First Fridays – “Light”

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To get the ball rolling with First Fridays, here are the first few pages of a YA historical novel, “Light.” It’s set at the outbreak of the French Revolution, and it’s part mystery, part love story, part ghost story. For now, it’s submitted anonymously, but the author may, of course, take ownership at any time in the comment section!

Quick Summary: Idealistic, artistic aristocrat Helene wonders what if would feel like to belong somewhere. The only person who sees the real Helene is her friend Theo, the jeweler’s apprentice she has secretly loved for years, and while she’s a stubborn mystery to her unstable mother and her philandering marquis father, their past remains a mystery to her. When the chance discovery of a bizarre brooch and some discarded sheet music gives her a glimpse into her mother’s estranged family, everything begins to change, including her relationship with Theo. They make plans to sail for America together and leave the past and its secrets behind, but in 1789 France, Helene isn’t the only one desperate for a chance to change her future.

Specific Questions: Do you want to keep reading?!? Are the characters’ goals pretty clear? How can I make it better?

Please remember to “sandwich” your comments – put any constructive criticism between compliments! Be tactfully honest with the goal of helping the author to better their work. The more comments, the more helpful this will be for all of us!

Light

1.

My beginnings, like everyone else’s, began long before I was ever born. Blood, passed down from generation to generation, is what makes a noble a noble, what makes a peasant a peasant. Your blood is your name, your destiny. But what if you want a different destiny? What if you don’t want to do as you’re told?

We are to honor the family name, honor tradition, honor the past. But the Old Blood goes cold and dries and disappears, and what’s left? Names chiseled above dates of appearance and disappearance. A portrait. A statue. Just things. If you’re lucky, you have a few stories, too—legends of extraordinary courage, saving a battalion or making a fortune. But what about courage of the ordinary sort—courage for cold mornings, doctor visits, and goodbyes? What about friendships and alliances, jealousy and betrayals? What about love or passion, hope and disappointment?

I knew a few things, but not nearly enough. Concerning my mother’s family, the duMauriers, I knew only that most of them lived in Grasse. I didn’t know how many there were, who was alive or dead, or where else they might be scattered. If I ever passed one of them on the street, I didn’t know it. I used to ask who and where and why, but I gave up asking questions like that a long time ago.

Concerning my father’s side, the d’Aubigns, I was more informed. The proud traditions, passed down from generation to generation of the d’Aubign family were, as follows:

For the men: Fencing, hunting, games of chance, successfully sneaking around behind the backs of their wives, and spending obscene amounts of money.

And for the ladies: Gossip, tennis, gossip, successfully sneaking around behind the backs of their husbands, gossip, and spending obscene amounts of money.

A note: Both sexes had a longstanding practice of sneaking around while spending said money. However, because the mere discussion of money was considered vulgar, and the counting of money was a sure sign of impending poverty, this was really quite easy and required no special talent.

They were the ultimate optimists, my family, believing it could all go on that way forever. They were, of course, about to find out otherwise.

2.

On a bright and pleasant morning in April of 1789, I was participating in the proud tradition of tennis with my mother. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

She wound up to serve. I missed it on purpose.

“Ha-ha!” she laughed, and the walls laughed back as she bounced it, preparing to serve again. The cold, sloping walls and ceiling of our Jeu de Paume court bounced voices as well as balls. I hit it back, directly to her for an easy return.

“You’re having a good game, Mother,” I said nicely, before easily hitting it out of her reach.

“What a lucky hit,” she huffed, stomping off to fetch the ball in the far corner.

I shrugged, but a smile quivered on my lips when she turned her back.

“You’ll need some more luck coming up shortly,” she said breathlessly.

“Well, you do always have a strong finish.” My serve was as half-hearted as my compliment. My father taught me long ago what he himself had learned to apply in nearly all aspects of his life: if you want to enjoy the rest of your day, let her win.

“I don’t mean in the game. We’re going to the chateau the day after tomorrow. I’ve planned a masquerade for your birthday—” she cut herself off with a grunt as she dashed to backhand the ball, but tragically missed. She picked it up crossly and began bouncing it and catching it, bouncing it and catching it. “Fifty guests.” Bounce. “Four eligible men.” Bounce. “Everyone is staying the week.” Bounce.

“And we’re leaving in two days? How will I get a costume in time?”

“I haven’t left everything up to luck. I’ve already ordered one for you. We’ll pick it up this afternoon at the dressmaker’s. And then we’ll head to Chevallier’s for some finishing touches.”

“What am I supposed to be?”

“A swan,” she said with a laugh, serving the final set.

“A swan? That’s ridiculous.” I don’t know why I persisted in being surprised by her bad taste. Could anything be more garish than dressing as a swan for a ball at the Chateau des Cygnes? Some great-grandfather or uncle named it after the swans that inhabit our lake—my lake.

“It will be striking. And that’s exactly what you need. No one has made you an offer yet, Helene. In fact, no one seems to be noticing you at all.” Her return barely made it over the net. I tapped it up high, an easy return for her, and then I dashed backward.

“Who’s supposed to notice me this time?”

“I’ve made it easy for you,” she said in her patronizing sing-song. “I made you a list. And you will try this time.”

I nailed it back at her with a merciless backhanded spin, but it didn’t matter. She won anyway.

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3 Responses to First Fridays – “Light”

  1. I like Helene! She seems like a strong central character. Honestly? I do want to keep reading to find out what happens. I’m imagining her falling for one of the men she’s supposed to impress despite not wanting to, or either someone not her her station that would be forbidden. I see her as not wanting to be like the others of her family- married to one you don’t love and cheating on them; wanting to be with ‘The One True Love’ regardless of social status.

  2. hmmmmm says:

    I love love love the image and metaphor of blood lines that you set up in the first paragraph. It is so rich and full of potential.
    I have never written historic fiction, but know that one of the big challenges can have to do with establishing and maintaining a voice that rings true not just to the character but to his/her period in history too. Apropos of that, check out this post from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Kami Kinard’s Nerdy Chicks Write “Character Building” Summer School:
    http://nerdychickswrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/amy-carol-reeves-how-to-write-historical-fiction-characters/

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