Monday, July 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Simonelli Rev 2

Name: Danielle Simonelli
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Blood of Runes


When Pippa was thirteen, a supernatural storm swallowed her Viking father and whisked him away. Three years later, Pippa relies on her older brother, Jamie, to keep her safe. In true Viking fashion, she gambles and takes unnecessary risks, but she’s only trying to cope with the loss of her father. When the cloud returns and snatches Jamie, Pippa is heartbroken and vows to save him.

A young sorceress, Margret, reveals the cloud is a Night Mare—a sinister horse when on land and a menacing storm in the sky. Margret can track Jamie using ancient blood magic and offers her help. Pippa learns the sorceress is lying about her true identity, but using Margret’s powers might be the only way to save her brother.

Pippa steals Viking longship and embarks with an unlikely crew. Some are her friends, others are strangers, and she suspects one hides a secret. While seeking answers in the Scottish Hebrides, Pippa unearths the cause for Jamie’s abduction: Kolruna, a Norse witch, blames Pippa’s family for the death of her lover and persecutes them in revenge.

Caught in a whirlwind of deception, Pippa must decide between relying on Margret’s obscure blood magic to face the Night Mare, or embrace the risk of finding Jamie alone, before the vengeful Kolruna hunts Pippa herself and she loses her brother forever.


Pippa rolled the dice and winked.

She slid a tafl pawn three spaces across the checkered board, eyeing the prize knife. Elaborate scrollwork snaked around its handle and a curious rune decorated its blade. Her older brother, Jamie, would love to add it to his collection. He always sought weapons with character.

A ruffian sat across from her and scratched the faded scars puckering his nose. He leaned over the game board and rolled the dice. Six marks. Sailors trying to earn some quick coin exchanged bets and told him to move this piece or that. Everyone shouted drunken suggestions at Pippa too, except for a stranger by the fire. He stood apart from the crowd, but watched the game…and her.

She ignored them all, because she already had a strategy to capture the King-piece and needed to focus. Her opponent moved a white pawn by six squares and muttered something in Norse. His sharp gaze met hers with a look that said “That’ll show you!”

She’d relish his moment of shock when he lost.

“Hmm, tricky move,” Pippa said. She bowed her head to hide an impish smile. Jamie had taught her how to master tafl, which her opponent foolishly agreed to play. He’d originally suggested a test of riddles, but the last time Pippa attempted a riddle contest she lost a silver bracelet.

She scanned the mead hall, making sure Jamie wasn't around, because she wanted to surprise him with the weapon. He also didn’t need to know she was gambling again.
Many young women played tafl—Pippa wasn’t an exception—but she did it often. Maybe too often. Her father would have been furious at her. Furious, but proud when she won the knife. Playing the game required close scrutiny to anticipate future moves, and during those brief, intense points of concentration, Pippa forgot her father’s crazy beard and warm smile. The memories disappeared.

At least for that moment.

She lifted a cup of frothy ale, and the faint scent of aged oak conjured images of summertime mischief with her brother, when they had snuck a taste of ale from the brewer’s barrels. She drank it with a single swallow and banged the emptied cup next to the game board. Everyone around her cheered. She reached for a nearby flagon and refilled her cup. Pippa could enjoy two drinks, maybe three, without muddling her senses.

She turned back to the board and rolled the dice. The ruffian was an idiot, but he needed to think he had a chance. Otherwise, he might end the game. She started to reach for a red pawn, hesitated, made a show of sighing and tugging on her bottom lip, and then reached for another. Pippa moved it seven squares, diagonally. Her heart thrummed, hoping he’d fallen for her act.

She tapped her foot to the warbled rhythm of a panpipe, thrilled with her imminent win. With the ruffian’s turn came a squall of suggestions from the crowd, yet the stranger by the fire remained aloof, fussing with voluminous robes until they lay just right. A heavy hood framed his face, but her eyes were riveted to him, shadows and light carving out the sharp planes of his jaw. He rubbed his chin with the tip of his thumb, flashing gold rings on his fingers. Their eyes locked, and she squirmed under his stare as his mouth twisted into a taunting grin.

The stranger was a diversion, and Pippa had to stay alert and pay attention to the game. Her fingers tightened on a red pawn.

The ruffian cracked his fat knuckles. “I need a break.” His voice sounded harsh, like the jagged edges of raw, unforged steel scraping against stone. A raider, no doubt. Fresh from a viking and just passing through, like everyone else in the buzzing mead hall. He clearly didn’t expect to lose to a sixteen-year-old girl.

She pretended to shift uncomfortably on the wooden bench. “Já, I could use time to think on my next move.”

He slapped his knee in agreement and retreated to the fire with his friends.
She would have won two turns ago, if he hadn’t bumbled into a lucky move. If she won the game, she’d claim his knife. If he won the game…

She shuddered, determined to avoid that possibility.

Pippa stole another wary glance at the hooded stranger.

With a flick of his wrist, the stranger beckoned the innkeeper to him. They spoke, huddled, heads bent. The innkeeper, a short man with a beard like a bird’s nest, cocked his head toward Pippa.

The stranger smiled at her and nodded. Pippa looked away, reaching for her ale and burning to know why she had roused his attention. She held the drink to her lips and watched him over the rim of her cup.

He hardly noticed the girl who served him a horn of mead, and then shooed her away with a careless swish of his hand. The stranger moved to a remote corner, away from the music and gaming and girls casting suggestive glances. With his back to the crowd and his eyes fixed on Pippa, he waved a lazy hand over the mouth of his horn, and a thin column of mead coiled up from the vessel.

She blinked. With a quick, twirling finger, the mead made a loop in the air and wove between his fingers before splashing back into the horn.

Pippa dropped her cup. Ale drenched her lap and trickled down her trousers. Disbelief must have shown on her face, because the stranger chuckled and tipped his horn to her. She wiped away the ale and fidgeted with her cloak, not understanding what she had witnessed. She had seen extraordinary, incredulous things, but nothing like twirling mead, and judging by the crowd’s indifference, she was the only one who had witnessed the stranger’s magic.

She worried her lip, thinking she shouldn’t have come alone. She may have enjoyed too much ale after all. Though, the room wasn’t tilting and the faces around her weren’t smeared in a blend of drunken color.

Ale soaked her shirt, too. Even if Jamie didn’t find her in the mead hall, he’d certainly smell it on her.

A rowdy lout scooted down the bench to sit beside her. He leaned close—too close—and draped an arm around her shoulders. The lout smelled like pickled fish, and she crinkled her nose when he slurred gibberish in her ear. Pippa might have shrugged him off if she wasn’t so stunned by the stranger’s magic.

A heavy hand landed on her back.

She turned to find Jamie looming over her, his face scrunched in an unpleasant grimace. He flung the lout’s arm off her shoulders.

“What are you doing here?” Jamie asked, sounding both relieved and frustrated. He didn't wait for a reply. “You’re leaving.”

He had no reason to be upset. “I'm fine,” Pippa said. “Besides, I have a present for you.”

“She's not going anywhere until the game’s finished,” the scarred ruffian said, emerging from the far corner. His eyes flicked from her to Jamie, who returned an unreadable, glassy stare.

“You.” Jamie pointed at Pippa and then the door. “Out.”

“If I win I get his knife.” She jutted her chin toward the game board, wanting him to see how close she was to victory. “And if I win in less than fifty moves, I get his fox fur as well.”

“What if you lose?”

Pippa’s cheeks warmed.


  1. I had to trim my query for this round, as it was >200 words, and I'm missing an "a" before Viking longship. Grr. So sorry!

    1. Ha, I get it. My pitch is exactly 250 words. Trimming 50 was rough.

  2. I love the way you fleshed some of these bits out, Danielle! I'm so intrigued by this world, by Pippa.

    The critiques I have are very minor. In the paragraph about why she plays tafl, for me it lost a bit of the emotional connection I made in the last draft. It's clear she misses her father but I don't get the feeling he's dead, like I did before.

    At the end where Pippa says Jamie has nothing to be upset about, it seems to directly contradict the tension that had been built about her not wanting Jamie to find out she's there, gambling again.

    Finally, this could just be a personal thing, but you begin 13 of 33 paragraphs (that's including the one liners) with she or she'd. Some of them are successive and that can be distracting visually on the page. Perhaps a few of those sentences can be tweaked to begin slightly different? Again, this could be personal taste.

    Other than that, great job on polishing this up! The introduction of the stranger was much more intriguing. Now I feel like he is an important part of the scene. Previously he and her tafl opponent seemed equally important.

    The pitch really excites me about this! One thing, you mention storm for her father and say cloud for Jamie. I see shortly after that it's the same thing (which is cool btw) but when you first say the cloud returns "again" I was completely confused.

    Other than that, I really loved getting a glimpse into what Pippa will face.

    Please let me know if you have any questions on the feedback. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Stacie!

      Regarding the pitch - my query was 240 words, so I think some meaning may have been lost when I trimmed (hence your confusion regarding the, cloud = storm). Thank you so much for pointing that out.

      I've been struggling with what to change and not to change, what to edit, not edit. In the process of revision, it sounds like I may have lost emotional connection / tension (?), but it's an easy fix and I can revert back. I'll have to see what other folks say.

      Thank you again, much appreciated.

  3. Hi Danielle!

    I think you did a great job on your revisions here!

    My one critique is with the pitch. I know that the Night Mare is a Germanic/Norse mythological creature, but to someone who doesn't know that, it reads like a really cheesy pun. I would suggest finding out the name of it in the language your characters speak naturally (I'm not sure where your Vikings are officially from) and using that to rename the monster. I've seen Mara or Marra used, which would be much better, imo.

    Just a suggestion.

    Good luck with this! I really do hope you find success.

    Thanks for sharing it with us,
    First 5 Mentor

    1. Hi Heather,

      Yes, you are right! In Old English, it is called a maere and it is taken directly from mythology. In early versions of the query (say, a year ago) I did call it a maere, but some reviewers didn't like that. I can easily make that edit.

      Thank you for all your help,

  4. Okay, the Night Mare sounds really cool. I didn't realize it was actual Norse mythological creature, but I kind of like the pun and even if it's cheesy, I find it enjoyable? :'D

    Also, uggghhh knowing what happens to Jamie from the pitch makes how you show his relationship with Pippa in these pages even sweeter <3

    I like how you bring in the stranger earlier. It definitely puts a bit more weight on him. I like how you paint this instance of magic as abnormal.

    Honestly I don't know what else to say? I think both your pitch and pages are in good shape. Let me know if you have any further questions?

    1. Thank you so much Adelle! I'm off to read your final pages now!

  5. Hi Danielle,

    Great changes overall. I think you’ve really tightened up the pages since the first round! A lot of notes here, mostly on minor things in the pitch.

    My first impression was that it seemed very long. Distilling an entire story down can be tough! I know it wasn’t more than 250 words but for some reason it seemed lengthy, perhaps because of it being four paragraphs and because of the amount of detail each contains.

    Queries/pitches should be an individual thing for every writer, but there is a general structure most seem to have. Usually they’re two paragraphs long, maybe three. I’d suggest starting with the focus on Pippa and Jamie in the present, rather than the father. Something like "Pippa and her older brother Jamie have relied on each other since a supernatural storm swallowed their father three years ago.” This immediately sets up their situation in one sentence, and eliminates the past-action-to-present-day switch. The part about coping with the loss of her father felt like we’re being told a lot; consider switching it around, for example “To cope with the loss her father, Pippa has fallen into a lifestyle of gambling and risk-taking in true Viking fashion.” By telling us she’s coping and the direct effect of that, I personally think it reads as a stronger thought, rather than explaining how she lives and the reason why.

    There are a lot of details in this query I’m not sure we need. Even little things like “…and snatches Jamie, ” (I wouldn’t assume her to be otherwise) or “A sorceress, Margret...” (Is her age important to the plot?). Then there are details that seem too vague, like one of the crew hiding a secret (Who? What kind of secret?) and Kolruna (Why would she blame Pippa’s family? Has Pippa ever heard of her? Is she using the Night Mare or is she separate?). Some of these could be cut (knowing there’s a secret isn’t very useful if we have no idea whose it is or what it’s concerning) or explained with a brief few words.

    I was also left wondering about the stranger, because from your first five pages he seems to play an important role, but I don’t see him in your query. Perhaps he’s not a major character, but if he is then he should definitely make an appearance there somewhere.

    Overall, I think what you need to focus on in your query are the father’s loss, the idea of Kolruna hunting the family, (I thought the Night Mare was the main threat, but it seems Kolruna actually is), and Pippa’s choice. We clearly know what she stands to lose, and that part is well articulated. Make sure the choices she has match those stakes!


    1. Thank you so much Alyssa,

      This is the 89th version of my query. Yes, 89 created over the last year. I had a version which started with the stranger (not a major character, but influential). I had a version that didn't mention Kolruna. I had a version that didn't talk at all about Pippa's life at the beginning of the story (folks disliked that one). I had a version with a hook (hated that version!). I had a version that didn't mention her father. Oh, so many iterations!

      Deciding what to include and what not to include has always been the challenge, and obviously I can't include all of that information about Kolruna because it unfolds through the course of the story and the query doesn't have that kind of real estate.

      Are you sure about focusing on the loss of her father in the query? It's her brother who she goes out to find...her choices are around how to go about it without getting herself and her friends killed.

      Thanks again!

    2. Hi Danielle,

      I completely understand the many, many queries. Because stories are so complex it can be so hard to figure out what needs to be included! Ultimately, only you can decide that, because you know the whole story.

      If her brother being taken is what really sets off the story, then that's crucial. I think the thing to do here is to really distill your story down. If you haven't yet, try the exercise of coming up with one sentence that summarizes your story. Nathan Bransford has a great formula for this: "When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest]." Really simplified, but effective. If you're willing to give version 90 a go, try this and use your sentence summary as the building blocks of your new query. Of course you can add in more, but that should show you what to really focus in on. In general, having less details that are more specific in a query is better than lots of details that are vague (for example secrets—this is an issue I personally had when working on my query). Really getting specific will make the query super strong; for instance, you say Pippa must decide between relying on Margret's magic or finding Jamie by herself, but I didn't know why Pippa wouldn't rely on Margret's help. Just because she lied about her identity, if she can help find Jamie why wouldn't Pippa go along with it? Saying something like "Pippa must choose between relying on Margret's deadly magic or facing Kolruna herself" (not sure if that's true for your story but you get the idea) makes both choices sound equally dangerous.

      Hope this all makes sense, and I'm not making your head spin with all my suggestions. Queries are tough, but keep at it because yours is in decent shape!

  6. I've got a whole spreadsheet of single-sentence pitches using the formula describe :) I use them during Twitter pitches.

    I'm reading your query now...and I see the "secret" line you are referring to. I had very similar wording at one point but over the months too many people didn't like it (what secret? whose secret? how did she find out the secret? why does the secret matter? don't mention the secret unless you tell us the secret...etc.) so it changed into something else.

    OK, I need to go review everyone's subs now.

    Thank you again!

  7. [Apparently I wrote too much and Blogger isn't happy about that, so I have to cut my response into two comments. Yeesh.]

    Hello, hello! Thanks so much for participating in the workshop! There were a bunch of things about this query that were so interesting (especially once I read the comments above and realized the Night Mare came from mythology!).

    The nitpicky:
    "In true Viking fashion" -- Assume your audience doesn't know what this is. If it's not specific to the query letter, you can lose it when you're fighting with word count.
    "When the cloud returns and snatches Jamie" -- I want to know how this works! I'm sure it's not like being sucked into an alien spaceship, but I have no idea from this description what happens to him.
    "A young sorceress" -- I wanted to know if Pippa and Margret have an existing relationship, or which of the girls seeks out the other if not.
    "Night Mare" -- I thought this was fun and clever, but more so having learned that it exists in mythology. I think switching to 'maere' would be a smart decision just to stave off any grumps.
    "track Jamie" -- So my immediate question is why can they track Jamie and not their dad? And if they can do both, why just go for Jamie and not both men?
    "a Norse witch" -- So I assume that Kolruna is based in the Hebrides (maybe?), so when/where would her family have killed her lover? When they were raiding? I know you're up against a word count, but this could be clearer.

    Notes: Overall, this query letter was pretty tight. I know summarizing the plot of a high-concept fantasy novel can be so hard, but this is a great start (though it sounds like not a start!) The big question here is who you're setting up as the primary villain. Is it Kolruna? Is the Night Mare her creation? Why question Margret again in the fourth paragraph? You've got a complicated situation, but break it down to the primary plot and interweave minimal details of the most important sub-plot. My understanding of the main plot line here is that Viking Pippa has to go on a journey to save her brother from the Night Mare, which is a creation of a Norse witch, Kolruna, who blames her family for killing her lover. If I'm off base, I would restructure. We don't NEED to know about who's in the longship crew unless it's a massive plot point (and even then, it really only distracts from your primary plot in this context). Agents don't expect to see ALL of the pieces in the query! My best advice here is to read the sales copy (the book's description on B&N or Amz) from some books that you know well and love, and compare it to what you know the book is actually about. It's a good exercise to see how publishers frame the stories themselves.

    1. [2/2]
      OVERALL: This helps when you're not constrained to a word count, but I would have LOVED to have known in the query what was based in real mythology. The pitch intrigued me so much (despite all of my notes!), but I wasn't sure that my expectations were met in the sample pages. For me, the introductory pages didn’t really inform the reader about the characters or the direction of the novel, despite having great voice and adeptly balancing tension from the get-go. Further, because the pages focused on the game and the stranger so much, I didn't get a great sense of Pippa's character other than her being risky and calculating. The emotional connection wasn't there for me in this draft. Why is she risking so much by playing the game to begin with? Just to impress her brother? If they're so close because of her father's abduction, we should see that on paper. If possible, I would suggest cutting the first 1k or so words and start the novel when Jamie is walking in. There's no identifiable benefit for the interaction with the ruffian at this point, and then the audience could see more of Pippa's relationship with Jamie. Since we are going to lose him soon anyways, I would front-load as much of their interactions as possible so the reader also wants Pippa to move heaven and earth to get him back. If the stranger is important to the long-term plot, you can still include them as they’re walking out/note him as standing out from the crowd in Pippa’s head as they’re leaving. In short, strong, but I think it could have been a little stronger! Still such an intriguing query and one I would have been happy to receive!

    2. Thank you so much! Yes, I've gone back and forth between Night Mare and maere. I can change that.

      The dynamics of everyone on the longship is a big plot point and who Pippa can trust and not trust is a bigger plot point because of a twist at the end (and a nasty betrayal). That's why I mentioned who she is traveling with, and the tension between her and Margret. If you think that is too much, though, I can take it out.

      Thankfully, your understanding of the main plot is 100% correct, and that makes me feel great!

      And yes, my goal with the game was to show Pippa was risky and calculating. After Jamie arrives, every subsequent scene and interaction is between the two of them, until he is taken (right on page 34 in pure Save the Cat beat sheet style :)

      Yes, stranger is important so he needs to stay as we see him later in chapter 1, and throughout the rest of the book.

      I'm excited to try your recommendation of cutting the game (ooh, maybe I'll have Jamie helping her with the game...that opens so many possibilities) and see where it takes me! Thanks so much for the feedback.


  8. Danielle,

    This pitch gives a sense of the primary characters and the primary storyline, as well as the focus of tension — Pippa vs Night Mare/Kolruna. I wasn’t clear from the pitch if the story is based on Norse history and mythology or if it’s basically fantasy with some Norse mythology integrated as part of the worldbuilding. A phrase or sentence early on could clarify. I think you could strip away some of the general — some are friends, others are strangers — and focus more on the main storyline. How are Margret and Pippa connected? Is the Night Mare like a servant to Kolruna, and what might be Jaime and the father’s fate? Essentially, what’s at stake for Jamie and therefore Pippa? The last paragraph complicates things because you have two antagonistic strands, Margret and the Night Mare/Kolruna. I’d choose one to focus on, the primary one. Also, if the Night Mare is simply a servant, I’d focus on Kolruna rather than it. I ended up wondering, too, why an antagonistic force waited three years to attack the rest of the family to take revenge, especially when it/she knows where the family is already. This might not need to be answered in the query, but what you have here did make me wonder.

    On to pages. I have many small things, mainly because of the relationship between the pages and the pitch.

    I like that we see the stranger right off. Nice work on this. Though now that I read the pitch, I have to wonder if Margret should actually be the mysterious one here. Because the query doesn’t mention this guy at all, I’m wondering if he’s truly vital. We already have a room full of characters who don’t matter much, and if he doesn’t either, I wonder if more of these characters should be ones that matter.

    Maybe cut “She tapped her foot...imminent win.” She’s just made her move, now it’s his. Get to it.

    I know I keep writing similar things to everyone, but I’ll repeat myself. Watch sentence chronology. Try: “Their eyes locked, and his mouth twisted into a taunting grin. She squirmed.” Because she’s squirming because of the taunt, yes? So we should see that first.

    “The stranger was a diversion.” What kind of diversion? Does she think he’s dangerous, potentially sexually or otherwise? Or a curiousity? Or does she mean to play him next? Does she want the gold? And again, if he ultimately isn’t important, and neither is the game or the people playing the game, this seems a lot that isn’t essential right at the start of the story.

    She seems impish until “She shuddered, determined to avoid that possibility.” This is the first hint of doubt and danger. If there is danger, wouldn’t she feel more of it from the start?

    I’m still not convinced everyone else wouldn’t see this magic, unless it’s invisible. However, I do like her response to the magic, which clarifies both her feelings and the norms in the world. A small note — things aren’t incredulous, people and their feelings are.

    The story definitely picks up when Jaime arrives, and you’ve done well conveying his importance to her. By making him vital at the start, you’ve made clear how upset she’d be at losing him.

    I’ve enjoyed reading this and watching it develop. Good luck!

    1. Thank you Laura!

      I'm so sad that this is your last review of my pages.

      As for the pitch - the story is grounded in Norse and Celtic mythology, taking place in ninth century Britain and Scotland. (I explain that in the part of the QL where we talk about genre, word count, comps, etc.) Pippa and Jamie live in Jorvik in the beginning - present-day York.

      Yes, I did have a QL version (maybe several versions) that mentioned the stranger, but those versions really didn't work and bogged down the entire blurb. The query read much better after I got away from that, believe it or not.

      Margret shows up in chapter 2 and is Pippa's rival throughout the story. Her true intentions are a mystery until the end. The stranger brings a message from Pippa's father. Pippa and Jamie don't trust him. It's not until after Jamie is taken that Pippa is ready to believe.

      Considering Gabrielle's recommendation to cut these 1000 words, the entire scene with the stranger working magic to get Pippa's attention will go with it. That's probably for the best, don't you think?

      Thank you again for all of your input. It has been invaluable.