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HOW TO SAVE A LIFE (Literary Fiction)


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#1 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 01:59 PM

Find Newest Version at Post 55.

Thanks everyone,

K

I've skewed things a bit to focus on Jack's inner conflict--all this baggage he's been carrying around for decades, never being able to get free from the bitter events of his youth-- in this one. This is really the heart of HOW TO SAVE A LIFE. Jack coming to terms with his past. Thanks in advance for all your input.

K. McMullen

Attn. Ms. _____:

Record rains are falling; an aging dam is about to break. Washington State’s Kent river valley is about to flood and Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it.

Jack’s job is to persuade the holdouts to leave. Not just any holdouts, but the family he last saw in a Seattle courtroom nearly thirty years ago when a jury acquitted Jack’s crafty stepfather Paul of mowing Jack down with his car.

Now Jack is about to encounter the dangerous charmer who left him a cripple and sucked Jack’s family into his black hole. Even now Paul has cowed them into believing the Apocalypse is nigh and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads.

Jack’s mission is to convince them otherwise.

How To Save A Life is complete at 58,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and am a member of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. When I am not writing, I am dancing Argentine tango with my husband.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

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#2 richard p

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 02:30 PM

Your query is confusing. Your use of all the characters' names adds to the confusion. You have the general idea of a query down pretty well, but I don't think any agent would react positively to this one because of the confusion.

The opening paragraph is pretty good, but it doesn't look right. My eye says 'river valley' should be capitalized.

The second paragraph is where the confusion begins. The third paragraph compounds it, although after reading it four times I think I'm beginning to see what you're saying. But an agent will not read it four times. She'll read it once if you're lucky.

The title of the book should be in all caps: HOW TO SAVE A LIFE.

58,000 words is very short for a novel.
You do not state what the genre is or who the audience is.
I'd delete the last line about dancing. It has nothing to do with writing.
Using the salutation 'attention' will probably stop the agent right there.

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#3 Juls Duncan

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 02:56 PM

Hi Kathy...

I really like your story, right up my alley… Remember that this is only my thought, so treat it as so…


Attn. Ms. _____:

Record rains are falling; an aging dam is about to break. Washington State’s Kent river valley(River Valley) is about to flood and Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it. (I like your Hook, it draws me in, and I want to find out more…)

Jack’s job is to persuade the holdouts to leave (would reword this). Not just any holdouts,( and this…but the family he last saw in a Seattle courtroom nearly thirty years ago when a jury acquitted Jack’s crafty stepfather Paul of mowing Jack down with his car.) Good info just tweak it some…

Now(not needed) Start with- Jack is about to encounter the dangerous charmer who left him a cripple and sucked Jack’s family into his black hole. (agents want you to focus on the MC, reword so you are only talking about MC)Even now Paul has cowed them into believing the Apocalypse is nigh and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads.

Jack’s mission is to convince them otherwise. (I like)

How To Save A Life is complete at 58,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and am a member of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. When I am not writing, I am dancing Argentine tango with my husband.(Bio only if you are published) rest is not needed…

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

Over all great query… I hope this helps… Juls

#4 Bob Barr

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 03:07 PM

See 'common mistakes in queries' post started yesterday and view the video, and no, I don't have a gun in my car but I may need to watch out for someone who does.Posted Image
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#5 M.E.Pritchard

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 03:36 PM

Hi Kathy,

Your hook isn't doing it for me. You need more intrigue or something like that - something to make an agent want to finish reading your query letter. You need to better explain what Jack actually does. That's kind of my general feeling about the whole letter - you leave too much out, so it gets confusing. Why does this family matter? I don't understand the connection to his stepfather. Who is this charmer? How is Jack crippled? Why? Why does Paul think an Apocalypse is coming? What is your genre? Unless it's YA, the book seems really short. Finally, I would ditch your bio as it's not relevant to your book.

Just my 2 cents!

#6 Cat Woods

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 04:12 PM

First off, congrats on finishing a novel and sharing your query with us. Now for the dirct commentary:

I want to find something to sink my teeth into, but just when I think you might have something intriguing, you throw something new at me. While I can imagine the connections between these paragraphs and ideas, it take too much effort via rereading to get there...not to mention I may be way off base. Connect the dots for me while giving me something tasty to chew on. Being vague is not a point in our favor during the query process.

Best luck and I'll check out your next version!

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#7 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 08:13 PM

I found the query a bit disjointed, like you were writing down your thoughts as they came to you instead of slowing down and taking the time to figure out the core of your story and how to write it into query form.

As others have said, the word count is quite short.

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#8 gaius

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 10:02 PM

I have a different approach. I hope you find something useful. If not...delete.

Best of luck,

Gaius

A holy-roller ringleader warns that Apocalypse is at hand. He tells the town of Kent River that if they flee the Valley, God's wrath will strike them dead.

The record rains and an aging dam suck crippled Jack Last back to the heart of Kent River Valley. There,his job is to persuade holdouts to leave. These aren't just any holdouts. They're the people he last saw in a courtroom thirty years ago when his stepfather was acquitted of mowing him down in the middle of the street.

But our Jack is not about revenge. He's about rescue. Even if the ones he wants to save, the ones who left him invalid want him dead.

Nonetheless, this cripple, this half-bodied man feels otherwise. His mission is to convince these misled people to get the hell out no matter the cost.

#9 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 11:40 AM

HI Gaius,

I like your take on this. You've honed in on HOW TO SAVE A LIFE's immediacy. I will work on improving query and may incorporate some of your ideas if that's OK with you. Thanks a bunch for the feedback.

Kathy

of

I have a different approach. I hope you find something useful. If not...delete.

Best of luck,

Gaius

A holy-roller ringleader warns that Apocalypse is at hand. He tells the town of Kent River that if they flee the Valley, God's wrath will strike them dead.

The record rains and an aging dam suck crippled Jack Last back to the heart of Kent River Valley. There,his job is to persuade holdouts to leave. These aren't just any holdouts. They're the people he last saw in a courtroom thirty years ago when his stepfather was acquitted of mowing him down in the middle of the street.

But our Jack is not about revenge. He's about rescue. Even if the ones he wants to save, the ones who left him invalid want him dead.

Nonetheless, this cripple, this half-bodied man feels otherwise. His mission is to convince these misled people to get the hell out no matter the cost.


Kathy McMullen

visit me at http//: neighborsnorth.wordpress.com


#10 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 11:44 AM

Your query is confusing. Your use of all the characters' names adds to the confusion. You have the general idea of a query down pretty well, but I don't think any agent would react positively to this one because of the confusion.

The opening paragraph is pretty good, but it doesn't look right. My eye says 'river valley' should be capitalized.

The second paragraph is where the confusion begins. The third paragraph compounds it, although after reading it four times I think I'm beginning to see what you're saying. But an agent will not read it four times. She'll read it once if you're lucky.

The title of the book should be in all caps: HOW TO SAVE A LIFE.

58,000 words is very short for a novel.
You do not state what the genre is or who the audience is.
I'd delete the last line about dancing. It has nothing to do with writing.
Using the salutation 'attention' will probably stop the agent right there.


Kathy McMullen

visit me at http//: neighborsnorth.wordpress.com


#11 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 11:46 AM

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your feedback on this. I hope to get an improved HOW TO SAVE A LIFE query out to the group soon.

Kathy McMullen

visit me at http//: neighborsnorth.wordpress.com


#12 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 06:12 PM

Hello to everyone and thanks to all who provided the great feedback on my first go-round with HOW TO SAVE A LIFE. Below is try no. two.

Thanks again,

Kathy

Dear Ms._______,
Record rains are falling; an aging dam is about to break. Washington State’s Kent River Valley is about to flood and State Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it.

Jack’s job is to persuade the holdouts to leave. Not just any holdouts, but the family Jack last saw in a Seattle courtroom nearly thirty years ago. A family under the yoke of Jack’s cunning stepfather Paul.

Living under Paul had never been easy, but then Paul found religion. Commandment one of Paul’s new Old Testament faith was Paul Rules. Jack emancipated himself before his eighteenth birthday, then helped his mom and younger siblings flee. Paul re-paid Jack by mowing him down with his car.

Jack was still laid up in the hospital—minus a leg—when Paul conned Jack’s mom and siblings into returning. The final blow came at Paul’s trial for vehicular assault: Paul charmed the jury into acquittal.

Now Jack needs to get his family to higher ground. But Prophet Paul has brainwashed them the Apocalypse is upon them and that fleeing the flood zone is useless. Jack needs to face the man who left him a cripple and break the mesmerizing hold he has on Jack’s family.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and am a member of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

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#13 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 06:27 PM

Dear Ms._______,
Record rains are falling; an aging dam is about to break. Washington State’s Kent River Valley is about to flood and State Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it.

Jack’s job is to persuade the holdouts to leave. Not just any holdouts, but the family Jack last saw in a Seattle courtroom nearly thirty years ago. A family under the yoke of Jack’s cunning stepfather Paul.

Living under Paul had never been easy, but then Paul found religion. Commandment one of Paul’s new Old Testament faith was Paul Rules. Jack emancipated himself before his eighteenth birthday, then helped his mom and younger siblings flee. Paul re-paid Jack by mowing him down with his car.

Jack was still laid up in the hospital—minus a leg—when Paul conned Jack’s mom and siblings into returning. The final blow came at Paul’s trial for vehicular assault: Paul charmed the jury into acquittal.

Now Jack needs to get his family to higher ground. But Prophet Paul has brainwashed them the Apocalypse is upon them and that fleeing the flood zone is useless. Jack needs to face the man who left him a cripple and break the mesmerizing hold he has on Jack’s family.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Washington and am a member of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

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visit me at http//: neighborsnorth.wordpress.com


#14 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 07:34 PM

This reads more like an outline than a query to me.

The hook isn't bad (though unless you mean Washington State as in a college/university then "State" shouldn't be capitalized), but from there it wanders and jumbles.

I don't understand how the family (or anyone) is under Paul's yoke. Also, you say holdouts (plural) but then it sounds like it's just one family, and I'm sure that's not what you mean. You need to ditch all of the background info except for one thing that is the key to character motivation; otherwise, it's convoluted.

I think you have a compelling story in there somewhere. The query just needs some work.

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#15 JMB

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 03:39 AM

Not sure which entry you want comments on. As you revise, please just post the latest draft in the same thread, making a notation at the top of the original post to indicate where AQC members can find the current draft.

I've been following this query and, despite the consistent comments, it doesn't seem to have changed much. You still have 75% of the query focused on backstory--how Jack and Paul become enemies--and very little attention given to what I think is the main conflict--Jack rescuing his family (and others?) from the rising waters. Gaius has made a good suggestion as to how to refocus your query and give some personality to the opposing Main Characters. I think you should take a few days away from this and start a fresh draft.

The idea sounds great but the query isn't doing it justice (yet). Keep at it.

#16 richard p

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 06:36 AM

I agree with S.K. Keogh. Your critique is summarizing background information. You're not giving us the story.

What I'm gathering from your letter is the story is something like this:

Jack is a state trooper who has the responsibility of telling everyone in the valley, including someone who has done him wrong (Paul),to leave before the dame breaks, but Paul, who is leader of a religious cult, thinks it's the end of the world and leaving is futile, so he blocks the members of his cult from leaving. Jack has to confront this demon and convince him and his cult to leave.

The outflow of this is that Jack has to resist his urge to let Paul and his group perish, because it's his responsibility to save them irregardless of their past personal issues. This will be the core of Jack's conflict. How will he do it?

I may be wrong in my interpretation, but I think it tells more of the story than your query does. I had to pull all of that out of your query, make a few assumptions, and take a chance on being right. A literary agent is not going to do that.

Keep working on the query, because it sounds like you've written an interesting story with a lot of current-day appeal.

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#17 Jean Oram

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 10:04 AM

One query, one thread please. I merged your two threads, but please check the Query Posting Rules thread if you have questions about posting your revisions.

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#18 gaelwriter

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 01:30 PM

One query, one thread please. I merged your two threads, but please check the Query Posting Rules thread if you have questions about posting your revisions.


Looking at your latest revision, reply 13, it all points to an interesting story, but I have to agree with JMB, the query mostly seems to involve backstory. I think it might be better to work in only brief bits of background into more immediate conflict situations chosen from your story. Like, "Jack had to get into that house to reason with his former family, but how do you reason with a psycho who thinks he's some sort of Old Testament Prophet, who tried to kill you thirty years ago?" Make it brief where you use it.

I like the hook, but maybe it would flow better if you use 'and' instead of semicolon. Also, the repeated use of 'is about to' is distracting, and maybe you could just say the ... Valley 'will' flood.

One other item: you say Jack's leg was amputated. And he's still a state trooper? Maybe they've got him on a desk job and he's on his own mission here? Rather than deal with this, I'd probably just leave the missing leg for the published story.

I mostly agree with the others on the bio, except membership in the Writer's Association might show you take writing pretty seriously.
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#19 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 03:15 PM

This reads more like an outline than a query to me.

The hook isn't bad (though unless you mean Washington State as in a college/university then "State" shouldn't be capitalized), but from there it wanders and jumbles.

I don't understand how the family (or anyone) is under Paul's yoke. Also, you say holdouts (plural) but then it sounds like it's just one family, and I'm sure that's not what you mean. You need to ditch all of the background info except for one thing that is the key to character motivation; otherwise, it's convoluted.

I think you have a compelling story in there somewhere. The query just needs some work.


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#20 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 03:20 PM

I appreciate all the feedback I've been getting on HOW TO SAVE A LIFE but have a question. Several of you have commented that I've laden the query with too much back story. You want to know what happens on flood day when Jack meets up with the family he hasn't seen in 27 years. Is it legitimate for me to just focus on this story even if the novel itself spends the bulk of its pages telling how Jack's estrangement from his family came about?

Thanks again,

K McMullen

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