Friday, April 15, 2011

Query 71: Redux 2

The Anasazi Conspiracy

Dear Phoenix Sullivan,

1607BC: Brothers Maska and Ahote unearth a curious object in the ancient American southwest. Regrettably, this golden idol from the Sun God will soon thrust their people into chaos and leave a baffling legacy inscribed on the stone walls of their home.

Flash forward to the present, powerful corporate magnate Robert Bradley discovers archeologist Dr. Brill sniffing around one of his companies for information. Brill doesn’t know he’s picked up a tail.

Robert has a hunch; the Anasazi petroglyphs in the ruins Brill just uncovered may lead to hidden treasure. His instincts have never been wrong before…and now he has a cruel plan: seal the ancient ruins’ secrets for his own gain.

Brill will soon be dead.

Jake’s in position with finger on the trigger, but everything changes when Brill attempts to shove an attractive colleague off a ledge. Rescuing this woman from the man he was hired to kill wasn’t exactly on his agenda. Nor did he later expect a bullet to blast through his shoulder. When his shadowy employer double-crosses him, the only thing lurking in Jake’s sights is vengeance.

Bradley didn’t accept mistakes…or failure. He is determined to snuff them out. Now his men have a mess to clean up.

But Jake won’t be caught off guard a second time.

With clock ticking and bullets flying, Dr. Courtney Kirkland must work swiftly under Jake’s protective cover, deciphering coded symbols that will expose a hidden chronicle of Anasazi history and the location of a dazzling cavern of gold.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a mainstream action-adventure with significant history elements and is a complete manuscript available for review at 163K words. I appreciate your consideration.

Comments

Deep breath, author. I think the query is at that stage where you're trying to satisfy everyone's previous questions and crits and it's gotten away from you a bit. This is a natural stage, and usually means that the next version will bust out and and shine. As it is, this version is really a mess. I tried to find a more polite way to say that, but really, IMO, it's taken a step or two backward from the initial version that appeared here.

I urge you to really consider your word choices: The one thread through all of these versions is the number of cliched phrases used in each. One or two phrases used as shorthand to explain a turn of events or how a character is feeling is generally, I think, acceptable, but more than that call attention to themselves -- and not in a good way.

1607BC: Brothers Maska and Ahote unearth a curious object in the ancient American southwest. Regrettably, this golden idol from the Sun God will soon thrust their people into chaos and leave a baffling legacy inscribed on the stone walls of their home.

Strike "ancient" -- this paragraph is adjective-laden and BC(E) gets across it isn't modern America. Note that, as written and taken literally, this says the golden idol inscribes the legacy on the walls.

Removing the rest of the time line makes this bit feel like a prologue. And generally, we don't need prologue material in a query. It feels out of place now. I know you've mentioned your beta readers really like these characters and their struggle in the book, but here in the query we see nothing of the characters or their real struggle. If this is all the attention they deserve in the query, then I think they can be deleted from the query without remorse. If, however, the book has 80K words devoted to these guys, then maybe finding a way to weave their story in here might be appropriate. But really, it does need to be a story, with obstacles and stakes.

Flash forward to the present, powerful corporate magnate Robert Bradley discovers archeologist Dr. Brill sniffing around one of his companies for information. Brill doesn’t know he’s picked up a tail.

I would treat all the names consistently. We get first and last name of Robert Bradley here, then he's referred to as Robert, then as Bradley. We only get Brill's last name (and either Dr. or archelogist will be enough of an identifier for him). We only get Jake's first name. Then we get Courtney's first and last name, even when it's only used once.

I don't get the cause-and-effect in this sentence. First, why is an archeologist sniffing around a company? Second, it's a leap of logic for the reader to assume Bradley put the tail on him. Maybe intro Brill before Bradley?

Robert has a hunch; the Anasazi petroglyphs in the ruins Brill just uncovered may lead to hidden treasure. His instincts have never been wrong before…and now he has a cruel plan: seal the ancient ruins’ secrets for his own gain.

I don't see any connection here between the ruins and Bradley's company. I have no idea how these two people know each other.

A hunch, hmm? OK, assuming I buy that, maybe a little better chronology of the events will help. Do we really need to know Brill is sniffing around? What if we see Bradley assuming the petroglyphs will lead to treasure, so he plans (no "cruel" needed) to get in there first. To that end, he puts a tail on Brill and hires a gunman to kill him as soon as Brill inadvertently spills the secret.

Brill will soon be dead.

Jake’s in position with finger on the trigger, but everything changes when Brill attempts to shove an attractive colleague off a ledge.

My head is reeling a bit by the time I read this. First question is: Who's Jake? Is he the tail? Someone else? (I know he's Bradley's gunman only from previous versions.) Second question is: What does "everything changes" mean? This is way too vague a phrase to use up valuable real estate. Third question is: Why is Brill attempting to kill a colleague? This is never explained. We've been set up to have maybe a bit of sympathy for Brill and now this comes out of the blue. In the book it might be a cool reversal of a sympathetic character to a villain, but here it doesn't seem to fit. Fourth question is: Do we really need to know the colleague is attractive at this point? Fifth question is: If Bradley has Brill killed pre-emptively, how will he learn the secrets? At this point, this seems to be a plot hole.

Rescuing this woman from the man he was hired to kill wasn’t exactly on his agenda. Nor did he later expect a bullet to blast through his shoulder. When his shadowy employer double-crosses him, the only thing lurking in Jake’s sights is vengeance.

Bradley didn’t accept mistakes…or failure. He is determined to snuff them out. Now his men have a mess to clean up.

Obviously the tense change needs to be fixed. The chronology is getting muddled again here. Jake's been double-crossed already, but now the query is backing up in time to have Bradley planning the double-cross? This time line isn't really working to your benefit, IMO.

Does "them" now include Courtney?

But Jake won’t be caught off guard a second time.

With clock ticking and bullets flying, Dr. Courtney Kirkland must work swiftly under Jake’s protective cover, deciphering coded symbols that will expose a hidden chronicle of Anasazi history and the location of a dazzling cavern of gold.

I would name Courtney earlier so the reader isn't slowed down trying to figure out who this person is when this should be a fast-paced final paragraph.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a mainstream action-adventure with significant history elements and is a complete manuscript available for review at 163K words. I appreciate your consideration.

If the historical elements are significant, that should likely be made more clear in the query. Or just delete the unnecessary adjective "significant." Should be "completed" in this context. And a lot of agents have said they don't consider what they do to be a "review."

Honestly, from the descriptive portion of the query, I would be expecting a slick little thriller. When I got to the action-adventure historical and 163K words I would wonder what I was missing -- or, more likely, whether the author didn't understand the conventions of the genre. I know you're getting advice to drop the historical part from the query and focus on the contemporary story, but from what we can see here, that pacing seems at odds with the size of the book, which is a problem. I have to assume that the historical part takes up 80K of the book. Maybe if you set up two parallel action-y/thriller-ish stories here -- the first paragraph in the past, the second in the present -- and then have them intertwine cleverly in the third? I just think you need something that shakes it all up.

2 comments:

newmancht said...

Ha! Okay, I admit...I'm confused. First, thanks again for the constructive comments.
It seems we've come full circle from editing out the historical elements to putting them back in. The problem I'm wrestling with with is that this is a high concept book with lots of interlinked subplots under the main plot. Trying to convey all this in one page just seems to be impossible, leaving vagueness and gaping holes all over that I haven't been able to mask.

Also, trying to pare things down to a more acceptable 250 words or so forces me to omit nearly all of the historical stuff, but also seems to push me out of genre. I like your suggestion of intertwining time lines, since that's how the entire book is written and what I was going for in the 1st query, but I just don't think it'll be possible to put much history in there without devolving back into cliche's and vagueness to keep word count low.

Sigh...Seems I'll have to stick to refining the present day action with a better taste (and explanation) of the historicals to keep this thing from mushrooming back to ginormous proportions. I'll plug away at it some more - Thanks again Phoenix!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I'd put this aside for a bit. The powerful clear writing I admired got down graded in this puppy. Cliches a gogo threw me.

I believe Phoenix is right and you are almost ready to shine. Your brain will work on it. Relax, do something different for a few days.

You are going through those query stages.

The previous one was so good. It was the time format that seemed bothersome.

Good luck.