onto the path they lost" makes me want to clunk you with a Strunk and White. If you've not read this book do so. Four times. Then start the novel again.


Anonymous said...

Jeez. Someone in my writing group is doing a four-women novel. They trek for a resort in Bali to find themselves. (I should be so lucky). Do I tell her it's an old cliche that it's an old cliche?

A Paperback Writer said...

I don't know. Irish dance moms. I kind of like it. I'd pick it up just to see what it was about.

Anonymous said...

Oh, she's so so right about the grammar. Be clear, not clever. Cleaning that up is your first task. I thought the Irish dance thing was fine, although described a little corny (Irish dance moms?). I don't think you struck anything interesting until this: "chip away at fragile Polly, leading her to end her life". Sounds like the story is about Polly and not the Irish dance moms. Don't abandon this because MS snarked you. Focus on Polly's story and rewrite.

Also, are you sure that so many people involved in Irish dance actually have Irish first names? Sounds a little contrived to me.

Essay Geek said...

I have been following this one with interest - I am an Irish dance mom (and a non-fiction author). And yes, most of the women and girls involved have Irish first names - we usually joke that if anyone stood in the middle of the room and shouted for Katie, Erin, Shannon and Molly the whole place would turn around.

I agree that the writing needs some help, and personally I don't know if any mainstream publisher is going to get how many people are involved in this sport - I certainly didn't until I was dragged kicking and screaming into the life by my daughter the dancer. It might seem to the uninvolved that you are aiming at too small a niche audience for a first time novelist.

Maybe, when you are finished with the rewrites, you might consider self-publishing and selling copies at the various feisanna. Since there is a concentrated audience for your work, you might actually make more money that way.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is a subjective old game, isn't it? I like the sound of your story because I like the sound of your story. It sounds like it might be in danger of wandering off into cliche in parts, but even so, Irish dancing sounds like a rich vein to tap for story. The tyranny of the plot! Not everybody's lives have 'plots'.

michaelgav said...

We've had soccer moms and Little League moms. Beauty pageant moms and cheerleader moms (remember that GREAT performance Holly Hunter turned in about 15 years ago?).

So why not Irish dance moms?

The thing is, is there something different about Irish dance moms? I am hoping there is, but if you replace "dance" with one of those other obsessions, this seems to be a story I've read before. "Celebrating life through dance" seems to offer the possibility of elevating this activity above the others -- people don't tend to celebrate life through parading their children around in garish boas -- but whatever makes it different doesn't come across to me in this hook.

(And "popular internet Irish dance message boards" reminds me of my big Poughkeepsie upholstery novel, which I am still shopping unsuccessfully.)

Good luck with this.

Anonymous said...

Eileen irks everyone with a facade of balance
An example of the problematic sentence structure. Is it Eileen's facade of balance that irks people, or does Eileen irk only people who have a facade of balance?

I found it too vague and scattered as well. The keyword for the great HH Com of December '06 is clearly "focus." When it's missing, it's obvious.

The idea sounds somewhat interesting to me, though.

HawkOwl said...

I wanted to flush you at "share something in common." Obviously, people can only share things they have in common. "They all share different passions" makes no sense, does it?

But that being said, I kept reading because of the "parents who are too into their kids' sports" aspect. I adored Sports Kids Moms & Dads and I was hoping this would be something like that. But as Miss Snark pointed out, it's not. It's a story of four dull women. Everybody does that. I think it's Ya-Ya Sisterhood envy.

Virginia Miss said...

I read a lot of women's fiction and I found this intriguing. (Even though it might be done to death, I'm still a sucker for those 3 and 4 women books, and I thought the "Irish dance moms" gave it a nice twist.)

However, I agree with Miss Snark about some of those sentences.

What shortcomings must Bet face?
Does Bridie cause any conflict?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments about the style and lack of focus. But the setting and context ring true for me: The Irish music community in Chicago, music message boards, nastiness that can hide beneath that nice folky ambience, searching for an older mentor. It has a kind of specificity that appeals to me. It also makes me think there is a personal story lurking in here--something a little less formulaic than mom's living through their kids and needing to find themselves.

(Coincidentally, I've had a similar personal experience: deeply drawn into another kind of ethnic music community--also as a mom living in Chicago. But I decided to become a musician myself. I wrote a memoir about this, found an agent, who is circulating the proposal to editors. So don't give up!)

Anonymous said...

As long as we are speaking of cliches...

My kid does serious (11 years of it) ballet, and the girls at her school, at least, are supportive of each other.

She has a group of friends who do all do Irish dancing, and the lot of them are close and kind to each other consistently.
Moms too.

Not all dancers are bitches.
Not all moms whose kids do stuff are neurotic messes.

katiesandwich said...

Yeah, I swear by Strunk and White. I recommend it to everyone. You'd be amazed at how much it improves your writing.

Anonymous said...

The Irish dance angle could be really interesting if you explore it in detail. What does it mean to these women? Is it a way to connect with their roots? Simply a means to an end? A way to impress their mothers? If you've got an interesting millieu, explore it fully.

Anonymous said...

most of the women and girls involved have Irish first names - we usually joke that if anyone stood in the middle of the room and shouted for Katie, Erin, Shannon and Molly the whole place would turn around.

Tangent, but Erin and Shannon aren't Irish first names. 'Erin' is a corruption of 'Eirinn', which means 'Ireland'. 'Shannon' is the name of a river. In Ireland, these first names are - unsurprisingly - about as common as 'America' and 'Potomac' are in the US.

Ceilisundancer said...

Megan is also not a "true" Gaelic name, yet it was a common one among the Irish Dancers at Southern Regionals Oireachtas recently. I am an Irish ceili/set dancer, and a MAID (Mother Irish (step)Dancer), who occasionally visits the popular Irish dance boards and is in search of a not too pricey solo dress for my child. I found this backdrop to be interesting. If this author continues her writing, I hope that she "gets" the ID competitive community accurately. My child's ID school is very supportive, and I do believe most of the ID schools in my region are also supportive. I always thought one local ID school got a bit competitive, yet did not see that at the recent Oireachtas. Specific individuals CAN become competitive, and some parents will try to persue their own dreams via their children. I agree that the characters themselves need to be developed more in the final, well-edited work.

Nicole Brackett said...

I really liked this hook, personally. If I read this on a back cover I'd definitely take the book home and read it.

Anonymous said...

When you are too close to something, like competitive Irish dancing, it is very easy to take it so seriously that you assume everyone else sees it that way, too. But the truth is that it's like many other things in life, where once you get a little distance from it, it gets a little jokey.

And unless you're willing to indulge people in that, you're writing a novel with a really narrow audience -- i.e., people who are willing to take that subject seriously. My theory is that most of the people intrigued by the idea of "Irish dance moms" want to see the subject lampooned, to some degree.

And I can say this. Because I was a competitive Irish dancer. I even had the curly-hair wig. (But there weren't many Irish names in my group -- except mine. And I'm German.)

Bernita said...

If there are a sufficient number of Irish Dance clubs in the US, you may have a ready-made market to hook up with.
Read recently of a writer who used the doll collecting hobby as a central part of her cozy mystery. Clubs were delighted to display and promote her novel.

Anonymous said...

I don't see this appealing to anyone but the disgruntled Irish dance moms who've lived through it. That market might be big enough to carry it, though - Go the any Voy Irish dance message boards and you'll read this story over & over.