Jun 6, 2010

Query: House Dreams

I am writing to introduce my novel, House Dreams, for your consideration.
House Dreams is a work of women’s fiction about mothers and daughters, and about the sometimes destructive power of the imagination.

The main character, Lillian, is a home health aide who has built her career around choosing assignments that allow her to live briefly in the houses of people much wealthier than herself. Her devotion is lavished on the houses she can pretend are hers for the duration of her stay, while her care for her patients is chilly and efficient.

As the novel opens, Lillian arrives at a new house, inhabited by a demanding, bed-ridden elderly woman, Ellen Whitmore. But this house is different: from the moment she arrives, Lillian finds the house and everything in it strangely familiar. As the days go by, she is drawn deeper into her fantasy of possessing the house.

The arrival of Ellen’s daughter and teenage granddaughter is an unwelcome interruption for Lillian. Ellen and her daughter, Carlotta, have been estranged since Carlotta’s marriage, and Ellen has never met her granddaughter, Maggie. Carlotta’s relationship with Ellen remains remote but Maggie is entranced by her grandmother’s stories of her youth. Maggie also tries to befriend Lillian, although Lillian is irritated by Maggie’s mannerisms, intrusiveness and aura of privilege.

Life for the four women settles into a routine of fragile alliances until a sudden crisis in Ellen’s health forces Lillian to realize that the imaginary home and family she has built for herself are necessarily impermanent: Ellen is failing, and Carlotta and Maggie will be leaving in time for Maggie to start school in the fall. Lillian will have to return to her life of brief sojourns in other people’s houses.

Carlotta and Ellen have several confrontations about Carlotta’s marriage and about Carlotta’s unhappy childhood. As her relationship with Carlotta deteriorates, Ellen starts to hint that she may leave the house to Lillian. Ellen is hoping for Lillian’s attention and loyalty, but that temptation, and her passion for the house, lead Lillian down a very different, and dangerous, path.

House Dreams is my first novel. Portions of my first book, a short story collection, have appeared in Kalliope and PMS, and in the anthology Prompted. I have had other short fiction published on line. I am currently at work on my second novel.

8 comments:

Lynn Colt said...

Although it's long, this actually worked for me up until the last pitch-paragraph ("Carlotta and Ellen have ...") You do a great job of setting up who our protagonist is, what she wants (the house--or is it a home?) and what she's dealing with. Tension comes when there's a deadline (Ellen's impending death and Carlotta/Maggie leaving).

That last paragraph, however, feels like it's devolving into a series of events instead of wrapping up the query irresistibly. It also starts to make it sound like a thriller, since "dangerous path" sounds like Lillian is planning to kill someone. It's a different tone than the rest of the query, which makes it sound like there will be some healing by the end. And it ends a little abruptly there; I was left going "so, what, she's gonna kill the old lady? that's not cool." It needs some kind of wrap-up sentence to point out what her choice is and, hopefully, indicate that our edging-toward-murderous heroine can be redeemed.

Anyways, hope this helps. Honestly, if I were an agent I'd ask for pages, because I'm curious and the rest of the query worked for me. I want to meet Lilian! She sounds kind of creepy but also is clearly someone whose life has this empty hole that might be filled by the other characters in the novel (is that the case?)

Good luck!

Jojomama said...

This describes the plot well--more like a synopsis. But it is long for a query. Pick the essence of the book, make your hook and let the agent have to read your manuscript to find out more. I heard it is best to keep it all to four paragraphs.
Girl has a job. Girl's new job is different. She wants, they want, this causes conflict...something big is in the balance. Bam.
Btw sounds like a fascinating story. (=

Aleeza said...

Firstly, you're telling instead of showing. And, begin with action, not an introduction. You don't need to state, 'The MC is - " We're to figure that out as we read.
The synopsis is actually really good in the middle, though you definitely should look to cut it down, like Jojomama said. You really should try to make it fit into one page, like many agents ask for.
Hope I was of some help!

David Greer said...

Don't want to beat a dead horse, but if you confine yourself to 250 words or less, you discover the essence of your novel. Besides, agents tire easily!

Jolene said...

Nathan Bransford had this "agent for a day" thing. It made me realize how quickly you'd dismiss a query. Many I stopped reading after paragraph one, and there were only 5. It's killer to take away so much of what's important in the plot but you really just want to give enough so that people are interested in reading your book. It looks like you have a great brief synopsis though!

Dan Ritchie said...

>>destructive power of the imagination

I'm not connecting with the claim. It feel like it's off in left field somewhere. What's destructive about the imagination? I like imagination. It's where my butterflies and unicorns live.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all! You were a huge help. I hope this is better now. It is amazing what you find you can leave out. I left in the dangerous path stuff, because, well, she does kill Ellen. But I am open to suggestions if anyone thinks that needs to be handled differently.

House Dreams is a novel about mothers and daughters, power and class, and the sometimes destructive power of the imagination. Lillian is a home health aide who has built her career around choosing assignments that allow her to live briefly in the houses of people much wealthier than herself. When Lillian takes on the demanding and bed-ridden Ellen Whitmore, she finds the house and everything in it strangely familiar. As the days go by, she is drawn deeper into her fantasy of possessing the house.
When Ellen’s daughter and teenage granddaughter arrive, Lillian learns that Ellen and her daughter, Carlotta, have been estranged since Carlotta’s marriage. Ellen has never met her granddaughter, Maggie, who is entranced by her grandmother’s stories of her youth. Lillian is fascinated by the mysterious, remote Carlotta, and alternately charmed by Maggie and irritated by her mannerisms, intrusiveness and aura of privilege.
Life for the four women settles into a routine of fragile alliances until a sudden crisis in Ellen’s health forces Lillian to realize that the imaginary home and family she has built for herself are necessarily impermanent. As her relationship with Carlotta deteriorates, Ellen starts to hint that she may leave the house to Lillian. Ellen is hoping for Lillian’s attention and loyalty, but that temptation, and her passion for the house, lead Lillian down a very different, and dangerous, path.
I am seeking representation for House Dreams, a completed work of women’s fiction at 62,000 words. Portions of my first book, a short story collection, have appeared in Kalliope and PMS, and in the anthology Prompted. I am currently at work on my second novel.

Aleeza said...

Oh, the second one's actually really good! It's relatively brief, and to-the-point.
With the first sentence, I'd try to begin with action or the necessary background for the reader to understand the premise. It's sometimes better to just begin with the story.
This phrase sort of threw me off: necessarily impermanent.
Good luck! :)