Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXIV

March 5th, 2010 • Kate

ColorfulShoes_0619_BlogBeautiful colorful shoes for Vee, whose About My Query follows. Before we go, though, a quick note about these posts. Each query that appears here was sent to me for the express purpose of being posted and commented on. I don’t just pull queries from my inbox and throw them up here. For the authors, then, I understand it to mean that they’re looking for honest feedback towards the purpose of improving their query. But honest — as most of you know — doesn’t have to mean “mean.” I’m not thinking of any commenter in particular, and in fact, almost every comment on these posts is kind and generous. So consider this just a congratulatory “good job” pat on the back. Keep up the good work!

And now, onto the query!

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Sixteen-year-old Skylar Jones hasn’t seen her jailbird mother in ten years. So when mommy dearest arrives on the doorstep armed with apologies, Skylar has no idea what to do.

Skylar would prefer meeting up with the Wicked Witch to seeing her mom again. But fragmented childhood memories– her mom’s shallow dimples when she smiled, their hands twined together– convince Sky to chase after a reason to let her mom back in. To figure out whether she can trust her mom Skylar puts the motto her mother taught her to live by, “Find Heaven on Earth,” to the test. If it was more of her mother’s drugged up bullshit, Sky plans to dump her childhood memories in the nearest ditch and move on.

Artistic Skylar’s version of heaven is nothing more than a stunning colour palette, so she sets about getting blissed out on colour combinations. She lights illegal fireworks at the local park, letting pink and green spark above her. But heaven’s yet to appear and Skylar just discovered why her mom finally came back: she’s dying of cancer. Skylar’s attempts to find heaven become desperate. When she jogs headfirst into a field of speeding cars – yellow headlights, red taillights, rusty bumpers and the bruise-coloured evening – and her heart rate doesn’t spike, Skylar realises she’s no longer just looking for a reason to trust her mom. She’s searching for a reason to live, and a way to make peace with her past, but heaven’s still slipping through her fingers.

SKYLAR’S STORY is a 45,000 word contemporary YA novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Vee

I really like the start of this. It’s a good, quick summary of the set-up. I have some question about the term “jailbird,” since I’m not sure if you just mean a person who’s been in jail, someone who’s been in and out of jail repeatedly, or if you mean someone who’s literally “flown the coop,” or escaped. Using the word “armed” in the next sentence gives me another pause, but I’ll read on for clarification.

The next paragraph causes me to stumble a bit. You say “Skylar would prefer meeting up with the Wicked Witch to seeing her mom again” but Skylar isn’t really given a choice about “seeing” her mom. She just shows up on her doorstep. Unless this alludes to a follow-up “seeing,” in which case, I’d want to know more about it. Is her mom staying with her? Asking her to meet regularly?

You ask the reader to assume a bad relationship between mother and daughter, and then contrast it with the “fragmented childhood memories”, which are lovely images. I’m less sure about Skylar “chasing” after a reason to let her mother back in, especially when the method she’s using to test things is a motto from her mom in the first place. Do you see how this can confuse the reader? By one way of thinking, the very method she’s using to find a reason to believe is a reason. Twisty!

The phrase “If it was more of her mother’s drugged up bullshit,” doesn’t seem to me to agree with the tense of the rest of the query. But it does put another thought into my head — is Skylar ALSO on drugs? Her actions, as you describe them in the next paragraph, don’t just seem like the normal actions of an artist — they seem like those of an artist on drugs. Does Skylar turn to drugs to help her deal with the reason behind her mom’s return?

In fact, by the time I get to the end of the third paragraph, you tell me that Skylar’s searching for a reason to live, which — OMG! — is a MUCH BIGGER issue to deal with than just her mom’s return and diagnosis.

By the end, I suppose I just don’t know what this story is. I’m intrigued by aspects of it, but I don’t get enough detail to compel me to read more.

So that’s my opinion. Readers, how do you find this query?

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

Tags: , ,


11 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXIV”

  1. Feliza Says:

    I'm loving that first paragraph. It's fun, hook-y, and really full of voice.

    Is there an emoticon for feeling simultaneously impressed and jealous?

  2. Kara Says:

    I also like the setup, and there's some beautiful language in here, especially the descriptions of colors. I really liked the line "yellow headlights, red taillights, rusty bumpers and the bruise-coloured evening." Your descriptions feel like a painting. Wonderful!

    However, you started to lose me at the line "Find Heaven on Earth." It's an intriguing idea, but I don't really understand what it means. How is her attempt to find Heaven on earth going to make her trust her mother? Even if this one piece of motherly wisdom turns out to be true, it doesn't seem like that would be enough to make a girl instantly get over years of abandonment. So the premise feels a little artificial to me. Maybe it works in your manuscript, but I don't get enough information here to believe it.

    I'd also like to know what's at stake for your narrator. What will happen to her if she does let her mother into her life, and what will happen if she doesn't? What need is propelling her forward?

  3. Jordan Deen Says:

    There are a lot of good things about this query, mixed with a lot of confusing things. Is Skylar upset over her mom? Is that why she's playing chicken on the freeway at the end? Is she depressed over her lot in life over her mom? Or maybe there is something else going on? I like the comparison to the Wicked Witch, but, that makes me think maybe the story has an underlying fantasy element that we aren't getting here? Is there little green men and a tornado ahead? If so, I need my ruby slippers in size 6. 🙂

  4. Shannon Says:

    Wow. I am loving your first paragraph. Nice visual.

    Again, I have a VERY short attention span when it comes to reading queries. I have to admit, I skimmed the 2nd and 3rd paragraph the first time through.

    This might pass for YA, on the heavy side. I guess my questions to you is could you make her a little older and go for adult fiction? I don't know if you want to do that, but cancer, getting hit by a car … I see agents shying away from a heavy YA like this.

    I love the pictures you are making with words (rare gift), but I think your point is sort of getting lost in them. I think you could remove some parts. I don't see a major rewrite here – your sentences are very manicured, imo.

    I'm for one am intrigued.

  5. Kristy Colley Says:

    Vee,

    I agree with the comments so far. You have a lovely, sing-songy first paragraph. Then I became confused.

    The first thing that gave me pause was this: "…Skylar has no idea what to do. Skylar would prefer meeting up with the Wicked Witch to seeing her mom again." To this I think, "Sounds like she does know what she wants to do. She wants her mom to go away and never come back."

    I agree with Kate in that I wasn't sure what the main conflict is. Does Skylar find out that she's not just experimenting, that she feels like she wants to die?

    To me, this feels like a story about holding onto hope. Most kids with rough up-bringing and broken homes do hold onto that hope. I feel like maybe Skylar feels her relationship with her mom is too broken to fix, that SHE'S too broken to fix, and this is what drives her. Hope. Hard to say without knowing the manuscript, but I recommend finding that central theme and going with it.

    I also agree that I want to know what Finding Heaven on Earth means TO SKYLAR. Why does she need it so badly? And most importantly, what happens if she doesn't find it? I want high stakes.

    On a final note, I almost wonder if 45k words is too short for a YA book for this age group. Kate?

    Overall, I think you have a lovely story, and with a little tweaking, your query could do it justice.

  6. Holen Says:

    I loved the idea, and I feel like the query kind of shows the journey that Skylar goes through from thinking it's her mother that she's struggling with to realising that it's herself. I could see the book following that.I'd give it a read.

    Still, I had a couple hang-ups. I didn't see it being YA – not because of cancer or car accident, but because I didn't have any markers (besides the direct mention of age) that made me think she was a teen. Also, the word count seems light, especially coupled with the age thing above. Finally, I'm not sure why her childhood memories would be fragmented.

    Still, I was intrigued by the concept.

  7. allreb Says:

    I love the voice of this; the writing in and of itself is lovely. But I'm really not sure what the *story* is. The elements that stand out as most likely are are Skylar dealing with her mom (and her mom's cancer), and Skylar feeling suicidal (if she is? unclear). I think tightening up the last paragraph (even if it's hard to part with some of the poetic phrases) and emphasising the actual conflict Skylar deals with would help.

  8. Vee Says:

    Thanks for the critique Kate and commenters! I knew this query had some problems, since even though it has gotten a ton of requests (16 fulls, 14 partials) they only came from people who read pretty large writing samples (ten pages or so). I just wasn't sure what the problems were. This points them out in a helpful and nice way.

    The story is, as another poster mentioned, about holding onto hope. And about finding yourself, Holen's description,"the journey that Skylar goes through from thinking it’s her mother that she’s struggling with to realising that it’s herself" is a perfect description of what this book is about. I think the reason the query is so confusing (after reading this critique and humming and hawing and re-reading my query) is because I cut out a major-major-major element of the book that should probably be in there: The love interest. Skylar is not suicidal at first, but the guy she falls in love with is just recovering from an attempted suicide…And when these two extremely messed up people meet both of them wind up going on a shocking downwards spiral and then an upwards spiral together (one of the main conflicts for Skylar is keeping herself sane enough to stop this boy from going back to the dark place he was in when he attempted to kill himself).

    Other things are, I believe, are manuscript issues which I'm fixing now, since I've begun receiving feedback from agents on fulls and partials. The believability of the premise of "Heaven on Earth" (which has changed from being simply something Skylar comes up with because of her mom, and something that Skylar AND her love interest come up with together. He wants to go find a sanctuary, a heaven on earth so he doesn't have to take himself off to heaven. Her motivation is slightly more complex…She's, uh, purposely trying to sabotage herself because she *knows* she can't find heaven (she can, just not in the way she thought she could) and as another commenter astutely picked up she doesn't actually WANT to see her mom and reconcile.

    Sorry for this long and rambly post! I'm rambling in the thread to gather my thoughts I guess — it's helpful to me, lol. Oh and as to the idea that it's not YA…I'd say it's pretty firmly YA, and perhaps it's a query-problem that I'm not getting that across? If only because of my mentality and voice as a writer at this point in time. I wrote this manuscript last year, as a sixteen-year-old. There's not much I know how to write other than stuff about teens. I don't think I could do a good job of making this an adult book, since I'd have to change the voice of the entire manuscript (that said, I have started writing my first adult book).

    THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone again! There are so many great comments here to help me revise and, more importantly, they give me insight into my novel 😀

  9. Krista V. (the forme Says:

    In addition to the larger plot issues several others have mentioned, two smaller issues jumped out at me. First, the second paragraph seems to be repeating itself, essentially saying the same thing in different ways. I noticed, because I have the same problem 🙂

    Second, the transition between the second and third paragraphs is pretty rough. The ideas of dumping her childhood memories in a ditch and seeing the heavens as a stunning color palette don't seem related, so I'm not sure how the two paragraphs relate to one another.

    Hope that helps! And your query numbers look great, by the way – I remember seeing them come up in your signature line on Absolute Write and being impressed there, too.

  10. Janet B Says:

    If you already have 30 requests for the manuscript based upon this query, you should assume you got it mostly right. I would focus on using the comments made in this blog to tighten your manuscript. Very impressive. And only 17 years old. Keep writing.

  11. kt literary » Blog Archive » From The Archives: About My Query XXXXIV Says:

    […] are closed on this re-post. Please check out the original post for your previous reactions and to add some […]