Mar 29, 2010

QUERY - MOURN THEIR COURAGE

Click here to read the original query.
Click here to read the first revision.
Click here to read the second revision.


Liu Jie fears losing family members more than anything, so he raises an army when his nephew, the Ron Emperor, requires protection from Yellow Turban rebels. With the help of Aiyu, an orphaned boy Jie saved, the rebels are destroyed. However, Jie does not believe they were the Emperor’s true threat. He suspects the Imperial Chancellor intends to usurp the throne. Rather than waging war and risking the lives of thousands, Jie attacks the Chancellor during a chance meeting. The attack fails and Jie, his family and Aiyu flee, continuing their struggle to survive amidst drought and warfare. Bitter loss continues to overshadow Jie until he must choose between the safety of his family or his Empire’s survival.

MOURN THEIR COURAGE is a 94,000-word fantasy based on Chinese folktales collectively called “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” Though adapted for film, comics and video game serialization, there are no modern English novelizations of this treasure. MOURN THEIR COURAGE may interest fans of Eric Flint, Cindy Pon and Guy Gavriel Kay and is similar in setting to Kay’s “Under Heaven,” due April 27th.
I have published fiction in several online publications and am a member of the Wuxia Society and The China History Forum Online, where I contribute book reviews. I am also an active book reviewer on two blogs.
Saving an orphan launches Jie on an epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors. I invite you to experience MOURN THEIR COURAGE. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I look forward to your suggestions.

7 comments:

Jm Diaz said...

This seems like an interesting story, if not a bit on the epic side. However, your query seems to fall a little short on showing us that.
I'd suggest making the opening sentence, a stand alone sentence, to give the reader a hook: "Liu Jie fears losing family members more than anything."

Then re-work this sentence: "so he raises an army when his nephew, the Ron Emperor, requires protection from Yellow Turban rebels."

Overall, as I mentioned, it seems like a very good concept. I'd suggest making it a bit tighter. A bit more "showing" and less "telling". I know, its easier said than done. I'm struggling with my query.

Best of luck to you.

JD

Victoria Dixon said...

Okay, Jm. I've tried commenting three times now. Let's see if I can manage this time before I lose signal again. ;D Thanks for the remarks. Yes, there is an epic quality to the book. As per your suggestion, I've added a bit more meat to the query. However, I am curious as to where you see me telling. I'm too close. Thanks!

Lynn Colt said...

Hi Victoria,
you mentioned in the facets of sorrow post that you wanted more comments, so here I go :)

The problem (for me) with the first paragraph is that the hook gets confused, and I think it's because at first the query focuses on quashing the rebels, but that is over quickly and then the story's about fighting the Chancellor. I'd cut the rebels-bit entirely, at least in the query. (I'd put it in the synopsis instead)

Something along the lines of:

"Liu Jie fears losing family more than anything, so when he thinks his nephew, the Ron Emperor, is threatened by the ambitions of the Imperial Chancellor, he takes action. Unfortunately, his attack on the Chancellor fails, and Jie finds himself fleeing with his family and struggling to survive amidst drought and warfare. ..."

The sentence "bitter loss ..." to me is very vague. What specifically happens, and what does choosing mean? Does the Empire only survive if Jie's family dies? That's what it appears to mean the way it's phrased, but I'm guessing (hoping) Jie manages to find a way to save both his family and the Empire.

The final paragraph is good, but I'd cut "though adapted ... this treasure." It doesn't add much, and the paragraph is pretty long. Also 'due April 27th' makes me think it's a library book due back (lol) which I'm sure is not what you meant. Maybe 'out April 27th', or 'Kay's upcoming/forthcoming "under heaven"'
I would also cut the "saving an orphan ..." sentence. It would be a good eventual tagline for the novel, but for the query I don't think Jie saving Aiyu is your hook (as I see it, it's saving his family and the Emperor from the Chancellor), and with the Emperor, the Chancellor and Jie and his family you've already got several characters in your query, so mentioning another threatens to make this 'name-soup'

Oh, and I'd cut the 'I am also an active book reviewer on two blogs' sentence. You've already got enough bio, and this isn't going to impress an agent.

Hope this helps. Queries are always so much clearer to see from the outside, aren't they? Good luck!

Emily J said...

Overall this is well written and concise. You are able to boil down the plot nicely.

In paragraph 1 your first sentence needs more of a hook. "Filial piety is everything to Liu Jie and he would stop at nothing to protect his family, not even war." Something like that.

The query states that the family continues the struggle to survive amidst drought & warfare. I found this odd because I didn't hear anything about their struggle to survive previously. In fact, with the Emperor as his nephew I figured Liu Jie was doing alright for himself.

You also say that "Bitter loss continues to overshadow..." and again continue? I don't know what bitter loss you are referring to past or present.

I would also suggest you cut the line about being an active contributer to a blog. Without giving the blog links, we don't know if its your site or someone else's. So it seems rather pointless to mention it unless you want to link to an example of your writing, which in any case is not the same type of writing as your novel. Otherwise I think you did a great job with your credentials.

The biggest hangup I had with the query is the genre. Reading the first paragraph I was thinking historical fiction and the fantasy label really threw me. I get that it's based on folktales but aside from a brief vague mention of ghosts at the end there is no supernatural element here. So it doesn't read like fantasy. Perhaps the supernatural element is very secondary to the story but in any case I found a disconnect between the first paragraph and the stated genre.

Also, small formatting issue, in email queries separate your paragraphs. That way the query won't just be two big ole block of text.

Genevieve Wilson said...

Gulp! This is one of the queries that has intimidated me because it seems like the story is so complex. Here goes... for what it's worth.

I kept tripping over the first sentence. I think because you introduce three completely new people/groups in it: Liu Jie, Ron Emperor and Yellow Turban Rebels. I suggest you write: "... his nephew, the Emperor, is threatened by rebels."

I like the rest of it. The fact that you've been able to capture the essence of a 94,000 word novel in one paragraph is impressive.

I also saw on the query shark that the title should be all caps in the synopsis but not the query.

I hope this helps.

Victoria Dixon said...

Wow! Thanks, everyone. This was incredibly helpful. I really appreciate it! Back to work and excited to be there. :)

gj said...

You may be stumbling over the inherent differences between folk tales and novels. Generally, the main characters in folk tales are (and this is an oversimplification) stock characters, fairly one-dimensional, whereas, at least ideally, the protagonist (and antagonist) in a novel is very individualized and three-dimensional.

As the query reads now, we have a protagonist with only one characteristic: love of family. Sort of (and, sorry, but I need to use more western examples, because I don't know enough eastern ones, and I may be getting even the western ones wrong) the way, say, Aphrodite has only one characteristic (beauty) as the goddess of love. She's not a PERSON, she's a TRAIT. Having only that one characteristic doesn't really tell me much about either your protagonist or Aphrodite as a PERSON (so to speak).

So, when I read the query as it stands now, I've got: heroic figure goes to bat to save his family. And that's it. I don't really get a feel for who he is or why he's so attached to family (as opposed to just being the poster boy for "family first") or what he's willing to do for his family or even what the heck his family consists of. Plus, that basic description -- heroic figure goes to bat for family -- covers infinite numbers of stories. Think, for example, of the Jack Ryan movies (Patriot Games, was that the first one? With Harrison Ford?) or even Air Force One (yeah, I love the vintage Harrison Ford movies) -- heroic figure goes to bat for family. But that's not what's interesting about the story. What's interesting is that you get to know the Jack Ryan character as an individual, someone who's an average kinda' guy, in a situation where he feels he has to be a hero, in part because his family is at risk. He's an INDIVIDUAL first.

I'm never feeling the individual in your query. Novels are all about the individual protagonist (and his struggle with the antagonist), so you've got to make me care about the individuality of the protagonist. Which kinda' goes against the grain of folk tales, where the character is more of a symbol of a certain feature, rather than a full-fledged individual.

See if you can make it clear that in the course of novelizing the folk tales, you've developed an INDIVIDUAL out of the folk tale hero, someone with both virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses. Start with the character as an individual, perhaps with a goal that REFLECTS his love of family, rather than simply announcing that he loves his family.

Just as an example: the protagonist has always wanted to move his family, consisting of three children and two dozen teen-aged nieces/nephews and assorted other hangers-on, away from the royal court to start a soccer team in a faraway province, where they'll get lots of exercise and be protected from court corruption. He has almost secured permission to leave, when his one empancipated nephew, who happens to be an emperor, calls on their blood relationship to ..... [And the story continues, with the protagonist still dreaming of that soccer team -- yeah, I know that's silly, but I don't know what the real protagonist wants -- as the situation gets worse and worse, and the prospects of the soccer team get dimmer and dimmer.]

The protagonist's concrete goal (before he gets dragged into the story's external plot) will make him more individual, and that goal establishes stakes for the INDIVIDUAL, rather than the UNIVERSAL (e.g., save the world, save the family). Generally, we are more emotionally invested in the individual than the universal, and novels rely on that investment.