Friday, August 14, 2009
Guess the Plot
The Black Douglas
1. Genealogist Hamish McBride discovers that the legitimate heir to one of Scotland's clan chieftainships was included in the ill-fated Darien Scheme to colonize America in 1684. And he finds a direct lineal descendant, now living in Jamaica. But are the conservative Scottish clans ready for . . . The Black Douglas?
2. When Edgar Beaucoup buys the black-on-black, he's sure his millions were well invested -- until Taciturn Winters announces she created the hideous fake to protest greed and corruption in the art world. Edgar knows he should help put her away . . . but it's love at first sight.
3. In this sequel to the movie Braveheart, Scottish teenager James Douglas takes up the fight against the English after Mel Gibson's death. Unfortunately Douglas fails to grasp the fact that wars are usually won by the side that has weapons.
4. This volume of the color-coded memoirs of Douglas Figstiffle covers his Black period, in which he adopted a "Puritan" style complete with black clothes, black hair dye, black furniture, etc, and matched it with such relentless gloom & doom & talk of Hellfire and damnation, the Taliban mistook him for one of their own.
5. Minnie Wax last solved the case of the Green Douglas, in which she unmasked the notorious dog-napper of Detroit. Now a burlesque dancer's cat has gone missing in Las Vegas, and, astonishingly, Minnie's top three suspects are, again, all named 'Douglas'.
6. The Black Douglas is your typical pirate ship - except, of course, for its all-female crew. Can Katherine "Ugly Kitty" Duglan hold this unruly band together long enough to take revenge on the British officer who killed her father, framed her brother, and possibly stole her parrot?
Eighteen-year-old James Douglas is forced to watch as the Scottish freedom-fighter, William Wallace, is hanged, drawn, and quartered, his still-beating heart cut out. With his country under the heel of a brutal English tyrant, James takes up the battle for freedom. His only weapon is ruthless cunning. In ambush and terror, he carries the fight to the English [Ambushing soldiers may catch them by surprise, but . . .
James Douglas: We'll hide behind these rocks. When the English army comes through the pass we'll spring out unexpectedly.
2nd in command: But sir, the English have crossbows and swords and we have no weapons.
James Douglas: Wrong. We have ruthless cunning.]
and counts it worth the cost, even if that cost is sharing Wallace's fate. The only thing he truly fears is that he may have become as merciless as the conqueror he hates. [How merciless can you be when your only weapon is cunning? Even if you trick the enemy into entering your trap, you need some rope or a lead pipe or a candlestick to hold off their swords. Give them some weapons.]
THE BLACK DOUGLAS is a 100,000 word historical novel which takes up where the movie Braveheart leaves off.
I am the author of A WARRIOR'S DUTY published by Swimming Kangaroo Books, and my flash story Guardian Demon appeared in the Editor Unleashed/Smashword Flash 40 Anthology. I also have a BA in English with a minor in history.
Upon your request, I am prepared to send a partial or the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.
You need to tell us what happens in your book. All we know is your main character's name and that he fought against the English after Wallace died. You don't even make it clear that Douglas isn't a fictional character. His write-up in Wikipedia shows him to be as compelling a character as William Wallace. Your query should declare that your novel is based on the exploits of James Douglas, who successfully . . . whatever. Then relate some of the crucial events in your novel.
The Wikipedia article indicates that James was sent to Paris for safety early in the Wars for Scottish Independence, and that he returned to Scotland in 1306. As William Wallace was executed in 1305, James wouldn't have been there to watch the execution. Did he make a quick trip over and back? Or is there an error? The fictional parts of historical fiction should be the parts no one can check up on. The facts you need to get right, because your readers will take you to task otherwise.
Posted by Evil Editor at 10:03 AM
Labels: Historical fiction
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You need more about the plot, and you might want to change the weapons bit. Though the ruthless cunning was pretty hilarious, EE.
Even so, I'd read it. Besides not having much plot in there, you haven't made it boring or painful, and I'm a sucker for books about William Wallace. I think I'm descended from Robert the Bruce, too... ever read For Freedom's Cause, by G.A. Henty?
It should also be noted that "Black Douglas" has been used in countless books that take place in historical Scotland. Nearly every historical romance, for example, features a cunning, fearsome "Black Douglas". Not that I don't love me some fearsome cunning, mind, just keep in mind it's been done approximately eleventy billion times before, and there are other Scottish surnames perfectly capable of striking fear into the hearts of the perfidous English. Now, a spoof called the "Pink Douglas" would immediately garner my interest.
However, the actual person James Douglas was known in his time as the Black Douglas. Or should I say, The Blak Dowglas.
Problem #1. So what happens? Give us more plot.
Problem #2. Know thy audience and don't offend them. Certain kinds of fictive invention that are popular with cinema-goers and fantasy fans will make your readers of historical fiction scream in horror. Braveheart is #2 on the London Times list of Most Historically Inaccurate Movies. I'm afraid comments that sound like you used that [often despised] movie as source material might lead to auto-reject from historic fiction editors who specialize in the medieval British/Scottish subgenre. Ironically, they are gatekeepers for very audience this project should be most appealing to. And if they don't like it, who will?
If you actually did use Braveheart as source material, perhaps your project will be most successful if pitched as alternative history, or, if you change all the names and crank up the magic factor, pure fantasy.
If you didn't rely on Braveheart for anything, ditch all mention of it.
Eh, if it takes up where Braveheart leaves off, it must be Fantasy....
The Black Douglas is quite famous, but I disagree with caitmorgan that it has been done to death. To me, (a distance ancestor of the Stewart clan), that is like saying we have heard enough about Abraham Lincoln. Well maybe you have . . . but not me.
I would read this book in a heartbeat - as long as it was not a romance. A very quick google search did pull up a number of books that at first glance about the Black Douglas look to be romance novels.
You may have found a niche here in an historical novel. But, as Evil Editor pointed out, don't change facts that can be easily disputed.
I loved Braveheart but the one thing that disappointed me is the number of liberties the movie took on historical fact - it was not necessary to do this in my mind. Wallace did not have to have an affair with the Queen to be interesting. His love for his wife that was killed was romantic enough without that nonsense.
I would like to see a better query and wish you the best of luck.
re: your other book
Considering that this is a query to an agent, you might want to give more info about the already published book: does it have an agent? how well is it doing? is it the same genre as this book or a different one? does your contract with that publisher give them first refusal on subsequent works and if so, have they already rejected this? if there's no other agent, what rights did you retain that could potentially be sold by this new agent?
Eighteen-year-old James Douglas is forced to watch as the Scottish freedom-fighter, William Wallace, is hanged, drawn, and quartered, his still-beating heart cut out.
So after Wallace was "was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging but released whilst he was still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts*" his heart was still beating? I find that unlikely.
I'd hoped it would be #6.
I just have to weigh in again - so sorry.
One of the things the Black Douglas was most known for was that he attempted to take King Robert's heart to Jerusalem. Douglas carried that heart in a casket he carried around his neck.
Douglas was killed honoring his friend's, who just happened to be the King of Scotland's last wishes and afterward the bleeding heart became part of the family's shield.
I think somewhere that should be in the query. This man was incredible - a true warrior and true knight. He is the epitome of knighthood. I think that is your story.
GTP #1 sounded like a terrible vehicle for the Wayans brothers, and I really wanted it to be the one.
Wait, vkw, you're a distance ancestor of the Stewart clan? I'm merely a distant descendant. However did you pull that off? Immortal cross-country?
I'm not related to anyone, so I'll just go. AFTER I say, I know "an historical" is grammatically correct, but it grinds my nerve every time I see it. (Yes, I have only one nerve)
Rachel - absolutely not. I did it the old fashion way with bad english and quick typing from work.
...immortal cross-country would make an interesting novel.
Hmph. As a Briton (75% English, the remainder split between Scottish and Irish, and born in Wales for good measure), I find it difficult to get excited about yet another "oh the Scots were romantic freedom fighters and the English are all bastards" quasi-historical epic. Assuming that's what it is ... to be fair, what plot summary we have suggests there may be a little more even-handedness to the approach, with some thought being given to the, um, less than romantic aspects of James Douglas's career. (This career includes the mass killing of prisoners of war, poisoning of wells, and several other incidents which rather disqualify him from being the "epitome of knighthood", I'm afraid.)
Frankly, I think Edward I gets an unfairly bad press these days.
I could be wrong on this, but I don't think it's ever wise in a query to compare your book to a movie (or depending on what you're querying, your movie to a book). The point of comparisons is to say "Hey, there's already an audience out there for this," but movie-going and book-reading are completely different experiences that are sold to the public in completely different ways.
But I'm prejudiced against mentioning a single other work in a query. If you compare your work to X, Y, and Z (or even just X and Y), that at least identifies a trend that your work can capitalize on. Just mentioning one influence always strikes me as "I loved ___, so I wrote something just like it!" Even if that is why you wrote your original piece, it's probably not the best selling point.
Poisoning wells has been a standard aspect of warfare since...forever. If you set ridiculous standards for soldiers, of course they won't meet them. Maybe it's time we stopped lying to ourselves about the nature of warfare instead.
If Wikipedia says that James Douglas returned in 1306 it is incorrect.
Don't assume that Wikipedia is always correct--it is often very inaccurate.
Sir James of Douglas served as the squire of Bishop Lamberton in St. Andrews for several years before the death of William Wallace. He returned far before 1306.
He couldn't have returned WITH LAMBERTON in 1306 since Lamberton was in Scotland before 1306 and in fact had been at a Parliament in London about the time of Wallace's execution.
Research beyond Wikipedia is required.
And his novel does not go so far as the point at which Douglas died carrying King Robert Bruce's heart which he indeed did, trying to save a friend who was trapped.
I questioned mentioning Braveheart. It is a terrible piece of (non)historical fiction. On the other hand, it was popular and identifies the period and events for people who are not experts on the period.
To go further into the movements of James of Douglas, since he met King Robert Bruce at the Arrackstone before Bruce's coronation on March 25, 1306, the comment that Douglas was still in France is a bit foolish. I corrected that article in Wikipedia YET again. *sigh*
By the way, the heart was cut out of the person who was being hanged, drawn and quartered. Preferably as the act that killed them.
Yes, James poisoned wells and worse. But considering that during that period the English hanged, drew and quartered every prisoner under the "dragon banner", their complaints ring a bit hypocritical.
It will be a cold day in hell I use Wikipedia for historical research although I contribute to it and try to correct entries which are often simply blatantly wrong.
But I don't present James Douglas as a particularly gentle knight. He was willing to do whatever was necessary to win. And then cope with the fact that what he was doing was against his own code.
Now as to the comments on the query--excellent ones.
Gah. That the "only weapon" would sound literal never occurred to me. Major re-write of the query is required. Thanks.
Oh, to clear up why later people were referred to as "Black Douglas", the Douglas's were so taken by the sobriquet that English gave Sir James, which apparently gave him considerable amusement going by some stories, that entire branch of the family adopted it. Scots (who were not in the least concerned about the poisoning wells and executing prisoners issues) called him Sir James the Good. The "Black Douglas" family became probably the second most powerful in Scotland after the Stewarts until they became TOO powerful and the Stewarts killed them.
As Evil Editor pointed out, I can't call him anything other than the Black Douglas but I was concerned about using it for a title. Still, it's less used as a title than you might think.
I'm considering the title though. I'm not fixed on that one.
As far as the "mass killing of prisoners", people who did the mass killing of everyone captured at Kildrummy Castle, the mass killing of non-combatants at Berwick-upon-Tweed, and on to a list of executed prisoners much too long for this post (three of King Robert's brothers, his brother-in-law, the standard bearer of Scotland, Sir Simon Frasier, etc, etc, etc)
You don't want to go there, Mr. Wright.
While I don't idealize James of Douglas, believe me I DO show reasons for his acts as well.
Of course it's true that research beyond Wikipedia is necessary, but only by the author. EE and his minions have no obligations to do any research. I went to Wikipedia to find out if James Douglas was fictional or existed, not to check facts. My suggestion that there might be an error did not specify whether it was the author's, Wikipedia's or my own, just that there appeared to be a contradiction in the versions.
Here is another try at a query. I don't much like this one though. It seems boring. Too many lists of this happened and this and this.
Eighteen-year-old James Douglas is forced to watch, helpless, as the Scottish freedom-fighter, William Wallace, is hanged, drawn, and quartered. Even under the heel of a brutal English conqueror, James' blood-drenched homeland might still have one hope for freedom, the rightful king of the Scots, Robert Bruce. James swears fealty to the man he believes can lead the fight against English tyranny.
Robert Bruce is soon a fugitive, king in name and nothing more. Scotland is occupied by a ruthless invader; the Scots army defeated; the valiant Isabel MacDuff, the woman James loves, a prisoner; the people too battered and war sick to fight. But with a driving determination that gives him no rest, the James Douglas blazes a path in blood and violence, in cunning and ruthlessness all the way from a secret return from exile, to an ill-starred attempt to save Isabel, to bloody surprise attacks that are his only hope of victory and finally to a battle that may change the course of Scottish history.
THE BLACK DOUGLAS is a 100,000 word work of historical fiction that follows the path of Sir James Douglas, one of the great heroes of the Scottish War of Independence.
I am the author of WARRIOR'S DUTY published July 2009 by Swimming Kangaroo Books. My short story, Guardian Demon, was published in the Editor Unleashed/Smashword Flash 40 Anthology. I have a BA in English with a minor in history.
Upon your request, I am prepared to send a partial or the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.
You're right, Evil Editor, that you didn't specify where the error might be. Of course, the responsibility to do research is mine.
Thank you for the comments. Obviously, my original effort at a query ermmm-- sucked. Better to find that out from you.
To me that's a lot better. It includes the story. If there's something in the other version you love, you can try to work it in somewhere, but we need the plot.
Also, in Par. 2 I assume that should either be the Black Douglas, or James Douglas, not the James Douglas.
This new version seems much better than the 1st draft. Braveheart was just getting in your way.
Historical is not quite my genre so I'm wondering if you need more about what distinguishes your novel from others about the same guy. Maybe not. I don't know.
You got the idea right. But, I think your second paragraph needs a few tiny tweeks. What I removed is gone. What I added is indicated in brackets. I didn't take much of your language away, I merely smoothed it out and made it read easier to my eyes.
I like the second version of the query better the the original.
Robert Bruce is soon a fugitive, king in name and nothing more. Scotland is occupied by [the] ruthless [British]; [The Scottish] army defeated. Isabel MacDuff, the woman James loves, [taken] prisoner, [and] the people too battered and war sick to fight. But with a driving determination that gives him no rest, James Douglas blazes a path in blood and violence, in cunning and ruthlessness -- all the way from a secret return from exile, to an ill-starred attempt to save Isabel, [to] bloody surprise attacks [that] are [the Scots] only hope of victory. [All this leads] to a battle that may change the course of Scottish history.
Please let's not get into arguments about whose country did worse things to whose people. Thanks.
I like the new query better.
Isabel MacDuff was still married in 1306. James might have flirted but at his age and with much of his father's property forfeited to King of England he really had questionable means of support and a very questionable future at that time. It is very important to get the facts straight because Scottish historical fiction is a genre to itself and those of us who are Scots descendants take it all very seriously. He was called Black for several reasons-including his black, black hair, as well as his fierce actions in battle. Fiction about a person is difficult to read because he was real and for that reason everything has to be taken into account.
"The Black Douglas" was released in Scotland in the early 1900's and then as a novel about four years ago as "A Douglas, A Douglas!". The true, well researched story of the Black Douglas is told in a trilogy, the Douglas Trilogy; 'In the Shadow of My Truth' and the other books in the series and follows the documents with extensive research. And Nigel Tranter wrote "The Black Douglas" which Ion purchased from his estate. A terrific writer, Tranter's story is not perfect on the facts but his tale is magnficient. The life of James Douglas is not a story for sloppy research. To set your mark in this writing you will need to do better with the facts. Spend a few years in Scotland doing the research as others have done and you might have something.
"Isabel MacDuff was still married in 1306..." Of course she was. She and her husband were estranged because she had just crowned his deadliest enemy, Robert Bruce, as king of the Scots. Her husband was with the English and she was with the Scots--until she was captured and imprisoned. She certainly may have had an affair and they ALL had a darn questionable future. She certainly died while imprisoned.
Tranter's "The Black Douglas" is about William Douglas, one of James Douglas's decedents.
Research. Yes, it is an excellent idea. I do love spending time in Scotland having been born there. :)
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