From The Archives: About My Query XXXXIV

July 11th, 2011 • Kate

While I’m on vacation this week, I’m diving into my archives for a look at some of my favorite old posts. You voted on what you want to see, and this is the result. The following was originally published in March of 2010. Enjoy!

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?

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