Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Query 51

The Family Grim

Dear Agent:

Two hundred years ago Death’s most feared servant, the Grim Reaper, sacrificed his immortality for the woman he loved, turning his eternal duty into a family business. Three generations later, his seventeen year-old great grandson Jude Grim faces a similarly difficult situation.

Drew, Jude’s twin brother, is a psychopath disguised as the most popular kid at their Montana high school. One night he finally snaps, misusing the family power to take the soul of a classmate who embarrassed him at school. When his girlfriend Skylar discovers the truth, Drew panics and tries to kill her in order to keep his secret hidden. Jude, secretly in love with Skylar since their first day of preschool together, helps her escape. But when Skylar goes home later that night, Drew is there waiting and heartlessly ends her life.

Torn with grief and guilt, Jude is left on the verge of despair. A glimmer of hope arrives by way of his brainiac sister when she informs him of an ancient myth that a life taken by a reaper can be restored. Jude finds the one man who knows the truth to the rumor, an eccentric recluse who has spent the past five decades avoiding death by hiding from the reapers.

Turns out the legend’s true: victims of reapers can be saved with seeds from the ancient Tree of Tenere, also known as the Tree of Life. There’s only one problem, the seeds only work during the first three days following the victim’s death.

With Drew hot on his trail and Father Death watching their every move, Jude has twenty-four hours to find the tree and save Skylar’s life. Only this time, Jude vows to never lose her again.

THE FAMILY GRIM, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 72,000 words. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

I love the premise set up by that first sentence. I'm not sure it feels like it's carried through as presented here, though. Let's point to the elephants first.

I don't see Jude's issue as a similarly difficult situation to great grand-dad's. What is Jude sacrificing? I assume the Grims are all mortal now, so it seems Jude either succeeds in resurrecting Skylar or he doesn't. Aside from losing the girl -- who may not even love him as there's no indication here that she's even friends with him -- and who he's lost already, what does Jude stand to lose that's as high stakes as his immortality, something that's resonated through the generations when the first Grim gave it up?

The immortal Grim must have known that victims can be saved. Wouldn't that be one of the first secrets passed down in the family biz? If Jude hasn't been told it yet, wouldn't he go to his dad rather than a mortal first?

A healthy young girl dying under mysterious circumstances would prompt an autopsy. After autopsy, the body is generally embalmed. Depending on how busy the coroner's office is (and granted the office does now have two young people who just up and died to deal with), it might be more than 48 hours after death before the autopsy can be performed and a couple of gallons of formaldehyde pumped into the body. Then again, the autopsy might well be performed within 48 hours. Can the "cure" overcome these procedures, too?

Two hundred years ago Death’s most feared servant, the Grim Reaper, sacrificed his immortality for the woman he loved, turning his eternal duty into a family business. Three generations later, his seventeen year-old great grandson Jude Grim faces a similarly difficult situation.

I love the hook sentence! I love you set up the "when" the way you do in the first half of the next sentence. But the last half of the sentence sets up an expectation that I don't think is quite followed through on.

Drew, Jude’s twin brother, is a psychopath disguised as the most popular kid at their Montana high school. One night he finally snaps, misusing the family power to take the soul of a classmate who embarrassed him at school.

I would delete "finally" as I tend to think a psychopath has already snapped.

When his girlfriend Skylar discovers the truth, Drew panics and tries to kill her in order to keep his secret hidden. Jude, secretly in love with Skylar since their first day of preschool together, helps her escape. But when Skylar goes home later that night, Drew is there waiting and heartlessly ends her life.

It probably makes sense in the book why Skylar goes home, apparently alone, just hours after escaping a hit attempt by her boyfriend who knows where she lives. Here, though, it sounds like a plot contrivance. It also doesn't add much to the query in terms of characterization or plot to have Drew try to kill her then later succeed just a bit later. I would go with "Drew panics and kills her."

Torn with grief and guilt, Jude is left on the verge of despair. A glimmer of hope arrives by way of his brainiac sister when she informs him of an ancient myth that a life taken by a reaper can be restored. Jude finds the one man who knows the truth to the rumor, an eccentric recluse who has spent the past five decades avoiding death by hiding from the reapers.

It seems finding this guy who's been able to hide from a lot of experienced folk for 50 years would be almost as hard as finding the Tree of Life. Yet it seems in the query to be accomplished quite easily and quite rapidly.

Turns out the legend’s true: victims of reapers can be saved with seeds from the ancient Tree of Tenere, also known as the Tree of Life. There’s only one problem, the seeds only work during the first three days following the victim’s death.

With Drew hot on his trail and Father Death watching their every move, Jude has twenty-four hours to find the tree and save Skylar’s life.

I'm a little confused about the dynamics here. Death is watching them (and I like that idea very much!), so Death knows that Drew has taken two lives before their time yet he doesn't do anything about it? I can see Death waiting to see what Jude will do, but I'm not clear as to whether saving a life using the seeds is something unnatural the same way Drew taking souls too early is unnatural.

Also, why is Drew hot on Jude's trail? I get he's a psychopath, but shouldn't he be trying to save his own skin since he's committed two crimes against Death and Death, who's watching them, apparently knows the truth? What are the consequences to Drew if Jude succeeds in resurrecting Skylar that he's after his brother when he should be running for his own life?

Only this time, Jude vows to never lose her again.

As a last line, this is a bit ambiguous. He doesn't have her yet, but he's making a vow to not lose her again. He's a reaper, so is he plotting somehow to make her innured to death? Will that put him in hot water with Death and be one of the stakes of the plot?

THE FAMILY GRIM, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 72,000 words. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

As a general statement about closes, not just this one: of course it's available upon request. By now the agent has made up their mind as to whether they'll request or not, so it doesn't really matter how you close, but I think asking for the action you want the agent to take makes for a stronger finish. That's a standard component of any sales letter. It can be simply asking them "May I send you the manuscript?" or implying that of course they'll be asking (my favored approach): "I look forward to sending you the manuscript."

Overall, I think this query has really good bones! I also think it can be sharpened up a bit to go from pretty good to outstanding and having agents begging for pages and reading them the moment they get them.

1 comment:

Matt said...

My view on the closing line is not to include one. Whenever someone tries to pressure me into a sale I ignore them so that I can make a decision based on the product's merit. "Thanks for your time and consideration" is all you need after genre, in my opinion.