May 5, 2010

QUERY/ A PLACE TO BE (revised)

Click here to read the original query.

I am seeking representation. My novel, A Place to Be, is a piece of literary fiction (95 271 words) that is both plot and character-driven.
Kamala Karthigesu is about to hang herself in Tranquil Asylum where she’s spent the last two years trying to come to terms with the betrayals of her past. Her childhood best friends, Lim Pei Lu and Rashid Mansur were meant to be her constant companions but when they fell in love, Kamala was forced to grapple with her own unrequited love for Rashid and the disintegration of their friendship. Two things happened as a result of her dejection: the start of her “symbol-making” on her arms and her departure from Malaysia for England to pursue her studies.
In England, facing a new and alienating environment, she has multiple affairs with men until she meets Vincent Garland, an artist she falls in love with, seeing him as Rashid’s replacement. After five years, he too betrays her and Kamala undergoes her first mental collapse which she later finds out drove her to perform an unspeakable act, resulting in her return to Malaysia. But Kamala has always been skilled at dodging the realities of her condition either through alcohol, “symbol-making” or downright denial. When she is saved from suicide by Nurse Fatimah who has been taking care of her at the asylum she is forced to face the realities of her past which becomes clear to her through Nurse Fatimah’s confession about her own secret as a murderer.
My poems have been published in several US and UK publications including “Agenda” Broadsheet and The Wolf magazine and my story “Redemption” was shortlisted for the Fish Publishing One-page Story Prize 2010.
Please let me know if you would be interested in reading part or all of A Place to Be.
Thanks for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.


Anonymous said...

HEADS AND SHOULDERS above the original. Wow. This is a book I'd be seriously interested in reading, even though the query needs to be snappified still. Great job!

First: You must break up your big block o' text with white space: that is, a hard enter (blank line) between each paragraph.

Second: Rewrite the first sentence thus: "I am seeking representation for my literary novel A PLACE TO BE, complete at 95,000 words."

(insert a line of space)

Third: "Kamala Karthiegsu is about to hang herself in the insane asylum where she's spent the past two years (why? be specific- coming to terms with betrayals of the past is so vague I can't make sense of it. Who betrayed whom? There should be a pretty sharp defining moment you could point to that made her decide to hang herself. Use that).

Fourth: The bit about the best friends with more hard-to-pronounce names is backstory. It doesn't tell me what led up to Kamala being locked up in a mental hospital or why she's ending her life. And if it IS supposed to be saying that, it's too vague to be clear. Was the inciting incident that Kamala's BFF Rashid, who she was secretly in love with, shacked up with her other BFF Lim Pei? If so, you gotta make that more apparent.

Fifth: I have no idea what "symbol making" is, and I am pretty damned sure literary agents won't know either. Does she start cutting herself? If so, say so; "Lonely and desperate, Kamala begins to self-mutilate." Problem: then you have her leaving to England to...pursue her studies.

Sixth: So you have a betrayal, self-mutilation, a near suicide, and then...she goes off to college? Hmm. That doesn't raise the stakes. You see that, right?

Seventh: I know you need to get into the bit about her having destructive affairs, but I'm not sure how with the frame you've set up. Take some time to mull it over.

Eighth: "he too betrays her." HOW? Be specific in your query. Specific specific specific. What does he do? Along the same lines, what is the unspeakable act??? What is her condition? I lean in favor of telling the reader all of THOSE things, and NOT telling the reader that she's saved from suicide. If you're writing a frame novel (which it seems you are), then the stakes you set up in the beginning (that she's about to hang herself, which is a very nice beginning, btw) then leave the reader with the hook in this framework: XYZ lands Kamala in the asylum. But unless ___, Kamala will die."

Obviously, don't use my language, but your ending hook should be set up that way. You'll catch an agent's attention with "Kamala is going to hang herself in the insane asylum in which she's a patient," give a brief, interesting recap of how she got there (and why the reader should care about her), and leave them with the choice Kamala will have to make: whether to live or die.

Good luck!

Dominique said...

a) You really need to break up that block of text, otherwise reader's mentally shut down when looking at it. Not the state you want them to be in reading your query.

b) I think you mean the events in England prior to the suicide to be the events of your book. But, if you lead with the suicide in the query, they all sound like back story, which makes them sound boring. Excess back story in a query is dead weight and should go. If it's back story, cut it. If it's plot, make it sound like plot.

c) If by "symbol-making" you mean self-mutilation, you know you're allowed to say that, right? Calling it symbol-making more than once is either silly-sounding, like you're a afraid of the word self-mutilation (and an author writing about your topics can't be squeamish), or confusing, since you run the risk of the reader not understanding what it means.