Saturday, April 24, 2010

#155-revised

Dear QueryShark:

Nora was a mother of four desperate to get her children back. In fact, she stole a plane to do it. My completed 91,000 word contemporary women’s fiction explores resilience amidst tragedy.


This doesn't actually say anything, and the word count is just about the last thing you want to put first in a query letter.


A tempestuous, thrill seeker of French Creole descent, Nora Broussard Greenwood finds herself unfilled as a country club wife and follows her dream of learning how to fly. While soaring the skies, she falls in love with her sexy flight instructor. Trapped in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, she begins a torrid, star crossed affair with her instructor pilot. Producing a love child, Nora seeks an escape to be with her lover.

One of the biggest problems here is what you tell us about Nora doesn't mesh with what she does. If she's a tempestuous thrill seeker, how is she also an unfulfilled country club wife?

If she's trapped in an abusive marriage where does she get the time, money, or permission to begin flying lessons?


In the Catholic, staid and male dominated world of New Orleans, circa 1960, divorce was unthinkable.

And yet, there she is, thinking about it.

Amidst the racial tensions of the Kennedy era, Nora enlists the help of her black maid and confidant, Mabel, and her best friend in the world, Charlene to help plot her getaway.

When you bring up racial tensions of the Kennedy era, and Nora enlisting the help of her black maid in the same damn sentence you lead me to think racial tension is part of this story. Nothing in the rest of the query supports that. Thus, again, what you tell me, and what you show me are two different things.




When she confronts her powerful, wealthy husband with demands for divorce, she is beaten and cast out of her upper class existence.

Why? Why wouldn't he just laugh at her, and let her stew? He's got money, power and the law on his side. You tell us this stuff about characters in the book but it doesn't feel like what people would really do.

Pregnant and homeless, she returns to her roots finding shelter in the bosom of The French Quarter with those she trusts.

So, she was a torch singer before her marriage, and poor? And she risks it all for a fling with a flight instructor? Why the heck doesn't she just shut up, have the baby, and go on with her life?
That's the choice she makes, not all this other stuff you're talking about here.

Nora saves every penny she makes working nights as a torch singer. She resorts to unfathomable defense tactics to wage battle in the divorce, including kidnapping her own children to get them back.

Unfathomable defense tactics doesn't actually convey anything.

Playing her final trump card, she deploys her aviation skills; secretly flying her ex’s private plane to another state. Locking the prized possession in a hangar, she utilizes it as leverage to regain custody of her children.

Ok, I'm sorry, but what the hell? If I was an abusive husband who was "upper class" and my wife stole my airplane, I'd do one thing: call the cops.

There's no sense of the husband here, and it sounds like he's the antagonist. Why the hell would he want her back?

Realizing the effect baby number five is having on her oldest daughter, Nora makes an excruciating, life altering decision in order to do the most loving thing possible; give her love child away to make things right. Skyward Angel is part of a series of novels depicting strong women of the Deep South.

I'm sorry, but this doesn't strike me as a novel about a strong woman at all. She sounds like she made choices she didn't want to live with and tried to get out of it. She doesn't actually fix her life from what you tell us here.

Published in my professional capacity, I have a Master’s degree in nursing. However, my thesis was a full length screenplay with romantic elements about men in nursing.

Your thesis for a masters in Nursing was a screenplay? Really? And it still doesn't have anything to do with writing novels.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America and would adore having your representation.

ummm...ick? Adoration is pretty much the wrong word here.

I would like the opportunity to send you some sample pages and my complete manuscript.


Thank you for your consideration.

This is a form rejection. There's nothing likable about anyone in this novel to me. I don't get a sense of the characters at all, and the plot seems both cliched and made for Lifetime TV.


(name redacted)
Mom of (name redacted)

oh dear godiva. Don't do this. Not now, not ever. This is a business letter. I know you love your child/ren and are proud of them, but honest to godiva this makes you look bouffant batshit nutso. Leave the kids out of the query. That's a rule.



---------------------
Dear Query Shark:



To what lengths would a mother resort to get her children back?

One of the cardinal rules of queries is Don't Start with a Rhetorical Question. If you want to break the rules, you have to make it interesting and unusual. This isn't either because the answer is pretty obvious. That makes it a bad start.

Nora stole a plane. Based on a true story, my completed 91,000 word contemporary women’s fiction explores the theme of resilience amidst tragedy .

I don't give a rat's rear end what themes the novel explores. Miss Persnickety, my high school English teacher for all six years I was enrolled in the High School of the Reef pretty much cured me of wanting to discuss themes in novels.

I want to know about the story. As in:
What Happens.

And I really don't care if it's based on a true story. If anything that makes me less likely to read on because, zut alors!, most people's lives don't have much of a plot.


Test readers describe Skyward Angel as a page turner they couldn’t put down.

And here's where we're done. Test readers are like bedbugs. If you have them, I don't want to ever know about it.

It doesn't matter who else read or liked this. The only opinion I value at this point is mine.

A tempestuous, thrill seeker of French Creole descent, Nora Broussard Greenwood follows her dream and learns how to fly. While soaring the skies, she falls in love with her sexy flight instructor. Their star crossed affair produces a love child. Trapped in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, Nora seeks an escape.

This is actually where your story starts.

In the Catholic, staid and male dominated world of New Orleans, circa 1960, divorce was unthinkable. Amidst the racial tensions of the Kennedy era, Nora enlists the help of her black mammy, Mabel, and her best friend in the world, Charlene to help plot her getaway.

I pray you've never actually addressed any woman as "mammy." Even in 1960, the word had fallen out of use.

When she confronts her powerful, wealthy husband with demands for divorce, she is beaten and cast out of her upper class existence. Pregnant and homeless, she finds shelter in the bosom of The French Quarter with those she trusts.


Nora saves every penny she makes working nights as a torch singer. She resorts to unfathomable defense tactics as leverage.

Like what?

Playing her final trump card, she deploys her aviation skills to regain custody of her other four children.

Uh...she's got four children? Oh, I see, the fourth one is the aviation instructors kid. Got it.

To err is human. We all make mistakes.

Well, sure, that's why God invented QueryShark and whiteout, but what the heck does that have to do with explaining what your novel is about?

Nora must conquer convention and confront the most painful decision of her life to do the most loving thing possible; give her love child away to make things right.

Conquer convention? Also you don't confront decisions. You make them. You confront choices or situations.

People across America will fall in love with Nora.

This is the kind of overwrought telling (rather than showing) that makes me wonder if you've actually read any of the previous entries. Don't tell me how (you HOPE) readers will respond.

A poignant tale of love and loss, Skyward Angel is part of a series of novels depicting strong women of the Deep South.
Telling not showing again.

I am published in my professional capacity and have a Master’s degree in nursing. My thesis was a full length screenplay about men in nursing.

This doesn't have anything to do with writing novels.

As I am a member of Romance Writers of America, I would adore having your representation.

When you start a sentence with "as" you imply a connection to the clause that follows. Wanting me as your agent isn't related to membership in RWA.

I would like the opportunity to send you my complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.

So, where's the stolen plane? The most interesting part of the query is never mentioned again.

Form rejection.

31 comments:

Liberty Speidel said...

Ouch! This one's almost painful to read!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I get a pregnant rich girl tossed on her expectant rear without a dime, a sexy flight instructor, 3 phantom children that apparently popped out somewhere in the story (maybe in the missing stolen plane? That would be interesting.), and an anachronistic 1960's New Orleans.

Too bad I have no idea how any of this ties together into a coherent storyline.

Hamlerhead said...

Yeah. Ouch, is right. She would've been better off saying: NORA STOLE A PLANE and leaving it at that.

Lyndoncr said...

"Their star crossed affair produces a love child. Trapped in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, Nora seeks an escape."

I thought this meant she married the flight instructor at first. Perhaps "Trapped in a psychologically and physically abusive marriage, Nora escapes in to a torrid affair with her flight instructor" or something like that, preferably better. ;)

I also thought the name of the book was Nora Stole A Plane, the sentence stating the word count reads as such.

It does sound like there's an interesting story there but there's too much fluff and not enough about the plane stealing.

Sarah said...

You might also want to look at how you talk about aviation in this query. My father is a corporate pilot so I grew up around the general aviation portion of airports. (General aviation is the part of the airport where privately owned aircraft are based. It's where you'll find the flight schools.)

I don't know any flight instructor or pilot who would call flying 'soaring the skies'. ('Keeping the blue side up', maybe.) But there's a ton of work that goes into learning to fly, and I'd like Nora so much more if she fell in love with her instructor while she was getting her instrument license or something like that.

What sort of plane does Nora steal? The security in general aviation is much less than what you experience where you're flying an airline. There was even less in the 60's. (I think you had almost unrestricted access to the ramp before 9/11, but I'm not sure.) You don't even need a key to start a plane. They just unlock the door.

All that to say, stealing a plane isn't going to be as big a deal as figuring out what to do with it once you have it in the air. Where do you land it? How do you make sure Very Upset People With Badges aren't waiting for you when you do?

You may have done a ton of research and have all this in your novel. It just isn't apparent yet in your query.

I love the idea of a novel with a female pilot. Kudos to you for braving the Shark, and I wish you the best as you rewrite!

Marian said...

Maybe this is just me, but could a woman in the '60s be a pilot, "a tempestuous, thrill seeker" and still successfully raise three/four children?

Stephanie Barr said...

I'm confused by this query. the plot alone confuses me. She demands a divorce (presumably because of her love for the instructor), and is refused AND tossed out of her cushy marriage? If her evil husband is tossing her out (after the requisite beating), why not divorce her?

As a character reader, I have a hard time putting together your descriptions of her with her actions. She's in a repressive marriage but her possessive evil husband is cool with her becoming a pilot?

If there's a way all these tidbits can be weaved together, showing that would be helpful. This seems like various (often cliched) and diametrically opposed concepts listed out, characterization, situations, without any cohesion. How does it work?

In my opinion, that's what I'd like to see.

_*rachel*_ said...

Read through the archives here, at Evil Editor's, and at maybe at Miss Snark's.

All of them.

Then try again.

jjdebenedictis said...

Perhaps try focusing on the story's inciting incidents a bit more. For example:

"Nora Broussard-Greenwood is in love and pregnant, but neither thing involves her husband. Tossed out of her upper-class existence for adultery, and scratching a living as a torch singer, Nora steals a plane in order to abduct the four children she had with her husband."

And then what? Somehow she gets from there to giving up her fifth child for adoption. You don't want to spell out the whole plot, but try to hint at the big choices and complications to come.

Good luck!

jessjordan said...

I am soooo confused. A woman has a "love child" (this terminology makes me cringe) with some flight instructor person, is married to an abusive man, steals a plane to save four other children that she had with her husband I'm guessing, and wants to give away this "love child"? I'm struggling to understand, well, all of this, but why would Nora want to give away her child, as opposed to giving the child to its biological father?

Oh dear. I'm very, very confused.

Jenn McKay said...

Hey #155, where do I get test readers? I could use some of those!!

Ethereal_buddha said...

Trite....and trying too damn hard.
Plus, 'test readers' aren't going to be subjective. They're going to be supportive, to the point of crippling your writing abilities. Why? Because they like you, they love you, they want your dreams to come to fruition. But most importantly-they don't want to hurt your feelings.
They don't give you critical feedback. They don't tell you to cut some scenes (and from your query/synopsis is sounds like you do need to cut some scenes. You got too much going on.) but most importantly, they don't tell you they they got lost somewhere in your book, or they didn't understand where this character came from, or why did she do this or why didn't she do that.
That's the bare bones of your book, make sure everything connects together and fits from beginning to the end.
And saying 'test readers couldn't put it down' doesn't impress anyone. You're telling me these people loved my book and everyone else will too. I know you didn't intend to do it, but you talk down to me and assume I'm just like everybody else.
I'm not your 'test reader'. I probably don't look like them, speak like them or think like them, and even if I did any of those things, it doesn't mean I'm going to like it like they did.
You need to get to a person whose objective. You doesn't care two flips about your feelings. Believe it or not, those are the best test readers you could ever ask for because they can, if you're open to it and have a thick skin, help make you a better writer.

Liesl said...

What happened to the sexy flight instructor? At first I thought she might have married him and then he turned into a jerk, but I guess with three other kids that can't be true. Why does he have nothing to do with the story other than creating her love child? (Men get off so easy!)

alaskaravenclaw said...

Ethereal Buddha brings up a point that I've noticed in a lot of these queries.

Saying that other people liked your manuscript, saying that's it been praised by other agents or editors, even just saying that it's good, is bragging. And nobody like bragging.

Leave any and all of that stuff out.

JS said...

Dear Querier:

Never, ever type the words "black mammy" again as long as you live, unless it's in dialogue and the person who's speaking is a racist with attitudes straight out of the 19th century. Queries are in the author's voice and should reflect the author's perspective, not the perspective of a character unless that's explicitly stated.

Marian, I know a woman who is in her early 90s who was a pilot and who raised three children (she was also an elite mountain climber and is just generally awesome).

The reason this particular protagonist sounds unrealistic isn't because there weren't women amateur pilots in the 1960s (there were), but because she isn't described realistically.

Also, I am confused about whether there are three children with the abusive husband and one with the flight instructor, or four children with the abusive husband and one with the flight instructor--the "her other four children" makes me think the latter.

And then she gives away the child she had with the flight instructor, but abducts the children she had with the abusive husband? Why? Why give away one child if you're so hell-bent on stealing the other three (or four)? None of this is adding up to me.

Fiction has to make more sense than life. (This is the inverse of "truth is stranger than fiction"--fiction has to be more logical than truth, otherwise we won't believe it.) Since you're writing a novel, you don't have to follow the trajectory of the real-life inspiration exactly.

Irene Troy said...

I had to read this once twice just to figure out what was going on with the story. Frankly, even now I’m confused. The story seems chock full of clichés from the mother going to any lengths stuff, the shunned divorcee of the sixties, sultry New Orleans, star crossed lovers having a love child, tempestuous thrill seeking Nora, unhappily married, thrown out when she asks her wealthy, powerful husband for a divorce… the list goes on. Hopefully, the author doesn’t rely solely on these tired clichés to propel her plot. If so, well, the biggest problem is not this poorly executed query. Oh, and as the Shark so clearly stated: please, please, never use the term “mammy” in any context! That term is offensive in any context and even in the deep, rural, backward south of my family; the term was never used except by the most ignorant. Back to the drawing board for this one.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Oh, one more quick note-- if the story is set in 1960 it's not a "contemporary".

John N said...

Yikes! The teeth marks were a better story than the query. I look forward to having those jaws clamp down on my query.

Alisa said...

I agree with JessJordan - the repeated use of the term "love child" was terribly irritating. And instead of 'setting the tone' for a tepid 1960s era novel, it just struck me as really ignorant on the part of the author.

Especially because I don't see any evidence from the query that the protagonist is at all upset about having to give up her loooooove child. Like the looooove child is an object and not a flesh and blood, living, breathing human who she was in labor with for XX number of hours and hopefully loves very deeply.

Also, back to the author saying this is a 1960s era novel... I see nothing in the query to lend authenticity to that notion or any evidence that the author actually has any knowledge of this time period or events that happened. Well, except for the obligatory mention of the name "Kennedy" thrown in there for good measure.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

There's a story here but I'm afraid that it's being hampered by the truth, and the truth is usually rather messy and not always related to the arc of the story. Take out the past kids (and anyone else who doesn't move the story forward) unless they're instrumental to the story, otherwise they become extra baggage that will weigh down the plane -- in fact at this rate it may never get off the ground.

Happy landing, once you figure out the story you want to write and the whole truth, nothing but the truth will not do, especially if "but that's the way it really happened" is the outline you're working from.

Trauma Diva said...

thanks for all the comments. . .believe it or not I do appreciate them and have taken note. I have written a revision and submitted that. We shall see. . .

Ethereal_buddha said...

Traumadiva-I admire your tenacity and willingness to resubmit. I really do.
But the second query provoked more questions than the first, and I don't think you took notice of the critiques given here in the comments section.
With the exception of taking out 'black mammy', and the rhetorical question in the beginning and a few changes along the way to explain how many children Nora has, the query is exactly the same as the first.

Also from the way the second query reads, the characters don't mesh. If 1960's staid New orleans has such rigid separations of class,what is a rich guy doing being married to someone poor?
Furthermore, your Nora's lover drops completely out of the picture after you mention the affair.
The third thing is-why is Nora's oldest daughter dictating her mother's decision to give up the love child? To me, that is not how a strong woman. A strong woman is not a victim to her circumstances, nor does she let children dictate her actions.
Keep in mind I don't really want you to answer these questions. I'm bringing them up because a query has to provoke interest in reading the book, not confusion.
Earlier I had suggested you have someone objective and doesn't care about hurting your feelings to critique your book, show where the holes in your logic are so you can write a strong book. I really hope you do. Every writer needs someone like that.
Writing for some is a talent, for the rest of us it's a skill. It can be cultivated and be stronger and you can be a better writer for doing it.

Bethany said...

...I wanna read this book for all the wrong reasons.

jjdebenedictis said...

Hey, this is much better! It's not quite there yet, but it's a big improvement over the original query. Keep at it, Trauma Diva!

I still think you're focusing too much on the set up (Nora's origins, the era and its constraints, etc.) and should focus more on Nora's big problem (which is the thing that hooks the reader's interest--how will she solve her problem?)

Here's your query edited down to focus on Nora's big problem. Note I've left out her solution--giving up her child for adoption and blackmailing her husband. You want to make a literary agent interested in finding out what Nora's solution is, so I don't think you should say what it is in the query.

(Changes in wording are written in bold, below.)

A tempestuous, thrill seeker of French Creole descent, Nora Broussard Greenwood finds herself unfulfilled as a country club wife and follows her dream of learning to fly. When she falls in love with her sexy flight instructor, producing a love child, Nora seeks an escape from her psychologically and physically abusive marriage to be with her lover.

In the Catholic, staid and male dominated world of New Orleans, circa 1960, divorce is unthinkable but Nora enlists the help of her maid and confidant, Mabel, and her best friend in the world, Charlene, to help plot her getaway.

However, when Nora demands a divorce from her powerful, wealthy husband, he beats her and casts her out of her upper class existence, cutting her off from her four children.


(Note: "[S]he is beaten (by her husband)" is passive voice. "He beat her" is active voice. You want to use active voice, rather than passive voice, in both your novel and your query.)

Nora saves every penny she makes working nights as a torch singer to wage battle in the divorce, but realizes her choices have left her little chance of regaining custody. Nora finally makes her most desperate choice of all: she decides to kidnap her children to get them back.

But to do so, Nora needs to steal her husband's plane.

My completed 91,000 word contemporary women’s fiction, Skyward Angel, explores resilience amidst tragedy and is part of a series of novels depicting strong women of the Deep South.

William Marlowe said...

I’m afraid I completely disagree with QueryShark and most of the responses here. The 2nd version is not that bad, but the first one is better. The first sentence declares the story’s main conflict succinctly, then makes me want to know how she stole the plane, and why that helped get her children back. Being a tempestuous thrill seeker trapped in the life of a country club wife seems clear to me: the husband is rich and controlling, but she yearns to be a free spirit. The events listed clarify her character, emphasize her conflict with the antagonist, and smoothly build up in tension. The protagonist’s strength is that she’s willing to be true to her artistic side and stand up to her powerful husband.
Two small grammatical issues: 1) “thrill seeker” is a noun phrase, so the preceding adjective doesn’t require a comma 2) “confidante” has an e at the end.

Thari said...

"One of the biggest problems here..."

Just feeling whinge-y, but since you have a list of bad grammar/usage posted somewhere, might I just point out that one cannot have "one of the biggest". It is either the biggest (-est indicates a superlative) or "one of the bigger". There can be only 1 biggest, not a whole slew of them.

Casey Griffin said...

Honestly, this character is reminding me of Bella in Twilight. Not a good thing,

MaryAnn said...

I rarely comment on other peoples queries but couldn't resist this time.

The author kept a lot of the material in the revised query that she was told to delete in the original. Is she not paying attention?

Also, sorry--this might be the greatest book ever written, but if her query was used as the description on the back of a book, I'd pass. More than once, while reading this query, I said, "Oh brother."

MaryAnn said...

Was she still pregnant while performing as a torch singer? No? Ok, who watched her newborn child? The maid? Does this made work for free? What happened to the pilot. Weren't they madly in love? Did he dump her as soon as she told him she was pregnant? No? Ok, so why is she broke and homeless?

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Good luck.

PaintWithWords said...

What was with the "Mom of..." thing. That's strange.

I think the problem is, for a antag to be scary they can't just be some purely evil person. Where is the redeeming qualities of this man?

Perhaps the author has experience in this area, I can't say, but from what I understand this isn't an accurate depiction of a woman living in an abusive marriage.

Stephanie Barr said...

She'll strongarm her husband, financially, to get back the children she made with the man she hated, but the child she made with the man she loved, she'll toss aside for her eldest daughter's comfort?

"Realizing the effect baby number five is having on her oldest daughter, Nora makes an excruciating, life altering decision in order to do the most loving thing possible; give her love child away to make things right."

This is not someone I want to know.