Friday, April 8, 2011

Query 71: Redux

The Anasazi Conspiracy

[Author's Note: I decided to do a little different style, keeping some of the teaser elements of the first version, but coupling them with a clearer outline of the pertinent elements of the back story and present-day plot lines; all while escalating the tempo throughout with a more menacing approach. This largely parallels the book structure as well. Hopefully, this version addresses your previous concerns.]

1607 B.C.: Brothers Maska and Ahote come across a curious object. Surely this golden icon must be a gift from the Sun God? Ohhh, but this prize would be woefully cursed, thrusting the Chama clan into chaos and leaving a baffling legacy behind.

1867: Surviving a horrific train crash, broken and bleeding, Stanley is desperate for help. In the open, wild country of the American southwest, he stumbles across a cave. It turns out to be much more than shelter for the night when he discovers an enormous golden Shaman lurking inside, guarding a dazzling temple of untold riches. But would this knowledge die with him?

Two weeks ago: Powerful corporate magnate, Robert Bradley finds someone sniffing around one of his companies for information. Robert has hunch.

One week ago: That “someone” doesn’t know he’s picked up a tail, or that he’ll soon be dead. Robert believes the Anasazi ruins recently uncovered by this man may lead to hidden treasures. His instincts have never been wrong before…and now he has a malicious plan.

Right now: Jake’s strategy never included rescuing a beautiful archeologist from the man he was hired to kill. He certainly didn’t expect to be double-crossed by his shadowy employer either. There will be hell to pay.

Bradley didn’t count on mistakes…or failure. Now his men have a mess to clean up.

In a malevolent twist of fate, two disparate souls are plunged into a race against time and bullets to decipher the mystery of an ancient people and stop the enemy determined to kill them. To fail means the loss of an ancient culture, incredible wealth - and death.

But Jake and Courtney never anticipated the playful banter…the intense looks…or fiery passions escalating as they grapple with coded symbols that will ultimately disclose the location of a cavern of gold and unveil a hidden chronicle that will transform known Anasazi history forever.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY straddles the Historic and Adventure genres and is a complete manuscript available for review at 163K words. This is my first novel and I appreciate your consideration.


I love the timeline structure. In fact, I loved the structure when Janet Reid recently showcased a for-the-win query that used it. And when JA Konrath hosted Blake Crouch whose description for Run uses the same setup. That means instead of thinking, "OMG, this is a fresh, exciting way to handle this query," I'm thinking, "I wonder if the author is trawling the same sites I am." I won't dissuade you from this approach. I'm just betting there's been and will continue to be in the next couple of months a rash of queries using this structure.

While I'm a fan of the structure, I think we're still not getting quite the right details in each time period. What this structure depends on is a fast, fluid style, and you're still writing long. Which, I bet, agents will clue in on when they see the 163K word count. Which then counters the fast-paced, thrillerish style of this query structure. So the thriller style doesn't seem to map to the thick historical fiction novel and then you throw in that the book straddles genres. Never point that out. Publishers still want books they can neatly shelve in one place. Call it action-adventure. Call it historical. Call it mainstream fiction. You can add "with XXX elements" if you absolutely must (and which some genres, such as romance, often demand). If you choose the "wrong" genre, that's OK. At least you don't set up that ambiguity in the reader's mind to begin with.

Another important part of this structure is keeping a clear thread through it. It's a little jolting going from 1607 BCE (I'd add the E) to 1867 to present day, but I'll follow along in this case because of the history. Once we hit present day, though, the query focuses on Bradley, then does an abrupt switch to Jake, after a vague interlude with a "someone" that I'm afraid I didn't understand.

My Version

If you go with this structure, cut, cut, cut. I've also used the treasure as the thread that ties the timeline together. It's mentioned -- or at least alluded to -- in each paragraph.

1607 BCE: Brothers Maska and Ahote discover a gift from the Sun God -- a golden idol that thrusts their Chama clan into chaos and leaves a baffling legacy behind.

1867: Barely surviving a train crash in the American southwest, a banker stumbles across a golden Shaman guarding a temple of dazzling riches. Too bad its secret will die with him.

Two weeks ago: A corporate spy sniffing around a new Anasazi dig site uncovers enough gold to rebalance the standard and leave investors dry. He doesn't know he's about to pick up a tail -- or that he'll soon be dead.

One week ago: Corporate magnate Robert Bradley hires professional gunman Jake to kill a spy and recover assets about to be sold on the black market. At least, that's the story he's using to double-cross Jake.

Right now: Jake isn't about to be a part of the mess Bradley has to clean up when he realizes he's being played and the bullets start flying. Enlisting the help of a beautiful archeologist, Jake chases the truth of the mystery that lies deep in a cavern at the Anasazi site.

What they find will transform the world's understanding of an ancient American culture forever.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a 163K-word mainstream action-adventure novel. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.


Ryan Mueller said...

"To fail means the loss of an ancient culture, incredible wealth--and death."

I had trouble deciphering the meaning of this sentence at first. I know you're trying to say it will result in the loss of an ancient culture, the loss of incredible wealth, and death of the characters. But as it is written now, I first read it as failing would result in the loss of an ancient culture, a gain of incredible wealth for the characters, and their death. This made no sense to me, so I went back and read it again.

This is nothing against your writing. It's just one of those areas where authors, as I know all too well, understand exactly what they're trying to say and think it's obvious. Readers, on the other hand, come away confused. In my experience, this usually results from trying to keep the query as short as possible.

You should also note that this is currently 345 words long. I know it can be tough to condense a small plot into 250 words, but it seems to me like your main focus is on the present. Perhaps consider limiting the back story. It doesn't really grab my attention.

This is a lot better than the previous version, though.

Matt said...

Once you see an idea executed, it's no longer original. Like Phoenix, I remember seeing that Long ago\then\right now format elsewhere.

There is no relatable character. You can cut that 160k closer to 100k by eliminating the brothers and the Engineer from the book -- not entirely of course, you can still refer to them as Jake follows their trails. It might add more mystery.

If those sweeping changes were made, Jake could be the star of the novel (and query), making it comparable to a Clive Cussler adventure.

Anonymous said...

I think proper nouns would do a lot to help this query. We can presume the golden objects in P1 & P2 are the same easily enough, but how many corporate people are there? Right now I feel like we're drowning in names, especially as characters don't carry over between sections (obviously) yet we get new ones each time. Also, I'm not sure how much attention I would give the 1607 and 1867 stuff. How much attention does it get in the book? Is that part of why the word count is so high?

Since the gold is the only recurring thing, perhaps you could write a query with the gold as the MC:

The Sun God's hoard is sacred, and spelled to wait for his return.
Four hundred years ago, two brothers tried to take it, and the hoard's curse destroyed their tribe.
Two hundred years ago, a stranded train engineer sought shelter in the hoard's cave, and never left again.
Now, corporate America wants the gold to balance a budget sheet, but can double-crossing and hired guns succeed where so many others have failed? Jake was hired to keep the gold from the black market, but he soon finds out that isn't the truth. Can he and the archeologist he met along the way manage to escape the curse and the corporate goons?


Wilkins MacQueen said...

I'd go with conventional query presentation myself to avoid copycat implications which haveen discussed/mentioned in other comments. Apart from that the time update thing doesn't work for me in a piece that spans this amount of history. It doesn't build the tension I assume you were aiming at.

However, I am impressed with your ability. Each para reads like it could stand. I liked the second one the best and would use that as the opener.

I wouldn't use "malevolent", too fantasyish for this piece for me and I'd replace "disparate" because it looked like a mistake which it wasn't.

Unnecessary/excessive/overuse of adjectives and adverbs tell and mho weaken the writing. I'd get rid of "woefully" while I'm on the subject.

I like the writing and how you've controlled it.

newmancht said...

I appreciate everyone's comments. Thanks for the suggestions.

Ryan - Yes, I agree about the difficulty in maintaining clarity while paring the crap out of the query to keep word count low - interesting challenge.

Matt - You're absolutely correct that I could've introduced the backstory characters sparingly and totally emphasized the present day timeline. In fact, that's exactly how I was originally writing this (ala clive cussler style, for ex). The problem is, I had about a dozen reviewers reading this as I wrote it and every single one of them fell in love with the back story characters as much as the present day stuff, wanting more of their stories. This caused me to rethink things and continue their timelines in parallel underneath the present day plot, jumping back and forth at strategic points to keep all 3 timelines simmering (as their individual plots eventually line up). Then present day takes over and the pace accelerates to the finish.
If I edit out either of their stories, it would be easy to pare the book down to normal lengths, but it would also mean a lot less book in the end. I may be forced to do exactly this in order to get published, but I'd rather take a shot at getting the whole thing out there first.

Rose - thanks for the interesting suggestions. The gold, while key to all three timelines, isn't really the main ingredient to the story outside of it's intrinsic value which feeds the greedy Robert Bradley's desire to get it, placing in motion the events that eventually bring these characters together. The MC's in each of the 3 timelines are the real key. That's why I haven't emphasized the gold in the query as the primary focus, but rather the character dynamics as they relate to each other. You're right - there are many peripheral characters, but the present day ones are the trio of Bradly, Jake and Courtney. That's why I continue to bring them in in equal amounts.

Wilkins - Thanks for the heads up on the descriptive word overuse. Hard to find a balance on this when trying to keep the reader's interest up.

Phoenix said...

The MC's in each of the 3 timelines are the real key

While this may be true in the book, if there's a connection between them other than through the treasure, it's not coming through in the query.

If there are touchpoints throughout, maybe you can rewrite your query with those touchpoints in mind.

Right now the only link we have is the treasure itself, and that's what Rose picked up on in her comments and I picked up on in the rewrite.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The problem is... every single one of them fell in love with the back story characters as much as the present day stuff, wanting more of their stories.

This is one great problem to have. Looking forward to see how you manage it.

newmancht said...

"This is one great problem to have. Looking forward to see how you manage it."

Ha - No kidding! I'd liken it to both a great problem and a curse at the same time. Sure, many of my reviewers have said it's the best book they've ever read, but how do you convey that message in a query? Tough business, you know?... Hopefully, I can nail this thing down. I'll submit another version soon (and hope I don't wear out my welcome with Phoenix in the process).