Saturday, March 31, 2018
Thirty-nine-year-old Chicago strip club bartender and part-time tattoo artist, Jesse Chasen, is the whip-smart black sheep of her family. She’s cute, but an aging-tough-girl, you-wouldn’t-hire-her-to-babysit-your-kids kind of way. Like if Joan Jett and Reese Witherspoon had a lovechild.
This is a classic mistake in a query. You think telling me what she looks like is telling me about her. It's not.Nothing here tells me what she values, what she wants, what she cares about.
And strip clubs of any kind in the first sentence of a query is a big turn off. I don't want to read books about strip clubs, or people who work in them. That might just be me, of course, but the days of Mickey Spillane are pretty much over.
After quitting her job then stealing the dog of her (newly-ex) boyfriend/boss, Jesse shows up on the doorstep of her estranged, emotionally repressed older sister, Jennifer McMahon, a doctor’s wife who lives a Brady-Bunch-on-steroids existence in the perfectly manicured suburb of Glenview.
Why? The reason is the first sentence of the NEXT paragraph (the call from the lawyer.) That information needs to go BEFORE we hear she quits her job and steals a dog (which seems weird when it's out of context.)
They received a call from a lawyer that morning about the death of their birth mother. The catch is, they didn’t know they had a “birth mother”. To collect the inheritance, they’re forced on a journey together through the Deep South to piece together their mom's story, told in flashbacks. The unusual terms of the will state that their trip must be completed in one week and all children must be present or the money is donated to charity.
Unusual terms? This kind of set up has been fodder for novels since Agatha Christie invented Hercule Poirot. And journey/quest/discover stories are as old as Chaucer. It might be unusual for your characters, but for your readers, this isn't anything new.
Which is not to say it's a poor choice, it's not. It's just not what you want to focus on in your query. Yes it's a quest novel. Show me what you did here that's new, fresh, a twist on the tales we've heard earlier. Show me how your novel contributes to and BUILDS ON the quest novel category. Otherwise it's same old same old, and I'm not so interested in that.
Also you squandered a lot of your reader's enthusiasm with that description of Jesse, when it turns out the strip club and tattoo thing don't have much to do with the plot at all.
Focus on what's important: Sisters Jesse and Jennifer get a call from a lawyer about the death of their birth mother. The catch is, they didn't know they had one.
Yeah, it’s a Dead-Mom Scavenger Hunt.
Their journey through the other Land Down Under leads them to an ex-military Drag Queen brother with mild PTSD who performs in New Orleans as Jackie Oh! After he refuses to join them, they kidnap him at gunpoint (of course). Sure, it’s just a crappy, plastic reproduction of a Civil War revolver they found in a Bourbon St. tourist shop, but he doesn’t discover that until they’re halfway to Bayou Lafourche in Thibodaux, LA.
There's no plot here. There's nothing at stake. You're describing people and events. That's not the same as plot.
The rest of their story includes a circus; a murder; human-eating alligators; an eighty-nine-year-old narcoleptic juke joint owner in Alabama; a trucker with a penchant for TV theme songs from the 70’s, and his bloodhound Ronald Reagan; and Dead-Circus-Mom’s marriage to a wealthy, gay Savannah man twice her age. Then it’s all turned on its head at their final stop.
A coming-of-age story sometimes doesn’t happen until later in life. Then it’s about Second Chances, and about finding the people you choose to call family.
Yeah. And alligators…
Which is a funny line, and I'm totally in favor of having alligators in every book (Snappsy Forever!) but it's not as funny as it could be if you didn't mention alligators in line one of the paragraph starting "the rest of their story."
I think this book will appeal to someone who'd enjoy watching a Sue Monk Kidd family move into a Carl Hiason neighborhood. My manuscript is complete at 53,000 words.
You've committed one of my all time biggest snarly prickle puss offenses by misspelling the name of the author you're using as a comp. It's REALLy easy to do, especially with a name like Hiaasen. But you solve this problem by spell czeching every name. Every time. I feel your pain, I have a client with a name I need to verify Every Single Time, and yes, I've caught mistakes. She's got a double ff instead of a ph, and I always forget how many e's (three, in case you're wondering!)
If I see this in a query, it's not a deal breaker. It is however one less reason to say yes if I'm wavering, and that's NOT what you want.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
The big problem here is there is no plot.
Colorful characters doing crazy things does not a plot make. This is not a plot driven novel (it's character driven) but you MUST have a plot here or there's no tension, and no narrative arc.
Plot is essential because it's the reason we care about what happens to the characters. Without a challenge (or having something at stake) there's no conflict. Without conflict, it's hard to care what happens. No plot is like a football game that doesn't keep score. (I had to revise that from "no score" because yes, dear readers, I did attend a football game where the score was 0-0 at the end of the 4th quarter. Of course it was raining.)
Go back and read Carl Hiaasen to see what his plots are. I'm a big fan of his novel Strip Tease.
Posted by Janet Reid at 12:00 PM