Jan 13, 2010

QUERY- CEDARS

Cedars is a 70,000 word character-driven historical novel, in which a twelve-year-old girl has to cope with the loss of her mother and find her own future.

In Ohio and Colorado in the 1880s, Liza has to run her home and tend her younger siblings, then hire out to do the same for another widower's family. At 15, she sets out on her own for Colorado, discovering romance en route. At 16, she becomes a reporter, marries and starts a newspaper. Quite successful in whatever she does, she still feels unfulfilled and gives it all up to live alone in the wilderness. Befriended and taught by the local Indians, she learns how to survive on her own, prosper and eventually blossom into womanhood. Along the way, she rehabilitates a few broken people, helps the Indians deal with the white man's world and discovers who she is and how she has to live her life.

I grew up in Colorado, weaned on tales of hardship and survival, hardrock mining and cattle rustlers, self-sufficiency and courage. A lot of those tales were part of my family's history.

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration. The entire manuscript or portions thereof are available on request.

Sincerely yours,
The author

11 comments:

Rick Daley said...

This is a very succinct and well-structured query. I get a sense of the character and her growth. It's a good example of a summary because this story covers many years, but they are neatly described in a single paragraph.

As long as you query an agent who represents historical fiction I think you have a good chance at getting a partial request, especially if compelling sample pages are provided with the query.

Good luck!

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Mostly agree with Rick but thought it was heavy on plot synopsis but a little thin on the internal life of the protagonist. For instance, it begs the question of why she left home, why she got married, why she is unfulfilled. What is she looking for? You mention loss of her mother in the first paragraph: how does that factor in (besides forcing her to take over running her home)?

You've only got 200 words here - you could add 50 or so on what drives the protagonist, what her main conflict is, what's at stake.

Aimless Writer said...

This seems like a lot to fit into 70,000 words. Is some of this back story?

Holly said...

I enjoyed your well-written query and wish you the best of luck.

A few small things I would change:

In Ohio and Colorado in the 1880s, Liza has to run her home [delete AND and add a comma], tend her younger siblings, [add a comma and an and] and then hire out to do the same for another widower's family.

Along the way, she rehabilitates a few broken people, helps the Indians deal with the white man's world, [add a comma here] and discovers who she is and how she has to live her life.

I wasn't crazy about the word "thereof" at the end. Do you work in a legal field?

Again, good luck!

The Generalissimo said...

I'm going to agree with several others here. This is a good starting point for your synopsis, but as a query it lacks emotion. As the story of a young woman striking out on her own, there is (I'm sure) quite a bit at stake for her, and not just the physical and cultural obstacles she has to overcome.

For example, why does she have to run her home at the age of 14? Why does she leave? What is driving her to make the choices she's making? Is she running from something? Does she have to go make money so her family can eat? What is it, deep down, that she really wants or needs?

Also, you might try writing the query in the voice you use as a novelist (not from the point of view of the narrator, of course). The style of your writing needs to come through in the query.

As for the last line, a simple, "The completed manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time," should be sufficient. Best of luck.

jasonamyers said...

Nice, succinct query.

Some questions:

Cedars is a 70,000 word character-driven historical novel
I would take out the character driven point. Don't tell us it's character driven, SHOW us in the query!

At 15, she sets out on her own for Colorado, discovering romance en route. At 16, she becomes a reporter, marries and starts a newspaper.
Wow! That's a lot to do by the time she's 16! It speaks a lot about the character, but I have to wonder if an agent reading this would think it was too unbelievable.

Quite successful in whatever she does, she still feels unfulfilled and gives it all up to live alone in the wilderness.
That is quite a big leap there. Many people feel unfulfilled, but throwing it all away and just running into the bush seems to be too harsh of a jump. Can you soften this blow by maybe adding another sentence or so about why she feels this way and how she just up and flees to the wilderness? This part seems to fly in the face of the first part where she is very mature for her age, and starts her own business, etc. Running away to live in the woods seems a very immature thing to do. It makes your character seem poorly written (which I doubt she is!)

Befriended and taught by the local Indians, she learns how to survive on her own, prosper and eventually blossom into womanhood. Along the way, she rehabilitates a few broken people, helps the Indians deal with the white man's world and discovers who she is and how she has to live her life.

Man this is a LOT of stuff. But if all that happens in the last part of the story, is she lives happily ever after...where's the conflict? Where's the "decision" that all agents are looking for in the query letter? Where's the climax? It seems her question is, does she stay in the world she has built, or does she leave and live apart in the woods?

Good luck!

Hollie Sessoms said...

I agree with the other posters. Your query is succinct and gives me a good idea about the story, but lacks voice. One thing that bothered me was the fact that she seems to abandon her siblings to set out on her own. Did she leave them in the care of someone else? If she did, I would mention it because I couldn’t get the image of the helpless siblings out of my mind after reading that. It’s nice to see a novel with a strong female protagonist, but some of the things she does strike me as unrealistic. Overall, it was a great starting point, good luck!

John said...

The second part of the first sentence sounds as though the main character is twelve years old throughout most or all of the story, but the subsequent paras show that that's not the case. The part about a twelve-year-old girl losing her mother would fit better at the beginning of the following para.

Beyond that, my only suggestion mirrors Jason's: the central conflict needs to be clearer. It appears that it's an internal conflict - Liza trying to figure out who she wants to be. That's fine, but there needs to be some excitement and risk around that decision, and I don't see it so far.

Overall, though, I think there are a lot of good elements to work with here.

Falen said...

This to me reads as a short synopsis and not a Query. Where's the conflict? We need to see that, otherwise what's the point in reading? You already told us everything that happens.

If this is a character driven story, the MC has to change in a visible way by the end of the story, so what is the conflict that forces her to change?
What's her motivation (what she wants abstractly) and what's her goal (what she wants concretely)? Then, once you've identified those (if you haven't already) then what is the conflict? What must she overcome to reach her above desires?

That's what you want to focus your Query on.

So something along the lines of Liza feels unfulfilled with her life. Taking care of her siblings and her early marriage leave her hoping for something more. However her decision to run away and live in the wild only brings about further hardships. She has to help the Indians live in a white man's world, is forced to help rehabilitate a few broken people etc. But beyond all that she comes to the realization that a life without her family isn't much of a life at all. She's forced to make a decision, return to life she had left behind, or continue on with her new life, alone.

Obviously this is all made up, I have no idea what her conflicts are. But if you can highlight those in the query it will make the agent want to read more, to figure out what it is the Liza does to overcome her conflict. Then build the Query up from that.

I hope that helps - your writing is strong enough that I have no doubts that you'll be able to zazz up this query!

Good luck!

steeleweed said...

I appreciate the comments from everyone. On principle, I dislike the entire premise of Query Letters, but realize I'm spitting into the wind on that issue, so I'll rethink the letter.

The difficulty in this particular book is that the appeal is based on the heroine's character rather than on traditional plot devices. For example, she takes over running a home because her mother dies, but the death is incidental to the plot and not a big deal - the real story is how she reacts to being forced into adult responsibilities at age 12.
Her independence and willingness to take risks - to live 100% and on her own terms - are the best part of who she is. Specific circumstances are less important.

The plot itself is not the point of the novel. Essentially, it's a long character sketch - and it's hard to condense that into a paragraph or two.

Thanks to all.

Dominique said...

This feels a lot like a summary to me. I don't get the feeling of the emotions of the tale.