Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Query Crit: The Royal Mews

We haven't seen a query critique around here in a long while, but this one is for a long-time friend of the blog, and I'm more than happy to do the occasional one for folk who've been hanging here since the beginning.

On Friday, I'll have a post about my experience at the Romantic Times Conference and what I learned there -- or maybe, more importantly, what I didn't learn -- along with a few pictures.

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The Original

When Gerald MacGrath won the Enderton Cup, turning his horse into a national treasure, he had no idea he was stepping from the winner’s circle into a showdown between the horse’s new American owner and the Queen of England.

The sale hammered out before the big win, will free Gerald from his father's debts but won’t close until the horse passes the breed inspection. However, Her Majesty's Secretary just presented Gerald with a better deal, not to mention the prestige of being able to claim the Queen as a customer. Completing the sale with the American is the only honorable choice, but Gerald isn't sure how one says, "No, Your Majesty; you can't have the horse."

He manages it. Unfortunately, the queen isn't familiar with the word "no," and she informs the Prime Minister that she wants that horse, and please see to it.

While the Prime Minister goads the U.S. President to intercede, Gerald's need for cash grows urgent. Neither Her Majesty nor the American will back down, and the only solution anyone has proposed is one that will ruin Gerald.

Furthermore, it's being proposed by someone who also isn't familiar with the word "no." The Prime Minister has decided it's time to assassinate Gerald's horse.

The Royal Mews, an historical fiction, is complete at 80,000 words. It tells the story of a UK stallion, of endangered breed, purchased by an American who planned to ship him to the US. Elizabeth II wanted the horse, and a royal cock-up resulted.

Thank you for reviewing my query.


My Critique

The central conflict here is clear, but the motivations seem to be missing. There's a lot of chatty stuff that underscores the conflict but that doesn't necessarily add to the story. I think tightening what you have here will give you room to add motivation, which will also give whoever is reading it an idea of who the target audience is: not just folk interested in Anglo politics but in horse breeds too. The chatty bits help define your voice, so of course the challenge is to incorporate the chat with the events.

When Gerald MacGrath won the Enderton Cup, turning his horse into a national treasure, he had no idea he was stepping from the winner’s circle into a showdown between the horse’s new American owner and the Queen of England.

This is a nice hook line. The only suggestion I have is for you to make it present tense rather than past.

The sale hammered out before the big win, will free Gerald from his father's debts but won’t close until the horse passes the breed inspection. However, Her Majesty's Secretary just presented Gerald with a better deal, not to mention the prestige of being able to claim the Queen as a customer. Completing the sale with the American is the only honorable choice, but Gerald isn't sure how one says, "No, Your Majesty; you can't have the horse."

Whether Gerald sells to the American or to the Queen, his debts will be paid. I don't see a struggle here about him ever thinking about keeping the horse, so unless that's an issue, I'm not sure bringing up his debts as a factor in WHO he sells to is necessary. It does give us a glimpse into his character, though, so maybe just rewording it will help.  

Perhaps in this setup paragraph you can give us a few more bits of info. Which Queen are we talking about (help set us in the right historical period)? Why is there so much interest in the horse (he's a linchpin in keeping his breed  alive)? Why is Gerald being forced to sell the horse (this is where you talk about his debts)?

He manages it. Unfortunately, the queen isn't familiar with the word "no," and she informs the Prime Minister that she wants that horse, and please see to it.

While the Prime Minister goads the U.S. President to intercede, Gerald's need for cash grows urgent. Neither Her Majesty nor the American will back down, and the only solution anyone has proposed is one that will ruin Gerald.

Furthermore, it's being proposed by someone who also isn't familiar with the word "no." The Prime Minister has decided it's time to assassinate Gerald's horse.

From a reader's perspective, the problem here is that the PM hasn't actually proposed the solution, right? He's not come out and said to sell the horse to the Queen or he'll kill the horse (can you "assassinate" a horse - or can you only murder and assassinate people?), or has he? If he did, that would seem to open up a PR nightmare. So how is the choice being forced on Gerald being amplified? What is the true conflict? Is it how to remain honorable in the face of political pressure? Can the Queen not try to buy the horse from the American rather than Gerald before the horse is taken off British soil? 

The Royal Mews, an historical fiction, is complete at 80,000 words. It tells the story of a UK stallion, of endangered breed, purchased by an American who planned to ship him to the US. Elizabeth II wanted the horse, and a royal cock-up resulted.

The last two sentences merely echo what the first part of the query has told us. They can be deleted.

Thank you for reviewing my query.

Many agents will tell you they don't "review" queries (or maybe that was directed to me?!). 

My Version

When Gerald MacGrath wins the 1962 (?) Enderton Cup, turning his horse into a national treasure, he has no idea he's stepping from the winner’s circle into a showdown between the horse’s new American owner and the Queen of England.

In dire need of money to clear his father's debts, Gerald agrees right before the big win to sell his prize stallion to an American breeder. After the race, Elizabeth II, determined to keep the horse’s lineage properly British, offers up a better deal. The honorable choice is for Gerald to close the sale with the American -- but that means saying no to a very powerful and very stubborn queen.

The American proves just as stubborn, and as negotiations stall, Gerald's urgent need for cash escalates when his maid reveals she's pregnant with his child. His life in crisis, Gerald’s hold on honor begins to crumble.

When even an intercession by the U.S. President fails, a disgusted Prime Minister decides there's only one way out of this political debacle that won't besmirch Elizabeth. He makes plans to assassinate the horse, one of the last purebred Cleveland Bays in Britain. Not only does Gerald's own future and a queen's reputation hang on Gerald's next move, the fate of a dying breed now rests on one man's honor.

THE ROYAL MEWS is historical fiction based on the actual events of 1962. I look forward to sending you the manuscript, complete at 80,000 words.


11 comments:

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I appreciate your help so much.

The query is so improved, smoother, clear by ramping up the conflict/stakes every step.

Thank you for breathing life into it.

AA said...

This does look a lot better. I think just knowing what the stakes are helps. It seems like an interesting story altogether.

Lexi said...

I'm English, and I have to say there's a plausibility problem with this novel. Her Majesty the Queen would never, ever behave like that. It's just not her.

Neither would a UK Prime Minister get involved in the killing of a horse. Believe me, we have problems over here with our politicians, but nothing like this.

Matt said...

So this actually happened?

The conflict seems contrived to me. Since the sale wouldn't be complete until after the exam, the guy still technically owned the horse. After the Queen made her offer, why didn't he just go to the American and say, "I've received a better offer. You can match it or I'm selling this horse to the Queen." Gerald could effectively put the American and the Queen in a bidding war.

Is the Prime Minister assassinating the horse also true? Like Phoenix, I don't know that a horse can be assassinated. The wording is a bit hyperbolic. Maybe you're trying to humanize the horse? Is the horse treated like a character or a plot device?

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi, YES, true story and Queen Elizabeth II did scoop the horse that had been sold to an American and was scheduled for shipping to the US. That is fact.

I was so drawn in by the few facts I could get my hands on I had to write the story.

No, the PM isn't really going to have MI5 take the horse out. He makes a comment about arranging it so he and the US Pres (JFK) can go back to work.

The PM has his hands full with the Suez Canal/Mid East/Oman stuff and JFK has his plate full with the upcoming Bay of Pigs Mexican standoff. Harold MacMillan was the PM at that time.

The story is based on facts and that is the truth. I swear. It is history.

The horse is not humanized. He's an animal bred to work hard. Which he like his ancestors, did. Two WW's killed millions of the breed. Mechanization took care of the rest.

The story is built around the people connected to the horse. The horse was a real living stallion. He went on the win the King George Cup several times in his lifetime.

Lexi, very few people know of this amazing story. It happened.

Matt, the American put an offer on the horse. The owner accepted it. The horse was sold. Conditions would be be removed in due course. The owner is an honorable man. The Queen's offer came too late.

Then things got sticky.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The Queen did behave this way, but not for the reasons you think she did.

So, uh, do you have comments on the query? All comments appreciated.

BTW this is first book in a series on the Queen's horses. Next one will be on Burmese, her favorite mount for many, many years.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The King George V Cup is the formal name of the cup awarded to the best stallion in the UK every year. Queen E II's grandfather started this award.

Lexi said...

I can't find anything at all about this story on the internet, though I've tried every keyword I can think of and the date.

Where did you get it from? I have to say I'm sceptical, as the whole thing just doesn't ring true to me - and I doubt it would to anyone English.

Matt said...

Phoenix's comments on the query mirror mine. Motivations need to be clarified.

Wilkins MacQueen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christina Weese said...

Well, you know that old Mark Twain chestnut - "The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible."

Wilkins, I know the ex-RCMP who trained Burmese. He had me in stitches when he described how 'someone' had to put on the skirt and train the mare to be ridden sidesaddle. You can contact me through my blog if you want to be put in touch.