Saturday, July 6, 2013

#245-revised once FTW

 Dear QueryShark,

Daniel and Noah don’t know each other from Adam but they both have lain with Eve
and their similar sins are about to catch up with them.

Daniel fears that he has knocked her up, near the scene of his otherwise perfect crime.  His alibi says that he was in a different city, but his baby says he was there, and he must  devise a way to pin the paternity on another man.

Noah isn’t aware that a narcissistic criminal is pulling the strings when he meets and beds  her less than a week later. Unwittingly, he also screws his way into candidacy for fatherhood of the troublesome embryo.

Noah finds himself trapped by this new responsibility in a town he was trying to leave, a town
that’s actually a bigger problem.  It is a quaint little country community by day, but a raging sex
cult by night. He is already a single parent and his young son is verging on adolescence, the
blossoming age of no return.

As he struggles with the choice between disserving his current child by staying, or abandoning
the baby on the way by leaving, the licentious little scene he lives in starts to show signs of
becoming much more dangerous. The religious faction is rising against the carnal, and everyone’s  long kept secrets are coming to light. Skeletons start marching out of all the closets and in a city  with this many bones, the parade promises to turn deadly.

FINISHING SEASON is a 106,000 word thriller. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Pardon me while I admire how much better this is.

Obviously you can polish some of the longer sentences, but you've got the bones of this in the right places now:  You've got the stakes, you've got a hold of the descriptions.  It's a little too sex-focused for me but I can see someone else picking this up.

Great revision!

Dear QueryShark,

(1)Fallville, CA is a beautiful little community in the Sunshine State, with tall aged trees, flowing green hills, and a festering gash right down the middle: Rollings Blvd.

Flowing green hills? How fast are those hills flowing? This phrase in the very first paragraph of your query stops me cold for two reasons: hills don't flow, and you didn't catch it when you were revising.   

"Flowing green hills" doesn't actually illuminate something in a new way which is the primary purpose of a metaphor.

And something that makes me totally crazy in books (and in queries) is getting stuff WRONG.  California is The Golden State. FLORIDA is the Sunshine State.  A quick google search elicits this info.

These two red flags: error of fact and opaque metaphor mean I stop reading right here. I've read 28 words and I'm sending a form rejection. This is Not What You Want!

Yes, every word counts. Every phrase, every metaphor, every sentence.

(2) Everyone knows what goes on there, but no one knows who takes part. Anonymity is the heartbeat that keeps the street alive. The city is just brimming with untold, disturbing stories but none quite so significant as those of a certain two men.

This is all filler. It doesn't actually say anything specific enough to catch my attention.

You're warming up here. It's ok to write this, but you must catch it and excise it when you revise. 

(3) They don't know each other from Adam, but they both have lain with Eve, and their similar sins are about to catch up with  them.

Now this, this is interesting. Can you see the what makes paragraph (3) so much stronger than (1) and (2)?  Specifics. An illuminating metaphor. If you STARTED with this sentence, you'd have avoided the instant rejection.

You don't have to be perfect. You must be interesting.

Noah, an abandoned single father, struggles to protect his son from Rollings. If he leaves behind his shady business on the Boulevard, they could go broke. But if he doesn't, his only son may soon disappear into the city's darkness.  

This is still treacley but I get the idea.

Daniel, a man on the run, scrambles to fix a damning mistake. What that will require becomes progressively more heinous,  and he must decide how evil he is willing to become in order to save himself.

Again, too general to be enticing but at least the hills aren't flowing.

In the midst of their desperate personal struggles Daniel and Noah violently collide, creating tremors that rock everyone in the city. The veil over Rollings falls. Everything is revealed. Skeletons start marching out of all the closets and for a city with this many bones, one thing becomes certain:

Judgement is coming.

The collision between Daniel and Noah is probably something you want to mention.  And the sonorous voice-over of "Judgment is coming" is more for film trailers than query letters.

"Skeletons start marching out of all the closets and for a city with this many bones" is a sentence that made me believe once you get rid of the treacle and the fluff, you'll have some good stuff.

FINISHING SEASON is a 106,000 word satirical thriller. This is my first novel, written mostly over the course of several  combat deployments.

[I'm very glad you survived several combat deployments.  A sincere thank you for your service to our country.  Now, back to the chomping that might remind you of all the fun you had at boot camp.]

Satirical thriller is a phrase that sets my teeth on edge. What are you satirizing?  There's no satire in this query letter at all.

Second, there's actually no such thing as a satirical thriller. If it's satire, it's satire. If it's a thriller, it's a thriller, but the two are distinct forms.

As a devoted thriller reader, I'm not very likely to pick up a book that satirizes the form or substance of a thriller.

Satire has a great and noble purpose which is largely to speak truth to power.  It's a mighty tool for hammering at the Visigoths supping at the public trough.

It's not a tool you'd want to use for mere entertainment, like reading (or writing) a thriller.

So, this is either a thriller or something else, but it's not a satire.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Focus on the moment things change for Daniel and Noah. Revise the query to show what's at stake. What's their dilemma?

On the other hand if this really is intended as a satire, start over.  Take a look at how other books of satire are described.

Revise. Resend.


BP said...


Ellipsis Flood said...

I started to like this query more, the longer it went. But if I picked up a book that started like that, I'd probably roll my eyes at the first part and put it right down again.

And I agree with what Miss Shark said about the bones. This could be something, but it must be sold better than it is now.

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

I adore the total Sharquiness of this response. The book may have potential, but nailing the state motto gaffe, the hills that flow (though I predicted a LaBrea-tie-in snark and missed that one), the military appreciation, and the textbook definition of satire, only made more wonderful by "Visigoths supping at the public trough" made me weep with joy. And almost--ALMOST--want to attempt a satiric thriller. Guy Noir is *parody,* not satire, so the field is wide open....

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest giving some of your characters names that aren't from the Old Testament, just for variety.

In the past, the Shark has said that even if you've got two protagonists, you should only have one in your query.

I'd start this query with Noah and his situation with his shady business (identify, please) and his dilemma. Raise the stakes. Don't say Noah and son "could go broke". That's not high stakes. I've been broke more times than I can count; it's a mere annoyance. If we see the dad's fears for his son in closer focus, with specifics, that's high stakes.

Actually, all through this, there's a lack of specifics. You're telling us things are bad, bad, bad, but we're left to imagine why and how.

Theresa Milstein said...

NotaWarriorPrincess, "sharquiness" is my new favorite word.

Yes, this query is too general and only gets interesting towards the end. I'd like it properly pinned as to what this genre is actually supposed to be. I see biblical names. Are we getting a biblical showdown? Please tell us even more about your protagonist and exactly what's at stake.

I'm looking forward to this revision.

Laura said...

I don't really think there's anything wrong with Biblical names...but with the Adam and Eve reference, Daniel's "damning" mistake, and the ominous "Judgment is coming" voice-over, it does stand out. Now I'm wondering if Noah runs a shady shipping business and Daniel is a lion tamer. ;) Just kidding. But it's something to think about. The query definitely has a tone of "Biblical doom."

The question this query leaves me wondering most is, what was Daniel's mistake? If we know what he did and what he's running from, that might give a better idea of the stakes.

Rachel6 said...

Biblical names, Biblical metaphor (which was AWESOME) and "judgment is coming"...interesting

What the shark said.

Mister Furkles said...

I’ve no idea where Fallville, CA might be but I did live on the San Francisco peninsula for thirteen years. And this is rather nitpicky of me. But we’ve gotta’ take our chances to correct you, Janet, because they come so rarely.

Guess what: on the San Francisco peninsula, the green hills do flow. They don’t flow like rivers but more like glaciers. After heavy rains, they sometimes flow like slow motion rivers.

Of course, that’s not what the author meant. But if you’re ever around La Honda – a place that looks a lot like Middle Earth – look closely. Those hills are flowing either to the Bay or to Pacific.

Janet Reid said...

Mister Furkles, one of my favorite phrases (coined by either Jeff Somers or Sean Ferrell, who can tell them apart anymore anyway) is "attacked by a glacier."

I think we can now add "attacked by a flowing hill" to that list.

Asceai said...

Is this really satire? It smells like social criticism to me.

Steve Stubbs said...

Ms. Reid is right, but it should be said Hollywood is a California community in the Sunshine State. Florida is annoyed that the Golden State appropriated what they consider to be Their Name. So it does happen.

More seriously, I get the impression this querier (querent?) might benefit if someone said “thriller” is not a book the author considers thrilling, but a genre with very specific rules. One of those rules being a ticking clock. If anyone here is a Jack Reacher fan (any takers?) he or she will notice the second sentence in 61 HOURS is: “Exactly sixty-one hours before it happened.” He could have left the first sentence out, but he establishes the time with it. So he does not waste any time telling the reader (any Reacher fans here?) that THIS IS A THRILLER. There is a ticking clock. It keeps ticking as the story develops.

He also uses short sentences. Very short. No florid descriptions. Dialog is show. Description is tell. LC shows. No flowing hills in this book, although given a few million years the hills probably will flow into a flat plain. They flow slow. You don’t want flowing hills because that is tell. Show instead. Short sentences. Got it?

Also notice when he says “Exactly sixty-one hours before it happened” he does not tell you what “it” is. If you want to know you have to read the book. Or read a spoiler review. Otherwise you will die and not know. Think of the regret.

Short sentences. Minimal description. No flowing hills. Ticking clock. Thriller. Get it?

Read Lee Child. He shows you how thrillers are done. Millions of readers put their money down, so he must know. his books are thriller writer textbooks.

Now I will probably be told everything I just said is wrong.

Anonymous said...

@Janet: I've a question about the "getting stuff WRONG" remark (probably not relevant for this specific query, but something that has been occupying me). How do you handle deliberate fictionalization?

For example, assume your story is set in LA, and involves a corrupt (possibly even murderous?) policeman named Rupert Beedleshnoop. Now, you don't want to make the good burghers of LA think their police are really out to murder them, and you don't want to get sued if there happens to be a real-life LA cop called Robert Boodleshneep who feels libelled. You also don't want to rely on your audience's ability to tell apart fact from fiction (see the Da Vinci Code).

So you always refer to the "Los Angeles Gendarmerie" (instead of the LAPD), so that even the densest reader is reminded that what they read isn't real. What's the best way to clarify this in a submission (query or sample chapters)?

@Steve Stubbs: Nothing against Lee Child, but I find your definition of thrillers too restrictive. Of course there should be a ticking clock in the sense that inactivity isn't an option, but it doesn't have to be literal. Take for instance the "Constant Gardener" by John Le Carré, which most people would call a thriller (one of the finest examples of the genre, in my opinion). Here the ticking clock is the widower's regrets, his realisation how his life is slipping away, and how culpable his inaction has made him: and that, for me, is far more powerful than some bomb below the White House that will go off in six hours (yawn). It's also a great example how to craft a thriller with satirical undertones (its depiction of foreign-aid diplomacy is acerbic).

Steve Stubbs said...

@aristeasmarmora some comments:

I have not read the le Carre book, but books can be thrilling to some readers without belonging to the thriller genre. Your character can have a bad case of the hots without the book being a romance novel. If there is a woman in there somewhere that does not make it women's fiction/

The way to signal to an agent that your book is a thriller is not to say "this is a thriller" but to imply the ticking clock. "Adam and Eve have just three hours to get OK with being naked or they get kicked out of the Garden of Eden."

I don't care about the white house either,

You can look on the internet and se if there is anyone named Robert Boodleshneep living in L.A. or anywhere else.

If you said LAPD chief Daryl Gates was something other than a law abiding cop you might have had a challenge, except that he's dead.

If your book does well you will get sued for part of the profits. Margaret Mitchell was sued 11 times in the first six months after GONE WITH THE WIND was published. Michael Jackson's estate ie being sued by loads of people who claim they wrote all the songs and Jackson stole them. Lawyers have to eat, too, you know. Some of them would like to eat off your table.

Los Angeles Gendarmerie instead of LAPD sounds phony.

test said...

@Steve Stubbs

I've got to agree with aristeasmarmora on this one. Your definition's a bit too restrictive. Ticking clocks and thrillers are kind of like squares and rectangles: many books with ticking clocks are thrillers, but not all thrillers have ticking clocks. It's a common feature of the genre, but definitely not an "all thrillers have this" hard-and-fast rule.

That said, I'm not sure that this sounds like a thriller, if only because the stakes don't feel fleshed out yet. I'm only worried about Noah's son disappearing into darkness if he forgets to bring a flashlight. Judging by some of the lines here, I think this is probably a case where there's strong writing in the manuscript, but query letter jitters gave the writer a mild case of movie voice-over syndrome.

lala11 said...

Right off the bat I found this annoying. The 'flowing hills' example is bullshit, I see this All The Time in published books so what is wrong with it? The author likely doesn't actually think the hills have a flow speed, the author likely likes the visual! I certainly get a visual from 'flowing hills'. This kind of pedantic picky stuff drives me crazy, it eliminates all creativity from writing. This isn't DOL.

Tom Andry said...

Great revision. A few of the longer sentences required me to read them twice but you can clean that up.

One thing that I took from the critique was that even though the Shark loved it, she would pass. Thrillers are on her menu and she loved the query but she would have still passed. It's important to remember when you are querying that a pass doesn't always mean that it is awful. Sometimes it just means, "Wow, this sounds really great. But not my thing."

Even Sharks pass up a tempting meal occasionally.

Ellipsis Flood said...

The new query already gives me a way better sense of what the hell is going on. After reading this, you know who these men are, and what they did to warrant writing a novel about their story. I wouldn't read it because it just isn't my thing, but otherwise it's all right.