- Go Celtics!
- Glee rocked last night, literally.
- Congratulations Kylie (my daughter) on an excellent performance in her first high school play.
- I can't take much more of this Georgia weather. It's nearly November. I want to cuddle up beneath the comforter, not lay in my boxers and a tank top under nothing but a sheet, and still wake up with a pillow moist with sweat.
- End rant.
And a little bit of interesting literature news that I heard, where else? On NPR this morning:
Henry Austen once said that "Everything came finished from her pen," regarding his sister Jane, and suggesting that she was such a polished writer that she never had to revise, or be edited. Some newly discovered original manuscripts of some of her work may indicate differently. You can read the story here, audio should be available later today, and it even links to a site where you can see pictures of her original handwriting.
I think it's very appropriate that this story broke today, don't you?
Anyway let's get down to business. Before I critique Anne's query I want to thank everyone for their comments yesterday. I agree that Anne's current query is very good. It's already been through many changes, and with the help of Rick and everyone at the PQS it's very well polished. I think that if she sends it out as is she will probably have a lot of requests, especially when allowed to include her first pages. Anne's writing, especially her dialogue, is very good, and I can't see a query this good holding her writing back.
BUT ... there is almost always room for improvement. I don't claim to be an expert, but I do think about queries a lot, so what I am going to try to do is be as nit picky as possible, and try my best to improve this query. It makes me feel a little pretentious to suggest changes to something that's already been worked on so much, but Anne asked me what I thought, and as writers I think we all owe it to our community to be honest with each other. So here goes:
When Genna goes home to Rhode Island to spend a long-awaited vacation, she finds that her family is falling apart and she has only twenty-one days to put them back together.
This is good. One thing that I do think is missing though is a better sense of Genna as a character. Right now she could be a kid, a grandmother, or a transexual transvestite from Translyvania (sorry Rocky Horror is on the mind). I realize that your next paragraph gives us a pretty good sense of character, but I really think you have to give more in the hook. Your first sentence is your most important. Make it sing.
Perhaps my readers can suggest a better opening pitch?
I am also tripping over the verb spend a little bit. This could be a regional/colloquial thing but where I come from you don't spend a vacation, you take one. Probably not a big deal.
Otherwise I think the last half of this sentence is very good. It has high stakes, it has the surprising but also intriguing twist of the twenty-one days, and it gives us a hint of conflict without giving it all up right off the bat.
Her new promotion as Executive Chef at the posh Crestwood Country Club in Delaware is a dream job. It’s more than the pay and benefits, she has the chance to achieve what she’s always wanted – her own kitchen – and Genna can’t wait to get started when she returns after her Fourth of July holiday.
I think that this paragraph is very good. It tells us a lot about Genna in a few words. I just think that you need to work this all into you opening hook. I know it's tough because you can't get away with using so many words, but if you can combine all this (her hopes/dreams, her love of cooking) into the first line or two, you'd have a more powerful pitch.
However, her vacation is far from relaxing. Two men are vying for her attention, an ex-fiancé who wants to fix the mistakes of the past, and an old school chum who finds her irresistible…and inspires mutual feelings in Genna. Her aunt is also clearly showing signs of mental illness. The family is in denial; her cousins are unable to cope with their mother’s changing behavior and her beloved uncle, dealing with all the stress, has a heart attack.
This is where it gets a little foggy for me. As I've said I'm no expert when it comes to women's fiction so I could be wrong, but this feels like too many different conflicts here. I mean they all sound interesting, and are surely important to Genna and her story, but I think you could achieve a more concise query if you could cut even one of these. It's really only 3 different things, 4 if you count two separate romantic interests, but if you count the romance as one, as the mental illness as two, you can probably get away with that.
I know the heart attack is important (we're talking about Uncle Tony here, right?), but it sounds from this query that the mental illness and the damage it is doing to her family is the real conflict. I'll defer to my female readers on this point, but you may not need the heart attack in the query.
On the other hand, the parts that you should keep are done very well here. I think you've presented the love interests and the mental illness very succinctly. Other than possibly cutting the heart attack I wouldn't change much in this paragraph.
Genna steps in to keep his diner open and the family together while he recuperates and she questions what’s more important – breaking the glass ceiling or remaining with her family. The clock runs out and Genna finds she is needed at her new job, she is needed by her family, and she is needed by lovers old and new. Now Genna must search her soul to find out what she needs.
You could also just move the heart attack part to this paragraph. I don't mean to harp on it, because it's not a deal breaker, but I think it fits better here, rather than in the previous paragraph where it muddies up the sense of what the clear confict is, for me at least.
I also think these last two sentences are very good. Excellent summary.
In general there are three things I want to go over. Yesterday some people mentioned length and humor. I know that with queries the idea is to tell just enough, and this query may look a little long here, but keep in mind that this is a blog, with thin margins for the text (or is it wide?) and if you put this query in a word doc in a 12 point font there's plenty of room for the housekeeping info.
When it comes to humor I'm a little ambivalent about it. Essentially it all depends on the story. If your novel is pretty funny, or even just has funny moments, then you may need to inject a little more of that kind of voice into your query. If it's more serious, with some element of tragedy, then this kind of factual description may be just right.
Finally is something Anne and I discussed based on some comments she has received: the concept of cliches in a query. Anne removed some phrases from this query that some readers considered to be cliche. The only one she kept is the glass ceiling idea. I would argue that the glass ceiling idea is not cliche, and even if it is I think it works. It's a very real issue for women, and there is really no other term that can be used to convey it.
Please fogive me for the ridiculous length of this post. This is a tough query for me to critque because I don't really read these kind of books. Also, Anne and readers, please remember this is just the humble opinion of one dumb guy who doesn't really know what he's talking about. Feel free to disagree with me, and please say so if you do. Also feel free to follow or ignore my advice as you see fit. The nature of feedback is that some of it won't fit. Hopefully I've suggested at least one change that resonates for you, and will make your query better.
Readers? Please help us out here. Let me know if I'm an idiot, or just partially deluded, or (not likely) a complete genius. The one thing I think Anne needs most is a stronger, more colorful hook, with more voice and a better sense of character. If you can suggest something that actually works I will heart you like Brett Favre hearts crotchless Wranglers ... er, wait a minute.