Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #13: Seductress

Name: Jessica Grace Kelley (@JessicaGraceLit)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: Seductress

35-word Pitch: In an alternate universe where perfumes are drugs, a young socialite travels to Parise to take vengeance on the Count of Grosmith, the man who forced her mother into a life as a courtesan.

First 500 Words:

I stare down at my white knuckles, the same color as the creamy envelope they clutch. This letter holds the last bit of guidance my mother ever gave me. Once this move is made, the rest of her vengeance will be up to me. A vengeance I spent years preparing for.
               My whole life has led to this.
  “Focus, Em." Darcane's voice pulls me back to the carriage. "Remember why we’re here. This is the first step to taking back what’s yours.”  Darcane sits in the seat across from me.  He’s hidden by shadows, except for the outline of his tailored jacket and auburn hair, but I know he’s staring me down, criticizing every inch of me in the best and worst ways.
“Don’t you mean what was hers?” I slip mother's letter back into my clutch.
“You’re the heir to her fortune. Now it belongs to you.” Darcane’s words curl around the truth, bitterness dripping from that last syllable. When mother made me her beneficiary instead of her favored employee, as she promised, it was a blow to his pride. 
His fury is too good not celebrate with a grin. 
 Darcane shifts forward, the glare from the window highlighting his unfortunately gorgeous grey stare. It digs into me, mapping my weakness, and his jaw dances as he presses his molars down on unspoken words. 
 "Don't be so quick to laugh, " he says. “You inherited everything, including the debts she never paid and the enemies she made. We both know how long that list was.”
  Long enough to drive us from London. 
I fall back into the cushioned seat.  That coal-coated city never offered me much kindness, but it would’ve been nice to have a say in my address. Instead, Darcane and I fled as soon as he forged new identity papers.  I don’t miss wondering if I’d be gutted by some Black Tips’ lackey or offed by some desperate soul indebted to my mother, but the choice to stay is one more check mark on the list of things stolen from me. 
A Skyrail engine sounds its horn from above. I slip a finger beneath the window curtain to peek at the street outside, craning my neck for a glimpse of their infamous speeding cars. All I see are the ornate store fronts Parise is so famous for. It's beautiful. I understand why mother loved it.  She was happy here, once. Before the Count betrayed her.
I wonder if the Count knows how black he turned her soul.
The curtain slips from my fingers. We aren’t here to sightsee. We’re to ruin the Count of Grosmith by stealing his business’ secrets and wringing his heart. Today is the first move. I need to persuade the Count's head Perfumist to make me a potion off the books. That isn’t a simple task. Darcane has a job to do too, and I’m nervous about his ability to pull it off.  I don’t like being dependent on other people.
 Especially him.


  1. Hi Jessica!

    You have a strong pitch and concept, but the alternate universe part is telling us either it's our world different or a totally new world. If it's the latter, you probably don't need it, since as a Fantasy, that's normally understood. Also, it's not hinted why the perfume connects to why she needs revenge. If they don't you can probably cut the perfume part, if they do, then you can easily tie them together somehow to strengthen this even more!

    Great first paragraph! My only suggestion is change white to whitened, that way it's more showing the tension she has then only telling us her skin tone.

    The line about her whole life leading to this is good. But what had it spent doing? Hint at this and it'll give us an idea or even make us more curious about what's she going to do.

    I'd change: "Darcane sits in the seat across from me. He’s hidden by shadows..." to Darcane sits hidden in the shadows across from me..." that way it flows smoother. I like the line about him criticizing though.

    Right now, I'm not sure if Darcane is that employee or if its someone else. I'm assuming its him but you might want to clarify a little more.

    The line about London threw me out of the scene. I didn't have any description of what was around them to tell me what era they were in. Also, why are they in a carriage when there are rains in the sky and cars on the road? What kind of store fronts are they? Maybe hint what they sell or are made out of.

    The ending paragraph is too much info for us to take in. We haven't gotten much grip with the perfumes being poison in the story, what the Count actually did, or why Darcane isn't very trustworthy, except for the pitch, which a first time reader won't have if they pick the book up randomly off the shelf. I think what you need to focus on is either a bit more of what destroyed her mother through the count and then on the poison. Darcane should wait for now due to the way the flow is right now. Focus on her desire for revenge and hint why some more.

    I hope this helps! :D


  2. Hello Jessica:

    Fun ideas here, I enjoyed reading. Here are my comments:

    I was thrown by the spelling of Parise (wondered if it was a typo). I see it's not by reading on, but perhaps change the spelling of London, too, to reinforce alternate world? Londontown?

    500 WORDS:
    I like the intro - agree with combining sentences about hidden the shadow mentioned in previous comment. I was confused by the description of the mother making her daughter her beneficiary instead of an employee - not sure why this would be weird. Wouldn't the daughter automatically be a mother's beneficiary?

    "presses his molars down" seems a little off. perhaps "... and his jaw twitches as he bites down on unspoken words."

    Edit suggestion "I celebrate his fury with a grin of my own."

    "Long enough to drive us from London" - I actually took this literally on first read - maybe clarify with "Long enough to drive us out of London."

    I think storefront can be one word.

    Missing a word in this sentence: "We’re HERE to ruin the Count of Grosmith"

    It should be "businesses' secrets" or "business secrets". NOt sure about "wringing his heart." Maybe "breaking his heart"? or "destroying his heart the way he destroyed my mother's."

    "I’m nervous about his ability to pull it off" - telling not showing?

    Good luck with PitchWars!
    Keli (#8)

  3. Great, in-scene start! I just want to second what Bethany said. :)

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Pitch: I’m in for revenge! I'd second the comments that you don't really need the "in an alternate world where perfumes are drugs..." bit. Focus on the revenge and what happens if she fails.

    500 words:
    Great starting paragraph. In the first sentence, you don't need the "down" in I stare down. Also, this is picky but do knuckles clutch anything? Finally, I would lose the last sentence because I find it too repetitive with the next paragraph, which I like better.

    I'm torn a little on the first bits of dialogue. I enjoy them, but worry others may find them too telling. After all, the characters know why they're there.

    "I know he’s staring me down, criticizing every inch of me in the best and worst ways" is a good opportunity to describe her looks or what she is wearing, if it fits well here.

    "When mother made me her beneficiary instead of her favored employee, as she promised, it was a blow to his pride." I had to read this several times. It's confusing because we know that's her mother, so the favored employee comment doesn't immediately click. I'm not sure how to clarify it, but you may want to see if that confuses others.

    "His fury is too good not celebrate with a grin." I'm in love with this line! Awesome!

    "I fall back into the cushioned seat." You don't need back, you could just say I fall against or into the cushioned seat.

    "I slip a finger beneath the window curtain to peek at the street outside, craning my neck for a glimpse of their infamous speeding cars" As written, "craning my neck..." is a participle which modifies street. Easier to read if it says"...peek at the street outside and crane my neck..."

    The 2nd to last paragraph is a bit more telling than we need in the first two pages, IMO. I'd cut some of the explanation, like this: " The curtain slips from my fingers. We aren’t here to sightsee. Today is the first move. Darcane has a job to do too..." And I cut it off there because this part of it, I'd prefer to be shown rather than told: "and I’m nervous about his ability to pull it off. I don’t like being dependent on other people."

    Great job! I'd read on for sure!

    Julie (#3)

  5. Hey Jessica!

    First off, as I'm warning all SFF, this isn't really my genre, so ignore my comments if it's just a genre thing!

    The pitch:
    Intriguing. I have to say, at first, the perfumes as drugs thing kind of turned me off. It didn't seem like a strong enough difference to make this an alternate universe and seemed a little boring. Then, I read your first 500 words, and I can definitely get on board with this premise. So, I guess, the point of saying all that is you might want to find a way to really jazz that part up.
    The alternate universe phrase and your first 500 words leads me to believe alternate history instead of fantasy, but that might just be me, especially since it seems the only difference is the perfumes. (Semantics?)
    I'd like to hear more about the risk she's taking going after this Count. What makes him so dangerous? (35-words, I know!)

    The words:
    The first paragraph is good! I'm really brought into the story and the language outlines what kind of story we're to expect, as far as time period, setting, etc.
    I get a little turned off/eye-rolly at "his unfortunately gorgeous grey stare" just because it seems a little cliché but also a little too tamped down? I'm ALL about romance, and hinting at it is great. Could you go for something more like, "his infuriatingly entrancing grey stare"? (But, like, better.) The character seems reserved and everything, but the phrase you have there isn't making me interested in the implied romance, especially after the "it digs into me" that follows it. It's obviously evoking a reaction in her, so I want one, too.
    The "Long enough to drive us from London" part confused me, because first I thought it was enough money to get them out of London, but, really, they've been exiled. So, maybe, "Long enough to drive us out of London."? I don't know if that's clearer to anyone else, but it is for me. Or use "exile."
    Love this line: "...but the choice to stay is one more check mark on the list of things stolen from me."
    Okay, with the Skyrail engine mention, shows us it's a little more than an alternate history, maybe.
    You're doing a great job of foreshadowing/placing breadcrumbs about her mother and the Count. Others have said too much telling, but I like it!
    I like the way it ends, too. A fortunate place for the 500 words to end!

    Overall, I really enjoyed it. Like I said before, the premise didn't entice me much, but your writing did. I would continue reading this for sure. Still not sure about the alternate universe. It makes it sound so much more high fantasy where this seems more historical fantasy? But this is just the first 500 words, so it's hard to tell and, like I said, it's not really my genre. I think your writing is really solid, so you're definitely talented and you have me interested reading. The only thing I'd like to know a little more about is the stakes, either in the pitch or the first 500-ish words. By that I mean, what is Em risking by going after the Count? Is he dangerous? Will he kill her? Her motivation is clear, but does she have anything to lose?

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  6. This is an intriguing premise! In the first 500 words, however, I want more in-scene and less backstory and explanation. This can be accomplished by trimming some of it, and by simply moving some of it later. I tend to like books that hint at the conflict but don't come right out and say it immediately, though, so that's my personal preference. Here, I'd like to see more of the setting and get a strong feel for where they are and how she's feeling, along with some clues to her mission.

    For example, in just three lines we have two characters reiterate the problem three times:
    -A vengeance I spent years preparing for
    -My whole life has led to this.
    -Remember why we’re here. This is the first step to taking back what’s yours.

    I think just using one of those lines in the first few paragraphs will get the reader hooked without hitting them with it too hard.

    Similarly, when you describe how Darcane forged their papers and they fled- I think this could be moved a few pages later. Let us know that they fled home in a hurry, and let the reader wonder why and how. We don't need all of that right away. What we need a sense of the character, the stakes, and, in my opinion, a strong sense of place.

    there's a lot of really good stuff in these first 500 words. I would just look closely to see what has to be on the page right away and whether you can spend more time in-scene in the first few pages while postponing some of the backstory /information for a little later so we can get invested in the characters from the start.

    Strong writing and a cool premise. I hope I get to read more of this someday!

    Emily #15

  7. Hi Jessica!

    I've been critiquing in number order, but the moment I read your pitch a few days ago I was excited to review your piece because I LOVE this concept. I'm going to go somewhat against what others have said by saying that you had me at 'perfumes are drugs'. It's instantly novel and intriguing to me.

    The only things I'd love to see would be the character's name and clearer stakes, which I think you could squeeze in with some rewording. e.g:
    "In an alternate universe where perfumes are drugs, young socialite [name] must travel to Parise and take vengeance on the Count who forced her mother into courtesanship/harlotry or risk [stakes]."

    FIRST 500:
    I really enjoyed this opening! Right from the start, you pulled me in with the characterisation, conflict and mystery. These are the main things I picked up on:

    I think you could get rid of the filtering in the opening line, as well as creamy. e.g. "My knuckles are white, the same colour as the envelope they clutch." Though, I do agree with Julie that knuckles don't really do the clutching themselves. "The envelope clutched in my hands", maybe?

    In fact, I'd maybe even consider doing away with the first line completely. The second is much more intriguing. "The letter in my hands holds the last bit of guidance my mother ever gave me." That's the kind of line that gets you hooked.

    This next point may be because I'm tired, but in the "bitterness dripping from that last syllable" section, using the word 'syllable' instead of word made me have to go back and re-read what Darcane said. Perhaps something like 'Darcane's remark curls around the truth...', allowing you to say 'last word' there without it sounding repetitive.

    Again, could be my tiredness, but I had to reread the "when mother made me her beneficiary" line a few times to get what you were saying.

    And lastly, even though I do love this scene, I wonder if you'd consider staging it once they've already reached their destination instead of during the carriage-ride. I think the only thing that would make the opening stronger is more action driving the thoughts, dialogue and backstory, and that's hard to do in a travelling scene.

    These are pretty minor things, though. Overall I really enjoyed your opening and your pitch and definitely would have carried on reading if I had your whole book!

  8. Hello!! Thank you for entering #YayYA!! :D

    Pitch: Paris is spelled Paris in French, unless this is a deliberate edit. I think your genre also might be steampunk or alternate historical fantasy as opposed to just straight fantasy. It's a good pitch, but I think the need for revenge will strike home if you just flat out say the MC's mother was forced into being a mistress, which is the idea I'm getting here, instead of "courtesan."

    First 500: I think this could use a killer first sentence. A good first sentence can carry people into this introductory, anticipatory scene. I think you could use some more sensory details, as well, and could cut some filtering, such as "I wonder," or "I understand."

    Also, what era are we looking at? Futuristic? Victorian? Revolution? The only three hints I have right now are "tailored jacket," "coal-coated city," and the skyrail, which make me think this might be Steampunk and therefore Victorian, but is their carriage pulled by horses? Maybe I'm just being a picky history nerd, but I like a good sense of what kind of era I'm being dropped into :D

    On the technical side of things, your writing is otherwise clean. I'd love to hear your voice come out more, but otherwise this is pretty good! Good job!

  9. This scene sets up some nice atmosphere, and gives us a glimpse of the ways in which this world differs from ours. It also quickly lets us know the relationship between the protagonist and Darcane, and that he's hot and she doesn't want him to be. The fact he thought he would inherit, but she did instead, adds some nice tension to their relationship, and raises the questions: if he thought the money was his, why is he helping her? And will he betray her?

    In the opening paragraph, " Once this move is made" is passive voice that sticks out. Is Em not the one making the move? It gives the impression Em is distancing herself from her agency in seeking revenge, which doesn't track with her next thoughts about how she's spent years preparing for it. Occasional passive voice can be alright, but I'd caution against using it in the opening paragraph.

    You're a very good writer. This opening is dark and tense and sets up a bit of nice world-building, but I wonder if this scene is the best place to start. When you strip all the nice imagery away, it's a scene about two people going somewhere, and the protagonist is thinking about why she's there and about all her plans for the future. Her interactions with Darcane feel like "as you know, Bob" moments, because both of them already know the information they're sharing.

    These lines in particular: " We’re to ruin the Count of Grosmith by stealing his business’ secrets and wringing his heart. Today is the first move. I need to persuade the Count's head Perfumist to make me a potion off the books." make me wish we'd started with her trying to persuade the head Perfumist to make the potion. If this is a story of intrigue, why spoil the surprise by having Em tell us flat-out what she's here to do? I think if the line ended with " We’re to ruin the Count of Grosmith" that would give us a clear enough picture of what her goal is without tipping her hand too much.

    That being said, you have me intrigued to get past the boring traveling and see what plots will unfold! I'm looking forward to having this on my shelf in a few years.

    -Katherine (#17)

  10. Hey Jessica! Thanks so much for sharing SEDUCTRESS with us! I think alternate universe stories are so underrated, and the French court is such a vibrant, wonderful setting. I’m interested to see how the perfumes play a role in your world!

    I think your pitch is really strong! I think since the reader doesn’t know what Parise is yet, you can easily fold that information into the first part of your pitch. Maybe something like “In an alternate version of Paris where perfumes are drugs.” I also don’t think you need to say the Count of Grosmith since in a pitch, that title means nothing to your reader. The following phrase is strong enough to explain why your protagonist would want vengeance against this man even if we don’t know who he is.

    I don’t think you need both “a vengeance I spent years preparing for” and “My whole life has led to this” in the first paragraph since they both serve the same purpose.

    I get what you mean, but the phrase “When mother made me her beneficiary instead of her favored employee” as it’s worded now implies Em was supposed to become the favored employee.

    I love the hints of antagonism between Darcane and Em. He hasn’t really done anything sinister in this first page, so I think this is another area where you can show through his actions exactly why Em distrusts him so much without her just telling us she does.

    You give us way too much of the plan in the last paragraph. On this first page, all the reader really needs are hints to what is going on. That way, they’ll be seeing the plan unfold alongside your characters. You have all the elements there, just let them fall together more naturally.

    Best of luck with Pitch Wars!
    -Rosie (#12)

  11. Thanks for the feedback everyone! Can't wait to go a second round. Good luck to all!