May 11, 2011

QUERY: LIQUID SMOKE

Dear Fantastic Agent,

When the eight-year-old daughter of Danny Reece was forcibly taken by agent Rick Delaruse, Danny had no choice but to submit to the government and pray for the collapse of the secret program she was enlisted in.

Thirteen years later, Jenna Reece is living the happy life of a college student and has no recollection of the six month long government program. When she is attacked on campus, agent Delaruse pays a visit to Danny with alarming news. The twelve children who were enrolled in the program thirteen years earlier are turning up dead in the order they were inducted.

With his grown daughter next in line on the short list of a serial killer, Danny Reece teams up with his long-standing enemy, agent Rick Delaruse, to uncover the truth behind the government program his daughter participated in as a child. When the inner workings of Liquid Smoke are finally revealed, Danny has a decision to make: let his daughter die by the hands of a stranger...or kill her himself.

Liquid Smoke is a 70,000-word psychological thriller. Thank you for your consideration.


Cordially,
My name here

13 comments:

Rick Daley said...

I would totally read this. Nice succinct query, and one hell of a conflict for the MC!

Jordan McCollum said...

This does sound like an intriguing set up—lots of thriller hotspots. The broad strokes are definitely there: clear plot movement, high stakes, the character's choice.

So this feedback is a little nitpicky. You could probably get requests with the query as-is, but we want your writing to shine, too (in the query and the novel!).

The passive in the very first clause is a little worrisome, though. Why not: "When Agent Rick Delaruse forcibly takes Danny Reece's eight-year-old daughter . . ."? You might also look to eliminate the passive in the second clause: "When Agent Rick Delaruse forcibly takes Danny Reece's eight-year-old daughter for a secret government program . . ."

In fact, there seems to be a pattern in the verbs, either passive or progressive: "was . . . taken," "was enlisted," "is living," "is attacked," "were enrolled," "are turning up," "were inducted," "are . . . revealed." Naturally, some of the verbs will be passive because we don't want to give away who attacks her or reveals the conclusion, but be careful.

There are a lot of numbers, too. Maybe change the last sentence in the second paragraph: "The children from the program are turning up dead . . ."

Also, maybe consider "With his grown daughter next on a serial killer's short list . . ."

Your conclusion, however, is awesome. Bump up the power in some of those earlier verbs and I think this is going to work well for you. I want to read this, too. Good luck!

Lydia Kurnia said...

This query is absolutely awesome, I can already feel the kind of nightmare you put these poor characters in. Love the twist in the middle when he ends up teaming up with his enemy and the final decision he has to make is the worst possible horror one can ever be in!

I’m terrified to make suggestions, because I think this is powerful as it is. I do think that there are sentences you could simplify to give it more punch. The opening line, for example, could be shortened to “When Danny Reece’s eight-year-old daughter was snatched by agent Rick Delaruse…” (I do like that Danny comes before the agent, because he’s the main character), and other places where the flow could be mixed up a little.

I also echo Jordan, to watch out for passive and progressive sentences and agree with the suggestions already made.
The last bit “With his grown daughter next in line on the short list of a serial killer…” perhaps you could remove the ‘grown’ since you already mentioned it’s thirteen years later.

Other than that, you’ve got a winner here. Very well done.

yankinfrance said...

Can't jump aboard the train here. I found the query needlessly confusing. The shifting back and forth among the characters led to a lot of pronoun confusion for me.

Not to mention that "forcibly" and "enlisted" seem to be contradictory.

The premise of the story seems interesting enough -- but the execution of the query makes me wonder. I feel you're too heavily involved in your manuscript. Take a step back and try to look at the story through the eyes of someone who knows nothing at all about it.

Why not start with something simple, like:

"Danny Reece's eight-year-old daughter Jenna was one of 12 children inducted into a secret government program called Liquid Smoke. Now, 13 years later, someone has been killing the Liquid Smoke children... "

Well, you get the idea.

Anonymous Author said...

I see the potential for an interesting novel here, but the query's getting in the way of it.

Don't mention the agent's name in the first graf, or else rename him. The two names starting with D and R are confusing. I also thought "Danny" and "she" were the same person, since it's more likely for an adult to be enlisted than a child. IOW, you've got three characters introduced all at once; make sure we can tell who's who.

I also don't care for seeing the character, in the first graf, having "no choice". A character who has no choice to make is too passive.

Next graf-- why has the agent changed sides?

Next graf-- Who's killing the kids, a serial killer or the govt? Since the choice you present us with at the end is so shocking, you need to give us some support for it. If I think about it, I can guess that the serial killer is someone who's trying to defuse the results of whatever the govt's done to these kids, turned them into programmed biological-warfare timebombs or whatever.

But you need to make it a little clearer, because I've already spent more time thinking about this than an agent will.

Anonymous Author said...

This seems much better. I think it's a go. The past tense in the first graf feels a little odd, but I don't really see any way around it.

Jordan McCollum said...

Argh. Blogger ate my comment from yesterday. It was great. let's see if I can reconstruct it.

Okay, this is a good query and the story sounds really intriguing. You'll probably get requests with this. But there are a few nitpicky points I'm going to hit here, to help your query (and maybe your book) GLEAM.

The passive in the first sentence is a little off putting. Maybe something along the lines of: "[descriptor] Danny Reece had no choice but to submit to the government when [Special] Agent Rick Delaruse forcibly took his/Danny's eight-year-old daughter. After six months, Danny's prayers are answered when the secret program holding his daughter collapses."

There are a lot of passive or progressive verbs through here, too: "was taken," "was enlisted," "is living," "is attacked," "were enrolled," "are turning up," "were inducted," "are revealed." Obviously we don't want to reveal who the bad guy is, but when it's not absolutely vital, these periphrastic tenses weigh the prose down.

Also, at the end of the second paragraph, it feels like we have too many numbers. Maybe just: "The children from the program are . . ."

In all, though, you have the big stuff done well: we see the stakes and the character's choice, and I want to know more! Good luck with this!

Anonymous said...

(yankinfrance here, Blogger refuses to recognize my login):

Yep, better but still… a few suggestions (well, okay, a rewrite ;-) …

"When Danny Reece's eight-year-old daughter is forcibly inducted into Liquid Smoke, a secret government program, Danny has no choice but to submit."

(This places the focus on Danny -- there's just no need for the Rick Delaruse information here. We also don't need to know that Danny is "praying for the collapse" because, for one, praying makes him too passive, and for another, presumably the program does not collapse -- otherwise, where's the conflict? Also : notice that I am keeping the query in the present tense.)

"Thirteen years later, the 12 Liquid Smoke children start turning up dead -- and Jenna Reece is next on the list."

(Again, it’s not important right now that Jenna remembers or not, it doesn’t matter if she’s in college, it doesn’t matter that she’s attacked on campus, it doesn’t matter how long Liquid Smoke lasted – the focus of the query is on Danny Reece, not her. No need, either, to bring Rick into the query here – it doesn’t matter that he comes to Danny, and obviously the news that his daughter is being hunted by a killer would be somewhat “alarming.” Keep the focus on Danny. Also, I feel there’s no need to explain the workings of the list – that the kids are being killed in the order in which they were inducted -- since presumably this information is in the novel.)

“Now Danny Reece must team up with his sworn enemy, Rick Delaruse, one of the government agents behind Liquid Smoke, to track down the killer and stop him before it’s too late. But when Danny discovers the truth behind Liquid Smoke, he must make the toughest decision of all : let Jenna die at the hands of the killer – or kill her himself. “

(I think it's worth the risk not fully explaining why Rick is Danny's sworn enemy -- the fact that he was involved in the program ought to be enough. I’ve also eliminated a lot of the redundancy in your third paragraph – we already know Liquid Smoke is a government program, we know Jenna is Danny’s daughter, and that she ‘participated’ in the program, and she was a child -- no need to repeat any of this. See how many words you save?

(I also question the concept of a serial killer – which turns this into a whole different novel, since serial killers act from a far different place than someone involved in a government program. But if this IS a serial killer story, then this can be included simply enough “ Thirteen years later a serial killer has been murdering the 12 Liquid Smoke children – and Jenna Reece is next on the list”)

Let’s put it all together:

“When Danny Reece's eight-year-old daughter is forcibly inducted into Liquid Smoke, a secret government program, Danny has no choice but to submit. Thirteen years later, the 12 Liquid Smoke children start turning up dead -- and Jenna Reece is next on the list.

Now Danny must team up with his sworn enemy Rick Delaruse, one of the government agents behind Liquid Smoke, to track down the killer and stop him before it’s too late. But when Danny discovers the truth behind Liquid Smoke, he must make the toughest decision of all : let Jenna die at the hands of the killer – or kill her himself. “

This gives you two quick paragraphs, with just 107 words – plenty of room left to add your introductory paragraph and your biographical paragraph at the end and still stay within the 250 word limit.

I’d also suggest you read through the manuscript again, searching for similar issues – redundancies, passive voice (there’s nothing wrong with the “ is – verb” construction, that is not passive voice), and problems with focus. I’m not saying they’re there – query writing is not the same as novel writing. But just in case.

Anonymous said...

Dammit, Blogger lost my comment too. Not to mention it usually refuses to allow me to login and comment. Grrr. Yes, yankinfrance here…

Anyway, I originally presented an ‘alternative’ revision of the query, complete with explanation for the choices I made. Here’s approximately the direction I suggested for the revision in my lost comment:

“When Danny Reece’s eight-year-old daughter is forcibly inducted into a secret government program known as Liquid Smoke, Danny has no choice but to submit. Thirteen years later the 12 Liquid Smoke children have started turning up dead – and Jenna Reece is next on the list.

Now Danny must work with his sworn enemy Rick Delaruse, a former agent with the Liquid Smoke program, to stop the killer before it is too late. But when Danny learns the truth behind Liquid Smoke he must make the toughest choice of all: let his daughter be killed – or kill her himself.”

This gets you down to just two tight paragraphs with only 100 words or so – plenty of room left for your introductory paragraph and biography blurb.

As you can see, I did away with (what I felt were) the superfluous information and redundancies of your query. I also shifted the focus of the query entirely on Danny. Where it belongs.

I had a quibble with the ‘serial’ killer bit – a serial killer works from very different motivations than someone who, for example, is trying to eliminate traces of a government program. But, if this is indeed a serial killer at work, then an alternate line could be: “Thirteen years later, a serial killer has begun murdering the Liquid Smoke children – and Jenna Reece might be next on his list.”

I hope my offering this revision isn’t too presumptuous. I find that critiquing other people’s queries is helping me with my own query (which I may or may not one day present for your consideration…), and I like the premise of the story of your novel. It just seems to me that the real query is still struggling to get out.

Anonymous Author said...

I just wanna say something about the Search for the Perfect Query.

I recently found myself in need of a new agent. So I wrote a query that was, IMHO, not great. It described my latest manuscript in two brief paragraphs. I could have done better. But real life was making a lot of demands just then, so I sent it out as is. It garnered many requests. Two weeks later I had an agent-- one of the agents I had particularly wanted.

Granted, I wasn't a noob trying to break in... but in some ways a noob has a better chance. The point is, the query's only job is to get requests. And if it gets them, it's good enough. There's no need to spend weeks and months honing the query to perfection... that's what you want to do with your manuscript.

/soapbox

PS-- This isn't meant to diss anybody's suggestions. They're all good suggestions.

Anonymous said...

yankinfrance again…

That's an interesting take, AA, although I have to believe your track record helped smooth the way considerably. And also that your experience as a writer enables you to write a good or even 'good enough' query more quickly that others.

I've been writing a long time, I even make my living at it. But writing queries had always escaped me. Until I learned to embrace the experience (thanks in large part to Query Shark).

My own personal feeling is that the query is a first window into a manuscript, but also into a prospective's author's future.

And if the query is confusing, unfocused, full of redundancies and non-essential information, what does that say about the manuscript?

If nothing else, I spend two, three years and even more writing my novels (I write literature, it’d be different if I wrote in another genre, of course), so spending an extra couple of weeks thinking about and working on a query just makes sense to me. Especially since I’ve discovered that the query writing process is complementary to the novel writing process – being forced to distill 90,000 words into less than 250 really forces me to see my novel in a far different light.

I’d be interested to see this writer experiment: send this iteration of the query to one group of agents, send a further revision to another group. Of course, it remains a subjective thing: I imagine plenty of agents really look for the story first (and this one’s pretty good) and aren’t too fussy about the actual language.

Anyway, please don't take any of this as a rebuke, AA -- I really appreciate reading your comments and criticisms here.

Anonymous Author said...

Yank, I agree that if the query is confusing, unfocused, and full of redundancies and non-essential information, it's unlikely to get requests from anyone except fake agents who have a "special relationship" with a vanity publisher.

And many of the queries that show up here, at least in their first version, match that description to a T.

I think this query is good enough, though. I think it will get requests from agents who are looking for this type of novel. It will get form rejections from agents who don't rep thrillers, don't like the premise, or are in a rotten mood. But it'd get those rejections anyway. Sure, it could undoubtedly be better; particularly the first paragraph. I just don't think writing it any better would change the outcome.

The query that we lavish all this attention on spends less than a minute in front of the agent's eyes.

One further thing I'd like to say on the subject... there's a lot of attention given on the writing blogs to getting "multiple offers". Multiple offers from publishers is cool, because it might start a bidding war. But multiple offers from agents is fairly pointless. They all offer the same terms: 15%. What you really need to know is how they are to work with, and you won't know that till you work with them.

I've never been good at queries myself.

glj said...

I think Yankinfrance has done a terrific job of condensing this down to a clear, concise, and terrific query. He adds info that was missing (or out of place) in the query (i.e., what kind of agent Delaruse is, putting "Liquid Smoke" up front, etc.).