Thursday, May 31, 2012

Amusing Excerpt 4

Actual (or not) amusing (or not) excerpts from (or not from) minions' WIPs. If you have constructive criticism or unadulterated praise, feel free to comment.

I stood in front of the mirror dressed in my dad’s best button up shirt and pants, wishing my brother were here to save me the trouble of having to kick my own ass.

Gus stepped into the room and dropped the keys to his Lincoln on my dresser. “Don’t even think about bringin’ her back empty.” Then he looked me up and down with his eyebrows raised. “Well now, don’t you look spiffy!”

“Spiffy? Seriously Gus is that even a word?”

“Sure it is. It means…well now, I don’t know what it means. You look good is what I’m tryin’ to say.”

“Thanks.” I picked up the keys and my wallet and slid them into my pocket.

“So who are you bringin’ to this shindig?” Gus asked.

I let the word “shindig” go and answered him. “So far it’s Jeb, his sister Bekka and her friend Morgan.” I still held out hope for Sarah, praying that Spenser would drop dead before the dance due to some humiliating accident involving his tights.

Gus rubbed the back of his neck and looked like he might be sick. “Have a seat son. There’s somethin’ I’ve been meanin’ to talk to you about.”

I sat on the end of the bed as my mind ran down every ailment he’d ever complained about and assigned each one a terminal illness. “Whatever it is, just tell me straight out. I can take it.”

He sat down next to me and put his hand on my knee. “Son…there comes a time in every young man’s life when he finds himself alone with a girl—” 


Amusing Excerpt 3

Actual (or not) amusing (or not) excerpts from (or not from) minions' WIPs. If you have constructive criticism or unadulterated praise, feel free to comment.

Setup: Here's my protagonist at the height of his affability.

“I don’t know.” I wasn’t sure what the topic of conversation was. “I really couldn’t say.”

I was sitting in a restaurant somewhere in the United States with two people I didn’t recognize. There was a guy and a girl. The guy was wearing a black tie and the girl opened her mouth for no good reason.

“Do you even recognize this guy? Doesn’t he look great?”

“Sure,” I said. “You look the way I remember you.”

“But I mean it’s been fifteen years, doesn’t he look great?”

“I didn’t mean to insult,” I lied. “He looks the same.”

It was now the guy’s turn to blow some wind.

“Well, I’m physically weaker, mentally stronger and emotionally dead. You know—I’m thirty.”

“That’s great,” I hypothesized. “Listen, I’m gonna go throw up and then I’m going home to kill myself. We’ll continue this conversation another time.”

“I’ll come with you,” he said.

“Really though,” I said. “Suicide is a solitary activity.”

“Only if you’re a loner.”

I gestured as though I was about to sneeze, I held the pose for a moment and then I ran. He chased me down; my lungs weren’t as reliable as they used to be.

“Come on,” he pleaded. “I’ve never seen a suicide up close.”

“Have you ever seen a homicide?”

He didn’t catch the drift of my question.

“So how are you gonna do it?”

“How do you think?” I said. “I’m going to shoot myself in the face.” 

--Gil Wachstock 

Amusing Excerpt 2

Actual (or not) amusing (or not) excerpts from (or not from) minions' WIPs. If you have constructive criticism or unadulterated praise, feel free to comment.

Setup: Our protagonist, his invisible Dog, and a little girl who's also a bird, all on a train. Our protag, who's recently lost his name, has just noticed that a piece of the train's wall is trying hard to convince him not to look at it. (the italics are telepathic speech.)

Curious that a bit of wooden panelling should have an opinion.
Dog, is someone there?
Dog seemed to think there was. He could smell them.
Anyone we know?
Nobody I know. But I only know one Nobody.
He followed that sally up with a dog laugh.
"You can't hide from my Dog," I told the panelling. But it seemed to think it could. "We won't hurt you, anyway."
I could bite them. Like Jade.
Dog, what did I just say?
No answer. Unless he was sticking his tongue out at me and I couldn't tell.
If you were a masking bird, maybe the sudden arrival of an invisible Dog was enough to send you into hiding. But when someone offered you peaceful terms, you ought to show yourself.
I sat down next to Dog and concentrated. This person couldn't know me very well. Maybe I could force them to show themselves.
Then I wondered if that was kind. Maybe they really were frightened.
Or maybe they were sticking their tongue out at me. I couldn't tell.
"Come on, show yourself. I know you're there. Dog knows you're there, too."
"I won't," said a girl's voice. "And you can't make me."
I looked down at Dog, who may have been looking up at me. "A girl, Dog."
"You'll get bored before I do."
I lobbed the ball at the appropriate panel. "Catch!"
Flickering into view, the girl hurled the ball back at me. "You cheated!"
"We cheated," I told Dog. "And so we won."


Amusing Excerpt 1

Actual (or not) amusing (or not) excerpts from (or not from) minions' WIPs. If you have constructive criticism or unadulterated praise, feel free to comment.

SETUP: Our protagonists are having a cookout during the calm before the storm when a comet hits the moon and turns it blood red...

"In the suburbs of Armpit, USA, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of mosquitoes that die flaming deaths in Tucker's torches," Ethan said, taking a drink.

"It's not the bugs. Tucker built a landing strip for the comet aliens. Just follow the torches," Noah teased, flipping hamburgers on the grill. Emma, his dewy-eyed date, held plates with potato salad and buns.

"Back on the farm, I used to spend the summer counting 18-wheelers rolling past on a road way off on the horizon. We never had mosquitoes the size of baseballs." Tucker closed the circle of fire with the last torch, lit it, and joined Ashley, his date.

"The most boring place in the country. Flat. Flat. Flat," Emma said between delicate bites of corn on the cob. Ethan fished a soda out of the ice and handed it to his girlfriend.

"Why I used to count hobos under the Raised Highway. Once a week or so, we used to stop one of those drivers and throw all his food out to the masses. They was so hungry they'd even eat the driver if he carried something silly like cellphones or tampons or Twinkies," Ethan said, with a grin as broad as the full moon overhead.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Beginning 951

I’d never been to Adam’s place before; it wasn’t the sort of neighbourhood I usually visited.

I’d been given keys to his apartment; since I was all he had left it was up to me to take care of everything. His lease was due at the end of the month so I had to get all his stuff out. I don’t know what I was supposed to do with it.

When I opened the door I made the decision to hire a Skip bin. I wondered whether the place looked better before whoever it was had ransacked it. It certainly couldn’t have been clean. Jesus, was I going to have to clean it as well?

I guess that was kind of thoughtless of me.

My brother’s dead and all I can think about is whether I have to clean his place. The hell with that though. The landlord could use his security deposit and hire a cleaner. I didn’t want his deposit anyway. What would I do with it?

Though the place was a mess – everything had been dumped on the floor and trodden on – and it was pretty dirty, it kind of had a homey feel to it. I immediately felt comfortable.


I could imagine living there.


I'm in. Sure the place is a wreck, and it stinks to high heaven, but it's a step up from the refrigerator box I've been sleeping in the past few months. The landlord was unexpectedly amenable to my staying after I agreed to clean it out.

First things first, now. I'd better get Adam's body out of the bathroom and into the Skip bin.

Opening: Belinda Rees.....Continuation: Khazar-khum

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Face-Lift 1032

Guess the Plot


1. Moto the car can't seem to get his speed over ten miles per hour. If his owner notices, he'll be sent to the junkyard for sure. But wait! No wonder! The idiot's been so busy yacking on his cell phone he hasn't . . . Shifted.

2. When an accident at Oak Ridge nuclear plant threatens a meltdown, Dr. Jack Johnson bravely volunteers to pitch in, receiving what should have been a fatal dose of Gamma radiation. Instead, a shift has occurred. On NASCAR race days, the mild mannered doc becomes the champion avenger of all things rural, the superhero known as . . . the HICK!

3. Stephenie Meyer addict Zoe Dewson always thought it would be cool to be a shape-shifter -- to become an animal that is large and crafty. When she awakens one day to find she shares the fate of Gregor Samsa instead of Jacob Black, her life and her views change.

4. Drake Langdon hates his job mining coal but he loves the chief's daughter Lily. Chief Randal puts Drake on a swing shift in order to keep the lovers apart. When an earthquake traps him a mile below the hills of West Virginia, the only way out is through a condemned mine shaft. But has the trembling earth shifted the shaft?

5. As soon as teenager Kaia arrives in Paris she's arrested as a terrorist. Fortunately, a team of superheroes who have the ability to shift elements want Kaia for her ability to shatter glass. They kidnap her from the police and she joins the team. But will she use her power to shatter the Louvre's glass pyramid?.

6. When a team of shapeshifters all change to look like the president during a White House tour, it's up to tour guide and amateur sleuth Prissy Figbottom to prove which woman is the real president and which ones are imposters. Luckily, Prissy is the one person who knows about the president's new tattoo.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Kaia Davis: Painfully shy high school student. Suspected terrorist. And unknowing wielder of an elemental power that could turn the White House into an outhouse. [That outhouse would be big enough for Godzilla. Although I question whether Godzilla would use an outhouse rather than just take a dump in the street.] [On the other hand, maybe the fact that you never see Godzilla dropping logs indicates that he does like a little privacy.] [Then again, whether you like privacy or not, when you discover you're under attack by King Ghidorah and the entire Japanese army, who wouldn't shit their pants? Plus, dropping logs the size of actual logs would be an effective weapon]

Kaia's Monday starts out pretty good. [That sentence would be okay, if a bit blah, if this were the opening of the query, but once you've introduced terrorism and super powers, there's no turning back.] Leaving Pennsylvania for Paris on a foreign exchange program? Terrifying, but exciting, especially when it means getting away from an unloving foster family. Being arrested as a terrorist upon arrival, though, will bring anyone down. Getting rescued by a cute (but cocky) British boy who can control the wind itself? Weird, yes, but an improvement. However, Kaia's day is finally, completely ruined when he drugs and kidnaps her.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been dragged into a covert group made up of teenagers from around the world, all of whom possess the ability to manipulate the elements themselves [Adding "herself," "yourself," etc after a word rarely does anything useful, or at least I, myself, don't think so.] – "shifting" them from gas to liquid [Condensation Boy], altering their structure [Alchem-Miss], or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them [The Nunchuks Kid].

At first, Kaia feels (for some odd reason) a little out of place. Until, that is, she discovers a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter glass with her mind. [Every team of superheroes needs a member who can shatter glass. Otherwise criminals would be safe hiding in buildings with windows.] [Wait, shattering glass can turn the White House into an outhouse?] [Presumably she has a more useful power than shattering glass. Doing it with your mind may be amazing, but doing it with a brick is equally effective.]

While it sounds kind of cool to join them and become a real-life superhero, Kaia hasn't yet realized there's more to this world than having fun and saving the day. Powerful people have their hands [ladles] in the pot and are cooking up a dangerous soup of [spicy] intrigue, [fishy] conspiracies, and [cheesy] action, laced with a dash of death and a pinch of betrayal to taste. Kaia will have to break out of her [clam] shell – and maybe break some windows [eggs] too – if she's going to [avoid this recipe for disaster.] make it out alive. [An abundance of cooking cliches might be cute if you were trying to sell Murder at Le Cordon Bleu, but here it seems misplaced.] [Also, this is a vague way to tell us about the villains and the danger Kaia faces. It's like opening a menu and reading: 

Entree 1: Ingredients are combined lovingly and cooked to perfection, then spooned onto a plate and served.

Entree 2: A medley of items from our kitchen prepared stovetop by our chef and brought to your table.

Entree 3: Stuff, cooked.

Some specifics about these powerful people: who they are, what they want, what happens if they get it, how the superheroes plan to stop them, would be helpful.]  

Fortunately, she has some powerful new friends on her side, including her original rescuer, Connor – that cocky, irritating, sarcastic [windbag] Brit… who also happens to be annoyingly attractive when he risks life and limb to protect those he cares about. [For instance, the time he protected his best friend from being mugged outside the Louvre by causing a tornado, he looked annoyingly like Brad Pitt.] [On the bright side, the tornado destroyed the glass pyramid.]

SHIFTED is a YA sci-fi novel with a multicultural cast, complete at 115,000 words. It stands alone but is the first of a planned series of three books.

I am a legal assistant/graphic designer/resident IT… Jill-of-all-trades at a small law firm in Atlanta, Georgia, but I have finally decided not to let my Literature degree and all those Creative Writing courses go to waste. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I don't see the need for Kaia being arrested as a terrorist in the query. The kidnapping gets her to the superhero team quickly without raising questions that you don't answer.

You could combine the first two paragraphs into:

Painfully shy high school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange program in Paris--until she's kidnapped outside Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport by a cocky (but cute) British boy named Connor.

This has the added advantage of telling us Connor's name so that when you mention his name in paragraph 6 you don't have to explain who he is.

Apparently the team know about Kaia's power even though she doesn't?

Just make the part about what happens after the kidnapping as specific as the setup and this'll be 100% better.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Searching the archives for a war story with which to mark Memorial Day, I found about a hundred, but they were almost all about wars between planetary empires whose names I couldn't pronounce. But here's a World War II query by an author (known on the blog as Ello) who has a book coming out next year, though not this book.

Guess the Plot

Thou- sand Year Silence

1. In 1962, Harper Lee overhears an insightful young lad on a New York train savaging her To Kill A Mockingbird. She vows not to write again for a thousand years. The young man grows up to run a popular writing blog.

2. Searching her deceased grandmother's belongings, Naomi finds a journal that reveals a family secret that's been kept for . . . well, a very long time.

3. In March of 2375, North American Union President George M. Bush III announces the War on Terror will last at least another thousand years. So, until then, no one should disagree with him.

4. Conducting a seance at Stonehenge. the Abernethy siblings release the Wizard Merlin from a stone in which he's been trapped for a thousand years. Now if they could only shut him up.

5. As he wanders the Colorado countryside in search of a job, a car and a meal, an aspiring novelist begins to regret his vow not to speak until his book is published.

6. In the year 1006, Mary Halfweather witnesses an unspeakable crime at the convent to which she's been sent by her destitute parents. Alone, terrified, and bearing evidence that can identify the killer, Mary perishes on the journey home. A thousand years later, an archaeologist discovers her bones--and pieces together a story that's been kept silent for a millennium.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Agent:

I am writing to you about my first novel titled "Thousand Year Silence" which is complete at 97,000 words.

In 1942, the lives of a Japanese officer and an American private cross paths twice during the course of the war. [No need to say "during the course of the war"; it's obvious.] Once in the Philippines when the American saves his captured enemy’s life, and again in Japan, when their roles reverse at a prisoner of war camp. After the war, the Japanese officer would be branded a war criminal; the American- a war hero. Both, however, shared something in common which would remain a secret for [. . . a thousand years?] sixty years. [Sixty? Okay, I guess Sixty-year Silence doesn't make as impressive-sounding a title. And hey . . .
  • The movie One Million Years B.C. could have taken place no earlier than 200,000 B.C.
  • Unless I read it wrong, there were four Musketeers.
  • A "league" is approximately three miles; anything 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would be 52,000 miles out the other side of the Earth, or well on its way to the moon. But who would have bought a book titled Half a League Under the Sea?]
Having just lost her grandmother, Naomi Yamamoto discovers an old prison journal belonging to her grandfather, Captain Shiro Yamamoto. The journal brings to life the story of the bond between two enemies and the woman between them. Here, she learns the secret that nearly died with her grandmother. Her real grandfather was the American private who had abandoned his lover upon liberation. To Naomi, the past is the answer to the memory of her grandmother, [Not clear what that means.] a woman who raised her American granddaughter despite her own extreme hatred of Americans. Finding her real grandfather, Naomi discovers the truth of love, betrayal and a marriage of calculated convenience that would forever embitter the woman who was her grandmother.

I have been a practicing attorney for fifteen years in the entertainment industry, as well as a producer of a television series and children's DVDs. [With your connections, you'd be perfect to produce Novel Deviations: The Movie. I see it as 50 or 60 hilarious two-minute scenes. Get started on the preliminary arrangements, will you?] Currently, I am an adjunct faculty member of George Mason University teaching research and writing comprehensive courses. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


(Slightly) Revised Version

In 1942, the lives of a Japanese officer and an American private cross paths twice: once in the Philippines when the American saves his captured enemy’s life, and later in Japan, when their roles reverse at a POW camp. After the war, the Japanese officer would be branded a war criminal, the American a war hero. Both, however, shared something which would remain a secret for sixty years.

Having just lost her grandmother, Naomi Yamamoto discovers an old prison journal belonging to her grandfather, Captain Shiro Yamamoto. The journal brings to light the bond between two enemies and the woman they both loved. Here, Naomi learns the secret that nearly died with her grandmother: her real grandfather was an American private who abandoned his lover upon liberation.

Naomi feels that memories of her grandmother will be illuminated if she learns what she can about her birth grandfather. When she discovers he's still alive, living in Kentucky, she drops everything and flies out. Their meeting reveals a heartbreaking story of love and betrayal and a marriage of calculated convenience that forever embittered the woman who was Naomi's grandmother.

The Thousand Year Silence is a completed novel at 97,000 words. I have been a practicing attorney for fifteen years in the entertainment industry, as well as a producer of a television series and children's DVDs. Currently, I am an adjunct faculty member of George Mason University. Thank you for your time and consideration.


It sounds like a fascinating story. I'm not sure it's clear in the query that she finds her grandfather in person. The first time through I assumed you meant she "found" him by reading the journal. But perhaps a guy's wartime prison journal wouldn't have that much about love and betrayal.

You might want to mention the format. How much is Naomi's story? Is she merely a tool through which excerpts from the journal are channeled? Or is this her story, with reading the journal a crucial (but not space-consuming) event that sets her on a quest to find her birth grandfather? If, as I suspect, it's the latter, you might want to condense what's here, and expand on what happens when she finds her grandfather.

It seems unlikely a Japanese officer stationed in a combat zone would be reassigned to a POW camp. Are all officers trained for both combat and POW camp operations? You wouldn't want to waste General Patton running a POW camp, any more than you'd want Colonel Klink on your front lines.

No doubt there are explanations for how a captured Japanese officer ends up back in Japan, and why Naomi's parents didn't raise her. Not important to the query, I guess, though I did find myself wondering.

I added the word "The" to your title. It works for John Grisham.

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...Ok sooo, you seem to have left out the actual connection between these far-flung characters. That's not the kind of secret to keep from your would-be-agent because the plot's not making much sense without it. I'm guessing the American messed around with the Japanese officer's daughter. Wife? Neice? Girlfriend? Or something. And Naomi was the result. Or maybe her mom was, or her dad. If that was a big secret, how did this branch of the family end up in the USA? Who did they think the dad was?

I keep finding books with plots involving women protagonists mixed up in international or supernatural intrigues and it then it turns out the Big Secret to be discovered is the identity of her parent[s] or the father of her child. Which is always a crushing disappointment. Even in the DaVinci Code, I was crushed. Why? Because I keep hoping the chick is an actual spy or nuclear scientist or sorceress or whatever terrific audacious accomplished person in her own right, not simply an unclaimed or hidden daughter/granddaughter, or someone who had sex with Mr. More Important and raised "his" child.

I would be a lot more interested in your 1942 story without having it filtered through 60 years and a granddaughter. Perhaps you should meditate on the old Ram Dass motto: Be Here Now and then revise. For the heart of your story I'm guessing the real Here = Japan and the real Now = 1942. So why would you set the novel in the USA 2002? I can't figure.

Janet said...Um, if the American private was anything but Asian, it would have been very obvious that the resulting child was not pure Japanese. I just don't see how a secret like that could be kept. None of the relatives would have bought the cover-up.

Unless I'm missing something important here, the basic premise of the novel lacks credibility.

Anonymous said...I, too, would want to see how the mixed race child was kept secret. I'm not an expert, but from what I've read, post-war Japanese were very aware of those GI babies and were not tolerant of their existence.

It's hard to accept the premise as shown in the query. It would be a good idea to include whatever special circumstances there are.

Robin S. said...
I like the idea of the novel behind this query; it sounds like something I'd want to read. I would like to find out more about the answers to the question posed by Janet - is Naomi's biological grandfather's genetic background Asian, Caucasian?

pacatrue said...Well, my perceptions may be warped, but I live in Hawaii where about 30% of the citizens are Caucasian and about 70% Asian / Pacific, with by far the largest Asian ethnicity being Japanese. And, here, the majority of marriages, and therefore children, are indeed interracial. Frequently people who are of mixed race clearly are so, but sometimes they are not. I'm thinking through the faces at my son's daycare right now and I couldn't guess the exact ethnic parentage correctly for everyone there, most maybe but not all. In fact one of his more frequent playmates has a Japanese mother, but I can't guarantee from the child's appearance what ethnicity his father is.

So the daughter would be fairly lucky to appear Japanese, but it's not crazily unlikely. I will assume the author has done a lot of reading about American GI / Japanese women relationships. If not....

Anonymous said...I believe Japanese Americans in the military were all sent to fight in Europe or Africa during WWII, not the "Pacific theater" but people with Chinese, Korean, or other west Asian heritage might have gone anywhere. Also, a significant number of Native Americans [Navajo] were serving as "code talkers" in the west Pacific. There is no good reason to assume that either an American soldier in WWII or his child couldn't "look Asian". I think it is more reasonable to assume such a well educated and experienced author has of course taken the fundamentals of genetics into account. She just didn't mention it.

What these race questions really point out is that the query does not give readers a clear picture of the key characters. We know virtually nothing about the American. It's not clear whether the book is really about Naomi or if she's primarily there to introduce us to other characters and to illustrate the concequences of war.

the author said...I want to start off by saying a big thank you to EE for your comments and your great advice. You really made my day when I saw you thought my story was fascinating. Thank you, thank you.

You asked how a Japanese officer could be made a prison camp commander. This position was a lowly one. The officer had been captured in the Philippines but managed to escape (not so hard given the state the American troops were in by that time) he was badly injured. When he goes back to Japan he does something that disgraces himself and his family and is sent to be a prison camp commander. And the granddaughter does find her real grandfather from a copy of a signed affidavit that was left in the journal, an affidavit on behalf of the Japanese officer when he was sent to prison. Hope this helps explain it.

I spent 5 years researching for this book and tried to make sure I covered every base and yet I always get people commenting on the dubiousness of how someone of mixed race could pass as one race or another. My niece and nephew are half white and half asian and since they were babies, everyone thought they were pure asian. They are not alone. This is not a fluke. My sister-in-law would stroll out with her blood children but because she was white and they looked asian, everyone always assumed they were adopted. That said, it is not such a secret that the child is mixed in my novel. People know and assume the child is mixed and furthermore tease him brutally all his life. He is sent to get an education in the US for a better future.

The secret is only really a secret from the granddaughter and the real grandfather, who never knew he fathered a child in Japan. The grandmother was no relation of the Japanese officer. She was left pregnant and starving with no parents and younger brothers and sisters. This happened between the surrender and the actual liberation which was over a month and a half (for all those thinking it couldn't happen - it actually happened quite a lot because the Japanese people were starving at that time and the POWs were air dropped tons of food by the US air force and so they actually helped feed the starving locals.) She is trying to find the American POW and turns to the Japanese camp commander in a hope that he can help her locate him. But the Japanese officer thinks the American POW would be better off not ever knowing and should leave Japan with no loose ends to tie him to a land he suffers so much in. Another secret is that the American POW lives with the guilt of causing the death of his girlfriend's father, a foreman at the slave labor camp who had actually taken good care of him.

The Japanese officer having lost his wife and children in Nagasaki decides to take pity on this poor girl and marries her in order to have her take care of his sick and elderly mother while he goes to prison. But all of this seems too much for a query letter.

The book is told in 3 parts interwoven together. It is told from the part of the Japanese officer during the war, the American POW both from the war and present time, and the granddaughter who has discovered the journal.

I have had an incredibly hard time trying to figure out how to work important information into a short query letter. Given the comments, I see I may have failed again, but also feel that I'm getting closer - at least I hope I am! ;o)

Anyway, thanks for all the great comments. If anyone has any ideas of what should and shouldn't go into my query from the mass of information above, please let me know! I will be forever grateful!

takoda said...Hi, As I was reading the query, I really felt I was reading a poorly-written query for a good book. It was all over the place, but with just enough information that made your story sound intriguing. I was glad to read your follow-up!

I hope you can nail the query!

Robin S. said...Hi Author,

As takoda said, your book sounds even more interesting now. Thanks very much for the background information!

I'm not sure how much of this material should/would go into the query, but I like the idea of using what you mentioned here:

"The book is told in 3 parts interwoven together. It is told from the part of the Japanese officer during the war, the American POW both from the war and present time, and the granddaughter who has discovered the journal"

Anonymous said...I still think you have story-backstory and structure issues. I'm not a fan of the multigenerational saga structure generally, and in this case particularly, I don't think it's helping you. Each character has their own interesting subplot, the subplots are tied together thematically, but you've scattered the main characters and their respective troubles so far across time and space most of them never meet and many never know the others exist. These characters are not in the same story. That's a structure problem.

Here's the basic story structure of a novel:
Pages 1-5 we meet Protagonist, his/her world, and his/her big Problem.
Pages 6-350 Protagonist experiences triumph, despair, hope, and frustration as a solution to the Problem is sought.
Pages 351-360 Protagonist finally resolves the Problem or dies.

It's easy to write a coherent query for a novel structured like that. It's very hard to write one for your project because you introduce Naomi as the Protagonist, in a world of 2002 USA, but her biggest problem is that she doesn't know who her real grandpa is and her solution is to read pretend grandpa's diary, which contains the truth. That rates about a 2 on the Problem scale. A girl reading someone's old journal is not what we call an active protagonist. She has an important revelation but she just doesn't do very much. This is worthy of about a 4-6,000 word short story.

The active people in your book with the really big size 10 Problems that would be worthy of a 600 page novel and movie are all in Japan in 1942. But you've relegated all that to backstory and stuck in an intervening generation-long story about some poor bastard being treated badly.

That's why your queries are not working.

author said...You know I have to agree with anonymous. I wrote my entire book based in 1942. Took a class with a published author who told me that I needed to tie my story to the now and make Naomi (who was a very small part of my story) a larger part of my story. I just don't know who to listen to anymore.

Anonymous said...
Forget tying it to here & now, that's just that person's ethnocentrism talking. Your story is about those people there and then. Call it a historic piece and you can totally cut Naomi.

AmyB said...Just to throw in my two cents, I was intrigued by the query. This sounds like a really good story. And I've known plenty of mixed-race kids who looked pure Asian.

pacatrue said...Hey, author. I guess one way to decide is ask yourself which version of the story you liked better. Then, try querying that one a bit. If it goes nowhere, then shift it to the other version and query it -- but not to the same agents I assume.

Robin S. said...Author,

Knowing now that you hadn't originally intended to stretch your novel across generations, and having read anon. 12:43 pm's comments, I'd say the way to go is to listen to your original self, the one who wrote the novel based in 1942.

I realize that I'm now disagreeing with my earlier post - I do enjoy plots told from different points of view, different generations, etc., but, if that wasn't your original intent, I'd go back where you began. Your core story is very interesting. It doesn't need extra layering if that's not what you originally intended, in my opinion.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Song the Trees Sang

1. Riding their Pony, Magic, in the forest, two girls suddenly find themselves in a new world, where animals talk and trees sing songs. Hmm, this is sounding a little . . . Maybe I better have my mommy tell you about my book.

2. Just give us some waterrrrr and some yellow sunshine.
A breeze now and then and we’ll be just fine.
Hope that ol’ loggerrrrr don’t fire up his saw,
Don’t wanna be a kiosk, or a bench in a mawlllll.

3. Once upon a time it was: 'Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you draw near?' Now it's all battle hymns. Why are the trees on the warpath? Is it because its . . . Pruning time?

4. It was insidious. As annoying as an advertising jingle, it stuck in everyone's head until it seemed the entire land of Millipund would go mad. Only Raina, the blind and deaf daughter of the woodcutter, could save the others from . . . The Song the Trees Sang.

5. While bivouacking in the Redwood Forest, Sergeant Buck of the Marines hears a strange song from the trees. Is it an alien siren? Or just a homeless dude camping in the canopy of the redwoods?

6. Ellen's sister, Annie, is autistic. When a real-estate developer starts to clear the neighboring farm, Annie begins singing a weird, haunting tune. Is she singing . . . the songs of the trees?

Original Version

When ten-year-old Jaice and her older sister Joscelyn go for an ordinary ride on their pony, Magic, they are surprised to discover a river they don’t remember running through the forest near their home. Magic won’t turn back, though, and carries them across the river – to a new world where animals talk and trees sing songs with hidden messages. [For instance, if you record them singing "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and play it backwards it sounds like they're saying, Don't come near us with that hatchet please, or we'll use it to hack off your legs at the knees.] Almost as soon as they arrive, all three are captured by centaurs. [You call this an ordinary ride on their pony? What happens on their remarkable rides?]

Magic, they discover, has brought them here to retriever her filly. [What's Magic's filly doing in this new world? Was she horsenapped?] But while Magic can go back and forth across the river, no-one else can – including her baby. [Then how did her baby get there?] And this country seems to be under a curse: Magic’s filly is the only female of any species born in many years. [Magic gave birth in this new world? Didn't anyone notice she was missing?] Magic’s half-brother, Adonai, and a lioness are fighting for control, [Lioness vs. Pony: part 7 of our twelve-part series, Nature's Greatest Combatants.] and both believe that Magic – since her baby was a female - must know the secret of breaking the curse. She doesn’t . [You'd think the centaurs would be the ones challenging the lioness, rather than a pony. You've got to be a pretty wimpy centaur to let a pony fight your battles for you.] [For those unfamiliar with mythology, centaurs are like horses, except they can shoot guns.] [I think it would be cool if some year there was an unannounced centaur in the Kentucky Derby.] [If there were a centaur in the Kentucky Derby, would it have to have a jockey? If it didn't have a jockey the horses would complain about having to carry more weight. But if it did have a jockey, I could see the centaur stopping in the middle of the race and saying, Quit hitting me with that fucking stick, asshole; I'm running as fast as I can.] [I'd like to see a centaur-unicorn race. On the one hand, the centaur would want to win the race, but on the other hand, he might not want a unicorn coming up behind him.] [Movie scene: A centaur and a unicorn cross the finish line in a dead heat only to discover that Pegasus got there thirty seconds ago.]

Jaice and Joscelyn are imprisoned on an island, [Is the island in the river?] and in the process of escaping, Jaice discovers that she can cross the river both ways. [You already said no one except Magic could could go back and forth across the river. I quote: "No-one."] She’s always resented being in the shadow of her smarter, prettier sister, [If this is kid lit, the prettier sister can't also be the smarter one.] but now that she has to leave Joscelyn behind and try to save both of them, she’s scared and not sure she’s up to the challenge. Jaice meets Grae, a boy who has previously appeared in her dreams along with a dapple-grey stallion. [Oh thank goodness, a boy has shown up. Now everything'll be all right.] Grae doesn’t know how or why he got here, and doesn’t much like girls, but they realize they need each other to survive and get home again.

After finding the stallion who joins them in helping Adonai defeat the lioness, and discovering the cause of the curse, Jaice has one more challenge: getting her sister, Grae, and Magic’s foal back to their own world. She learns that she has her own special magic and that if the others will trust her – as she is learning to trust herself – she can bring everyone safely home. [Lemme get this straight. There's a stupid ugly girl, a smart beautiful girl, and a boy. And you expect us to believe the boy and the smart girl pay any attention to the other girl's plan?]

I’ve had three short stories published in children’s readers, but most of my writing has been for adults: hundreds of magazine articles and fourteen non-fiction books. [Yes, but we want to know whether this book is for children or adults.]


You're telling us too much of the plot. It feels more like an outline than a cohesive description of your story. Come up with a topic sentence for each paragraph and build on it with a logical progression of ideas, cause and effect, etc. This jumps from idea to idea too much.

Is the song the trees sang important? I wasn't crazy about the title, and the query hasn't convinced me to change my mind.

Selected Comments

blogless_troll said...and trees sing songs with hidden messages.

Tra-la-la (Look, another horse.)
La-la-la-la (Do it again, Benny.)
Tra-la-la (Hoof glue says what?)
La-la-la-la (Tee-hee-hee)

There's something interesting in this story idea, but I can't figure it out from the query. It's all over the place. I'd also shoot for weird sounding names spelled plainly, rather than plain sounding names spelled weirdly.

Khazar-khum said...
This may be a logic problem, but...
If there are no females in the land, where did the lioness come from??

Zombie Deathfish said...Pony v Lion, right up there with Zombie v Shark. And probably just as weird.

Lynn Sinclair said...Sounds cute, but you've thrown too much at us. Include word count and, as EE suggests, an idea as to what age group the book is for.

Just one nit--why spell the names Jaice and Grae?

WouldBe said...What EE said.

The curse: this curse is just on the land where trees sing (probably laments, considering the curse), right? So, if it was remarkable that Magic had a filly, it must be that Magic had the filly in LWTS and had been there enough to have met what I would have to consider a deadbeat stallion, since he has not shown up to help his filly and mare. Magic has had quite a closet life; wouldn't Jaice or Joselyn have noticed the pregnancy?

I guess if this story is for middle graders, the above logic issues probably don't matter.

Grae seems like an afterthought, baggage. He shows up late in the story, only to be saved by Jaice.

I guess I'd rather hear a bit more about why the land where trees sing is in such conflict than all the nitty-gritty details of the quest.

dancinghorse said...This isn't the first time I've seen a toss off comment along the lines of "it's just middle grade, so X problem probably isn't an issue." That's a fallacy. In my experience, it's harder to write for kids than for adults. The editing is more hands-on, and the writing has to be right on target. If the logic is strange, it has to be consistently so. Lazy writing and bad writing are not acceptable.

As for this beginning, the My Little Pony aspects make me think this is possibly a chapter book or early middle grade. Am I right? (I own that stallion. He's the Platonic archetype of the My Little Pony. I wouldn't put him up against a lion, but his kill rate on rabbits and birds is pretty impressive.)

It's a fairly standard story, but if it's done well, it will be an enjoyable read.

WouldBe said...Toss off? Children aren't short adults. The older they get, the more information they demand. When they're very young, they don't care how long Sleeping Beauty could live without intravenous feeding if the prince doesn't show up in time. An avid, adult mystery reader would want to know what kind of poison was used.

December/Stacia said...And no one has yet made a joke about mourning for Adonai?

I think the story sounds fun, at its core--the kind of adventure I would have liked as a kid. Unfortunately, this business with ponies fighting lions (and somehow winning?) and people who are or aren't allowed to cross the mysterious river and how the foal got there to begin with I just don't get.

It sounds like the animals are having the adventure, not the children--they just sort of watch, and then the boy shows up and they try to rescue the sister, but all the world-building just goes on around them; they don't actually become part of it.

mb As in "Lord?" I don't usually pick on names, but that one brought me up short, making me think we were in religious territory all of a sudden.

BuffySquirrel said...For me, this land of singing trees needs more to distinguish it from Narnia, as, going by the query, there are many similarities. Children get there accidentally, the animals talk, there's centaurs, and there's a curse and fighting over who's in control, and sibling rivalry. The book probably isn't anything like the Narnia stories, but that isn't coming across. What makes this book different? Tell us.

If Magic's filly isn't weaned, how has she survived? If she is weaned, how come Magic hasn't forgotten her? Or are these horses in name only?

writtenwyrdd said...If the kids are necessary to the story, why are they required? I presume (reading between the lines) that Magic the magical pony kidnaps them in order to use them to aid her cause??? (Maybe because people have hands. Could it be that simple?)

Anyhow, what EE and December said.

I think the title isn't working with the query, either. What you describe and what the title implies are vastly different to me.

pacatrue said...The songs the trees sing: Woody Guthrie.

What did the lonesome tree sing to his sweetheart in another forest? I pine for you.

What did his friends call the tree who sang love songs all the time? Sappy.

What did the kind critic say about the tree actor? His performance was wooden.

Why couldn't the tree family get any sleep? Their pet tree barked all night.

What's a tree's favorite Sesame Street character? Grover.

What nickname makes all the school trees snicker? Woodie.

What did the blogger trees say to each other when they saw paca's puns on EE? Let's leave.

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. Tip your browsers well.

phoenix said...I like the title very much, just not for the book this query is about. Girls as MCs with ponies means you're de facto targeting girls. Girls want to read about ponies but not necessarily about trees. Maybe get the pony's name or the word "pony" into the title. Obscure doesn't work so well with the wee ones.

Your transition issues (EE says jumping from idea to idea) really need to be dealt with. The paragraphs don't seem like they even belong together. For instance, the jump from Magic to the girls suddenly being imprisoned on an island (why isn't Magic imprisoned with them) is very jarring. Then all of a sudden in the next paragraph the girls are finding the stallion in Jaice's dreams and the secret to the curse. Where did either of those come from? Does the stallion know the secret to the curse? How are these things related?

And what happened to Magic? She seems to be the lynchpin, but disappears halfway through the query.

Part of the problem with giving too much plot in the query is that you're bound to be left with plot holes. If you bring something up in paragraph one, it needs to be resolved by the end. If you don't bring it up, you don't need the resolution.

Now, you've kept the language of the query simple, which is the right feel for a chapter book, but it isn't very exciting. Too factual (maybe all that non-fiction you've been writing, eh?). It could use some spice. And a lot of tightening. That first paragraph, for example, could go something like this:

When ten-year-old Jaice and her older sister Joscelyn saddle up their pony, Magic carries them across a mysterious river to a world where animals talk and trees sing songs with hidden messages. This isn't a peaceful world, though, as the sisters find out when centaurs capture them and imprison them on an island in the middle of the enchanted river that can only be crossed by [magical beings].

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Spartan Sunrise

1. This bio of the first man to be married to his partner on the steps of the Capitol building chronicles his rise from a humble small-town life to the sex, drug and techno-fueled lifestyle of New York City . . . followed by his plunge into the impoverished, Spartan lifestyle of the Bowery.

2. Buster Mordwell turned over. The sun was peeking through the curtainless windows. No alarm clock, no telephone, no coffee. No sheets, damn it. And he itched. Never mind the price, this was the last time he would stay in a Budget Inn.

3. When King Laonidas mixes his signature cocktail for King Xerxes, Xerxes just has to have the recipe. But when Laonidas refuses to give up the secret ingredient, Xerxes gives him a drunken shove. Laonidas shoves back and knocks over Xerxes’ drink. Several thousand dead soldiers later, both men agree: things got out of hand.

4. After watching his pirated copy of 300 for the 164th time, 35-year-old Joe Boxman glances out the window of his mother's basement and sees he's watched the movie until dawn again. Realizing he's an obsessive-compulsive loser, he degenerates into a very literary mental breakdown. Then he watches 300 again.

5. After a whirlwind romance, accountant Todd Abernethy-Flynn is happily married to glamorous superspy Mae Wong. All he wants is to settle into a honeymoon of subconscious bliss with the little woman. But Mae cracks her whip and puts him on a strenuous regimen. She knows her ex, Octopus McGee, the notorious fiend from Dublin, is on his way to pulverize Todd. Will her darling be ready?

6. Lucinda will sign over her yuppie pub to anyone who can name a mixed drink she’s never heard of—and biz at the bar is booming! Until a Greek from 631 BC arrives with the name of a cocktail that’s certain to stump her, made from the blood of massacred Visigoths.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

John Hayward is the first man to be married to his partner on the steps of the Capitol Building. [The last place you want to get married is on a flight of stairs. Do you know how many people (mostly men) faint during a wedding ceremony? Check out this compilation video. Spartan Sunrise is a novel about the series of small moments that make up his life. [Uh oh. Small moments? How small?

One morning in 2005, William cooked breakfast for John. It was unusual, in that John was the better cook, but John had been up late the night before, working on their scrapbook. There was a tulip in a vase on John's tray, which touched John so much he didn't even make an issue of the slightly overcooked eggs. But that was the kind of man this fictional character was, the kind who would gladly choke down burnt eggs for his partner.

Then there was the time in 2006 when John and William went to a movie and ordered a tub of popcorn...]

Told from his perspective and the varied stories of people he's encountered along the way, traversing the many layers of society that make up New York, from impoverished to wealthy, from isolation to having many friends. [That sentence needs a predicate . . . Come to think of it, it also needs a subject.] Unified vignettes from many points of view, as people seamlessly enter and leave John's life Рtell the story of his journey. [That says what the previous sentence said, but even more vaguely. If you keep it, change the comma to a dash or the dash to a comma.] The fictional biography spans his life from his humble, clich̩ small town beginnings to the sex, drug and techno fueled lifestyle of New York. When John 'comes out' to his socialite girlfriend he's evicted from his Fifth Avenue apartment and needs to live in a SRO on the Bowery to finally realize his ability to accept himself. [Finally, a sentence that tells us something specific that happens in the book.] The story encompasses his quest for normal: career path, partner, children, divorce, then surreal death. [No one on a quest for normal seeks a surreal death.]

I'm greatly inspired by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and Jeanette Winterson (to name just a few). [If you're saying you admire them, the reader doesn't care; if you're saying you're in their league, the reader will be skeptical.] The novel is 58,000 words and about 230 pages in a word document.

I'm a contributing writer for Huffingtion Post; once penned the blog One Gay Date at a Time. [You have to be awfully sure the person you're writing to is familiar with it and was impressed by it before bragging that you once penned a blog.] My first play Three Tables was successfully produced this fall and listed in New York Magazine as an Off-Off Broadway pick. A short story was published in the online journal Fluent Ascension. I freelance, when possible as a slightly snarky blog writer for hire. [Wait a minute; you're Miss Snark?] [Wait a minute, people pay you to pen their blogs?] You can find out more about me and current work at _____________.

Thank you for taking the time to read this query, attached is an SASE; I look forward to hearing from you.



On the one hand, if the book consists of small moments in John's life, I can see how you would find it hard to come up with specifics worthy of the query letter. On the other hand, you have to come up with specifics worthy of the query letter. You have to make the query reader care about the character. Who wants to read about the small moments in a fictional character's life? I want to read about the defining moments. Which means I want the query to tell me what those moments are, and how John deals with them. What makes his life more interesting than the lives of the people you expect to buy the book?

That his girlfriend knows he's gay means he has to move out of his home and start living on Skid Row? Aren't 80% of the apartments on Fifth Avenue occupied by gay guys? Aren't there laws protecting people from being evicted for such reasons? Was he leeching off his girlfriend?

It's a biography (sort of). No need to drive it home with phrases like "moments that make up his life," "tell the story of his journey," "spans his life," "encompasses his quest." Instead of defining what a biography (sort of) is, tell us what happens in this biography (sort of).

Selected Comments

Bernita said...Lots of people choke down slightly over-cooked eggs for their partners without making a fuss. Perhaps a more significant character reference?

Evil Editor said...Um, those were my eggs. (Note the blue.) My supposedly amusing way of saying: Perhaps a more significant character reference?

Bernita said...Eeek! Sorry Author. Sorry EE. ~ wondering if I'm going colour blind!~

the other rick said...Yeah, what EE says. I want those defining moments that set him apart from just another gay man seeking a normal life book. How does he end up being the first man married on the capital steps? Is that the end result of his life or one of the defining moments? The sequencing seems sort of random to me in this query. I can't quite seem to see the what is the climax to his life. It might not be the marriage if this is a biography.

If the story is told from his perspective, why are the vignettes "from many points of view"? Which is it?

What's an SRO? Never assume that someone is going to know acronyms or abbreviations with which you are familiar.

A thought that crossed my mind was that this seems a tad short for a biography of someone substantial who has something to say about life.

Dave said...The book is about John Haywood as he grows up, marries, parties, comes out, gets divorced, and ends up poor. Only then does he come to grips with his life. Well, Gee Whizzies, Gosh Gollies - tell us why that is interesting or unique or insightful and make us care for John Haywood. It sounds as though youve got an interesting novel but your query doesn't convey that. It's a little dry.

phoenix said...And why do I care about John? The book (novella? 58,000 words for adult fiction is awfully short) is about his quest for a normal life. I didn't see any mention of a career path; he goes from cliche (ouch) small town to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll in the big city without us knowing why or how. I daresay the majority of small towners who move into the big city don't wind up in the New York John seems to have found. I guess he's being supported by his girlfriend who kicks him out (did the socialite take in a bum just to displease mummy and daddy?) since he has no other options save for skid row. So obviously no career skills.

Stories about coming out and learning to accept one's orientation are a dime a dozen. Your query will need to show how John is different from all the other GLBTs that are finding themselves. And you'll need to connect some dots to give the reader a sense that the story really does have a purpose. The first sentence promises a groundmaking statement for the novel that the rest of the query sadly doesn't follow through on.

Try again with some specifics about motivation, obstacles and triumphs -- and try not to make them sound small.

pacatrue said...I wanted to congratulate the author heartily on his off-off-broadway play. The first lengthy fiction I ever wrote was a play. On reflection, the first short fiction I ever wrote was also a play, a One Act, so having something produced is sort of a dream of mine. So congrats.

Now, redo your query. :)

BuffySquirrel said...The ennobling effects of poverty are over-rated.

Xenith said...I've been thinking about fictional biographies. Are there many of these things about?

Evil Editor said...They tend to be biographies of fictional characters who've become well-known. There are bios of Sherlock Holmes, Horatio Hornblower, James Bond, Miss Marple, etc. Most are written by authors cashing in on a character's popularity.

It's a fine line between a novel and a "biography" of a fictional character no one's ever heard of. Those who enjoy reading biographies are unlikely to seek out those based on fictional characters, so you're likely to find such books in with the novels. Could David Copperfield, Emma, The World According to Garp be called biographies? Possibly, depending on how much of the subject's life constitutes a biography. Perhaps any novel that covers the many defining moments in a single character's life could be called a fictional biography.

BuffySquirrel said...David Copperfield is probably a fictionalised autobiography, given that Dickens used his own life as source material, but at the same time changed a lot of the details or simply Made Stuff Up.

Kanani said...Go through this and highlight those things that tell me the story, and the conflict this character is facing. Not what he does, but the one thing in the story that is going to change his life.

Watch the clichés and asides that show us you're not paying attention:

-"the varied stories of people he's encountered along the way,"
Who? The plumber who is a poet at night? The stripper who quotes Kafka?

-"The fictional biography spans his ..."

We assume that it is fictional, since you are submitting a novel. This set up seems cliche, though what happens might truly be exceptional. I'd find another way to write about his emergence on the Studio 56 scene.

-"The story encompasses his quest for normal: career path, partner, children, divorce, then surreal death."

As EE has pointed out: a divorce and surreal death aren't normally a quest.

This sounds like one of those cradle to grave epics. Narrow it down a bit. Think of what Edith Wharton did with Lily Bart.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...When you're talking about credits, the mention of your play is impressive enough. It would be one thing if your column in HufPo were syndicated and in wide distribution (a la "The Advice Goddess"). As for penning other people's "snarky" blogs, it's not enough to use as a credit, and you might have insulted someone or something the agent or slush pile reader cares very much about.

Author said...Revised Query

Guess the Plot

The Life of a Steely-Eyed Man

Wake up. Brush teeth. Give self a steely-eyed stare in the mirror. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Give co-workers a steely-eyed stare. Go to dinner. Give McDonald's cashier a steely-eyed stare. Go home to bed. Repeat.

When a chemistry experiment goes badly wrong, teacher Chuck Chambers can only thank the innovative new contact lenses he invented a week earlier. It's just a pity that the same couldn't be said of his pupils and now they're hunting him down, with seeing eye dogs that are trained to kill.

After Dorothy leaves him, the Tin Woodman spends the rest of his life in a quest for artificial eyes that match his metallic sheen.

Cybernetics weren't the only thing that made Dirk Holodyne the baddest street fighter in Dallas. Kill 'em for breathing, that was Dirk's motto, until someone killed him. Now, he's a toy poodle; and he's got a month to make up for his useless life or spend eternity in Hell.

An accident changes Joseph's life dramatically when doctors must replace his damaged eye with a large ball bearing. The once ordinary industry worker becomes a crusader for the disabled and workplace safety, fighting apathy and poor accessibility until no one can turn a blind eye.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

John Hayward comes from Capitol Hill Georgia, after a full scholarship to a highfalutin business college he's one of many, that's come to New York and is raised by city.

The Life of a Steely Eyed Man is about the experiences that make up John's life. The colorful people he encounters along the way propel him through a sex, drug and techno fueled lifestyle. As John traverses the many layers of society, he jigsaws New York, from impoverished to wealthy, from isolated to community, he finds balance in his life and constantly learns.

People seamlessly enter and leave John's life. He realizes his sexuality, comes out to his socialite girlfriend and is evicted from his Fifth Avenue apartment; in an SRO on the Bowery he finally finds the ability to accept himself and move forward. The reader follows his career path, partner, children, divorce, and finally surreal death.

I'm greatly inspired by writers like Toni Morrison and Jeanette Winterson (to name just a few). The novel is 63,000 words and about 230 pages in a word document.

I'm a contributing writer for Huffington Post; once penned the blog One Gay Date at a Time. My first play Three Tables was successfully produced this fall and listed in New York Magazine as an Off-Off Broadway pick. A short story was published in the online journal Fluent Ascension. I freelance, when possible as a slightly snarky blog writer for hire. You can find out more about me and current work at ________ .

Thank you for taking the time to read this query, attached is an SASE; I look forward to hearing from you.


phoenix said...Oh my. Maybe the fault doesn't lie with the query. Author, for me, this revised version doesn't live up to the effort of the original. At least the original had a great first-line hook. What happened to getting married on the steps of the Capitol Building? THAT was the thing that gave the story even a glimmer of uniqueness.

More than a name change and a mere shuffling of words about the page, the original query needed a true revision -- as in re-vision, a fresh look at the story and how to tell it in 300 words or less.

To be frank, I read the words, but I have no idea what many of them mean. Your first sentence makes little sense. Then how does one "jigsaw New York"? How do "people seamlessly enter and leave" a life? And if they do it seamlessly, that sounds awfully boring. I want characters who rip through a life leaving seams everywhere. People who make an impression. People who make a story.

Then I read "he finally finds the ability to accept himself and move forward." I have no clue what he accepts himself as. The Bowery bum he's become? The sex/drug playboy he was? The gay guy he's really always been?

I think where you misinterpret things is right when you say the book "is about the experiences that make up John's life." Perhaps your book is. But that is not the book most people want to read. Especially in literary memoir or whatever this would be shelved as. We want to read about how those experiences affect John. Just listing the events does nothing to endear John to us. As it stands, the query reads very dry, very ho-hum/so what, and very difficult to understand in places.

Anonymous said...Your first sentence/paragraph is a garbled mess and must go.

When I read it's about "the experiences that make up John's life" you've effectively told me there's not an actual plot, this is one literary "slice of life" episode after another. I think the sort of agent who won't mind the absence of a plot because they adore "slice of life" fiction, will want to hear that some of these brilliantly written episodes have already graced the pages of lit mags.

Personally, I require a plot, and a guy bungling his way through life [gay, straight, whatever -- who cares?] will not substitute unless the prose has incredible charm and wit, which yours does not.

Twill said...You don't seem to know what your book is about. (Unless it's just another "Gay Boy comes out in the Village story".)

Here's a suggestion:

Get a very good (but reasonable) friend to read the book, and break it into 40-100 scenes. Then have the friend ask you, for each scene
(1) Why is this here?
(2) What does it tell you about the story? (How does it support the theme, illuminate character, or move the story forward?)
(3) What would it change if you deleted this scene? Moved it?

Make each scene justify its existence, or shoot it in the head with a bullet. (You should do the same with each paragraph and then each word, but not until after you know what your story is about.)

You don't have to actually delete everything, but let's pretend that you do all that pruning, at least for the purposes of a query. Now you have a story that's just about what it's about.

Now tell the story quickly, and in the same voice, but without lists. That's your query.

150 said...What in the world is going on with that first sentence?

There still doesn't seem to be much plot to speak of. Try framing it in a cause-effect way.

Elissa Abbott said...I find it hard to believe the author has spent much time on this, given the overall mess. No matter how good your query, if it's this full of grammatical errors and confused sentences, no agent or editor will want to see any more of your work.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Film Noir Friday

Double Feature. A classic from the vault followed by a film noir.


Face-Lift 1031

Guess the Plot

All the Queen's Horses

1. In this latest Buckingham Palace tell-all, a former chief groom shovels the shit.

2. Canada's "Queen’s Plate" boasts a field of 17 hopeful three-year-olds and a purse of $1,000,000 –  enough for Josie Callighan to save the family farm--if she can find a horse. When she borrows one from the matronly lady in the big house next door, she learns just what a royal pain this business is.

3. Lars Sekkin, seneschal to the Queen, is given the task of finding out who pushed Humpty Dumpty off of the wall and why they would frame the Queen and her retinue.

4. Rodney is the riding master of the Queen’s Royal Stables and a closet gay involved with the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Stephen. Princess Gloria, unaware of Rodney’s proclivities, uses account irregularities to blackmail him into a liaison. Rodney sends his look-alike half-brother Frederick to her boudoir after dark. When Gloria is found murdered, can Rodney solve the case without implicating Frederick or revealing his and Stephen’s affair?

5. When Gerald's prize stallion wins a big cup race, Queen Elizabeth wants it. But Gerald already agreed to sell the horse to a rich American. Thus begins a battle of wills that threatens to escalate into the 2nd Revolutionary War.

6. Chess grand master Raul Sitzky manages to get all of his pawns to the eighth rank, and promotes each of them to a knight, giving him ten knights. While considering his next move, Sitzky's opponent's head explodes.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

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 Queen Elizabeth II of England.

In dire need of money to clear debts he inherited along with the family farm, Gerald agrees right before the big win to sell his prize stallion to an American breeder. After the win, Elizabeth II, determined to keep the horse properly British, offers up a better deal. The honorable choice is for Gerald to close the sale with the American -- [Honor shmonor. If there's a signed contract, the horse goes to the American. If there isn't, it goes to whomever Gerald chooses.] but that means saying no to a very powerful and very stubborn queen. [Careful, Gerald, you know what happened to Lady Di when she said no to the queen. Wait, it's 1962, so Gerald doesn't know how ruthless the queen is. Poor Gerald.]

The American proves just as stubborn, [Just as stubborn as Queen Elizabeth II? It's now fifty years later and she's still living, just to keep Charles from becoming king. Now that's stubborn.] and as negotiations stall, Gerald's urgent need for cash escalates when his live in housekeeper reveals she's pregnant with his child. [That sounds more like a drop in the bucket than an escalation.] His life in crisis, Gerald’s hold on honor begins to crumble.

When intercession by the UK Prime Minister fails it looks like the fate of a dying breed hangs in the balance on a point of honor. Not only does Gerald's future hang on Gerald's next move, one of the last purebred Cleveland Bays in Britain is heading to America. [Tough. If the queen wanted all her precious Cleveland Bays in England she should have lobbied Parliament to pass a law making it illegal to sell them to foreigners. It's not like the queen has anything better to do.] [The first half of that sentence suggests that Gerald hasn't decided what his next move is; the last half suggests he's already made his move.]

All the Queen's Horses is historical fiction based on the actual events of 1962. I look forward to sending you the manuscript, complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Brits are so . . . British. You don't see Russia putting up a stink when an American-owned Wolfhound wins a dog show.

If winning this race turns a horse into a national treasure, Gerald should have had some idea what he was in for. You could change the first paragraph to: When Gerald MacGrath wins the 1962 Enderton Cup, he has no idea he's stepping from the winner’s circle into a showdown between the horse’s new American owner and Queen Elizabeth II, who declares the horse a national treasure that should belong to the British people, specifically herself.

Maybe leaving off the last nine words.

It's not like getting this horse guarantees the American riches and glory. The queen can afford to offer the American a huge profit to sell the horse to her. Hell, the queen can afford to buy Kentucky and every horse in it.

The query's not bad. But you'll have to find a publisher who doesn't believe that those in the horse world would prefer a nonfiction account of this historic event, while those outside the horse world would rather read about more significant historic events.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Beginning 950

As Sora Finch huddled in the frame of her bedroom window, the white lights of Cumulus City blinked once and then died. All citizens were inside the Apartment Tower now, curled up in front of wall-sized television sets, safe and sound. As her mother watched a boring news cast from Headquarters in the next room, Sora, preferring more dangerous forms of entertainment, took a deep breath and jumped from the window. She landed in the center of the sky bridge that rested one story below, crouching low to gain her balance. The wind yanked strands of copper hair loose from her ballerina bun as she performed a cartwheel, a huge grin on her face. The tunneled bridge connected to the Education Tower, where Sora took her lessons each morning. As the moon and stars above shaded the eight silver towers in a sickly hue, Sora felt the creatures stir below. She couldn't hear or see them, they were 800 feet below the city after all, but somehow she sensed the presence of the Strays like a second pulse beating within her. The creatures were hungry tonight.

And no one else would feed them; it was against the laws of the Towers. Hang the laws, Sora thought.

She slowly stripped off her school uniform, revealing the mismatched sweater and skirt underneath. Rolling down her knee highs and pulling more hair from her bun, she felt herself changing into another creature of the night, her alter ego: Crazy Cat Lady. All cats - strays or not - deserved a few cat treats now and then.

Opening: Lisa Aldin.....Continuation: Stacy

Happy 129th Birthday

From the film vault: A tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge on its 129th birthday.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Face-Lift 1030

Guess the Plot

Headless at the House of Tiki

1. Three days before the annual Elks Banquet at the House of Tiki, the head waiter disappears. Can the remaining crew serve the Elks adequately without embarrassing their employer?

2. Private eye Malachi Woombat investigates a series of beheadings at the House of Tiki, a voodoo-themed coffee shop in the French Quarter of Depression-era New Orleans.

3. Tiki Bob just wants to chill out and carve his tikis, but when his ex-girlfriend's headless body turns up in his locked backyard he becomes prime suspect numero uno. Do they even let you have chisels in prison?

4. Homicide detective Lars Sekkin gets called into an abandoned Trader Vic's restaurant to investigate a headless corpse surrounded by tiki statues.

5. Lowly clerk John Bash decides to transform his place of employment, the House of Tiki, from a crap furniture store to a major chain with his new invention, a methane-sucking Energy Chair that burns farts to power a lamp.

6. Yasmin sees Barry for the first time while she's a waitress at a theme restaurant; the second time, as a theme stripper. They hit it off. But how will Barry take it when she tells him that the big tiki mask she wears is her actual head?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for HEADLESS AT THE HOUSE OF TIKI, an 86,000 word whodunit mystery novel.

Bob MacMillan - dubbed Tiki Bob by his friends, clients, and admirers - has a problem. The body of his ex-girlfriend has turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in his locked backyard, and the local police have given him a new nickname - Prime Suspect Number One. [We don't need to know the backyard was locked. It only leads us to wonder how you can lock a yard. Yes, I'm familiar with fences and walls, but if orcs were smart enough to bring ladders to Helm's Deep . . . ]

Cat O'Donnell, total surfer chick and possessor of a third degree black belt in kung-fu, investigates insurance fraud, not murder. When Bob's teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help in protecting her father from what the girl believes may be a lengthy prison sentence unless the real killer is unmasked, Cat can't resist the plea. She's been in a bit of a rut lately and welcomes the chance for a change. [I know nothing gets me out of a rut like inserting myself into a murder investigation.] So, the fraud investigator delves into the Pacific Groves' tiki culture where she encounters the tattooed, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving crowd of her Southern California beach town.

But Cat's not sure if she's up to the task. She's quite adept at exposing supposed car accident victims attempting to bilk insurance companies of large money payouts for fake injuries. It's quite another matter to find a murderer who's doing his or her best not to be found. [This paragraph can go; I already inferred everything in it.]

Tha [The] main suspects are colorful: a contestant for the local Tiki Queen title who owns a mobile dog grooming service; a perpetually stoned surfer with a history of anger issues; a fantasy/erotica author posing as a textbook writer; his drunken ex-softball-champion wife; and the victim's sommelier boyfriend who denies any romantic relationship with the now headless girl. [I'm more interested in why these people are suspects than in these tidbits you're providing about them. For instance I'd prefer: A contestant for the local Tiki Queen title who may have wanted to eliminate her top competition; a married erotica author with whom the victim was having a torrid affair; the author's wife, of course; and the victim's sommelier boyfriend, whom she'd threatened to expose as a Thunderbird junkie.] Not to mention Bob himself, who doesn't seem to understand his own precarious position. He just want to be left alone to carve some bitchin' tikis.

Cat also contends with an old friend who wants to be more, a good detective with a bad attitude, and a district attorney who's determined to add another conviction to his record, with or without all the facts on his side.

What's a girl have to do to keep a good man out of prison? In this case, it may come down to an old-fashioned ass-kicking, and, if Cat has anything to say about it, she'll be on the foot end of the spanking. [Not clear whose ass Cat plans to kick or spank or why she thinks it'll come down to an ass-kicking or a spanking. Usually these things come down to figuring out whodunnit, not spanking a confession out of someone.]

Thank you for your time and consideration,


If this is a one and done project, okay, but if Cat is going to appear in future books, assuming this one sells, you might want to open the query with Cat rather than Bob. Something like:  

Surfer chick Cat O'Donnell investigates insurance fraud in Pacific Groves, a Southern California beach town. But when a teenage girl pleads for Cat's help solving a murder in which the girl's father, Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan, is the chief suspect, Cat can't resist. She's been in a bit of a rut lately and could use a change. 

If Cat knows Tiki Bob or the daughter, their relationship could be mentioned there as well. If she doesn't know either of them, why is the daughter going to Cat for help?

I know "headless" is in the title, but maybe the victim's "headless body" should turn up under the sawdust. Otherwise we don't know if anyone is literally headless until the query is almost over and you say, Oh, did I mention the victim had no head?

If you use something like the above opening, you could continue:

The murder victim, who was Tiki Bob's ex-girlfriend, turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in Bob's backyard. Missing her head. Now Cat's on the prowl for anyone else who had a motive for the murder. And there's no shortage.

That pretty much eliminates the need for your opening paragraph about Bob, and leads into your suspect list. Possibly that's enough condensing and deleting so that this is now standard query length.

The drunken ex-softball-champion wife did it, but don't worry, most agents won't have my deductive skills.