Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Workshop Revision 1 -- Farkas

Samantha Farkas
Young Adult Historical Fantasy

a gentleman's daughter, presumed dead October 1793

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. Hurrying through the Champs-Élysées, Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist, but if we fell now, we might never get up again. With every step, the ground beneath us seems to crack, and I fear that soon it will shatter completely.

“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 nacionale 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 would find that the timepiece had stopped at 11:58.

The precise moment the blade fell.

a housemaid, disappeared November 1794

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. The timepiece is all I have left.

I stop just in front of the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens. 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 shrugs. “Something came up.”

I see now that his coat and culottes are streaked with blood. “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, whom 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.

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. “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 the Tuileries Gardens, 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. 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. He is too sharp—all edges and no softness. 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. “Can you guess what it’s made from?”

He cocks his head in the direction of the guillotine.


  1. Hi Samantha,

    I loved this last week and was excited to read it again. That’s always a great sign!

    One thing I notice on a quick read: “Hurrying through the Champs-Élysées, Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist, but if we fell now, we might never get up again.” There seems to be a little slip in tense here? It’s a bit awkward so early in the first five, and it seems we are in an immediate scene, and not looking back.

    Another little thing: “Eager, are we?” he says. Shouldn’t it be, he asks?

    I want the description of J-P sooner, rather than at the end of the passage.

    And this: 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 want to feel this, to sense this, to get the hint that this is true, before I’m told it is. Can you amp up J-P’s character a bit more. I do want to feel, at least somewhat, that your protagonist is at risk here, when she meets J-P in public to buy poison.

    Looking forward to your pitch and tweaks on this!


  2. Hey Samantha,

    You’ve added quite a bit to ground the reader and I really like it. So the heroine of your story’s name is Camille. And at that moment, she’s presumed dead. Her whole family or just her? And when exactly was she presumed dead? A day ago? A week? A year?

    What I’d like is to read that she was presumed dead in the narrative of your story, but that is my preference. If you have a reason for not doing so, I’m okay with it up top, but it does beg some questions. We’re in her POV so if she’s presumed dead and has kept herself hidden, and now she’s in a crowd, wouldn’t she fear being noticed?

    I love what her father said to her about time. It makes me pause and wonder and get all excited to see where this story will go even as it complements the forward movement of the plot. Great job.

    At the end, where it says: “Later, I would find that the timepiece had stopped at 11:58.

    The precise moment the blade fell.” I would make it more immediate. “The timepiece stopped…the precise moment the blade fell.” Giving me the immediacy of cause and effect creates goosebumps.

    We’ve moved on to Salomé. I’m concerned about the information you’ve written under her name. It’s slightly odd. If this is Salomé’s POV, then she’s not missing as stated under the name, at least not to the reader because the first person narrative is Salomé, or do I have that wrong? I’m just not sure, because a name heading is used to indicate whose POV we’re reading. I know Salomé is actually Camille. So in my brain, I’m thinking, Camille went missing a year ago right before her father was executed and she is now a housemaid calling herself Salomé. But “Salomé” is clearly not missing. She’s right there. I’m reading this story in her POV. So…yeah, that’s not computing in my head.

    I’m going to keep reading to see if I can figure it all out.

    I’m missing information. Camille talks about Madame discarding her father’s possessions. Madame is clearly not her mother, so who is she?

    This is really tricky because there’s this time “black hole” you’ve created and I have to piece together what’s going on. Now, if this is a mystery and that is the mystery you want your readers to figure out, then fine, but if that chunk of time isn’t the big secret, then you need to fill in your readers on some information.

    This is what I know: 1). Her father was wealthy. 2). Her mother dressed as a gentlewoman. 3). For some reason, everyone thought Camille was dead except her family.

    This is what I’d like to know so I can make a better connection. 1). When did everyone think she died? 2). Were her mother and father married or was her mother his mistress? 3). If she was a “love child”, did she share in his wealth or was she given a placement in his household or with a friend? 4). When Camille became Salomé, when did she disappear? 5). Is anyone looking for her since she disappeared, or does no one care? 6). Where are her sister and mother?

    Okay, let’s get back to the story.

    Excellent description of her memories about being in that square.

    In the narrative, you say she’s been given the poison two other times. This begs the question Jean-Paul needs to ask, what did she do with the other two vials of poison? I got the impression she’s hoarding the poison for some reason. If that’s not a clue you want the reader to take, relook at what you’re saying.

    From that point to the end, I loved it. Great job.

    I know I’ve said something similar to a few of the other entrants, but it really applies to everyone. It’s supremely difficult to readjust what’s been already written. We, as writers, get attached to our words. But they say great writing isn’t about getting the story on the page, but more about editing the story you’ve already written. Editing is what makes a story shine. Of course no one tells you how painful that can be.

    Give yourself a high five. You did great!

    I’m stoked to see what you do next.


  3. Hi Samantha. This is fantastic. Really well-written. When I got to the end of the excerpt, I wanted to keep going. I was a little confused when I read, "CAMILLE -- a gentleman's daughter, presumed dead October 1793" followed by "SALOMÉ -- a housemaid, disappeared November 1794." I started reading Salome thinking we were in a different character's POV, but when I got to the bit about the timepiece, I thought, "No, this is still Camille ... or is it?" Obviously you clear it up later but the headers left me scratching my head for a minute. Instead of continuing on with the story, I doubled back and re-read the first section, sure that I had missed something. That's nitpicky, I know, but only because the excerpt is excellent. I agree with Shea's comments and think her suggestions are good ones.

  4. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for your feedback! I don't know if I'm allowed to ask questions in this space, so feel free to yell at me, but I'd really like to figure out a fast and easy way to clear up confusion regarding the chapter headers. The dates (i.e. presumed dead October 1794) don't line up with the narrative. Camille is not presumed dead yet; Salomé won't vanish for a few more days. Any suggestions on how I can clarify this? If possible, I'd like to keep them because the PoV continues to shift, but clearly they're causing confusion, so I need to change something...

    Thanks again for your help!

    1. If the presumption of death hasn't happened yet, then don't use that header. Just put down the date. Paris 1793

      Same goes for the header about her disappearing. Either say, One Year Later or Paris 1794.

      Every time you shift POV, make sure you ground your reader with exactly who that person is. If Camille changes her name again, just tell the reader in a way that isn't confusing. Be as clear as you can be when using several first person POVs. In your case, it's actually the same person who's using an alias. If you change to another first person POV and it's not Camille, then make sure we know who it is and their place in the story.

      I hope that helps


    2. Hi Sam,

      Yes! Shea's said exactly what I would have suggested!


    3. Just throwing this out there: Would it be easier to distinguish between the aliases if it were written in third person?

  5. Hi Samantha,

    Fantastic job on this edit! Just a few more notes. You've definitely added the emotion in the prologue and grounded us in time and place. That's great.

    Garde Nationale though, not garde nacionale. I would also use suggest using Jardins des Tuileries, or perhaps just les Tuileries, which is how someone French would think of it, instead of Tuileries Gardens. It sits oddly against the backdrop of Champs Elysees, etc.

    I'm bothered by the use of the word "we" in the if we fall now. Why would they both fall? Are they holding hands?

    Make the timepiece stop in real time. You're in present tense, so suddenly looking backward is jarring.

    Now, for this next part, understand that given the new chapter sub-heads, I am assuming that Salome is Camille, but the way it's all written is a bit confusing. You've shifted where you use "Madame," I think, but I'm afraid it's no clearer who Madame is. Her step-mother? If so, it's confusing because you've used step-mother in the prologue. And the way you phrase the explanation about throwing away her father's things was also confusing, because Camille's father had given the watch to her directly. Maybe say since my step-mother threw away all his things, the timepiece was the only thing I managed to salvage. I'm also confused by throwing things away--wouldn't they have sold them, or bartered them? Is she hiding as a servant to save herself from arrest or worse, or is she reduced to that through the loss of money and status? This is not a case of let's wait and find out more later. This is a case of confusing the reader in a way that we can't keep reading comfortably, so please consider making this much clearer!

    Add Jean-Paul's description right when she first sees him. We need to know then how old he is, at minimum, as well as a hint of how she feels about him. The blood would be a great touch there to add to the tension in the scene, especially if you wait to reveal why exactly as you do now.

    Overall though, a really solid and well-considered revision that makes a good piece even better. Looking forward to these small tweaks. I think you're very nearly there!

    All best,


  6. You first scene is clear and effective. I think it shows us a nice glimpse of her character to her reaction to a very trying situation. I love the emotion, the refusal to believe the situation – that this could be a dream, and the watch stopping. I have some nitpiks for you to think about, but overall I really like this!

    “presumed dead October 1793”

    Th presumed dead part struck me as strange. It raises questions that you don’t answer, such as when was she presumed dead and why. Do you need it? It think it’s clear just from the watch and the mention of revenge for her father’s death that it’s the same girl in the next scene.

    “Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist, but if we fell now, we might never get up again.” – I felt like it should be made clear that this was in the past. Also, could you clarify the “never get up again” part by moving your comment on the crowd up to this part.

    “With every step, the ground beneath us seems to crack, and I fear that soon it will shatter completely.” I think you’ve set up the tension with the fear of falling. It doesn’t make sense that the ground is cracking. This just leads the reader in the wrong direction.

    Your second scene introduces your character in more detail, in a different stage of her life. It also sets us some interesting questions. Why is she trying to kill her father’s friend? In what way was he responsible for her father’s death? Why is she accepting poison she isn’t using and doesn’t intend to use? How did she get linked up with a man who beats information out of people? Why is this man helping her? I’d be interested in finding out more.

    I think, as a reader, the new questions opened are out of proportion with the ones answered. I’d keep reading, but I’d be hoping for more clarity soon.

    The note on her disappearing struck me as odd, like the one on her being presumed dead.

    Great job! I’m looking forward to reading again next week!

  7. Hi Samantha,

    Apologies that I'll have to keep my comments short tonight -- I'm a bit under water at the moment.

    I think this is a step forward. I felt much more grounded reading it this round. And I think you've come up with a good solution for that prologue. But, as Shea and Martina both mentioned, it has added some confusion in other ways. I'm not sure I can add much on that front without simply repeating their points, which I think are right on target. I'd probably just drop the "presumed dead" and "disappeared" parts of the header and adjust the dates, since you mentioned they're not the actual dates the action takes place.

    One thing that keeps me scratching my head is the poison. If she didn't use the two vials she had gotten before, why does she need more? If she did use them but they didn't work, wouldn't she try something else? Or is she hoarding vials of the poison for another purpose? And wouldn't JP be asking questions about what she did with the last two vials?

    Speaking of JP, I wish I knew a little more about why he's helping your MC. Obviously, it can't be for money because she's not paying what it's worth. Does he have a thing for Salomé? Or is there another reason? Even if we're not supposed to know that yet, I'd love to see your MC ponder that. Especially since JP doesn't seem like the charitable type.

    All this being said, I still like this a lot. Very well done! I'm really looking forward to seeing the next round!

    Back to work!