Monday, June 14, 2010

#164

Dear QueryShark:

The closest thing Marie Jensen had has to embracing God was is believing in angels. Too bad her angel wants to destroy the world.

Present tense gives your query more immediacy.

Wings for Marie is a 120,000-word religious fantasy that shares about the journey of an angel who has lost his way. In my novel, the angel Adierenor is guardian to Marie Jensen, Marie Jensen's guardian. who has lived a life of abuse, neglect, and heartache.

Novels don't share; they tell.
This is very general. You give it specificity in the next sentence. Specific is better than general almost always.


At the age of sixteen, Marie’s drug-riddled defeat and deep depression drives her to commit suicide.

I'm not sure what drug-riddled defeat is. It's more descriptive than abuse, neglect, and heartache but it's still not the most evocative phrase.


Adierenor is so angry at the world that led Marie to kill herself that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution.

This sentence doesn't actually work. You'll know that if you take out the clause "Adierenor is so angry at the world that" Without it you have "Led Marie to kill herself that he decides etc."

If a sentence doesn't work without the clause, you need to fix it. It's generally an EVENT that precipitates something, not a person. (A person DOING something, yes, but you see what I mean)

In attempt to obtain a weapon for his future vengeance, he journeys through worlds both familiar and unfamiliar: the slums of Denver, the blue-flamed river of Purgatory, and Hell’s Passage of the Damned, to name a few.

You're missing a word here: "In attempt"
And why does he need to go through all these places for a weapon? I can buy a gun on any street corner in Brooklyn, why is he having such a hard time?

Pulled into this quest are two key characters, Rebecca Strober and Thede Martone. After inexplicably entering comatose states, Rebecca and Thede become part of the realm between life and death. The two of them pursue Adierenor, who is unaware of their presence, all the while falling in love with each other. Without fully understanding why, Rebecca and Thede have been enlisted in stopping the angel’s unholy mission. Ultimately, they must confront humanity’s true nature and help an angel of God reconcile his faith in mankind—before he delivers the world to doom.

What the hell happened to Marie? If you start your query letter with a character, I assume s/he is the main character. If Marie is not the main character you need to start someplace else.


I am aware that a 120,000-word story is a bit lengthy for a first novel—however, I’ve noticed that angels as protagonists (or antagonists, depending on whether said angel is “fallen”) are on the rise, seen in recent book titles such as Angelology by Danielle Trussoni and Anne Rice’s Songs of the Seraphim series.

Don't excuse your word length. If you have 120K, you have it. And how popular angel books are don't have anything to do with word count. What you mean here most likely is that you've noticed that these popular angel books are longer than the norm. But, you still don't need to say it.

I have published several articles in (redacted) as well as authored a document solicited for inclusion in a manuscript under review for publication, (redacted)

Please let me know if my novel interests you; I would be happy to send you the manuscript or any other requested materials. Thank you for your time.


I don't have any sense of the actual story here. You haven't given us a sense of the stakes, or why we should care about the protagonist. In fact, I'm not actually sure who the protagonist is.

Form rejection

33 comments:

Ellie said...

"Wings for Marie" is a lovely song by the band Tool.

I must disagree with the Shark about the sentence not working:

Adierenor is so angry at X that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution.

X = the world that led Marie to kill herself

Dan Ritchie said...

>I don't have any sense of the actual story here. You haven't given us a sense of the stakes, or why we should care about the protagonist. In fact, I'm not actually sure who the protagonist is.

I thought Marie was going to be the protagonist, but then I got the sense it was the angel, though he seems to be up to no-good.

The other two characters coming in a couple of paragraphs down, just seem to be tacked on.

The stakes are pretty clear. The angel wants to destroy the world in revenge. The journey through the spiritual realms is interesting.

What I don't get, is why these two other characters show up at the last minute, and there's not much said about them at all.

Corinne said...

I actually think the sentence does work: he's so angry [at the world that did such-and-such] that he embarks on a cool quest.

I definitely agree that some clarification of Adierenor's quest - what kind of weapon is he looking for? - is necessary, and that you shouldn't start the query with Marie if her only real appearance in the story is thematic. She might be a driving force, she doesn't actually *do* much, and we need to know about what happens and who does it.

Josin L. McQuein said...

If you're going to try and push a long word count, you need a clean query that doesn't waste words. From this, I'd assume the MS rambles and that your word count is seriously bloated.

Nandini said...

> Adierenor is so angry at the world that led Marie to kill herself that he decides...

This is actually fine grammatically. The first "that" is being used in the same sense as "which". The fragment you quoted is not supposed to be a clause.

Dana Donovan said...

I have been a little gun shy to comment on these posts since submitting my query as chum for the shark. It’s a brave thing you do, #164 and I applaud you.

I have to say, however, I’m a bit confused. You said Adierenor is so angry at the world that he embarks on a quest for divine retribution. I believe divine refers to God, as in emanating from God, being or having the nature of a god, not angles. Is Adierenor wanting God to help him get revenge?

I am also confused about Rebecca Strober and Thede Martone. How does confronting humanity’s true nature help them in trying to stop the angel’s unholy mission? Are they reluctant recruits? Who “pulled” them into the quest?

I think you are right about the whole angles and demons genre. It’s very popular, and you could have a good story here. It might be nice if Marie somehow has a say in the outcome, though. After all, she started it all.

Good luck with the shark bites.

Sara J. Henry said...

And now I have a mental image of Janet out buying a gun on a street corner in Brooklyn.

alaskaravenclaw said...

If two key characters are comatose, that seems like it's going to be a very hard sell. It's not suggestive of action.

TirzahLaughs said...

I agree with Query Shark, I'm still foggy about the plot. Marie disappears and the query gets clunky in places.

This is a clear case of the author knowing the plot so well they don't see how an unfamiliar person would see their description. I'm betting if you ask the writer, she'd tell you how it all fits together. But she needs to give a version of that in query itself.

Tirz

freestyle_taiji said...

This sounded pretty cool up until the part about Rebecca and Thede. The whole time I was thinking this was going to be some epic story about a fallen angel's quest for revenge... and then all of a sudden these randoms show up.

If these two are the protagonists (it sounds like they might be since you mentioned them falling in love) then as Ms Reid said you should probably put them first.

What you need to work out is what the story's focus is. Is it about Adierenor's quest? Or is it about Rebecca and Thede's quest to stop him? Or are you going for the "divine being observes the power of love in two humans and decides mankind's not so bad after all" sort of thing ala Dr Manhattan in Watchmen?

Unpublished Author said...

Yes, changes could be made in this query, but I have to say... I'm enthralled by the basis of the story. I want to read it!

Princess Sara said...

Although I agree with most of your comments here, Your Sharkiness, the sentence you criticize as ungrammatical is actually correct.

Adierenor is so angry at the world that led Marie to kill herself that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution.

The sentence doesn't begin with a clause, it begins with the subject and verb of the sentence. The sentence does in fact contain two clauses, but "Adierenor is so angry at the world that" is not one of them. The sentence breaks down as follows:

Adierenor - subject
is - verb
so angry - adverb modifying adjective, adjective modifying "Adierenor"
at the world - prepositional phrase
that led Marie to kill herself - adjectival dependent clause modifying "world"
that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution - subordinate clause modifying "so angry"

The sentence as written is weak -- "Adierenor embarks on a quest for divine retribution" would have been much stronger -- but it is grammatically correct, nonetheless.

Please don't eat me!

The Grammar Guppy

Lehcarjt said...

Ditto to what QS said in that you need to pick a protagonist and give us their journey. ie: Adierenor is a guardian angel so in love with one of his assignments that when she kills herself he... Then he... Pursued by two ghosts, he...

Having said that, I kind of like the idea of a lovesick angel on a quest of destruction. Of course, you didn't say he was in love with the girl, so I may be totally off base.

Mystery Robin said...

I'm a little confused by the genre. This doesn't sound like Christian fiction, so I'm not sure then what religious fantasy is. I do agree that you need a clear sense of who the protagonist is and what their mission is. At this point, I'm thinking it's the angel, but I'm not sure. And I'd probably just call it fantasy.

Claire Dawn said...

"Adierenor is so angry at the world that led Marie to kill herself that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution."

QS, I think the author meant, "the world that led Marie to kill herself" is what made the angel angry. The sentence is ambiguous.

Uma said...

A promising start. The relationship between Marie and Adierenor needs to carry the story forward, but you just don't 'get' their thinking/ motivations.

Tyler said...

> You'll know that if you take out the clause "Adierenor is so angry at the world that"

Not sure I get the problem here. Are you just suggesting they should use "which" instead of "that"? Because the sentence made sense to me.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Marie has already killed herself-- that makes it hard for her to be the protagonist. The two people mentioned toward the end are comatose. I think by default that leaves the angel as the protagonist. So yes, as others have said-- rewrite the query about him. Or rather, about his story.

Jenn McKay said...

You commenters are vicious - the sentence was so weak, a professional glanced at it quickly and thought it was grammatically incorrect.

Here's my suggestion to make that sentence better:

Adierenor has guided dozens of suicide cases before, but none as heartbreaking as Marie. She was born addicted to crack and a ward of the state, adopted by two dads who split when she was three and thrown into foster home after home where she was introduced to sex and drugs. At sixteen, Marie had to give up on her dream of becoming a pop star when she lost her voice in a freak school cafeteria stabbing. The only adult she looked up to was her English teacher, Ms. Jones, who was too busy crying over her twentieth agent rejection to notice Marie's decent into dangerous depression.

Selfishness made Adierenor super angry. That rage fueled his desire to embark on a quest for divine retribution.

Longer yes, but also juicier!

JS said...

I think that everyone has made the point that that sentence is a terrible sentence because it SOUNDS ungrammatical even though it isn't.

Convoluted syntax has a way of doing that, which is why one should avoid it when writing something that, like a query letter, is going to be read quickly and for high stakes.

(I am actually anti-convoluted syntax for everything, but T.C. Boyle's sales figures suggest that some people like it.)

M. G. E. said...

The biggest thing that's missing here is logical sequence of choices in the story. The query is poorly structured as well, depending on who your main character is. Although, you can probably get away with a lot of this if you label your book "high concept" :P

You begin with Marie, who ends up providing merely the motivating action of the angel. It seems like the angel is your protagonist. If so, start the query with the angel.

Then you say the angel's looking for a weapon. But we're not given any rationale for why a weapon needs to be found, as the Shark pointed out. You mean he's looking for a very special weapon, one capable of ending the world--which, in practice, probably means he's trying to become the father of the anti-christ, yes? His other option is... kill God? That might be tough to pull off. But you might have a platinum seller if you can pull it off in a story and make it look legit :P

And, if I've guessed right, Rebecca and Thede are the two destined to become the earthly-parents of said anti-christ. Which explains why they exist in the query, yet feel kinda tacked on. 'Course, I assume their comatose state doesn't last forever to make that work.

Every time you used the term "inexplicably" I cringed. That's a give away that logical sequence is lost--or that you're hiding something as a surprise. But queries aren't the place to avoid spoilers. Being confusing or random is a worse crime.

And lastly, if your story is actually about Rebecca and Thede ("key characters"), start there. If the angel is actually your antagonist, then the whole order of this query is reverse what it should be.

stephen said...

Pulled into this quest are two key characters, Rebecca Strober and Thede Martone. After inexplicably entering comatose states, Rebecca and Thede become part of the realm between life and death. The two of them pursue Adierenor, who is unaware of their presence, all the while falling in love with each other. Without fully understanding why, Rebecca and Thede have been enlisted in stopping the angel’s unholy mission. Ultimately, they must confront humanity’s true nature and help an angel of God reconcile his faith in mankind—before he delivers the world to doom.
____

This is where the query should start. These are obviously the central heroes who chase the antagonist.

Thari said...

And speaking of grammatical, Ms Shark: "And how popular angel books are don't have anything to do with word count." Don't? Really? I doesn't think so.

CB Hoffman said...

"Without fully understanding why, Rebecca and Thede have been enlisted in stopping the angel’s unholy mission." This sentence from your query brings another unknown. The word "enlist" implies an action taken by another--so who enlists them? Is that entity merely a facilitator, or is the true conflict between whoever it is (that enlists Rebecca and Thede) and Adierenor?

Christina Auret said...

This query makes me think that some of your word count problems are tied to starting your novel at the wrong place.

You start your query with back story. If you also start your book this way you might have to restructure it.

Tessa Quin said...

I would skip explaining why Marie died, and maybe only mention her in a passing (The angel Adierenor gets furious at the world after his charge dies...etc.). That would clean it up a bit in my opinion, and arouse curiosity as to why he's so angry.

But as many have commented, it would be better to write from the POV character, and then mention Adierenor in one sentence or so. This is unless there are many POV characters, in which case it would be better to choose one to write the query from.

You were brave to send in the query - I know that the Shark will chew mine up and spit it out if she chooses it.

Mackenzie said...

Shark, the posted says June 14th, but the actual posting date was June 26th. You probably want to fix that.

*promptly gets a leg bitten off*

Anyway, I really don't see how "religious" this "religious fantasy" is. There actually is a market for that kind of fantasy, but this query doesn't really make it clear. It seems about as religious as a typical Terry Brooks novel. That may not be true but this query gives me that impression.

I also think the query can be tightened up fairly easily be concentrating on the main characters right out of the gate, and leaving Marie only as a passing mention or left out completely. I think the query would be less bloated and potentially more exciting that way.

Good luck with fixing your query up.

Stephanie Barr said...

Since I'm a character reader/writer, the real thing I want to know is why I should care about any of the remaining characters in the book.

I don't know whether it's our comatose lovebirds or the angry angel who are the main characters, who will learn and grow through this story. (Though I have to ask, given the number of suicides in any given month, why aren't there untold thousands of angry angels going about ready to destroy the world daily? What makes this suicide different? Better yet, what about all those children beaten or raped to death? Surely that would be as infuriating? Sorry, I was distracted)

It seems to me that the learning/growing/overcoming the urge to take out humanity is the key, but it's not much of a story unless we have an investment into the characters. Why do we care about these characters?

I'm not an agent, but that's what I want to know about a story I'd read.

Bill Greer said...

I'm perplexed as to why Adierenor (hate that name since I can't sound it out in my head as I read it) is that upset about Marie's suicide. It's probably too much to explain in a query, but it's the first thing that puts me off about this query.

How many people does a Guardian Angel guard at one time? One? Millions? Over the millennia of human existence, what's the sum total? Billions? Trillions? Of those, how many committed suicide or suffered some other untimely death they probably didn't deserve?

What makes Marie's death special that Adierenor suddenly wants to destroy the world? I understand suspension of disbelief, but I need at least a somewhat rational explanation for the basic plot point that moves the story forward.

Martin Rose said...

As Ellie mentioned, "Wings for Marie" is a song by the band Tool, and it references the lyricist's relationship to his mother and her religious faith.

Then, another pop culture reference -- the use of the last name "Jensen" right off the bat is a reference to Jensen Ackles of the TV series "Supernatural," which follows a familiar Christian-Judeo mythos -- angels and demons battling for the world, the works.

I'm tempted to wonder if there is a copyright issue lurking around the corner . . .

jdh said...

I also congratulate you on your courage!

I am judging based only on the information given in the query letter, but that is also all the information that a queried agent will have.

As far as the story goes, I think that treating Adierenor as an antihero would perhaps bring more depth. Let the reader see through his eyes. Maybe he is right and the world should be toast?

The love story of the comatose patients sounds at first blush a bit saccharin. Maybe a twist could be that Adierenor is aware of them, and they not of him, instead of the other way around. It could be their attachment to each other that brings Adierenor to stand down?

Anyway, when you are sitting on the sofa with Oprah, feel free to look into the camera and tell me I am an idiot. :)

Ethereal_buddha said...

Amen Stephanie Barr!

I feel the same way too. I'm just going to say it. Not trying to be mean, but it seems like the only reason the querier wrote the book was so she could get published. THat kinda irks me.
The elements are too cliche and remind me more of 'The prophecy' movies. I just don't think the angel has enough depth that way. I don't think i have to see the book to know it is probably going to end one of two ways 1.) the two comatose kids are going to become angels and/or 2.) the angel gets destroyed.
I think the most important thing is to tell a story to tell a story. Find out what happens. Play with it. Make one of the two comatose people a porn star and the other a junkie. Hey, make the angel a porn star.
But that's just me.

cherilyn david said...

QS-
I am overeating all the query knowledge I can and have noticed some agents requesting a query AND synopsis. It seems like the queries you approve of contain a mini-synopsis if not more. Isn't this redundant? If I send both as requested, should my query tell less about the story?