Guess the Plot
Graves at Windward
1. Everyone's a suspect when a murder is committed at the Windward Estate. Can cynical Inspector Graves solve the case? Or is he a suspect himself?
2. For ship captain James Riker, nothing symbolizes the personal storms he faces each time he comes into harbor like the smell coming off the recent burials at Kathryn's Point.
3. When four graves at Windward Cemetery are found to be empty, the tabloid headline reads: Pranksters? Or Zombies? But Constable Edgar Charleton has his own theory.
4. Several suspicious accidents at Windward Motor Speedway have upended the NASCAR championship standings. New points leader Jake Corbett must race against time to find the killer, before his beloved #88 car becomes another metal grave.
5. The compelling story of one family's fight to be allowed to turn their backyard into their eventual final resting place.
6. All of the students at Windward Junior High swore they felt a chill on their necks at 10:13 AM on Thursday--the exact time when the crew digging the foundation for the new cafeteria found seven shallow graves.
Dear God-Like Literary Agent,
I'm seeking representation for Graves at Windward, a character-driven, 119,000 word mystery set in Cornwall.
"Wolf" Macdougal is a Canadian wildlife biologist steeped in the study of carnivores, with a secret life as a bad writer [Let's hope you didn't model him after yourself.] and a first name he won't reveal. [It's Rumpelstiltskin.] He's sent to oversee the final solution to a cryptic will. One of England's wealthiest citizens is dead, and to inherit the estate her family must solve a series of puzzles. [Including guessing Wolf's real name.] If they fail, Windward will go to the habitat conservancy that Wolf represents.
Wolf soon learns that everyone is united in dislike of the eldest son, George Fairchild, whose love of filthy lucre is exceeded only by his desire to control his wife. She is pregnant. George hates children. He's in the middle of arranging an abortion when he is poisoned. Rasputin-like, George survives, only to be stabbed to death the next night. [Spoiler alert. His wife poisoned him. I'm leaning toward Wolf as the stabber, but only because he's the only other character mentioned.]
Inspector Graves, a cynical local constable once suspected of killing his wife, is called in. Family secrets start to ooze to the surface, and Graves' own murky past becomes the subject of gossip and speculation as he draws nearer to the truth.
This book is one of a series involving Inspector Graves. The second is nearly complete. I'm a member of a literary critique group and have authored a number of biology reports; [If you're a biology expert, maybe your series should be about Wolf instead of Graves. He solves each case through his knowledge of biology:
Wolf: The murderer had to be . . . Mrs. White, the cook! Only she had the opportunity to put lethal castor beans into the victim's stew.
Wolf: Only a trained botanist would have known rhododendrons are fatal. And you, Doctor Wilson, were a Biology major before embarking on your career as a concert pianist!
Of course, if Wolf is the killer in this book, you'll have to rewrite it with a new villain, or the idea won't work.] [You'll also have to change the title to Wolf at Windward.] [Actually, you'll need a name besides Wolf if he's to be your recurring character in a detective series.]
other than that, I've got no writing credentials whatsoever. [Could you be a little more emphatic about your lack of qualifications?]
If this interests you I'd be pleased to send you sample chapters.
Just in case this query letter isn't compelling enough, here is an excerpt from Graves at Windward:
Ms. Rayne's strong tanned hands gripped the smooth, leather-covered poetry anthology like a herpetologist grappling with a recalcitrant snake. Her blue eyes were the color of ice on the Canadian tundra as she scanned the snowy pages and dark text, an expression of contempt on her face. Suddenly she flung down the book in disgust and stomped on it, the hard heel of her rafting sandal grinding it into the carpet like neeps being hackit with balmagowry. [Possibly the greatest metaphor in literary history. May Evil Editor and his minions use this as the next phrase we run into the ground?] She looked about the room. It was crowded with handsome, overly intellectual people and one hairy, pragmatic biologist. Her penetrating orbs landed on the man with the scar, the man they called… Wolf.
"You. Macdougal. Recite me some lines of love," she said imperiously.
He knew in that moment that this was a test. All his fortunes rested on what he would say next. He must rise to the occasion or be forever dismissed as an intellectual lightweight. He locked his steely gaze on hers and in his deep voice began, "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, great chieftain o' the pudding race! Aboon them a' ye take your place, painch, tripe, or thairm…"
"Address to a Haggis," she said huskily. "Oh, Wolf. That is my favorite poem too." [Take me now!] And suddenly she was melting in his arms like les neiges d'antan, the cold proud beauty transformed into a warm, albeit somewhat damp proud beauty, as she raised her Burns-loving lips to his and….
"…What do you think, Wolf?" asked Callie. Her question brought him abruptly out of his reverie.
- Thanks for your time and consideration,
The query is fine. The excerpt is hilarious. Is there a way to eliminate the excerpt and convince the reader that the book is brilliant? The problems with including the excerpt are:
1. A lot of so-so writers can find a 20-line excerpt in their novels that, if the entire book were similar in quality, would indicate it's a masterpiece.
2. Including an excerpt is not what the agent is expecting. She starts to read the excerpt, thinking, An excerpt? Are you kidding me? She gets to the recalcitrant snake, the tundra, the balmagowry, the penetrating orbs, and, not realizing this is a daydream, intentionally overdone, decides the author is in love with metaphors and other figures of speech, and doesn't even make it to the end.
Wolf is clearly a cool character. After reading the excerpt I again wonder why Graves is the one you want to bring back. Or will they work together on future cases? One gets the impression Wolf is the main character in this book. It's highly unusual for the detective to not be the main character in a murder mystery, especially if it's one of a series.
Is the book as amusing as the excerpt? Or is that the funny part? Perhaps a query with an attached first two or three chapters would be better than a query with an out-of-context excerpt. Agents often want chapters included. I've yet to see an agent's submission guidelines that requested "20 to 25 lines of text from anywhere in the book."
If the book is basically a mystery, with one amusing character, and you want to concentrate on the mystery rather than the comedy, you might want to expand your query to include a couple more characters and why they hated the victim.