Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Amber Mauldin's Current Query II Critiqued

This may be the most important critique I've ever given. Please bear with me as I help my friend Amber try to perfect the query letter for this critically important book.

Before I even get started, I have some important things to say.

Most of you noticed yesterday: this query letter is for a memoir. That means, basically: all this actually happened. I know that's hard to hear. As a father, it's hard for me to think about a young woman suffering the trauma that Amber experienced at such a young and innocent point in her life.

She and I debated a bit about whether to post this query, and how to post it. I, in my ignorance, tried to convince her she should not make this information public. She, in her infinite strength, courage, and wisdom, convinced me that expressing herself, letting go, and championing her saviors was something she'd been doing nearly all her life by now, and something she knew was right for her and her history.

I can't say I completely understand. I mean I may seem brave at times, but this kind of courage is beyond me. So before we get down to any kind of nitty gritty, I want to sincerely thank Amber for showing me the true meaning of courage and determination.

Now, all that being said, the only way I agreed to do this at all was if she allowed me to focus on the writing. The truth of life is too harsh, too near, and simply not something that should ever be up for critique. But we talked about it, and Amber and I agreed that we would treat this query like it was fiction, so that we could take the positive attitude of improving her craft of writing as much as possible. That way, we could focus on the mechanics, rather than the the pain (or even the healing) and we could adopt a pragmatic approach in trying to come up with the best possible submission for what is clearly a powerful and important story.

If you'd like to know more about the reality side of Amber's story, please visit her blog, and read this heartfelt post.

Now to the letter:

Time seems to stop right before you die. I'm not a fan of opening like this. I get the imagery, and I think it's powerful, but I'm not sure it works in a query. Amber Harville knows this all too well. You're now two sentences in, and we don't know any of the key elements we need to know. Who is Amber? What kind of person/character is she before her story begins? A query needs to (99 times out of a 100, sometimes there is a genius who breaks the rules) introduce us to a character we can like and sympathize with ASAP. When she is kidnapped and raped at fifteen, she is certain her captor's next step is to murder her. She never imagined he'd dump her out of the car with the threat of- "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you." There's certainly no arguing with your inciting incident. The fact that it's true only heightens the power of the emotion. That being said, I think this whole opening hook can be delivered better.

Something like this: Fifteen-year-old Amber Harville is a good student, a decent Christian, and a great friend, until she's kidnapped and raped by a serial madman. Time seems to stop in the fatal moment before he murders her, but then suddenly, in an inexplicable fit of mercy, he dumps her out of the car with the threat of, "Tell a soul, and I'll come back and kill you."

Obviously that's not perfect, and I'm sure you could write it much better than me, but the point it gets across is for you to get us caring about Amber as a character first, and then punch us in the gut with the horror of the inciting incident.

His first mistake was choosing her as his victim; his second was letting her go. I like this. Normally, it might be unnecessary in a query, but this story is all about Amber's inner strength.

She flees to the nearest house and they call the police. Three days later he is caught. I understand what you're after here, but you don't need to go chronological in this query. Ask yourself what really matters, what is at the heart of this story? As far as I can tell, the key is Amber's courage and tenacity, and how she finds salvation through god. I saw that other version you sent me, and I actually think you should consider including more about how she took sanctuary in the church. It's your story, of course, but to me these are the keys: the kidnapping (and rape), the church, and then the fact that Amber is the only witness who can put this guy away. The Spain/Boyfriend thing is important too, sure, and I'm not saying remove it, but you need to decide what elements are absolutely crucial to your tale. But the damage has been done and Amber begins to spiral out of control. Her emotions teeter-totter between fear and rage. Every stranger becomes a possible predator and every public setting has the potential for a repeat snatch and grab. She begins to carry mace and knives, hoping it will be enough to keep her overwhelming terror at bay, but it is like pouring water on a bullet-wound. This seems like a strange comparison to me. I'm sure water doesn't feel great applied directly to a gunshot wound, but surely there's something that hurts worse? And her parents don’t help the situation by pretending nothing has happened.

I think you should re-think this paragraph. It's tough, I know, because all these emotions are certainly important to the character, and I don't mean to deflate any of their power, but are they really key to the story? All these reactions seem perfectly natural to me (says the guy who only knows you on the internet, and has obviously never been through this kind of trauma), but I wonder if they are really what you need to convey in the query? You use up a lot of words telling us several ways in which Amber is freaked out. Would this space perhaps be better served telling us more about what she ends up doing about it?

With an impending trial around the corner it seems her nightmares will never end. A summer foreign exchange program which sends her to Spain is exactly what she needs- an escape. A gorgeous Spanish boy awaking her stone-cold heart is the last thing she wants- a distraction. Should she stay with the boy she loves, or should she return home and see to it that her attacker be put away for good? The rest of this I'm undecided about. I'm not sure how well an agent would react to a memoir that is about both the trauma of kidnap and rape, and the redemption of young love. As I mentioned, I don't think you need to cut the Spain trip or the Spanish boy out of the query completely, and I do like the angle of the difficult choice of whether or not to return to America, but I think this query is better focused on struggling with her Christianity, and then the utter terror of being the key witness in such an important trial.

PERFECTLY BROKEN is a YA narrative memoir complete at 55,000 words. It is an inspirational story about a girl who finds a strength she never knew existed and a love she never knew was possible. Thank you for your time.

In summary ... wow. There is so much that could be said about this whole thing, but I have to focus on craft only, or I'll go on and on forever, and end up crying.

So ... you've clearly got a powerful story here, and one that needs to be told. I can't imagine how many young women out there could benefit from reading this kind of memoir. That being said, I think you should step back and think about your story. Are you done drafting it? Have any CPs read it yet?

There are a lot of ways this story could unfold, and a lot of different themes that could underlie the tale, but you need to decide which ones are the most important. If the boy in Spain and the freedom of being in another country is more important than the reading of the bible and the mentor-ship of her minister, that's fine, but putting all of them in the query may be too much. I would also like to see this letter touch on the trial, and the fact that Amber is the only witness with an account that can convict this monster.

That's it.

What do you all think? Please feel free to disagree with me, and honor Amber's bravery by having the courage to be honest.

This was a really difficult post to write. Being a middle-aged-fat-white-guy, I'm not sure I even have the right to be sitting in this position, trying to help Amber with this tragic, but important story.

49 comments:

Amber said...

Thank you soooo much for treating this like fiction! Pity won't get me anywhere, and it certainly won't win over an agent :)

Now that you have pointed out the things you noticed, I agree... (I was just too close to see it myself) I should def. add about how the other two victims before me hadn't gone to the police, and how the lawyer was counting on me to put him away for good.

Also, for the opening....I had toyed with- Amber Harville is a fifteen-year-old who is as quick to throw a punch as she is to steal a kiss.

You have given me wonderful notes and I will def. be reworking this :)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Before I comment, I want to thank Amber for being so open. The courage is must have taken to write this book is amazing.

I think the only major issue with this query is that it's slightly unclear what the focus is. Is it about Amber gaining the strength to return home to face her attacker or is it about the romance with the boy in Spain helping her to heal?

The thing about a query is that it doesn't need to tell everything that happens in the book. It just needs to hook the agent and make them drool to read the rest.

I get what Matthew is saying, but I actually like that first line. It's got a breathless quality to it that made me dive right into what came next. I do agree that cleaning up that paragraph and front loading more about Amber before diving into the inciting incident will help the reader connect to the character and event, but I can see this working.

"Time seems to stop right before you die.

Fifteen-year-old Amber Harville has a pretty great life. Supportive family, awesome friends, and a bright future. All that is stolen when she is kidnapped and brutalized by a madman. Amber is sure she is going to die, but in a fit of inexplicable mercy, he sets her free with the threat of, 'Tell a soul, and I'll come back and kill you.' "

I would actually focus more on what Amber has rather than who she is. This allows the reader to envision what's she's lost. Being a good Christian is a great characteristic, but it's more difficult to visualize how the attack could strip that away (without going into issues of faith and such, which might be too deep for this query, especially if a crisis of faith isn't the central plot point).

If the focus is on her recovery, then I'd just tighten up that second paragraph so that it conveys that her life has been radically altered and she no longer feels safe. Then dive into that Spain paragraph and tell us more about the transformation.

If, as Matthew said, the manuscript spends more time on the trial and terror and Christianity, then those are the things to focus on in the query.

Also, avoid using questions in queries. Agents often hate that. Rephrasing it as a statement makes it stronger and tells the agent what they'll be reading. "Amber will have to decide whether to stay with the boy she loves or return home to see her attacker put away for good."

The other thing I would do is look for vague words. This is a powerful story. Use powerful words. Keep your sentences and paragraphs right and sharp.

Lastly, even with these comments, I think this is a pretty strong query and it makes me want to read the manuscript.

Thank you for being awesome, and good luck.

Elise Fallson said...

Amber, I admire your bravery, courage and inner strength. You have an important message and powerful story to tell and so many women would benefit from reading your book. I truly hope you find success in getting this book to publishing. Matthew made excellent suggestions and I'd like to see more of what your mc does to over come her demons.

And Matthew, the "middle-aged-fat-white-guy" is giving Amber a tremendous service by helping her get her story out there.

Amber said...

@Shaun- thanks so much for the detailed comment...to answer some things- I was a misfit with very little to lose. The rape was my wake-up call. It took what little life I had and left nothing but emptiness. I turned to the church and the bible and found a new strength through a budding faith. But I still thought I was incapable of ever loving until my trip to Spain restored my faith in love...So 1/3 of the story is the kidnapping, spiralling out of control, then finding peace,the second 1/3 is Spain and falling in love, then the final 1/3 is returning home empowered to face my attacker in court.

Chelsey Flood said...

Amber, you are a brave, brave woman. I already know I'm buying this once you get published.

As for your query, knowing it's a narrative memoir make me see the book and your query totally differently. Once for a change, I think you should put that up at the top after your greeting.

I also think your first line is great. I agree that you should put more about yourself up front, but I liked that line.

I also agree you should be less chronological as well.

Good luck Amber! I'm rooting for you!

LTM said...

OK, so I read it without Matt's crits (which I dictate anyway), and I think it's pretty strong in the original version. But I wonder how much of that comes from knowing it's a true story.

At the same time, if it's a YA narrative memoir, they'll get that it's a true story.

I'd say, Matt's crits are always just what I'd say, but even Amber only takes half your advice, this sounds strong and extremely marketable. Good luck with it! No matter how we treat it, I was still sniveling by the end. :o) ((hugs))

Mara Rae said...

Thanks, Amber, for sharing your story, and I agree with Matt's comments. I was reading through your last comment, however, and I was really struck by what you wrote. In fact, I think it would be perfect for your query:

"Amber Harville is a 15-year-old misfit with very little to lose, when she is kidnapped and raped by a madman."

The rest of what you wrote is the meat of your query: The rape was her wake-up call. It took what little life she had and left nothing but emptiness. She turns to the church and the bible and finds a new strength through a budding faith. But she still thought she was incapable of ever loving until a trip to Spain restores her faith in love.

Sounds like an amazing story to me. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think Matt's crits are great! And Amber, you are amazing for telling this (your) story. My only (hopefully helpful) comment: as for as the young-love vs. returning home, I think you touched on the key part of that earlier (that it's a distraction). I think emphasizing that the choice isn't about the boy, but about facing returning home, will bring the right focus to that pivot point of the story.

Best of luck with this!!

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

i'm with matt's critiques- except for the first paragraph... i think that first paragraph makes such an impact (voice, characterization, flow) initially, that i think it shouldn't be touched.

Mary said...

Amber I admire your courage in writing this story and sharing it with the world.

I like the way you opened this query. In fact, the only place I wanted more information or clarity was in the final paragraph.

A summer foreign exchange program which sends her to Spain is exactly what she needs- an escape. [I like this line.]

A gorgeous Spanish boy awaking her stone-cold heart is the last thing she wants- a distraction.[And this one.]

Should she stay with the boy she loves, [Here is where my confusion came in-before he was a distraction, now he is someone she loves, but there is no connection to set up that he went from distraction to love] or should she return home and see to it that her attacker be put away for good?

And I agree with Shaun- try and rephrase this last sentence into a statement rather than a question. I think it will have much more punch that way.

Best of luck to you.

JeffO said...

Amber, I applaud you for having the guts to put this out there. Now for the query:

I personally don't mind the opening line, but I think it does need to connect with Amber a little more strongly in the third sentence, like "When she is kidnapped and raped at fifteen, the hours with her tormentor seem endless". That's really bad, but maybe you see what I mean?

My only quibble with the one-line paragraph is that it almost sets up like this is going to become a revenge thriller, like you're setting us up for an "Amber sharpens her knives and goes hunting" scenario.

Third para, I think the first two sentences should go. It doesn't matter for the query where she goes or how long it takes for the cops to catch him. The fact she calls the police IS important, but maybe not for the query. But those first two sentences are disconnected from the rest of the para, which is really about the horrible aftermath of the experience and are really important. As it ties in with her trip to Spain and unexpected love, I think it's important.

I feel like the fourth para wavers a little bit. I assume testifying at trial and facing her rapist is a big part of Amber's conflict at this point, but that doesn't come through here, nor does the internal conflict over letting herself heal--and love. You need to strengthen this paragraph a little bit, and give a little more attention to her inner conflicts here.

Thank you again for having the bravery to go through this and the willingness to share your story with others. Best of luck.

Matthew MacNish said...

I just want to add - for everyone. I love the opening line. I think it's a great image, and I imagine it's true. I just don't like where it's placed, or the fact that it's followed by a second sentence that still doesn't introduce to a character we can care about.

Amber said...

well everyone can rest assure- whether or not the opening line stays in my query- that line is also in the opening page of the story. And it packs a good punch there :) (that is why I had stole it from the ms :)

Samantha Vérant said...

Amber- Wow. What a story! This query is an excellent place to start...if you were pitching fiction. But it isn't fiction; it's a memoir. With that said, querying a memoir is a bit different, meaning it should be written in first person and in the past tense. I do have experience with this! Believe me! I pitched my memoir last year, ultimately landing an agent (and many full requests!)You obviously have a story to tell and I'd love to help you, but it's easier for me to go back and forth via email. You can check out my "winning" query here LINK TO QUERY and if you're interested, just shoot me an email. (there's an email button on my blog- left side) Well, that's it. I'm here in cyberspace if you need me!

Samantha Vérant said...

Damn! The link didn't go to the right page. #htmlfail Anyway, clicking it will still bring you to my blog, then head up to the top menu bar: the memoir button.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Amber, you're very brave to put all this out there. I'm sure it will help someone, someday.

I agree with Matt: focus on your action to overcome the situation.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think if the book focuses on the emotional journey, than that's what the query should focus on too. I'm going to disagree with Matt about including the bit about Spain- on the contrary, I think the relationships that helped Amber through the terrifying process of healing after something like that are really important and it keys the agent in on the fact that there is lightness after the dark and the ending conflict. A very brave and moving memoir that, I agree, needs to be out there. Thank you to you both for sharing this.

mshatch said...

Amber, you have amazing courage to be able to tell your story. Thank you.

Here's how I might re-word the opening:

When fifteen year old Amber Harville is kidnapped and raped, she is certain her captor's last step will be to murder her. She never imagines he'll dump her out of the car with the threat of- "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you."

His first mistake was choosing her as his victim; his second was letting her go.

And I agree with Creepy Query Girl about keeping the whole Spain thing in the story but maybe focus more on Amber's mental state and her decision to return and face her captor in the query.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Obviously I haven't read this memoir, but I wonder if splitting it into parts (Part One being the attack & being dropped off, part two being the trial and introduction of cute boy, part three tying everything together) would make it easier to write the query.

It mentions courage and I think this is the point where you could hint that there were two others who hadn't shown the courage, so the attacker didn't expect anything different.

Here's what I do know - as a teacher of teens, I am aware of these tragedies happening more than they should, and equally in awe at the courage shown by these victims to right the wrongs, work on healing, and encouraging others. Amber, you are definitely one of these.

cleemckenzie said...

I have to agree with all the others who applauded Amber for putting this out for public view.

Great critique as well. I look forward to seeing this story on the shelves.

Jericha Senyak said...

Amber, I want to read this book.

I agree with many of the edits, but especially with Mara Rae & Creepy Query Girl.

See, I'm a big wimp. I have a hard time reading things that just horrify me. The love story is important to me because it makes the book about finding love after trauma, and I want to hear that story more than any other.

Matt's right. This IS an important book. No matter what you choose to do with your query, don't stop sending it in. I want to be able to buy this.

Johanna Garth said...

I really want to read this book!!

Matt, I found your comment about not opening like that so interesting because that's how I've opened a query for a book I've been shopping with zero hits.

I love being plunged right in but I'm starting to think maybe you're right.

Amber said...

Wow, ya'll have been wonderful! I love all the suggestions and will be taking them to heart when I re-work this query. Thank you (everyone) for your support, time and opinions on helping me get this query cleaned up.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Amber, that's so much for sharing this with us. It's so courageous for you to share your story.

In your first paragraph, you could start with the first line or go directly into the last two sentences of the paragraph but tell her age and name. Those two sentences are grabbers.

I liked the two sentences in the second paragraph. They drew me in. But then I wanted to know why he made the mistake. Is your story about that at all? If so, you might want to highlight it in the query and leave out more of her emotional journey and the Spain trip. It's hard to say. If you want to leave those in, I'd take out those two sentences because you don't tell us anything about why he made the mistake.

I think like a fiction story, it's hard to focus on just a bit of the story and that's what you'll need to do. Because you won't be able to tell the agent everything in a short query. But your story is definitely powerful so you just need to tighten the query. Good luck!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, I missed that this was a true story. Amber, you have some guts.

Pk Hrezo said...

Hi Amber! Wow. I'd be all over a memoir like this and it's exactly what YA needs. Many agents would love to get there hands on a well-written emotional roller coaster like this.
Matt has given some excellent suggestions. For the most part, I'd say keep it succinct and let the rawness of it really show in the writing. It's not the usual fluff a fiction query has. With the right power punch this will really grab an agent. I think you've got the necessary elements. The last paragraph tends to lessen the gravity of what happened. I think Matt is right, in that omitting the bit about falling in love, and add in what her goals in Spain are, and what she could lose by never returning to America.

Best of luck with this! Hope to have the chance to read it someday.

BTW Thanks Matt for your feedback on my first page today. Really helpful! :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

I'm with Creepy Query Girl - i think the spain bit and the boy should stay, since it seems to be about an emotional journey as much as a telling of what happened.
Otherwise, though, i think Matt gave great advice as usual

Joshua said...

I know I read narrative memoir yesterday, but I think my tired brain interpreted that as meaning fiction. I'm pretty sure Matthew hit on all my notes, and some of them in a much more efficient way than I had written down.

And now knowing that this is a true story, I wonder if you've ever read "A Child Called It" by Dave Pelzer (as well as the two follow-ups). Tough subject matter, but the way he tells it is perfectly done. I suggest checking it out.

Amber said...

Thanks Joshua- I will look into those.

Jade Hart said...

I'm so proud of you, Amber and love how supportive and helpful the wonderful bloggers and Matt have been. From someone who has been lucky enough to grow as a writer with Amber I can say her work is extremely well-written and told with snark. I can't wait to see this on the shelves! Go Girl :)

J.C. Martin said...

Wow. All I can say is that I respect Amber for her courage in writing this. Having said that, I agree with most of Matthew's suggestions, and with everyone else's comments, especially the bit about perhaps leaving the Spanish boy out if your focus is on whether Amber should run away from it all in Spain or to return to the States to face her fears, and to put her tormentor behind bars for good.

Best of luck with this!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Amber, it IS very brave of you to put your story out there, under the magnifying glass, and extremely professional of you to take a step back from your life story and seek this feedback on your writing.

The query is difficult, of course, even for a writer who isn't writing about her own life. It's a completely different animal than a book -- fiction of non-fiction.

Matt's critique is well done, and he has made some very skillful observations. I'll just share with you my initial impression when I read the query yesterday, before he commented.

I thought the first 2 lines were throwaways. They took up space in the query without telling us anything. The sentence that stood by itself (His first mistake ...) threw me, because I did not understand until Matt did his critique today how choosing her and letting her go ended up being a mistake for him. I missed the connection: That she (you) would not remain silent.

Finally, the paragraph that took us to Spain seemed lacking some crucial information. I understand why the exchange program trip was the perfect thing, and meeting a Spanish boy was unexpected and possibly a path toward healing -- but students don't usually stay forever in the foreign country, so I wasn't sure why not returning home was an option for her. I felt as if something had been left out.

Good luck in your querying, Amber. Your story deserves to be told.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

To me, it sounds like there are two stories being told here, like Matt pointed out. What is the overarching story? Catching the guy and the trial, or Amber's recovery. That's what the query needs to focus on. As it it, it sounds like the boy and Spain story is the sequel to the book on catching the kidnapper and the trial.

Either way, this is the kind of book I like reading, even if I end up using an entire book of Kleenexes. Good luck, Amber!

Julie Musil said...

Amber, you are indeed a courageous woman. I'm wiping tears as I write this comment, but I know that's not what this exercise is about. *deep breath*

I actually like the opening line because it grabs attention, but it could be strengthened like "Time stops before you die." Another possibility is "When Amber is kidnapped and raped at 15". Just ideas of course.

I actually really like Matt's idea of an opening, because we sympathize with the MC right away. I also agree with his advice to focus on what the main points of the story are, your overriding theme, and pique the agent's curiosity with that.

I love the "his first mistake line." Shows grit.

This story/memoir sounds gripping, heartfelt, and amazing.

Hugs to you...and best of luck

TL Conway said...

Amber, thank you for sharing your story with us. I am amazed at your courage!

I'm so new to the query game that I'm not sure my thoughts are going to be much help. But I did like the mention of the trip to Spain and the boy. However, I think the reason I liked it was because it gave a "lighter" feel to a story that makes the reader stop and say, "Holy crap--did I just read that right?"

Then again, maybe that's just me. Thank you again for this amazing display of courage. Best of luck with the query!

Bryan Russell said...

Sometimes you have to take risks. Kudos to both of you.

Nancy Thompson said...

This one is difficult for me to comment on. I think it's a good thing to both write and post about. I've found writing about this type of event to be very cathartic myself. I hope Amber does as well. Having said that, I'm gonna keep my comments to the query alone or else I'll just start blubbering.

I do love the hook, especially since it's the first line of your memoir, but, like Matt said, I think it should be made part of Amber's introduction and characterization.

The biggest impression I had of the material was that it felt like a synopsis, meaning it read like one event after another. You don't want that. You want to clearly show, as directly and tightly as possible, the character, the conflict, and the choice, and NO more. So I think it's just a matter of tightening up that second paragraph and deleting everything except what is absolutely imperative.

I love the Spanish boyfriend angle and how that leads to healing, though it potentially interrupts the closure part of the process by possibly keeping her from returning home to testify. But again, I think it just needs to be pared down to only what is necessary. If you take out all the superfluous incidents, it will make the remaining ones more urgent and important. Otherwise, it's a bit like muddying the waters. I think the query could very well handle the kidnap, rape, and redemption of young love, in that order, as long as it was presented cleanly. So you already have everything you need; you just need to take some away.

Having said all that, please let us know when you get your deal, because I so want to read this book. I find it inspiring and gritty and real and sad and beautiful all at once.

Theresa Milstein said...

I got the water on the bullet wound analogy--it's not going to fix it. With Matt's suggested change in the beginning, I think this query is coming along.

Amber, how horrible this really happened to you.

I'll focus on the query: it's got the right elements from a fiction point of view. You had an inciting incident, obstacles, and a choice. In addition, we get a glimpse the kind of person you are from the part where you say the attacker chose the wrong person.

The fact that you could write this story and share your query makes me think you end this book on a positive note. I hope so because it's your life we're talking about.

maine character said...

Matt - excellent as usual, especially in how you handled the issue and gave it the go-over it needed.

The only place I'd disagree is the line about "like pouring water on a bullet-wound." It doesn't make sense by itself, but it's about how she's trying to use mace to keep away the terror, which doesn't help at all. But since the mace and knives are to protect her, and terror can't be seen, then maybe a better image would be something like "barbed wire to keep out the wind." Or the cold, a tornado, hail, or a flood.

And Amber - really like what you said in your comment about the stakes of how the other two women didn't come forward, and so it's up to you. That should be in there.

And your comment to Shaun about the three parts - that should work really well, with the classic heroic journey of catastrophe, going into the wilderness, and coming back stronger and facing the foe. Instead of the Force or fighting, you're taught about love and to value yourself. A very empowering story.

Amber said...

Thank you everyone, once again. And you all can be assured that my story has an epic ending- so powerful you would think it was fiction...he truly picked the wrong girl when he chose me :) Then the final chapter is a sort of summary of my life now- happily married with two amazing children!

I found my happily ever after :)

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Amber. Your courage is certainly inspirational.
(And I like the opening line you put in the comments.) :)

Jessica Bell said...

Wow, Amber. I really hope an agent picks you up. This story really needs to be read. And congratulations on finishing a memoir! I can understand how difficult it must have been. I tried to write one myself, but in the end gave up on it as I always embellished things too much and then couldn't figure out what was real and imagined anymore as you get so wrapped up in your own world, trying to make it riveting to read, that it all becomes amalgamated. So bravo! HUGE accomplishment! Now off to check out your blog.

judymintz.com said...

Matt gave you a good critique, of course, he had a lot more information than we did. If you're going to add the faith angle back in, I'd go lightly. You don't want it to overwhelm the story and it could put off some agents. I also am not wild about the Spain content. It takes us from high drama to Harlequin romance and I don't think that's the direction you want to go. I'm not saying it's not important, but be careful. There's plenty of good input in the previous posts. Sort through and then sit on them for a while. Only make changes that really resonate with you, because none of us are in a position to offer you a deal!
Take care.

judymintz.com said...

Me again. I just read your blog and realized that the Christian angle is key to your life and writing. In which case, go for it. There are plenty of agents, and publishers, who specialize in Christian-themed works.
Take care.

farawayeyes said...

Of course, I'm a day late and a dollar short. I came back here three times yesterday and really wasn't ready to comment. When I first read through this query on Tues. My comment was WOW. I did NOT realize that this was a memoir (glad to see I was not the only dumb blonde). When that became clear on Wed. I was astounded.

I admit that I was WOWed by the first query. I also admit that I don't know what I'm talking about or doing. Matt's suggestions and many of the others seem appropriate and helpful BUT that said I CANNOT imagine someone not picking this up if all you said was, 'this is my story of how I overcame an unpardonable crime,to become the strong, whole woman I am today, who is willing to share my journey'. (OK that's an awkward sentence at best, but I think you know what I mean.)

Bravo to you for the strength and courage to tell this story and tell it well.

Bravo to Matt for helping you to make this query the best it can be, so there is no possibility that this important story is overlooked.

And, bravo to all these amazing people who want to help see this story told to the world.

Today I learned a lot more than how to make good query, great.

Deniz Bevan said...

Wow, Matthew, brave of you to critique this! I'd be tiptoeing around the story and forget to focus on the craft. I really like your suggestions for how to improve this, and I agree - it's good to get the truth out there, especially if it can help others.

Jay Noel said...

Well, this is definitely different. And refreshing.

Love that opening line. Wow.

Flemish said...

A little late, but I felt I had to take my time to give my comment.
So here we go, and this is my interpretation. What works for me might not work for someone else.
I do like the first line. It catches me right away and now I want to continue reading. I don’t like the second sentence as it is not powerful enough. You had me with the first sentence; I want more, don’t lose me.
You could’ve gone with : “kidnapped and raped at 15 Amber Harvill knows this all too well.
The first part of the third sentence can be left out. Less is more is almost always true. Build on the suspense of your story. I’m now at the point where my knuckles are turning white and can’t let go of your book. Try “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you” he whispered as he threw her out of the car.
I like the part of his two mistakes. It gives me hope that the story is going to be about payback. (I’m a sucker for payback.) It tells me Amber is strong and won’t sit down as a victim.
The next sentence, although I know what you are trying to tell is weak. It’s like spaghetti without sauce. It’s still pasta but come on there is so much to do with pasta. Spice this sentence up or leave it out completely. If it doesn’t add to it delete it. I can always read these details in the book itself.
Nothing wrong with the part of Amber spinning out of control. How about hoping to keep her Terror at bay . . . . I also don’t get the pouring water on a bullet-wound. How about pouring salt or vinegar in an open wound.
I think you can even leave the parent part out at this point. Go straight to the trial. I’m interested again.
The foreign exchange program throws me of. If you put it in front of the trial I can see how it creates the conflict. Stay in Spain, safe and happy or face the harsh reality of the trial.
Love the summary.

Good luck with your story and with your life.
Stay strong.
Cheers
Chris

Amber said...

@ Chris- thank you so much for such a well thought out, detailed critique. I loved your suggestions!