Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Query 32: Redux 2

All Things Together for Good

Anaiiya is a human living among the last gargoyle tribe—and their last defense against a kingdom turned against them. The gargoyles teeter on the brink of starvation despite Anaiiya’s more and more frequent raids on the palace storerooms. Their fate seems sealed when the mad Queen sends a band of fanatics to destroy their tribe once and for all, until Anaiiya blacks out—and awakens covered in blood to find she’s killed every last member of the Queen’s rogue army with her bare hands.

The battle shakes something loose within her...now the river boils when she sings and drops of blood show her visions and play symphonies only she can hear. As Anaiiya flexes her newfound supernatural muscles to defend her beloved tribe, she draws the attention of other magical creatures—both good and evil—who want to use her abilities for their own ends. Now dark forces war for control of the powers she is only beginning to understand. Powers that could save her tribe, or destroy them all.

Comments

This revision is much cleaner and much more focused! The writing is strong and would work well as backcover copy.

But does it work as a query? I'm torn. I think this is one that's going to depend on what an agent is looking for. This is all set up. Yet, because we know the genre, the query gives us a reasonable expectation of what the plot is. That would likely be enough for agents looking for very short plot descriptions, but someone like Janet Reid might be peeved that they're not getting the "well, what happens?" piece.

My biggest concern, though, is whether it's hooky enough. Will gargoyles and the writing be enough to pull this out of the generic trope-filled slush? It might, because many fantasy readers read fantasy because they expect -- and want -- certain tropes (same as other genre readers -- I'm not dissing fantasy readers; I'm one myself!).

You could certainly send this out to a handful of agents and see what the response is. I personally prefer this version over the others I've seen. What do other critters out there think?

I do have a few minor tweaks to this version:

  • Change "more and more frequent raids" to "increasingly frequent raids"
  • Change "their fate" to "the tribe's fate"
  • Delete "rogue" from "Queen's rogue army"
  • Delete comma between "her tribe" and "or destroy"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Query 42

Of Two or More Minds

Adrian's friends attempt a shakedown of his boss by stealing an illegal adult film and threatening to turn it over to authorities. This leaves the sexually confused theater manager playing both sides; earnestly trying to prove his loyalty to the company while reluctantly pocketing his share of the stolen cash. Actually, Adrian distrusts Lou Davis, his boss, but doesn't know the owner of the porn theater and several bookstores had partnered with a Web-based video production company deeply connected to a Salvadorian child prostitution ring. He doesn't know Lou's partners had already gained control of the business by turning Lou's weakness against him. Adrian was soon to get set up the same way but gets off much easier, the blackmail only having destroyed his half-serious engagement to Regina, his best friend and lover. But he could rationalize that as the fair outcome. A bisexual homophobe not much for sharing is probably not the reliable lover she wanted so to believe. Even if he wanted just as much to believe. Belief, it seemed, could be complete in just half of one's mind.

Comments

This could well be just an email translation issue, but the body of the query came through as a single paragraph in Yahoo mail.

I'm not getting a really good sense of the plot from this. Here's what I understand to be happening:

  • Adrian helps blackmail his boss.
  • His boss' partners turn around and blackmail him.
  • He loses his girlfriend because of it.
I'm sure there must be something more to the story, but it isn't coming through in the query. Plus, I'm not quite sure what the tone of the story is. Is it dark? Is it humorous? Including a genre (and word count) would help position the story in the reader's mind, or they could be of two or more minds themselves.

Adrian's friends attempt a shakedown of his boss by stealing an illegal adult film and threatening to turn it over to authorities.

I'm not sure the slow reveal that Adrian is connected to a porn theater works. At first I thought it was a personal copy of the film the friends (are they really friends or simply coworkers?) stole and I wondered if it was illegally copied or purchased. I didn't get it was child porn until two sentences later. And I'm still not clear if it's a personal copy or something the theater is showing?

This leaves the sexually confused theater manager playing both sides; earnestly trying to prove his loyalty to the company while reluctantly pocketing his share of the stolen cash.

I don't think this is the best place to drop the info about Adrian being sexually confused as it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the blackmail. Does "stolen cash" refer to the blackmail money? Because if it does, then "stolen" isn't the right word here and "attempt" can be deleted in the first sentence. If it doesn't, then I don't know what it's referring to.

Actually, Adrian distrusts Lou Davis,

Why does the boss get a last name but Adrian doesn't?

his boss, but doesn't know the owner of the porn theater and several bookstores had partnered with a Web-based video production company deeply connected to a Salvadorian child prostitution ring. He doesn't know Lou's partners had already gained control of the business

Since the partners are still Lou's partners, this all needs to be in present tense.

by turning Lou's weakness against him.

What is Lou's weakness? Children? I think you're playing a little too coy with the reader. Be direct.

Adrian was soon to get set up the same way but gets off much easier, the blackmail

Why is Adrian being blackmailed? Is it retribution? What does Adrian possess that he could be blackmailed over? Naming WHY he's being blackmailed would give us better insight into the character, I think. All protagonists don't need to be super-sympathetic, but the rest of the query tries to manipulate the reader into sympathizing with him, so grounding him regarding his virtues and his failings will help.

only having destroyed his half-serious engagement to Regina, his best friend and lover.

So how is the relationship destroyed? Do the partners disclose whatever Adrian was being blackmailed over to Regina?

But he could rationalize that as the fair outcome. A bisexual homophobe not much for sharing is probably not the reliable lover she wanted so to believe. Even if he wanted just as much to believe.

I'm not clear why "belief" is being emphasized. Again, I think you need to be clear. A bisexual homophobe can be as perfectly capable of commitment and living in a committed relationship as the next guy. Unless he doesn't want to. Is Adrian a player? Is he more of a commitment-phobe than he is a homophobe?

Belief, it seemed, could be complete in just half of one's mind.

So does he want Regina back? Does this mean only half of him believes he can settle down with a woman but the other half will still be searching for something?

Overall, I'm not clear what Adrian wants. A happy life with Regina that the blackmailers thwart? Is THAT the plot? Or is he shrugging off that relationship -- accepting it as the cost of  blackmail -- and if so, what then DOES he want? His bisexuality and homophobia are guns on the mantel. Show us how those aspects figure into the plot or Adrian's motivations or else leave those descriptors out. Even if you're targeting the GLBT community as your audience, from this query we don't see how they come into play.

This seems to be a character-driven story. I would lead off with Adrian and his life with Regina and how his bisexuality may already be compromising that relationship and then go into him getting caught up in a blackmail scheme, then the blackmailers coming after him and destroying what's left of the relationship. Then tell us what Adrian wants next and how the blackmail and Regina figure into his future decisions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Who Cares About Quality

[Edited to add that Anna Bowles, who's in the biz, posted an insightful counterpoint to this post. Go. Read. Learn. Think.]

I'm about to discuss something heretical in the world of writing. Those with weak stomachs and MFAs will probably want to click away now.

Lately I've been studying unpublished openings, as in first chapters, especially those entered in the many, many contests out there. Or, more to the point, I've been studying critiquers' reactions to the openings.

First, most critters are either just very, very nice people who can't bring themselves to say a harsh word to anyone or else they are very sincere in their beliefs about what they like. If we assume the latter, then the majority of the stories being critiqued have fan bases -- people who enjoy the samples provided and would keep reading past the 1, 2, 5, 10 or 50 pages submitted.

I've seen a dozen readers gush over an entry, explaining why they like it and how they're drawn in. Then along comes the industry professional to spoil it all. A person who obviously doesn't "get" the work or respond to it in the same way the "regular" folk do.

This dichotomy is especially prevalent, I think, in contests that encourage "readers" (those who don't write at all) to critique alongside "writers."

When I hung out with the Romance Writers of America, I'd see the same lament from scores of writers plastered across the message boards: I entered so-and-so contest and the first-round judges (typically readers) gave my work perfect or near-perfect scores. Then the agent/editor read it and shot it down.

Why the disconnect?

Industry professionals tend to focus on the craft: the spit and polish, how the work is presented. In short, how professional it comes across, judging to a certain institutionalized quality. A quality that I certainly think the typical reader appreciates -- just maybe not to the extent industry professionals believe.

Much of the reading public seems able to forgive writing that isn't quite polished if the story or characters interest them. Let's call these works the literary equivalent of velvet Elvises and dogs playing poker. They may not win awards, serious art students may snicker, critics may look down their noses, but they get hung/read in a lot of average homes. Just look at fanfic sites. Readers who could be reading quality, industry-chosen works are spending time reading amateur works instead.

I've spent a number of years as a writer/editor for large corporations, have done design duty in the past, and have worked directly with printers to produce marketing collateral, so I do understand the value of editing, of paper quality, of page design, and all the rest. I've made a pretty good living for an awfully long time capitalizing on the value these things bring to a project. But I also understand how subjective everything that's creative is.

Project approval in big business often depends on the green-light from a non-creative department. The accepted "rule" in design is to always give the decision-makers a choice so they feel invested in the project. A "trick" designers use when presenting ideas to decision-makers is to give them one obviously inferior design along with the design they want to push. The problem is that an inordinate number of times, decision-makers fall in love with the inferior design. What was "obvious" to a professional isn't so obvious to someone not in the game.

The same goes for writing. I can't tell you the number of times I've returned copy for approval only to have highly intelligent, degreed reviewers change perfectly good grammar to something that's atrociously wrong. Writers and English majors know the difference; the average person on the street, not so much.

Beyond nitpicks in grammar, problems with content around continuity of theme, persuasively building a case, redundant explanations, and unsupported claims (the equivalent of story continuity, character development, tight writing, and plot holes in fiction) often go unremarked . And here's an important point: While the average non-writer will agree that the edited version is better, when they don't have anything to compare the original to, they often feel a draft written by someone only moderately versed in writing is perfectly acceptable.

The ease of self-publishing coupled with the coming ebook revolution is a game-changer not just for writers, but for readers.

Yes, there will always be dreck that no reader, discerning or otherwise, will be able to slog through. Readers will quickly learn not to purchase anything online before skimming through a sample chapter. But if a story fits their taste and is told engagingly enough, many, if not most, readers seem to be willing to overlook a plain and perhaps imperfect exterior because they know it's what's inside, deep down, that matters. That's how they judge a story.

So who cares about quality? Everyone, to an extent. We just don't all agree where quality ends and value begins.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Query 35: Redux

Trial of the Heart
(Also appeared on Evil Editor's site, Face-Lift 843. But we saw it here first.)

Emily Hennas can ease the suffering of the man responsible for killing her family—trouble is, she buried her compassion alongside her children.

After a drunk driver, Conway Duke, kills her husband and two children, Emily has to rebuild a life for her surviving son. She begins to believe getting closure and moving on are possible, until she receives a request from the killer. He is terminally ill and wants Emily to support a plea bargain that would keep him out of jail to die at home surrounded by his loved ones. To sweeten the deal he says he will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.

Emily's path was clear when ‘life in prison’ was the only outcome, a small comfort knowing Duke had to live every day with the devastation he’d caused. But Emily doesn’t view his death as closure – or fair. When anger and bitterness threaten to consume her new life, Emily questions what closure really means and if finding justice is worth sacrificing her humanity. She knows without a resolution, she will never be able to move on, but can she forgive the unforgivable and live with the choice: justice or mercy.

TRIAL OF THE HEART, a work of women’s fiction, is complete at 87,000 words. As a child survivor of a drunken driving accident, I am familiar with the dilemma between punishment vs. forgiveness and the emotional journey of recovery.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think this version is much, much closer -- almost there! You've really tightened the focus down to what Emily's choice is. You'll probably get differences of opinion on this, but I would like to see maybe one sentence here that touches on either the things like hoarding that have intruded on her life and are consequences beyond just the devastating heartbreak she's faced because of what Duke has done, OR that touches on the things she's tentatively exploring, like new friendships with her neighbor, to help her move on. Just a hint that the story, being women's fiction, has just a little more complexity than the theme of justice vs mercy.

Emily Hennas can ease the suffering of the man responsible for killing her family—trouble is, she buried her compassion alongside her children.

I would go with the conditional "could" instead of "can" here.

After a drunk driver, Conway Duke, kills her husband and two children, Emily has to rebuild a life for her surviving son. She's just starting begins to believe getting closure and moving on are possible, until when she receives a request from the killer. He is terminally ill and wants Emily to support a plea bargain that would keep him out of jail to die at home surrounded by his loved ones. To sweeten the deal he says he will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.

I had a strong reaction to that last sentence. Personally, I would delete it. But that might just be because of how I'm reading it in light of the rest of the dilemma. I hope others weigh in because I'm certain this sentiment could go either way with readers.

Maybe give us a timeframe here? Do doctors think Duke has 6 weeks, 6 months or 2 years to live?

Also, I think telling us how old Duke is would be helpful here (Conway Duke, 32)(or whatever -- I don't think I've seen his age). You've also hinted he's a family man. Would this color Emily's thinking? Does he have a wife and kids? If so, then layering her dilemma could only help your theme. If the reader sees him as sympathetic and remorseful (if he is) rather than just plea bargaining to stay out of jail, it will make Emily's struggle even more profound in the query reader's mind.

Emily's path was clear when ‘life in prison’ was the only outcome, -- a small comfort knowing Duke had would have to live every day with the devastation he’d caused. But Emily doesn’t view his death as closure – or fair. When anger and bitterness threaten to consume her new life, Emily questions what closure really means and if finding justice is worth sacrificing her humanity. She knows without a resolution, she will never be able to move on, but can she forgive the unforgivable and live with the choice: justice or mercy.

I don't know enough about the legal system, but I wondered about life in prison being the only outcome. Seems many convictions carry just a few years. How could she be certain of a life sentence before she knew the guy was terminal? Maybe just "time in prison (a long, long time if there was truly in justice in the world)"

TRIAL OF THE HEART, a work of women’s fiction, is complete at 87,000 words. As a child survivor of a drunken driving accident, I am familiar with the dilemma between punishment vs. forgiveness and the emotional journey of recovery.

A good example of a personal tidbit that's relevant and doesn't scream: I've been there so obviously I'm the only one who can write realistically about this.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Query 37: Redux

Monarch Effect

Varoosia lies hidden from human eyes. Its inhabitants, Monarchs, are born into castes which manifest only after a metamorphosis takes place. For days young Monarchs remain inside cocoons, changing – body and mind. They emerge beautiful, minds hardwired with new instincts, free wills replaced by urges that cannot be denied. This is the Monarch way. No choices, just raw impulses.

But what happens when a human upbringing taints a Monarch’s nature?

MONARCH EFFECT is the story about two teens who believe themselves human: Samantha Gibson, an unloved, adopted girl and Greg Danaus, the son of fugitive Monarchs.

When Greg metamorphoses into a member of the ‘Guardian’ caste, his instincts urge him to find Samantha. His job is to keep her safe from thoughts of suicide and from Varoosia’s Queen, a vicious woman who knows the girl is a threat to her crown.

Finding a much-needed friend in Greg, Samantha takes shelter from loneliness and danger under his protective aura. Sparks erupt between them, but, in spite of the undeniable chemistry, the mutual attraction is wrong, only possible because Earth has short-circuited their nature, allowing them to share emotions that were never meant to be.

Their love becomes impossible when Samantha morphs. As the Monarch impulses takes over, hijacking her mind with a compulsion for Varoosia’s heir, the Queen’s only son, Samantha rages war against her new identity. She wants no riches or crown, only to know the purpose of her mysterious caste and the freedom to love who her heart has chosen.

Comments

This revision gives us a better idea of what this world is like and what your characters are facing, so good job there. However, if this is more than just a love story between two people from different sides of the track, that's not really coming through just yet.

Varoosia lies hidden from human eyes. Its inhabitants, Monarchs, are born into castes which manifest only after a metamorphosis takes place. For days young Monarchs remain inside cocoons, changing – body and mind. They emerge beautiful, minds hardwired with new instincts, free wills replaced by urges that cannot be denied. This is the Monarch way. No choices, just raw impulses.

This would have a more immediate feeling to it if we saw this change in Greg rather than being told about it up front.

But what happens when a human upbringing taints a Monarch’s nature?

I'm not clear how a human upbringing would taint them. Are young Monarchs prepared for their new lives before they are cocooned so Sam and Greg aren't prepared for their new lives? What difference would how they are brought up have to their nature if they are changed so thoroughly? Or is this the classic nature over nurture debate?

MONARCH EFFECT is the story about two teens who believe themselves human: Samantha Gibson, an unloved, adopted girl and Greg Danaus, the son of fugitive Monarchs.

"fugitive Monarchs" raises questions that are likely explained in the book but stick out here as plot holes. Are the fugitives living in the human world as humans? More importantly, if there is no free will, how are they fugitives? This basically tells the reader that the caste system can be broken and has been, so it may not be such a big deal for Sam later on. I'm also wondering why they haven't told Greg his version of puberty will be a little different from most human boys.

When Greg metamorphoses into a member of the ‘Guardian’ caste, his instincts urge him to find Samantha. His job is to keep her safe from thoughts of suicide and from Varoosia’s Queen, a vicious woman who knows the girl is a threat to her crown.

You show here what a couple of the obstacles are, which is good, except I don't really understand why Sam might have thoughts of suicide. And is it really the thoughts Greg is keeping her safe from, or from carrying out the suicide itself? Then I expect to learn how Sam is a threat to the Queen. But it seems that Sam is just supposed to marry the Queen's son. So all I'm getting from what's in the query is that Sam is the equivalent of, say, Princess Di, and I don't get how Di was a threat to Elizabeth.

Finding a much-needed friend in Greg, Samantha takes shelter from loneliness and danger under his protective aura. Sparks erupt between them, but, in spite of the undeniable chemistry, the mutual attraction is wrong, only possible because Earth has short-circuited their nature, allowing them to share emotions that were never meant to be.

Do the castes know, then, before they morph what their nature will be? It sounds like they have free will when they are children and that they could fall in love. Since Sam hasn't morphed yet, I'm not sure how "Earth" is the cause. And is Varoosia not really on Earth? I think the parallel world concept needs to be established up front as "hidden from human eyes" simply makes me think this is like the faery realm. In that case, though, I also would like a clue as to how these two seem to be able to cross back and forth between the worlds so easily.

Their love becomes impossible when Samantha morphs. As the Monarch impulses takes over, hijacking her mind with a compulsion for Varoosia’s heir, the Queen’s only son, Samantha wrages war against her new identity. She wants no riches or crown, only to know the purpose of her mysterious caste and the freedom to love who her heart has chosen.

I'm not sure what the "purpose of her mysterious caste" means. Assuming that the compulsion she has is to love/mate with him, then what's so mysterious about being of a royal caste or its purpose? I do like the "freedom to love" part very much. But ending on that note makes it seem like the plot's climax is whether she can break the nature instilled in her so she can love. And that's not really a big enough story to carry a fantasy.

Also, your world is your world, of course, but since you've set up so many parallels to an insect society, I was brought up short by there being a male heir. Males are generally pretty much expendables in insect colonies.

Here's maybe another way to think about structuring your query:

Greg Danaus has no clue he isn't human. Somehow his parents forgot to mention his version of puberty would involve spending days locked inside a cocoon, his body and mind being stripped down and rebuilt. When he emerges, he's no longer the shy senior trying to decide which college to attend. He's a confidant Guardian, hardwired with new instincts for surviving and a compulsion that he can't deny: to find a girl half a continent away.

Greg finds Sam. They fall in love. Then Sam morphs.

Now Sam inexplicably has the hots for someone she's never met and that's a problem because that someone's mom is the Queen of Varoosia, an unseen parallel world, who sees Sam as a threat (explain). Sam doesn't care about the Monarchs or Varoosia or crowns or riches; all she wants is the freedon to love who her heart has chosen. But Queenie can't let that happen, and (something awful will happen) to Greg and Sam if they can't (do what they need to do to figure out how to be together forever).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Query Revision 41

Face-Lift 840: Living in Forgotten

Dear Agent,

An unnamed city divided by a single wall.

On one side is the Forgotten, named by its inhabitants since those who promised to protect them, hunt them down. The imperfects, unwanted and corrupt live daily by fighting for their basic needs.

On the other side live the Privileged, the perfect, beautiful people who have everything and share nothing, at least not knowingly.

Khris, a fourteen year old boy, has managed to survive by sneaking over the wall and stealing to eat, and by hiding from the gangs of Forgotten and the raiders from Privileged.

When running away from a bunch of thugs, he runs into a small mute boy with a very big Talent, one he’s used to protect himself from harm. Together they learn to understand each other and slowly a small band of kids form a protective circle around the small boy, Magus.

In the Forgotten, a gang will corner them into an impossible heist, one that leads them into the heart of the government while in the Privileged, the Protective Committee get ready to hunt for more Talented, hoping to extract the power for their own gain even if it means killing.

Now Khris and his friends must find a way to escape from the city and hope to find a home somewhere where they can be free.

My young adult fantasy, LIVING IN FORGOTTEN (working title), is complete at 70,000 words. It's the first instalment of a planned trilogy, yet is quite capable of standing on its own. LIVING IN FORGOTTEN is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think this version definitely gives us a better idea of what the story is about. I think it still needs some finessing and a few more concrete details, though, to help set it apart. The voice, as well as the setup in the city, has a literary fiction feel to it, but I'm not convinced that the plot and resolution continue that literary/thematic thread. If this is an allegory, we need to see that a bit more clearly in the stakes and the resolution, I think.

An unnamed city divided by a single wall.

Leading with this sentence frag with its "unnamed city" and the names Forgotten, Privileged and Magus are what set up that feeling of allegory. But we don't really get a follow-through on that allegorical tone. If it really isn't allegory (and I'm thinking it really isn't), then saying the city is unnamed raises the question in the reader's mind: who would not name a city? Is it the author not naming it? Or do the inhabitants not have a name for it, even though they name other things?

On one side is the Forgotten, named by its inhabitants since those who promised to protect them, hunt them down. The imperfects, unwanted and corrupt

OK, I'm going to be very literal here. If the inhabitants are being hunted, they aren't forgotten. Maybe go with the Privileged having turned their backs on these rejects.

live daily by fighting for their basic needs.

This is redundant with Khris surviving by stealing and hiding from gangs and hunters. Since Khris' struggle is more specific, I would delete it here.

On the other side live the Privileged, the perfect, beautiful people who have everything and share nothing, at least not knowingly.

at least not knowingly sets up a thought that isn't followed through on. We're not told what it means, so it can be deleted.

Khris, a fourteen year old boy, has managed to survive by sneaking over the wall and stealing to eat, and by hiding from the gangs of Forgotten and the raiders from Privileged.

When running away from a bunch of thugs, he runs into a small mute boy with a very big Talent, one he’s used to protect himself from harm.

At some point in the query, we'll really need to know what Talent is.

Together they learn to understand each other and slowly a small band of kids form a protective circle around the small boy, Magus.

How would Magus have a problem understanding Khris? What motivation do the kids have to protect Magus? Does he need protecting with his big Talent? Does he offer mutual protection to the kids through his Talent?

"Kids" also makes it sound like these are tweens and preteens, which doesn't make this feel like a YA story. However, I do like the detail of the "protective circle" very much.

In the Forgotten, a gang will corner them into an impossible heist,

Using future tense makes it sound like this heist will be the climax, but we learn a bit later that it isn't.

one that leads them into the heart of the government

this is a great start to the tease of what this heist is about, but the reader still doesn't know what the consequences of going along -- or not -- with this heist will be.

while in the Privileged, the Protective Committee get ready to hunt for more Talented, hoping to extract the power for their own gain even if it means killing.

We still don't know what Talent is or how many people in Forgotten have it so we don't have a clear idea of what the "gain" is. The mention of killing is confusing. Can they extract the power from the dead, or does this mean they don't mind killing people without Talent to get to those who do?

Now Khris and his friends must find a way to escape from the city and hope to find a home somewhere where they can be free.

Do Khris and the other kids all have Talent, too? Or are they trying to protect Magus? Why can't they escape the city? What happened with the heist? This seems a bit of an anti-climactic way to end the query. You want to make the agent beg to read your pages.

My young adult fantasy, LIVING IN FORGOTTEN (working title), is complete at 70,000 words. It's the first instalment of a planned trilogy, yet is quite capable of standing on its own. LIVING IN FORGOTTEN is my first novel.

This last can be shortened as it's needed for information purposes only: LIVING IN FORGOTTEN is a 70,000-word stand-alone young adult fantasy with series potential. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

There are a lot of questions here, but that doesn't mean they all need to be answered. How many of the kids are in danger (not the number but a general idea of how many people in general have Talent), how they're in danger and what the heist is all about all seem pretty significant, though.

You're getting there! We all go through multiple revisions before we nail it, so in you're in good company ;o)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Return to Yesteryear

A group of online friends has been reminiscing about the "old days" this week and the fun we used to have bantering on Evil Editor's blog circa 2008. Part of the comraderie back then included round-robins of posts where we read from various writings (although I never actually read; I just listened to the goodness).

Today's challenge: post old work, preferably work that's being read aloud. This is my lamb for the sacrifice.

If you didn't enjoy epic poetry told in heroic couplets in English class, think about skipping this poem altogether. I wrote it during my SCA days and even recited it around a campfire or two. I do have fond memories of those days...

There is no video. And I chose a low-quality format to keep the file size small, so it sounds a bit tinny. The text of the poem is posted below for your read-along enjoyment. (Of course, the hardest thing about reading and writing rhyming poetry is to keep it from sounding like doggerel. So many, many bad memories there...)

.

THE SONG OF GERROD GREYWOLF

Come gentle knight, down some ale, a lager heady and strong,
And listen long to a hero's song and a warrior's mighty tale.
Of Gerrod Greywolf, Sigvat's son, who chose the glory game
Chose hero's fame to hear his name on the wings of the setting sun.

Like Beowulf or Charlemagne – proud gestes upon the lyres –
He'd felt their pain and seen them slain in the flames of a thousand fires.
He'd heard Valhalla's warrior hosts in the words of scop and skald;
He'd drunken toasts to those Viking ghosts and upon their gods had called.
He'd held brave brands in his mailed hands, their bright blades dripping blood.
He'd journeyed far to foreign lands and sailed through the flood.

He'd met high kings, givers of rings, and prayed with a Druid priest.
Known Hadrun's feast and Sigurd's beast – and flown on Fafnir's wings.
For gold and jewels, a dragon's bed, his sword for sale to all,
Whose blade life shed and sped the dead to feast in Odin's hall.

'Twas Rudiger who bought that brand and the blades of a thousand more.
'Twas he who planned to make a stand in a grand and noble war.
'Gainst Huns he fought, who'd drawn their swords and left his lands to bleed.
'Twas Huns he sought, 'cross mountain moors, to venge their naked greed.

On Beltane Night they lit their fires and camped by Hadrian's wall;
They danced in gyres amid the pyres, their spirits held in thrall.
The moon was full, the night near shorn, and Gerrod Greywolf knew
Upon the morn as the sun was born the Huns would rage anew.

With a thunderous crash the two sides clashed in the face of the rising sun.
Horse hooves slashed as sword steel flashed 'tween Celtic king and Hun.
The smell of fear hung in the air, thick in their war steeds' sweat.
The trumpets blare pierced the air and cried its hollow threat.
Across the field the milkweed fled, the horses snorted flame,
And Gerrod's blade swung 'round his head and boldly sang its name.

Through hauberks fine it found its way, and a half score hearts it stilled
And swathed in gray upon the clay lay a dozen more he'd killed.
His mighty blade ran red with gore, life's precious fluid spent.
But from the moors a thousand more from Hel's very gate were sent.

Then with brasted heart his steed fell low, its spirit but a dream.
He'd felt the blow, saw its red blood flow, and heard its dying scream.
Dust rose up to choke his breath as he fought upon the lea;
He swung his sword and laughed at death, but oh, so wearily.

Sven of Osberg fell in the press, and Ottar coughed up red,
And on that field of deep distress, nine hundred Celts lay dead.
Oh their standards still flew upon the hills, but where had glory flown?
They battled still amid the rills while their horses stood alone
With heads hung low below their knees as their sides heaved out and in
And one could hear their ragged wheeze and see their deathly grin.

And Rudiger's men were laid carrion 'neath battle axe and sword.
Their lives' race run, their killing done, no match for that Hunnish hoard.
But among the dead there stood one Celt, his body bathed in red,
And from his belt his sword still dealt a deadly rain of dread.

Then a score of steeds broke o'er the hill, a wave of ebon sea.
Their voices shrill, their dark eyes chill, they flew onto the lea.
And upon their backs, with spears in hand, rode maidens of the chain.
Scouring the land like a brigand band, the Valkyries claimed the slain.

And Gerrod Greywolf watched them go, that long parade of men –
Watched them go, glad to know they'd come to fight again.
And his sword grew slow and his shield hung low as he fought a hundred to one.
But even so he never felt the blow from the blade of a single Hun.

For his dreams were for Valhalla now and the men at Odin's side.
For a wooden prow and a solemn vow and the Valkyries' final ride.
And Midgaard's might had stood revealed – but all that now was past.
For upon a shield on a battlefield a warrior breathed his last.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Query Revision 40

Face-Lift 839: Given the Shaft

There are 2 Face-Lift 839s over at Evil Editor's. This is the first one that appeared on EE's site. And in one of those paradoxical moments, Monday's query will be the second one that appeared there. Just in case you are as confused as I was... [UPDATE: EE has kindly rectified.]

Jordan Bale is a normal college student, if normal means spending her free time doing an extra research project and running her own proofreading business. She stumbles into the world of detecting by way of an administrative conspiracy, the murder of her favorite professor, and a serial rapist targeting campus. And one of these criminals is stalking her.

A student is killed in an elevator in her dorm and campus police are quick to rule it an accident. Jordan knows the student was pushed, so she takes the story to the school’s newspaper. John Schmidt, a university administrator, hires a seemingly professional woman to protect the university’s reputation and prevent more humiliation from Jordan Bale. He didn’t realize he had loosed a monster, and firing this woman only fuels her rage.

Jordan’s favorite professor – the only person who treated Jordan as more than just one of Ohio State's fifty thousand students – is murdered less than a week later. Jordan is determined to do what the police can’t: solve the case. Even if it entails breaking into her professor’s office and stealing her research to look for clues. Between misrepresenting herself as a detective to a potential suspect and hassling the lead detective on the case, Jordan discovers a secret worth killing to keep.

Then the Columbus Police Department starts turning away rape victims. Jordan conducts her own investigation of three bizarre yet related attacks, but she can’t solve one single case. And the rapist is escalating.

Can Jordan solve these crimes before she becomes the next victim?

Given the Shaft is a complete 80,000-word mystery that could be expanded into a series. I was named an up-and-coming star of flash fiction by the 6S Review, and my short stories have appeared in 6S2, MicroHorror, Blink Ink, FlashShot, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and Long Story Short.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

Jordan Bale is a normal college student, if normal means spending her free time doing an extra research project and running her own proofreading business.

This is good in that it gives us an idea about Jordan and has voice that suggests a nice cozy mystery.

She stumbles into the world of detecting by way of an administrative conspiracy, the murder of her favorite professor, and a serial rapist targeting campus. And one of these criminals is stalking her.

Well, this suggests a story that's maybe a little more raw and much less cozy unless these crimes are somehow all connected. Since we're going to learn about each of these crimes and that maybe someone is stalking her later, this is a bit redundant. I think it can be deleted.

A student is killed in an elevator in her dorm and campus police are quick to rule it an accident. Jordan knows the student was pushed, so she takes the story to the school’s newspaper.

The question this raises is how she knows? Did she see it happen? Can she describe who did the pushing? And I'm assuming if the student was pushed, they were pushed down the shaft and not in an elevator car. Just saying "an elevator" makes it sound like it happened in a car (or whatever the proper term is that everyone just shortens to "elevator").

John Schmidt, a university administrator, hires a seemingly professional woman to protect the university’s reputation and prevent more humiliation from Jordan Bale. He didn’t realize he had loosed a monster, and firing this woman only fuels her rage.

This seems like a subplot since the query doesn't tie this "monster" (what makes her a monster before her firing?) to anything else happening. So she's either a red herring -- in which case she probably belongs in the synopsis but not in the query -- or she's the one who kills the prof to take revenge on John and the school. In which case we need to see a clearer connection or else leave her out altogether for now and focus just on Jordan's perspective.

Jordan’s favorite professor – the only person who treated Jordan as more than just one of Ohio State's fifty thousand students – is murdered less than a week later. Jordan is determined to do what the police can’t: solve the case. Even if it entails breaking into her professor’s office and stealing her research to look for clues. Between misrepresenting herself as a detective to a potential suspect and hassling the lead detective on the case, Jordan discovers a secret worth killing to keep.

Is there more motivation here? There's a suspect and the lead detective is on the case, is it just taking too long to solve? Why does she think she can solve it?

Then the Columbus Police Department starts turning away rape victims.

This is a very bizarre statement. If you're going to use it, I think it needs to be explained or else bringing in what appears to be a wholly unrelated series of crimes and the police acting in a decidedly un-police-like manner will likely turn off potential agents.

Jordan conducts her own investigation of three bizarre yet related attacks,

I'm going to have to say, nicely, that Jordan is starting to seem a bit delusional about being a detective and the Columbus PD are looking like hacks.

This is starting to feel like story overload, and the nice cozy mystery that seemed promised by the voice in that first sentence has taken a sharp turn. Mainly because I'm not seeing any connection to any of the events.

but she can’t solve one single case.

Actually, on reread, I'm not quite sure if the three bizarre attacks refer to three rapes she's investigating and if the "one single case" refers to one case from among three rapes or one case from the cover-up murder, professor murder and serial killer.

And the rapist is escalating.

How is the rapist escalating? His number of attacks can escalate. His mode of attack could escalate from unarmed to armed, but I don't think the rapist himself can escalate.

Can Jordan solve these crimes before she becomes the next victim?

The next victim of rape? Of murder? There are 50K students in the university and 700K people in the city -- the query hasn't given us any reason to believe she's being stalked so why should she become the next victim?

Given the Shaft is a complete 80,000-word mystery that could be expanded into a series. I was named an up-and-coming star of flash fiction by the 6S Review, and my short stories have appeared in 6S2, MicroHorror, Blink Ink, FlashShot, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and Long Story Short.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I would cap the title. I won't discourage you from listing your credits because I know listing them makes YOU feel good, but non-pro credits really aren't going to be very helpful. What a pro market is varies, but most agree that it's a market that pays at least U.S. 5 cents/word.

My Revision

When Jordan Bale half-sees a shadowed figure push a student down an elevator shaft in her college dorm, she figures it's a slam-dunk the campus police will find the perp and serve out justice. Instead, since she can provide neither concrete proof nor more than a vague description, they rule the death an accident and close the case. Outraged, she takes the story to the school newspaper, hoping to shame the university into a more thorough investigation. The administration's response: to hire a PR professional to hush up both the incident -- and her -- to protect the school's reputation.

Still reeling from the incident, Jordan is shocked to learn a week later that her favorite professor has been murdered. Determined not to let this crime get swept under the carpet, too, she breaks into her professor's office and steals her research, looking for clues the police won't be able to refute or dismiss. Between misrepresenting herself as a detective to a potential suspect and hassling the lead detective on the case, Jordan discovers a secret worth killing to keep. Now she has a motive; she just needs to dig up the proof.

Then a serial rapist targets the campus and Jordan sees a pattern emerge that connects to her dead professor and to the student killed in the shaft. It may be if she can solve one crime, she can solve them all. Only she'll have to work fast -- the pattern clearly points to her being the next victim.

GIVEN THE SHAFT is a complete 80,000-word mystery that could be expanded into a series. I was named an up-and-coming star of flash fiction by the 6S Review, and my short stories have appeared in 6S2; MicroHorror; Blink Ink; FlashShot; Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers; and Long Story Short.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Query 39

Lilith Rising

Samantha Sheridan has been told what she is her whole life: a psychic vampire that feeds on living energy; a half-breed; and the prophesied second coming of Lilith, the mother of all vampires. But none of that told her who she is. Now, after running from her demons (and herself) for over half a century, fate steps in and forces her to face them all in a showdown that will come to define her not only in her position of power, but also as a woman.

Just after returning home from an assignment in New York City covering the Vampire Equality Coalition’s annual ball, magazine journalist Samantha Sheridan finds herself in a world of trouble. Her nightmares are back, leaving her with the shockingly dreadful memories of a vampire that existed centuries before she was even born. And because there are more questions about her existence than there are answers, Sam fears that her soul may not only be connected to something ancient and powerful, but also inherently evil.

Lilith Rising, complete at just over 94,200 words, is a fast paced urban fantasy offering something that should appeal to any fan of the genre: action, thrills, politics, humor, and a taste of romance. Set primarily in Virginia, and Washington, D.C., Samantha’s paranormal world includes vampires, zombies, magic, and an encounter with a mysterious elf that either wants to kill her or kiss her. She’s not sure which.

Lilith Rising is written to be presented as a standalone novel, but a sequel is in progress. Sample chapters or full manuscript are available upon request. Enclosed below is my contact information.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal.

Comments

This is an interesting premise, but right now that's all it is in this query: a premise. While it's technically well-written and has voice -- all good things! -- what little we get of the story itself is told to us, not shown us. I also think the words could be used more efficiently to present the story.

Samantha Sheridan has been told what she is her whole life: a psychic vampire that feeds on living energy; a half-breed; and the prophesied second coming of Lilith, the mother of all vampires. But none of that told her who she is. Now, after running from her demons (and herself) for over half a century, fate steps in and forces her to she faces them all in a showdown that will come to define her -- not only in her position of power but also as a woman.

Your paragraph hook here is great for use where a shorter hook like that is requested. For a longer query, I would start out with the first two sentences, then let the rest of the query show that last sentence in greater detail.

Just after returning home

This is the likely place to let us know where the story unfolds rather than where you tell us later that it's set primarily in Virginia and Wash DC. "Home" doesn't tell us where home is. "Returns to the DC area" economically gets across her going home to the VA and DC setting.

from an assignment in New York City covering the Vampire Equality Coalition’s annual ball, magazine journalist Samantha Sheridan

This is another example of where the words could be more efficient. "assignment," "covering," and "journalist" all convey the same idea. We don't need Samantha's last name again. And while the detail of the VEC dropped in as it is works quite nicely to convey world-building, we probably don't need "annual." You could pare it down to: covering the Vampire Equality Coaltion ball in New York, magazine journalist Samantha...

finds herself in a world of trouble.

A bit cliche and vague. Plus, I'm more interested to know why the mother of vampires is a magazine journalist. I would think she'd be getting special treatment if she and "everyone" knows she's the second coming. What's her motivation for working as a journalist and for vampire kind letting her?

Her nightmares are back,

If her nightmares are "back" then that should mean she was in trouble before when she had them originally, right? So we need to know what's different this time.

leaving her with the shockingly dreadful memories of a vampire that existed centuries before she was even born. And because there are more questions about her existence than there are answers, Sam fears that her soul may not only be connected to something ancient and powerful, but also inherently evil.

Right now, what the reader is seeing of the plot is: Sam's home and having nightmares and thinks she might be connected to something evil. But since we haven't been given anything to substantiate her fear and no antagonist or complication, someone having nightmares won't be enough to keep a query reader's interest.

Lilith Rising, complete at just over 94,200 words,

Go ahead and round to the nearest thousand: 94,000. I would also cap the book's title.

is a fast paced urban fantasy offering something that should appeal to any fan of the genre: action, thrills, politics, humor, and a taste of romance.

There really are few rules in query writing. One, though, that just about everyone has, is not to tell the reader that your work is fast-paced and offers action, thrills, etc., but to show these things. Right now, the only thrills and action you've shown are her having nightmares. Nothing of politics, humor and romance have come through save for you telling us they're there.

Set primarily in Virginia, and Washington, D.C., Samantha’s paranormal world includes vampires, zombies, magic, and an encounter with a mysterious elf that either wants to kill her or kiss her. She’s not sure which.

The detail of the elf conveys a bit of humor, which is good. However we have no context for the elf or for the zombies or magic. How do these things fit into Sam's world? What's the complication in her life? What's her goal? What's standing in her way?

Lilith Rising is written to be presented as a standalone novel, but a sequel is in progress. Sample chapters or full manuscript are available upon request. Enclosed below is my contact information.

This is another example where your writing could be tightened. LILITH RISING is a stand-alone urban fantasy with series potential. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript. Nix the contact info bit. That it's there is a given.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal.

As someone with a novel titled Cameliard Rising, I'm quite partial to your title :o)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Query 38

Kindar's Cure

The author tells me she's in the process of writing this book and is pre-writing the query to help keep the plot focused (an excellent strategy! - PS). And she specifically asks: Does the plot seem strong enough as given here?

One of three royal sisters, Kindar is forced to the periphery of court life as she battles a fatal weakness. From childhood, the gods have seen fit to mark her as flawed by sending her a devastating disease. Kindar’s choke lung has everyone, including her mother, the Empress, weighing whether she has worth or whether her likelihood of dying erases her value. Fighting for every scrap of dignity, Kindar struggles to defy their predictions.

Then her older sister, and the heir, is murdered and the killer leaves behind a clue that implicates Kindar. Suddenly, she goes from insignificance to complete pariah in the space of a night. Robbed of credibility by her choke lung, she knows any efforts to clear herself will be disregarded.

With imprisonment hanging over her, a wizard approaches her with a vision of a cure. Maladonis Bin will lead her to a barren land where volcanic fumes just might heal the choke lung and leave her free to find the true murderer. The problem— the cure is through land controlled by rebels and the young wizard is a bumbling novice in his profession, his reliability unverified. Kindar must rally all her strength for a fight, not just for life, but for respect.

Kindar’s Cure is an epic fantasy with elements of romance, complete at xxxxxx words. Sample pages and synopsis are pasted below as per your request.

Thanks for your consideration.

Comments

Since the author specifically asks about plot, I have to admit I struggled with this one. I love the idea of an MC in a fantasy with an affliction that shadows her entire life. I immediately think Thomas Covenant. But from the fantasy perspective, I really don't get a sense of this world or why this story is told as a fantasy, other than the presence of a wizard. And from this description, the story certainly isn't big enough to be epic fantasy. It just doesn't go far enough beyond personal stakes for that.

In Stephen R. Donaldson's series, Covenant has to save a world not his own. Twice. And he has to do it despite his leprosy, a disease that colors the way others thinks about him and how he thinks about himself. It's high stakes and the reason the story is played out in a fantasy setting is clear.

So, going only from what the reader has been given in the query, here are the impressions I have as to what the actual story is about. If this isn't what you intend to set up in the reader's head, then maybe seeing how at least one reader is interpreting it will give you some ideas as to how to refocus the query for the greatest impact.

Kindar is trying to prove her worth. First, I'm not sure how old she is. I'm thinking she's still a teen. Second, a mention of how she's struggling to prove her worth will go a long way here. Does she feel she has to prove her worth to the court or just to herself?

There's a murder, so this sets up to be a potential mystery with Kindar having to clear herself. Intriguing. Yet, that mystery doesn't seem to be resolved. And to be frank, I'm not buying that Kindar has the wherewithall to travel an apparently very long distance through dangerous country, but isn't well enough to try to track down the killer or to figure out another way to clear herself.

Why would a young wizard who should probably be cultivating the favor of the court help out a pariah and possible murderer? What's his motivation, other than having a vision of a cure? At this point, I'm still wondering why this is playing out in a fantasy world. A wizard's vision here seems little different than a doctor's theory in "our" world.

As set up, the climax seems to be whether she's cured or not. Again, a nice personal story of triumph, but we're still at a loose end concerning the true murderer and, in the long run, why her being cured or not matters to anyone but her.

I'm also a little concerned that the whole "someone who isn't a perfectly healthy specimen can also be a vital contributor to society theme" may be undermined if she has to be cured before she can find the killer and be redeemed. This seems to be setting up that she can only prove her worth once she's well. A catch-22 that supports the idea that people with handicaps really aren't as valuable as people without. I'm sure that isn't what you're going for, but you'll need to be very careful not to leave that impression in the query reader's mind.

All-in-all, I think this story will be tricky to pull off.

So, in brief, I think what your query rewrite needs to show is:

  • a clear character arc that supports the underlying theme of the story
  • a hint at least that the murder mystery will be resolved
  • a more grounded reason as to why this story is written as fantasy
I hope that's helpful. Others' thoughts?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Query Revision 23: Redux

Hang the Thief

Gates open in the medieval/fantasy world of Craie and magic returns. Priests can heal the sick and governments race to master it, seeking unimaginable wealth and power. However, with the good comes the bad. Mythical beasts, the monsters of fairy tales, return as well, while others use magic for evil.

Ehlana, a street performer turned thief, is adrift in this world without purpose or hope for anything better. She is given the opportunity for a new life after saving a court official from assassins. The leaders behind the plot escape and Ehlana is convinced to leave the city for her safety. On her journey across the continent, Ehlana witnesses the plight of the peasants who have been left to fend for themselves against the broken-beasts, criminals and social injustice. When harpies attack her barge, Ehlana learns magic wielders are summoning the monsters and for the ultimate evil of raising the dead–abominations that are nearly invincible.

Amongst the clansmen, Ehlana's flirtatious charm and performance skills earn her all that she desires: wealth, fame and even love. Her happiness, however, is stolen by nightmares of impending doom. She travels to a mysterious temple to find meaning to her dreams and confirms what she suspects; the gates must be closed to save her world. Ehlana by using her unique gift to understand any language she hears or reads is able to decipher ancient documents to learn how. She further discovers the cost of wielding magic is the users' very souls.

Accompanied by four companions, Ehlana must complete the ritual necessary before it’s too late. However, a betrayer travels with her, a demon lies in wait and there is price to be paid.

HANG THE THIEF is 95,000 word fantasy written to stand-alone, but planned as the first of a three-part series. It is complete and I am hopeful you will want to learn more about Ehlana and her world.

Comments

I think this version is much clearer than the previous ones. There are a few places where the word choices didn't seem as crisp as they could be and where it seems we need a bit more characterization/motivation from Ehlana. In my version, I basically just tweaked what you have to sharpen the flow and make your passive sentences active.

My Revision

Gates open on the world of Craie and magic, in all its forms, returns: healing magic, summoning magic, and magic that brings back mythical beasts and the monsters of fairy tales. As the governments race to master it for their own gains, the lure of wealth and power beckons others to use it for evil.

Ehlana, a street performer turned thief, is adrift in Named City without purpose or hope -- until she inadvertently saves a court official from assassins. With her own safety now under threat, Ehlana must flee. On her journey, she sees for the first time how the peasants have been left to fend for themselves against the broken-beasts, criminals and social injustice. And when harpies attack her barge, she learns a group of magic wielders are not only the ones summoning the monsters, they are preparing to raise the dead -- abominations that are nearly invincible.

Convincing herself the outside world has little to do with her, Ehlana throws herself into forgetting it. Her flirtatious charm and performance skills earn her all that she desires: wealth, fame and even love. Until she begins having nightmares of doom that drive her to seek help from an arcane temple. There, Ehlana's unique gift to understand any written language helps her decipher ancient scrolls that confirm what she suspects: the gates must be closed to save her world. Further, it will take magic to close them -- and the cost of wielding such magic is the user's very soul.

Accompanied by four companions, Ehlana must complete the ritual necessary before it’s too late. However, a betrayer travels with her, a demon lies in wait and the price to be paid is even greater than they know.

HANG THE THIEF is a 95,000-word fantasy written to stand-alone, but planned as the first of a three-part series. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Query 37

Monarch Effect

When Greg Danaus falls ill, he thinks he has the flu. Little does he know, he is to underging a metamorphosis that will transform him, body and mind. When he awakens new instincts compel him to travels a thousand miles to save Samantha, a girl he has never met. He fights the urge, but his free will is gone.

Driven to desperation by her family’s indifference, Samantha finds a much-needed friend in Greg. Sparks erupt, but, in spite of the undeniable chemistry between them, the mutual attraction feels wrong. They are not fated for one another.

Together Greg and Samantha must come to terms with their new identities and responsibilities. Their earthly upbringing has tainted their natures, allowing Greg to love Samantha when he’s only supposed to ber her guardian, and Samantha to love Greg when she is destined for someone else.

Two souls share an impossible love that spans parallel worlds. Do they have a chance to be together? Or will the price of their attraction be too high?

Comments

I think this is another case where the author is a bit too close to her work. While I'm sure this all makes perfect sense in the book, there isn't quite enough here to tie it altogether for a reader unfamiliar with the ms.

It's also all a bit coy. Everything in this query is a secret. While it's perfectly acceptable to hold back one or two things and to tease the reader in a query, when everything is held back, the reader doesn't have a chance to get invested in either the story or the characters.

Overall, what's really missing from this query is a plot.

When Greg Danaus falls ill, he thinks he has the flu.

This is kind of a mundane opening. We don't really need to know what he thinks he has, we need to know what's really happening.

Little does he know, he is to underging a metamorphosis that will transform him, body and mind.

This is vague. Be concrete. Details are what lure a reader in. How is his body transformed? Does he now have superpowers? Was he a 300-pound black wrestler and is now a 100-pound white accountant? Without details, there isn't anything here the reader can connect with.

When he awakens new instincts compel him to travels a thousand miles to save Samantha, a girl he has never met.

I'm thinking "awakens" here means once the metamorphosis is complete but I'm not sure that's immediately apparent. What's most concerning is the introduction of Samantha -- does he automatically know her name? -- and not knowing what "save" means. Save her spiritually? Is she in some immediate danger, like being trapped in a well? Is she having long-term financial problems and he needs to get her out of debt? Will she be killed by an assassin if he doesn't get to her and warn her in time? Again, being specific will help the reader identify with the characters and their problems.

He fights the urge, but his free will is gone.

This is good.

Driven to desperation by her family’s indifference, Samantha finds a much-needed friend in Greg.

So Greg saves her by becoming her friend? This is a bit of a let-down from the build-up we were just given.

As for Sam, I'm back to harping on details. Does "desperation" mean she's about to suicide? What does "indifference" mean? Did they not give her an iPod for Christmas? Did they throw her out on the streets?

Sparks erupt, but, in spite of the undeniable chemistry between them, the mutual attraction feels wrong. They are not fated for one another.

Together Greg and Samantha must come to terms with their new identities and responsibilities.

Samantha has a new identity?

Their earthly upbringing has tainted their natures, allowing Greg to love Samantha when he’s only supposed to ber her guardian, and Samantha to love Greg when she is destined for someone else.

Ah, both of them are not human. We get a hint here about Greg, but this revelation seems to come out of left field regarding Sam.

OK, so we have two non-humans who for some reason shouldn't be attracted to each other but who are. Now you're going to tell us what the plot is, right?

Two souls share an impossible love that spans parallel worlds. Do they have a chance to be together? Or will the price of their attraction be too high?

No, still no sign of the plot.

I'm not sure where the "parallel worlds" concept comes from. All the action so far seems to have taken place in one world.

The first question isn't necessary because it seems they already are together. And the second question doesn't make sense to the reader because we've only been told they aren't supposed to be together but haven't been clued in on why or what will happen if they do -- or don't -- hook up. For all we know, if these two do hook up, it will mean the end of our world, and in that case, I would hope they don't get together. What's keeping them apart?

My Revision

This is something to use as a template. You'll want to, of course, fill in all the bogus information with what really happens in your book.

When pro wrestler Greg Danaus is suddenly and inexplicably transformed into a mild-mannered accountant, he hasn't a clue what the hell just happened. But visions of a young woman about to jump from the Chattanooga Bridge half a continent away coupled with an unavoidable compulsion to stop her might just hold the answer.

Samantha Lastname doesn't understand the painful waking dreams of blue-skinned folk being tortured that she can't escape or why her abusive father chose now to throw her out on the street. The Bridge seems the best way out -- until a mysterious accountant takes her in and provides the much-needed friendship -- and distraction -- she's been desperate for. Undeniable as the chemistry is between them, though, something doesn't feel quite right.

The blue-skinned wrestlers of OtherWorld orchestrated Greg and Sam's meeting, but they didn't expect the pair to fall in love. The BSWs need Sam to give them the savior destined to save their world. The one that will open a portal and let the violence of OtherWorld flow into ThisEarth. Sam and Greg will have to overcome fate and the legions of OtherWorld to save ThisEarth -- and themselves.

MONARCH EFFECT is a 80,000 to 100,000 word fantasy with romantic elements. I look forward to sending the completed manuscript.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Free With Purchase

August a year ago I was preparing to bring my dad home from the nursing home after his stroke. Because he was relearning to walk and use his left arm, he needed to be in a home that was handicap accessible and modified to his needs. And there needed to be room for a live-in caregiver. That meant modifying his mobile home. Or--

One of my neighbors had their property up for sale -- a large, older home with a small guest house and a metal barn on 10 acres -- that I considered purchasing. For various reasons, the house wasn't going to work for my dad's needs, so I went ahead and had the needed modifications made to the mobile home he knew and loved.

Meanwhile, I decided to try for a land grab. I negotiated with the owner and they wound up selling the house and structures with 2 acres to the town's deputy sheriff and the other 8 acres that abutted my property to me. Imagine a capital T with the crossbar being my original 19 acres and the leg being the 8-acre tract. The acreage even has a narrow egress to a paved road, so my little farm, though not a corner lot, now has access from two roadways.

Problem was, the deputy wasn't going to be moving in immediately and the neighbor couldn't take their dog or their two adult cats with them when they moved out. The real estate agent agreed to take the dog and I agreed to the cats, who were living outdoors with access to the garage. They were friendly enough, not feral, and I figured they could hang out in my barn where they would be dry and safe.

First, though, I needed to get them habituated to their new place. So I moved Orion, a black-and-white neutered male about 3 years old, and Callie, a spayed calico female about 4 years old, into a bathroom to start the acclimation process. They immediately got the hang of the litterbox, so I gave them the run of the house the next day.


The mound these guys are on actually covers an
underground storm shelter. You can see a bit of
the access door to the right and one of the air
vents at the top. The shelter came with the house.
I'm certain to never use it because, while the
beasties are perfectly happy to be ON it, I'm
not sure how I would ever get everybody IN it.

I'm sure you see where this is heading.

Acclimation was accomplished within 24 hours. They figured out the doggie door, the food situation, the comfy bed and lap privileges. Living in a house was sweet. They eventually found their way to the barn, visiting it on one of their brief outings. They were unimpressed.

Well over a year later, they are total prima donnas. They've chased Magic, the former feral kitten, out of the house; have taken over my workspace; and refuse to eat anything but tuna canned for human consumption mixed with their dry food. Because of the potential health issues associated with too much tuna, I do try to limit their intake -- one small can lasts them two full days, 12 meals total among all 3 cats.

Orion follows the dogs around, follows me while I'm doing my outside chores, and sleeps on my pillow at night. Callie is the geek, snoozing on my keyboard and purring in my lap while I'm working. She sleeps in the unused second sink in the downstairs bath. I don't know why. But I've put a bit of fleece in the sink to make things more comfy for her. While I would love a magazine-perfect home and I avidly watch design shows, my decorating style is based solely on my beasties' habits.

I'm also one of those frugal folk who chase bargains and clip coupons. I bought 8 acres of raw, unimproved land for $42,000 and the owner threw in 2 free cats. Yep, I've always been a sucker for a good deal.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Empty Query Queue, So...

Gratuitous pictures of some of the beasties today!

Bonita (aka Bonnie) at 3-1/2 weeks.
Finding a small enough halter has been a challenge.
She's also shedding her baby coat (note the bare areas around her eyes). Looks like she'll be close to her mom's dark roan color once her adult coat grows in.


Bonnie meeting Loki (left) and Ginger (right).


Bonnie and her mother Bella


The goats: Lucy (left) and Rowdy (right). Lucy is Rowdy's mom.


The ducks --
who insisted on showing off how clean they are after a swim in the pond.

S E N D   Q U E R I E S!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Query 32: Redux

All Things Together for Good

Anaiiya is beginning to suspect she isn’t human. When she sings, the river boils and mysterious rockslides plague the cliffs. When she’s angry, her eyes glow with an otherworldly light and hunks of stone crumble to powder in her hands. Even her adopted gargoyle family fears her after she blacks out during a skirmish with murderous zealots and wakes up in a pool of her enemies’ blood.

These strange events are only the beginning. When a sorcerer reveals the truth behind Anaiiya’s conflicting natures, it alerts her deranged but powerful families to her presence. The parents who tried to murder her as a child now war for her allegiance in a conflict that will change the world forever. Now all the histories of all the worlds hinge on whether Anaiiya chooses to rule humanity…or save it.

Comments

To be honest, I'm not a fan of this revised version. It's vague about what the conflict is and a bit confusing all around otherwise, IMO. It feels all flash and no substance.

However, I AM impressed that it's a TRUE revision and that you are playing with completely different versions to figure out which one works best. That's the absolutely smart thing to do.

So many people write the original version and then get stuck on it, simply changing a word or two here or there hoping that will help when in fact it really needs a complete re-envisioning.

Anaiiya is beginning to suspect she isn’t human.

"is beginning to suspect" is kind of a weak way to start a query, especially for such a strong story. A nice bold, declarative sentence right out of the gate would work better to set tone and expectations.

When she sings, the river boils and mysterious rockslides plague the cliffs.

I really like the river boiling. But why single out the rockslides as being mysterious? Isn't the boiling river mysterious, too? And "plague" in this context feels like you're trying a bit too hard with your writing.

When she’s angry, her eyes glow with an otherworldly light and hunks of stone crumble to powder in her hands.

You're describing her, but in a telling, not showing-her-in-action way. If you put this into context with plot, it would be even more revealing.

Even her adopted gargoyle family

Who adopted whom? This could mean she's mom to a bunch of little gargoyles. Without more to go on, the reader doesn't know.

fears her after she blacks out during a skirmish with murderous zealots and wakes up in a pool of her enemies’ blood.

The problem with this is that the gargoyles don't fear her because she blacks out and wakes up. I don't think we need those details. We need to know that she single-handedly and unarmed(?) slaughters a pack of blood-thirsty zealots without even knowing how she did it. Although maybe the zealots should be called something else here since we don't know why they're being referred to as murderous zealots.

These strange events are only the beginning.

The repetition of "beginning" for this new paragraph doesn't work. This is filler and drags the pace of the query down a bit.

When a sorcerer reveals the truth behind Anaiiya’s conflicting natures,

A reader going in cold will not recognize what you mean by "conflicting natures" here -- at least not in a concrete way.

it alerts her deranged but powerful families to her presence. The parents who tried to murder her as a child

That she has family (in fact, more than one) is sprung on us rather suddenly. And that they couldn't kill a child then somehow lost her makes them seem rather inept instead of powerful.

now war for her allegiance in a conflict that will change the world forever. Now all the histories of all the worlds hinge

I don't understand the phrase "all the histories of all the worlds". It sounds cool, but I'm clueless as to how history can hinge on an act in the present, not to mention I haven't been prepared that there are multiple worlds involved.

on whether Anaiiya chooses to rule humanity…or save it.

We need to be clear how ruling and saving humanity are mutually exclusive here. Some monarchies are benevolent and some leaders have been credited with saving a people.

Payback Time! Your Chance to Critique Me

So, like some of you, I also entered the November Secret Agent contest over at Authoress's blog. I've read through half the entries so far and have already recognized a couple of stories from the queries posted here :o). I didn't crit the ones I recognized as I agree with most of the other commenters, and you've already heard (probably too much!) from me.

Since the Secret Agent has already been by mine, I thought it only fair I'd let you know it's entry #11. It's the first 250 words of the larger sample of Sector C posted elsewhere on this site, so nothing new if you've already read those first two short chapters. Only, you know, you get to crit this bit. With abandon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Synopsis 10: All Things Together for Good

ANAIIYA grows up in the streets of Laryial, all knowledge of her true name or nature stolen from her when her mother the queen—driven mad by her ensorcelled union with demons—threw her from the cliffs. Twenty years later, Anaiiya’s bitter life of poverty and loneliness ends when saves the city’s gargoyle tribe from a band of murderous zealots known as the JYNGOS.

The gargoyles invite her to live with them in the Tower on the condition that she continue guarding them during the day when they are vulnerable. Anaiiya agrees. She settles into a peaceful life with the gargoyles, even finding love with one, until the Jyngos attack the Tower again and kidnap her. They hold her in a woodshed and use a potion to keep her unconscious. But the potion doesn’t work on her like it’s supposed to. On the fifth evening after her capture, Anaiiya recovers and escapes.

Anaiiya flees from her pursuers through the city streets, screaming for the gargoyles to swoop down and save her. But once again it is the gargoyles themselves who need saving. As she approaches the Tower, she sees the Jyngos scaling its walls yet again. Something snaps inside her. Strength and energy fill her, unlike anything she’s ever felt before—and she blacks out.

She awakens covered in blood to find she’s killed the Jyngos. All of them. Fifty men are dead by her hand, and now even her adopted gargoyle family begins to suspect the truth: Anaiiya isn’t human. But with no memories of her own before the age of five, she can’t even begin to guess what at what she really is.

The blackout is only the beginning of the strange things happening to Anaiiya. When she sings, the river boils and mysterious rockslides plague the Amaranthine Cliffs. When she’s angry, her eyes glow with an otherworldly light and hunks of stone crumble in her hands like cheese.

Then a man arrives at the Tower, claiming to be Anaiiya’s father.

Anaiiya reluctantly meets with him. She doesn’t know it, but her father waits for Anaiiya in the same tavern where he bespelled her mother into a single night of passion. His name is SEFAL. He is Nephilim; a half-demon abomination. The last of his kind, he’s desperate to gain control over the only child he can ever sire. He tells her she is the supposedly-dead princess TARASEYA. Sefal tries to convince his daughter that Good and Evil are myths; lies perpetrated by a narcissistic and indifferent God. Together, he promises, they can set everything right in the world. They can even save her beloved gargoyles.

Then the Guardians arrive, sworn enemy race of the Nephilim, to prevent the war the Jyngos have set in motion between Man and the Mystic Races. Ancient and immortal, the Guardians are protectors of Creation, chosen rather than born, and endowed with incredible powers. They can speak any language, Shift into any form, and their magical “Hemtr-Elilla” songs can do anything from healing bruises to destroying stars. They also lay claim to Anaiiya and insist she is one of their own.

The Guardians restore her memories and Anaiiya can no longer live in ignorance. She sneaks into the palace to confront her mother, QUEEN RILTARA. Sefal’s words haunt her. She must know the truth of her parentage. Is the monster Sefal truly her father? Is she born of demons, or chosen by God? Could she possibly be…both?

Queen Riltara is just as mad as the rumors claim, but she instantly recognizes her supposedly-dead daughter. She shrieks about prophesies and darkness and the end of the world and repeatedly attacks Anaiiya. When Queen Riltara falls on her daughter with a battleaxe, Anaiiya loses control and stabs her mother through the heart.

Sefal springs his trap during her half-brother PRINCE XOZER’S coronation the following day. Prince Xozer falls to the ground, dying at the hands of black Nephilim magic. Only Anaiiya can save him...if she wants to. If Anaiiya joins forces with the Guardians to prevent the coming war between Man and the Mystic Races, the Prince will live...but the Tower will collapse and destroy the last gargoyle tribe on Earth—the only family she has ever known. If she sides with Sefal and his demonic kindred instead, the gargoyles will live but the Prince will die. Leaving the Jyngo leader as the only heir to the throne. If he becomes King of Laryial, he will wage a war against the Mystic Races that will cost countless lives.

Prince Xozer is dying in her arms. Anaiiya has only moments to decide. Howling in anguish, Anaiiya makes her choice and watches in horror as the Tower collapses before her eyes. The last gargoyle tribe is dead, including her beloved. Sefal vanishes in a firestorm of demons and wrath, promising that Anaiiya will never know peace or happiness until she joins him.

In honor of her terrible sacrifice, the Mystic Races rescind their declaration of war. Anaiiya and the other Guardians oversee the signing of the peace treaty between their people and Laryial. The Guardians have a gift for Anaiiya before she departs with them; they have gathered together all the scattered remnants of the destroyed gargoyle tribes from around the world. Sixty-three gargoyles are alive and under the protection of the Mystic Races. Anaiiya finds some measure of peace in this, knowing that gargoyles will flourish again, before she departs with the Guardians.

Comments

Where I think the synopsis might be doing a disservice to the story is that this wrap-up left me disappointed. There's all this immense power that these beings all hold, yet we're only told about it. We see Anaiiya wield it once, but that's it. In the end, her dad tricks her into making a decision -- a decision that will somehow decide the fate of the world. She decides she'll join Team Guardian and Sefal leaves in a huff and the Mystic Races all sign a peace treaty. So my question is, why does all this power matter and, really, why does Anaiiya matter? Why couldn't Sefal have killed the queen and prince and set the Jyngo leader on the throne a year ago -- before Anaiiya comes on the scene? It isn't clear to me how Anaiiya is the lynchin.

The Guardians come in all their power and glory to prevent the war and what do they do? Give Anaiiya back her memories -- but don't reveal the truth to her -- and then wait around for her to join them. I'm not feeling anything about what their presence means to Anaiiya, to Sefal, to the city, or to the world.

I see a very personal struggle here for Anaiiya, which is good. But from this synopsis, I don't see a deftly constructed world where things happen inevitably that force Anaiiya into becoming who she's meant to be. I see a writer's hand forcing the world to serve a story of "The One."

If this doesn't reflect the book well, then what will help, I think, is going back through with an eye to showing not telling. Don't tell us the Guardians have incredible powers and can shift into any form -- help us to see it, just as we see Anaiiya's songs affect the earth. But I think we need to see the Guardians, other than Anaiiya, also throwing their power around.

In a similar vein, we're told her dad's a half-demon, but as he's described here, he seems to be all talk but no power. The only instance we have is of the prince being killed with black Nephilim magic. Since it seems a sword would have been just as effective, what about Sefal -- by himself as he's the last of the Nephilim or even with Anaiiya's help -- is a match for the Guardians' ability to destroy stars? Help us understand in the synopsis how the balance of power is equally weighted so we feel confident that there's a real threat to all.

For the niggles:

I think you can strike a little more balance in the weight of the scenes, too. For instance, a hint at how Anaiiya first saves the gargoyles would be good. Notice how you use a whole lot of words to let us know a potion doesn't work on her, but skim right over how a 20-something gets the upper hand over a band of murderous zealots.

And why do those murderous zealots kidnap and drug her rather than zealously murdering her? SHE may not know, but the synopsis should let the reader know.

A murderous zealot is the only heir to the throne? What's the royal connection? And why isn't Anaiiya an heir to the throne if she's the daughter of the queen? Surely the city folk would believe the Guardians (out of fear if nothing else) if they put her forward as a legitimate heir.

Or wouldn't it be easier to just kill the Jyngo leader after the prince dies rather than go through all the complications of "if she chooses one way, she loses X but if she chooses another way she loses Y"?

High fantasy is so much about world-building. Help us understand the politics of your world.

These are the bits and pieces in synopses that agents are looking for and what we all need to think about when writing them:

  • Does the plot hang together?
  • Is the MC 3-dimensional?
  • Is there a satisfying ending or can the plot not be sustained and does the story just fizzle?