Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Query Revision 85

Face-Lift 904: Kingdom of God

Dear Agent,

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and lifelong faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, the hereafter seems absolutely glorious. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled, there are no secrets or lies, she mingles with fascinating people from various historical backgrounds, and--best of all--she gets to meet God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate place rules over the entire universe. But gradually she notices there are no non-Christians, homosexuals, or unbelievers in Heaven...and she becomes aware of countless people screaming for help in the fiery pits of Hell below her.

As she struggles to reconcile their suffering with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her own daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture in the flames.

Still, since the Lord knows every thought in His subjects' minds and has little tolerance for dissent, she must pretend to agree with His plan. Until, that is, an undercover seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement. This group claims to have found a way to circumvent His omniscience by illegally accessing special pockets of privacy He created for His favorite angels. They also say they're close to discovering a way to oust Him from the seat of absolute power. Rowena, skeptical about their claims but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip Him of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall? And if their coup does succeed, can they truly come up with a better, fairer system than the one He devised? Can the universe survive without Him at its helm?

KINGDOM OF GOD is a 101,000-word novel. Sample chapters or the complete manuscript are available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

When dealing with well-established religion, the biggest obstacle you'll face in your query, I think, is ensuring the reader is comfortable with where the story is going. Tackling God head on is dicey because your reader may well be wondering who the protag is in your book. In this case, I think it may be wise to give a little of the ending away to assure the reader that this book will ultimately be embraced by sceptics or believers. Audience matters big time here. Note that you don't even give any indication of the genre. Where do YOU think it fits?

From the way this query reads to me, I'm thinking it's commercial fiction for the lay market. So I won't try to look at it from what I would assume the mindset of a Christian Book agent or publisher would be. If that's really the audience you're going after, then I don't believe this query is working in your favor to target them.

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and lifelong faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, the hereafter seems absolutely glorious. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled, there are no secrets or lies, she mingles with fascinating people from various historical backgrounds, and--best of all--she gets to meet God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate place rules over the entire universe. But gradually she notices there are no non-Christians, homosexuals, or unbelievers in Heaven...and she becomes aware of countless people screaming for help in the fiery pits of Hell below her.

I think you can paint the picture of an idyllic heaven with fewer words. I'm also not sure you want to intro the "no secrets or lies" here since that's not true. You can easily break that second sentence into two so it doesn't sound so long-winded.

Short-listing groups of people who aren't there will immediately set this up as an agenda-driven book is some readers' minds. Also, what's the difference between non-Christian and unbeliever in this context? And, of course, if you're presented with proof and meet God, who WOULD be an unbeliever here? Do people (souls?) still have sexual proclivities in this heaven? What tips Rowena that she's not meeting anybody who was gay or Muslim in the therebefore?

As she struggles to reconcile their suffering with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her own daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture in the flames.

I understand a mother's fierce love, but a little about the daughter's "sin" would be good to know. Just adding in "her lesbian daughter" or whatever will help the reader empathize with Row's anger. Otherwise, the daughter could be a murderer or something else that might justifiably (in whose eyes?) send her to hell.

Still, since the Lord knows every thought in His subjects' minds and has little tolerance for dissent, she must pretend to agree with His plan. Until, that is, an undercover seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement.

Why? Is everyone being asked to join? Seems everyone would know a boatload of people they love destined for hell. Or is she exhibiting something that makes the seraph think she's one of them?

Although I understand it's an obstacle, I think putting the bit about God knowing all thoughts and all the explanation needed to deal with that is weighing down the query. This is one of those instances where it might be better to just cut rather than explain.

This group claims to have found a way to circumvent His omniscience by illegally accessing special pockets of privacy He created for His favorite angels. They also say they're close to discovering a way to oust Him from the seat of absolute power.

Ditch the "claims" and "saying." Couch the activity more actively.

Rowena, skeptical about their claims but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip Him of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The ousting from before and stripping here are redundant.

So this group doesn't distinguish between sins at all? They want to liberate everyone? Give everyone a happily ever after? That's perfectly fine in the story, of course, but what do they hope to accomplish with their rebellion?

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall?

I like this!

And if their coup does succeed, can they truly come up with a better, fairer system than the one He devised? Can the universe survive without Him at its helm?

Ending on this note makes me wonder what God's role is now. Is He simply a judge now or is He still somehow powering all of existence Himself?

KINGDOM OF GOD is a 101,000-word novel. Sample chapters or the complete manuscript are available upon request.

Add "completed" before the word count and delete the last sentence. Of course they're available upon request. Add the genre too.

Thank you for your consideration.

My Version

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, she finds the hereafter as glorious as she hoped it would be. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled and she gets to mingle with all the beautiful people of history. Best of all, she meets God Himself, the wise and loving Father she's always worshiped. Bliss gradually gives way to unease then outright anger, though, when she overhears countless souls screaming for help from the fiery pits of Hell. It's then she learns Heaven is an exclusive club that's only open to those considered pure and righteous in life.

As she struggles to reconcile the suffering of so many souls with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications for keeping out riff-raff such as unbelievers and homosexuals cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her lesbian daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture.

Sensing her anger, a seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement whose members are equally determined to harrow Hell and open up Heaven for all the deserving. Rowena, skeptical about their plan but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip God of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall? And if their coup does succeed, are they ready for the even bigger challenge of democratizing both Heaven and Hell and keeping the universe itself running without Him at its helm?

KINGDOM OF GOD is commercial fiction, complete at 101,000-word. Thank you for your consideration.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

The whole thing feels weird to me. You die, you go to heaven, then you have to rebel against God to be free? Can heaven even exist without God?

I tend to think if you make to heaven you will like it there. It is heaven after all.

I'd be much more interested if this were fantasy (not the real heaven that I, as a reader, hope to wind up at someday)..and the MC were a warrioress of some kind. You know?

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I think the query would benefit from some information about what Rowena does to contribute to the plan to overthrow God. Tha will give readers a better sense of why this is Rowena's story as opposed to anyone else's and why the rebel seraphs are risking possible exposure to get her on their side.

People's ideas about religion and the afterlife tend to be deeply entrenched, so getting them to read something that present of view of both that may not fit with what they believe could be tough. As the Anonymous before me suggests, you might have a better shot at getting past people's defenses if you change a few names. If you call God Zardoz and Heaven Orpalgedda (neither of which are names I'd suggest using), people may be less quick to dismiss what you're saying. Even if you're not trying to convince anybody to think a particular way, a book portraying the Christian God as a tyrant has a lot of baggage.

Chelsea P. said...

I have a real issue with God's justifications for eternal torture EVER being adequate, so the fact that Rowena gobbles them up until she's directly affected makes her unsympathetic.

God: I sent your neighbor Bob to hell because he was a Buddhist. He never hurt anybody, and now he's being tortured forever.

Rowena: Cool, that makes sense.

God: I also sent your daughter.

Rowena: You son of a bitch!

Otherwise, I still find the plot intriguing, and Phoenix's rewrite is quite good. I think this is getting very close.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

This would work better for me in a fantasy world.

Anecdotal:
My friend who died twice was met by misty light/clouds each having some kind of consciousness and was told she couldn't stay. It wasn't her time. She wanted to stay, it felt so good but couldn't. To this day, happened a long time ago she remembers the longing and her wish to stay there.

We've talked about this a lot, were these angels, gatekeepers? Greeters who turn you around if you aren't supposed to go at that time. Not sure.

The premise doesn't make the grade for me. I could accept it in an other world. As it is, the subject is made trivial, I'd expect there will be a lot of opposition and negative reaction no matter how good the writing is.

I hope you'll rethink your approach. Good luck, you've taken on a bear to wrestle with.

Ryan and Sheree Gladden said...

One issue I had with the query that Phoenix didn't mention was the line: "Still, since the Lord knows every thought in His subjects' minds and has little tolerance for dissent, she must pretend to agree with His plan." If God knows every thought in her mind, it's really impossible for Rowena to pretend anything. It would be impossible for any group to incite a coup that He didn't already know about. The pockets of privacy only go so far. Unless the seraph approached Rowena inside a pocket, which seems unlikely, God would have been able to know the seraphs thoughts about the resistance.

AA said...

You have to have the believability in this one. Because you are tackling controversial subject matter, many readers will be reluctant to be drawn in, therefore the writing must be that much better to overcome the resistance.

Even people who wouldn't consider themselves "religious" grew up in some type of church with their family's participation, so the memories of obedience to their parents and obedience to their god are strongly connected. This is more than just conscious thought, it is subconscious and deeply seated, and may be connected with very strong childhood emotions with many people. So people are often very uneasy questioning that. You need to have an extremely well crafted book with all the loose ends tied up if you are going to convince them to want to read a whole book about this.

So far, you've got a protag I don't feel much about, except she seems rather clueless about her own beliefs until after she dies. You have a god who is egotistical and unlikeable. You have an unbelievable storyline involving hiding thoughts from someone who knows everything. And you have a rebellion in heaven. We all know how well that worked the first time.

This somehow reminds me of the old novelty song, "Hey, Mister Custer, I Don't Want To Go," about a foot soldier who gets a bad feeling as he is marching with Custer to what turns out to be Custer's Last Stand. I'm not sure I want to go where this book is taking me either, especially since it seems like Rowena and the Undercover Angels are doomed to failure.

AA said...

Again, as most people posted last time, since God is omniscient this couldn't happen. He'd know about any "secret" coup or any thoughts tending in that direction. The secret privacy pockets don't even help much with this. With something as big as overthrowing God, how could you help having thoughts about it enter your mind at odd times? Don't think about a purple elephant.

Besides, when you're working with omniscience and omnipotence- well, I would suggest don't. Why doesn't God just make Rowena forget she has a daughter? Why doesn't he fill her with a sense of peace so nothing bothers her? Why not just close the doors to Hell so nobody can hear the screams? Why not create an angel that looks like her daughter so she thinks her daughter made it to Heaven? Why not just send Rowena to Hell? Why not-
You see? If your God character can do anything, there's no answer to why he doesn't.

If your God character is not omnipotent, it's best to mention it in the query and save all the "So why doesn't he just-"

Examole: It's hard to remember a time when the transporter or teleporter wasn't a sci-fi standby. But the introduction of the device to the Star Trek series was no fun for the writers. They had to keep thinking of more ways to keep Kirk, Spock, et al in danger on strange planets while the viewer was saying, "Why don't they just use the transporter and get out of there?" This led to some clunky writing and some ridiculous plot devices. Eventually they had to show that the transporter couldn't work under certain circumstances- basically, that it wasn't infallable.

This is your "God"- if he's infallable, the plot can't work.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Heinlein wrote a book that has the MCs go to heaven and they figure out they much prefer hell. Can't remember which one offhand. He actually deals a lot with religion, belief themes.

Orson Scott Card and L. Ron Hubbard created their own religions for pete's sake - and they're still popular today.

You can successfully write about God, heaven, hell without having to change them to be something hidden. It all depends on your market.

Given the authors I mention above, it would seem the SF market is open to these types of stories. It's funny, but your query appealed to me and I am deep into SF. Is that your market is the operative question.

I think Phoenix gave you some good suggestions and an excellent rewrite.

batgirl said...

I just wanted to add my vote that the author stay with the Christian heaven and God, because otherwise this story loses most of its point, I think.

Like Sarah, I've read sf stories that used the Christian heaven and hell as their settings, so it's not as if this is a totally unheard of and bizarre concept. I'd like to add a mention of Judgement Night by James Blish, where a black magician opens up Hell and lets all the devils run free, it's revealed that God is dead and at the end of the second book

SPOILERS!

because there has to be a God, Satan is sucked into the vacuum created and forced to take God's place.