Saturday, February 10, 2007

Face-Lift 272

Guess the Plot

Spoil of War

1. After enslaving Elsbeth's people, murdering Elsbeth's beloved father, and burning down Elsbeth's house, King Leo tries to win the heart of . . . Elsbeth.

2. People are dying left and right, but Toto has a more immediate concern on his mind. How to camouflage the green spots on the hamburgers.

3. Raiding pirates discover the legendary spoils of Figueira da Foz just aren't rich enough to be plural. They then sue the town for false advertising. Also, an angry homosexual duck.

4. After a 47-day stint without cheesecake or bananas, sergeant Luke Winkle designs and builds the world's first armored freezer unit and tows it behind his tank on the battlefields of Iraq.

5. Two countries war for six centuries, each fighting to win a coveted object they believe the other to possess, only to discover that neither country has the object, that the object does not exist . . . and never existed.

6. Jean Volerie invents tinned beef for Napoleon's army--but is he loyal to L'Empereur or is he Wellington's spy, intent on decimating the French army with botulism?

Original Version


Set in Southern England during the early 5th century, SPOIL OF WAR is a highly sensual historical romance that dovetails with the popular Arthurian Romance Cycle -- differing from most related works because it doesn’t try to retell any of the established legends; instead, it builds upon them, expanding the genealogy of the Arthurian family tree.

Eighteen-year-old Elsbeth, daughter of a duke of the Old Blood, sees her beloved father slain, her people felled or slaved, and her home torched by order of a young Roman-Christian king, Leodegrance. [However, as Leo is rather hunky, all is forgiven.]

Leodegrance, besotted by Elsbeth’s Northern spirit, claims her as a spoil and steals her away to Cameliard, his home. [Which got its name because it smells like a camel yard.] There, the king, a man of studied conscience when not pressed by rank or oath, undertakes to win her love. No matter their differences in heritage or religion. No matter that duty forced him to take her father’s lands and life. [Forced him? He's the king. He can't exactly say, "Sorry hon, I was just following orders.] And no matter the wife he has already wed to unite two kingdoms.

[Leodegrance: Darling, I realize I enslaved your people, murdered your father and torched your house, but if you could set that aside a moment . . . Will you marry me?

Elsbeth: You gotta be kiddin', pal.

Leo: Seriously, I thought those were someone else's father, people and house. Imagine my embarrassment when I found out they were yours.

Elsbeth: You're already married anyway, idiot.

Leo: Hey, I'm the king. Wives come and go in this business.

Elsbeth: Then if I agree to marry you, you'll agree to renounce your heritage and religion, kill your wife, and set my people free?

Leo: Consider her dead.]

Only the knight errant who arrives wounded to the castle and forces his advances upon Elsbeth can turn Leodegrance from his desire. [Wait a minute. You've been wounded in battle. You somehow manage to drag yourself twenty miles without bleeding to death, and as you're about to collapse, you spot a castle. With the last of your strength you swim across the moat, climb the wall and bang on the castle gate. The king is kind enough to give you sanctuary. And before he's even shown you around the place, you're out of your cuisses and braies, forcing yourself on his babe?] [As I recall, the last time I was wounded, I didn't feel much like a roll in the hay. Especially with an unwilling partner.] Jealousy and distrust kindled, Leodegrance drives Elsbeth from him [From him . . . self? Or the knight? "Drives Elsbeth away" would be more clear.] -- and into the chains of an enemy duke’s prison. [Why would the king's enemy imprison Elsbeth?]

Now, if Elsbeth can’t find a way to escape the duke’s designs, find her tangled way to forgiveness with Leodegrance, and become queen to Leodegrance’s king, then the babe destined to surpass her mother and become queen over a united Briton will never be conceived, never be born, and never carry the name Guinevere throughout the ages... [An effective surprise ending to the query, but what about in the book? Are the last two paragraphs:

"She has your eyes, sweetheart," Leodegrance said. "What shall we call her?"

Elsbeth smiled at her husband, the man she had grown to love despite his having enslaved her people, murdered her beloved father, and torched her home, and replied, "Guinevere."]

[I can find no evidence that the country was ever spelled "Briton"; that seems to refer to a person, or to be an adjective. Of course, my research consists entirely of Wikipedia, so . . . ]

SPOIL OF WAR is my first effort in the historical romance genre, although several of my fantasy/science fiction short stories have been published in various paperback anthologies and for-pay magazines. This is a multiple submission. ____________ at Kensington is currently reviewing the full manuscript at her request [but if I can sell it to you before she finishes reading it, it would be like you pulled the rug out from under one of your most hated competitors].

Thank you for considering the completed, 110,000-word SPOIL OF WAR for your own review.

Kind regards,


You've given me no reason to believe that if Elsbeth escaped the duke she would want to return to Leo (You don't mind if I call him Leo, do you?) What's he ever done for her? I mean besides enslave her people, kill her father, burn down her home, and drive her into the duke's dungeon?

Although you call it highly sensual, it's not clear (except from our knowledge that there is a Guinevere in the Arthurian legends) where the sensual part comes in.

The big problem is going to be convincing anyone that Elsbeth will ever want anything to do with Leo. Maybe he should just imprison her father, and drive her people off their land. He wouldn't seem so bad, and he could later release her father. I'm sure he must have some good qualities in the book, but if you don't show them in the query, it'll be hard for anyone to buy a romance between these two.


Blogless Troll said...

Leodegrance is a very cool name, but my dyslexic eyes keep seeing a hybrid of the words deodorant and fragrance: deodegrance. I realize Leodegrance is part of Arthurian legend and I'm not suggesting you change it. Just thought you'd like to know.

Wonderwood said...

I wonder does this story take place before or after The Boss makes his appearance in King Arthur's Court?

Anonymous said...

The "kings" of early post-Roman era divided the country into small pieces, they didn't unite it. They were a lot illiterate thugs no one remembers the names of. The Arthur legend is perhaps the original "French" novel written about an imaginary "mythic past" almost a thousand years after you've set your story, and it is easily distinguished from the modern "historic" novel by the presence of magical characters and other fabulous qualities. There's no body of historic documents from the period you could base a realistic novel on. Taking out the magic to give us an "historic" Arthurian story is like writing a realistic Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz. Remove the magic and give us a "rational" substitute in the name of "history", and what's left? Like here, not much of interest.

Stacia said...

I love the idea of a romance set in this period. I don't think the characters and their feelings for each other come through here at all, though. At least mention that as the days pass they become more interested in each other, or she sees through past the ruler to the man, or something. Otherwise we're thinking, wouldn't she be glad to get away from the guy who killed her family and then is so disrespectful of her loss and his responsibility that he thinks she's going to hop into his bed?

shaded-lily said...

This query letter is fantastic (except for those tiny nits that the brilliant, intelligent and devastatingly handsome Evil Editor pointed out in his infinite kindness), and I'm sure reading this book would open new horizons of sensuality to me as well as adding a rich and rewarding dimension to the beloved Arthurian legend.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you december quinn. I love the medieval romances. And, yes, the plot is a bit far-fetched, but no more so than most of the historicals out there.

Anonymous, an historical romance is different from historical fiction. As long as the small details are right, the bigger stuff can be played with a bit loosely if it furthers the story.

And I don't necessarily think the query to a romance editor would have to say that as time goes by they become more interested in each other. Duh. That's what a romance is. They connect. They disconnect. They reconnect. And maybe they go through that whole cycle again before book's end. Why waste words on the table stakes of the genre?

The query assures us it's got character conflict and a happily ever after (plus a nice surprise!), so, yeah, I'd read it.

What I would want to see more of in the query: a little more characterization. I don't feel I know the main characters very well. EE, you nailed it about the competition when the author mentions the book is with an editor already. Hopefully, the author intends this letter for an agent if s/he doesn't already have one!

Bernita said...

Why should the paucity of primary documents have anything to do with it, Anon?

Brenda said...

What threw me off was Elsbeth begging Leodegrance's forgiveness, when we haven't seen any remorse from him after he's slaughtered everyone she knew and loved. I thought, "Yeah, marry the bastard then let him wake up choking on his own bloody testicles".

And there's the issue of that 1st wife, although I snickered at EE's "Consider her dead."

I read/write romance, but not historical, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to get the details you need, and the tone, into the query. The tone is downpat. It reads like a historical - well done! I think this is very good, very close, but maybe rewrite it a bit to allow us to see why she would WANT to return to Leodegrance. When the bloody dude (duke?) showed up, I thought he'd SAVE Elsbeth from Leodegrance and she'd be happy about it.

I don't know. I just woke up and I don't think I'm coming across clearly, so I'll shut up now and maybe you can figure out what I'm attempting to say here. Bottom line: It's very good and I think you've very close.

Anonymous said...

If there's no history to base it on, it's not historic is it? Arthur was always a work of fantasy. And if you take the fantastic out, there's no charming historical reality to replace it with unless maybe you use the 15th century, which it most resembles because that's when Mallory did his translation of the French and he used details like courtly love, armor, and castles that were familiar to himself. If you want to portray the 5th century realistically you have to rely on archaeology, not history. You have to take the armor and castles out, put the people in crude smokey dwellings with pigs and sheep inside: no moat, no silverware, no gold crowns, no silk dresses, no jousting. They hardly even had pottery. The "King Arthur" movie tried to do a "realistic" version a few years ago and it was a box office bomb. People don't love Arthur for the history, they love it for the fantasy. Take the fantastic out and what's left is cruel people engaged in disappointingly ordinary violence. Which is what this sounds like to me. How we get from a raped hostage to true love, I don't know. That's not a transition I find believable.

writtenwyrdd said...

The arguments about historical vs. fantastical are valid, but what bothered me was that you give us no reason to care a whit about the twitty sounding Leodegrance or the woman. In fact, we hear nothing about her...just her situation. And as for the knight who rapes her, this sounded improbable for the reasons mentioned by others.

As described, I would roll my eyes and walk away because I detest characters who forgive their kidnappers, rapists or abusive relatives for the convenience of moving the plot forward. But if you rework this query letter to give us reasons to like the characters, it sounds like you have the basis of a selling genre romance.

best of luck with it!

Bernita said...

And here I always thought the term "historical," in industry terms, meant a work of fiction set in a previous time period.
And that the term "castle" was from OE meaning a fortified place, from the latin "castellum," and never assumed any writer who used it was automatically writing about stone keeps.
Nor did I think there was enough specifics in the query to send anyone off on a tirade about Malorean imitation and anachronism.

Anonymous said...

Author here.

EE: You're a riot, as always. I, too, call him Leo because, as blogless_troll pointed out, the name Leodegrance has a rather unpleasant deodorizing fragrance about it today. 'Briton' is an archaic variant of 'Britain' around the time the Celts inhabited the island (and there's some debate about if/where/when the Celts arrived there). The bit about Elsbeth being Guinevere's mom is not revealed in the book until the last page. Only those versed enough in the legend to know Guin's dad is Leo (who also gave Arthur his Round Table as part of Guin's dowry) should figure it out before then. And, while I got a kick out of your riff, Leo, alas, doesn't snuff his wife -- although if this were Dark Fantasy instead of Romance…

Minions: Thank to you all for pointing out that more about the MCs is needed in the query to make them likable. Now to figure out how to do that and still keep to a page!

Also, great debate about what's "historical". Not in defense of my work, but just my two cents in the debate for those interested (go look at the Fable entries, if you're not interested!):

The Arthurian legend is not history, but is rooted in historical events as most legends are (for Romance category purposes, it's still considered an Historical Romance.). "Le Morte D'Arthur" took a bunch of stories from the oral tradition and strung them together in a not-very-cohesive written work. The Church got involved and sanitized/Christianized those stories, put them in a more modern setting, and overall made the disparate stories even less cohesive. Book I is really pretty boring. Things liven up, though, in Book II, which has all the stuff that the person on the street "knows" about the Arthurian legend.

There is some written and archeological evidence to support the existence of a Roman general named Arturo/Arthur who, between 300 and 600 AD, was nearly successful at uniting all these ancillary kingdoms. But even in the legend, Arthur was only able to unite the land for a few short years. Right before his death, things started to majorly fall apart again. Which may be why he doesn't figure more prominently in written histories.

Yes, 14th and 15th century armor is flashy cool, but Roman spathas and bucklers looked pretty good in "Gladiator". Jousting is neat, but the chariot races in "Ben-Hur" were pretty exciting, too. And Helen and Paris' love story was just as gossip-inducing as the Lance/Arthur/Guin one. Why would setting a story in the 4th, 7th or 9th century (or earlier) be any less appealing in a book than one set in the 15th century when astute readers are likely to ask, "Hasn't this stupid author heard of the Magna Carta, signed in 1215? What's this silly king doing trying to unite a country already united?" That's always been the head-slapper for me when watching beautifully made movies like "Excalibur" and "First Knight."

pacatrue said...

Hiya Phoenix,

Sounds like you've done your homework. Good deal. Personally, I'm still stuck on "I killed your dad, wanna make out?" People have already addressed beefing up Leo and Elsbeth to make their motivations clearer. Another possible path is to make her losses less horrific. It's one thing to have your father who bounced you on his knee beheaded. It's another to have your father who beat you on Wednesdays decapitated. Then there's everything in between - a princess who never sees her father and is raised by nursemaids, the father who was kind to you, but it turns out regularly pillaged the village maidens, etc.

The general thought is that the more horrific her losses, the more difficult it will be for Elsbeth to overcome them to find love with King Leo. If you ameliorate the losses, you have less of a task.

Have fun.

Anonymous said...

"Only the knight errant who arrives wounded to the castle and forces his advances upon Elsbeth can turn Leodegrance from his desire."

Um, this sentence stopped me--it sounded to me like Leodegrance was deciding he liked the knight better than Elsbeth. Which might put an interesting twist on the rest of the story, but probably not the one you'd intended.

Anonymous said...

You might want to consider just calling it a story set in your own time/ place and cut all references to Arthur et al. That would liberate you from the heavy baggage of expectations the A. name carries. So many people have used the A stuff, I'm guessing you can probably be more fresh and new if you don't.

GutterBall said...

Which might put an interesting twist on the rest of the story, but probably not the one you'd intended.


Actually, I hear there's a burgeoning market just for that type of twist. Could be...interesting.

Anonymous said...

Author again...

OK. So I took a look at all the advice proferred here, synthesized it, blended it, and did a rewrite. Does the following hit the mark?

Title: Spoil of Disagreement

Time: 1445 AD
Place: Alternate Universe

King Leo the Lionhearted soundly boxes Duke Ellington's ears in mock battle, then skips off with the Duke's daughter, Elsbeth, to his dump of a home that he shares with a family of swine. Already burdened with a wife by an arranged marriage, Leo decides to off her and sets Elsbeth up as his queen instead, mainly because, like Leo, Elsbeth has much better taste in clothes than the old wife ever did.

Enter Sir Patrick (aka Patty), the very flower of chivalry (and we shall refrain from saying the word "pansy") to upset the happy arrangement. In a pique, Leo kicks Elsbeth to the curb, er, into the chains of his enemy, so he and Patty can have as hot a time as a sensuous romance allows. Soon, Leo and Patty are moving the pigs aside to make room for their adopted son, who is destined to become simply the most fabulous queen Britain has ever known.

With the same moral high ground found in "The da Vinci Code," the same quirkiness of character that's in the "Wizard of Oz," and the same richness of tone and setting shared by "Hawaii," all of which you have read, represented, edited or heard about at one time or another, I know my novel will be perfect for you, dearest Editor. Let me know when you'd like to discuss terms over lunch. My calendar is always free for you.

Brenda said...

Phoenix! I love it!

Anonymous said...

That revision has a lot of appeal. I've never read such a story before, the characters are unique, the plot moves, and I love the humor. The other query took itself soooo seriously...

Anonymous said...

Phoenix, excellent retort! Love the humor! Keep the attitude, glean whatever constructive advice you can find in the comments, and go forth and prosper.

batgirl said...

anonymous 11:32, wasn't courtly love more 12th century than 15th century? I thought it was an Eleanor of Aquitain thing, and long gone by the time Malory was writing (in prison, for rape, wasn't it?).

author, the pre-Arthurian setting has a lot of potential. Everyone's been mining Arthur's period, but I don't recall the previous generation getting much love, fictionally.
Oh, wait, maybe Rosemary Sutcliff, in The Lantern-Bearers? But that was YA, not romance.

GutterBall said...

In a pique, Leo kicks Elsbeth to the curb, er, into the chains of his enemy, so he and Patty can have as hot a time as a sensuous romance allows.

Heheh, now you're getting it. I'm telling you, there's gold in them there hills!