Saturday, March 20, 2010

#150-Revised twice to a win

Dear Query Shark,

An Arab-American sailor in custody in a Detroit jail is spirited away to the Norfolk Naval Air Station to face charges of desertion, only to be gunned down by a sniper as he steps onto the tarmac. Mike Hayes, the sailor’s escort, is suddenly in the hottest water of his career.

The Chain Locker, a 110,000 word military suspense novel features Agent Michael Francis Hayes of the Naval Investigative Service, the same organization known under a slightly different name in the long-running CBS series, NCIS.

Furious, the admirals want Mike court-martialed; outraged, the politicians want his head. Mike, his fellow agent Charlie Thornblade, and Roya Solomon, the talented but testy Iraqi-American assistant to an ambitious Detroit congressman, form an uneasy alliance to get to the bottom of the killing.

Set in the run-up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Chain Locker traces the mystery to the deadly heist of a million dollars of base exchange receipts in the Neapolitan countryside, and the killers to the bowels of a deserted aircraft carrier in the Norfolk shipyards, where Mike and Roya confront the killers and the stolen cash in the bone-chilling cold of the ship’s chain locker.

As a former naval flight officer home-ported in Tidewater, Virginia, I’ve used my knowledge of aircraft carriers, the service and the region to ensure the authenticity of shipboard and regional scenes. I currently live in Detroit – home to the nation’s largest population of Arab-American citizens – and have seen firsthand the tension between the Arab and non-Arab communities, which informs the motivations of Roya Solomon, the female lead.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,


Why am I not reading this?
This works.
I'm gonna be damn snappish if one of my slithery competitors reads this before I get my jaws on it.




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Dear Query Shark,

An Arab-American sailor in custody in a Detroit jail is spirited away to the Norfolk Air Station in the middle of a cold, January night to face charges of desertion, only to be gunned down by a sniper as he steps onto the tarmac. Michael Francis Hayes, the sailor’s escort, is suddenly in the hottest water of his career.

So begins The Chain Locker, a 110,000 word nautical suspense novel featuringfeatures Agent Mike Hayes of the Naval Investigative Service, the same organization known under a slightly different name in the long-running CBS series, NCIS, and its spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles.


Take out everything you don't need. If someone watches NCIS:LA they know about NCIS: the original. Also I have a particular loathing for the phrase "so begins".

Furious, the admirals want Mike court-martialed; outraged, the politicians want his head. Mike, his fellow agent Charlie Thornblade, and Roya Solomon, the talented but testy Iraqi-American assistant to an ambitious Detroit congressman, form an uneasy alliance to get to the bottom of the killing.

Set in the run-up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Chain Locker traces the mystery to the deadly heist of a million dollars of base exchange receipts in the Neapolitan countryside, and the killers to the bowels of a deserted aircraft carrier in the Norfolk shipyards, where Mike and Roya confront the killers and the stolen cash in the bone-chilling cold of the ship’s chain locker.

As a former naval flight officer home-ported for five years in Tidewater, Virginia, I’ve used my knowledge of aircraft carriers, the service and the region to ensure the authenticity of shipboard and regional scenes. I currently live in Detroit – home to the nation’s largest population of Arab-American citizens – and have seen firsthand the tension between the Arab and non-Arab communities, which informs the motivations of Roya Solomon, the female lead.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,

And I'd still read it, you haven't shot yourself in the foot yet.





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Dear Query Shark:

I am seeking representation for my novel, The Chain Locker. The Chain Locker, is a 110,000 word military suspense novel featuring an agent of the Naval Investigative Service, the same organization known under a slightly different name in the long-running CBS series, NCIS, and its spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles.

Put this stuff at the bottom of the query.

The novel is pitched at an audience that appreciates the combination of suspense and a hint of politics in a military setting. The story features an ex-fighter jock with a haunted past as the male protagonist, and a strong female Iraqi-American lead, one of the few that I have seen in the suspense genre.

You're telling, not showing. And any agent worth their salt in the crime novel game knows about the dearth of strong female leads of any persuasion.

The novel takes place in the run-up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Start here, with what the novel is about.

An Arab-American sailor in custody in a Detroit jail is spirited away to the Norfolk Air Station in the middle of a cold, January night to face charges of desertion, only to be gunned down by a sniper as he steps onto the tarmac. Michael Francis Hayes, a former Navy pilot and the sailor’s NIS escort, is suddenly in the hottest water of his career. Humiliated, the Navy brass wants him fired; outraged, the politicians want his head.

Mike, his fellow agent Charlie Thornblade and Roya Solomon, the talented but prickly Iraqi-American assistant to an ambitious Detroit congressman form an uneasy alliance to get to the bottom of the killing. The action moves from Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest navy base, to a derelict cabin cruiser on the Carolina coast to the decaying steel towns of Pennsylvania.

Why is this hopscotch of locations important? Plot is the most important thing in a query.

Their attraction a two steps forward / one step back affair, Mike and Roya trace the mystery to the deadly heist of a million dollars of base exchange receipts in the Neapolitan countryside and the killers to the bowels of a deserted aircraft carrier in the Norfolk shipyards where the two of them confront the killers and the stolen cash in the bone-chilling cold of the ship’s chain locker.


As a former naval flight officer who was assigned to the USS Independence - the aircraft carrier at the heart of the story – and home-ported in the Tidewater, Virginia area for five years, I’ve used my knowledge of the ship, the service and the region to ensure the authenticity of the shipboard and regional scenes. I currently live in Detroit – home to the nation’s largest population of Arabic citizens – and have seen firsthand the tension between the Arabic and non-Arabic communities, which informs the motivations of Roya Solomon, the female lead.



If you would be interested in reading the first three chapters of the book, or the entire manuscript I will be glad to forward either a paper or electronic copy.

Thank you for your time and consideration. (I know you want me to read the manuscript)

I can be reached at (email redacted)

Kind regards,




Format problems: This arrived as a Big Bloc O'Text. Not impossible to read, but queries like this get skimmed, not read. Can I say "white space" often enough. Apparently not.

Bottom line: is this a book I want to read? Yes.
Is this a book I want others to read? Well, we'll see. I'd ask for the manuscript here.



This isn't the best written query we've ever seen here at QueryShark, and the voice is a little flat, but this is a classic example of right agent/right time. I love NCIS the tv show (although I watch it on iTunes on my computer). I'd rather take a chance by reading what may turn out to be a flat novel, than miss something. I think a lot of my ilk are like that.


Even though this isn't a great query, the writer set down the basics of the plot, the reason the characters are involved, and stayed focused. In other words, he didn't shoot himself in the foot. Sometimes that's all you need!

27 comments:

Valerie Keiser Norris said...

Query Shark must be feeling mellow today! Wish I was ready to send my query in!

Thanks for the tips, QS.

The Voice said...

I've read some agents prefer seeing word count and genre at the beginning of query and some anywhere in between. Is it a personal thing. How can you know?

Is the query basically a mini synopsis or a business letter?

Robin said...

The paragraph that begins "Their attraction" is one sentence. Super run on.

Lehcarjt said...

While most of this was confusing and messy to me, I'd at least pick up the book and scan a couple pages based on the paragraph that started: "An Arab-American sailor in custody." That hooked me.

Sara J. Henry said...

Ah, I suspect Query Shark never feels mellow! At least not when reading queries! :-)

Em-Musing said...

You give me hope!

John said...

The closeness of the title to "The Hurt Locker" jarred me right away, and I expect it would do the same to many others. Of course the stories are completely different, and it's not the author's fault that a similarly-titled movie hit it big after he had (presumably) been slaving away at his novel for years, but it might be worth looking at alternatives. Life is unfair that way.

_*rachel*_ said...

I'm not sure The Chain Locker is the right title. It's really close to The Hurt Locker, which is quite different but also military-related. I'd personally get confused between the titles.

If you're submitting this electronically, break up some of those longer paragraphs. My eyes were crossing halfway into them.

Still, this is pretty interesting--and it's not even my genre.

The Voice--A query should have: title, genre, wordcount to the nearest thousand, bio if applicable (in this, it's related to the subject, so it's fine), credits if they're worth mentioning, and a cross between a synopsis and a back-cover blurb.

To learn about queries by example, look through the Queryshark and Evil Editor archives.

julian said...

"..to get to the bottom of the killing..."
Do killings have bottoms?

GalaktioNova said...

>>> Is this a book I want others to read? Well, we'll see.

I have to admit I'm hooked, too! The female sounds interesting. I hope you like it!

Kate Evangelista said...

It really is important to match the agent with the book, huh? Research, research, research.

Lucy said...

The Voice said...

Is the query basically a mini synopsis or a business letter?

March 20, 2010 11:17 AM


To answer your first question first, so far as I can, it's not a synopsis. In a synopsis, you'd offer all the major plot developments, including the ending and any spoilers. For a query, you want to convey what the book is about, hook the agent's interest, and intrigue the agent to read more. That means that you need the main characters, the major conflict, and the stakes involved. You should not include the resolution to the conflict.

Second question: Yes, a query is a business letter, but at the same time, you're also trying to give the agent some idea of the tone of the book, and engage interest. You can't do that with dry, voiceless descriptions that sound like a grade-school book report.

A lot of writers stumble at this one: either they write the classic book report and leave the reader yawning, or they get too cute/gimmicky/overwrought in an effort to catch the agent's attention. Neither works very well.

Be professional, but remember that you're telling and selling a story.

Hope this helps! :-)

Theresa Milstein said...

This is a query letter is solid in comparison to others since I began following it.

I used to put the info that's in the first paragraph until I was told to put it at the end. In order to hook the agent, it probably is good to just get into the information about the manuscript.

A little shorter and to the point and it would be perfect.

rachelcapps said...

I'm hooked at the line "suddenly in the hottest water of his career". Very clever and enticing!

Not my genre, but if it's like NCIS and with your background, I'd read it. Good luck!

JS said...

Fascinating setup!

Do you really mean "nautical suspense"? Because this sounds more like "military suspense"---"nautical suspense" seems like the majority of the story, if not all of it, should happen at sea.

Tom Clancy, for instance, is described as "military suspense" rather than "nautical suspense" and this seems in the Tom Clancy vein (which is praise in my book).

Tiny niggle: why call your protag "Michael Francis Hayes" in one paragraph and "Mike Hayes" in the next paragraph? It doesn't seem to add anything but confusion.

Less-tiny niggle: people don't confront stolen cash. Either you left out a word or you need to rewrite your fourth paragraph.

Good luck with this!

Vacuum Queen said...

So, does that mean that you actually are going to read it? Or is this just a test run of queries and the author has to query you at another site?

Just curious what happens here when something goes right.

pulp said...

Awesome revision!

Malin said...

I felt the query could have been phrased in more fresh way. An "uneasy alliance" - doesn't that always happen in these kind of books? When I read something like this, I want to know what makes the book stand out from the rest, not what is pretty much standard for the genre. Also,
I have no feel for the main character or the plot. Their nationality seemed to be more important than their personality. I'd suggest tinker a bit with the phrasing (consider the adjectives in particular) and I'd like to see more focus on the characters (but then, I'm all about characters).

kregger said...

For those not inclined to seek refuge on the water.

A chain locker on a boat is where the anchor line and rode is stored. On a ship like an aircraft carrier it is a large room in the forecastle. In smaller boats like pleasure craft, the chain locker is accessed from the deck at the bow.

I can see the confusion with "Hurt Locker" as both stories deal with a military branch.

_*rachel*_ said...

The only change I'd make to this new version besides what QS did is this:

...a 110,000 word nautical suspense novel[[,]] features Agent Mike Hayes...

Good job!

Shelly Smith said...

Beware Gmail for the big block o' text. When I pasted from Word it looked good in draft form, but all those lovely lines of extra space disappeared when I looked at it in the sent folder. Gnashing my teeth in frustration because guess who I'd already sent it to-- sorry Janet!

_*rachel*_ said...

My only nitpick: "suspense novel[,] features"

Congratulations!

Jael said...

I have never read a "military suspense novel" in my life but I effing want to read this one. (after second revision) Gripping stuff!

Now let's hope the novel lives up to the promise of the query...

Tom said...

I don't understand why Mike would be up for court martial? What exactly was he meant to do against a sniper's bullet coming out of the blue setting foor on what one would assumewould be a pretty secure Airforce airfield?

Just seems a bit arbitrary for the core plot device.

Allen said...

Might want to move this story to Oceana Naval Air Station. Norfolk closed down in 1997.

William said...

Allen, good catch. As I understand it, the airfield at Norfolk is still in daily use and aircraft squadrons are based there, but air ops are under the control of Oceana and non-air administrative stuff is handled by Naval Station Norfolk. Seems simple enough to just to change references from NAS to NS rather than move the story twenty miles down the road.

Joelle Held said...

My nit: "spirited away" makes me think abducted. I think "transferred" is the more appropriate word here. It gives me a clear picture of what is happening as opposed to some magical, ethereal way of putting a prisoner on a plane and crossing the twilight zone before it comes back into this world. Then he gets shot on the tarmac.
Just sayin'.