Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Face-Lift 1049

Guess the Plot

Freedom to Love

1. One of the more privileged slaves on the plantation, Ben is allowed to choose his wife. He chooses Nora, but Nora already has plans to escape to the north. So they run for freedom together, with Nora disguised as a southern gentleman and Ben as "his" slave.

2. When his wife Thelma finally passes on after a thirty-year bout with terminal depression, Preston Wurlitz struggles through the stages of grief. Denial, anger, acceptance... and then, he sees a TV ad for the Christian Dating Site, and suddenly, he knows he’s got the . . . Freedom to Love!

3. There is no discernible plot, but everything that happens in this verbal aphrodisiac will stimulate your glands.

4. Rachel Cristow’s high school crush was hunky football quarterback Seth Greenley. After a tragic divorce, she begins thinking about him more and more, and an internet search reveals that he’s living across the country. So she packs up her two Siamese cats and her three-legged German Shepherd and begins the roadtrip of her life, from the beachside town of Freedom, California to Love, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

5. A memoir of happy, carefree days traveling the world, making new friends, discovering enlightenment; and how I gave it all up for a soulless harpy who left me last year for her dentist.

6. In the 1800s American South, two slaves on different plantations meet and fall in love. But they can never get together, for their masters are feuding. Will they ever find the . . . Freedom To Love?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

For a slave, which is the stronger desire — love, or freedom?

Ben is the stable manager at Ten Pines plantation in Macon, Georgia. It is a highly respected position for a slave [Why, everyone in town highly respects that slave.] and comes with many favors including his choice of a wife. [Unless he chooses his master's daughter.] Ben has had his eye on Nora since she turned seventeen, now at nineteen and of marrying age, Ben picks her. [Not much of a sentence. If you make it two sentences it'll be easier to tell which of them is now nineteen.]

He is happy with his current life, dreams of having a family with Nora, and raising his son to take his place as the next stable manager. But his muscular body and the promise that his children will not be sold does not melt Nora’s icy exterior. Ben tames wild horses, but can he tame her restless spirit? With his gentle voice, strong hands, and soft touch he can get a horse to warm up to him, to trust him, but will they be enough to gain Nora’s love? [Those last two sentences both say the same thing. Get rid of one of them.]

Nora is her mistress’s personal maid, a job she was given because she is her mistress’s half sister. [Whoa. So Ben did choose the master's daughter. Gutsy.] Nora realizes her snowy white skin [You already told us she has an icy exterior.] makes her valuable and any children she has as well—especially girls. [Those two sentences aren't needed in this paragraph. Start with the next one.] She has seen too many families broken up, too many girls abused over the years, too many of her master’s promises broken. She held off getting married as long as she could, [She had a say in the matter?] but when Ben chooses her as his wife, she can’t back out of the arranged marriage. His six-foot frame and honey voice takes [take] her breath away but she tries not to let that show. Having children would destroy her plans, would ruin her slim, boyish figure. [Huh? Dump that sentence.]

Planning for years to escape on the Underground Railroad, she decides to flee before her feelings for Ben overtake her common sense. Ben finds out about the plan and threatens to turn her in [Nice guy.] if he is not allowed to accompany her. Thinking of the only way they could travel together, Ben disguises Nora as a southern gentleman and runs with her as her slave. All the dangers of the journey, the threat of being captured and returned, are not as painful as being unable to hold each other in their arms.

Nora will be Ben’s wife as a free woman or die trying.

Inspired by the true life escape of William and Ellen Craft, FREEDOM TO LOVE is a 50,000 word historical romance. I have a history B.A and have extensively studied the nineteenth century U.S. [I note that the Crafts published Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, a written account of their escape, and that it can be read at Project Gutenberg. So, did you use this to get all the facts right and then add the private romantic moments that they modestly failed to include, or is it largely fictional? If it's basically a true story, that would seem to be a major selling point, even if romance does sell better than history, and perhaps just saying it was inspired by a true story isn't doing it justice.]

Thank you for your consideration.



Working Nora's skin color into the query is awkward, and not working it in makes the idea of disguising her as a southern gentleman sound ridiculous. Solution: leave out the part about the disguise. Change the end of that paragraph to something like: Nora agrees to run with Ben; the added danger is a small price if the alternative is never again holding Ben in her arms.

Nora plans to use the UR to escape, but if she escapes with Ben she has to be in disguise. There's an implication that the Underground Railroad wasn't available to two slaves traveling together. Was that the case?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Huh. I was reading this query with a sense of deja vu. Wasn't till I got to EE's comment near the end that I realized why: I had read the original book.

That's fine. However, I did wonder about this-- there's historical fiction that focuses on historical accuracy (think Anya Seton) and then there are historical romances, which tend to have historical settings rather than depict real events. The focus on hot bodies in your query seems more suited to the latter.

Either way, it's asking a lot of 50k words, unless it's middle grade. (That was a joke.)

The query seems like a pretty good intro to the story. I think it might read well to an editor from another country, where the topic carried no baggage. Though it probably wouldn't sell without the baggage.

There's always this problem with historical fiction: It has to both be historically accurate and present that history in a way that the modern mind can accept it. (When I say "has to" I mean "has to, if it wants to sell".) For example, it's possible that in the 19th century a slave really did dream of raising his son to be a high status slave... but to a 21st century American, the idea makes the skin crawl.

And editors are highly susceptible to that particular sort of skincrawling.

So, reframe the query, and possibly the book, with a lot of thought to the person who's reading it and what they're thinking. For a clue to what they're thinking, see EE's blue remarks.

none said...

I wonder why Ben threatens to turn Nora in if she won't add him to her escape. I can't find any justification for this in the original material that EE linked to, although of course there may be other sources. But I can't help feeling it's a deal-breaker for a romantic hero to behave that way.

Anonymous said...

Your Ben guy has some pathological qualities, most clearly manifested in a desire to be controlling of others [horses and Nora, in particular] paired with a desire to destroy people [Nora] he can't control and benefit from. That same pathology leads to domestic abuse in families at all levels of social status. Ironic in the setting of slavery, but certainly not unrealistic. This could be the crux of a very interesting plot, but you don't seem to recognize it for what it is. You seem to be mistaking it for some kind of love.

As a romance it doesn't exactly work because he's extorting her "affection," and almost nobody wants to be treated like that.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous, I haven't read a whole lot of romances, but in those I've read, the relationships seem fairly pathological.

none said...

Twilight being the best example of a highly-abusive relationship disguised as a romance. At least until 50 Shades came along. But I find Ben as portrayed here utterly unromantic, whereas the original Ben's love for his wife shines through the story.


Tk said...

Thanks for the link to the Craft's story, EE. It's a compelling, edge-of-the-seat story shining (as Buffy says) with love and courage.

Re the query version: I think writing sex scenes for real-life people is crossing a line. Even if you change their names.

Evil Editor said...

There are sex scenes? Where'd that come from?

khazar-khum said...

EE--It's a romance, isn't it? Of course there's sex!

Slaves frequently traveled the UR as small groups. Harriet Tubman led many people to freedom that way.

Tk said...

OK I will write it out in full. "Muscular body, strong hands, soft touch, honey voice, takes her breath away, feelings [overtaking] common sense, hold each other in their arms" are close enough to romance-lit euphemisms to make me feel it's crossed a line when I know these are real people.

Evil Editor said...

Romances don't all have explicit sex.

These real people did have sex, of course, as they had four children.

Some real people even have sex more often than fictional people.

Also, they're dead. No one complains about the Romans under Caligula having orgies.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Actually, I agree with Tk. Not about sex scenes per se, but I've avoided letting real people make anything other than cameo appearances in my historicals for just that reason: I'm uncomfortable with it.

The specific point about which I'm uncomfortable is character development. I don't want to develop the character of a nonfictional person, however long dead. It seems like a violation.

Case in point: there seems to be some feeling already that the real Ben was a nicer person than his query counterpart.

If you think it's a minor consideration, ask Macbeth.

Evil Editor said...

It was horrible the way Henry the VIII was depicted having sex with his wives and mistresses in all those historical novels. How could authors do that?

GillyB said...

I'm with Evil Editor. I couldn't give a rat's ass if the author depicts real historical people having sex (Henry VIII is a good example). What I object to is the cliched and purple way the author described the relationship between the two main characters in this query.

You need to simplify. Clearly there is a fascinating story here. It might even benefit you to use the real names of the historical figures. I happen to love historical novels about the fictionalized lives of real historical figures.

Anonymous said...

Opening question seems out of place after reading the query. It set me up for a choice by the main character. He chose both, as did Nora, so I question the question for the opening line.

It read better to me staring after the question.

A nit, "on the UR", I'd change that to "by" or "through" the UR.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

[Shrug.] If you ever wrote any historical fiction, you might see my point.

none said...

I tend towards Alaska's side of the argument (and she'll be thrilled to hear it, I'm sure!). In this specific case, the liberties taken with the historical figures seem hard to justify. Surely the story can be told without making Ben a jerk.

Evil Editor said...

We haven't seen any of the story. Possibly an attempt to condense the story led to Ben coming off poorly in the query. Perhaps in the book Ben fears for Nora's life if she runs alone and can't bear the thought of not going with her, so makes an empty threat in hopes that she (who feels guilty about him risking his life and respected position for her) will think he's serious and let him come.

none said...

Okay, but on the basis of this query, we'd never find out, because we wouldn't request pages :).

Evil Editor said...

Luckily, the author came to us first.