I had already tried adding voice and flavor to the query to show why Tuccia’s quest for faith and courage is so monumental. I just couldn’t get it right. Finally, I asked my critiquers to look at a paragraph from the book that I felt packed the biggest punch and wrapped the story into a whole, and asked them how I could depict those themes.
And then it hit me.
I’ve been sitting on this powerful paragraph all this time. All I had to do was change it to third person, present tense, and summarize it.
I’ve discovered again and again that the hardest problems are usually solved with the easiest solutions.
Here’s my new query. It's not as great as the exerpt from the book, which I guess is inevitable. I think this is The One (but I always think that, so who knows?) Below is the exert that inspired me.
Tuccia awaits trial knowing she will be executed for a crime she did not commit: losing her virginity. For other Roman women, this isn’t an offense, but for a priestess of Vesta, such a sin displeases the gods and condemns Rome to ruin.
Tuccia’s accuser is a vengeful priest who failed to seduce her. With a priest’s testimony against her, no one will believe Tuccia is innocent. Only the goddess Vesta has the power to save her life. If Vesta will allow Tuccia to perform a miracle, it will prove that she is favored by the gods. If she fails, she will be put to death.
Tuccia has distrusted Vesta ever since another Vestal Virgin was wrongly accused and executed for the same crime. If Tuccia puts her faith in Vesta for the first time and fails at the miracle, it will prove her guilt. The other vestals try to persuade her to go to trial instead, but she is tired of others deciding her fate for her. She is tired of living in fear and doubt because she doesn’t know if Vesta is there for her. Instead of waiting for the priests to judge her, she decides to prove to the people of Rome – and to herself – that she has the courage to perform miracles.
Sacred Fire is a historical fiction that is complete at 88,000 words.
Minucia tried to catch her breath. “Postumia told me what she asked you to do. Are you considering it?”
“You mean the miracle?” Tuccua couldn’t look at Minucia as she answered because she didn’t want to see her reaction. “Yes,” she answered. “I’m going to do it.”
Minucia’s eyes widened and her hand flew to her mouth. “You can be serious!” she gasped. “Postumia never should have asked you to do that. She never should have even suggested it.”
Tuccia raised one eye brow. “Why? I thought you believed in miracles. I thought you were the one who talked to me about faith.”
Minucia shook her head. “But this is pointless. Why don’t you just go to trial? Just go to trial, and they’ll see that you’re innocent. That’s the way this is supposed to go.”
Tuccia was surprised at her own resolve. “I can’t do that,” she answered firmly.
“Why? Why can’t you do that, when you know that if something goes wrong, they won’t even let you go to trial?”
Tuccia stopped in the road and directly faced Minucia. She answered with complete conviction. “Because I’m tired of being afraid of my own shadow. I’m tired of doubt, and wondering whether the Gods are there for me, whether they’re listening to me, whether I can even trust them. I’m tired of being a coward. This is who I want to be,” she insisted, pointing to where she stood. “I want to be one of those women who can ask for miracles. I want that kind of faith. I want to be strong enough to face whatever the Gods give me without shrinking away, and I want to make incredible things happen because I’m firm in what I believe. Even if Vesta doesn’t forgive me for my faults, even if she turns her back on me when I need her, I want to prove to everyone and myself that I was strong enough and faithful enough to do this. I have a choice, and if I die, this is how I want to die.”