Sunday, November 25, 2018



My ex killed herself in 2017. Writing this novel was my way of grieving. Now, I guess it’s my tribute to her. That’s why the impact of suicide plays such a huge role in the book. I’m not trying to be preachy or political or anything. I just wanted to tell a story where the main characters needed to come to terms with the things they could not change. Is there a good way to say this in the query, or is it best left out?

Dear Query Shark,

All he wants for Christmas is his timeline back.

Journalist Gavin Masters spends his days on ride-alongs with Deputy Vikki Valliant. She keeps the peace in Bordertown, where ghosts and monsters have sanctuary from the outside world. They’re mostly friendly, and mostly harmless. Mostly. So Vikki says. Gavin’s not just doing this because he’s secretly infatuated with her. Or so he says.

Dispatch issues an APB: Santa is missing. His elves last saw him leaving The North Pole--the strip club, not the Arctic. Hopefully he’s merely passed out drunk somewhere in the surrounding Mourningwood. And not some monster’s meal.

Santa and monsters sounds like a graphic novel concept. Is there a specific reason you need Santa? What is it about him specifically that's required for the plot.

Santa is a big footprint in a story. You've also got a lot of other things going on here. Too much plot will kill a story as quickly as too little.

Gavin gets separated from Vikki, and lost in the woods. He’s beckoned by a cry for help from his ex. There’s just one problem; she killed herself last year.

Turns out she’s not his ex. She’s Nimue, an ancient witch who lures victims by mimicking loved ones. She needs his soul--and Santa’s, once he wakes up--to power a magic gemstone she calls ‘Traumesser.’ She needs to ‘fix’ her ‘timeline.’ And for what it’s worth, she’s sorry.

But Nimue doesn’t anticipate one thing. Gavin is a time fey--albeit an inexperienced one--with just enough juice to freeze time for 30 seconds, abscond with her precious stone, and save Santa.

Once they’re home safe, Gavin discovers that Traumesser lets him relive his past. Now he can prevent the car accident that killed his mom and crippled his teenaged sister. He can stop the murder of Vikki’s fiancé--even if he maybe wants Vikki for himself. It’ll all be worth it, if he can just convince his ex that her life is worth living.

Just as Gavin will do anything to save his loved ones, Nimue will do anything to get Traumesser back. And she has the power to make Bordertonians see things--terrible things--compelling them to commit suicide.

Gavin learns that messing with the past has unpredictable consequences. Each use of Traumesser only makes things worse. He catches himself making excuses, and worse, lying to Vikki. And nothing ever seems to save his ex. He wonders if it’s not too late to take it all back. He’s haunted by how much he sounds like Nimue when he says: “I’m sorry; I need to fix my timeline.”

A CHRISTMAS PERIL is a 110,000-word New Adult Urban Fantasy. It’s the genre-mashing melodrama of Supernatural with the dark humor and tone of The Dresden Files.

You're better off leaving out New Adult. The term is so amorphous it doesn't help at the query stage to use it.

About the author: I won 2nd prize in the 2015 3-Day Novel Contest for a 40,000-word novella titled ‘Bordertown.’ It had the same main characters and setting, but told a completely separate story. My goal is to grow this as a series.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

There is way too much going on here. Pare down. Give us the main points. Reconsider Santa as a character. What happens to Vikki? She seems to fall out of the story after just one mention. Because she's mentioned by name in the first paragraph, I assumed she was important.

To answer your question: there are a lot of deeply personal reasons to write a novel. Leave all of them out of the query.Why you wrote it is immaterial because the story must work independently of its origin.

I will not request pages just because my heart goes out to you. Losing someone in that way changes you forever. It enrages me there is not more help to people in the throes of mental illness, and that mental illness is often treated like some sort of bad life choice.

There will be ways to honor your ex's life later on. Donating part of the proceeds from the book to mental health advocacy groups is one. Just talking about the reason you wrote this book in interviews is another. All of that comes later. First things first: entice me to read the book.


gypsyharper said...

This is a really long query, and I agree with Janet (for whatever my agreement is worth!) that it should be pared down. But for whatever it's worth, I would read the heck out of this book, Santa and all.

Hannah said...

I’m your target audience for this story- I read a lot of gonzo urban fantasy- and as the book is right now, I would be interested but not open it. The first issue is tone- Santa really shoots you in the foot. Stories like this only work if they have consistent internal logic. There are a few strategies to achieve that. First, you can have a consistent cast. Santa works in a movie like “Rise of the Guardians,” which has holiday-themed protagonists. On the other hand, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid books exclusively works with monsters, especially ones from urban legends. That’s more what you have, but ghosts, monsters and fey don’t mesh with Santa. Those are all predatory, low level groups with a negative connotation, while Santa is a singular, near-omnipotent force with a positive connotation. It doesn’t fit. If you’re going to have Santa dragged out of a strip club, you’d better have the Easter Bunny right next to him snorting crack. Heck, Santa vs Cthulhu makes more sense than Santa with a standard urban fantasy setting.

Which brings me to the second way you get successful internal logic: tone. The dirty Santa comedic bit doesn’t work with the rest of your query. Santa gets strangled with barbed wire in a Deadpool comic. It works because the atmosphere’s already established as violent and absurd. I could see the set-up you’ve got in Simon R. Green’s Nightside novels- ghosts next to adult children’s characters would work, because the setting is seedy and over-the-top. Everyone’s dangerous, everyone’s iconic, everyone’s lost. You watch Supernatural. There’s an episode where the protagonists are trapped in t.v. shows, one where they start the apocalypse, and one told from the P.O.V. of their car. Why do these all work? Because there’s extensive groundwork laid for both comedic and dramatic moments, but more importantly, all of the episodes reenforce a key theme or problem of the show. There's enough consistentancy.

I personally think the third way is most successful, and all of the examples I’ve cited also use this. It’s where you know what your tropes mean and how they feel, and use that knowledge to build. Ridiculous things can work. Fairy tale characters solving a murder in modern New York? It’s about refugees, and building a community of necessity with former enemies. A woman teams up with an evil clown to police nightmares? That’s about getting strength from fear. A human P.I. in a city full of old Hollywood monsters? When everything around you is changing, find meaning in doing what you can.

A reporter in a town of ghosts gains the power to fix his past?

You know that one better than me, but maybe: “It’s impossible to find out what you could have changed, but it feels impossible to stop trying.”

The strongest line of your query is the last one. There’s a whole mess of guilt and regret and temptation, where the main character can’t stop, because maybe this time he can fix everything. He’s becoming a monster, and he knows it, but he can stop that too, if only he does better. There’s so much tension there, and so many choices, and it’s awesome, it really is. But everything around it had to be purposeful.

Ask if your choices are right for this book. They can be good, but not right, and that’s ok. Read your book aloud, and make sure the rhythm’s there.

What would be different if this was set in the future and was just a straightforward time travel story? What if it was about a man finding a ghost in his house and trying to change what happened to her? If there was nothing supernatural at all? If you took out the time travel, and it was comedic? If he becomes a monster, and it was a tragedy?

Just play with these and others, and then ask “what would I lose?” And it’s hard to be honest with yourself on this, but also ask “what would I gain?” If what you’d gain is truly spectacular, ask if it would be better to rewrite. Answer honestly. Only then ask if it’s an idea better suited for another story.

I think there’s something incredible here- it’d just take some work to get there.

Melissa Bennight said...

I like the idea of someone who goes back in time to try and fix something, but ends up making things worse instead (reminds me of the movie 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time'). The best part of the query, in my opinion, was when the protagonist realized he was just like Nimue, the main antagonist. I agree with the shark that Santa seems an unnecessary distraction. Focus on the main character and his choices. That's where your story is.

Frankie said...

There’s just too much going on in the query. I like the main idea. Traveling through time can have catastrophic consequences, even when the intentions are noble.
Personally, I think you have to cut off some things. Santa, as already mentioned by our �� �� doesn’t really seem to fit in the story.

S.E. Dee said...

Hannah! Thanks for your breakdown, I didn't write this query but your comment was detailed and informative - clearly insight from someone who loves the genre!