Ask Daphne! About My Query XV

August 5th, 2009 • Kate

soft-shoes-on-feetIrish dance shoes for Tami, who’s our latest participant in my semi-regular feature “About My Query.” How’s it work? I’m glad you asked. Authors are welcome to email me at daphne.unfeasible@gmail.com with their query, with the subject line “About My Query” and your book’s title. Semi-regularly, I will post one of these queries and share my reaction, afterwards opening up the comments to my readers’ suggestions for further improvement.

Today, we have a special treat, as Intern Jenny is also going to add her thoughts to Tami’s query, which follows:

Dear Daphne,

Life for eighteen-year old Pence McCree is a little off key. A musician struggling with schizophrenia, Pence finds himself jobless, penniless and stuck in Limerick, a strange town obsessed with Irish-themed clichés. In desperation, Pence applies to the local theme park, expecting to land a music gig to see him through the summer. Instead, he’s offered the job of the theme park’s mascot, Luke, the Lucky Leprechaun.

What Pence didn’t expect to find was a love for Madison, setting Pence’s life on a new course. Madison is a girl just trying to get out of the shadow of her outgoing best friend and get through the summer working her first job. She is Pence’s melody. She makes him feel normal, so much so, that he decides to go off his meds. Madison must help Pence before he sinks deeper into the imaginary voices in his head, dragging her down with him.

Lost and Found is a contemporary young adult 80,000-word novel. It is the story of two teens that find true love in the most unlikely situation. It narrates the life of a mentally unstable young man and the strength a young woman must find to save them both. The manuscript is complete and available upon request.

I am co-creator of , a blog that believes there should be truth in teen fiction. I also belong to several young adult writing groups.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Tami

There’s parts of this that I really like, and other parts that I think need some improvement. First of all, is Pence Irish? I assume so, but you could also be talking about a town in America named after Ireland’s Limerick. You might want to make that clearer. I also think the musical metaphors need to go — like your Limerick, they’re a little cliched. (Side note: I once did get stuck in Limerick, waiting for a flight out of Shannon Airport, in a dingy hotel with a burgeoning cold and a dwindling supply of reading materials. Not my favorite Irish city.)

Also, does Pence really “expect” to get a music gig at the theme park? My understanding of life as a working musician offers much less certainty. Perhaps you could go with “hoping” instead of “expecting.” The following line, “What Pence didn’t expect to find was a love for Madison, setting Pence’s life on a new course,” is drowning in cliche. Beyond that “a love for Madison” is especially awkward. How can you make this feel more active? Maybe introduce Madison first, then tell us how Pence falls for her? When I read “Madison is a girl just…”, I see “Madison is just a girl.” But she’s more than that, at least for Pence, right? Tell me how. Tell me why.

I also wonder how you sink into voices. On a whole, some of your word choices feel forced. The plot is good, intriguing, but as it’s written now, I think I’d pass it over, despite your blog, and even assuming fantastic credentials.

Those are my thoughts. Jenny?

I do appreciate that the letter jumps right into the overview of the story. However, I don’t feel that there is enough information here to grab my interest. Now, that doesn’t mean that the query should be exhaustive, just that a little more meat on these bones would be helpful for me to make an informed decision. The concept of Pence’s schizophrenia seems like a nice twist on the love story and I would be interested in learning about how Madison deals with this situation. Also, I would like to know (from the query) whether the whole book is based on the characters’ romantic relationship, which is what it seems like, or if there is a great deal of emphasis on Pence’s relationship with his music as well. In other words, is this a story about the power of music, love, a combination? I’m very much on the fence about whether or not I would ask for a partial of this. Of course, normally we would have the first three pages to judge by and I think that’s what it would come down to for me…the quality of the sample and writing style.

Thanks, Jenny! What do you guys think?

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XV”

  1. Terri Says:

    I didn't even think about whether Pence was Irish but his last name, McCree, suggests he is. Is "Pence" an Irish first name?

    The first paragraph was good. I got stuck on "was a love for Madison." Maybe tie in the theme park with Pence's life, i.e. "Pence's life (rides out-of-control) or (roller coasters) after meeting Madison, his first serious hearthrob."

    I loved the wrap up. Alot of information presented very smoothly.

  2. Sara Raasch Says:

    I'd be far too susceptible to a query about anything Irish as I just got back from a fantastic Irish festival and it made me very nostalgic for the Emerald Isles. Oi.

  3. Sam Says:

    Is the first line considered cliche or gimmicky? (I'm seriously wondering.) 'A little off key' for musician is cute, but I wonder if that would bug agents or if they would think it clever.

  4. Kate Says:

    Sam, I honestly didn't mind it the first time, but repeated musical metaphors started to rub me the wrong way.

  5. Susan Says:

    I had much the same reaction to the query, but I also wanted to say–I think I'd leave off the line about co-creating the blog that believes there should be truth in teen fiction. I was feeling fairly positive until I got to that and unfortunately my immediate reaction was:

    –Blogs can believe things? Mine just sits there!

    and

    –Is this person saying there is no truth in teen fiction and he/she is out to change that? Isn't that kind of . . . insulting to current teen fiction writers? What is this "truth," anyway?

    and

    –Everybody pretty much has a blog. Unless it's already one of the biggies in the young people's lit blogosphere, I'd probably leave off the mention. Ditto being a part of YA writing groups.

    Other people may feel differently, though!

  6. Trish Says:

    I like the first paragraph. I like musicians, Irish guys, and the schizophrenia angle is very compelling, so I'm pulled in. But the second paragraph makes me feel like Madison has become the main character instead of Pence. Especially the line: "Madison must help…" If that's what you're going for, then maybe just a little tweaking to tell us more about Madison.

    But if it's Pence's story the whole way with Madison being the romantic lead, I'd say maybe consolidate the second paragraph into something like:

    Pence doesn't expect to fall in love with his co-worker, Madison, the first girl who makes him feel normal. [Or whatever is special about her.] Who makes him believe he can live without his medications. A girl he threatens to drag into the nightmare of schizophrenia when he begins losing himself to the imaginary voices in his head.

    All things considered, though, I think if I were an agent and I liked the first three pages, I'd probably want to see more. It's an interesting premise.

  7. Tami Says:

    This is actually my query and wanted to thank Kate, Jenny and everyone else for the comments! It helps me see my query with fresh eyes. I've gotten requests for partials and fulls based on it, but there is always a chance for improvement. Before I sent it out again, I'm going to update it. If I get a chance, I'll post the new version here. I'd love to hear everyone's view of the new one!