Thursday, July 1, 2010

Revised Revision: Beauty for Ashes

Revision of Query Revision #13

Dear [Agent],

I found your site through XXXX and after perusing your website I thought you would be interested in my book BEAUTY FOR ASHES.

John Douglas wants to die. After wasting years of his life serving God, he is betrayed by Him when his wife and child are killed in a house fire. On a rampage against the Almighty and his old moral code, John is pouring his insurance money into the alcohol that deadens his pain, never mind the incessant Voice that won’t quit calling to him. But now the booze just isn’t enough to stave off his torment. Plans on how to take his life are beginning to take shape when he meets April, a dead ringer for his deceased wife. When she names her price, he throws himself into the fantasy. He wakes up in bed with the prostitute, and the proverbial scales fall from his eyes. Ashamed, he falls to his knees before God in the vomit-ridden bathroom of a Vegas hotel room where the Lord comforts and restores him.

Second chances are seldom deserved, and John is astounded to find love again with church-going Jenni. Their future together promises to be a happily-ever-after, until April makes her way to John’s doorstep claiming he is the father of her unborn child. Now John wrestles with his shameful past, Jenni faces insecurity and bitterness, and April doesn’t know what to make of all the “God talk” going on. For John and Jenni, it will take incredible faith to follow God through what is quickly becoming their darkest valley, but a willingness to surrender all could save a soul in the process.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

About Me

My husband Mike and I have been married for nearly fifteen years. Our four kids range in age from one to fourteen years. We are very involved in our church where we teach the Junior High School students, and I also periodically serve on the worship team. This is my first novel.

Comments

This is a MUCH stronger letter, so kudos, Michelle!

I have nits mainly about what's ON the page rather than what's OFF it, which means, for me, it's capturing what it needs to and needs just the eensiest more refinement, IMO.

Plans on how to take his life are beginning to take shape
I would make this an active sentence rather than passive to make it more immediate sounding.

dead ringer as word choice may be taking it a bit far when coupled with deceased wife.

These last sentences feel more synops-y to me than quer-y:
Plans on how to take his life are beginning to take shape when he meets April, a dead ringer for his deceased wife. When she names her price, he throws himself into the fantasy. He wakes up in bed with the prostitute, and the proverbial scales fall from his eyes. Ashamed, he falls to his knees before God in the vomit-ridden bathroom of a Vegas hotel room where the Lord comforts and restores him.

Maybe combine them a bit:
He's on the verge of taking his life when April, a hooker who's a ringer for his dead wife, seduces him into a one-night fantasy. Scarred, frightened and ashamed after the encounter, he submits himself to God, who comforts and restores him.

"God talk" feels off to me, but it's understandable enough in context.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel, complete at 93,000 words.

I'm assuming the About Me section will be tacked on for those agents who specifically ask for a bio. I wouldn't include it otherwise.

And I KNOW the personalized sentence in the beginning is only a placeholder, not the real thing, yadda yadda, but my suggestion -- for any query, not just this one -- is: Don't personalize if it's a meaningless personalization. To wit: I noticed on your website that you're interested in fantasy/romance/mysteries so I thought you might be interested in my fantasy/romance/mystery novel.

A slightly more personal spin that doesn't require any more research would be:
From your website I see you represent a number of respected fantasy/romance/mystery/inspirational authors. I think MY NOVEL, an urban fantasy/historical romance/cozy thriller/contemporary Christian novel with its focus on the clash between metaphysical science and werewolves/The Bruce and Scottish Highland legends/quilting bees and murder at a local display shop/redemption and faith in the face of tragedy, would be a great fit with your current list.

23 comments:

Michelle Massaro said...

Thanks yet again!

Just last night someone pointed out the "dead ringer" line in context and I don't know why I hadn't noticed it on my own. It's incredibly inappropriate!

I hadn't thought of that section as sounding "synops-y". I'll work on it.

"God talk" I'll have to really think about replacing. For what I'm trying to do there, it's fulfilling its purpose. But maybe I can come up with a suitable replacement.

I hope some more of you loyal readers will stop by and weigh in on this too. I am getting closer, I can feel it. I just need that little bit of direction on where to buff it to make it gleam!

~ Michelle

Michelle Massaro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Massaro said...

I replaced "booze" with "liquor", which might sound a bit less odd. And I made some subtle changes to the synops-y section. This isn't really shorter than before but it might be better. Or not. What do you think? I'm having a hard time letting go of "vomit-ridden." :P

"Thoughts of suicide are interrupted when he meets April, a lookalike of his deceased wife. She names her price, and he throws himself into the one-night fantasy. Come morning the illusion is shattered and John is assaulted by shame. He falls to his knees in the vomit-ridden bathroom of a Vegas hotel room and the Lord comforts and restores him."

I'm not sure if this is enough progress to be putting up here yet but what the heck. =)

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle.
Hope you don't mind, but I tried a re-write.

Dear [Agent],

John wants to die because after wasting years of his life serving God, he believes God btrayed him. He lives with the death of his wife and child. On his rampage against the Almighty, John pours himself into bottle after bottle of Jack Daniels.

He meets April, an uncanny body double for his dead wife. John wakes up in bed with April and runs. He wasn't ready for his wife to come back as a whore although the love making was glorious and so familiar.

John finds love with Jenni months later, until April makes her way to John’s claiming he is the father of the child she's carrying. John wrestles with his one night screw up and Jenni wants to walk. April is pregnant, needs help and is in trouble. John is also in trouble with God, Jenni, and April and his dead wife.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

(About Me - no one cares. Trust me. Delete)

I hope this helps you. And what Divine Miss Phenix said, she's the best, kudos as well
Sincerely,
Bibi

Anonymous said...

Apologies, I meant the Divine Miss PHOEnix.
Hugs,
Bibi

Phoenix said...

Anyone who calls me Divine may spell my name any way they like ;o)

You're such a sweetie, Bibi!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, leave "vomit ridden" for the book, not the query. His Highness, Evil told me on my TEN page query to leave the flowery language out of the query. We get puke hangovers in toilets after a night of whoring. No need to state the obvious.
Please read Divine Miss P's blog from beginning to end esp. the tips on queries.
Waiting for the revision,
Bibi

Anonymous said...

Hey, Divine Miss Phoenix, you are the bomb/muscle/wind beneath our wings. Thanks for helping us as we crutch along trying to fly. Bibi

Michelle Massaro said...

Bibi,

I don't mind at all! In fact, I am very appreciative! The rewrite doesn't convey the right feel of the book, but it gives me some direction so Thank You! I was just about to start working on the query so I will post a rewrite as soon as I can. I hope you'll return and let me know what you think.

Thanks again!

~ Michelle

Michelle Massaro said...

ok, here it is:
Dear [Agent],

I thought you would be interested in my book BEAUTY FOR ASHES.

John Douglas feels betrayed by God when his wife and child are killed in a house fire. On a rampage against the Almighty and his old moral code, John resists the incessant voice of the Lord whispering to his soul and numbs his pain with alcohol. But now the liquor isn’t enough to stave off his torment. Thoughts of suicide are interrupted when he meets April, a lookalike of his dead wife. She names her price, and he throws himself into the one-night fantasy. Come morning the illusion is shattered and John is assaulted by shame. Broken, he repents and finds comfort and restoration in God.

John is astounded by a second chance at love when he meets church-going Jenni. Their future together promises to be a happily-ever-after, until April makes her way to John’s doorstep claiming he is the father of her unborn child. Now John wrestles with his shameful past, Jenni faces insecurity and bitterness, and April doesn’t know what to make of all the “God talk” going on. For John and Jenni, it will take incredible faith to follow God through what is quickly becoming their darkest valley, but a willingness to surrender all could save a soul in the process.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

~ Michelle

Ellie said...

Michelle, I think your latest version is really strong.

A few nits:

You should probably say that April is a prostitute (e.g., "he meets April, a prostitute who looks just like his dead wife"), because I was confused for a while there about what "names her price" was referring to.

"April makes her way to John’s doorstep claiming" -- you could probably just say "April shows up claiming" or "April reappears and claims"; "makes her way" puts focus on her journey to get to John's house, which presumably is not part of the plot.

"April doesn’t know what to make of all the 'God talk' going on" -- this doesn't give me any sense of what April's going through, what her motives are, how she's making things worse or better for John and Jenni, etc. It kind of sounds like she's just standing around going "Uhhhh?"

You're getting close! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,
It's a word by word hike isn't it? Divine Miss P's advice in an earlier post about tightening, tightening (read choking it down) is advice I will never forget.
Much better, I have a problem with the mc accepting Divine forgiveness so fast. Just because he's tried to make it right with God doesn't mean his conscience will let him get away with his bad behaviour so easily. This is his crisis of faith - asked for and has gotten forgiveness theoretically, but he doesn't completely believe that he is forgiven. He feels betrayed by God before his night with the body double, now he's seeing himself as a different person. You seemed to gloss that internal struggle over too easily and send him into lala land too neatly. I would like to see him struggle with that more - does he feel he needs to atone? What better way than to volunteer at a half way house/shelter for reformed whores and then, as his gets life back on track spiritually - there is April, prego with his seed.
Then they all have to work it out.

Just some thoughts, felt a little to pat and sweet for me.
Again, hope this helps, mc feels a little flat to me - I'd love to feel more angst in him. At a deeper level, less wordy.
Maybe bring April's faith in - as a Catholic raised etc. hasn't seen the inside of church let alone confess in a long time, could never think of aborting even though she is a sex worker.
Best, please massage it around a little more,
Bibi

Michelle Massaro said...

Thanks for the new comments! Here's my struggle: Deciding where to focus, which details to bring up and which to leave out. Maybe you can help? Here are some more details from the plot (sorry for the length here):

April escapes an abusive relationship and struggles to start a new life. She spends some time living in her car before finding a roommate but then loses one job after another until she is in danger of being back out on the street and decides to "do whatever it takes" to keep that roof over her head. When she finds out she is pregnant she does decide on abortion at first but can't go through with it. Finding no support she hunts down John. (Later, she is diagnosed with leukemia and her life as well as the baby's is threatened). She has no faith in God whatsoever.

John had been a believer for years before his tragedy and crisis of faith. Before the night with April, we see God speaking to him, calling to him, etc. So deep down he knows the truth of the situation but refuses to let go of his pain. After his repentance there is great relief because he's been fighting so long, but he does indeed struggle with shame. He joins a recovery group and gets involved with church where he meets Jenni.

Jenni is younger than John and feels insecure at times at his life experience (having been a husband and father previously), though she doesn't know about the night with April. For her to find out that John paid for sex, and then to find out that there is now a child on the way, completely rocks her. She has some intense breakdowns (and faces her past of cutting) but knows that God will carry her through. Her struggle persists throughout the book however.

John and Jenni share God's love with April and she eventually comes to a belief in Him for herself.

All three characters have important storylines. But John's is the central one, which I chose to focus on in the query.

Does this information help in how you'd advise me with my query? I'm trying to strike a balance between necessary information and keeping the pace moving along. The pacing in the book is solid, or so I'd like to think. it's this query I struggle with!

I appreciate every comment and suggestion- thanks so much!

~ Michelle

Anonymous said...

My dear Michelle,
If John is the mc, we need to focus and care about him.
Why should I care about him? Is he another loser getting his jollies off? Guys like him are a dime a dozen.
God didn't call him - John had to call on God. And God let's him find his way - in His grace as he does with most of us. In our time as we come with a broken heart, deadened by life but still alive, wishing otherwise.
I need urgency here - a baby coming, his new found love. His GUILT over his first wife and child and his ANGER at God. He needs to go to God and accept the plan whatever that plan is and forgive himself first for not being there when his darling wife and child needed him to save them from death by fire.
Michelle, I hope you will dig down deeper. Make me care about Michael, his dead lovely soul mate and their child. Then make me care that he is trying to live out a life he doesn't beliieve he is worthy of.
He needs to grow, make choices and forgive himself and God.
Again, hope this gives you some help. His internal struggle is so much more important than external conflict. Show us that. This is a tormented man looking for salvation.
Best,
Bibi
You will get there. Promise. Send again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Michelle - sorry I've got that illness I can't remember the name of and switched your mc's name from John too Michael. OOPS!
Bibi

Anonymous said...

Hey 150,
Jump in ok? I may be giving the wrong slant.
Your fan,
Bibi

Anonymous said...

And Fave F, Rachel, Whirlochre, Steve P, minions, Michelle needs your input.
Ooompapa-don't listen to me alone -
Bibi

Anonymous said...

And Fave F, Rachel, Whirlochre, Steve P, minions, Michelle needs your input.
Ooompapa-don't listen to me alone -
Bibi

Anonymous said...

John Douglas feels betrayed by God when his wife and child are killed in a house fire. On a rampage against the Almighty John numbs his pain with alcohol. But now liquor isn’t enough. Thoughts of suicide are corrupted when he meets April, a lookalike of his dead wife. He throws himself into one night of a gloriuous reunion. Come morning the illusion is shattered and John filed with shame. Broken, he repents to God. Yeah, yeah yeah, God forgives him. Sure. Instant forgiveness, but John can't believe the bullshit anymore. Could his dead wife and child forgive him? Is this The Plan? Well screw it.

John gets another chance at love when he meets Jenni. She helps him rebuild his faith, or waht's left of it. Their future together is promising, until April shows up carrying John's kid. Jenni is angry and hurting. April is hungry 24/7 and carrying John's baby. John is a mess, full of guilt on all counts. Just because God promised forgiveness John doesn't know if he can find the right way out of the mess he made. How can he atone for not being there when his wife and child needed him, his girlfriend can see he cheated and he knocked up a sex worker?

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

Once more unto the breach Michelle. I believe this a good story. Come on back.
Best and keep massaging,Bibi

Michelle Massaro said...

Thanks for your help Bibi! I'm not going anywhere, but I don't think I'll be getting any new replies on this entry. Which is kind of a bummer. But I have yours!

I get the sense that my query is not giving enough plot/character arc for your liking. I completely know what you are wanting, and I believe the book itself delivers. But getting that across in the query in 2 paragraphs or so is near impossible! As long as I can make an agent want to read more, I'm good. But if the query is lacking enough character description or sense of plot then it's not doing its job.

It really does take several opinions weighing in to know just how well it's working or not working. And I don't want to keep bugging people for replies if they've dried up. =(

I so appreciate that you've taken the time to really explain your reaction to my query and what you'd like to see in it! I know how much time it takes to do that- thank you!

I think I'll let the query, and the comments I've gotten on it, marinate in my brain for awhile and come back to it in a few days. But I'll still be around- just not working on my own query.

Thank you so very much- you rock!

As do you, Miss P! =)

Anonymous said...

Hey Michelle,
I confess to using your letter to work on my query skills. I like the story very much. Hope to see your revision after you take a breather.
Best,
Bibi

Ellie said...

Hi Michelle,

How far into the book does John's night with April and repentance occur?

I ask because I wonder if part of the reason the query is giving you trouble is that the story really isn't John's story in a lot of ways. It seems like John's major struggle ends the morning after he sleeps with April. Sure, he has challenges later, but that's the big hill for him to climb.

After that, the story really seems to be about Jenni and April -- how Jenni struggles with her faith when faced with John's (and her own) past, and how April finds her way to the Lord. It sounds like John's difficulties in this part of the book are bound up in Jenni's and April's, and he doesn't really have a conflict or crisis of his own (because he's already had that at the beginning, and come through to the other side, and nothing's ever going to shake his faith as much as it was shaken then.)

What would you say the big "win" of the book is? Is it that April becomes a believer? That John and Jenni's relationship survives?

I do think the last version you posted is pretty solid, but if you feel like you're having trouble still, it could be because you're framing it as John's personal journey when it sounds like that's not really the story the book is telling.

Michelle Massaro said...

Hey Ellie! Thanks so much for weighing in!

I see what you are saying and you are right in the sense that most of the PAIN in the latter part of the book belongs to Jenni. But I do think John is still struggling. As well as April.

John's story connects all the characters so I'm presenting the query with him in focus. But my book is about all three. It's written in first person from each of their Points of View so we really get into the heads of all of them.

This is probably too much info, but for a sense of pacing I'm breaking this down:

Story opens with John's loss of family in the fire and subsequent anger toward God. At chapter 5 we meet April and watch her leave one life behind to start another. The hookup is in chapter 10, repentance in chapter 11. Jenni and John meet in chapter 14 but we don't get into her POV until chapter 16. April shows up at John's place in chapter 20 and they are stuck with each other for the remainder of the book, which ends at chapter 37.

(SPOILER ALERT)
Big win? April is born-again (though she dies from leukemia- sorry for spoiler), the baby is healthy, John & Jenni & baby become a family. God has worked all things together to make something beautiful.

I don't mind if a great deal of the story is left out of the query, as long as it makes the agent want to see more. =) I'm still on my break from working on it, trying to get distance and perspective. But still always grateful for additional input. Thank you soooo much!!