Monday, June 17, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Santelli - Rev 2

A Serpent in the Garden, Chapter 1

Germany, June 1148

The sound of the abbey bells danced in the young woman's ears. Soon they would be safe. When she reached the abbey, she would find an advocate, a protector, someone who could convince him to acknowledge his son. Her arms tightened around the baby nestled in her cloak.

She lost her heart at fifteen, when he followed her into the churchyard and, with burning eyes, demanded a kiss. Two years later, despite everything, she loved him still. In her dreams, she savored the saltiness of his lips and felt the weight of his body as they lay on his cloak, the night curled around them like a raven's wing.

The baby cried out, hungry again. She sat and offered him her breast. He nuzzled against her chest. His fingers brushed her face. Her lips parted. Her breathing slowed. The baby drank himself back to sleep, his warm neck resting in the crook of her arm.

A whistle sounded in the distance. The young woman's head jerked up. She knew that tune, his favorite hunting tune. It coursed through her veins like ice water. How had he found her?

She struggled to her feet and ran, but only for a few seconds. She could not escape him that way. He would strike her down from behind; the baby would be thrown to the ground, his skull broken.

She would reason with him. She would promise to run away. To go where nobody knew them. She would not endanger his prospects. But he would never believe her. Not now.

Tears streamed down her face. They would hide in the woods. A ridiculous notion. He was an expert hunter. He would find them. She could picture his knife slicing her baby's throat, feel the blood on her hands, taste the screams in her mouth.

She saw only one choice.

She hid her sleeping son near the side of the road. Tucking him into the sheltering ferns, she rehearsed what she would say. She would tell him the baby died. Her tears would convince him. And she would die quietly, so her son would not wake and cry out. She ran her trembling hands down his cheeks. Was she doing the right thing? Yes. She was on abbey lands. God would reward her sacrifice by keeping the child safe. She looked at him for the last time, burning his face into her memory.

The whistling drew closer. She walked back to meet it.

A Serpent in the Garden, Chapter 2

2 weeks earlier.

Early one morning, before the rest of the castle woke, I went to the chapel to pray for my mother's soul. She died fifteen years ago, when I was only a babe, but I never neglected this ritual. No-one else prayed for her. No-one else spoke of her. My uncle Baldric forbade it.

Darkness filled the room, intensifying the smell of incense and the aching in my legs as I knelt on the stone floor. I recited the De Profundis, the Misere, and the Requiem Aeternam. Then I stood and walked out to the chapel garden.

On my right loomed the bergfried, a defensive tower and, in times gone by, a holding place for prisoners. On my left, the crenelated battlements of the south wall snapped at the sapphire sky. I shuddered, feeling like a mouse trapped in the jaws of a lion. My tutor, Father Gregory, would have reproached me for such ingratitude. Most ladies would count themselves lucky to have a guardian as wise and temperate as Baron Baldric, but I knew he kept me out of duty rather than love. And most ladies do not have to contend with an uncle as reckless and cruel as his brother, Baron Arnulf.

I walked toward the stone archway that lead to the main courtyard. Suddenly, a ghostly voice cried out. “Judge thou, O Lord, them that wrong me. Overthrow them that fight against me. Take hold of arms and shield, and rise up to help me.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I looked at the bergfried. Was the soul of a long-dead prisoner demanding vengeance? I crossed myself quickly. The voice coughed. “Ghosts cannot catch chill,” I whispered. I scolded myself for being so childish. Clearly a flesh and blood human being was crying out to God for help, but who could be trapped in the bergfried?

A massive apple tree stood in the garden; its uppermost branches brushing the arrow slits on the second story of the bergfried. As a child, I clambered through those branches like a squirrel, but I had not braved them in three years.

The voice cried out again. “Say to my soul: I am thy salvation.” He sounded so desperate, I had to know who he was.

I seized the lowest branch of the apple tree. Three years of extra weight stretched the muscles in my arms. I took a deep breath and kicked my feet upwards. Rough bark gnawed at my fingers. Trumpet sleeves and voluminous skirts fought against me. But slowly I ascended. At last I reached the two highest branches. Suspended between them, I peered into the nearest arrow slit.

A reassuringly mortal form huddled in the corner. He wore a dark robe, and on the top of his head a bare patch of skin shone slightly in the darkness. Why, it was a tonsure—and the robe that of a monk. Surely this was the work of Baron Arnulf. He constantly accuses the monks at the nearby abbey of plotting to overthrow the Barons von Hirschburg, but the truth is Arnulf lusts after the abbey lands.

“Good Brother,” I called, “good Brother—”

“Good heavens!” The monk sprang up and rushed to arrow slit. “Are you an angel come to rescue me from me captors?”

“No. Only a lady hanging in an apple tree, but I will help you if I can. How came you to this place?”

“I hardly know myself. It happened so quickly. Brother Rudolfus and I were in the forest collecting firewood, and we became separated. I heard a noise and, thinking it was Rudolfus, I called out. Then four men burst through the trees with swords drawn. They bound me and gagged me and dragged me away!”

“Was there a man among them with a gray beard, bald as a vulture, with half his teeth black as cherry pits?”

“Indeed. A huge, hulking bear of a man with his stomach hanging halfway to his knees.”

“Arnulf! I knew it.”

“If I did wrong, I will gladly make amends.”

I paused. That Arnulf had kidnapped a man of God was appalling enough, but in so doing he put the entire household in danger. The powerful protectors of the abbey might respond with violence. Should I go directly to Baron Baldric? He would surely object to this abduction, but would he jeopardize his tenuous alliance with Arnulf by open dissent? Perhaps it would be best if the monk simply escaped, vanished like the morning mists that wreathed the Hirschburg.

“I will get you out, Brother.”

“But how—”

“Trust me.”


  1. Wow, this has gone from good to GREAT! I was totally sucked into this revision. Your MC is more likable than ever, especially with her climbing the apple tree and her determination to help the monk, and the overall voice and language has become much more accessible. The tension is also heightened in a really nice way.

    A couple of places gave me pause. I wonder how much a young adult will connect with breastfeeding. I think that may turn some readers off, so I'd consider showing a different bonding moment with the baby. Maybe her singing the baby to sleep or tickling his face? Just a thought.

    Also, in chapter one, the line, "She would reason with him. She would promise to run away. To go where nobody knew them. She would not endanger his prospects. But he would never believe her. Not now." If she's going to the abbey to force the father to acknowledge the son, why would she run away now? What is it that makes her so terrified of him? Mentioning that he has a vicious streak may help, but if he is so vicious, that makes me wonder why she'd want him involved with the baby at all.

    Also, you seem to have largely switched the present tense language to
    past tense, which is much easier to read (for me). But this line, "He constantly accuses the monks at the nearby abbey of plotting to overthrow the Barons von Hirschburg, but the truth is Arnulf lusts after the abbey lands," distracted me. I would stick with past tense throughout.

    Overall, this revision is the best yet, and I would love to read more!

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  3. Hi Rebecca,

    I like the new start to chapter two! In addition to getting rid of the waking up from a dream scenario, it makes your main character so likable, because she's such a dutiful daughter to keep praying for her mother after all of these years. Nice touch. I also really like the description of her climbing the tree.

    I tend to agree with Katy's feedback about the breastfeeding and YA readers. It makes total sense that she'd want to feed him one last time before setting him down, but agree that it'd be tough for teens to connect with.

    I have to say, reading your comments from last week about the direction of the plot has me even more interested to learn what's going on here. It's a great exercise for us to do this in a vacuum with no context, but I think with the aid of a book jacket blurb so readers have an idea of where you're going, chapter one will have so much tension and intrigue.

    Nice job!

  4. Really great revisions!

    I like that we have a little more background about the woman in chapter 1, but I agree with Katy and Elizabeth about the breastfeeding. I appreciate it and can relate, but a teenager might not, even though it seems the woman is a teenager herself. It's a tough call because it shows a close bonding moment, for me anyway.

    Great start to chapter 2, and I like the details about the different prayers. No other issues for me, just really want to know what happens next!

    Looking forward to next week.

  5. Love Chapter 2. Still like chapter one but it still feels more adult than YA. I'm concerned about it turning readers off before you get a chance. That said, I could be totally wrong! And I hope I am because it's beautifully written. :D


  6. This is a fantastic revision, and I'd so love to read more to find out how the MC and the baby--or the baby's mother--are connected. I also want to know what heppens once the brother escapes!

    I agree with the other feedback you've gotten about the breast feeding and that it might be more relatable for teens if she sings him to sleep or whispers softly to him as they gaze into each other's eyes until he sleeps. Or something along those lines. Overall, this reads very cleanly now, and I look forward to reading the next revision :).

    1. Thanks for the feedback Lora. Quick question - are we supposed to send in a 3rd revision? I noticed the past workshops I looked through stopped at the 2nd.

      Lisa and Martina - how exactly do things wrap up?

  7. Hi Rebecca,

    I apologize for not addressing your questions last week. I had the comments going to an email address that I don't check regularly, and I didn't realize that you had asked them. I also apologize for being so tardy to comment this week. Things have been a little bit hectic, but I *am* very sorry!

    And to answer the questions from last week and to address the concerns, I am going to reiterate what I said last week. I really, truly believe that to connect with a YA audience, you need to start with your mc in this situation. She is SO engaging, that I would hate to have readers/agents put this down before we get to her. It's not that the scene isn't gripping, but I think it's a question of making the stronger choice. We are going to care passionately about solving the mystery if your mc cares. Most importantly, we are going to care passionately if there are stakes for your mc to FAIL to solve the mystery.

    There are many ways to go, and how you choose to reveal the facts is what makes this yours story other than someone else's. BUT. If what is stopping you from starting with your mc discovering a murder, you can solve that quite easily. Have her be in the woods and have her be in the tree at an angle so that all she sees is the woman stumbling down the road, hiding her baby, and then being slaughtered. Your mc doesn't have to see the face of the man who does it--she doesn't have to know who he is. And that can be her quest. I still can't get over what a gripping story problem that would be--this young girl where she isn't supposed to be, witnessing this horrific crime, and then having a baby on her hands. If she tries to save the baby, she stands to expose herself and whoever knows about the baby to danger. I.E. -- stakes -- but at the same time, she has to find the murderer and bring him to justice to save herself, the baby, and the monks who help her.

    Again, I'm not sure exactly how you're proceeding. I'm working off of what I think you are saying in addressing my concerns from last week, and where this looks like it is going. That's the magic of writing, you have limitless directions to choose from. All I am suggesting is that you consider your goals, and find a way to satisfy them that will hide the identity of your murderer while putting your heroine in the drivers seat -- and make her an active character pursuing a goal from the very beginning.

    And in case I didn't make myself clear enough--your writing is beautiful. Based on how far you have come between your first draft and this one, I have NO doubt that you can pull off whatever revision task you set yourself! Good luck with this and please keep us posted!