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Dictionary of the Mother Tongue -- (Literary Mystery) Update Post 27


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#21 dizzywriter

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 01:33 PM

I think dogsbody has a lot of good points.

 

The potential hacker romance sounds like a secondary plot thread, something you could just leave out of the query.

 

Marija's disappearance and the crazy extinct language emails sound like the most important incidents that move the story along -- but I could be wrong about that. I'm having trouble sussing out what the connections between events are, though the different pieces all sound compelling to me.

 

How much time passes between the disappearance of her friend and the mysterious emails? I kind of want the emails to come early in the query, because they're cool, but it sounds like they actually come later in the story.

 

Could you do something where you start there, like...

 

- Cristina is doing her hiding-out-at-home horse chat room thing and then she gets creepy emails in extinct language

- she's got to crack the code because maybe

- the emails could help her find her missing friend [brief missing friend backstory]

- or provide a clue about her attacker [brief attack/husband backstory]

(actually now that I think about it this seems implausible from the info you've given us -- if her husband is just trying to get her out of the way because he has a new girlfriend, why on earth would it involve emails in proto-indo-european? but of course I don't know all the details so maybe it makes sense.)

- something something race against time further explanation of stakes?

 

Obviously the above sketch leaves some things (all things) to be desired, but I'm just trying to play around with possible query structures. Will keep thinking about it.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments. The attack, Marija and the emails happen in the first two chapters. The only backstory is the husband leaving.  The girlfriend and baby are in the first chapter, too.



#22 EMarie

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 03:09 PM

Archeologist Cristina Smythe doesn’t want to divorce her war-hero Ukrainian husband, Maxim. But she also doesn’t want to die -- a terrifying prospect after a stranger tries to bludgeons (bludgeon) her to death with a cinder block. (Love your opening.) Maxim must have ordered it. He needs to marry his slut with that new baby. (I thought 'slut' was a little jarring.) He’s also too powerful for the police to target. Afraid of leaving her apartment, Cristina escapes her traumas (trauma) – and earns extra cash for divorce detectives -- working as a moderator on an internet forum about horses.

 

Her (generally use the character's name, not a pronoun, at the beginning of a new paragraph) online friend Marija’s groundbreaking discovery of a prehistoric horsemen’s (horseman's) grave in China offers Cristina a welcome distraction -- until anti-government protesters claim ancient rights to the graves (grave). (I would end the sentence here.) and Marija vanishes from the forum. (When Marija vanishes from the forum, the other users' virtual panic forces a skeptical Cristina to investigate.) The other users’ virtual panic forces a skeptical Cristina to investigate, though she knows more about show jumping than cyber sleuthing. But when she uncovers Marija making claims that challenge Cristina’s own research on the origins of horseback riding, she must find the real person behind Marija’s online persona. (Maybe find a way to condense this sentence--Cristina uncovers evidence that the online persona of Marija was created to hide (someone else--an anti-government protestor?--then cryptic emails appear in Cristina's moderator inbox.Though Cristina is always anonymous in that role, the sender knows her identity.)

 

Cristina's online friend Marija's groundbreaking discovery of a prehistoric horseman's grave in China offers Cristina a welcome distraction--until anti-government protestors claim ancient rights to the grave. When Marija vanishes from the forum, Cristina uncovers evidence that her online persona was created to hide another user, then cryptic emails appear in Cristina's moderator inbox. etc. :-)

 

Then, cryptic emails appear in Cristina’s moderator inbox. Though she is always anonymous in that role, the sender knows her identity. Written in Proto-Indo-European, the extinct language of the first horsemen and primordial ancestor of English, the emails could be about Marija or maybe even clues about Cristina’s attacker. If she can’t crack their code, he could try to kill her again.   (Strong conclusion.) 

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. A galloping journey from the Stone Age to the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. (I love this.) Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries. (Great.)

 

My only advice is to condense whenever possible and not to use pronouns that might be vague--it can get confusing when switching between Cristina and Marija. 

 

I like what you have so far.



#23 dogsbody

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 04:21 PM

Each paragraph in this query sounds like it's the plot to its own novel. On the one hand, that makes me excited that your novel could be full of stuff, which is almost always a plus. On the other, it makes for a jarring, jumpy query letter.

 

I'd recommend either cutting one of those paragraphs and the subplots that come with it, or finding a common thread (beyond simply: Christina) that binds them together and emphasizing it in a rewrite. I don't think it's a bad query as such, but I do feel like this would make it better.

 

I was also thrown by the use of "slut." It made me dislike your main character and made me wonder if I'd like spending time reading a book about her.  



#24 dizzywriter

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 05:39 PM

Thank you, thank you everyone! EMarie, I may still take that route. But since several folks suggested otherwise, here is a different take. No line editing is needed. I'm mostly wondering if this is a better approach and if it makes sense. 

 

___

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archeologist Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails written in Proto-Indo-European. An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language. The prehistoric ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago.

 

Only someone who knows Cristina’s identity would send her such messages.  After a terrifying bludgeoning by a stranger with a cinderblock, the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. Confused and traumatized, Cristina suspects the messages are about her attacker, who is still at large.  Or they could be from Marija. The forum user just disappeared in China after finding a grave that challenged the Chinese government -- and Cristina’s own research.

 

But even the vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the strange, reconstructed words. Cristina needs a dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue. Maybe it will help her find Marija. Or maybe stop her attacker from trying to kill her again. 

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. A galloping journey from the Stone Age to the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries.



#25 dizzywriter

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 05:57 PM

I am also detecting what I suspect is a gender difference in the critiques, which is interesting.



#26 fernet

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 06:21 PM

Yeah, I think for me something structured like that might hang together better.

 

It opens with a mysterious event, you can expand on both the attack and Marija's disappearance in the middle--both of which tell us a little more about Cristina without having the query get stuck in backstory at the very beginning-- and then by the end I want to know how Cristina's going to decipher the emails and what they'll tell her.

 

The earlier versions had a lot of potentially interesting stuff but felt a little 'and then THIS and then THAT' without clear framing about how it all went together. This one seems like it has a better flow to me; interested to see what other people think.



#27 dizzywriter

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 05:05 PM

Here is the newest version. All input is welcome. Crits will be returned if you post your link.

 

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archeologist Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails from a new member. An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language as in Proto-Indo-European. The primordial ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago.

 

The sender had to know Cristina’s real identity. Few scholars know the obscure language. Coming the day after a stranger tried to bludgeon her to death with a cinder block, the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. Confused and traumatized, she suspects the messages are about her attacker. Or they could be from Marija. Her friend on the forum just disappeared after discovering an ancient grave in China that challenges official government policy -- and Cristina’s own research.

 

The vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the primordial, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words: like ghwībh and leugh. Cristina needs a rare dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue. It might help her find Marija. Or maybe even stop her attacker from trying to kill her again.

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. Galloping between the Stone Age and the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries.



#28 eric balson

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 05:29 PM

Thank you, thank you everyone! EMarie, I may still take that route. But since several folks suggested otherwise, here is a different take. No line editing is needed. I'm mostly wondering if this is a better approach and if it makes sense. 

 

___

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archeologist Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails written in Proto-Indo-European. An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language. The prehistoric ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago.

 

Only someone who knows Cristina’s identity would send her such messages.  After a terrifying bludgeoning by a stranger with a cinderblock, the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. Confused and traumatized, Cristina suspects the messages are about her attacker, who is still at large.  Or they could be from Marija. The forum user just disappeared in China after finding a grave that challenged the Chinese government -- and Cristina’s own research.

 

But even the vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the strange, reconstructed words. Cristina needs a dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue. Maybe it will help her find Marija. Or maybe stop her attacker from trying to kill her again. THIS LAST PARAGRAPH HAS LEFT ME A BIT PUZZLED. SO SHE NEEDS A DICTIONARY, IS IT LOCKED SOMEWHERE IN A CRYPT GUARDED BY BOOBY TRAPS AND UNDEAD ARMY? OR IS IT SITTING COMFORTABLY BY HER SHELF, IN WHICH CASE YOUR QUERY ENDS ON A WHIMPER. ALSO, I FEEL THIS IS VAGUE FOR THE MOST PART, WHAT WAS CRISTINA'S DEBUNKED RESEARCH ON? WHY DOES CRISTINA AUTOMATICALLY ASSUME THE MESSAGES WRITTEN A PRECUSOR TO THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE--SOMETHING ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE CAN DECIPHER--POINTS TO HER ATTACKER (APOLOGIES FOR THE ALL CAPS)

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. A galloping journey from the Stone Age to the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries.

Hope this helps. Please take a look at my query here (post #62): http://agentquerycon...o-we-are/page-4



#29 BCVail

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 11:28 PM

Here is the newest version. All input is welcome. Crits will be returned if you post your link.

 

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archeologist Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails from a new member.(There is a lot of information packed into this sentence: internet moderator, horse expert, archeologist, and getting cryptic emails... this is almost too much but Id see what other critiques say.)  An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language as in Proto-Indo-European. The primordial ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago. (The Proto-Indo-European and the last line feels more like I'm reading a textbook. Unless its absolutely critical to the query, I'd cut that out and stick with she recognizes the language in the emails as an ancient, dead language.)

 

 

 

The sender had to know Cristina’s real identity. Few scholars know the obscure language. Coming the day after a stranger tried to bludgeon her to death with a cinder block, (this bit seems more interesting than the cryptic letter part) the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. Confused and traumatized, she suspects the messages are about her attacker (Can she not read the language herself or are you being intentionally vague about what the emails say? Either way I'd clarify that.). Or they could be from Marija. Her friend on the forum who just disappeared after discovering an ancient grave in China that challenges official government policy -- and Cristina’s own research.

 

 

 

The vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the primordial, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words: like ghwībh and leugh (Not sure these examples are necessary, just slows down the reading pace). Cristina needs a rare dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue (What's so hard about finding this dictionary? Does it come with a price? I think establishing this may be key to setting up high stakes for your character). It might help her find Marija. Or maybe even stop her attacker from trying to kill her again.

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. Galloping between the Stone Age and the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner (Don't tell the agent its a page turner, let them be the judge of that. Just focus on showing you have a gripping story.) sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries.



#30 Kjcloutier19

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 11:41 PM

 

 

Here is the newest version. All input is welcome. Crits will be returned if you post your link.

 

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archeologist Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails from a new member. An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language as in Proto-Indo-European. The primordial ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago. (Though this is a really good introduction to your story, I think the first paragraph should have more of a hook, something that makes me really want to keep reading. So far, this doesn't quite get me there.) 

 

 

 

The sender had to know Cristina’s real identity. Few scholars know the obscure language. Coming the day after a stranger tried to bludgeon her to death with a cinder block, (Well, damn.)  the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. Confused and traumatized, she suspects the messages are about her attacker. Or they could be from Marija. Her friend on the forum just disappeared after discovering an ancient grave in China that challenges official government policy -- and Cristina’s own research.

 

 

 

The vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the primordial, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words: like ghwībh and leugh. (I don't know if actually putting in those words is necassary. It means nothing to us, as we obviously don't know the meanings either. You can save word count by cutting them) Cristina needs a rare dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue. It might help her find Marija. Or maybe even stop her attacker from trying to kill her again. (I think you need to up the ante a bit on the stakes. She THINKS the sender tried to kill her but she doesn't know this. The message she got wasn't even threatening so right now it sort of sounds like she's a wee paranoid. If it was threatening, perhaps make sure that's clear. And what is the big deal about finding the dictionary. Does she have to go to a libray to sign it out or does she have to trek through mountains and rappel into caves? Simply, we need more information about why any of this is important.)

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. Galloping between the Stone Age and the Digital Age, it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology mysteries. (This paragraph is great)

 

I think you have a solid plot and story here, but it doesn't quite shine through in this query. I think you need to make the attack more present instead of just sort tossing out like, oh yeah, and she got attacked that one time. The email needs to be more threatening, or it just sounds like she's getting worked up over an educated troll. And we need to know more about this dictionary. Once you've done those things I think it should be great! Best of luck to you! 



#31 dizzywriter

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Posted Yesterday, 07:11 AM

Thank you both for the input. I haven't written the hook yet. 

 

Will work on it some more.

 

I was unsure about using the actual PIE words and put them in as a test.

 

I'll think about whether to name the language. It is very specific and a real thing and makes the story unique, while ancient, dead, magic languages are pretty common in fiction. Maybe I should call it by the acronym PIE instead of spelling it out?

 

No, she doesn't have to go through fire to get the dictionary. She orders it online, but it takes time to arrive.

 

Yes, she's paranoid. She had a terrible blow to the head and has PTSD, plus memory loss and confusion. And someone did try to kill her. I don't want to get too into those details, which is why I wrote "confused and traumatized". I probably need to make that clearer. It's an issue throughout the story.



#32 EMarie

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Posted Today, 03:14 AM

While working as an anonymous moderator on an internet forum about horses, archaeologist (spelling) Cristina Smythe receives cryptic emails from a new member. An expert on the origins of horseback riding, Cristina recognizes the language as in Proto-Indo-European. (Cristina's expertise in the origins of horseback riding don't help her recognize the language, which is not what you are saying, but is what the structure of the sentence seems to suggest. Maybe--"an expert on ancient languages") The primordial ancestor of English, it was spoken by the world’s first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago. (What about "An expert in ancient languages, Cristina recognizes the email is written in Proto-Indo-European, the primordial ancestor of English spoken by the world's first horsemen on the steppes of Ukraine five thousand years ago.) By the way, I think the writing is really strong in this version. 

 

 

The sender had to know Cristina’s real identity. Few scholars know the obscure language.(This sentence seems too short and choppy, especially coming after another short sentence. Find a way to combine? Or maybe the fact few scholars know the language could be deduced from what is already in the query.) Coming the day after a stranger tried to bludgeon her to death with a cinder block, the digital intrusion frightens Cristina even more. ('Coming' seems a little awkward. What about--Cristina knows she is overreacting when the email leaves her confused and traumatized, but she can't help but feel jumpy. A few days ago a strange tried to bludgeon her to death with a cinder block, and she wonders if the email could come from her attacker.) Confused and traumatized, she suspects the messages are about her attacker. Or they could be from Marija. Her friend on the forum just disappeared after discovering an ancient grave in China that challenges official government policy -- and Cristina’s own research. (I already know who Marija is since I've read past version of the query--and I think her introduction here is a little weak compared to what it has been. "Or the email could be from Marija, her friend on the forum who just disappeared after her discovery of an ancient grave in China stirred up anti-government protests." Something like that. To me, the fact the discovery has challenged Cristina's research seems a little unexplained as is--I have to think about what it means, which is not necessarily bad, but it breaks up the flow of the query.)

 

 

 

The vast powers of the internet can’t translate all the primordial, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words: like ghwībh and leugh. (What about--Even the vast powers of the internet (internet may be capitalized) can't translated primordial, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words like ghwībh and leugh.) Cristina needs a rare dictionary to decipher the ancient mother tongue. It (Is it the dictionary? the language?)  might help her find Marija. Or maybe even stop her attacker from trying to kill her again. Very strong paragraph!

 

Set in contemporary, war-time Ukraine, DICTIONARY OF THE MOTHER TONGUE is an 82,000-word literary mystery. Galloping between the Stone Age and the Digital Age (I thought 'a galloping journey' was much better sentence structure), it explores love and loss, trauma and recovery, identity and language -- against a backdrop of rigorous scientific and linguistic research. Horse farts and an ornery cat also play leading roles in this page-turner sure to please readers of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, James Rollins’ The Bone Labyrinth (Oxford comma?) and Elizabeth Peters’ archeology archaelogy mysteries.

 

The writing is very strong in this query! I really like the way you've condensed your novel. In comparison to your previous version I think this is a much better query. This is definitely a book I would read. I think you're a good writer.






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