Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #2

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

A medieval baron's daughter must marry the man who murdered her father or put the rest of her family in danger. Marguerite de Courcy is fifteen and in love with her brother's best friend. The thirty-five-year-old Earl of Felgor has already broken one young wife and is now determined to own the piece of land that is Marguerite's marriage portion.

When the earl threatens to lay siege to their castle, her brother sends Marguerite and their younger brother John to safety in London with two household knights who've known them all their lives. They must also find Marguerite's twin sister Marie and warn her of the danger. But the knights have no intention of taking Marguerite and John to safety. The earl has promised a rich reward for bringing them to him.

Though Marguerite and John escape and reach Marie, the earl's men are always on their heels. Now, racing through winding city lanes behind her sister and brother, Marguerite must make a choice. All three of them can go on running. Or she can sacrifice herself by turning into one of the side alleys and letting the pursuers capture her so the other two can get away.

My young adult historical adventure, BEYOND THE CASTLE WALLS, is set in late twelfth century England and is complete at 74,000 words.

I took graduate courses in medieval English language and literature at Indiana University. A grant from Culture Works, a local arts agency, allowed me to visit Canterbury and London. My young adult story "The Fairy Godmother's Trial" appeared online in the September 2011 issue of Enchanted Conversation, and a medieval story, "John's Bluff," took eighth place in the Children's and Young Adult category of the 2011 Writer's Digest competition. I'm an active member of SCBWI and a reviewer for, a subscription website for teachers and librarians.

Many thanks for adding this contest to your busy schedule.



Silburn Castle, July 16, 1199 

Marguerite de Courcy pressed her forehead against the trunk of the tallest apple tree and beat her fists against the bark.

I'm not ready. I'll never be ready.

All too soon, her father and her brother Hugh would ride back from the siege of Winham Castle. She would rejoice to have them safely home, but Robert Severin, Earl of Felgor, would ride with them.

She beat the bark with her fists again. He was so old. Already thirty-five. She wouldn't even be sixteen until October. And when he arrived, her freedom would end forever.

From the top of the tree, she'd be able to see if he was coming. She pulled off her shoes, her stockings, and the gauzy veil that covered her long, red-gold braid. The last time she'd climbed, she'd torn her stockings on a dead twig and suffered Hertha's fury.

She hitched up her skirts and tied them with the silk cord that circled her waist. If only all she had to worry about was the old housekeeper's anger. Being married to Earl Robert would be torment of a far worse kind.

She reached for the lowest limb and caught hold of it with both hands. The familiar feel of bark between her fingers spurred her on, and she wedged her bare right foot into the space between trunk and limb. From there she climbed, making sure to keep her skirts away from ragged wood.


BRM said...

Hello J.D.,

Right away, I was aware of the stakes. You made the main conflicts clear, and I immediately wanted to know how the protagonist would navigate these issues! I am not entirely sure what "broken" means in the context of the first paragraph, but I am still eager to read more!


Jennifer Johnson-Blalock said...

Thanks for your entry, J.D.! I think this is a great query--easy to follow with clear and high stakes, a relevant bio, just very well done. I think you could be a little more specific about the dangers the earl poses: What happened with the girl he "broke"? What will he do to Marguerite's family? And on the flip side, I think you could phrase Marguerite's choice a bit more broadly; it feels like it's narrowing to a very specific plot point. Finally, I think this is a book for which comp titles would be so helpful. YA historical really ranges in tone; I'd love to know what book(s) yours is most similar to.

Valerie Bodden said...

Hi JD, Your query and 250 are very well done, and I definitely wanted to read more! In the query, I did wonder what ever became of her brother's best friend, whom she was in love with. He appears in the first line but then isn't mentioned again--is losing the chance to be with her true love part of the stakes too? Also, is her choice of whether or not to turn down the alley the climax of the book, or is there something more to it (and I did wonder why the people chasing them wouldn't just split up and track down both her siblings and her)? Maybe, more broadly, the stakes are to keep running or to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of her siblings.

I love how you get us right into the setting on the first page without overloading us with details. The way she pounds the apple tree is great--really conveys a lot of emotion. And the description of her clothing takes us into the time period. Nice job!

Anonymous said...

PS said: Your query is intriguing. I am a fan of historical fiction, especially from the Medieval time period. Marguerite seems like a strong female protagonist who is not willing to give into her fate. I'm curious if she finds a way to escape to safety with her siblings instead of giving herself up to the Earl.

In your 250 word, I'd like to see Marguerite express her anger, frustration, and fear in a more sophisticated fashion. Beating her fists on a tree makes her appear younger than sixteen. However, I like that she climbed the tree. It shows she isn't willing to give into the conventions of the day.