Jun 28, 2010


Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight, or tomorrow her government will take one of her kidneys for someone else.

My 84,000 word dystopian thriller, Life First, is set150 years after a pandemic has wiped out 90 percent of the world’s population. Where Kelsey lives, society values life above all else. But, 23-year-old Kelsey bucks convention by refusing to give up her kidney to a stranger.

Kelsey has two things in her favor: (1) if she can escape to a neighboring country, she can keep her kidney; and (2) she’s got her boyfriend Luke and a dubious doctor to help her flee. The bad news is, if Kelsey doesn’t escape undetected, her government will convict her of failing to donate. The sentence: death through life-saving — forced donation of a heart, a lung, liver, pancreas, and whatever other useful parts the government can harvest.

My writing experience includes two years as a reporter at the [PUBLICATION REDACTED] and eight years reporting and editing for various trade publications, including [PUBLICATIONS REDACTED].

Per your submission instructions, I have enclosed the first XX pages of Life First. If you’re interested in seeing more, I’d be glad to send you the complete manuscript.



B.E. Sanderson said...

I think you have an interesting premise here. It's sounds like a book I'd buy. Unfortunately, it also sounds similar to a book I've already bought - Neil Shusterman's Unwind. It's probably not all that similar, but you need to make your book stand out. I wish I had some suggestions on how to do that, but it's early here. If I think of anything, I'll be back.

gj said...

This sounds good, and will probably garner positive responses as it is.

The one quibble I'd have is that in fiction, the tension should escalate, and that's true of a query too. So, instead of having things in her favor (after you've already established a critical problem), everything should be getting worse and worse.

So-- she's got to escape. She has two potential allies, but .... whatever the but is. They don't believe her, they don't love her that much, they can't put their medical license on the line, they're inept. Whatever the escalation is. Having those allies should, in some way, be WORSE than not having those allies.

Another thought -- it would probably be good to put a face on the government, for an individualized antagonist. One person can't defeat the entire government (there'll always be someone in some back room somewhere, plotting a comeback), but she can defeat one particular (and powerful) incarnation of the government. It's more emotionally effective, too, to have a human face on the enemy, so the reader is guaranteed a cathartic scene where that enemy is clearly defeated.

RCWriterGirl said...

This is my query, so thanks for the feedback.

@BE, I'd never heard of this Unwind. Thanks for the info. It's good to know that for the purposes of querying.

@GJ. Thanks for the insight. I hadn't thought of the stuff in her favor as negating the tension. I was merely looking for a way to introduce the other key characters quickly and concisely. I think I may add a "but..." line. As to the putting a face on the enemy suggestion, I struggle with that because I'm going for brevity. There is a face on the enemy, but it would seem convoluted if I tried to explain it in a query (it's the current governor, who Kelsey's father is attempting to unseat in the coming election).

Again, thanks to both of you for your insights.

Michelle Massaro said...

Hmm, I'm not sure I agree with gj (no offense). I don't think having a couple of allies negates the tension. I think it just makes it a group of rebels fighting the gov't instead of one individuals. I found the query effective. If there does happen to be an individual among the government that comes into play, great you can mention that. But if not, I have no problem with "big brother" as the faceless enemy. If done right it can be scarier to never know where they are or who might be watching.

The only small things I could suggest are perhaps infusing a bit more intensity into the opening line. But it is fine the way it is if that doesn't work out.

In the line about the death sentence, I think it should be "lungs" not "a lung", and "heart" rather than "a heart". It's evident that they mean to harvest all her organs, so this would be the accurate way to list them.

Great query overall though! It's sure to get attention. It's concise, it's clear, and it's interesting. Kudos!

gj said...

I'm probably overthinking the allies issue, but do think about it for a while. It's a nice, light-handed way to introduce the secondary characters, but beware of the risks.

You start with a really compelling and scary issue -- she's going to have someone force life-threatening (all surgery has a risk) surgery on her -- which is great, and I'm holding my breath, thinking, "wow, she's got a real challenge on her hands" and then by offering up the allies, whom I'm not even sure add to the query, you're making me relax instead of making me worry about her MORE.

Just make sure you're not stepping on your own story.

Same for the antagonist. It's really a lot easier to get a reader (and that includes an agent) to care about a PERSON who's the antagonist than a shadowy, vague concept, like the government. Everyone hates the government, but government never really goes away, and government is never defeated, and no one really stays up reading all night to see if the government will be defeated. Because it won't be. It's just ... shrug ... government. No one (except perhaps pundits, and I doubt you're witing for pundits) cares all that much about whether a government, in all its impersonal glory, wins a struggle.

It shouldn't take much to personify the antagonist: Joe Shmoe, governor and lifelong proponent of the one-kidney, one-life rule, is particularly determined to hold the protagonist's organs to the fire (so to speak), because he can use her resistance to discredit her father, who's running for governor on a right-to-kidneys platform. Or whatever.

Just humor me and try it, and you can always erase it if it doesn't improve things. I bet you'll be able to make it work, and you'll have covered the one missing element that most agents are asking for, i.e., a clear antagonist (by which they generally mean an individual antagonist).

Really, really nice premise, and I just want to see the query live up to the premise's potential.

Dan Ritchie said...

I don't think you need "Strong willed" in the opening hook. If somebody's going to take your body parts, you can probably find some will somewhere.

RCWriterGirl said...

Thanks to Michelle and Dan for weighing in and GJ for weighing in again. I'll consider your comments.


ykl said...

gj's comment about tension escalating was the one thing that occured to me also while I was reading your query. It's a great premise and I'm sure there is build up and a lot of action in your story but I didn't feel any in the query.

Amanda said...

Okay, this might just be me, but maybe you could add a line about why she doesn't want to give up the kidney. I know that no one would really want to just give up their organs, but if it's a part of their society, it could save someones life, and she (I assume) has another one to spare I kind of felt she seemed selfish. In your manuscript, I am sure you do a great job of depicting how your character feels and showing the reader why she is so against this. But maybe a line about the government not using it for the right reasons, or something would make me feel less like she's someone who is fleeing in order to avoid helping a dying child who needs a kidney to live (though maybe that is just my overactive imagination...) Just a thought! Good luck!

RCWriterGirl said...

@Amanda, thanks for mentioning this. Someone I know also mentioned to me that Kelsey could be perceived as selfish, and I had a line in one version of the query, that said something to the effect of, "For valid reasons, 23-year-old Kelsey refuses to give up her kidney to a stranger." However, I couldn't elaborate on that in the query without it getting too long, and I felt like leaving it in would leave the expectation that I was going to elaborate on those reasons.

Is having no reason in there so off-putting that you wouldn't want to find out more about Kelsey's plight? Is mentioning she has valid reasons, without elaborating on them simply irritating or more helpful than not acknowledging that she has some decent reason behind her bucking convention?

Queries, as all of life, are about prioritizing, so I'm trying to figure out what information to give and not to give, because I obviously can't give it all. My goal is to get the agent to want to read more. But, if leaving out a piece of information is incredibly negative, I need to know that, as well.

Anonymous said...

Lose the 1. and 2. Also the "bad news is" -very clliched and could be told to reader in more a story format than telling us what the bad news is. You just need to tell us what she wants, who she's fighting and why. Give us a heads up on about the first 50 pages or so and use that to set up your dystopian enviro. Right now, people just want her kidney because...? You can live with one kidney. She needs to run because she doesn't Want to give it to SOMEONE with a name