Sunday, September 4, 2016

#283

Question:

My story has a feminist approach and my target agent would ideally be looking for such. However, in order to be concise and straightforward, I skip out on any details that make it feminist. I’m afraid it even comes off as the opposite.

Also, my protagonist is Latino and bisexual. I added his last name, Sosa, but made no mention of his sexuality. I only added the word romance in the query, which I am also not sure about.




Dear QueryShark,

I am seeking representation for my first novel The Once and Future Queen. Given your interest in fantasy novels for young adults, I thought it would be a good fit for your list. 

You don't need to state the obvious. You wouldn't be querying if you didn't want an agent, and you wouldn't be querying me if you didn't think I'd be interested. This is like "um" in conversation. It's warm up, it's filler.  Don't signal that the agent should start skimming in the first line. Start with what's important: the story.




Liam Sosa is in his senior year of high school and is on the verge of impending doom— adulthood. Between homework, nagging parents, sucking at sports, and of course girl trouble, Liam feels like life could not get any worse. But things get unexpectedly shaky when one night, Liam gets into a car crash after deciding to drive home his drunken schoolmate Tristan.


This sentence clunks: "But things get unexpectedly shaky when one night, Liam gets into a car crash after deciding to drive home his drunken schoolmate Tristan"

Short form writing (ie querying) absolutely requires clarity. You can not write a sentence that requires an agent to re-read it to understand what's going on.  The best way to do this is short, standard organization: subject, verb, object.

To wit: Things get unexpectedly shaky the night Liam drives his drunken schoolmate Tristan home. (You'll then need a sentence about the car crash).

Liam and Tristan wake up in a strange forest, with no sign of another car, a road or even houses. Bewildered, they search around until they are met by a strange woman with bizarre clothing and a shining sword. She takes them to a massive fortress complete with knights and peasants, where they realize they’re no longer in their small town in Virginia. They’ve been transported back in time to medieval Great Britain by sorceress Morgana to help the woman that found them, Queen Guinevere. She is in the midst of a war against her brother King Arthur. In a twist of events, Arthur was not the one to take the Sword from the Stone, his sister Guinevere was. The enraged Arthur took Camelot from her with an army of immortal soldiers and attempted to steal Excalibur, which vanished at his touch.

It's not a twist of events, it's a twist on the whole story.


Morgana enlists Liam and Tristan to find Excalibur, the only weapon capable of destroying Arthur and his immortal army. Although the adventure seems compelling, Liam finds that medieval times are dark and violent. Furthermore, he struggles to see what he, a simple teenager, can really do against the legendary warrior, King Arthur. With Tristan and Morgana at his side, Liam embarks on a journey of self-discovery, romance and adventure.

Of course the problem here is that you have not specified what makes Liam and Tristan the Men For The Job.  What do they bring to this adventure other than the fact they are there?  You're using a tried and true motif here, and that's all well and good, but you have to tell us what makes L&T special.

The novel delivers a 75,500 word provoking twist on the ever-popular Arthurian legend, all through the eyes of a twenty-first century teen.

 Don't laud your own novel in a query. Just the facts please. It's 75,000 words, a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend through the eyes of a modern guy.

As requested, I have attached the first X pages of the manuscript.

Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.


Answers to your questions:
1. I don't think you need to worry that this doesn't sound feminist. Any story that has Guinevere pulling Excalibur out of the stone signals the reader to expect a feminist take on an old story.

2. If you think Sosa makes me think a character is Latino, you've forgotten that Liam is Irish. I wouldn't make any assumptions about ethnicity based on this name.

The way to convey ethnicity is by what the character does and says, not by his name. Is it important that Liam is Latino? Is something about his background key to how he survives in Camelot, or why he's called upon to save the day.

Ethnicity shouldn't just be adjectives you assign a character. 

This query doesn't do the job yet. Unclunk the sentences, and tell us why L&T are Our Heroes.

And of course, the irony of telling a feminist version of Arthur with two main characters who are of the testosterone persuasion is not lost on your reader.


18 comments:

Sara said...

I'd drop most of the first paragraph and get to Arthurian times as soon as possible. The first few sentences don't do much besides establish "ordinary teen leading ordinary life," which is not what your story is about and can be summed up faster.

You might even want to consider bending normal query structure a bit here. See what happens if you start with the two kids being summoned to the days of the Round Table, then backtrack to explain who they are and what might and might not help them in their task.

Melissa said...

As I read through it with your note that it's a feminist novel, I wondered why two legendary women had to resort to asking teenage boys for help. That bothered me. I love the idea Guinevere being the one to pull the sword.

Is his being bisexual a characteristic or intrinsic to the novel? That would help you know if you should include it. That brings up a question to Janet and the community. I know a lot of agents are looking for books with LGBT or minority characters. How do you bring that up in the query if those characteristics aren't central to the plot but reflect the characters?

Greg L. Turnquist said...

Between saying "my protaganist is bisexual" and reading your reimagining of the the legend, it comes across that you picked LGBT and Latino just to up your odds of finding an agent. If it's not intrinsic to your story, don't sweat it. If it is, give the criticals.

I find the idea of turning the tables and having Guinevere having drawn the Excalibur really intriguing. But if Arthur is just going to be a testosterone enraged villain, I'll say "blah" and move on. I don't want flat cliched characters.

rkcapps said...

I love Guinivere pulling the sword. I'd like to know how and why it is her not King Arthur. I'd like to know how 2 teenage boys can help? I'm curious. I think you've got to put in a few rewrites (you've probably already done hundreds). Maybe make more from Liam's point of view or Guinivere 's?

Ardenwolfe said...

I'm curious. How does 'bisexuality' up your odds with an agent or any agent? In this day and age, I would think the opposite would be true given market demand.

Am I missing something?

Write Brain said...

My first thought when I saw the schoolmate's name was Tristan was that I wondered how you're going to differentiate between him and Sir Tristan of Arthur's court. Unless they're meant to actually be the same person or if Sir Tristan doesn't appear. But even in that case, it could confuse a reader already familiar with the story.

Echoing the concerns about two strong leading ladies needing to call in reinforcements from a pair of modern teenage boys. Number one, what skills or traits do the boys possess that Guinivere and Morgana need? I currently don't know anything about Liam or what makes him special, his wants, his wishes, his talents. All I see of him is that he drives home a friend who's drunk. Admirable. But not necessarily someone I'd trust to help me claim my rightful throne.

And, number two, is there a reason that the teenagers, or at least one of them, can't be female? Otherwise, I think you're shooting for the wrong audience. I would have eaten this book up as a teen. I wouldn't have necessarily *not* read it with a male protagonist, but I would have related to it much stronger with a female lead.

RachelErin said...

I agree with the other comments. (I also loved time travel portal fantasies as a youngster, and grew to love the Arthur legends as an adult).

I was really confused about Guinevere being Arthur's sister - she's his wife! It's confusing because you clearly lay out that the identity of the sword-puller is wrong, in contrast to the common understanding, but not the G/A relationship, not the Excalibur issue, so the query leaves me uncertain if you've read enough legend to twist it.

There also may be a better way to twist the story than making them siblings. My disbelief suspends readily with G. being the sword-puller, but I have much harder time going along with her as A's sister. Don't know why - subjective reader response. (Oooh, I propose a new abbreviation - SRR). Probably because her relationship with Lancelot ends in a war, which makes no sense if G and A are siblings. (Normally brothers can let their sisters love/marry their best friends after a period of adjustment).

This kind of story presents an interesting challenge: you have no way of knowing the agent's familiarity with Arthurian legend. If the story they know best is Exaclibur = sword-in-stone, they may be confused about why G. doesn't have it, and reject. If you over explain, it could sound patronizing and equal a rejection.

Have many other thoughts, but they all fall into the brainstorming category so I made myself delete them. Interested in seeing the revisions.

Nate said...

So, I'm the author here. I don't know if it's normal for the author to comment on the comments, but I felt like I was being asked a lot of questions, so I will anyway.

So first is the question of Liam's background. I made Liam Mexican not for the story itself but for the reader. I'm Mexican myself and I love reading fantasy novels and I love the Arthurian legend. But I could never fully identify with most protagonists because they were white. It's not about political correctness, it's about representation. It's about Latinos and people of color being able to read a fantasy novel where they are being represented. And not as a side character, but as the protagonist. And in the book, I make sure his background comes up, especially in Camelot since he's not white like everyone else.

That brings me to the second point about him being bisexual. And the reasons are the same as for him being Latino. Representation is important and Liam's character explores the other side of his sexuality in Camelot, where the Celtic men more often engaged in homosexuality than heterosexuality. I bring this up more in the second book (which I'm currently writing).

Third is the question of Liam and Tristan's roles in the war. I'm gonna spoil a bit of the book here, but Morgana doesn't summon Liam and Tristan specifically. She's simply looking for a way to find Excalibur and she accidentally summons them. And yes at first Gwen (Guinevere) and Morgana don't really see how or if they can help. Gwen especially doesn't feel like she needs them. But then Liam discovers he has magical abilities and begins having visions that help them recover the sword.

As for Tristan, the question in the book is if he was summoned at all or if he just happened to be with Liam at the time Liam was transported. Part of the book is Tristan finding his role in this, or making a role for himself. And since I had already taken a few liberties with the story, I decided to make Tristan the same as the one from the legend.

As for the feminism aspects, I knew of course that the while the story was feminist I am still using a male protagonist. I made sure that didn't lessen any of the female characters. I wrote Gwen, Morgana, Morgana's sisters, the Lady of the Lake and various other female characters as strong and independent. You get to watch them through the eyes of Liam. He is the eyes of the reader, sometimes the hero, but the women in the story become the true heroes.

As for Arthur and Gwen, I decided to make them siblings. It was a tough decision, but it made more sense for the story I'm telling. I read and watched everything I could about the Arthurian legend. I delved into it as much as possible. But I'm not telling that story. The whole point is to give it a new take, which meant changing a lot of the classic elements. A lot of what ifs. I'm writing three novels, and for the story to make sense, especially for Excalibur, Gwen is also the daughter of Uther, twin sister of Arthur. The story is so old and history can be so mistranslated that I felt it more interesting to do it this way.

Obviously I can't fit all of this into a query so I'm working on it. The thing about race and sexuality is that some agents want to see that and so when querying them, I want to mention it naturally. For most agents I'm starting to query I'm not mentioning it. Thanks of the comments, and I really appreciate the help, especially from QueryShark.

Steve Stubbs said...

If it is a feminist novel one would think the MC should be female. Also, anyone who has read major feminist theorists (I won’t mention names so as not to hear from their lawyers) notices the complaining about “penetrative sex,” meaning they seem to think feminism is a homosexual, and not a bisexual movement. It is fine to have a bisexual male MC who is Hispanic, but whose name is English (LIam?) but you are likely to raise eyebrows when you say this is a feminist story.

You wrote:

“Liam Sosa is in his senior year of high school and is on the verge of impending doom— adulthood. Between homework, nagging parents, sucking at sports, and of course girl trouble, Liam feels like life could not get any worse. But things get unexpectedly shaky when one night, Liam gets into a car crash after deciding to drive home his drunken schoolmate Tristan.”

Break this up and you get:

“Liam Sosa is in his senior year of high school. He sucks at sports. He sucks with girls. His parents nag him because they think he sucks. His driving sucks. (And you have set us up here to believe he sucks as a MC, which raises a risk the story sucks.) Hello?

One night Liam is driving his friend ristan home. Tristan is the one who is drunk, but Liam, who is sober, crashes the car. Hello? And he did not think things could get any worse. [You might want to leave this last sentence off. The agent will wonder if it is Liam’s life or the story that cannot get any worse and draw the wrong conclusion. That sentence could be dangerous.]

Liam and Tristan wake up in a strange forest. There are no cars. There is no read. There are no houses. Bewildered, they wander around until they meet [this avoids the passive construction “they are met by] a bizarrely attired woman who carries a shining sword. She takes them to a massive fortress, where they realize they’re no longer in their small town in Virginia. [You might want to leave this last off, since it is an obvious ripoff of The Wizard of Oz (“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”)] The sorceress Morgana transported them [avoiding the passive construction again here] to medieval Britain to help the woman that found them, Princess [not queen] Guinevere. She is in the midst of a war against her brother King Arthur. Despite what the male dominated legend said, Guinevere is the one who took the Sword from the Stone. The enraged Arthur took Camelot from her with an army of immortal soldiers. He attempted to steal Excalibur, but it vanished at his touch.

If Guinevere is not married to Arthur and he is king I presume she is a princess and not a queen.

Morgana enlists Liam and Tristan to find Excalibur, the only weapon capable of destroying Arthur and his immortal army.

If Art’s army is destroyed by Excalibur, then they are tough but not immortal.

You wrote:

“Furthermore, he struggles to see what he, a simple teenager, can really do against the legendary warrior, King Arthur.”

You are over promising here. What “a simple teenager” who sucks at sports can do against King Arthur is nada, He can’t do squat.

“With Tristan and Morgana at his side, Liam embarks on a journey of self-discovery, romance and adventure.”

This is too vague. It says nothing. It does indicate that Liam is taking the lead from Morgana, which is not feminist.

We also have no idea at all what Tristan is doing here, aside from the fact that he was drunk and the Hispanic Liam was driving him home. And what does Morgana do, after transporting them back in time?

Your query signals to the reader that your story is not well thought out. My guess is, that will earn you a medieval British NORMAN. The story sounds intensely interesting but it needs fixing before you shoot your one chance with agents.

Theresa Milstein said...

I was wondering why a woman had to get help from 2 teenage boys too.

I've been told not to mention ethnicity in queries unless it's central to the plot.

MB Owen said...

"I am seeking representation..." is an "um" being taught by many workshops/agents/etc. Having tried both ways: with and without the "um," I can tell you in my experience, the: "I am seeking representation" is designed for the agent to tic off the queries faster than you can say Um.

Laina said...

Okay, I don't write adult books, so I could be off, but isn't 75k a little short for adult fantasy?

I, um. I'm trying to say this gently, but... if you are a dude writing a book with dude main characters - maybe leave it up to women to decide your book is feminist, or not.

Michelle Chouinard said...

So those first sentences you said were like an 'Um...'...That's where I've been tailoring my query letter to the specific agent, and I've heard before (maybe incorrectly?) that if the agent gets the sense they're receiving a form query, they'll reject it on that basis only. So if it's a good idea to jump right into the story, where do you personalize the letter?

Steve Stubbs said...

I agree with the posters that a novel with a male M C does not seem feminist. But this is easy to change. Use global search and replace to change the name of the MC from Liam to Priscilla. Priscilla is not a Mexican name, but then neither is Liam.

High School girls have crushes on actresses. Older ones do as well It has been alleged in the press that both Megan Fox and Anna Paquin have crushes on Jenna Jameson., Jenna is a porn star, so high school girls in the novel would have to have crushes on Taylor Swift or something like that. But Priscilla’s friends having crushes sets up what is to come.

Priscilla has a crush on Princess Guinevere. That sets up the later scene in which Priscilla actually meets Guinevere. That is a wish fulfillment fantasy. Her high school chums never get to actually meet Jenna Jameson, and do not expect to do so. But Priscilla does meet G. She does what every one of your readers wish they could do. The reader does not have to actually follow them into the bedroom. The mere fact that Priscilla identifies Guinevere as the object of her passion makes it feminist.

Something else a feminist story needs is for the female MC to kill a man. Think the movie THELMA AND LOUISE. It was an excellent film, but what got feminists excited almost to the point of losing control was that early on Susan Sarandon’s character shoots a man to death. In an early scene, before Priscilla gets transported back in time, she yearns to bump off King Arthur, She joins a medieval enthusiast group and studies and practices with the broadsword. That sets up the later scene in which she actually does bump off the actual king, not just in fantasy. If she wipes out his soldiers as well that bumps the feminist aspect onto overdrive. She could kill off Arthur’s soldiers (his palace guard, probably) on the way to slaughter the king himself.

This sounds like a fun story to write. Too bad it is someone else’s idea.

I look forward to Nate getting it published.

Mon said...

I really struggled with the spin on Guinevere being Arthur's sister as well. Their relationship is such a central part of the original tale it's hard for me to accept the change. It might be more useful to replace Guinevere with Morgan.

If I were you I'd mention the main character's ethnicity and sexuality. You could do it after you've described the story. YA fiction needs more diverse books, so if I were an agent I'd consider it a point in your favour that this isn't yet another book about two White heterosexual boys.

seph said...

Not at all sure where you got the idea that feminist stories require women to kill men, Steve, unless you're just trolling.

Chelsea P. said...

Hi Nate!

I read your query and your answers to people's questions, and I really enjoyed what you had to say. I definitely agree that bi latino kids should get to be heroes just like straight white kids, and there are definitely agents looking for more diverse stories. Maybe there's a way to imply Liam's sexuality in the query. You mention girl troubles--does he start out with a gf and then end up falling for Tristan (or another guy)? Or here's another thought: the opening paragraph (in content and in tone) reminded me a bit of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (an amazing book, btw). If you've read it, and you think the comparison works, you could do something like "my novel is The Mists of Avalon meets Aristotle and Dante," which could hint at race and sexuality? I don't know. It's a tricky line to walk, and I've found myself in a similar situation back when I was querying. (Do I mention that my protag is a biracial lesbian, or let the story speak for itself?) For me, the queries where I let the story speak for itself got the most bites, but I definitely understand wanting to tweak the query for agents who are seeking diverse voices.

Man, I could talk about this all day.

But let's get to the query! I absolutely love Arthurian legend, and I admit to being in the "but Morgan is Arthur's sister!" camp. Full disclosure, I love Morgan. LOVE her. She's my favorite historical figure, so outside of the logistical issue (you mentioned that there are so many versions of Arthurian legend--but don't most versions have Arthur and Gwen in a romantic relationship, and do any versions have them as brother and sister?) I find myself wondering why Morgan couldn't be the one to pull the sword. Or why Gwen-as-Arthur's-wife couldn't do it. But again, I'm coming from the I-love-Morgan camp, so I'm not saying your version can't work. Just that it brings up a lot of questions for me.

Other than that, I think the story sounds really cool. I love the idea of Morgana and Gwen working together, and the juxtaposition of Arthurian Britain/the modern day. Sounds like a really exciting story!

:)

Nate said...

Hey guys, author here again.

Thanks for all the comments, just waiting for the revision to be posted.

I forgot to add one thing about Liam last time, regarding his name. Liam has Mexican parents but he was born in America. Many latinos name their kids english names. When they name them an English name, it's usually to give them a better chance. It's extremely common and I know many, many latinos with English first names. My first name is Nathan and I was born in Mexico. My cousins name is Samantha and Nathaly and they were both born in Mexico as well. As for a famous person, think Michael Trevino. His Mexican parents named him Michael not Miguel. It's more common than you think. It's also definitely addressed in the book.

I also want to thank you for your comments, I've actually made a lot of revisions to change a few things to make it more feminist. But the protagonist remains male. It's more important for me to have a Latino protagonist. And male, Latino, not Latina. There are plenty of Latina protagonists out there but too few Latinos. Latino's are perceived as criminals and that needs to change. Latina's aren't. So Liam must be Latino.

Another thing is the importance of bisexuality in men. I could tell the story and have the female protagonist have relationships with men and women. But that's common and accepted. Bisexuality in men is often discarded. I've heard so many times from women telling me I'm actually gay and men telling me I'm actually straight. I'm neither, I'm bisexual and many men go through the same thing. We need to get rid of "men can't be bisexual, they're just figuring it out."

So, Liam stays male, Latino and bisexual. Representation matters because it shapes perspectives and paradigms. It has a real effect on people's lives and that's what I'm trying to do with this book (series).