Sep 28, 2010

QUERY: STEAM PALACE

Dear Esteemed Literary Agent

Sometimes meeting your Evil Twin makes you wonder which one you are.

Sophia Stratton leaves home to discover a temptress, an immoral gutter prowler named Viola living with her gentle aunt. Shocked and curious, she follows Viola to the Steam Palace, a small city of iniquity and sin built upon an ancient half-buried barge in the Connecticut River. Despite the obvious fact that Viola hails from a native tribe and lacks the slightest touch of civilized culture, Sophia is inexplicably drawn to her, and finds to her embarrassment that they share a similar demeanor. Needless to say when Sophia discovers this wanton woman is actually her twin sister, separated at birth, it thoroughly destroys her. But that is only part of the story.

All Sophia wants is a job, perhaps a proposal of marriage to an eligible gentleman of sufficient reputation, and a means to restore her family name. She never intends on bringing her country--torn between two neighboring countries--to the brink of ruin. She now hides out in a bombed-out Native village where spirits walk among the corpses. Captain Thomas Putnam, her love, is most likely dead, his leg torn by shrapnel in a unfortunate assault on their country’s rival, the Southland, in an attempt to steal the mysterious Sea Key. And now Viola, of whom Sophia has grown quite fond despite Viola’s untoward upbringing, has surrendered to the man responsible to all this destruction and faces torture and death for her disobedience. Hartford and the Steam Palace lie in ruins, and Ghost, a powerful Fury Lord with limitless technological power at his fingertips, refuses to assist. Sophia must find a way to rescue her sister, restore Thomas’ honor, convince Ghost to join their cause, locate the mythical Sea Key, and fight off her country’s invaders before war claims the remnants of a once-proud kingdom.

Steam Palace, complete at 120,000 words, is a Steampunk romp through alternate-history America, where proto-Nazis clash with British-style royalty while the Free Southland tries to democratize both. It features twins separated at birth, secret keys to impossible powers, airships and mechohorses, and of course, tea, corsets, and goggles.

This is a very early first-draft of a query. I'm not as much interested in grammar or style as much as wondering whether this is a good place to start. Does the book sound interesting? Is there too much detail? Do you understand what's at stake? I will be posting updates that are a bit more polished.

7 comments:

Danielle said...

I love the opening line - it's a great hook. Unfortunately, I don't feel like you've followed it up. I don't see anything that shows Sophia thinking she might be the 'evil' one.

There's a big leap from the second paragraph to the third, and it feels as if you're writing two different stories. Is the first part the main story, or is the second? You're giving them both equal importance in the query, but I didn't expect them to be equally important in the novel.

I do like the ideas you've presented, and I would definitely pick this book up and flip through it.

Justin W. Parente said...

On first glance, I see another steampunk story. The opening paragraph (not the one liner) has nothing that sticks out to show me the story. In most steampunk literature, we're also seeing shabby, not so well-to-do protagonist meeting someone who is their exact opposite to compliment all of what they aren't.

That said, you need to highlight everything that isn't already gathered in the steampunk society. This first paragraph is also very long. Here is a simple suggestion to drastically cut the first paragraph:

When Sophia Stratton arrives at the Steam Palace, a city failing all cause to be called a society, she does not expect to be reunited with her twin sister, Viola. Despite the sin and iniquity lurking around the corners of the city, Sophia is inexplicably drawn to her sister's shabby lifestyle.

I'm not sure if that's something that sounds what you might write, but 5 sentences then become 3 with tighter explanation and less glamor. Try doing the same with the 2ns paragraph. You have a good 7 sentences that could probably be narrowed to 4 or 5. Just get your writing as tight as you can and lose yourself too much in description. The query needs to entice, but not at the point of bogging down the "enticing point" with all these fancy words and run around verbs.

I think you could have some luck with this query, too. The last paragraph, summing up the story, really makes me want to read it. The term proto-Nazi is really interesting to ponder. Try doctoring terms like that into the query if they are pertinent. When you create new terms, you'll like draw interest if you can create an equally attention grabbing scene around them (in the query).

Good luck with this.

Anonymous Author said...

It's confusing. I can't tell what kind of story it is, and I'm stuck wondering what native tribe in Connecticut is uncivilized.

N. Blank said...

The best part is the opening line. Keep it.

The rest needs some work.
I'd like to know more about Sophia, her age specifically because the idea of her leaving home makes her seem young like 18. This can be easily fixed by adding something like: "Eighteen year old Sophia leaves home..."

Also the stuff you have in the 2nd paragraph might serve better in the 1st to give us a sense of who Sophia is.

Condense and chop.

Piedmont Writer said...

Hi Andrew. I'm glad you mentioned this was an early first draft.

I like the dynamic between Sophia and Viola. I like what Sophia has to become in the end.

I don't read steam punk but I do understand it. I like what you're trying to do with your prose but I think it's too much. You're trying to be too British and your voice is getting lost in flowery language.

I also think you have too many things going on, it's too busy. Sophia wants a job, then she wants a man, then she wants to restore her family name. Then she brings her country to the brink of ruin. Good God, what else is going to happen to this poor girl. And then at the end you give another list of what she needs to do to get her life together -- rescue her sister, restore Thomas' honor, convince the Ghost, locate the Sea Key, and fight off invaders.

I think for purposes of the query, you need to stick with the one big external conflict (the war in my opinion) and one big internal conflict (the hate/love relationship with her sister). I don't think you need all the stuff about the Captain, or the arring factions. You're also a little confusing by trying to tell us about "why" the war is happening. We don't care. All we want to know is there is a war and Sophia's involved in it.

I think Justin is right, find the right way to diminish the words without losing your voice. I can hear it, it's just a little foggy.

Great great first try though.

Elena Solodow said...

I love the hook, but I agree that the rest doesn't match up. It seems to go from Sophia meeting her twin sister to her wanting marriage. Don't see the connection.

This also reads more like a synopsis. Give us a clear idea of Sophia, then the catalyst - I'm not sure what that would be, you set the catalyst as the moment she discovers her twin, but I don't see how the twin, evil or not, is significant beyond the fact that she needs saving. Her execution is probably your best bet, but I wouldn't start the query with Sophia's disgust and then have her desperate to save her sister later on - it doesn't match up.

Overall, sounds like a great book - the query just needs some focus. Zoom in on Sophia.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Thanks everyone--this was really helpful.

I'll have an updated query posted soon.

Sorry it took so long to respond.