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HOW TO SAVE A LIFE (Literary Fiction)


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#41 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 11:12 PM

I agree with what Litgal wrote except I don't like either version of the first sentence in the second paragraph. "all those years ago" sounds awkward to me (and reminds me of that old John Lennon song; :laugh: ) Here is my suggestion:


Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trouper Jack Last’s family is smack in disaster'spath. Jack feels duty-bound [or whatever is motivating him to go in after them] to take them to higher ground, but a man who left him for dead thirty years ago, stand in his way -- his stepfather.
one man stands in his way--his stepfather Paul.

Then move on to the second paragraph:


Nearly thirty years ago Paul ran Jack down with his car as payback for Jack trying to help his mom and siblings flee Paul's abuse. Since then Paul has become a "PROPHET." [I WOULD LEAVE OUT THE "BORN AGAIN" LANGUAGE BECAUSE, GIVEN THE FACT THE GUY IS CLEARLY NOT BEHAVING IN A CHRISTAN MANNER, YOU MAY TURN OFF ANY NUMBER OF FOLKS WHO ARE BORN AGAIN BUT NOT CRAZY OR CULTISH] NOW HE'S brainwashed Jack’s family into believing the End Time has arrived and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads. Today Jack has another chance To MAKE GOOD ON HIS SECOND CHANCE TO save the people he cares most about[,] . To succeed Jack will need to break the mesmerizing hold Paul has on THE family.


Also, I've never heard "smack" used that way. "smack-dab in the middle" yes, but never just "smack" but maybe I'm missing the finer things in life. :laugh:

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#42 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 03:04 PM

Hello AQCers,

Here is the latest draft of my HOW TO SAVE A LIFE query letter. I have incorporated the feedback from LitGal, S.K., and JMB. Curious to hear how this one reads. Have I upped the intrigue/hook factor? Are you feeling bogged down by too much back story?
Do tell.

Thanks again,

Kathy McMullen

Dear Ms._______,
Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it. Jack’s family is smack in the flood path. Jack’s mission is to get them to higher ground, but the stepfather who left Jack for dead nearly thirty years ago stands in his way.
Thirty years ago Jack was a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s odious rule. When Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, Paul paid him back by mowing Jack down with his car. Jack was still laid up in the hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s mom and siblings that the rearrangement of Jack’s anatomy had been accidental. Paul sweet talked them into returning, then charmed the jury into acquittal at his trial for vehicular assault.
Since then Paul has become a “prophet.” He has brainwashed Jack’s family into believing the End Time has arrived, that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads, and that Jack is their enemy.
Jack has another chance to save his family today, but first he will need to break the mesmerizing hold Paul has on Jack’s family.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

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#43 Arielle

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 03:37 PM

Dear Ms._______,
Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trooper Jack Last is driving toward the heart of it. Jack’s family is smack in the flood path. Jack’s mission is to get them to higher ground, but the stepfather who left Jack for dead nearly thirty years ago stands in his way.

This is still way too wordy. A hook should be one sentence, or at MAX two. I think there is too much explaination in it. Consider condensing something like:

Washington State Trooper, Jack Last, is faced with braving the aged and cracking Governor Rossellini Dam in order to save his family. Only one thing stands in the way of his rescuing his family; the step father who left him for dead.

Okay, so I'm sure you can re-word this better if you wish to, but you have set up the main premise without all the extraneous details that can be filled in during your mini-synopsis.


Thirty years ago Jack was a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s odious rule. When Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, Paul paid him back by mowing Jack down with his car. Jack was still laid up in the hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s mom and siblings that the rearrangement of Jack’s anatomy had been accidental. Paul sweet talked them into returning, then charmed the jury into acquittal at his trial for vehicular assault.
Since then Paul has become a “prophet.” He has brainwashed Jack’s family into believing the End Time has arrived, that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads, and that Jack is their enemy.
Jack has another chance to save his family today, but first he will need to break the mesmerizing hold Paul has on Jack’s family.

Okay, this is still a lot of the backstory, try condensing what you are saying here into two sentences, then describe what is going on NOW. What is happening with the current events of Jack's trying to save his family? That is what the book plot is about!

Ex: Jack as a cocky teenager got himself emancipated and tried to free his mother and siblings from his stepfather Paul's odious (comandeering?) rule, but instead Paul mowed him down with his car. Over the years Paul has been able to sweet talk his mother and siblings into reuniting with him, charmed the jury into acquitting him of vehicular homicide, and brainwashed Pauls family into believing he is a 'prophet'. Now Jack's family is convinced the end times are upon them and fleeing the flood zone will bring down God's wrath and that Jack is their enemy (Doing the work of satan? Something more catchy here I think would be appropriate.)

Now elaborate on that last sentence, what is Jack having to go through to convince his family to get to safety? What is the current conflict?


HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Of course these are all just suggestions, but I hope you find some of it useful.

#44 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 03:02 PM

Hello All AQCers,

I present yet the latest HOW TO SAVE A LIFE query. I've skewed things a bit in this version 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. 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.
I look forward to all your thoughts, ideas, likes and vexations. Go to it, key tappers.

K. McMullen

Dear Ms. Agent,


Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trooper Jack Last, a wounded man with unfinished business, is driving toward the heart of it.

Thirty years ago Jack was a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s odious rule. After Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, Paul mowed Jack down with his car. Jack was laid up in hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s family that the editing of Jack’s anatomy had been accidental. He sweet talked them into returning, but Jack didn’t fret. Paul would pay for his crime soon enough. Instead Paul charmed the jury into an acquittal.

Jack built a new life on the ashes of his old one. Against great odds, he became a Trooper.

Now Jack’s mission is to get his family to higher ground before the deluge destroys them, but Paul, the man Jack never really got free of, has cowed them into believing that Jack is their enemy and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads.

Jack must convince his family otherwise. But first he must free himself from Paul once and for all.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Kathy McMullen

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


#45 Arielle

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 03:23 PM

I like this version better, I think you need to add back in the bit about his father being a self-proclaimed prophet.

#46 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 02:07 PM

I like this version better, I think you need to add back in the bit about his father being a self-proclaimed prophet.

Hi Arielle,

Thanks for taking another look at my yet-again revised query. I just tweaked the final sentence of the penultimate graph. I ditched the emancipate phrasing since I had already used it in graph two. I was reading through some query critiques the other day and someone made the point about not overusing words to avoid the risk of diluting their impact.

I wasn't keen on nixing the Prophet reference either. Will see if I can squeeze it back in. What I like about my latest version is its emphasis on Jack's inner conflict. Beyond rescuing his family, beyond becoming a hero in their eyes, beyond any wish he might have to settle the score with Paul, it's about freeing himself from Paul. I mean this in a deep psychological way. On what level Jack is aware of this, who knows? But this change, deep inside himself, is the key to how Jack finally totally heals from the events of nearly thirty years earlier.

Will set about the prophet fix asap.

Thanks again,

K. McMullen

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#47 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:10 PM

Hi AQCers,

Here's a tweaked version since yesterday's. I followed Arielle's suggestion and re-inserted the bit about Paul's born-again status. Forced to trim out a clause to squeeze in under the 250 word limit.

Thanks to all of you. I look forward to reading and throwing my two cents' worth in on your queries this weekend.

K. McMullen

Dear Ms. Agent,


Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trooper Jack Last, a wounded man with unfinished business, is driving toward the heart of it.

Thirty years ago Jack was a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s odious rule, a rule which had worsened since Paul’s rebirth in Christ. After Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, Paul mowed Jack down with his car. Jack was laid up in hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s family that Jack’s anatomical edit had been accidental. He sweet talked them into returning, but Jack didn’t fret. Paul would pay for his crime soon enough. Instead Paul charmed the jury into an acquittal.

Jack built a new life on the ashes of his old one. Against great odds, he became a Trooper.

Now Jack’s mission is to get his family to higher ground before the deluge destroys them, but Prophet Paul has cowed them into believing that Jack is their enemy and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads.

Jack must convince his family otherwise. But first he must free himself from Paul once and for all.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Kathy McMullen

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


#48 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 07:32 PM

Like most queries that are re-written too many times, I think you are losing your way more and more. Earlier queries were clearer to me.

Things like: "a wounded man" made me literally see him suffering from a gunshot wound while driving toward the flood, so "wounded" is not the right word. If you mean "wounded" in reference to his amputation then that doesn't work either because an old amputation really isn't a wound. If you mean wounded emotionally then again you need a better word than "wounded."

You say he helps the family flee but the sentence before it makes the motivation confusing. Are they fleeing because of the odious rule (odious is a bit vague here) or from the fact that Paul found Christ (which doesn't really provide a clear reason why they would flee from that)?

Those are just some examples of how I found this new version to be confusing and less appealing than earlier editions. I think you need to put the query aside for at least two weeks then go back and look at your first attempt and your last attempt.

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#49 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 02:06 PM

Hi Susan,

Thanks for the feedback. I will let this germinate a while.

K.McMullen

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#50 Arielle

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 11:34 PM

I think you can re-word this a bit and not lose any of what you are trying to say, see suggestions below:

Hi AQCers,

Here's a tweaked version since yesterday's. I followed Arielle's suggestion and re-inserted the bit about Paul's born-again status. Forced to trim out a clause to squeeze in under the 250 word limit.

Thanks to all of you. I look forward to reading and throwing my two cents' worth in on your queries this weekend.

K. McMullen

Dear Ms. Agent,


Record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Washington State Trooper Jack Last, a wounded man with unfinished business, is driving toward the heart of it.

Washington State Trooper Jack Last is emotionally crippled, but driving toward the heart of the Kent River Valley while flood waters from record rainfall threaten to crack the aging Governor Rossellini Dam isn't suicide-it's squaring up the past.

Something like this perhaps? I feel it highlights more his internal struggle.


Thirty years ago as a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s odious rule, a rule which had worsened since Paul’s rebirth in Christ. After Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, for which Paul mowed him down with his car. Laid up in hospital, minus a leg, Jack learns Paul convinced his family that the anatomical edit to his limb had been accidental. Paul sweet-talked the family into returning after/by claiming to be a re-born Christian prophet. Yet, Jack didn’t fret. Paul would pay for his crime soon enough. Instead, Paul charmed the jury into an acquittal.


I feel this is too much Jack this becuase Paul that, etc. I'd try to clear it up a bit by changing how much their names are used. Sort of has the 'laundry list' feel to me.



Jack built a life on the ashes [s]of his old one. Against great odds, he became , becoming a Trooper against the odds.

Now Jack’s mission is to get his family to higher ground before the deluge destroys them, but 'Prophet' Paul has cowed them into believing that Jack is their enemy and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads.

For his mission to succeed, Jack must convince his family he is not an enemy as 'Prophet' Paul has led them to believe, and that God's Wrath will not be incurred if they leave the flood path with him as Paul has misled them to believe. But first he must free himself of Paul, once and for all.
Jack must convince his family otherwise. But first he must free himself from Paul once and for all.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.



Of course you can take or leave any suggestions.

#51 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 01:56 PM

Hi Arielle,

Thanks for your feedback. I'm going to let my query sit for a while, as Susan suggested, before I delve into it again. At that point I will use your comments to get me re-thinking my query.

Thanks again,

K

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#52 JRSmith

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 03:08 PM

Hey Kathy,

It sounds like an interesting story, but I keep getting caught up on the use of the names Jack and Paul. Is there any way to decrease the frequency of those names in the query? It's also beginning to sound like a different story than the one written about in an earlier version of your query. My suggestion would be to let it sit for a day or two and then grab a pen and some paper and try writing it out by hand. I find that hand writing the summary and query help me to organize my thoughts before I try typing them into the computer. It may be a little old fashioned, but sometimes those are the best ways to get thoughts organized. :) I hope this helps and don't give up.

JRSmith

#53 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 20 February 2011 - 09:31 PM

Hello AQCers,

Well, I did my best to follow J.R. Smith and S.Keogh's advice about letting this query sit for awhile. I took Arielle's suggestions to heart as well, although you may beg to differ, Arielle, as the mini-synop still incorporates a hefty portion of "back story." In this case it really isn't, at least if no. of pages devoted to it in ms is any determinant of back story vs. main story. Curious how I'm doing as far as overuse of Paul and Jack in this version also. Mainly, though, I used my gut as my guide here. The point I want to get across is that HTSAL is a story about a man reconnecting with his family after a long exile.


Thanks for your feedback and patience on this. I know the frustration of writers being advised time and time again what they should be doing and they just keep being block-headed. I fear that may be me in this instance, but, oh, well. C'est la vie.

K. McMullen

Dear Ms._______,

Washington State Trooper Jack Last has rescued more people than he can count, but he has waited decades to save the people he cares about most.

He tried once, thirty years ago when he was a cocky teenager. Newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s detested rule, Jack helped his mom and siblings flee. Paul paid him back by mowing Jack down with his car. Jack was laid up in hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s family that editing Jack’s anatomy had been accidental. He sweet talked them into returning, banished Jack from their lives, then charmed the jury into acquittal. Along the way Paul discovered Jesus, too. Jack acquainted himself with prosthetics. Against great odds, he became a trooper.

Now record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Jack’s family is smack in the flood path. Jack’s mission is to get them to higher ground, but “Prophet Paul” has brainwashed them into believing the End Time has arrived and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads. Jack has another chance to save his family today, but first he must break Paul’s mesmerizing hold on them.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

Kathy McMullen

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


#54 richard p

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 09:30 AM

I think you should rewrite the first paragraph something like this:

Washington State Trooper Jack Last has rescued more people than he can count, but he has waited decades to save the people he cares about most. But one man stands in his way, the same man who tried to kill him thirty years ago.

That gives us both the set up and the hook. Then rewrite the rest of the query.

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#55 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 22 February 2011 - 12:40 PM

OK. I've rewritten the opening graph as per Richard's suggestion. The rest of the query stands pretty much as it did. R suggested rewriting the rest of the query, but gave no suggestions. I'm pretty happy with the rest of it, but if anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Thanks again everyone,

K. McMullen

Dear Ms._______,
Washington State Trooper Jack Last has rescued more people than he can count. Now he’s about to save the people he cares about most, but the stepfather who tried to kill him nearly thirty years ago stands in his way.

Back then Jack was a cocky teenager newly emancipated from his stepfather Paul’s detested rule. When Jack helped his mom and siblings flee, Paul paid him back by mowing Jack down with his car. Jack was laid up in hospital, minus a leg, when Paul convinced Jack’s family that editing Jack’s anatomy had been accidental. He sweet talked them into returning, banished Jack from their lives, then charmed the jury into acquittal. Along the way Paul discovered Jesus, too. Jack acquainted himself with prosthetics. Against great odds, he became a trooper.

Now record rains are falling, the aging Governor Rossellini Dam is cracking, and the Kent River Valley is about to flood. Jack’s family is smack in the flood path. Jack’s mission is to get them to higher ground, but “Prophet Paul” has brainwashed them into believing the End Time has arrived and that fleeing the flood zone will bring God’s wrath upon their heads. To save his family, Jack must break Paul’s mesmerizing hold on them.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is a work of literary fiction and complete at 58,000 words. My work is similar to ________, whom you represent, and I believe I would be a good match for your list. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Kathy McMullen

Kathy McMullen

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


#56 richard p

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Posted 22 February 2011 - 01:41 PM

I think it's a pretty good query now. I'd try the real world and see what happens.

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#57 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 22 February 2011 - 01:57 PM

Thank you, Richard.

I will send out a few Qs today. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

K. McMullen

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#58 richard p

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Posted 22 February 2011 - 02:28 PM

You're welcome, Kathy. I hope you get an agent right away.

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#59 Kathy McMullen

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Posted 23 February 2011 - 01:02 PM

You're welcome, Kathy. I hope you get an agent right away.

I'll settle with getting one within the year.

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#60 The Foo

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 04:43 PM

Kathy,

I don't buy the evil stepfather character. He sounds like a one-dimensional fantasy. You need to make us care for your villain as well as for your hero. Simplistic male-bashing is no deeper than misogynistic ranting.

the foo




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