Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January Secret Agent #15

TITLE: The Test of Gold
GENRE: Historical romance

New York City, April 1897

The library clock chimed four and Evangeline Lindenmayer dropped her book, raced down the marble staircase, and sprinted across the vast two-storied hall toward her mother’s rĂ©gence salon, only stopping to catch her breath and retie her pony tail. Then she shook out her wrinkled skirts and sighed. She was in for it now.

Vera Lindenmayer sat at a tea table cluttered with silver spoons and delicate porcelain cups. Her French chignon hadn’t a hair out of place and her coral earbobs perfectly matched her tea gown. She didn’t look up at her daughter’s hasty approach but leisurely fed a bit of pastry to the Pomeranian on her lap.


“Be silent.” Mama glowered at Lindy. “Your punctuality leaves much to be desired, Evangeline.” Her sharp black eyes took in Lindy’s disheveled figure. “Obviously you care nothing for your appearance.”

“I’m sorry, Mama—“

“And clearly, whatever you were doing is more important than my feelings and discussing the details of your debut. If Miss Kendall can’t keep track of you, I will engage another tutor.”

Poor Miss Kendall. Her lumbago had flared up, and when she’d fallen asleep in front of the schoolroom fire, Lindy had tiptoed out to give her elderly tutor some much deserved rest. “Don’t blame Miss Kendall, Mama. I finished my lessons and went to my room for a moment.”

It wouldn’t do for her mother to know just how much time Lindy actually spent in the library.


  1. There a a couple of historical items that catch my attention right away that don't sound correct to the period.

    o Pony tail. Maybe Evangeline is a rebel of her time and wears her hair tied in this way. But I question if they would have called it a pony tail in 1897.

    o French Chignon. Similar question. Certainly Chignons have gone back to ancient times. But French Chignon?

    o Schoolroom fire in 1897. Hmmm. Central heating was pretty prevalent during this time. Certainly to a wealthy household that can hire a private tutor and stage a debut. Maybe if it were evening, but this is 4pm in April.

    Those details distracted me from the story.

    Being a bookworm, the library instantly caught my attention. Also, the tension with her mother was clear and interesting.

  2. I'm not hooked, but only because I'm not a romance reader. And historical romances are even more blah for me, so I probably shouldn't have commented on this. (Sorry.)

  3. I like the opening scene, but the beginning runs on a little. Consider breaking the first paragraph up. Your first sentence is three lines. I would start a second sentence with the MC's name in the first line.

    In the second paragraph, add a comma after "out of place." I also paused at "sharp black eyes." I can't think of any race where black eyes occur naturally - unless she has a medical condition, her eyes would be dark brown. And I realize that sounds picky, but it made me stop reading. I also think "disheveled form" would work better than "disheveled figure." In this context, figure makes me think of the actual shape of her body, and I'm not sure that can be disheveled. I do like the conflict with the mother right at the beginning.

    I might be reading too literally, but those are my thoughts.

  4. I had the same questions regarding historical accuracy as Margot. Also, I found the mother's second line of dialogue too wordy.

    Those minor quibbles aside, this opening does a good job of introducing Lindy and her mother and has a good balance of action and description. I'd probably read on.

  5. Lindy Lindenmayer? Poor girl!

    I was suprised to discover she was old enough to have a debut. With her ponytail and running through the house, I envisioned a much younger person.

    What is your hook? Right now we know Lindy spends time in the library, which would be frowned upon and that she does not please her mother. But what is going to happen that will make me want to keep reading?

    One last suggestion: vary your sentence lengths. You have too many compound sentences, which is distracting. Your opening line should be short and strong to make the reader want more. Don't give too much information too soon.

    I wish you lots of success with your story!

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  7. I like the voice here and the details to establish setting.

    I also paused on pony tail; even if the term did exist then, it feels modern, so I would suggest switching it out. Maybe describe her hair trailing behind her and she is hastily tying it back.

    I agree with varying the sentence structure. I say this as someone who loves to cram many ideas into one sentence! I'm slowly learning to space those out. The first line could end at book. Then she could race down the staircase etc. Since the pony tail line might not work, that could be its own line, to show more that she looks a mess and is trying to get her look back together.

    It's good that there is tension right away, and something for these characters to do and interact over.

  8. The first sentence seemed really long. I would break it up. I paused at ponytail, it seems too modern and unacceptable for a girl her age. Did they refer to the braids as French chignon, wasn't it just a chignon? Her hair would more than likely be in plaits, if I'm not mistaken.
    Drop the "Then" and lead with She shook... as it changes the sentence from telling to showing. I like what you've got going and would read more, which says a lot bc I'm not big into historical fiction.

  9. Not hooked. Too many questions. Ponytail wasn't used before the 1950s. A young lady probably would have had a governess, not a tutor. If her name is Evangeline, why is she called "Lindy" not "Angie" or "Evie" or something derived from Evangeline? Who even calls her that? Her mother doesn't and since she doesn't go out to school, I wonder how she would get a nickname at all. Mama doesn't sound like she would allow it. Also, it says historical fiction, not YA, but with a MC preparing for a debut, it sounds like YA, not adult. These are all knit-picky comments, but I read historical fiction to escape into a time period that I love and these anachronisms pull me out of the story. But the idea of a girl who wants more than her mother wants to allow her having to put up with a debut is intriguing.

  10. I think your main problem is, you started in the wrong place. Probably the right scene, but you could have cut nearly everything in this entry and started with a much briefer introduction like "Evangeline hated being late. There was nothing for it, though, so she merely too a moment to straighten her hair and stepped forward to meet her mother's disapproval." Obviously that's just an approximate take on it, but it would allow you to go straight to her mother accusing her of not caring about her debut.

    Another way of speeding things up a bit would be to drop the last names, at least in the beginning. You've got a character with two very long names, and that all on its own can slow things down.

  11. The things I saw have basically all been mentioned already. The first sentence could be cut down. The pony tail is out of place in 1897. And she dropped her book. DOes that mean she just let it fall to the floor, or did she set it on a table or put it back on a shelf?

    French chignon is a correct term.

    I wondered why her appearance was disheveled since all she was doing was reading a book standing up which wouldn't have wrinkled her clothes in any way, or mussed her hair, and the dash down the stairs and across the hall wouldn't have done much either, and she did stop and fix her attire and hair before confronting her mother. How disheveled could she be?

    And if Miss Kendall was her tutor, it wouldn't be up to Miss Kendall to keep an eye on Lindy. If she was a Governess as someone else suggested, that might be the case. But since this is 1897, a sixteen year old girl was more a woman than a child. But then, there have always been overbearing, clingy mothers.

    The point is, these are all things that take away my suspension of disbelief. I'm too busy picking out the little nits to lose myself in the story. Nits may be little, but they cause big problems.

    I also would liked to have seen her reactions to her mother's treatment of her. Does it make her angry? Sad? How she reacts would give us some insight into her disposition and he relationship with her mother. i.e., are they always butting heads? Is Lindy forever seeking her approval and trying to please her? That type of thing.

  12. Although we get a lot of details about the world in these paragraphs, I don't think we get a strong enough sense for our main character. We gather that she’s different than her mother, and that there’s tension there, but letting us a little closer to Evangeline and really focusing on the relationship between the two women will make it easier for readers to get attached and invested in the story.