May 31, 2010

Query Me This...THIRD DAUGHTER

Click here for the discussion thread.

Dear Agent Awesome,

I am querying you because you represent young adult novels and have expressed interest in Steampunk on your blog.

As the third daughter of the queen, seventeen-year-old Aniri is consigned to a life of elegant teas, diplomatic dinners, and an arranged marriage when she comes of age. She consoles herself by peering through her aetherscope and sneaking visits to Sasha, a charming courtesan from the rival queendom of Samir.

Rumors of a powerful flying machine push Aniri’s country toward war with the barbarians to the north. When a barbarian prince proposes a peace-brokering marriage to Aniri, duty requires her to turn her back on Sasha, a boy she has no right to love. But when Sasha reveals that the weapon is a ruse, intended to distract her country while the Samirians invade, Aniri fears she may be marrying into a trap that will bring war, not peace.

As mysterious accidents threaten her life, Aniri dodges her would-be assassin and searches for the truth about the secret weapon. But when she discovers Sasha is lovers with the Samirian ambassador, Aniri must decide who she can trust and whether refusing her arranged marriage will trigger the very war she is trying to prevent.

THIRD DAUGHTER is a 95,000 word young adult novel filled with political intrigue, steampunk weaponry, and courtesans trained in the arts of love, etiquette, and deception.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Regards,

Susan Kaye Quinn

{Contact Info}



THIRD DAUGHTER



The cloudless night whispered sweet promises to Aniri. She pressed the soft leather eye cups to her face and peered through her night glasses. A gentle breeze rustled the forested hunting grounds below, and lights flickered in the distant embassy windows. But otherwise the night was as still as the stone rooftop beneath her feet.

The clear skies gave her the perfect excuse to be at her observatory, gazing through her aetherscope, should she be caught. Chances were slim that anyone would visit her private retreat, and she shouldn't be missed from her room. But before she ventured any further, she had to be sure.

She slowly turned the brass knobs on each eyepiece. The new barrel coating had eliminated the ghostly echoes of light that had been haunting the glasses. She could just discern the broken edges of the river and a beaten stone bridge in the distance. A moving black shape slipped into view and then disappeared into the shadows under the bridge.

Time to go.

Aniri set the night glasses on the edge of the balcony and checked below for stragglers from the Queen's dinner party. No one should be outside unescorted at this hour, but there was no sense being caught by someone who broke protocol with a nighttime stroll. Opening the leather satchel at her feet, she uncoiled the sheet she had twisted into a rope and checked the knots. It would cause quite a stir if she plummeted to her death while climbing down the palace wall.

She looped the rope around the massive stone lion that guarded the parapet and lowered herself down, hand over hand, as her silk slippers pawed uselessly against the mossy wall. She dropped the final two feet to the landing below and scampered down the labyrinthine of steps of the complex. If she hadn't taken up residence in the diplomacy wing of the palace, she would never have slipped away so easily into the encroaching forest. Then again, she wouldn't need to.

She leapt over the manicured hedgerows as if she had fled the palace grounds a hundred times before. Her unbound dark hair flapped behind her, and the cool night breeze fluttered her black silk nightclothes against her skin like a thousand butterfly wings. Aniri wondered why she had not tried this sooner.

She slowed her pace and picked through the darkened brambles catching at her legs. Had she worn any normal attire—starched cotton with layers upon layers of silk—she would have stuck to the needled branches like a royal pincushion. She smiled and slipped through the forest like a phantom, black on black, silent and stealthy. When she broke out of the forest, her slippered feet stumbled on the wet rocks bordering the river. She made a mental note to find more secure footwear, should there be a second time.

Her eyes darted to the footbridge ahead, an ancient sentinel over the constantly new chatter of the river. She hesitated when she saw no sign of movement. Had she been mistaken? Was she too late? But then Sasha stepped out from the shadows, showing his face to the moon as if he had nothing to hide.

She skittered over the pebbled and sandy creekside and flew into his arms.

"Aniri," he said, but she was uninterested in wasting precious moments with words. They couldn't convey the heart-pounding rush she felt whenever she saw his bronzed cheeks or dark, humor-filled eyes. She shut him up with her lips, pressed fiercely to his. She knew he was well trained in all forms of entertainment, but the artistry of his lips moving slow yet urgent against hers made her forget her own name.

He was still dressed in his diplomat's attire, tightly wrapped in silk and starch. Her hands glided over the smooth shoulders of his jacket, and its gold buttons turned silver in the moonlight when she broke their kiss.

His smile sent a shiver through her as his eyes and hands lingered on her.

"You look . . . enticing this evening."

She flushed and smoothed her loose nightshirt. He had never seen her in her nightclothes before and probably never would again. "I could hardly retire to my room dressed for tea."

"I suppose." His smile grew. "I didn't know if you would come. Sneaking out of the palace grounds has to be a dangerous business."

"No more than sending a note through the hand maiden. What if she read it?"

His smile crooked at the corner. "I'm sure that she did. But what could she make of a poem declaring your beauty in the moonlight? I imagine she thought it quite romantic."

"Your little message could have easily been understood. You took a risk." She tried to put admonishment in her voice, but it came out weak. She had no heart for it tonight.

"A moment with you, even stolen, is worth the risk." He pulled her close again, and his hand brushed back her hair as the wild strands tangled with the evening breeze. "Did you think it romantic?" His voice teased her.

Words swelled up in her throat, and she had to swallow them back down. She put a small, empty space between them. "Romance is for fools and naive little girls."

He frowned and let his hand fall to his side. She cleared her throat and forced the words out before she lost her nerve. "I have news. I am to be married."

His eyebrows shot up. "What?" Anger pushed on the corners of his eyes. She knew this day would come. She could never marry a courtesan, no matter how entrancing, but she had hoped they could pretend a little longer. And that she would marry someone better than a dirt-grubbing Jangali. "Prince Malik has made an offer of peace. For my hand."

He sucked in a quick breath. "No!"

"I know. It's a horror almost beyond imagining."

"But . . . but you're not of age." He seemed to be casting about for reasons to keep her, which made her words even more difficult to say.

"I will be eighteen soon enough. This day was inevitable, Sasha."

His eyebrows pulled into a dark line of concern. "But . . . . please tell me this is not your wish."

"Of course not! How can you ask that?” she said. “Do you think I want to marry a barbarian? It's these cursed troubles in the north, and the rumors of that new Jungali flying machine. This is the only way to bring peace."

His eyes went wide, and he grabbed her shoulders. "Aniri, listen to me. You must refuse him."

"Sasha, my love." She winced at the strength of his grip. "It's my duty."

"Please . . ."

"Your Highness?" The gruff voice came from behind her, and she jerked out of Sasha's grasp in surprise. She recognized the owner only when she whirled to see his scarred and angular face.

"Queens breath!" she exclaimed. "Janak don't startle me like that."

"It is my job, m'lady."

"Your job is to protect me, not frighten me halfway to my grave."

His hardened face was impassive except for the small lift of one eyebrow. "Sometimes one requires the other, your Most Royal Highness."

She glared at him and turned back to Sasha, who had retreated a pace from her, restoring a proper distance between them.

"My lady." Sasha gave her a small bow, all proper etiquette returning, as though they had not just been caught in each other’s arms. "If it pleases you, I would have a word in private."

She sighed and longed to have his hands on her again, even in that rough embrace. His fear of losing her reassured her that maybe she was not alone in loving him beyond reason.

She threw a daggered look to Janak. "Wait for me. Over there." She gestured with a single raised eyebrow of her own that he should stand apart by the bridge. He inclined his head and took several steps backwards, his eyes glued to Sasha’s properly attentive form. She closed the distance between them with a step and dropped her voice to a whisper.

"Don't worry about Janak."

"I worry about you, Aniri." Sasha’s hushed voice stayed between them. "I must speak to you," he glanced at the glaring figure of Janak, "alone."

"We are alone.” Janak could surely overhear them, but he could be trusted.

“Not here,” he said. “I'll explain later, but you must refuse Malik's offer. Will you be at the Queen's Tea tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Can you meet me," he glanced at Janak again, "in the place we once discussed?" When they first met, they argued the merits of the Queen’s favorite tea garden.

"Yes." What he could possibly have to say, that he couldn't tell her in front of Janak? He stepped back from her again.

"Very well," he said. "I bid you a gentle night, m'lady." He bowed deeply in farewell and turned to slip away into the darkness. She watched after him, the shadows swallowing him and her last chance of a carefree life before duty called. When she had composed her face, she turned and marched with slippered feet to Janak.

"You'll not speak of this." She brushed past without favoring him with a look.

"Of course, Princess Aniri." He shadowed her back to the palace, as though he expected her to bolt for freedom and disappear into the dark after Sasha. She only wished that were possible.

Click here for the discussion thread.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

All of these queries posted at once with long excerpts... it takes a long, long time to load and to scroll down the page, and it's hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. If they were in a "click to read more" format it would be easier.

Jane said...

I thought this query was really intriguing, and set up not only interesting conflicts but also interesting relationships.

In the early paragraphs, I felt a little lost. Aniri knows that she's sneaking out to meet Sasha, but that isn't precisely clear to the reader for quite some time. We also don't get a lot of emotion from Aniri, just summations like "she should have done this sooner." Is she feeling nervous, scared, self-satisfied?

I thought the dialogue between your characters was great.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@jane Thanks for the comment. I am a little vague about what she's doing and how she's feeling there in the beginning, so I may need to beef that up. I'm glad you liked the dialogue (it was fun to write!). Thanks again for the feedback! :)

Jolene said...

Interesting query, I love stories that twist - more than once.
I too loved the dialogue.
Good Luck!

Nina said...

I enjoyed reading it so much I forgot to look for flaws. *sigh* I'll just have to read it again and comment on it later

middle grade ninja said...

It's a good query. You should send this out. There's lots of conflict in your description and it's clear you've written a well thought out novel. If I were an agent, I'd ask to see more.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Jolene Thanks for the feedback! Getting that second twist in there was a challenge, but I like the way it turned out.

@MGN Thanks! Now, if you were just an agent ...! :) Seriously, I've gotten enough positive feedback about this query/5pages that I might just have to write it for real! :)

Jenny said...

Oh, I liked this. At first I was thinking "another princess whose worst problem is an arranged marriage," but then the query turned that expectation on its head, which was great.

I didn't get a steampunk feel in either the query or the pages, except for the mention of the aetherscope--also it sounds like "steampunk-fantasy," which is totally awesome, but I'd have liked to have seen it more than deduced it.

salarsenッ said...

I agree, Susan. The description in the query is nicely done. ";-)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Jenny Yes, it was definitely hard to get the steampunk aspects into the first 5 pages, and even in the query - I put in and took out several times mentions of airship armadas and other steampunkery. Maybe if I wrote more of the actual story, I would find a better way to write the query - it some ways it's difficult to write a query without having written the book! Thanks for your comments!

@Sheri Thanks for stopping by! :)

Myrna Foster said...

You should write this, Susan. I want to read it. :o)

I loved the tension between your characters and little details like his buttons turning silver in the moonlight.

In the first paragraph of your query, you have a bunch of sentences that are the same length, but you could combine the last two.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Myrna I'm glad you like it! :) Do you mean the first paragraph of the query or the first paragraph of the story? Thanks!

Rick Daley said...

I agree with the others who said this has potential to be expanded into a book. The query and the sample pages both show your control of your craft.

I thought the query gave enough hints of steampunk, and considering the sample pages are brief, the amount of steampunk there is also sufficient. The story is the most important element, and it's beginnings are clearly evident in the sample pages.

I really like this line:
The new barrel coating had eliminated the ghostly echoes of light that had been haunting the glasses.

I also like this, it's a great example of showing vs. telling. It gives an image of the wall, of her descent, and her outfit:
She looped the rope around the massive stone lion that guarded the parapet and lowered herself down, hand over hand, as her silk slippers pawed uselessly against the mossy wall.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Rick Thanks for hosting the contest - I would never have written this without your prompt, so if it ever gets turned into a book, you're getting first acknowledgments! :)

I had lots of fun researching those night glasses - I'm glad you like that tidbit! :)

Thanks for your feedback! Being in control of the craft - on a good day, yes! Sometimes it controls me. :)

Rick Daley said...

I liked the play on words between the ghostly echoes / haunting.

I hope this turns into a project you can finish and sell! I'd totally show all my friends my name on the acknowledgments page ;-)

Solvang Sherrie said...

Wow, Susan! Very impressive! It feels like it could really work as a book.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Rick Well, I'll have to get it published, for that reason alone. :)

@Sherrie Thanks! There are some ideas that catch hold of me, and this one's already got its hooks in. :)

wendy said...

I just wish to echo the other thoughts already expressed. Awesome query!

And beautiful writing in the pages from the novel. I especially liked the intro paragraphs. You can really write, Susan, and your small details and descriptions are to die for.

However there's just one thing niggling at me...and it's to do with the characters. They seem a little cliched. Just a tiny bit. The princess and the courtesan are above average that's for sure, and as good as those in published novels. But...I don't know...maybe if you could intensely imagine them while writing the story so as not to have them fall into predictability and react more as the individuals created by their world and circumstances...?

Maybe this is just me. Feel free to completely disregard the validity of any of the above, especially if everyone else holds differently. The important thing is that the writing and plotting elements feel spot on. And you've done a killer query.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Wendy Thanks for your feedback and thoughts! I don't disagree about the cliche of the characters - I mean we are talking about a princess and her secret love after all. This was an interesting exercise in a couple of ways, but one of the things that I learned was that some things take time. I had just a few weeks to come up with the outline for a novel (the query), including characters, names, imagined world, and enough details to write a scene (the first 5 pages). And as promising (and exciting!) as that process was, there wasn't time to do the "rumination" part - the part where I feel the depth of the story really takes hold (at least for me). To get to know the real heart of the story, to really get to know the characters and take them beyond their barest sketch in my mind, I need to write a lot more than 1800 words about them!

As Rick mentioned, taking a query/story outline and a few pages and turning it into a novel is no small feat, and would involve a lot more work than this. If I ever take that step with this story, you are right - we'll definitely have to bring out the non-cliche parts of the MC's.

Thanks for the comment!