Nov 16, 2010

Query- The Crucible of Silver (fifth revision)

Click here to read the original query.
Click here to read the first revision.
Click here to read the second revision.
Click here to read the third revision.
Click here to read the fourth revision.

Click here to read the synopsis.

The Crucible of Silver is a middle grade (and up) talking animal story completed at 70,000 words.
Nobody cares if Silver Squirrel lives or dies, but he's got a heart, and a broken one at that.
He's lost his home and loved ones. Now he has to join the squirrel community, and their chaotic dance of behavior, if he wants to survive.
A hawk has her eye on him, and some hungry ermine are on the hunt as well. Things would be terribly bleak if it wasn't for his friends the crows who make their own special kind of chaos, and of course Sandy Brown, a squirrel female he's taken a liking to.
Sandy's mother is one of the squirrel leaders, the very ones who burned down his home in a planned "controlled" burn, so things are pretty complicated. Squirrel mating rituals can get a little hairy too. Silver finds that out when Sandy dumps him in a fit of spring fever.
But Silver won't give up. He's determined to win Sandy as his own, and to save the community from predation and forgive the ones who hurt him so badly. His plan is doomed to disaster, but that's the way Silver's life is. The hawk plans on teaching her mate a lesson, and Silver is the pawn in the game.

9 comments:

Anonymous Author said...

Okay. I commented on your earlier versions. I'm a middle-grades author.

This is better. You're getting us into the story sooner. But there are still some issues.

The first one that jumps out at me is that "mating" isn't a big concern with the middle grades reader. It's all right for the squirrel to have a love interest, but unusual for it to be the major focus of the story. (It may not be the major focus. But at this point it sounds like it.)

I'd change the overtly sexual (even clinical) language about "mating". It's not necessary to call Sandy a "squirrel female"... we assume she's a squirrel, and though there are male Sandies, most are female. Just call her Sandy.

Now, looking at the letter overall: it still seems like you're looking at the story from a great distance.

What we need here is immediacy, a feeling of actually being in the squirrel's skin and experiencing what he's experiencing, and caring. (Though I know you wrote it in reaction to comments on this blog, telling us that nobody cares about him isn't really enough to make us care. Though it does have more emotional immediacy than your earlier versions.)

Check out the query formulae posted on the QueryShark blog and on Nathan Bransford's blog. Follow the links that Rick has provided. There's not really any new ground to be covered in queries-- the old ground will do fine.

But the best query in the world won't help if your manuscript isn't also up to snuff. Have you shown it to people who will critique it honestly-- a critique group for example?

Lastly, I see that you've removed all the religious references in this version, which is good, if you're not writing for the religious market. But if they're still in the manuscript, it's a bit of a bait-and-switch.

I've actually published a religious middle grades novel in the mainstream marketplace; it can be done. But the religion needs to not be the focus of the novel (no Bible quotes, no religion-as-answer to plot problems)-- in fact, it has to be downplayed to the extent that a religious publisher wouldn't really want the book. You'll need to decide which market you're in and query accordingly.

Dan Ritchie said...

I've seen people take away everything someone owns and laugh about it, and that was the people who are supposed to be the good guys, so I wonder if there's any "care" left out there. What makes someone care these days? I really don't know. Popular entertainment is running up to somebody and shooting them in the head with a shotgun unless the other guy has a bigger gun. Not trying to be rhetorical. I'm really wondering.

Anonymous Author said...

I'm sorry if you didn't find my remarks helpful. I spent quite a while thinking about them, not to entertain myself or anyone else but in hopes of trying to get across what I've learned in many years in this business.

I won't trouble you with them again. But I should warn you; writing isn't a kind business. It isn't a good place to be with a thin skin. There is an absolute lack of warm fuzzies to be had. Even if you get past the rejections, you get bad reviews. And I don't mean "you". I mean all of us.

Dan Ritchie said...

I'm sorry. My comments weren't meant as a reflection on your helpful comments. Not at all. I surely didn't mean any offense. Actually, I did find your comments helpful and have made a few changes, but I am stumped.

Between posts, I watched as some fellows were kicked out of a eating establishment for asking for some help.

My question was sincere. What makes a person "care" these days. I don't know. Say I've been living under a rock for the last 10 years.

Really, really. Please help.

Anonymous Author said...

Okay, sorry. Rereading, I see I overreacted. I took your comment to mean that you were accusing me of taking everything you owned and laughing about it. But now I see that was not what you were saying; my apologies.

But I've never seen that used as entertainment and can't imagine what you're talking about. I can't share that bleak view of humanity. Most people try to help other people.

Robert Coles, the researcher on children's ethics, says in one of his books that caring happens when we see Us instead of Them.

So, we need to see the character as someone we can identify with, someone who's Us in some essential way. Then we care if he's threatened and care more if he deals with it bravely.

Now, don't take offense, but there're a few barriers in place to seeing your MC as Us. One is, he's a squirrel. As we discussed before, you can certainly get around that, but it is a barrier; you have to do extra work to make a squirrel Us. Another is, he's got this mating thing going on: for most middle graders, that's not a primary concern, and many are likely to look at the whole topic as funny or gross. (I've put romance in my books, but it's never happening to the main characters, who tend to view it with tolerant amusement, and it's mostly off-stage. Not to say you should do what I do, of course. But do be conscious of your audience.)

A third, and this may be the one you need to think about most, is that the inside of his head sounds like a very sad place, and that needs to be counter-balanced in some way, with courage or humor or something. Humor would be great. Everyone loves to laugh. And it's an important coping tool too.

Do read some recent middle grades fiction with Caring in mind. Do you care about the character? When do you start caring? Why? If you don't care, why not? Buy used copies of the books that you can underline and mark up. (I've done this many times.)

Take Harry Potter. We care about him at first because he's an orphan, and abused. This is good (caring-wise), but it can only take him so far. Then in chapter two we find out that, in spite of his troubles, he's got a mouth on him, and a sense of humor, and he fights back. That's when we really start rooting for him.

Rick Daley said...

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is another good one. Gives me severe allergy attacks ;-)

I think most people do care deeply about others. It's easy to be cynical watching the news, especially if you follow political discourse, but that's not representative of the way most people interact.

Dan Ritchie said...

I haven't read the first harry potter book. I read the 3rd one and sadly was put off by the ending, quite a bit. I like rats. The time travel stuff was fun though.

I do recall seeing the Sorcerers Stone film and the one part I identified with was when Harry found out he had something under Christmas tree. "I have presents?" Somebody actually cared enough to think about him and give him something.

Books I could note relating to. Mr. Frisby (and the Rats of NIMH) showing courage mixed with vulnerability when it seemed like everyone else in the story was either super intelligent, or just big and mean. A mouse in a mans world, rising none-the-less to the challenge.

My dad once said he related to Shrek and Forest Gump. I must have inherited it.

Draconium said...

a great example of a mid-grade book, about animals, with a love affair at the center of it, is a book called The Wainscott Weasel. It's not to be missed.

The biggest issue i had with this was, i have a really hard time envisioning a world where squirrels organize controlled burns of the forest. (they're size alone seems a huge issue with that image, also they'd need special tools...it seems way to problematic). It begs the question, why are they squirrels? which is not what you want me to be asking. I'm all for books about animals, but their animal nature needs to be taken into account.

I also agree with the AA and his/her observations about clinical nature of the language regarding mating. I think this also extends to behavior. "Chaotic dance of behavior"? is that in silver's own voice, does he look down on his own kind? Does "fit of spring fever." mean she's too lusty for only one man?

Lastly i have a few technical notes: Nix the "(and up)" is not professional, and this is clearly not a YA book. I read Mid grade sometimes, but even when an adult reads a mid grade book, it's still a mid grade book. Be proud. Also, put the title and the word count at the end, and i'd strongly advise you to take out, "talking animal story," because that's not a genre and we could assume,considering all the characters are wild life creatures. If you must, at least say "anthropomorphic", but even that i think is unnecessary.

Good luck,

Dan Ritchie said...

Squirrels plant the trees, live by them, and may ultimately destroy them, but even Silver Squirrel is amazed by what their leaders are up to when they burn down his home.

The Crucible of Silver is a Y/A anthropomorphic novel completed at 70,000 words.

Nobody cares if Silver Squirrel lives or dies, but he's got a heart, and a broken one at that.

He's lost everything. Now he has to join the squirrel community in their chaotic dance of behavior, if he wants to survive.

A hawk has her eye on him, and some hungry ermine are on the hunt as well. Things would be terribly bleak if it wasn't for his friends the crows who make their own special kind of chaos, and of course Sandy Brown, a female he's taken a liking to.

Sandy's mother is one of the squirrel leaders, the very ones who orchestrated this "controlled" burn, so things are pretty complicated.

Having a girlfriend can get a little hairy too. She's just like her mother, smart and in control, though she dreams at night of prowling weasel skeletons.

Silver won't give up. He's determined to forgive the ones who hurt him so badly, save them from the predators, and maybe just win Sandy as his own. His plan is doomed to disaster, but that's the way his life is. The hawk plans on teaching her mate a lesson, and Silver is the pawn in the game. Yet, Silver has faith that good can somehow come out of all this disaster.