Monday, October 20, 2014

Where's Lenny Lee Birthday Bash!

Man, as the few of you who still visit here are well aware, I rarely blog anymore. But when I heard about a blog fest to remind Lenny how much we love him on his birthday, I was in!

Lenny is a great kid, a fun blogger, and someone we all miss! If you happen to not know Lenny, you can find out some more about him at his blog, Lenny's World, and be sure to follow him for updates about his posts. If you do know Lenny, and are curious to know more, you can find out a little bit from my posts, here, and here.

But either way, Lenny hasn't been blogging much lately, and while of course we understand, and don't expect him to do anything that isn't comfortable, we just thought it would be nice to let him know we miss him, and he is in our thoughts.


Happy Birthday, Lenny!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Andrea Franco-Cook's Current Query Revised - Critiqued

Today we have Andrea's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear Agent,

Soledad Mendoza is mankind's last hope. Okay, again, this is vague and a bit cliche. Who is she? I mean as a CHARACTER? At least that's what the winged Mayan god who shows up after her father's death tells her. But she is an unlikely hero. The young English professor doesn't understand why a god would choose a person whose weakness for scotch makes her a prime candidate for a twelve-step program. Growing up in the sleepy town of Charleston, West Virginia never prepared her for anything like this.

Hmm. Something about this is difficult to connect with. You've got all the necessary details, inciting incident, hook-ish premise, a character we can sympathize with, but ... for some reason it just feels off. 

I think the problem is that you're presenting this in the wrong order. Tell me about Soledad's teaching and scotch drinking and missing her father before you get to the god. Remember: almost all stories begin with an innocent world, in which a character may be suffering, but the major conflict of the actual plot of the story is not going on yet. Then an inciting incident occurs, and their world is flipped on its head. That kind of opening in a query, a kind of innocent world in which you can really deliver a sense of CHARACTER, will start you off right, get the reader to care about your CHARACTER, which will then make everything that comes after automatically that much better.

In the 1500s the Mayan God secretly entrusted her conquistador ancestor with the Ouroboros Amulet, a weapon containing the power of Heaven, which only one Mendoza descendant can wield. I'm not sure you need this. Don't get bogged down in too much detail. Just give us the good stuff. Too bad, her father took the amulet's location to his grave. Like this.

That's only the beginning of her troubles. She learns that her late father's friend, U.S. Senator Earl Edmondson, is aligned with a malevolent god who will assure ensure? the politician's ascendance to the presidency. Knowing that his only obstacle is the amulet that Soledad seeks, the senator turns his dark eye on her.

This is actually pretty good. A little wordy, but full of specificity.

As her enemies converge, the winged god offers a strategy to help, but his motives aren't exactly noble. Soledad discovers that she is merely a pawn in a supernatural game of treachery. If she is to stop Edmondson from ascending to the White House, she must find the amulet and the strength within herself to defeat him, or there will be Hell on Earth.

This is pretty great. Not exactly a sadistic choice, but you do end with a nice sense of either/or.

Pawn of The Gods PAWN OF THE GODS is a completed 95,000 word Urban Fantasy novel, and it is the first of a planned trilogy. This tale of an ordinary English professor caught in a battle between good and evil, flashes between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, blending Spanish history with Mayan lore and apocalyptic Christian beliefs.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Andrea Franco-Cook

Okay, in summary, this is definitely an improvement. In fact, I think you're pretty close.

I would focus on the first paragraph, and if you can get it into the kind of format/order I suggested, so we really get to know your character first, and then once we care about her, BAM! you hit us with this winged god showing up, and suddenly her comfortable world of sipping scotch and grading papers becomes exciting and scary as hell.

After that, maybe a few tweaks here and there, but the final two thirds of this query are pretty good as-is.


That's it!

What do you all think? Anyone want to take a crack at rewriting Andrea's opening paragraph?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Andrea Franco-Cook's Current Query Revised

Today we have a revision for Andrea Franco-Cook's query, which we had a look at in August.

The query:

Dear Agent,

Soledad Mendoza is mankind's last hope. At least that's what the winged Mayan god who shows up after her father's death tells her. But she is an unlikely hero. The young English professor doesn't understand why a god would choose a person whose weakness for scotch makes her a prime candidate for a twelve-step program. Growing up in the sleepy town of Charleston, West Virginia never prepared her for anything like this.

In the 1500s the Mayan God secretly entrusted her conquistador ancestor with the Ouroboros Amulet, a weapon containing the power of Heaven, which only one Mendoza descendant can wield. Too bad, her father took the amulet's location to his grave.

That's only the beginning of her troubles. She learns that her late father's friend, U.S. Senator Earl Edmondson, is aligned with a malevolent god who will assure the politician's ascendance to the presidency. Knowing that his only obstacle is the amulet that Soledad seeks, the senator turns his dark eye on her.

As her enemies converge, the winged god offers a strategy to help, but his motives aren't exactly noble. Soledad discovers that she is merely a pawn in a supernatural game of treachery. If she is to stop Edmondson from ascending to the White House, she must find the amulet and the strength within herself to defeat him, or there will be Hell on Earth.

Pawn of The Gods is a completed 95,000 word Urban Fantasy novel, and it is the first of a planned trilogy. This tale of an ordinary English professor caught in a battle between good and evil, flashes between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, blending Spanish history with Mayan lore and apocalyptic Christian beliefs.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Andrea Franco-Cook

That's it!

Please thank Andrea for sharing, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

White Lady, by Jessica Bell

GUESS THE TRUE STATEMENT & WIN JESSICA BELL'S THRILLER, WHITE LADY! (Statement #52)


To celebrate the release of Jessica Bell's latest novel, WHITE LADY, she is giving away an e-copy (mobi, ePub, or PDF) to the first person to correctly guess the one true statement in the three statements below. To clarify, two statements are lies, and one is true:

A few of Jessica Bell’s most favourite TV series are ...

a. House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Orange is the New Black, Dexter

b. Chicago Hope, Arrow, Gossip Girl, Lost, Glee

c. Outlander, The Strain, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Doctor Who



What do you think? Which one is true? Write your guess in the comments, along with your email address. Comments will close in 48 hours. If no-one guesses correctly within in 48 hours, comments will stay open until someone does.

Want more chances to win? You have until October 31 to visit all the blogs where Jessica will share a different set of true and false statements on each one. Remember, each blog is open to comments for 48 hours only from the time of posting.

If you win, you will be notified by email with instructions on how to download the book.

Click HERE to see the list of blogs.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

*This novel contains coarse language, violence, and sexual themes.

Sonia yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she's rehabilitating herself as a "normal" mother and mathematics teacher, it's time to stop dreaming about slicing people's throats.

While being the wife of Melbourne's leading drug lord and simultaneously dating his best mate is not ideal, she's determined to make it work.

It does work. Until Mia, her lover's daughter, starts exchanging saliva with her son, Mick. They plan to commit a crime behind Sonia's back. It isn't long before she finds out and gets involved to protect them.

But is protecting the kids really Sonia's motive?

Click HERE to view the book trailer.

Click HERE for purchase links.


Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.




Connect with Jessica online:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DL Hammons' Current Query Critiqued

Today we have DL's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Agent Name
Agency Name

Agent personal paragraph.

The word on a sixteen-year-old Knox Gidden is that he's nothing but military-brat, emphasis on brat. THIS is great. Query writers out there: READ THIS opening line. THIS is how you introduce a character in a query and make us care from the get go. If I had to nitpick this line, I would say that using "The word on," weakens it a tiny bit, but it also gives it nuance, because it means a lot of people see Knox that way, but it's not really true. Until recently he was fine with that. I'm not sure you need this. On the one hand, it's good, because it speaks of a call to action, but on the other, in the next sentence, you move on to something else. He's lost count of how many times his family has relocated (not really) and it's left him withdrawn, bitter, a loner with a tendency to act out by playing nasty tricks on moving day. I almost want to see "moving day" capitalized. Like it's this big thing, that happens so often, it's become a proper noun for Knox. "Moving Day." But after his mother died of cancer and a tragic prank-gone-wrong that put his brother in a wheelchair, a guilt-ridden Knox wants to clean up his act. The family's transfer to Ox-Bow, deemed their "final move", is supposed to be a fresh-start for everyone. Unbeknownst to them, something else has moved in with them.

Okay. So this is really good. It's very specific, it has a strong sense of character, who we can sympathize with not only because of his suffering, but because of how he chooses to react to it. That said, it's a little long, and we haven't gotten to an inciting incident just yet. I'm guessing you're about to, and if so that's probably fine, but I just wanted to point it out because that kind of one-two punch of CHARACTER-HOOK(Inciting Incident) is usually what bookends the opening paragraph in a good query.

After all the empty cartons have been dragged to the curb, one more box mysteriously appears. It's a dark, ominous box with curious etchings covering its surface. Don't get me wrong, it's a great line, but this is a query, not pages. You really don't need to describe anything this way. The box is already mysterious just for showing up. Unless the etchings are somehow completely integral to the plot, you don't need to bring them up. Of course all fingers point to Knox, which only gets worse when the box keeps showing up in his room. It's not long before Knox realizes he's on a collision course with something unnatural, an ancient evil that has chosen his step-mother at its next vessel to toy with. His only allies in this battle are Lewis, a kleptomaniac neighbor, Brodie, the beautiful girl who watches over Lewis, and Wilfred, a white-haired stranger who shows up claiming to know everything about the box and its purpose.

Hmm. This is a lot of named characters for a query, but I kind of think you make it work. It's four characters in all, which is a lot, but you give them each at least one uniquely identifying characteristic, and the way you bundle everyone together at the end except for Knox makes it work. Others may disagree.

Time is short for Knox and his friends. Can they find a way to save his step-mom before the malevolent force draws closer to ending the game and obtaining the two things it desires the most -- mortal fear, and fresh souls? Unfortunately, history says otherwise.

This, unfortunately, is vague. In fact, the second paragraph really doesn't give us a clear sense of the conflict either, which is where that usually takes place. I'll write more about this in my summary.

MOVING FEAR (an 80,000 word YA Horror) is a standalone with series potential which combines the type of haunting plot of Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood Anna Dressed in Blood with the creepy atmosphere of Gretchen McNeil's Possess Possess. In my day job, I write procedure manuals, but when the sun goes down, I maintain a popular blog that hosts a yearly writing contest judged by industry professionals. Link to it. Write Club is a big deal, and a lot of people know about it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

DL Hammons

Okay, so in summary, I think this query is in great shape. To be perfectly honest, if I was an agent looking for this kind of story, I would probably skip from the end of the first paragraph, down to the housekeeping, and then jump right into the pages.

I think you'll get a lot of requests if you send this query out as is. That said, there is still room for improvement (there almost always is). The main thing missing here is a better and more specific sense of exactly what the conflict is. Now, we have a vague sense of a spirit that lives in a box (or something) who may want to steal Knox's stepmother's soul (probably).

I get that you want to keep things a bit mysterious, and you certainly don't want to give away an ending in a query letter, but it might help to know a bit more about exactly what the malevolent force wants, how it accomplishes its goals, and what Knox and team can do to stop it.

One thing that comes to mind (and this may not work in a query unless it works in the story) is that what if Knox struggles about whether or not he wants to save his step mom? That would leave him a pretty nice sadistic choice, which is a great way to end a query and entice readers to want pages.


That's it!

What do you all think? Anything you would add?