Nov 3, 2010


Click here to read the original query (originally titled THE CHRONICLES OF CHRISTMAS).

A research team drilling ice cores at the North Pole finds something amazing buried deep in the ice: a book that tells the origins of Santa Claus.

Jason didn’t come to the North Pole with his father to learn about global warming, he just wants to see Santa Claus.  After weeks surrounded by nothing but a few stuffy scientists and a whole lot of cold, Jason loses faith.  But when an ice core comes back with a book embedded in it – a book that proves the existence of Santa – they face a tough decision: keep the book and get rich, or find a way to return the book to its rightful owner.

The book tells the tale of Kris Kringle.  Born human but abandoned as a baby, Kris is raised by the Elfs of the Woodland Glen, even though contact with humans goes against eons of Elfin law.  Kris is desperate to find his real family.  When a lead points him to the town of Oldenton, Kris convinces the High Council to allow him to search for his family by delivering a present to each child in Oldenton on Christmas Day, as long as no human sees him.  But there’s a catch: Kris – and any Elf who helps him – must leave the Glen immediately.  The High Council is convinced that humans are greedy, destructive creatures, and unless Kris can bring back proof that human virtue exists, neither he nor the Elfs who join him will be allowed to return.

Bound by a stringent set of rules, Kris and two dozen Elfs set off for the legendary Great Northern Glen to set up base camp for their operation.  When Christmas Day arrives, Kris – known as “the man in the cinder clouds” after an accident involving a chimney – learns his true family has been with him his entire life, and he proves that human virtue does exist…even in the most unexpected of human hearts.

CINDER CLOUDS is a 34,500-word middle-grade novel written for anyone who has ever believed in Santa Claus.  This story-within-a-story explains everything from the origins of Santa’s white hair and red suit to his ability to fit all those presents in one sack.

A note on style: the book was written by an Elf.  Elfs always capitalize the E, and never convert the f to a v.  That’s a human thing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Elena Solodow said...

I think you'll have the problem of "character soup" here by starting with Jason. If the majority of the book revolves around Kris, then the query needs to be about him. Although, I do like the second paragraph.

How would delivering presents reveal Kris' real family? That's important to know.

At the end, it sounds as though Kris was the one who doubted human virtue - but the beginning doesn't signify that.

Hope this helps some!

Anonymous Author said...

I agree with Elena about the character problem. You may just want to leave Jason out of the query.

A story-within-a-story is a tough sell because you have to engage your reader in one story, and then drop it to take up another story. It can be done successfully, as in the movie Titanic, but it's tough. There's ample opportunity to lose the reader.

Both your first and second paragraphs appear to be "hook" paragraphs. But basically, yeah, I'd take Jason out of the query.

As a middle grades author myself, I think 34k's on the short side. But books issued "for the holidays" do tend to be shorter.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

You have two stories here: Jason and Santa. You need to pick just one for the query. Is the main conflict Jason's decision on what to do with the book? Or Santa's quest to find his real parents?

Pick one, cut the other from the query. Who is your main protagonist?

I would also cut things that are unnecessary to the core of the plot. Example: "even though contact with humans goes against eons of Elfin law" -- Just extraneous information that doesn't need to be in a query.

Things that are great for novels aren't always great for a query.

You've got a rich plot here. I'm not overly familiar with the MG genre, but this sounds like something I would want to read to the kiddo. I like the mix of fantasy with myth, and I want to know where his white hair comes from!

Pare down, focus, and keep that hook. It's good.

Rick Daley said...

Thus is my dilemma. The book opens with Jason and his father finding the book. If I include 5 sample pages, it's all Jason...they find the book in the ice core on page 5 and the narrative shifts on page 10, when they start reading the book.

Roughly 4,000 words involve Jason and his father. The bulk of the story is about Kris. It does cut back and forth like TITANIC, or THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Most of my beta readers thought I did a good job of combining the narratives. I'm always up for additional opinions...if you want to flip through a partial or the full MS, email me at rjdaley101071 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Toward the end Kris does begin to doubt human virtue...there's a bit of treachery at play in a sub-plot.

In regard to word count, I've seen 25k-40K as the MG range, with 35k being average. What do you think is average for today's MG market?

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Rick: That is a conundrum. I wish I knew a better way to advise how a story-within-a-story query should be written. I don't.

I think you have a great plot here and the query is pretty solid. It was jarring transition from Jason to Kris, but if your story is also transitioning, well... you gotta do what you gotta do.

I'd still cut some of the excess and I might also add in Jason's age. I assume he's a MG kid himself. I love the last paragraph. Very cute.

Honestly, the query's solid. You could send it as is and I bet you'd get takers.

Anonymous Author said...

Rick, my books run around 55k-75k. When I get up past 65k, I get scolded. Right now I'm tryna cut back a 77k to 75k; my agent wants it cut to 70k.

My first book was 55k and it looks skinny to me when I see it on the library shelf, squeezed between other MG novels. So 35k as an average sounds really iffy to me.

Then again, we may be looking at different definitions of MG. My stuff is upper end range; it sounds like what you've written may be lower end (say 3rd grade rather than 6th)?

And then of course there's some shorter stuff that's done very, very well. And if you've written it, and it's done and polished, and it's 34k, well, that's what it is.

As for the shifting between the stories, if you've handled it well, no hay problema. But you probably should leave it out of the query for neatness's sake, don't you think? It sounds unfocused. Or else try to rework it so that Jason's just barely mentioned.

Rick Daley said...

Anon- Thanks, the word count info is good to know. I think the target audience would be 4th-5th grade, but I wouldn't be surprised if some older kids picked it up for a quick read. It packs the charm of the old clay-mation Christmas specials, but it also has an action/adventure element that makes it kind of like Santa Begins.

I didn't have a real word count goal when I wrote it, I just followed the story (within a story). I hope I did it justice. I'll keep chewing on different ideas on how to best structure the query.

I also want to thank you for all the feedback you give on this site. I've often stated that the success of The Public Query Slushpile hinges on the participation of the followers. Your feedback is consistently spot-on, and your success in publishing is something I admire. I'm glad you're such an active part of this community.

Anonymous Author said...

Thanks, Rick. That's very kind of you to say so. It seems like there's quite a bit of talent among the writers who post here, and your story sounds good. Sorry if I sometimes lack patience with some folks.

The more I think of it, the more examples of shorter MG come to mind. So yeah, it's not an issue. Just hard to believe that 35k would be the average.

But, really, not an issue.

abogash said...

I feel your pain with the first five pages dilemma...

Possibly try to tie the end of the 2nd paragraph with the beginning of the third instead of ending abruptly with Jason's dilemma and starting in on Kris.

I'm also not a fan of beginning a sentence in a query with 'But'. Try more action: Just as Jason loses all faith in finding . . . an ice core . . .

I'm also not feeling why Kris, when abandoned as a baby, is now desperate to find his real family. Does this somehow tie back to Jason?

The conflict is catchy but I think adding a hook between Jason and Kris at the end will put you over the top.

When submitting pages, the original query is generally attached again to remind the agent why they requested the information this will help with not having Kris for 4K words.

Good luck- I'd read this myself.