Monday, April 6, 2009

#108 REVISED THRICE!

Dear Query Shark,


The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five individuals on a metaphysical journey from death to healing and beyond.



Four tragedies — a crash; a gun-point rape; cancer; a fire — befall four souls. When three of the victims find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different — a devout Muslim consumed by his rage, an impatient Hindu who flaunts her youthful sexuality, and an Irish Catholic whose beauty and motherhood have been ravished — could meet in a place that lies between life and death.



As they cast back and re-live their stories with new honesty, Dr. Abraham’s patients find empathy for their living selves and for one another. But the final session begins with a jolt. Instead of their trusted guide, the fourth victim enters and takes charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth from everyone, including the deeply imperfect Dr. Abraham.



Stunned by his healing power, Faust realizes that he did not become a demon in the hell-fire that killed his father. He too is a soul. Finally, with clarity and spiritual unity, all five earn their passage from the healer’s chamber. The souls are released – to the arms of deceased of loved ones, to voluntary service in the chamber for newly acquainted soul-mates, and, for one, back to life.


I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. The techniques of Abraham and Faust are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.

I don't think of academic writing as a persuasive publishing credit for trade fiction. This is your call though if you want to include it. The reason I wouldn't is that I have an (perhaps irrational) prejudice against academic writing.

At this stage I'm not concerned with whether the techniques are accurate. I'm only concerned with whether you can write well and the story sounds interesting.

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.


This is a lot better. It's still a little dry for my taste but I'm not the right agent for this**, so zipping it up for me isn't a good idea.

I think this is ready for a test run. Good luck!

**novels about inner explorations aren't my strength. I'm more likely to seek out novels about external conflict. Give me a car chase any day.
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SECOND REVISION
Dear Query Shark,

The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five lives in a metaphysical journey from death to healing and beyond.

Four tragedies – a crash; a rape; cancer; a fire -- befall four souls. When Mohammad, Joy, and Mary find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa—could meet in a place that lies between life and death. And why is the fourth chair empty?

As they cast back and re-live their stories with new honesty, Dr. Abraham’s patients face the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. Together they journey from the healer’s chamber, through its portal, to the moment where their souls are cleansed and released.

But the final session is not conducted by their trusted guide. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, enters and takes charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not only from Mohammad, Joy, and, Mary, but also from Dr. Abraham.

Stunned by his healing power, Faust realizes that he did not become a demon in the hell-fire that killed his father. He too is a soul. With truth comes release to a place that none could have imagined.

I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. The techniques of Abraham and Faust are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.

Sincerely,


We've seen their death is a tragedy, but why do they need to look at their lives with new honesty? What delusions did they have? You describe them (a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa) in a way that doesn't make me see them as deluded or self-deceiving in any way.

This is much better, but I still don't have a sense of the characters as other than one-dimensional. Because they're one-dimensional, I don't care what happens to them. Because I don't care, I'm not enticed to read more and find out what happens.





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First Revision:

Dear Query Shark,

The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five journeys from death to healing and beyond.


Four tragedies – a crash; a rape; cancer; a fire -- befall four souls. When Mohammad, Joy, and Mary find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa—could meet in a place that lies between life and death. And why is the fourth chair empty?


As they relive their stories, they must face the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. Together they journey from the healer’s chamber, through its portal, to the moment where their souls are cleansed and released.


But their final session is not conducted by their trusted guide. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, is now in charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not just from Mohammad, Joy, and Mary, but from the fifth trapped soul, Dr. Abraham himself. With truth comes release to a place that none could not have imagined.


Ok, how exactly is this inspiring? (Remember your first sentence?)

You've got an odd mix of tone here. The name Dr. Faust of course evokes some sort of pact with the devil, so I'm left wondering if this book is about choices (Faustian bargains) and if so what they are.

I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. Dr. Abraham's techniques are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.



I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships and psychology, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.


Sincerely,



This is better than the original by a long shot, but I still really don't have a sense of the story here. I still see it described as four characters talking about themselves. We need more sense of what happens and what the stakes are.

This is still a form rejection.
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ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships and psychology, I think you might be interested in my novel, The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored. It's is an inspiring story of five interlocking journeys from tragedy to healing and beyond.

Lead with the most persuasive thing. It's never ever where you found the agent's name. If you want to include that (and some agents do like to have it in a query) put it at the bottom. Start with what you've written.


A crash; a fire; a rape; cancer -- four tragedies befall four souls. But when Mohammad Irani, Joy Han, and Mary Josephson find themselves in Dr. Isaac Abraham's elegant office, they wonder why people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags that Karma will bring eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like Mona Lisa—would come together in such a place. And why is the fourth chair empty?


This is character soup. You don't need to describe AND name them. You can get away with only descriptions ("a Muslim, a Hindu, a devout Catholic") because in this case it appears their religions are actually important to the story.


Their careworn Jewish psychiatrist welcomes them. "You are here to be healed, but my therapy requires that you believe you may in fact have died. You must believe it is possible that we are together in this place until the end of time."

I'm sorry, but this sounds like Hell. Sartre's kind of hell. (He famously said "hell is other people") We need to get something in these earlier paragraphs that is more intriguing than four people doing therapy to the end of time.

As they reveal their memories inside "The Healer's Chamber," Mohammad, Joy, and Mary confront the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. All wait for what Dr. Abraham calls "the Portal session," when their stories are fully told, and their souls are restored to a pristine state.

I don't know what you mean here.

But that final session is not conducted by their trusted healer. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, is now in charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not just from Mohammad, Joy, and Mary, but from Dr. Abraham himself.

So this book really is just people telling their stories to a therapist, and then having them break down when confronted by someone who's introduced late in the book?





I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. Dr. Abraham's techniques are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) has been professionally edited. It is my first work of fiction, and it is ready to go.

I really don't like to hear that your book has been professionally edited. For me, it's not the persuasive piece of information you think it is. You think it says "my book is polished and ready to go."

What I infer is "your book was polished by someone else and god help us when we get to the edit letter from the editor, and you don't know how to do this stuff"


Freelance editors tell you a book needs to be edited before agents will look at it. What they are doing is selling their services. Only one of my clients employed an editor and that was for non-fiction.

All my novelists write, revise, and edit their own books.


You can employ all the editors you want, but it's best to leave it OUT of the query letter for a novel.



Thanks in advance for considering my novel. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.



Sincerely,


There's no hook here, no compelling reason that makes me want to read this.

Who is the protagonist here? Who is the antagonist? What conflict or choices do these people face? What are the consequences if they make one choice, or the other?


Being able to tell me this in a query letter gives me a map for reading the book, a sense of where I'm going. Without it, we're floundering.


This is a form rejection.

29 comments:

Adam Heine said...

The shark's advice is good, as always, but be careful if you reduce the characters to descriptions. "A Muslim, a Hindu, a devout Catholic" sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

BuffySquirrel said...

Page after page of people talking about themselves? Does anything happen?

D. Lemma said...

My guess from looking at this is that it is really Dr. Abraham's story. It's not clear, so I could be wrong, but it sounds as if he changes the most given your last paragraph. The patients come in already wanting to change or they wouldn't be there. Dr. Abraham doesn't know he needs to change yet.

See what happens if you approach it from the point of view that it's really his story and the others are caught in it, not five equal stories.

And if I'm wrong about it being his story, ask yourself whose story it really is, and focus on their change the most.

And be more specific about what happens to that person. I don't mean lots and lots of plot details--but give us enough to get an idea of what this person does and must go through to change. Right now you have a lot of cliches and generalities you are using as shorthand to try to shove all these stories into one query, and it doesn't really work.

Pick one, focus on it.

(Since you write textbooks, maybe this idea would help you figure out who and what to focus on: If you could ask only one question about your novel on a test, what would that question be? Why would you pick that question? Could someone reading only the query figure out what that question might be and have a hint as to how it might be answered?)

nn Angel said...

I would assume most of the plot is in the actual reveling of their stories, but it sounds like only four people really reveal journeys, and you say there will be five. Also, reading through this, this reminded me kind of what No Exit is, just with a couple more people.

WV: whotyleg--It will one day replace the stanky leg.

Horserider said...

So whose POV is it from? Wait, is this like 5 books in one?

Merry Monteleone said...

I wonder how far off the query letter is from the actual novel. In the query letter, we know this is some form of afterlife - but I wonder if that's the twist in the novel... that the reader doesn't figure that out until the end, because that could be interesting.

morphine-moniza said...

This sounds like an allegory. And obviously religion plays an important part. But I don't get a very good sense of why and how from your query. I think genre-wise it might also be helpful for the agent if you were to establish what views about religion your book expresses.

The characters don't sound very compelling, which could be why I associated the story with allegories. They seem like representatives of something or other rather that individuals. Which is very alienating for the reader. You could emphasize their individual stories or motives, instead of talking about broad themes.

Heather said...

I would start with the empty fourth chair and build intrigue around it.

But I think what you're missing most is consequence. What happens if they don't hash out their demons? Who cares if they do or don't? What's the risk? What's that one thing that makes this more important than therapy time down at the community center?

Good luck!

TereLiz said...

To build on the comments posted by Heather, I agree that I don't feel the tension of your work coming across in your query.
It is confusing to me that you begin by saying it is the story of 5 people, but only intro that last-- and apparently most important-- character in your final explanatory paragraph.

Instead of saying that your book goes "...from tragedy to healing and beyond...", perhaps you could employ a more thematic introduction. Explain a part of the story that supports your novel's theme, as long as that story shows what is at stake for the characters.
Even if you don't go that direction, it can help sometimes to think of your query letter as something other than a short synopsis with a hook.

tinkandalissa said...

My brain feels like it has taken a bite just trying to make sense of this query. Yikes! I would be afraid to meet the people that have been through this person's psychology sessions. I agree that this needs a total revision. (quick question: did the professional editor help w/this query too?)

Amanda Davis said...

Aren't those character names laying it on a little thick?

Dominique said...

How come Joy, whom I'm assuming is the Hindu, is the only one with a non-religious name?

talpianna said...

I agree with the rest of the comments. Perhaps the story would be more cohesive if you did the RASHOMON thing and have all the participants having been involved in, and trying to recover from, the same incident. Since their experiences seem to be diverse, perhaps make it something like being held hostage for some time, rather than a single simple event like a fire or a plane crash.

WV: proude --Damn right I'm proude! It used to be I cudden't spel "edditur" and now I ARE one!

TheWriterStuff said...

Just wondering, Query Shark, has a bad query ever yielded a good book?

Shell I said...

Don't really have any major comment on the book (doesn't sound like something that would be my cup of tea however it was described) but I had to comment on one line in the revised query: "With truth comes release to a place that none could not have imagined."

Maybe it is just my late afternoon, after work addled mind but wouldn't a place that none could not have imagined be a place that everyone did?

BuffySquirrel said...

The revised version of the query is much, much better. But the talk of souls and portals doesn't fit with what I know of psychology. So I'd probably still pass.

This line:

With truth comes release to a place that none could not have imagined.

is corrupt, maybe?

(word ver: butch)

nn Angel said...

Someone already said this, but I feel, after reading the revised version, it could do with repeating. Of the five, choose who is the most important in the story (either Dr. would be a good choice in my opinion), and build your query around that because you need to go more in depth about at least one of them. Trying to juggle five, no character becomes appealing enough for me to care.

One suggestion I have, is pretend you're writing the blurb on the back of the book when you're writing your summary. Most people buy a book after reading the blurb because they /care/ about a character and they're /interested/ in the plot. So try thinking of it that way and going more in depth on at least one of the characters (but no more than two of them).

Barb said...

Have you tried looking at other novels that bring a set of people together with diverse experiences? Maybe looking at the blurb and synopsis for "The Knitting Circle" by Ann Hood could give you some inspiration.

I'm interested in what the "eyes of Satan" look like. I'm sure if you asked some people you would get very different responses.

Jo said...

I was hooked. And this sounds like a story that would be inspiring if well written...the bringing together of the different religions, and the promise of some kind of healing through painful truth-telling, appeal to me. I'd like to know some of the characters a bit more personally, but I don't see how you could do that in an appropriate-length query letter. I do like the second v better as I am clear that they've actually died and are waiting to move beyond.

Claire said...

I have to agree with what Adam said about the religious types sounding like a bad joke. That snippet alone put me off the book because although I don't mind religion I hate when it appears to be artificially stapled onto characters. I'm tired of seeing the usual suspects too, I'd love to see a character who's a Zoroastarian for a change.

L Violet said...

"With truth comes release to a place that none could not have imagined." Eh?

I, too, wonder how this is inspiring. If you feel it's inspiring, a phrase or two in the query illustrating that is called for. To me, it looks surreal, angsty, and depressing. Is it literary horror?

My question is BuffySquirrel's: "Page after page of people talking about themselves? Does anything happen?"

If there is some action, throw it into the query.

nn Angel said...

"And why is the fourth chair empty?"
"With truth comes release to a place that none could have imagined."
~*~
These two lines feel thrown in there. Like you want them there and yet you don't want to take the time to work them in properly.

I do like this one better, and the more the query improves, the more I'm interested in reading it. However, I do agree with the Shark still that I don't care about the Muslim, Hindu or Catholic still. And their descriptions I fancy even less because, I don't know how to describe it really, I just don't really care for them. Maybe instead of giving us something like "revered his stern father", give us something that will intrigue us about their stories, some fault of theirs which is why they're there.

Best of luck! I can't wait for the third rewrite (if there is one).

talpianna said...

I've finally figured out that this takes place in some version of Purgatory--an anteroom to the Afterlife. But why is it in the form of psychotherapy, rather that the characters experiencing what their religions taught them to expect--Purgatory, reincarnation, Paradise or Gehenna?

(I'm still confused by the mention of rape, but not murder; it's not clear that the victim (Joy?) is dead.)

And we still have no notion of what the characters are like. What are their best and worst characteristics, for example? And what exactly is blocking their continuing to whatever sort of afterlife you have on offer?

How similar is this to the film DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, which I haven't seen?

WV: cropho--a hooker for reapers

David Dittell said...

original author,

This isn't really my cup of tea, but I do think there can be something here. It's got a metaphysical Paul Cohelo-meets-Invisible-Cities thing going for it, though I can see why that would be difficult to describe.

In terms of the query, I would consider looking at similarly-structured works and seeing how they are best described. In film, Crash immediately comes to mind as a multiple-stories-colliding story, but The Sweet Hereafter comes to mind too. Regardless, find something comparable and see how they sell it. Maybe stress the inevitability of these three/four people coming together (Alex Garland's The Tesseract may be wroth looking at).

One other note: I would change the descriptions and the character names. Mohamed and Dr. Faust are too obvious literary references that make the reader feel like you're talking down to them. Mohamed I could buy since it is a common boy's name, but combined with Faust it's just too much.

And the character descriptions do feel very general. If you're going to stay that one-dimension in the query, consider lumping the characters together completely (three strangers, defined by religion their entire lives, awake to find themselves in a doctor's waiting room, only to realize that each one's last waking memory was of their own death...).

talpianna said...

Is anyone else reminded of THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by this?

nn Angel said...

I really like the third revision. If I were an agent, that would get me to ask for pages at least. I want more on Abraham and Faust, though, especially on why Abraham is there, why he's leading the sessions, and why he hasn't gone through this opening experience before if their reward for completing it is basically leading it afterwards. (Does that make sense?) This is a million times better than the original though. Kudos on your hard work.

Soren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a. climacus said...

The Sweet Hereafter worked because it was four POVs around the same accident, making the accident the novel's glue. Feast of Love, on the other hand, used Love as thematic glue connecting all of the stories (and the narrator) as opposed to an incident. Also, The Loss of Leon Meed doesn't hold up quite as well, but it is an interesting concept.

Tara said...

I'm not an expert by any means on queries. I'm still struggling with my own. But I just felt the need to say that I can't WAIT for this to be published so I can read it. It sounds absolutely fascinating! If I were the agent, I would snatch this up ASAP!