Sunday, May 17, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Jauffret Rev 2

Name: Elle Jauffret
Genre: New Adult Historical Mystery
Title: SALTED (Revision 2)  


 May 1785     

The thin layers of the millefeuille’s light and crispy pastry disintegrate like a thousand leaves between my tongue and palate, giving way to the soothing silkiness of crème patissière. A vanilla caress after a flaky explosion, concluded by the sugary taste of raspberry icing.

I feel a flush heat my face and shivers spread through my body. I’ve outdone myself with this dessert. I can’t wait for Papa to sample it, upon his return, and see that I have all it takes to be a chef.

When I open my eyes, the sun is rising and the copper pots reflect the birthing daylight, splashing an orange glow on the ash grey walls. The birds’ chirps and tweets fill the air, uninterrupted by the screams of rioting peasants whose uprisings have been halted thanks to concessions from the King - which my father obtained as Provence’s representative.  

The church bells sound five in the distance. I better hurry up. The kitchen staff will soon be rushing in with many ready to disclose my clandestine cooking to my mother in exchange for two pints of grain - if they catch me here, spoon in hand.

I check my day gown, assuring that no traces of cream or flour will betray my night spent in the kitchen and prompt another of my mother’s violent outbursts and endless tirades about the kitchen not being a place for noble girls.

I slide my millefeuille on the icebox’s top shelf as Marius, our cook, recommended, when I see a silhouette approaching on the wall. As I turn around, something hard and sharp hits me in the chest. I stagger backwards, looking down. A cleaver is lodged in my thick leather apron and a crimson stream is running down my feet.

Then, all I can see is black.


April 1789

André-l’insomniaque, our oldest watchman, takes over the night shift from the sleepy soldier who guards the large wrought-iron gates of our domain. I watch him from the olive tree that stretches to my bedroom window, waiting for him to raise his bayonet over his head twice, signaling that the road is clear. Since my father’s disappearance, my mother has forbidden my wandering through the woods and to the sea, trying to mold me into the same perfect wall-confined aristocrat as my sister Marie. Which isn’t for me. At seventeen, I have no interest in marriage or bearing someone’s heir. So, for the past four years,André has facilitated and kept secret my nightly escapades in return for a weekly loaf of bread and bouteille de vin.

I start to run as soon as my feet touch the ground, ready to feel the elements, even so slightly. Except for my face, palms, and soles, my body is numb - completely insensitive to touch since the attack that almost killed me four years ago and has encased me in a shell impervious to tactile sensations.

I wear nothing but a light cotton nightgown, exposing without shame the raised thick cicatrix that disfigures my cleavage, that my mother deems repulsive; the reminder of my survival; the branding by a criminal who has yet to be found.

I run past the line of cypresses, through the orchard and the lavender fields, and disappear into the familiar abyss of the forest. I run blinded by the night, but guided by the scent of the sea that seeps into the woods, the gravel and the rocky ground deliciously piercing the skin of my soles. My scalp breathes, liberated from the constraint of a painful hairstyle. My legs move unrestrained by the fabric of any floor length gown. The soft texture of sand replaces the coarse dirt, welcoming my feet as it does every night. My sprint comes to a halt and my breathing slows down. The salty air is dry and cool, sticking roughly to my throat until I dive mouth open into the black liquid in front of me, welcoming the probing embrace of the Mediterranean Sea. Ce baiser salé... that enlivening salty kiss that I desperately try to capture and recreate in the meals I fashion in secret. That tactile-like essence that gives rise to internal frissons I crave my skin to experience.

Two hours later, a pine-scented breeze and the faint hooting of an owl greet me back to the shore, along with a wolf.  

The beast is unusually large, about twice the size of the shepherd’s watchdogs, and is at least two hundred pounds.  Except for a warm auburn shade circling its neck, its fur is of a perfect black unlike the now extinct Provençal wolves whose coats were in the browns or grays. It is standing straight on its four legs, at the edge of the woods, wagging a fluid pendulum-like tail, resembling a good domestic dog. Its presence surprises but doesn’t frighten me. The wolf has always symbolized protection and rebellion, which the people of Provence so direly need. And unlike humans whose greed has tormented their own race, animals only kill to satisfy their basic needs, which are met by the bountifulness of our woods.

A faint breeze carries its scent, a mélange of tree sap, young moss and lavender fields with a touch of a familiar je-ne-sais-quoi to my nostrils. The fragrance of Provence mixed with the animal musk is invigorating, inducing a shiver to form at the small of my back, crawl along my spine, and spread to my belly. The first shiver I've felt in four years.

Overhead, the Ursa Minor constellation tells me that dawn is upon me. I've to hurry home. When I look back down, the wolf is gone.

I grab my nightgown and dash back into the woods, retracing my path through the morning fog, leading back to my jail-like home. My wet hair flows, capturing the scent of the forest. My heartbeat echoes in my temples as fast as my strides, its drums rippling under my skin. Pictures of the wolf linger in my mind. The bouquet of its fur still in my nostrils injects life into me, as would strong smelling salts, awakening the start of another shiver, refueling my hope to see my skin retrieve its lost sensitivity.

I am about to exit the woods when I trip on something unusually soft that wasn’t there two hours ago. I squint down, catching my breath, when a metallic scent hits me. It permeates the air with a mix of alcohol, fear, and a hint of death. The smell monarchist soldiers carried with them when they were brought to the operating table, wounded by the protesting peasants’ pitchforks and hoes. The muted light bounces off a white cloth and pale face.

I tripped on a girl.

I kneel by her side, hoping to provide her with help, but to no avail. She has no pulse and blood's drenching her gown. She lies on the soil and decaying leaves as if still in motion, her hair flowing back toward the woods, but a worried grimace marks her face and large gashes her neck.

No crime has been committed on our domain, including the woods, in years. I swallow hard, feeling my heart pulsate faster beneath my skin; trying to ignore the throbbing of the scar marking my chest and the eerie similarity between the dead girl’s injuries and my four year-old wounds.


  1. Beautiful opening. Well done. I know exactly where I am and what I'm getting in my MC. I understand the family dynamic and also get a sense of what to expect moving forward into the story. I dare say that perhaps you are guilty of overwriting, telling when the narrative already shows or implies and not allowing the reader the benefit of inference or assumptions. An example of this can be found here: "my mother has forbidden my wandering through the woods and to the sea, trying to mold me into the same perfect wall-confined aristocrat as my sister Marie. Which isn’t for me." I don't think you need to tell us that it isn't for her.

    I encourage you to look for repetitive use of words like "I" which is common in first person accounts. Paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, and 12 all begin with "I." In the prologue, the last line could be effectively changed to "Then there is only black." No need to include "I."

    I also encourage you to look for opportunities to shorten your sentences. The last line in the sample contains 37 words.

    Otherwise, you are off to an intriguing start, and I would definitely read more! Good luck and thanks for posting.

  2. Hi Elle,
    I love that you kept your lovely lyrical writing and I really like this opening. It is tighter, it draws the reader in, it makes sense. Well done. Here is what I would work on:
    (1) Tightening descriptions: As you know I love your writing but there are paragraphs where in my view the descriptive language is a bit long, esp. for an opening couple of pages. For example, the paragraph that begins “I run past the line of cypresses…” has a bit too much description in my view.
    (2) The encounter with the wolf: Consider hinting at how this is relevant for the story – symbolism, a previous trauma, will it attack her in the next chapter, something else?
    (3) Narrative disconnects: Consider combing through for these points, make sure each sentence makes sense and connects – this is more subtle but I did want to mention it. For example, does it makes sense that she needs a constellation to tell her dawn is coming (e.g. it’s likely getting lighter too right?). Another example: she is “completely insensitive to touch”, yet you have many, many instances of on-the-body physical sensation that she experiences. A final example, you mention that she is trying to re-create a “salty kiss” in the “meals I fashion in secret”, yet the prologue is (a) something sweet and (b) a dessert. These points are subtle as I say, so something to be aware of that I noticed.
    Otherwise, well done and I would def. read more. Hope these comments are helpful.

  3. Hi Elle,

    I love these opening pages more every time I read them. You’ve done a marvelous job maintaining the lyrical quality of your writing, as Atesa pointed out, while tightening up the pace and clarifying who this character is. There are so many layers of intrigue here; it’s the literary equivalent of your character’s millefeuille!!

    I agree with Georgia’s great advice about looking for ways to vary some of the sentences. Along those lines, I noticed in the paragraph beginning with “I am about to exit the woods,” you have two sentences in a row that end with a “when” clause, so I would try to vary those.

    I haven’t commented on the wolf before, but now something stands out to me. I agree with Atesa’s advice to consider using it more to signal something – perhaps to foreshadow an event – or even to just have her react more. I like that she’s not frightened and the wolf brings a sense of peace. But it feels more like a literary device right now, a symbol, than an actual presence. We are told “its presence surprises but doesn’t frighten me.” I didn’t feel her being surprised. Is it rare to see a wolf in that region? In her four years swimming there, has she never seen one before? Even one sentence describing her initial startle would help.

    A quibble – does she really swim for two full hours??

    This is a really lovely opening overall, and I’m so impressed by all the work you’ve done on these pages. Good luck!!


  4. Wow – fabulous revision! You’ve done a great job tightening this scene, keeping tension while developing your story, character and setting. The writing is lyrical and descriptive and just lovely. Bravo!

    A few things –

    As much as I like the wolf – and the symbol – it does take me out of the story. I wonder about him, and not our MC. I would consider moving this scene, or further cutting it.

    Also – I really like the part about her mother trying to make her like her sister, and her line - I have no interest in marriage or bearing someone’s heir. – But it made me wonder – would it be hard for her to marry? Is her scar always concealed? Does she worry no one would want her – that she’d repulse others as she repulses her mother? A little introspection here would be great.

    Another line that took me by surprise was she felt a shiver for the first time in 4 years. Are her feelings coming back? If so, this would be huge for her and as such, you need to show us that and be clearer.

    Great ending – the eerily similar wound, the violent crime when there has been no crime – great! I would keep turning those pages to find out what’s going on!

    You’ve done such a great job (and a lot of hard work I’m sure!) with this revision. Good luck!

  5. Hey Elle,

    I said it was already perfect the last time. I still think it is. This yummy beginning makes am want to read more. Kuddos to you!

  6. Elle,

    I still really enjoy your Prologue. It brings a lot to the reader as the opening scene. We get a sense of the main character's sensibilities and motivations; the time period and her family's status/role during the uprising; and the huge question that will also drive the story. I can already see the multiple conflicts your main character will experience.I like how dreamy this version s -- it gets me into the mindset of the character and introduces her world.

    I realize in this version your character's name is not mentioned! I wonder if there is a way for her name to come up naturally since we know the oldest watchman's name and her sister's name. Honestly, it didn't detract me from the story but rather was something I just noticed (probably because I had read the earlier drafts).

    I'm glad the wolf portion has been cleared up! I do agree, however, that I am wondering its significance. Also because that is the only spot in the opening pages (after the cleaver attack) where there is a bit of suspense it's quickly shot down due to the MC's nonchalant attitude towards it. The main, currently urgent, conflict is when the MC trips over the girl's body.

    I'm still a little confused over the sensitivity of her skin and how she runs and swims so fluidly BUT I'm interested in the story enough to have faith that this will be explored more in depth further in the novel. Just a note: I noticed that she "shivers" three times in these pages.