Saturday, July 30, 2011

#207-Revised 1x

Dear Query Shark:

The fading nation of Entropia is having a lousy time of it lately. No one visits anymore, and is it any wonder. The airports are closed--officially blamed on a 14-year strike by the Toiletpaper Restockers Union. The only way in is through a poorly maintained tunnel with an exorbitant entry fee. But the Tourist Board's Ernie Shodabruski has a plan.

Misanthropic gameshow champion Chase Windborn wins an all-expense-paid tour of Entropia for himself and one of his foreign pen pals. Welder and frustrated artist Natalie Machackova is Ernie's choice. And if Chase chooses to stay home with his stamps, he'll forfeit a half-million of his winnings.

Ok, you've got a missed connection between the last sentence of the first paragraph and the first sentence of the second paragraph. Consider this: But the Tourist Boards' Ernie Shodabruski has a plan: award an all-expense paid tour of Entropia on a game show.

Misanthropic gameshow champion Chase Windborn wins the trip for himself and one of his foreign pen pals.

Obviously all the writing in italic is a raw first draft, but the link between the events is clearer here. In short form writing like queries, it's really important that one paragraph flow into the next without the reader thinking "huh, what??"

The tour is broadcast around the world, while Ernie drives them from one dysfunctional town to another: flooded Fort Mildew, pious Mt. Cyanide, the homeless veterans' island of Maroon. None of these are places Natalie hoped to see. But art colonies aren't on Ernie's itinerary. Neither is Stamphenge.

At Joyful Noise, where Entropia's children are raised and expectations lowered, Ernie is forced to spend two days with his son--a child so bright, he can't really be his. Chase takes the van and drops Natalie in a town full of artists.

You're trying to stuff too much into this query.  Focus on the main event. I hate like hell to lose "where Entropia's children are raised and expectations lowered" but this is why "murder your darlings" is sterling writing advice.

In Stamphenge Chase spots a stamp that once belonged to his grandmother. Convinced since childhood he triggered her death by using her most valuable stamp to send away for other stamps, he steals it back. But when two wrongs fail to put things right, only Natalie may be resourceful enough to fix it.

In the tradition of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, Entropia is a comic fantasy that examines contemporary American life. It is complete at 100,600 words. My work has been published in Kaleidoscope, American Heritage, Rosebud, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Thank you for considering Entropia. your time and consideration.


Better. Much much better.

Dear Query Shark:

To all appearances, Chase Windborn is sitting pretty. True, he's essentially friendless and his town, Mt. Cyanide, is infested with the unreasonably pious, but he makes a lucrative living on the gameshow circuit, takes pride in still driving a utilitarian Barnacle, and tolerates a horde of correspondents willing to send him stamps for his collection.

huh? This is so confusing it's hard to know where to start. He makes a living on the gameshow circuit signals that this isn't literary fiction, it's obviously some sort of comic novel. Then "utilitarian Barnacle" makes me wonder if if it's science fiction. Then stamp collecting sends me back to comic-novel again.

I'm confused. That's not a good thing.

When Chase wins an all-expense-paid tour of Entropia for himself and one of his foreign pen pals, welder Natalie Machackova is not his first choice, or even his last. Shadowed by an indefensibly enthusiastic Tourist Board, they travel through a dysfunctional, balkanized Entropia that reveals itself, one horrid town after another. In Stamphenge, Chase spots a rare stamp that once belonged to his grandmother. Convinced he triggered her death by using her most valuable stamp to send away for other stamps as a child, he steals it back. But when he learns the stamp's owner has died that very night, Chase fears he has killed again.

This social satire is complete at 100,600 words. My work has been published in Kaleidoscope, American Heritage, Rosebud, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Satire of what? Stamp collecting?

Please note this is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for considering Entropia.

you don't need to tell me it's a simultaneous submission. I assume you're querying widely. Unless an agent specifically requests to know that you can leave it out. And you don't want to spend words on something you don't need to say. Use as many words to entice me to read this instead of covering housekeeping matters.

Social satire is a tough category for queries because the book is not plot driven.  You've added to your challenge by placing this in a fictive world. You might want to think about leaving out the proper names here and just have Chase on a tour, finding a stamp, etc. Without the proper names we can focus on the gist of the story. (although Stamphenge IS hilarious)

Even though this book is not plot driven, we have to get a sense of the story.  I don't have that from this query. What we have is the set up: Chase thinks he might be a killer and stamps are his weapon.  That's actually pretty funny but we need to see more.

But the big problem remains:  I'm not sure what you're satirizing.

Right now this is a form rejection.


John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

The query makes the point that welder Natalie is not his ideal companion, doesn't say why, then forgets her. Does she have any bearing on the story? Why is she along for the ride? Why mention her at all if she's not important enough to explain?

Katrina S. Forest said...

One thing that struck me about this query was the incredibly long second sentence. It takes up most of the paragraph by itself, which lends to it being confusing.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, quite confused. When I read the first paragraph out loud, I find myself stumbling over the words/sentences. That's not good, no flow, no sense to it.

Good example, though, to point out missing pieces! Thanks for the critique, as always.

NanU said...

Me too I'm confused, but I really, really want to read this book.

Anne R. Allen said...

I'm totally intrigued. The book sounds fantastic, but as you say, it's very hard to query social satire.

I think this is one time when some upfront comps would really help. Something like "in the tradition of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide, this novel is a comic fantasy that satirizes contemporary British life. It also examines the tragic addiction of stamp collecting (or whatever.)

Let me know when this comes out. I want to read this book!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm going to assume, with a title like Entropia, the writer's going for a random, chaotic atmosphere. The problem with that is people need a certain amount of order to make sense of the story itself.

Even Wonderland, which was as nonsensical as they come, operated within a system that made sense for itself. You're going to have to find a way to define the borders of the chaos you've created because right now, your humor isn't coming through.

Rachel6 said...

I laughed at the "unreasonably pious" line, but it was spoiled immediately afterward by the rest of that unreasonably clunky sentence.

Inadvertently murderous stamp-collecting does intrigue me, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm very much with Josin L. McQuein on this. In my case I'm getting not so much chaos as absurdity. Same aviso goes: there must be some larger sense against which this absurdity stands up. That sense must be located in the story, not just in the reader's mind.

I'm not finding it here. Hence I don't know what the book is about -- as the shark says, what you're satirizing.

Vivian said...

I was getting a Terry Pratchett vibe from this as well. I think you might have a funny social satire here, but unfortunately I can't really tell what it's about from the query. I too would really like to know what it's satirizing.

JS said...

I think I would probably like this book, because I am a huge ginormous fan of Pratchett and Jasper Fforde and the amazing Mark Dunn (EVERYONE SHOULD READ ELLA MINNOW PEA! EVERYONE!) and other wacky worldbuilders.

So this query? Really not doing your book justice. Kind of making me hate your book, and I am probably your target audience.

Although query letters and back-of-the-book blurbs are Not The Same, maybe looking at some back-of-the-book blurbs for the authors listed above might give you some ideas about how to present a slightly skewed version of our world briefly and entertainingly.

Look, I want to read your book, just for "Stamphenge" alone. Make your query fun, too. Not self-consciously twee or quirky, because that's gross, but actually fun.

Anonymous said...

"Satire" is, I suspect, a word it's best to let other people apply to your work. Leave it to the reviewers to say it's satire.

Anonymous said...

There's a real diff between Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. The Discworld books are funny, they contain biting social satire, but they're principally fantasy novels with engaging characters and plots.

The Hitchhiker's books are mostly satire. They don't really have plots. In each one, Arthur Dent kind of wanders around the universe. I think of them as an earlier literary form which Mr. Pratchett developed one step further: all the satire and humor, and a story too.

Of course, neither set of books is shelved in the "social satire" section, because there isn't one.

Irene Troy said...

The first reaction I had to this query was the author is trying way too hard to sound literate. I read and re-read the first paragraph seeking some hint of where this story was leading and finding none. The second paragraph introduces a secondary character, but gives us no idea of why this character is introduced or her role in the plot. The sentences are full of “big words”, but otherwise provide very little insight into the story itself. Toward the end of the second paragraph we are provided a very brief glimpse into what may be the center plot: as a child, Chase used his grandmother’s stamp. She died – of unknown and, at least here, unconnected cause – and he feels guilty. When he somehow finds that stamp, he steals it and…what? How is stealing the stamp connected to the owner’s death?

I think that beneath this complicated, but essentially plotless, query, there may be a great story. Unfortunately, the query does nothing to entice the reader to find that story. Regardless of genre, the first rule of querying is “show me the story”. At the moment, this query fails in this important regard.

Jo Eberhardt said...

I like the title 'Entropia', and the premise sounds interesting. But that's really all you're sharing in this query. I think you just need to figure out what the book is actually about, and query accordingly.

Is Entropia about Chase's gameshow circuit? Is it about Mt. Cyanide? Is it about Natalie? Or is it about stamps?

I'd guess the story actually begins when he steals the stamp in Stamphenge, so that's probably where you need to start the query. Everything else seems to be backstory.

jesse said...

I can guess how the road trip serves to facilitate social commentary, but the satire eludes me as well. As for the stamps, it's certainly different, but, as described, it doesn't interest me, not yet at least.
I look forward to the next revision, I suspect this may be interesting- just needs revision.

Anonymous said...

The names, Entropia, Stamphenge, etc., which I like, remind me of Dilbert (the cartoon). I don't know if the writer has been influenced by Dilbert (Query Shark references comic novels), but this makes me think of Dilbert as a comic novel.

I love absurdity -- and satire -- but this sounds more absurd. When I think modern satire, I think Christopher Buckley.

I agree with the commenter who suggested possibly using a "In the style of . . ." lead-in.

Yes, this query is a bit of a mess, but I think I would like the book! I'm looking forward to the revision. I have high hopes for this little piece of weirdness.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with Rachel 6. I think a stamp that mysteriously causes death sounds interesting. I'm not clear what's satire here.

Stamphenge is an excellent name!

Aspiring to Greatness said...

I agree with Irene in thinking the author is reaching way too hard for fancy sounding vocabulary instead of just focusing on telling what the book is actually about. The whole first paragraph to me is set up and should be tossed. Start with winning the contest and/or the stamp incident and explain more about his companion and you might have a leg to stand on.

Lonie Polony said...

It's obvious from the query that Entropia is a very different sort of book, but the plot line about stamps and murder put me very much in mind of Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A. R. Braun said...

I'm loving the hilarious name for the religious town, Mt. Cyanide.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm not seeing the Terry Pratchett similarities here...maybe more Jasper Fforde, who creates settings that are a distortion/parody of our world rather than an entire new one as per Pratchett.

Funny, I don't think this is an improvement at all. Too many cutesy names had me rolling my eyes. I think the right course lies somewhere between these two letters.

Anonymous said...

Huge step backward. I was already disenchanted by the whole premise in the first query. This one almost makes me want to bang my head on my desk.

You really lost me at "Shodabruski." Seriously? This is just an invented stereotypically "stupid Polack" name.

And the rest is just clutter. There's no plot to this novel? I accept that from a literary novel. Not from a comic piece.

Steve Stubbs said...

I think this author has imagination, and very likely has talent and a future if he persists in writing. I also think this query has a problem that has not been mentioned. Comedy is damn hard to write. Look at late night television. There are people making millions who can’t tell a joke. And if you can write it, where is the market? So this might be hard to sell. (Hard here being a soft word for what I really mean.) If I were an agent the query would have to make me laugh out loud, else I would doubt the writer could pull the book off. This query impresses me with the author’s imagination (there are some good ideas here for a serious drama.) But it does not make me laugh. If I were an agent I would also question whether anything highly timely could work in a business in which years might elapse before publication. So satirizing current events could be very risky.

I would encourage this author to take his central idea (mother dies for unusual reasons and offspring blames self for even more unusual reason) and see if it is not possible to turn that into some really strong drama with a very original plot concept.

Sharon Wachsler said...

I don't agree with the comments to give up on the comedy. Yes, you have to ruthlessly cut and/or tweak every little thing to make it as funny as is possible, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. That is the way of writing humor.

I think the raw material for funny is here. Keep slogging.

Xjaeva said...

I want to read this novel.

M. said...

I would absolutely read this book. I loved every single name, and did like some others get a Pratchetty feel even before that was referenced in the query.

Ref: suggestion to lose mention of secondary welder character: I'd say, Don't Do It. Because I'm fascinated by how her profession will be brought in, and because I think sometimes female characters in funny scifi/alternate reality type books are underrepresented. So knowing one would be in the book becomes a plus point for me.

Dear author, please keep going with this, regardless of whether this achieves some people's definition of satire or not, it is funny, and we need more funny in the literary world.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anne--let me know when this hits the shelves. Yeah, polish it like crazy, but then let me at it!

...seriously, I'd proof this for you. veggie1 at gmail. You've got great humor here, just cut everything you can spare. Make your sentences a little starker, a little shorter. Take out anything clunky, no matter how good it is. Murder the damn darlings (but keep them in a separate document in case the right opportunity comes along later). You can do this.