Oct 25, 2009

Query- Black Box Confessional

This is a query for my husband's book entitled Black Box Confessional.

Mr. Blah Blah
With Blah Blah Blah
1234 Street
New York, NY

Dear Mr. Blah Blah,

A paroled child rapist, a reporter and his father the town minister along with his best friend’s dad the Chief of Police, and an old Voodoo Witch make up five of the unsettling characters in my 108,000 word mystery/suspense novel Black Box Confessional.

For ten years in rural southeastern Kansas a dark truth has surrounded the deaths of two high school seniors found in a water logged truck at the lake on graduation morning. Dark secrets have always been the specialty of the town’s residents going back to the days of the Bloody Benders and the Dalton Gang. However, some secrets are too sinister to stay hidden.

Alex Mitchellson, an investigative reporter from Denver, has returned to his hometown for the first time in nearly ten years. The return is complicated by obligations, old romances, and the sudden death of his two friends. The most disturbing complication comes in the form of a tattered yellow envelope awaiting him in his hotel room. The letter, although very cryptic, warns him about the very lies that caused him to leave his home nearly a decade ago.

As more letters continue to arrive Alex is forced to faces his greatest fear; that there was more to his friend’s death. With the help of his high school girlfriend, and his last remaining friend, a social shut-in, together they raid police files, blackmail one person and seduce another all in the midst of have their every move watched by a dangerous outsider. Every piece of evidence points towards foul play and the possibility of a cover up, and an ever increasing danger for Alex.

Armed with the identity of the mysterious letter writer Alex takes the final step towards discovering what happened to his friends, and to unearth why they had been singled out. His questions are answered when he discovers the Chief of Police and his own father are at the root of a dark and sinister secret centered around the love the two boys shared. In a final confrontation Alex must make a dangerous choice to save himself or his friends from the hands of the two people he thought he could always trust.

I’m a graduate of Emporia State University, receiving a double bachelors in Theater and Journalism. While there I received many awards for articles published in the college newspaper. Several of my short plays have been produced by colleges in which I was affiliated.

Thank you for considering my novel, Black Box Confessional.


Thomas Dean


Rick Daley said...

It seems like you have the makings of a good mystery, but it's hard to tell in this query. The query itself is too mysterious, it's like a teasing synopsis.

If it's an email query, you don't need the agent's name and address.

I would scrap the first paragraph and move the word count, genre, and title to the end. The cadence in the first sentence is very awkward. There are also six characters referenced if you count the best friend as well as the best friend's dad. Later in the query you introduce his high-school girlfriend, too, raising the character count for the query to 7. The rapist and the Voodoo Witch aren't mentioned again in the query.

Focus on two characters: the protagonist and the antagonist. It does seem like your antagonist is a pair, in that case it would be safe to mention both of them.

Here are some other items to take note of:

- hyphenate water-logged

- I wouldn't mention dark secrets and a dark truth in the same paragraph, they are contrary to each other (a truth is revealed, a secret is hidden)

- "the sudden death of his two friends" implies that these are the only two friends he has. Probably should be "the sudden death of two of his friends" or "when two of his friends turn up dead"

- "fear; that" should be a colon or dash, not a semi-colon. The latter part of the sentence is a direct continuation of the first part of the sentence, not an independent clause.

- "There was more to his friend's death" should be friends' plural, as two friends were killed

- "With the help of his high school girlfriend, and his last remaining friend, a social shut-in, together they raid police files, blackmail one person and seduce another all in the midst of have their every move watched by a dangerous outsider." This sentence is awkward, there is too much going on in it. "In the midst of have..." should be "having"

- "the love the two boys shared..." to me this implies a homosexual relationship between the boys. I have no problem with that because I can see why a minister and chief of police would go to great lengths to hide that, but if that's not what happens in the novel, perhaps change "the love" to "a love"

For your credentials, list the specific awards and the name of the paper. I wouldn't mention production of short plays because that doesn't necessarily correlate to writing a novel.

Thanks for submitting, I hope you find this useful.

L. T. Host said...

Hi Mr. and Mrs. Dean;

I'm afraid I'm not going to be much more help as I completely agree with everything Rick said.

I do want to add that I think you may need to stew on this a bit and boil some more of it down to its essence. This is a long query, and it's kind of confusing. Work on combining things and telling us what's important; we don't need to know everything that happens in the query-- that's where the synopsis feel that Rick was talking about comes in.

I'm going to approach the rest of what I say as if I were an agent (and I'm not, so take this with a grain of salt) but the word count combined with the wordiness of the query would concern me. I would feel that if the query were long and confusing, so might the book be. (I'm not saying that's the case, but 108,000 is a tad high for a debut novel, which would add further fuel to my concern). Do I think is a problem? Not necessarily, no. I think if you can tighten up your query and make it snappy, agents will be more willing to look at your MS regardless. There's always a rule-breaker for every rule.

Hope I helped even a smidge and keep at it! The query can be the hardest part. I am curious about your story, so I hope you most more revisions and things here.

L. T. Host said...

That was supposed to be "POST more"

Joshua McCune said...

Along the lines of what Rick said, I think you need to distill this to something shorter (unless you know the agent wants a synopsis like query) and definitely include fewer players, regardless.

Michelle Hodkin said...

I agree with the previous commenters, but wanted to share some super helpful advice I scored from Janet Reid's query workshop at the SCWW this weekend that helped me hone my query and might help you focus yours, too.

Who is your main character?
What challenge does he/she face?
Who/what is the antagonist?
What choice does the MC face?

Try answering those questions in 100 words, using the first 15 words to answer the first two questions. I think you'll come out with a much tighter result. GL!

Rick Daley said...

Sound advice from Ms. Reid, thanks for sharing, M. Also check out Query Shark.

Michelle Hodkin said...

@Rick Daley- you're welcome! I've spent quite a bit of time on Query Shark, but there was nuthin' like having Janet ask you those questions in person.

But to the OP, I agree- check out www.queryshark.blogspot.com and learn by example. Miss Snark's archives have phenomenal advice, too. GL!