Mar 9, 2010

Query: ONLY HUMAN

Dear [Do your worst commenters!!],

Rachel Daniels’ grandfather is dead, and everything she knew about herself died with him. She had lived her entire life with one overriding goal: to be like him. Now she is six weeks into her last semester of college, and her carefully planned life is falling apart.

When Rachel discovers twenty-eight journals her grandfather had been secretly writing for seventy years, she knows he left them for her.

As Rachel delves into the journals, she is disillusioned by accounts of her grandfather’s misjudgments and selfishness. Worst of all, while Rachel thought Lyle was proud of her for striving for mainstream success, she finds that he wondered if she would ever listen to her own instincts instead of his opinions.

Rachel disconnects as she struggles through the semester, thriving on apathy and anger. She alienates her family, acts recklessly, and contemplates dropping out of college altogether. Every journal reveals more of the real Lyle, who despite instances of extraordinary kindness or courage, falls far short of the perfect person she thought she knew.

In the midst of her grief, her philosophy professor poses a question that consumes her: What is truth? To answer it she must journey from mistake, to reflection, to acceptance, to see that her grandfather is teaching her his last lesson through the pages of his life.

ONLY HUMAN is an 88,000-word work of literary fiction that reflects a section of 20- to 40- something adult culture: cynical and blunt yet inspired and unafraid to question interpersonal relationships and the human condition. Rachel’s unapologetic and biting observations are interwoven with slices of Lyle’s life that range from laugh-out-loud funny to heart-wrenching.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,
As of yet unpublished

9 comments:

Rick Daley said...

I liked this one, it hooked me at the beginning. It may be a tad long, but it held my interest.

I thought the last paragraph was too much telling, but by that time I was already hooked so I glossed over that.

NOTE: That is not my worst, sorry ;-)

Bane of Anubis said...

It's well written, but I'd like more specificity (e.g., show how she alienates her family, acts recklessly, etc.) -- this will take likely take more space, so you'd have to pare other parts, but my experience is that agents tend to prefer as many details as possible (in the shortest space possible).

Suzan Harden said...

I have to agree with Rick and BoA's comments.

A couple of questions for you: Why is Rachel so emotional dependent on her grandfather? It sounds like even Lyle questioned the pedestal she placed him on. And what constitutes mainstream success for Rachel and why is she so driven to accomplish it for Lyle instead of herself?

I think by answering these questions you'll firgure out how to compress the query.

Best wishes on your submissions!

RCWriterGirl said...

Overall, I thought the query was interesting, but I'm not sure if it would snag an agent.

One of the main problems lies in the opening paragraph. I found it internally inconsistent. It starts off well, with "Rachel Daniels’ grandfather is dead, and everything she knew about herself died with him." However, this leads us to believe the next sentence is going to tell us she learned some deep secret about her identity that he had hidden. That's not the case.

The next sentence tells us she had one goal--to be like him. Now her life is falling apart. This is where I say, huh? Why can't she still be like him? He was a good guy. He was old enough to be her grandfather, so probably lived a decent life, had good times and is now dead. That's what's supposed to happen in life. We live, we get old, we die. You would think his death would make her even more want to be like him. So, that didn't really jive.

And the last sentence in that opening paragraph also is inexplicable. Why is her carefully planned life falling apart. A carefully planned life would have some kind of contingency for an old man dying, no? I'm not trying to quibble with you on little things. But, I seriously was stopped by all these competing notions in the first paragraph. They don't compute.

Your story seems to be about what happens when our idols fall off their pedestals. What happens when we learn those we tried to model our lives after had a lot of flaws we would never want? How do we reconcile that bad, when we've only seen (or let ourselves see) the good?

I think you need to be a little more direct in your opening, and say this is about Rachel coming to grips with reality of those we admire vs. what we perceived. The current start, I think, is a little misleading about where this thing is going.

Lastly, I didn't really feel there was anything at stake here. I know literary fiction is different from commercial and genre fiction. And I tend to read commercial fiction more, so I could be mistaken on this point. But, I really feel like something should be at stake in a book. And here, I just don't see what is at stake. What happens if Rachel doesn't find the answer to this question? Will she flunk out of college? Will she spend the rest of life in limbo like her deadbeat parents who couldn't be bothered to raise her and shipped her off to her grandpa?

You say the book is about her journey. All books are about a journey. I'd like to know what's at stake on this journey, so I know if I want to join her on it.

Anyway, sounds like an interesting story. And like the previous commenters said, could be shorter.

Good luck with it.

myliteraryquest said...

Overall it reads well, I would just add one housekeeping note.

Remove any words that are not necessary to the sentences (and, that, etc).

"Now she is six weeks into her last semester of college, and her carefully planned life is falling apart."

Trims down to "Now, six weeks into her last college semester, her carefully planned life is falling apart."

A bit nit picky, but it will improve the flow and tighten up the query.

Amy said...

Thanks for all your comments! I'm sure you all know how valuable it is to have a fresh look at things. I'm back to work!

Emily said...

As stated by other commenters this query tells more than it shows.

Rachel "disconnects" what does that mean? How does she "disconnect" (a word that sounds like psych jargon to me) and how does she act recklessly? Whose apathy and anger is she thriving on, her own?

The question posed by the philosophy professor fell flat to me. What is truth? There's nothing original to this question, no unique spin. This philosophy class sounds like one I'd sleep through. Is truth the same as perception? Or something like that would work better for me. But the question as it stands now detracted from the query rather than added to it IMHO.

In the closing paragraph you claim this reflects the adult culture of 20-40 somethings. This seems like a huge age range and a 20 y old quite different than a 40 y old. Also, please don't say the "human condition." That made me cringe.

So generally it is well written query but try to show more than tell and steer away from generalities and meaningless phrases from mainstream psuedo-pschology.

(You said do your worst...)

Crimey said...

There's a really good story here, but it's buried in the query. I suggest, like everyone else, to edit it down a bit, focus it more.

Aimless Writer said...

I think Rachel's journey gets lost in the "tell" here. I need you to show me stuff.
And I really want to know what's in the journal that could cause a person with only one semester left to want to ditch it all. I don't feel the hook...it's too vague.
I really liked the last paragraph but was also hung up on the 20-40 thing. I've been 20 and I've been 40--big difference!
I think you have a good story here but it's hiding under too much useless information. Tighten, tighten, tighten. Just the facts, ma'am.