Friday, April 09, 2010

Face-Lift 753

Guess the Plot

Soldier, Sage and Vagabond

1. Partners Izzy Schlepworth, Herman Schwein, and Fred Bronowsky tire of their law firm's name, so they change it--and start attracting some unusual clients, like the small, chubby man with goat's feet who owns a mysterious import business and pays them in ancient Roman coinage.

2. The nation of Mosar is on the verge of falling to the powerful Kjallan empire. Praying to their gods, Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond, hasn't helped. But Janto has a plan involving a homicidal ferret that just might save his country.

3. Blackmailed into dealing sage, the hottest hallucinogen on the market, Lenna looks for a way to escape her dangerous life. But will handsome Lieutenant Madison marry a vagabond?

4. When a nomad accidentally breaks a fortuneteller’s crystal ball, she casts a spell on him that makes him an infantryman by day and a savory herb by night. He races to find the cure while a few friendly locals help him avoid being killed in battle or stuffed into a turkey.

5. 1863. Jesse Samuels deserts from the Union army and makes his way back to Quincy, posing as a vagrant. Will the lovely Miss Ada Parker help him--or turn him in for a reward?

6. A single heroic soul is split into three and grows in three separate people, who have talents which if combined may thwart a seemingly unstoppable evil sorcerer. But can a powerful wizard be defeated by the alliance of a mere . . . soldier, sage and vagabond?

Original Version

Janto, Crown Prince of the seafaring nation of Mosar, knows he's a disappointment to his people. Bookish and obsessed with languages, he doesn't fit the profile of a charismatic leader. It doesn't help that every time he sets foot on a ship, he becomes violently ill. Or that his choice of soulsharer--his magical link to the spirit world--is a ferret, which grants him the disreputable shroud-magic of spies.

But Mosar, under attack by the powerful Kjallan Empire, is about to fall, and an unconventional leader may be just what the country needs.

Janto, desperate to prove himself, is trying to rescue a fellow soldier [Why is the crown prince acting as a soldier? Shouldn't he be ordering his generals around or negotiating a complete surrender?] when a Kjallan arrow buries itself in his shoulder. [Try saying "soldier's shoulder" three times fast.] The Kjallans capture him. Unaware he's the prince, they send him as a slave to Kjall. There he must outwit a jealous overseer [Jealous of Janto?] determined to ruin him and a Kjallan spy who knows he's hiding something. [This empire seems to pay inordinate attention to individual slaves.] [Can't he just use his shroud-magic of spies to escape? The whole point of choosing the ferret as his soulsharer was to get the shroud-magic, and fat lot of good it does him. He's a slave.] But not everyone is an enemy. Janto finds aid, friendship, and ultimately love from a Kjallan princess who, he discovers, is as much a slave as he is. [The only difference being that she doesn't have to work in the mines and she doesn't get whipped on a regular basis and she sleeps in the palace and has a dozen handmaidens at her beck and call.] As he learns more about Kjall, he begins to see a way he can save his country. Only with his unconventional strengths--his inside knowledge, his language obsession, and his homicidal ferret soulsharer--can he pull it off.

"Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond" is a fantasy novel with romance elements, complete at 115,000 words. I'm a member of RWA, the Greater Seattle RWA chapter, and the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thanks much (I think),

[Note: The Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond are the three moons in this fantasy world, and also the three gods the people worship. The phrase "Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond" is part of a farewell blessing.] [It also describes the crown prince, was the title of last week's episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, is the names of three of this world's astrological signs, and was the number one song on Mosar's Hot 100 for eight straight weeks.]


It's a weird world in which a prince is a soldier, a princess is a slave, and a slave's life is so attractive that the slave driver envies him. This must be the Bizarro World.

Based on your RWA connection, I'm wondering if this is mainly a romance, in which case you might give the romantic angle more of the focus. For instance, you could open by saying: When Janto, the crown prince of Mosar, is captured by the Kjallan empire and installed as a slave in the Kjallan palace, he has no idea he'll fall in love with the Kjallan princess, or that she will fall in love with his ferret.


josephrobertlewis said...

EE's character questions are all spot-on, but you have another glaring issue with your soul-sharing animals. This sounds identical to Phillip Pullman's daemons in the His Dark Materials trilogy, so much so that I think it will sound like a direct rip-off to an agent or editor.

_*rachel*_ said...

I'm not sure how to critique this, but I love the ferret. Would it be easier to explain it as a familiar instead of a soul-sharer?

Amy said...

Thanks for your comments, EE.

This has been a modestly successful query. I've sent it to about 30 agents and had 2 partial requests. (Also a personalized rejection from an agent who has you send chapters with all queries, and who had clearly gotten past the query and into the chapters. Not sure how to classify that one.) So it's not a total failure, but it's a disappointment since my previous novel did better. I'm trying to figure out if it's the query letter that's the problem, or if the agents just don't like the concept.

As for romance vs. fantasy, it's a true hybrid (about 50% romance, 50% fantasy action and adventure), so I'm not sure how to shop it. I joined the RWA only recently, because the novel I'm currently writing is a paranormal romance, so I'm still learning about the romance market. The only imprint I know of that handles fantasy romance is Harlequin's Luna, and they only want novels written from the heroine's POV. This one is written mostly from the hero's. I've seen fantasy novels with a significant romantic element published as fantasy (Kushiel's Dart, which is probably more of an erotica hybrid, Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, Bujold's Sharing Knife series). So I've focused my querying on fantasy agents. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to write a new query that is more romance-oriented and try shopping it as paranormal romance. The worst the agents can do is reject it, and they already do that.

Evil Editor said...

I think you should describe the ferret as homicidal the first time you mention it, rather than the second. It's funnier there. Also, end the first ferret paragraph after the word "ferret." We don't need to know the ferret provides the shroud, as you never mention Janto using the shroud anyway.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

It could be just me, but I'm not really seeing a link between the first paragraph and the third one. I was expecting a totally different story before I got to the soldier stuff. That may be good or bad, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

150 said...

This is interesting. It seems like a pretty competent query. I'm trying to puzzle out why it might not be hooking people. My best guess is that it sounds...mild? For me, it doesn't really pop. Can you frame it with more action, using more specifics, and highlight the interesting parts? Forget the worldbuilding in the first two paragraphs, start with what Janto DOES, specifically? Try something along the lines of "When [inciting incident] happens to [protagonist], s/he [reacts], but [complication]. [Dilemma!]" I'd like to see a rewrite.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I'm all for the ferret!

I like the query and sounds like a good story. I agree with EEs comments about things being a bit unclear as in bizarro and that's always the problem in fantasy is trying to explain odd world situations in a fantasy query.

Only suggestion I'd make is if you're going to market it as a romance that you follow the "guidlines" of the romance genre. I assume you know what I mean by that--agents/publishers aren't going to take to it being marketed as a paranormal romance if it doesn't meet their expectations. Does that make sense?

Anyway, good luck. Sounds like a cute story.

Amy said...

Rachel, I might use the word "familiar." I used to use the word "avatar," but changed it because of the movie. Now I'm at a bit of a loss.

EE, thanks, those suggestions make sense.

150, here's a version I wrote earlier. I ended up rejecting it because it didn't test as well with my critique partners as the character-focused query, but it does have more action and specifics. This is what's so tricky about queries. I can't cover character AND setting AND plot. I have to pick just one or two of the three, and I never know which will hook best.


One ill-timed arrow, and Janto is no longer Crown Prince of Mosar. Shot from a battlement by the invading Kjallan army and separated from his ferret avatar, he's lost his throne, his magic, and his freedom all at once. He would lose his life, too, but for a bit of luck--the Kjallans don't recognize him as the prince. They send him as an anonymous slave to Kjall.

Upon arrival, Janto, a polyglot, is forced to translate documents for the enemy. His overseer, who controls the death-spell that binds him in slavery, is jealous of his abilities and determined to ruin him. But then there's Rhianne, the Emperor's niece, who comes to him for lessons in languages, an interest it turns out they share. They form a bond, but she's engaged to another man--one who frightens her. Janto would like to help her escape the unwanted marriage, but getting involved will only compound his troubles.

It's hard enough just keeping his neck intact, but Janto must do more than that. He must find a way to help his besieged country from afar. As he observes the Kjallan power structure from the inside, he begins to form a plan that might save his kingdom. When he recovers his ferret and his magic, he's ready to put his plan in motion. What he could not accomplish as a prince, he might
accomplish as a slave.

Joe G said...

The second query is a lot clearer on the plot than the first. I still don't get the stuff about the ferret. I'm sure it's important to the story but right now it makes your story sound cartoonish. If there were more comedy in your description it would make more sense.

Also, maybe you should leave out the stuff about the arrow and just say he got captured. I don't get why you're making such a big deal out of how he got captured in a summary. "The Crown Prince Janto got captured by the invading enemy" is a better hook than "The Crown Prince Janto has been shot by an arrow and then captured by the enemy". It's just wasting words.

Many of the other details feel relevant to me, but to be frank, it sounds like the kind of story where I can pretty much picture how everything goes down. That's fine, but you would have to interest me in Janto to make me want to read to his probable happy ending. This would probably come through via the voice. I mean, is it a comedy? It has a ferret in it. Maybe you should emphasize the ferret :P

_*rachel*_ said...

The second version doesn't have the homicidal ferret, but I like it better. It's very clear about what happens, even if it gives you a bit less about characters and the ever-popular ferret. I especially like the last line, about coming to his own where he least expected to.

Jeb said...

This is as clear a case as I've ever seen for not letting people who already know the story guide the query. This is a much clearer query for those who come to the story untainted.

Also, "His overseer... is jealous of his abilities" still sticks a bit. I know what you mean - I've had a supervisor like that - but it still stretches credulity that an overseer would be jealous of a slave. It might work better to use 'distrusts his abilities and suspects his motives' or something along those lines.

I'm okay with the ferret's lesser import here; he was a distraction and thus a word-waste in the first query. Let his evident personality and skills be a pleasant surprise for the agent who reads pages.

Tom said...

The second one read better for me.

M. G. E. said...

I wouldn't market it as a romance at all. It sounds like a straight fantasy! Sure, there's a love interest, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of the story. He's got to save a kingdom here!

Plenty of fantasy stories have had a love interest and don't fall into the romance category.