Ask Daphne! About My Query LXVIII

August 13th, 2010 • Kate

colorfulWowsers, talk about a lot of color! But sometimes, you need something bright and cheerful to fend off a Friday the 13th. Today’s About My Query post is the first in the latest batch of submissions, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Ms. Unfeasible,

There are few rules private eye Dennis Nealy won’t bend. When you’re already cursed, you don’t sweat staying on the straight and narrow, and not being able to die opens up interesting possibilities. Of course, if he was a respectable citizen, he never would have been cursed in the first place.

He has only one hard-and-fast rule: never accept a vampire as a client. At least, until poverty forces him to break it. Henry Fegin has a taste for blood, a hefty bank account and a missing human girlfriend. Although reluctant to work for a dead man, Dennis agrees to take the case, motivated by an old-fashioned sense of chivalry and his empty pockets.

Dennis fears Henry’s girlfriend fell prey to the serial killer haunting Pittsburgh. Bodies with arcane symbols carved into them have been found, and the murder victims don’t lie still in their graves.

Dennis’ investigation leads to the undead civil rights movement and its enigmatic leader, Charity Evers. He uncovers a dark side to the movement, including vivisection of lesser undead in secret experiments.

When bringing loved ones back from the dead is made practical through the federal zombie nutrition program, Charity is a world-wide celebrity. She wants the public to believe the undead are benign, but Dennis’ discoveries can destroy her carefully crafted public relations campaign.

Dennis’ enemies have his number: Although Dennis cannot die, his friends are vulnerable, and he will cross any line to protect them.

DEAD IN THE WATER is a 76,500-word urban fantasy.

I am a reporter and columnist at a daily newspaper and have won peer-judged awards, most recently for my work as a columnist from the West Virginia Press Association.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


There’s a lot to like here! The first two paragraphs, in particular, offer a very nice summary of our main character, with a few interesting character flaws/insights. I definitely want to know more about Dennis’s “old-fashioned sense of chivalry,” but then as the query goes on, that seems to get lost. I’d love to see you find a way to apply the character insights we get from Dennis to the continuing plot that is revealed in the rest of the query.

Otherwise, I find it hard to connect to the serial killer angle AND the “undead civil rights movement.” I imagine they’re connected somehow, and I wonder if you might not find a way in the query to skip the intermediate step and just tell the reader where you’re ultimately going to end up — not giving away the mystery, of course, but playing down what seems like it will be a red herring, or just a small clue along the way to the big reveal.

And if Dennis’ friends are going to play a big part in the story — in that their being threatened is what incites Dennis to action — then we need to hear about them sooner. Think of the relationship between Shawn and Gus on Psych, and how important that is to each of them — the show is build around that relationship, in the same way that I think you may need to spend more time in your query building up Dennis’s relationship with his friends. Because I don’t see an undying private eye with a lot of friends, but I love the idea of it, and I want to know more about that part of him.

What do you think? Are you drawn more to the mystery, and the charismatic leader of the undead civil rights movement? Worried about the national scale of the federal zombie nutrition program? Or just wondering where an undying private eye with a loose moral code makes friends? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

Tags: , ,

9 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXVIII”

  1. Bethany Says:

    This is dark enough that I'd just start reading and hope it works out, lol.

  2. Ann Says:

    Not a query critique master at all, but I too thought the first two paragraphs were the strongest. That said, I really loved the sound of the story, and if I read that on a book jacket, I'd want to read the book. Good luck!

  3. Genny Wilson Says:

    I'm drawn to the mystery and the originality. I'd pick this book up.

  4. Steph Says:

    I agree, I would totally read this if it were on a book jacket.

  5. Krista V. Says:

    I love the idea of paranormals living openly among us and all the social and governmental issues that would raise. I also love the idea of an undead civil rights movement and a federal zombie nutrition program.

    Contrary to popular opinion, my biggest quibble is actually with the first paragraph. For some reason, my mind wanted to add an extra "a" to the first sentence ("There are A few rules private eye Dennis Nealy won't bend"), which actually changes the meaning of the sentence almost a hundred and eighty degrees. That might just be me, but you might think about rewording it, just so a quick-reading agent doesn't make the same mistake.

    Also, I wonder about this curse. How was Dennis cursed, and how does it impact the plot? You don't really mention it later on, so I'm wondering if you even need to mention it in the query.

    Finally, elements of this remind me of Gail Carriger's SOULLESS. If you haven't read it, you might check it out to see how your novel compares.

    On the whole, I did think this was a pretty great query. You have great voice and some interesting plot elements. Good luck in your agent hunt.

  6. Meghan Says:

    I would read this book too. I was really intrigued by the description of Dennis, and I definitely would keep reading to find out how he was cursed, and what that entails. When it got to the part about vampires, I had the momentary thought, "Oh no, not another vampire story," but then it moved on to other unique plot points, so my attention was grabbed again. I like the idea of a federal zombie nutrition program. (In the story, not real life!) Like others, I am also curious about Dennis' friends. Does he have one or two close friends in particular?

  7. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I will join the choir- this book sounds really good, and I would buy it.

    I think you should cut paragraph three altogether- which will cut out the serial killer part. It will flow from his new client to the investigation and finding the undead civil rights movement.

    This sentence made me pause:

    "When bringing loved ones back from the dead is made practical through the federal zombie nutrition program, Charity is a world-wide celebrity"

    I think it should be Charity becomes since you used when at the beginning.

    I agree that you need to mention friends or who he is willing to do anything to save. You could even bring back the client and Dennis's chivalrous side and incorporate his client's girlfriend.

    Other than those nitpicky things, I think the query was great.

  8. Jenn Says:

    This sounds interesting! I love the idea of a zombie nutrition program. I would imagine that Dennis' friends are mostly people who skirt the law themselves because he probably hangs around shifty characters in his line of work. If he is that dedicated to his career then my guess is that he meets most of his friends doing his job.

    I'm curious about the curse – how does it pertain to the story? It seems casually mentioned but not developed. The first sentence is awkwardly worded. Overall, I like it but I don't like the title. I've heard that phrase too many times.

  9. Jill Elizabeth Says:

    This sounds deliciously grim–just when I thought I was burned out on vampires, but I'd definitely give this a try. Perfect choice for Friday 13th.