Aug 24, 2009

Query - Beneath the Heart of Beauty

Charlie Waters loves his wife, Barbara. Or at least he used to. When her affair was revealed two years earlier, everything in Charlie's world began to unravel. Soon after that discovery, Charlie went on a trip to Los Angeles and disappeared. It wasn't until he emerged from a coma six weeks later that anyone had any idea where he was, or even who he was. A gunshot wound to the head had robbed Charlie of any memories of what had happened to him. He has staggered through life ever since.

Charlie begins to have intense erotic dreams and brief memories about a beautiful woman he doesn't recognize. He assumes this young woman must be from his forgotten past. The memories of this woman overflow with sex, passion, and a happiness that seemed like a dream. When additional flashbacks of greed, suicide, and murder begin to return, Charlie struggles to understand how the dream became a nightmare.

Charlie and Barbara begin a complicated dance in an attempt to reconnect with each other. Charlie's disjointed memories haunt him, jarring him both emotionally and physically. He wants the relationship he used to have with Barbara, if that's possible. He also can't deny the longing for this woman he recalls only in flashbacks. He has no idea who shot him or why. Until he finds these answers to his past, Charlie is unable to move forward with any future he might have with Barbara.

BENEATH THE HEART OF BEAUTY is a literary novel with 72,000 words.

BENEATH THE HEART OF BEAUTY is my first novel, although I've had several short stories published in the past on different fiction web sites (all now defunct). I have written most of the book reviews on for the last seven years.

Thank you for your time and consideration. A completed manuscript is available.


L. T. Host said...

"He has staggered through life ever since."

For some reason, this sentence here doesn't resonate with me.

You have some tense issues, which are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but important to fix before you send it off. Example:

"The memories of this woman overflow with sex, passion, and a happiness that seemed like a dream."

Overall, I like it. Good grab, good explanation of your plot. I think you need to tighten it and make sure your tenses are consistent throughout, but it's very nearly there, I think.

Of course, I'm no pro :) But a very solid first version.

One minor thing, and it's more a question than a critique: based on your query this sounds like more of a thriller than literary fiction? You may need to clear this up a little more with your voice/ style here, or maybe my definition of literary fiction is off--- which is completely possible.

Happy writing!

Bill Greer said...

Thanks, L.T.

I've struggled with the genre definition. This isn't a thriller in the sense that there are action-packed chapters where someone's life is in immediate peril.

It isn't a mystery where someone ferrets out clues and chases loose ends.

The drama comes from Charlie's returning memories, what he believes they say about him as a man and a husband, and how he grows and reconnects with his wife.

The mystery of what happened to Charlie in the past and why someone tried to kill him help generate the suspense. Charlie's reactions to this and his relationship with Barbara drive the main plot forward, though.

That's why I list is as literary, although I'd list as anything that would get an agent to read it. :)

L. T. Host said...

Ah; I see!

Hm; I see a bigger disconnect here that I think you could clear up fairly easily and solve my concern. Is the young woman from the flashbacks Barbara, or someone else? Where is Charlie in life/ recovery when he has these flashbacks, and does this drive him to return to Barbara-- or the other woman? I think if you bring as much as you can back to Barbara, it will take the suspense angle off and make it seem more literary. You can use this current version if you decide to slant it towards suspense or mystery for another agent, because it works very well for that.

I always want to know the questions that people ask when they read my stuff, so if these are the questions you want the agent to ask anyway, then great. But I think a tad more about how the middle paragraph affects Barbara and where he's staggered might help bring it around so the agent is curious about their relationship and the way Charlie fixes it, whereas I was a bit confused.

I hope I've helped. Very interesting premise!

Rick Daley said...

I like the mystery of the repressed memories.

In the query, you shift between present and past tense. Try to keep it present tense, and focus on the movement of the primary plot elements. From the way I read it the past tense seems like backstory.
Don't mention that this is your first novel, or that your past publication credits are on defunct websites. It doesn't strengthen your bio. I'm not sure how popular the reviewsofbooks website is; if it's something that will be noticed, mention it. If it's your own site, might not carry so much weight.

Good luck, I hope you find something useful in all the comments you will get here.

Bill Greer said...

L.T. - the woman in Charlie's flashbacks is a hot, young redhead Charlie had an affair with while he was in Los Angeles. This is the time he's been unable to remember. Now in present time, memories of her indicate that while he was terribly upset over Barbara's affair, he apparently had his own.

Barbara worries that Charlie will remember everything about this young woman and want to be with her again. She's convinced Charlie already left her once for this woman.

Rick - I've struggled with the tense. The trip to Los Angeles, the coma and amnesia, are all past events that shape the central drama of Charlie's story. I haven't been able to leave it out of the query and have the rest of it make any sense. I don't think I've done a good job of adding that little bit of back story to flesh out the rest of the query.

L. T. Host said...

"is a hot, young redhead Charlie had an affair with while he was in Los Angeles. This is the time he's been unable to remember. Now in present time, memories of her indicate that while he was terribly upset over Barbara's affair, he apparently had his own."

I now see the "he doesn't recognize" in the second paragraph, my bad on calling that one. But I think that if you stick the above section into your query somewhere, you would really clear a lot up. This shows A LOT about Charlie.

You might replace everything after "brief memories about a" with the blurb from above, and then pick it back up at "When additional flashbacks..." This would also help your tense problem, at least in the second paragraph.

K, I'll let someone else pitch in for a bit.

Depending on how much you want to characterize, I think you could even use the lines about Barbara from that comment too. That was good stuff :) Very succinct, and clear.

Rick Daley said...


How does that information come out in the novel? Is it told up front as backstory, or do we learn it piece-mail as the story progresses?

If the latter, try to work that into the query. Something along these lines

Charlie awakens from a six-week coma with a gunshot wound to the head but without any recollection of how it got there.

As he struggles to find his memory, his attempts to reconnect with his wife are disrupted by his dreams...

Lisa Katzenberger said...

I think you have a very interesting hook here. But I think you might be able to get to the punch of the story sooner. Does the story really start with Charlie's flashbacks/dreams? If so, I think you can whittle down your first paragraph.

Maybe something along the lines of: After discovering his wife's affair, Charlie Waters takes off to LA, where he falls into a coma. Trying to recover from amnesia, he begins having flashbacks...

Also, for the bio, I wouldn't point out that it's your first novel. But list those websites! Who cares if they're defunct (I wouldn't mention that either), publication counts!

I do think you have a meaty story with lots of layers and great potential.

Stephanie said...

I agree that this is a mystery. Not every mystery is detective fiction (someone running around finding clues). I thought it sounded intriguing.

I also agree 100% with Lisa. List your publishing credits. Story was published? It's published. If it were a print journal, you'd still have a copy even if the journal stopped publishing. The only writing sample they're going to seek is from your book ;)

Sounds like a good story.

Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion but I'd cut the first two paragraphs. You can sum them up in one line; you could sum them up and all them to first line of paragraph three.

The blurb part of your query letter will, ideally, read similar to the blurb on the back of a book. Concise and interesting enough without outright teasing that an agent will want to see pages.

RCWriterGirl said...

I'm not sure how much I can add here, as a lot of what I was thinking was said.

I'll just reinforce what's been sai. (1) the idea of amnesia and these weird flahses from the past is an extremely interesting story.

(2) the query is extremely confusing as you go from past to present. It's tough to get a real handle on the story.

I know it's hard to do, but is there a way to streamline your story elements? Maybe start with the stakes, what's at stake for Charlie at the end of the novel. And then only include the elements that play to that.

It definitely sounds like an interesting story, but the presentation here is just too jumbled to really get a handle on it.


Bill Greer said...

Thanks all. There's a lot of food for thought here.