Oct 27, 2009

Re - Query for Mourn Their Courage

Dear Agent,

When Liu Jie vows to serve his Emperor, he embarks on an epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors. Jie endures the brutality and anguish of war before facing his greatest fear: must he sacrifice his family to save his empire?

"MOURN THEIR COURAGE" is a 104,000 word fantasy novel based on the Chinese folktales collectively called "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Though adapted for film, television and video games that have enjoyed world-wide popularity, there are not yet any modern novelizations of this treasure. I write with the same appreciation for character emotional development as Guy Gavriel Kay and believe his fans will enjoy my work.

I am a member of the Wuxia Society and The China History Forum Online, where I contribute book reviews. I have studied Tai Chi and Mandarin, traveled to China twice, and corresponded with Rafe DeCrespigny, one of the leading authorities on the Three Kingdoms period. I have published book reviews on my blog and fiction in online markets and can furnish those references upon request.
I understand you are interested in historical fiction and fantasy and I want to introduce you to my vision of China.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.

- Author

Chapter One

In the Ron Empire, wars did not erupt over cups of rice wine. Since the Peach Orchard Inn's modest, tamped-earth structure promised rest from months of travel and skirmishes with bandits, Liu Jie signaled his men to stop for the night.

Despite a guard’s protest, Jie dismounted and opened the inn’s courtyard gate himself. The cold, flaky metal felt good and solid after hours of leather and horsehair under his fingers. His wife and son’s litter entered the courtyard where Jie freed them from the stuffy sedan chair. Mei and Shan took a deep breath as a breeze blew the smell of earth and peaches through the courtyard. Together, they entered the inn.

To his right, five men gathered around an unrolled silk scroll mounted on the wall. The ivory fabric's weave was intricate, and the Imperial Chop blazed like a crimson brand in a corner. He read it in a glance.

The Son of Heaven requires the aid of all men as sons might come to their father. Rebels assault the people and threaten the capital. All districts report.

Beside him, his wife blanched. “No,” she whispered.

Jie read it again and clenched his hands. "You were right, Mei. War was inevitable."

"I'd hoped-"

Jie nodded and took her hand in his for a quiet moment. When servants brought in the family’s luggage, Mei and her servant followed them past garish red pillars and up the stairs. He knew Mei wanted to avoid the noise of the tearoom and the implications of the notice.

Their son, Shan ran outside to play in the last rays of sunlight. Jie bought a cup of rice wine and sat at an empty table. He contemplated how to respond to the summons. Servants lit paper lanterns and the tearoom filled with more men who crowded the notice.

A group of boisterous young men sat at a nearby table and a game of sixes commenced with a clatter of dice.

The voices and noise blended into a monotonous drone. When the innkeeper brought him a plate of dumplings and a set of chopsticks, he barely tasted the food. Instead, he used the chopsticks and wrote plan after plan in the congealing sauce. He abandoned every scheme as impractical.

He did not have enough money to fund a campaign against the rebels. He had to continue to the capital and sign up. Jie longed to respond now, before Imperial troops slaughtered the Turbans.

The inn door slammed open and Shan rushed inside.

Bemused, Jie smiled as his son looked around the room as if all the demons of hell chased him. *After all, he is eight.*

Then Shan's wide-eyed expression found him, and Jie knew something was wrong.

"Papa, come outside, quick!"

"It's dark outside, Shan. There’s nothing to see."

"There’s a body!" Shan said. "A dead boy is in the garden."

10 comments:

Suzan Harden said...

Fisrt of all, I'm a history nut so I'd pick up something like this in the bookstore.

Unfortunately, there's some problems with the query.

1) The first paragraph needs some specificity. What launches Jie on his epic journey? Why must or how is Jie forced to choose between his family and his duty?

2) Leave off everything after Three Kingdoms in your second paragraph. You want an agent to focus on YOUR work, not what everyone else has done. If you must have a comparison line (I know some agents want this), leave it at your novel "is similar to ..."

3) In the third paragraph, stick with your published fiction credits. The rest is gravy, and you want your experience to SHOW in your writing. Take your last sentence and make it a separate paragraph. This is the personlization line of why you're contacting a particular agent. You want to make this distinct from your bio paragraph. However, drop the second sub-sentence. By showing your vision of China in your first paragraph, you won't need this sub-sentence.

4) You might want to clarify your subgenre. Both fantasy and historical fiction are used, but the story itself sounds more like historical fantasy.

As for the first chapter, you might want to consider starting with Shan finding the body. The set-up is understandble, but I think it needs to be dropped in as needed throughout the ms. Unfortunately, with today's instant gratification society, most readers don't like waiting for the first significant event.

This sounds like an EXCELLENT premise, so please keep us apprised of your progress!

Best wishes in your submissions.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks again, Suzan! If anyone has a suggestion for a better hook, please speak up. That's the part I'm most concerned about. :/

Tessa said...

Query thoughts:

I (read in this-interview that) you are interested in historical fiction and fantasy, and I want to introduce you to my vision of China.
(insert specific request for rep somewhere)

When Liu Jie vows to (defend) his Emperor (against the treacherous title-here), he embarks on an epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors. Jie (leads an army through) the brutality (of war & political intrigue) before facing his greatest fear: must he sacrifice his family to save his empire?
(hopefully this helps with the how & whys. I really like the hook.)

"MOURN THEIR COURAGE" is a 104,000 word fantasy based on the Chinese folktales (of) "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Though adapted for film, television and video games, there are not any modern novelizations of this treasure. I write with the same appreciation for character emotional development as Guy Gavriel Kay(,) and believe his fans will enjoy my work.
(I agree not all agents like comparisons, but I think the current version is better than "similar to" since it defines how it's similar. I have no idea who Kay is [agent might not either], but I can appreciate "character emotional development")

I (belong to the) Wuxia Society and The China History Forum Online, where I contribute book reviews. I studied Tai Chi and Mandarin, traveled to China twice, and corresponded with Rafe DeCrespigny, (a prominent) Three Kingdoms (historian). I (blog and contribute articles for online markets in my field).

Tessa said...

Update:

Though adapted for film, television and video games, there are (no) modern novelizations of this treasure.

Gina Logue said...

After reading this query, I still didn’t know the story. I think you could remove most of paragraphs 2 and 3 and instead spend more words on the plot hook in the first paragraph.

1) “vows to serve” is vague. What does that mean? Enlist in the Emperor’s army?

2) I think the motivation/reasons for the “epic journey” would help hooking reader interests.

3) “ghosts are guides” “heroes are traitors” doesn’t mean anything to me since I don’t know the context.

4) “Jie endures” “his greatest fear” Again, I don’t know what drives him to endure or even consider sacrificing his family. Without knowing his reasons, I find it difficult to care for his cause or his dilemma.

5) 2nd para – keep the first sentence and remove the rest.

6) 3rd para – I agree with Suzan

Looking forward to seeing your revision!

susiej said...

Victoria,
I liked the hook but did agree that the rest of the query needed more specifics- funny that I can tell you that, but can't fix it in my own query! I still haven't figured out how to distill my story of over 100k words into one paragraph.

I do like your story, like your work and hope to see it on shelves. So keep at it.

BTW- I came over here through your FB newsfeed after sympathizing with your disappointment at lack of comments. (hint, hint, grin)

RCWriterGirl said...

I read this and saw two major problems. The first major problem can be fixed. The second cannot.

The first problem is your query doesn't tell us about the story. An epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors--what does that mean. Nathan Bransford wrote a post yesterday about thematic queries. He said they sucked and they don't work. You have to tell the agent what happens, not what your book is about. A query tells what happens in your book. That's what you have to do for this to be a query. Here is what your query must say.

-Protagonist wants X
-Y obstacle stands in protagonists way
-If protagonists does not achieve X, Z might happen (and Z should be pretty compelling).

Your second problem comes to ownership/copyright. If this is already used in film, television and video games, I'd be worried someone already has ownership rights to these characters. Now, when dealing with an older work, one that's in the public domain, maybe there's a lot of latitude for everyone to do their own thing. But, not being a legal scholar, I'd be concerned about the fact that other people, who are clearly copyrighting their work are already using these characters/this story.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thank you all so much! This has been incredibly helpful. I've reworked the query from your comments and from the one positive agent feedback I received and will post it next week. I want to let it simmer for a bit. ;D

Thanks again!

Suzan Harden said...

RCWriterGirl,

I think there's a miscommunication. Wuxia is a genre in Chinese literature. The Three Kingdoms refers to period of civil unrest in China during the third century C.E. Unless Victoria uses a fictional character or plagarizes a current work that's copyrighted, she's fine.

The recent lawsuit in Britain against Dan Brown was decided on the issue that facts (or alleged historical facts) cannot be copyrighted.

Okay, now that I've done my Cliff Clavin imitation, I'll slink into the night.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for the clarification, Suzan! I confess, I forgot to respond to that, but I think you said it better anyway. ;D