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#1 mrsbraithwaite

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 02:31 PM

My heartfelt thanks to anybody out there who will critique my query. I promise to "pay it forward."
Dear Ms. :

The Civil War has been over for ten years, the Union victory has changed Vermont, and former Army chaplain, Asa Pierce, still struggles with visions of the dead at Gettysburg. Trying to find the faith he once had, he grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. Someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. Then his own servant is killed, and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers, raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse. The spirits are not that helpful, but Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, investigative Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa and together, speak to spirits, face down the Fenian Brotherhood, confront madness, heal Asa, and solve the crimes.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery set in rural, post-Civil War Vermont where the consequences of the War have created depopulation, labor unrest, and personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation. The Irish brigades, many of whom are now working in the marble quarries, are members of secret societies, plotting invasions of Canada and dynamite campaigns. This could be the first of a series that follows the three from Vermont, New York City, London, and India. The novel will appeal to fans of Michael Killan’s Civil War mysteries, and readers of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries, and to almost anyone who is interested in the Spiritualist movement in post-Civil War America.

I am the daughter of American short story writer and novelist, Allan Seager. I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project, later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.


Sincerely,

#2 Pete Morin

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 03:37 PM

Wow, Mrs. B - you've got a lot going on there!

This sounds like a fascinating read. You've managed to give a fairly detailed account in a single paragraph - too much detail, I think. The objective is not a one-paragraph synopsis (an excruciating exercise, for certain), but simply a summary of the major story line that compels the agent to want to read further. I think you can remove a good amount of the detail here and leave us with the core conflict.

I also think you'll hear that this lacks the requisite hook in the opening line. How do you boil that opening paragraph into a one-line zinger?

Something like


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#3 Late Bloomer

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 03:56 PM

I'm definitely seeing the same issues Pete mentions above. Develop that hook. Give us something that grabs our attention. Then take out a good portion of the names and other details provided, without losing the feel and essense of the story. I can tell it's a great story and a good read by what you've given us, but keep it for the full synopsis. In the query you want to give the agent a taste and entice.

#4 the transylvanian

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 08:48 PM

You have two chioces. If you decide to leave it like it is (and is not to bad), it will be one of those unconventional query that will make its way to an agent's heart just because of that particular reason; or you may choose to follow the conventional formula. I will sugest to try the second one and compare the results. Your story has a tremenduos potential. I like it.

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#5 Moonshade

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 10:03 PM

Dear Ms. :

The Civil War has been over for ten years, the Union victory has changed Vermont, and former Army chaplain, Asa Pierce, still struggles with visions of the dead at Gettysburg. Trying to find the faith he once had, he grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. The stage is set. This would be a good couple of sentences to start your second paragraph, but they don't make for a good hook. Someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. This seemed to come out of nowhere. Try blending it with the previous thought a little: "His attempt at a peaceful life is shattered when someone strangles...(etc)" Then his own servant is killed, and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers, raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse. Does he seek their help BY raising the dead in the farm house, or WHILE they are doing it? Or does he seek the help of people who happened to have done so in the past? The spirits are not that helpful, but Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, investigative Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa and together, speak to spirits, face down the Fenian Brotherhood, confront madness, heal Asa, and solve the crimes.SO. MANY. COMMAS. And I have no idea what's going on or how it connects to anything before. And if the dead don't actually help him all that much, do they need to be in the query? This seems to be the brunt of your plot, so give it the attention it deserves instead of cramming it all into one sentence.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery set in rural, post-Civil War Vermont where the consequences of the War have created depopulation, labor unrest, and personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation. The Irish brigades, many of whom are now working in the marble quarries, are members of secret societies, plotting invasions of Canada and dynamite campaigns. Wait, what? Go back, tell us all this in the part that describes the book's plot! That's juicy stuff right there! This could be the first of a series that follows the three from Vermont, New York City, London, and India. The novel will appeal to fans of Michael Killan’s Civil War mysteries, and readers of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries, and to almost anyone who is interested in the Spiritualist movement in post-Civil War America.

I am the daughter of American short story writer and novelist, Allan Seager. As awesome as this is, it's generally not in your favor to create an expectation or basis of comparison, especially if you're working in a different genre or have a different style. I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project, later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.


Sincerely,


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#6 mrsbraithwaite

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 09:25 AM

Thanks to everybody who commented---enormously helpful and encouraging. I'm going back to the drawing board and will pst revision in this thread.
Why is this so damn difficult? Probably because I don't really know what the book is about. I can tell the story, but what is it about?!!
Mrs. Braithwaite

#7 Al N

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 10:01 AM

I'm throwing in my two cents worth.

Put punch in your query -- active voice, active voice,etc. Gid rid of the passives, they cause earthquake from my langugage professor rolling oven in his grave.

Good skill -- don't count on luck.

Al N

#8 Pete Morin

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 10:53 AM

Why is this so damn difficult? Probably because I don't really know what the book is about. I can tell the story, but what is it about?!!


This is indeed the most difficult question to answer. I know it drove me insane anyway, until finally one day the light went on and I had an AHA MOMENT.

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#9 mrsbraithwaite

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 01:34 PM

I'm a techno dunce. How did you do the intertextual edits? Really helpful and would like to do this for others.
Mrs B

#10 mrsbraithwaite

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 03:37 PM

Okay, folks. Here is attempt #2.

Dear Ms. :

Former Army chaplain Asa Pierce is struggling to escape the ghosts of the dead at Gettysburg, but with the murder of his hired girl he has to turn to a different ghostly army to solve a murder in his quiet town.

Trying to find the faith he once had, he grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. His attempt at a peaceful life is shattered when someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. The War has depopulated Vermont and no household is free from personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation

Then his own servant is killed, and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers who are raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, investigative Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa to solve the crimes.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery set in rural, post-Civil War Vermont. The novel will appeal to fans of Michael Killan’s Civil War mysteries, and readers of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries, and to almost anyone who is interested in the Spiritualist movement in post-Civil War America.

I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project, later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.
Thank you for considering my query.


Sincerely,

#11 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 07:00 PM

Former Army chaplain Asa Pierce is struggling to escape the ghosts of the dead at Gettysburg, but with the murder of his hired girl ("his hired girl" is awkward sounding, then in the next paragraph you say the hired girl is the neighbor's) he has to turn to a different ghostly army to solve a murder in his quiet town.

Trying to find the faith he once had, he grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. His attempt at a peaceful life is shattered when someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. The War has depopulated Vermont and no household is free from personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation Combine this paragraph's remains with the next paragraph.

Then When his own servant is killed, and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers who are raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation(.) Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, investigative (if investigative commissioner is a title, you should capitalize both words) Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa to solve the crimes.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery set in rural, post-Civil War Vermont. The novel will appeal to fans of Michael Killan’s Civil War mysteries, and readers of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries, and to almost anyone who is interested in the Spiritualist movement in post-Civil War America.

I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project (for what?), later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.
Thank you for considering my query.


Sounds like a good story!

____________

 

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#12 Moonshade

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 07:23 PM

Dear Ms. :

Former Army chaplain Asa Pierce is struggling to escape the ghosts of the dead at Gettysburg, Given the title, I immediately wonder if he's trying to escape REAL ghosts. Is he? but with the murder of his hired girl he has to turn to a different ghostly army to solve a murder in his quiet town. Very nice

Trying to find the faith he once had, he grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. His attempt at a peaceful life is shattered when someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. This sentence is rather wordy. Try chopping it up into multiple sentences. The War has depopulated Vermont and no household is free from personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation.

Then his own servant is killed, and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers who are raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse.I want to know more about this. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation You repeated this line. Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, investigative Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa to solve the crimes. You've done a good job whittling this sentence down, but I'd recommend going a little further. Maybe "Two of Washington, D.C.'s intellectuals/investigators, in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa to track down the killer?" I also want to know a little more of what they actually do to solve the mystery, and where the ghosts come in.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery set in rural, post-Civil War Vermont. The novel will appeal to fans of Michael Killan’s Civil War mysteries, and readers of Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries, and to almost anyone who is interested in the Spiritualist movement in post-Civil War America.

I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project, later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.
Thank you for considering my query.


Sincerely,


Keep at it~ This definitely sounds like a fascinating read.

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#13 bkeats

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Posted 29 June 2011 - 08:40 AM

Off of Version #2. I am also incorporating some of SK and Moonshade's most excellent suggestions into this.

Dear Ms. :

Former Army chaplain Asa Pierce is struggling to escape the ghosts of the dead at Gettysburg, (I like this. You show us the timeframe without having to tell) but with the murder of when a local girl is murdered, his hired girl he Asa has to turn to a different type of ghost; one that is all too real army to solve a murder in his quiet town.

Trying to recover find the faith he once had, he Asa grows apples and serves as a Congregationalist minister. His attempt at a peaceful life is shattered when someone strangles a neighbor’s hired girl, and Asa is devastated by the loss of a single life in the midst of the wave of mourning engulfing the nation. (This isn't needed, and furthermore, if this is set ten years after the end of the Civil War [1875, in other words], then the "wave of mourning" has been going on for a long time already, and is probably already starting to ebb) The War has depopulated Vermont and no household is free from personal anguish. Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation. Then his own servant is killed, (That's the third time you've mentioned the same incident) and Asa, much against his better judgment, seeks answers from a pair of spiritualist farmers whom he discovers are raising the dead in an isolated farmhouse. (Here's your problem. You're talking about spirits, but "raising the dead" sounds like they're actually bringing the dead back to life, or worse yet, are creating zombies. Either way, this sentence is rather blase for such an amazing feat) Spiritualism, a response to the failures of science and traditional religion to heal the wounds of war, has swept the nation (You do realize the previous sentence was a repeat, right?) Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, Investigative Commissioner to the Lincoln assassination, (How is Olcott's title relevant? The last co-conspirator in the Lincoln Assassination was tried and hanged in 1867) in Vermont to study the spiritualist phenomena, join forces with Asa to solve the crimes.

MEDDLING WITH THE DEAD (And they'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those... :wink: ) is a 60.000 word historical murder mystery. I won a Major Hopwood Award for Martin’s Project, later accepted by Clark City Press the year it closed, 1993. I live in Manchester, Vermont with my husband and son.

Thank you for considering my query.


Sincerely,


Happy Writing :smile:

P.S. Please put the name of your novel in the Thread Title.

#14 Pete Morin

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Posted 29 June 2011 - 09:56 AM

Mrs. B -

**cough cough** LOVE the hook **cough cough**Posted Image
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#15 mrsbraithwaite

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Posted 29 June 2011 - 11:26 AM

Mrs. B -

**cough cough** LOVE the hook **cough cough**Posted Image

Hey, listen..you offered! But seriouisly---thanks. I'll give ya' credit in a reply to the guy who loved it!
Mrs B




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