Friday, December 2, 2011

#15 Historical Fiction: The Saint and the Smith

TITLE: The Saint and the Smith
GENRE: Historical Fiction

Now twenty and one, Merewyn has spent her whole life hiding her unpredictable powers to heal and hurt. But when she falls for a nobleman’s bastard son whose presence pulls the magic from within her, she must risk the noose and master her abilities to keep him safe from both herself and mercurial King Henry III who wants his head.

Most claimed that I was a fair shadow of my willowy mother. So alike, apart from our eyes. Perhaps if Mother’s doe eyes were like mine, a frightening silver that hinted at strange abilities, the men would not bully her.

Men like Harold the baker.

In the rutted road stretching between my uncle’s farm and the village, Harold, cheeks ale-reddened and fists in knots, shouted into Mother’s upturned face. His voice was lightning in my ears. Could I frighten this man? Maybe if I was older, stronger...

Kneeling in the cracked earth, I concealed myself behind our cart, peeking between the stalks of wheat which we had bundled like sickly babes.

“I won’t pay it, woman!” Harold lurched closer to Mother, his spittle wetting the smooth skin of her forehead. “Your brother asks too much for his meager harvest! Do you want me to starve?” He bent to level his head to hers. “I know you call me ‘beast’ behind my back.” The hulking man swayed, bumped into the object of his discontent, and straightened himself, swearing like a horned devil. His ale breath rode the late summer air to my hiding place.

“No, I would never…” Mother held her hands, palms up, to him.

He blinked hard and focused his stare on her, his barrel chest rising and falling, faster and faster, just as it did when he beat his wife bloody before the entire village not two days past. “Give me my wheat.”


  1. Logline: promises an intriguing blend of fantasy, romance, and history.

    The opening didn't work for me, though. Odd-colored eyes abound in fantasy to the point where they're a tired element for me; and in a historical setting, especially for women, are more likely to cause more persecution (for being a witch) than to prevent bullying, I think.

    And having "Men like Harold the baker" as a standalone paragraph gave it a tremendous weight, which the words themselves don't really match with. It's a mundane job and a mundane occupation; I'd add a little something about the circumstances of Harold's bullying. Otherwise it's hard to feel a rising sense of anxiety.

    Later on, you have a great sentence: "He blinked hard and focused his stare on her, his barrel chest rising and falling, faster and faster, just as it did when he beat his wife bloody in front of his young son not two days past." I actually wonder if you could incorporate some of this information earlier, so that we can dread Harold. Of course, this also tends to make the situation more of Harold abusing people in general, rather than the mother being a target of bullying.

    I also wish I had a better sense of the protagonist's age. If she's young, cowering behind the cart is fine, but if she's of any decent age, it's hard for me to feel for a girl who'd let her mother face that alone.


    - His voice was lightning in my ears.

    Unless you're going for a synesthesia effect, perhaps "thunder" instead?

    - Your brother asks too much for his meager harvest!

    This confused me: the brother sets the prices, yet the mother/sister is the one's being yelled at. Why isn't the brother there? Why is the baker being so blatant about displacing the blame?

    - Mother held her hands, palms up, to him.

    The rhythm seemed strange to me; any reason not to say "Mother held out her hands to him, palms up"?

  2. I adore historical fiction, but the logline makes this seem like there's a fair bit of fantasy. Is there enough crossover that the book might be shelved in the fantasy section? It's a rare historical fiction novel that includes fantasy elements.

    There are some definite gems in this excerpt--I love the wheat bundled like sickly babes and the horned devil references.

    I am a little confused as to why it's the brother that sets the prices, but Harold is irate with the mother. Is that line necessary?

    You've got some great potential here. Good luck!

  3. I agree about the eye colour paragraph. It's not enough of a hook for me. If you cut it, you could have more of the incident with Harold on the front page, and hopefully have enough room to show the MC doing something. I'm assuming she uses her powers?

    Apart from that, there's some great description in here. I would keep reading to find out what happens next.

  4. I'm certainly intrigued from reading the logline.

    The fact that the MC and her mother look alike, except for their eyes, is important, but not enough to use for your opening paragraph.

    I have to agree that at twenty-one, I don't expect her to be cowering behind the wagon, especially given her attitude toward the bullying her mother is subjected to.

    The dialog "I know you call me 'beast'... and the rest of that paragraph kind of pulled me out of the scene until the ale breath pulled me back in ;-)

    I think you have a good premise that needs a little more polish. I know - that's the hardest part, after writing the whole thing.

    Best wishes,

  5. Your logline definitely intrigued me, though I had to read it twice to wrap my head around it. (Maybe because it's late here?)

    I agree with all the other comments above, especially 'sickly babes' and 'horned devil'. And you have a lovely voice -- 'fair shadow of my willowy mother'.

    But I wanted to see the MC involved. She's too passive and the opening leaves me wondering whose story I'm reading. If this scene is important, perhaps weave it in as back story. Get that girl in there and put Harold in his place! ;)

    Best of luck with the auction and your writing.

  6. I might even start with:
    Could I frighten this man? Maybe if I was older, stronger.

    Then, jump right into Harold intimidating the mother. You could then weave in something that will tell us the protag's age.

    The lyrical nature of your writing is really lovely. But I agree that the opening scene should have some greater focus on the MC rather than the mother.

    Great job. I'd read more.

  7. This is a strong story, with a lot of conflict and romance. But with historical fiction, you need to be very clear: what country and what span of time? Is this England or France? They both had kings who were named Henry III. I agree with a previous commenter that the genre might not be straight historical fiction. Strange powers are more paranormal/thriller/fantasy genre. You might have a very nice genre fusion here, just need to spell it out.

    It works to put your character in jeopardy from the beginning of your story. But there's too much about Harold here. And I don't want her hiding while we watch him yell at her mother. (If he's on the ground and they are in a cart, would her face be upturned?)Your MC should be front and center.

    I like the descriptive phrases! "...peeking between the stalks of wheat which we had bundled like sickly babes." "willowly mother" "rutted road."

    Keep going.

  8. The first paragraph doesn't work for me at all. So I'd ditch it. The best way, IMO, to introduce an MC's appearance, is to drop bits and pieces in over time.

    I also agree that introducing your MC while she's hiding and watching something going on doesn't endear her to me. It would work better if you could put her in the thick of it, somehow.

    I'm not sure the 'sickly babes' analogy works for me. Likewise, 'meager' just distracts me from Harold's anger. I don't think you need it. I don't think a baker would use such a word, especially when he's torked off.

    There are some lovely images ere ; "The hulking man swayed..." "His ale breath rode the late summer air..."

    Apart from those niggles, I'm intrigued.

  9. I would definitely recommend classifying this as "historical fantasy" instead of historical fiction because of the existence of magic.

    "Now twenty and one" did set the tone and era of the logline for me, but in a very distracting way. If it were just plain old "twenty-one," it wouldn't be boring or anachromistic. But for the type of time period you're setting up, 21 may be a little old to be in the situation she's in.

    It's interesting that the plain-eyed woman is the one who gets bullied. Generally it's the person who's the exception that gets the negative attention. This may need to be moved later and set up more thoroughly so that the reader can be shown that frightening eyes are a good thing and not an instant target. The logline makes it sound as if witchcraft accusations are commonplace enough that silver eyes might be incriminating all by themselves. If this isn't the case, it needs to be established as early as the first mention of the eyes.

    Putting Harold the baker in his own sentence does make him sound like a menacing threat. Perhaps setting his history, beating his wife, a little closer to that sentence will help the reader believe that the baker is a credible threat. Then his yelling at Mother will have more weight because we'll believe he might carry through.

    In general, though it's a plot I've seen before, the treatment of it is intriguing enough for me to want to read on. But there is room to strengthen and polish it a bit with some little shifts of the narrative flow.