Sep 1, 2009

DOESN’T MATTER ANYWAY – second version

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for DOESN’T MATTER ANYWAY, a 93,000-word work of adult literary fiction. I am writing to you because [. . . researched/personalized.]

Like This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, my book explores the thin margin of error for a child growing up too fast in a dangerous home. Wishing for a normal childhood exploring the quiet streets of his small Midwestern town, Alan is caught between trying to keep up with his outgoing best friend and keeping an awful family secret – the vicious beatings his dad inflicts on his mom at night. We follow Alan over two treacherous years of adolescence as he asserts his independence from the deepening chaos around him, unaware of how he is nudging his parents out of their pattern of violence and reconciliation and into volatile new territory. Eventually, his defiance will force them to confront how far Alan will go to escape his mom’s shelter, how far she will go to protect Alan from himself, and how far his dad will go to keep control of them both.

My journalism on the subject of children witnessing violence has won magazine and advocacy awards and has been anthologized in college writing texts. I can be reached at [ . . .] Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Robert McGuire


Southern Writer said...

I didn't see the last version but this totally TOTALLY works!! It sounds like a difficult subject but at the same time, Alan doesn't sound like a victim.

My only suggestion would be to tweak this one part: Wishing for a normal childhood exploring the quiet streets of his small Midwestern town,

I'm not sure if he's wishing while he's exploring or "wishing he could have" and "exploring" at the same time--also not sure my confusion made sense LOL.

Maybe throw "Spent" in there??? normal childhood spent exploring the quiet...

Otherwise, it's tight, to the point, and intriguing. Best of luck to you Robert!

Bane of Anubis said...

Hi Robert,

I think this version works a bit better than the first one, but the query is too detached, IMO...

You could also simplify the query further by incorporating the comparisons into your 1st paragraph - e.g.:

'I am seeking repre... work of literary fiction, a story in the vein of THIS BOY'S LIFE by... and BLACK AND BLUE by Anna Quindlen. [personalization]'

Also, don't tell us that your book explores a thin margin of error... show it to us more (and, I imagine, the book comparisons support this, too).

Overall, I think you can be more active... e.g., first sentence - 'Alan wants to be normal - but normal doesn't involve a father beating a mother; normal doesn't...' something that gets us into Alan's head a bit more. The whole 'We follow' bit adds to the detached voice (now, if that's how your story is written, you may want to leave it this way).

I'd also cut out the friend bit and provide a bit more detail to show the conflict between Alan and his parents and the worsening storm between his mother and father.

As always, TWAGOS.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the first query, but to be brutally honest, I found this one lacking. I would stop reading once you said, "my book explores..."

Not to be persnickety, but I don't care what your book explores. I want to know what your book is about. And don't think of it as parsing words, because it's not. There's a real difference. Romeo and Juliet explores themes of love, the meaning of family, feuds, etc. But, based on that, I have no idea what the book is about.

I think your query would be better served by telling the agent what the book is about. You're a journalist. Is this how you would start a news story?

I'm a journalist, too. Think of this as a news story that you've got 4 inches, one column on. A short, a filler piece even. What would you write about your book. What's the story. Maybe start there, then try to punch it up a bit. But, this tells too little of the plot and has too many adjectives that say little.

Good luck.

Donna Hole said...

I have read This Boy's Life but not Black and Blue. It was a long time ago, but I thought Boy's Life was a non-fiction. A beautiful story, and thanks for the inspiration to read Black/blue.

I like the way the way you begin the heart of the query with the comparisons. It instantly gives me a feel for what is to come. A very moving story indeed.

I think it might look better if you broke it up into two or possibly three paragraphs. A break between "dangerous home" and "wishing", and maybe another between "volatile new territory" and "eventually".

And put a period instead of comma at ". .pattern of violence and reconciliation." Unfortunately, that means the rest "into volatile new territory" doesn't fit. But it didn't work for me as written either. I see the phrase "volatile new territory" as meaning that the violence is escalating, but just before that you've infered the opposite with "nudging his parents out of their pattern of violence and reconciliation." They are conflicting sentiments to me.

Speaking to sentiment; I am a bit confused at "Wishing for a normal childhood exploring . ." It is unclear what the action here is: does a normal childhood involve exploring the streets, or is "exploring the streets" something like a prize he was deprived of? Sorry, as a parent, my view of "exploring the streets" is the same as "walking the streets", which is a dangerous association in my mind.

I think what you're trying for here is that Alan is deprived of the normal adventures of exploring the TOWNE he lives in (secret paths only children can appreciate)owing to the need to be home and checking on the stability there.

Show "how" he asserts his independence (actions), and what impact it has on his parents (consequences/results) that force some sort of climax/decision on Alan's part.

The climax appears to be Alan's forcing his parents to "confront" their family issues. You've hinted that Alan's resolution to the situation is self destructive (protect Alan from himself). I work in this field, so I do understand that many children seek to draw attention to - and solicit help for - their unhealthy family lifestyles by sacrificing themselves to the system, but I'm not sure that is where you're really taking your story. Thus far, you've shown Alan's heroism in keeping his family intact (keeping the secrets, covering for his parents when necessary) and having him give up this way doesn't seem "in character".

Now, I'm reading "self destructive" as suicidal. Could be you mean something else entirely that gets law enforcement or social services involved in his family. I apologize if I'm reading you wrong here.

Your final paragraph also shifts the focus from Alan to his parents, and their reactions to his "self destructive" solutions. My caution is in changing the focus of your query from Alan to his parents. What POV is your story written from? Do we see the world from Alan's POV, or is it omni (sorry, can't spell out the whole word, but do we see EVERYONE's POV)?

And the part about "we follow Alan" seems narrative - back story. Though you state there is some action here, it is not "shown", and thus needs either clarified, or left out.

One more thing; this is really too much critique, I know. But stating that this is an "adult" literary fiction seems like you are implying there are maybe mature or explicit themes in the novel. Strong language, sex, violence. If this is written for Middle Grade or Young Adult, state it. If this is Literary Fiction, simply call it literary. But if yo mean that it has "adult" content, then the way you've written it suffices.

All that feedback aside, this is an excellent query, and maybe all it really needs is for you to break it up into a couple paragraphs for easy reading and focus the ending on Alan, not his parents. It is informative, gives the plot and main characters, and really shows it is Literary.

I'd read it, based on this blurb.