Sunday, August 14, 2011

#208-Revised 1x

Dear Query Shark,

When a stranger calls Trinity Esposito and asks her to donate bone marrow to the daughter she gave up for adoption sixteen years ago, Trinity is not worried about past sins being exposed. She’s never given up a child for adoption. Trinity explains to the caller that she has the wrong woman and hangs up, assuming that she will never hear from Rebekah Cooper again.

A week later, Rebekah appears on Trinity’s doorstep with the adoption paperwork of her daughter Sasha. Trinity is mystified to find her childhood address on the state’s form of conditional surrender as well as a signature that is not in her handwriting. Trinity abruptly realizes that this was not a straightforward clerical error. Sixteen years ago, someone stole her identity.

Proving to the Coopers that she is telling the truth is a simple matter of taking a DNA test; finding answers to why her name was on their paperwork proves much harder. Although Trinity willingly speaks to their private investigator and offers to help with their search, the Coopers make it clear that they don’t really trust her. After receiving the DNA results, they stop returning her calls.

Then Sasha Cooper stumbles upon her parents’ research and knocks on Trinity’s door, believing she is about to meet her birth mother. Gradually, as an unlikely friendship forms between them, what was Trinity’s search for answers becomes solely about finding the biological family that is needed to save a young girl’s life.

A RELATIVE CONCERN is contemporary Christian Fiction and my first novel. The first chapter follows below. The completed manuscript is 68,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The plot that you've outlined is very dated. Without any other elements to spice things up, this is a Lifetime movie in 1993.  And because there are no other elements, this is an example of what agents and editors mean when they say the book isn't "big enough." There's not enough plot here to carry a novel. You need more, a lot more.

You need a bad guy. You need stakes. You need some sense of why this is a Christian novel other than you telling me it is. You need more story. This runs 68,000 words right now. You can EASILY add 20K and be ok on word count. You can add 30K and be ok if you have to.

Right now, quit worrying about the query. Go back and outline that novel and then start adding story. At least one subplot.  Some characters.

The set up of finding out her identity was stolen shouldn't take up more than 3 chapters or 30 pages. That's not plot. That's set up.

You might want to even put the novel on hold for 90 days and go read 20 novels in your category. Outline THOSE novels and see what the writers did to develop plot.  Pick good books and by that I mean ones that you like but also that other people like.  You can find word count for a lot of novels on Amazon under "text stats" in the INSIDE THIS BOOK section under all the reviews.

I think you're querying too soon. I don't think your book is fully cooked yet.
Dear QueryShark

Trinity Esposito receives the most bizarre phone call of her life

you're telling us how it turns out  before we see what it is. Telegraphing the punch line in effect. If you start here ----> when a stranger asks her to donate bone marrow to the daughter she gave up for adoption sixteen years ago.

and complete the sentence with Trinity isn't worried about a secret being revealed. She's never given up a child for adoption then you have the event followed by the reaction.

Of course, that's just off the top of my head as I write this, first draft, so you'll want to polish it up, but my point is the structure of the sentence: event, then reaction.

The problem is that Trinity never gave a child up for adoption. Mystified as to how such a serious error could occur,

most likely what happens is Trinity explains she never gave up a child, they have the wrong Trinity, and then hangs up. Mystified comes later when she has time to think about it.

she hangs up, assuming that she will never hear from the woman again.

A week later, Rebekah Cooper (who is Rebekah Cooper?) appears on her doorstep with a birth certificate and adoption paperwork—both of which list Trinity as the mother of this sick teenage girl. Rebekah's daughter Sasha. Trinity willingly takes a DNA test, and her husband makes it clear that genetic proof is all that she owes the Coopers. But Trinity wants answers.

Ok, here is where you need sharper focus. Trinity's not the mom. Why does she think this is more than just a clerical error. Or someone else with her name. (There are at least a dozen people with my name that I know of) What does she suspect?

Her personal concerns fade when she meets Sasha Cooper and an unlikely friendship forms between them. Gradually, Trinity’s search for answers becomes solely about finding the biological family that is needed to save a young girl’s life, even if Trinity’s oldest friends are the ones who have betrayed them both.

And here's a plot failure point. Trinity is not the mom. Someone else is. Won't Sasha's adoptive mom be moving heaven and earth to find out who the biological mom is? Why is Trinity the only one looking?

And I have a feeling that final clause reveals much of the entire plot. Thus, leave it out.

A RELATIVE CONCERN is contemporary Christian Fiction and my first novel. The first chapter follows below. The completed manuscript is 68,000 words.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my query.

I'd probably read this query as is.  It's not a bad query. It does the one thing queries need to do: entice me to read on.

But, there are some problems here that might also be problems in the novel. It's great to get a lot of requests for fulls but very VERY disheartening to not then get offers of representation.

After your query is all polished up from the stuff you learn here, I hope you're applying it to the novel you're writing.


Theresa Milstein said...

It is an interesting premise. Why did someone put her name on the paperwork? How did they get away with it?

I would think the protagonist would've wanted answers about why someone would use her name before she'd get attached to the sick teen. It seems like her emotional journey is backwards.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Theresa. If this happened to me, my first reaction would be: Well, someone used my name. Why, and how?

(But that's because I'm the only person on earth who has my name. Trinity Esposito is in almost the same situation... but only almost, Google sez.)

If one of the two-- "You have the wrong Trinity" or "Someone used my name" -- is not the character's first reaction in the novel, then it won't ring true.

Theresa Milstein said...

Alaskaravenclaw, I've found only one other Theresa Milstein. Plenty with the name Theresa Brown (my maiden name), but not too many with my christian first name and jewish last name.

elfarmy17 said...

Just as note...Tamora Pierce has already written a book in which one of the main characters is named Rebekah Cooper. Same spelling and everything.

Suja said...

It is a good plot, but what I see here is the same mistake I make. We get so into the story we write that we forget to step away from it and look at it objectively. We make it flow through routes we create. That's why I value the critique group I have. They catch all the contrived or illogical points. Why does something happen the way we say it did in our story? Is it because we want it to happen just so, or because it's the natural, the logical end result?
Here you'd ask the same questions QS did, if you step back and consider it dispassionately. But it's your story, and I'm sure the answers are in there. You just have to rework it in your query.
Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Quick note: Rebekah Cooper is the exact same name as the protagonist of a soon-to-be trilogy by YA author Tamora Pierce--spelling and everything. (I think the third one's coming out some time this year.) The author of the query might want to re-think the name there.

Polenth said...

The query says Christian fiction, yet the plot has no religious elements of any kind. I don't whether it's mislabelled, or whether there's something central missing from the plot in the query, but the two things don't match.

Alex said...

I'm a little confused by the Christian Fiction aspect of this novel as well. But Shark didn't think it was an issue so I guess it's not.

That would temper my reading a little bit though.

By the way for anyone interested I'm hosting a weekly flash fiction contest on my blog

Please come check it out it's a whole lot of fun.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I am wondering why only one person in the entire world needs to be found to donate bone marrow. Did the mother save the umbilical chord to conserve the stem cells for genetical illnesses that can appear during teenage years? I think this part needs to be solidly represented to make the plot credible.

jesse said...

I agree with the shark on the plot concern: why would this woman befriend Sasha, her not-a-daughter. Does she have something in her, or her life, that makes her bypass these bizarre circumstances and help the girl? It seems a stretch, even for C-Fic, but if there is an underlying cause I'd like to see it in the query.

Paula Stokes said...

Just a technical heads up that may or may not need to be addressed in your story. A parent is a bad bad BAD choice for a bone marrow donor.

First, most people are donating peripheral stem cells nowadays instead of marrow because the efficacy is about the same and donating stem cells doesn't require anesthesia or a lot of holes drilled into your hip bones.

But the reason a parent is bad (and yes I know they did this with Izzy on Grey's Anatomy and I cringed the whole episode) is because when it comes to HLA matching, a parent will only be a half match--a haploid transplant. These tx's are only attempted if there are no other options because most of these people die horrible deaths of graft vs' host disease. (I'm a leukemia/lymphoma nurse at a top 5 US cancer center. I've seen it.)

Before this haploid tx would be attempted, the docs in your book would probably have combed both the US and European donor banks (and usually matches can be found unless your sick teen is a person of color), sought out and tested any and all of this girl's siblings, and attempted (and failed) with a cord blood transplant.

Consider making the note seeking out the fake mom to see if she and the dad had other children who might be a match as opposed to donating herself if that works with your story.

Paula Stokes said...

One other piece of factual info for the writer.

Females are less desirable donors than males. Females with prior pregnancies even less desirable, due to the fact that their blood has more antibodies and so increases the risk for GVHD.

I've worked with maybe 200 transplant recipients. Of those, maybe 5 got bone marrow instead of stem cells, and 2 were haploid transplants--donations from son to mother. None of our patients in the last 2.5 years received any kind of transplant from a parent.

If you're going to write about something technical, you might want to consider finding an expert to help you along the way.

JS said...

Thank you, Piper Quinn.

Yeah, I'm not getting any of this. If someone used my name falsely in an adoption process, I would first assume it was a clerical error, and then if I found out it wasn't, I would be angry and try to address the consequences of that. I would probably also be concerned for the person who sought me out thinking that I was their biological parent on the basis of that fraud.

The part where I would then dedicate my life to finding the child's real biological parents is kind of where I get off the train. Especially since (and I thank Piper Quinn for verifying this from her expertise and experience), biological parents aren't good bone marrow donors anyway.

Now, I am not a medical professional; I have never had a bone marrow donation; I have never known anyone who had a bone marrow donation (that I know of). And even so, I know that biological parents are not considered optimal bone marrow donors. I know this because I have been solicited to be tested for bone marrow donor banks, as have most people who have been inside a largish US hospital in the last 5 years.

So your whole book, at least as your query presents it, is based on two implausible things: a) that Trinity Esposito would put aside her own understandable outrage at identity theft entirely, and b) that Sasha's doctors are so clueless about blood marrow donation that they think that seeking out her biological parents is a useful first step.

I also found this sentence mystifying:
her husband makes it clear that genetic proof is all that she owes the Coopers

Why does she need her husband to make this clear for her? It's completely obvious to anyone over age 5 that that's all she owes the Coopers. However, she's got an issue relating directly to herself--the fact that she's been a victim of a particularly complicated bit of identity theft--that she needs to deal with.

Her extraordinary generosity in wanting to take an active role in helping the Coopers find Sasha's true biological parents is interesting and unusual enough that you probably want to explain it. Why does Trinity take on this task? An "unlikely friendship" doesn't sell it strongly enough.

You're talking about someone taking up a complex quest on behalf of a stranger, while simultaneously dismissing a violation of her own rights. What is making Trinity be so protective here? What kind of issues are in play?