Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Face-Lift 1127

Guess the Plot

A Serpent in the Garden

1. The Dikdas, lilliputian folk who inhabit vegetable gardens, must fight for their survival after an article in Organic Gardening suggests gardeners get rid of slugs by attracting toads. Toads, of course, attract predatory snakes. Snakes prefer toads, but Dikdas will do.

2. Aphids on the roses, snails on the geraniums, frogs on the grass? Learn how to handle all these common garden pests and more the natural way with House and Yard's newest self-help book!

3. Matt, a born-again Mormon, has a tattoo that frames his manhood as a serpent in a garden. Tanya accepts his proposal, but he knows she won't accept his body art. Will he become a stripper to earn fast money to remove it, or leave the lights off on their wedding night?

4. Jill hates snakes and loves gardening. One morning while trimming the rose bush, she sees a king snake. It’s after its breakfast. While Jill is bashing the king snake with a shovel, its meal, a Mojave Green rattlesnake, nails her good. She spends five weeks in the hospital and when she gets out, she still hates snakes.

5. When a woman is murdered in an abbey, the suspects include (spoiler alert) the devout monks who live and worship there and a German guy named von Starkebrücken. Can Eva solve her first case and embark on a successful mystery series? Also, venom and a guy whose name is an anagram of gardener.

6. It's Judgment Day and Eve attempts to rectify 10,000 years of bad press, confessing to God that she lied--Adam plucked the fruit. It's eternal damnation for one of them, but can Eve condemn the man from whose rib she sprang?

Original Version

Dear EE,

Eva von Hirschburg is the orphaned child of a secret marriage. Raised by the uncle who disowned her mother, she longs to find someone who can see her instead of the shadows cast by her parent's sins. [That's parents' if you mean both parents. If you mean one parent, say father's or mother's.] [What are her parents' sins? Getting married secretly and dying?]

She may have found him in Brother Conrad, a young monk she helps escape her family castle, [You toss that out with no explanation, as if it's perfectly normal for monks to be imprisoned in the family castle.] but their growing friendship is threatened when a woman is murdered at Conrad's abbey, leaving behind a newborn son.

Moved by the resemblance between the victim and her mother, Eva vows to find the killer, [In fact, she will hunt down the killer of anyone who resembles any of her relatives.] but can she count on Conrad to help her when his fellow monk may face the gallows? [No. The code of conduct monks were expected to abide by in medieval times involved chastity, poverty and obedience, but nothing about ratting out fellow monks who've murdered women.]

Then Mallory von Starkebrücken arrives at the castle. Eva cannot deny her attraction to the passionate young lord, [Mallory's a guy?] but fears he is only looking for an indiscretion. [only seeking temporary storage for his lance.] [Actually, that works better if he's a knight than a lord. Make him a knight.] Worse still, he wants her to give up what he believes is a dangerous obsession with the murdered woman.

Is Mallory trying to protect Eva, or is he trying to protect his knight, Ragenard, who torments the serving girls and was visiting the abbey when the woman was attacked? [The code of chivalry knights were expected to abide by in medieval times didn't leave much wiggle room when it came to treatment of the fair sex. In fact, two of the 17 requirements of knighthood were:
  • When a guest in someone else's castle, refrain from tormenting the staff.
  • Comport yourself at all times in a manner such that, if a woman is murdered in an abbey, you don't leap to your lord's mind as the chief suspect.]  
["Tormenting the staff" sounds like another way of saying "flogging the dolphin" or "polishing the bayonet." This is my chance to get into the Urban Dictionary, unless someone else already came up with it.]

Eva cannot capture the killer alone, but whom she chooses to trust [trusting the wrong person] could have fatal consequences.

A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN (70,739 words) is a historical mystery for young adults set in medieval Germany. It will appeal to fans of “Venom” by Fiona Paul and “The Falconer's Knot” by Mary Hoffman.

I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the North Carolina Writers' Network. As a developmental psychologist, I have published numerous academic articles. I am also coauthor of an adult nonfiction book published by the MIT Press (under my maiden name - Knickmeyer).

Thank you for your time and consideration.


I wasn't thinking YA until you called it YA. If you mention Eva's age when you introduce her it'll help.

If the mystery is whodunnit, you might mention some people who had a motive.

I don't see how Eva can do much of anything. Does she interview suspects? Does she have permission from the monks to hang out in the abbey looking for evidence? Aren't there any adults with the authority to investigate the murder?


Anonymous said...

The name "Mallory" is not only not German (all your names say "this takes place in a German principality"), but it's totally out of period, is usually a girl's name these days, and calling a knight "Mallory" will stop a lot of readers dead, something you never want to do. Try a real medieval name like "Fulke" or "Ranulf" for your knight. There are many websites that will be happy to show you a list of names proper for the time, place, and sex of your character.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah, I was kind of surprised to see "YA" at the end there. Nothing here sounds YA. You also need to get in earlier that it's medieval, because much of what you say is rather confusing otherwise.

I assume you've researched this to the hilt, but "Mallory" comes across as an unlikely first name to go with "von Starkebrücken".

I have to admit I know diddly about medieval Germany, but I know a bit about medieval England, where it was a source of friction between church and state that monks could in fact murder women (men too, but they seem to have gone in more for murdering women) and get away with it because they were not subject to secular law. They were only subject to church courts, which gently slapped their wrists.

(This was the controversy that led to the murder of Thomas Becket. The holy martyr was defending the rights of holy murderers. It also led to various riots at various times.)

IOW assuming the Catholic Church asserted the same rights for itself thoughout Christendom, nobody was gonna hang any monks for murdering any women. But that's by the by.

Tk said...

Hi author,

Can you work the setting into the first paragraph? Without context I began to imagine a contemporary scene and when a monk and a castle showed in the the second paragraph, it was jarring.

Who is the marriage secret from? if she’s thought of as illegitimate, of course M won’t marry her.

My biggest issue, however, are the characters. They are not coming off well in this query.

Conrad isn’t very nice if he wants to shield a murderer just because the person is a work colleague.

Mallory isn’t very nice if he wants to shield a servant-tormentor instead of doing justice on the guy.

Eva isn't very heroine-like if she doesn't do more than misguidedly trust nasty people.

The title makes me think that we are supposed to dislike and suspect everyone but Eva, which if so, fair enough. But I do think she needs to be more active and endearing in that case.

150 said...

A story should have a strong line of cause and effect, especially in the query, preferably driven by the protagonist's actions. I don't see that here.

Unknown said...

My small bit off criticism stems from considering the period and the protagonist.
What is keeping Eva out of the scullery?
A young woman of dubious origin with no skills is suddenly able to abet escaping monks and investigate murdered women of no consequence. Sorry, but our free spirited US girls in the 21st century can't be transplanted in time.
There is no reason to expect this girl with the tarnished lineage would have any control over her own destiny, so you need to explain how Eva has such license.

And, no, this didn't sound at all YA. Not that it can't be, but it was a head shaking conclusion after the plot description.

Mister Furkles said...

It’s a murder mystery and Eva is going to solve it.

Now, what is the conflict? Does Eva face a difficult choice? Who will try to stop her? What risk(s) does she face? This query sets up a murder mystery and some suspects but we need to know: conflict, choice, opposition, and rick.

Mister Furkles said...

Okay, I don't know this Rick guy or how he got into it. But what is the main risk?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Actually, come to that, women were so generally despised in the Middle Ages that the chances of any man listening to Eva about anything, unless she was a queen or a duchess, were slim.

That's an "error" a lot of historical fiction makes, though. Historical fiction has to make some concessions to modern mores or no one would want to read it.

The more I think about it, writer, the more I'm hoping you've done a lot of research... read, say, 100 or so books related to your subject, and emailed the authors with any questions. Many (not all) fans of historical fiction are history buffs. If they catch glaring errors their suspension of disbelief will snap-- and they'll talk about it on goodreads.

CavalierdeNuit said...

It seems you're having a similar problem that I had. What does Eva do to expose the bad guy(s)? What great thing is at stake? Against all odds (there seem to be many according to the previous comments), how does Eva win in the end?

Historically it should be accurate and logical, but put your own spin on it. No one who will read your book has ever lived in medieval Germany in a castle. We can only imagine what it was like.

Also, men named Mallory could pull off the buff handsome thing. Does he look like a young Fabio type? I can see that. But it's possible some of your readers won't get it. So I would suggest a different name for YA. Do teen girls even know who Fabio is?