May 31, 2010

Query Me This... The Spy I Loved

Click here for the discussion thread. 

Dear Mr. Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 75,000 word alternate history novel, The Spy I Loved.  Set in the days just before World War II, it follows a lowly MI6 secretary who learns that her country is being lured into war with America in order to weaken it before the coming German invasion.

Playing Girl Friday to Britain's most clandestine secret agent isn't exactly the glamorous life Dilys Griffin hoped for.  Most days, she spends more time locating cuff links than saving the world.  But Dilys wouldn't trade her job for anything.  After all, she's serving queen and country, as any Briton should.  And there are those times when she's almost sure that Agent Maxwell Lloyd is looking at her with more than professional interest.

When Max disappears while on assignment, Dilys defies MI6 protocol to go after him.  She follows him to India, where she learns he was killed.  Heartbroken, Dilys recovers the last dead drop Max made before his death:  photographs showing America mounting an invasion force to wrest India from the British Empire.

Pursued throughout the back alleys of Bangalore, Dilys will have to use every trick she ever learned from Max to complete his last mission and bring the photographs to light.  But everything is not what it appears to be.  The photographs are doctored.  The invasion is a lie. And the spy Dilys loves is not only not dead--he's not even British!

The Spy I Loved could function as a standalone novel, or could anchor a series in which Dilys serves her government as a spy throughout the events of World War II.  Previously I was a story writer for the popular online game City of Heroes, known for its intricate plot lines.  I studied writing at Florida State University.

Thank you for your consideration,


"Good evening, Mr.  Lloyd.  It is indeed an honor to finally make your acquaintance."

Dilys smiled and nodded to herself.  The sound from Max's bug was coming in just fine.  She could make out the nasal tones of the French ambassador's voice almost as clearly as if she was in the next room.

She wasn't, of course.  While the ambassador and his entourage were wined and dined at the Everett Club with the better part of London's social elite, Dilys was halfway across town at MI6 headquarters, hunched over a notepad with a pair of ten pound headphones flattening her hair.  It was about ten times more exciting than her usual office routine, which generally involved filing, dictation, and brewing about six hundred pots of tea.  Still, she longed to be at the ball herself, wearing a blue satin dress, or maybe even a red one.  Sipping champagne, and trading ever-so-careful repartee with dangerous men.

"The pleasure is all mine, ambassador."  That was Max.  Dilys found her smile deepening at the sound of his voice.  Her pencil scratched lightly over the notepad in front of her.  She had long ago perfected the art of dictation, and since the Akron Affair, the Director had decided to put her talents to good use.  Akron wasn't the first time someone had tried to kill Max before he made it back to MI6 with his findings, but it was the first time someone had nearly succeeded.  And so the bug had been developed.  Concealed in Max's clothing, it transmitted a radio signal powerful enough for Dilys to pick up at MI6.  Even if Max were killed in the line of duty, nothing that was said would be lost.

She had it down to a science now.  Three pencils:  the second in case the first one broke, and the third in case the second one wound up worn to a nub by the end of the evening.  A comfortable chair.  And absolutely no tea.  She couldn't afford to miss a bit of vital intelligence because she had to pop off to the loo.

"Quelle est la durée de votre séjour?" Max asked.  He had switched to French, a pretty compliment to the ambassador.  Dilys had never liked French, with its over reliance on Q's and X's.  But at least she could understand it.

"Duex semaines."

Dilys's pencil paused in mid-scribble.  Did she hear that right?  She read over the words she had just written.  Duex semaines.  Suddenly her heart was racing.  Surely Max had noticed?

No, he hadn't.  Max was going on pleasantly, as thought the French ambassador hadn't just revealed that he wasn't French at all.

Dilys leapt to her feet.  The headphone cord snapped taught, and she jerked back into her seat.  The men's small talk continued to rattle on in her ears, but Dilys was no longer transcribing.  Her mind was churning over a single, burning question:  how could she warn Max?

The radio signal on the bug was strictly one way.  She could telephone the Everett Club, but she knew the staff would be running their feet off tonight; there was no guarantee someone would deliver her message.  There was no help for it.  She would have to go warn Max herself.

She looked down at her attire:  a brown tweed skirt, a simple white blouse, and sensible shoes.  There was no way she was getting into the Everett Club in sensible shoes.

Dilys took a deep breath and removed the headphones from her ears. There was only one place she knew where she could get all kitted out in less than an hour.  She hated to have to go there.  But it was a matter of life and death.

Exactly seven minutes later, Dilys stood on the stoop of her sister's house, ringing the bell.  She had a stitch in her side from running most of the way.

A face Dilys didn't recognize swept aside the curtain covering the window beside the door.  The face was male, and mustached, and sleepy-looking.  It squinted at her.

"Who're you?" said the man inside her sister's house.

"I'm Mabel's sister."

The man's brows drew together.  "Who's Mabel?"

At that moment her sister's face appeared behind the man.  Mabel was wearing a red robe that had some sort of Oriental stitching on it in gold.  She peered out over the man's shoulder, and when she saw Dilys her eyes lit up.  "I'm Mabel, darling.  Be a love and let my sister in?"

The man did as she asked, and Dilys discovered that he was wearing even fewer clothes than Mabel.  Just a towel, fastened around his waist (and none too securely, it seemed).  Dilys quickly averted her eyes, a trick that was difficult to pull off when the person in front of you seemed keen on introducing himself.

"Nice to meet you," he said.  "Name's Bill Atherton.  Any sister of Belle's is a friend of mine."

"Pleasure," said Dilys, staring hard at the ceiling.

The merry notes of her sister's laughter filled the room.  "Come on inside, Dilly.  Don't just stand there gaping at my ceiling as though the face of God was staring down at you.  Bill, go get some clothes on.  Can't you see you make my sister nervous?"

Dilys felt her cheeks redden at these words, but she was nonetheless grateful when Bill withdrew to Mabel's bedroom.

Mabel opened up her arms for a hug.  "I'm going by Belle now.  Much more fashionable, don't you think?"  Mabel squeezed her hard and then went to the sidebar and began fixing herself a drink.  "Silly Dilly, you've always got just the worst sense of timing!  It's been far too long.  Tell me, what are you doing here?"

Even in a threadbare robe, with her hair all a tangle and her calloused feet bare, Mabel seemed to pull all the light in the room to herself.  Dilys felt shabby just standing near her, even though she had spent a good ten dollars on her skirt.  She cleared her throat. "I need a dress," she said.

Mabel's eyes lit up.  "Oh?  Going out with someone special, are we?"

"Sort of," said Dilys.  She pushed her hair back over her ears. "Actually, Mabel, I need it right away.  It's a bit of an emergency."

Mabel took a sip from her glass and regarded Dilys thoughtfully over the rim.  "An emergency?  All right, if you say so.  But this is beginning to sound a lot less like a hot date."

Mabel opened the door to her bedroom.  "Out, Bill.  Make us some omlettes.  There's everything you need in the kitchen."

Bill, thankfully fully clad this time, obeyed without complaint. Mabel flung open her closet.  "Now then, Dilly.  What sort of dress did you have in mind?"

Dilys took in a breath.  "The red satin," she said.

Mabel's eyebrows went up.  "Oh?  That one?  Maybe I was wrong.  This is a hot date after all."  She pulled the dress off the rod.  It was a gorgeous thing, sleeveless and scarlet, with rivers of glittering sequins emphasizing it's every curve.  Mabel regarded it lovingly for a moment. Then she held it out to Dilys.  "We'll have to pad the bust."

Dilys had already thought of that.  As quickly as she could, she shucked her work clothes and slithered into the dress.

Then she looked at herself in the mirror.

"Oh."  The fabric clung to her body like a well worn glove.  Against the bright red, her skin looked as pale and delicate as a fresh laid egg.  And her hair--her dull, black, boring hair seemed to have taken on new luster.  It curled around her bare shoulders like a living thing.

"You look like a dream, Dilly.  As long as you don't forget these." Mabel stuffed a handful of socks into Dilys's bosom.  "Or these."  She rooted around her closet and came up with a pair of crimson heels.

"Thanks, Mabel."  Dilys slipped the shoes onto her feet.  They pinched.

"Thank me by going out there and grabbing a man," Mabel said.

Yes, thought Dilys, that's exactly what I intend to do.

She arrived at the Everett Club slightly out of breath and scanned the ballroom for Max.  There he was, still chatting amiably with the faux-French ambassador.

Seeing Max before he saw her was a new experience for Dilys.  Usually he took her unawares, coming up behind her desk while she was deep in some routine office task and startling her.  He liked to see her jump.

But this time she had the advantage.  She took a moment to admire him.

It was worth it, she thought.  The hard work, and the low pay, and the lack of recognition -- worth it, because she could be of help to him.  Any woman would want to do that   Only she could.

As though he felt her eyes on him, Max turned his head in her direction.  Their eyes met.  He scowled.

Click here for the discussion thread.


Jill said...

Oh, this sounds SUPER fun! The query is a blast to read, and the opening pages really grab me.

Good job, author!

Jenny said...

Is it going to turn out that Max already knew the ambassador was an impostor and be mad at her for showing up and nearly ruining everything? I agree with Jill, this is great fun. A couple of details didn't quite ring true in the pages (ten-pound headphones? Socks in the bra?) but they were very minor things--this was a fun read and an intriguing query.