Thursday, March 31, 2011

Query 73

The Merrow of Lake Michigan

When a painful accident forces Joey Fagan into the waters of Lake Michigan, she seriously considers ending her life. But the discovery of a boy in the water reminds her that, despite the violent death of her husband, life is worth living. She brings the child up for air, ready to put the past behind her.

Unfortunately, she resurfaces one hundred years before she fell in.

Grateful for her heroic act the boy’s father, Peter Hastings, offers his assistance but little else. Joey’s decision to tell him the truth leaves him troubled by the state of her mental health, and the question of her sanity looms larger every time she does something considered out of step with the rest of society.

Her only proof is her knowledge of the upcoming assassination of the mayor of Chicago. Should she try to warn him, and change history, or bide her time quietly and let nature take its course?

When Joey begins to suspect that Peter is an earlier incarnation of her dead husband, she wonders if her presence might alter the course of Martin’s contemporary life. Peter differs greatly from her husband, but she finds herself drawn to the similarities they share.

Although charmed by her originality, her rash decisions anger Peter. His effort to uncover the truth of her story leads them on an adventure rich in history for Joey, fantasy for Peter, and frustration for both. Soon Joey finds herself torn between getting home, and accepting the fact that she might never return.

The Merrow of Lake Michigan is a 120,000 word novel of historical fiction written by [author’s name redacted].

Thank you for your time.

Comments

A note on the title: It set me up for what I thought was going to be a paranormal story. If an agent has a similar perspective going in, they might be disappointed or delighted to discover it’s not.

What I believe the story IS from this query is not historical fiction but time-travel romance. And 120K is skirting on the very long side of a single-title romance. I don’t think the word count will be an immediate turn off, but I do think the reader will need to be assured in the query there’s enough story to justify the count. Right now, the query, while nicely written, is long on premise but short on plot.

If you didn’t write this as a conventional romance and aren’t thinking of marketing it as one, then I think the query needs to show us why it isn’t one. And if you are going to try to sell it as romance, then we need to see the conventions, including the MCs’ dark moment, reflected here.

When a painful accident forces Joey Fagan into the waters of Lake Michigan, she seriously considers ending her life.

Especially for being your first sentence, this one is confusing. On my first read, I thought it meant Joey (a name I can’t help but read as male) was involved in a boating accident, although I couldn’t figure out why she might be considering suicide. If the accident was painful, maybe it’s too hard for her to try to swim to safety or dog paddle to keep afloat?

But the discovery of a boy in the water reminds her that, despite the violent death of her husband, life is worth living.

When I read this sentence, I thought that her husband died in this same accident that had left her stranded in the water. And, thinking from the title this is paranormal, I figured the boy was a “real” merboy.

She brings the child up for air, ready to put the past behind her.

It’s only when I hit this sentence that I realized my initial read was wrong, and I had to go back and reread to correctly parse out what was happening.

So a couple of things about that first sentence rereading it the way it’s intended: The accident itself doesn’t force Joey into the water, and she goes into the water with the idea of suicide – not considering it once she’s in the lake as it reads now.

Then merely finding a boy in the water isn’t especially life-changing. Ah, but you mean the boy is drowning, right? Then tell us that.

Unfortunately, she resurfaces one hundred years before she fell in.

I’m not sure “unfortunately” is your best word choice here. And she didn't just "fall in," did she?

After a robbery gone bad leaves her beloved husband dead, Joey Fagan walks into Lake Michigan with no other thought than to be reunited with him. The flailing of a boy drowning nearby derails her. When he goes under, she dives in after him -- and re-surfaces one hundred years in the past.

Grateful for her heroic act the boy’s father, Peter Hastings, offers his assistance but little else.

I’m not quite sure at this point what “assistance” means or why he should offer anything more to a total stranger. What else does Joey expect? We also don’t know whether he’s married or widowed or divorced.

Joey’s decision to tell him the truth leaves him troubled by the state of her mental health, and the question of her sanity looms larger every time she does something considered out of step with the rest of society.

Again, the way this is expressed is a little off. It’s not Joey’s decision that leaves him troubled, it’s what she tells him. And “considered out of step with the rest of society” is a distancing statement. Try keeping the perspective here in Peter and Joey’s POVs.

Her only proof is her knowledge of the upcoming assassination of the mayor of Chicago. Should she try to warn him, and change history, or bide her time quietly and let nature take its course?

Good that we have a plot point, but why should Joey care whether the mayor lives or dies? Does she confide the knowledge to Peter so that someone is aware of the proof?

When Joey begins to suspect that Peter is an earlier incarnation of her dead husband, she wonders if her presence might alter the course of Martin’s contemporary life. Peter differs greatly from her husband, but she finds herself drawn to the similarities they share.

The two men differ “greatly” but she thinks they’re the same man in different times? I think we need to know why she would even suspect that. And of course the typical time travel trope is how much of a stir needs to be caused in the past for the ripple effect to overwhelm the future – and where in the future does that happen? Is her stepping on a butterfly in the past enough to topple present-day Chicago or Chicago in the 22nd century? And if she’s in the past now, perhaps she’s always been in the past in order for present-day events to have played out the way they did. All to say that I don’t think we need to be told explicitly that Joey is wondering about this conundrum. Of course she is.

Although charmed by her originality, her rash decisions anger Peter.

What rash decisions? So far, we’ve seen Joey making three decisions: to continue living (was that rash?), to tell Peter she’s from the future (OK, that one may have been rash), and to warn the mayor (and that one the query indicates she’s taking her time on).

His effort to uncover the truth of her story leads them on an adventure rich in history for Joey, fantasy for Peter, and frustration for both.

Oh my. Here I thought the story was nearly done and there’s still vague adventure and fantasy and frustration to come. Which could comprise the bulk of the novel. But I have no idea what this sentence means in concrete terms.

Soon Joey finds herself torn between getting home, and accepting the fact that she might never return.

And here’s another reversal in my thought process. I thought the adventure/fantasy would play out for a while, but no, we’re told “soon” Joey finds herself in another predicament.

So if she’s torn, does that mean she’s found a way to get home and that it’s possible for her to go back? And how can one be torn between going home and “accepting the fact”? If it’s a fact, then there isn’t really any tearing involved. If there’s truly a choice, then this is a very tepid way to express that Joey may be falling in love with her husband all over again and leaving this version of himself, so real and warm and intoxicating, will mean returning to a future full of empty beds and lonely nights -- and is she really ready to face that again?

The Merrow of Lake Michigan is a 120,000 word novel of historical fiction written by [author’s name redacted].

THE MERROW OF LAKE MICHIGAN is a time-travel romance complete at 120,000 words. (No need to repeat your name here.)

Thank you for your time.

Ultimately, I’m not clear on what the stakes are for Joey. It seems we need something in the present day to draw Joey back. She was ready to commit suicide then; why on earth would she even want to go back to such a depressing time? And what is the dark moment for Joey and Peter when it seems fate will tear them apart? In essence, what are the obstacles to them staying together? And does Joey’s decision about whether to warn the mayor matter somehow to the novel and to Joey and Peter’s future happiness?

4 comments:

Ryan Mueller said...

I agree that the first paragraph is confusing. Here's my guess at what happens in that part of the book:

The painful accident immediately kills Joey's husband and plunges her into the Lake Michigan. She knows her husband is dead, so she contemplates suicide. Then, she discovers the drowning boy, and her instincts kick in.

If that is what you're trying to get across, maybe try something more like this

"After a violent (boating?) accident kills Joey's husband and plunges her into the cold waters of Lake Michigan, she contemplates taking the breath of water that will end her life. But when she sees a boy drowning in the water, her instincts kick in, and she brings the child up for air, ready to put the past behind her."

Also, is Joey short for Joanna or Joanne. It might actually make sense to use the more female name in the query and then explain why she shortened it to Joey in the book. As it is right now, I immediately thought Joey was a man, so the next part of the first sentence really confused me.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The first line made me think of a burn victim seeking relief.

What was the accident? Did an explosion throw her into the lake?

There is a lot going on the first para. Saving a kid pushes out personal thoughts. They come later after the adrenaline wears off. Reads like a blurb.

The boy is not mentioned again making me wonder if he's important to the story or if you got off track.

Does she have a choice about returning to her start point?

Agree with Phoenix's comments. I'd stick with one point of view. The switch diminishes your MC.


The "unfortunately" in the second para rubs me the wrong way. I don't know at this point if resurfacing a 100 years later is unfortunate, neither does she. Too early to say/tell. Surprising maybe.

"Grateful for her heroic act", saving the boy was an accident, not a heroic act.

The rest of the sentence is a contradiction. If the dad offers assistance to Joey, he is offering a lot, not little else.

The story starts when Joey finds herself a hundred years in the past after dragging a child out of Lake Michigan. She puts her suicide plans aside...

Hope that helps.

Matt said...

Hmm...Reading the first paragraph I thought Joey crashed her car in the lake and decided that she might as well die because she could no longer live with depression. Something along the lines of Phoenix's rewrite will point us all in the right direction.

Ironically, by adding high stakes words you are diffusing the tension. The "seriously" in the first paragraph is not needed because the action of suicide is powerful. Death is also a powerful word, but by adding "violent" I think of hubby being mauled by coyotes instead of her weeping over his grave.

The first line of the third paragraph bothered me. As Phoenix said, what more can he offer than his assistance? Maybe you meant he offered thanks and little else?

Is Martin her first husband? The name comes out of nowhere.

The longer this goes, the more it devolves into summary description. Keep it engaging by citing specific events that move the story forward.

AA said...

Note on title: I would call this the Widow of Lake Michigan. Just a thought. This assumes it's mostly a romance. The way it's written it seems to be.

I, also, was confused by the first paragraph. I had to reread it. Now I'm not sure if "forced" is meant as "forced into the water," or if she feels she is forced to drown herself in lake Michigan because she can't get over her husband's (earlier) death.

"But the discovery of a boy in the water reminds her that, despite the violent death of her husband, life is worth living. She brings the child up for air, ready to put the past behind her." There's something really wrong with these sentences. Nobody is contemplating the meaning of life while saving someone from drowning! It's all adrenaline and excitement. There is no conscious thinking involved. After they're safely on the shore, she must see right away that things are different. There's a lot more forest, the houses look different, her house isn't there- then she's seriously confused. Contemplation and philosophical thoughts come much, much later.

"Grateful for her heroic act the boy’s father, Peter Hastings, offers his assistance but little else." I thought maybe she expected a monetary reward. It seems like it means that she expects his love in return, but I doubt that's what you meant. That seems wrong, since she's still grieving the loss of her husband.

"Her only proof is her knowledge of the upcoming assassination of the mayor of Chicago.' That isn't proof for two reasons: 1. It's upcoming, so it hasn't happened. Any lunatic can claim that the mayor is GOING to be assassinated. 2. If it happens, and she's been saying it will, people will simply think she was involved in the planning of it somehow. That makes her a suspect, not a prophet.

I, also, stumbled over "Joey begins to suspect that Peter is an earlier incarnation of her dead husband" along with "differed greatly." So, what gives her the idea he's her dead husband?

I stumbled over "Martin" at first, too. I decided it's the name of her former husband. Maybe you should use it when you first mention him.

As Phoenix said, you do need to make the choice clear. If she can't get back anyway, there's no choice. Maybe the choice should be to either stay with Peter or go back.

There are a lot of logical inconsistencies and vagueness in this query. If the MS is in good shape, I'm sure you'll eventually get the query right. If it isn't in good shape, your query will never come out right, so make sure these same problems are not in your MS.