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Deborah Morris

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    Playwright working on a historical novel

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  1. HOOK LINE One young princess stood at the crossroads of the founding of three nations: France, England, and Belgium. Her story, and the story of the knight she loved, has never been told – until now. PITCH The Girl of Many Crowns is a 110,000-word historical fiction with international appeal. Based on the true story of a rebellious princess and a brave knight who defy the king and overcome treachery, murder, and Vikings, to build a life--and a new country--together. Princess Judith, daughter of King Charles of France, is raised in a protected and nurturing environment. Her father arranges her marriage at the tender age of 12 to elderly Aethelwulf, King of Wessex – father of young Alfred the Great. Widowed at age 14, Judith is forced to marry her former stepson, proud and selfish King Aethelbald. Judith finds the strength to stand up to her emotionally abusive husband and survive. Judith is unexpectedly widowed again at age 15. No longer an innocent child bride, Queen Judith returns to France at age 16, determined never again to wear a queen’s crown. When she refuses to agree to another arranged marriage, her father imprisons her in the palace to force her agreement. Count Baldwin “Iron Arm” is a brave knight of Flanders who faithfully serves King Charles of France as companion and protector of Judith’s brother, Prince Louis. He is loyal to the king amid Viking attacks, war, treachery, and murder - until he falls in love with the king’s imprisoned daughter. Now he must choose between honoring his oath to serve the king or risking everything to protect the king’s daughter from the king himself. Judith and Baldwin plan a daring escape from the palace. Their flight and the king’s pursuit will take them eventually to Rome to plead their case before the pope. The pope sides with the couple, pressuring Judith’s father into a reconciliation. Judith and Baldwin return to France and marry in the cathedral at Auxerre. However, King Charles refuses to attend the wedding and sends the couple to Flanders to defend France’s borders against the Vikings. The book ends with Baldwin and Judith expecting their first child and planning their building of the city of Bruges. COMPARABLE WORKS Comparable #1: Like a ninth-century version of the Netflix series The Crown, this true story is based on seven years in the life of a princess of France. Comparable #2: Set in the same era as Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series, this story also portrays a knight of France and the constant danger of war, treachery and Viking attacks facing the kingdom. Comparable #3:: Similar to Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens series, the story illustrates the political intrigue rampant throughout early medieval Europe and England, and the problems unique to royal female historical characters. PROSE SAMPLE Judith took Aethelberht’s arm as they stepped through the massive oaken cathedral doors, pausing in the entry way. King Aethelbald waited at the end of the nave to lead Judith to the chancel. Her grandmother’s crown lay upon the altar. “God give me strength,” Judith whispered. “Are you going to be alright, Judith?” Aethelberht whispered back. Not knowing how to respond, Judith remained silent while the rest of her entourage took their places within the cathedral. The ceremony was thankfully short. King Aethelbald had instructed Archbishop Eahlstan that they would not be kneeling to pray and that they would forego celebrating mass. Before Judith barely had time to realize it, they had repeated the vows and Judith felt the weight of a heavy golden ring upon her finger. The marriage had been accomplished. King Aethelbald motioned for Judith to sit upon the throne nearest the altar. With trembling hands Archbishop Eahlstan removed the glittering crown from the altar and handed it to Aethelbald, standing behind Judith. King Aethelbald raised the crown high above Judith’s head for all to see. “Judith, Regina,” King Aethelbald pronounced while lowering the crown upon Judith’s head. “By my sovereign power and authority, I declare you to be Queen of Wessex.” Then raising Judith by the hand, Aethelbald led the procession out of the cathedral and back to the palace. The feast which followed the wedding rivaled any Judith had experienced in the amount of food and wine offered. Judith’s nerves, which had not allowed her to do more than peck at her food, were even more on edge when King Aethelbald noticed her lack of appetite. “Not to your liking?” Aethelbald remarked after servants removed Judith’s third course barely touched. King Aethelbald’s sneering voice reached the far end of the table. “Perhaps Queen Judith finds the food in Wessex inferior to that of Francia.” He grabbed the arm of the serving maid presenting a platter of roast pheasant. “Inform the kitchen the queen is displeased with the first three courses. If the remaining courses do not please her, there will be the devil to pay.” Watching the maid rush off to the kitchen, King Aethelbald drained his cup and laughed. Judith found her voice, “I do not dislike the food, King Aethelbald. I am only feeling unwell.” “She speaks!” Aethelbald roared. “What a relief. I thought, perhaps, I had married a mute.” Aethelberht attempted to calm his brother. However, no amount of reasoning had any effect upon the King of Wessex who grew louder and more obnoxious with every course and every cup of wine. Judith rose from the table. “I shall retire for the evening.” As she left the hall, King Aethelbald called after her, “Eager, are you? No fear. I will join you presently.” Judith hurried upstairs to her bedchamber where Hemma tended a fire to remove the evening chill. “I do not know what to do, Hemma,” Judith cried, throwing herself upon her bed. “I cannot abide his very looks. If he touches me this night, I shall die.” Hemma’s face filled with concern. “Then I shall not allow him to touch you!” she declared boldly. “There is nothing you can do. There is nothing I can do,” Judith moaned. “The church’s penitential list prohibits intimacy for up to one week following the marriage,” Hemma reminded her. “King Aethelbald cares nothing for that. He is king and his will is law.” Then Judith whispered, “I feel ill.” Hemma was determined. “Then, that is what I shall tell King Aethelbald should he come to your door. I will not let him in. I will tell him you are ill.” “I pray it works,” Judith said miserably. “It will,” Hemma assured her. “But I do not know for how long.” BIO D.H. Morris is a descendant of Judith and Baldwin of Flanders, the "first couple" of Belgium. She began researching their story thirty years ago and has extensive author's notes and bibliography which could be shared with readers on social media platforms. She has a degree in Theater and Music and pursued a master's degree in English. She has published one play which has been performed at two universities and a summer stock theater company.
  2. Hi Mel, I loved the way you created suspense and set the scene in Cyprus. Your descriptions made me feel like I was in Greece or Cyprus, places I have spent time. It would be much easier to read and critique if you would add paragraphs and include the genre in this excerpt. Good job in creating an intriguing introduction to your story!
  3. Hi Daniel, I love a good fantasy and yours promises to be just that. Marian is an intriguing character and you did a good job of introducing the antagonist early in the book. If I had any suggestions, I would probably substitute "Marian" with "she" a little more often. And I would drop any unnecessary "the" just to tighten up the prose. Example: "Marian closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled on the wick. Scorching heat poured out from deep within her, and a tiny flame appeared on the candle." If you want to introduce some dialogue early on in the story, you could have Marian remember the conversation she had with Ren when she tried to escape. Just a thought.
  4. I totally agree with the previous comments. Great YA voice and engaging story. I also felt Emily's stomach-turning reaction to her Dad was a bit overdone. I thought at first it meant he had abused her and was taking her up to the cabin to continue that abuse. Other than that, it promises to be a great read!
  5. Logline: One young princess stood at the crossroads of the founding of three nations: France, England, and Belgium. Her story, and the story of the knight she loved, has never been told – until now. The true story of a rebellious princess and a brave knight who defy the king and overcome treachery, murder, and Vikings, to build a life--and a new country--together. Opening Scene - This scene introduces the male protagonist, Baldwin, and sets him on his journey to serve the king - the father of the protagonist princess, Judith. This first scene also provides historical background necessary to understand the political climate in the ninth-century Carolingian Kingdom of Francia - all motivating factors in the antagonists' schemes. If this were a movie, this scene would take place during the opening credits. MARCH 856 - Kingdom of Francia CHAPTER 1 – BALDWIN ”IRON ARM” After the icy darkness of dreary winter, all nature echoed Baldwin's native restlessness and passion for new challenges. The swelling of buds on the trees and pushing forth of shoots emerging from the still frosty ground, whispered of endless possibilities. As he lifted his saddle pack onto the back of his palfrey, Baldwin’s heart beat faster - like the resurging sap in the long-dormant oak in the courtyard outside his window. A new life . . . his new life . . . one full of adventure called. He was ready to embrace it. Through long winter nights before the enormous stone hearth in their great hall, Baldwin’s plans had taken shape as he and his widowed mother spoke of cherished, and often humorous, memories of Baldwin’s childhood exploits. Never content with losing, Baldwin had challenged himself to master horsemanship, the lance, the halberd, the staff, and the sword. Tall and broad shouldered, by age fourteen Baldwin’s feats of strength and daring earned him the nickname “Iron Arm.” Now, at age sixteen he was ready to pledge loyalty to King Charles of Francia. His mother came into the yard to see him on his way. “You will do well, Baldwin. Learn all you can from the royal household,” she advised. “Be loyal to the king, for that is the essence of nobility. But be kind to all both high and low born, for that is the essence of goodness.” “I will, Mother,” Baldwin kissed her cheek, climbed into his saddle, and nodded at Marius who was already mounted and waiting. Marius had served his family for as long as Baldwin could remember. Belying his calm manner, Marius was a fierce fighter when necessary – essential on this journey to King Charles’ palace at Senlis. Wearing the chainmail he had inherited from his father, Baldwin appeared every inch the knight. However, thieves and rogues were well versed in the convenience of the Roman road. Two strong, well-armed men on horseback were not as tempting a target as Baldwin would have been travelling alone. Baldwin and Marius guided their palfreys through the forest north of Baldwin’s manor house toward the road they would join several miles further on at the tiny, largely abandoned trading settlement of Bruges. Following the Roman road was longer than heading directly south across country, but it had advantages. Roman engineers had designed their roads to follow the natural curve of the rivers, providing for the needs of their massive armies. Now those roads served the very people they had once conquered and offered shelter for the wayfarer by way of well-spaced monasteries or inns. Most of the Belgae, Baldwin’s people, supported King Charles over his half-brothers, Lothar I and Louis the German. The three royal brothers had been at odds with each other when the death of their father, Louis the Pious, permanently fractured the kingdom into three parts. Kings Lothar and Louis the German did not succeed in taking over Charles’ territory. Yet, with the recent death of King Lothar, Louis the German still remained a threat to King Charles’ kingdom. Increasing attacks from the north added to King Charles’ woes. Vicious raiders from Denmark made use of Francia’s extensive riverways, drawn by unprotected gold and silver furnishing Francia’s churches and monasteries. Fighting the Danes provided a perfect opportunity for a young knight to prove himself. At mid-day Baldwin and Marius gleaned bits of news and gossip from a group of knights resting by the side of the road. “Francia is quiet for now, but that will not last,” the leader of the group assured Baldwin. “Between Brittany, Louis the German, the Danes, and the rebel lords of Aquitaine, you and the other young nobles wishing to serve the king will see plenty of action before long.” “Then, we are at peace,” Baldwin concluded. “Only for now.” Laughing, the leader mounted his horse. “This kingdom has too many ambitious leaders for peace to last.” Baldwin and Marius pushed ahead, finding accommodations before nightfall in a poorly kept inn. They knew they might have to share their room, tiny as it was, with other guests, but Baldwin and Marius were glad of rest for their horses, shelter for themselves and hot stew to warm their bellies. Two other travelers joined them late in the evening. Only floor space remained, Baldwin and Marius having claimed the lone, dusty straw mattress. However, as soon as the new guests curled up - each in his own corner of the room - they began to snore. The cacophony of snort, gasp and wheeze and the sour smell of unwashed bodies, made Baldwin lie awake longer than usual. All part of the adventure, he reminded himself wryly as he too nodded off. (End of First Scene)
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  7. The Girl of Many Crowns 1. Story Statement – Judith must find the strength to defy the powers of an empire and forge her own future. 2. Antagonistic Force – Three kings (King Charles of Francia, King Aethelwulf of Wessex and King Aethelbald of Wessex) view young Judith as a valuable pawn in their political games to attain or retain power. Each king exercises his will upon Judith – some more benignly than others. All significant choices as to what she will do, where she will live, whom she will marry or even whether or not she will bear children are taken from her. Each of the three kings is blind to, or in absolute opposition to, Judith’s need to make her own choices in life. As kings, they are accustomed to being obeyed without question. They view their world as a dangerous place where one must constantly defend one’s holdings, using any tool at hand – no matter what the cost. 3. Book Title A. The Girl of Many Crowns B. Judith of Francia, Baldwin of Flanders C. Princess, Queen and Countess 4. Genre/ Comparable work Genre: The Girl of Many Crowns is historical fiction with international appeal bringing to life the untold story of a ninth-century heroine who participated in the founding of three countries: France, England and Belgium. Comparable #1: Similar in approach and style to the television series "The Crown" The Girl of Many Crowns follows seven years in the life of a princess who becomes queen and finally a countess. It differs in time period - occurring in the ninth-century. Comparable #2: Similar to Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series, The Girl of Many Crowns is set in the ninth century and portrays the constant danger of Viking attacks facing the kingdoms of the early medieval era. Comparable #3:: Similar to Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens series, The Girl of Many Crowns is written with an emphasis on the political intrigue rampant throughout medieval Europe and England, with a royal female historical character as the protagonist. Judith's story is told from three viewpoints: Judith's perspective, the knight, Baldwin Iron Arm's perspective, and from the perspective of Archbishop Hincmar, political adviser to Judith's father, King Charles. 5. Hook line – A ninth-century French princess, forced into marriage by her politically-motivated father and widowed twice by age 15, and a brave knight - determined to serve his king and country – risk everything for true love in defiance of king, church and political pressure. 6. Primary Conflict – Eleven-year-old Princess Judith is raised in a secure and wealthy environment tightly controlled by her father, King Charles II of Francia. Shortly after her twelfth birthday, her father arranges her marriage to the fifty-year-old widower, Aethelwulf, King of Wessex. Judith is reluctant but obediently moves to Wessex with her aging husband. After little more than one year of marriage, King Aethelwulf, who married Judith for political advantage, dies unexpectedly. Widowed at age thirteen, Judith enjoys for the first time a taste of independence. However, instead of allowing her to return to Francia, her father insists she remain in Wessex and marry the twenty-four-year-old son of her late husband - King Aethelbald. Judith despises Aethelbald, finding him to be proud and selfish. She is conflicted between her aversion to the marriage and her duty as her father’s daughter. Judith resists the marriage by raising legal objections and using delaying tactics. Finally, she relents, and the marriage takes place. Cruel and emotionally abusive, King Aethelbald seeks to destroy Judith's will and self-esteem during their nearly two years of marriage. King Aethelbald points out to Judith that she has never been anything but a pawn -used by her father King Charles, her first husband King Aethelwulf and now by him. Judith's attempts at resistance are swiftly punished by King Aethelbald. When King Aethelbald dies unexpectedly, Judith experiences a true sense of freedom. At age sixteen, and no longer an innocent child, Judith returns to Francia and refuses to marry again for political purposes. King Charles confines Judith within his palace at Senlis until she is willing to agree to another arranged marriage. Judith's brother Louis and his companion – a knight named Baldwin Iron Arm - visit her. Judith and Baldwin fall in love and risk everything in a daring escape from the palace assisted by her brother Louis. Their flight and King Charles’ pursuit will take them to Flanders, Germany and to Rome to plead their case before the pope. Will Judith and Baldwin be captured and face separation, dismemberment, or death? Or will the young lovers succeed against all odds in defying king, church and social demands? Secondary Conflict – Baldwin Iron Arm’s sworn desire is to serve his king well and protect the king’s family. He despises treachery and the many people who betray the king. However, when Baldwin falls in love with the king’s daughter, he becomes conflicted. Does his pledge to protect the royal family include protecting the king’s daughter from her own father? Or does adherence to his oath require strict obedience to the king’s wishes? Tertiary Conflict – Since his youth, King Charles has been beset on every side by forces threatening to take his kingdom: his half-brothers; the rebel lords of Aquitaine; and the Vikings. Experience has taught him to make use of every political tool at hand, including his family. His goal is to survive from year to year, sometimes from month to month. He sees his daughter Judith as a valuable political tool and views her assertion of independence as a form of treachery and rebellion similar to that of the rebel lords of Aquitaine - who remain a constant thorn in his side. 7. Setting – The book is divided into three parts: Part I - Judith of Francia, takes place mainly in the ninth-century kingdom that becomes modern-day France. Transported by historical events within the story, Judith and Baldwin experience a wide range of settings, including battlefields, churches, roadside inns, and palaces. Part II - Judith of Wessex, encompasses Judith's time as Queen of Wessex (now, southern England) where she explores the rich culture and customs of her new kingdom, goes on hunting trips and even attends a council of the Witan at Stonehenge. Baldwin, meanwhile is caught up in intrigue and murder plots, sieges and Viking strongholds in Francia. Part III - Judith of Flanders, follows Judith's return to Francia and her escape from the palace at Senlis with the help of Baldwin. Their flight takes them to Flanders, Germany, and the Via Francigena pilgrim's road to Rome, where they will plead their cause before Pope Nicholas I.
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