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 fiancĂ©--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.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


QUESTION: I hired two editors to help revise this query. So far, I've only received personal or form rejections from agents. I've read many blogs and books about how to write queries, often with conflicting information about what to include. At this point, I no longer feel like I have good perspective. What do you feel is lacking in this query? Do you recommend ending with a more personal or passionate closing?

PS: I read #303, re: your feelings about strip clubs

Dear Query Shark,

When overdose victims flood Portland’s morgue, 32-year-old Rebecca Perell discovers the deaths aren’t all accidents, and she may be next.

Is it important to know Rebecca is 32?
It's probably more important to know why she's in the morgue.
Is she a medical examiner? Lab tech? Groupie? Ghost?

Thanks to a felony drug conviction straight out of high school, Rebecca is forced to work in one of Portland’s dodgiest strip clubs, a methpocalypse of prostitution and violence. But her troubles soon turn deadly when Rebecca finds out her stepbrother, Dylan, is grooming her son to be a dealer.

Wait, what?
She's a stripper?
I thought she worked in the morgue? That first paragraph is now very confusing.

Also, you've now got a bunch of characters I'm not all that eager to spend time with. There's nothing interesting here. It's actually kind of icky.

Dylan will stop at nothing to destroy her. Killing strangers for fun is her stepbrother's hobby, but his obsession is making Rebecca’s life a living hell. Once she figures out what Dylan is up to, she must make a decision: risk her life and family by confronting him or run away. And if she runs, will her loved ones ever be safe?

It hasn't occurred to her to kill Dylan? That's the first thing that occurred to me.
He's making her life a living hell and he kills people for fun.
It's not like it's that hard to lay your hands on a gun in Portland and learn to shoot.

Given the choice between protecting my child from a guy who kills people for fun, and ..well, everyone else in the world, I choose my kid. I'd choose your kid too. Or any kid.

When you set up choices for the main character, you really need to make them feel real. My guess is most people would consider killing Dylan, but would be afraid of getting caught.  Rebecca would be afraid of getting caught and leaving her son alone if she was sent to prison.  So, if she can't kill him, what is she going to do?

"confronting him" doesn't convey much either. Is she going to yell at him? Threaten him?

And where's the kid in all this? Does he WANT to become a drug dealer? The money, the sense of being a grownup, would both be appealing.  Rebecca may have to deal with her kid not wanting to have Dylan gone.

All of this is detail, specific detail, and it is in the details that your characters come alive and their choices are clear.

Right now you don't have that.

LETHAL STEP, a completed 88,000-word psychological suspense novel is darkly atmospheric like Alan Cubbitt’s BBC series The Fall, and it features a blue-collar heroine struggling for moral redemption in the age-old battle of good and evil like Emma Flint's suspenseful Little Deaths.

You're comparing Gillian Anderson's character on The Fall to a stripper?
Maybe we're watching a different version.

While Lethal Step is fiction, the background for this novel is real: I worked as a bartender in a strip club. I’ve studied writing at a number of institutions including UC Berkeley, and one of my short stories will be published by (these guys) in 2019. Thank you for your time and consideration.

oh wait, you meant that Rebecca is a bartender, not a stripper? If I don't figure that out till your bio section, that's a problem. I assumed that "work in a strip club" meant she was a stripper, and I'll bet all these dollar bills in my g-string that the other agents who read this assumed that too.

You've made the classic mistake here of creating a villain who's two-dimensional and thus uninteresting. 

I get no sense here of darkly atmospheric. It feels seedy with no redemptive qualities at all.

To answer your question: don't worry about the closing. The entire query needs revising.

Bottom line: be specific about the choices Rebecca faces. Make Dylan a three dimensional, thus frightening, antagonist.

Sunday, November 11, 2018



1) I know Shark Rules state housekeeping goes at the end. And I know my first paragraph goes completely against that. But it seems to be exactly what this particular agent is asking for on their website. And I know they're looking for thrillers. Should I still follow Shark Rules?

2) A friend who directed an Oscar-nominated movie has suggested I query this agent. The movie was adapted from a book by an author who is repped by this agent. A lot of the agent's clients have had their books made into movies and apparently that's important to them. My friend is up for helping me adapt my novel into a screenplay. Does that carry any weight? Does anyone give a rat's behind?

Dear Query Shark:

(Movie director), screenwriter and director of (Oscar-nominated movie), suggested I query you since you represent (author whose book was made into the movie). SEA BLADE is a 98,000-word adult thriller. It is the first book in a planned series. The main character is a man of color I would describe as James Bond meets Indiana Jones. As a former (military) officer, I think you'll like the concept.

Never tell an agent what you think they'll like.
It's like saying "this is funny" before telling a joke.
Half the fun for us is the sense of discovery.

It's one thing to mention the connection you have to the agent in the first paragraph. Don't go overboard by putting all that other info there as well.

It was supposed to be a routine job for Jet Morgan and his ex-girlfriend Maggie. Recover a Mayan artifact that holds the key to a billion dollars in gold from a pyramid in Belize. Then smuggle it past the drug dealers into Panama. But then Nathaniel Lynch, Jet's old boss, Nathaniel Lynch, at the CIA, shows up. Things rocket from routine to insane in 2.9 seconds. And Jet and Maggie are thrust into an international incident - China's imminent invasion of Taiwan.

If you put the name Nathaniel Lynch first, we don't know who he his.
If you let us know he's Jet's old boss FIRST, then, it has a connection to what we've read, and it makes sense. This is flow. It's making sure your reader doesn't stop and think "huh?"

I hate artifact-driven plots with a passion, but that's just me.
(I did manage to watch all the Indiana Jones movies without any trouble at all.)

Lynch stole Ultra Top Secret U.S. naval plans for Sea Blade, an unprecedented new class of submarine, and sold them to Taiwan. Now he needs Jet, once the CIA's top covert operative, to steal them back and stop the invasion. And to skip the 'being killed for treason' part, he'll need the artifact to personally finance the unsanctioned mission.

Well, this is actually a rather good use for an artifact.

But Jet's no longer a spy. He steals Mesoamerican antiquities now, not secrets. So Lynch desperately offers up his new business partner Ricardo Lopez, the reclusive Mexican billionaire who murdered Jet's wife and child, to lure him back in.

The mere thought of killing Lopez calls to Jet like a needle to the vein calls to a trembling junkie. But pulling the trigger on that fix could backfire on him. Helping a traitor like Lynch is suicide.
He Jet and Maggie will be dodging CIA assassins the second Lynch gets what he wants. But if Jet doesn't help, the unthinkable will happen - war with China.

It's very easy to throw too much into a query.
You only need to entice me read the pages, not tell me about all of the plot points in Act One.

Put the word count, and other housekeeping items here.

With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.
I'm a chiropractor who now cracks creative-writing books. I studied writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and with Bret Anthony Johnston, internationally bestselling author and former Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. Bret is up for providing a blurb, and (movie director) is up for helping me adapt SEA BLADE into a screenplay. With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.

Start with the interesting stuff.
You don't need the creds for your blurbers. If I know them, I already know it. If I don't I google.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You can break the rules all you want, but it helps to understand WHY they are rules first. Putting the housekeeping stuff at the end is a rule because it forces you to put the story first.

Thus, putting something ahead of the story is ok, but you know to keep it to a minimum; just the info that will boost your chances of the agent reading the query. 

Early interest from someone about the screenplay is great, but you're querying an agent about selling  a book. "Interest from Hollywood" doesn't help sell a book; we know how nebulous that is. 

"Optioned for film" is better, and "started principal photography yesterday" better yet.  In other words, the closer you are to actually getting something made, the more it will help.  

Right now it's all hot air.  The reason you DON'T include it is that if you do, an agent is likely to think you don't understand how nebulous it is.