Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

SVS 12: Words in the Windowsill – NA Historical January 23, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 6:13 am
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Category/Genre: NA Historical


Word Count: 60,000



My Main Character is most uncomfortable with: 



Hans, here.  I say “No thanks” to snow and ice.  I’d much rather throw on my Sperry Top Siders and enjoy the company of the hotties in Ocean City.   Besides, how can I wow the ladies with my crazy piano skills if I’m covered head to toe like an Eskimo?






Grad student and self-proclaimed “Ladies Man” Hans Meyer has the world at his piano-playing fingertips.  All he has left to do is write his thesis.  But when his research takes him two centuries back in time, Hans stumbles upon a secret that will change history, and this 21st century “player” transforms into a gentleman.


Hans has discovered the manuscript for a mysterious symphony-composer, unknown.  Recognizing that this discovery could make a fantastic thesis, Hans sets off for Germany in the name of research.  When he begins receiving text messages from a bizarre entity, identified only as “Vox”, Hans becomes intrigued.


Vox’s messages convince Hans that there is a way to learn firsthand about the history of the piece:  a trip on The Time Train.  Curiosity combined with a desire to write a killer thesis override Hans’ reservations and he lets destiny buy him a ticket to ride.  After a stunning trip through time, he is dropped off at the doorstep of The Fiddler’s Inn, in Vienna, 1820.


Time in the 19th century illuminates many things for Hans.  He meets a sixteen year old mute boy named Florian, and gives him piano lessons in exchange for room and board at the inn.  He also encounters Analeise, a Viennese beauty, and experiences real love for the first time.


But the most earth shattering discovery, however, were the words Hans found in the windowsill of his 19th century bedchamber.  Eighteen year old love letters, written between a chambermaid and Beethoven describe a secret union that produced an offspring…a boy who would one day compose the mysterious symphony.   Hans recognizes that this knowledge changes history.  If Hans goes forth with this information, the future will be rewritten.  And Hans may not be able to exist with that.


WORDS IN THE WINDOWSILL is a New Adult Historical Fiction/Time Travel piece, with romance and mystery sprinkled throughout.  This work could be described as Back to the Future meets Letters to Juliet, and was inspired by a trip I myself took.



First 250 words:


With my right foot firmly planted on the piano’s sustain pedal, the final tones of “Piano Man” suffocated under the din at The Tavern.


“They can’t get enough of me!” I shouted over my shoulder at Joe, my buddy, still seated back at the bar.  The end of semester partiers, mostly females, formed a circle around the piano.


Joe chuckled.  “It’s the music they love, not your self-proclaimed sexiness, Hans.  Let some air out of your inflated ego for a change!”


I laughed.  Joe and I had been friends for a long time, and he often felt it his job to challenge my confidence.  He was, no doubt, jealous.


I’d been behind the piano at The Tavern for several numbers that night, the women in the crowd swooning over my every note.  I had that effect on the ladies, or at least my music did, according to Joe.  I began piano lessons at the age of five and never stopped.  Now as a graduate music student, my piano playing skills were quite good.


“Last song.”  I winked at the cutie to my right, then flashed her a smile.  “I’m headed across the Atlantic in a couple days,” I announced, as the crowd began to hush, “and I can’t think of a better reason to play Billy Joel’s ‘Vienna’.  Enjoy.”


The stillness of the crowd decrescendoed to silence.  I began with the treble right hand notes fluttering over the keys in the song’s tinkling pattern, my years of classical piano training shining through.



24 Responses to “SVS 12: Words in the Windowsill – NA Historical”

  1. Kalinda Says:

    Team Snow #6 here to wish you good luck in the upcoming mentor round! I’d love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crow

  2. what a unique and interesting premise. I don’t know much about famous composers and this had me hooked, so that’s saying a lot. Loved your 250, full of voice!

  3. RobL Says:

    I think this is a brilliant concept. Love it!

    The query’s a little too long for my tastes, and I think you could lose a few words here and there without losing meaning. Just a case of tightening up, really. Avoiding repetition. That sort of thing. Actually, reading through the comments, I think Rachel Pudelek’s done a great job getting the focus right.

    While I think the writing in your first 250 is really strong, I’m struggling to find much to like about your MC. That may be deliberate, of course, but it might be worth considering giving him a little tweak, an added dimension that makes us stop and think ‘ah! perhaps there’s more to him than first impressions might suggest’.

    Generally, though, I think you’re onto a winner. I don’t know much about the NA market, but it just sounds so interesting! Good luck!

  4. Jeannine Johnson Maia Says:

    #TeamSun member and fellow time traveler here. Really nice start — I’m already yearning to know more about how this lost symphony came to be, and how Hans found it. That voyage of discovery sound like an interesting one. I agree with a lot of the comments here, especially as concerns focusing the query on the search and the stakes. And show us some of his good qualities in the first 250 so we like him in spite of his show-off, “” demeanor. Good luck with this!

  5. michelle4laughs Says:

    I remember this from reading the entries. Unique concept. Good luck!

  6. This is such a unique premise! I also love that it’s male POV- there’s a big push for NA with male protagonists. It sounds like a really cool story!

    I would be careful to make sure it really reads as NA. NA historical is a bit tough in the market right now and there’s a bit of a push back on whether or not these books are truly NA. I would make sure your query and sample really convey that “coming of age” essence that is the hallmark of NA.

    For the query, I would recommend focusing more on Hans. NA is really about letting the reader into the hero/heroine’s most intimate personal thoughts, concerns, etc. I didn’t get a clear sense of what drives Hans. I would work on making him more relatable in a modern context and then focus on the fact that he’s transported to a different time. You talk about him being a grad student- is he eating Ramen noodles, struggling to find a job, unsure of what to do when he leaves grad school? I think a sentence referencing some of his struggles in the beginning of the query would really help the reader relate to him as well as grounding this as a bit more NA. I’d also like to see higher stakes in the query. It’s reading a bit more like a synopsis to me. You want to hook your reader and especially in NA, you really want your reader to connect with your protagonist. The plot sounds fascinating, I would just package it a little differently.

    For the sample, I also recommend punching up the modern feel. Megan Erickson gave some great tips here about including more about the bar scene. I completely agree. I would really focus on setting a college bar scene. That will really help it read as NA.

    Overall, independent from the contest, I would also consider increasing your word count. NA is typically longer and we’re seeing a lot of readers/bloggers refer to 60,000 word NA as more of a novella. I think 60,000 works more for YA and NA we’re really starting to see 70,000 and above. Especially since you’ll probably be focusing on historical details, setting, etc.

    I really love this idea and it’s definitely the kind of diversity everyone is looking for in NA! Good luck!

  7. This premise really grabbed me. I love classical music and the idea that there’s a lost symphony out there is intriguing. I also love the time train. Show us more of your MC, maybe focus on his music more. Follow suggestions above, tighten the query and show us more. Good luck!

  8. martymay Says:

    Query: Others have suggested ways to make this less like a synopsis, so I’ll focus elsewhere.

    I love the premise of your story and think you’ll do well in the contest! In your first paragraph, you could eliminate the second sentence. It’s basically a logline, and you don’t want to tell us, but rather show us his potential arc from Ladies Man to gentleman in the query.

    Consider making Hans more active. When people are discovering, recognizing, being convinced of things, things being illuminated for him, it’s passive. We want to see Hans taking a role in what happens to him.

    Love the time travel theme (obviously, from my own entry), and I’ve been to Vienna, so I’d enjoy experiencing 1820 Vienna through Hans’ eyes. *grabby hands*

    Show us him falling in love with Analeise, rather than telling us it happens. We want to feel what he feels when he looks at her, interacts with her. You don’t need tons of words, but the ones you choose can convey his feelings, and how this rocks his Ladies Man image.

    Someone suggested you’re being coy about the composer, and changing history and I agree. Not that you want to give away the entire book’s plot, but your stakes aren’t a place to be vague, so maybe find a way to give us enough information to up the tension, without spilling all the secrets.

    First 250: Others also have wonderful suggestions to make your first 250 shine, so I won’t delve into it. Just consider showing more, rather than telling, because it brings the scene to life for the reader.

  9. Lora Says:

    I think you’ve gotten some great feedback already, but I have to say that the premise is EXCITING! I love time travel stories, and the idea of a time train to get him back to the past.

    I agree with everyone else that you now have a fantastic summary, but the query needs to be tightened, keeping th emain points with a few key intriguing details (like the time train, the mysterious composer, and the stakes (i.e., how what he changes in the past could possibly prevent him from existing–which, by the way, I totally love this as the stakes).

    In the pages, I don’t have much to add to the feedback you’ve already gotten about the dialogue and the setting. To me, does seem a bit too focused on your MC being the ladies man. Actually, I think that comes across really well in his actions already, so maybe you could use the dialogue time to tone down that aspect and focus on the relationship between your MC and his buddy, and start conveying some of the awesome things about your MC that makes him relatable/likeable. I also agree with the idea of a few well-placed descriptions to bring this bar to life–the smell of beer and sweat, the colors of neon bar lights or whatsever, a sense of the temperature (e.g. is it hot with all those people crowded around, or does he have air conditioning blasting on him?)

    I’m excited to see the revision and I’d love to read more of this!

  10. livibuglady Says:

    Your premise is fascinating and unique. Like everyone else has said, I got a little lost in your query. It is long and there is a lot going on. I would get to the heart of the story. The letters are the most important piece and it is this discovery that changes the character. Stick with that.

    250: I love that you set up the story and dumbed us right into a party. I agree that Hans’ background comes out a little inorganically. I might play with it just a tad to see if you can fold it into the dialogue in a way that doesn’t stand out in its own paragraph. For example, we already know he is in grad school from the line “The end of semester partiers, mostly females, formed a circle around the piano.” Just by playing with the wording, you can give us more information without overloading.

    Hope that was helpful!

  11. smnystoriak Says:

    I just want to say “Thank you” to everyone commenting on here. Your suggestions are wonderful, and I am learning so much.

  12. Query:
    • I’m immediately drawn into this by the fact that he’s a piano player, and the mysterious symphony! There’s a lot of things I’m loving about this query.
    • Logistical question – how does giving a 16 year old boy piano lessons earn him a room? Do the boy’s parents own the inn? As written it seems to imply Florian.
    • I’ve totally bought into this story right up until the very end where you lose me at the stakes. I LOVE the idea of a secret mistress of Beethoven’s having a child who’d compose a symphony, but I don’t understand how that could rewrite the future nor how it could affect whether or not Hans exists. I think you’re holding something back that needs to be clarified in the text, then it will make sense.

    Not much to nitpick with the writing – the voice is clear, and the writing flows well. Great establishment of place and character, but it’s missing something for me – plot. Not much seems to be happening. No conflict to drive the reader forward. If you can infuse some of that, this will really be fabulous!

    Good luck!

  13. Jennie Bates Bozic Says:

    I don’t really have anything to add to what the others have already said. The query is long and the voice is getting lost (for me, anyway).

    One of the reasons the first 250 feel very tell-y is because the dialogue doesn’t seem natural to me. They sound like they’re saying specific things for our benefit rather than what they would actually say to each other. There are lots of ways to show he’s confident and (hopefully) endearingly cocky other than him telling us himself.

  14. amyereichert Says:

    Query: Your query reads more like a very well done synopsis (so yay, you have that nasty thing almost done). As is, it is too long for a query. Simplify and focus on the opening beats of the story. I do think your last paragraph is a good addition. It lets us know there will be a lot more to the story without you having to spend precious query space.

    250: It’s refreshing to have a story told from the male POV in first person. I don’t see a ton of that. In paragraph 5, you give us a little exposition about Hans. Nobody ever thinks like that – try to find more organic ways to convey that information. I like the opening scene. I know I’d read more. Hans seems like a lot of fun. One note – it appears you have two spaces after each sentence. You only need one. Two spaces is a hold over from typewriters.

  15. S.M.Johnston Says:

    So I love this story, and you know it.


    I love this concept, but agree with the others the query is way too long. Aim for two paragraphs of query and one for description/comp. Tightening it up and only include the core essential facts that let the agent know what the stakes are.


    I agree with the others that there is too much telling in this excerpt as well as a lack of description to see us rooted in the setting. A lot of senses are being neglected here. I’m also not sure if the opening line has enough impact to grab a reader and draw them in. I’d like to see a little more oomph here.

  16. […] SVS 12: Words in the Windowsill – NA Historical.  So proud of my entry!!!  Wish me luck in this contest!  […]

  17. Liz Fichera Says:

    I want to love Hans. More on that in a sec. But that query is WAY too long. You’ve got to boil down your hook into one killer sentence. I think the most helpful parts of your query are the first and fifth paragraphs. Everything else is unnecessary and could be pitched. Rework those paragraphs. Make them stronger and make every word count.

    I love the premise for this story and that it’s told in a male POV. And, as I said, I want to love Hans but he sounds conceited. Is identifying him as a “Ladies Man” critical to the story? Every woman swooning over him, truly? Hmmmm. Clearly he’s talented but I feel a bit beaten over the head by his awesomeness.

    I’m very intrigued by the premise of this story and think it has killer potential.

    Thanks so much for sharing your work! Best of luck to you.

  18. This premise is pretty freaking cool. I love that it’s from a guys’ POV. Hans sounds like a character. Your query is long, as others said so I’d try to shorten that, make it less about the time travel (and what happens before it) and more about what happens when he’s there – I want more about these letters and what that means to Hans’s existence.

    As for your 250, I agree with Lanette. I feel a little distance from your writing. What does the bar smell like? Is it hot/humid from the bodies? Is it hazy from smoke? I want to feel like I’m there. Also, this whole graph: “I’d been behind the piano at The Tavern for several numbers that night, the women in the crowd swooning over my every note. I had that effect on the ladies, or at least my music did, according to Joe. I began piano lessons at the age of five and never stopped. Now as a graduate music student, my piano playing skills were quite good.” – I want you to SHOW me that. Don’t tell me. Show me he’s a ladies man by how the girls smile at him and press close. Show me he’s good at playing the piano by the way his fingers slide over the keys effortlessly without hitting a bad note.

    But really, it’s an awesome story and premise! Good luck!

  19. Lanette Kauten Says:

    Query: You have an intriguing set up with the mysterious composer. I love things like that. However, you gave too much away in the query letter. It reads more like a synopsis. I don’t think we need to know who the composer is in the Q letter. Make us salivating at wanting to know who this mysterious composer is.

    250: I feel like I’m at a distance with your writing. I should feel like I’m in a piano bar, but you only give us a bare bones account rather than showing us the sights and sounds. You don’t need to go into heavy description, but a few well-placed words to give us the sense of where we are will make this so much stronger.

    You have a strong concept, and I would love to read it when it’s published.

  20. This guy plays Billy Joel on the piano??? Hot. Billy Joel music = swoon for me. And I love some good time travel.

    I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I’ll chime in anyway and agree that the query is too long. Three paragraphs should do it. I love the first paragraph and the pun with “player,” but it loses momentum after that and reads more like a synopsis. Only let the reader know what is necessary to pull them into the story, to make them want to read more. We don’t need background, just Hans thrown into the action. Hans is our mc, so we need to know the stakes for him more than anything else.

    For query and first 250, definitely show more than tell. That will bring us in, make us closer to Hans. Rather than Hans telling us what a ladies man he is, show it by girls draping themselves on him, scooting next to him on the piano bench, putting their phone numbers in his tip jar. Maybe he’s totally making out with a girl while he’s playing, something douchie like that. LOL. But showing vs. telling is what will tighten this all up.

    Really fun premise. Can’t wait to see where it goes. Good luck!

  21. Very interesting/unique premise! I’m definitely intrigued…

    Query: It should really be no more than three paragraphs and as it stands it too lengthy. You could definitely cut some of the details and come out with a cleaner query. We don’t really need to know about Florian and if the romance isn’t a big theme in the story, just a small mention of it will do. I also believe it could use more of your MC’s voice to buck it up a bit. As is, it falls a little flat.

    250: I’m feeling a bit removed from the scene – it comes off as story/character set up. You’re telling us Hans is a lady’s man, explaining his piano playing background, etc… more information is being told than shown. It’s like the reader is on the periphery instead of in Hans’ head. Also – nitpick – Joe doesn’t need to state Hans’ name when speaking to him. It’s just not something most people do in casual conversation and comes off awkward. For this opening, I think we either need to feel emotionally closer to Hans (what are his thoughts? Is he nervous over his impending trip? Should he really be home packing? What does playing to the crowd of swooning women do to his mind? His body? Is he exhausted? Sweaty? Tipsy? Do the partiers have beer breath? Is it a turn-off or inviting? Etc…). Either that or you need to begin at a different point in the story. The reader needs more of a hook to stay along this ride Hans is on. Also, we want to like Hans. Yes, he’s a player and thinks he’s pretty awesome, but we need to identify with him more than that. Make us like him or at least show us more desirable or relatable qualities. Based on the premise I’d keep reading, but would need to connect more strongly with Hans in the next few pages in order to hang on.

    Good luck in the contest!

  22. Hi! Mentor Rachel Pudelek here. 🙂 Your premise is unique and interesting, but I think the query gets bogged down. What is this story about? The thesis? The train? Or the love letters? I think it may be about the love letters. Focus on that. You’ve introduced four characters in this query, not to mention the letters, and three of those characters are almost showing the hows and whys of his time travel. The hows and whys certainly need to be shown in the manuscript, not so much the query. The query is to pack a story punch and leave them wanting more.

    I think you’ve nailed the hook by saying this story is Back to the Future meets Letters to Juliet. Show that link in your query. I don’t think Vox or how Hans goes back in time is important. The focus is on those letters. I’ve played with your query a little. My suggestions are not perfect, but I hope they spark some ideas for you. If you have any questions I’m only a tweet away. 🙂

    Grad student and self-proclaimed “Ladies Man” Hans Meyer has the world at his piano-playing fingertips. All he has left to do is write his thesis. But when his research takes him two centuries back in time, Hans stumbles upon a secret that will change history, and this 21st century “player” transforms into a gentleman.

    Hans has discovered the manuscript for a mysterious symphony-composer, unknown. Recognizing that this discovery could make a fantastic thesis, Hans sets off for Germany in the name of research… And finds himself in Vienna, 1820.

    (Tell us how HE feels/sees this new place while incorporating the inn so we’ll have a basis for him finding the letters. This is a great character depth moment where you can show a bit of him in one sentence.)

    (Don’t tell us the discovery is earth-shattering, show us in the stakes.) (Give a few words to transition here. Maybe something along the lines of: When Hans stumbles across notes having nothing to do with music…) Eighteen-year-old love letters, written between a chambermaid and Beethoven describe a secret union that produced an offspring…a boy who would one day compose the mysterious symphony. Hans recognizes that this knowledge changes history. If Hans goes forth with this information, the future will be rewritten. And Hans may not be able to exist with that.

  23. Katie French Says:

    Mentor Katie French here. Interesting premise for your story. A time-travel historical sounds very interesting. I do think your query is too long. You loose me somewhere along the fourth paragraph. See if you can cut down extraneous details and get that query under three paragraphs. Otherwise I believe you’ll lose the agent’s attention.

    The opening is interesting. I love the scene in the piano bar. I think there is too much telling, however in certain sections. When you find yourself telling us about the character, see if you can show us that detail instead. I believe you are already showing us and are just worried your reader will somehow miss it. They won’t. Trust yourself.

    Also, you need to find a way for us to like your character. He is conceited, not necessarily a good thing. What are his good qualities. Why do we want to imagine ourselves in his shoes? Good luck!

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