Feb 26, 2012

QUERY: A TEMPORARY CONVENIENCE

Life is frustrating for Beth Macdonald. As her attorney father says, a law degree would have yielded better employment opportunities than a Ph.D. in pre-modern Scottish history. Her mother declares Beth's moribund love life is due to her unwillingness to eat meat or to stop being such a pedantic wiseass. Then successful art dealer Dorie Campbell inexplicably rescues Beth from the world of temp work with an offer of lucrative, permanent employment. A day later, gorgeous, ├╝ber-rich Ted Bruce -- the Campbells' friend, accountant, and banker -- appears at the shop and quickly launches into ardent and confident pursuit.

Beth can't take solace in either development. At work, she faces confusing files, an IRS accountant telling her to quit, her father's Mob-family client asking for a favor, and lies from Dorie and her husband piling ever higher. Meanwhile, a friend emails Beth to report his former classmate Ted is a "Bad Boy" who may have an ulterior purpose (or three) for his sudden infatuation with her. Unfortunately, no one can find Dorie's previous assistant, a woman Ted once wooed.

The last time a Macdonald trusted the Bloody Campbells didn't work out that well. But running away wouldn't protect her or her family and would give the Campbells a pass. She knows she has to investigate–and resist the hot Mr. Bruce who might be part of the Campbells' schemes, if schemes there be. The last bit will be harder.

A TEMPORARY CONVENIENCE, a 104,000-word mystery full of sarcasm, Scotch, sexual obsession, and a bit of Shakespeare, is able to stand alone but intended as part of a trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

14 comments:

Rick Daley said...

I think you need to strip this back and focus on the main story. The first paragraph is like a character soup (Beth, her father, her mother, Dorie, and Ted are all introduced).

Reading through the other paragraphs, I am even more confused as to the primary story line, which you later describe as a mystery, and a scheme is mentioned almost off-handedly, but here is no real intrigue built into the query to make me want to know the answer to the mystery.

Try again, but focus on the main story in your novel. Sure there are great side characters, sub-plots, humorous situations, et al., but don't overload the query with them.

Irene Troy said...

I have to agree – this query is far too confusing. First, there are too many characters and it is difficult to figure out which character is the primary protagonist, always a bad sign. I’m sure there’s a plot somewhere within these paragraphs, but, at the moment, it is so hidden it is unlikely to be discovered. You need to sit quietly for a bit and try to distill down, in your own mind, the true essence of your story. You then take this essence – make it simple – and address your query to clearly and concisely show the story. If Beth is your main protagonist, then we need to know about her, not so much about the subordinate characters, at least not in the query. One other point I’ve learned from going through the query process myself, try to avoid expressions such as uber-rich, moribund and pedantic as well as any other “five-dollar” words you might use. I know these words make you sound educated and literate, but they also mark you as showing off and trying a bit too hard. The old expression of Keep It Simple (KSS) holds true in writing as it does in most everything else. Good luck!

Anonymous Author said...

Yes, you've got way too many words. Cut out all the extra-- but first, do the same to your novel.

Here's what seems essential in your query:

Beth Macdonald can't get a decent job, so she's doing temp work. Then an art dealer, Dorie Campbell, offers her well-paid employment. Then Ted, her employers' accountant, starts pursuing her romantically.

(One graf in, and there's no indication yet that this is a mystery.)


Beth is confused by the files
(Why?) and an IRS accountant is telling her to quit. (Why?) A mafioso is asking for a favor (What?) and Beth finds out Ted may have an ulterior motive for his interest in her. (What?) And the last woman who had Beth's job has gone missing. (Is this the mystery?)


Running away
(from what?) won't protect Beth or her family . (From what?) She knows she has to investigate. (What?)

If this is a mystery, tell us what the big question is. My vote is for "What happened to the last woman who held Beth's job?" but that's barely touched in the query.

As a former academic, I wondered why Beth wasn't pursuing academic jobs. And a PhD in Scottish history sounded funny to me, so I googled it-- turns out you can get that degree, in the UK.

(Rick, these new captcha things on blogger are awful.)

Anonymous said...

Rick, my comment got eaten again...

--AA

Anonymous said...

Hey, (popping over from AW)

I agree with Rick that there are too many characters in paragraph one. When you mentioned Dorie in the second paragraph, I had to re-read to remind myself who she was. I think also, and I hate to say it, you might want to dumb down the vocab a little bit, particularly in the first paragraph. Words like moribund and pedantic are fun but slow the reader down. It makes me worry that I'm going to need a dictionary at hand to get through the story. I have to say, I really liked the concluding para. And the plot you laid out in the second and third paras seemed really interesting. I think you just need to pare this down and bring it into focus and it will definitely work.

Diane said...

Thanks for your comments. This is a query I've been struggling with for some time. Obviously, I need to wrestle with it some more.

The mystery is not of the traditional "who done it" variety. The mystery is "did they do something, what the heck was it, and should I do anything about it."

I guess the difficulty is that I'm trying to show, rather than tell, what the character is like (overeducated, uses big words), the stakes for her (doesn't want to blow her first, and maybe last, chance at a good job), and what prompts her to investigate (a string of puzzling or suspicious occurences).

I'm finding it particularly hard to show why Beth is suspicious and decides to investigate. Any one thing isn't enough. It is the steady drip, drip, drip of cryptic records, bizarre comments, lies, etc. that make her think her boss might be covering something up -- although she doesn't know what that something might be until far into the book.

So the readers' confusion about my query (what's going on) is the same as my protag/narrator's LOL

Any ideas how to get all this across without telling, instead of showing? Which details arouse curiosity, and which do not?

In an earlier version of this query, I paid attention to just the business records. They've been trashed by Beth's predecessor, they make no sense when put back together again (cryptic, duplicative, inconsistent), they get taken from Beth and she's told "never mind" even though there's an IRS audit going on, etc. But then readers told me that records are boring...

Again, thanks for the input. And I stand ready for any ideas how to put this together.

Rick Daley said...

Anon- All comments should be published now, thanks for the heads up. I hate the captcha images too and have a heck of a time deciphering some of them, but blogger did that on its own, I didn't implement a change.

Rick Daley said...

Diane- Leave the bread crumb trail of clues for the manuscript, and maybe the synopsis. For the query, cut to the chase and explain what the mystery is. You may not need to provide the answer to the mystery (although you should consider it, if it helps sell the story), but you must lay the basic groundwork in a concise manner.

Diane said...

Good comments. I'll play around with this some more and see what I can come up with. Would a new version be posted on this thread or the general "submit a query" place?

Unfortunately, explaining the answers to all the assorted questions would make the query very long. I need to find a way to make the reader intrigued enough to want to know more without turning this into a four-page query.

So I'd have the room to explain maybe one thing: uncertainty over why she was hired, distrust of the hunky rich guy who's coming on very strong, the strange records, the IRS guy, the member of the reputed Mob family (who personally is honest), the way the Campbells are pulling Beth's parents into their web, her missing predecessor, the occupation of the supposedly unoccupied guesthouse, the absence of horses despite the fact the Campbells supposedly have a horse business, etc.

Which of these factors of the puzzle seem most intriguing to you guys? I figure I can't simply say, "A bunch of things happen that make her suspicious of her new boss and, for a number of reasons, she can't just quit or go to the authorities."

I was asked -- why she isn't pursuing academic jobs? Because her brilliant dissertation explored the lack of present-day importance for her field. Beth has this proclivity to pursue unwelcome truths and it always comes back and bites her in the ass.

There also isn't necessarily a job market in an esoteric academic field. (My daughter's getting a Ph.D. in Egyptology as we speak.)

I actually took a course in Scottish history (in the US -- first and maybe the last time it was ever offered). The last day we discussed, "Why should anyone study this?" No one, including the professor, could come up with an answer.

As far as the missing predecessor is concerned, Beth doesn't investigate this directly, but discovers her fate when looking into what turn out to be ongoing schemes of money laundering and consumer fraud. But she doesn't even figure out that money laundering and consumer fraud are occurring until well into the book. All she can see is that it looks like her boss is covering something up.

Anonymous Author said...

Rick, thanks for restoring my comments... :) Evil Editor mentioned s/he had turned off the new captchas somehow so I thought maybe there was an option or something... I don't know, can never figure anything out on the internets.

Diane, I agree with Rick. In fact, just tell, don't show.

And if the character is prone to sesquipedalian vocabulary, confine that strictly to her utterances.

Anonymous Author said...

Diane, reduce the whole manuscript to a single sentence, under 20 words long, and write the query about that.

Anything that doesn't go in that sentence is an extraneous detail. I would say that includes Beth's education.

Rick Daley said...

For a revision, please post it to the submissions thread like you did this query, and I'll put it up in a new post.

Anon's tip about the single sentence is spot on. When you take that approach, you start with the basic element and build on it. When you do the opposite, i.e. write a detailed synopsis and then try to whittle it down, you are guaranteed to leave open threads.

I'll look into the verification options and see if there are alternates to the captcha.

Diane said...

Once again, thanks everyone. This site is wonderful.

I've send in a new version, which I hope is less confusing to you all.

Anonymous Author said...

Diane, I peeked at your query in the queue-- you're likely to get fewer comments with each iteration, so you may want to make sure you've taken the time to go through and consider all of the advice you've gotten so far, and let the advice stew for a few days.