Monday, January 23, 2017

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Farkas Rev 2

Samantha Farkas
YA Historical Fantasy


One year ago, Camille Delacroix lost her father to the guillotine. Now, the violence has subsided, but Camille has been reduced to a servant, her last lingering hopes pinned on revenge against Thibault Lefévre, the man who responsible for her father’s death.

Then, she receives a mysterious invitation to a bals des victimes, a grisly gala where guests go barefoot and wear red ribbons around their necks to honor those lost beneath the blade. Seeing her chance at vengeance, she goes, only to discover that Lefévre isn’t who she thought—and neither was her father.

Determined to unravel the mystery surrounding her father’s death, Camille follows a trail of clues that draws her into a dangerous world of illusionists and enchanters, revolutionaries and royals, where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is what it seems. What is the strange energy simmering within her? And what—or who—is her father hiding?

A Cinderella story, with ghosts and a guillotine.

First Five Pages:

a gentleman’s daughter

I move as though I walk on glass.

My slippers grasp for purchase on the straw-covered cobblestones as we push forward through the crowd. Just a few minutes ago, Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist while hurrying through the Champs-Élysées, but if we fell here, we might keep falling down, down, down to a place where we might never get up.

“Do you see him?” hisses Aurélie, gripping her gloved wrist. We are the same age, but my stepsister is a head shorter than me, and the crowd is so tightly packed that it smothers her.

I shake my head. I can just make out the wheel of the tumbril, but the scaffold blocks the rest.

On my other side, my stepmother stares straight ahead, her eyes vacant. A man with a flask jostles her, spilling a dark liquid on her satin gown, but she doesn’t even blink.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the timepiece my father gave me three days earlier. Just before the Garde Nationale led him from our house, he placed it in my palm. “All we have is time, Camille,” he said, folding my fingers around the silver. “Don’t waste it.”

The ticking calms me. One minute more is another minute in which my father could be pardoned. The Committee will realize there has been a mistake. God—somebody—will interfere. Please.

Then I see him, mounting the stairs to the scaffold.

They have stripped him of his coat, waistcoat, even his shoes, so that he wears only a white shirt and culottes, and his hair has been chopped to the nape of his neck. Beside me, my stepmother whimpers and presses her handkerchief to her lips.

A guard says something to him and he laughs. Laughs.

I tighten my grip on the timepiece. It is tick, tick, tick-ing stoically. He could be pardoned still. Lefévre will step forward. If anyone can help, it is my father’s best friend, whose influence extends beyond wealth and class and political party. He will stop it. He has to.

My father doesn’t resist as the executioner ties him to the board. Lowers it.

No. This isn’t real. It is an illusion, a nightmare. I will wake up to find that I have dozed off in front of the fireplace again. My father will be sitting in his favorite chair, his expression amused as he glances up from his notebook to tell me that I have soot on my face.

It isn’t real. It isn’t real. It isn’t—

Later, I find that the timepiece stopped at 11:58.

The precise moment the blade fell.

a housemaid

Somewhere a clock strikes midnight just as I reach the Place de la Revolution. Instinctively, I reach for my father’s timepiece. It stopped working over a year ago; still I take comfort in the familiar notches and grooves. When he died, Madame discarded most of his things—his clothes, his notebooks, his stacks of letters piled high in his study. Don’t, I begged her, but my stepmother wouldn’t hear it. The timepiece is all I have left.

I stop just in front of the entrance to les Tuileries. I don’t know why we have to meet here of all places, but Jean-Paul insisted, and I am not in a position to argue. Every few seconds, I glance back at the public square, where the guillotine winks in the moonlight. It seems to get closer each time I look. It has been weeks since the last public execution—months since Robespierre and Saint-Just’s demise—but this remains a heavy, haunted place. I don’t know if it is real or illusion, but I can taste blood in the air, and if I listen intently, I can hear the whistle of the blade, my stepmother’s stifled sob, my own desperate scream.

You’ll come back? I asked my father when they took him.

He smiled and patted my hand, as though I were seven instead of seventeen. I always do.

I catch a whiff of musk and turn to see Jean-Paul approaching with his walking stick, which he calls a constitution and I call a bludgeon. In the four months I’ve known him, I have never seen him without it. “You’re late.

He isn’t much older than me, and with his pronounced widow’s peak and clear eyes, he is striking in a way that leaves me unsettled, especially when he shows up like this—with his coat and culottes streaked with blood. He shrugs. “Something came up.”

I fight the urge to step back. “Who?”

He takes a moment to answer, which makes me wonder if even he knows. From what I’ve gathered, Jean-Paul Grenier doesn’t ask questions. His source, who he says is a journalist, gives him names and he listens. “Informant. Admitted to spying on the Comtesse du Moreau.”

Before or after you beat him? I nearly ask, but the truth is I don’t care. I’m not here to talk about Jean-Paul’s vengeance. I’m here to talk about mine. “Do you have it?”

“Eager, are we?” he says. His tone rattles me. Not too long ago, he wouldn’t have dared talk to me that way, but back then I was someone else. Camille Delacroix. Not nobility, but a name that meant something. Not even my own family calls me Camille anymore. But things change, and all burns to ashes, and gentlemen’s daughters transform into servants, and time goes on.

Jean-Paul retrieves a small vial from his pocket. It’s filled with a clear liquid—mort par rêves, a cousin to belladonna. A single drop will create a powerful sleeping tonic; more, and you have a poison that kills swiftly, silently, painlessly.

I pass him a few assignats. It’s not much—not half of what this is worth—but it’s all I can spare at the moment. I don’t know how Jean-Paul acquires the poison—whether he pays with the assignats he pilfers from his victims or just steals it outright. I’ve never asked.

He dangles the vial above my open palm. “Will you do it this time?”

Growing up, I learned that a lady doesn’t snatch, but I’m tempted. As far as Jean-Paul knows, I’m merely a housemaid. “I don’t know what you mean.”

I know exactly what he means. His lips twist into a vicious smirk. This is the third time he has brought me mort par rêves, something that—when used properly—need only be used once.

“I can’t do this forever, Salomé,” he says. “Where is the rest of it?”

Lights flash in my vision. Not now. The migraines always seem to come right before I lie, as if God is punishing me for even considering it. But they never stop me. “I spilled it.”

His lips twitch. He shakes his head. “I’m willing to help you, but you have to go through with it. Look.” He takes my shoulders and turns me around so that I’m facing the square, his touch making my skin crawl. I don’t want to look; I want to turn back to les Tuileries, where Aurélie and I used to take afternoon promenades in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the dauphin. Now the dauphin is dead, and in a way, so are my stepsister and I, and it all has to do with that thing in the middle of the square. “Look, Salomé. Look at how your father was murdered.”

Murdered. The word lingers in the air. My father was innocent. My stepmother had lived at court in her youth, but my father was just a lawyer. He didn’t belong on that scaffold.

I know now why Jean-Paul insisted we meet here.

He leans in, his breath hot on my neck. “If you want justice for your father, you need to take it yourself.”


“Perhaps,” he says, releasing me. I turn away from the scaffold. “You would prefer this.”

He pulls out a dagger.

I stare at it. I have thought long and hard about how I am going to do it; the truth is I never intended to use the poison.

Thibault Lefévre will die by blade. Just like my father.

Still, I don’t reach for the dagger. I have my own reasons for wanting the poison, but Jean-Paul is the type of man who feeds on bloodlust, and he won’t give it to me if he knows the truth. I don’t need the dagger; a kitchen knife will serve just as well.

Jean-Paul flips the dagger over so the blade catches the moonlight. Was he always this way? Or did the violence change him the way it changed me? “You ought to take it, Salomé. It will make your revenge so much sweeter.”

“I don’t need it.”

“You do.” He holds it out to me. Even in the shadows, the dagger shines so bright that I can see my reflection distorted in the steel. The migraine pushes harder, threatening to break through. “Can you guess what it’s made from?”

He cocks his head in the direction of the guillotine.


  1. Dear Samantha:

    On your pitch:

    I love your tag line. It’s so shimmery and fun and I want more! A Cinderella story, with ghosts and a guillotine. Yes, please!

    I think your pitch needs some overall smoothing out. I almost want you to start with your second paragraph, and include whatever we need from the first paragraph there. The second paragraph is where things are interesting.

    Also, bals des victimes. If it’s one dance, it sound be “bal”, non? Just watch little things like this when you’re using another language in a query. Your English and your French aren’t coordinating here in terms of numbers. Very minor thing.
    I’m sure someone else will mention the rhetorical questions, but I will start. From what I understand, agents tend to not like them much. They feel like shortcuts. They feel like bait too. I’m not saying they can never ever work, just that it’s something to think about.

    Instead, I want to know the stakes. What’s at risk for our heroine? What does she have to lose if she doesn’t uncover the secrets?

    On your revision:

    - I love the revisions to the first section. It’s hard to look away from what’s happening, and its clear, and its lyrical and beautiful!
    - And I’m totally sucked into the second section too.
    - I want more.
    - So other than suggesting that you need to proofread this a bit, and double check little things, I’m really happy with this!

    I wish you the very best moving forward!


  2. Hey Samantha,

    I’m not going to lie. I HATE writing pitches, and although I found yours really well thought out and compelling, it still needs a little tweaking.

    Here’s a great resource for you to look at concerning the creation of a pitch. Brenda Drake is a permanent mentor here at 1st 5 Pages, and she’s collected a lot of great material to help authors on her website. The link is:

    So my biggest concern with your pitch is that I don’t see any solid conflict. What’s her goal and who’s standing in her way, and where is the fantasy part of this story? You say at the end it’s a Cinderella story with ghosts and a guillotine, which is awesome, but that’s telling me. I would like to see the ghost part in the query. Think about what’s at stake for her if she loses her quest to find who her father really was.

    Now on to your revisions.

    “God—somebody—will interfere.” I think you mean to say: “God—somebody—will intervene.”

    The first section is well done and compelling. Good job.

    “…things change, and all burns to ashes, and gentlemen’s daughters transform into servants, and time goes on.” I really like this line. It tells us all we need to know about who she’s become.

    “As far as Jean-Paul knows, I’m merely a housemaid.” This can’t be true since you say a few months ago he would have never spoken to her in such a demanding way implying he knew she was a gentlewoman. At least that’s my take on the previous information you’ve given me.

    “I have thought long and hard about how I am going to do it;” The use of “it” is ambiguous. Yes, we can all guess what she means, but using specific words will make this more powerful. Don’t be afraid to let her be who she needs to be on paper. If she thinking murder, then write it down.

    I’ve come to the end, and I’m very happy with what you’ve done, as you should be. I know it was difficult to restructure your story, but it turned out lovely.

    Great job!



    I loved this pitch. Voice, conflict, stakes--it really had it all. I'm also on the hunt for a unique retelling, so it was exciting to discover that's what this was after already being intrigued by the premise.

    I also loved these pages. The opening scene is pitch perfect. I could have used a bit more information about who Jean-Paul was when he's first introduced in the second scene, but I was impressed by how seamlessly the second scene manages to introduce a new character, put the scene into historical and chronological context, and indicate the direction of the plot/conflict. Really well done.

  4. "A Cinderella story, with ghosts and a guillotine," is so good! I love the pitch!

    My only question is about "what, or who, IS her father hiding." IS??

    Your pages have been great from the start, but they keep getting better. I only have nitpiks.

    "but if we fell here, we might keep falling down, down, down to a place where we might never get up." possibly "from which" instead of where.

    I'm also unclear on her attraction or revulsion to Jean-Paul. He's described as striking, but his touch makes her skin crawl. It may well be both, that's hard to process so early in the story. It may work better to focus on one for now and reflect on the other later. After all, this is YA. We want to know who the mc is, then we're looking for the love interest. I want an indication of if it's him...or no?

    Best of luck with revisions and querying!

  5. Hi Samantha,

    This is definitely your strongest draft yet! While the changes you've made haven't been huge, they've made a really positive impact on your pages. I'm pretty sure you've addressed all of the reservations I had about these pages. So the bottom line is, I really love them. I now feel grounded enough to know what's going on, yet intrigued enough to keep reading.

    Some of the little touches you've put in give me more insight into what's happening in your MC's head. It's subtle, but important. Nice job!

    As for your pitch, I love the idea of a fantasy set around the French Revolution! But I would like to see a little more of what makes this a fantasy somewhere in there. I know you mention illusionists and enchanters, but I'm eager to understand a little more about the world the story takes place in. Is it 18th century France as we know it, only with a secret magical life underneath the surface that's not evident to most people (e.g., Harry Potter)? Or is it an alternate reality in which magic and magical being/creatures are an overt part of the world (e.g., Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes)?

    One other question about the pitch. The sentence ("And what--or who--is her father hiding?") is written in present tense. Does that mean her father isn't really dead? Is that something you're intentionally seeding there? You can see how if that were written "And what--or who--was her father hiding?", it would have a very different feel.

    All-in-all, a really great job!!! Best of luck!


  6. Hi Samantha,

    Job REALLY well done! Apart from still wishing that I had a little more info on Jean-Paul a tiny bit sooner and still not being certain whether Madame is the step-mother (and by the way, my brain still keeps going to Madame Guillotine), I think you're there. Proofread and you're good.

    As far as the pitch goes, "A Cinderella story, with ghosts and a guillotine"? Yes, please!!!!! Wonderful.

    If Jean-Paul is the godfather and you want to make that a wee bit clearer, or whoever is introducing the fantasy element, it might be good to get that little bit into the pitch so that we know where the fantasy is coming from. Apart from that, it's truly wonderful.

    All the best of luck with this, and please, please let us know how you do with it. I am fully expecting to hear AMAZING things for this!



  7. Hi Samantha. I thought this was great the first time I read it and it just keeps getting better and better. In your pitch, I believe you need the word "Is" -- "the man who IS responsible for her father’s death." In the excerpt, should "fell" be "fall" in "but if we fell here"? If I were to offer any suggestion, and I'm nitpicking, I'd say that your first sentence, "I move as though I walk on glass" makes me assign a lot of importance to the ground. As I read further though, I realize that my attention needs to be on what's ahead of Camille, not what's at her feet. Right now I'm thinking, "Maybe the ground becomes important later, like there's a city buried beneath the cobblestone." If it is important, great. If not, maybe you should downplay it aa little. I wouldn't be opposed to deleting that first sentence and starting with, "My slippers grasp for purchase on the straw-covered cobblestones as we push forward through the crowd." That tells me more than "I move as though I walk on glass." Fantastic job! I suspect you'll have great luck with this.