Apr 18, 2011

QUERY- THE ODD I SEE, Third Revision

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

(Grabbed a fistful of form rejections on the last version. Let's try this again!)

Dear Dream Agent,

After a falling out with her favorite hallucination, a half-assed stay in the loony bin, and a rather rude entrance into the “real world” by way of college graduation, Fiona wants to know why she ought to bother existing.

THE ODD I SEE is a coming of age story for the sort of person who staunchly refuses to come of age. One part heartfelt love letter, one part memory-laced suicide note, and one part metafictional choose-your-own-adventure-style romp, THE ODD I SEE is a 71,000-word work of quirky literary fiction with a speculative twist.

Twenty-two year old Fiona (or “Fifi” to everyone but her mother) works an underachiever’s dream job while struggling to reconcile her questionably sane worldview with recession-era middle-class American living. 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, her real-life boyfriend (whom she met while having an adventure in the art of pretending to be a prostitute) seems a solid case for divine intervention in a world Fifi deems just shy of apocalypse. Unsure of her continued interest in the business of existence, she uses blue (and sometimes black) humor to systematically reason her way through the meaning of life and into a decision about whether the act of living is worth the effort.

Written for and by someone who graduated with a liberal arts degree in the late 2000’s, THE ODD I SEE will appeal to any reader who has ever questioned the status quo.

(Brief paragraph of personalization.) Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best,
Bre Kidman

8 comments:

Anonymous Author said...

The first two paragraphs tell nothing about the story. I'd lose them.

The third paragraph does tell about the story. I'd start with that. I'm not sure what blue humor is, and a character who's seriously contemplating suicide is a little dicey, so I'd emphasize the conflict with the boyfriends more. They raise questions which you don't answer. (Esp the "maybe-imaginary" one.) Also, what's an underachiever's dream job? Working at Starbucks? You should say.

People who graduated with liberal arts degrees between 2006 and 2009 are a minority of the book-buying public, so perhaps you shouldn't limit yourself quite that much.

(Indeed, they are a minority among readers who have ever questioned the status quo, too.)

Bre said...

Thanks much for the feedback, Anonymous. I feel like the first paragraph IS a good chunk of the story (girl falls out with hallucination/maybe-imaginary vampire, girl goes to loony bin, girl graduates college and wants to know what the point is) but I'm not sure how to phrase it in a more illustrative way. The second paragraph is an attempt to establish genre, though I agree that it's long-winded.

I'll definitely stick call center rep in there instead of the cryptic "underachiever's dream job", but the conflict with the boyfriends is really kind of a side-plot. The contemplation of suicide versus the effort required to continue living is the central issue at hand. Everything else is kind of tidbits in the "pro" and "con" piles.

I guess folks around my age are a book-buying minority, but it's kind of a book made to address post-grad ennui. I'll keep hammering at it, though. Thanks again!

gj said...

You're trying too hard to be witty, and instead just coming across as confusing.

Look at the first sentence, which is emblematic of this problem:

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Okay, now pull it apart, phrase by phrase, the way a reader will, who hasn't actually read the book:

"After a falling-out with her favorite hallucination"

All that does is establish she's quirky. Or maybe just truly insane. It doesn't create a picture, because I don't know what her favorite hallucination is, and I don't know how they fell out. It's pretty much meaningless to anyone who hasn't read the book already.

Complicating that problem, I sort of expect a descritpion of "her favorite hallucination" to follow that phrase, so I'm expecting the next words to be the description of her hallucination, and instead I get "a half-assed stay in the loony bin." Since I'm predisposed to think that phrase will explain the hallucination, it makes me stop and go back to see if I missed anything, or if staying in the loony bin is a hallucination, and how she could have a falling-out with a "stay." By the time I realize that this is another event, not an explanation of the first event, the flow is ruined. Plus, this phrase has the same problems as the first one: it establishes that she's quirky, but it doesn't give me an image to go with that, because I don't know how a half-asssed stay in the loony bin is any different from a full-assed (or any other adjective) stay in the loony bin.

The next phrase has the same problem -- it establishes quirky (which is already more than sufficiently established), but doesn't create any image for the reader. There are many rude introductions to the real world, and I don't have any idea which one the character experienced.

So, to this point, I know exactly one thing: she's quirky. Period. Oh, and she went to college. That's it. I don't know what she wants, I don't know why she can't have what she wants. I don't know what she's doing to accomplish her goal. And I don't know who's getting in her way or what the stakes are. You wouldn't hit all of them in the first paragraph, but here I don't know ANY element of the story.

And then we finally get to the last phrase, which is presumably trying to establish her story goal: she wants to know whether to bother to continue existing.

Again, it's trying too hard to be quirky, so it doesn't do anything EXCEPT be quirky. It's not really a goal that works for a story. It's a sitting and thinking goal (unless you show us otherwise).

Simplify it. Don't try to impress us. Just tell the story. The proagonist had just graduated from college, and her imaginary friend -- a six-foot blue rabbit -- has announced that unless she gets a job in retail for the rest of her life, he's oging to abandon her. She tries to work retail, but it only gets her locked up in a loony bin, because she tried to introduce a customer to her imaginary friend. So, she DOES SOMETHING, and the antagonist is doing other things, until some crisis is reached, when she is tempted to commit suicide.

That's obviously not your story, but it IS a story. I can't get anything except "wuirky character does quirky things against the backdrop of dark thoughts" out of your query.

Simplify.

Anonymous Author said...

I meant no aspersion on your generation, of course. But you shouldn't say, as you do in your query, that you're writing for them. You should try to write for a larger audience. Publishers and agents think in terms of sales.

Your whole query tends toward an attempt to write beautifully rather than clearly. Clearly is the way to go. Say what you have to say so that there's nothing that has to be explained to a querulous questioner like me.

Btw, you may not want to mention your age or your degree at all, unless the agent specifically asks for personal details. (I know when I was a teenager, I put my age in my queries thinking it was an asset. To editors, it wasn't.)

Bre said...

gj:

THANK YOU. It's often really difficult to look at this book as anything other than the book I've been staring at nonstop. It's way helpful to see what doesn't catch from someone else's perspective.

Anonymous:

No offense taken. We're lazy. I only include my age because I feel like it qualifies me to write the book, but you raise a good point.

Mary Kate Leahy said...

1) If you want to keep the second paragraph, or one similar to it, I would put it at the end of the letter. As it stands now the query goes attempt to tell story -break for interlude about how to market it-resume attempt to tell story.
2) As stated previously I would get rid of the liberal arts degree 2000's audience reference. I think it limits you. Instead I would maybe say my book is a cross between X and Y (whatever two books it is a cross between). Let the agent see how they can sell it.
3) The whole first paragraph says a lot of things but tells us very little, as previously stated. I think what you were going for is to grab attention which is why you put in all the different elements, which is a good thing. But instead of doing it that way maybe you could quote your own ms? Use a sentence from the book that really captures the essence of Fiona's struggle.
4) I was surprised to find that the battle of the boyfriends was subplot when you commented that because a good chunk of the letter is about it (not a huge amount but it is a short letter) and if that isn't the main plot maybe it shouldn't be in there. For example : The Grapes of Wrath is a story about dust bowl era farmers migrating to California. That is the kind of sentence you would find in a pitch. Not : Rosie (is her name Rosie, God I haven't read GOW in forever ....well you know the young woman who is married and pregnant) ... Rosie is abandoned by her husband while pregnant. I mean it is in the book, but it is a subplot. So maybe your query should focus more on what the main plot is, which seems to be her thoughts of suicide and her mental afflictions.

Bre said...

Thanks, Mary Kate.

The rearranging of paragraphs and date elimination sounds solid. Maybe a quote opener would work here... I'm having a lot of difficulty saying the things in the first paragraph concisely, but those things are the events that kind of set the stage for the book. I'll dig through and see if something fits :)

I use the boyfriends because they're tangible objects that function as even weight for either side of the "to be or not to be" equation and I feel like they give a better picture of the stakes than to simply say "She doesn't know if she's going to kill herself." I'm not sure how to illustrate without dragging too much crap into the description... or having too little! Such a delicate balance, but there must be a better way. Back to the drawing board.

Anonymous said...

Damn it, I wrote a long critique but Blogger lost it before it posted. And it won't let me login, so I have to post anonymously. Except I've been going by the handle yankinfrance...

A few points: Paragraph 2 is a no. It seems to me you haven't read the Query Shark archives. Do that first of all. It only takes a few days to read through all of it, but it will make writing the query infinitely easier.

My impression here is that this query is overwritten. There's just too much fluff, too much froth, too much ebulliance -- it's like having a beer poured too quickly: a lot of foam, not much beer. Is the entire novel like this?

The first paragraph for example. First off, it starts with not one, not two, but three dependent clauses -- all of which are overwritten. "Favorite hallucination," "half-assed stay" "loony bin" and "bother existing"... it just gets to be too much. Too much trying to be cute. Too much trying to sound clever.

If the entire novel is written this way, think about shelving it and moving onto the next one. Hard to swallow, I know, but it's a big part of the writing process.

I just figured out the pun behind "The Odd I see" ...."The Odyssey". Ick. The only possible way you could pull this off is if your novel is a comedy. And if this kind of word play happens everywhere. But from what you've presented here, it's not a comedy and you don't keep up the wordplay.

Anyway, ditch paragraph 1: it's set-up, therefore unneccessary. Get straight to the action, or at least the character (since this is literary fiction).

Paragraph 3 gets closer to the start of the query, although it quickly gets bogged down in a lot of strangeness. "Maybe imaginary vampire lover"? "Become part of a constellation if she kills herself"? "Art of pretending to be a prostitute"? "Business of existence"? "The act of living is worth the effort"?

Take a step back, take a deep breath. This is all just too much and shows nothing, nothing at all other than that you're uncomfortable with getting to the point.

Seriously, read the Query Shark archives. Focus on the essential story of your novel, the skeleton on which it all hangs. Start again from there.

And please, "Fifi" is the name of a pampered fluffy white poodle, not a person.