Friday, March 20, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

Shattered Ceiling is a 82,000 word political thriller set in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C.

Former juvenile delinquent turned P.I. Jo Grant tracks a client’s runaway daughter to a feminist commune in the hollows of Kentucky. The missing girl is an unwitting pawn in a U.S. Senator’s scheme to frame his popular opponent for a staged assassination attempt – on himself. Jo discovers an ex-Vietnam sniper, furious at military funding cuts, out to kill the Senator for real, but Jo’s dicey past prevents the authorities from believing her. As bodies pile up, Jo races to extricate her clients, foil the Senator’s plot, and stop the real assassin.

How did she get a PI license if she has such a dicey past? And what military funding cuts? There's a war on now; this sounds like it was written for 1992. You're focused on the protagonist, but the story sounds like it's about the Senator's evil plans. You might want to start with that. Given the reelection rate of incumbents is about 98%, you need a reason this Senator thinks he's going to lose if he doesn't wag the dog**.

I am(redacted) of Sisters in Crime and a founding board member of the (redacted) Writers’ Festival.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work. The full manuscript and a SASE envelope are included.

Whoa! Never include a full manuscript with a query. NEVER. The purpose of a query is to see if the agent wants to receive the ms at all. Unsolicited fulls are discarded, unread (at least when I get them, they are!)
And it's just SASE (not SASE envelope.) SASE stands for Stamped, Self Addressed Envelope. err...yes, the shark choked up: it's of course Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope.

Thank goodness for sharp eyed readers who post comments!

Sincerely yours,

Response: There's nothing to grab on to here. I have no sense of the characters other than Jo is an ex-juvenile delinquent. No sense of the stakes (so what if the Senator loses, throw all the bums out, I say) and a lot of very standard description (races to, bodies pile up). Form rejection.

***If you haven't seen Wag the Dog, you're missing a truly hilarious send up of politics.


Anonymous said...

gah I found this very confusing. If the senator is evil then why is the protagonist so invested in protecting him from the ex-sniper? Is she invested? I'm confused about what exatly she wants to do. She's looking for a missing person who's a pawn in the evil senator's plans, and she's also trying to stop the evil senator getting killed, and at the same time people think she's dodgy.. You're throwing a whole lot of stuff out without really establishing why any of it matters.

WV: agicurr- a pastoral god?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wag the Dog is very good, but also very slow.

I'm in for confused and slightly apathetic, but it's also not one of the genres I like to read.

Janet said...

I had to work hard to understand the sentences - not a good thing. And PI Jo immediately kicked off a jingle in my head: "GI Joe, GI Joe, fighting man from head to toe..." which might be more an indication of my age than anything else.

Unknown said...

SASE stands for Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.

Melissa said...

The "feminist commune" got me. In...Kentucky? Because if we did have communes, wouldn't they be in California? That said, it could be an interesting take on a cult or a counterculture, but the confusing storyline makes me worry that the 'commune' will be equally confused.

Also not sure how the runaway plays into an assassination attempt? And why is the senator evil? Unless they're sociopaths, people generally aren't evil for evil's sake.

I do like the fact that the PI is a former juvenile delinquent, it puts an interesting spin on things.

Janet Reid said...

DaV, got me, and thank you!

(That's two mistakes today--yikes!)

Teagen said...

Overall, I found it confusing and sloppy. You're trying to establish too much, I think. Take the main conflict and talk about that. Clean it up. And maybe use names for the Senator and the opponent because I wasn't keeping straight who was doing what very well with just descriptions. It would make understanding the jumble of words a little easier, but it still needs a lot of cleaning up.

WV: beyerve --A buyer who gets on your nerves.

none said...

Well, she might not want the Senator killed because she thinks it's wrong to kill people. Radical, I know.

Her juvenile record may have been written off or sealed, enabling her to get her PI licence. But the authorities may still know about it. I don't find that so implausible, tbh. That said, I don't care about any of these characters.

Jo Treggiari said...

I really liked her name (smirk). And I thought that an ex-juvenile delinquent PI could be very interesting and unique if handled correctly.

JS said...

"unwitting pawn" is a really hoary cliche. It's also redundant--"pawn" already implies "unwitting".

You've only got a couple of hundred words in a query, so don't waste any making your pawns unwitting or your bosoms ample or your secrets dark.

VinceInAZ said...

I really wanted to like this one. Women PIs are a little unusual, and this rarity makes for some interesting interchanges. The query letter was written in a fairly appealing voice. But the oddness of having that "dicey past" combined with being a PI, going up against an assassin, a second assassin, a senator, and hostile's all a little confusing, as other comments have said.

My suggestion would be to make your main character herself a veteran. That might explain how she got over her dicey past. I know, rewrites are a pain! You might also capitalize on the mayhem. The main character can be said to be swept along in a flood of intrigue and conflicting plots.

Where possible, simplify. Just my two cents.

Sally said...

Having come from the "hollows" of Kentucky, I'm going to have to take a serious jump in the deep end of belief to think that there is a feminist commune anywhere near Appalachia. We have a contemplative order of nuns (really) but even that's a bit of a stretch.