Jul 30, 2009

Query: FERRIS' BLUFF a thriller

Click here to read revision #2.

Hi everyone,

I've been lurking on the site for some time and unashamedly using the samples and crits to work on my own query.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Ace Evans is on the run. He’s hiding from the Witness Protection Program, vengeful international criminals, and his own horrific nightmares. After two wary and lonesome years on the road he risks a visit with his old friend, Granville Tubbs, in sleepy Ferris’ Bluff, Arkansas.

Tubbs is in a coma…so much for a quick visit; and it turns out he’s being kept a virtual prisoner by the lawyer, Tremont. Ace decides to stick around for a few days to see what he can do to help his old friend and maybe figure out what the heck is going on.

Ace can’t help but make friends in Ferris’ Bluff. The quirky townsfolk are honest and open, if a bit gossipy. Okay, real gossipy--and the word is there are hundreds of acres of mineral rights deeds in Tubbs’ estate.

Ace can’t help but make some enemies too. He’s doggedly trying to stay true to his alias and that’s damn hard to do since he’s taking on the crooked lawyer and his scheming wife, their hired gun, and the town tough guy, a psycho named Pink.

He’s also attracted to the pretty widow, Annie. Ace tries to deny it, but her humor and determination give him hope. He comes to realize he’s found a place to stay, that he might find love again, and it’s worth fighting for. Tremont’s pissed off and on the defensive. The hired guns are hiding in the hills plotting mischief. Nothing a former Navy SEAL/ undercover operative can’t handle; but can he do it without revealing his true identity?

Then an earnest young US Marshal shows up. He’s got some disturbing news. The Russians are already sniffing around. Okay, what else could go wrong?

Well, Pink goes on a rampage, murdering one of Ace’s new friends, revenge for an ill advised prank involving a garden hose and Tremont’s drunken wife. Ace discovers that Annie’s husband’s fatal accident that left her daughter paralyzed was no accident. Tremont appears to have stolen one of Tubbs mineral deeds and they’ve discovered gas on the property. Tubbs comes out of his coma, drawing the Russians closer by using Ace’s real name. That’s what could go wrong. The cops aren’t making much progress. How can he make things right?

Ace comes up with a plan to turn the tables on Tremont and the Russians while keeping his alias intact. With a little forgery, a little larceny, and a little help from his new friends… it almost works. Good thing the junior G-man sticks around!

FERRIS’ BLUFF is a 96K word thriller that would also be at home on the romantic suspense shelves. The story is written as a stand alone novel, but there are a bunch of bad guys out there still gunning for Ace.

Thank you for taking a look. My contact information is listed below. I sincerely hope to hear from you.

I'll be happy to post some pages if anyone wants to see them, and thanks in advance for your comments!



froggfeathers said...

Hi Fred -

The first problem here, and it is a deal breaker, is that your query is MUCH too long. Go to Query Shark and read today's post, query #124. Ms. Reid loved that query and it was only 130 words long.

Break this down into who your book is about, what is the catalyst event for your story, why is there a sense of urgency and what does everyone have to lose if your MC fails.

Aside from that, your fist couple sentences are good. It starts to stray as soon as he visits an old friend. From that point on, you have too many details that we don't need.

Hope that helps and good luck.


Barb said...

As frogg said, the length is the major issue here. You also might want to look at the number of sentences you have starting with Ace, especially where you have two close together that start "Ace can't help but".

Like your voice and the story line.

Also: The first thing I thought of was Ferris Bueller, which might not be a good thing.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

What a delightful story premise! I like this a lot, but it is way too long. I started getting antsy by the third graph. One thing you can do is tighten. Phrases like "can't help but," "decides to," "figure out what the heck," "if a bit," "appears to," "comes to realize," etc. take up too much territory. You want crisp, active sentences.
Here's a biggie: What exactly is the main plot here? I never see it clearly defined.
Good luck. I like your voice in this.

David Kazzie said...


I hope that you appreciate some tough love, because I think a lot of tightening is in order. First, I don't have a clear sense of the story is about. And then to continue:

1. I have a problem with the name "Ace". It seems a little cliched. Ditto for "international criminals".

2. I don't know how you hide from the WPP. Isn't the point of WPP to hide you? Also, isn't visiting a friend like in the top five no-nos they tell you about in the Witness Protection orientation?

3. the semi-colon in graf 2 is not grammatically correct. there are a number of typos in this letter.

4. the "honest and open quirky townspeople" seems very cliched.

5. "hundreds of acres of mineral rights deeds" is confusing. do you mean Tubbs owns hundreds of acres of land to which he holds the mineral rights? You have to be careful and specific when talking about land rights. Also, unless Tubbs is dead, the deeds belong to Tubbs, not the estate.

6. the fifth paragraph adds nothing to the query. is annie important to the story, or just a sideshow? (cleared up later, but at this point, her name just shows up). Also, what hired guns are you talking about? Tremont's? what mischief are they plotting? why are they hiding in the hills?

7. Is the U.S. marhsal there to find Ace and tell him about the Russians? Do the U.S. Marshals operate the WPP?

8. Is Pink in the story for some reason other than to cause unspecified trouble?

9. "The Russians" are a bit outdated as a general villain. Are we talking KGB? Russian mafia?

10. Tremont appears to have stolen one of Tubbs' deeds? Do you mean he forges a deed? Not sure what good a stolen deed does you if it has someone else's name on it. and what kind of gas? Gas as in gasoline? as in oil? or natural gas? this is in addition to the minerals?

And the conclusory paragraph worries me -- these additional bad guys still gunning for Ace -- you mean that don't show up in this book? or you've set up a sequel?

I think this needs to be trimmed down a lot to focus on Ace's quest -- what is it he wants to accomplish? And focus on the primary conflict. you seem to have a lot of parts in motion that don't line up.

Hope that helps. Hope I wasn't too harsh. I'd want brutal honesty, so I hope you do too.

Rick Daley said...

Hi Fred,

Thanks for participating, you're following the right path to get started on the long road toward publication.

I agree with Frogg that this is too long. It's more of a synopsis than a description of your story for a query.

The first sentence should be a compelling hook. "Ace Evans is on the run" is not enough. There are also other lements of the query that need to be brought to the front, such as his military background.

For example: Former Navy SEAL Ace Evans is willing to risk his life to help his friend.

I have several questions about the plot based on your descriptions:

- Why is he running from the Witness Protection Program? Are they not protecting him?

- Later when a US Marshall shows up, it seems that he gives Ace info. But the Marshalls run the Witness Protection Program, so should Ace be running from him?

- G-Man is slang for an FBI agent, I'm not familiar with it being attributed to a US Marshall.

- You mention "his own horrific nightmares" in the first paragraph, but then never provide info what causes them.

Try to summarize your story in a single sentence. Get to the core elements: the protagonist (Ace), the primary antagonist (his past? the Russians? Tremont?), and what's at stake should he fail.

Anonymous said...

The query letter needs work, but it sounds like a helluva story. I would maybe give some background on why Ace is hiding from the Russians and WPP, and cut out some of the smaller details like the garden hose incident. I agree that the name Ace is a little cliched especially when there seems to be a lot of originality in the story.

how much trouble is Ace in to be on the run?
do they want to catch him or kill him?
Why is his friend so important that he visits?

I think an agent might look past the query because the story has so much potential but you should try and use all the resources on the web to perfect the query.

Suzan Harden said...

Fred, your ms sounds like a fun story. Just a couple of things to add to what everyone else has said.

Any agent or editor who reads this query will be concerned the ms meanders and is unfocused as well. Take a good hard look at the ms.

You mention quit a few subplots in your query--I count six in addition to what I think is the main plot. It's very hard to tie so many plot threads together to a satisfying conclusion. Again, be brutal with your ms.

Lastly, focus on one, and only one genre/subgenre in your query. The romance would need equal or more prominent treatment for this ms (as described) to be considered romantic suspense. 'Thriller' connotates a scarier, more high-stakes experience than you describe.

Personally, I loved your title. It sounds like a madcap misadventure-type read.

Best wishes!

gj said...

Sounds great, but, as others have said, much too long.

Also, lose the mention of romantic suspense. The romance would have to be MUCH more prominent, so the line comes across as being ignorant of the market, which won't necessarily kill the agent's interst, but isn't going to help you.

Fred Limberg said...


Thank you very much for your comments. It's going to take a bit to digest them all and do some revising, but there's some good advice in there.

Froggy, I'll be checking out the 130 word query, but that ain't happenin' here! Your breakdown list is excellent.

Barb, good eye, I didn't see how many times Ace started a sentence.

Everyone who was bothered by the MC's name. Ace is critical to the story, that's his nickname, deal with it.

Tricia, I was trying to get a sort of homey feel in the way I structured some of the sentences and word choices. This is actually pared down from an earlier version. Maybe too much? I don't know yet.

David, Bring the love brother... the WPP is indeed administered by the Marshal Service, and the reason for Ace's distrust is a critical part of the story---but obviously not well presented YET in the query.

Yeah, the hiding and plotting is not done right.

Hey, the townspeople ARE quirky. Maybe I should post a few pages.

Rick D, Synopsis? Eh? Have to think about that. The battle between telling the story and telling things ABOUT the story rages on. Thx for pointing out that the nightmares go unexplained (I missed that). The G-man reference might be another of my attempts at being cute crashing and burning.

Anon 2:11, I'm going to tell you why Ace is on the run but you have to wait for me to post the revision.

Sue, The MS doesn't meander, you have to trust me on this. But does the query meander? I'll have to look hard at that. I don't get the 6 subplots being described at all.

And for both Sue and gj, I debated putting in the line about Ferris' Bluff being at home on the romantic suspense shelf as well as being a thriller. As the story unfolds Ace and Annie are drawn together in what more than one reviewer described as a smoldering romance inside a thriller. While not the MC, Annie is very prominent, and the major subplot of the story is that they heal each other as they confront all the baddies and are finally able to have a chance at a life together. Now to me, that says romance, and the fact that it isn't at all assured until the last couple of pages is a bit suspenseful.

You are probably right, but how am I supposed to let the agent know that this book will have a tremendous appeal to women readers, that it's not just a shoot em up (though there's plenty of that).

And all in 130 words! Ha Ha!

Thank you all again for your thoughts. You guys (and gals)are pretty good at this.


Unknown said...

I think you have a great concept and a book I'd enjoy reading - BUT you must cut it down (as you've heard already).

Try to keep the simple three in mind (it's hard but I've been doing this all week, so trust me, I know)


Deliver the hook, tell us about the book then tell us about you.

Short and sweet.

Good luck!


Fred Limberg said...


Could someone let me know the correct way to post a revision. Do you go to the "post queries here" thread and start over or do you paste the revision inline?



Rick Daley said...

Hi Fred,

You can post a revision just like your first query. If you include the revision number for the subject line it is helpful for me.