Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#116-Revised

Dear QueryShark:

Mavis McCreedy has decided to end it all. Her 102nd birthday party is just two weeks away, and she’s determined not to attend. She's just plain fed-up! This relentlessly tedious celebration of mediocrity, called 'life', has toyed with her long enough.

In the critique of the original I said we didn't get much sense of why Mavis wanted to end it all, given she's clearly got all her marbles and a functioning body. "Relentlessly tedious celebration of mediocrity called life" sounds like something you'd hear at a cocktail party of twenty-somethings trying to be blase. Dig deeper. It's the gist of your novel. She can't just want to kill herself cause you need a set up for the novel.

So, instead of helping her incredibly irritating niece plan the big bash at the nursing home, (where she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years), she embarks on a series of hilariously ineffective suicide attempts.



She tries the usual, at first. You know, she throws herself in front of a bus, down an escalator, and she attempts asphyxiation by an enormous un-chewed rasher of bacon—all without success. Each day brings another unwanted series of heartbeats, and another scheme for Mavis to do herself in. Eventually, in desperation, she even accepts the offer of her eighty-nine year old best friend, Stan. He tries to help out by jacking a Viagra “weekender pill” off his son’s boyfriend. Try as Stan might, (and he does…oh, he does), even that doesn’t work! As the big day approaches, poor Mavis finds herself still very much alive, and profoundly pissed-off.



Is it just an annoying run of good luck? Or, has Providence decided that Mavis must finish her life’s lesson plan before checking-out?



The title of this book is “Mercy”. Thank you for your time in considering this submission.

Word count?

Same response as below: I'd probably read pages if you included them, and a LOT would depend if you caught me on a good day or not. You'd have no way of knowing if you did, so a smart query strategy would be plan to query WIDELY.

This just doesn't grab me cause I don't believe someone who is in good health at 102 would try to kill themselves. The older you get, the more precious life becomes in my experience. And I only look 102, I'm not actually there yet.

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ORIGINAL

Dear Query Shark,


Mavis McCreedy has decided to end it all. Her 102nd birthday party is just two weeks away, and she’s determined not to attend. Instead of helping her incredibly irritating niece plan the big bash at the nursing home, (where she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years), she embarks on a series of hilariously ineffective suicide attempts.

I'm going to assume this is a mordant comedy akin to Harold and Maude. What we're missing here is a sense of Mavis. Why does she want to end it all? If she's well enough, and astute enough for the antics of paragraph two why has she got the hots for St. Peter?

She tries the usual, at first. You know, she throws herself in front of a bus, down an escalator, and she attempts asphyxiation by an enormous un-chewed rasher of bacon—all without success. Each day brings another unwanted series of heartbeats, and another scheme for Mavis to do herself in. Eventually, in desperation, she even accepts the offer of her eighty-nine year old best friend, Stan. He tries to help out by jacking a Viagra “weekender pill” off his son’s boyfriend. Try as Stan might, (and he does…oh, he does), even that doesn’t work! As the big day approaches, poor Mavis finds herself still very much alive, and profoundly pissed-off.


Is it just an annoying run of good luck? Or, has Providence decided that Mavis must finish her life’s lesson plan before checking-out?


The title of this book is “Mercy”. If you are interested, please email me, or phone at (redacted) Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thanks,


This is a pretty good query letter except that I don't have any sense of why I want to spend an entire book reading about someone trying to kill herself. And I don't have much sense of Mavis either.


A lot would depend on how backlogged I was when I got the query. If I'm feeling overwhelmed, this is a pass cause it's not just reaching out and grabbing me.


This is one of those where I'd read the pages if you were smart and followed the directions to send them but I'm not sure I'd request pages if you hadn't.

This is a textbook example of a query that could go either way and EXACTLY why you query a lot of agents. Hit me on the wrong day it's pass, for someone else it's a read.

15 comments:

Buffra said...

Ooh! I wish this had more of a "voice" and more about Mavis -- this could be fun and a different take on aging.

I like the basic premise and hope its bit of promise shines in the actual story.

Lehcarjt said...

I can see this as a movie, but it doesn't have enough heart in it to be a book. Funny - yes. Engaging - no.

Bane of Anubis said...

The premise seems a bit too forced for me - and a bit macabre - who's the intended audience... most of us know or are old people dying or who want to die and it's normally a painful journey. I understand the rationale of lightening the specter of death through humor, but I agree w/ Lehcarjt that the premise seems more suited for a movie than a book.

BuffySquirrel said...

This reminds me of Chocolat, where one of the characters decides to die for no readily apparent reason, and everyone goes merrily along with it.

I hated that book.

With this book, so much depends on how it's done. Yes, it could be painful, but it could also be hilarious. I'd have to see some of the writing to decide.

Alissa said...

It sounds like it could be a very good and very funny book. It's true, I don't know much about Mavis from the query, but I can already infer that she's a sassy old lady who probably has a sharp tongue and no patience for suffering the fools around her gladly.

Aimless Writer said...

Dark comedy? I think I might want to read it but the Query Shark is right again...I don't feel Mavis' personality coming through strong enough to know if I'm going to care.
Could be a good one.

Margaret Yang said...

I'd do away with the first sentence. The second sentence is much stronger and funnier. Try this for a starter.

Mavis McCreedy's 102nd birthday party is just two weeks away, and she's determined not to attend.

Also, I'd lose the word "hilariously" in the last sentence of the paragraph and just say ineffective suicide attempts. The second paragraph tells us how hilariously they go wrong, without ever having to use that word to praise yourself.

_*Rachel*_ said...

It reminds me of "The Very Gentle Murderers" by Ray Bradbury. Fun!

Shoshanna Einfeld said...

interesting comments...if I may respond, directly to some:
1. about it being a movie, funny, but actually a screen-play is also in the works. Before I write word one on any book, I see it as a complete "movie" in my head. Somehow, it appears you saw that too. I find that very encouraging. Think: "Groundhog Day" as directed by the Cohens, with Jack Nicholson as "Stan". Judy Dench plays Mavis, in my dreams...
2. Lehcarjt, just a question, but how can something be "funny" and yet manage to elude the simultaneous descriptor of "engaging"? Doesn't one presuppose the other?
3. I think Query Shark's insights are very apt. Originally, I wrote the letter with more "Mavis" in the first paragraph, but then second-guessed myself, as I decided that being "imprisioned" for 20 years in a nursing home and being 102 years old would make suicidal tendancies self-evident. Clearly, I was wrong. I've tried to remedy the ambiguity. Thanks.
4. About the title "Mercy", I thought it would also be a clear play-on-words: by Mercy, do we reference the fates that relentlessly keep Mavis alive, or, do we mean it would be merciful to grant her wish for release? That's really the central theme of the book, and the answer is more than either option entails on its surface. I wonder, did anyone pick up on that?

And lastly, what a great site. Kudos and many thanks to the shark.

Karen Duvall said...

This sounds exactly like that Burt Reynolds movie, "The End," with Dom DeLuise. Burt finds out he has a terminal illness and doesn't want to wait for the end, so he asks his best friend Deom to end his life for him. Every attempt fails with much hilarity and then there's a major reversal at the end (I won't give it away). The movie was super funny, an oldie but a goodie (1978), and I can see how this story would work if the character has motivation. But a lack of it = plot fail.

Chris Eldin said...

This sounds different and funny. A refreshing departure from the formulaic...
Good luck!

T.R. Editor said...

I think this story sounds very interesting, as well as hilarious! I just hope in the book Mavis has more depth of character and that we can see a better sense of introspection than the query indicates. Either way, though, the premise itself would be enough to get me to pick up a copy. :) Best of luck.

Southern Writer said...

Harold & Maude is exactly what I was thinking. I loved that movie, and Ruth Gordon. I was picturing her the whole time. This does sound like a great black comedy, if the author takes the advice to come up with a plausible reason for Mavis to want to do herself in, and can make us care about her.

africanstardustsays said...

I actually like the idea of this book; although not quite the same, it reminds me of A Long Way Down (Nick Hornby). I think it would depend completely on the writing quality and style...QS is right, it could go either way.

Lanette said...

The book sounds funny, and I might actually read it, but I agree with QS that as the older we get, the moe life is precious.

This does, however, remind me of one of my very first patients, and her story would be ironically funny if it weren't so tragic.

My patient had been a very active rancher, even though she was past retirement, until one day she had gotten kicked in the head by one of her horses, and the trauma had left her paralyzed on one side. After suffering from the physical constraints, she decided to take her life and shot herself in the head, paralyzing the other half of her body but leaving her life and cognition fully intact.