Week 7 Finalist – 3rd Place Winner

AUTHOR: Gwen Mitchell
TITLE: Inner Eye
CATEGORY: Paranormal Romantic Suspense

Prologue
Toulouse, France
1595

Vivianne tipped her head back to welcome the rain. The sky’s gift revived her parched throat and washed away the days of caked blood and grime. It ran over her bruised shoulders, down her gouged arms, and stung her wrists – rubbed raw by their rope binds.

At least she would be cleansed before her journey.

Thunder roiled, inciting a murmur of anticipation from the jostling crowd. Fat droplets spattered the charred bricks of the platform, stirring a grimy haze, distorting the eager, hateful faces. She closed her eyes, longing for peace. Neither her body nor spirit could withstand further punishment.

“Brule la!” someone shouted. Burn her.

Yes, she would burn. Fire could be cleansing too, and she had much to be cleansed of.

“Madame Vivianne Regina Spurrier, Comtesse de la Feronique du Guard,” the herald began. The crowd hushed as her sentence rang out. The air hung thick with a thirst for carnage.

Witchcraft. She had committed heinous, manufactured crimes against members of the French court, wiled influential men to her bed for personal gain, bargained with the devil, and forsaken their Lord Jesus Christ. She’d been branded a heretic, a whore, and a diseased piece of flesh to be cut from the arm of society. Vivianne listened to the oration of her sins as a miasma of loathing, fear, and jealousy seeped from the crowd into the rain-bloated sky.

She’d tried to save them and they hated her for it. But they were not the enemy.

The herald continued. For her crimes against God and the crown of France, to which she had willingly given full, documented confession…

She searched the dais for the man who had taken said confession. Father Dolores oversaw the execution proceedings with cold detachment. Her heart throbbed with fury as she stared into his empty eyes, at the shadow floating in their depths. She had tested her mettle against the darkness consuming him from the inside out, as he delighted in the breaking of her flesh and repeated violations of her body. She had emerged the victor, unclaimed by him, untainted. Still in possession of her own soul.

So, she would burn.

The hooded executioner lumbered forward as the herald rolled his dampened parchment.

The villagers crowded closer to cast stones and putrid fruit. Vivianne reached inside herself, searching for the strength to forgive them. They have only one turn, she remembered, even as they pummeled her.

In a way, their journey was harder – a single lifetime, spent un-awakened to the wondrous filament of energy underlying the world they lived in. Her own tie to the Conduit had unraveled some time in the long dark of the past days, fled, along with her will to keep fighting. She was ready to let go. Her Coven, all eight of them, dangled from the wall of the keep. Her only daughter was safely out of reach of these monsters, though her unborn child had been expelled from her womb by their abuses. Her lover…

Tears sprang forth at the thought of Lucas. Would he find her again? Even for an immortal, eternity was a long time to promise. More laws and restraints bound him. Because of their union, the Synod would hunt him. But he was also free to live. To forget. Perhaps even to find another.

The herald uttered the final prayer for Vivianne’s soul to be accepted into the Lord’s Kingdom. She bowed her head, though her soul would not be in the hands of their God, for judgment or redemption. She had many lives ahead.

The executioner rustled and shifted. The waft of tar at her feet quickly overpowered his pungent, sweaty reek. She bit her lip and focused inward, forcing her body to relax.

Cries of “Sorcière!” and “Putain!” chorused off the high walls of the tower as the raindrops fell harder.

“Brule la! Brule la!” the common folk chanted, expressions wrenched in senseless fury.

Vivianne let out a slow, deep breath. The flames of the torch danced and sputtered as it neared. She gazed into them, seeking guidance. This was her Fate, the fire a doorway.

This final pain only marking her passage into the next revolution of her journey.

The torch lowered. A cloud of heavy black smoke choked the air from her lungs. Flames licked at her ankles, but she had no breath to cry out. The scent of roasting flesh filled her nostrils and her eyes watered. Searing heat surged through her veins. Her skin blistered. Her blood boiled. And then she felt nothing.

Let me pass. She was ready. Another turn of the wheel. Another chance to do things right. She struggled against her bonds, but her flesh melted and fell away. The crackle of wet wood and the shouts of her accusers rang in her ears. Her vision narrowed to a pinprick. The last cry to escape her charred lips came softer than whispered prayer.

Lucas…

RACHELLE SAYS:

 Gwen, I can’t remember when I last read a witch story. But, you’ve hooked me! I love the moodiness of the setting – the rain seems perfect for the occasion. And you’ve done a great job with it – I can almost feel it on Vivianne’s skin.  Nice bit of foreshadowing right off the bat, too, with, “At least she would be cleansed before her journey.” Made me instantly suspect that some unexepected twist would be coming my way. And it does.

Your work is a great example of a story starting in the midst of action, with very little backstory, and sprinkled with hints of things to come. For example, all I really know about Vivianne is she’s a witch who’s been wrongly accused and is about to be burned to death, plus she has a child, has lost a child, is in love with Lucas, is ready to go — and a bit more. And regarding the hints of things to come, I know she’s not going to really die, she may or may not find Lucas, she may or may not do things “right” the next time around, etc. And, most importantly, you’ve left me at place in the story where I MUST turn the page to find out what happens next!

The only thing I would like to see more of is … in the last couple of paragraphs, after the torch is lowered, I need to feel her pain. Give me a sentence or two about how the flames feel on her skin, as it melts away. Show me her physical response. Does she scream? Moan? Does she writhe in pain and strain at her ropes? I know she’s emotionally resigned to her fate, but I don’t think that makes her immune to pain. But, if there is some reason why she is, then let me know that, so I understand why she doesn’t react to it.

At any rate, I’d definitely keep reading. Great job!

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57 responses

24 02 2010
Only One More Week to Enter « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 7 Finalist […]

24 02 2010
Gwen Mitchell » Blog Archive » Chase the Dream Finalist

[…] is … well, nerve-wracking, to be honest.  You can read the first 1000 words of Inner Eye here, and I’d love to hear what YOU think.  Category: Announcements, Writing  Tags: […]

24 02 2010
Christine Bell

Fabulous Gwen, just fabulous! I just hope I am able to find it when it hits the shelves because this is truly special. Great job and congratulations!!!!!

24 02 2010
Christine Bell

Also, kudos to Leigh and Rachelle, because each week (although of course I’m initially a little bummed not to see my name up there) I am wowed by your selections. I am always thinking “Okay, now THAT choice makes sense!” and, more importantly, “How do I get mine to that level?” Thanks ladies!!!

24 02 2010
Donna

I really enjoyed this too, and would love to read more. The first paragraph quickly lets me know she’s endured something awful, while setting the scene based on her response to the rain, etc. It keeps me wondering what’s gonna happen next.

I flinched when I read the description of the flames on her, so I’m not sure I could endure any description of her emotions as Rachelle suggested! Eeek. But I am a bit fainthearted!

Very nice. Congratulations.

24 02 2010
Rachelle Chase

Christine, thanks for the kudos – and for your participation. Best wishes for seeing “your name up there,” too!

Donna, you bring up a good point. I flinched a bit, too, so just to clarify, I’m not asking for paragraphs of physical descriptions or Vivianne’s reaction. Since Gwen included realistic details about the fire, I just needed A LITTLE detail about Vivianne’s reaction.

24 02 2010
Donna

I agree with you, Rachelle, about needing a LITTLE detail of her reaction. I’m just squeamish enough that I will have to skip over that part. LOL It’s definitely a compliment to the author’s skill that I’m feeling this way!

24 02 2010
Rachelle Chase

LOL, I totally understand, Donna.

24 02 2010
Debbie K.

Gwen, you do a great job bringing me into the character’s anguish. The sensory details bring me right into this world. Just enough details to orient me, but no backstory dump! Wonderful!

24 02 2010
Gwen

Wow! Rachelle and Leigh, thanks so much for this opportunity! I’m honored to see my excerpt up there and am grateful for the comments and feedback. Thanks Christine, Donna, and Debbie, too.

Rachelle, I think I agree with you. What I sent has been cut and cut and hacked from its original version, which some early readers said was a bit over-dramatic. Maybe I went a little too far. 😉

24 02 2010
Leigh Michaels

Gwen, your use of the senses is fantastic here — we’re right there with Vivianne all the way. And I love how you blend her fury at the authorities with forgiveness of the people around her. If she was entirely forgiving, she wouldn’t be plausible; if she was entirely angry (as she has every right to be), her situation would still be sympathetic but the reader might not want to get further into her head. As it is, we want to see her next life, and get to know her better.

You’ve set a high bar here, in terms of the caliber of your writing and of your story — so when you pick up Vivianne in a future life, it may be hard to keep up with your own great start. The best of luck!

24 02 2010
debbiemumford

Congratulations, Gwen! I’m thrilled to see your excerpt showcased as a finalist. You know I love this story…

24 02 2010
Gwen

Leigh – thanks so much for your feedback and encouragment. *gleeful* I sure hope the rest of the book meets that bar.

Debbie – Thank you! Wouldn’t have made it this far without your support, advice, and encouragment. 😉

24 02 2010
Victoria Dixon

Awesome! You kept me glued.

24 02 2010
Gwen

Thanks, Victoria. 🙂

24 02 2010
Julie T.

Dang, nice job! Agree with all comments above. I would definitely like to keep turning the pages. Great setting, great use of senses (I could feel the flames…eek), and wonderful hooks to pique my interest. More, please! Congrats.

24 02 2010
Tessa

I’m not one that would pick up a story that is so far back in history. Probably because I don’t know much about history in the 1500’s. However, you are definitely an exception for me. This was so interesting that I wouldn’t be able to put your book down until I read the last word. Very dramatic and a situation that must have been awful back then. Very good work and very good details in your words. Like the “Brule la, Brule la.” That phrase right there made me feel that you did your homework.

I would agree with the others as far as putting in a little more detail at the end. EXCELLENT!!!

24 02 2010
Gwen

Julie – thanks very much!

Tessa – most of the book actually takes place in the present day, with the heroine experiencing regressions to her past life as Vivianne as the story unravels. I don’t have the patience for the sort of research required to write an authentic historical – I’d rather make up my own worlds. On that note – even though I studied French all through school, I had that quote wrong in the first draft. Proof that it pays to have many pairs of eyes looking over your stuff. (Thanks, Lynnette, for correcting me!!) 😉

24 02 2010
Thomma Lyn

*~*~*Happy Dance*~*~*! So happy to see your excerpt up. You know how much I love this story, and I’m so excited for you! Readers, this story is something truly special. 🙂

25 02 2010
Gwen

Thanks, Thomma Lyn! I don’t think I ever would have finished it without your insights and optimism. *hugs*

Oh, and Tessa – I got carried away explaining myself and forgot to say: THANKS for commenting!

25 02 2010
Andi

Gwen! I had to come see and read. I’ll always be a fan…

I love the way this begins. I’m a big fan of hooks and want a reason to keep reading immediately. And I’m especially intrigued by one of the comments you made–that Vivianne experiences regressions of her past life as a witch (and this excerpt is an immediate sympathy and throat-choking-evoker). Oh, to have your imagination and drive!

I did wish I was more in Vivianne’s head at the very end, horrific as that seems. I was with her the rest of the way, comfortably imagining what she’s lost, gone through, and has yet to go through (and I actually winced), but I wasn’t able to sense her fear or agony at being burned, even if death is a doorway to something more. (But fire?! One of the worst, most painful ways to die. And not even a scream from her?)

I guess I wanted to see more of what she was giving up bodily for the spiritual or immortal side–the next leg of her journey. It’s like that saying about beauty: no pain, no gain.

Congratz on being chosen.

I can’t wait to read the book!

xo

25 02 2010
Evelyn

Gwen! I loved this excerpt!
The paragraph about the ‘holy man’ really caught my attention. No honest ‘man of God’ would perpetrate the crimes it appears he has on your heroine. Nor cause a woman to lose a pregnancy. Makes me wonder who is really the villain here.
Great hints about Lucas, immortality and promising forever. I really need to now what they mean.
Good luck! 🙂

25 02 2010
Cher

Congratulations. I enjoyed the read. I’ll have to pick up the book when it comes out.

25 02 2010
Carole

Kudos!

I loved this selection. I hope to see it in print soon. You found the perfect place to begin your story.

25 02 2010
Jessica

This was a great excerpt! Really exciting and full of imagery. I love witches! I’m glad to see them in a story. Something not quite as dark as Anne Rice and more romance would be wonderful. Yet from what you’ve given us so far you have a dark flavor that is very enticing. Really would like to see this on the shelves. 😀

25 02 2010
Gwen

Wow, thanks to everyone for your comments. I feel like it’s my birthday or something.

Andi! Where have you been hiding out? Thanks so much for swinging over here! You make a good point about “what she’s giving up bodily” for the spiritual transition that she’s making. I will definitely keep that in mind, along with Rachelle’s comment. I didn’t want to go into too much greusome detail and turn people off, but I could definitely find a way to show that she is fairly disconnected from the pain because of everything she’s endured up to this point and that she’s so weak, she basically passes out before her body really BURNS. All good food for thought – thanks for your feedback!

Evelyn – You’re totally right, of course. I’ve always been fascinated by the hypocracy of the witch trials and that idea, in part, is what spurred my story. Glad to hear I’ve left you intrigued – those questions are certainly answered by the end, though hopefully not how you expect. 😀

Cher – I hope the magic wish fairy heard that one!

Carole – Same thing as Cher. Ironic that the right place to begin the story (after much deliberating, wishy-washing, and re-re-re-writing) turned out to be when the main character dies. lol

Jessica – I haven’t actually read Anne Rice, so I can’t speak to the “darkness” comparison – the whole book isn’t this dark, though there are many darker moments. I like to think of the overall mood as dreary – the present-day story is set in the Pacific Northwest. 😉

26 02 2010
Tessa

Now, I’m really impressed with this piece. Maybe I should have guessed because you certainly wouldn’t have killed your heroine off in the beginning, but I kept thinking the hero was riding in. I fell for it. Looking forward to more.

I do agree that research can take a lot of time. But you had me fooled. You did such a good job, I was convinced you did.

27 02 2010
Gwen

Well, I’m glad I could fool you, lol.

Nope – no hero riding in. That’s the end of the prologue and the story picks up in present day. 😉

Thanks so much for your comments!

27 02 2010
Tamara Lynne Smith

Gwen,

Wow…I agree, you had me hooked with the first paragraph. As I read through I felt both sympathetic (for being burned) and thankful, for moving on to “the next revolution of her journey” this made it easier for me to deal with the fact that she was burning alive. Her courage to find forgiveness and yet still stare into the eyes of Father Dolores, an obvious villain in this story hiding behind the cloth. LOVE IT! I can’t wait to read this book and see what happens when she meets up AGAIN with Lucas. ~ Thanks for sharing Gwen.

27 02 2010
Gwen

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Tamara. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. *grin*

27 02 2010
Wendy Delaney

Gwen,
Of course, I knew Inner Eye was good. I was thrilled to present you your First Place award at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference. 🙂 But WOW! You totally hooked me from the very first paragraph. Best of luck to you in the next round of the Chase the Dream contest.

28 02 2010
Gwen

Thank you so much, Wendy! I’m so glad it drew you in. 😀

3 03 2010
Gwen Mitchell – Paranormal Writer – Angst Slut » Blog Archive » I Can Has Ur Vote?

[…] You can read the prologue of my Paranormal Romantic Suspense, Inner Eye, here. […]

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

I think this is an excellent opening. Super gritty and intense. Rape and torture, miscarriage, execution are pretty rough elements to toss into a story so early but I have the sense that this is intended to be a reincarnation story and the tone will probably change once Vivianne dies. Those elements do work to capture the reader and as a reader I don’t worry that the entire ms would be about elements that are quite THAT dark. Because of how I suspect the story is structured it is hard to judge what the flavor of the larger portion of the ms will be like after this opening wraps up. The writing is strong, though and I think you have a wonderful attention to detail. Nice job.

12 03 2010
Gwen

Laura –

Thanks very much for your input!

The tone does indeed shift with the POV character in the present-day story (a reincarnation of Vivianne), but the flashbacks to this life, how the end of it came to pass, and Lucas, of course, are all tied into the suspense plot.

It’s a great gift to see what an agent might be thinking as they are reading this – thanks for participating in this contest. 😀

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

This is gripping and intense. The emotions are clear, the pov character is sympathetic and compelling, and we never lose the sense of scene, of events unfolding in dramatic fashion. Really, when we talk about starting with a scene, this is what we’re talking about. This is very well done.

I wish I knew more about Lucas, but not in this scene. I want to keep reading to learn more. And I want some kind of revenge and redemption plot — I’m so totally on board with your character that I want to see her avenged. Wonderful stuff.

12 03 2010
Gwen

Theresa –

Thank you very much for your feedback! Revenge and redemption are major theme elements in this story, and of course the bad guy gets his due in the end! 😉

13 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

I liked this!
Once I started reading… I wanted to continue on to see what happened next. Good descriptions, although I agree with others… I think you would benefit from sharing what your heroine was “feeling” at the end.

I especially liked the teasers you included to keep me wanting to find out more. It’s like dangling a carrot on a string in front of a mule.
Well done.

I wish you the best of luck!

15 03 2010
Gwen

Hi Christine –

Thanks very much for reading and for your comments. I will re-examine that ending and look for an opportunity to beef it up. 🙂

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hello, Gwen. Thanks for sharing INNER EYE with us. The writing is good and this is a nice use of place and era. I must say that it seems odd that a member of royalty would be accused and indicted of witchcraft–unless someone has decided to make off with her riches/property. I would proofread better (or have someone do it for you. For example, the word “wiled” in para.7 is not correct. I was certainly compelled to keep turning the pages.
Cheers.
Elizabeth Pomada

15 03 2010
Gwen

Elizabeth –

Thank you for your time and feedback. It’s very interesting to see what details different individuals pick up on. I feel that not mentioning that this has been thoroughly proofread by many sets of eyes would be a disservice to my many wonderful critique partners. Any and all mistakes are mine. Not sure about “wiled” though . . . I’m fairly confident that usage is acceptable.

Glad you would have turned the page. 🙂

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

I absolutely love this opening. Well done! Does the rest of the story take place in a contemporary setting?

16 03 2010
Gwen

Hi Brenda –

I’m so glad you enjoyed it, thank you!

Yes, the rest of the story is contemporay, set in the San Juan islands off the coast of Washington. There are four more scenes in the novel tying the past life into the suspense plotline. 🙂

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Gwen–I found this really atmospheric and moving. I was also surprised (in a good way) that she really did burn; I think we’ve become used to daring last minute escapes and I think it’s very interesting that you didn’t go that way. There’s a lot here to be curious about and you leave the reader wanting to know more. It’s definitely high-concept, and also fairly dark, which I think is something the market is really into right now. Nice job.

Happy Writing!

17 03 2010
Gwen

Hi Esi –

Your comments are very much appreciated! I’m so glad in this case going against the grain worked in my favor. 🙂

17 03 2010
Christine Bell

This was one of my favorite entries all year. I can’t wait to read this, and I saved your blog info so I can find it when it it published (and it will be)!

From a readers perspective (I’m not an agent or an editor or anything), it’s funny how things that add to the story for one person take something away for another. I actually loved the fact that she was royalty! Maybe it would be more commonplace if she were a peasant, but it certainly doesn’t stretch the boundaries of possibility in my eyes. For me, commonplace isn’t really what I like to read in my romance novels. Everyone was filthy and lice ridden back then as well, and I am fine with not reading about it, lol! I want a little fantasy. Also, from what I recall (bearing in mind I haven’t been to college in quite a few years) being a royal female meant very little if “true” royalty (i.e. a more powerful male) determined that you had done wrong. Surely Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard would nod in agreement of this point . . if they still had their heads, that is!

Also, I loved that you used the term “wiled” as in she used her wiles to seduce them away. Whether it is proper or not, it was clear to me that it was used intentionally in that manner and not a mistake. I like when authors do this. Nora Roberts does it often (altering words to fit her need, changing nouns or adjectives into verbs) and I think it’s cheeky and smart! Granted, my opinion and a dollar will but you a Coke, Gwen. I only checked back in because I was really taken with your tale and wanted to see if everyone loved it as much as I did and when I saw a couple of the comments I just wanted to play devils advocate and offer another POV. HAPPY WRITING!
Christine

17 03 2010
Gwen

Thanks for checking in and for commenting again, Christine!

Rachelle and Leigh have really set up a wonderful contest venue. Finaling is its own reward, in the sense that I get to see honest and thoughtful feedback, both from editors and agents and from peers. It is VERY educational reading the comments on all the entries and taking note of where different readers are coming from. And it is a rare occassion indeed that I get to discuss these things with people like you!

I hadn’t mentioned it because it has no real bearing on the story, but Vivianne isn’t actually royalty, just nobility. It’s a bought title, which belonged to her late husband. It would not be a stretch at all to imagine some other nobles would gladly step in and claim her lands and would likely side with the church, though the key perpatrator of her trial is actually Father Dolores. As I’ve stated before, research is not my strong suit, but hopefully knowing she’s only a Comtesse (by marriage to a purchased title and now widowed) makes it easier to suspend disbelief.

And yes, that is how I meant to use “wiled”. It might not be in wide circulation, but it is in the MW dictionary. 😉

Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments, and don’t be a stranger – you know where to find me.

~Gwen

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

Raw, visceral, I could really feel her pain. Very vivid world-building. I don’t love that it’s starting with backstory–this is clearly the set up, and I usually prefer to jump into the actual story and have all this from the past (or past lives as the case may be) woven into the plot and shown in a different way than as a prologue (or prologue-type) opening. I’m liking the heroine a lot though and am intrigued to find out more about the hero. Witches and reincarnation are tough to sell in paranormal right now, but I dig the darkness you have going on here. Brava.

17 03 2010
Gwen

Hi Deb –

Thank you very much for your feedback. I certainly understand your concern about the “dreaded prologue.” I wrestled with this particular scene for a long time. I tried it several different ways, and anytime I threaded it into the later action, it bogged the pacing down too much.

No one likes to hear that their genre/story is tough to sell, but I appreciate the warning and your honesty more than I can say. I’ll just have to hope that what I’ve written is different enough to defy that trend.

*pulls on magical Cape of Optimism* 😀

17 03 2010
Jessica

Gwen,
If we are hard to sell then it will make it all the more worthwhile when we do 😀

17 03 2010
Gwen

I will toast to that!

20 03 2010
And The Winners Are… « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Place – Week 7 Finalist – Inner Eye by Gwen […]

20 03 2010
Donna Cummings

Congrats to you, Gwen!

22 03 2010
Gwen

Thanks, Donna! 😀

20 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Congratulations, Gwen, on placing 3rd in the CTD contest! 🙂

Good luck getting your work in front of editors and agents.

22 03 2010
Gwen

Thanks, Kylie. Congratulations to you too!

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Gwen:

Congratulations on your third place finish. I loved the sense of darkness and fear that surrounded Vivianne. The accusation of witchcraft was very disturbing, knowing that she was really powerless to do anything to stop it. Great beginning.

Vicki




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