Sunday, February 4, 2018


I am stuck, drowing in a pit of regretions. I have revised, read all your posts and done the dance. There has to be something I am missing. Is the title too strange? Is the story too broad? Do people not like time travel? SOS!

Dear QueryShark,

I’m seeking representation for my adult novel, JUMPING OFF THE timeLINE. Given your interests in innovative magic and dark humor, I think it would be a good fit for you. This speculative fiction novel, complete at 89,000 words, explores a world where time is not only controlled, but wielded like magic. Once they jump, these humans can shift to any time period or age of their life.

All that intro and housekeeping stuff (word count, category, compliments) goes at the end.

One of these is Lark Robles, a twenty-five, okay fine, twenty-seven-year-old woman is dashing through the airport. But then she stops. In fact, time stops. Two mysterious women, both dressed like Woody Allen stars, step through the frozen airport and tell Lark the truth. She must choose between jumping off the timeline, or staying and dying in a tragedy. Time is only controlled by humans fated to die in a tragedy. If Lark jumps, she trades away her life, her family, her memories, and makes someone take her place on the destined plane.

Woody Allen stars? This doesn't evoke any image at all for me. And even if you replace "stars" with "characters" I still don't have an image. His movies are too idiosyncratic to have one type of star o character. [And honestly, Woody Allen? ewww.]

But most troublesome is that we have no sense of what's at stake. Sure Lark trades away her life, her family, her memories, but so what? Maybe she doesn't want any of those. And someone has to take her place? Does she get to choose who? If I got that offer, I'd want to choose who, and yes, I already have a list.

Lark says yes to train in the art of time and trades her bejeweled jean jacket for a fur coat. She rides water subways in 2071, gets drunk with Cleopatra, watches the final seconds of Miracle on Ice, and plays tag at Woodstock. When another controller of time decides Lark’s tragedy is perfect for her disastrous plan, Lark must relive the events she jumped from. But can she make the same decision again, and fully let go of her past on the line?

So, she gets to choose again. What's at stake this time? And what disastrous plan?

Also, not to be be nit picky but you've chosen pretty tame events here. You know where I'd want to be? Galilee for the Sermon on the Mount. London for the debut of Romeo and Juliet. Philadelphia in 1776. Seneca Falls in 1848. Gettysburg on November 9, 1863.

Lark's choice of events to attend, and what she does there (plays tag at Woodstock?) make her sound insubstantial, and worse, silly. Not someone I want to spend a couple hours with, even on a Friday night.

I have always been fascinated with time and knew that if we could travel, it would come with a cost. This novel is an exhilarating concoction of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and The Magicians. I am a Midwestern novelist, creator of the popular blog(redacted) and an environmental engineer. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I like the idea that time travel comes with a cost but concept isn't execution, and right now this query does not entice me to read the pages.

Get some stakes on the page, REAL stakes, and give Lark some substance. Even the frothiest chick lit novels had heroines who were interesting rather than silly.

To answer your specific questions:

Is the title too strange? No. And no one rejects a novel or query based solely on the title unless it's something truly offputting (like sex abuse references)

Is the story too broad? No. It's not substantive enough.

Do people not like time travel? Well, maybe, but that's not your problem here.


nightsmusic said...

First of all, the two year difference in her age made me laugh. When I was 27, I didn't think about two years difference in age. I do now at...never mind, but then? I didn't care.

Second, this query reads like a series of vignettes. There's no plot really. You mention stuff she does when she trades time (I played tag at Woodstock, not all it's nostalgically cracked up to be, trust me) but there's only a few brief words in your entire query that there's something other than her hopping around at stake. I think it better that you focus on the initial decision, the other controller and the disastrous plan. That's your story. All this other stuff is just fluff and frankly, wouldn't interest me as a reader.

While I agree that time travel would come at a cost somewhere down the line, there's no cost here. Just breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinking. You've stressed the wrong part of the story.

Gigi said...

Yeah, I thought the age thing was a little silly, too. In my twenties, I can't imagine having lied about my age.

Greg L. Turnquist said...

It sounds so silly, it's like trying to mimic Time Bandits. Only that story had real stakes. And you were thrust into excitement...and humor, all at once. Who cares about Woodstock? Is there something critical that happens there? If so, you have only made it sound like the character is going there to goof off. This is what she traded her life for? Time travel is interesting because it forces people into contention, trying to not much anything up, and builds tension. Want a REAL time travel classic--dig up THE END OF ETERNITY by Asimov. That has time travel and high stakes.

Frankie said...

As a huge time travel fan (whovian for life) I would really be interested in reading a book about time travel and it’s costs.
I think the idea of the novel is interesting and relatively new, but as pointed out already, there isn’t anything really at stake for the main character. Yes giving up of her life as she knows it may be a factor but it’s just one and not too much.
Unless you have forgotten to mention other traits about the main character that would make her choice more risky with repercussions, not only for her and her past that will be erased, but also for time itself.

Sam Mills said...

If it's comedy, that could be made clearer. If the character arc is that she's selfish/frivolous and is going to mature and make a better decision the second time, that could be made clearer. If the plot revolves around the original choice she made and the fact that she will have to make it again, I'd assume something has to change her motivation in between and cause her to regret the original decision. For example, if she had to sacrifice somebody she cared about in her place and took the selfish/cowardly route the first time, came to regret it, and has to overcome that flaw to undo what she did....? Just spit-balling here.

E.Maree said...

I like the silly time travel vignettes (it reminds me of the 'Fun and Games' quick-cuts in a movie trailer), but what's bugging me is the lack of a solid Inciting Incident or choice made by Lark to kick off the story.

She's about to get involved in a plane tragedy, but she doesn't know it. She isn't given a chance to save herself -- instead, two strangers make the choice for her (and c'mon, 'die horribly or come with us and be one of the cool people controlling time' isn't a CHOICE really).

It comes across as really lacking agency, which is why her Woodstock tag game feels flippant. If she'd made the horrible choice to doom her [girlfriend/beloved emotional support poodle/terrible boss/evil twin] to die in her place and was using Woodstock tag and Cleopatra chat sessions to run away from what she'd done, it wouldn't feel silly and fluffy, y'know? The stakes don't have to be that high or the choices that dark, but a bit of agency and personality would help a lot here: show her dossing around in time for a *purpose*, however small.

RachelErin said...

I want to thank you for sharing your query, because I learned a lot from it. One of the biggest struggles in queries is the right balance between general summary and specific detail. I think this query has good percentages, and it flows, but it shows what happens when the wrong details are chosen (e.g the two year age thing, summarizing instead of detailing the stakes, and shallow character details).

Maybe there's a reason she sticks to frothy events instead of earth-shattering ones. Although I agree with Janet about many of the places I would want to be (although Hamlet over R & J) I could imagine only visiting peak human experiences could be exhausting after awhile...which is an angle I haven't seen before.

Perhaps these comments will send you back to novel revisions, perhaps the query only needs to reflect the substance of the book better, but either way your lesson helped at least one other writer today!

Unknown said...

The trading a bejeweled jean jacket for a fur coat made me pause and scrunch up my nose in confusion. Um. What does that even MEAN? I feel like this could be a really fun time travel romp, but your query focuses on the details of the story and not the story itself. Pull back and tell me (or the agent) the events, then pepper in some fun details to give it color. I'd also suggest nixing the Woody Allen reference. From your query and your novel. As QueryShark said: eww.

Anonymous said...

The age joke, Woody Allen reference, and fur coat all put me off.

I liked the "But then she stops. In fact, time stops" part. The rest reminds me of a paragraph not yet smoothed out.

I actually think you can delete most of the middle and mash together the sentence about someone approaching her & her having to trade places: "She must choose between...abandoning her timeline--trad[ing] away her life, family, and memories, for *makes someone take her place on the destined plane."
*make this sound more devastating

MackAttack said...

What confuses me, is that the query mentions training Lark, which makes me think the time jumpers have some larger purposes (like the two ladies who identified Lark as a possible new jumper and delivered the message?). I think that's the missing piece holding back the excitement of the plot. Do all the time-jumpers basically exist as retirees flitting around as they please? Do some of them have jobs or purposes? What kind of culture or social structure do the time jumpers have, if any? Do they have any kind of order or governing body? Are there rules? Or are they basically part Gallifrey Timelords and part Q continuum? Bored, all-powerful, perhaps corrupt with power. I think shaping that factor, how Lark's time-jumping peers behave and live, is much more influential to the plot than Lark's joy-riding. You don't have to explain their entire society, but think about their society in relation to what Lark would be doing. If joy-riding is central to her character, is she typical for time-jumpers or is she seen as a bit of a slacker?