Monday, July 15, 2013

Tashs Seegmiller's Current Query Critiqued

Man, what a tough weekend. After all the sad news lately, we did have one bright spot. My kids decided to rescue a dog that was found near my daughter's new job. He is a Jack Russel Terrier, about 12 weeks old. They have named him Captain Jack Harkness. Whovians and nerds will get it.

Anyway, let's get to work on Tasha's letter. This time it will include my feedback, in blue.

The query:

Dear Agent,

Nora Clark arrives in a cheap hotel room of the afterlife with no recollection of how she got there. Whoa. Huh. This is certainly unique. To check in on her husband of thirty years and their sons, she has to complete the life to life transition. What does that mean? Her progression stalls when, of everyone who died that day, Nora is unable to complete the first major step.

Wow. Okay. I'm really undecided about this opening hook. On the one hand, it's so unique, you may get requests on premise alone. On the other hand, we have absolutely no sense of Nora's character. I always counsel people to introduce a character, and clue readers in to why we should care about them before introducing us to what happens to them, but I'm not actually sure that would work here.

If you introduced us to living Nora first, you would lose all the punch this unique opening hook packs as is. 

She is told the problem is simply that she hasn’t accepted her death, but the pain of separation from her husband and sons has made that reality clear enough. Then, Nora discovers she can interact with strangers still living, and is certain they need her help. When her assistance allows glimpses of her family, her resolve strengthens.

Okay, I'm struggling to put my finger on tone here. At first, with the mention of the cheap hotel room, I was getting a kind of a Beetlejuice vibe, but now it sounds more like Ghost. Either one is fine, and certainly ghost stories can be compelling, especially when the protagonist is the ghost, but I think the lack of a clear sense of voice is hurting this query a little. Is the story funny at parts, or is it mostly sad and serious? It can be both, of course, but try to be sure that the tone of the query matches the tone of the manuscript.

While heaven keeps giving her menial tasks, her capabilities with the strangers increase. What can she do, exactly? Just speak to the living, and help them out because she can pass along information? Or does she have other powers? Equipped with both her own knowledge and the perspective of the afterlife, she bends the regulations to better the lives of her family and the strangers. But the rules of heaven still have consequences, and Nora’s actions could jeopardize the happiness of the living and her own place in forever. Because she could get kicked out? Or what? If you could clarify this, you'd have a much better sadistic choice to end on.

TRANSCEND, women’s fiction with elements of magic realism, Is there magical realism in addition to the fact that this is already a supernatural/ghost story? Because they're not exactly the same thing. is complete at 81,000 words and would appeal to readers of Susanna Kearsley and Alice Hoffman. I currently teach high school English.

Otherwise, this housekeeping is great.

So, to summarize, I think you're in pretty good shape here. The strength of this unique premise is going to be what carries you through to some requests, I think. 

Normally I would suggest opening with a better sense of character, but I think you can skip that here because of how interesting the premise is. You could certainly try to work a better sense of character in during the middle, and in addition to that I think you should focus on voice and tone. If the story is funny and light, keep the cheap hotel room and sprinkle more like that throughout the later parts. If it's darker and more serious in tone, perhaps consider cutting that detail from the beginning.

That's it!

What do you all think?


Em-Musing said...

Unique premise for sure. Spot on with the comments.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

This has a very "Dead Like Me" vibe, but I'm confused as to the tone of the story. I'm also confused about the details. Are her husband and son dead too? You mention "everyone who died that day." Does that mean they died in a mass death? I think these are important elements that are vague in the query but could help connect the reader to what's going on.

I'm also finding the word choices in this query weak, which is lending a "meh" vibe to the query. I think, as Matthew points out, it may have to do with the ambiguity regarding the tone. Is this more comedy based (like Beetlejuice or Defending Your Life?) is it more serious? If it's quirkier, try to add touches of humor, if it's more dramatic, consider weightier word choices. "To check on her husband..." makes it sound like he's in the other room and she's just got to pop over to make sure he hasn't forgotten to go to the grocery store. If they're separated and she'd desperate to see him, look for words that will convey that.

All in all, this is a really cool premise that has a lot of appeal. I think just strengthening the word choices here and clearing up some of the vagueness would really provide some oomph that might help get some agents pretty excited.

Good luck!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think the opening is strong. Just needs some clarification. I wasn't sure who else was dead either.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I agree with Matt and Shaun. I feel the query is missing details that could make the story sound more interesting. Right now I don't get a sense of what's going on. Is she just wondering around, figuring things on her own? Or is she in communication with anyone who knows what she really is, like a mentor or something?

Cool sounding premise!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I very much like the opening sentence, but as others have pointed out, the rest of the query doesn't pack as much punch. We don't get any SPECIFICS about what Nora can do, what she's required to do, what she wants to do, and what the stakes are if she doesn't.

I am guessing this is because Tasha doesn't want to give away spoilers in her query. But you *must* reveal some spoilers in the query to pique an agent's interest. What are the twists/conflicts/actions that make this story unique? Spill them!

I use this example a lot here at QQQE. When I wrote a query about "a girl with a mysterious past" I got a slew of form rejections. When I wrote a query about "a girl rescued from a 19th century mental asylum" my request rate went up to almost 90%. Yes, it was a spoiler, but it was also the most interesting thing about my MC.

In addition, Matt is right about tone. We should be able to tell from the tone in your query whether this story is humorous, serious, or action-packed drama.

mshatch said...

Completely agree with Matt and Dianne about tone and spoilers. But boy it sure sounds like an interesting read!

Melanie Schulz said...

I agree with you in a lot of ways; there were a lot of hooks, but I'd like to see more substance. She sprinkled on it with the desire to see her family, that was the only part of Nora I saw in there. Other than that I thought this was an interesting concept and if I were an agent I would probably want to read more.

Sarah Ahiers said...

@Matt: are you keeping the dog??

okay, query. I don't know what this means: "Her progression stalls when, of everyone who died that day, Nora is unable to complete the first major step"

What is the first major step? And in the opening sentence you said she had no idea how she wound up dead, so who are all these other people who died?

And as for magical realism, i don't think it is. Here's a good explanation from a forum friend of mine:

Paranormal is when the focus of the story and the world itself revolves around the existence of paranormal entities. They are integral to the plot. The paranormal is out of place and extraordinary.

Magical realism is a realistic world, realistic story, but there is a magical element that may or may not necessarily be true. The plot is not defined by this magical element. The world can survive without it.

So, if you can take the ghosts out of the novel and it will still stand on its own, it may be magical realism. If you can't, if removing the ghosts destroys the story, then it's most likely not magical realism

Sheena-kay Graham said...

The story is there but the way that it's written leaves a lot of the actual details unclear. I think Tashs' premise is great but her query needs work and I'm glad she sent it to you Matt. Also I think she should just put it in the supernatural category since that has much more to do with the story than magic.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome that you rescued a puppy, Matt. We did in early April from the Humane Society. It's my daughter's and my first dog and we love her.

I really liked the first sentence of the query but then started getting confused regarding what's going on. I think if you can clarify it and catch our attention with the rest of the query like the first sentence, it'll work. Good luck with it.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Thank you so much everyone for your thoughts. I knew it needed work, but just couldn't figure out where :)

Stella Telleria said...

Sounds like an awesome read but the query leaves me feeling confused.

I shall try to illustrate what is unclear by ( possibly incorrectly) filling in the blanks myself. I am not trying to rewrite anything. I’m only trying to help.

Nora Clark awakes in a cheap hotel room of the afterlife with no recollection of how she got there or how she died. She needs to ensure her husband of thirty years and her sons are still alive, but first she must accept that she is dead. And of everyone who died that day, Nora is the only one who can’t.

To transition to the afterlife, Nora is left to wander the Earth until she can accept and remember her death. She discovers she can interact with strangers still living, and is convinced they need her help when aiding them brings these stranger into her families lives.

While heaven keeps giving her menial tasks that seem to lead her away from her family, through her fixation on these strangers she discovers new way she can make contact with the living. She bends ghost regulations to help these strangers and her family. But rules are rules, especially heavenly ones and she risks her place in forever. Nora must decide if saving her family from the danger she sees coming is worth the cost of never seeing them again in the afterlife.

I hope something in here helps. Good luck!!

Kristen Wixted said...

...Nora is the only one who can't (I would add "accept it" here).

Maybe you're trying to tell too much in the query, and that's why everyone is so confused.
It does sound like a great premise--you'll get it!

Jessie Humphries said...

I agree that the opening sentence shows strong voice. I'd like to see more of that stretched throughout and a bit more specifics instead of generalities. :)

Jay Noel said...

The first time I read through it, I thought that maybe it's sort of a comedy. A light story maybe. But I'm not very sure.

Funny how you said "Beetlejuice" because that's exactly what I was thinking at first.

farawayeyes said...

Late as usual, so I don't have much to add other than I loved the premise but found the query a bit confusing. Many good suggestions to fix that little problem. This is a book I would definitely like to read. good luck with it Tasha

Elise Fallson said...

Sorry I'm late, but I think this is a really interesting premise and I wish Tasha success with this. Much like what has already been said above, I too liked the opening but found myself wanting more specifics. Good luck Tasha, I'm sure you'll get this query ready to go in no time.(: