Monday, May 18, 2009

Face-Lift 632

Guess the Plot

Honor Bound

1. Vesper Fitzhawke swore an oath to the new King of England, and is now honor-bound to marry a Scotsman! What was she thinking? Will she honor her oath or will she fall in with Odo the malevolent bishop?

2. Christy never wanted an arranged marriage, even if it is to the elf prince. She doesn't believe in this "fate bound" nonsense everyone is gushing, so she resolves to run away. Can she find true love amongst the magic and sorcery of the enchanted woods?

3. The six girls at Springdale Reform House swear never to reveal which of them is the vampire, but the zombie can't get anything straight and blurts it out. When junior counselor Tabitha Thompson realizes a third of her charges are already dead, she must decide, among other things, whether to tell Nurse Williams to skip their flu shots.

4. Rubi Stevens is a housekeeper by day, dominatrix by night. When one of her clients turns up dead and Rubi is framed for murder, she must unravel the mystery before she loses both her jobs.

5. The 4:00 stage to Honor, Texas rattles across the desert. On board are four passengers: a shotgun-toting killer, a chain-smoking pyromaniac, a whore who won't shut up, and a bible-quoting dynamite salesman who just wants to get his 200 pounds of product safely to town--and maybe save a few souls on the way. This is their story.

6. A giant, mutant serpent is slithering through the sewers below the beautiful duplexes of Pleasant Pines. First cats, then dogs, then children disappear. It's not until the serpent rears its head out of Miss Honor Wilhelmina Pringle's toilet that it meets its match.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

As William the Conqueror’s sons battle for his throne, Vesper must prove her honor to others and her worthiness to herself. Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters, Honor Bound (about 130,000 words) is a historical fiction that blends political intrigue, feudal honor, and romance, set in a world where treacherous plots abound and misplaced trust is fatal. [I would put the second sentence at the end of the plot. Or put the first sentence at the beginning of the plot.]

The year is 1088 and England is torn asunder by rebellion. To keep her estate Havre de Grace—[Translation: Graceland.] the most important thing in the world to her—Vesper Fitzhawke gives her oath of fealty to the new king. [We don't need the part about her estate being important to her.] Once she is honor bound to obey him, the wily ruler commands her to wed against her will and sends her on a dangerous, clandestine mission in his fight to save his throne from his brother’s efforts to supplant him.

Grim Eryvine, the exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior she is forced to marry, [One wonders if she'd have pledged her loyalty to the king if she'd known she'd have to marry a Scotsman.] [Though it could've been worse. She could've been stuck with a Welshman.] [You can be pretty sure your marriage is gonna be grim when you marry a guy named Grim.]

[King: I've chosen a husband for you.
Vesper: Who is he?
King: He's Grim.
Vesper: Damn. What's his name?
King: It's Grim.
Vesper: Yes, but what is it?
King: I just told you.
Vesper: His name is Ijus Tolju?
King: It's Grim.
Vesper: You can say that again.]

is a wanderer and a loner. He scorns the role of estate holder and adamantly opposes being bound to one person or one place. For those reasons—and because Grim believes that women do not have the necessary sense of honor to hold true to a sworn oath—he clashes with Vesper and sparks fly. Even so, Grim is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful and strong-willed demoiselle he is forced to marry. As he plunges deeper into a web of desire and longing for her, he grows to fear that she loves Havre de Grace more than she could love any man and would even commit treason to possess it. [She already possesses it, having pledged fealty to the king, so why would he be concerned with her committing treason?]

Vesper and Grim immediately find themselves entangled in the Machiavellian schemes of Odo, the malevolent Bishop of Bayeux. [This scene from the Bayeux Tapestry shows Odo; if you look closely you can see him on the king's right. Click on the picture for an enlargement.

Odo being one of the great characters of all time, it's a mistake to not even mention him until paragraph four. A better opening hook for the query would be: When the mysterious Odo takes the shape of the Bishop of Bayeux, it's just a matter of time before the English throne falls, in my novel Odo is in this Book; You Simply Must Have It. Note that I managed to work Odo into the title to ensure readers will grab it from bookstore shelves.] The devious bishop secretly leads the rebellion against the untried English ruler [by shape-shifting into the king's most trusted servant] and seeks to suborn Vesper into treason with a tantalizing promise. In exchange for her help, the would-be usurper will grant her control of her land unencumbered by an unwanted husband. Vesper now confronts the draconian choice of fulfilling her oath to the king and performing the difficult tasks given to her, [That last part is vague; delete it.] or committing treason in exchange for a most enticing reward.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

I look forward to hearing from you. [Delete that. As you may have noticed, we're trying to shorten this.]

Very truly yours,


Is this historical romance or a historical novel with some romance thrown in? It sounds like the former, as you give more play to the Vesper/Grim relationship than to the political intrigue and treacherous plots, so call it a romance if that's what it is.

It's well-written; just get it down to three plot paragraphs and one concluding paragraph and trim it a bit.

Vesper loses her estate if she doesn't marry Grim, but Grim has no interest in estate ownership or marriage, so why would he marry Vesper?

The king sends Vesper on a clandestine mission, the bishop recruits her to help him oust the king . . . Why does everyone want this woman on their side? What is it about Vesper that qualifies her to do stuff that would normally fall to James Bond?

Fitzhawke. Vesper Fitzhawke. Nope, doesn't have the same ring to it.


none said...

Wrong king, EE.

How does the king of England force a Scotsman to do anything? Please tell us the secret.

Evil Editor said...

Clue me in. William the Conqueror was king of England, right? The new king who compels Vesper to marry is not the new king of England?

Anonymous said...

The Vesper name just seemed annoyingly out of place to me. First, there's the Bond girlfriend. Then, there's the "authenticity" question. According to this, the word did not exist until the 14th century.

Sources of medieval names on the web are so numerous and useful, when we see you gave the protagonist an incongruously "modern" name we instantly wonder if you did your homework. Try this for starters:

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I don't actually see the point of saying he's Scottish. It doesn't connect to anything else in the query.

I'm with EE on wondering why this woman is so important. I'd really love to know a bit more about her character - not in an infodump kind of way, but why is *she* so crucial to the historical plot?

BuffySquirrel: he threatens to withhold his Irn-Bru?

Anonymous said...

It is 1088. William the Conqueror just died. His second son (William Rufus) inherited the English throne and is the new king. The eldest son (Robert) inherited Normandy only. Robert (supported by Odo) wants BOTH Normandy and the throne of England. Rebellion breaks out as nobles chose sides.

“Vesper” is named at the Canonical Hour of “Vespers.” Not modern at all.

John said...

Re: shortening

In the second sentence, "Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters" tells us that it's historical fiction, so you can drop "is a historical fiction that..." You get a shorter sentence and a stronger main verb.

Amanda Sun said...

First the Borg, and now Odo. I never realized EE was a Trekkie.

none said...

William the Conqueror (or William I) has recently died in the query; the new king is William II (William Rufus).

The king in your picture is Harold.

Hepius said...

Could you give us a hint of how the Vesper-Grim match-up contributes to the political intrigue? Why are they being put together?

none said...

The OED dates vesper/vespers (the canonical hour) to the late C15th, so it's still problematical.

Anonymous said...


Your blue text seems to have taken over some of the original query in the section about Odo.

Shouldn't some of that section be in the black text of the original query?

Tho' I understand your enthusiasm about Odo. He is EVIL.

Dave Fragments said...

We seem to be picking on names today. In the name "Grim Eryvine" is the surname part pronounced
Air-eee-Vine (with a long "I")
In that case, he needs to be named "Grim" because air-eee-vine is fodder for all his classmates growing up to tease and abuse him. I mean, I don't care if the first name is "balls," that kid is going to suffer. Might as well name him Sue or Wesley Crusher.

Now that I've made fun of someone's ancestors and last name... Eryvine is Irish, not Scottish. It dates back to 3rd century AD.

I used this table of Gaelic names when I wrote my SCARECROW story. It might be helpful to consult a table such as this when you invent character names.

As for VESPER, Buffy is so right:
1390, "the evening star," from O.Fr. vespre, from L. vesper (masc.), vespera (fem.) "evening star, evening, west," related to Gk. hesperos, and ultimately from PIE *wespero- (cf. O.C.S. večeru, Lith. vakaras, Welsh ucher, O.Ir. fescor "evening"), from base *we- "down" (cf. Skt. avah "down, downward"). Meaning "evening" is attested from 1606. Vespers "sixth canonical hour" is attested from 1611, from pl. of L. vespera "evening;" the native name was evensong (O.E. æfen-sang). Hence also vespertine "of or pertaining to evening" (1502).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

William the Conqueror died in 1087

Here is an interesting source for authentic Brittonic or Brythonic names. for ODO, aside from the Star Trek character, it really is an old name but possibly not in Britain until the 1600's: are times I spend hours on the names of characters. I'm OCD about this stuff.

Evil Editor said...


Anonymous said...

Never forget that readers of historical fiction have the web at their fingertips and are prone to checking details for authenticity and making much ado about perceived discrepancies. Annoying habit, yes, but that's the reality you face.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Something about the sentence that started 'For those reasons' rubbed me the wrong way. It felt rather clunky, like you were desperate to make it fit.

Anonymous said...

William I died September 9, 1087. William II took the throne shortly thereafter. Rebellion broke out about Easter 1088 and went through the summer.

150 said...

Agreed with those who say that Vesper and Grim seem like unlikely names for the 11th century, and although I can see how the king could force her into the marriage you need to address how the king could force him.

none said...

Lessons in history and etymology aside, I'm still wondering how William the Red is making this Scotsman marry Evensong.

Robin B. said...

Ok. I give. Who's in the photo, Moto?

And I have no idea about the rest of this, so...

Evil Editor said...

It's Odo, the most famous shape-shifter ever.

Robin B. said...

OK. Thanks. I remember that character, vaguely, but I'm not sure I ever knew his name.

Thanks for the heads up.

none said...

Except, of course, as EE has selected that part of the Tapestry depicting King Harold, he's put Odo the Shapeshifter's head on Archbishop Stigand's body, rather than on Bishop Odo's. Ahem.

Evil Editor said...

Hey, I just took a random part of the tapestry that wasn't guys on horses. Send me the url of the right part and I'll make amends.

Evil Editor said...

The author of the previous face lift (631) has put a new version in the comments.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

As one who researched names and had them shot down in this very blog, gotta chime in here on the word "vesper."

My quick research turned up the Latin "vespera" (St. Benedict - 6th century, as referring to the Office of Vespers) and "Vesper" (Pliny the Elder - 1st century, as referring to Venus: contra ab occasu refulgens nuncupatur Vesper - but when it shines at sunset it is called Vesper)

Clearly, the Latin form has been around since well before 1070 or so when the Vesper of the query would have born. And since Latin had a pretty huge influence on the various English types from the 5th century on, it's quite possible someone could have named their kid to honor a holy rite or a star (planet).

As for the query, I, too, would like to understand how Wm II can force Grim (who's adamantly opposed to being bound to one person) into marriage -- or why he would. I don't see Wm's motivation in this. Vesper is also sent on a dangerous mission, but the purpose of it gets lost as the romance aspect takes over the query. That mission fizzles before it even begins since we "immediately" have her embroiled in Odo's scheme.

When throwing around 130K words, the extra words in your query raise a red flag. Words like "interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters," "the most important thing," the dangerous mission that goes nowhere (in the query), and "for those reasons and because."

Also "committing treason for a most enticing reward" pretty much says the same thing as "suborn Vesper into treason with a tantalizing promise."

To judge solely by the query, I'd say your 130K-word ms could easily be cut to 100K.

I CANNOT believe Robin commented and didn't bite at your "it could've been worse. She could've been stuck with a Welshman" comment, EE. I figured it was a direct dig ;o) I'm off to email her to get back here and see what you're saying behind her back right there in front of her.

Whirlochre said...

According to a documentary screening on UK Channel 4 at 9pm GMT tonight, a fifth of the UK is still owned by descendants of the 190 Normans granted land by William the Conqueror.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if your folks decide to name you "Norman," there's got to be some compensation, right?

GUD Magazine said...

I'm very doubtful about a 1st century Roman having that much influence on C11th English words, tbh. The OED is after all the foremost authority on the English language.

McKoala said...

Oy! What's wrong with marrying a Scotsman?

Robin B. said...

[One wonders if she'd have pledged her loyalty to the king if she'd known she'd have to marry a Scotsman.] [Though it could've been worse. She could've been stuck with a Welshman.]

Yeah. I can't BELIEVE I missed this and went straight to the Odo cut and paste. Looks like I'm gonna have to read a lot more carefully, like I used to. Word by word, as though reading source material on 'what makes good writing', or 'writing good', or writing well. I could go on....

But anyway, I'm now wondering whether to send your blog URL to several Welsh artists and a well-known poet, so you could have a Welsh onslaught here...but then, I wouldn't be able to say nasty stuff all the time. Hmmmmm.

Robin B. said...

the exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior she is forced to marry....OK - now I'm really reading - and this is part of the actual QUERY.

I've found that most really hot men, you know, the kind you actually remember their last names later on, are exciting and infuriating at the same time. That forced to marry part really rankles- except it makes for excellent almost-asleep foraging dream thingies...

Anonymous said...

Names aside, it definitely sounds like a romance plot with some Bond-type shenanigans complicating things. You might want to rewrite the query to clarify plot vs subplot.

none said...

Ooops, that GUD Magazine comment was me; forgot who I was signed in as for a moment there!

There's probably nothing wrong with marrying a Scotsman; what's wrong is with the legal system that means the moment she does, everything she owns (and, of course, she herself) belongs to him.

pacatrue said...

People who write the OED are just men and women who look things up the same as the rest of us. They get most things right; they get some things wrong. Some Latin terms from the 1st century did in fact get incorporated into English, though it appears the OED thinks "vesper" was not one of them.

The good news is that reality has no impact on the name discussion. The only important thing is whether or not readers will accept the name. Personally, I wouldn't mind Vesper at all, but I'm not the likely reader for this. I guess you'll have to guess whether the reaction from comments on this blog is representative of name perception.

Anonymous said...

Actually in English common law heirs have long retained ownership of their estates, women or not, after marriage. That's not a modern concept. People have long been skeptical of predatory paramours. Not sure how far back that law goes. Possibly medieval but I think it was a Roman innovation in the BC era.

none said...

Er, no, they haven't. In fact the Married Women's Property Act only passed in 1870.

none said...

Heck, they couldn't even ennoble Thatcher in her own right, but had to give a title to her dioxin-peddling husband.

pacatrue said...

I was interested in the women's property rights bit and did a wee bit of research. It looks like 1) there were fluctuations in the law and in practice in the 800 years spreading from the Battle of Hastings to the Women's Property Act of 1882, and 2) sometimes women could retain property, depending on exactly how it was given, as well as the practice of the so-called equity courts, though it doesn't seem that the equity courts were around until a few hundred years post Conqueror. Here's one link:

Author said...

Dear Agent (REVISED):

The year is 1088. As England is torn asunder by rebellion, Vesper must prove her honor to others and her worthiness to herself. To keep her estate, Vesper gives her oath of fealty to the new king. Once she is bound to obey him, he commands her to wed against her will and uses her in his fight to save his throne from the efforts to supplant him.

Grim Eryvine, the warrior she is forced to marry, believes women have no honor and the strategically located estate needs a warlord, not a woman. He soon clashes with Vesper in a battle of wills and grows to fear she loves her estate more than she could love any man.

Because of her work for the king, Vesper finds herself entangled in the schemes of the king’s uncle, the Bishop of Bayeux. The bishop secretly leads the rebellion and seeks to suborn Vesper into treason with a tantalizing promise. In exchange for her help, the usurper will grant her control of her lands unencumbered by an unwanted husband. Vesper must now choose: honor or treason.

Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters, Honor Bound (about 124,000 words) blends political intrigue, feudal honor, and romance, set in a world where treacherous plots abound and misplaced trust is fatal.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Very truly yours,


Evil Editor said...

I don't see the need for "Vesper must prove her honor to others and her worthiness to herself." I don't even know what it means. You could drop that phrase and begin:

The year is 1088. With England torn asunder by rebellion, Vesper Fitzhawke gives her oath of fealty to the new king. It's the only way she can keep her beloved estate.

Do we need to know whether the king or the rebels are the good guys? It may be honorable to side with the king, but if the rebels have a just cause and the king is evil and cruel, it might be honorable to assist the rebellion. The only issue she seems to consider is whether she sides with the rebels to get rid of Grim. Which doesn't have anything to do with honor. She swore an oath to keep her estate, not because she necessarily believed in the king, right? Whose side would she be on if Grim and the estate weren't at issue and she hadn't sworn an oath? Is there an honorable side to the rebellion, oath or no oath?

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

I like the revision much more than the original! I'd still take out the "worthiness" sentence, but this one seems much tighter writing to me.

"He soon clashes with Vesper in a battle of wills and grows to fear she loves her estate more than she could love any man."

This is my main problem with this query. In the first query, you say that Grim is "irresistibly drawn" to Vesper, and that he "desires and longs" for her. The second query cuts all that out, so in this one Grim just sounds to me like a manipulative man hoping that the heroine will fall for him so he can use her emotions to his advantage in controlling the estate. Does that make sense?

Also: "[Grim believes] the strategically located estate needs a warlord, not a woman" - I really liked that sentence; it implied a lot to me about the character and the general mindset at the time. And "strategically located/warlord" concisely explains WHY the estate is so important.

Also: I don't really like the name Vesper either. You may be able to prove its historical accuracy, but it just doesn't sound like a name that was around at the time - especially if it's not clear where the word came from - and that's going to make potential readers/agents question it.

_*rachel*_ said...

If you want us to like Grim, you might mention it somehow; it'd make her choice harder. All in all, this version is much better.

none said...

The idea of Grim fearing Evensong won't love him comes out of the blue--there's been no reason up till then to believe he cares. Apart from that, much better, I think.

batgirl said...

As someone with a mild interest in historical naming practices, the only name I found plausible here was Odo. On the other hand, the name Vesper Fitzhawke makes it clear beyond doubting that this is a romance novel, so it does the job it's meant to do.

And yes, the revised query is way better, but you should probably devote more space to the love story, since that's your selling point.