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First Page: chick lit/espionage novel

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***

The phone rang.

Swan Shreve ignored it, and continued to flip through files in the black, metal file cabinet until she reached the right tab. The phone had been ringing like a malfunctioning car alarm all morning. It was as though every idiot in the world had signed a pact to call her today to ensure she wouldn’t get the filing done. In all, she’d gotten two sales calls for magazines, one man selling siding, three irate and rude customers, and a woman who called to complain about a bill and when Swan explained she’d called the wrong department said, "Why don’t you know? Can’t you just call it up on your computer?" Swan said she couldn’t look it up and she’d transfer the woman to accounts receivable. The woman brightly explained that they never pick up there. That’s why she’d called this office instead. The phone rang again as Swan slid a piece of paper into the file. She hated filing.

"Are you going to get that?" Mr. Kowalchik yelled from his office.

She closed the drawer with her hip and reached for the phone. "Good morning. Mr. Kowalchik’s office. Swan speaking." Mr. Kowalchik’s front office was predominately white with mass produced office furniture. The fake cherry veneer was chipping off a corner of the desk. Swan considered herself fairly lucky because Mr. Kowalchik, as head of a section in the engineering department, had a corner office with wide windows and this meant she too had a window, overlooking the vast green lawn of the Bova Technologies campus. No one was ever out on the lawn and it probably had more chemicals spread on it than it was healthy to think about, but Swan liked it just the same.

"Is Mr. Kowalchik there?" asked the caller. He had the harsh, impatient voice of someone who wanted to convince her he was very important.

Swan braced herself. "May I ask who’s calling, sir?"

"I asked you a question first," the man said.

"I’m sorry?" She considered herself well schooled in caller rudeness by now, but this tactic was new. It was also not working.

"Don’t be sorry. Put Mr. Kowalchik on the damn phone," said the man.

"Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way," she said, trying to keep her voice mostly pleasant. "You have to give me your name and an idea of what you want."

"Well, if you aren’t going to put me through to Mr. Kowalchik, what good are you?" the man demanded.
Swan clutched the phone, largely because she couldn’t clutch the caller’s neck. "I’m good for screening out rude, idiot callers. I’m not going to give you Mr. Kowalchik, because I’d rather hang up on you."

She hung up on him.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

26 Comments

  1. Katie
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 04:35:57

    She is a good writer. I would keep reading even though I am a bit put off by the name swan.

  2. A
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 05:51:57

    Please remember, taste is subjective.

    1. I dislike the protagonist’s name. Swan Shreve sounds terribly contrived to me, like the names film stars made up in Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” Also, the protagonist doesn’t sound like Swan, if that makes sense. IMHO, the name’s just not the best fit.

    2. Good: I was engaged enough with the material to read the entire page. The author has genuine storytelling talent and good pacing. S/he introduced enough rythym, action, and emotion to keep me reading.

    3, Bad: technical writing (impossible for me to ignore) needs strengthening before this manuscript will be “ready for market.” I think the first paragraph could be culled out altogether OR the information, if important, should be reincorporated through the remaining scene with “more showing than telling.”

    In the dialogue, crop out the dialogue tags when possible. They just “fatten up” your word count without benefiting the story at all.

    i.e. “Is Mr. Kowalchik there?” asked the caller. He had the harsh, impatient voice of someone who wanted to convince her he was very important.

    “Is Mr. Kowalchik there?” The caller’s voice, harsh, impatient, and self-important, commanded her assistance.

    Characterisation: I’m assuming swan is a receptionist, secretary, or personal assistant. That she is portrayed ignoring the phone conveys irresponsibility, a negative character trait and highly unlikely in a professional P.A.. This is fine if the author’s intent is to portray Swan as being a bad and/or unqualified employee. That she’s ignoring calls in her employer’s presence suggests she doesn’ think much of her boss, either. So far, Swan’s not conveyed as terribly likeable or trustworthy.

    Hope this helps, thanks for posting. Despite my critique, I did find the story “catchy,” and I see potential to it, please keep working. Best luck.

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 05:57:54

    The writing caught my attention, but I’m so not crazy about the name Swan. Chances are if I was skimming blurbs in a bookstore, the name alone might be enough to have me put the book done without reading further.

    I do like the voice-some polishing is needed but that’s nothing insurmountable.

  4. DS
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 06:00:06

    This hit a button, but not a good one. I found myself wanting to fire Swan by the end of the excerpt, not read more about her.

  5. Caty
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 06:03:16

    It feels like it needs polishing up a bit (although I can’t quite put my finger on anything specific) but I like it. I’d keep reading.

    I’m also not keen on the name Swan.

    I think the author’s done a reasonably good job of capturing the (all to frequent) frustration of being in an office and trying to do the dreaded filing and being constantly interrupted by an endless stream of annoying phonecalls. However, if she’s supposed to be a competent professional, and this call is the straw that broke the camel’s back, there perhaps needs to be more of a build-up of frustration to make the hanging-up an uncharacteristic lapse. Many of us have *wanted* to hang up on rude or abrupt clients/customers, but it’s generally something we fantasise about rather than do. (Of course, if she gets fired by page 12, then it’s okay.)

  6. A
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 06:19:45

    @Caty:

    Actually, Caty, there are circumstances where hanging up on a nuisance caller is appropriate. I have gleefully hung up on obnoxious callers when I worked as administrative support and suffered no consequences.

    I do want to say the dialogue suggests that 1) Swan is not a normal/regular receptionist or 2) the author is unfamiliar with the profession. Most receptionists, phone solicitors, personal assistants, etc. tend to have “telephone scripts” they utilize in order to control dificult calls. i.e. instead of saying “It doesn’t work that way” when the caller demands Mr. Kowalchik, a well-seasoned employee would say something like, “I’m sorry, sir, Mr. Kowalchick is away from his desk, may I ask who’s calling?” or something like that.

  7. DS
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 06:57:30

    @A: I agree. Hang up on robo calls, hang up on prank calls, hang up on unsolicited sales calls. But an employee had better be doing something more important than filing if she has to be yelled at to get the phone. If the caller continues rude put him through to voicemail.

    But I’m starting to wake up and think here. Is their intercom busted or does her boss just like to yell? I’ve never worked in technology but our phones are wireless with all kinds of bells and whistles including intercom, voicemail mailboxes, and caller ID. All paper we are not legally required to keep gets scanned into document management and shredded. Cuts down on filing and storage.

  8. Leah
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 07:31:38

    I really liked this. Loved the voice. It didn’t bother me that she was not a consumate phone professional–I assume that she is in her early 20’s, and still growing in her profession. The mention of the intercom gave me pause–the last time I worked in clerical, I was a “temp” (2 yrs in the same office) working for the state, and we didn’t have anything like that. A tech firm, however, would probably be much fancier. If you are relying on some old job experience, you might need some updated research.

    Not a fan of the name Swan, but it’s ok.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  9. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 07:55:49

    Good one. Needs a bit of a tidy-up, but on the whole, great start. Your voice comes through loud and clear, and I enjoyed it.
    Drop either Swan or Shreve. Try saying that out loud and see how awkward it sounds. Well, it does in my accent, anyway, and it’s a bit of a tongue-twister. I’d be inclined to change the Swan bit, unless there’s a reason for her name.

    Tidy ups – a tiny bit of TMI going on here. The first bit “black, metal filing cabinet.” Choose one, don’t overload with adjectives.
    Phones don’t sound like car alarms, so that stopped me for a moment.
    I liked her boss yelling, though calling him “Mr. Kowalchik” seemed a bit like overkill. I gave up working in an office a long time ago, and even then everyone was known by their first names. But when you’re irritated, you don’t use an intercom, you yell.
    “Mr. Kowalchik's front office was predominately white with mass produced office furniture.” Skip that sentence, it doesn’t really earn its place. Drop in the white bits somewhere else, but I did like the chipping cherry veneer.
    Hanging up on a rude person? Oh yes. I used to work switchboards and one of the things insisted on was courtesy on both sides, so she could do that. It also tells us that she’s comfortable in her job and she knows what she can and can’t do, she’s probably been there a while.
    Keep writing, you’re doing good.

  10. anon
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 08:02:47

    I want to love this – because this is one of my favorite genres. (chick or espionage or both!) Olivia Joules being one of my all time faves girl-turned-spy. Anyhow – your first page.

    Well, I’d have to flip through a lot more because based on the first page I’d have concerns that you were going to say everything 3x. The phone was ringing a lot, it rang like broken car alarm, it rang and was ___, ___, and ____ people. It’s too repetitive and by the time I got to the phone ringing (shocking) again I was irritated.

    Then at the end – I like that she’d say she would rather hang up on the caller – but you don’t have to say “she hung up on him”. (duh) how about instead show me her walking off to another task or just going and doing something else leaving that caller behind.

    I don’t like her name either, but I do understand how irritated the callers are making her. I’ve worked in a similar position of having people call you until you just dont’ want to answer. I don’t think that’s irresponsible, just a receptionist on a bad day. HOWEVER – actually NOT answering phone is another matter. That’s gotta be done or she needs to switch on answering service/voice mail. If she’s not only thinking about not answering but actually not doing it – not ok and you’re loosing my interest in your protagonist.

    It has promise – hope to see more of it someday!

  11. theo
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 08:04:20

    When I was pregnant with my first child, a wise person told me to take each name I was considering and do two things. One was to make a list of all the nicknames, both good and bad, that children could make of it and two, to go to the backdoor and shout the name you were considering, along with your last name, as if you were calling your child in for the umpteenth time. If both things seemed agreeable, go with the name.

    My brain stumbled over the protagonist’s name and my first thought was “tongue twister.” I had to say it aloud a couple times and still wasn’t comfortable with it.

    Another thing that removed me a bit (and again, this is just me) was the too much detail in some of the sentences. They seemed awkward as I read them. Perhaps rephrasing them, or removing a bit, I don’t know. But like I said, this is all my opinion of course.

    Last, if I had a receptionist who let the phone ring unanswered, she’d either be given a written warning or fired. Not a likable protagonist for me. Sorry.

  12. Fae Sutherland
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 08:34:53

    It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Drop the name altogether. Someone up above said she didn’t ‘sound’ like a Swan and I agree. I think with some cleaning this page could be a lot better.

    Do some research into being someone’s secretary/PA, though. Unless she’s brand freaking new, her phone skills are for crap. I’m sure you know someone who works in an office setting like that. Ask them. Unless, of course, you’re somehow building up to Swan being canned for being an incompetent twit in the next page or two. In which case you’re spot on. Unfortunately, I’ll never know because I’ve stopped reading at this point and moved on to another shelf.

    So far I don’t like her. But you could easily fix that with some tweaking. Use your first page wisely. You have to accomplish a lot in the first page and right now you’re wasting about 60% of it with useless and unnecessary words. I don’t care about peeling wood. Your entire opening paragraph is wasted telling me about every single annoying call she’s had this morning, dialogue included. Get rid of that, for goodness sake, this sentence: “It was as though every idiot in the world had signed a pact to call her today to ensure she wouldn't get the filing done.” is enough to tell us she’s been driven batty by it. I don’t want to know about who’s called Mr. Kowalchik. I want to know who Swan is. You haven’t told me and so I don’t care about her. That’s a problem.

    So, tighten, cut out the huge swaths of unnecessary and hindering facts and details and give us the meat under the fat. It looks like it might be tasty but right now it’s all but hidden. Good luck!

  13. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 10:21:05

    First of all, fix the errors. The word is “predominantly”, not “predominately”. It’s “black metal filing cabinet” not “black, metal filing cabinet.” There are others. Stuff like this detracts from the fluency and professionalism of the writing.

    Okay, here’s my next beef: the office as depicted is a standard early 1980s office in a low-rent business, not the kind of office implied by the sweeping green campus of Bova Technologies. “Black metal filing cabinet” with lots of filing to do by an administrative assistant, along with peeling veneer and what-not, just doesn’t seem like a 2009 high-tech firm that would have a “campus”.

    Beef number three: Swan is being a jerk right now. As others have said, she’s doing a horrible job at doing her job, and instead of having any kind of concern about that, her attitude is that of an entitled brat who thinks she’s too good to have to do this job. This is going to alienate readers, many of whom have crappy office jobs.

    You’re a good writer. You can do better than this.

    A very minor quibble is with the names. “Swan Shreve” turns me right off. “Kowalchik” is a very uncommon spelling of the very common Polish name “Kowalcyzk” (which means “son of a blacksmith”). I am sure that in real life there are people who have had that name mangled similarly at Ellis Island or at some other immigration point, but I think it’s never a good idea to give minor characters names that stand out on the page as odd and/or confusing. Think of an Eastern European name that looks, when spelled correctly, the way it sounds–it will work better than “Kowalchik”.

  14. vanessa jaye
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 11:19:14

    Going to agree with everything noted so far.

    Swan makes me think of Mrs. Swan from MadTV and the combo of the first and second name do seem awkward as mentioned. Aside from that I think some of the details could be snipped all together or moved to later in the story.

    Ditto on losing some of the dialogue tags.

    You obviously have talent as a writer but this sample is not lighting my fire. I think it’s partly a pacing issue (which could be the result of too much detail). I also think that the excerpt reads curiously flat *to me*. I don’t hear *your* voice–that turn of phrase, word choice, detail included and sentence construct, that all combine to make the character(s) ‘pop’ and the author really hook/intrigue the reader is missing *for me*.

    But the good news is, it seems to be working for everyone else! Different strokes, etc. Good luck with this.

  15. Elly
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 13:12:33

    This:

    In all, she'd gotten two sales calls for magazines, one man selling siding, three irate and rude customers, and a woman who called to complain about a bill and when Swan explained she'd called the wrong department said, “Why don't you know? Can't you just call it up on your computer?” Swan said she couldn't look it up and she'd transfer the woman to accounts receivable. The woman brightly explained that they never pick up there. That's why she'd called this office instead.

    looses me completely. I hear all the other commenters saying you’re a good writer, and I’m sure they know more about that than me so I believe them, but I can’t see it. Here there’s 2+ sentences about this woman with a billing error which do nothing – they’re unnecessary and it’s unresolved (after all that I don’t even know if you were trying to show that Swan was a wonder assist able to fix the woman’s problem or just that her time had been wasted). There’s too much detail about stuff that doesn’t seem to matter to the story. The book starting with a badly named character who works in an office, but doesn’t like filing or answering the phone? Not exactly groundbreaking. I wouldn’t read on.

  16. JoB
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 14:08:47

    I’m not sure which of the front-page actions are important. Do you, for plot reasons, want to open your story with your female protagonist being rude to a man on the telephone? If so, perhaps you might give her a reason to be frazzled.

    — The basement of the tech lab has flooded. Her son was just taken to the emergency room. Six Chinese vendor representatives have arrived at the airport, a day early. The computer crashed.

    If you up the stakes on the front page, which might be interesting in its own right, your protagonist could be rude without looking like a twit.

    I do have a problem with the details of this protagonist’s job. Executive secretary to the Head of Engineering spends her day filing . . . ?

  17. Likari
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 14:32:50

    Where does everything change? (this is my new favorite question)

    I’m thinking it’s the guy looking for her boss. Maybe for nefarious reasons? Incorporating everyone’s comments, how about something like:

    The phone rang.

    Swan debated letting it go to voicemail and continued to sort through her boss’s e-mail files, moving each message to an appropriate file. She’d tried to explain to Mr. K how the program could sort his mail automatically into folders, but he would have none of it. For a guy who ran a tech company, he had a surprising lack of faith in technology.

    No, she’d better answer. Too late. The call rolled into voicemail. She went back to reviewing e-mail subject lines, but the phone rang again.

    “Are you going to get that?” Mr. K yelled from his office on the first ring. Was he monitoring her?

    “Good morning. Engineering.” The office was furnished with mass-produced, fake cherry veneer desks and the paint was boring white, but she and Mr. K were located at the corner with windows on both walls overlooking the lawn of the Bova Technologies campus. No one was ever out on the lawn and it probably had more chemicals spread on it than it was healthy to think about, but it was a pretty view just the same.

    “Mr. Kowalchik.” The caller had the impatient tone of Someone Very Important.

    “May I ask who's calling, sir?”

    “Is he in?”

    It wasn’t her job to screen Mr. K’s calls, but there was something just plain rude in this guy’s attitude. “I'm sorry?”

    She might just be a clerk, but that didn’t excuse bad manners.

    “Don't be sorry. Put Mr. Kowalchik on the damn phone.”

    She laughed and hung up. Through the window, she saw an unfamiliar man hurry across the artificially green grass.

    She didn’t regret hanging up. But later, she wondered how different things would have been if she’d just gone ahead and transferred the call.

  18. Cindy from Michigan
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 18:39:23

    Personally, I’d keep the first name Swan precisely because it’s touching so many nerves here. Besides, it’s different, poetic, and who knows? Maybe the development of this character will grow on us as we read the story, and it will influence how we see that name. Maybe the writing will sweep us along, and we’ll like it even more because we grow to really care about this heroine.

    Nope, I suggest this author follow her gut and listen to those voices in her head. No one knows this character as intimately as she does, so go ahead. Lure us, the readers, into seeing what you see and knowing what you know about Swan.

    In fact, I would even incorporate some kind of physical feature that correlates with the gracefulness and the beauty of a swan, and I’d make it the hero who notices and tells us about it. There’s a whole scene just waiting to be written on just her unusual name alone. If the positive reaction comes from the hero and turns him on, what more can you ask for?

    I’d drop the last name and pick one that doesn’t stop my eyes from moving across the page, though. I think that’s the stumbling block for me. Swan is beautiful. Don’t muddy it up with a distracting last name. Pick one that’s simple and lets you focus on the first name when you read it on the page.

    I always respect a writer who follows her own unique perspective.

    Good luck, author!

    Cindy from Michigan

  19. A
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 19:10:02

    @Cindy from Michigan:

    I'd keep the first name Swan precisely because it's touching so many nerves here. Besides, it's different, poetic, and who knows? Maybe the development of this character will grow on us as we read the story, and it will influence how we see that name. Maybe the writing will sweep us along, and we'll like it even more because we grow to really care about this heroine.

    I can’t agree with this because, in recent times, several iconic characters in popular films and books have emerged using the name “Swan,” albeit as a surname.

    1) Elizabeth Swan, the feisty 18th C. heroine of Disney’s “Pirates of the Carribean” trilogy.

    2) Isabella “Bella” Swan, the teen heroine of the “Twilight” series.

    It’s a name that stands out, and unless Swan Schreve stands out in ways so extraordinary the reader immediately dissociates Swan Schreve from these characters, a reader’s first impression will be “*rolls eyes* Another Twilight fan.”

    I’m not saying Swan Schreve can’t cut the mustard, just that there are already connotations attached to “Swan” and the name’s uniqueness itself makes it tougher for readers to dismiss those connotations.

    Imagine a writer naming his protagonist “Tom,” a common enough name. Imagine him renaming his protagonist “Huckleberry” AND trying to persuade publishers, editors, and readers that THIS Huckleberry is so unique and fantastic Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn will never cross the reader’s mind and “compete with characterisation.” A heroine named “Scarlet” would have comparable issues.

    I actually enjoy unique and unusual character names, but if multiple authors all turn out heroines with the same or similar unique and unusual name, it gets lost. It implies lack of originality rather than uniqueness.

    And I’m not saying “Get rid of Swan.” If you absoluely love it and are 1,000% convinced “Swan is Swan,” keep it. But don’t be horrified if editors request a name change.

  20. Venus Vaughn
    Oct 11, 2009 @ 01:52:42

    Most of these things I can’t get past the first few sentences. I read this one all the way to the end. So good going there.

    I like Swan, but Shreve muddies it up. Pick one or the other. I disagree with A, above. Swan hasn’t reached iconic status yet.

    As others said, if Swan is a professional, she better have a damned good reason for acting so unprofessionally in the excerpt. Something more than just frustration. We all deal with frustration at work – and being asked to perform the basic functions of your job is not reason enough to ignore the parts you don’t like.

  21. Castiron
    Oct 11, 2009 @ 11:03:39

    Yep, “Swan Shreve” sounds bizarre. I scratch my head wondering who’d name their kid Swan, and “Shreve” immediately brings Shreveport, Louisiana to mind. The combiniation….nope.

    She comes across as obnoxious, the kind of person who doesn’t realize how similar she is to the annoying callers. But her voice entertains me, and I’d put up with her for at least a while longer to see what else happens.

    The phone like car alarm worked for me — I understood that it referred to the persistence rather than the sound.

    If you keep the bit about the woman who called their office because Accounting never answers, there should be a paragraph break before the phone ringing again. (I like it as suggesting that Swan is representative of the general caliber of employee at this company, but I can see it slowing a reader down too.)

    Right after she answers the phone is not the time for an infodump. When she answers, I expect it to be followed by the caller’s response, not a description of the office.

  22. Mischa
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 14:41:54

    I agree that the writing needs to be cleaned up some but i’m surprised at how many people dislike how she answered the phone. I liked the original excerpt much better than the revised example in comment 17. For one thing, I assumed it was her job to screen out unimportant callers. (Of course I missed her boss yelling at her to answer the phone. Maybe I would have felt differently if I’d read that the first time around.)

    As for technology and filing, I’ve known assistants who had to print out all their boss’s emails for the boss to read. Then of course, there is the place I work now. They put such constraints on the size of our email mailbox that if you want to keep anything for long, you have to print it out and file it.

  23. A
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 15:41:20

    @Mischa:

    i'm surprised at how many people dislike how she answered the phone. I liked the original excerpt much better than the revised example in comment 17. For one thing, I assumed it was her job to screen out unimportant callers.

    I have about 12 years’ experience employed in positions requiring phone ettiquette, and I am telling you a receptionist/secretary/admin assistant or any other employee whose job is to take calls would face disciplinary action (being warned, written up, possibly fired) for: 1) ignoring the phone; 2) snark/rudeness, unhelpful attitude (i.e. “It doesn’t work that way” or calling the caller “rude, idiot caller) and 3) hanging up the phone.

    This type of behavior is NOT doing one’s job, and it is NOT “screening calls.” How can the call be screened? Swan doesn’t even know the caller’s name. If her boss asked, “Who called?” she could not tell him.

    Now, if the point of the scene is to demonstrate what a lousy secretary Swan is, the scene works fine. If the author wants the audience to root for Swan’s unorthodox (or normal?) phone rudeness and unprofessionalism, she should up the stakes as another poster mentionned (i.e. imply outside stress/tension impacting Swan’s performance at work OR make the caller very abusive or unreasonable — refusing her assistance, offers to take a message or connect him to voice mail, etc.)

  24. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 17:13:25

    I worked switchboards for a number of years and I was told by all my bosses (I temped) that I was not to accept discourtesy from anyone. Since the caller was rude first, hanging up on him seems fine.

  25. A
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 18:21:45

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I worked switchboards for a number of years and I was told by all my bosses (I temped) that I was not to accept discourtesy from anyone. Since the caller was rude first, hanging up on him seems fine.

    I am not going to argue your experience, Lynne. It’s not just the fact that Swan hung up the call, it was her verbiage and manner prior to hanging up. A qualified individual for this type of work doesn’t speak to callers that way. Period. It does not matter if the caller is rude.

    In the case of a rude or abusive caller, I always explained (in a polite tone) “I’m sorry, sir/ma’am, but I can’t help you if you speak to me this way.” If the caller persisted in using profanity or other abusive language, I would hang up.

    The point isn’t just that Swan hung up the phone; her unprofessional manner prior to hanging up suggests she is either inexperienced or bad at her job.

    Particularly in today’s competitive job market, no one is going to tolerate ineffective administrative support. A secretary’s job is not to “teach rude idiots a lesson.” His/her job includes representing his/her employer and/or their company in a professional manner.

    Plain and simple, unless Swan’s a trust fund babe whose Daddy owns the company, or she is sleeping with her boss, or she is SUPER effective in other aspects of her position, the cavalier unhelpful/rude phone ‘tude won’t cut it.

    Most companies operate on the idea that EVERY contact with people outside the company is a chance to make an impression on potential business. The bitchy woman you tell off and hang up on might be a potential investor; you just never heard of her. The demanding man with a near-indecipherable accent might be the CEO’s beloved foreign grandfather.

    You can’t just talk down to callers you perceive as rude or wasting your time, hang up on them, and be perceived as professional, helpful, or anything else positive.

    The only reason I comment on this is I suspect the author believes she is portraying Swan as an assertive, empowered “take no crap” type. In actuality, she comes across as unprofessional and hypersensitive.

    A more realistic conversation with a savvy receptionist/secretary would go something like this:

    Sally Receptionist: “Good morning, John Doe’s office, Sally speaking.”

    Snarky Caller: “Is John Doe in?”

    Sally: “Whom shall I say is calling, please?”

    Snarky: “I asked you a question first.”

    Sally: “Mr. Doe’s unavailable/away from his desk. May I take a message or forward you to his voice mail?”

    Snarky: “Well if you aren’t going to put me through to Doe, what the hell good are you?”

    Sally: “I’d be glad to take a written message for Mr. Doe or forward you to voice mail, sir. Mr. Doe checks messages frequently.”

    And so on.

    Sally’s job is to further communication for her boss, not to engage in petty bickering with his callers. A well-trained professional admin wouldn’t take offense to the rudeness because s/he already understands it’s not personal; some people are just jerks, and sometimes one’s employers does business with them.

    Now, if Swan is actually an inexperienced or underexperienced temp with little to no solid training in professionalism, telephone ettiquette, and she works for a substandard company that doesn’t value quality communication skills in its employees, the story’s fine. If she’s supposed to be a top employee, though, it’s wrong.

  26. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 05:30:27

    In the case of a rude or abusive caller, I always explained (in a polite tone) “I'm sorry, sir/ma'am, but I can't help you if you speak to me this way.” If the caller persisted in using profanity or other abusive language, I would hang up.

    The point isn't just that Swan hung up the phone; her unprofessional manner prior to hanging up suggests she is either inexperienced or bad at her job.

    Ah, gotcha. Not going to argue with that, because that was how I was told to handle abusive or rude callers.
    Last week we had a character who was depressed, whiney and hated her job, too. I think I liked this one better because the character seemed to have more about her and the scene was better filled out. I’d read more of this one because there was something more interesting about this piece and I’d give her the benefit of the doubt on the first page, but yes, I see your point now. Saying the polite equivalent of “Sorry, but I can’t respond to anyone using that attitude” is much better.

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