Monthly Archives: February 2012

QueryDice #23

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

The war started with a drunkard in her library and an arrow in her arm.

The first sentence needs work. I had to read it twice to figure out that you were saying that someone had a drunkard in her home and an arrow in her arm, rather than a drunkard sitting in her own library with an arrow in her arm. Also, I’m wondering how this could possibly start a war.

Seventeen-year-old Adalmund Pratt is one of the last remaining people who can see and weave the threads of magic in her plague-ravaged country, and as such, she is the newly-appointed Advisor to the Theodyn Heir. During a peace treaty signing with the neighboring nation of Amleth, an Amleth advisor drunkenly slurs in her ear that his nation is on the brink of a revolution against the royal family, and she realizes that she and the Heir of Theodyn are in enemy territory.

This paragraph needs some serious work. First, what is the significance of seeing and weaving threads of magic? What benefit or detriment does this lend to Adalmund? Then, some world-building is necessary. What’s a Theodyn Heir? Is the Amleth advisor talking about a revolution against his country’s royal family, or that of Adalmund’s country? What is the significance of that?

The attack comes before they planned. <–You don’t need this sentence. If you want us to know the attack happened without notice, that can be done as an adjective in this next sentence. An unknown division of the Amleth army attacks and it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the Heir, who dies in her arms.

You’ve written that “it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the heir…” What is? Further, why would they attack Adalmund? Her political weight is unclear. We don’t know anything about the heir, either, so we don’t care that he died in her arms, no matter how gruesome his death. We at least need to know his importance to Adalmund if we’re expected to care about this death.

Adalmund knows that her ability remains the only chance to save Theodyn. (How? Why is this the case?)Pushing aside her own grief and feelings of failure, she doesn’t hesitate to obey when the grieving Queen sends her to spy on the Amleth army and bring the murderous army unit to justice.

My intuition tells me the real meat of your story begins with the above sentence. Since the heir dies early, and the attack doesn’t mean much to the rest of Adalmund’s journey, begin with the above sentence, which will give you much more room for world-building.

It’s not an impossible assignment until Adalmund realizes that the soldiers who attacked aren’t a part of the normal army, but are the private guards of a Prince. (What prince? Why does this matter?) The only way she can succeed is to forge a precarious truce with Peace, the mysterious leader (is this the Prince?) of the revolution in Amleth, and she’ll do it to save her country—even if the price of Peace is her life. <–This sentence is confusing. Are you talking about the price of the mysterious leader, or the price of peace?

The first in a planned series, [redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this query because the important pieces of the story are not exposed properly, and I worry that will continue in the manuscript. More importantly, though, I would reject it because Adalmund has no internal struggle and doesn’t appear to face the same challenges that teens face. All the conflict is external and I like to see interplay between external and internal conflict in YA. I also know nothing about Adalmund’s personality or that of any other characters, and this is necessary for me to like the characters enough to want to see more of them.

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A Valentine’s Day Book Review

Happy Valentine’s Day! And now, a book review about love:

 

Book critic, William Deresiewicz, in The New York Times, wrote that Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot was not about marriage, or even love at all, but like his other novels, was primarily about “the drama of coming of age.” This review was laced with acidic undertones of condescension and a just-below-the-surface but obvious dislike of most of Eugenides’ work. As an aside, I am never completely smitten with an author’s work. There is always something about it that I don’t like. You don’t spend your life criticizing the written word and retain the ability to turn that off. Regardless, I will never write a negative book review. I don’t believe it is helpful to anyone, least of all the author. If I really looked down upon that author’s work, my agenda would be better served to keep mum about the author altogether. The worst review is no review, in my mind.

Anyway, Deresiewicz’s interpretation of this novel was precisely my own…at first. I felt exactly the same way. I’d listened to the audio performance, and after the last words, I looked around at the NJ Turnpike and thought, and? On the surface, this novel is about a trio of college kids who graduate and then try and figure out life, love and opportunity. Nothing actually comes to pass. Nobody appears to make any sort of satisfying transformation. In fact, nobody gets what they want, either. Then, sitting in traffic, I listened to a short, accompanying interview with Eugenides, which I thought would shed some light on what he was trying to do with The Marriage Plot. It ended by the time traffic started moving, leaving the novel unilluminated. I lit a cigarette and wrote off Eugenides, deciding not to read the next book he publishes a decade from now (he writes a book every ten years or so.)

Never before have I found the aftertaste of a novel to be more powerful than the novel itself. In the days that followed my reading of The Marriage Plot, the novel sank into my brain like a slow wave of awareness overcoming me. Bits of it would return and smack me in the face as I looked at love and life around me. Deresiewicz entirely missed the point. This was not a novel about young people finding their way in the world, it was a novel about the consequentiality of love in our time. The marriage plot refers to the structure of a Victorian novel in which marriage was the be-all and end-all. The finality of marriage in that time was what made it so important and so dramatic and so weighty for the characters to get married or to pursue that. It was the ultimate goal of love, a move to secure financial goals, societal goals and familial expectations. The love itself was really sort of secondary. Now, Eugenides subtly but brilliantly asserts in his novel, the consequentiality of our love is not what we do with it, but what it does to us. With marriage stripped of its weight, becoming a sort of romantic, knee-jerk impulse or a strategic financial move, love takes on a life and weight of its own. While love was once a vehicle used to travel to marriage, it is now a vehicle to travel to transformation, which is not a destination or an end-goal at all, but an on-going journey. It’s about the journey, not really where you end up, which is why in Eugenides’ novel, nobody ends up anywhere. They continue their journey.

The novel’s female character, Madeleine, is stifled by her love. She becomes an in-service, overshadowed mistress to her boyfriend, Leonard, who has a significant mental illness. She’s intelligent and beautiful and could probably have any man she wants, yet because she loves Leonard, she installs herself under the crushing weight of the man and his illness. Leonard himself appears to be perfectly healthy in the beginning of the novel, but when he falls in love with Madeleine and realizes that this has an actual affect on him—it changes his behavior, his thoughts, his motivations, his life—he falls into his mental illness and appears to swim about helplessly and almost indulgently in the throes of it, Madeleine’s service to him only bolstering and enabling that illness.

The third character, Mitchell, spends almost the entire novel in love with Madeleine. The very idea of her motivates him to travel around the world, to alter his perception of people and of life and love, and then at the very end, because love is no longer locked into the finality of marriage or the weight of that institution, this changes for Mitchell and, now motivated by the love he used to feel for Madeleine, his journey takes a turn and continues.

The Marriage Plot was a powerful snapshot of what has happened to love, or rather its impact, and the author makes no definite comment about the consequences of that. Like a poet, he seems to prefer to leave his assertions up to interpretation. Its impact still hits me sometimes, as I recall a phrase or a situation and apply it to my own life or those around me.

In the novel, Leonard is a scientist studying yeast cells, which are interesting because they closely resemble human sex cells. During a heated argument with Madeleine, he makes the observation that these yeast cells, when in crisis, immediately separate as a matter of course because it is easier to protect themselves as single cells in the face of crisis. I would have paid full cover price just to let Eugenides drop this one exquisite metaphor on me.

QueryDice #22

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

16-year-old Emory Stone (love the name) has always felt like an outsider. Being part alien, it kind of comes with the territory. (This is a nit-pick, but something about this sentence bothers me. I think it is because the word “being” is actually modifying the word “it.” Because “it” is a pronoun used in place for “the outsider feeling,” this sentence would technically mean that the outsider feeling is an alien. This is overly technical, and I really can’t say with any confidence that other agents would have cared. But my immediate thought was that the writing might not be up to par.) And her weird, extraterrestrial powers— like the sometimes-useful, always-disturbing ability to learn everything about an object just by touching it—don’t make fitting in any easier. (I’m not confident that Emory’s ability to know things would make it difficult for her to fit in. I can stretch my mind to imagine how this might be possible, but the point is you shouldn’t depend on an agent to do this.) If she could understand and control those powers, that would be one thing, but Emory has no idea about her alien ancestry. (Then how does she know she’s an alien? My agent-brain is wondering if this is a plot hole, or if you’re just being concise.) And even if she did, it’s not like they teach “Harnessing Your Alien Powers For Beginners” at Eden Falls High. <–I really love sentences like this one. It’s funny and shows the author’s voice, but it also helps us feel Emory’s problem. Nice job on that.

Unfortunately for Emory, though, there are others in the universe who know all about her ancient, powerful bloodline. They know she is a descendant of the all-knowing Sentient, a godlike creature responsible for the creation of the once utopian planet of Aporia. Since the Sen (what is (or are) the Sen? This is probably short for Sentient, but since this paragraph already feels like you’ve just gone from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds, it’s best not to introduce anything unfamiliar that you don’t have to.) abandoned the Aporians and fled to Earth hundreds of years ago, the planet has been steadily falling into ruin. Now, a group of warriors have shown up on Earth, intent on using Emory to get their paradise back. By the way, I knew after this sentence, that I’d be requesting this. Hello, Flash Moment, long time no see.

Among them is Cael, (again, love the name) who has spent his entire life living in the shadow of his father, the most feared, most respected general in the Alpha Centauri Star System (what is the Alpha Centauri Star System?). Hunting down Emory Stone is his chance to prove himself, to be known as someone other than “the general’s son”. But when the mission takes a deadly twist, Cael ends up owing his life to Emory instead. As the threat to Earth—and Emory—escalates, Cael will have to make a decision: keep fighting for a cause he isn’t sure he believes in anymore, or betray his father and try and keep Emory safe. But even he might not be able to save her from her past, and from the dark family secrets that will threaten the very future of Earth.

Equal turns action, romance, and sci-fi nerdiness, [redacted] is a YA novel of 90,000 words (this is technically just a tad too long for YA, but it made me happy here because this introduces a new world and I expect that since this is so long, the author has spent those words on exposition of that world.), which alternates between Cael and Emory’s POV. It is the first in a planned trilogy, which will chronicle the war for the planets and unravel the mystery of the Sen.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

GIMME, GIMME GIMME!

LR

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