Thursday, July 15, 2010

#165-revised 3x

 Third revision

Dear QueryShark:

Laura Locksley drops out of a top tier college because the privileged mindset drove her crazy.

Deciding to do the exact opposite of what’s expected of her, she enrolls in Modern Arts, home of the young and confused.

Gallivanting through Philadelphia (and the rest of the Tri-state area), she experiences everything absent from her sheltered life, ending up at basement fight clubs, nude beaches, inner city schools, and gay disco clubs. She studies the customs of early twenty-something misfits, whose jaded conversations are as ironic as their fashion sense. But when everybody is judged by appearance, nobody is who they appear to be.

Right now that's just a series of events with no sense of the plot.

The story starts here, where Laura is forced to do something different than what she had been doing:
 
All hell breaks loose when she is forced to bond with her disconnected family after her father's cancer diagnosis. In a vulnerable state, she is scammed by a street psychic and becomes paranoid about her health, visiting the ER weekly. Compared to her home life, the upside-down comfort of Modern Arts starts to feel safer, even if it is just a fantasy.

Laura doesn't sound like a very sympathetic character. She sounds like a self-involved, spoiled brat with no brains. You've said she's "vulnerable" but to what?  You've said she has to bond with her family now that her father is ill, but what does that mean?

The truth is that chasing this dream could leave her poor, sleeping on an Ikea futon in a railroad apartment well into her thirties, maybe forever. Most of her friends are leaving Modern Arts like the locusts of Exodus. But being practical means going back inside the box and playing by the rules of the rich. And nobody has sympathy for a lost little rich girl.

Chasing what dream? Going back inside what box? Playing by the rules of the rich? Where did that come from?

Trapped between her heart and common sense, she always knew that the “good times” wouldn’t last forever. Now she’s afraid that they might.

Trapped between her heart and common sense? There's been absolutely nothing mentioned about where Laura's heart is, and what choices she's trapped between.

MODERN ARTS is a completed, 88,000 word literary fiction novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This doesn't work. Start over. Laura is at art college pursuing her dream of being an artist when her father falls ill. Then what?



Focus on writing the most simple sentences you can. Writing simply is very very hard. Writing clearly is harder than that.  The very best writers make it look easy but you don't see the 10K revisions before the finished work. 





 



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Second revision

Dear Query Shark,

Laura Locksley dropped out of a top tier college because it was driving her crazy. That was before she went to art school.


Modern Arts is home to the young and confused, where hedonism and instability splatter the students like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. Laura hits her stride, writing music all day and gallivanting through Philadelphia at night. To become a great artist, she studies the barbaric customs of early twenty-somethings and the parade of bohemian misfits, whose jaded conversations are as ironic as their fashion sense. But when everybody is judged by appearance, nobody is who they appear to be.


"Splatter the students like paint" is a metaphor that doesn't actually illuminate your point.  Unless the students are splattered (which evokes images of a car wreck frankly)  I don't understand what you're trying to say here.



 "To become a great artist she studies the barbaric customs..." is where I step off the train. I know people who ARE great artists and this doesn't sound like anything they did.  If you're trying to be ironic I'm missing it.



A cold slap of reality comes when Laura's father is diagnosed with cancer. Her disconnected family is forced to square off, each person feeling like the last remaining member. But even a sterile hospital can't clean the past, and the upside-down comfort of Modern Arts starts to feel safer.

What's the problem here? Does someone need a kidney and they're duking it out to find out who gets to donate? I don't understand the problem here, or the choices.
 

She realizes that chasing this dream could leave her poor, sleeping on an Ikea futon in a railroad apartment well into her thirties, maybe forever. Most of her friends are leaving Modern Arts like the locusts of Exodus. But being practical means changing careers, going back inside the box... or, worst of all, marrying rich slime.


Wait, I thought she was at the hospital throwing dice for a kidney?

Trapped between her heart and common sense, a revolving door of friends and the midnight music that makes her feel alive, she always knew that the "good times" wouldn’t last forever. Now she’s afraid that they might.


MODERN ARTS is a completed, 88,000 word novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


For the love of ChrisKringle, quit trying to be fancy. Leave out all the metaphors. Leave out all the razzle dazzle. Just tell me what the story is.


Right now, this is all froth and no substance. That means it's a form rejection. I know you've been working hard on improving this, but you've got to pare down to the basics. Don't be afraid to be plain. Plain, elegant writing is harder to achieve than razzle dazzle.



Throw this entire query away and start with the basics. What does Laura want? What's keeping her from getting it? What choice does she face? What's at stake. Answer that question with NO ADJECTIVES and you've got the skeleton of better query.






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First revision


Dear Query Shark,

Laura Locksley pursues a music degree at Modern Arts University, unprepared for the hedonism and instability that splatter the students. The economy nosedives into a recession, causing the artists to doubt whether their aspirations will be attained. It is easy to let the good times roll and feel the repercussions later. She observes people while socializing.

This paragraph is a mess. You're so busy being all writerly you've forgotten that clarity is the first goal.

I'm not sure what you mean by "instability" here. They live in a place where gravity comes and goes?

You start with Laura, then in the second sentence you reference "the artists" and the third has no direct subject at all. It's not clear who you're talking about. That's a very bad thing in the first paragraph of a query.


She dislikes her vulnerability yet can't seem to harden her heart.

Her family has drifted apart and must now deal with cancer together. Displaced fear provokes her monthly trips to the emergency room, which only result in a psychologist referral. Then a street psychic sees Laura crying and seizes the financial opportunity. She takes a stab at Laura's secrets and brainwashes her with forebodings of an inflicted curse, insisting that it must be lifted.

Does this actually make sense to you? It doesn't to me. First we're at art school with "let the good times roll" and now we're dealing with cancer?

A query is a limited word opportunity to entice me to read the book. You cannot stuff it full of every event or even all the story.

After this harsh awakening, Laura seeks distraction. She visits nude beaches, collegiate fight clubs, small town bars, Manhattan hotels, casinos, and graffiti-covered rooftops. When she composes her senior recital, Laura reflects on lessons at school and her life education. She feels grateful for the strength to withstand despair.

You make it sound like the climax of the book is her senior recital. I really hope that's not the case.

Life is sweet when Ryan falls in love with her. But that was before she found him passed out on the kitchen tile, a tourniquet and needle nearby.

Who the hell is Ryan?

Cardinal in a Cage of Bone is a completed, 84,000 word novel in the literary fiction genre. Thank you for your time and consideration.


All the best,

This is a mess. Start over. Limit yourself to what ONE choice Laura must make early in the book, and what the consequences of that choice are. Be specific.




---------------
Dear Query Shark,

Amongst the last to pursue a "vanity degree" before the current recession, Laura Locksley matriculates into the zany Modern Arts University, where hedonism and instability splatter the students like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. She explores music, intoxication, sex, inspiration, and artifice—young and confused in an epoch where The Happiest Place on Earth is bugged with cameras, Manhattan businessmen commit office suicides, and surgically-enhanced faces drink from the Fountain of Youth.


I'm sorry, but wtf?

The Happiest Place on Earth, last time I looked, is Disneyland's claim. In other words, not art school. You can certainly juxtapose jarring images for effect, but this simply doesn't work. There's too much splatter and not enough form. You've got 17 images here, with no discernible connection. Simplify.






Laura uses her sunglasses, ipod, vodka-filled flask, elaborate make-up, and carefully-planned clothing to buffer reality, unaided by a glowing touchscreen. She becomes infatuated with the beautiful, disaffected boys that she meets in grungy basement parties and on the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia. Like the anatomical metaphor of its title, Cardinal in a Cage of Bone captures the magic of an artist's internal life. But as reality looms and the ghosts of lost companions linger like smoke from their now-extinguished cigarettes, the kids accept their diplomas and think, With so much progress, why do we feel like failures?

You've used 97 words here, nearly half the allotment of a query letter, and you've actually managed to say nothing. For starters, what is the book about? Is there a plot? Plot is what choice the protagonist has to make. What decision? An ennui drenched roman a clef with no plot isn't going to fly here.



I am a 2008 graduate of the (redacted) with a BA in Music Composition. While studying creative writing, I completed two short story collections and tutored for the writing department.

None of this is an actual writing credit. Publication is a writing credit.


Cardinal in a Cage of Bone is a completed, 84,000 word novel in the literary fiction genre. Please contact me if you are interested in sample chapters. Thank you for your time and consideration.

All the best,


You absolutely must be able to tell me what the book is about and why I should care about reading it. This isn't composition class; this is mud splattered, in the trenches, in-it-for-money-screw-the-love general trade publishing. Get over yourself. We all went to art school in one form or another.

Form rejection.

99 comments:

onipar... said...

The writing is absolutely wonderful. But I have to agree that I saw no plot outlined here.

agreen12345 said...

"unaided by a glowing touchscreen"

What does that mean?

"Like the anatomical metaphor of its title, Cardinal in a Cage of Bone captures the magic of an artist's internal life. But as reality looms and the ghosts of lost companions linger like smoke from their now-extinguished cigarettes..."

Oh, no. No, no, no.

This is painful, in that you can tell the writer is in love with her own words, and yet they're not working.

Anne R. Allen said...

"This isn't composition class; this is mud splattered, in the trenches, in-it-for-money-screw-the-love general trade publishing. Get over yourself." This is what you keep trying to get through to us in post after post, isn't it?

It's hard to erase all those professorial voices in young heads telling writers to "be creative! Express your individuality!"

joanq6 said...

I would have stopped reading at "Amongst."

Bronwyn Scott-McCharen said...

The main (and quite obvious) issue here is "where is the plot?" What does the MC want? What gets in the way of her getting what she wants? How does it all end? Right now, I'm just confused.

And yeah, cut out the purple prose. Especially in a query.

This sounds like a really interesting read, though. I'd just love more concrete details.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Ironically, amongst is an archaic form that is still in regular use in some parts of the country. While I prefer among, a rejection based on the regionalism would be short sighted.

Dana Donovan said...

I get a sort of "Alice Through the Looking Glass" feel from this one. Not sure if it is by design or consequence. It could be a good Jack Kerouac "On the Road" kind of thing. I look forward to the revision when we get to see what the story is really about. Come back down to earth #165 and show us what you got. I suspect you have it in there. Best of luck to you.

alaskaravenclaw said...

The writing is only "wonderful" if you want to admire someone else's word-choice and metaphors. If you want to read a story, this style would be very, very heavy going. If I picked it up in a bookstore I'd put it right back down again.

jjdebenedictis said...

I agree with Onipar there's solid talent in evidence here, but it needs to be harnessed and used for a purpose.

Writing is about art, expression and communication, but publication is about all those things plus being saleable. Other people have to be able to connect with the story, and a narrative is the best way to do that.

morphine-moniza said...

eugh why is the protagonist drinking unmixed vodka from a flask. that can't be pleasant. I don't get the line "unaided by a glowing touchscreen". iphone reference gone wrong?

You should rewrite this with emphasis on the plot. That's much more important in a query than elaborately describing the setting. We don't really get a very good idea of who your protagonist is either.

Good luck :)

Catherine said...

Your rejection of this query made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

An MFA doesn't make you an author, it just makes you a writer with a lot of student loans.

Catherine

A.L. Kessler said...

It may be filled with pretty words and lots of imagery, but I see no reason that I would want to read this book. Queries are supposed to be simple and to the point, this query is neither of those.

JS said...

What is this even about? A girl goes to art school in Philadelphia and lusts after hot boys? That might be an interesting book, but I'm not going to plow through a forest of verbiage to read it.

And I am especially mystified by your using "unaided by a glowing touchscreen" for a character whose best friend is her iPod. I realize that iPods have clickwheels, not touchscreens, but that relatively minor distinction isn't the dividing line between tech-heads and Luddites.

in an epoch where The Happiest Place on Earth is bugged with cameras, Manhattan businessmen commit office suicides, and surgically-enhanced faces drink from the Fountain of Youth.

So the epoch is now? That's what I would get from "the Happiest Place on Earth is bugged with cameras," since all the Disney properties I've ever visited have lots of video surveillance.

Or is it timeless? Because "Manhattan businessmen commit office suicides" could refer to pretty much any point in history since the 17th century.

Or is it the future? Because "surgically-enhanced faces" don't "drink from the Fountain of Youth" right now (unless my dermatologist is keeping something secret from me). Faces, by the way, can't actually drink---we use the inside of our mouth and our esophagus for that.

Break up with your thesaurus. Tell it you just want to be friends or something. You might have a fascinating story here, but I can't see it. Good luck with your rewrites!

Draconium said...

An additional problem i had with this query is, for all the smoke in mirrors, we get no sense of the protagonist at all. Who is she under all the gauze and glitter? We are told that the book "captures the magic of the Artist's inner life" and yet here "artist" seems synonymous with "affect." for example:"Laura uses her sunglasses, ipod, vodka-filled flask, elaborate make-up, and carefully-planned clothing to buffer reality"

That's any hipster, not an artist specifically. This is problematic because her role as an artist seems to be superficial; someone who might say, "I'm an artist" with the same conviction as "i only wear such-and-such on Tuesdays."

Does she really think of it as a "vanity degree?" The art students i know work their asses off, both in and out of school (in some cases, working two jobs, surviving off oats and cottage cheese). They do it because they don't have the time or the energy to spend on anything less than their passion.

Give us something real about her. Something to make us want to spend time with her.

buildingalife said...

"Get over yourself. We all went to art school in one form or another. "

Will laugh for about ten years over that one.
-Former art school attendee

Melissa said...

I didn't need to be told that the author was a recent graduate -- I could tell by the subject matter. She wrote what she knows, which is all right to a certain extent, but I find it hard to connect with stories about college students who figure out that their education and party lifestyle hasn't prepared them for anything. I can get the equivalent from a visit to "Texts from Last Night."

The burgeoning "New Adult" genre may appeal to teens and young 20-somethings, but once someone has progressed past that phase in life, it's hard to look back with sympathy or nostalgia on people who waste four years of their lives and then have the audactity to be shocked when the rest of their lives doesn't look to be equally easy.

As for the style, I expect Query Shark will be cursed for not "getting" literary novels, but I bet she gets them just fine and has sold a few in her days. And that's the rub: Until she knows more about it, she can't judge whether it will sell. Writing alone isn't going to sell it.

Irene Troy said...

Frankly, I see lots of beautiful words, a few strung together in something approximating a logical sentence. What I do not see is a story. I came away with zero idea of what the story is about. A girl goes to art school, meets attractive sexy boys, experiences lust and confusion (what girl of college are doesn’t?) and…what? Who is this girl? Why should we care about her? Does she face any conflict or struggle? What makes her worthy of 84,000 words? Beautiful words are great, but without form they remain just words, meaningless in the context of great story. Instead of trying to impress readers with your command of the language and your own importance, try writing simple, well constructed sentences showing your characters in a way that engages the reader pulling them into the depth of the story.

Ethereal_buddha said...

Huh????
I thought that first paragraph was one whole sentance. Turns out it was two.

My brain shut down. Too much to process.

Samantha Royce said...

It kind of sucks to be a writing student if you don't write like this, because every now and then in workshop you get to read a story like this: very prettily written, but it goes absolutely nowhere.

This kind of writing is great for practicing before you start to write the actual story, sort of a warm-up. I'd recommend that the writer sit down and write a bare bones outline about what happens in the story. Not emotion, just action. Hopefully that will help. Also, writing shorter sentences will help. I too love long sentences, but this was overkill.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think the best advice for this writer is the same thing many of us have to learn to do before we can truly excel: learn to kill your babies.

Many of us come up with beautiful turns of phrase that we can't bear to eliminate because they're just so pretty, but often we become so blinded by them that we fail to realize they don't make any logical sense. That they drag the story down (and at worst, sound overwrought or pretentious). That they make the reader stop and say, "Wait, what?", which isn't a good thing if you don't want them to read a page and decide to put the book down.

It's a hard thing to do at first. It gets easier. Be brutal to your words. Be even more heartless in a query.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I have no idea what the book's about.

Honestly, this reads like a Lit student's analysis of a book in tone and voice because of lines like: Like the anatomical metaphor of its title, Cardinal in a Cage of Bone captures the magic of an artist's internal life.

It may sound like pretty writing, and it definitely fits the "literary" part, but I still want to know the plot.

Kate said...

The sentences/paragraphs/ideas that give me the most satisfaction are usually the ones I end up cutting later. They seem profound and poetic and just pure genius at the time. When I go back and read them, I blush at how ridiculous they sound. Imagine the awkwardness of someone who just tries too damn hard.

Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of blushing going on here. And yes, no idea what actually happens. I think we all do this. I still do it. You can get away with it if you cut it before anyone sees it.

What the Shark says about themes and such really is true. Movie descriptions illustrate it perfectly. I was trying to pick a movie the other day and read one description that was all about how the movie "explores the complicated dynamics between men and women and how one fateful summer changes the un-named characters lives forever" etc. I couldn't help but notice how unappealing that was, and I thought "That's a bad query!" By 'bad' I mean ineffective, of course. The movie might have been the next Citizen Kane, who knows. But I didn't waste my time watching it.

I think there's a social critique you're trying to convey here and while literature is an effective medium for social commentary, it's still not why most people read books. In fact, I think those messages are best received when they sneak up on the reader. They pick up a thriller for some old fashioned entertainment and between chapters, the gears start turning. Plot makes us turn the pages. Not themes. I've picked up plenty of books with very important, relevant themes (Joseph Conrad, I'm looking at you). But never finished them.

IsaiahC said...

This is just an idea, and it's rough, but what if you tried something like this:
"The current recession has rendered Laura Locksley's studies in the Modern Arts University superfluous. She turns to a lifestyle of hedonism and denial to rescue the value of her steadily fading dreams."
Just an idea. Feel free to rip it apart, mini-sharks. :)

JD said...

Very descriptive... too descriptive. There's no sense of plot. All I could gather was that it was about some artist

Beth said...

Has this person actually been to art school? You don't pass classes if you're out all night partying- my roommate my freshmen year used to spend the weekend drinking and then try to come home and do drawing assignments or sculptures in half an hour. She got mostly D's and F's, I think. Depending on the department they're in, a lot of the students at our school actually ended up sleeping in hallways or in classrooms themselves because they were there all night trying to finish projects.

The atmosphere she describes sounds more like Hollywood Art School. Possibly some of the pretentious schools are like this, the ones that focus largely on abstract theory, but most beginning students will have to do a lot of assignments, which just doesn't fly if you're partying all the time. (Also, hardly anyone in art school wears designer clothes. It's generally a stupid idea when you're playing with things like charcoal and oil paint.)

Christina Auret said...

I have two problems here in addition to the fact that I don't know anything important about what happens to whom in this story:

1. Vanity degree: Do you have any idea how hard these people work? Maybe it is different if you study music, but all I remember about the fine arts people I used to live with is that you almost never saw them. They worked until they dropped slept for a few hours, then got up to work some more.

2. "...magic of the Artist's inner life." So I have to assume that artists have an inner life vastly different than that of us other common plebs. A lot of my inner life is spent between procrastinating, telling myself to get a grip and other fun filled sarcastic semi pep talks. Pretty it is not, but maybe that is just me.

Piper Quinn said...

I just got back from a workshop and this reminded me of something one of the editors said: that readers want to become immersed in a story and not notice the authorial hand. E

Assuming your MS is written in this style, if readers have to pause on each page to oooh and ahhh (or cringe, depending on your tastes) over attention-getting figurative language, then you are forcing the authorial hand on them and distracting them from the story. Not good, no matter how clever your similes are.

It also reminds me of something several of the authors said: simpler is better.

And something Ms. Shark said in a recent post: There's a place for long sentences. Your query letter is not it.

NanU said...

It's true that the biggest thing wrong with the query is that we have no idea what the book is about. But beyond that, I don't -want- to know what the book is about. The writing is overwrought and self-congratulatory, and the main character superficially drawn and annoying. Cut out the purple prose as Bronwyn suggests, and there's nothing left at all.

Marian Perera said...

I love the image of a bird in a cage of bones.

Unfortunately there's nothing else about the query letter that I love, or remember.

Nora said...

I wrote this query and I am jumping into the comments section because I need some solid advice and don't feel I should bother the Shark with my questions. I mistakenly sent out first revision prematurely, but will listen to those who wish to guide me.

I have read this whole site and am aware of what the Shark is looking for and I can give her that, obviously I did it wrong this time. There was confusion because my novel falls under literary fiction.

The novel is centered more around themes and ideas than a linear plot. I made each chapter almost like a television episode, so that the reader could flip to the next one if bored - great for those with ADHD. I felt since attention spans are decreasing at a rapid rate it was a cool idea. Still, it connects through several areas of conflict/resolution and subplots.

To research for my query, I studied the backs of books like Less than Zero, Fight Club, Prozac Nation, Infinite Jest, etc. I know those aren't queries but they are examples of what I like and felt they could inform what I should write.

My query is a series of snapshots of ideas, so yeah, it did what it was intended for, but obviously was not the right decision.

I suppose I don't understand how a person could think I was referring to the school as "The Happiest Place on Earth" ... Yes, that is Disneyland! LOL. I also felt many connections to the themes could go without explaining. I guess not.

I glad I've provided many of you with a great deal of happiness in the lambasting of my query. I don't feel embarrassed because I am using this website for what it is designed, to improve my query.

I've already had three requests for full manuscripts based on this, but it still must endure the crucible that is QUERY SHARK, not QUERY BUNNY RABBIT. CHOMP AWAY.

peace y'all.

Megan said...

I don't think that the writing is all that great. It tries far too hard. And shows nothing.

I would have stopped reading at the part where she claims that Laura the last person to get a "vanity degree." First of all, what is a vanity degree? Like, a degree in something useless? Wouldn't that cover all liberal arts BAs? My BA is in history, and I've never worked in a history-related field, but I wouldn't call it a vanity degree.

And last I checked, colleges are still filled with people majoring in art, music, history, English, and so forth. That's just what you do when you go to a TT liberal arts college. Dedicated art schools also aren't doing so bad, so far as I know. Kids enter them with very real dreams of making it big and being a famous artist or designer.

ddipersio said...

The pretty turns of phrase are just that - they communicate very little. I would have a very hard time reading this book if it uses the same heavy handed use of prose. Convey the story

Uma said...

I see writing like this in lots of bestselling novels and I do wonder, wtf? I really can't write like this. Maybe there's hope for me.

pooto said...

Kate - never finished joseph conrad: gtfo. There's nothing wrong with the run-on sentences (see Bret Easton Ellis (what exactly is Less Than Zero about for that matter?)) on the perceived lack of plot here (it's literary). In fact, 'plot' or not plot, it sounds a lot more interesting than some of the other run of the mill critiques that follow a strict and artificial formula of conflict, conflict and oh wait more conflict, with characters called kit and kat like some sort of chocolate bar. It's literary, relatively well written and above all thematic. I simply disaggree with the 'jarring images' comment by qs - looking at the words/phrases used it conveys a sense that something has gone wrong is society - 'happiest' is contrasted with 'cameras', 'Manhattan businessmen' with 'suicides' and 'fontain of youth' with 'surgically enhanced': each an ideal tainted by the crushing reality. Bottom line: it shows thematic promise, why reject it on the basis that it doesn't follow the formulae of non-literary novels?

pooto said...

Kate - never finished joseph conrad: gtfo. There's nothing wrong with the run-on sentences (see Bret Easton Ellis (what exactly is Less Than Zero about for that matter?)) on the perceived lack of plot here (it's literary). In fact, 'plot' or not plot, it sounds a lot more interesting than some of the other run of the mill critiques that follow a strict and artificial formula of conflict, conflict and oh wait more conflict, with characters called kit and kat like some sort of chocolate bar. It's literary, relatively well written and above all thematic. I simply disaggree with the 'jarring images' comment by qs - looking at the words/phrases used it conveys a sense that something has gone wrong is society - 'happiest' is contrasted with 'cameras', 'Manhattan businessmen' with 'suicides' and 'fontain of youth' with 'surgically enhanced': each an ideal tainted by the crushing reality. Bottom line: it shows thematic promise, why reject it on the basis that it doesn't follow the formulae of non-literary novels?

The Tripster said...

There is beauty in these lines. Now it's time to discipline the obvious creativity and love of language into something people will want to read. The words in this letter also splatter like Pollock; Pollock in a sneezing fit.

Joseph said...

I think the real problem is a lack of coherence. Coming of age novels, novels about young people who fall in with the wild crowd for a bit, these are enduring plots for novels. That comes across, as does the fact that your heroine is probably somewhat of a cipher.

The problem is that there's no internal logic to your paragraphs or even your sentences. I have no clue what you're saying most of the time. It's word soup. Try for a bit more clarity. If your ideas and imagery are cool and creative, don't gild the lily. Just express yourself in a straightforward manner. This isn't poetry and I don't have time to pour over every sentence of a 250 page novel.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Piper: Bingo.

Nora: I think you've gotten some solid advice, from some very knowledgeable people, above.

Joel said...

Amongst the last to pursue a "vanity degree" before the current recession, Laura Locksley matriculates into the zany Modern Arts University, where hedonism and instability splatter the students like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. She explores music, intoxication, sex, inspiration, and artifice—young and confused in an epoch where The Happiest Place on Earth is bugged with cameras, Manhattan businessmen commit office suicides, and surgically-enhanced faces drink from the Fountain of Youth.

Don’t use air quotes. It’s punctuation replacing words and is weak. Leave out current. Matriculate is jargon, almost clinical. You don’t bug with cameras; bugging is listening. You peep with them. Or they glare, stare, leer. Office suicides? I don’t get that. The faces aren’t surgically enhanced to deal with old age. They’re repaired, puttied, fixed, glued, spackled or corrugated, warped in the ripples of the Fountain of Youth. (And wow, please forgive me for that inept metaphor.) Or faces scarred with lines of repaired porcelain. An epoch is too long, especially if you’re all ADHD. How about: moment.

I made each chapter almost like a television episode, so that the reader could flip to the next one if bored - great for those with ADHD. I felt since attention spans are decreasing at a rapid rate it was a cool idea. Still, it connects through several areas of conflict/resolution and subplots.

Sweetie, that’s it.

Laura Locksley leaves the University of Pennsylvania with an MFA and a flask of vodka. She has a job waiting for her, and this is her last summer before settling down, so she spends it [doing things]. Half way through the job disappears, and she back tracks her way to the gates of the school, seeing things a new way, but [ocean waves of Aristotelian arcs]. Does it take an hour? A day? A month? Flip Book is complete at 84,000 words.

It’s been done, but not the way you’ve done it. Keep writing, and congratulations on being brave enough to post in the forum. That’s half the battle. The courage to submit, and post and ask for criticism. Good job!

Bernard S. Jansen said...

I thought the basic rule of Query Shark was to read every single post before submitting a query for review. I can't believe the writer of this query has done that.

abogash said...

Nora,
The third paragraph of your follow up comment is where you should start over. Except for the if bored can skip part. You are dissing your own work and if the book is all somehow related over the different TV episode chapters, skipping one would leave the reader blind and struggling going into the next.

There was a movie awhile back that had four "sub-movies" going on at the same time on the screen. I can't for the life of me remember the name, sorry, but after reading your post- instantly thought of how that movie was presented and what you are trying to accomplish.

You need to start with one sentence that describes best your novel and build from there.

The info from your follow-up sheds a different light on the query but doesn't give me an "Oh, I get it now!" momment. You need a cohesive query which will have the agent begging to read this different approach. Right now you have fluff.

As always - just an opinion. Take it, leave it, file it etc.

Irene Troy said...

My query is a series of snapshots of ideas, so yeah, it did what it was intended for, but obviously was not the right decision.

I glad I've provided many of you with a great deal of happiness in the lambasting of my query. I don't feel embarrassed because I am using this website for what it is designed, to improve my query.

Perhaps I’m mistaken – and I hope I am – but, the response to the critique of your query sounds both angry and a tad arrogant. One thing every writer – actually everyone regardless of chosen field – must learn is how to take criticism and use it to improve their craft. I realize it is tough to have strangers tear apart your work, but this is exactly what readers will do – only they won’t let you know, they just stop reading.

The novel is centered more around themes and ideas than a linear plot. I made each chapter almost like a television episode, so that the reader could flip to the next one if bored - great for those with ADHD. I felt since attention spans are decreasing at a rapid rate it was a cool idea. Still, it connects through several areas of conflict/resolution and subplots.

Well established and highly regarded authors (read: published multiple times in legitimate ways) may get away with breaking the rules of writing. It is even possible for the novice writer to break a few rules, bend a few traditions and still be published. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to do both. “Cool ideas” aside, you may want to rethink this approach and gear your work more toward the norm.

I suppose I don't understand how a person could think I was referring to the school as "The Happiest Place on Earth" ... Yes, that is Disneyland! LOL. I also felt many connections to the themes could go without explaining. I guess not.

A mistake many new writers make – certainly one I’ve made – is to assume readers will “get” anything. While I certainly do not view potential readers as idiots, I also do not assume they will automatically understand the connections between scenes, characters or events. If someone tells me my scene seems confusing, I listen. Even when the scene, to me, seems crystal clear. I never blame my reader for not seeing what is obvious to me.

I've already had three requests for full manuscripts based on this, but it still must endure the crucible that is QUERY SHARK, not QUERY BUNNY RABBIT. CHOMP AWAY.

If you have already had three requests from agents, why are you bothering to post to this blog? Surely, if agents are interested you no longer need the services of the Shark.

Kate said...

Well, I did finish it. After a long nap and a pot 'o coffee. But it wasn't very fun. After an English degree, I decided to no longer force myself to read books I don't enjoy. My life is too short and the books are many. I know. The horror.

I used to turn my nose up at plot-driven books until I realized how cliche it is. I don't plan on writing "Read Heart of Darkness - Twice" on my gravestone.

The reading public wants to be entertained. There's nothing wrong with that. Analyzing and critiquing literature doesn't make me a smarter, better person than someone who thinks "The Help" is the best book ever. If you have a message, and I think this writer does, you smother it when you package it in a way that is overwhelming or indecipherable for most people.

Helena Gowan said...

Actually, a similar book with no major plot and with section copied and pasted landed its publisher a million-book bestseller.

Just saying.

Stephanie Barr said...

I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier. Not sure how I missed it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with lyrical passages and clever imagery, but, first and last, words should convey a meaning, should communicate with an audience.

I don't think this did. I got a headache just thinking about reading this book. Perhaps, if the book is written like this, it is just an indication that it's not the book for me, but it might have tremendous merit lost in the mix. It sounded like it should have made me laugh, that it was humorous, but I didn't find it funny.

What/who is your book about? What is it about who/what that makes it worth my time to read this? That's what I think a query should be telling me, the audience.

Nora said...

Irene Troy, Nah I'm not angry at all. I can handle the criticism, trust me! I had to get over it a long time ago - teachers will make you cry, your peers will trash your work, you will want to die because you don't feel good enough. A smart person will try to see if a criticism is reasonable and then use it to benefit the work. This site seems like more of a workshop-type place instead of a jury panel. So, take my comments as light-hearted/semi-sarcastic joking around (they probably don't sound that way :( uRGHSGHH) lol. My book will never be on a book shelf if I am angry or lying to people on the internet. I've gotten some interest and rejections. I didn't send it to many agents because I know it isn't what it should be. I'm skeptical about everything, an "I'll believe it when I see it" person, so just because somebody reads the book doesn't mean anything to me. Who knows why people do what they do... beats me. I'm disappointed I sent a few out too early to be honest.

Joel, Thanks for the critique, the specific examples really helped.

Bernard, yes I read the site. I find a lot of the queries are more YA or some sort of fantasy. I even researched my genre and studied the blurbs on other books. I took a *few* liberties, obviously (hehe, I love liberties! - Surely, the rules don't apply to ME, Right? jk). A lot of people thought my query was boring, but a lot of the "queries that got to yes" seem dull to me. I'm a little bit nutty and I'd rather take a risk and err on the side of obnoxious extravagance. I feel like my query is one big Shamu whale on this site, which is funny to me but shouldn't be.

I don't know why everyone is so skeptical about this portrayal of art school. Of course everybody worked their butts off. But a lot of the kids were medicated, mentally unstable, and there was a revolving door of drop outs and transfers. Here today, gone tomorrow. ADIOS! Ya know? And when an art school admits hundreds of fine and performing artists, after graduation there are only so many opportunities and the degree really does not mean anything if you want to work someplace other than a restaurant. I called it a vanity degree because I read something where the person expressed that only the rich attended these types of schools for the prestige of having a bachelor's degree but no real dire need to financially provide.

Nora said...

Irene Troy, Nah I'm not angry at all. I can handle the criticism, trust me! I had to get over it a long time ago - teachers and peers will make you cry, you will want to die because you don't feel good enough. A smart person will use criticism to make the end result top-notch. This site seems like more of a workshop-type place instead of a jury panel. I didn't put my query on here to "do battle" in the comments section, I really want to make it great. So, take my comments as light-hearted/semi-sarcastic joking around (they probably don't sound that way :( uRGHSGHH) lol. My book will never be on a shelf if i feel the need to lie on the internet. I've gotten some interest and rejections. They mean nothing to be honest. I'm "I'll believe it when I see it" person. Who knows why people do what they do... beats me. I'm disappointed I sent a few out too early to be honest.

Joel, Thanks for the critique, the specific examples really helped.

Bernard, yes I read the site. I find a lot of the queries are more YA or some sort of fantasy. I even researched my genre and studied the blurbs on other books. I took a *few* liberties, obviously (hehe, I love liberties! - Surely, the rules don't apply to ME, Right? jk). A lot of people thought my query was boring, but a lot of the "queries that got to yes" seem dull to me. I'm a little bit nutty and I'd rather take a risk and err on the side of obnoxious extravagance. I feel like my query is one big Shamu whale on this site, which is funny to me but shouldn't be.

I don't know why everyone is so skeptical about this portrayal of art school. Of course everybody worked their butts off. But a lot of the kids were medicated, mentally unstable, and there was a revolving door of drop outs and transfers. Here today, gone tomorrow. ADIOS! Ya know? I called it a vanity degree because I read something where the person expressed that only the rich attended these types of schools for the prestige of a bachelor's degree but no real dire need to financially provide.

Uma said...

Hey Nora:
I've read plenty of novels without a good plot- and enjoyed them. But you still need a point...what is the point of this?

Nora said...

Oh yeah, Irene Troy - I most definitely need the Shark. I need her like a model needs a cheeseburger. I need her to put me on her hibachi grill and chop me up and let the grease burn with her fire. My query is going nowhere without improvement.

Christina Auret - "the magic of an artist's inner life" should not be taken as an indication of superiority. I don't think anyone would dispute that behind works of art there is magic churning in the mind of the creator. If I wasn't an artist I wouldn't feel offended. Artists are translators for shared emotion.

jdh said...

I can only recommend reading the works of Virginia Woolf. Now there was a seasoned writer who knew how to use beautiful language and still get her point across.

I have to echo the others who have said they had difficulty following your query. I suspect you composed it like you might compose a piece of music. You see all the parts happening in concert, while most are only able to follow points linearly.

You challenge is to learn how to break your complex thoughts down in a way the rest of us can follow. Start with the main theme, leave the grace notes out until we are swaying along.

Much luck to you!

JS said...

Dear Nora,

I read literary fiction all the bleeding time. I review literary fiction all the bleeding time.

Not only do I read literary fiction, I read experimental fiction as well. (In that light, I found it kind of amusing that your examples of the most literary literary fiction that obvs the Shark or her benighted readers couldn't possibly understand are all mainstream bestsellers!)

Your writing, at least as it is presented in this query, is not concise, not focused, and not compelling. The images are scattershot, and the vocabulary is unnecessarily ornate. I would encourage you to read some Kathy Acker and some Percival Everett to see how impressionistic, post-modern writing can be done brilliantly.

Don't come in here high-hatting the Shark or her commentariat. It's not good manners, and it's not good professional strategy. I, for instance, have been known to read slush for some of the prestigious small presses with whom you might want to publish this very book!

Best of luck to you on figuring out how to navigate the waters of your new profession. I mean that sincerely; everyone makes mistakes, but successful people learn from theirs.

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

kellyeparish said...

Atmospherically sounds like a cool premise (totally digging the "vanity diploma" character concept going on here) and I'm impressed with the imagery, etc...but the whole thing is too much of a hodgepodge. There's no defined beginning, middle, and end.

Agents and editors have to be able to pitch a book in ten seconds, at a moment's notice. This, as it stands, is sort of unpitchable. I can see why this query might have gotten three requests for manuscripts (command of the English language is good) but I have to say it would be in spite of this query, not because of it.

It *could* be a cool book, but I have no idea what the hell it's about based on this, and I won't buy a book on pretty words alone. Like King is fond of saying, "Talent is cheap as table salt."

#165, take a note from Hemingway:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Don't be afraid to put the shit in the wastebasket. You don't need dozens of superfluous metaphors and adjectives to cushion your writing. If you have talent (and you do) then it'll shine through on its own.

Half of being a good writer is being a better editor.

Standback said...

Irene, I think you're being harsh. It's inevitable that a writer (or anyone, really...) feel at least somewhat miffed at negative feedback, and I really think Nora's response took it with good grace.

I didn't see anything argumentative or accusatory in Nora's comment, just some justification, from her point of view, of why she wrote the query as she did. OK, she bragged about getting agent nibbles too. Hey, I'd want to brag too, under those circumstances :)

Nora - I'd love to see an attempt at a rewrite for this query. I can see that querying for a more literary novel is probably a lot trickier than a plot-based work; I'd love to see a query that *does* work for this.

Megan said...

The vanity degree thing is still vague and insulting and should be dropped. A BA from a nationally recognized school will not go to waste. Trust fund kiddies who don't ever need to work are not going to Podunk University of Basketweaving and Fine Drawing. And a degree from a nationally known and very well respected school like RISD (or, more likely for trustafarian types with parents who demand some common sense decisions, a top liberal arts college or university with a major in art) will open doors in all sorts of fields. So just drop the vanity degree part. It's meaningless, and pegs you as an outsider of what you're trying to describe.

Query letters are simple and boring because the people reading them get a trillion a day and want a very simple explanation of what the book is about. There is nothing simple about your query letter. Erring on the side of obnoxious will get yours thrown away: doing what the agents want will get yours read.

If the book is a collection of stand alone vignettes, just say that. How on earth would anyone know that from what you wrote? And why on earth would you beat around the bush? It's hardly a groundbreaking presentation, and I'm sure the agents you send it to will be able to wrap their minds around the fact that this is basically a book of short stories revolving around a single character's experience at art school. But they want to know up front what it is. Your letter right now doesn't say.

Say that it's a collection of stand alone short stories revolving around Laura's experience at art school. Offer a taste of what some of these stories are about. Have a sentence about how Laura grows through the book. Use plain English. And, voila, I think you'll have a decent letter.

Standback said...

Megan wrote:
If the book is a collection of stand alone vignettes, just say that.[snip]

Say that it's a collection of stand alone short stories revolving around Laura's experience at art school. Offer a taste of what some of these stories are about. Have a sentence about how Laura grows through the book. Use plain English. And, voila, I think you'll have a decent letter.


That sounds like excellent advice - sounds like that would really convey the actual content, and the atmosphere, without trying to force the narrative into a single "plot." Makes sense as a good format for querying about a novel of this type. :)

KO said...

"The novel is centered more around themes and ideas than a linear plot. I made each chapter almost like a television episode, so that the reader could flip to the next one if bored - great for those with ADHD."

It feels like you are saying, "because nobody can concentrate anyway, I am not going to worry with connecting ideas into a coherent plot."

I am not sure this is a real selling point.


Instead, write a book where the reader would never choose to flip to the next story out of boredom.

kellyeparish said...

"The vanity degree thing is still vague and insulting and should be dropped."

^ I saw the vanity degree mention as more of an indicator of the main character's attitude towards her educational choices, rather than as a reflection on BA schools themselves...

Robert Michael said...

The potential for imagery is strong in this query. The irony is that the query itself is a metaphor for the title. It is a fragile "bird" in a skeletal "cage of bones."

The author could strengthen the query by making it a lion in a titanium-lined cage. Simply explain what the book is about. She can even allude to the vignettes/scenes as a way to describe the story-telling method.

In her description she could also mention that the novel is a "literary slice-of-life tragedy," or some valid "where in the bookstore can we sell this" title. The bottom line is not that the writing is off-putting--that is a matter of taste, really. The bottom line is that she leaves no sense of WHY. SHOULD. I. REPRESENT. THIS. AUTHOR???

As cliche, unoriginal, or pigeon-holed it may seem, the formula for a query is considered a formula for a reason. It's point is simple. Deal with that, and leave the convention-toppling for your novel. Don't try to re-invent the wheel, just roll with it (I should copyright that remark, huh?)

Mr. Write said...

I first must admit that I was thrilled to see a new post from the elusive shark, but after I got bored with the first paragraph and skipped ahead to the next, I realized that I am still empty inside.

Nora, I hear what you are saying, truly I do. As a recipient of a door-opening degree in acting, I often wonder about my own failures and lost opportunities. The problem is that no one intrinsically cares, especially when my recantations are riddled with the speed bumps of so-dubbed beautiful imagery. Be careful that you are not writing it to impress yourself. I know the mantra that we all write because we have to, to feed some angst-strained voice looming within our collective, stubble covered inner artist, but "wtf" is right. I write because I am good at it and I want to amuse my readers while I accept their money for the privilege.

But, in digression, I would note Catch 22 as a good resource for a literary novel driven by surrounding, hazily connected short stories that only become clear and cohesive in the final chapter, supporting the MC and giving the reader some well deserved answers and focus. The ride along the way, however, was interesting, vibrant and, in this case, brilliantly hysterical.

Thanks for coming back, QS, I missed you dearly!

Draconium said...

Here's my advice:

1. Give us something real about the character.

You've already addressed plot here in the comments. What you haven't addressed is character. I said a little about this in my previous comment if you want to look back, but I'll say something else here:

You portray Laura with a sort of double tongue that makes me as the reader feel sort of dizzy and sick. On the one hand you seem to view her and her endeavors in art school with a sort of contempt, futile and foolish. But on the other hand you glamorize her. I picture her with lanky hair, jutting hipbones, in a sequined Cami. I hate her, but i know absolutely nothing about her. This is not good.

2. My question is this: Is the greater social critique an absolutely fundamental element to the story? is it the most (or second most) important thing? If the answer is no, take it out. It's distracting.

If your answer is yes, great. Leave it in. But you still need to tell us more about Laura. Something deeper than an ipod and mascara. We don't even know if she really wants to be an artist, we only know that you (the auther) thinks it's a vain fancy.

It's an extremely tricky thing to do, to juxtapose oppose semi-diluted (wealthy) characters against a backdrop of harsh reality without seeming like you, as the author, are condescending to your character and by default the story it self. Yet it most certainly can be done. A great example is the film, Y Tu Mama Tambien. But those two boys, flawed as they were, and for the silly futility of their endeavors and their empty pledges, they still commanded our sympathy, because what ever they were they are real flesh and blood fully developed characters.

You said it yourself, artist are translators for shared emotion, now show me that she has some.

3. So it's episodic, fine (it's actually not so radical an idea). The trick is to give us a glimpse into some of the more telling encounters. What happens along the way? We need more specifics. An image which is not rooted in specifics (especially in something as short as a query) is like smelling food when your hungry, with nothing on your plate.

You say, "the ghosts of lost companions linger like smoke from their now-extinguished cigarettes," and all i can think is... who died?

4. About the whole "vanity degree" issue: You said, "I read something where the person expressed that only the rich attended these types of schools for the prestige of having a bachelor's degree but no real dire need to financially provide."

Now I'm guessing that you read this in some sort of article, and I'm sure the article was fascinating and legit. In an article it's perfectly acceptable to talk about people in the general, as statistic numbers. But fiction is specific, and invariably in specific situations you see the variety. If she's a rich kid, that's fine. But it's not only rich kids in art school. Some kids get scholarships and so are able to afford school they couldn't possibly afford otherwise, others take out more lones than even they can comprehend. And for every listless detached art student i know, i can show you 2 more who do it because it is what they love, what they live and breath, the way the make sense, sanity, beauty out of this crazy world.

Of course there are those in flux, coming and going and dropping out, those who don't know what they want. But that's the way with any college. College is a time when people are deciding who they what to become. The future is definitely daunting. But it's not like art students leave expecting to make a living solely on their art right away. Neither do they all expect to live off their parents. For many it's a very conscious decision to work that much harder.

Stijn Hommes said...

"While studying creative writing, I completed two short story collections and tutored for the writing department."

I don't agree that this is entirely useless. If the author was to say where that creative writing study was, it might pique the interest of the agent or editor.

And tutoring means people have a certain trust in your writing ability. It's not a writing credit, but it's clearly relevant experience -- assuming he or she was paid for the tutoring.

M. G. E. said...

Agents occasionally receive this genre of query. It goes something like this:

"Eye-lashes fluttering wistfully, lips quivering, I turned out of the wind and dropped this glorious letter into the illustrious mailbox where it flew into your alabaster hands, and now you want to read my story... right?"

In other words, I'm trying to prove I can write by dazzling you with purple prose.

It fundamentally mistakes the purpose of a query letter, which is to interest an agent in the actual story itself.

The writing can be threadbare and still succeed if the story is strong, just ask Asimov.

Prose without purpose does not sell (or does not sell well). *cough*

It is a symptom of naivete because it makes that fundamental mistake of telling, not showing.

Also, this:
"Laura uses...[X, Y, Z] to buffer reality..." actually says nothing. Terribly vague.

John Jack said...

No matter if a novel is literary fiction. The genre is one without conventions and audience expectations common to other genres. Mystery, who done it suspense question. Romance, will they or won't they suspense question.

One important distinction between literary fiction and conventional genres arises in a denouement's payoff. Conventional genres pay off emotionally. Literary genre pays off emotionally, intellectually, and perhaps spiritually.

Regardless of genre, emotional payoff comes from a satisfactory denouement, the final outcome of the main dramatic complication depicted in an ending. What Ms. Query Shark asks when she says "Plot is what choice the protagonist has to make." What is the main dramatic complication? Also known as the central conflict to be resolved.

However, a conflict resolution ending doesn't seem the direction of the novel, nor is conflict resolution as common to literary fiction as it is in other genres. Closure, accommodation, revelation, other ending types suit literary fiction readers' comfort zones.

Another question, what is the central suspense question? The generic one readers want answered is, What will happen to the protagonist's central insuperable dilemma that matters to readers privately and sufficiently publicly for a numberable audience?

The title suggests to me a pretty male songbird in a prison of decay, hinting at a social dystopia. Dystopias deal with coping with the imposed, harsh realities of existence from a Realism/Modernism slant. Postmodernism deals with challenging and questioning the fallible authorities and absolutes of existence, seeking, if not finding, workable accommodations to dystopia or a new normal sanctuary from the imposed hardships of the dystopia.

From what I glean from the query, Laura doesn't know what she's up against, what she desires, what she has to say about the society she's part of so that she can change or change it to suit her needs. I think informing her ignorance is the direction the novel opening goes, but that's not clear, too low concept in the query to be accessible. What does she want to be different?

She's got a lot of influxing pressure, but no outfluxing reaction, which is best if it's internal commentary expression on the sad state of affairs she finds herself in in the beginning. Then in the middle she can take efforts to be heard, and the ending then could be her outcome from attempting to reorder her society to her liking, successful resolution or failure with accommodation.

Nora said...

John Jack - wow. thank you so much for your input. you've got the gears turning in my head, definitely.

I feared that the title was too intense, but I really liked what it stood for in my mind.

Cardinal in a Cage of Bone is obviously a metaphor for the anatomy of a human chest. Ribs are the cage and the heart is the bird. This is my way of describing what it feels like to remain tender and trapped. You imprison yourself with your inability to grow outside yourself (for better or worse, maybe you can't get over yourself *winks at query shark* or you find it hard to become callous).

The metaphor ties in music, immortality/decay like you said. The anatomy ties in *the body* which is huge in my novel. I wanted to depict male/female interaction without the chauvenism and misogyny (I'm looking at you Hemingway and Updike) or the demonization of men. We are messed up, but there are some really wonderful and sexy moments. The dissection of sexual attraction.

I feel like people think my generation is unfazed and vulgar and growing up too fast, but because so much of our socialization has happened through the computer/cells/etc poor coping skills have resulted. (Mr Rogers saying you are special "JUST FOR BEING YOU"). I think it has resulted in us not coming to terms with our feelings (ie: getting wasted every weekend, blacking out, screwing around with someone in the dark, having it be "a joke" to have a crush). But deep down, we are also dreamers because movies have inundated us with Harry Potter, fantasy, etc. Maybe this is just MY personal experience, and you all think I'm totally off-base.

The female orgasm is also a theme (don't worry, I demonstrate through my stories.) There is a French metaphor for orgasm, le petite mort - a little death. Female orgasm is tied directly to the restriction of blood flow to the orbitofrontal cortex. The part that controls punishment and reward, expectation, decision-making. I interpret that fact as that a woman must temporarily relinquish a self-preserving part of her sanity. It is located behind the eyes, the windows to the soul. In fact, it strikes me as a miniature death and rebirth. People say that it is "just a funny fluke that stuck over time," but I feel the female orgasm is biological proof that men and women are spiritual equals. A man's orgasm is primitively driven for the propagation of the species (like how we kiss when we are drunk). But for a woman, just to get there is art, not vital... it's just beautiful, like Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss"

My novel is not written like my query. I like my novel. I think it is an easy read. The chapters are episodic like television. I also cut the last chapter into two and integrated it near the end of the second half of the book. I had to give my book a "Hollywood Ending" ... which is actually another commentary. So the reader would have to go back and look for those two pieces to find out what happens but I don't think that is too hard.

Another commentary is the fact that I managed to integrate my own will into my character's thoughts so that if I died young my parents would know what to do with me.

The last chapter is my "Artist's Statement" .. (remember those? all you art school grads!). It is everything I never got to say in college. :( I also kill my character off in the last paragraph (please don't be annoyed), and introduce myself in her place. Because that is the point. Finally learning how to tolerate reality.

I'm sorry if this comment sounds too "me, me, me" ... I have a lot of ideas I'm excited about. :/

Mr. Write said...

I feel like I just sat through a grad asst symposium on how to regurgitate on your prof's well worn shoes. No offense, but what happenned to writing viscerally and allowing character to grow into an automous soul. Rules, rules, rules! I'm sure this is not the proper platform to suggest shirking the rule of authority (winks to QS), but, honestly, unless you're writing for the over-stuffed heads of literary theory, just tell the darned story!

CB Hoffman said...

I have to admit that when I read this, it sounded to me like a writing student trying to impress the professor. I love imagery myself, but if your story is thematic, then your imagery should be also, but the imagery in the query seemed disconnected to me.

I also had the sense of someone writing to prove how literary their work was; overall, trying too hard in effort to make certain the work was literary enough.

I suspect that your primary audience will be academicians or overblown college students who can read the work and then congratulate themselves on how deep their literary understanding and appreciation is.

I personally want a story first, and art second, but then, that's just me. No doubt your vision is different, and I wish you every success.

Nora said...

Mr. Write - Shirking authority?! When I thought about my title and how it stood for the inability to grow outside oneself, it occurred to me that query shark was right about how my query indicates that I need to get over myself. So the wink was supposed to mean "yeah, you're right". I don't know how much more of this I can take. Every good intention is taken COMPLETELY the wrong way.

Maybe I will just stop commenting on my own query. I am obsessed with my book though. I want to make sure everything is perfect. As soon as I wake up I go on here to soak in the comments and re-read what people say and think about how I can change things. I don't really have any other life than my book, honestly.

John Jack said...

Nora,

From the descriptions of the novel, I see Laura's dilemma as an ebbing tide voice wanting to be heard above a flood tide of naysayers. Interestingly enough, that's the very dilemma literary fiction confronts, metafictive too for paralleling the opposition all literature faces from marketplace forces, and a driving facet of Feminist Literary arts.

The proxy realities technology creates do depersonalize interpersonal relationships, at heart a central message of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, though I'm more reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions for one of its central messages: Think for yourself, or others will do your thinking for you. The Breakfast of Champions: conscious, conscientious, critical thinking.

Laura's choice, in my opinion, is to speak up or acquiesce, be suppressed by the groupthink pageantry she finds herself in.

Theme, message, moral, and motifs unify. What I don't see in the query or novel descriptions is the focusing unity theme and its attributes contribute to plot.

A central theme of Breakfast of Champions is partriarchal overlordship shown by Vonnegut's narrative reporting from an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, god-like authorial narrator, a widely deprecated narrator type in the '60s and today. Vonnegut truly thought for himself.

stephen said...

The shark once said that it probably takes 3-4 manuscripts before a writer creates a publishable work. This idea sounds to me like manuscript number one. The one that tries really hard to be artistic and important. The novel you think will change the world. I wrote that novel once too and guess what, nobody liked it.

My advice, get working on those other manuscripts asap.

stephen said...

Nora my advice is to keep it simple. If you can't describe your hook in one sentence then you may have a serious problem selling your manuscript.

A.M. Schilling said...

Nora:

I think a lot of the comments are coming from one basic place--when we write in cyberspace, it is very difficult to communicate what we're thinking unless we actually spell it out. In this case telling us ("Ms. Shark was right-I need to get over myself") vs. showing us ("*winks at query shark*") might get the point across better. It might also get you helpful feedback vs. negative comments due to perceived hostility/aloofness on your part. Counter-intuitive to writers, I know, but we don't have the space here to do it the other way effectively.

Irene Troy said...

Nora – first, if I seemed harsh in my earlier comments, please forgive me. It was certainly not my intent to squash your creative leanings or to denigrate your writing. Although I currently am writing non-fiction (memoir) and have yet to publish fiction, I view Query Shark as one of the best resources for new and developing writers the Internet offers. Here you can banter about issues of story construction, plot, characters and, of-course, most important, publishing. To this end, I feel it does everyone a disservice to “pussy-foot” around flaws I recognize in either the query or the tiny bit of book the author presents here.

In your last post you wrote: “I don't really have any other life than my book, honestly”. Once again I’m throwing out some advice that may go against what you may have learned in school or among other writers. Take a break from your novel. Spend a day, a week, whatever, away from the novel. Do something completely unrelated to the theme of your novel or marketing said novel. Talk with people outside the writing world, go to mall or a museum, watch a movie, go for a drink, do whatever you need do to distance yourself from the novel. Then come back and go through your novel, line by line, page by page. Faulkner once said (or at least this is attributed to him) “Kill your darlings”, meaning much the same thing Kristin wrote above – kill your babies. As you read your work, take out every turn of phrase, every word that you really, really love. Every time you find that wonderful, lilting metaphor that zings you in the heart; every time you read the line(s) that makes you say “gee, I really can write”, take it out. Then read the section again. Ask yourself: does this make sense? Does this tell the story in a coherent fashion? If so, then leave out those darlings, your work will be stronger. The problem most of us have is that when we write something we become “married” to our own words. We know the plot, the purpose, the meaning behind every word. But, we forget that the reader doesn’t have this advantage and must, instead, rely upon us to show the story in a clear, easily grasped fashion. The other piece of advice a well published writer friend gave me that really helped: even if your theme is serious, don’t take yourself overly seriously. In other words, don’t become so enamored with your own writing you forget the true purpose – telling a good story.

ninjapink said...

Call me old fashion, but I simply don't find themes of this nature to be appropriate for young readers and to be perfectly honest, I am disturbed by how much literature there is in the YA that deals with sexuality and drug usage in such cavalier manner.

Nora, from your query letter and everything you are saying here on the comment section, I'm not seeing any story. I'm just seeing someone trying to capatilize on the "cool imagery, screw the plot" mentality. And I also agree with what others have said in regards to your comment of catering to today's ADHD infested generation. It is my opinion that to write for young people means taking responsiblity to help promote positive growth in young people through whatever message you are trying to send. But I'm not getting any message here. I'm getting a series of images and scenes without any conhesion. Catering to short attention span is doing you, your readers and the industry as a whole a disservice. I'm all for experimentation but not when it is to the deteriment of vunerable young minds.

Mr. Write said...

Nora,
Understand that my previous comment was not aimed at you. I get the feel from your responses that your work is very free from restrictions and more organic than restricted or classically organized. I was actually referring to some of the previous comments to you about rigidity and formulaic progressions, not to you personally. I do have concerns about your prose and imagery, but that's your style and your choice with which I would never criticize blindly. I admire your passion and hope for your fruition, so accept this as my apology if you felt I was focused on you or your comments. Keep fighting for your vision and take all of our comments with a bag of salt.

Lucy Woodhull said...

Nora,

You say "My novel is not written like my query." One thing to consider is that the voice of the query should match the voice of the book - then the shark/whoever can get an immediate sense of what the book will be like and not be surprised when they get the actual manuscript. If they love the voice/style of the query, then they may be disappointed if the book is different. I'm not sure if you mean "voice" per se in the above, but keep that in mind.

Good luck!

S.D. said...

There's A LOT of words going around, trying to put things just so, but I like the way the Shark put:

"This isn't composition class; this is mud splattered, in the trenches, in-it-for-money-screw-the-love general trade publishing."

:D

weretiger said...

Nora, please allow me to share a little bit of advice... As an aside, I'm an aspiring novelist and I work for a small press as an editor and a slush reader, so I get to see things from both sides of the fence.

When the press I work for opens to submissions, we can get hundreds in less than a month (and I'd guess big presses and agents get loads more than that). There are three of us who go through them - first, the senior editor removes all of the ones that didn't follow the guidelines, and all the ones that don't have a solid grasp of grammar, and then sends the rest along to myself and another slush reader. It is then our job to go through, read the first 20 pages or so of the manuscript, and pick out three or four that we would recommend for a full read. If our senior editor concurs, they get a full read, and if they're good enough, and there's room in the schedule for that particular genre, the writer is offered a publishing contract.

Now, there are a lot of good manuscripts out there, and we can only accept a few of them. Also,
with us being a small press there isn't a huge budget for slush reading, and we have day jobs plus our own writing to do, so we need to be extremely efficient in how we go through all the slush. Which means we look for ways to knock stuff out of the running. A lot of typos? Shows me you're not professional enough to edit properly, so gone. Can't figure out in the first twenty pages what the story is about? Bye-bye. Story doesn't have unique, interesting characters? Outta there. But sometimes it's not that easy. Sometimes you have two really good manuscripts, and you can only take one. So you look at the writers**. Which one is more professional? Which one shows a clearer understanding of the business side of things? Which one comes off as being saner, and easier to work with? That last one there can be really important, especially to Editor Me, who needs to know that I won't have a freak-out on my hands when I suggest cuts and corrections.

The point of all this (and I do have one) is that erring on the side of obnoxious is a really bad idea if you want a slush reader/agent/editor to want to work with you. You need to put your best foot forward, and being obnoxious is not that. Miss Snark once said that she'd rather work with a good writer who was a pro than a brilliant writer who wasn't, and I agree with that assessment 100%.

So, in short, be a pro, write a query that shows you're a pro, and make people want to work with you.

**Google is a wonderful thing, and we use it a lot, so being sane on your blog and in public forums is also a really good idea.

freestyle_taiji said...

Nora-

After reading through your comments, I just want to say that I'm glad I'm not the only one who's noticed-- the decreased attention spans, socialisation through technology resulting in poor coping skills, the fact that most people spend the majority of their free time getting drunk.

These are real issues that are affecting our generation and I think they are in desperate need of a voice. If your novel can do that then I say kudos to you.

Nora said...

Stephen - how about "Catcher in the Rye" meets Glee! hehe, yesss ftw!

stephen said...

Not bad but my experience is that agents hate when you compare your work to literary masterpieces. What I mean to say is can you describe your book in one sentence? Without the comparisons to other books or television shows. The opening paragraph of your query should contain such a sentence.

Also keep in mind the way you sell your book to your agent may mirror the way they sell it to a publisher. If you can't sell it to them how are they supposed to sell it to a publishing house?

One last comment and I'll call it a day. Don't ever look down on your readers. It does seem like your talking down to your readers. Never criticize what's on the book shelves and don't ever go around acting like the people who are going to buy your book are too dumb to understand it.

Nora said...

Stephen - hm, you are right. No comparisons to masterpieces.

How about: "What might result if Lady GaGa wrote a novel"

*prepares self for potential backlash*

I'm halfway kidding about that, just trying to think of what would sell.

Also, the episodic structure of my chapters is more of a commentary than a judgment towards the reader. I heavily rely on the intelligence of the reader to understand why I wrote it that way.

I can't believe I commented that the whole book is about a female orgasm. Oh, lord. Not quite. Got too excited with ideas.

If anybody cares for an update, the agents I mentioned that were interested said they "didn't fall in love with it". I've revised/edited myself 6 times but I sent it out to two other writers because they offered their editing expertise.

I am currently re-reading Query Shark right now.

I'm sorta happy my query got a lot of comments, even if I am the direct source for a good portion. I love you guys. Thanks for the help. If anybody feels like reading it, message me at NStepanitis@gmail.com. I will read some of yours if you want, too. :)

M. G. E. said...

The best fiction casts a spell on the reader and draws them into the illusion of the fictional world.

Many of the most important improvements that a writer can make involve smoothing the rough edges in a story that can break that spell. Some of that is displayed in this query, as with the confusing reference to Disneyland and the line, "unaided by a glowing touchscreen" which makes the reader stop and wonder how exactly that's relevant.

But what can also break the illusion of fiction is writing that draws attention to itself for other reasons. Even writing that is particularly striking because of its beauty or uniqueness can detract from the story itself.

alaskaravenclaw said...

'Scuse me, Ms. Shark, but I think you dropped this:

< / s >

Taymalin said...

Hey Nora, I don't know how much you get into the orgasm thing in your book, but if you do mention it, in particular if you use any French, I wanted to give you a heads up on French language. Le petite mort doesn't work because there is a mishmash of gender in the sentence.

Everything in French is masculine or feminine. Mort is a feminine verb, so the adjective must be feminine (which you got right), but the choice between le, la and les must also match. Le is masculine, la is feminine and les is plural. So it would be la petite mort.

Probably not a big deal if you do use it incorrectly in your ms, but I didn't really have anything else to contribute to the conversation ;)

Janet Reid said...

aha! Thank you! The entire sidebar was struck out as well, and I couldn't figure out where I'd gone wrong.

thanks!

Stephanie Barr said...

First, let me say kudos to QS. Each revision gets another review and that adds up to a lot of work. Thanks, QS!

RE:revision. Um. Still no clear story. Still no clear characters (unless we want to note Laura's juggling hedonism with monthly trips to the emergency room to visit a dying relative - which hardly reflects well on her). NO sense of plot. No clear sense of place, at least for me.

I feel like I'm hearing this as a conversation at a hip club with all the distractions of the bright strobe lights and jarring music.

Each sentence seemed disassociated with the ones that followed, disjointed. Tell us what makes this story special in a cohesive way.

M. G. E. said...

(Post Revision)

Hmm, I think the revision is somehow worse than the original.

It's more diffuse, it makes less obvious sense--even seems less enticing.

This line is almost incomprehensible: "Her family has drifted apart and must now deal with cancer together."

Let's take this back to first principles; this is a character study. We must learn about you character from many angles, in many situations. I can see you trying to get all that in here, but it's perhaps too much.

Maybe focus on a few early situations, or the main one, and your character's reactions to it. After that we still need to see some suggestion of plot question, even if it's metaphysical or psychological in nature. What exactly is she struggling against?

Without that I just don't see any need to get to know your character. And it's an amazing character you have to sell here.

alaskaravenclaw said...

You're welcome.

I'm lost as to Laura's harsh awakening. Was it being ripped off by a psychic?

Cause I'm sitting here thinking: The Haitian earthquake, now that was a harsh awakening. Laura doesn't sound like she has problems, except possibly the cancer that somebody has got. She just sounds spoiled, and like she thinks she's smarter than me.

JS said...

Who has cancer? Are Laura's trips to the emergency room because she has cancer, or because she's supporting a mom/dad/sister/brother who's been brought there because of issues relating to the cancer, or because she's having panic attacks because of her own/her mom's/her dad's/her sister's/her brother's cancer? Being vague is not artistic, it's confusing.

Who's Ryan? Is he a heroin addict? Why not just SAY he's a heroin addict, instead of "with a syringe and tourniquet" (most heroin addicts in real life don't actually use a tourniquet to tie off, but a belt or tie or sash cord--tourniquets are hard to find, not particularly durable, and a bit expensive, whereas a good leather belt works great as a tie-off, will last forever, and isn't something that will arouse anyone's suspicion).

"Modern Arts University" is the fakest of fake college names ever. It's like something out of Grand Theft Auto. Give your school a believable name: The {Imaginary City} University of the Arts or whatever.

I'm 45, and I went to college during a major economic nosedive. Nobody expected to get a good job in their field when they graduated, especially folks in the arts (and pure sciences like theoretical physics). And surprise, we didn't; most of us worked in bookstores or waiting tables or went to graduate school. This is actually something that many of the agents and editors who'll be reading this book experienced themselves--it's not the one-of-a-kind apocalyptic event your query implies it is.

Tell us about Laura. She's a composer. She feels isolated from her fellow students. Someone in her family (or maybe herself?) has cancer. She's in love with a guy who turns out to be a junkie. She's trying to figure out who she is. Maybe she's trying to figure out how to comfortably inhabit her sexual self/become orgasmic (I'm not really sure what you were trying to say about that).

That's a potentially interesting story! All this other highfalutin pseudo-sociological blather is a snooze. Be specific. Make Laura come alive.

And don't say "Oh, that's just what people do in commercial fiction," because bullshit. Nobody draws characters more vividly than Percival Everett or Sarah Schulman. You know who proses on in vague generalities? Dan Brown and Newt Gingrich.

Megan said...

Even though you did take some advice, I think this query actually manages to be worse than the first draft. You sound madly in love with your own voice, and I hate to say it but your voice isn't all that great. It's really a mess. The last sentence of the first paragraph is such a dud after you pull out every SAT vocabulary word you can think of in the previous sentence, and it's very jarring. I think that you are trying to be lyrical, but it comes off as clumsy.

You need to say up front that this is a collection of short stories. Period. You didn't say that in your first draft, and it confused everyone. And guess what? It's still confusing. And no, not (as you allude to in a previous comment) because we're all too low-brow to appreciate this brand new amazing genre of "short story collection revolving around single theme" that you've singlehandedly discovered. It's because your plots sound disjointed. Which is okay, because there is a REASON that they are disjointed. You just have to say what that reason is.

You also need to write in normal English. Write the way you talk. No one can get away with saying that people "doubt whether their aspirations will be attained" without sounding really silly. That's not how people talk, and those words only slightly fit what you mean. The students are worried about their future. The students are wary of the economic climate that awaits them upon graduation. The students are vaguely aware, through the din of partying and the fog of group creativity, that the economy is crashing and creative jobs that will pay the rent are becoming even scarcer than usual.

Your book may very well be good. There are a few queries on here that sound like truly awful books, but yours sounds like it could be a fun read. But your query letters are not good, and do not adequately explain your book, and do not make your book appear in the best light.

M. G. E. said...

@ JS: You wrote:
"Tell us about Laura. She's a composer. She feels isolated from her fellow students. Someone in her family (or maybe herself?) has cancer. She's in love with a guy who turns out to be a junkie. She's trying to figure out who she is. Maybe she's trying to figure out how to comfortably inhabit her sexual self/become orgasmic..."

- That actually gave me a spark of interest right there! More than either of the author's queries.

@ Megan:
"You need to say up front that this is a collection of short stories. Period. You didn't say that in your first draft, and it confused everyone. And guess what? It's still confusing."

- I had totally forgotten that the author mentioned that before, you're right. I still don't think it's necessary to use a short-story collection format. This isn't Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. But it will just raise the bar of excellence necessary to get published--which is fine if the work is worth it. Chapter division, scene and sequel work just as well.

What's missing is the over-arching conflict that ties it all together.

morphine-moniza said...

You should probably focus on your protagonist's character. You left that out in your previous query as well, which is odd because this is probably a character-driven book, right? Listing random plot points is conter-productive because if we don't care about the main character we wouldn't want to know what happens to her. It doesn't help that there's nothing particularly unusual about a story dealing with cancer and drug addiction. There are about a gazillion such books. You need to show what sets yours apart. Just sit down and think about your character, focusing on the single most important choice she has to make in the book.

Good luck!

showinguptowrite said...

Hey Nora,

You said that you are obsessed with your book and want it to be perfect.

Nothing is perfect. There is no perfect novel or perfect art. But there is good art and fabulous novels (and vice versa). I would suggest focusing on being good (or great) and appealing (or heart-wrenching) or--well, hopefully you get the idea. By reaching for perfection, by holding on too tight to your creation, it can become hard to see it as an outsider would - which is pretty much essential for a good edit.

Ultimately, it's not what we get out of writing the story, but what others get out of reading it.

So, as others suggested, get working on your next novel, give yourself a break, find some balance in your perspective.

Okay, point two, regarding "imagine Lady GaGa wrote a novel". Despite the fact that I'm going to her concert in a couple of weeks, I have no real idea of who she is or what she's like, so your suggestion didn't tell me anything about your book.

I also don't watch Glee and sadly I've never read Catcher in the Rye (I know, let the shocked gasps begin). You never know what cultural context the person on the other end of the query letter will have.

My suggestion for describing your book in a sentence or paragraph, is to imagine explaining it to someone who shares no cultural references with you. If someone from a small town on another continent with no media access whatsoever stood in front of you, how would you describe your book to this person?

I'd love to hear what your story is about in a clear, pragmatic and direct way.

As a bad example: Laura started her modern arts degree with high hopes for her future. Her reality crumbles as she faces cancer in the family, a loving boyfriend who she discovers is an addict, etc. Her belief in her own strength falters and she must either find a new strength inside or fall victim to the same narcissistic, self-defeating behaviors as the people around her.

eh, hopefully that came through clear enough to get the idea.

Good luck!

Meridith said...

Nora––

I've read both your comments and your query. Here's the thing: your comments' conversational voice is SO appealing/fun/easy to read, but retains these similes and fun language peppering the sentences. So that makes it uniquely you. And you get right to the point and I understand what you're getting across.

And then your query is, like, bogged down in writerly purple prose that does not mean anything.

Could you explain Laura's story in the comment section? Because polish and trim that up a bit and you've got yourself a query.

Theresa Milstein said...

I think this query is off in many of the ways the first one is off. The author likes her splattered paint line, so it still appears even though Query Shark crossed it out in the first draft. This query is trying to say too much. The part about the father and hospital should be out because right now it doesn't connect the beginning with the end.

Also, mentioning the a top-tier college drove her crazy, doesn't tell us anything. She wants to be an artist. She's immersed in a different culture. But she's torn between following her dream, which may never materialize and wanting some money. That's the gist, right?

Why does someone rich have to be slime?

What are the real stakes here? This is a pretty typical thing we all face (or keep facing), so people can relate to it. But it needs more drama than what we face. I'd like to know more about who she is. A good college driving her crazy and lines like "rich slime" don't make me root for her. Make me cheer.

Ellipsis Flood said...

Ah, yeah. I see where this is going. Art school versus getting an 8 to 5 job.

Even though all the fancy metaphors are gone, this query kind of loses itself somewhere in the middle. I still feel like this query is trying to sell the artsiness of this book, rather than the plot.

And I still don't get why she'd need to bond with the rest of her family because her dad's ill. Go visit dad when no one else is there.

Also:
"
Trapped between her heart and common sense, she always knew that the “good times” wouldn’t last forever. Now she’s afraid that they might."

This confuses me. What are these "good times" and why would it be bad for them to last forever? Why would they last forever?

Theresa Milstein said...

I think the query still reads like two competing stories here. And the problem is we don't need all this info about what she's doing with her free time at art school.

Once I get rid of all the other stuff, I'm assuming this is the plot:

1) She was the girl who did what was expected of her and went to the right school. But she was losing herself. She follows her heart and embraces the bohemian lifestyle, but doesn't know if she made the right decision.
2) Her choices become more complicated when her father gets sick. When she returns home, she feels her family's expectation of who she's supposed to be. If her classmates are dropping out for safer career alternatives and her family is giving her pressure, is she making the right choice? Can she make peace with her family and still be herself?

Good luck.

Lemur said...

Wow. This is the first query I've seen on QS that didn't (over 3 revisions now) seem to pay attention to what is pretty much rule #1 - Who is the protagonist? What are their choices? Janet kept asking, but the author kept turning a deaf ear to what seems like a simple request.

Now, I'm not your target market anyway. I don't have ADHD. I don't particularly like "episodic" things. I like character and plot. And if it's absolutely necessary to have one without the other, I'll take character first. Though it's my belief that one should lead to the other.

I've never (that I know) read a literary novel. In fact I really don't know exactly what that means. (Though the adjectives "artsy," "pretentious," and "boring" come to mind.) So apologies already if you and I are so far from each other that there's no way we can align.

It's quite possible that I've read several "literary" novels without realizing I did, but the fact that they actually had characters and plots made me miss the point that they were supposed to be literary. However if I see that word in a description, I'll be sure to run screaming in the opposite direction.

I'm more than a little perturbed with the idea that a reader should have to go back and either read something they skipped over or re-read something to understand the ending. If the writing is compelling, why would they skip it? If not, why would they care about going back to understand it?

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with some girlfriend of a friend who told me that she read the first chapter then the last chapter and if she liked both she'd go back and read the rest of the book. I was a bit appalled If you don't read my middle, why would you care about my character or have any understanding of the end without the context in between?

Though others have said it already, I'll try stating it again so that MAYVBE it gets addressed in the next revision: Who is your main? Why should we sympathize with her? What choice does she have to make? What are the stakes. Even in an episodic book, there should be choices/stakes that carry over from one story to the next as the character grows. (And if she never grows/changes, why would we want to read about her?)

On the issue of denigrating art students: My ex taught at Visual Arts in NYC, and I've never seen so many hard working students in my life! The curriculum includes not just the art itself but huge focus on marketing. Though he did have one or two kids who liked to party maybe a little too much, most of them spent every possible extra minute working in the various shop rooms, trying to perfect their work.

Much luck!

Shawna said...

"Most of her friends are leaving Modern Arts like the locusts of Exodus."

I'm pretty sure the plague of locusts you appear to be referencing is better known for its sudden, overwhelming arrival than its departure.