Sunday, May 3, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Jauffret

Name: Elle Jauffret
Genre: New Adult Mystery

Her father had named her Génépy after the liquor men drink to forget their struggles, and the medicinal, yet deadly, herb that grows free in the heights of Provence.


May 1785      

            The thin layers of the millefeuille’s light and crispy pastry disintegrate like a thousand leaves between my tongue and palate, leaving place 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. 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 revolting peasants whose uprisings have been temporarily halted thanks to concessions from the King which my father has obtained as Provence’s representative.

            I unlock the back door and, on the tips of my toes, return the clean bowls high up in the cupboard when a voice calls my name. I turn around, feeling something hard and sharp hit me below the neck. I wince and look down to see. A cleaver is sticking out of my leather apron and a thick crimson stream is running down my feet.

            Then, all I can see is black.

APRIL 1789

I start to run as soon as my feet touch the ground. I run past the line of cypresses, through the orchard and the lavender fields, the gravel and the rocky ground deliciously piercing the skin of my soles. Breathless, I disappear into the familiar abyss of the forest. I run as fast as I possibly can, blinded by the night, but guided by the scent of the shore that seeps into the woods. Each stride takes me closer to the sea. My scalp breathes, liberated from the constraint of a painful hairstyle. My legs move unrestrained by the fabric of any floor length gown. I am savoring freedom, as temporary as it may be.

 The thick black canopy of trees thins out, revealing a bright half-moon. The soft texture of sand replaces the coarse dirt on which I've been running since I left home, welcoming my feet as it does every night. My sprint comes to a halt and my breathing slows down.

I inhale the salty aroma of Méditerranée, my sea. The air is dry and cool, sticking roughly to my throat, but my skin doesn’t feel it. Except for my face, hands and feet, my body is numb. Completely insensitive to touch since the attack that almost killed me four years ago.

I throw my nightgown on the side and dive, mouth open, into the black liquid in front of me, welcoming the sea's probing suffocating embrace. Ce baiser salé... that enlivening salty kiss that I desperately try to capture and recreate in the meals I fashion in secret.

A pine-scented breeze and the faint hooting of an owl greet me back to the surface along with something else. A familiar scent that I cannot identify lingers in the air. I squint in the darkness until my eyes find its source.

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 doesn’t upset me. Unlike humans whose greed has tormented their own race, animals only kill to satisfy their basic needs and the wild life in our woods is plentiful.

A faint breeze carries its scent, a mélange of tree sap, young moss and lavender fields with a touch of je-ne-sais-quoito 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. I retrieve my balance, barely missing a tree. I inhale deeply, 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 revolting peasants’ pitchforks and hoes.

My muscles tense up. I am usually alone in the woods at this time, but today feels different.

Straight ahead, the shadow of our villa detaching from the uprising sun shoots adrenaline through every vein of my body, calling my name to safety. But my curiosity wins. I turn around to see what caused my fall and approach slowly. The muted light bounces off a white cloth and pale face.

I tripped on a girl.

I rush by her side, wondering why she's lying on the ground, hoping to provide her with help if needed, but to no avail. She has no breath and no warmth. 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.

I 'm thinking about calling for help, but resist from doing so. Blood's drenching her gown and she has no pulse. It's too late for her to be saved, and I'll be as good as dead if someone realizes that I've violated curfew.


            I can see my heart pulsating underneath my skin, raising the thick scar that marks the middle of my chest. I feel nauseous. I close my eyes and inhale, trying to rid my mind of the morbid scene's eerie familiarity. But I fail, because an instant later, I am drenched by a downpour of four year-old flashbacks.

Two silhouettes detach from a background of haze. I blink against the harsh light of the room to make out who they are, but my ears identify them first. My parents are fighting again amidst the protestation of the rioting populace that have demonstrated regularly against the rising price of bread and the gabelle - the tax on salt that only afflicts the poor.
“That would have never happened if you hadn’t left. She’s obsessed with becoming a chef, because of you!” My mother’s high-pitched voice and usual sharpness slice through my return to consciousness.  
“I am just nourishing her talent. At least she knows what she wants, not like your other daughter who is diseased with superficiality,” my father says in a coarse voice.


  1. Hi Elle,

    I loved your lush descriptions. They are simply beautiful and really got me deep into your world right from the start (plus the description of the pastry made me hungry!!). Here is what, in my view, I would work on. Again, just my opinion, take whatever resonates with you and ignore the rest:

    (1) I am not a fan of prologues personally, I feel they rob the story of suspense. Along those lines, I am also not a fan of jumping around so much in time in the first five pages – in my view it makes the story seem disjointed very early on. I would work your first chapter’s information into the second one more seamlessly.
    (2) Along those lines, each of the chapters were too short in my view. Each one was not enough of a “movie”, more like a “scene”, if that makes sense. I feel chapters should be more fleshed out with a more active protag.
    (3) Lack of other characters: I would like to see our protag. interacting with others, both to begin to meet the rest of the “cast” and also for character development (See #4 below).
    (4) More character development across the board: I just didn’t feel that I was getting to know this character and getting attached to her – her name, her appearance, her sense of time and place and story scope (is she an uncharacteristically modern woman in 18th century French society? Is she being stalked by a killer?) were not clear to me.
    (5) Chapter 2 left me confused. I would wait to do a flashback until later in the story, when we know and care about the narrator more, and when you can make clear why this information is necessary at this specific time.

    Hope this helps!



  2. Elle,
    First of all, I wanted to say how pleased I was to see someone using French properly. Too many times non-native speakers make spelling or grammatical errors when trying to use foreign languages in stories, and that makes me cringe. I guess I’m guilty too. You’re apparently bilingual and have researched the era well.
    This being said, it seems like you have broken down a story and glued the pieces together randomly. It does give the feel of poetry, which is beautiful and very lyrical, but at the same time, it is confusing, especially when introduced to the story for the first time. I can see you are leading with an emotional strike. It was clever, but could work better if you could somehow work in the part in italics (chapter 2) into the first chapter.
    You could just work more on the details that help us understand instead of focusing on details that make us feel. Although the sensory elements are striking, and evocative, and well done.
    You could have mentioned Louis XVI instead of just “king” to help the reader have a better understanding of the time. And what’s lacking throughout the chapters is a strong notion of setting and descriptions. I understand that the dead girl is an aristocrat, but you did not describe her clothes or her wig so I had to work for it. Despite reading the date, I imagined your MC as a modern girl in a salon de thé because that’s the only place I imagine people eating millefeuille, not in a rural kitchen. Later, in chapter 2, I understand that the MC is an aristocrat, but she wants to become a chef. That sounded strange, but I liked the twist. What could work better historically would be the MC wanting to create a chocolate house. The French believed hot chocolate was a remedy for many ailments. Madame de Sevigne mentions its popularity at Versailles already in the 17th C.
    When I look at a story I try to figure out how the beginning of a chapter is linked with the ending. Here, I was confused. It’s not clear how you pass from eating pastry to being killed. Is it because the pastry is considered a luxury while the peasants are hungry? If yes, show the link. Show her caught eating something expensive while the peasants eat dry and moldy bread.
    You mention a rebellion, but it was not clear at first you referred to the French Revolution. And I did not understand why the girl was targeted and what she did to deserve death.
    Written this way, you give the reader the impression this entry is stuck in there with the only purpose to reel in the reader and create an emotional state. It does work at some level, but it would be so easy to mention little details that would tell the reader she is an aristocrat, peasants are revolting against aristocrats, aristocrats have access to luxury foods while “citizens” are suffering of hunger and the peasants killed her to steal food from her or to punish her for her selfishness.
    Although I was confused by chapter 1, I thought it was beautifully written and it did keep me reading. But it is a letdown and with chapter 2 on top the reader will probably feel the need to be more grounded. Chapter 1 does work like a prologue although it’s a full chapter.

  3. Hi Elle,

    I love this blend of mystery and historical fiction, and the lush setting of Provence that you’ve painted. (In fact, there is a lovely painterly quality to your writing, which you balance out so nicely with movement and action). I absolutely love your use of sensory details – I can practically smell the lavender. And I am very intrigued by the idea of a young woman from a certain class who secretly longs to be a chef. And the fact that she’s survived a violent attack – and then comes across a body of a girl who was perhaps similarly attacked – would entice me to read on. I am dying to know if and how these crimes are connected.

    The problem right now for me is that I’m not sure that the narrator is similarly curious to know if and how the crimes are connected. If this is a mystery, and if this narrator is going to be our sleuth, and we’ve got the dead body appearing in the first five pages, I think we need to start to grasp her motivation and/or impulse to figure out this puzzle. (A double puzzle, it sounds like – who assaulted her? Who assaulted this girl? And are the crimes related to the larger uprising going on?) If I hadn’t read “NA Mystery” on your submission, and if I were just picking up this manuscript cold, I am not sure I’d label it a mystery yet – it feels more like straight historical. But I see the potential for really compelling mystery elements, and I think you could send stronger signals that we are in a mystery.

    I agree with Atesa that the cast seems small. Her world seems quiet. We don’t need a full lineup of suspects in the first five pages, but I really don’t know who to wonder about (other than a faceless member of “the populace”) because I don’t yet understand her world. She seems very alone – I even thought she lived alone in the villa, until chapter 2. When she considered calling for help for the girl she tripped over, I wondered whom she would call out to.
    (comments continue.....)

  4. In chapter 2, so many things you mentioned reminded me of France, and my childhood, so that was a treat to read. When we were young, my grandmother would tell us wolves would get us if we did not get home before dark. Wolves have such a strong and powerful presence in the French psyche and folklore, it was clever to mention one, and one with magical powers. In the 18th C, wolves were a real threat and could definitely attack travelers. I mean there is not mentioning France at that time without mentioned wolves too.
    Because of the powerful link you created with the wolf, I suggest you emphasize that surreal connection. You did a great job, but still you could give her some wolf attributes. She could eat like a wolf and run like a wolf and at some point I thought she was a werewolf, but wasn’t sure. If she is half wolf, describe everything she does inspired by instincts.
    This leads me to my next comment. I loved the name Génépi even though I never heard of the liquor and it must be very specific to the region. Maybe consider calling her Absinthe because it is like Génépi, and because French people are more familiar with the name. Absinthe is such a beautiful, elegant name and at the same time it evokes danger. Génépi does sound plain and popular; it has the words “épi de blé” in it as well as “être gêné.” And your MC is an aristocrat.
    I was thinking of another Provençal plant popular in 18th C France, which is Angelica. Angelique is definitely a popular name at the time. And Marie-Angelique Memmie Le Blanc was a famous feral child in the 18th C. I am saying this because your MC has a special connection with the wolf as if the wolf somehow was part of her. Angelica was wildly used by cooks and pâtissiers and in making perfumes. I noticed the importance of smells in your story.
    Because of the connection with the wolf and the fact that the MC probably has to hide to eat her pastry, I would suggest making the pastry eating scene more real. Every time I try to eat a millefeuille my hands are stuck with gooey crème. I mean it is practically impossible to eat that thing without getting messy. The American ones are drier and easier to eat, but the French ones fall apart and the cream burst out of the cookie and smears all over. I always end up licking my fingers. And I even tried to eat it with knife and fork and that’s even messier. But it’s really good. So, maybe she could eat it more ravenously, especially if she needs to hide to eat it. She kind of does since she is eating in secret, by herself.
    Finally, mysteries are supposed to start with a crime. Is it this crime the sleuth will investigate? Years later? No, apparently she survived. So, what is the crime that has to be solved?

    I hope something, anything helps. These are just suggestions. That’s what a critique is supposed to do for you, open doors. It does not mean there is anything wrong. It just opens up the story a little bit more.

  5. (Diana Renn's comments, continued)
    In Chapter 1, I actually wondered if she were a servant. I couldn’t picture the type of dwelling she was waking up in. The copper pots signaled to me a rustic setting, and when she went to the kitchen (which I had to infer) to “return” bowls to the shelf (which confused me), I thought she was a servant who’d been dreaming of exotic pastries, the type that an upper class family (maybe one she’d worked for) would eat.

    ALL of this mystery was resolved for me later, when I learned, through the description of her gowns and hairstyle, that she is probably from a higher class, and then in chapter 2 I learned, via flashback, that she’s secretly an aspiring chef. But this isn’t the mystery you want us to have, I think. I feel you should establish her social class and her aspiration earlier, very clearly, so that puzzling over these details does not distract us from the real mystery at hand: who attacked her? Who attacked this other girl? Are they still in danger? Etc.

    Atesa said she’s not a fan of prologues, and I’m not usually either, but I think this might be a story that could use one to good effect, since you have a four-year gap between the assaults. The floating sentence above chapter 1 distracted me, since it’s not really an epigraph; that could perhaps be worked in later. What about calling chapter 1 a prologue, clarifying who/where this person is, and working in the italicized material you have in chapter 2? Make the scene more suspenseful and dramatic? (It’s very dramatic to have a cleaver thrown at your neck, but it feels a bit slow-mo to me, and I was unclear about details like where it had struck her – front or back?) Then chapter 1 could be her off in the woods – but I’d like to better understand how she is scarred, both physically and emotionally, from that attack. I’d love to see that throbbing raised scar much earlier. I wonder why she’s so comfortable being alone in the woods. I wonder why she has such a delayed reaction to tripping over the girl. If I trip, I immediately look down to see why. Maybe that could all happen faster and use the lovely villa description elsewhere.

    There are so many intriguing elements in these opening pages and I very much want to immerse in this world. I’d love to see you guide the reader more so we know what to focus on. I can’t wait to see what you do with this!

  6. After reflection, I understand the mystery is around the girl found in the forest. Got it :)
    Maybe you could mention what's so strange about finding the girl in the forest. I mean, that's the French Revolution after all.

  7. This is an intriguing first few pages! I am caught up in this world, and the danger that surrounds your MC. I adore the intro about her name. Fabulous.

    The first few paragraphs after that have a few too many details, and not enough about our MC to care when she’s attacked. If she wants to be a chef, show it here. Show us a bit more of her and her struggles, so that when the sudden attack comes, we care. As it is now, I don’t know this character, so I don’t react.

    As we move to 1789, at first I thought she was escaping from her captors. I think you need to pause a moment and explain, or fill us in sooner. Mystery is good – confusion isn’t. And although the descriptions are lovely, there are so many of them that they slow down the pacing.

    I also was confused by this –

    Except for my face, hands and feet, my body is numb. Completely insensitive to touch since the attack that almost killed me four years ago.

    It seems strange to me that her feet hands and face would not be numb, (and clearly her legs aren’t because she’s running) and the rest of her is. What rest of her? Her chest and torso? And I’d like to know what you mean by numb.
    Also, if she fell over a dead body I think she’d know right away. She wouldn’t need to go back. It would smell horribly and feel very different than a log, and as Diana pointed out, she would look down right away.

    As this is a mystery, I think you need to amp that up – let the reader get caught up in what’s going on and what’s going to go on – right now it feels like a historical or perhaps a historical fantasy to me, with the big wolf watching her.

    Good luck on your revisions! I agree with Atesa and Diana that widening the cast of characters, and letting us hear your MC and watch her interact with others, would be good. I look forward to reading next week!

  8. Hi Elle,

    Interesting setup and introduction to the world! It is useful to know what year she is living in and what the political climate is like (or will be like further along in the chapter). The setting is painted vividly with your usage of sensory details, scenery, and French! As I read along the main character's run in the woods, I was still imagining it with closed eyes. The MC seems like a young woman who will be torn between her own desires for independence and societal expectations while also living within a volatile political climate.

    There are so many questions to ask within the first five pages which means there's definitely a ton of intrigue here. Why was she attacked? What happened next? Why the four-year jump? Why is she running? Why curfew? Why doesn't the presence of a gigantic wolf bother her? (Can I admit that I immediately thought of werewolf?) Is she very attuned with nature? Is seeing a dead body normal for her and that's why she's more concerned with the curfew? The last scene has potential to be expanded. Noticing the cold dead girl is almost a throwaway comment and comes off as almost anti-climactic -- unless, that's something she's run into constantly.

    The language is very evocative in this opening, but I feel there's a tad too much exposition. (I'm guilty of this, too!) I would like to see if the main character's world could be broadened a little more within this first chapter with other interactions -- a memory of a conversation or some sort.

    Also: now, this is a personal preference, but I would forgo the Genepy line and the May 1785 subsection of Chapter One. These two things detract from the rhythm and intrigue of the story (although I wrote: WHAT! after reading "A cleaver is sticking out of my leather apron and a thick crimson stream is running down my feet."). If you would prefer to keep that information in (and I think it should!), the information could be better utilized within the main framework of the overall story. Perhaps a character remarks on her name or she smells someone drinking the liquor or she encounters her namesake in the forest. Clearly, the meaning of her name is significant. The May 1785 is an intriguing opening on its own -- it shows the delicacy of the MC, her privileged social status, and the outside conflict -- but it is too jarring to then abruptly bring us to 1789 without any answers. The cleaver image is great, but I think that detail would be stronger if interspersed through her run in 1789, considering she still doesn't explain what happened then.