Aug 10, 2009

Query - 'History Lessons'

Oxford University freshers* Quinn Foster and Jack Townshend embark on history degrees at St. Swithun’s College expecting the same things as most Oxford freshers; academic rigor, a world-renowned faculty and a lifetime of shameless name dropping. They don’t expect to discover that a celebrated British General threw the American Revolution.

When the respected, brilliant and terrifying Professor Clifton assigns them a joint research project, the two stumble upon the journal of General George Padgett, lead commander of British forces in the American Revolution. A guilt-ridden account of his role in a plot to depose King George III, Padgett’s narrative weaves a tale of ambition and idealism gone awry while turning conventional historical scholarship on its head.

Stunned, Jack and Quinn hunt for further proof of Padgett’s claims before making the journal public. But when Quinn's best friend is brutally attacked within the secure college walls and the journal is stolen from Jack’s room, they realize that exposing Padgett’s tale will have consequences reaching far beyond academia. Someone else knows his story and will stop at nothing to keep it out of history books for good.

Jack and Quinn have a choice – to shut their eyes to a groundbreaking discovery and get on with life or to continue their pursuit of the truth and risk everything that matters.

History Lessons is complete at 78,000 words. I am a 2008 graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. in History. My undergraduate thesis focused upon the events leading up to the American Revolution and an essay I wrote on the same period was published in the 2005 Summer Edition of The Concord Review, a historical journal.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.

11 comments:

jbchicoine said...

This was very easy to follow—in fact, it sounds interesting. I think the conflict and stakes are well stated, and you haven’t thrown in too many characters to keep track of.

I’m trying to brush up on my own passive sentences, so I zoomed in on paragraph 3. Perhaps rephrasing the passive part with something like, “While within the secure college walls, Quinn's best friend sustains a brutal attack and the journal comes up missing from Jack’s room. Now they realize that exposing Padgett’s tale will have consequences reaching far beyond academia.”

Just a suggestion…Best wishes to you.

RCWriterGirl said...

Your query didn't indicate the genre.

I like the mention of the "shameless namedropping" to give a feel for their state-of-mind.

The query was easy to follow and the story was interesting enough. But, I'll be honest: the query letter really didn't grab me.

I don't know if it's because this is a type of book I wouldn't normally read, or if it's something about the query itself.

I'd definitely get feedback from some people who read this genre, so they can give you feedback on the overall feel/excitement factor.

In terms of simple execution of a query that was clear, and presented the major conflict/sourc or tension, I think you've done that.

Suzan Harden said...

My first thought was this is cool! National Treasure from the opposite perspective. (I'm a Nick Cage fan. Go with it.)

The only thing I would say about your query is change the first paragraph if you submit to a U.S. publisher or agent. She or he will probably intuite "fresher", but most Americans look at Oxford as one entity, not 30-someting separate colleges.


This sounds like a terrific story. Best of luck on your submissions!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sounds like a good mystery/thriller plot and a good story hook. What do you mean by "threw" the revolution--orchestrated it or undermined the British forces? I wasn't sure what he did.
One thing I'd want to know upfront is how they "stumble" on this journal. Something that explosive would have been discovered long ago unless it was really hidden. I'm suggesting the query should have a line that says how/why it had been overlooked in the past, so that it doesn't seem too convenient that they find it.
Overall, this is a good, tight query in my opinion.

gj said...

Consider reducing the protagonists to one person, at least for the query. As it is, they're Jack-and-Quinn, not two distinct people, so why bother with two people? I don't know anything about them, except that they're students, and that doesn't give me any picture at all, b/c there's a huge range of students.

Even if this is predominantly plot-based, it's good to have a protagonist the reader can care for, someone who feels like an individual, not just some random university students. Having two seemingly interchangeable leads works against that bond with the protagonist.

fred limberg said...

I'd play up the conspiracy harder.

If you have the history to back it up, this could be a very cool read.

I'm going to fall back on a painful lesson recently learned...express the book in one sentence and build on that.

State the genre you are writing in, or what you think it is.


This has some serious potential.

Kaitlin said...

Hi everyone, this is mine, thanks so much for all the suggestions so far; I really appreciate it! Funny thing is, I'm actually American - but since I went to Oxford, I never know what Americans who are less familiar with the university might understand about colleges v. university etc. So thanks very much, I'll keep working on it...(and I'll keep checking here, in case anyone else wants to give me suggestions...)

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

You repeat "Oxford University freshers"/ "Oxford freshers" in your opening clause. You might want to omit or rephrase one of those usages.

Other than that, I got nothing. Good job!

Gina said...

I think this is super-brill. I love secret history.

Would change punctuation in paragragp 1, i.e.: ´Oxford University freshers Quinn Foster and Jack Townshend embark on history degrees at St. Swithun’s College expecting the same things as most Oxford freshers: academic rigor, a world-renowned faculty, and a lifetime of shameless name dropping.´

In paragraph 2 I don´t think you need three adjectives to describe the professor. Leave out ´respected´ (which is kinda redundant I think; he´s an Oxford don, course he´s respected), and right away the sentence becomes more dynamic.
The description of the General´s diary is great!

I don´t think that in a query you need to go into too much detail concerning nuts and bolts, therefore I reckon leaving out why the diary wasn´t found before is perfectly fine. Remember, what you want to do is get the agent to want to read more.

I think having two protags is fine too and does definitely not detract from the focus of the query; you sketch their characters nicely by saying that they expect a lifetime of shameless name dropping. Therefore you might consider ending the last sentence with ´... continue their pursuit of the truth and risk everything that matters to them.´ As opposed to what matters per se.

I think American literary agents will be familiar with the concept of Oxford having different colleges. It has featured in so many books.

Great idea, good query.

Anica Lewis said...

This is fantastic! A great idea and, at the end, a very nice summary of your cred for writing it.

I do agree with gj - you might differentiate more between Jack and Quinn so that it's clear you have a reason to follow two protagonists. If the book is actually in the POV of just one of them, I'd focus much more on that one.

Stephanie said...

I really dig this idea too.

For the query, I think it's spread a little thin at the opening. Agents seem to have little patience about getting to the core of the action. For your query, it's not a matter of deleting but rearranging. I would do the first pp like this:
===
When Quinn Foster and Jack Townshend embark on history degrees at St. Swithun’s College, they expect the same things as most Oxford freshers: academic rigor, a world-renowned faculty and a lifetime of shameless name dropping. They don’t expect to discover that a celebrated British General threw the American Revolution.
===

Also the "everything that matters" line at the end feels vague. I would bet that giving them specific stakes (their academic futures, their relationships, their lives, etc.) would add to the urgency that you want in a query for a thriller.

I'd also focus on Quinn & Jack and give Padgett slightly less space on the page (or increase Q&J's so there's a differernt proportion).

One other thing on quick read: when I saw "discover" in that paragraph, I thought it would be something that their professor openly taught. Maybe "uncover" or a similar word might be a better choice for hinting at the danger, mystery, etc. of the discovery.

Good bio, great idea for a story. Can't wait to hear your follow-up requests for fulls :)