Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Feedback Request

Below is a revised version of the query featured in Face-Lift 1161. The author would appreciate your comments.


Dear Evil Editor,

I believe that my 85,000-word historical fantasy, Avalyn, is the type novel you are looking to represent. The story of Avalyn is set in late 12th c. England.
  
Avalyn’s father raised her around their humble servant’s hearth, [They have a servant? Who has a hearth? That's what it sounds like. I can't find any evidence that there's something called a servant's hearth, so perhaps you mean a hearth that is used by servants, in which case the apostrophe goes after the "s."] spinning tales about the Celtic Faerie Otherworld. Though the two live in a Christian manor, his stories have eased her into her training as a Celtic shaman. In secret, the two escape [Are they prisoners? From whom are they escaping?] under the protection of the forest to practice rituals that will train her body for the occupation. [What is the occupation?] In turn she sacrifices each of her senses for a matter of days, only to have them renewed with ferocity, heightening each sense. The renewal of her senses opens her mind to the capabilities of her body, necessary for the practice. [What practice? Are you talking about the practice of the rituals that you mentioned two sentences ago? The practice of shamanism?]
             
The rituals also awaken her to bodily desires, and she finds herself falling for her best friend, Dylan, an orphaned ward of the church. The two live a moment in the bliss of young love. [A moment? Define "moment."] But one night when a ritual has stripped her sense of touch, she causes a fire that claims the life of both Dylan and her father. [I see no reason to point out she had no sense of touch, when the other senses can easily detect fire. Just say she caused a fire.]
           
Guilt-ridden, Avalyn realizes the true sacrifices that her pagan faith has begotten. She settles into a simpler existence, and marries a good Christian man. But glimpses of her lost love, Dylan, living among Celtic Otherworld tempt her back to her Old Ways. [Why is "Old Ways" capitalized?] [Bland wrap-up. What is her goal in returning to her old ways? Does she want to dump her husband and go to this Otherworld? Does she have to die to go there? If that's her dilemma, say so.]
            
 If you are interested, I will gladly send you my completed manuscript.

23 comments:

AA said...

Yes, "their servants' hearth." Otherwise you're saying their servant has a hearth.

"From whom are they escaping?"
I'm guessing servitude? Presumably they are indentured servants, otherwise they'd just quit.

"What is the occupation?" Good question. What is it? Is it a threat? Why is it a threat? Is it a good thing with a dark side? Help me out here.

"The two live a moment in the bliss of young love." Did you mean they live in the moment?

"Avalyn realizes the true sacrifices that her pagan faith has begotten." Not really. Her pagan faith has "required." Begotten means "has generated offspring." Her faith hasn't begotten any sacrifices, but maybe it has begotten bad deeds or tragedies. Sacrifices are something you do for your faith as opposed to what happens as a consequence.

I agree you need a better ending here. We know the benefit of reconciling with her lost love, but what are the consequences of leaving earth for the Underworld? What bad thing could happen? She can't hurt Dylan again if he's already dead.

It's good to see that despite the criticism you are still hanging in there. Keep revising and reposting.





Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!
I can't tell what your story is...
Is it focused on Avalyn as a teen, or a married woman?
The structure of the query needs to reflect the story, but the plot break makes it seem as though she's now married and reflecting on her lost love and Old Ways.

Here's what I suggest: cut all talk about sense-sacrifice from the query. It is hard to understand and chatty. Instead focus on the romance and Fae mysticism.

You can sum up all the sense stuff quickly by saying something like, Avalyn is enamored by the Fae lore she hears from her father's servants. This infatuation is shared by (character) who helps Avalyn train to be a Celtic shaman. Avalyn's exploration in the mystical world of the Fae lead to her emotional and sexual awareness. Her heart now opened, she finds her soul mate in Dylan, an orphaned ward of her father. During one of their romantic interludes Avalyn's untamed power sparks a fire killing not only Dylan, but also her father.

Now married, Avalyn strives to be the model wife, but her dreams of Dylan haunt her nights and cause her husband pain. If she could only lay Dylan's ghost to rest, she might heal.....

Whatever.
I don't know your story, but your plot description needs to be bolder, more direct and intelligible.

Also, I'm not a fan of the first sentence. It reads a bit presumptive, to me. Better to say how you know the agent represents your genre and you are offering Avalyn for his/her consideration.

Keep at it!
Best of luck.

Evil Editor said...

I'm guessing servitude? Presumably they are indentured servants, otherwise they'd just quit.

The problem, as I see it, is with the word "escapes." We aren't given any reason they would want to quit. It sounds like they regularly go into the woods to practice rituals and then return to the manor. So they secretly slip into the woods rather than escape.

The problem (again, as I see it) isn't with "begotten," but with "sacrifices." Presumably the point is that because of her Pagan faith she lost her sense of touch and caused a fire that left her without Dylan and Dad. I can see how she might feel that her quest to become a Pagan shaman has begotten the sacrifice of true love and family, but "tragedies" is more accurate than "sacrifices," as she didn't choose her faith over their lives. In fact, I suspect if she had been told that becoming a shaman might result in the deaths of Dylan and Dad, she'd have abandoned the project. You could just say, Feeling responsible for the tragedy, Avalyn settles... , thus eliminating the begotten and sacrifice "issue."

PLaF said...

Skip all of this setup and get to the rituals Avalyn must undergo to become a shaman. These sound much more interesting than servants’ hearths.
i.e.
Enamored of tales of the Faerie Otherworld, Avalyn vows to become a shaman so that she may one day visit there and free her father and herself from a life of servitude (or some such).
To do so, she must endure the ritualistic stripping of each of her senses and then survive them as they return with renewed ferocity.
When the return of her sense of (?) sends her over the edge for Dylan, an orphaned ward of the church, Avalyn thinks shamanism is the best thing since the invention of kissing. But, when a fire claims the life of her true love, Avalyn decides to walk away from it all.
Now married to a regular Joe, Avalyn begins having dreams of Dylan calling to her from the Otherworld.
Then insert what will happen if she chooses to return to shamanism and what she will lose if she does, and what cataclysmic event will occur if she doesn’t.

Dave Fragments said...

I've been thinking about this query and it seems to me that there is as much 12th century historical aspect as there is Celtic Faerie Otherworld and Shamanism. So I would put both of those in the opening paragraph. Two things I don't know much about. But but but, Celtic Fae and historical will attract people to the novel. No necessarily me because Fae-dom (whatever it is) doesn't thrill me but I wouldn't let either history or Fae NOT be a selling point.

I also think that the second paragraph is too much detail for a query. I would reduce it in some fashion. What. is the motivation to learn shamanism when she and her father exist in the Church -- almost like deacons, nuns, or acolytes (or is that a misapprehension of mine)? were they to the manor born or do they live in a religious manner? I get easily confused.

Then I would make it clear that while Avalyn was working to learn the heresy of Shamanism, she accidentally killed her father and lover. However, as time passes she starts to have visions of the dead and discovers that she can either join or rescue her lover. There fore she makes a decision to return to heretical shamanism, save or return her lover and father and then what? live happily ever after? There's the story you are trying to sell -- is Avalyn like Orpheus and her lover like Euridyce?
Or is this a story of protecting Celtic Fae Shamanism and its power in the world?

What all that means for your query, I'm not sure but take this all and think about it.

AA said...

"So they secretly slip into the woods rather than escape." Ah. Then it's probably more like "steal away."

I thought of sacrifices two ways- sacrifices she has made for her faith and ritualistic sacrifices. Since you're talking about rituals I'd leave the word out for clarity.

I see there is some confusion whether they ARE servants or HAVE servants. I took it that they are servants.

Good advice from PLaF.

Anonymous said...

I was stopped cold by "In secret, the two escape under the protection of the forest to practice rituals that will train her body for the occupation." Because a young girl going out to the forest in secret with her father to do mysterious, apparently taboo things to "train her body for the occupation"... well, I don't want to say what that sounds like they're doing, but it kind of really, really disturbs me. (Especially when I see later that what they're doing "awaken her to bodily desires" of the male/female variety.) I'm sure that's not what's meant, but that's what it makes me think. You might want to reword that part, and maybe be more specific about what they're actually doing.

Down Girl said...

Author, you need a copy edit.

"...Avalyn, is the type OF novel you are looking..." And in this literary-type letter, I'd spell out "twelfth century."

This makes me wonder if Avalyn and her father live in a Christian manner rather than a Christian manor.

I agree with EE's HALTS on "the occupation" and "the practice." You could make these clearer with a few words of explication. "...train her body for a state called The Occupation" (assuming that's what it is).

More problematic -- quite problematic -- is that I can't tell how far into the story this query takes us. It could be as little as halfway (not enough for a query), or it could be 95% of the way. What are you leaving out?

But I still like what you've shown of the story, which seems different and stuffed with potential for some fabulously orgiastic experiences, mad grief, and passages of quiet desperation.

also anonymous said...

Anonymous, in fact in the Middle Ages to "occupy" was to have sex. (From a man's perspective, of course, which was pretty much the only perspective around.)

Evil Editor said...

If that's what it means here, then her father is taking her into the forest to train her body for having sex. Which I hope isn't the case.

PLaF said...

Occupation = job, profession, career

Mehr Lee said...

Eek! No, that is not the case.

Hello everyone! Author here...

You have all given such wonderful feedback. I clearly still have a lot to work on with this query!

EE, I will attempt to keep the word "sacrifice" out of my next edit. I don't know why I've been so hung up on it. As usual, all of your suggestions are incredibly helpful!

I am also not getting across how she starts the fire. In the book Avalyn's hands are left numb from one of their rituals, and she fumbles a pan of grease that ignites the fire.

AA... I NEED the criticism! It motivates me. And yes they ARE servants. I will definitely work on the ending.

Down Girl... How far into the story should I go? I thought about 50% was alright, I didn't want to spoil what happens later... I've read that you want the synopsis blurb to read like the back cover of a book. What would you suggest?

Plaf... Great suggestion!!! Thanks

Veronica... I love your blurb, but it's Very far off from my story (showing how poorly I've represented it!) thanks!

I've been struggling with what to focus on, either the love story (which is what this book is) or the rituals (which make it different from others). You have all made me realize I must simplify & strengthen my language.

I will post another version soon.

Thank you all so much : )

Evil Editor said...

I still prefer that you just say she causes a fire in which D & D die. The grease pan explanation doesn't explain why she doesn't immediately tell D & D to get out of the building because it's on fire. She does know that fumbling the pan of grease has started a fire right?

Mehr Lee said...

Yup! Ok... I just wanted to get the point across that it was because of the rituals that the fire was started in the first place... But I see your point.

Down Girl said...

Oh wow. I would never have suspected that Dylan and Dad burned because of something as prosaic as a grease fire. I truly thought Avalyn had gotten worked up about something and caused an explosion just from the force of her passion.

As for how much you've left out, the main problem for me is that it's an unknown unknown. If your cliffhanger ending actually come at the mid-point, Avalyn might spend the rest of the story
- continuing to mope and ponder for the rest of her days
- leading a wildly conflicted double life in which she's a Stepford wife by day and an orgy queen by night
- going whole-heartedly back to the Old Ways and pitying the nice boy she left behind

After your setup, there are so many different things it could be.

On the other hand, if we're 95% in and the last event of your story is that Avalyn makes a fateful, irreversible choice and the curtain comes down, then I'll feel the story has a different structure completely.

But that's just how I read it. As a few agents have said to me, "blah blah subjective blah blah."

AA said...

"I thought about 50% was alright, I didn't want to spoil what happens later..."

We get that a lot on this blog. You wouldn't want to spoil the ending for the reader, that's true. But your prospective agent has to know if the last half of the book is any good, not just the first half. And if you think endings are important to stories, consider that the agent does, too. How will the agent know if the ending is any good?

Consider spoilers need-to-know information, and your agent one person who really needs to know.

Mister Furkles said...

Stories are about conflict. It can be between two people, people and an organization, people and nature, or simply internal to a single person.

I’ve read this several times and cannot identify the main conflict. Bad things happen to Avalyn and then she gets married: end of book. Is there conflict?

Revise as EE and the minions recommend. Then compress paragraphs 2 and 3 into a short setup; try to make it fewer than fifty words. Then tell us about the main conflict.

Mehr Lee said...

Ok. This is my revised query. I've been reading alot about making an emotional connection and I am hoping this does so... But it still feels wordy... What do you think?


Dear Evil Editor,

I hope that my 85,000 word historical fantasy, Avalyn, is the type of novel you are looking to represent. The story is set in late 12th century Britain.

Avalyn strives to live up to her father’s aspirations for her to become a hard working, devout, and virtuous woman. The gentle man has raised Avalyn by himself, and though the two live as humble servants, he has given her a life rich with love and faith. Their faith, however, is very different than the faith of those who live around them.

Avalyn does well in her daily labors, working arduously by her father’s side on the manor of their Christian lord. She is also excelling in her secret training as a Celtic shaman. Though Celtic mysticism is a long forgotten practice among most, Avalyn and her father hope to keep the faith alive. But as she enters womanhood she is finding difficult to live up to her father’s expectations of chastity. She is discovering profound desires for her dear friend Dylan.

One night a devastating fire
claims the lives of Avalyn’s father and Dylan. Believing that the fire was punishment for her pagan lifestyle, Avalyn converts to Christianity. She agrees to an arranged marriage with a devout man, Teague. Though her life has lost its mystic luster, she finds comfort in the security her new husband offers. She finally falls in love with Teague, but Dylan returns. Avalyn learns that he was whisked away during the fire to the Celtic Otherworld, and he wants nothing more than for Avalyn to return to the realm with him. She must decide whether to follow through with her father’s ambitious hopes for a future of magic and mystery that she can achieve with Dylan, or to fulfill her need for the simple security Teague provides.

If you are interested, I will gladly send you my completed manuscript.

AA said...

This is better, but yes, it is wordy. I like the part beginning "Avalyn strives to live up to..." After that paragraph it could use work.

I always wonder if I should bring this up when I see it. I almost think it's a lost cause at this point since so many people do it this way. Here it is anyway:

"Though Celtic mysticism is a long forgotten practice among most, Avalyn and her father hope to keep the faith alive. But as she enters womanhood she is finding difficult to live up to her father’s expectations of chastity."

But is a word used to negate what was said before, or possibly amend what was said. This is not a "but" situation. You were talking about keeping the Celtic faith alive, not her father's idea of when a girl should become sexually active.

"She must decide whether to follow through with her father’s ambitious hopes for a future of magic and mystery that she can achieve with Dylan, or to fulfill her need for the simple security Teague provides." This doesn't seem like much of a choice to me. First of all, if she really loves her husband she'll stay. Second, there's the idea of spouses ditching their spouses to run after some childhood dream. It makes her seem irresponsible and unlikeable to be considering this.

If she had made some pre-marriage pact with Dylan to be with him forever but then thought he was gone for good, it might make her more sympathetic. I don't know if it would make the choice more interesting, though.

As for wordiness, cut out repetition. For instance you write that Avalyn strives to be hard-working, then say she does well in her daily labors. That's the same thing. Also, remove the obvious. "Womanhood" isn't needed because we already know about when those kinds of feelings start.

Good luck with it.



Evil Editor said...

This version leaves it unclear whether Dylan was whisked away before dying in the fire, and has now returned, or died in the fire, his spirit now returning.

Here's a less wordy version of your information:

I believe my 85,000-word historical fantasy, Avalyn, is the type of novel you represent. The story is set in late 12th-century Britain.

Avalyn's father has raised her as a hard working, devout, and virtuous woman. They live as humble servants on a Christian manor, their lives rich with love and faith. But their faith is not the faith of those around them; Avalyn secretly trains as a Celtic shaman.

Avalyn has trouble heeding her father’s expectations of chastity as she develops profound desires for her dear friend Dylan. But one night a devastating fire claims the lives of Avalyn’s father and Dylan. Believing the fire was punishment for her pagan beliefs, Avalyn converts to Christianity, agreeing to an arranged marriage with a devout man, Teague. Though her life has lost its mystic luster, she finds comfort in the security her new husband offers.

Then Dylan appears, asking Avalyn to join him in the Celtic Otherworld. It would mean abandoning the simple security Teague provides...but it's a tempting opportunity to realize her father’s ambitious hopes for a future of magic and mystery.

If you are interested, I will gladly send you my completed manuscript.

AA said...

Yes, that cuts out the wordiness. Leave it bare like that, though, and it clearly shows how it suffers from something else: Dullness.

I can understand wanting to cut out most of the supernatural elements of the plot, since they are burdensome to describe. However, this won't work. The rituals, the stripping of the senses, and the mysterious "occupation" which you refuse to explain, are the interesting parts of your story. Remove these, and all you've got left is: should a married woman return to her wild teenage ways and have a fling with her teen crush?
That's just not interesting enough to carry the book.

And whatever happened to training? Do the Celtic gods take this so lightly? She can halfway train, then quit? I would think there would be consequences.

Leaving all the complicated stuff out makes the query easier to write, but it also removes everything that's unique about your story.

Evil Editor said...

If a fling with her ex were the option, that would be boring, but the option is a new life in the Celtic Otherworld and a future of magic and mystery.

There's room in the 1st plot paragraph to mention how a Shaman's heightened senses are used, and room in the last to be more specific about what life would be like in the Otherworld.

These would make the query more interesting, but until the author gives us this information, we can only work with what we have.

There are, of course, readers who love historical fiction and who would find a story about a 12th-century girl who converts from Pagan to Christian and then considers returning to her Celtic roots, unique and not boring. Even with no supernatural elements.

AA said...

"a future of magic and mystery"

Sure, but WHAT magic and mystery? No magic or mystery is even vaguely described. I'd try to visualize it but it could be anything.

"There are, of course, readers who love historical fiction and who would find a story about a 12th-century girl who converts from Pagan to Christian and then considers returning to her Celtic roots, unique and not boring." That's probably true. But I persist in seeing a protag who dumps her husband whom she admits she loves to run after a guy she knew in her teens and play with spells and incantations as childish and unlikeable. It's also completely out of character for such an ethically inclined person who is prone to guilt.

I feel that unless I can see the incredibly strong pull the other world has on her, I'm not going to be able to understand this plot. At this point, I don't see it.