Thursday, April 22, 2010

Query Revision 4

Face-Lift 757: Embers

A machinist’s apprentice in the mountain town of Inavael, Lenka Pelakova has been hiding a secret: she is the enormous, burning phoenix that’s been painting the night sky with colour and beauty.

But her phoenix half is as cruel and vain as it is beautiful, and has begun to resent its subservience to its human half. As it steadily asserts control over her will, Lenka finds herself unable--and to her own horror, sometimes unwilling--to control her transformations and the phoenix’s subsequent fiery rampages.

Realising she is a threat to everyone around her, Lenka hitches a ride with two merchants to the kingdom’s grand halls of learning in the hopes that the wizards there will be able to rein in the phoenix’s madness.

But it isn’t that easy. A strange woman tails Lenka’s every step, intent on bringing Lenka to justice for the death and sorrow she has unwillingly sown. She, too, can transform into a bird of legend--and is fuelled by a determination stronger than Lenka could ever imagine…

…For this woman does not seek merely justice. The only way to release her dearest friend from undeath is to destroy the phoenix--a symbol of life and rebirth--and Lenka along with it.

At 92,000 words, EMBERS is a fantasy novel with traces of steampunk. I am a student at the National University of Singapore studying chemical engineering.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Comments

Evil Editor sent along a general comment on this one:

It reads fine, but even if what [s/he] describes is four fifths of the book, it's still mainly setup. Which I suppose is okay if nothing more interesting than the setup ever happens.
Here are some thoughts that could maybe help strengthen what you have a bit more.

A machinist’s apprentice in the mountain town of Inavael, Lenka Pelakova has been hiding a secret: she is the enormous, burning phoenix that’s been painting the night sky with colour and beauty.

But her phoenix half is as cruel and vain as it is beautiful,

Yep, that's my namesake to a tee. Go namesake!

and has begun to resent its subservience to its human half. As it steadily asserts control over her will, Lenka finds herself unable--and to her own horror, sometimes unwilling--to control her transformations and the phoenix’s subsequent fiery rampages.

Just a subtle tense issue: The first paragraph shows the phoenix as a nonthreat, yet this paragraph talks about "fiery rampages". Perhaps "once painted" in P1. In P2, I would like to see a concrete detail about what a "fiery rampage" is. Does she burn entire villages to the ground? Raze a crop field? Are the rampages targeted toward certain individuals or just willy-nilly? And, most importantly, is there motivation other than just asserting control? Keeping Lenka in phoenix form would show control. Why is it rampaging? What's in it for the phoenix? Once the phoenix sublimates Lenka to its control, will it keep on rampaging? Is it more than simply mindless evil?

Realising she is a threat to everyone around her, Lenka hitches a ride with two merchants to the kingdom’s grand halls of learning in the hopes that the wizards there will be able to rein in the phoenix’s madness.

But it isn’t that easy. A strange woman tails Lenka’s every step, intent on bringing Lenka to justice for the death and sorrow she has unwillingly sown. She, too, can transform into a bird of legend--and is fuelled by a determination stronger than Lenka could ever imagine…

I adore elipses. However, I don't think they work well here.

…For this woman does not seek merely justice.

This is a bit of a cheat as you've just indicated this woman is intent on bringing Lenka to justice. And if the woman is a "bird of a feather", would she really be blaming Lenka for the destruction? Seems of anyone, she would be quick to separate the acts of the phoenix from the person of Lenka.

The only way to release her dearest friend from undeath is to destroy the phoenix--a symbol of life and rebirth--and Lenka along with it.

This sentence, which should be a strong ending, is hard for me to track. Since I don't know the rules in your world, I don't know if "undeath" is the same as being undead (vampire, zombie, etc), nor do I understand how destroying a symbol of life and rebirth can turn her friend and give her back life? or let her truly die?

At 92,000 words, EMBERS is a fantasy novel with traces of steampunk.

Is there a way you can work in the steampunk aspect beyond the "machinist's apprentice" reference at the beginning as this gets forgotten very quickly? Maybe even locating Inavael in a specific country (Russia?) in a popular steampunk era: A machinist’s apprentice from a forgotten village in Russia in 1810, Lenka Pelakova has been hiding a secret: She is the enormous, burning phoenix that once painted the night sky with colour and beauty.

I am a student at the National University of Singapore studying chemical engineering.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

If this has traces of steampunk, why not use the opening line to toss a trace in. Instead of a machinist's apprentice make her a steam converter's apprentice or something.

could ever imagine…

…For this woman does not seek merely justice.

I'm with Phoenix, drop the elipses.

The merely justice line bothers me. According to Stephn King adverbs are not our friends. This one is not your pal.

I think writing to tell us what she seeks may work better than telling us what she is not seeking (merely justice). Trivializing justice made me cringe.

This woman (is she a woman? I thought she was a bird being of some sort), I'd clarify/call her what she is.

I don't think it helps putting in that you are in chemical engineering. (I got the giggles and goofy phrases ran through my brain when I read that - creating them or taking them, did a few too many did you, switch to English Lit.) Mentioning you are a student is enough.

I'm looking forward to your revision.
Bibi

Matthew said...

Start with the line about the MC being a phoenix, skip the rest and go straight to the woman seeking revenge.

Lccorp2 said...

Hey there, the author here. Before I go rewrite the query again (and after having sent that one to thirty-plus agents, too -.-), I've a few questions--and answers, too.

1) Does the usage of steampunk automatically imply an alternate Earth setting? That the impression I'm getting from the last paragraph of Phoenix's comments, yet most of what I've read (China Meiville, etc) isn't alternate-earth, and often combines elements of magic. Should I just drop it?

2) Unintended insinuation with the "merely justice" there. What if I changed it to "only justice"?

3) The phoenix isn't evil per se. It's just being an animal--its behaviour is based on actual accipiter behaviour (goshawks and sparrowhawks), which my falconer friend assures me is batshit insane. Immense territoriality aside, they're most prone to neurosis and eplipsy out of all the birds of prey, and sometimes will attack things up to and including their own trainers for no perceptible reason. As my falconer friend says, their mindsets can be summarised as "Kill! Kill everything!"

As such, it's up to human-Lenka to serve as the beast's moral compass, but when this starts to fail it serves as the internal complication.

So yes, it's a largely indiscriminating rage that manifests itself on the flimsiest of pretexts, be it territorialism, something being prettier than it is, or that humans aren't grovelling in abject terror.

4) Would dashes work instead of ellipses?

5) The reasoning is that Lenka should be able to control, and is ultimately responsible for what she does as a phoenix.

6) Valise (the woman) is a garuda. The problem with stating that, though, is that while people can a general idea of what a phoenix/firebird is just by the name, there are plenty of wildly differing versions of a garuda across south/east Asia, from the original half-man half-bird in Indian mythology to full birds, such as in Chinese or Japanese usage. (I used the Indonesian one as a base). In order to avoid confusion, the guys at AW told me to leave it out.

The same went for the friend. As I mentioned on EE, there's no simple term such as vampire, ghoul, zombie, etc, to summarise it. The closest would be lich, but again, the guys at AW cautioned against me sending negative connotations with terms that were too D&D-esque. Hence, I left it in a general term, but I've changed that paragraph to:

"--For this woman does not seek only justice. The only way to release her dearest friend from his torment as an undead soul is to sacrifice the phoenix--a symbol of life and rebirth--and Lenka along with it."

7) I've added another paragraph after the above one. Does it help with the problem EE had with it being too much setup?

"With the consequences of the phoenix’s actions closing in upon her, Lenka has to decide whether she wants to reconcile with or rid herself of the dark passenger woven into her very being--if she can stay alive for long enough."

Thanks in advance.

Matthew said...

the justice line is taking up space. Go straight to the woman's true motive. Merely and only are no different.

I hate to confuse you, but I think you should mention she's a garuda. I assumed she was another phoenix, which made me wonder why one phoenix would want to kill another.

You could refer to it as a wild phoenix or an untamed phoenix.

Phoenix said...

My $.02. Hope others will chime in, too, as this is really SUCH a subjective biz.

1) When I think steampunk, I think alt earth history and placing technology in a normally nonmechanical society. But I could be holding to a more traditional view. Steampunk's hot now -- if you can make it a bit stronger element in the query, that's probably a good thing.

2)Maybe something more along "justice isn't her only desire"?

3)More often than not, it's a focused rage. IMO, the motivation -- even as you've described -- should be made a little clearer so the reader understands just what Lenka is dealing with and the nature of her obstacle.

4)You have dashes preceding. I would just use a period and put them in the same paragraph. I don't think the tension is lost doing it that way.

5) and 6) So just a couple of well-placed words will help the reader understand what shapeshifting is like in your world. There are a lot of books out now that explore which nature -- human or vampire/werewolf/demon/angel -- is ultimately responsible when two natures reside within a body. Obviously Valise has hers under control. Does she not fight it? Does she embrace it? Why isn't she consumed as Lenka is? Again, you don't need more than a couple of words to get across Valise's position: Valise knows Lenka's pain only too well, for another bird of legend -- the garuda -- battles for her soul every day. If the wild bird within Lenka cannot be controlled, it falls to Valise to destroy it.

I'm not sure justice is applicable here as it's really the phoenix doing the killing. Would you bring a falcon to justice? The implication in using "justice" is that the bird knows right from wrong instead of just following blind nature.

For me, as a cold reader and looking at this more critically than an agent likely will, there is no clear tie to how sacrificing the phoenix will help her friend. Will the sacrifice release everyone who is undead? Is there a 1-1 correlation, like a life for a life?

(7) It sounds like Valise's true motivation is helping her friend and that she's justifying killing Lenka by thinking she deserves death because she couldn't control the phoenix. IMO, this doesn't mean the same thing as "with the consequences of the phoenix's actions." It sounds like whether the phoenix was controlled or not, Valise would still need a sacrifice to help her friend.

Which also means I'm struggling a bit with the logic in this last 'graph. Can Lenka banish the phoenix from her? By saying "Lenka is the phoenix" and "Valise can transform", it feels like you're setting the relationship up as being lady and bird permanently bound together. So how is the phoenix a "passenger" and would Lenka be able to rid herself of it? And if she reconciles with it, why would that make Valise stop pursuing her if she still needs something to sacrifice?

As the query is written, the choices don't feel valid. Especially if Lenka doesn't even know what Valise's ulterior motive is.

Again, a lot of this can be glossed over in the query as most people won't read it so closely. But if you can close the gaps and better explain the logic without adding to the word coun, you'll have a stronger representation of your story.

Robin S. said...

I would help you, but I really am not good with queries. I am, howver, good with empathy - and I really do mean it when I say - good luck!

Lccorp2 said...

I've changed the last two paragraphs. You think this helps?

"Valise understands Lenka’s plight, for she too can transform into a bird of legend--a garuda, with powers over wind and lightning--but she is here to hunt, not to help. The only way to release her dearest friend from his torment as an undead soul is to sacrifice the phoenix--a symbol of life and rebirth, a life to release another--and Lenka along with it. Worse still, the death and sorrow the phoenix leaves in her wake only serves to affirm to Valise that she is doing the right thing in ridding the world of a monster.

Now Lenka can only try her best to reconcile with her dark half, or else flee the world of humans and live as a maddened beast--if she can avoid being hunted down first."

Would love to hear some feedback.

Joe G said...

Better. It never hurts to be very specific about who you're referring to at all times. Also, cut unnecessary things.

You explained why sacrificing Lenka would revive unnamed friend, "--a symbol of life and rebirth, a life to release another--" but this isn't really a reason why, it's just thematic. Just say the sacrifice of a phoenix can revive another life or something.

Is Lenka actually half Phoenix or is she like Naruto and possessed?


I think you have some problems in this query. Literally the only motivation the main character has is self preservation, and it sounds like the world would be a lot better off without her. She doesn't have any friends, any ambitions, etc... in fact, it basically sounds like she's been letting people die for a while, and finally decided to do something about it, but is content to continue letting people die until she can figure out what to do.

Valise has motivation, but she's not the main character. There's no intimation of a greater scheme for the story. It's all situation, the setup.

Theoretically you could start with Valise and work your way to Lenka.

"For the last ___ years, the awesome and unstoppable Phoenix has painted the land with fire and destruction. Now a woman named Valise has taken it upon herself to destroy the Phoenix. She is uniquely gifted to do so--she herself can become a bird of legend, the Gara, a bird of wind and lightning and cool super powers.

But the Phoenix is no mere mindless bird. By day it sleeps inside the body of a young girl, Lenka, who is both repulsed by and drawn to her curse. Lenka is an outcast, a danger to all those around her, but she leaves her sanctuary to search for a cure to her condition because ____*, blissfully unaware that she is being hunted by the ultimate huntress, one specially made to destroy her. Valise must feel no sympathy for Lenka, because the sacrifice of the phoenix will not only free the land from the tyranny of the monster, but the sacrifice of a Phoenix can finally free her friend _____'s soul from purgatory.

As Lenka and Valise's paths draw closer, ______ happens."

*I'm just saying, you need a better reason than just because she wants to keep on living. So far I don't really see why she deserves to live over the people who die along the way, or Valise's friend.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia's definiton of steapunk is excellent. Too long to post here but it is worth looking up.

Valise - I'd change the name from suitcase to something else. But that's me.

You've got excellent comments to work through. Good luck. Bibi

Lccorp2 said...

I'll have to disagree with Joe G. on this. The first half of the query should have made that clear. The problem with highly sympathetic antagonists is that you get people wondering why they aren't protagonists in the first place when the query is being read.

The suggested query is very action-y and reads reasonably well, but I believe it misrepresents both characters and situation and shifts the external conflict to the fore, which isn't the case. The thought is appreciated, though.

At this point, I'd rather stick to my guns rather than have a query that advertises what isn't there and have agents attracted by the query, then reject because what the manuscript delivers isn't what was promised and those agents which might have been interested pass because they think it's an SnS-esque action thriller.