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Need critiques on this first person query


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#1 jcd39

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 03:28 PM

In Russo’s Domain: the legacy of an idiot, John Daly, a husband and father of three, examines the uncanny connectedness of his life experiences as he battles a serious illness, his personal demons, and the interminable fear that threatens to destroy him and his family.

When you come to a point in your life where you realize you might not have a lot of time left you look back and regrets start to creep in. When I was diagnosed with cancer, what bothered me more than anything was that I had let my family down; I never gave them the best of what I had to offer. I call it “The legacy of an idiot.” That’s when they put you in the ground and people say, “Yeah, he could really do this, or really do that, but he never did—and then he died.” Here’s the thing: as a little kid, an abductor tries to make off with me, but my mother turns her head right before the abductor turns the corner; I’m saved—why? Does my life actually have a purpose? Then, it’s one thing after the other, the flaming cat, horrific car accidents, mining accidents, a jealous redneck with a hunting rifle, and those damn greenback flies—it’s like nature is trying to do me in but just can’t seal the deal. Life can be really scary when you have an enemy with that kind of power. Sometimes I feel like the helpless mouse the cat toys with before he strikes the final blow. The latest salvo, cancer, is as scary as it gets. Now, when I’m scared, fear literally cripples me. (For more details on this you’ll have to read the book). Anyway, what I do in Russo’s Domain is try to figure out what the root of my fear is before it destroys what I once considered a mundane and rather provincial life (major change). Was it the childhood bully, the chaotic urban environment, the pedophile, the redheaded cheerleader, the low expectations, or merely the wrath of consequence—punishment for an unforgivable sin? In my journey to the truth and the revelation of the dark secret I concealed for thirty-four years, I discover angels without wings, among them a newspaper editor, a college professor, a pizzeria waitress, and a beautiful young art teacher—Josephine Russo.

As a man who truly understands how precious time is, I deeply appreciate whatever amount of it you devote to Russo’s Domain: the legacy of an idiot (91,000 words).

I am John Daly, and I am cancer free. I live in Coral Springs, Florida with my wife and three children. I walked away from the writing life at the age of seventeen because I didn’t believe I deserved to feel this good. How could I be such an idiot? For the answer, read Russo’s Domain.

Warm Regards,
John C. Daly

#2 jcwrites

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 06:16 PM

First, congratulations on beating cancer. You're a survivor. That's impressive. Congratulations, too, on finishing a book about it. That could not have been an easy task. The sad reality is that, unless the writer is well known (meaning celebrity status) or has a substantial existing platform (say, a columnist or a blogger), memoirs are a terribly difficult genre to sell at any level, whether to agents, to publishers, or to the reading public. There are exceptions, of course (Tuesdays with Morrie comes to mind, but even there the author, Mitch Albom, was a newspaper columnist), and you might be the one if you have extraordinary writing skill, perseverance, and luck. If you have not already done so, I advise you to Google the subject, selecting posts from literary agent sites where the issue has been discussed by people with more knowledge than I.

Sorry to break this to you. I'd be delighted to learn that I am wrong.

#3 Revo

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 06:46 PM

Not to make light of your plight, but I'd say what this story needs is heaping mounds of self-effacing humor. Keep the introspection volume knob turned down and focus on the humor in surviving the perils you listed. You just might have something that would transcend the inspirational and uplifting and bring it to that highest level of art...flat out, bust your gut, pee your pants humor.

Again, IN NO WAY do I mean to mock. I'm saying this with all due seriousness. But if you can write a book at that level, wouldn't it mean something for a doctor who just dropped a bomb on some poor person in a similar situation to hand that same human your book? Think about it...

"You CAN do this. You CAN win. Here's a book from a guy that went through this. Give it a read...you might find it helps"

There are things wayyyyy more important that getting on NYT bests seller list, and this just MIGHT be one of those things. You might find it helps you find peace as well.

Peace out.

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At the end of the day, wishes are just a suggestion box ticket for dreams, and dreams, while entertaining, are not of substance. Achievement is won on the ground, not in the clouds.

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#4 RC Lewis

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 09:46 PM

I don't think it's for us to say whether a manuscript should be queried (yes, memoirs can be tough to break into, but heck, so are novels and everything else) or how the manuscript should be written. We're here to help the query shine.

That said, John, I think you need to do a little more homework on queries. My understanding is that memoir queries should do a lot of the same things as a novel query. Right now, you've got 285 words (already past the 250-word sweet spot for queries) before this sentence: "Anyway, what I do in Russo’s Domain is try to figure out what the root of my fear is before it destroys what I once considered a mundane and rather provincial life (major change)."

The fact that you start a sentence with "Anyway..." like that is probably a clue that you've been rambling. :blush: Not a good thing in a query, and the first thing every agent will assume is that the ms is rambling and unfocused as well.

I'm pretty sure that in a memoir query (just as in a novel query), you need a hook to grab interest, then just enough more to make the agent say, "Oh, yeah, I've gotta read this." I'm not sure what the most effective way to do that with memoir is ... through voice, some particularly intriguing details, etc. Right now it's a little long and all over the place, so the first thing I'd say is to find a focus and hone in on that.
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#5 jcd39

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 07:15 AM

Wow! Such incredibly insightful commentary. I feel compelled to respond to each of you, so I will. Jayce, you have inspired me. What I do posess is extraordinary writing skill, the will to persevere, and "uncanny luck." Perserverance is a character trait that can't be taken away, luck is the residue of the first, and extraordinary writing skill can only be seen when one actually reads what you've written. What I'm not concerned with is my bio. I'm well aware that if Brad Pitt had cancer and decided to write about it, a bidding war would take place. The scant bio is part of my story, and I attempted to convey that message: "I walked away from the writing life at the age of seventeen because I didn't believe I deserved to feel this good." My hope was that would provoke a question. Obviously, I failed in that attempt.

Revo, here's the problem I have. Russo's Domain isn't about surviving cancer. It's about realizing your dreams. Cancer just happened to be the catalyst that unblocked me after thirty-four years. I don't particularly like books about cancer survivors. I've read several of them iand find them sappy, preachy, and very predictable. Most notable is The Last Lecture, a book I enjoyed, but couldn't get over Randy Pauch having such a perfect life before he gets sick. For some reason, it irked me. He really didn't learn anything, or change for that matter, he just kind of told everyone else how they should live their lives. I hate that. Russo's domain is chock full of laughs, but it also evokes anger, tears, and joy. It's a big onion with lots of layers and It's hard to get it all in a query letter. Allow me to post a letter from the college writing professor who is mentioned in the query.

I just finished reading the last section you e-mailed me and it is fantastic! The whole memoir is the triumph I felt it was from the start. I laughed, I cried, I felt great joy for you. In my judgement, you definitely have it, that special knack to make things ring true, to make words create the reality you want. In some ways, the book is metafiction, a work that creates the sense that it is concious of itself as a constructed reality. That element gives the work an added dimension. As a record of a life, it is powerful.

How the hell am I supposed to get all that in a query letter?

RC--This query is the tenth query letter I've written. I recieved some feedback from a couple of agents who mentioned that my prior queries lacked any voice. This was an attempt to apply a first person voice. Again, I failed miserably. This is definitely a rambler. Voice is not consistent throughout Russo's Domain, because I work with a disjointed timeline, employing a different tone and voice that would be consistent with where the character is in his life. Again, how do I get all that in a query letter? I will attempt to try and tighten up the query and repost a revised version.

Thank you all so much for your input. It has been very helpful and your time is much appreciated. Warm Regards, John D.

#6 vondrac

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 08:58 AM

Russo's Domain isn't about surviving cancer. It's about realizing your dreams.
^There's your hook. Here's what I'd do for the rest:

Sentence or two outlining leadup to memoir; childhood, cancer diagnosis, reflections, etc. Sentence or two outlining result of these events, what your memoir is getting at, and if like most memoirs you have one of those epiphany moments, whack in the general thrust of it around here.

Bio part here:
I am John Daly, and I am cancer free. I live in Coral Springs, Florida with my wife and three children. I walked away from the writing life at the age of seventeen because I didn’t believe I deserved to feel this good. How could I be such an idiot? For the answer, read Russo’s Domain.
^This sentence is a little awkward around the "deserved to feel this good" part, and pushing the agent to read your book is a no-no in my experience.

As a man who truly understands how precious time is, I deeply appreciate whatever amount of it you devote to Russo’s Domain: the legacy of an idiot (91,000 words).
^Good closing.

Hope I helped in even the slightest and if you'd like to take a gander at my query for Star-Crossed and Moonstruck I'd appreciate it. :)

#7 jcd39

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 09:11 AM

Vondrac, My heart skipped a beat when I read your first sentence; that's always a good sign. I think I can work with some of your suggestions. You people are a God send. And yes, I'll check out your query.

#8 Peter W

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 12:03 PM

RC--This query is the tenth query letter I've written. I recieved some feedback from a couple of agents who mentioned that my prior queries lacked any voice. This was an attempt to apply a first person voice. Again, I failed miserably. This is definitely a rambler. Voice is not consistent throughout Russo's Domain, because I work with a disjointed timeline, employing a different tone and voice that would be consistent with where the character is in his life. Again, how do I get all that in a query letter? I will attempt to try and tighten up the query and repost a revised version.


That is the point, you do not need to cram all of that into the query, that is what your book is for :smile: Remember, in a query you only have to entice the agent enough so he/she will be wanting to read more, nothing else. Think simple, think concise. Voncdrac has given you a good hook and a place to start, now you have to boil down the main plot, and leave us wanting more.

And I agree with what the others have said, especially regarding the two instances where you say that the agent has to read the book. That is like holding a python in your hands with no knowledge of whether it has already been fed or not. In my experience, it hasn't.

Looking forward to read your next revision!
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#9 jcd39

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 12:08 PM

Updated Version

Russo’s Domain: a memoir isn’t about surviving cancer; it’s about realizing your dreams.

John Daly is an ordinary man living a mundane life until he awakes in a hospital recovery room to find his wife of twenty-six years holding up a snapshot of the bloody nemesis. With tears in her eyes, her voice quavering, she says, “It’s not good.
It was a moment of reckoning, a time to settle accounts. The wrath of consequence had been chasing him, taunting him his entire life. As a child, he broke from the grasp of an abductor devoid of what is uniquely human—a man who would have gratified his impulses and discarded what remained. And on a mountain road, on a bright day in early spring, he found himself on the right side of the road at the wrong place in time. On senior cut day, on a blind curve, his Chevy Nova slammed head-on into a Gran Torino packed with seven of his classmates. Was nature toying with him? When a slab of rock slid out from beneath his feet, leaving him dangling by a length of rope over a 500-foot hole in Manhattan Island, he had considered a cameo at Sunday Mass as compensation for his pathetic life. Instead, a beachside repose in Fort Lauderdale would suffice—until it was interrupted by drunken jealous redneck pointing a hunting rifle at his chest. And in his final summer at the Jersey shore, fate left him bobbing in the chilly inland waters of the Atlantic with blood-sucking greenback flies swarming about his head, determined to put a floater in the morning paper. Defiant and confident, John Daly conquers the interminable fear of an invisible foe as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads to the revelation of the dark secret that almost destroyed his dreams.

As a man who truly understands how precious time is, I deeply appreciate whatever amount of it you devote to Russo’s Domain: a memoir (91,000 words).

John Daly worked briefly at the Hudson Dispatch in Union City, NJ. before taking a really high-paying job as a sandhog working in the bedrock under New York City. He attended William Paterson University before destroying his life and running off to Florida. He now lives and writes in Coral Springs, Florida with his wife and three children.

Warm Regards,
John C. Daly

#10 vondrac

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 12:13 PM

Russo’s Domain: a memoir isn’t about surviving cancer; it’s about realizing your dreams.

John Daly is an ordinary man living a mundane life until he awakes in a hospital recovery room to find his wife of twenty-six years holding up a snapshot of the bloody nemesis. With tears in her eyes, her voice quavering, she says, “It’s not good.
^This sentence makes no sense. Remember, this is a memoir, not a psych thriller. Try to not confuse us.
It was a moment of reckoning, a time to settle accounts. The wrath of consequence had been chasing him, taunting him his entire life. As a child, he broke from the grasp of an abductor devoid of what is uniquely human—a man who would have gratified his impulses and discarded what remained. And on a mountain road, on a bright day in early spring, he found himself on the right side of the road at the wrong place in time. On senior cut day, on a blind curve, his Chevy Nova slammed head-on into a Gran Torino packed with seven of his classmates. Was nature toying with him? When a slab of rock slid out from beneath his feet, leaving him dangling by a length of rope over a 500-foot hole in Manhattan Island, he had considered a cameo at Sunday Mass as compensation for his pathetic life. Instead, a beachside repose in Fort Lauderdale would suffice—until it was interrupted by drunken jealous redneck pointing a hunting rifle at his chest. And in his final summer at the Jersey shore, fate left him bobbing in the chilly inland waters of the Atlantic with blood-sucking greenback flies swarming about his head, determined to put a floater in the morning paper.
Still way too wordy! Give us a taste, not a mini-synopsis.
Defiant and confident, John Daly conquers the interminable fear of an invisible foe as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads to the revelation of the dark secret that almost destroyed his dreams.
Interesting but a little ambiguous.

As a man who truly understands how precious time is, I deeply appreciate whatever amount of it you devote to Russo’s Domain: a memoir (91,000 words).

John Daly worked briefly at the Hudson Dispatch in Union City, NJ. before taking a really high-paying job as a sandhog working in the bedrock under New York City. He attended William Paterson University before destroying his life and running off to Florida. He now lives and writes in Coral Springs, Florida with his wife and three children.
Talking in third person, why?

Warm Regards,
John C. Daly




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