Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Ms. Martindale,

Theater tart turned Constantinople's premier courtesan, Theodora accompanies her wealthy patron to the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire. He promised her a bronze marriage belt and the red sandals of a patrician, but abandons her before either realizes she carries his child. Alone with an infant son and no means of survival, Theodora sells her body to make her way back to the capital. There she is introduced to Emperor Justinian.

He wants her.

But Theodora can be mother or Empress, not both.

The Emperor needs a wife who can provide him with an heir, not a woman with a son to tangle the line to the throne. Theodora must decide what's more important: keeping the son the Emperor can never know about or pleasing the powerful man who claims to love her.

THE SECRET HISTORY is historical fiction complete at 100,000 words.

I am a history teacher who has traveled to Istanbul for research and am currently at work on my next novel about the daughters of Genghis Khan.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
S.T.


THE SECRET HISTORY

My life began the night death visited our house.

I lay on the straw pallet with my sisters and listened to Comito grind her teeth and Anastasia’s even breathing in the dark. An animal snorted in the distance, probably the scraggly new bear Father had acquired to train for the Greens, a beast scarcely fit for the spectacle of the Hippodrome. The fleas were bad tonight and Constantinople’s sticky heat made the stench of the nearby garbage heap especially pungent. I missed our old home in Cyprus, the salty smell of the Mediterranean and the cicadas’ screams amidst the olive trees. Our ramshackle house near Constantinople’s amphitheater could scarcely compare.

There was a shuffle in the dark--possibly a rat--but then my father grunted.

“Quiet, Acacius.” My mother giggled. “You’ll wake the girls.”

She gave a little moan as I snuggled into Anastasia’s bare back, hoping for more dreams like last night’s fantasy of roasted goat with mint yogurt. Comito claimed I made cow eyes at the butcher’s son when Mother sent us to collect our monthly grain ration today, but in truth I was more impressed with the fresh leg of goat hanging from his stall than the cut of his calves under his tunica. It seemed like years since we’d had meat.

“Acacius.” My mother’s tone was the same she used when my father came home after too much wine at the Boar’s Eye. There was another sound, a thud like a sack of flour hitting the ground. “Acacius!”

7 comments:

Ru said...

I think this sounds really interesting - I love historical fiction and the description in your sample 250 words is really vivid.

My first comment is that your first line in the query is a little awkward. "Theater tart turned Constantinople's premier courtesan, Theodora accompanies her wealthy patron to the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire." Theater tart-turned-Constantinople's premier courtesan is a pretty hefty title, and I'm not sure you need the comma before her name. (That's debatable, of course.)

My second comment is that I would personally like to see something about Theodora's personality/character that is helping her survive. Obviously being a woman in the Byzantine Empire is rough (understatement), but you're giving off the impression in this query that all Theodora has to offer is her sexuality (reformed tart, premier courtesan, sells her body, wanted by the Emperor). So even though I believe you when you say she has no other means of survival, I would hope that she's also clever, loyal, scheming, manipulative, kind, a total innocent, anything -- something that is going to induce me to read 100,000 words, because the fact that she's obviously hot and has skills in the sack isn't enough.

In other words, I'd like something that shows me whether she's a 6th Century Scarlet O'Hara, Antonia Shimerdas, Elinor Dashwood, or something completely different. I just want a stronger picture of her character.

Hope that's helpful, I can get a little rambly :)

Gloria Darlene said...

I am intrigued by this brief sample, and also the novel you mentioned about Genghis Khan's daughters, that sounds epic.

The first line was a lot to me as well. You don't want to throw too much in your opening sentence, and it doesn't flow easily.

As for the sample, it's a lot at once. I'm overwhelmed by all the details; its so much I can't really picture it or wrap my mind around it. You talk about death and then lurch into all sorts of other details without truly setting up the scene. I know it's only 250 words but still, I was hoping for something to latch onto, even as simple as exactly where the main character is.

Good luck on your venture and I'll be keeping my eye out for a novel on Genghis Khan's daughters!

Melinda said...

As the others mentioned, the first sentence of the query is awkward. I think you need something else to launch into the story--more of a hook or setup.

I really enjoyed the sample, and I think the writing in it is much stronger than the query.

Tara said...

This is really not my genre, so I'm afraid that I don't have much constructive criticism to share. But I wanted to point out that The Secret History is the title of a pretty well-known novel by Donna Tartt, so you may want to consider trying to come up with a different one.

Jess said...

I LOVED this sample. I fell right into it and enjoyed all of the details. Good luck!

Alex said...

I liked the brevity of the query but found it lacking some of the details I need to be intrigued. I know very little of what the MC is like. I also agree that the first sentence of the Query is awkward.

I feel like their is much much more depth to your story and though you have outlined the core conflict I need more character to show through to be emotionally involved.

Taylor Martindale said...

I love historical fiction, and this sounds like a great setting. I didn't feel, though, that there was enough information about the characters and plot in this query. It's a fine line with historical fiction because you don't want your query to drag with historical data, but we need the scope of this novel to be clearer and more full. Also, is the main character still pregnant when she is having to make this decision, or is the son hidden somewhere? The first page, though, has some really nice set-up. The second paragraph is a little too heavy on information, but I like the details being introduced. Though I do have some concerns about the scope of the story, I liked the first page and would continue reading.
Thank you for participating in this Agent’s Inbox!
Taylor Martindale
Full Circle Literary