Jul 13, 2010

Query: Pawn's Gambit

Dear Agent,

I have been following your blog for the last few months and etc, etc. I hope that you will consider representing my contemporary fantasy novel, PAWN’S GAMBIT.

Steven Bauer always thought chess was just a game, until the sexy brunette in the black dress did her level best to incinerate him. He is rescued from this literal baptism of fire by a world-weary mystic known only as Grey, who introduces Steven to the world of the Game, an ancient conflict that takes the form of a nightmare version of the game of kings. Steven draws his preordained chess piece from Grey’s mystical pouch and assumes the role of the White Pawn, the first of a chosen few fated to take their places among the White and fight until only one side remains. Before the Game can begin, though, the remaining Pieces must be gathered, and that job falls to Steven. Armed with only the weapons of his station, he goes in search of the others. But he isn’t alone in seeking his brethren among the White, as the opposition led by his attempted assassin, the Black Queen, is also on the hunt. At every turn, the stakes get higher, leading to a showdown in the heart of Atlanta between the forces of light and darkness for the fate of the world.

PAWN'S GAMBIT, complete at 114,000 words, should appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series and Piers Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” series. It is a complete story with a satisfying ending, though I do imagine this book as the beginning of a series, all culminating in the playing of the Game in the final book. Of note, I had the pleasure of meeting Lou Anders, the editorial director at Pyr, at DragonCon last September. He found the concept of my story interesting and asked that I submit there once I obtained representation.

When I’m not writing about mystical chess games, I work as a family doctor based out of Charlotte, NC. I recently finished eight years as an Army physician during which my ten and a half month stint in Iraq allowed me to write the first half of my novel. I have spent the last couple of years completing and preparing this manuscript for the next step and am excited to share it with you. With my background, you might ask why I’m not writing medical thrillers or military memoirs, but telling Steven’s story has become my passion.

Please find the synopsis and first chapter below. Additional information is available at my website as listed. Thank you for considering my manuscript.

Darin Kennedy
www.darinkennedy.com

13 comments:

RCWriterGirl said...

Darin,

This is an interesting concept.

I found the story paragraph pretty readable and enticing. I especially like your hook line about the brunette trying to incinerate him. It really makes you want to read on.

I have only a couple of things. One, I was not familiar with the expression "game of kings," so I spent extra time reading this sentence. Perhaps I'm just an idiot and everyone else knows this, but I found it uncommon. I can only assume it refers to chess.

Second, I don't play chess--which may again make me some type of ignoramus--but from what I understand, pawns are weak pieces in chess that are moved around and usually the first to be sacrificed. It seems odd to make a main character such a weak piece (and I'm sure pawns can do weird things and survive til almost the end). However, given that there are expressions about not being someone's pawn, and being someone's pawn is a bad thing, I found it really hard to see this character being a pawn to be a good thing. It would seem he'd be destined to failure or death. And I don't know that I want to read about a doomed character.

If I'm misreading this, or if there's more to it, then maybe it would be worth a line in the query about why he can succeed, even though he's merely a pawn.

Lastly, the query only mentions the world of the Game as a setting. I was a little taken aback by the reference to Atlanta in the last sentence of paragraph 2. Why is there a showdown in the heart of Atlanta? I'm always one for paring things down, so maybe get rid of the Atlanta reference, and say, "At every turn, the stakes get higher, leading to a showdown between the forces of light and darkness for the fate of the world."

Last thing, really, I promise. And I'm not trying to be overly picky. But, it's not clear how this Game world relates to the real world. Everything in the query up to that point indicates Steven's failure would only affect Steven's life/ or lack thereof. Then, suddenly, the whole world is at stake! Why? How? You only have to answer this question if you choose to leave that line in the query. However, given that you've done a pretty good job fleshing out Steven's issues, maybe it would be best to leave the stakes on a Steven level. Forget about the world and tell us what's at stake for Steven if he doesn't succeed.

If you want to leave in the line about the fate of the world being at stake, you gotta explain why. The line sounds really cool when you read it, but once you start thinking about it, you're left asking yourself how the game is connected to the real world.

This is a little long for a query, but I'm not that bothered by it. The story summary part (which is what agents most want) is fairly concise. Plus, the other paragraphs that are giving it length include a lead for selling your book. The bio paragraph is a little long, too, but agents love veterans, so I think it's good to get that in there, too.

Sounds like a very interesting story. Good luck with it.

RCWriterGirl said...
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RCWriterGirl said...
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RCWriterGirl said...

Sorry about all the extra comment post. I kept getting an error message when I submitted. Then, when I checked the page, there were four repeats of the same posts. I deleted the other three.

Darin said...

Thanks RCWriterGirl!

I used "game of kings" to avoid continual use of the word "chess". Pawns are indeed the weakest pieces on the board, and while Steven can do some cool stuff, the other pieces he meets along the way are all more powerful. This plays into the story, as you get into it. I try to utilize a lot of chess metaphor in the story (surprise, surprise). As to how he can succeed, that's why you read the story. The world of the Game is our world; just like Hagrid introduces Harry to the world of wizardry. Perhaps Atlanta is too specific, but I left it in there to give detail and show that the conflict is taking place in the real world.

Thanks for your kind comments!
Darin

Michelle Massaro said...

I have to put in my two cents here. First of all, do not tell the agent that it has a satisfying ending, or any other opinion of your own work. Don't tell them what to think. Do say that it is a stand-alone book but could also launch a series, but leave it simple as that.

It's good to mention that you have an editor already interested, but something about the way you phrased that came across a little bit arrogant. I'm not sure why. It might not read that way once you remove the previous line about the "satisfying" ending. That kind of sets the tone for the rest of the paragraph so maybe that's where the hint of arrogance came from. (Please understand I am not calling you arrogant, just mentioning that the query came across that way to me).

I would not include the fleshed out bio you have provided. It does not relate to the story- as you make sure to point out to the agent yourself. So why is it there? As a gimmick? As a ploy to garner sympathy and extra attention due to your service to your country? We're told all the time by agents not to include information about yourself that is useless to the book. They don't want to know about your pets, your marriage, your kids, etc unless they relate to the book directly. Sure maybe there will be an agent who has a soft spot for veterans, but there will be plenty of agents reading that thinking "does this guy assume he's got a better shot with me just because he's an Army vet?" It sounds self-indulgent. I'm not saying you shouldn't mention your job, just strip the info down. This "You might ask why..." stuff isn't working IMO. The agent might be thinking "no, as a matter of fact I'm NOT asking why you aren't writing blah blah blah". It's too presumptive. Again, please understand I am not disparaging your work (I have mad respect for our service men and women) or accusing you of using it as a gimmick, I'm just saying it could come across that way because your job doesn't have bearing on the book you wrote.

One last thing- baptism of fire. "Baptism" indicates a rite of passage but your sentence sounds like it might only have been an attempt on his life. I'm not sure which it is.

Oh- I had no problem with the fate of the world being pulled into it by the end. I read it differently than RC did I guess. I never thought it read as if it was a personal stakes book from the get-go. Finding his place in the masterplan game, being ordained for a job, etc. all left me feeling the plot was bigger than just himself.

Hope this wasn't too harsh. Just trying to help. Hope I did. Good luck- sounds like an interesting concept!

N. Blank said...

I love chess and think this is a very interesting idea. By any chance did you play a game called BATTLE CHESS for the game system 3DO? If you haven't, you should. The pieces are all real people and they fight each other.

Your query has a lot of good information in it, but it's a little lengthy. About half the query is about your process writing it and information about yourself. You might wanna consider making roughly 75% solely about the book itself and about 25% about the process/you. While you want to impress the agent, their main focus and question is: WILL THIS BOOK SELL? I think all the suggestions made about the synopsis part are right on.

Good luck!

Darin said...

Michelle, thanks for the advice.

As for the satisfying ending, I was just trying to say stand-alone in a different way, but wasn't trying to qualify it. I guess satisfying is a little strong. Good call.

Didn't mean to come across as arrogant about the editor. I was told to show how you are trying to market yourself, and perhaps without the "satisfying" part of the paragraph, it will read as intended.

As for the bio, I keep getting conflicting advice on that. I had a different query at backspace writer's conference, and the two agents said I needed a bio paragraph (the other letter didn't even have one, as none of my experiences really pertain to my writing) and the main reason that I include the whole army thing is that I actually do think it is interesting that I wrote the first half while deployed. If I don't talk about that, I really don't have that much of an interesting bio. I work as a doctor, I enjoy my job, I also enjoy writing, I like fantasy, I wrote a fantasy book - that's my bio as my life looks in 2010. Definitely not trying to garner sympathy - I'm proud of what I did.

The comment on "you might ask" is well taken. It is presumptious. I'll consider removing it from future drafts.

The baptism of fire is a rite of passage - his entry into the Game, which he barely survives.

Absolutely not too harsh. I really appreciate the thoughtful critique. You make many good points. If you think this one has issues you should see query 1.0. Not pretty.

Thanks, Michelle!

Darin

Darin said...

Thanks N. Blank!

I appreciate the encouragement. I have indeed played Battle Chess, and I imagine that at the very least it colored the way the Rooks move in my fictional world. I have fought the lengthy vs. short battle in my query and short was winning until I was advised to put back in a bio paragraph. Hope your writing is going well. I checked out your blog. You have many irons in the fire! Best wishes in your efforts!

Darin

Michelle Massaro said...

So glad I didn't come across too harsh! Here's what I might suggest:
***
Dear Agent,

I have been following your blog for the last few months and etc, etc. I would be happy to have you representing my contemporary fantasy novel, PAWN’S GAMBIT.

Steven Bauer thought chess was just a game, until the sexy brunette in a black dress did her level best to incinerate him.

Steven is rescued from this literal baptism of fire by a world-weary mystic known only as Grey. Grey introduces Steven to the world of the Game- an ancient conflict taking the form of a nightmare version of the game of kings. Steven draws his preordained chess piece from Grey’s mystical pouch (this phrase sounds odd to me- makes me laugh.) and assumes the role of the White Pawn- the first of a chosen few fated to take their places among the White and fight until only one side remains. (their places where? Don't all pieces- pawn or otherwise- take their places? How about take their places as throw-away underlings, except a much better phrase than that?)

The remaining Pieces must be gathered before the Game can begin, and that job falls to Steven. Armed with only the weapons of his station, he goes in search of the others. But he isn’t alone in seeking his brethren among the White- the Black Queen is also on the hunt. At every turn the stakes get higher, leading to a showdown between light and darkness for the fate of the world.

PAWN'S GAMBIT, complete at 114,000 words, should appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series and Piers Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” series. It is a stand-alone title but could also launch a series.

Of note, I had the pleasure of meeting Lou Anders, the editorial director at Pyr, at DragonCon last September. He was interestd in my story and asked that I submit there once I obtained representation.

When I’m not writing about mystical chess games, I work as a family doctor based out of Charlotte, NC. I recently finished eight years as an Army physician and began writing this novel during a ten and a half month stint in Iraq.

I have included the synopsis and first chapter below. ( only if the agent requests this in their query guidelines!)

Thank you for considering my manuscript.

Jolene said...

Darin -
On the personal stuff, some agents ask for it and some don't. You could do some queries with and some without, depending on what the agent asks for.
The query definitely shows your style, I'd just try to pair it down a little. Which is SO SO hard.

Anonymous Author said...

Darin, it's an interesting idea. I haven't read any of the David Eddings books, but the title of course made me think of him.

The bio is not necessary unless the agent you're querying specifically asks for it. Just tell enough of your story to interest a person in reading more. Don't tell why you're writing it instead of something else.

Like other commenters, I was also snagged by the comment about Pyr. The question that naturally came to mind was "Why on earth didn't the editor just ask you to send him the manuscript?"

It's also the first question that an agent is likely to ask, and so I'd leave it off. Truly.

(And if the answer is that that publisher doesn't read unagented manuscripts-- well, editors will make an exception when they want to read something. They've done it for me, they've done it for people I know... So it just doesn't sound right.)

I was much more interested by the showdown in Atlanta than by the Sexy Brunette, and when you said she incinerated him I thought you meant she completely trounced him in a chess match, because you'd already mentioned chess. Can you rework the opening to make this more clear?