Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Emily Gref,

Immortality isn’t a gift. Elsbeth desperately seeks mortal witches to end the isolation which follows her through every life, every death. But she’s traveled the world and hasn’t found another witch for centuries. After taking refuge in her old home in Salem, Massachusetts, Elsbeth breaks her biggest rule: trust no one who isn’t magical. Elsbeth lies about her motives just enough to a strangely familiar non-magic human, an Innocent, named Andrew to elicit his help in her search. Andrew in turn invites Elsbeth to a supposed magic festival where she discovers the cruel reality that warlocks hunt witches. Except when a warlock finds a witch, he kills her.

In fact, warlocks encounter no trouble uncovering witches under the leadership of Hopkins, Elsbeth’s old executioner, in his goal to slaughter witches for warlocks’ gain. Terrified at seeing her torturer, Elsbeth flees the festival but is kidnapped by Hopkins where he reveals she is the last; she alone maintains the balance witches are taught to provide for mankind. Only Elsbeth’s immortality prevents the extinction of witches, yet Hopkins vows to break the curse and kill her as a mortal.

Elsbeth must escape, prevent Hopkins from killing her a second time, and protect Andrew whom she put in danger by letting him close. If Elsbeth dies, witchcraft ends, and all that is humane and good in the world ceases. But in order to stop Hopkins, Elsbeth fears she’ll have to sacrifice her magical teachings and become the evil she hopes to prevent.

Complete at 83,000 words, THE FLAME WARS is a contemporary adult fantasy novel with series potential. Please find below the first 250 words of the manuscript for your consideration. Thank you in advance for your time.

Best regards,


I am cursed; I was saved.

Blue smoke, thick as ash, swirls inside my body. Dropped in the dew-covered grass, I clutch my chest, roll over, and curl fetal. Hot bile stings my throat. Come on, heart, pump. Come on.

The smoke drags through me, forcing a shout, then chokes my lungs closed. One minute I’m convulsing on a gurney in New Orleans, the next I’m here--always here. Reborn in Germany after each death, twenty-five years old and still searching.

Some lifetimes I live for decades, others only a few years before… Either way, no one mourns me. Letting anyone close isn’t an option.

Sweat coats my scalp as pain splinters across my ribs. Not a moment too soon, the tight weight lifts and thick hazy spirals exit my body, form a cone above me, and vanish.

Come on, heart. Beat.

Frozen as a corpse, I stare at a spotted falcon circling above. I’d cry his name if I could.

Finally, oxygen rushes in, and I gasp. Shaky moans come between coughs and gags. My heart thumps as I shiver on the frigid ground while blood retraces my veins. Each death is the same. Each death is different. This time a car accident, last time a… I don’t recall. Time distorts my memory.

Tremors jolt my torso as my temperature normalizes. Full recovery is inevitable, but takes time. Time I don’t have.

Every inactive minute equals time lost in my search for witches.


William Bakke said...

Hello there, M.T. I happen to love this concept. For one thing, it completely turns around the notion that witches are evil in a very profound way. The individual witches themselves, Elsbeth included, don't just happen to be good people who practice witchcraft, but witchcraft itself provides a balance for mankind and is the source humanity and goodness. That sets up a HARD choice for Elsbeth in her struggle against Hopkins, and that's what I like the most about this story. I'm fascinated by stories that explore the sacrifices good people have to make in order to stop something evil and how it affects them.

So here are my suggestions/things I've noticed. This is my perspective as a fresh pair of eyes.

You got right into what Elsbeth wants, so that's awesome. In the last two sentences of the first paragraph, it seems like simply saying "...discovers the cruel reality that warlocks hunt and kill witches" would suffice.

Hopkins' goal is quite clear and immediately puts him at odds with Elsbeth, which is good. I felt "...reveals she is the last" was a bit abrupt. I took a second to think to myself, "Last what? Oh. Witch. Right." Maybe an additional word or phrase there would make it immediately clear.

Overall, the story is set up nicely. We know who the protagonist is, what she wants, and who's stopping her from getting it. The stakes are clearly outlined in the third paragraph, so we know what will happen if Elsbeth fails (and what will happen if she succeeds too!)

I happen to love reading first lines, seeing what works and doesn't work for me, what's interesting and intriguing, and what deftly sets the tone of the story to come.

That said, your first line is AWESOME. "I am cursed; I was saved." I immediately heard my interpretation of Elsbeth's voice in my head saying that--a strong, determined, driven woman, and I heard that voice throughout the sample. That, combined with the rest of the first 250 words, got me right into the mindset of "Alright, this is gonna be intense. Some real sh*t is about to go down." Just the way I like my stories, by the way.

You reveal the details of Elsbeth's current predicament at a steady pace: she *was* on a gurney, now coming back to life in Germany. How'd she end up on the gurney? Oh, a car accident. Ahh....ouch.

I'd make a minor change with the word "Dropped" in the third sentence. I think "Fallen in the dew-covered grass..." or "Lying in the dew-covered grass..." would work better there. Also, when Elsbeth sees the spotted falcon, that'd be a great time to drop in a little more description of her current surroundings. Tree tops? Buildings? Time of day and the sky would be nice if you could fit that in too. Just a little extra something to help ground us readers in Elsbeth's current location.

Well, best of luck to you! I'd say this *needs* to get into print so--at the very least--I can read it. I want to find out what happens :)

Rebecca Santelli said...

I love the intensity of your opening 250 words. The concept of our heroine dying repeatedly and the pain that accompanies her resurrection is compelling and there are some immediately intriguing questions (like why does she always end up in Germany - I thought all good Americans went to Paris when they died ;)).I did find some things in the query confusing. 1) What exactly is an Innocent? The capitalization suggests this is a special group of people, or is this just what witches call the non-magical. 2) The query implies that Elsbeth only discovers the truth that warlocks hunt witches at the magic festival, but presumably Hopkins killed her hundreds of years ago - was she unaware he was a warlock? 3) When Andrew takes Elsbeth to the witch-hunting festival I initially assumed he deliberately betrayed her. 4) It was unclear to me what was meant by "the balance witches are taught to provide mankind." On a related note, I didn't care for the line that if witchcraft ends all that is good and kind in the world will vanish as it implies that ordinary non-magical humans aren't capable of kindness and goodness. If the witches are protecting mankind from the black magic of the warlocks it would make more sense to me. 5) It wasn't clear from the query why warlocks want to kill witches. 6)From the query I assumed that Elsbeth wants to die - immortality is a curse, but she is willing herself to live in the novel opening, so that confused me a bit. Anyway, you've got an extremely dramatic story here, I hope you find representation soon.

Rebecca Kagan said...

I think you have a great premise. The beginning draws me in and I would turn the page and probably read the whole novel.
I do agree that when she lands in Germany, we need a little more grounding, she's been there before - a lifetime ago - Has it changed, or is it always the same. That said, it's always hard to get enough content on your first page as it is. LOL!
In the second paragraph of your query mentions the warlocks. I find it unlikely that she would just discover this. She knew about Hopkins when he killed her the first time, although there could be a good reason for her not remembering too, but may need to be clarified why in the query.
Good luck. I'd like to read the rest someday.

Emily Gref said...

Hi M.T.,

This is certainly an intriguing twist on witches and warlocks! I especially enjoy this version of immortality, where she dies and is constantly, painfully reborn.

It does remind me very strongly of THE LAST UNICORN, though. And I'm not sure why the extinction of witches would mean the end of all that's "humane and good in the world". I feel the stakes need to be clarified here - WHY is it a bad thing, what happens if the warlocks win, why would Elsbeth become evil? And why is she searching for other witches in the first place? I had to reread several times before I understood that she was lonely, and not that she wanted someone to break her curse and let her die for good.

If she doesn't realize Hopkins is hunting the witches, why is the clock ticking when she is reborn in the opening pages?

All that said, I did enjoy your sample and think this has a lot of potential.

Best of luck!

All the best,