Monday, March 7, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is an awesome blogfest at KayKay's Corner that everyone with a first chapter should join.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Since we have a limited amount of time to catch an agent's eye, the first hundred words of our manuscript have to shine. For this fest, we post the first 550 words of our books and go around to people's sites to critique them. Sounds like fun.

I'd specifically like to know at what points you get pulled in and at what points your mind starts to wander because something needs to be cut or reduced. Thanks!

Sacred Fire

The sun set over the river Tiber, painting its currents pink, like ribbons waving in the breeze. Tuccia clutched the edge of her seat. Whenever their carriage passed over the Tiber, she knew Rome was close.
Tuccia squeeled and jumped onto her pater’s lap. “We’re almost there, tata!” she cried. This trip was a rare and anticipated treat. Her villa was half a day’s journey from the city and her family only traveled to Rome to see the bustling festivals that turned the city into a glowing religious spectacle.

“Which festival are we going to?” Tuccia asked as she pulled on her pater’s toga.

“I told you, we aren’t going for a festival,” he reminded her.

“Then what are we going to do in the city?”

Tuccia’s mater sat close to her pater and watched him with a cold, emotionless face. He opened his mouth to answer, and he looked at her mater with apprehension as he did so. Her expression didn’t change, but she shook her head and mouthed the word “no.” He cleared his throat. “It’s a surprise,” he said.

He picked her up and sat her back down. Tuccia fidgeted in her seat.

The raeda crossed through the city gates and descended into the crowded cobblestone streets. They were surrounded by rows of thick columns hefting up heavy, towering ceilings of marble. Tuccia felt small in a way that was breathtaking. 

“Tuccia! Get back inside!” snapped her mater.

Tuccia looked at her pater, who nodded for her to come back in, so she reluctantly sat in her seat and strained her ears to see if she could still hear anything. The voices blurred into an incoherent mess, so she could only cross her arms and scowl.

As it grew darker, the people gradually thinned out. The streets cleared enough for their raeda to move smoothly without frequent stops, so the grand buildings passed too quickly for Tuccia to get a good look at them.

The moment the raeda stopped moving, Tuccia jumped out of her seat and waited impatiently for her parents to open the door. When her pater lifted her out of the raeda, Tuccia saw a small round temple with a thin pillar of smoke curling lazily from the roof.

“We’re at Vesta’s temple!” Tuccia cried as she clapped her hands with joy.

They had recently gone to the Vestalia festival, the only time of the year when women could go into the temple and see the constantly burning fire inside. Tuccia was mystified by the eternal heath-fire of Rome. No matter how much she had begged her mater to let her go inside, her mater insisted she wasn’t old enough. Tuccia was jealous of Vesta’s priestesses who could go inside whenever they wanted.


  1. I love it. I want to read more. Hey, once I turn in my dissertation in June, may I read your book?

  2. Only if you let me read your dissertation.

  3. This has nice imagery.
    I was a little confused about where the girl was sitting and what kind of transportation a raeda is.
    I wonder if you can find a spot to tell us her age.
    Two little errors I saw: it looked like it was rested in the sky / she was firmly remind
    Thanks for sharing your work.

  4. Teralyn,
    I've got an advantage reading this--I taught World History and Latin. ; ) The Latin words didn't stump me, but other readers might have a pause at raeda, Mater and Pater. I'm a bit worried it Tuccia will like this surprize when they leave without her. Good opener.

    BTW, I'm following you now. ; )

  5. I'm one of those readers who got stuck at mater and pater. Had to read a little to figure it out. I'm not sure about the age of your target audience. Might be YA, could be middle grade. It depends on the age of your main character. The last paragraph sounds a lot like telling instead of showing. I wonder if there's a way you can weave it into the story without stopping the pace to talk about the eternal hearth-fire of Rome.

    Setting is the strongest aspect of this excerpt. I especially liked Tuccia's reaction to the columns. Great showing!

    Thanks for sharing your work. Natasha Hanova

  6. I agree with Natasha. Age of the reader can make things like use of Latin terms problematic. A high schooler may get it; a middle schooler will not. I'm also one of those driven nuts by a MC's name which I can't figure out pronunciation of. That's just a personal thing. Great aspect to this piece is setting the scene.

  7. Thanks for everyone's help so far! I just tweaked it, so hopefully it sounds better.

    This is actually written for adults. It throws some people off because she starts off as a kid. She's six. I tried to show this instead of coming out and saying it by having her on her dad's lap.

  8. Okay, good, I'm glad she was six. She seemed pretty young.

    I also don't know what a raeda is. I like the idea of using that word because it's probably time/location-specific. On the other hand, I don't think pater/mater is necessary. I don't think you would lose anything by just using father/mother.

    I love the name Tuccia. It's not only intriguing, but it's aesthetically pleasing to the eye (that's me being a geeky ex-linguist). I think you've done a nice job building the setting and giving us some idea of what's to come (I assume the tension stems somewhat from this eternal flame?)

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. By the way, her name is pronounced "Tukia." Was that everyone's guess?

  10. I read a lot of Roman era books so I picked up on the Latin words straight away, Mater and Pater is quite easy to figure out, but with the raeda maybe you could add a description just after the first use of the word? Maybe something like this:

    The raeda, a four wheeled wagon with a canvas roof drawn by horses/mules, crossed through the city gates..

    I noticed you used 'carriage' in the first paragraph, which should give that away straight away but sometimes it's not picked up on.

    And I agree with writesbymoonlight, maybe you could add the part about the festival when Tuccia asks her father what festival they are going to?

    I love how young the character seems, and I have a feeling she's about to get left behind - I look forward to reading more!

    (All comments made as an avid reader!)

    Lady A x

  11. I read pater and I had to pause, but I figured it out after a second. I probably would have gotten it straight away but my brain feels a tad-bit fried currently.

    From following your blog for a while, I think I know what's going to happen. Though halfway through, I still had to wonder where they were headed. So it's not too obvious but it still draws your reader in. Good job.

  12. I can't decide if your MG is a very young child or not. I know she's young since she's not allowed in the temple, but is she nine? ten? Thirteen?

    Nice job, but nothing sinks its claws into me at the very beginning. There's no big event. Nothing explosive to hold my attention. They're in a wagon headed for Rome. I'd keep reading because I like historical fiction and female MG's. Keep writing, definitely, but capture your reader in the first two sentences. :)


  13. You've got some nice imagery in this segment. You've woven in suspense with the way her parents don't give her a real answer of why they are going there. I liked that. But you MC sounds so very young, yet I wasn't able to extrapolate her real age from the writing.

  14. I would keep reading. I am caught. What is going to happen to Tuccia? Those were some interesting times, and I think some interesting things could be around the corner. Especially when her Mater is telling her Pater not to let the cat out of the bag.

    I didn't know the meanings of the words mentioned in earlier posts, but the river Tiber was a landmark that told me to be patient until I could figure it out from context.

    There are some sentences and words that seemed like they could be smoothed out. But then again, it added authenticity to the voice of a six-year-old girl. So maybe that was on purpose?

  15. You have great imagery in this piece. And I'm a nerd for anything set in ancient Rome, so this is right up my alley. Also, glad to hear she's only six here. I was thinking she sounded pretty young :)

    I'd love to keep reading! Thanks for sharing!

  16. I like the details of the setting, though perhaps the little flecks of latin serve to confuse things more than to create atmosphere. Because they are in the language, they almost draw attention to the fact that everything else is really in English.

  17. Interesting! Love the setting, the use of the latin words (which didn't phaze me, and I don't think a reader would mind if you explain the 'more complicated' ones or add a glossary) and the tone you use.

    Are they really leaving her there to be a Vestal virgin?

    Only sentence that bothered me a bit: "When the wheels made a different sound – the sound of wood against wood – she gasped." - maybe if you turned it around? She gasped when the sound of the wheels changed...?

  18. This is great!! I love ancient Rome and Greece and all that, so would love to know more of what this story is about.

    I got confused at this part:

    “Tuccia! Get back inside!” snapped her mater.

    I didn't realise she had got out of her seat. Maybe you could add a sentence to indicate that, i.e. "Tuccia leaned out of the raeda window" or whatever.


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