Monday, January 21, 2013

Bouncer Post #47

YA Fantasy
90,000 words


The tale of Tristan and Iseult's epic romance has been told for a thousand years, but the bards didn't get the whole story: this is Branwen's story.

Cousin and lady’s maid to Princess Iseult of Ireland, nineteen-year-old Branwen is gifted with natural healing abilities and possesses a fiercely loyal heart. Orphaned as a child, Branwen isn't romantic by nature and will do everything in her power to end the war between Ireland and Cornwall that killed her parents.

When a Cornish minstrel washes up on the beach, she stitches his wounds with love-knots and he steals her heart. To her surprise, he reappears at the Irish court to win Iseult for King Mark of Cornwall. Branwen's wave-tossed poet is none other than Prince Tristan. Although Tristan wins Iseult's hand for his uncle, he asks Branwen for her hand himself.

Branwen is entrusted with safeguarding Iseult's virtue until her marriage to the King of Cornwall as well as the love potion they are to share on their wedding night. It's Branwen's fault when, during a storm on the voyage across the sea, Tristan and Iseult imbibe the potion and consummate their relationship.

Now it falls to Branwen to conceal the affair between her cousin and her own betrothed. If she reveals their disgrace, the fragile peace between the two kingdoms will disintegrate. Branwen must choose between honor and family, duty and passion. There must be peace at all costs, even if it means giving up the only man she’s ever loved––Tristan.

SWEET BLACK WAVES is Graceling meets Mists of Avalon in this retelling of Tristan and Iseult. It is a stand-alone YA Fantasy complete at 90,000 words with series potential. I hold a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge where I have taught the Old French Tristan legends to undergraduates. My first non-fiction book, The Myth of Morgan la Fey is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

First 250:

When the sun hit the surface of the water just right, the ocean became a field of undulating velvet. This was six-year-old Branwen’s favorite time of day. She could taste the sweet black waves.

She’d stolen down to the shore, evading her nursemaid so that she might cup the night-rich liquid with her palms. She glanced up at Castle Tara, which stood proudly atop a craggy hill, as the spray of the surf teased her and tickled her brow. She squealed in delight.

As the currant-red sun began to sink below the horizon, Branwen began to dig. With the earnest concentration of a master builder, she hollowed out the sand into a circular moat. The first line of defense. Her people had been at war with Cornwall across the sea since before Branwen was born. She already understood the importance of protecting what you loved.

Lady Alana and Lord Caedmon were due back at Castle Tara this evening and she wanted to present them with a gift––a castle of her very own. She’d been very cross with her parents for not letting her travel with them to Leinster, refusing to say goodbye. She missed them terribly and wanted them to know how very sorry she was for how she had behaved. She longed for her mother’s embrace, to bury her face in dark mahogany curls. Lady Alana always smelled of lavender.


  1. Ooh, loving this! I completely admit to having a tiny obsession with the Tristan & Isolde story (and Mists of Avalon is one of my favorite books!). I love your twist on this classic story. I think your query might be a little too long - try to distill the meat of the story down to two paragraphs, tops. You've laid out the stakes really nicely in that last paragraph.

    I'm by no means an expert on this, but I'm wondering if a 19 yr old MC might be just a shade too old for YA? You might be better off aging her down to 17, or calling this NA instead.

    I think your first 250 are great - lush description and a good voice.

    Good luck!! I'm rooting for you. :)

    Gail (#60)

    1. Thanks, Gail! Your query comments are super helpful ;-) I'm still debating the age a little bit, too, not sure about how the whole NA thing is going to pan out yet!

      Good luck to you, too, Kristina

  2. Wow this reminds me of college. My old Medieval Lit class. Good times, good times lol.

    Anyway - on to your submission!

    As for the query, I think it reads a bit too much like a summary? I love the voice in the first paragraph, and in the second to last, but I think you're trying to tell us too much in the middle so the voice gets lost. As gail above said, stick to the meat of the story, and tell us why the story of Branwen is so important.

    But the last part of the query (your bio) fits perfectly.

    In regards to the 250, I love it. It places me in a "medieval mood" if that makes any sense? In a good way mind you! Its so descriptive, and it reads like a painting. I'm a sucker for descriptions though lol. Great job.

    Wish you luck!

    -Copernicus (post #43)

    1. Great suggestions. Thanks, Copernicus! Can I call you Nic? ;-)

      Best, Kristina

  3. I have a fondness for this legend - it was a working title for a paper I published about an invasive plant (parse that out if you will - it was about love and hate in plant sex). *Academic geekiness flail* Anyway, I love, love, love it when people who know their stuff write fiction. I'm pushing my money over the counter already.

    The query works really well. Super good stakes. A few things. "Story" is used twice in the opening paragraph. Some of your sentences are a bit complex - I suggest you simplify to make them sound a bit less academic. :) (example:Branwen is entrusted with safeguarding Iseult's virtue until her marriage to the King - could just "As Iseult's chaperone" work? or consummate their relationship - "make love"). I had a moment with the love knot stitches. Wouldn't that make a painful process take longer? If that was the point, it should be clear. Personal preference - I don't like it when a query tells me something the mc "isn't" - I want to know what she IS.

    I'm thinking hard about your 250. Despite your lyrical tone, I am a little worried that it starts when the mc is 6. I say this because I had the exact same issue and was told by several agents that it is a problem for YA. I'm wondering how many chapters pass before Branwen is a teenager. Now I'm not saying it can't work as is, but you might consider whether it's possible to start with the mc older. If you have an appt with one of the agents, I suggest you discuss it as I don't feel qualified to say much more. The other thing that occurs to me is that Branwen isn't doing very much. Just digging a hole in the sand seems a little too quiet an opening. I'd like to see some conflict up front - like maybe she ran down to the beach because.....The first paragraph would benefit from letting the reader know exactly where Branwen is. At first I supposed she was on a ship or actually in the water (the tasting part).

    Thinking of fellow academics who turned to fiction - have you read Russell's The Sparrow?

  4. Hey Heather,

    I like to think of myself as a Recovering Academic myself ;-) Your paper about invasive plants sounds all kinds of awesome. Thanks for the query suggestions; always best not to sound like an abstract, huh?!

    As to Branwen's age, don't worry she only stays 6 for the first three pages! The 250 ends right before she's told that her parents have been murdered by Cornish raiders, unfortunately ;-(

    I haven't actually read The Sparrow yet, it's been on my tbr pile for a while. Now I think it's working its way up!

    Best, Kristina