Dear Query Shark,
It seems like a dream gig when Chloe gets the job offer – live in Montreal’s
Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side
of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by.
That's the wrong phrase here because "as if" is essentially "it'll be a cold day in hell before the QueryShark is nice to writers." If you substitute "it'll be a cold day in hell before the year will fly by" you see it doesn't work.
When I read your query I don't assess why something doesn't work, I just think "that doesn't sound right." It's not a deal breaker this early in the query, but I'm now on alert for other things that seem off.
Not a week into her assignment, Chloe is roughed up by Scout, a young homeless
woman living in the Underground City. When Chloe later stumbles across her
attacker and corners her, a flicker of sympathy rises up in her for this
troubled runaway struggling to survive underground, fleeing a threat she
refuses to disclose.
Chloe’s no bleeding heart. She’s always looked out for number one. But this
chance run-in unhinges her, and acting against all her instincts she sets
herself up as Scout’s protector.
And here's the next instance. "Unhinges her" is wrong, unless you mean this chance run-in send her into a mental health breakdown. That doesn't seem logical at all. It seems like a real over reaction.
No good deed goes unpunished. Soon a whole cast of vulnerable characters crawls
out of the underground woodwork hoping that Chloe will put them under her wing
too. She gives in to serving as their lifeline, and plunges into her new role
as guardian angel of the underground’s unprotected.
And here's the third: "put them under her wing" is wrong. "Take them under her wing" is the phrase.
At this point, we've got three clunky word choices, and no antagonist. That means I'm skimming the rest of the query.
Unaccustomed as she is to do-gooding, Chloe seeks her grandmother’s help, and
together they set up a safe-house to care for her new coterie of dependents.
But when Scout runs off from her bespoke shelter, putting the lives of all the others
in danger, Chloe has to decide how far she is willing to go to prevent Scout
from sabotaging the subterranean refuge she has turned herself inside-out to
bespoke shelter? Bespoke means tailored, or custom made, for an individual. This safe house was set up for the coterie. Again, poorly chosen word.
Why does Scout running off put anyone in danger?
TUCKED AWAY, my third novel, weighs in at 90,000 words and is complete.
My previous novels, XXX and YYY, were accepted after direct submission to
two Canadian indie publishers, but I am hoping with this go-round to find
representation. I have also had short stories appear in numerous literary
magazines, among them Agni, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Fire.
I'm not sure what went wrong with the word choices here. It wasn't in the first version of the query.
You still don't have an antagonist, which means you have a problem with the book most likely, not just the query.
The first chapter of TUCKED AWAY is included below. Thank you for your time and
Go back to your novel and answer these questions:
1. What does Chloe want?
2. Who or what is keeping her from getting it?
3. What will she have to give up or lose to get what she wants?
4. What bad thing will happen if she doesn't get what she wants?
5. What worse thing will happen if she does?
This is predicated on Chloe being the protagonist. You should be able to answer these questions for the antagonist too, even if it's not in the query.
Bottom line: I have no sense of what the story is here. Chloe helps homeless people ...and then?
Am I taking a risk that an agent will think the Underground City is some futuristic, contrived location when in fact it’s an actual part of the Montreal downtown landscape where people shop and live and work? Does it matter?
I won a short story award in 2010. Is this too ancient to include?
Dear Query Shark,
It seems like a dream gig when Chloe gets the job offer – live in Montreal’s Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by.
This is a good opening.
But there’s a catch.
To collect her whopping bonus for sticking it out till day 365, the struggling grad student must agree never to set so much as a toe outside the territory of the Underground City, submitting to an ankle-monitor to keep her on the straight and narrow. The would-be blogger doesn’t have much choice, even if the conditions are hard-core. Out of work, impaled by debt, and sole support of a grandmother whose bank account is likewise on life-support, Chloe signs on the dotted line.
I have a real antipathy about describing one character in several ways in short order. You have "struggling grad student" "wold be blogger" and then you have all those things again with "out of work, impaled by debt" with the bonus of sole support of grandma.
Your reader doesn't need that much description, and it gets in the way of what we do need to know: the plot. Which we don't so far. In other words: what's at a stake.
And that’s when her life goes into free fall.
With Chloe not at home to nix the idea, her grandmother invites her new acquaintances, the Diallos, to hole up in her basement after the family’s refugee application is returned to them stamped get lost. Chloe’s fury at discovering her grandmother has converted the basement into a safe-house for a family of five morphs into relief when she stumbles across a desperate illegal of her own who needs protecting.
And this is where the query goes to Helvetica in a handbasket. You started with a pretty interesting idea: Chloe has to live in the Underground City for a year, no sneaking out for a quick trip to Vegas.
Now we've got immigrants, and grandma going nuts, and another immigrant that Chloe knows. For starters that's too many people in a query. And we still don't have any sense of the plot.
Scout, a runaway hiding out in the Underground City, is fleeing a threat she refuses to disclose. When she comes out the loser in an underground turf fight, Chloe dispatches the battered girl to her grandmother’s where Dr. Diallo can care for her in secret.
And here's where I'd stop reading. Still no plot. A new character out of the blue, and zero sense of what's at stake for Chloe.
The reason I'd stop reading is you're all over the place here. There's no focus, no sense of moving the narrative forward. If I don't see that here in the query, I won't see it in the book.
As the ugly details of Scout’s past emerge, putting at risk the entire crew harboured in her grandmother’s makeshift refuge, Chloe has to decide if she’s prepared to lay her cushy future on the line to rescue a group of virtual strangers from discovery and ruin.
what? WHAT? This book is about the people in Grandma's basement, not Chloe's year underground?
You START with that: Chloe is away on a year long gig, not allowed to come home so her Grandma goes nuts and invites people to live in her house.
What's at stake for Chloe here? If she leaves Underground City she's not any worse off is she? She doesn't have to sacrifice anything or lose anything no matter what she chooses or decides. That's death in a book because it means there's no tension.
TUCKED AWAY, my third novel, weighs in at 90,000 words and is complete. My previous novels, XXX and YYY, were accepted after direct submission to two Canadian indie publishers, but I am hoping with this go-round to find representation. I have also had short stories appear in numerous literary magazines, among them Agni, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Fire.
The first chapter of TUCKED AWAY is included below. Thank you for your time and consideration.
This query doesn't work. To fix it first, figure out what the plot is, particularly what's at stake for Chloe and Grandma (if they are the main characters.) Who's the antagonist? What does s/he want? Why/how is Chloe getting in the way of that goal?
As for your two questions: I think it's clear that Underground City is real. It's certainly clear this is a contemporary novel, not and SFF novel.
A short story award in 2010 is fine but don't list that first. List your novels first.