Sunday, September 15, 2019


I have so many questions, but I’ll whittle them down to two. First, do you think I’m correct in describing this as literary fiction? Second, some agents I’m interested in querying require bios... but would admitting that I’m in high school lead them to dismiss my query or my writing? If so, could I just conveniently leave that bit out?
Thank you!

Dear QueryShark,

First of all, this query is 498 words, so it's double the target word count. The first thing we need to do here is start trimming.

Anamaria huddles in her family’s barracks with her best friend Julio. Together, they listen to the sick pattern of gunshots and radicals’ bodies falling into the dust. The detainment center guards— the executioners— scare everyone, but she knows she’ll be safe if she does everything just right.

Then her childhood ends.
When you need to cut, look for set up and backstory.That's often the info you can leave out without any loss of clarity.

Anamaria is sent to Moonhaven Academy, where her name and identity are stripped away and replaced. There, she must bleach her skin and hide her accent until she can pass as the perfect white woman. And Anamaria, now Anna Clara, knows she is lucky. Had the Academy not accepted her, she would have become one of the women in red who supposedly cook and clean for white men.
But everyone knows what they really do, behind closed doors.

Or, rather, what’s done to them.

She could still become one of them if she fails.
At this point, I'm salivating.
I am thinking of editors, I'm plotting submission strategies.

Anna escapes as her dream-self, Indigo, into a fantasy world where the rainforest teems with dragons. Not too long ago, her dream-planet was colonized by the humans who made Earth uninhabitable. They genetically warped the planet’s indigenous life into creatures designed to serve. Now, one revolution later, Indigo and her only friend Oak are stuck on opposite sides of an imminent war between two of the human-created tribes.

What just happened here?
We were all set for The Handmaid's Tale Redux and along come...dragons??
I've stopped salivating cause what you had was strong commercial fiction, and now I'm looking at fantasy.

Indigo must choose whether to betray Oak and live in safety with the tribe that took her in, or to leave the tribe and risk her life, alone, in the rainforest.
Yea, but it's all a dream, right?
Meanwhile, Anna is forced to either abandon her heritage for the illusion of whiteness, or let herself be given away to any man with a few dollars to spare. Her heart aches against both.
I'm pretty sure she's got a stronger reaction than heart ache here.
Three years later, Anna finds out she has been married to Julio, now Julian Taylor. He has changed beyond recognition.
Ok, and?
Ten years later, Anna must make her first autonomous choice.
are we done with the dragons?

Anna’s former classmate, tiny genius Amalia, is the leader of an underground organization intended to smuggle women to safety until the law no longer threatens them. Now Amalia has only days to find her successor before she is executed for crimes including treason, blackmail, and loving another woman. She begs Anna to take on her duties when she’s gone. After all, her wife can’t stand the thought of replacing her, and Anna is the last person the police would ever suspect. She’s pale, unassuming, well-mannered (at least in public): the perfect facade.

What does Amalia do that  makes her a genius?
Why is "tiny" something we need to know about her.

And honestly, I'm so confused here the only reason I'm still reading is that you had a GREAT opening, and I can see possibility.

If Anna accepts, she will surely die.

If she refuses, she will be a traitor to every woman on Earth.
What you're missing here is why she doesn't want to be a traitor to every woman on earth. You're assuming she doesn't. Watching a person struggle with choices, especially ones you might think are no-brainers creates tension, and tension boosts interest.

JADE AND INDIGO is just over 90,000 words of literary fiction, narrated primarily from the perspectives of Anna and Indigo. I am a high school student with a deep love for surrealist art, the poems of Sappho, and musicals. I scavenge for time to write when I’m not juggling AP classes and horse shows— no flaming swords yet, but maybe someday. JADE AND INDIGO is my first novel.

Well, if this is literary fiction, how are we going to explain the dragons?

Thank you for your time and consideration!
I'm not sure how large a part the dragon thing plays in the book, but you're better leaving it OUT of the query. It's utterly confusing.

You can have it in the book (without seeing the book I'm going to assume your reader will understand what's going on) and NOT have it in the query.

Or you can allude to it in the query with Anna escapes into a fantasy world (without going into specifics.)

You've got the start of something I'd read but I'm not sure I've ever seen this big a splat in such a short period of time.

Fortunately, it's all fixable.

I suggest you leave out your age. It's nobody's business how old you aren't.


KariV said...

The Indigo side story bothers me. It sounds interesting, but like a TOTALLY dif story. Ana's story is the compelling one. My suggestion: take out the Indigo story completely from your book and expands Ana's plot. Write a dif book, a fantasy, featuring Indigo and her story. But that's a suggestion for the novel. My suggestion for the query is this: RN, the two stories are running parallel and there is nothing in the query that connects them. If what happens in the dream world does effect the real world (and please say that is does or else you have novel problems not query problems), I need to know why. Does something happen in the dream world that affects Ana's choice with Amalia? Dual plot lines is fine, but if you're going to present them in a query you should connect the two dif stakes. Otherwise leave the second plotline out of your query completely

Brittany said...

I get Sucker Punch vibes from the Indigo bit, and that's... not a good thing. The problem with Sucker Punch was that the fantasy sequences had absolutely no tension because they were just a fantasy. There were no stakes, none of the characters were in real danger, nothing they did in the big pretty battles meant anything or mattered. Even the one time in the dream sequence things had consequences, it happened in the real world first and sucked all the impact out of the moment. (If they'd switched it and suddenly one of the untouchable badass girls died, and then cut back to the real world, it might have landed better.)

It's not that a parallel dream world storyline can't work, it's just really difficult to pull off. The question of "Why should I care about anything that's going on here when it's just a dream?" needs a very, very good answer.

The other issue seems to be that the query, at least, is covering way more ground than necessary. You only need to convince an agent to start reading, and then your pages have to convince them to keep reading. Also, if the main character isn't making any autonomous choices until halfway through the query (and presumably the book), that's generally going to have a hard time connecting with readers.

nightsmusic said...

Anamaria is sent to Moonhaven Academy, where her name and identity are stripped away and replaced. There, she must bleach her skin and hide her accent until she can pass as the perfect white woman. And Anamaria, now Anna Clara, knows she is lucky. Had the Academy not accepted her, she would have become one of the women in red who supposedly cook and clean for white men.
But everyone knows what they really do, behind closed doors.

Or, rather, what’s done to them.

She could still become one of them if she fails.

This right here is your story. Everything else you've included in this query and also in your novel is...confusing at best and convoluted as well. I was with La Sharque with that first paragraph. Then the confusion started and my eyes glazed over. If your current story in its entirety is written like this query, any agent's eyes will glaze over as well. And then it will fall into the reject pile and that will be that. Take everything in your story that pertains to what I italicized and get rid of the rest. Don't delete it, save it, but move it out of the story and see what you're left with. Then work with that and see where it takes you. I think you'll find that you actually have two separate stories here and you've tried to find a way to make them work together when you would have two stronger stories if you wrote them separately.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I get the impression you're bursting with ideas, and that's fantastic, but the query seems crammed. I'd recommend paring back, you can always use what you don't use in a later project. Just follow the idea you love the most. Good luck!

LynnRodz said...

I have to agree with Nightmusic, you seem to have two completely different stories here. The compelling story is the first part and although it sounds too much like The Handmaid's Tale (name changes, red garbs, and all) I want to know more. Is this everywhere on Earth or only in a certain country? Anamaria bleaches her skin and loses her accent to pass as a white woman, for what goal? What happens to girls who are white and, therefore, what happens to women of color? It seems they become sex slaves to the white men? If white men are reproducing with women of color, then the white race is slowly dying out. Then what? An interesting concept. And where are the men of color?

You lost me reading about dragons and fantasy worlds because we don't know how this fantasy world ties in with the real world. And then you have character soup with Anamaria, Anna Clara, Anna, Indigo (all the same person in a 250 word query) besides Julio, a.k.a. Julian, Oak, Amalia, and Jade.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but you may want to rethink your story or at least tell us why this fantasy world is as important as the real world. Good luck to you OP. A teenager with a 90,000 word novel under your belt. Well done!

Terry said...

Like others I really liked your first description and would leave out the rest. But what worries me more is the apparent allusion to The Handmaid's Tale, which hints at fan fiction rather than an original story?

aceface said...

This reminds me of Pan's Labyrinth, with the dream world reflecting the real world. If that's accurate, then you need to make it a lot clearer and get rid of the confusing part with the dragons. Maybe look at how it's represented in descriptions of Pan's Labyrinth and see if you can use that - but it should still only be a line or two.

Alyssa R said...

Oh, good, I've been worrying about the age part too!

Seriously, between the crossed-out bit and "if she fails"-- I wanted to read that! Then it got confusing. I'm not sure if your "dream planet" is anything like the dream world in Jesse Andrews's "Munmun", but it doesn't seem to have any connection to the real world.

Megan V said...

Hey OP,

Just popping in to recommend a book—We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. It's a dystopian YA book with similar elements to yours, and it's a pretty great read.