Thursday, July 7, 2011

Query Revision 99

Face-Lift 891: Bad Company

Dear _______

I am seeking representation for my science fiction novel _Bad Company_, complete at 104,000 words.

When Chev Layman gets in trouble with the law, going into hiding with his brother Matt isn't just the solution--it's an adventure. But now three troopers are dead and the brothers are on the run through Xenos's underground cities. Under Matt's watchful eye, Chev learns the gentle art of being a fugitive: the best places to hide, how to identify sympathisers, and the finer points of armed robbery.

Being on the run turns out to be wearisome. There's no adventure in bedding down in a cold store room, or always looking over your shoulder and suspecting every stranger. There's also his problems with Beth, who wants to do the icky touchy kissing thing. Plus his growing realisation that Matt's clever plans rely more on luck than logic. When Matt comes up with his most ambitious scheme ever--taking over the space station--Chev's afraid he's pushing their luck too far. Matt thinks he'll turn them into folk heroes. Chev thinks he'll get them killed. But now the police have evaded the trap set for them, they're all out of other options.

(Stuff about me)


The author mentioned in the note that accompanied this query that someone else -- after reading the MS -- suggested she clean up the language and pitch it as YA. The author, though, is concerned the 104K word count is off-putting for YA. I have to admit that this version of the query screams YA to me. I think if it were pitched to an agent or publisher who doesn't normally handle YA that it would be returned with one of those "not right for us" letters. I'd be much more tempted to take my chances with the YA crowd with this and bury the sentence with the word count at the end. Spec fic is historically more lenient where word count is concerned, even in YA.

That said, I'm not getting much of an idea of the world-building here. There are two small hints that this is a soaring adventure that follows the brothers from Xenos' cramped underbelly buried deep in the lava-eaten catacombs of a piss hole of an outback world where they're barely keeping one step ahead of the law who would love nothing more than to condemn the brothers to a lifetime of hard labor tunneling new roads through the tufa to the newly completed space station that's a critical hub of the ever-expanding galactic surveyance system and the only thing in this techno-retro sector capable of raising the boys' reputations out of mediocrity, if they can stay alive long enough to reach it and hijack it. But if you don't tell me that, I have to make it up instead. It's SF. Setting is huge. Capitalize on it.

As written, there seems to be a contradiction between P2 and P3. P2 says going into hiding "is an adventure;" P3 states "There's no adventure." Either the first reference shouldn't be a declarative sentence or the second ref should more knowingly refute the first ref. Otherwise, it looks sloppy instead of intentional.

The addition of Beth really seals the YA deal for me. Although I can't tell if she's joined up with them or is just an interlude. The way it's written, it sounds like Chev is having ongoing problems with Beth, so she's become a staple in their lives. What's her relationship to them? Are the bros hiding out in her dad's biodome?

I'm also a bit confused about the police having evaded the trap. Matt set a trap for all the police? The police are closing in and he and Chev have to get the hell outta Dodge and hitching a ride on the next service shuttle to the space station is now their only option for staying out of jail -- and it just happens to fit right in with Matt's scheme? It can be that, of course, I just think maybe tying the two together better will help cement the plot in the reader's head.

The author realizes anti-heroes are a tough sell. I think either the characters, setting or plot needs to be amped way higher than the typical hero story to be successful. The writing is solid, so what's the next best selling point here?


vkw said...

I agree more setting would lead to a more interesting query.

I didn't like this line -

"into hiding with his brother Matt isn't just a solution - it's an adventure."

because later on in the query you say "there's no adventure"

I would suggest

"When Chev Layman gets in trouble with the law, he sees going into hiding with his brother Matt not only as a solution but also as an adventure."

I didn't like this either

"There's also his problems with Beth, who wants to do the icky touchy kissing thing."

I have a couple problems with this - first next to killing a few troopers and sleeping on hard concrete, this seems a bit of a trivial complaint unless your five years old.

And, most boys in middle grade of above would be okay with this type of attention unless Beth is really, really yucky - like 40 years old and 300 lbs with warts on her nose.

And, if that is the case we should know that about Beth because it would make this sentence interesting, cute and quirky, rather than mundane and peculiar under in light of everything else.

sarah hawthorne said...

This seems really interesting. I would suggest tweaking your first and last sentences.

I think you need a sentence at the beginning to set up the world and Chev's place within it, i.e.
Stuck in a filthy city at the hind end of the oppressive Galactic Empire, thirteen-year-old Chev Layman idolizes his brother Matt's seemingly carefree existence as a bandit.

You do a really good job here of spelling out the plot, but I think you can clarify your theme. Is this about Chev growing up and realizing actions have consequences? Is this about him needing to put his hero worship aside, or him needing to set limits on family loyalty? All you need is an ending sentence that implies what Chev's final crisis will be, i.e.:
But with half the Galactic police force on their heels, Chev has to decide just how far he'll go for family loyalty.

Also you say "the space station" as if we should know what that is. Perhaps some clarification as to why a space station is so important? Is it the only one?

And I agree that referring to kissing as "icky" just seems a bit odd.

Xenith said...

Hey, thanks. That's quite encouraging.

Looks like I'll have to play up the setting a bit more, although that's hard because I'm a bit close to it.

(Plot is held together with lots of sticky tape and string so I don't want to put too much focus on that.)

Chev has "some problems" but also reluctant to focus on that, because I don't know if it works in the book.

Oh, well.

fairyhedgehog said...

I liked this despite the flaws and I'd want to read it. I hope that the 104,000 words are all as tightly written as the query.

For me, Sci Fi can get by with suggestions rather than setting; I've read enough Sci Fi to fill in the gaps.

I agree with Phoenix about hiding the word count. I can't help wondering if you can do away with 4,000 words and get it down to 100,000. For some reason that sounds much better to me.

I didn't like "gentle art of..." - I'd lose the "gentle". (Feels cliche to me.)

I got that it started out as an adventure and then became less so but that could perhaps be handled more smoothly.

I'm not sure at what age the "icky" stuff becomes very desirable but for me that puts it quite young. (Under 14 maybe? I've never been a teenage boy.)

The police part jarred slightly; I think you might say a bit more about what happened there. I'd like to believe that Chev is basically good and the police are over-zealous or on the side of a repressive government. I'm thinking Firefly here.

But as I say, I liked it!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Some grounding somewhere would be good. My picture of the brothers and their ages changed a lot during the course of the query and that's not good. At least it did for Chev. Not so much for Matt. I started thinking these were adults and ended with an adult Matt and very, very young Chev. And then they felt less like brothers and more like father/son.

If you're writing something character driven, than ground us in the characters. Strong plot is not always essential.

The query flows well and has a light, breezy feel to it. Is that true to the story? Seems like it could be an adventure story that's on the light side, but then you've got those killings and such. You can have a light story with anti-heroes.

104K is fine for adult SF, even for a debut author. It's a bit long for YA. But great writing trumps all.

Xenith said...

Thanks :)

It was 110K words. I whittled and scraped and clawed it down to 104K. 100 does look better but I can't see it happening :(

Interesting about the ages. One is a (mature, playing dad since their father died) 24 year old and the other a (very immature) 17 year old so not far off. Not sure about mentioning his age because as noted, he doesn't come across as being that old in the query it might jar.

It's adventure story that's on the light side, but has these killings :) OK maybe not that light but it does have an odd humour (mine) through it. Hence the "gentle" because armed robbery etc. aren't very gentle but if that doesn't work, it doesn't work.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Then maybe start with whose POV it's in. Does it flip between the two brothers? Or are we mostly in one?

You can say Chev is chronologically 17, but emotionally 5 (in better words) and that gives us a good feel for who he is. You can also say Matt is the father figure (also in better words) - does Matt feel responsible for Chev and is he trying to make a better life for them through crime? Or is Matt irresponsible?

Xenith said...

That might work if I can find a way to do it without slowing it down (I want the light/breezy thing). I'll play with it.

There's a second POV character (a bad guy, um, good guy, um police guy) but he doesn't appear in the query.

"Better life through crime". I like that :)

Caitlin said...

My first thought was 'how old is Chev?' because when you mention the 'icky touchy kissing thing' with Beth, that makes me confused because it felt, reading the previous paragraphs of getting in trouble with the law and dead troopers, and armed robbery, that Chev is an older YA (maybe 15? 16?) but when i read he's grossed out by girls... that's not how most 15 or 16 year old boys I know react around a girl! The exact opposite with their hormones etc. I can understand if Chev was say 11 or 12. Maybe 13. But...
Usually YA books mention the age of the MC so that YA's can relate to them. Like 'When fifteen-year-old Chev Layman gets in trouble with the law...' If i was 15, I would be more interested, I could relate to what Chev was going through because we're the same age. But even if i'm not the same age as the MC, I like to have an idea of their age (in YA books that is). you can be more sympathetic (or not, if that's the case) to them!

Xenith said...

Caitlin: you have a good point and I was thinking about this last night, but you also highlight then problem. If I say he's 17, it makes him seem just wrong.

It works in the book (I think) but in the limited space of a query, I think it just confuses things. So for now I'm erring on the side of caution.