Friday, July 1, 2011

Query 97

Martin Mason and the Man in the Crystal Prison

Dear Agent,

Martin Mason spends his evenings staring at an empty wall. Most thirteen year olds would consider this strange, even crazy. But most thirteen years olds can’t guess every test question correctly or turn invisible on command. Martin can. He learns from mysterious substitute teacher Steve Lazarus that he possesses the Ability, a rare talent that allows him to manipulate his surroundings.

To avoid life as a government lab rat, Martin accompanies Mr. Lazarus to a secret world where it’s always seventy degrees, cars drive themselves, and broken bones are healed in seconds. Beneath this idyllic surface, however, lies a society five years removed from the brutal tyranny of a man named Samuel Wade. Martin quickly discovers Wade is a taboo topic when he begins school at Centralia Academy. And as Martin learns the difficult mathematical and scientific principles behind the Ability, he also has a few other concerns on his mind:

  • The revelation that his parents adopted him as a baby.
  • A school Director who sends shivers down Martin’s spine.
  • The discovery that Samuel Wade is his biological father.
  • And the disappearances of three teachers…with Martin considered the prime suspect.
Martin connects the disappearances to a secret laboratory behind the empty wall he stares at so intently. In that laboratory is a device that can free Samuel Wade from his five-year prison. Martin can stop this plot…but only if he can resist the allure of his father’s power.

MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is a YA fantasy complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I’m sure there’ll be differing opinions as to whether this is YA or MG given the MC’s age and the overall tone of the query, which seems young in spots and more mature in others. Personally, I’d call it tween and let the rest sort itself out.

Bullets in a query can also go either way. The biggest caution against is because of potential formatting issues in an email and some email services not recognizing the bullet character. I personally love bullets as succinct summarizers. In this case, though, the bullets are summarizing the what of Martin’s concerns, but not the why or how, so they feel like nothing more than a list of points rather than integral bits of the story.

Martin Mason spends his evenings staring at an empty wall.

This is an intriguing opening. It ties in to the last paragraph, so in that regard it does what so many openings don’t. It has its own issue, though, in that it seems to tie in to the next sentences, but it really doesn’t. The reader isn’t being presented with a logical progression of events. Martin’s staring at a wall in the Academy, then he’s guessing test answers, then he learns he has the Ability and goes to the secret world, then he starts school in the Academy, then he winds up staring at the wall we’re told here he’s staring at. Also, I’m not sure “empty” is the right word for describing the wall.

Most thirteen year olds would consider this strange, even crazy.

Why are you limiting this statement to 13-yr-olds? Plus, does the 13-yr-old who cuts himself or dresses goth consider his behavior strange? No. The people around him might, but not the actor himself.

But most thirteen years olds can’t guess every test question correctly or turn invisible on command.

So Martin can guess what questions will be asked on a test so he can study the answers? I think you’re meaning he can guess the answers. Would “on command” here be better interpreted as “at will”? My impression so far is that more precise word choices would help the reader have more confidence in the writing here.

Martin can.

I think this statement is implied, so not needed.

He learns from mysterious substitute teacher Steve Lazarus that he possesses the Ability, a rare talent that allows him to manipulate his surroundings.

I don’t think we need the “mysterious” adjective.

To avoid life as a government lab rat, Martin accompanies Mr. Lazarus to a secret world where it’s always seventy degrees, cars drive themselves, and broken bones are healed in seconds.

Up to this point the voice in the query sounds young. The next sentence breaks from that and the voice starts sounding older.

Beneath this idyllic surface, however, lies a society five years removed from the brutal tyranny of a man named Samuel Wade.

I think we need a hint here as to what happened to Wade. It comes as a surprise in the last paragraph that he’s imprisoned somehow.

Martin quickly discovers Wade is a taboo topic when he begins school at Centralia Academy. And as Martin learns the difficult mathematical and scientific principles behind the Ability, he also has a few other concerns on his mind:
  • The revelation that his parents adopted him as a baby.
  • A school Director who sends shivers down Martin’s spine.
  • The discovery that Samuel Wade is his biological father.
  • And the disappearances of three teachers…with Martin considered the prime suspect.
I think bullets one and three can be combined. However, how taboo is the topic of Wade if he finds out Wade is his bio dad.

I’m betting critters will also be quick to point out that Wade being a taboo topic and the Academy and the adoptive parents are all very reminiscent of Harry Potter. It’s an inevitable comparison, and I think downplaying the similarities in the way you present your story will help dissociate.

A clue as to why Martin would be considered a suspect in the disappearances would help. Who’s considering him a suspect? Steve? The Director? The police in this world?

Martin connects the disappearances to a secret laboratory behind the empty wall he stares at so intently. In that laboratory is a device that can free Samuel Wade from his five-year prison. Martin can stop this plot…but only if he can resist the allure of his father’s power.

So is the climax Martin exposing the plot to the adults, using his mind to convince the disappeared to rebel against Wade’s control, or tearing down the wall and destroying the device with his Ability? Do we need to know what the climax is? No, but we do need an idea as to what kind of action is in the book. Plus, is Wade powerful enough to retake the world?

MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is a YA fantasy complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

My Version

I’m going to suggest that the way the query is set up now, it reads structurally like hundreds of other queries about kids with special powers plunked into a school for the gifted and faced with a peril only they can conquer. What might help it stand out is restructuring it so it plops the reader right down into where the story “gets going” and bringing the backstory in the same way you’d do it in a novel.

Thirteen-year-old Martin Mason spends his evenings staring at a blank wall. Behind that wall lies a secret laboratory. There, three teachers who have been forcibly disappeared are working on a device to free a powerful tyrant locked in an impenetrable prison. Martin can stop them. Maybe.

First, he has to master the rare ability he has that allows him to manipulate his surroundings. To do that, he’ll need far more control than what he’s learned on his own already. Guessing test answers and turning invisible at will were great for playing pranks at his old school back home but aren’t anywhere near the kind of power he’s going to need now.

Second, he has to figure out who he can trust in this seemingly idyllic world where it’s always 70 degrees, cars drive themselves and broken bones heal in seconds. His most likely ally is the substitute teacher who dragged him to this school in the first place, supposedly so he wouldn’t wind up as some government lab rat. There’s also the school Director, but the way she looks at him like he’s some sort of demon spawn sends shivers down his spine. As for the police, well, they weren’t much help when Samuel Wade held this secret society in his brutal grip five years ago. If Wade hadn’t slipped up on his own…

But what’s keeping Martin most from acting is the siren song the tyrant is playing in his head. It’s an allure hard to resist – especially since Martin just learned Wade is his biological dad. So he continues staring at that blank wall, unsure of what to do. Because no thirteen-year-old should have this much potential power or this much responsibility.

MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is a tween fantasy complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

4 comments:

Ryan Mueller said...

Thanks for the comments, Phoenix. The suggestions on changing the structure have been especially helpful. The query did seem a little too Harry Potter-ish as it was written.

I knew the MG/YA divide would be a bit of a problem. I was thinking probably about 11 to 14 would be the age group for the book, and that hits the upper end of MG and the lower end of YA. I guess that's something an agent will figure out.

I'll miss the query critiques on here. Now, I feel bad for being MIA for a while. Guess that happens when you get caught up writing a book.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Are you thinking of this as a series? Your title suggests you might be.

And trying to sell a 13 yo MC as YA is very difficult. The general rule of thumb is that kids read up - about 2 or so years. So you're hitting the 10-13 crowd. Tween might be a good idea though some places may tell you there is no such category. MG works fine.

Here's my shot at this, though I think it needs a bit more oomph.


To avoid life as a government lab rat, thirteen-year-old Martin accompanies his mysterious substitute teacher to a secret world where it’s always seventy degrees, cars drive themselves, and broken bones are healed in seconds. Guessing every test question correctly and turning invisible on command was great for pranks, but his new life leaves no time for that.

As Martin masters the difficult mathematical and scientific principles behind his ability to manipulate his surroundings, he learns that three teachers have disappeared and Martin is the prime suspect. He may be new to all of this (including the fact that he was adopted), but his biological father was Samuel Wade – a brutal tyrant whose rule ended five years ago. And that makes Martin almost public enemy number one.

He connects the disappearances to a secret laboratory behind an empty wall only he can see through. In that laboratory is a device designed to free Samuel Wade from his five-year prison. Martin can stop this plot – if he resists the allure of his father’s power.

vkw said...

This reads like X-Men meets Harry Potter.

And, too much so.

I would really concentrate the query on all things not Harry or X-Men.

vkw

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Sarah, wow, good take.

Author,
Staring at a blank wall makes me think the mc is severely handicapped. I was wrong. Why?

Martin isn't staring at a blank wall, he's tuning in to the questions on tomorrow's test. If he has to, he can go invisible and get the answers.

Steve Lazarus, a substitue teacher, teaches Martin more than curriculum when he delves into Martin's powers.



Mind musing here.

To avoid a rat lab life Martin flees with a substitute teacher who...

Many forms this can take. I'm missing passion and committment here to the query and the story.

Kind of a yawn. Sorry.