Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

SVS 15: The Sapphire Legacy – Adult Historical Romance January 23, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 6:16 am
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Category/Genre: Adult Historical Romance


Word Count: 70,000



My Main Character is most uncomfortable with: 




Although Mae Blackthorne is adept to the brisk winds of the moors, snow makes her favorite afternoon rides quite formidable.






Mae Blackthrone was an heiress with a promising future, before she singlehandedly lost her family fortune. Now working as a governess for the family that bought her country estate, her new life is far unlike her opulent past. But just when she thinks she’s doomed to a life of boredom, she meets Ethan Locke, an elusive and hardened pirate with an old score to settle.


For generations, male heirs to the Blackthrone name have used a shipbuilding business to shroud years of successful piracy. Back when they were partners, Locke claims that Mae’s father stole from him an object of great value: a sapphire that can give its owner eternal life. Mae is Locke’s only chance of finding it along with a vast fortune thought to be hidden somewhere within the estate.


Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them. But in their search, they’re not alone. The true owners of the sapphire, who operate an elite secret society, are far more powerful than Locke could’ve ever imagined. And as the dangerous men close in, Mae fears she has much more to lose than just her post as governess.


Summarized as Jane Eyre meets The Count of Monte Cristo, The Sapphire Legacy is an adventure-filled romance with the added excitement of pirates and a secret society.



First 250 words:




Lightning boomed along the moor, this time nearby. When her horse reared skyward, Mae had anticipated it.


“Stand firm!” She gripped her thighs tighter. Thomas jerked back before righting himself.


“Easy,” she soothed.


With the threat of rain imminent now, she was growing desperate. Their only cover was the Northern Woods closing in ahead. But not even her horse dared to enter. Gaining on a web of lifeless trees, he snorted, uneasy.


Mae hesitated too. It took only a glance to freeze the blood in her veins. The trees were so dense that the ground had darkened to black. And inside, all was still and silent.


Before she abandoned the plan, she risked a look behind her. The sight was far worse. Dark, angry clouds rolled over the horizon. In the distance, rain came down in thick, hazy streaks. Blast. She thought she had more time.


Now, she had but two options: either cut through the woods and arrive home in time for supper or risk pneumonia.


Her breaths grew shorter. Cutting through the woods had always been an obvious shortcut, though she never dared take it. Just the thought made her tremble.


She cursed herself. What did she have to fear of a dark forest? Its dense cover of branches would keep her relatively dry from the rain and there was no other way that would bring her home fast enough. No matter how difficult the terrain, Mae was sure she could cross it.


She twisted Thomas toward the woods. But only after a second pulse of thunder, did he ease forward.




25 Responses to “SVS 15: The Sapphire Legacy – Adult Historical Romance”

  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 after the contest! @kranky_crow

  2. another pirate story! Love! As was stated earlier, the section in the query that says: ” Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them” confused me. If you wrote, After Mae foils his plans for revenge…or something like that. Otherwise I really enjoyed your query and would read this book in a heartbeat. I love your 250, definitely set an eerie tone to the scene.

  3. Hi there Team Snow author #15 crossing lines temporarily to chime in.

    I love your genre and think your premise is great!

    From the query, “Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them.” The subject is the spark of attraction, not Locke. Also “Summarized as Jane Eyre meets The Count of Monte Cristo, The Sapphire Legacy is an adventure-filled romance with the added excitement of pirates and a secret society.” I would reword to not repeat too much. Ex: The Sapphire Legacy is Jane Eyre meets The Count of Monte Cristo—with pirates!

    From the 250, maybe mention that she is riding side saddle somehow to make it clear this is historical not contemporary and where is the moor? England? Scotland? I do agree that perhaps you need a clearer reason why the forest is so creepy. Can you allude to its history? Or is it just creepy and you need to show that better?

    Best of luck in the agent rounds!

  4. RobL Says:

    The premise sounds great! Others have pointed out the technical issues in both the query and first 250, so I won’t repeat them. They’re easy things to fix, though, so no worries there!

    I’ve got to say, though, that the drama in the first 250 wasn’t quite resonating with me. I think it might be because I’m not sure why the forest is such a terrifying prospect. Is it simply because the trees are densely packed, making riding difficult? Or might it be because tales of the vagabonds and rogues who haunt its depths abound? I think you could explore all that a little more.

    It’s a wonderful concept, though. I’m sure you’ll do well. Good luck!

  5. Jeannine Johnson Maia Says:

    Lots to like here, and I have so many questions I’d certainly read on to get the answers. Just a couple of things/questions: is the novel in two POVs? The query makes it sound like it is. Is the stone really magic, or just very precious? That changes the genre a bit. Could you tell us more in the query about how she lost the fortune? I’d rather know it was through something out of her control than think going into this that the main (and female) character is reckless or silly. And in the 250 words, you might want to consider giving us a hint why she’s so wary of the woods. That raises the stakes and would perhaps tie this scene to the rest of the plot. Sounds like a fun read. Good luck!

  6. michelle4laughs Says:

    I remember this from the entries. Good luck!

  7. B. A. Wilson Says:

    What a great concept, and good luck! Amy asked me to stop by. I have to confess that I didn’t have time to read everyone else’s comments, so if I say some of the same stuff, I’m sorry about that. I’ll just point out what catches my attention.

    Main Character Line: I feel like you are misusing the word adept.

    • This sounds like an exciting story!
    • Commit to present or past tense, because the switching is uncomfortable. Present is most popular for queries.
    • I want to know how she lost the fortune! A brief comment tagged onto that first sentence might help.
    • “Far unlike” – Far feels like a term for distance or length, and unlike already says a lot.
    • “Summarized as” feels awkward to me.
    • “Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them” Every time I read this sentence, my first though is whose plans? Followed by who is them? When I read back through I get that you mean Mae, but it’s all a bit confusing and doesn’t flow as well as I wish it would. The next sentence equally so, “But in their search, they’re not alone”. Whose search? Searching for the Sapphire or the fortune? Are they on the same team now? Could you go something a bit more specific like: When Mae foils Locke’s plans for revenge, he cannot deny the spark that exists between them. They work together to locate the Sapphire (I’m not sure if that’s true or not), trying to outrace an elite secret society. . .

    First 250:
    • Thunder booms. If you want to describe lightning, focus on the visual.
    • Make sentence 2 active, instead of passive, and it will be stronger.
    • “Imminent now” –you can drop the now. It’s a wasted word, because we know you mean now.
    • I think it is okay to break the rules of grammar when it’s going to have a good impact on your story or your dialogue and it is well done. Unfortunately, the number of sentences that start with conjunctions and don’t seem to really need to bothers me. It catches my attention but not in a great way, making me feeling like your intro is not edited well enough yet. That being said, I’ve read lots of novels that break this rule, and it doesn’t bother me. I think it comes down to the way you do it and when you choose to do it, and it is hard to balance that. Also, take it with a grain of salt, as every writer and reader feels completely different about this particular rule.
    • I don’t get how the trees are lifeless in one part (dead branches in my mind) and then dense in the next.
    • Personally, I’d pick pneumonia over woods. I figure I might not get the pneumonia, but if there’s something bad in the woods, it might get me. This scene would be awesome if someone was chasing her, and she had no choice but to go into the woods. Then you could spend the time up until she gets to the woods explaining or dropping more hints about what is so bad about the woods and why she and Thomas are so afraid to go in there. . . OR maybe you just start at the exact point that she enters the woods, since it is the choice that has the biggest impact, more so than the decision-making.

    These are all just ideas. Do what you will with them, and please don’t take them too much to heart. It is your story, and it sounds very exciting. Good luck! 🙂

  8. Andy Says:

    I agree with one of the above comments that adding the connection to the shipping business in the query would be a good idea. Nice voice.

  9. Janet Wrenn Says:

    Hi there! I love the thought of a former socialite now fraternizing with a pirate. And a secret society? Yeah, hooked me!

    Query: The first part with Mae didn’t give me high enough stakes. Her being bored as governess doesn’t lure me in enough to care about her character. I also agree with some of the other posts maybe put in how she lost her prior social status, what was the downfall? It doesn’t seem strong enough of a fall from grace if she’s simply doomed to a boring life as a governess. Give us a little more emotion. She had an opulent life and now she’s forced to do actual work. Give a little more gravity to the situation. Make us want to attach to her.

    The second paragraph about Locke makes me think he’s her father’s age if they were former partners. So is he much older than her? If that’s the case maybe put that in there, that there’s an age difference also at stake in their romance. If he’s younger, her age, then maybe give that some kind of mention or make it clearer. I can’t tell and my mind immediately goes to him being older if he was a partner of her father.

    Third paragraph, very intriguing with the secret society, but what makes them “dangerous men”? Slam dunk the query with a little more of the stakes on why they’re also after the sapphire.

    250: I’m in agreement the first 250 can be tightened. Your first line read a little off for me. The first part was good but what I tripped over was “this time nearby”. This is the first line of your story, we haven’t traveled with Mae yet and have no prior knowledge of the lightening or Mae previously encountering. So to say “this time nearby” it felt odd to me. Maybe go with something like “Lightning boomed along the moor, nearing with each strike.”

    Try and alleviate “had” as well as the “was” and “were” sentences to be more active. Your second line “had” can be completely struck and just go with “anticipated it”.

    The overall writing gave me a great sense of her dismay and urgency in the setting. Just crisp it up! Well done!!

  10. I love this premise too and I hope it’s more historical fantasy then romance, but that’s just me. I want the sapphire to really grant eternal life. I agree that it needs to be tightened and reworded a bit. See comments above esp. the lightning and trees part. I was confused as to who Thomas was at first, give the horse a more horse-like name otherwise it sounds like another person. Of course I love pirates since mine has pirates too! Good luck!

  11. Hey hey Team Snow mentor Olivia Hinebaugh here 🙂

    I’m not normally a historical romance reader, but I would totally pick this book up! I mean, pirates, hidden treasure, romance, set on the moors? Yes! I was also a little curious if there is *actually* magic in it. If there isn’t I might just leave it at it’s extremely precious and one-of-a-kind and legendary.

    First 250: This is so super nit-picky, but if you are on a horse who is rearing you would not tighten the reins because they could topple over. You’d give them rein and lean forward. Maybe she tightens the rein after he lands, but as a horsey person that pinged with me. But her being caught in a storm definitely has me wanting to read on.

    Well done. I wish you luck in the agent round.

  12. suja Says:

    Query: I love the premise and would read this based on what you on. There’s enough conflict and possibility of romance to draw me in. And I’m willing to read the book to find out more.
    The opening: I can feel the tension, but not enough to draw me in. Mainly because I don’t know why she’s so scared of the woods. I don’t feel her fear. I also suggest going through this and taking out any passive writing. Limit the ‘when’ and the ‘was’ and tighten up so you can get us into the woods and whatever’s freaking her out. For example – The dense trees darkened the ground to black.
    A couple of other suggestions –
    Lightening split the sky / zigzagged across the purple sky (instead of boomed)
    change that second sentence to active form.
    How are the trees lifeless?

  13. livibuglady Says:

    I love this premise! This is absolutely a book I would want to read!

    Query: I agree that you left out why she is now fortuneless. What ruined her will give us a little bite into her situation without giving away too much.

    250: You do an incredible job of building tension, but I don’t really understand where the tension is coming from and this is not allowing me to fully engage with your character. I might condense some of the tension building and stick with key lines that you give right at the beginning and it end it with “And inside, all was still and silent.” Then show the reader to where the tension comes from.

  14. Main character line:
    I’m not sure if this is going in the final submission to agents or not, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me. I’m not sure you’re using adept and formidable correctly here. Perhaps rephrase?

    Love the idea of adventure and pirates through an historical lens! Here’s my notes on the query:
    • How did she lose her family fortune?
    • If Locke is so “elusive” how does she meet him?
    • “Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them.” The two clauses of this sentence do not feel like they belong together (at least, not to me) which makes this sentence confusing. What is his plan for revenge and how is it foiled? And what does that have to do with being attracted to Mae?
    • This may just be me, but the fact that Locke was partners with Mae’s father seems to imply he was as old as her father and that seems a little squicky to me. Of course, it may not bother others at all!
    • The last paragraph of the query is murky and slips into Locke’s POV which feels a bit confusing. Is this a dual POV narrative? If so, perhaps make that more clear, and if not, this paragraph should be more from Mae’s POV.
    • Love the comp titles! From what you’ve said in the query, they sound spot on.

    I struggled a bit with the first couple of lines, but you do a nice job building tension with her and the horse’s fear of the woods. However, I think you dwell on it a wee bit too much and veer into telling when you get to “Her breaths grew shorter..” I’d suggest cutting from that line to “Mae was sure she could cross it” to tighten it up. You’ve already shown it quite well. It’s also possible you’re starting in the wrong place as other mentors have noted, but it’s hard to tell with just the 250. I’d say move it on into the woods faster, so the reader gets hooked by what comes next 🙂 Other thoughts:
    • Lightning doesn’t boom – thunder does.
    • “gripped her thighs” – I think you mean she’s guiding the horse, but this gives me a visual image of her hands gripping her thighs. May want to rephrase.
    • “The trees were so dense that the ground had darkened to black.” – Not clear what the trees being dense have to do with the color of the ground. Perhaps you mean forest had darkened to black?
    • “Its dense cover of branches would keep her relatively dry from the rain…” – Would they though? Earlier on the page the trees are referred to as “lifeless” which implies dead, leafless trees, so much less cover than a usual love tree would provide.

    Good luck!

  15. Jennie Bates Bozic Says:

    Hi there!
    I love the concept! I do agree with the other mentors in that I’m not really feeling the urgency in the first page. I’m not sure why she’s hesitating to ride into the forest, or why she’s so convinced she’ll get pneumonia if she’s rained on. The incident also feels very isolated from the rest of the story. You’ve plunked us right into action, but the action doesn’t seem to have much to do with your plot.
    My other comment is that there are several phrases/punctuation choices that seem odd or imprecise to me. They aren’t all necessarily *wrong* but they made me pause and reread.
    ” her new life is far unlike her opulent past.” – I’m not sure what “far unlike” means compared to simply “unlike”. Not wrong, but it threw me.
    ” When her horse reared skyward, Mae had anticipated it.” The tense here is odd, mixing past with past perfect. Might want to make sure you’re not doing this elsewhere.
    ” She gripped her thighs tighter.” I envisioned her gripping them with her hands. “tighter together” would make more sense.
    “She thought she had more time.” At this point, you’d want to use the past perfect because she no longer thinks this. “She had thought she had more time.” A lot more “had” in there than you want and I’m sure you can think of a much smoother way to word that, but that is grammatically correct.
    I hope this helps! I really love the idea of your story. I would be more hooked in the query if the stakes for Mae were more clearly laid out.
    Good luck!

  16. amyereichert Says:

    Query: How did a woman lose her family fortune? That’s kind of a big deal and you gloss over it. I felt like you were all over. Keep it simple. Focus on the first key moments. Loosing the money, being a governess, meeting Locke. It does sound promising, you just need to stream line it.

    250: Your writing is lovely, but I’m not sure you’re starting in the right place. Yes it’s exciting, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with all the plot points you mentioned in your query. You should already be setting up your first plot point.

  17. S.M.Johnston Says:


    On the surface, I love the concept of this query, but there were a couple of things that made me take pause:
    1) I wanted to know how she blew the family fortune.
    2) If there is indeed a fortune hidden on the estate, why didn’t they use that to live on after Mae ‘blew’ the rest of the family fortune?
    3) What is happening with her father now? Is he party to the revenge and the search for the Sapphire?
    These questions could be answered easily by making the query more specific.


    To be perfectly honest, the opening line has too much of “it was a dark and stormy night” feel to it for my taste. You definitely want to begin with some dramatics, but can it be a line other than the weather?
    There’s nothing that indicates why the woods are a place of dread that the horse nor Mae wish to enter. I think you need to look at that to properly talk about the stakes, which is something mentioned earlier.
    Watch out for duplication of words in close proximately. You’ve used ‘dared’ twice in the first page and I feel you could substitute one of those out.

    The other mentors have highlighted the other issues in this opening.

    Best of luck with it as it does sound like a great premise.

  18. Liz Fichera Says:

    There’s no denying the great writing in both the query and the excerpt; however, I believe there is too much back story in each. For example, with the query, lead with the hook of the story. What’s at stake for Mae and Locke? I feel that in your query you’re wasting precious time introducing both of the characters when instead you should be leading with a hook. For me, the crux of the query didn’t really start until this sentence: “Mae is Locke’s only chance of finding it along with a vast fortune thought to be hidden somewhere within the estate.” With some rewording, I think that’s your hook and should be your first sentence.

    I thought the excerpt was written beautifully. BUT, I think I’m more interested in what happens after. As a reader, I’m less interested in the weather and more interested in seeing what happens when she enters that dark, creepy forest. I’m an anxious reader. I want to get there faster. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful writing! Best of luck with your query and manuscript.

  19. I love the premise here. Pirates and romance and a secret society! Ethan Locke is a totally hot pirate name, by the way. Way to go on that!

    I agree with another mentor – Is it Blackthrone or Blackthorne?

    Also in the query – this sentence: “But in their search, they’re not alone.” I would change to: “But they’re not alone in their search.” Also, this sentence kind of switches POV: “The true owners of the sapphire, who operate an elite secret society, are far more powerful than Locke could’ve ever imagined.” So I would say “they” instead of “Locke.”

    And one more thing, in the first 250 words, I would maybe say, “She gripped the horse tighter with her thighs.” It kind of threw me off when I read it, because I thought she gripped her thighs with her hands.

    But overall, great query and first 250!

  20. Lanette Kauten Says:

    This sounds like such a fun read, but I’m curious of the genre. Is it historical romance as you’ve listed, or historical fantasy with romantic elements? I realize historically, people have quested for eternal youth through objects or springs of water, so I assume it’s along those lines?

    Query: It’s a safe intro and certainly not one that’ll turn anyone off, but I wonder if you can give a stronger hook with the first sentence. The third paragraph is unclear as to whose POV it is. Even if the book uses dual POVs, keep the query letter strongly in Mae’s, otherwise it could give the impression that your novel’s full of head-hopping. Also, as another mentor suggested, try to make the stakes stronger with some specifics. I know that’s hard to do when you don’t want to give away too much of the plot. BTW, I love the comps because it solidifies so easily in our minds what to expect from the novel.

    250: The writing and the voice are both very strong. I can see why you were picked. But it feels like you have false stakes: go through the woods or risk pneumonia. I paused there because that seems like a no-brainer. Give us something stronger like: go through the haunted woods or risk pneumonia. Okay, that’s cliche’, but show us why she’s afraid of the woods. Good luck with this. It sounds like a fun romp, and I’m sure you’ll get requests.

  21. Hi! 🙂 Your query is well done. I think it’d help if you throw in the first paragraph that she lost the money gained from her family’s ship-building business. Something to let the reader know she’s connected to that. But if Locke is a pirate, is he a male heir and does that make them related?

    The stakes don’t express why Mae is helping Locke. Does she want to get the money back too?

    You have a great premise here with intrigue and romance. My only concern is the ship-building/piracy connection. Were their fathers in business together? Are they related? Stuff like that can be easily clarified with a few well-placed words.

    As far as your first 250, I’d suggest finding all the “was” and “were” words and seeing which you’re able to remove. Some need to stay, but some can easily go and it’d tighten up the sentence.

    Example: “The trees were so dense that the ground had darkened to black. And inside, all was still and silent.”

    –> Light failed to penetrate the dense tree branches, leaving the ground black as ink surrounded by an eerie echo of still silence. (Something like that.)

    Example: “With the threat of rain imminent now, she was growing desperate.”

    –> With the thread of rain imminent now, she grew desperate. (That’s still kind of telling, but you get the idea.)

    Hope my comments were helpful. 🙂 Good luck!

  22. This sounds super fun, and I’d definitely keep reading. Here are some suggestions to sharpen up the query a bit.

    First, is Mae’s name Blackthrone or Blackthorne? In the answer to what she’s uncomfortable with, she’s Blackthorne, but in the query she’s Blackthrone.

    One technical thing. This line, “Foiling his plans for revenge, Locke can’t deny the spark of attraction between them,” throws me. It’s the attraction that foils his plans, right? Starting with the foiling makes it unclear, though. I’d flip-flop the phrases in this sentence. “Lock can’t deny the spark of attraction between them, which may foil his plans for revenge.”

    Katie mentioned the stakes in the first 250, but I’d like to see more of what’s at stake in the query as well. This is a little vague for me: “And as the dangerous men close in, Mae fears she has much more to lose than just her post as governess.” I know you don’t want to give away the book, but I want a sense of what she has to lose. Do she and Locke have to choose between the sapphire or saving themselves? Between eternal life or the life they have now?

    Sounds like a great story! Good luck!

  23. First off, pirates? Secret society? Romance? Treasure? Um, yes please! With your first sentence I totally got the Jane Eyre comparison, so, well done there.

    Query: The voice is great – I’m feeling Mae. The query is well laid out and definitely sparks interest. Some sentences could probably be tightened up. I know it’s meant to be Jane Eyre-esque, which is unavoidably wordy, but I think there’s room to cut a bit. Other than that, I’m impressed and definitely want to read this book!

    250: While intriguing, the first 250 fell a bit flat for me. Like Katie stated above, I’m wanting to know what’s at stake for Mae? Why is she so freaked out over going through the woods and why has she avoided it until now? The writing is lovely, but with some added tension would pop so much more. Still, I’d keep reading based on the query 🙂

    Best of luck to you!

  24. Katie French Says:

    Mentor Katie French here. First of all, the premise of this sounds fantastic and the query really works for me. I do wonder if you have some element of fantasy in your book since you mention a sapphire giving eternal life. I am sure most of the book is realistic, but once you start talking about magic necklaces that makes me think fantasy. Will historical readers accept some element of fantasy in their realistic stories? I am not sure, but it is worth some research.

    The first 250 words is interesting. I would read on. Very quickly here, though I will want to know why she is out in the woods. What is at stake? Where is the story tension coming from? I do hope that the next thing you talk about in your draft fills us in on that.

    Great work!

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