Our First Winner!

We are pleased to announce the winner of the first round of our OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest.

This category is Historical Fiction, including Historical Romance (WWII era and before). We received a variety of entrants, each a well-crafted and enjoyable read.

Though it wasn’t an easy decision, the judges each independently named the same one as their first choice. They then discussed the merits of the runners-up, and came to the same conclusion again: The winner of the first-round Historical category, therefore, is The Nesting Dolls by Cynthia Rogers Parks of Kennesaw, Georgia. Cynthia is now in the running for our grand prize at the end of the year.

Though the chapter doesn’t begin with an immediate, attention-grabbing hook, the judges agreed that its mature, classic writing style, exotic but sympathetic protagonist, and vivid historical detail combine to draw the reader into the story quickly.

Other than the lack of a strong hook, the judges weren’t sure how well the synopsis conveys the true storyline. There is potential for this to sail to the heights, provided the author connects the idea of the nesting dolls with the growth of the characters; but it’s unclear from the synopsis how well that theme is developed.

But the weak synopsis was overshadowed by the appealing tone, well-researched setting, and intriguing possibilities of the story, as well as the overall high quality of the writing. All things considered, the judges felt that if they were editors or agents, they would likely ask to see more.

Now, without further ado (I’ve always wanted to say that), I present to you the first chapter of

The Nesting Dolls by Cynthia Rogers Parks:

For Olena Gubinova Barzov the day had begun miraculously, progressed unusually, and was still yielding surprises. She had awakened from a dream of her girlhood, of walking in the early morning with her sister Anna in the gardens of the Rose Palace. In the dream she had felt the soft warmth of the early sunlight on her throat and face and heard the twitter of birds and Anna’s tinkling laughter and seen clearly—the last remembered image—Anna’s slender white hand reaching for a flower. The flower had been a rose, perfect and garnet red, two glistening round crystals of dew standing high on its velvet petals.

She had dreamed of her childhood before. Not very often in the last years when she rarely ever slept the night through, but woke and paced and prayed for her daughters, no trace or remnant of any dream at all left in her conscious mind. But she had dreamed of the old days before. And not all of those dreams had been pleasant. Even if they had begun pleasantly, with some lovely vignette from the past—the two of them, perhaps, taking their morning lessons from Monsieur Pécaut, or picnicking beside the river—those dreams had often turned dark, bringing other memories best forgotten and a lingering sadness to her day. This dream had been rare, thoroughly pleasant, leaving her rested and refreshed. But rare as that was, it wasn’t the miracle.

The miracle was not the dream, but the fragrance. The perfume of the rose had reached her even in sleep, was still in her nostrils on waking, and had come and gone all morning. The whispery sweet scent had wafted up from her cup of tea, in the motion of brushing her hair and drying her hands, from ordinary objects and with the most common of morning tasks.

There were no roses in the apartment. None, as far as she knew, anywhere on Avenue Joffre. Probably, in September, there weren’t roses to be had at all in Shanghai, unless in some florist’s case. There had surely been roses, but she could not now honestly recall them, long ago in her family’s gardens. And it was true that the Gubinov estate had been called by that name. There had not been a peasant in eight day’s ride who had not known of the location, and inhabitants, of the Rose Palace. But it was the distinctive pink limestone that formed the façade of the manor house that had given rise to the name. Not roses.

And what of Anna? Dead these twenty five years. What meaning was there in Anna’s small young hand reaching for the flower? In the drops—two of them—of dew?

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