Mar 10, 2010

Query-Standing Asleep

Dear Query Slushpile,

Homecoming Queen Mandy doesn’t like her home town, assigned homework topics or her lip gloss smeared. When her English teacher gives her the assignment to write a paper on the missing youth in Holden, Mandy laughs through her candy-apple red lips; until she finds herself in the middle of intrigue and mystery.
Mandy figures her English assignment will be easy until she starts interviewing locals for her paper; most of them believe in the stories of alien abductions. Mandy chases clues from the town drunk to the mayor to old mines. As she gets closer to the truth, she finds she and her family are more involved than she could guess.
For one, all the missing youth are boys. And second: they are the same age. Then her underwear-model boyfriend goes missing and Mandy decides there is more to her paper than she realizes. What she discovers next brings many of Holden’s prominent citizens together to rescue the boys before they disappear for good.
Will she solve the mystery in time? And will she get an ‘A’ on her English paper?
“Standing Asleep” is 40000 YA Sci/Fi.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

He looked around, careful not to move his head. He was here again, closer to his escape away from the monsters that brought him here. Why was he here? He looked slowly to his left and saw the newest victim. Younger than most the monsters had taken and he was slim built, tall and dressed in white; like himself and all the others.
He closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long it had been since he was taken from his home. Years most likely. Everyday he worked on his escape and every time he escaped he was caught. Each time, the monsters made him sleep again.
***
Mandy had only been inside the jail once when she was ten years-old. The jail had seemed huge and scary then. But today when Mandy pulled up to the jail it didn’t feel as impressive. Mandy smiled. She was much more mature now.
A guard showed her into a room just like the ones she saw in the movies: Plexiglas windows, an old chair and phone. Mandy got her supplies out and nervously arranged her pencils into a straight line. She glanced up when she heard the lock open on her side of the Plexiglas. An older woman shuffled to an empty chair and sat.
What am I doing here? Quickly, Mandy shoved her stuff back in her pack. She reached for the recorder and her hand froze.
Steve was sitting in front of her. He looked awful, which was an improvement. Mandy couldn’t take her eyes off his weathered and stubble-lined face. His mouth opened in what Mandy could only believe was a smile. It revealed broken and missing teeth. He picked up his phone and waited for Mandy to do the same.
“Hey missy,” he croaked when she put the receiver to her ear. Mandy held her breath, as if she’d be afflicted by his bad breath.
“It’s Mandy,” she corrected without thinking.
“I know who you are,” he said. “Whaddya want?”
“I uh, need to do an interview for a class.”
While he cackled she looked at his clothes. He wore a tattered red sweater which hung limply over a dirty t-shirt that read, ‘This Earth is mine!’ Didn’t prisoners have to wear black and white stripes or something?
“Maybe you want to hear my story?” If possible, his eyes sparkled.
“Sure, Steve, that’d be great,” she said with crafted nonchalance. It was exactly what she wanted.

9 comments:

RCWriterGirl said...

First up. Thanks for posting. That takes guts.

Now, for the critique. I found this query unappealing. It starts off with an odd grouping of characteristics about the main character that I didn't find particularly relevant or eye-catching.

I can't put my finger on exactly what is causing it, but the tone seems "off" in this query. Why would she laugh ("through candy-apple red lips" no less) about writing a paper about missing youth? Is she a sociopath herself? There doesn't seem to be anything funny about that.

Also, I'm confused as to why a teacher would assign this? I mean, assigning people to write about runaway children or worse, children who've become victims of violence? I don't get it.

Then, she starts working on this paper and is drawn into the mystery. I love it when teens solve crimes police detectives paid to do so can't figure out (yay, Nancy Drew). By the way, you don't give your protagonist's age.

Ultimately, your query struck me as weird. As I try to figure out why while I write this comment, I think it's the details you're choosing to put in. They're odd, as they paint an odd picture of this girl and this place. Also, I think the query starts your story in the wrong place. In the end, I'm supposed to want to know what happened to these boys, but I don't really care by the end of your query. I don't care because you don't give a reason that Mandy cares. I think you might need to focus in more on this underwear-model boyfriend, and closer to the top of the query so we get a sense of what's at stake for Mandy in this investigation. Sure, there's an English paper, but I have to assume by your focus on Mandy's lipstick that she doesn't care about grades (and, btw, that would be as important a detail to include as her dislike of smeared lipstick). Then, the paper can't be the motivating factor. (though, if she cares about lipstick, not grades, why is she doing all this research on the paper? It's all very confusing, motivationwise, at least.) The boyfriend seems a better motivating factor than the paper.

Anyway. I think you need to streamline this query. Focus it and try to include details that are relevant, and support each other and provide motivation.

Good luck with your query.

Suzan Harden said...

I have to agree RC's points. This is a very confusing query.

Looking at the writing sample doesn't help. How old is Mandy and where is this story set? Because here, the Harris County Sheriff's Dept. won't let any ole' high school kid visit a prisoner for an interview.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to go anonymous, but this is incompetent writing. You're not ready to sell a book yet. Work on your writing, practie until you achieve a comfortable confidence, and don't mess with a query.

The only reason to streamline this query is that there will be less bad writing in it.

For now, all this query shows is that you don't know your craft yet.

And read some books that are being published today with chracters the same age group as your protag. See how the language and sentences are crafted. Then learn to do that.

Your story may be top-notch and your ideas may be thrilling. It doesn't matter until you work harder to move your craft beyond amateur-hour mashed together prose.

It's like playing the piano. You have to learn to be comfortable with the keys, in this case your words and sentences. Once you practice piano for a FEW YEARS, people will be able to listen to your music. Until then, no sense going public.

Aimless Writer said...

I think you have a good premise but we're not seeing it too clearly here. I agree with RC about it seems like a weird thing for a teacher to assign. I think if I were a parent and saw this assignment come home I'd have to go visit that teacher. Or does the teacher have another reason for this assignment that we don't know?
Back to your query...
Tighten the first paragraph. In short concise sentences tell me that Mandy's given an assignment she considers lame (telling me she laughs at a missing child makes me dislike her and we have to like our main character) and what about it sparks her interest.
Something like, when a school assignment leads Homecoming Queen Mandy (last name) to....
What danger does she face? Does she know that her bf will be killed? Sold to slavery?
I can see she's racing to save him but from what?
I too would like an age on her. She's a high school kid who's dating an underwear model? This makes me think he's a sleaze who preys on underage kids.
I think all these questions show that you're not getting the right details through to us.
And I disagree with Anonymous---totally! Lots of good stories are hiding behind weak queries. That's why we're here helping each other.

RCWriterGirl said...

I would just go on record as saying I disagree with anonymous, too. Queries are hard. You've just spent God knows how long writing a 40,000 word book, and now you're expected to less than 1 percent of that in terms of word count. That's tough. And sometimes we pick the wrong details.

Like Aimless said, the goal of this forum is to help us get/stay on the right track. This query is on the wrong track, now. But, that's OK. You can fix it. It doesn't mean you have a bad novel. Just keep at it.

Emily said...

Regarding the sample pages:

Be careful of repetition. You have a few words that are repeated too often in my opinion.
"He" "here" "jail" These words were over-used and I found them distracting me from the story. This is not to say a word cannot be used more than once, or repeated for emphasis. I think a few words though should be taken out or replaced with a synonym to aid overall flow.
Also if this is the opening pages I found the perspective shift happened a bit too quickly for my tastes. If this is in the middle of a chapter than it may work fine, but I think the shift of POV happened a bit quickly, and left me reeling.
But certainly don't let anyone discourage you from writing. Continue honing your craft and learn to take criticism that is helpful, and ignore that which is not.

Best of luck with the querying-

Rick Daley said...

I think Anon has a point. Based on the syntax and word choice exhibited in the query and the sample pages, it is very likely that the MS needs heavy revision before it will be acceptable for representation, let alone publication.

As I read through Anon's comments again, it seems to me that you are strongly encouraged to keep writing! There are suggestions for steps to take in strengthening your work, take them to heart.

The main point Anon makes is valid...until your MS is in absolute top condition, don't bother on the query, it is a misplaced priority and a distraction from completing your MS. I know from experience, I've been there / done that, too.

A good story does not a good novel make (I think Yoda said that). Every page has to rock. If you don't take the time to work that out, rest assured that someone else has, and theirs is the book that will get published.

Don't give up.

Taffy said...

Thanks for all your comments! I really appreciate your help. I'm rewriting the query and first chapter.

Amy said...

I'm a little late on commenting on this one - sorry about that.
I'm going to try not to repeat what other people have said, although I think every one of them has at least one valid point.

You do have some grammar/punctuation/syntax issues. It's not unusual and with a little practice it's fixable. It's the talent that counts - grammar can be learned. I recommend finding a copy of "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. Law school kicked my butt into gear as far as grammar goes and it's the Bible. I wish more writers knew about it actually (ok off my free plug for them).

I think you should keep working on the query as you tighten the book. Maybe as you hone in on the story it will help you focus on the impossible task of explaining your book in 4 paragraphs.

I've seen a few recurring comments on agent blogs regarding queries: 1)punctuation is really important - but I already mentioned that. 2) shorten up your paragraphs and add a line between them to create white space. The first paragraph needs work. One sentence, maybe two, to give an idea of her character is good. The next sentence or two should illuminate "the problem and the choice". This is basically a road map for the reader. If you can't hook them here I think you're toast. So, maybe keep the idea of the first sentence - but rewrite it. I would take out the laughing part - unless what you really mean is scoff (which I think you do). The last part seems corny "intrigue and mystery" is vague. Be specific.

Start off the second paragraph with the alien stuff - don't bury it in the end of the sentence. I don't get the family part - either elaborate or drop it. Her boyfriend isn't her family. Try to avoid cookie cutter lead-ins like "what she discovers next".

Another repeated rant I see in agent blogs is the use of questions (i.e. the last two sentences). Change them to declarative sentences. I like that you're trying to play up the end - keep working on that.

In fact, in general, keep working on the juxtaposition of the serious topic of alien abduction and the sass that seems to peek through occasionally.

A small thing - I don't understand the title. Then again, I haven't read the book.

I think you might just have chosen a poor excerpt for the writing sample - I feel kind of lost. But I agree that you have some word repetition and awkward sentences. I suggest reading your entire manuscript line by line, out loud. It's a total pain but I guarantee you'll read some sentences and say "Wow, did I really write that dribble?"

I hope this helps. Best of luck to you!