Friday, November 30, 2012


  Dear QueryShark:

I have been traveling, living, and working throughout Southeast Asia for five years.
Ok, so this is a memoir. Let's read on.

Mystic Fool is about a young man with a drinking problem, traveling through Southeast Asia, trying to find his way onto the path of the hero. He is a bright and well-read student of new-age spirituality and esotericism. These influence his paradigm and his experiences.

Ok, so I don't understand any of that but I get that it's a travel memoir, about finding yourself. Okedokey. Let's read on.

He begins on the islands of southern Thailand where he ritualizes the beginning of his Saturn return, trips acid on Christmas, then builds water filters, teaches, and becomes violently ill in Siem Reap. He continues through Vietnam, where his attempt to live in Hanoi falls apart, jettisoning him to a farm in northern Laos. In the golden triangle of northern Thailand, he meets a half-crazy old man who inspires him to live through his depression, whereupon he finds a job and stays in Thailand.

 Ok, I'm a little lost at "Saturn return" since I associate that with the planet first and foremost and with an education in the hard sciences, learned that Saturn wasn't hospitable to humans, but ok, let's read on.

His alcoholism and depression eventually drive him into an existential brick wall. While in Bangkok on his way back down to the islands to drink himself to death, he meets and goes on an adventure with a woman with whom he falls in love, and makes him realize that he can not only handle, but enjoy sobriety.

Ok, he's off the sauce, and on a better road. This is sort of Eat, Pray, Love, ok, that book did pretty well, let's read on.

MYSTIC FOOL is a 60,000 word travel novel. Thank you for your time.

Oh. It's a novel. Oops.

When you open your query with sentence about yourself and then your "character" appears to be just like you, and you fail to mention it's a novel, you've got a problem.

The problem is those people interested in acquiring novels will think it's a memoir (and stop reading.) And those people who read on cause they think it's a memoir are in for a big surprise here at the end.

Thus you need to remove that first sentence.
Also, there's no story here. No plot. 

I'm not surprised because this sounds like a thinly disguised memoir. (Call it a novel, no one will sue!) 

Real life rarely has a plot. Getting sober and finding love are important if you're the person they're happening to, but pretty much not to other people without some added ingredients.


Ellipsis Flood said...

I'd like to hear more about that journey he undertook with that woman. Because I feel like if anything's the plot, then that.

JeffO said...

I agree with Ellipsis Flood, though it sounds an awful lot like "Leaving Las Vegas."

Lady Epsilon said...

Writer, if this really is a novel I suggest you look at your love interest character with a very critical eye. Ask yourself: Is this woman a fully developed human being with her own thing going on? And by "own thing" I don't just mean some sassy opinions that she tosses at the protagonist during a pre-sex argument. I mean having her own life, with her own goals that have nothing to do with saving the protagonist from himself.

Because if she doesn't that means you've written yet another story where a dysfunctional man-child is saved by a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (seriously, look that term up if you don't know it). There are a LOT of these stories already, and they're all kind of boring and sexist. So be careful.

Cat Jenkins said...

It might be an interesting story, but if I were an agent, it wouldn't grab me. Maybe an emphasis on the relationship that saved him...a little more about something intriguing that made the difference in his life would draw me in. Possibilities here, but needs different organization.

Mister Furkles said...

This isn't really a query. It is a sequence of events in your literary novel. Many literary novels lack a discernible plot. So the MC’s life is adrift headed for ruin. Then he has a life changing relationship. He either changes or remains true to his rotten worthless self.

Review the successful queries under “queries that got to yes”. Read advice on how to structure a query. You will find it on this website, miss snark archives, and evil editor’s blog.
Then you've got this sentence: “While in Bangkok … but enjoy sobriety.” Forty-five words. Oh, my! I ain’t reading no book full of them things. Agents and editors are a lot pickier than readers.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

To me, it sounds as though the first line is meant to show the author's qualifications for writing this novel. If that's the case, then it would be clearer to put it at the end of the query.

Theresa Milstein said...

I think a lot of writers confuse what happens to their characters with how their characters drive the story. It's not just the obstacles they face, but the choices they make to overcome these obstacles that give the readers a sense of who they are and how their decisions drive the story.

The story may have the character's drive, but it isn't evident here. Good luck!

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I agree with the points already made about needing a plot, and that it must be character-driven - by more than the main protagonist.

What about having some sort of external search or pilgrimage which mirrors the MC's inner one? A mystery he wants to solve, or an ending he seeks to a story apart from his own? (Maybe investigating something that happened in the past?) The two quests could echo and reinforce each other.

You've certainly got a fabulous array of settings. Now find some cohesive plot that links them and gives the events a logical sequence and conclusion. You can thread the inner journey through it in subtle ways. I'm interested to see what develops from this material.

You'll also want to choose whether to narrate in first-person or third. I'd say that third-person will give you a better perspective (you're bound to need some distancing if this tale is as personal as it seems) as well as getting you inside the other characters' psyches.

(OWWWWWW. Shark just bit me in the long-ass sentence.)

Laura said...

Although not the best query in the world, this actually sounds great. I'm intrigued by his travels and how the novel would characterize each place and show the setting's effect on the main character. However, I'm a little worried that 60,000 words is a bit short of a space to do that in. He goes through a lot, and he goes *to* a lot of places.

Also, the life-changing relationship -- whether it works out for good or ill -- seems to be shoehorned in at the end, when it seems like it should be the most important part. That worries me for how the love interest will be characterized in the novel. Is she a deus ex machina thrown in at the end to "save" the main character and provide a neatly tied-up ending? Or is she an important and developed part of the story? If "main character meets amazing woman and tries to overcome his alcoholic and depressed past in order to make their relationship work" is your plot, there should be more about the lady in the query.

Unknown said...

Was this written by the same guy who was traveling around Africa, writing about a guy traveling around in Africa?