Friday, November 29, 2013

(33) YA historical fantasy: FORTUNATA

TITLE: Fortunata
GENRE: YA historical fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Charley Stilton has a choice: Accept the high society Boston marriage arranged by her grandmother or fight to be an alchemist. Option A is dreadful, but Option B may be deadly.

Gold dusted my windowsill.

The flakes shimmered in the weak March sun and made my heart beat a staccato in time with the horse hooves below and the sputtering dirigibles above. Gold. By the Nameless Monk, how I needed it. Gold meant coins; coins meant fresh ingredients. And that meant one more chance to find Papa.

I gathered my skirts up in one hand and crouched. My knees popped after having stood for so long at my hideaway work table, so loud the double crack startled me. I threw a hand out against my wardrobe to steady myself.

Grandmother. I cast my eyes to the ceiling, but the floorboards above remained silent. I was convinced she used Volta Brass Ears to listen in on me. The flared horns at the end of those snaking metal hoses could pick up even the flutter of bee’s wings. Or a granddaughter secretly practicing alchemy. But even she couldn’t suspect stiff knees signaled a heretic at work. I hoped. I swallowed back the creeping fear and leaned into my wardrobe.

I’m Charley, I reminded myself. Not Charlotte. Charley. The silks, taffetas and tweeds of my skirts and dresses rustled in answer when I pushed past them. I’m an alchemist. I will prove the worth of women, and all Scholarship will acknowledge me. Repeating Papa’s long-ago words stiffened my resolve.

My fingers rasped against the wooden slats at the bottom of my wardrobe, feeling for the catch.


  1. I love historical fantasy, and I think you've done a great job creating a historical feel/tone with your word choice and well placed details. The only thing that confused me a bit was I initially thought she wanted to be an alchemist to find her father, but then she goes on to talk about the worth of women and the Scholarship, which are very different motivations. All very compelling, but a little clarification would help. Great job with this!

  2. Great logline.

    I really enjoyed the writing here. I like the setup of the girl practicing alchemy in secret, and the added layer of it making her a heretic.

    The one item I found slightly confusing was the line "Repeating Papa’s long-ago words stiffened my resolve" since in my reading of it this refers back to "I’m an alchemist. I will prove the worth of women, and all Scholarship will acknowledge me" and yet (presumably) her papa is not a woman. So I'm not sure if these were words he told he to repeat to herself (i.e., if he was in favour of women as alchemists), or if she is inserting 'woman' to refer to herself where he had something else (i.e., if his focus was on alchemy in general).

    That aside, I'd definitely keep reading.

    Best of luck with it!

  3. Thanks so much for your comments, Adrianna and Wade! Wade, re-reading the line that confused you, I can *totally* see what you mean. Good catch.

    Thanks again!

  4. I agree with the line about Papa's words. But I definitely get how she can have multiple motivations! Finding dad, doing great scholarship? Yes!

    I guess I'm a little offended by her thinking that her alchemy will prove the worth of women, though. Just the word choice, not the idea. The word choice implies to me that a woman's worth is in her ability to perform to an academic standard, specifically to perform chemistry. And that implies to me that people who are not good at chemistry are really not worth a lot. That's not very nice. Rather than "prove the worth of women", could you say something like prove that women can be chemists? (Or alchemists, as it were) Because it's not our ability to do chemistry that makes us worthwhile. Proving that a woman can do physics proves that women deserve equality in the sciences, not that she's worth something. Women who can't do physics or alchemy or write brilliant literature are still worth something, don't you think?

    I guess that's just a nit, so ignore me if you want = P. I'm way more inspired by "I will gain women equality in academia and all Scholarship will acknowledge me," than by a phrase that implies to me that Charley sees her own worth resting on her alchemy performance. And what if she fails? Does that prove she's worthless? No, it does not. It only proves that she's bad at alchemy, or at the very worst a sexist could say it proves women are bad at alchemy--but someone named Charley probably shouldn't be thinking like a sexist. So maybe change that sentence so hyperfeminists with boyish names like Petre Pan don't get offended and write overly-long comments under your entry. = P

    Other than that, every single sentence pops. It's awesome. I love the active descriptions, there's not a single passive or useless phrase in sight, and I already want your character to succeed. YAY!

  5. I love this! The logline pulled me in immediately. It sounds like this story has everything you need for a great adventure. I already like Charley a lot, and already don't like her grandmother! :) I feel the secrecy and the worry about being found out, and really feel the atmosphere even in this short segment. I would definitely read more of this. Best of luck!

  6. The writing here is lovely. I love pretty sentences, and I feel like you have them in abundance.

    I struggled a little to get grounded in the scene, but that is just part of fantasy and being introduced to a new world. In particular, I interpreted the gold flakes on the windowsill literally thinking that some feature of the room was covered in gold-leaf and was chipping. I assumed she was using it in her experiments. The story moved away from that detail, and then I wasn't sure if my reading was correct.

    The only other note I have is that her thought about proving "the worth of women" didn't quite ring true for me. It sounded a bit formal. Would she articulate it differently in her mind? Maybe with a little more heat behind her words?

    I enjoy your writing style. Best wishes with this!

  7. A+++ on your logline!

    And yay for historical fantasy!

    Loved the set up here too, the steampunk elements and the deft way of working in her "heresy." It threw me off just a bit, why was she crouching? You did explain it, but maybe you could tell us sooner why she's crouching?

  8. I like the idea of a character having a choice, but picking one or the other could still be the wrong one. Makes for an interesting MC and plot!

    Be careful with your sentences. I had to re-read a few in order to make sense of them. I think a little rearranging & deleting will help.

    The words "I will prove the worth of women, and all Scholarship will acknowledge me" threw me off a bit. I wasn't quite sure what you were trying to convey here. What is a woman's status/role in this society?

    Overall, great work! Good luck!

  9. This is well-written and bursting with life and a fascinating setting, but I'm confused in too many places.

    First of all, are those real gold flakes on the sill? Or what are they? Just the reflection of the sun in something? When you say 'horse hooves below', I thought at first she was in a carriage, which threw me. Just adding 'in the streets below' would clear that up.

    Then I'm confused about what she's doing - it takes much too long from her crouching to her feeling for a catch beneath the wardrobe, so at first I thought she was crouching to look out of the window without being seen. I like the touch about her knees cracking, that brings it alive, but it was hard to follow what she was doing.

    Like I said, there is a bunch of really interesting worldbuilding here; if you just made this first page clearer I'd happily read on.

    Good luck!

  10. I was confused too, about Papa's long ago words sounding like he was a woman? That whole paragraph just doesn't ring true to me actually. The Charlotte / Charley thing would be more natural if she was correcting someone else who was trying to call her Charlotte, for example.

    And what is so dreadful about a high-society Boston marriage? Lots of people would like money, lol. Or is it the intended groom that is dreadful?

  11. A nice read. It does seem more steampunk than historical fantasy at the start, but hey they're both good :)

    Assuming this is the start of the 19th century, and admitting that I know nothing about fashion...I thought tweed skirts were only common as part of tailleurs which seems in contrast to the MC gathering up her skirts (plural).

    I too was confused by the gold on her windowsill. Sorry.

    I tripped on 'Grandmother.' too. I know she's concerned about the sound being heard, but I don't get what she means until the next sentence finishes.

    Great start. I would definitely keep reading.

  12. Hey, there!

    I agree with others that I'm intrigued by Charley. I like the idea of a strong female MC fighting against society to be an alchemist and searching for her father (does that part need to be in the synopsis?).

    But I wonder if this opening doesn't seem a tad dramatic for the situation. It's clear to me that you are a good writer and, I'm guessing, a voracious reader. But there are sentences here that feel a bit over-written and bordering on cliche.

    Take the second sentence for example: "The flakes shimmered in the weak March sun and made my heart beat a staccato in time with the horse hooves below and the sputtering dirigibles above."
    There's a lot going on here. "Flakes shimmered," "weak March sun," "my heart beat a staccato," "horse hooves," "sputtering dirigibles." Phew! It's a really loaded sentence.

    I would just keep a close eye on the narration and make sure it's grounded with some scene, action, and dialogue. Although she's alone in this moment, it might help to actually see her practicing alchemy and making (?) gold. She could even talk to herself out loud.

    A lot of good stuff to work with here, so keep writing, and good luck!

  13. Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful comments and critique! It gives me some good ideas for edits. Some of you hit on some big things that I explore in the book (like the ideas of a woman's worth in this society) and I'm glad many of you seemed intrigued by the character and world. Thanks again! -Jenny

  14. danielle is AwesomeDecember 3, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    I kinda dig this premise. 5 pages.

  15. Tricia Lawrence, EMLADecember 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    20 pages

  16. Tricia Lawrence, EMLADecember 3, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    60 pages



  18. Well, first off, congrats on the Full!

    I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest you re-read all the comments (especially Petra, Girl Friday and Brett) so I don't have to re-hash them :)

    Finally, I really loved this. Needs tightening but that's what the whole revision process is for (and there's always more revision, even after you land an agent and after you sell the book...). Sure, there are some nits but I just read another book (SERAPHINA) which is maybe a little similar to this and SERAPHINA is a best-selling marvel that I loved but even that book had some nits to pick. There will always be nits. What I most enjoyed about your excerpt is that I didn't care about the nits. I cared about Charley. I wanted to know about the gold dusting the windowsill and what's hidden in the wardrobe.

    Great job and good luck!!!