May 31, 2010

Query Me This...BLOOD LINES

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Rick Daley,

My fictional thriller novel, Blood Lines, contains the action of John Grisham novels, the scientific intrigue of Jurassic Park, and a wry protagonist who longs to be as smooth as an Ian Fleming character. In my 65,000-word novel, Eric Brodie is dying of cancer. He also has first-hand knowledge that American is being lured into a war they won’t win against Britain.

Eric is invited to participate in human drug trials for a possible cure for cancer by Fred O’Brien, the head research chemist and a World War II army buddy to Eric’s late father. Unknowingly, Eric is the only participant in the trials being equally funded by Britain and the United States. After both Fred and the research results suddenly disappear, a bombing at the American military hospital containing the lab is announced to be the work of terrorists working for a British double-agent. America has declared they are willing to go to war if either the results or Eric are not in their hands within 48-hours. With the lab destroyed, Eric must untangle the web of promises and clues to locate Fred and the test results before anyone finds them, or him. For no one, not even Eric, knows for certain if the drug has failed or if he is the only living carrier of the cure for cancer.

I am an as-yet unpublished author of historical fiction, with one completed novel in editing with Kristen Weber. I have owned my own marketing and advertising agency for more than five years, writing creative and technical copy for my clients’ collateral and website projects. I’m the editor and lead writer for the Church Hill newsletter. I have selected to send my query to you because of the experiment you are conducting. I have used it as an opportunity to write something that was out of my genre just to see if I could do it, and with the outrageous hope that it will lead to a book deal. Thank you for your time and consideration, and for the fine premise. I embellished it based on a dream I had in which my particular blood had mixed with a drug resulting in the only known cure for cancer.


Chapter One

It is because of my cancer my country is preparing for war. Not my cancer, really. Me, really. Me and my damned habitual belief that I could throw enough of my father’s money at any problem and it would simply go away as quickly as he did. While I’d like to blame the man for the position I’m in, I’m not so stupid as to recognize everyone has choices.

It’s only now I can clearly see how poorly I’ve played the game since my father exercised his ability to finally stop living. I’ve been looking at the chessboard of my life completely wrong. I was so consumed with taking the most out of the move I was currently making that I couldn’t see I was the pawn and not the king. Nor did I realize even the king is there to protect the queen.

It’s only now, waiting for this call on my cell phone and successfully getting lost in a crowd in Manhattan, I know I have to visualize the moves ahead. In the next 48 hours if I don’t drastically change the game for everyone else, then what comes next will feel like an eternity. To the world. To me.

The phone is vibrating in my pocket, and the physical sensation triggers the thought that perhaps the best way to come up with a new strategy, is to examine some of the moves that lead me to standing in this spot. The number showing up on the phone is Fred’s. His voice, at this moment, I would love to hear more than any other in the world.

* * *

Dr. Fred O’Brien’s comforting voice was there for me two years ago. Fred always had that wonderful bedside manner they give to doctors on TV who work for their patients versus the pay. His head of fuzzy grey hair his large hands were constantly fingering, and the bushy eyebrows he could hind behind when the news was bad, seemed out of sorts with his tidy appearance. When his hands went up to his hair, and he bowed his head to deliver the news to me, I felt glad that he had to be the one to do it. Although Fred was only five-foot-seven, he suddenly seemed to be the one six inches taller than me. I heard some of the words, but not in full sentences because my heart was giving me such a pounding from the news. Prostate cancer. Went valiantly. Spoke of me. I’d have been proud of him. In the end.

My brow drew tight. “But he looked so healthy just last week,” I heard myself saying through the thunder and waves. “Did I just not see it? He was fine. He hadn’t told me.”  It wouldn’t have been the first time my father hadn’t confide in me.

Again Fred spoke, as he placed his hand on my shoulder, and his words continued to come. Breathe deep. Was a good man. Didn’t want to burden you. Valiant decision. Stopped the treatment. A loss to so many.

“You’ll have to meet with the lawyers tomorrow, Eric,” he said. I finally met his eyes. “You’re obviously the executor of his will.” He looked at me steadily waiting for the realization to come. I was the only family I had left.

“I’m sure it’s precisely spelled out so I won’t be left making any important decisions,” I said. That was an understanding we had had for a long time. My father handles things. I don’t.

Fred stared at the floor, and then up at me through those eyebrows and said nothing. He handed me a business card for the attorney’s office with the appointment time scribbled on the back.

“Ten o’clock tomorrow,” he said, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to read the writing. “Do you want me to come?”

I shook my head, and he said, “I’m sure the estate is going to be enough for you to handle in the next few days, and I can arrange a proper military funeral. Your dad and I went through some terrible times together in France. We didn’t know which of us would go first, so we made promises. Let me do this for him and for you.”

I nodded and he steered me toward the door. “Where is he now?” I asked.

“He was at Walter Reed this morning under my care when we lost him, so his body is there. Do you want to see him?”

I thought about it briefly. “No, what good would that do? I’ll have plenty of time for that in the next few days.”

The truth was I wasn’t ready. I wanted to see how my father had left things before I decided how to look at him in the end. The thing about being my father’s son is I always have this irritable hope that maybe this time things will be different. Inevitably, the feeling usually lets me down. Or he does. Or I do.

The door was open, and I went through it trying to figure out what to do with my time between now and ten tomorrow. “Get some rest. Have a drink,” Fred said. The door clicked shut between us.

* * *

Now, as I flip open the phone to speak to him, my heart is once again driving the sound of waves into my ears. With a breath, I wrestle down the sound and calmly said hello.

“Where are you?” Fred asks.

“The nearest cell tower is letting everyone know where I am right now. Do you have the tickets for me?” I ask.

“It’s all arranged. Meet me in Washington Square tonight at seventeen hundred hours. Rush hour. Near the statue. I’ll give you the tickets. The passport. Tomorrow you’ll head to London. From there you’ll go to the new lab. It’s remote. Protected. No one will know you’re there except for the two of us, one security guard, and the lab tech. Any questions?”

“Nope.” I click the phone shut and toss it into the nearest trash bin. I set off on foot weaving through the crowds at Times Square until my brown tweed jacket and blue jeans disappear in a throng of people heading downtown.

I hate down time. It’s one of the few things I inherited from my father. Impatience. His resulted in a life of action. Mine in a series of unfinished jobs, hobbies and relationships. This is the first time in my life I can see action as the right course. I have two hours before the meeting with Fred–just enough time to duck into The Strand bookstore and do a little research on platelets in their medical stacks. “18 miles of books” as their tagline says, will surely contain the answers I need to fill in the last steps of the blood line that began in the attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. two years ago.

* * *

There is a sense of anticipation when you’re about to read someone’s will that you’ll finally get the real scoop on the person. Like seeing them in their underwear for the first time. Not naked. In underwear, which I think is much more revealing. It’s what they’ve really been walking around in all these years, and they’re finally letting you see it. It’s how they truly see themselves. Boxers? Prints or stripes? Thongs? You get the idea. Part of me wanted to find out my dad preferred the lifestyle of a bright pink push up bra. It certainly would be more exciting than the plain white briefs I know he wore every day.

At ten o’clock I was escorted down the hall and into a room to wait for Mr. Cutlass. The attorney’s office was cold–either because it was winter or because of the inhabitant. When Mr. Cutlass stepped into the room and shook my hand, his lifeless gaze confirmed which.

“This shouldn’t take long, Mr. Brodie. We met with your father only four weeks ago for the first time, and he came to us with a structure that was fairly simple and straightforward.”  The attorney cleared his throat and looked down at the open, thin folder on his desk. “He had three homes, all of which he sold the before the end of last year, contents included. His four automobiles were sold as well, and all investments and/or stocks were cashed in or sold. All the monies from those assets went into a simple savings account.” Mr. Cutlass never raised his eyes as he licked his fingers then flipped the page. “His savings account also contained the military pension he had received for the last thirty years, which ceases upon his death, and any insurance money received after your mother’s death is still in the account as well. He had one life insurance policy, of which you are the sole beneficiary. Within the week, his remaining possessions will be delivered in three boxes to your residence by our office. The total of his savings account and the life insurance policy is 202 million. We only need to have you sign a few papers today to get everything transferred to you, and we’ll close out his yearly taxes three months from now. Any questions?”

I stared open-mouthed until finally Mr. Cutlass asked again. “Hell, yes I have questions, Mr. Cutlass. How did he amass 202 million? He was a retired soldier and a biology professor after that. And what about final requests? He left no instructions? Is there nothing else,” I hesitated and swallowed, “about me? I mean, did he leave nothing other than cash and the insurance?”

“The three boxes,” he smiled. The temperature in the room dropped. “But no note or last words, if that’s what you mean. I’m afraid everything I’ve told you is the extent of the will, Mr. Brodie. He wanted it wrapped up simply.”

He wore over 200 million dollars in plain, white briefs.

Click here for the discussion thread.  


Anonymous said...

The writing in this query letter is pretty good, but please avoid these query-letter solecisms:

1. "fictional thriller novel"-- if it's a novel it's fictional. Just say "thriller".

2. Starting off with comparisons to bestselling authors. Some use comparisons, some don't. (I never have, and my novels sell anyway.) If you do use them, use them at the end. Start with your character and the choices he faces.

3. The bio. One or two agents might ask for a bio, but most are only interested in your story. It wasn't till after I signed with my current agent that we exchanged any biographical info. You don't need credentials of any kind to write a novel: let your story speak for itself.

4. Admitting you've hired an editor. I don't know who Kristen Weber is, but if she is a freelance editor, that could turn some agents off, since they might suspect your writing is not that good *without* a hired editor... which means more work for them. (And I do think your writing is good.)

Actually now that I look at this query again, your writing is so good that I wonder if you made these basic mistakes as a joke. Now I feel like a fool. :p

Jill said...

Re: Above anon's comments -- My vote is for tongue-in-cheek on this query. Great writing in the opening pages, and the query gave me a chuckle.

I am really enjoying reading these queries and opening pages ... though now I'm getting sad, wondering how many of these little gems will be abandoned!

Rick Daley said...

I really like the premise...a person whose body is the only known cure for a disease. You could take that in many different directions, from a political thriller like this to an intense drama like MY SISTER'S KEEPER.

The query would work best with just the second paragraph.

For the sample pages, the writing is tight and has voice, but I felt the flashback broke up the pace. Of course, when you're trying to write the beginnings of a story in less than 5 pages (and less than 3 weeks) I can understand why you used the flashback.