Nov 5, 2009

Query Rewrite for Mourn Their Courage

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Mr/Ms. Agent:

When Liu Jie's nephew, the Ron Emperor, pleads for defense from attacking rebels, Jie vows to destroy all who threaten his family. While raising an army, Jie rescues a dying orphan named Aiyu. Haunted by ghosts, Jie is compelled to accept Aiyu as his apprentice and Tong Zhang, warrior-merchant, as his partner. Protecting his family launches Jie on an epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors. Each victory is overshadowed by bitter loss until Jie must choose between his family's or his Empire's survival.

"MOURN THEIR COURAGE" is a 104,000 word fantasy novel based on the Chinese folktales collectively called "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Though adapted for film, television and video game serializations, there are no modern novelizations of this treasure. "MOURN THEIR COURAGE" will be of interest to fans of Guy Gavriel Kay.

I have published fiction in "Demons, Knights and Angels," "Millenium Online" and "Eternity Online." I am a member of the Wuxia Society and The China History Forum Online, where I contribute book reviews. I studied Tai Chi and Mandarin, traveled to China twice and corresponded with Rafe DeCrespigny, a prominent Three Kingdoms historian.

Why I want this agent paragraph

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.


I look forward to your comments!


AmyB said...

Standard disclaimer: I'm an unpublished writer, not an agent or editor, so grain of salt and all.

I like your second and third paragraphs, but I'm having some problems with the first paragraph.

First I'm going to call attention to style. You're relying very heavily on introductory participial phrases ("When [the Emperor] pleads," "While raising," "Haunted by ghosts,"), which many editors consider to be weak structural elements. Only one sentence opens with a simple subject ("each victory"), and in my opinion it's the best sentence of the lot. Can you recast some or all of these as simple, declarative sentences? You might try it as an experiment, to see if it makes the paragraph feel more immediate and active. There is also a lot of passive voice ("is compelled," "is overshadowed"), some of which could be recast in a more active way.

As it was, I found the opening paragraph a little hard to untangle. At first I didn't connect "Liu Jie" and "Jie" in the opening sentence. I also briefly thought the nephew was going to be the protagonist, just because you opened the query with him, and later realized it was Jie I should be following. I'm fine with "While raising an army, Jie rescues a dying orphan named Aiyu." But then I got confused with the next sentence. Why is Jie haunted by ghosts, and why is he compelled to accept Aiyu as his apprentice? What does Tong Zhang have to do with it? The next two sentences, while well written, are too vague to give me much sense of what is actually happening in the novel. Also, when you say Jie must choose between his family's or his Empire's survival, isn't it the same thing? Since his nephew is the Emperor.

I think you need to cut down on the number of characters you give us in that opening paragraph. I'm not sure I need to know about the emperor or Tong Zhang. Aiyu appears to be important in some way, but the query doesn't tell me how. I think if you cut some of the extraneous characters out of the paragraph, you might have the space to draw some of these connections for me and help me get a better sense of the novel's plot.

"Though adapted for film, delevision and video game serializations" is a dangling participial phrase--I suggest rephrasing.

While I'm not familiar with "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," I love the idea of bringing a set of classic Chinese folktales to the American reader.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks, Amy! I REALLY appreciate the detail you put into this. This first paragraph is a b**** to write, but I think that's par for the course. ;D

dolorah said...

I really liked this query. Very concise and descriptive. The opening paragraph could use some tightening - it has a lot of names and potential conflict.

But it did not tell me why Jie is the one person to save his family, or his empire, and why he is "compelled to accept Aiyu and his apprentice" as partners. I am also unsure if Liu Jie and "Jie" are the same person, what the relationship to the Ron Emperor is, and who he "pleads for defense" to.

Your publishing credentials are impressive enough without the fact that you studied Tai Chi, Mandarin, and traveled China. I think that info will help the agent sell it to a publishing house, but is more info than needed in the query because it does not relate to the "fantasy" genre. You could cut out that in favor of filling in a bit more detail about the story itself.

But it does sound intriguing. I'm sure you'll have no problems selling this to an agent.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for the comments, Donna! I agree I can probably cut back a bit on the Chinese credentials, but I can't take them out entirely as I am not Chinese and have to convince folks I was nonetheless able to write this story.

Asians put their familia, l name first, so Jie is his first name. I cannot change that as it would touch on my credibility. I'm in process of trying to clarify the things you and Amy mentioned, but thank you both so much!

Gina Logue said...

I second Amy’s comment about the sentence structure in the first paragraph. Make them more active.

I had no problem connecting Liu Jie and Jie as the same person (maybe because I’m an Asian), but this story is still a bit fuzzy for me.

- Does Jie feel that his family (wife and kid) is threatened by the rebels because he is related to the emperor? Or do you mean his extended family (emperor and others in power) is threatened? Be specific about who is threatened and what is at stake.

- What is the connection between being haunted by ghosts and being compelled to accept Aiyu as his apprentice? Or maybe you could delete that sentence and write more about Jie’s conflict.

- “protecting his family” is a high level reason but what specific event launches Jie on his journey?

- “Jie must choose between his family’s or his Empire’s survival” Is his choice between saving his wife and kid or preserving his extended family’s power over the empire? Like Amy, I thought the choices sounded like the same thing because the Emperor is his family too.

I commend you for taking on a difficult project of writing about persons/culture outside of your own.

Good luck.