Oct 13, 2010

QUERY: The Odd I See

Dear Agent,

I am writing to you because I read your interview on XYZ, your submission guidelines, and (novel you represented). Please consider representing my novel The Odd I See, a 71,000-word work of slipstream fiction.

Following a falling out with her favorite hallucination, a half-assed stay in the loony bin, and entry into the “real world” by way of graduation from college, Fifi wants to know what the meaning of life is… and she wants to know immediately.

Fifi, The Odd I See’s narrator, is twenty-two, working an underachiever’s dream job, and struggling to reconcile her worldview with modern middle-class American living. Something about the combination of what her overbearing mother, pothead friends, and (likely imaginary) vampire lover are telling her isn’t quite jiving with what she thought the world would be like. Not entirely sure she wants to continue doing the whole “existence-thing,” she gives herself a month to reason her way through it piece-by-piece. Meanwhile, Byron (the soulmate Fifi discovers in the midst of an adventure in pretending to be a prostitute) tries to keep her from stumbling over the pitfalls of a society that claims mental illness explains her dysphoria… and out of the clutches of a vampire only she can see.

An excerpt of this novel was published in the spring 2009 edition of the Newport Review literary magazine. A separate excerpt was published in the 2006 edition of Loyola University Chicago’s annual literary journal, Cadence. I was editor-in-chief of Cadence in 2009 and, from 2006 to 2008, I was editor-in-chief of Loyola University Chicago’s quarterly literary arts magazine, Diminuendo. I very much appreciate your time and consideration in reading this letter. I have pasted the first chapter below and would be delighted to send you the rest. I can be reached by phone at xxx xxx xxxx, by e-mail at bre@jamstage.net, or by postal mail at 123 XYZ st.

Best regards
Bre Kidman

9 comments:

Mesmerix said...

So this looks interesting. There are some phrases that indicate a strong writer's voice, such as "half-assed stay in the loony bin" and "(likely imaginary) vampire lover." Phrases like these speak of a fun, mildly humorous piece that has a lot of character.

However, I'm not 100% sure what this story is about. Seems to me that there's more backstory about who Fifi is than actual plot. I think the plot is Fifi attempting to rationalize the world before she decides whether or not she should kill herself (continue the whole "existence-thing")

You need to boil it down to the plot, summed up in an intriguing way, within the very first paragraph. Everything else can be cut. We don't care about the backstory, just what happens.

I try to follow a 5 part query focus: 1)Character, 2)Conflict, 3)Distinction, 4)Action, 5)Setting... and that's in order of importance.

So, for example, you could start with something like: After falling out with her (likely imaginery) vampire lover, Fifi struggles to reconcile her worldview before deciding if she should continue with this whole existence-thing.

Or whatever. That's just an example of character (Fifi), conflict (reconcile worldview before suicide), with distinction (imaginery vampire). And it should be your first sentence. Then go on to give me a summation of the plot and what happens, because right now, I really have no idea.

The novel does sound intriguing though, and I can tell you have a creative mind and writing style. I love slipstream fiction and you've definitely conveyed that, but you need to focus. Cut out Byron completely, because we've got enough characters going on, but keep the mention of Fifi pretending to be a prostitute, as well as any other similar adventures on her path of discovery.

Also, the only writing credentials that you should put are PAID PUBLISHING experience. Nothing else matters to an agent. I would also place all of your contact information below your name rather than spell it out in sentences.

Hope this helps you. You've obviously got talent. Best of luck!

gj said...

I had to look up "slipstream fiction" because I thought this sounded like straight-out lit fic (especially with your bio), but now I see that it applies, except that the only fantasy element is the vampire, who might be imaginary. If he is real, you might want to specify that, and not rely on the genre to establish that fact.

I don't read lit-fic, so I can't really comment on the main text. I did think the first sentence was hugely confusing, though, which if you're aiming for a lit-fic audience is something you really want to avoid. It's just too complex a sentence, and had me stopping and backing up a couple times. Slow reading isn't a bad thing for lit-fic stories themselves, but it is a problem for the query.

"Following a falling [the alliteration here makes it awkward -- try reading this out loud] out with her favorite hallucination, [and here I expect Fifi to take an action, but it turns out that there are more phrases that go back to "following," which forces the reader to stop and back-track] a half-assed stay in the loony bin, and entry into the “real world” by way of graduation from college, Fifi ...."

I'd recommend cutting that down to something more like: Following an argument with her favorite hallucination, a vampire, Fifi needs to know the meaning of life ..." Except I'd be more specific about what she really wants to know. "The meaning of life" is too vague for the reader to have any idea of what she's thinking or what she's after or what bit of information will convince her she's got the answer. Is this the meaning of life that relats to the existence of God? Or the meaning of life that defines the difference between the living (fifi) and the not living (vampire/hallucinations)? How does her search for the meaning of life tie into her relationship with the vampire?

And, finally, I'd agree that your bio should be cut back, but I'd keep the Newport Review. I'm not as familiar with the Cadence Lit journal -- was that piece published after you graduated? Is it student-run, but accepting pieces from the public generally? I'd cut the editing stints; they're not particularly relevant; editing and storyteling are hugely different skillsets.

sirenasilver said...

Thank you both for the WONDERFUL feedback! I have some questions, if you'll indulge me. If not, I'm sure I'll eventually figure it out on my own.

To Mesmerix:
I really like your structural suggestions for the first sentence and plan on playing with that a lot in revision. Truthfully, though, I don't even know how to begin to try and market the plot in this thing.

Fifi is attempting to rationalize why the world is the way it is because she's not sure she wants to stay in it. Orion, the (maybe-imaginary) vampire, is basically trying to convince her that she'll move on to a better realm where she becomes part of a constellation if she kills herself. On the other hand, she's only just started to see the better parts of life through her blossoming relationship with a man she met while pretending to be a prostitute. The book is in the first person and all of this action kind of takes a backseat to Fifi talking about her theories on the meaning of existence. Basically, the book is written as a conversation with the reader. The action slowly builds on the sidelines throughout and culminates in 9 "choose-your-own-endings" (which can be read in sequence or separately). All in a blue(and sometimes black)-humor tone.

Do you think replacing/adding something in the body paragraph about the vampire's intentions would help the situation?

Also, if an agent notes in an interview that she is particularly impressed by authors who have taken the time to get excerpts published in magazines and journals, is it then ok to list those credentials? My bio was limited to "this is my first novel" before that, but I was kind of hoping to pander to her wish list a little. Heh.

To GJ:

I also really appreciated your suggestion for cutting down the first sentence. It's felt bulky from the get go. I'm having trouble figuring out how much I can cut and how I can incorporate the other details into the summary without bulking THAT up too much.

It's never made clear whether or not the vampire is real in the book. It's kind of left up to the reader to decide. I'm not really sure how to treat it, but because Fifi acts on the assumption that he's mostly-real and because his actions and dialogue have impact on hers, I'm treating it like something partially paranormal... and found a clever word (in an interview with an agent I'm hoping to charm) to describe it. It's tough because I worry that it's not straight enough to market as straight lit fic and it's not crooked enough to go genre with. :(

Bleh. I'm not sure how to narrow down "the meaning of life." This Fifi chick really is trying to figure out the why and why not of EVERYTHING. The majority of the book is her having a conversation with the reader about sex, drugs, rock and roll, communication, social classes, economics... you name it. Over the course of those dialogues, Orion (the maybe-imaginary vampire) stops in from time to time and tries to convince her to off herself so that she can become supernatural. On the other end Byron, her boyfriend, is slowly helping her see what a great adventure living in the present world is. Instead of "the meaning of life" at the end of the opener, would it help to say "whether or not she wants to continue living" or "whether or not the world is one worth living in" or... something better phrased and to that effect?

Thanks again, to both of you, for giving me such strong insight on where to continue working. Your careful and constructive comments are much appreciated!

sirenasilver said...

Thank you both for the WONDERFUL feedback! I have some questions, if you'll indulge me. If not, I'm sure I'll eventually figure it out on my own.

To Mesmerix:
I really like your structural suggestions for the first sentence and plan on playing with that a lot in revision. Truthfully, though, I don't even know how to begin to try and market the plot in this thing.

Fifi is attempting to rationalize why the world is the way it is because she's not sure she wants to stay in it. Orion, the (maybe-imaginary) vampire, is basically trying to convince her that she'll move on to a better realm where she becomes part of a constellation if she kills herself. On the other hand, she's only just started to see the better parts of life through her blossoming relationship with a man she met while pretending to be a prostitute. The book is in the first person and all of this action kind of takes a backseat to Fifi talking about her theories on the meaning of existence. Basically, the book is written as a conversation with the reader. The action slowly builds on the sidelines throughout and culminates in 9 "choose-your-own-endings" (which can be read in sequence or separately). All in a blue(and sometimes black)-humor tone.

Do you think replacing/adding something in the body paragraph about the vampire's intentions would help the situation?

Also, if an agent notes in an interview that she is particularly impressed by authors who have taken the time to get excerpts published in magazines and journals, is it then ok to list those credentials? My bio was limited to "this is my first novel" before that, but I was kind of hoping to pander to her wish list a little. Heh.

To GJ:

I also really appreciated your suggestion for cutting down the first sentence. It's felt bulky from the get go. I'm having trouble figuring out how much I can cut and how I can incorporate the other details into the summary without bulking THAT up too much.

It's never made clear whether or not the vampire is real in the book. It's kind of left up to the reader to decide. I'm not really sure how to treat it, but because Fifi acts on the assumption that he's mostly-real and because his actions and dialogue have impact on hers, I'm treating it like something partially paranormal... and found a clever word (in an interview with an agent I'm hoping to charm) to describe it. It's tough because I worry that it's not straight enough to market as straight lit fic and it's not crooked enough to go genre with. :(

Bleh. I'm not sure how to narrow down "the meaning of life." This Fifi chick really is trying to figure out the why and why not of EVERYTHING. The majority of the book is her having a conversation with the reader about sex, drugs, rock and roll, communication, social classes, economics... you name it. Over the course of those dialogues, Orion (the maybe-imaginary vampire) stops in from time to time and tries to convince her to off herself so that she can become supernatural. On the other end Byron, her boyfriend, is slowly helping her see what a great adventure living in the present world is. Instead of "the meaning of life" at the end of the opener, would it help to say "whether or not she wants to continue living" or "whether or not the world is one worth living in" or... something better phrased and to that effect?

Thanks again, to both of you, for giving me such strong insight on where to continue working. Your careful and constructive comments are much appreciated!

sirenasilver said...

Thank you both for the WONDERFUL feedback! I have some questions, if you'll indulge me. If not, I'm sure I'll eventually figure it out on my own.

To Mesmerix:
I really like your structural suggestions for the first sentence and plan on playing with that a lot in revision. Truthfully, though, I don't even know how to begin to try and market the plot in this thing.

Fifi is attempting to rationalize why the world is the way it is because she's not sure she wants to stay in it. Orion, the (maybe-imaginary) vampire, is basically trying to convince her that she'll move on to a better realm where she becomes part of a constellation if she kills herself. On the other hand, she's only just started to see the better parts of life through her blossoming relationship with a man she met while pretending to be a prostitute. The book is in the first person and all of this action kind of takes a backseat to Fifi talking about her theories on the meaning of existence. Basically, the book is written as a conversation with the reader. The action slowly builds on the sidelines throughout and culminates in 9 "choose-your-own-endings" (which can be read in sequence or separately). All in a blue(and sometimes black)-humor tone.

Do you think replacing/adding something in the body paragraph about the vampire's intentions would help the situation?

Also, if an agent notes in an interview that she is particularly impressed by authors who have taken the time to get excerpts published in magazines and journals, is it then ok to list those credentials? My bio was limited to "this is my first novel" before that, but I was kind of hoping to pander to her wish list a little. Heh.

sirenasilver said...

To GJ:

I also really appreciated your suggestion for cutting down the first sentence. It's felt bulky from the get go. I'm having trouble figuring out how much I can cut and how I can incorporate the other details into the summary without bulking THAT up too much.

It's never made clear whether or not the vampire is real in the book. It's kind of left up to the reader to decide. I'm not really sure how to treat it, but because Fifi acts on the assumption that he's mostly-real and because his actions and dialogue have impact on hers, I'm treating it like something partially paranormal... and found a clever word (in an interview with an agent I'm hoping to charm) to describe it. It's tough because I worry that it's not straight enough to market as straight lit fic and it's not crooked enough to go genre with. :(

Bleh. I'm not sure how to narrow down "the meaning of life." This Fifi chick really is trying to figure out the why and why not of EVERYTHING. The majority of the book is her having a conversation with the reader about sex, drugs, rock and roll, communication, social classes, economics... you name it. Over the course of those dialogues, Orion (the maybe-imaginary vampire) stops in from time to time and tries to convince her to off herself so that she can become supernatural. On the other end Byron, her boyfriend, is slowly helping her see what a great adventure living in the present world is. Instead of "the meaning of life" at the end of the opener, would it help to say "whether or not she wants to continue living" or "whether or not the world is one worth living in" or... something better phrased and to that effect?

Thanks again, to both of you, for giving me such strong insight on where to continue working. Your careful and constructive comments are much appreciated!

sirenasilver said...

Oh jeez. My browser flipped out and I didn't think it sent because it was so long so I did it again. Sorry about the spam.

Mesmerix said...

sirenasilver: Seems like you summed up the plot fairly well in your comment. Write it just like that...

"Fifi attempts to rationalize the world because she's not sure she wants to stay in it. Her (maybe-imaginary) vampire lover, tries to convince her that she'll become part of a constellation if she kills herself. On the other hand, she's just starting to see the better parts of life through her blossoming relationship with a man she met while pretending to be a prostitute.

THE ODD I SEE explores the meaning of life through blue(and sometimes black) humor."

Then you can state your publishing credentials IF the agent specifically likes those kinds of exercept things. Otherwise, I would just say, "Thank you for your time." and be done with it.

You've written your plot, you just wrote it in a comment rather than the actual query. You'd be amazed how often this happens. :)

Hope this helps you.

Scribbler to Scribe

gj said...

Now my browser is flipping out on me, so I hope this doesn't post in duplicate.

Just wanted to say I agree with mesmerix that the summary in the comments was clearer than the one in the query. Can't help beyond that, b/c litfic is too far outside my comfort zone.