Saturday, October 1, 2016

#284-FTW

Dear QueryShark:

In 1957 a scream awakens 21-year-old Adina Claypool, who discovers she is on a mental ward. Again. The psychiatrists have diagnosed schizophrenia and recommended Thorazine and shock treatments. Again.


There is a standard agent-response of 'ewww" to stories that start with someone waking up. Yet, this works here, and works very well. This is a classic example of how to break "the rules" of querying. Do it well, and do it on purpose.




One psychiatrist believes both diagnosis and treatments are wrong. He thinks she is hiding something. He warns her to admit what she has done or she might doom herself to a life of unneeded medication and institutionalization.

The other, admittedly overworked, doctors are getting impatient. If psychoanalysis is what she needs, she'd better start talking.

But what if her story hurts her beloved grandmother? Someone might try to lock her up, too. No one must know that even Adina doesn't think her grandmother is perfect.

Or what about Adina's friend Charles, a Negro? He could end up like Emmett Till, murdered for whistling (or maybe not) at a white woman.

As for Adina's boyfriend--if he is still her boyfriend--he would be horrified if people knew what she is really like.

Yet she can't endure more shock treatments or deal forever with the horrors of the mental ward. All she wants is to return to the world of people she loves, a small but safe village that she envisions surrounded by walls to keep her mother out.

No, the psychiatrist insists. She can't keep her mother out. She must deal with her mother.

Impossible! Every time her mother re-enters her life, she makes Adina act "crazy."

On the other hand, can she stay in this place where old women throw crayons and pour hot coffee on her? Where people in blinding white clothes strap her so she can't move? They force icy metal into her mouth and onto her temples that burns her flesh and jolts her into flame-colored terror? And afterwards--just as her mother did--the nurses leave her wordless and uncomprehending, hugging nothing but herself at the foot of a dark and narrow stair.

A QUESTION OF SANITY: ADINA'S STORY, is a historical novel taking place in the post-War years in the Appalachian mountains. It is complete at 120,000 words.

"Thank you for your time and consideration" is how to close a query letter.

This is intriguing enough to get me to read pages. It's clear what problem the main character faces, and what choices she has to make. 



I'm a little reluctant to let the word "historical" describe a novel set in the 40's or 50's but that's a quibble.



Question:

The ultimate stakes do not come clear for the main character until Part III. If I start my query at this point, am I implying that this is the place that the novel begins?

Yes. When I read a query I assume I'm reading about the start of the story not the end. 

You use the phrase "ultimate stakes" but a query needs only what is at stake in the FIRST choice a character needs to make. What's at stake when you choose the road less traveled by?



This query does its job. It entices me to read more.
It doesn't follow the template set down in earlier examples, but it has all the elements a query needs.

12 comments:

JulieWeathers said...

Good job, querier. It's not my cup of tea, but it's intriguing.

Leila Rheaume said...

I'm honestly not a complete fan of this query. My main issue is that it's repetitive and wordy. Considering the 120,000 word count—which from everything I've ever read is pretty high for historical fiction—it makes me think a lot of agents would shy away in case the MS had the same issues.

Then it's riddled with a half dozen rhetorical questions and lists what I think must be every side plot in the entire MS. It's almost like one of those movie trailers where at the end you feel like you've watched the whole movie? I feel like I've already read this whole book.

That said, I like the setting, and I like the very compelling hints about her past. I'd definitely read more unless the MS dragged or ran in circles at the beginning.

Feel free to disregard, (you already got a FTW from the Sharque herself, after all) but here's my suggestions for a more succinct version I think still gets across the main character's initial conflict:

"In 1957 a scream awakens 21-year-old Adina Claypool, who discovers she is on a mental ward. Again. The psychiatrists have diagnosed schizophrenia and recommended Thorazine and shock treatments. Again.

One psychiatrist believes both diagnosis and treatments are wrong. He thinks she is hiding something. He warns her to admit what she has done or she might doom herself to a life of unneeded medication and institutionalization.

But Adina isn't the only one her story might hurt. If she tells the truth, they may lock her grandmother up, too. And Adina's friend Charles, a Negro? He could end up like Emmett Till, murdered for whistling (or maybe not) at a white woman.

Yet she can't stand the thought of enduring more shock treatments and dealing forever with the horrors of the mental ward. All she wants is to return to the world of people she loves, a small but safe village she envisions surrounded by walls to keep her mother out.

For any hope of freedom, Adina must not only put her loved ones at risk, but also dredge up the abuse from her past.

A QUESTION OF SANITY: ADINA'S STORY, is a historical novel taking place in the post-War years in the Appalachian Mountains. It is complete at 120,000 words."


Good luck, querier, and thank you for sharing your work!

Ardenwolfe said...

I have to admit, I'm surprised Janet liked it. But I also don't argue with success.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

This query does not quite work for me: I sympathise with Adina, but need to know her better. All I can see is a number of unrelated bad circumstances surrounding her, and not the character herself. She just comes across as a victim, instead of being the agent of her own fate. Stuff happens *to* her, rather than arising as a consequence of her actions. There's simply not enough "story pull" in this query to make me want to go on a journey with her. Part III - when the ultimate stakes emerge - is a long time to wait for dramatic energy. I need to care about her as a person way before that, if those later events are to matter to me.

This query is marked FTW, so it doesn't look as though the QOTKU commands a revise-resend; but, speaking for myself, I would have preferred to see it again, with more of a spinal column to connect its intriguing vertebrae.

Mio Silvan said...

Leila, your version is incredible! I had the same thoughts when reading this query, and just like Ardenwolfe, I'm quite surprised Janet didn't mind the wordiness.

To the querier - great job! But I really do think you should cut down on words a bit.

rkcapps said...

Not my genre but I like how Leila changed it. Felt tighter. Just me! I'd read, but I too am concerned for you over word count for the same reason's Leila mentions - I fear you'd lose me - but far be it for me to question the Shark! Good luck!

E.Maree said...

I enjoyed this query up until the section beginning "Yet she can't endure" and ending on "of a dark and narrow stair". The writing felt very tight up until that point, and then it became very rambling. It's accurately showing the voice, I'm sure, but I found it too wordy for my tastes. Leila's edit was much more my cuppa tea as a reader.

Lochlan Sudarshan said...

Wow, a FTW on your first try. Good for you, querier. let us know when you get published. This sounds fun and different.

I can see why you guys thought it was a little wordy, but I read it slightly differently. I don't think the querier listed every plot point just for its own sake. I think s/he put them in there to kind of work by elision to get the reader to wonder what she's hinting at. I'll admit, while it's usually the kind of thing that bothers me as well, it works here. I am curious what the deal with her grandmother is, and I'd like to see what the relationship between her and her boyfriend is, since in works set in this time period, the boyfriend usually disappears after dumping his girlfriend in the asylum.

I do agree that reading this query in a vacuum I would've expected the shark to recommend paring it down. But that's why she's so mysterious. More than one way to get interest after all. This is the polar opposite of "Premeditated" for example, but she liked that one too.

Lydia D. said...

This query didn't really do it for me, either. For me, it boiled down to the fact that I didn't get the connect between her secret and her "treatment." I honestly don't have a clue how telling her secret would help the situation and how a doctor could possibly guess that she has a secret that would mean they should stop treatment. I understand that the author doesn't want to spoil what the secret is, but the query left me confused and mildly annoyed.

Still, the Shark is usually right about such things, so congrats!

DLM said...

With apologies for going OT, I am curious how many Reiders are being approached by Marvin Wey at Inkitt. It is a shame, I think, that Janet's community online should be mined in this way and she may not be aware of it so I wanted to bring this into the open. I know at least two of us here have received emails.

Lochlan Sudarshan said...

I got one on Wednesday. To save anyone else spammed by them the time of googling, just ignore them:

http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2016/04/spam-spam-spam-spam-inkitt-and-grand.html

http://www.jimchines.com/2016/05/inkitts-publishing-contest/

https://timeglassjournal.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/warning-to-all-writers-of-fiction-inkitt-com-is-a-spam-machine-on-steroids/

Mora Green said...

For what it's worth, I wanted to point out some potential problems for the author that aren't about the query.

Without having specifically researched late 1950s psychiatry, I was getting some strong "TV medicine" vibes from the query. Double check that chlorpromazine was actually marketed as Thorazine in 1957. Double check when psychoanalysis fell out of favor: not in private offices, which I'm sure still exist now because people will pay for anything, but in clinical medicine on inpatient wards. It's been a few decades. Double check if shock therapy was EVER used for acute psychosis. I'm 99% sure it's not standard of care now, except in severe treatment-resistant depression, which it really doesn't sound like the character has. Consider that ward medicine is a very different beast from outpatient medicine. The goal of inpatient hospitalization is to stabilize the patient on medication and therapy, to allow them to re-enter their own life - not forcing them to uncover some secrets. No doctor in his right mind, not even in the 50s, would insist that a patient must come back into a dysfunctional relationship that causes her to destabilize. And double check that in the story the patient actually meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, and not, say, a mood disorder.

I suppose TV medicine is still widely popular, but it just pushes all the wrong buttons for me when the novel is presented as historical fiction. Historical implies that you get the background correctly. I'm getting TV medicine with 1950 props from the query.