Monday, May 20, 2013

It Takes a Village to Write a Query: Victim 4

Well here it is: our fourth victim—I mean, participant—of our It Takes a Village to Write a Query series! Over the course of one month, this querier went through three grueling rounds of revisions with a total of nine critiques from our members. Check out our comments, the evolution of her query and maybe congratulate her in the end! Also, feel free to give your feedback on the final version. 






ROUND ONE: 

 

Dear (Agent): 

Two seventeen-year-old boys will stand against<clarify; not sure what this means their fathers during the 1924 U.S. Senate race even if it costs their lives.At first I thought the fathers were running for senate. Is the story told in 2 POVs? If not, it needs to focus on one of them, but since you have both I’m assuming it’s dual POV. This is a decent opening but it's not enough of an attention grabber. My first reaction was, how can a US Senate race cost someone their lives? It's in answering that question that you'll get the eye catching meat for your hook! :)

 

 

 

Set in Bamberg, South Carolina next to the black waters of the Edisto River, Owen Alston<technically this means Owen is set in Bamberg. "Growing up next to the black waters of... Owen wants to see" (love how you included setting here. Nice work!) wants to see airplanes. I'm not sure how this ties in to the story. If this is more of a political tale, make sure you explain why this is important that he wants to see airplanes. Otherwise, being someone not familiar with your story, this sounds like kind of an oddly placed fact. His best friend, JD Bannister, starts fights with a boy at school over the mayor’s daughter and tries anything Be specific. What does he try? Does he get in trouble a lot? Does he do it only to get his father's attention? to get his father’s attention. When Bamberg’s mayor announces he will run for the U.S. Senate, the boys’ fathers join the darker side of his campaign. Why do they join? Are they into politics? Do it because they need money? JD’s father leads an evil organization that threatens to control Bamberg through violence.<these last few sentences are vague. Use specific details of the events. Do the boys confront their fathers? Does living at home get harder? Instead of stating the facts of what happen, I’d go more for the back jacket flap. You want to instill urgency and intrigue – something that will want to make the agent HAVE to know more. Owen and JD are like any other seventeen-year-old in Bamberg, South Carolina – until the mayor announces he’s running for the U.S. and their fathers join the darker side of his campaign.

 

 

As members of the secret organization take the law into their own hands<cliche, JD witnesses the shooting of a beautiful seventeen-year-old bootlegger. and Owen discovers the body of an innocent man hanging in a tree. The boys have to decide if they will stand against their fathers during the 1924 U.S. Senate race - even if it costs their lives. This shows fantastic conflict, but unless we know why it's important, then it doesn't make sense in the query. Is this to show the ruthless violence of the secret organization? How does this affect the main character? How does this get them to take action?

 

 

On the day Owen opens his father’s white shed, he discovers an evil used above secret<tell what secret. This is vague. He steals what he finds and destroys it in the forest. vague Minutes later, he is chased down by a Ford model T and kidnapped. A bootlegger friend warns JD, and he must gather the courage to save Owen’s life or he will never see him again. Intriguing! This is a good beat to end on. Be careful that you don't do too much summary in the query. Remember, the query's purpose is to sell your story and is not the same as a synopsis.

 

Sons of the Edisto is a 98,075-word YA manuscript.list the genre, and use 98,000 as the word count.  Six of my stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines. Two of those stories are connected to Sons of the Edisto. Black Fox Literary magazine published my MG story “Adventures of Elliot McSwean: The Question” in its 2013 winter edition. IMO, this part should go after the “co-authored about the CRM.” Nice work displaying your qualifications!

 

 

In Charlotte, N.C., I work at Manus Academy instructing students with neurological disorders. I have worked as a news staff journalist and freelance writer. The Law Related Education division of the SC Bar published a series of lesson plans I co-authored about the Civil Rights Movement. unless this job has to do with the topic or writing, I wouldn’t include it.

 

I chose your agency because of its success with YA books such as Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. According to your biography page on Curtis Brown’s website, you look for YA fiction with crossover appeal. Sons of the Edisto was written for older teens and adults. Listing a comp book is great, but the rest states the obvious. I’d put this first sentence after the Title, Word count, Genre. Great work in showing exactly why you queried a specific agent! That shows hard work on your side. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my manuscript!

 This is a good start! I would use more specifics about the events and secrets, and give a few details of character development for the boys. You do a great job showing the stakes and the conflict, but I would clarify the sons-against-fathers issue. Right now it doesn't seem to impact the story much, but it sounds like it does in the book itself. Pull that out more for a gripping query! I would also try to include more voice- phrasing things the way the boys would phrase them, so the agent gets an idea what the writing in your book sounds like. 

Overall this sounds like an interesting concept! Thanks so much for letting me read!

 

 

 

 

 

ROUND TWO:

 

Dear (Agent):

The devil searches the black waters of the Edisto River whenever it freezes over, thirteen year old JD Bannister tells best friend, Owen Alston. They witness the attempted murder of the homosexual son of a local pastor JD’s father near the river by and their lives change. (This paragraph needs rephrasing. In my opinion, I think it sounds stronger without the opening sentence about the Edisto River. For example, if you begin with "JD Bannister and Owen Alston witness the attempted murder of the homosexual son of a local pastor," it allows me to know right away what triggered your MCs' quest and what this story really is about, instead of leaving me distracted thinking of the imagery behind "the devil searches the black waters of the Edisto River.") Does the devil only search when the river freezes? What happens when they become witnesses of this crime? Is this the crux of the story? These are the first questions that enter into my mind. Maybe try rewording to make this all clearer and connect the preceding paragraphs. This first paragraph is confusing to me. The way is reads is that somebody tried to kill JD’s father who is also the homosexual son of a pastor. Also, not many people use the term ‘river by’ and I stumbled on it.

 

 

Four years after Owen makes JD promise not to talk about that night, the mayor of Bamberg, South Carolina runs in the 1924 U.S. Senatorial election. The mayor hires the boys’ fathers to take charge of Bamberg while he campaigns. Owen wants to become a part of the world of airplanes and automobiles (I am not sure why knowing that he likes automobiles and airplanes is relevant. I would either remove this bit of information about Owen's personality, or add a line about his lack of interest in politics, until he overhears the threat to that farmer's daughters) part of the world of airplanes and automobiles (is that really pertinent to the story and I don’t get the connection between that and the farmer’s daughters); but when he overhears JD’s father threaten the lives of a farmer’s daughters, he makes a choice that could cost his life. (I am curious why the girls were threatened, and what is the decision Owen made. I think it would make this query stronger if you could say right away what Owen is fighting to defend). This is far removed from the intro. and is confusing. What is the heart of the story? The devil or the fact that they work for the mayor?

Arriving home from school with bruised knuckles (?) Arriving home from school with bruised knuckles (This doesn’t really tell me anything other than he’s getting in fights. Does this mean he’s starving for attention? If so, say that. If he’s getting into fights because he’s defending his Dad then that changes the whole dynamic since his Dad’s doing some pretty bad stuff.) , JD seeks any conversation with his father, who is busy organizing the Ku Klux Klan in support of the mayor: he leads battles in the backwoods of Bamberg County against bootleggers, blacks and farmers who don’t share the mayor’s only white men govern mentality. (I'm not exactly sure what JD is doing, but I'm going to guess he is physically fighting someone at school? Is this because of the KKK, or completely unrelated? I think it would make your query stronger if you could explain this part right away. I'm also left wondering whether Owen is involved in this.)

JD witnesses a Klansman shoot a bootlegger, and Owen finds the body of an innocent man hanging in a tree on a farmer’s land. He (Which ‘he’?) uncovers a Klan robe and documents in his father’s tool shed and burns them (?). After Owen is kidnapped by the Klan, a bootlegger friend warns JD. He must gather the courage to save Owen’s life or he will never see him again. (There's a lot of information going on here. I think it would make this paragraph stronger if you could skip straight to the part about Owen getting kidnapped. And, was he kidnapped because he was caught spying on the KKK? This is where your query reaches its climax.)

Inspired by true events, Sons of the Edisto is a 98,000-word YA historical fiction novel. I chose your agency because of its success with YA books such as Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. The Law Related Education division of the S.C. Bar published a series of lesson plans I co-authored about the Civil Rights Movement. Six of my stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines. Two of those stories are connected to Sons of the EdistoBlack Fox Literary Magazine published my MG story “Adventures of Elliot McSwean: The Question” in March 2013. Wow! I'm impressed by this! 

General comments: I love the premise. I'm hooked. And, I think this query just needs adjustments to put the really important key points on the spot. There's some information on the characters, although interesting, that didn't feel relevant. For example, when you remove the part about Owen liking airplanes, it doesn't change your query in any way. The way I see it: if you are able to remove these pieces of information and the query's tone doesn't change, then they're not important here.

I think the fourth paragraph is where your query reaches its climax, and there's a lot of information going on there. It's a bit overwhelming, it feels rushed, and I don't know where my attention should be. I would rephrase it and focus on the part about the kidnapping and why he got kidnapped. It's really, really interesting. I feel like that's exactly where you'd get the agent's attention.

Best of luck! 

This feels like more of a list of things that happen in the story and not really what the story is about. To me, I think the story is about two young boys who witness some pretty awful stuff and struggle with trying to be good sons verses being good men. I would pick one thing you want to focus on for each boy, then cut the rest out. Have the query reflect something like: In 1924, best friends, JD Bannister and Owen Alston, have seen more horror and hatred in their seventeen years than many men nowadays will ever see.

 

 

ROUND THREE:

Dear (Agent):

 

Near the black waters of the Edisto River, seventeen-year-old best friends, Owen Alston and JD Bannister, witness more violence than most grown men. Is the violence they witness related to the below first line? Or have they been witnessing more violence than grown men previous to this? You mention the state below, but I feel like you could use it in the first sentence to place the story.

 

The mayor of Bamberg, South Carolina runs in the 1924 U.S. Senatorial election.  Perhaps "The mayor...is running in the...". Can you give a sense of what the climate was at that time? What is it like in SC politically? He hires the boys’ fathers to take charge how so? of Bamberg while he campaigns. To run the town? To bully the town? what does it mean to "take charge". For years, Owen has watched his father lose his temper to the point of kicking tenants out of their homes in front of their children. Was he violent? Or simply throwing out tenants that wouldn't/couldn't pay? When the mayor urges Owen’s father to unleash his temper on reluctant voters (what are voters reluctant to do?), Owen must decide if he will follow in his father’s footsteps or dare to stand up to him. -> Aha! This is the main struggle for the main character. Hefty task for a young boy... This last sentence is the key to the query--maybe start with this theme? As in violence? Is Owen offered a similar job? in the paragraph below, it's clear that Owen has decided NOT to follow in his Dad's footsteps. I think you could make that statement here, and tighten up the query. "...reluctant voters, Owen rejects his father and his convictions and takes a stand for the first time in his life." (or something like that.)

 

 

 

JD starves for a conversation with his father, who is busy organizing the Ku Klux Klan. This paragraph is more about JD's father than JD. How is JD starved for conversation? Is he disgusted by his father's actions? He leads battles in the backwoods of Bamberg County against bootleggers, blacks and farmers who don’t share the mayor’s only white men govern mentality.

 

Owen is kidnapped by JD’s father and the Klan after he burns his father’s KKK robe and documents. To add some excitement to the sentence structure why not word it as "After he burns his father's KKK robe and documents, Owen is kidnapped by JD's father." Perhaps even explain a little further what the father intends to do with him. We can assume it's not good, but give us a reason to be anxious for him. A bootlegger friend warns JD, who must gather the courage to save Owen and stand against his father or he’ll never see him again. I feel like the three paragraphs aren't connected. What makes Owen burn the robes?

 

Is the story dual POV with both boys having the struggle of whether to stand up to their father or not? Both boys' struggles are being pointed out as important and I want to know how that's being shown in the book. 

 

Inspired by true events, Sons of the Edisto is a 98,000-word YA historical fiction novel. I chose your agency because of its success with YA books such as Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. The Law Related Education division of the S.C. Bar published a series of lesson plans I co-authored about the Civil Rights Movement. Six of my stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines. Two of those stories are connected to Sons of the EdistoBlack Fox Literary Magazine published my MG story “Adventures of Elliot McSwean: The Question” in March 2013. (Great list of experience.) This sounds really interesting! I think you can amp up the tension--perhaps give more of a sense of urgency...what are the stakes for the boys (besides saving Owen). What makes them stand up to their fathers? I hope my comments are helpful!

 

Thank you for your time!

Respectfully,

 
THE FINAL QUERY: 


Dear (Agent):

Thirteen-year-old JD Bannister has grown up without his mother and can’t get his father to talk to him. Best friend, Owen Alston, only has conversations with his father that end in yelling. The boys play together in the woods surrounding Bamberg, South Carolina where they share their disappointments until the day the woods are no longer safe.
 

Terrifying events unfold when Bamberg’s mayor runs in the 1924 U.S. Senatorial campaign. Andrew Bannister, JD’s father, uses the mayor to control the town. He organizes the Ku Klux Klan to lead battles in the backwoods against bootleggers, farmers and blacks who don’t share his only white Protestant men govern mentality. Meanwhile, JD fights a boy at school over the girl of his dreams and to get his father’s attention. When JD discovers Bannister hires men to kill innocent people, JD must choose to follow in his father’s dark footsteps or start a new fight against him.


Owen dreams of leaving Bamberg to escape his father’s vicious temper. It is no surprise when Bannister and the mayor urge him to unleash it on reluctant voters. The dark worlds of Owen and JD collide after Owen burns his father’s Klan robe and documents. Bannister and the Klan kidnap Owen and take him to an abandoned church where he will face trial and death. A bootlegger friend warns JD of the kidnapping, which leaves JD with a heavy choice. Gather the courage to save Owen and stand against his own father or face the fact he will never see Owen again.
                                                                                  

Inspired by true events, Sons of the Edisto is a 98,000-word YA historical fiction novel. I chose your agency because of its success with YA books such as Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts. The Law Related Education division of the S.C. Bar published a series of lesson plans I co-authored about the Civil Rights Movement. Six of my stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines. Two of those stories are connected to Sons of the Edisto. Black Fox Literary Magazine published my MG story “Adventures of Elliot McSwean: The Question” in March 2013.

Thank you for your time!

Respectfully,

Rebecca T. Dickinson

 
About the Querier, Leslie Hauser:
 

Rebecca T. Dickinson has worked as a journalist for newspapers in
North and South Carolina. The South Carolina Bar, Biz Well Corporation
and the Tryon Plaza blog have published Dickinson’s professional work.
Black Fox Literary Magazine published Dickinson’s Middle Grades story,
“Adventures of Elliot McSwean: The Question” in its winter 2013
edition. Dew on the Kudzu and The Copperfield Review published stories
connected to Dickinson’s book, “Sons of the Edisto.” Her nonfiction
story, “Grass from the Grave” was published in the anthology paniK:
Candid Stories of Life Altering Experiences Surrounding Pregnancy, and
given a new title, “We Never Said Hello,” for the anthology Impact
published by Telling Our Stories Press. In addition another
publication, Dickinson is a teacher assistant at a school in
Charlotte, N.C. for students with neurological disorders. For more
information about Dickinson, please visit her blog:
http://rebeccatdickinson.wordpress.com.

 
 
 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Awesome transformation! Great work everyone!

    ReplyDelete