Sep 1, 2010

Query - Live Action Pick-Up

Okay, y'all can have a chance to punch me back now. The destination-specific bit at the bottom is for the first place I intend to ask, Carina Press. They DO publish stories this length, so yeah, it's okay that it's not a novel.

Devan is only good at two things: martial arts and fantasy gaming. He's learned the hard way that he's not what women in their twenties want. When he meets a girl at a gaming convention, he's glad he's wearing a ninja costume so she can't see his face. He agrees to play linked characters in a live-action roleplaying game because she let him budge in line and it's too hard for an introvert to say no.

The longer he plays with her, though, the more he's impressed by her enthusiasm for the games they both love. All he knows about her is what he can tell from her costume and what leaks through the character she's playing. She knows how to wear heels. She loves the same books he loves. She's a good actress. In other words, she's out of his league. He thinks only chance is to impress her by playing the game well. That means using his luck with dice and his eye for intrigue to defeat the aliens and solve the murder mystery--without letting what he knows out-of-character influence what he knows in-character.

Live Action Pick-Up is a 19,000-word love story without explicit sexual content. I'm excited about the way Carina is opening up established publishing and strong editorial support to online markets that can offer readers stories too long for anthologies and too short for print on their own. The personal tidbits about the process that I see on Twitter and Facebook always impress me with both the commitment to quality I expect from professionals and the warmth that makes reading and selling romance so rewarding.


Zee Lemke


gj said...

It's pretty solid as it is.

If I were nitpicking, I'd suggest that I'm not really clear on what's "wrong" with him, why the girl's out of his league. Being good at martial arts and video games isn't particularly awful. Especially the martial arts things; there are a lot of twenty-something guys who can only do the games.

Especially where you mention hiding his face, it makes it sound like he thinks he's ugly (or some other superficial thing). If hiding his face is just meant to explain how he can pretend to be confident, since he's an extrovert, that might need clarifying.

Other nitpicks:

1.I'm not the right demographic for this story, but the use of "girl" is offputting to me. You've established the early-twenties age of the hero (I'm guessing, although it's indirect, and it could be a guy in his sixties who only likes women in their 20s, which is REALLY offputting, but I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean), so you probably mean "girl" as young adult female, not "child of the female gender." Might be better to indicate something like -- he's fresh from college and ready to fall in love, but none of the women his age are interested (except less clunky than that, of course). And avoid the "girl" problem that way.

2. There's more of the superficial in the list of things he likes about her. Just be careful that it's not coming across as him liking her because, in essence, she's hot and, unlike most hot babes, she shares his typically male interests. It's really hard to establish in such a short format as a query that he's interested in her for her, and not for superficial reasons. And I'm not saying you've failed to do that, but it could perhaps be sharpened a bit. The high heels thing, in particular, threw me off, b/c it seems just a little bit too much male fantasy - hot babe + games that hot babes don't usually like + stilettos. Or maybe it's just me. Think about it, and feel free to decide it's an idiosyncratic reaction on my part.

I'm being REALLY hard on you, because this sounds like a lot of fun, and I think you can make it shine. It really is solid already, and my suggestions are just food for thought.

Zee Lemke said...


That's not being hard on me! Critique is like exercise, if it doesn't sting a little you're not getting anything out of it.

Quick note that "fantasy gaming" here is not video games (although Devan plays those too); it's rpgs along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire: the Masquerade. "Live Action" in the title is the LA from LARPing. I'm not sure whether it's even possible to be clear what I mean. I'm a little worried that some people don't know that grown-ups dressing up to play pretend even exists.

You are totally right about "girl." (And about my needing to be clearer that Devan isn't 60; he's 25.) I'm 27 myself and still feel odd being called a "woman," the way men my age kind of cringe when someone calls them "mister," so I used "girl" because that's how I think of person-who-might-become-a-girlfriend. Rephrasing to avoid the issue entirely is an excellent idea.

The thing that really draws Devan is that the "hot babe" is a good actress. When she roleplays (it's a form of improv acting), she has the skill to give her character depth of emotion and the wits to react appropriately to what the other characters in the game are doing. Again, as an insider, I'm having a rough rough time getting across how hard it is to be a LARPer good enough to make the experience immersive for the other players. It is totally something you can find sexy. Maybe I should praise her "thorough characterization" in "the demanding improv acting game?" (Are those words too big?)

Should I mention that Sara (he doesn't learn her real name until more than 2/3s of the way in, so I haven't used it here) wears her heels well because her other hobby is ballroom dance?

On the gamer girl thing, I think it's a fantasy on both sides of the gender line. The guys want to believe that a gamer girl will understand them better and the girls want to believe that merely showing up to game makes them desirable. It might not be healthy, but it's enough to hang a fantasy romance on.

Again, many thanks for comments!

Mesmerix said...

Zee: Finally, the moment I've been waiting for. I have sharpened my critique stick just for you! :P

So first, I read the title and busted up laughing. It made perfect sense to me. Heck, it's happened to me...

Ahem, anyways. Good title.

I have two major concerns.

1) The terminology is going to be difficult for anyone who is not "in the know" on RPG and LARPing. They're going to read "fantasy gaming" and immediately think video games, not WoD. (And if you're reading this and don't know what my abbreviations mean, you are one of those people who is going to be confused by this query :P)

I think your best bet is to back off the setting and focus on the plot: awkward guy wants confident girl. All readers can understand that premise. Give me some specifics about why Devan isn't what women want and the things he does, without involving OOC/IC/meta-gaming conflicts. Does this make sense?

2) My other big concern is voice. The title makes me think this story is on the humorous side, but there's nothing funny in the query. I don't get a good feel on how this would read and what being in Devan's head would be like. It's very dry.

You're not a dry person, I can tell from your comments. You're one of the most interesting bloggers I've run across. So go back in and add some voice to the query.

One of the things that really helped me do this was I wrote my query from my MC's 1st PoV, just like the book is written in, as if she was telling me what happens. Then I rewrote it to 3rd, fixing sentences for clarity. Doing this rocked my query world, completely changed it up. Maybe it would help you.

The query is solid. Plot, characters, conflict is outlined well. I know what's happening. I just think it's needs some distinction and clarity for non-gamers. I wasn't bothered by the "girl" reference, but that's fairly subjective. I also didn't mind the superficial stuff because I thought it was going to be a slightly humorous, superficial "pick-up" not a love story. Again, subjective, and would likely be clarified by adding more voice.

I would read this, by the way, if you're in need of a line-edit critique. Hope this helps you and best of luck! Keep me posted when you get published stuff out there. :)

gj said...

I really was just nitpicking (and mis=spoke abot the type of games; I did get that it wasn't video games).

I think you could go aheaand and use her name; it just simplifies things, and this is a query, not the story itself, so the author can mention things that the character might not know initially. OTOH, mentioning her dancing skills (unless they were dancing in the rpg) seems a bit far into omnisciency.

As to characterization, apart from the external, you're going in the right direction with "competence." You hint at it in the original, but can perhaps be more focused on it. She's good, she's playing because she WANTS to play (not to pick up guys), and she makes it better for everyone, including himself. And I think you want to bring some parallel between those skills and what she'd be in real-life, someone who's passionate and competent and gregarious. Again, you hint at that, commenting that she reveals a bit about herself through her rpg character, but maybe a brief example (other than the high heels; something substantive) would go a long way to making the relationship seem real once the game is over.

But I do really like the concept, and suspect that Carina might be exactly the right home for it.

Zee Lemke said...

Here, how's this for the first two paragraphs (leaving the third one unchanged for the moment):

Devan has learned the hard way that even girls who wouldn't mind fooling around with a martial artist don't want to date a gaming nerd.

Even at a roleplaying convention, Devan's uncomfortable in crowds. He tends to use words like "heteronormative" in casual conversation when he's nervous. Besides, he's been wearing the same ninja costume for two days and hasn't gotten back to his hotel for a shower. When a girl his age asks him to play linked characters in a live-action game, he only says yes because it's too hard for an introvert to say no. Besides, she let him budge in line.

She turns out to be a way better player than he expected, even if her character, Hourglass, is a total Mary Sue. When Devan's character Black Duckling throws a punch at a tentacle monster and gets stuck, it's Hourglass whose time control, used creatively, saves his life. When Devan thinks out loud about which shady character is behind the evil schemes they're trying to thwart, Hourglass's player adds insights that give him the key to the game. Even her costume really makes her look like a super hero.

Black Duckling and Hourglass are childhood friends thrown back together by circumstance. Their mutual attraction is only logical in a game that's all about melodrama. Devan can't expect what's-her-name to fall for him just because she likes the way he rolls his dice. Taking off Black Duckling's mask is the most terrifying thing he's ever done.

Mesmerix said...

Zee: This is like, 10x better. Way better.

I'd like to hear other, non-gamers comment on the revision though, to see if there confused by the IC/OOC names, or if they can keep player and character straight.

Really though, full of voice, way more intriguing, now I really want to read.

gj said...

New version works for me too.

Zee Lemke said...

Following a comment of my mother's, I'm changing "has learned the hard way" to "learned in college" to make the story sound less YA. That also fixes "girl his age" being too young--no word but "girl" feels right to me there even though I understand the feminist complaints.