Monday, August 10, 2009

#127-revised 3x

Dear Query Shark,

In 1848, Jack Numont desires Beaver Island, Michigan to remain a paradise, but the Mormons are coming, and with them arrives a peculiar sexuality and violence. At first, Jack considers surrendering to his pacifist upbringing and simply join the Mormon Church to blend in and stay safe, but that notion sticks in his craw. The Mormon practice of defiling multiple wives, in Jack’s mind, is a heinous, mortal sin, and he cannot--idly stand by.

Let's start with that first sentence: In 1848, Jack Numont desires Beaver Island, Michigan to remain a paradise, but the Mormons are coming, and with them arrives a peculiar sexuality and violence.

If the first thing you show me in a query letter is a long-ass sentence that I have to parse to find the subject, you're showing me I'm going to see more of this in your novel. This is textbook Not A Good Thing.

Frankly, I'd probably stop reading here.  Fair? Probably not. But honestly, this sentence begs to be revised for clarity.

Consider this: Jack Numont is convinced he lives in Paradise: Beaver Island, Michigan.  BUT, once you write that you can see it's not the way to start this query. You want to begin your query with the problem. The problem isn't paradise. The problem is the influx of people who are violent. 

So, start here: The Mormons are coming to Beaver Island, Michigan and Jack Numont is afraid they will  (whatever he's afraid they will do.)

What you haven't conveyed here is why the folks in Beaver Island think the Mormons are out to get them.

But you get to that here in the second paragraph, which says to me that this is where you should start.

Based on historical events, the self-proclaimed Mormon King, James Strang led a splinter group of pilgrims to Beaver Island and drove out the Irish Catholics with religious intolerance and fiscal policy. King Strang hates gentiles and has outlawed: U.S. currency, whiskey, and all other religions—except his.

Except of course you still have those long ass sentences. And "fiscal policy"?? What exactly does that mean in the cash and barter economy the 1848? He sure as hell didn't cut off their credit cards or bundle their mortgages in the subprime market. Be SPECIFIC.

Consider: In 1848 the self-proclaimed Mormon King, James Strang, led a splinter group to Beaver Island Michigan and drove out the resident Irish Catholics with (and now you'll need to be very specific here about what he did. Burn? Rape? Pillage? Play loud music?)

Then you bring in Jack Numont. (Is Jack Numont a fictional character? If he is you should consider changing his name. Jack/James is confusing)

Jack begins his crusade to expel the Mormons from Beaver Island by executing a plot of excruciating subterfuge to undermine the Church’s finances. Given enough time, his secondary campaign to expose Mormon dogma as outrageous lies will have their religious potentate’s eyes gushing blood.

Executing a plot of excruciating subterfuge--I exhort you to excise one of the ex's from your sentence here. 

While King Strang believes he has God’s ear, his ultimate weakness is megalomaniacal madness. For acts of sedition the King prefers Jack impale himself on something sharp--with his help, of course and preferably yesterday.

Megalomanical madness is pretty boring.  It will really REALLY help if your antagonist is interesting.  He must have been a compelling figure if he led people into a splinter faction and off into the wilderness. You've got to figure out what drew people to him and let the reader see it too. He can't just be bad cause you need him to be bad.

Jack’s rage and fear drives him toward regicide. His patience is wearing thin. Murder is quicker, but his pacifist soul wants peace.

This is all too general to be enticing.

THE MAD KING OF BEAVER ISLAND is 110,000 words. It is Historical Fiction/Low Fantasy and my first novel.

Wait. Low fantasy? WHAT?  oh god, no no no. Call it historical fiction. That sounds right to me.

I do like the title. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Revise. Excise.

Dear Query Shark,

In 1848, Jack Numont wants his paradise on Beaver Island, Michigan back from the invading Mormon hoard. He refuses to convert or comply with Mormon ideology which puts him in the crosshairs of the new Mormon sovereign. (paragraph break here will help us see this guy as the antagonist) King Strang hates gentiles and has outlawed U.S. currency, whiskey, and all other religions—except his. Using God as a bludgeon the King coerces teenage girls into polygamous relations with his gray-haired cronies and decrees all women must wear thin, loose bloomers in public. (put this next sentence at the end of the first paragraph--->) Jack wishes the Mormons to go back to hell where they spawned.

Here's what the revised formatting would look like:

In 1848, Jack Numont wants his paradise on Beaver Island, Michigan back from the invading Mormon hoard. He refuses to convert or comply with Mormon ideology which puts him in the crosshairs of the new Mormon sovereign. Jack wishes the Mormons to go back to hell where they spawned.

King Strang hates gentiles and has outlawed U.S. currency, whiskey, and all other religions—except his. Using God as a bludgeon the King coerces teenage girls into polygamous relations with his gray-haired cronies and decrees all women must wear thin, loose bloomers in public.

The King’s thugs, the Marshals, are charged with driving off all nonbelievers, including the new tavern-owner, Meri. Jack’s a young shopkeeper and Meri’s business acumen has him considering a merger—personal and financial.

One thing I was confused about is that King Strang means he's a king. For some reason I thought it was a name.  Why**? Cause I don't associate Michigan with kings at all. Last I saw Michigan was a state of these United ones, since 1836  

** or too much devotion to the James Garner character in Victor/Victoria!

The Marshals escalate their violent persuasions after the last ship departs the island for the winter. They implicate Jack in a murder and bullwhip him when they can’t prove his guilt. Meri nurses Jack’s wounds, and he loves her for her tenderness. For her trouble, the King bombs her tavern.

This is just more exposition of the same plot point: Jack opposes the bad guys.

Jack longs to be with his new sweetheart, but his first love, Beaver Island, requires his help to eradicate its current Mormon infestation.

Jack’s rage points him toward regicide. While the King believes he has God’s ear, his ultimate weakness is megalomaniacal madness. The Marshals prefer Jack impale himself on something sharp--with their help, of course and preferably yesterday.

That last line is terrific.

Who destroys and who self-destructs is left to history.

Which is ok but that's the end of the novel. We don't need the whole book, we need the plot. It's not what happens to your characters (that's a series of events) it's how those characters respond to what happens to them (I learned that from a commenter on one of the Queryshark posts! You bet I stole it and posthaste!) What choice does Jack have to make. What are the stakes of that choice?

THE LADY OF THE LAKES is a alternative history novel of 110,000 words.

Alternative to what? Alternative history is usually a well-known event or time, turned inside out. We have no sense of that here. It's not something we can intuit from text either (other than knowing there really wasn't a king in Michigan) You need to start out your query with what this is an alternative history for.

This is a totally different novel than the one you queried for earlier. I like this one a lot more. I have the utmost admiration for writers who don't give up, don't have their posts taken down in a huff, and press on to improve.

Very good revision.


Dear Query Shark,

In 1679, Meri du Sida must choose between an island tribe of Native Americans and French explorers demanding her return to Quebec.

The explorers aspire to the moral high ground by repatriating Meri, but they do not recognize her penchant to strike out and kill on a whim.

Then you fall off the right track and go splat.  The second sentence needs to be about Meri, not the explorers.  Meri is the protagonist.   What's at stake in this choice for HER?

Recognize is the wrong word here.  It means either they see it but don't know what it is, or they see it and give it no credence or authority.  I think you mean they don't know she does this. And if they did, would it encourage them to decamp from high moral ground?

Meri is petrified of water and has not left the island since being orphaned as a child. She is a skilled shaman, a mother and tribal pariah. The villagers adore her child, but Meri, not so much. Men die around the derisive and vindictive woman.

And here is a big huge splat. If Meri is the protagonist you've described her in terms that make me want to avoid the hell out of her, not spend 110,000 words getting to know her better.

Bad can be enticing but you're missing the enticing part here. You make your protagonist enticing by showing us why she's all these bad things.

The father of Meri's child is a malicious Indian deity, and he does not want his precious to leave with the white devils. He would rather see her, and them, dead.

You cannot use the phrase "his precious" without conjuring up Lord of the Rings. That's probably something you don't want to do because it makes me wonder if I'm going to read pages that are derivative or thinly disguised fan fiction.

Also, another malicious character? Is anyone the good guy here?

Meri's decision (what decision?--you mean her choice) is nullified when she is kidnapped and held captive aboard the French ship. She believes sailing the Great Lakes means her death, like her father's before her. The young mother's last wish is for her child to be raised by the family she loves, and the tribe that despises Meri's existence.

I am now totally and completely at sea...and not in a good way. What family? Is Meri the "young mother"?

Her devine lover, unable to free Meri, commands her to execute a human sacrifice aboard ship and place a curse on the French voyagers.

I think you mean divine unless greenery is somehow coming in to play. And who is this lover? Is it the same person as the father of Meri's child?

And human sacrifices? Yikes!!!

If Meri does not complete the curse and satisfy the demands of her spirit paramour, he will remove her daughter--permanently.

Yea, but isn't she already separated from the kid?

Meri's choice may be obvious, but the curse will plunge Meri into a campaign for survival against the explorers in perpetuity or until the curse is broken.

THE LADY OF THE LAKES is a low fantasy novel of 110,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Well, this is an improvement but there's still a ways to go.

Refer to your characters by name as much as possible without overdoing it. In short form work like a query, you don't have time to for your reader to recognize characters by more than one name or more than one description usually.

Clarity is the most important thing in a query. If I don't know what you're talking about, I'm not going to be enticed to read it.

Start again. Simplify. Focus on the first choice Meri makes, and the stakes for THAT choice. Give us a reason to care about what choice she makes.

Dear Query Shark,

Merida must kill herself to place a curse on the sailboat Le Griffin, and all aboard her. Merida is an auburn haired beauty with a poisoned soul. She hears voices in her head and the voices tell her to kill herself to initiate the curse. Merida intuitively believes the voices are her Spirit Gods and acts on their directions.

In 1679, Cavalier de La Salle's Le Griffin became the very first Flying Dutchman above the Niagara Falls as Merida fulfills her obligation to the Spirit Gods. The curse not only sinks Le Griffin and kills all aboard; it spreads its evil intentions to all of the future ancestors of those aboard.

The curse causes deep seated unfathomable feelings of hatred in some of the children of Le Griffin. This will lead to murder and mayhem among the future children of the crew. The curse can be broken with the aid of a few benevolent Spirit Gods, but even they cannot decipher the condition for nullifying the curse placed by Merida.

In the end

One by love

One by hate

Will end the fate.

Merida is the adopted white daughter of an Indian medicine man and has learned Indian lore. Merida cursed the ship and all aboard when she was made to leave her home and was forced to return to the colonies of her birth. Merida's unbending fear of water tipped her over the edge and into psychosis when she was confronted with a long sailing trip back east.

Lt. Proto, a French explorer with La Salle, and Wasaga, an Indian interpreter, found themselves on Le Griffin trying to prevent Merida from fulfilling the curse. The two men were caught up in the curse when Wasaga was thrown overboard to his death and Lt Proto was killed by Merida just before her suicide.

In 1679 La Salle, the builder of Le Griffin watched as she sailed away from Le Gran Bay in Lake Michigan to complete her maiden voyage. In the age of sail an overdue ship was cause for concern and speculation. Speculation is rife with stories of good and bad intentions. This multigenerational tale starts with Le Griffin and ends with the most well known sinking of a ship on the Great Lakes in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The future generations of the crew of Le Griffin have strikingly similar names, odd quirks and descriptions to those people lost in 1679. This was done to maintain the continuity of the main characters as they progress through the centuries. The ancestors of Le Griffin wind their lives through the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Mormon King of Beaver Island, sinking ships and shipwrecks on inhospitable shores. Eventually they fulfill the requirements of the curse and end it nearly three hundred years later.

THE LADY OF THE LAKE is 250,000 words long and is historical fiction. Thank you for your time and consideration.



P.S. I have read the rules and I know this part does not belong in a query. I have read the vast majority of your query critiques and I have found them very enlightening. Up to a week ago I had never heard of a query as it relates to seeking an agent. I am positive I would have made all of the typical mistakes plus a few new ones. So thank you for your help. I have also realized in reading the queries that the genre and length of my work does not seem to fit into the literary mode your agency typically represents. I will value any help you can give me in honing my skills. I hope my query will be a good teaching tool if you chose to critique it. I'm thickening up my skin as I write and I promise not to call or stop by...ever.

That PS made me laugh. It also made me choose this letter.

You know this is a mess, but you're willing to learn. That's good.

First, 250,000 words is just too long.
It has to be cut in half. Even epic fantasy novels from debut authors can't be more than about 125,000 words these days.

So, first thing: chop.

Then start with: who is the heroine? What choice does she face? What are the consequences of that choice? Write that in 250 or fewer words. You don't need the entire plot. You need to compel me to read the first five pages. That's ALL you have to do in the query.

Form rejection (but you knew that)

Start again.


Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

The first sentence confused me. (Could just be because I'm a natural blonde. At heart. Sorta.)

Barb said...

"the future ancestors of those aboard." Descendents?

Laura @ Caninedesign said...

I'm a little confused on how the crew can have "future children" if they were all killed?

Aimlesswriter said...

I think you need to cut this into two or three short paragraphs. Truthfully, I stopped reading halfway through. It read more like a synopsis then a query.
Give me main character and the goals and motivation in quick easy sentences.

Lehcarjt said...

I love long drawn out historical fiction, but even for me this was too long. Also, if the story takes place from 1679 to 1979, is that truly historical fiction? Doesn't seem like it to me, but I could be wrong.

However, my biggest problem with this is that the writing itself doesn't do much for me. It just isn't strong enough to draw me in.

Anonymous said...

Not only is it too long, it is far too dry. I didn't find the query engaging, and I stopped reading after the first paragraph.

As for the word count, it does seem that 250,000 is a bit much. That said, I've seen recent fantasy debuts that seem (based on page count) to well exceed 125,000. NAME OF THE WIND, by Patrick Rothfuss, for example.

Kristin Laughtin said...

It was a bit confusing, especially because it seemed to follow a pattern of telling us about the main character, then about the plot, then more information about the main character, then repeating the plot, and so on. There were also some issues with changing tense and word choice (seconding the "future ancestors" thing).

Sheila Deeth said...

I'd much rather get this rejection than a form rejection. And I'm tightening up my query even as I read yours.

Buffra said...

Tighten it up and make it more streamlined.

You know the story, so the current query mish-mash makes sense to you; to me, it was mostly just confusing. It certainly didn't give me a good idea of the story.

I do wonder, though, if Le Griffin might not be the "main character" that you focus the query around? A few key people related to the boat could be the supporting cast and part of the conflict.

But I'm not sure -- even though it might work for your book -- if it works for a query.

Don't tell us the whole story in the letter. Just tell us what will make us want to READ the whole story.

WV: housin - the house hoisin

Robin Lemke said...

It seemed to me like you started the query over several times. I felt like I heard a lot about the beginning of the voyage from lots of different perspectives, but never really felt like I knew what the bulk of the book was about.

Is it mostly about Merida committing suicide and people trying to stop her? Or does that happen quickly and then it's about the aftermath? I think clarifying that would help a lot.

Patrice said...

You need to identify all these mysterious names. Okay, Merida is an "auburn haired beauty." I got that. Cavelier de La Salle is who? Do we care? If we don't need to know, don't include that long, confusing name. What do you mean by first Flying Dutchman? To me, that's the name of an opera. If you mean it as a kind of boat, or a metaphor, explain. But don't explain if it's not important. Who are the Spirit Gods? Real? Imagined?

The children of Le Griffin -- I thought that was a boat. How can it have children?

I like your rhyme: one by love, one by hate, will end the fate. But it doesn't make sense. You mean end the curse? Fate doesn't end, and it doesn't change, right? It's fate.

You have a lot of great material here. Try to tell it in short, quick strokes full of action. said...

Aaargh. I hate having to pick your query apart. It will hurt your feelings, and then you won't like me. So let me begin with "I'm sorry."

Here goes:

If everyone on board the boat was killed, how can there be any "future ancestors?" OR descendants? (Thesaurus dot com gives antonyms. Try it.)

How can Le Griffin be both a sailboat and a ship?

I think you mean spirit guides, not Spirit Gods.

"decipher the condition for nullifying the curse" Huh? Do you mean break the curse?

Your poem is interesting, but I'm not sure I get it. What is "one?" One person? One curse? One Spirit Guide? Fate cannot be ended. It can be changed. That might work for you.

The Mormon King of Beaver Island? Huh? Mormons don't have kings. That part made me laugh out loud.

I had to cut a novel in half once, so you have my sympathy, but I have to say my story was much better for it. I know it's a daunting thought and a miserable job, but you can do it. Good luck.

Cynthia Reese said...

*banging my head in envy at the concise way Janet Reid puts it* "Who is the heroine? What choice does she face? What are the consequences of that choice? Write that in 250 or fewer words."

I'm a veteran of the Query Wars, and I should know this, but what a light bulb your words electrified in my old brain. My compliments!

Lehcarjt said...

The Mormon King caught me too. I am Mormon and I've never heard of him.

I googled it though and he is real. James Strange (and a few followers) broke off from the main church (physically and doctrinally) and ended up living on an island in Lake Michigan. They became the Strangites (so not making fun of that name.) where he reigned (badly) until two neighbors shot him in the back.

I learn something new everyday.

Patience-please said...

I learned the hard way, but I learned. (#112) Pay the MOST attention to answering Janet's questions. This comment section might be helpful, but the comments might also lead you astray!
Ms. Reid is the agent: first and foremost follow her lead.

good luck, and congratulations for having your query chosen!

Charlee Hoffman said...

I wanted to why she HAD to place a curse on the boat....yeah there were voices....but what?


JS said...

There's a couple of really interesting ideas in this: I like the cursed ship, the "Mormon King" (first I've heard of him, and how fascinating!), and I even like the idea of the curse on the ship affecting future generations.

BUT this is not ready.

Confusing the words "ancestors" and "descendants" in the query is the most dramatic argument against the book's being ready for publication. That's a basic element of the plot, and you aren't using the right language to describe it.

Dear querier, PLEASE get some beta-readers and trade editing with another writer.

Also, you are very wordy. This augurs well for your being able to cut this down to a reasonable length.

Good luck.

I'm a little confused on how the crew can have "future children" if they were all killed?

I think the idea is that the crew members already had children at home when they were cursed and killed, and that the curse passed on to those children and to their descendants.

Again, the querier's language is getting in the way of the ideas they're trying to express. said...

Lehcarit, if James Strange and followers broke away from the church and its doctrine, they were no longer Mormon. Technically, he should be called the Strange King.

And JS, wow, I think you're the only one to whom it occurred that the passengers / crew might already have had children. I'm embarrassed to say it never crossed my mind. I'll bet when people start asking those trick questions like "where the survivors were buried," that you get all the answers right.

Mimzy said...

As someone who lives in Michigan, even I was confused by this query. It took me until the end to realize that Le Griffin was actually the name of the famous old shipwreck rather then a boat with a similar name. The whole 'Mormon King of Beaver Island' threw me a little as well. While he was Mormon and while he did declare himself King, I've never seen him referred to in that way. In the history books I've seen he's usually always just the 'King of Beaver Island' with the Mormon bit dropped.

Also, I hate to say it, but I think you may need to do more research. I've seen varying stories, but there were likely between 6 and 30 souls on the boat when it sank, all of them male. This was during the time of the French fur traders, after all, where there were very few frontier women compared to all the trappers.

What did you mean by calling the ship 'The Flying Dutchman?' One typically only refers to the fabled ship as that. Plus, for all it's hype, The Griffen wasn't the first ship lost in the Great Lakes. Before it, the Frontenac sank in Lake Ontario as well as several canoes. It was also built and lost by La Salle so I've never understood why it wasn't famous either.

A good premise though. If France settles with Michigan and the GLEB and gives them salvage rights this is sure to be a hot news topic when the ship is recovered.

_*rachel*_ said...

The first sentence had the spark of an interesting idea; the rest spiraled down into an uninspiring plop.

You're launching into backstory and rambling. What you want to say is that the insane daughter of a medicine man kills herself to make this ship the Flying Dutchman of Niagara Falls. The curse she started reaches into the distant past, making the ancestors of those on board a grumpy, murderous lot. (Or do you mean descendants?) (Can dead/undead people have kids?) And because they're so unheroic and unloveable, it takes them a couple hundred years to break the curse and finally die.

Some parts of your word use and sentence structure worry me.

For query advice, read through the archives here and on the blogs of Evil Editor, The Rejecter, and Miss Snark. Evil Editor does a lot of query critiques; The Rejecter and Miss Snark have more straightforward advice about submitting and agents.

If this is your first query and your book is that long, I'm betting this is one of your first novels. I'd advise leaving it for a while before you go back to it. Whenever I do that, I realize how bad the novel really was. And then I keep writing, and get better, and occasionally write something worthwhile. I've yet to finish a good novel, though.

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

We at BBAW are trying to contact you!!

Please email mypalamyATgmailDOTcom for information about YOUR Book Blogger Appreciation Week nomination.


Nicolette said...

I may be an idiot in asking this question, but I cannot find a contact email address to send in my query. Anyone want to help me out?

It may be that I'm new to blogger, so go easy on me!

glovin said...

I think you need to cut this into two or three short paragraphs. Give me main character and the goals and motivation in quick easy sentences.

Home Security Systems no CREDIT CHECK everyone is approved

Rob said...

What is Query Shark's email that you send your queries to?

Kregger said...

Look at the column to right of the top query. It says, Read the Directions and follow them. The address is in the same column below the Fiction only subtitle. For best results, You should click on the link, "If you want your query posted, read and follow these directions." Good luck.

Unknown said...

Hi there,

Just a quick word on a small detail, in French, it is "Le Griffon". Griffin is English (no "le" in English).

Best regards and good luck!

Kregger said...

Thank you very much, Charles. I went back to the English version of Pere Hennepin's diary of events. The ship was referred to as 'the Griffon'. In William Ratigan's book, he listed the ship's name as 'the Griffin'. My second language is Spanglish, I know how to order dos beers at the local mexican restaurant. I will amend my ms to reflect gramatically what a group of French explorers would name their ship in French, not Frenglish.

To all other contributors, I doff my hat, thank you. I have written a new query for Madam Shark to peruse and to tear into with her sharp teeth. Thank you everyone.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree, much better query. But for some reason, I thought it was futuristic. I was surprised when I got to the alternative history part and then read the original to see where this story came from. But I got a good sense of the protagonist, what's at stake, and so on. I don't think it will take much to make this query perfect. Certainly an interesting plot.

Jackie said...

I actually grew up on Beaver Island, so let me set the record straight. Strang was a Mormon leader who lived on Beaver Island and declared Beaver Island its own country then made himself king. Fact. Strang was shot and killed by his own people, the weapon never to be found (until my friend, scuba diving in the harbor, found a revolver historians suspect is the murder weapon). People who live there still call him King Strang. There is a hotel called the King Strang Hotel.

It's crazy to me that people have never heard of this since I grew up with the stories. I've always been surprised that Hollywood hasn't snatched this bit up already and turned it into a feature film.

This history is an amazing one that always seems to get swept under the rug, even in other parts of Michigan. I think this has a lot to do with BI's isolation from the rest of the world (one of the reasons behind Strang declaring it his own country and no one in the federal government giving a rat's a**). I'm excited that this writer is tackling this story and hope he or she can fully capture the essence of what we Islanders affectionately refer to as "the Island."

Kregger said...

Hi Jackie,

Beaver Island has an interesting history and sometimes truth is strang-er than fiction.

I can only hope I caught the essence of BI, but I've never been there. I lived in northern Michigan,travelled to the UP and Mackinaw Island(which I'm sure isn't anything like BI). I hope to visit BI this summer to see if I got the lay of the land correct.

In the story is also the War of Whiskey Point, Strang's wierd predilection for woman's clothes, his affair with Charles Douglas, Strang's fiscal policies that lead to his downfall, buried golden plates, hidden money in Fox Lake, and the eventual assassination of King Strang.

It is fiction, but I would appreciate the opinion of someone that grew up with the legend and the historical King Strang.

Please contact me at kchurch15@msn dot com