Friday, June 1, 2018

Query Kombat Round 1: Punk Rock Waitress Rules vs Absalom, Absalom!

Title: Someone Somewhere Summertime

Entry Nickname: Punk Rock Waitress Rules

Word count: 88K

Genre: Adult – Women’s Fiction

Query:

Please enjoy my entry, a humorous piece of coming-of-age women’s fiction, complete at 88,000 words with series potential. It’s a post-punk, girl-power discovery journey described as Sweetbitter meets John Hughes. The novel chronicles a group of young women in the ‘80s, the first generation who were told they could have it all—love, education, careers, casual sex, meaning friendships, and creative fulfillment. No one mentioned the turmoil and frustration that would ensue when those women’s ambitions were set loose on the world, and they actually tried to get it all, post-college.

In 1984, punk is rampant, Warhol rules, and 23-year-old Pittsburgh art student Jessica is sick of missing the excitement. She sets her sites on a graduate study program in England she can’t afford, determined to grow as an artist and a person. Yet her long-time hometown boyfriend Drew decides they need to “see other people” if he’s not thrilling enough to keep her stateside.

Jessica and her avant-garde roommates set off to waitress in New Hope, PA, an upscale, culturally open-minded summer tourist town on the Jersey border, hellbent on saving the tuition to get to London. The girls rent a leaky basement apartment, braving waitressing chaos, slam dancers, drag shows, over-muscled townies, and co-workers of all sexual persuasions in search of the unsheltered, post-dorm life she’s been pining for. Then Jess meets Whit, a volatile new wave guitarist who crawls through her window and makes her head spin like a record.

But Whit turns out to be more trouble than the typical shiny new toy. He sends Jessica careening off the road in his Camaro during a heated tiff, draining her tuition savings with an ER bill. When lingering high school boyfriend Drew shocks Jess by transferring across the country, she’s left to decide whether being stuck on both guys is awesome, or a reckless personification of her cracked-glass mosaic art projects—and whether a commitment to either will hinder her dream trip to London.

First 250:

I’m not a good enough liar to get a job on the river side of New Hope, where the real waitresses work.

A restaurateur in a lavender silk shirt interrogates me, tapping a finger against his lips.

“Jessica Addentro,” he reads off my application. This is the seventh place I’ve visited today, and I have an hour before I have to meet the girls for a ride back to Trina’s house. My feet throb like a U2 drum kick.

I sit at Capresi’s Continental Restaurant in New Hope, sheltered between the canal and a creek that zig-zags as if it’s lost its way. Trina calls this Pennsylvania’s answer to San Francisco, where the lifestyle choices are as assorted as the menu selections. The whole town is an artsy tourist trap sprung between multiple bodies of water, including the Delaware River.

The restaurateur pronounces my name with an Italian flourish. “Ad-den-tro. Do you know what it means?”

I took high school Italian, but it’s been a while. “Inside?”

“Versed in.” He winds his free hand in a circle. “As in, full of insights. Does that sound like you?”

“Depends on the subject matter,” I say. “But okay.”

Sun-catchers shaped like owls and starbursts flash behind him, suspended from the ceiling amid twirling lanterns. Bookshelves and plants scream for a feather duster.

The man’s eyes flick down the page. “You live here in town?”

“Me and my roommates are moving into a place on Main Street this week.” Then life will begin.


VERSUS


Title: Hope

Entry Nickname:
Absalom, Absalom!

Word count: 93K

Genre: Women’s historical fiction

Query:

“I did everything God asked of me, and He took away everything I loved.”

HOPE MACDONALD was a fiercely independent tomboy, even in her isolated early twentieth century mountain community where her life is guided by the customs of her Scottish ancestors and the strict tenets of her Protestant religion. But her thirteenth birthday marks her entry into womanhood. Without her trademark overalls, and no longer allowed to pursue her favorite pastimes of fishing and trapping, Hope struggles to find her place.

When a devastating storm destroys their crops and kills much of the livestock, Hope’s family faces foreclosure. Believing that the only way to save their farm is to produce a larger crop, they propose to rent fallow land from their neighbor, ABSALOM NEVILLE. But Absalom wants only one thing in return: Hope.

Guided by her belief that she must follow God’s plan for her life and by her fear of what might happen if she angers Him, Hope agrees to marry Absalom, a man twice her age. This marriage will test her strength in ways she could never imagine and keep her bound to a man who has stolen her spirit and threatens to take her life.

Can she leave? Not unless she can overcome the paralyzing fear of stepping outside the boundaries that have been ingrained in her since childhood—that will make her a “tainted woman.” She and her children will be ostracized by the community, thrown out of the church, perhaps thrust into even worse poverty.

HOPE is historical women’s fiction complete at 93,000 words. It is similar in content to Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay and Sentence of Marriage, by Shayne Parkinson.


First 250:

My parents named me Hope. I was born too soon, a frail and tiny child, and hope was all they could give me.

In the Adirondack Mountains of the nineteen-aughts, life was a scrabble. My mother bore seven living babies; four others had not survived. That was the way of childbirth then: there were no promises.

I was tiny, but I grew and I thrived. Being the only girl I had little choice. Although I was small-framed like my Ma’s side, I inherited Da’s Scots features: his deep emerald eyes and auburn curls. My father declared I looked like a tiny ball of flames as I streaked barefoot across the barnyard, my bright red hair flying behind me.

“How’s my Fireball?” he’d tease, coming into the house at dinnertime. He had an easy smile when it came, one that seemed to make his whole face glow. Da’s smiles were rare, but I took every ounce of love he could spare and shined it right back on him. I loved to crawl into his lap on the rare occasion when he sat, nuzzling my face into his rough, hairy chest. I craved the smell of him. It was earthy but pleasant: the scent of hard work and honest living.

It never came to me that I couldn’t do anything my brothers could. They might now and then complain I was too little to play with them, but they never excluded me because I was a girl.

But on my thirteenth birthday—May 15, 1920—everything changed.

20 comments:

  1. JUDGES ONLY: Please reply to this comment with your feedback and match decision. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Red CardiganJune 2, 2018 at 11:33 AM

      OOh, this is a tough one. These are both great.

      Punk Rock Waitress Rules: I love the premise of this one. I'm a huge 80s music fan, so it excited me. The query is good, with some fabulous lines like, crawls through the window and makes her head spin like a record. That said, I would watch the music metaphors in both the query and pages. A light sprinkling will set the tone of the book, too much will pull the reader out. I do think the query is too long, and read a bit more like a synopses. The first paragraph can be almost completely eliminated, or shortened a great deal. I'd have liked to get a better feel for who Jessica is on the first page. How does she feel about applying for this job? Is she nervous? Excited? Overall, though, great job. this looks compelling, and right up my alley.

      Absalom, Absalom!: Love this one. I'm a huge fan of Disney's BRAVE and your character reminds me of her. Query can also be tightened, but I love that the stakes are cleanly laid out. I rooted for Hope right away from the image of her having to give up her overalls for a dress. I like the voice in the first page, and loved some of the turns of phrases. Loved the imagery of the tiny ball of flames streaking across the barnyard. Great job, I would love to read this.

      So hard. They are both great, but victory to Absalom, Absalom!

      Delete
    2. PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES

      The story description/quasi-logline in the second half of the first paragraph confused me. You talk about how the story is about a group of women, then the query itself is only about Jess. If there are other POVs, who are they? If not, I think you can ditch the logline-esque description and simply jump straight into the meat of Jess's tale. Beyond that, the query looks good. Clearly establishes Jess's character, where she's at and how things change and escalate. Only minor quibble is that you intro Drew as the boyfriend twice, so I'd recommend cutting the second mention of it and just go into Drew shocking her.

      Great voice in the 250, and I love the both your opening and ending lines. Great hooks. I feel bad because I've got no advice, but everything looks good to me.


      ABSALOM, ABSALOM!

      Query opens strong and hits all the right beats. I don't typically like loglines, but this one works for me. I'd like to see a bit more of a choice in the stakes. We know what might happens if she leaves, but what might happen if she stays? I assume her husband is abusive, going by the "threatens to take her life" line, but I think we need to see more detail on her life with him so Hope's choice comes across as more of a real one. Also, and this is minor, but I'd un-caps the names. You typically only do that for a synopsis, not a query.

      Your 250 looks great overall, but some of the tense threw me a little. Doubling down on the past tense for a flashback-style memory makes it seem like those observations Hope's making about how things were when she was born are no longer the case. Ex. "That was the way of childbirth then" makes it seem like it's easier in Hope's present, versus "That's the way of childbirth." Not wrong, but something to consider going forward.


      This is a tough matchup. Both have solid queries and first pages, but this is Thunderdome and only one entry leaves.

      Victory to PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES!

      Delete
    3. ------------------------------------------------
      Punk Rock Waitress Rules
      ------------------------------------------------

      Query: Your first paragraph should be moved down. Your query has a ton of bright spots, and when are actually explaining the plot, I’m very into it. You don’t need to explain what New Hope is, people know, and really, it just gets in the way. You need to stick to basics: Establish Jessica, give us a rough sketch of the plot (all that stuff about waitressing, drag shows, etc.) and then give us the stakes. Then let us ask for a synopsis and pages. The rest of the stuff you’ve got here hurt you more than help you. Though...how/why does Whit flip the car? Just because he’s mad? IF so, why is Jessica still into him? Also why is Jessica into Drew at all? Does she only want him now that her funds are drained? It’s unclear. Clarify the love triangle and cut the non-essential stuff.

      First 250 Words: As I expected, the writing is good. Just a few nips and tucks needed. Your query is not making as good an impression as this is, make sure to fix that.


      ------------------------------------------------
      Absalom, Absalom!
      ------------------------------------------------


      Query: This query is written oddly. Some transitions don’t make sense, such as “But her thirteenth..” in the opening paragraph. The use of starting the sentence with But does not appear to correspond to the sentence that precedes it. The rest of the query is a bit confusing. So Hope marries Absalom, she has kids with him? When is she thinking of leaving him exactly? The timeline here is muddy.

      First 250 Words: This is nice, i like a lot of it. No real suggestions, the accent work is a bit heavy handed for me personally, but I think it’s well done and not really overdone which is always a concern.
      ------------------------------------------------
      Victory to: Punk Rock Waitress Rules - Both authors need to really go back to their queries and rework them heavily. However, I’d happily read and finish Punk Rock Waitress Rules in a weekend :)

      Delete
    4. PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES

      QUERY:

      I think you should jump into the actual query faster. If you want to start with the word count, etc, that’s fine, but limit it to a sentence. I get you want to give the reader context, but the first line of the second paragraph is what we need to know to get a sense of the world the story takes place in.

      I love how you give a taste of all the major plot points, but don’t let it bog down the query. I'd say gut the opening paragraph and I think you have a great query.

      FIRST 250:

      Your opening has excellent imagery. I feel like I’m there. I think it needs a stronger hook. We don’t know why she’s trying to get this job yet, and I feel like that could pop us in quicker. But the writing is really strong, great job.

      ABSALOM, ABSALOM

      QUERY:

      I’m not sure you need the quote at the beginning. But’s it’s not a deal breaker.

      Otherwise, your query is really solid. I think the stakes are clear, and the choice Hope has before her makes me want to read the book. If I had one suggestion, maybe make Absolom’s implied abusive behavior a little more specific. I feel like there could be one unique line to really sell the threat this man represents.

      FIRST 250:

      There is a lot of backstory that I think works, but it does make me question from when the narrator is reflecting. It comes off as if Hope is speaking to a near modern audience, which implies (at least to me) that she survives to a ripe old age. This isn’t a complaint, but something to be aware of if this is not your intention.

      This is a really tough matchup that I had to sit on for a while. Excellent work to both of you. I’m going to go with the one that popped a bit more for me.

      WINNER: PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES

      Delete
    5. Punk Rock Waitress Rules

      Query:

      —love, education, careers, casual sex, meaning [should this be meaningful?] friendships

      Such a good setting and concept. Good query, with good voice. However, it’s long – I’d whittle it down. There’s nothing specific that should go, just prune it a bit.

      First 250:


      [Good writing! Good beginning!]

      Absalom, Absalom!

      Query:

      “I did everything God asked of me, and He took away everything I loved.”

      HOPE MACDONALD was a fiercely independent tomboy, even in her isolated early twentieth century mountain community where her life is guided by the customs of her Scottish ancestors and the strict tenets of her Protestant religion [This is a long opening – I’d break it up/reword].

      This marriage will test her strength in ways she could never imagine and keep her bound to a man who has stolen her spirit and threatens to take her life. [I don’t think you need the “test her strength” part – it’s too vague, and besides, the next part of the sentence implies that her strength is tested. I would elaborate slightly on what you mean by “stolen her spirit”, and be a little more specific on how he threatens to take her life.]

      She and her children [these children show up suddenly in the query – I’d mention that they were born before this] will be ostracized by the community, thrown out of the church, perhaps thrust into even worse poverty.

      This definitely is hooky, and I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding a home for it!


      First 250:

      I was tiny, but I grew and I thrived. Being the only girl, [add a comma] I had little choice. [This is a good beginning! I’d definitely keep reading.]

      Another tough matchup. I'm choosing one because the setting intrigues me just slightly more, but I'd read both of them.

      VICTORY TO PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES

      Delete
    6. Punk Rock Waitress Rules

      I almost stopped reading the query because of two errors:

      meaning[ful] friendships and sets her sites [should be sights] on a ... agents will forgive one, but not two that close together.

      The query is good and the first 250 are also good. It sounds a lot like Lena Dunham's Girls.

      Absalom, Absalom!
      When I read the query, I don't know why, but it felt like Christian fiction. I think it was the "Guided by her belief that she must follow God’s plan for her life and by her fear of what might happen if she angers Him, Hope agrees to marry Absalom, a man twice her age." that sort of got me.

      Then I got down to your 250 words and OMG, the VOICE here. You just capture the tone of that period. And that opening line!

      I love this and would definitely ask for more.

      Victory to: Absalom, Absalom!

      Delete
    7. Punk Rock Waitress Rules
      Query:
      Delete paragraph 1 and just have the wordcount/title/genre sentence at the end.

      Main issue for me is I am not sure why either Drew or Whit is a good choice. I see the bad parts (one is irresponsible, on is controlling and clingy)… for this to work (and for us to respect and side with Jessica), we need to get why she would like either of them.

      Should be “sets her sights” not “sites”

      “Yet her long-time hometown boyfriend Drew decides they need to “see other people” if he’s not thrilling enough to keep her stateside.” This is wordy. And I don’t know that see other people has to be quotes.

      There are several long strings of adjectives: “an upscale, culturally open-minded summer tourist town” – I think that’s too many. I’ve been to New Hope and that’s a good description, but specifics might be better. “A tourist town full of raucous gay bars, snooty art galleries, river decks with live music, etc etc.” See how the specifics and visuals are stronger?

      I want more stakes. What happens if she doesn’t go to London? Right now it just seems like she will miss an opportunity. Is there a chance that there is a scholarship at stake, or if she raises x dollars, someone will match that to make it affordable? I think that sort of concrete consequence will really be necessary to make the story click. If you have it already, great! Tell us what it is. If not, see what can be sharpened.

      First 250:
      Some nice touches in description, but I don’t feel her desperation for this job. She seems much too laid back for someone who really NEEDS this. Amp up the interiority. Let us see the artist passion. I get that her description shows her artist’s eye, but maybe link that more. “Sun-catchers shaped like owls and starbursts flash behind him, reminding me of [some artwork she made or saw].” So we really get her heart and soul upfront.

      VS

      Absalom, Absalom!
      Query:
      Very clear stakes and characterization.

      “a man twice her age” – can you move this up to when we first hear his name? That will set us up for what is coming.

      “This marriage will test her strength in ways she could never imagine and keep her bound to a man who has stolen her spirit and threatens to take her life.” – this is very vague and you are burying the most EXCITING and TERRIBLE part “THREATENS HER LIFE” – whaaaaaat??? How why what? This is huge! “test her strength” is way less strong and focused. Give us a couple specifics on how bad this guy is and how bad it gets.

      First 250:
      A very nice intro to the character. I like the opening a lot.

      Can you amp up the kicker (that she is going to be treated differently because she is a girl)? Maybe more specifics of the things she does with her brothers – work, play, run, jump, climb, etc. Show them together and then we will see what she is losing by being set apart.

      --------------------------------
      VICTORY to ABSOLOM ABSOLOM!

      Delete
  2. Punk Rock Waitress Rules:
    As a Pittsburgh girl myself, this query really excited me. I became totally wrapped up in what (practical-me) thought were going to be really bad life decisions. I also love the 1980s, so everything about the culture, music, and general feel of this was intriguing.
    My personal opinion is that the query could get to the exciting stuff more quickly. Perhaps save some of the extra stuff of the first sentence for the end (the pleases, the fact that it’s humorous, and that it has series potential. This all delayed me from diving right into being interested in it.) Maybe insert the title at the beginning as well. The pronoun of “It’s a…” made me pause.
    That being said, these are only suggestions for you to play with to make the opening of your query more of a punch in the face. What you have now certainly sucked me in by the end of the third sentence.
    I really liked the first sentence of your 250. I had to pause and think about what you just said, and then I laughed. If anything, I’d say perhaps we could see more tension around how she feels about this interview. Does she really want it? Does she just want to get out of there and meet her friends? Again – I’m nit picking. I totally enjoyed reading this.


    Absalom, Absalom!:
    “My father declared I looked like a tiny ball of flames as I streaked barefoot across the barnyard, my bright red hair flying behind me.”
    I loved that line. That line is something I can see my husband saying about my daughter. Though everything before this line was full of drama, this was the line that made me care. The voice through the whole 250 is very clear. I hear it in the query as well.
    There was something that pulled me out of this entry and I think it was that it felt like too much of the drama was told to me instead of shown to me in a way that would break my heart. Because an engaged 13-year-old definitely made me pause (while not horrific then, in today’s age this would be outrageous, which means heart-strings will be violently tugged). The potential for heartbreak in this novel is DEEP. I’d almost be scared to read it, wondering if I could handle it. But for this potential depth, I feel like too much of the heart-breaking nature of it is just told to me outright. This is vague criticism and for that I apologize. Whne you do provide the imagery it is wonderful.
    You have some great lines here. “It never came to me that I couldn’t do anything my brothers could. They might now and then complain I was too little to play with them, but they never excluded me because I was a girl.” I loved this one too. But then a lot in the middle was just TELLING me how things were.
    I hope this is helpful. I think you probably have a very deep novel here.

    ReplyDelete
  3. SOMEONE SOMEWHERE SUMMERTIME

    I feel like you could probably skip the entire first paragraph- starting with the nuts and bolts like comparison points is a bit like starting an action movie with the end credits. The actual query itself is a bit too much like a plot summary- what makes Jessica a compelling character? The strength of John Hughes was his ability to deliver memorable characters, but I didn't really get a sense of what Jessica is like from this query- the best I've got is she's a stand-in for every twenty-something woman of her socioeconomic standing, location and time period.

    I like the sense of place in the first 250 and the dialogue is snappy. Just a few notes: the U2 line made me groan a little because it's so very much "THIS TAKES PLACE IN THE EIGHTIES". I also found the sun-catchers paragraph to be needlessly florid and out-of-place. But overall, I dig the writing style.

    HOPE

    I love your query letter's first few paragraphs. You do a great job of introducing information without making it feel like an info dump or a plot summary. The stakes are obvious and apparent and I want to know what happens.

    My one addendum is the last paragraph, while not outright stating it, does kinda give away that Hope leaves. That deflated my enthusiasm some. I would tweak it to make both options seem equally painful, to show that Hope is trapped in a terrible position. It also contradicts the first paragraph: the "fiercely independent tomboy" is now stricken with "the paralyzing fear of stepping outside the boundaries that have been ingrained in her since childhood".

    I wasn't quite as fond of the first 250, I think probably because it felt so boilerplate. Ironically it felt more info dumpy than your query letter, at least by the standards of prose. I think you could omit information like the year and location right from the get-go and do more stuff like the rich details of her early childhood, like her father's smell.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Punk Rock Waitress Rules:

    I love the 80’s setting. Makes me excited about a Sex and the City type story. I would limit the first para of your query to the word count and comps, then go straight to para 2 and let me discover what your story is about. Does she ever make it to London? I was hoping she would and we’d get to see her there, but maybe that’s book 2.

    A few nitpicks: It should be “sets her SIGHTS.” Instead of “Yet” say “Meanwhile” in the last sentence of para 2.

    Absalom, Absalom!

    I love everything about this story. The first sentence of your Query would make a great 1st line of your MS! The query covers a lot of time: age 13 to married with children. I would focus less on the backstory and more on the conflict/stakes which seems to be escaping her marriage. I love that her faith is a part of your story. This creates an inner struggle in her that we want to see.

    In the first 250 her voice is distinct and strong and her way of speaking is realistic for the place and time – that must not be easy to do and it’s awesome. Consider whether your story starts in the right place, or whether it’s starting with backstory. Make sure you start strong with the conflict - - then sprinkle in the backstory as you go.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Punk Rock Waitress Rules

    Query: I love just about anything set in the 80s, so this is right up my alley. This sounds like an interesting story and the stakes are clear. I don’t feel like you need the first paragraph, though. It makes the query feel a little too formal, and, honestly, your second paragraph is really strong and would make an excellent first paragraph.

    First 250: The first two sentences feel a bit disjointed to me. Maybe combine the second sentence to the next paragraph, where he reads her name. Also, since you mention New Hope in the very beginning, you probably don’t need to mention the restaurant she’s in is in New Hope later on. Otherwise I really like this.


    Absalom, Absalom!

    Query: This story sounds amazing. I like the query a lot, but I feel like it gives away the ending a bit because it implies she leaves. Instead of asking “Can she leave?” consider just telling us she wants to leave and what she faces if she does, or doesn’t. I’d also leave out the quote in the beginning.

    First 250: The writing is beautiful and I love the voice. I do feel like this is too much backstory though. Some of this information can be weaved into the story later on. Also, her small size is mentioned so many times in these 250 words – five times by my count. That’s a lot for the first page, so I'd consider removing at least a couple of those references.

    Good luck to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Punk Rock: Great storyline. If I was an agent, I'd be requesting more because it sounds like a fun, rollicking story. One challenge I had, however, was this: I thought you set up the main story goal as getting to London, but it seems most of the query talks more about surviving day to day and wondering which guy to pick. Guess my point is: I'm not positive about your story in the current query, so make sure the plot is clear versus the sub-plot.

    Couple things to take care of:
    - I think "meaning" should be "meaningful in the opening paragraph.
    - "sites" should be "sights" in paragraph 2.
    - "The girls ... she's" in paragraph 3 starts plural and ends singular, so you'll want to change that.
    I loved a couple of your lines like "head spin like a record"

    Absalom:
    Great voice. Tough subject matter, but the voice really came out strong, so nice job there. Watch your tense in the opening sentence of your query (after the quote). You start with "was" and then have "is" so it goes past tense/present tense in the same sentence. And it's a looonnnggg sentence for a query letter. You might consider shortening or breaking into two sentences.

    In your 250, I'd dump the phrase "now and then" because it doesn't add anything to that sentence and with no punctuation it's a little difficult to read without having to backtrack for a moment. Otherwise, great stuff with a tough subject.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Punk Rock Waitress Rules:

    Query: Great period setting and fun, intriguing characters. Only thing I would've liked to see more of was tension -- either higher stakes if Jessica doesn't get to England or more conflict between the characters. Loved "Makes her head spin like a record" ... brilliant!

    1st 250: Awesome 1st person voice -- I've worked as a (terrible) waitress and I very much related to this scene. I didn't understand the first line, however: I’m not a good enough liar to get a job on the river side of New Hope, where the real waitresses work." Does this mean she'd have to lie to get a job over there? Or that only liars get jobs over there? The confusion pulled me out of the story, but this could just be me not getting it.

    vs

    Absalom, Absalom!

    Query: Reminded me of the novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles… in a good way! This sentence, "This marriage will test her strength in ways she could never imagine and keep her bound to a man who has stolen her spirit and threatens to take her life" really raises the stakes but maybe there's a way to (briefly) be more specific about why her life is in danger?

    1st 250: This section gave me a great feel for the period and for Hope’s character but I wonder if it would be more effective to move this backstory to another spot and open with a more dramatic scene? Just a thought. Great job!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Punk Rock Waitress: The first paragraph in the query is mostly just telling what the story will be about. Show instead later on. The third paragraph could be tightened up. We don't need to know everything that happens when they get to London. It feels like you're trying to cram a bit too much of the story in here, but I did enjoy the query. Got a really good feel of the setting and tone.
    First 250, I loved the line "My feet throb like a U2 drum kick". Perfect for the era your story is in. Got nervous being in that job interview with her.

    Absalom, Absalom!: I don't thnk you need to capitalize your characters in a query letter. I'd like to hear a bit more about her marriage and how horrible he is. Also, you mention children by the end, so this query spans over the course of a few years? Otherwise, this was solid. Tough subject matter but you presented it well.
    First 250 the writing the really good, but it was mostly backstory. I love the opening, but I wonder if some parts in the middle could be moved around to later in the chapter?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Punk Rock Waitress Rules

    Query:

    This is a great query. I think I would lose the first paragraph, but only because I’m under the impression agents don’t like us explaining what the book is about. Then I would put the book keeping at the end.

    I would start with: It’s 1984. Punk is rampant, Warhol rules, and….”

    Other than that, I don’t think I would change a thing.

    250 words:

    I love this!

    Your writing is so good!

    My only nit-pick is I found it strange that Jessica didn’t remember what Addentro meant.

    Good luck!

    Absalom, Absalom!

    Query:

    I don’t think the first line does anything for the query.

    The names in a query shouldn’t be capitalized.

    The first sentence is a bit of a mouthful. I think you it would flow better if you cut it in two.

    The MC seems a little young for Women’s fiction, and definitely for marriage.

    The MC’s action (agreeing to get married and staying in a violent relationship) seems a little at odds with the description of her as fiercely independent.

    250 words:

    I really like the first sentence.

    Your words are beautiful, but I would try to avoid going into backstory so soon. Put the MC in a scene, and give us her history in small dozes as the scene unfolds.

    Good luck!

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  10. PUNK ROCK WAITRESS RULES
    Query: Overall, it's a really interesting query and I think it's only weakness now is a few trimable word choices, so that's cool. Mostly it's additional modifiers, such as "post college" in the paragraph (so, just "No one mentioned the turmoil and frustration that would ensue when those women’s ambitions were set loose on the world.") Since it's an adult book, I'd assume it was adult women, and I think the rest of the letter places the ages of your protags well.
    THe middle two paragraphs are excellent and interesting. I especially liked the spinning like a record bit as it's so flavorful and appropriate for your timeline.
    I had to read the last paragraph several times to get it, though, especially the last two lines. The Camero accident and ER bills were cool, but I wasn't clear whether the boyfriend transferred *away* or *to* Jessica and I think the last aside about hindering a trip to London is unneeded - I was totally hooked with the shattered glass art bit.

    First 250:I mean, I don't have a whole ton to say. I'd keep reading. The U2 beat thing kinda made me roll my eyes, but in a good way? Like "Yep, ok, here we are in the 80s for sure."

    Absalom, Absalom!

    Query: Overall, great query, and given that this sort of historical fiction isn't quite my jam, the fact that I was pretty interested is great for you. I think my only concern is that I was never able to quite pin down Hope's age in the manuscript itself. I spent most of the query thinking that this was about a 13 year old, and then got to the sentence about her children and went "wait, what?". Maybe instead of the fairly generic sentence about Hope finding her place, something to indicate her age in the MS. You could tie it from subsequent paragraphs or something like that.

    First 250: A lot of people are saying the back story is too much - I liked it but I also had a very sympathetic reaction to it and you can't count on that. The first 2 lines about childbirth in the mountains are great. Start with that (you could also start with the part about her father, whatever is more important) and consider moving the rest away - opening on that punch and then going straight into some kind of conflict or interaction. It depends on how old Hope is when the book opens.

    Good luck and good job to both of you!

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  11. Punk Rock Waitress Rules

    Query:
    In the first paragraph you say that the novel chronicles a group of young women in the ‘80s. This made me think that this would be a multiple POV novel, but it seems to be basically about Jessica. That is fine, I would just cut that line in the query.

    I think the rest of the query is good, except you introduce Drew twice. I don’t think you need the first one. The concept sounds very interesting. I love the 80s!

    First 250:
    The writing is very good in the excerpt. You do a good job setting the scene. If this is the job she ends up getting, it would be nice to see more of a funny interaction between them establishing their relationship. But that is totally a subjective opinion on my part. I would definitely keep reading!

    Absalom, Absalom!

    Query:
    This query has lots of good information, but it is quite long. I would work on tightening up some of the details. I would also make it very clear what is wrong with the marriage other than his age. You mention he threatens to take her life, but does this mean that he is verbally abusive, or is he also physically abusive? Those details will help with the stakes in the second to last paragraph—which are very good!

    First 250:
    The first page does a good job of introducing the main character and making the reader care about her. At the same time, it feels like other historical novels I’ve read about a woman coming of age. Is there a way to make it different? It’s written very well.

    Good luck to both entries! They both sound amazing.

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  12. Punk Rock Waitress Rules: Damn. You have a great query. This isn't a genre I read at all, but you've caught my attention with your ability to succinctly tell us what your story is about while grabbing us with a fantastic voice. Your first 250 also shows you can live up to the talent I see in the query. I really wouldn't know where to offer feedback. You're obviously a very strong writer, and I adamantly disagree with anyone who may or may not have said you should go back and rework your query heavily. I think you should stick to your guns on this one. The only suggestion I could see improving it would be to move the first paragraph to the end in order to let us dive right into what the story's about.

    Absalom, Absalom!: I really like the unique approach of starting out with a line of dialogue that tells us a lot about the MC. You may get a range of opinions on this opening, and at the end of the day, I'm not an agent, so I don't know how they'd react to this approach. So while I want you to keep it, I would be open to the possibility of changing it, should you get a bad response while querying. Other than that, you have a strong query. As for the first 250, good job on that as well. The writing is great, and you have your work cut out for you. I wouldn't change a thing.

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  13. Hope:

    “I did everything God asked of me, and He took away everything I loved.” [I'm not a fan of this opening. I get what you're going for, but without knowing the character first I don't really have enough for this to really make me feel for the character]

    HOPE MACDONALD was a fiercely independent tomboy, even in her isolated early twentieth century mountain community where her life is guided by the customs of her Scottish ancestors and the strict tenets of her Protestant religion. But her thirteenth birthday marks her entry into womanhood. Without her trademark overalls, and no longer allowed to pursue her favorite pastimes of fishing and trapping, Hope struggles to find her place. [whoa, that's a lot going on. My main issue is that it's quite distant. You could tell us more by getting closer to the character and showing us more: about what her life looks like, about how she feels about her upbringing and what her problem/s with the change is/are. Not easy to do in a couple of sentences, but very strong once you get it. An interesting exercise is to write the query in 1st person—obviously, in the end you want it back in 3rd, but it's a good way to get the voice out and pinpoint the most important things to say]

    When a devastating storm destroys their crops and kills much of the livestock, Hope’s family faces foreclosure. Believing that the only way to save their farm is to produce a larger crop, they propose to rent fallow land from their neighbor, ABSALOM NEVILLE. But Absalom wants only one thing in return: Hope. [Could maybe be tightened a bit. It'll depend quite a bit on what you do to the 1st paragraph, if you choose to rewrite it/try the exercise]

    Guided by her belief that she must follow God’s plan for her life and by her fear of what might happen if she angers Him, Hope agrees to marry Absalom, a man twice her age. [when I say tighten, this is a good example. If you show us Hope as strongly religious early on, you don't need to tell us any of this; you can just say "He's twice her age, but it's God's plan for her life and Hope doesn't dare to defy it." Shorter and easier to read, and closer to the MC all at once] This marriage will test her strength in ways she could never imagine and keep her bound to a man who has stolen her spirit and threatens to take her life. [Very very vague. One or two specifics on each of these things wouldn't take many more words, and they'd go a long way. The more specifics we know, the closer we are—and the closer we are the more we care]

    Can she leave? Not unless she can overcome the paralyzing fear of stepping outside the boundaries that have been ingrained in her since childhood—that will make her a “tainted woman.” ["Leaving him means crossing the boundaries she's been raised within, and tainting her own and her family's(?) name." is all you need] She and her children [when did they have kids? I thought this was all happening over the course of maybe weeks] will be ostracized by the community, thrown out of the church, perhaps thrust into even worse poverty. [oh, it ends here? I expected a "but..." Okay, I see the stakes and they're probably really powerful in the story itself, but with the vagueness and the distance I don't feel like I know the MC enough to a)know exactly what her big choice is and why it's tearing her apart, and b)really care about her and her struggles enough to lose sleep until I get the pages and can see what happens next. Both of which are things you need]


    The first 250 have some lovely images and turns of phrases in there. It looks like a well-crafted, thought-out story that touches upon a lot of complicated topics, and the prose reads like a recollection after the fact (or perhaps a diary/memoir type thing), which gives it a sense that things would be okay in the end even with all the hard stuff to come.

    Good luck~!

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