Jul 1, 2010

Query Revision: Beauty for Ashes

Click here to read the original query.

Dear [Agent],

After wasting years of his life serving God, Jonathan Douglas is betrayed by Him when his wife and child are killed in a fire. On a rampage against the Almighty and his old moral code, John is pouring his insurance money into alcohol to deaden his pain, never mind the incessant Voice that won’t quit calling to him. But now the booze can't stave off his torment. Plans on how to end his life are beginning to take shape when he meets April, a dead ringer for his deceased wife. When she names her price, he throws himself into the fantasy. Waking up in bed with the prostitute, the proverbial scales fall from John's eyes. Ashamed, he falls to his knees before God in the vomit-ridden bathroom of a Vegas hotel room where the Lord comforts and restores him.

John is astounded to find love again with church-going Jenni. Their future together promises to be a happily-ever-after, until April shows up claiming John is the father of her unborn child.

Now John wrestles with his shameful past, Jenni faces insecurity and bitterness, and April doesn’t know what to make of all the “God talk” going on. For John and Jenni, it will take incredible faith to follow God through what is quickly becoming their darkest valley, but a willingness to surrender all could save a soul in the process.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at 93,000 words. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
Michelle Massaro

3 comments:

RCWriterGirl said...

Michelle,

I like the story and think the characters and plot sound interesting.

I really have an issue, however with this statement that Jon has "wasted" his life serving God, and that God "betrayed" him. I'm not a religious zealot, but I really don't feel this is fair way to portray God, especially for a Christian novel. I think people can feel betrayed by God, but I don't truly think God has ever really betrayed people. Maybe the distinction is silly, but it seems a real and important distinction, especially for the Christian market.

Second, I still think there's a little too much describing Jon's backstory. I don't think we need to know he's blowing through insurance money, or that he's hearing an incessant voice. It's probably enough to say the following:

"On a rampage against the Almighty, John turns to alcohol to deaden his pain. Eventually, not even the booze can stave off his torment. As he's planning his suicide, he meets April, a dead ringer for his deceased wife. When she names her price, he throws himself into the fantasy.

Ashamed after waking up with the prostitute, Jon falls to his knees before God in the vomit-ridden bathroom of a Vegas hotel room where the Lord comforts and restores him."

The rest seems succinct enough and to the point. The problem with the opening, is it's a backstory dump. While we need to get some sense of who the players are (jon, april) and Jon's motivation, the real action of the novel seems to be Jon and Jenni dealing with April's pregnancy. So, to me, that should be the biggest focus. So, I think you should cut down the details of the backstory so you can focus in on the important elements of the story: Jon and Jenni getting through their darkest valley to save a soul.

Michelle Massaro said...

RCWriterGirl,

Thank you so much for your input! I know what you mean about Jon "wasting" his life and completely agree with what you are saying. I was counting on the agent to realize I am speaking from Jon's POV, and that I am not actually saying he was betrayed. I figure the query won't be seen by the readers. I have this issue stewing in the back of my mind though, and have not completely dismissed it.


I'll try removing the insurance money bit and see how that works. I was trying to convey something with the "voice". In the novel, God is an active character with a speaking role, in the sense that His words are clearly known and felt by the characters. I was trying to convey a sense of that in the query. Perhaps I didn't succeed. May I paste a sample?:
***
Later that night in my room, my head swimming with the effect of the juice, I lay back on my bed enjoying the lack of awareness of my surroundings. I closed my eyes expecting sleep. I felt, more than heard, a quiet whisper in my consciousness…
John, my son, return to Me.
My eyes popped open. I wasn’t asleep yet, and I didn’t think I was that drunk. Was I going crazy? I closed my eyes again.
Again that Voice danced across my mind.
John, return to Me and I will give you rest. You don’t have to be alone. I am here waiting for you, my son.
And then I recognized that Voice. It belonged to Him- and I was still angry with Him, would always be angry with Him.
Leave me alone.
Then into the empty night I cried, “Leave me alone! I don’t want You!” The inaudible Voice fell silent but I could still feel the faint memory of it tickling my soul.
***
There are many other passages where God speaks. I was hoping to make a reference to Him in a subtle way by mentioning the Voice. Any suggestions to do that effectively? Or do you still feel I should just leave it out?

Thanks again! Your comments are very helpful!

Michelle Massaro said...

Ok, I have a revision. I softened the opening statements by inserting the word "feels" in ONE of the phrases but left it as-is in the other. Let me know if it helps take the sting out. I removed the ins. $$ and tightened up the rest. Here 'tis:

Dear [Agent],

I thought you would be interested in my book BEAUTY FOR ASHES.

John Douglas feels betrayed by God when his wife and child are killed in a house fire. On a rampage against the Almighty and his old moral code, John resists the incessant voice of the Lord whispering to his soul and numbs his pain with alcohol. But now the liquor isn’t enough to stave off his torment. Thoughts of suicide are interrupted when he meets April, a lookalike of his dead wife. She names her price, and he throws himself into the one-night fantasy. Come morning the illusion is shattered and John is assaulted by shame. Broken, he repents and finds comfort and restoration in God.

John is astounded by a second chance at love when he meets church-going Jenni. Their future together promises to be a happily-ever-after, until April makes her way to John’s doorstep claiming he is the father of her unborn child. Now John wrestles with his shameful past, Jenni faces insecurity and bitterness, and April doesn’t know what to make of all the “God talk” going on. For John and Jenni, it will take incredible faith to follow God through what is quickly becoming their darkest valley, but a willingness to surrender all could save a soul in the process.

BEAUTY FOR ASHES is a contemporary Christian novel standing at approximately 93,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Michelle Massaro