Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXX

February 5th, 2010 • Kate

Dovima460_1250232cThese are haute couture shoes priced at over 9,000 GBP — or were when they were released last year. Even such a devotee of fine footwear as myself must draw the line somewhere. So we’ll just look at them, shall we, as we read this week’s About My Query post. As always, please be constructive in your criticism. From C.D.:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

As the human daughter of a warlock merchant and a shape-shifter, Lillian has plenty of experience with magic – but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. A childhood hellhound attack that left a nasty scar is just one of many reasons not to. Now twenty-six, Lillian lives halfway across the world, working as a help cook in an Amsterdam pancake restaurant. She’s determined to enjoy a blissfully magic-free life, but even the Atlantic Ocean isn’t enough to separate her from her much-hated roots when her estranged mother shows up at her doorstep. As it turns out, Lillian’s father is in danger: some tricky fae took his house as payment for an old debt – and his soul is next.

Her job, relationship and apartment get put on the line as Lillian’s conscience drags her kicking and screaming back into the life she’s
tried to escape from, armed with nothing but a clunky iron bracelet and some mad improvisation skills. When she finds out the fae have much more ambitious plans than simply dealing in human souls, her safe Dutch haven isn’t quite so safe anymore… Rogue fae try to kill her, spriggans chase her through the Amsterdam streets, and to top it all off, a couple of mentally unstable Germanic gods get dragged into the fray.

Like she needed more reasons to hate this world.

At 91000 words, ALWAYS READ THE FAE PRINT is a humoristic urban fantasy with a dash of cynophobia. Although the story stands entirely on its own, it has strong series potential.

I live in Amsterdam where I work as a portrait artist and Dutch-to-English translator. I’ve previously had short stories published at Underground Voices and Sniplits.

Thank you for your time,
C.D.

Thanks for sharing, C.D.! I think there’s a lot here that’s intriguing, but a few bits that could be clarified for a better result. Lillian is the “human daughter” of two people , either of which could be non-human. I’m guessing the shape-shifting mother is decidedly not human, but you may want to clarify somewhere that dad is. The story starts with Lillian living “halfway across the world” — but you don’t say from where. Can you place the childhood hellhound attack somewhere specific, so we know just how far she’s run?

The instigating action of the story is described rather roughly, I think: “As it turns out, Lillian’s father is in danger: some tricky fae took his house as payment for an old debt – and his soul is next.” It just feels broken — like we’re looking at four different clauses that don’t flow together as they could. Can you find another way to share this information? What about something like “Lillian’s father made a bad trade, and now a trickster fae wants her parents’ house as payment for down payment on the debt. The full amount due is nothing less than her father’s soul.”

Maybe. That’s rough, but you get the idea.

Moving on, you say that Lillian’s job, relationship, and apartment are put on the line. Those are stakes, certainly, but are they high enough? Is her life in danger? Her soul?

The phrase “her safe Dutch haven isn’t quite so safe anymore…” reads as repetitive to me. I think “Dutch haven” covers the safe part, and the fact that it’s not so safe anymore is stronger if we aren’t hearing it immediately after being told it IS safe. (Also, am I the only person who tried to make a correlation between “Dutch haven”, “Dutch oven”, and Lillian’s job as a cook?) Also, I would cut the ellipses at the end of the sentence. Adding a period makes it a much stronger phrase.

I’m also toying with the idea of suggesting you revise the sentence “Rogue fae try to kill her, spriggans chase her through the Amsterdam streets, and to top it all off, a couple of mentally unstable Germanic gods get dragged into the fray” to read in the present tense. “Now, the fae are trying to kill her, nasty spriggans keep chasing her through the Amsterdam streets, and a couple of mentally unstable Germanic gods have been dragged into the battle for her father’s soul.” It feels a little more action-y to me.

Finally, I don’t love the word “humoristic”. Unless Lillian is a stand-up comedienne on the side, it’s the wrong word — you mean humorous. And I had to look up “cynophobia” — I won’t give it away for people who don’t know what it means, but I think if you want to use it, you need to include another instance of Lillian being affected by it in the query.

So those are my thoughts. Readers, what do you think?

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10 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXX”

  1. Sue Ford Says:

    I think the first sentence is intriguing, though I'd suggest leaving out the word human. I'm wondering what a warlock merchant is – a merchant who is a warlock or a merchant who deals in warlocks? 🙂

    This phrase took me to thoughts of Harry Potter: "A childhood hellhound attack that left a nasty scar." Watch out for cliche-ish sounding phrases: "As it turns out," and "on the line." I'd suggest tightening some sentences or breaking them up as I got lost and had to reread. "Her job, relationship and apartment get put on the line as Lillian’s conscience drags her kicking and screaming back into the life she’s tried to escape from, armed with nothing but a clunky iron bracelet and some mad improvisation skills."

    The title is funny!

  2. Lisa Gibson Says:

    C.D.- I think this sounds like a really great storyline. I'm interested. I also think the suggestions you've received thus far are really good.

    I thought maybe condensing a few sentences might help it flow a bit better as well. Something along the lines of:

    Now twenty-six , living halfway across the world, she’s determined to enjoy a blissfully magic-free life, until her estranged mother shows up at her doorstep. With her father’s soul as the final re-payment of an old debt, Lillian puts everything on the line, delving back into a life she’s worked so hard to escape; armed only with a clunky iron bracelet and mad improvisation skills.

    Just my two pence. 😉 I love the title as well!

  3. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I've read this query on one of the other query sites I haunt. It stuck out in my mind because it intrigued me. I would buy this book.

    Wouldn't she be half human if her mom is a shapeshifter? You mentioned the Atlantic ocean seperating her from where she grew up so I assume it was in the U.S. I would think a Hell Hound attack would draw some big time attention.

    Maybe you can rewrite the second paragraph to something like:

    When she finds out the fae have much more ambitious plans than simply dealing in human souls, her conscience drags her kicking and screaming back into the life she

    tried to leave behind. Armed with nothing but a clunky iron bracelet and some mad improvisation skills, she must survive rogue fae trying to kill her, spriggans chasing her through the Amsterdam streets and a couple of mentally unstable Germanic gods.

    Overall I liked this query. Good luck!

  4. Rissa Watkins Says:

    oops, *blush* meant separating — not seperating.

  5. Kater Says:

    Daphne has some fine points about the query.

    But if I saw this on the shelf, I would read this book. I like urban fantasy, and the fact that it's set someplace interesting is a bonus.

  6. Kristy Says:

    I agree with all of Kate's points and the others that have been made. While the pitch overall had me rereading, I did *want* to read it because the premise snatched me.

    Good luck! I hope I see this on the shelves in the future.

  7. Beth Cato Says:

    Like Rissa, I've seen this query before and I love it. I'd definitely buy this book off of the shelf.

    The other suggestions here are very good on combining sentences to give it a better flow. I agree with Daphne about removing "cynophobia" since most people won't know what it means. I only learned the word when I last read this query.

    Also, ALWAYS READ THE FAE PRINT has to be the best title ever.

  8. Krista V. (the forme Says:

    One small slip-up I had: Second paragraph, first sentence, we hear her conscience is dragging her back kicking and screaming to her old life. Aside from the cliche (which you could punch up by changing "kicking and screaming" to something like "cursing and hexing," or whatever sorts of magic fit your story best), I thought this meant she was going back to wherever she was from, so the second sentence confused me, as she's apparently still in Amsterdam.

    That may have just been my too-hasty reading, but it's something to consider. In any case, good luck with this – it piqued my interest, too:)

    (Also, the tone reminded me of ENCHANTED, INC. by Shanna Swendson. You may want to check out her stuff, especially since she's repped by Kristin Nelson, another great agent and a state-mate of Daphne's.)

  9. Jami G. Says:

    C.D.,

    Everyone else has already made great suggestions, but one sentence stuck out to me : A childhood hellhound attack that left a nasty scar is just one of many reasons not to.

    Sentences will always sound stronger if they end on a noun or active verb. Rewording sentences that end on words like 'to', 'at', or prepositions is a good way to strengthen the rhythm of your writing. Would something like this work?: A nasty scar left by a childhood hellhound attack (maybe here insert the location so we know where she left – back in Wisconsin – or whatever the case may be) is only one of many reasons she escaped.

    Hope that helps!

    Jami G.

  10. Corinne Says:

    Thanks so much for the advice and kind comments, all of you! It'll definitely come in handy when polishing this query.

    I muchly appreciate the help 🙂