It was bound to happen sooner or later. . . . There were so many terrific entries in the historical romance category that Jessica and I managed to each pick five without having any matches! So we’ve decided to do something different this time. We each chose a winner and two runners-up. That’s right! We’re awarding two critiques this time. Neither one of us were willing to compromise on our choices, so this seemed the best solution.
I’m so excited that Kim and I could not agree on a winner. First of all, that means two critiques and four honorable mentions, but it also shows how completely subjective this business is. Crazy! Two people who love so many of the same books and authors have such different tastes when it comes to those first 100 words. There were so many great openings here that I really had a hard time picking, but in the end I’m required to pick a winner.
So my winner is . . .
Devon Matthews —Wild Texas Rose
Texas - 1885
Trey Delaney stood amid the cinders next to the iron rails and watched the Southern Pacific fade into the shimmering heat veils on the horizon. What did he expect? That the train might suddenly throw on its brakes and start rolling backward because one last passenger had forgotten to get off?
He’d never been much of a praying kind of man. He figured divine intervention was reserved for those who were too helpless to help themselves, but as he’d watched the few passengers disembark at the depot a whispered, “Please, God,” slipped from his lips.
She hadn’t come.
I even surprised myself by picking this one. As you’ll see, most of my picks are Regencies, but I was really excited by this voice and in the end this was the stand-out for me. The agony that Trey feels when she doesn’t get off the train comes through easily and makes me want to hear more. And of course I’m dying to know who he’s waiting for. I also think this opening was a little different from the rest. It stood above the others in my mind.
Kim’s winner is . . .
Anonymous 12:04 am — Myddleford
The soles of his boots were roasting. He could feel it. He could smell it. That wasn't a problem; Ranulf wanted to die with warm feet. The problem was the fat bishop who waited for an answer like a dog waits for table scraps.
Life in return for loyalty.
For too many months Ranulf had watched as old friends were dragged off for execution. Death had become his only reliable companion. Death had become a friend.
“Sounds like a poor bargain to me.” He stamped one smoking boot on the stone floor. His feet were warm enough.
I love that we’re being thrown into the hero’s dire situation right off the bat. But what’s even better is the character’s sense of humor about the whole thing. “Ranulf wanted to die with warm feet.” I can tell that this is a hero I’ll love reading about from beginning to end . . . I’m dying to find out what will happen next. Why have his friends been executed? And how the heck is he going to get out of this mess? I’d definitely keep turning the pages!
Congratulations, Devon and Anonymous! When you’re ready for us to critique your query letters, synopses, and first chapters, please just e-mail us from the blog link.
Moving on to our runners-up . . . I have to say that I had a really hard time picking a winner out of my top three choices. There was something I absolutely loved about each one of them, and I think Jessica would agree. We felt that they were so strong, we each had to pick two runners-up this time. This means fewer honorable mentions tomorrow, but we really just felt that these entries deserved the added recognition.
Lanie Foster — Eyes on Me
It was just a whisper said into the wind, something not meant to be heard, but Lucia had heard it. She had heard it, and when she did, wished that she was deaf.
The man tapped his cane in an impatient manner, lips curled into a supercilious sneer, as he watched her pull out the small vial from the depths of her cloak pocket.
“Hurry up. I haven’t got all night.”
These words had a real air of sadness to them. Who is this woman and what has she gotten herself into? Is she really a whore or just a drug dealer? I think it says a lot about my tastes though when two of my picks use the word “whore.” Of course, I’m not sure what exactly it says, but it says a lot. I also like the fact that, at least in the opening, it doesn’t seem that your heroine is going to be the typical society girl. I’m always interested in reading about those on the other side of the tracks.
Anonymous 11:36 pm — Masquerade
The Vatican, 1503
The stench of death filled Marcello DiAmante's nostrils, his stomach turning over in protest. The torch light flickered through the gallery storeroom, dimly illuminating the fresh corpse. Marcello glanced up at his companion, he could smell the Pope's fear.
"My friend, believe me when I tell you this is not what I brought you here to see." The Pope, Pius III, swept his arms across the area, indicating the priest's splayed body. "I do not know what evil dares to lurk in this holiest of places."
The two men knelt beside the twisted and badly beaten body, his throat cut.
Even though this opening read nothing like historical romance I had to add it to my list as a bonus. Is this romance or a historical thriller? Because it reads much more like a thriller. Of course anything to do with the Pope will make most readers think of The Da Vinci Code, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Great opening.
Vicky Dreiling — The Duchess Competition
The belles of the Beau Monde had resorted to clumsiness in an effort to snag a ducal husband.
Tristan James Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne, conceded he’d contributed to this national disgrace. Ever since the gossip rags had declared him the most eligible bachelor in England, Tristan had rescued twenty-nine lace handkerchiefs, three kid gloves, and twelve fans.
If only it were possible to select one’s wife based on the inelegance of her fumbling, he’d have wedded and bedded the most inept candidate by now. Alas, even he wasn’t desperate enough to settle for Her Gracelessness.
Just plain wonderfully written. I can see Tristan standing there and smirking. Another hero I’m dying to hear more from. From this short excerpt, we know that he plays his role as a society gentleman, but he recognizes the silliness of it all and doesn’t take himself too seriously either. I’m dying to meet the woman who will catch his eye and get past his jaded perception on the fairer sex.
Steph — Stolen
Madeline Thorne was blessed with the kind of beauty that could, quite frankly, cause a man to overlook the fact that she was a complete bitch.
The only child of an impoverished country sir, she possessed (in abundance) two of the least attractive qualities in a future wife: she was spoiled and poor.
But she was very, very pretty.
“There is only one option for a lady such as she,” the Duke of Clarence lamented. Feeling quite charitable, he made her a proposition.
She slapped him.
Outraged, His Grace ruined her.
And she ruined him right back.
This time it’s the heroine that’s caught my attention. I’m not sure I’d like Madeline Thorne, but she certainly intrigues me. There’s something to be said for a writer that can describe a character as a spoiled bitch and yet still leave the reader rooting for her. I want to know how she ruined him right back. Such a great last line. Nice work!
Congratulations to our runners-up! We really enjoyed reading your work. Another reminder: Don’t be discouraged from querying us if we didn’t pick your entry. As I said, we thought this batch of entries was especially strong, and there’s a good chance you could hook us with a great query letter. The first 100 words isn’t the be-all and end-all.
Time to announce another contest!
TODAY IS THE THRILLER/SUSPENSE CONTEST! (Please note that a romantic suspense contest is still to come, so if you think your book is better suited to that category you may want to wait a week or so.)
Here are the rules:
1. We’ll only accept entries that are posted in the comments section of this blog article. No e-mailed entries will be considered.
2. Include your title and the first 100 words of your book. Now, we’re not saying to leave us hanging mid-sentence here. Stop wherever the previous sentence ends, but do not exceed 100 words.
3. The same work cannot be entered in more than one genre. If you think your book straddles more than one genre, you’ll have to pick one. We will, however, accept multiple works from the same author in the same or different categories.
4. Once the material is entered, it’s your final entry. We won’t allow revised versions of the same work.
5. We’re accepting excerpts of both finished and unfinished works.
6. The deadline is tomorrow, March 20th, at 9:00 a.m. EST.
And in case you’ve forgotten, the prize is a critique of the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of the winning entry! The winner will e-mail us the additional material and we’ll provide our notes privately, not on the blog. We will, however, discuss what we liked about each winning 100-word entry on the blog, and will pull out a few honorable mentions to highlight other excerpts that came close and why.
We’ll post the winners in a few days and then move on to the next genre. Keep an eye out for your category!