Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #23: THE SATIN SPY 12:40 PM

GENRE: NA Historical

Adrienne pushes back against French laws and prejudices under Louis XIV. She spies on the powdered and privileged at court to save her family estate. But, when she’s targeted for treason by the King’s bloodhound, she goes to extreme measures to keep her freedom.

May, 1684

The sheer terror of being spotted made Adrienne du Mont run. The heat-red urgency of escaping the official visit of His Majesty’s agent made her sweat through her silks. She’d rather cut off all her hair than sit in the same room with Louis XIV’s Intendant.

Taking in deep breaths, Adrienne and a servant hurried through the halls of her ancestral estate. The rustling of her peach satin skirts disrupted the silence and the leather of her silk shoes scraped the rock floors.

“Tres vites, Jacques,” Adrienne gasped at her lackey. She barely slowed at the kitchen, passing scullions on their knees brushing the sandstone.

The thought of an official interrogation at only sixteen years chilled her.

Merde! Why was such a powerful official sitting in her front parlor? Could it be the paper she had tucked in her bodice? Panic rose inside her chest, but she ignored it, talking to herself.

I will behave as a young man would. I’ll do what I like and face the reprisals later.

Jacques stopped. “Why rush about in such secrecy?” the servant wheezed. “Is it the man in black who sits in the drawing room with your mother?”

Obviously, Adrienne thought. Sieur La Briffe rendered justice for Louis XIV, enforcing the king’s will upon local officials. After his inspections, France had put many an innocent citizen in prison to rot.

Oui, any noble would want to avoid an Intendant du Roi, with good reason.”

Hearing the title, Jacques tuned pale.


  1. Hey, I enjoyed reading this. More detailed thoughts below. Georgiana (Checks and Balances, No. 22)

    Things I liked:

    • Great title and intriguing premise

    • Good period detail and I loved the way her clothes are described through the actions, rather than through an info dumo

    • Adrienne seems like an interesting character – on the one hand, clear brave, on the other, clearly terrified. And dressed like a lady but getting embroiled in plots

    • Sense of tension from the start

    Things I thought could be improved:

    • Slightly labours the point about how much the intendant scares her: “She’d rather cut off all her hair than sit in the same room with Louis XIV’s Intendant,” “The thought of an official interrogation at only sixteen years chilled her,” and “any noble would want to avoid an Intendant du Roi,” are all basically saying the same thing. Any one of those would make the situation clear

    •Similarly, there are lots and lots of descriptions of how scared she is. Individually, they are all strong, but the sheer number of them feels a little forced

  2. I agree with Georgiana above. The repetition of Adrienne's fear of the Intendant slowed things down and made it a little hard to get sucked into the action right away. I kind of want to know why she's scared, which I'm sure you'll get to soon, but a crumb would be good to get us to understand the stakes from the start.

    There are also a lot of characters for such a short sample--four, actually, including her mother but not the scullions. I would suggest focusing more on introducing Adrienne before bringing in too many other names.

    Otherwise, I think the time period is great. Watch what you call NA with historical, though. The hallmarks of being a "new adult" are very different. Since she's 16, it could very well fall into YA.

  3. So, the setting is definitely intriguing and I agree that it's great that you get the period details in right away to give us right away a sense of the space and flavor!

    However, I felt tripped up several times on reading this:

    'Heat-red' is unusual, but in a confusing way (to me at least) so having it in the first paragraph really slowed me down. Also, why are you attributing her sweat to fear when she's running? Maybe fear *is* the better part of it, but then it made me unsure if she really was running. Same with having her shoes 'scrape' the stone. To my ear, scraping implies a slower, looser motion.

    The line "The thought of an official interrogation at only sixteen years chilled her." was also a bit confusing. From the sound of it the thought of an interrogation at *any* age should chill a person. Why is her age special in this particular instance? (It might make more sense for her age to worry her parents.)

    Also, the second-to-last line is so "as-you-know-Bob" that I didn't realize on first reading that she had actually spoken, so the servant's reaction was confusing. If her line is that long because fear is making her speak more formally, perhaps also adding a comment on her bearing toward the servant would make that clearer?

    I hope any of that was helpful. Good luck!

  4. I *really* love this line: "I will behave as a young man would. I'll do what I like and face the reprisals later." This gives us a great sense of who the main character is, and how she thinks.

    I agree that the "heat-red" image was a little odd, and the "panic rose inside her chest" had a telling feel to it that I'd rather see rendered.

    And finally, I think that by spilling the beans about who this man is so early, you're missing a great opportunity to draw the reader in. Knowing that our protagonist is reacting strongly to this visitor, and is afraid of him, is a great tease and I'd certainly turn the page to find out more. In the meanwhile, you can use the extra space on the page to sink us further into who our heroine is.

    Just a few thoughts for what they are worth - I really liked the time period and the premise!

  5. I have to agree with the previous commenters that the period details in this are very nice, and are woven smoothly into the story, but there is far too much repetition. You tell us at least five times that Adrienne is scared, and the visitor is identified in six different sentences that all say much the same thing. Say it once and trust the reader to get it.

    My suggestion would be to cut the first paragraph entirely and start with Adrienne running. You can show why she's running when she answers Jacques's question.

    In addition to knowing what she's running from, I would like to know where she is fleeing to. Is she simply trying to hide, or does she intend to run away from home? If you eliminate some of the redundancies, you can make her purpose clear.

  6. I like the phrase "powdered and privileged" and the period/setting seemed solid to me.

    First, I'm seeing some repetition in structure with the phrases "made Adrienne" and "made her" in the beginning of the narrative.

    I do like her insistence that she'll behave as a man would. It promises she's no shrinking violet.

    I think you should switch the order a bit. Have Jacques stop and speak and then have her think about the official and her bodice (I'd also like a little more of a hint as to what the paper means). Having him say it after her mental conversation (even though he didnt' hear it) still gives the reader the impression of "Well, duh, we just covered that." He didn't hear it.. but you're giving the information to your reader twice. You do that in several places, so the scene could be streamlined a bit.

    In fact, we're also given information about the agent being there in the very beginning of the narrative, so you might just start with her dragging Jacques through the estate and let us find out about the agent at the same time he does.

  7. You have a witty writing style that made me smile. That, I find, is hard to do without feeling forced. That being said, I do agree with the above comments that the first 250 words are a bit repetitious and could be tightened up a bit. I think you could edit out the lines: "The thought of an official interrogation at only sixteen years chilled her." and "Jacques stopped. “Why rush about in such secrecy?”."
    Then I'd merge the next bit into this: "Oui, any noble would want to avoid an Intendant du Roi, with good reason. After his inspections, France had put many an innocent citizen in prison to rot."
    Just one path out of many you could take. Good luck!

  8. The emotional tension made the stakes higher and worked well to hook me. I love the little details of the silk dress. I would have liked to have more descriptions of the place like the echo in the big rooms/corridor of the palace, steps clapping behind them, etc. I did not have a good sense of where they were. But you were able to convey the urgency and danger. Well done!
    However, your French needs improvement!
    It's not "Tres vite (very fast)", it's "Plus vite (faster)." There is no agreement with "vite" so not "s" at the end. "Vite" is not a verb. If you are going to use that many French words, make sure you check with a native. Also, a lady would not say "Merde!" because it's a vulgar word. Would she say "F..."? Why would the lackey turn pale? The spotlight is on Adrienne, but suddenly, at the end of the passage, abruptly changes to Jacques. Why? This being said, this was an exciting read.

    1. Yikes! You're right. I know this conjugation. Just in too big of a hurry. Changing now.

  9. Hi, first of all I'm super drawn in by the time and place your story's set, as well as the premise of a young female spy, bravo. I second many of the previous comments, but so as not to be too repetitive, I will add the following notes/suggestions:

    The story is called The Satin Spy but you mention her wearing silk twice in this first section.

    I had to read the opening lines a couple times to figure out what is going on. Somehow it doesn't feel like it's in the exact order of action? If she's already running when we first see her, the tense should be "of having been spotted" and "had made her run" or something like that. But to avoid that, perhaps it would be easier to show us the action of her actually being spotted, freezing, then running. It might make it clearer?

    Also re Jacques, first you have "a servant" then "her lackey" and only then we hear his name, so it's a bit confusing. Perhaps you could use his name a bit earlier? Also, if he's her lackey/accomplice, why is he wondering why she's running? wouldn't he know? maybe lackey isn't the best term for him?

    That said, if you're at all like me, I'm sure you've written and rewritten the beginning to death. It's the toughest part for me. But you've got some really good critiques from all the commenters here to help you out. Good luck!

  10. Please forgive me. I'm a little bit confused here, but perhaps the confusion gets cleared with more text. Your protag to me sounds as if she is from nobility, based on the servants, the dress (loved the details!), the home. So why is she frightened that a rep of the King is there? Wouldn't she be on the same side of the fight, so to speak, as that rep? It would be rather helpful to get at least a teensy bit of intel as to why she is afraid of the rep. At least, for me, it would be, as otherwise, I wonder why she would be frightened of the nobility.

    Also, you need to fix the French. That distracted me, but it is just a minor fix. Great start!

  11. I love the premise of your story. I would definitely keep reading.

  12. Loved the sweating through her silks. Loved her swearing in French! (It's the little things...) Got a bit confused, like others, on her role and why she'd been running from being in attendance with that sort of guest.

    'Lackey' popped me out of the time period. (But I am no expert on this period/place in history)

    Also, this is probably more reader- than writer-error, but I mixed up Adrienne and Jacques halfway through, and then mixed up your MC's words as intended for one of the servants scrubbing the floor and couldn't understand how she could still be running and still talking to that lackey/servant several sentences later. A re-read clarified everything. But you never want a reader to have to do that. Possibly some minor changes could make the opening clearer to all (especially if you have more readers like me!).

  13. Interesting set-up. I liked the rather childish feminism ("I'll act like a man... do what I like.") and am curious as to what she has in her bodice. Kudos to anyone willing to do the research necessary for a historical novel! If Adrienne is running because she's panicking at the sight of the sinister Intendant, then I assume at this stage (the beginning) of her story she is completely out of her depth, and needs to do a lot of growing up as a spy? Panicking at the sight of a man talking to your mother is not badass. Also, if she is a character in a novel in English, surely she should speak and think in English? If the author tells me she's an aristocrat in Louis XIV's France, I will believe it, without the character saying 'Oui".

  14. A great historical period to write about! So much was going on then.

    I have to agree with everyone else. There's a lot of repetition here, and a lot of it feels forced, like it's written to get in the pertinent info you want the reader to know. Try writing the same thing from your MC's POV rather than yours. Just write what she's doing and thinking, without any regard as to whether or not the reader will get it. They will. (Your character wouldn't explain things to herself that she already knows). Right now though, I feel like I'm reading your story rather than reading about Adrienne's. The writer comes through more than the character.

  15. "The heat-red urgency...." is a wordy sentence and I get a little confused. Try simplifying and cutting some things. Also--you say her clothes are silk twice and you convey there is an official in her parlor several times--just in different ways. Try tightening and I think your message will come across more clear. I think the excitement is getting lost in the repetition a little bit. Good job!!

  16. I liked your logline, but I would have preferred a hint of the "extreme measures."

    As for the first page, I think if you took out the repetition and gave us more of a sense of her character, it would strengthen this opening. I don't know enough to worry about her being caught, so maybe if you started with what she had to go through to get the paper in her bodice, I would be more hooked in her plight.

  17. I agree with many of the comments about tightening up some of the more repetitive parts. I think two sentences in your first paragraph would suffice - one about her terror of being spotted, the second about who she'll be spotted by - the Intendant. Most of the fixes are little things or questions I had while reading - why does she slow at all at the kitchens? Does she really have to ask herself if the Intendant is here because of the paper she has or does she already know? Did she tell herself when she first got the paper that she would act like a young man if she was confronted so now she needs to remind herself of that rather than saying it for the first time?

    Also, someone else mentioned this, but I would say that this is YA based on the age of your MC. Even if Adrienne is dealing with older situations because of the time period, etc. I'm fairly certain that a 16-year-old MC will still be considered YA.

    Good job and good luck!

  18. I thought your premise was a bit choppy and that combining the first two sentences would make it read more smoothly. I really liked the historical fiction angle for YA!

  19. Kudos to you for tackling an historical YA story! It's an exciting period, with lots going on, so I think you made an excellent choice. That said, part of making such a novel successful is the reader's willingness to relax in the writer's authority. You need to check your references. In this page, I was pulled out of the fiction by the MC's French, as noted above. Perhaps you can keep everything in English? I suggest that you revise concentrating on the MC's experience. Your readers will keep up. It sounds so simple, but I find it one of the most difficult things to do. Good luck!