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rosepetal720
07-20-2012, 01:03 AM
I just finished what I hope will be the last revision for my historical fiction about the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome. I'd like someone to look it over for me before I submit it to agents.

If I could get the book back in 30 days, that would be fantastic. I am happy to critique any book at any stage in return. However, I would like for us to only swap the first two chapters first to make sure we're compatible.

Below is the query and first chapter so you can see if you're interested. Thanks in advance!

Dear Agent:

Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin, has dedicated her life to guarding the goddess Vesta’s perpetual fire. Tension during the Second Punic War escalates until the people demand the gods be appeased with the execution of an innocent vestal. Pinaria, a woman Tuccia loves like a mother, is chosen and buried alive.

Tuccia is devastated both by the loss of her friend and the proof that Vesta is indifferent about the safety of her priestesses. Confused and resentful, Tuccia makes some poor choices – she no longer believes Vesta cares about her actions.

When her choices lead to a priest determined to seduce her, she unwillingly becomes entangled in scandal. Tuccia is adamant in her refusal, even when the priest wrongly arrests her for impurity and insists he will let her be executed if she doesn’t give in to him.

Only a miracle can save Tuccia now. With the help of the other Vestal Virgins – and the goddess she’s loved and resented for so long – Tuccia knows exactly what miracle she needs.

SACRED FIRE is 100,000-word historical fiction. It is based on the life of a famous Vestal Virgin who proved she was favored by the gods by carrying a sieve of water from the river Tiber to the temple of Vesta.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Chapter 1

Tuccia knew she was close to Rome when the carriage wheels bumped against the bridge over the river Tiber. She gasped and clutched the edge of her seat.

“We’re almost there!” she squealed. She pounced onto her father’s lap, making him grunt as she landed her full weight on his thighs.

Her family only made the half-day journey to Rome for festivals, and once as a gift for her sixth birthday. This trip was such a rare treat that couldn’t sleep the night before and she could hardly contain herself now.

“Which festival are we going to, tata?”

“I told you, we aren’t going for a festival,” her father said as he tried to hold her still.

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

He opened his mouth to answer and glanced at her mother out of the corner of his eye. She was staring out the window with her arms crossed. Before he could speak, she turned her head to him and mouthed the word “no.”

He cleared his throat. “It’s a surprise.”

He ran his fingers through Tuccia’s brown hair before pushing her off his lap. She climbed back to her seat on the other side of the carriage and swung her legs up and down as she gazed at the passing river and the sunset turning the currents into flowing pink ribbons. Her mother’s eyebrows tightened before she turned back to the window.

Soon it rolled into view: the massive city of marble and stone. It looked like it rested in the sky. The tops of the Palatine and Aventine hills, both packed tight with brown roofs, rose above the city gates. As the carriage passed under Rome’s shadow, Tuccia could hardly breathe.

The carriage descended into streets congested with horses, cattle, litters, carriages, and people on foot. The driver stood from his seat and yelled for others to clear a spot while the carriage moved several feet at a time. Tuccia leaned out the window and let her mouth hang open as the carriage wove around rows of houses crammed against each other, fountains that spurted glistening water, and statues poised on top of monuments. She tried to see everything around her, but as always, her eyes weren’t big enough to take it all in.

They passed a building that towered over the houses. Its foundation supported rows of columns so tall that Tuccia had to crane her head back to see the roof. She recognized it as the temple of Saturn. Beyond the temple were more looming buildings clustered in a group at the center of the city. Tuccia clapped her hands. Whatever the surprise was, it would be in the forum, the heart of Rome.

Once the carriage slowed to a stop, Tuccia leapt from her seat. She bounced on the balls of her feet until her father climbed down the steps and lifted her out of the carriage. To her right, Tuccia noticed a small round temple with a thin pillar of smoke curling lazily from the roof.

“We’re at the temple of Vesta!” she cried.

This increased her excitement tenfold. The goddess of the hearth was her favorite. Every meal, her mother gave Vesta an offering of food in their hearth and Tuccia loved watching it burn. She was fascinated by the eternal hearth-fire in the temple that protected the city. When the festival of Vesta approached – the only time of the year when women could go inside the temple to see the fire – her mother was so excited that it was the only thing she talked about for weeks. Tuccia hoped the surprise was that this time, they’d let her go inside too.

It was difficult to get a good view of the temple because an audience was crowding the narrow street. The people talked to one another in hushed voices, and as far as Tuccia could tell, nothing else was happening. Her family was forced to find a place in the back on the steps of the temple of Romulus, and from there, Tuccia could just make out light from the fire licking the temple’s inner walls. Though she stood on her tiptoes, the fire was hidden from her view.

Tuccia searched the crowd for a glimpse of white, hoping to find someone very special; Vesta’s priestesses. Usually her mother pointed them out and explained to her how the six Vestal Virgins were the most sacred women in Rome. As Tuccia scanned over the crowd, she wondered what it would be like to talk to someone as sacred as a vestal. Perhaps she would sense the priestess’ spiritual power in every word she spoke.

A man in front of them nudged his neighbor and jerked his head in Tuccia’s direction. They glanced at her over their shoulders. She smiled to be polite and their heads snapped back to the front.

Right when Tuccia was about to ask her father how long they had to wait, her parents exchanged solemn looks. He rubbed her mother’s back. Tuccia knew when to ask questions and when to wait for answers; she pressed her lips shut.

The hushed conversations gave way to applause as a tall man in a purple robe and white toga appeared in front of the temple. He had broad shoulders and a strong-set face, and when he raised his arms to salute the people, firm muscles shifted under the sleeves of his tunic. His slight frown and narrow eyes made him appear harsh.

Although nearly a hundred people were gathered around him, he somehow made eye contact with Tuccia. His gaze felt like ice. Her skin prickled and she inched closer to her father.

“Tata, who is that?” asked Tuccia as she pulled on the hem of her father’s toga. “Why is everyone clapping for him?”

“It’s the Pontifex Maximus. He’s in charge of all the priesthoods.”

“Why does he want to speak to us?”

“Shh, listen.”

Behind the Pontifex Maximus stood a long line of priests and their wives dressed in the same vivid purple. A woman directly in front of Tuccia shifted her weight, making a break in the crowd just wide enough for Tuccia to see five women on the Pontifex’s right side. Their white clothing made them shine within the mass of purple.

The priestesses of Vesta.

Each priestess was beautiful in the same pure, unadorned way, like the surface of a still lake. Their only decorations were twists in their hair like ropes laid across their brows and white hoods. Their moves were graceful, even when they did something simple like folding their arms or bending over to whisper in another’s ear. Tuccia wished one of them would look at her too.

The Pontifex Maximus raised his hands high above his head and the crowd became silent.

“Citizens,” his voice boomed, “we have searched Rome’s most consequential families for the perfect candidates; daughters who we deemed perfect, with both patrician parents living and with no deformities or blemishes. It is a great honor that after such a long search, you and your daughters are chosen to be here today. Please bring your daughters forward.”

To Tuccia’s surprise, her father pushed her toward the temple entrance and the crowd parted to make way for them.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“He’s talking about you. He wants to see all the girls.”

Tuccia’s curiosity overcame her and she let herself be guided to the steps. Tuccia felt the weight of everyone staring at her and she hunched her shoulders until they touched her ears. She tried not to reveal the stirring in her stomach, or give in to the compulsion to run to her mother.

Other fathers approached the temple with their little girls huddled against their legs. A few girls covered their faces with their hands or sucked their thumbs and one held onto her mother until her father pried her away.
The Pontifex Maximus looked at each girl in turn. When his severe gaze reached Tuccia, her face flushed red-hot. She wiped her sweaty palms on her tunic.

He spoke again, but this time to the girls. “You are the most worthy children in Rome, but only one of you will be chosen.”

Her original excitement returned. Tuccia didn’t know what she could be chosen for, but she fervently hoped they would pick her.

“Attaining the office of Vestal Virgin is the greatest honor a woman can achieve,” said the Pontifex Maximus. “Without a priestess’ vital service to Vesta, the citizens of Rome would suffer the displeasure of the gods and be at the mercy of the outside world. As long as she is loyal to Vesta, Rome will thrive. We have selected each of you as candidates, but it will be the goddess Vesta who decides which of you will become her priestess—which will become a Vestal Virgin.”

Tuccia’s mouth dropped open. It was difficult to imagine a child standing next to those women, wearing white clothes and saying she was a Vestal Virgin, and even more difficult to believe that child could be her. As badly as she wanted to be chosen, fathoming such a responsibility made her throat tighten. She swallowed and reassured herself that Vesta already knew the best girl to choose.

The Pontifex Maximus swept his hand over a row of chairs. “Fathers, please sit with your daughters.”

Tuccia’s father sat and pulled her onto his lap. His lips were pressed tightly together and his eyes were dark. Tuccia wondered if she was supposed to be serious too, but as she thought about being chosen – putting on the white uniform, going inside the temple and seeing the fire, everyone clapping for her – she couldn’t keep a smile from growing so wide that it made her cheeks ache.

A servant came forward with a clay bowl in his hands. The Pontifex Maximus removed a bag from the folds of his robes and poured black stones into the bowl. They made clattering noises as they hit the bottom.
“What’s he doing?” Tuccia whispered in her father’s ear.

He licked his lips. His voice was unsteady. “Each of the girls’ names is written on a stone. It’s a lottery so Vesta can place the name she wants in his hand.”

Tuccia’s mother watched her from the crowd. Her serious expression was the same as her father’s, except Tuccia noticed her hands shaking at her sides.

Her father continued in a low voice, “Once he has the name, he’s going to pull the chosen girl from her father’s lap.”

The Pontifex Maximus raised his hand and ceremoniously placed it inside the bowl. The stones rattled as he stirred them with his fingers. Tuccia wished he would hurry; the anticipation was becoming unbearable. At last he pulled out the name. She couldn’t hear a single person breathe as he walked toward the girls sitting on their fathers’ laps.

He passed by the first girl. She was not chosen. He passed by the second. As he deliberately made his way down the line, Tuccia tried to ignore the thumping of her heart and told herself not to be disappointed if she wasn’t the one the gods wanted. She bit her lip so she wouldn’t cry if he passed her.

The Pontifex Maximus reached her father’s chair. Tuccia was so nervous, she scewed her eyes shut.

A strong hand grabbed her and she cried out as it pulled her into the air. Her feet touched the ground. The Pontifex Maximus stood above her and his voice bellowed over the crowd: “I take you to be a Vestal priestess, to perform the sacred Rites, which is meet for the priestess of Vesta to do for the Roman people and citizens.”



The audience applauded. The five Vestal Virgins smiled at Tuccia, the new addition to their priesthood. Seeing their beautiful faces directed at her felt like a dream.

Tuccia took her hand away from the Pontifex Maximus, ran to her mother, and threw her arms around her neck. “They picked me, Mamma! I’m going to be a priestess!”

She tried to go to her father, but her mother wouldn’t let go. Her breaths came in sharp gasps as she pressed Tuccia’s head against her shoulder and cried.

The excitement switched to alarm. Though her mother continued holding her tightly, she was able to twist her head around to see her father. Tears also dripped from his reddening eyes.

“Mamma?” she said softly. “Can we go home now?”

At these words, her mother burst into a wail. Panic rushed Tuccia’s heartbeat, and even though she didn’t understand what was happening, she cried too.

“I’m scared, Mamma. Please take me home.”

Her mother held her at arm’s length. Her face was firm. “Listen to me, Tuccia. Promise me you’ll be good and you’ll do everything the vestals tell you. Obey the Pontifex Maximus. They’ll take very good care of you. And Tuccia…” Her voice cracked. “And Tuccia, remember, we… we really…” She choked on her tears and couldn’t continue.

Her father took Tuccia from her mother and hugged her tighter than he ever had before. “Don’t be afraid,” he told her. “I love you, amata.”

The Pontifex Maximus approached them. “Are you ready?” They wiped their faces, nodded, and stood up. He took Tuccia’s hand. His voice was soft now as he spoke to her parents. “The gods will favor you for your sacrifice.”

Her parents walked to the carriage and stepped inside. Tuccia tried to follow them, but the priest kept a tight grip on her hand.

She was being left behind.

SecretIona101
07-22-2012, 02:09 AM
Hi, I read your first chapter and I must say I really find myself very drawn into the story. You create a wonderful environment for the reader to experience the plot. If you would like further input I can definitely help, I would also like to say that I think I can help you with the entire book within your deadline. :)

Unimportant
07-22-2012, 06:15 AM
Rosepetal, what year does this story begin?

rosepetal720
07-23-2012, 11:48 PM
Thanks, SecretIona101! I'll get in touch with you soon.

Unimportant, it takes place during the Second Punic War, so the book starts about 220 BC.

Unimportant
07-24-2012, 12:50 AM
Unimportant, it takes place during the Second Punic War, so the book starts about 220 BC.
Ta. I'd thought it was later, when the Lex Oppia was in effect, which was why some of the details threw me.

I can't offer to beta as I've just taken on another novel, so there's no way I could meet your deadline -- but good luck with this one!

melanieconklin
08-01-2012, 01:59 AM
I also enjoyed that first chapter. While I couldn't do the whole MS, I could certainly look at your first three chapters for you and help tighten up the language here and there. It's pretty clean, I just noted a few tweaks I would suggest. You can contact me at:

melanie dot conklin at mac dot com

I write YA/MG, and am about halfway through a historical YA set in 1851 England. But I read a LOT of hist lit. :)