About My Query: DYSFIGURED

February 22nd, 2013 • Kate

rockinshoesHappy Friday again, readers! As always, if you missed hearing more from me during the week, I invite you to follow me on Tumblr, where I’m sharing lots of cool links, like the fun news about Maureen Johnson’s read-along of The Name of the Star on Sunday (Oscar day!) and that Stephanie Perkins will be joining MJ on several of her tour stops in the South! But enough about that! Let’s get to today’s About My Query:

Dear Daphne,

What happens when children, born with severe facial deformities or horribly disfigured by a fire or accident, are rejected by their parents? In the 1950’s, it often meant institutionalization in a facility equipped for their care. In New York City, that facility was the asylum.

Dysfigured, a 74,500 word mystery, is a novel about the murder of a horribly disfigured man and the resulting trial of the abusive orderly accused of the crime. The murder victim, Vernon Hanford, had been institutionalized since birth, including several years at the asylum. Through diary entries, he details a life of abuse at the hands of sadistic caregivers. For that, somebody must pay.

Earl McGowen is a philanthropic member of Park Avenue’s ‘Society.’ He is also a survivor of a demented, abusive father. As a member of the jury, Earl is exposed to an injustice which cannot be fixed with money alone. This injustice may require a sacrifice.

Earl is confronted with a choice that rips at his conscience: live with the crushing knowledge that he convicted an innocent man, or return a verdict of not-guilty and leave the Dysfigured, abused their whole lives, crying for justice.

I am an unpublished author who will be easy to work with. While I take pride in my work, I also realize that you are the expert in our relationship. I will take your advice and make the suggested revisions without becoming too crabby. If my wife and kids tell you otherwise, don’t believe them. Thank you for considering my work.

Please do not mistake me for [other guy with my name], political scoundrel. Google results for searching [my name] will be for him.


Thanks for sharing. This is a good reminder that AMQ posts are not limited to the genres that I represent, since I’m not looking for adult mystery. With that being said, I have, as always, some comments. First of all, I’m always leery of starting a query with a question, rhetorical or no. You’d be better served by opening with a fact — think the opening narration of “Law & Order,” for example. “In the 1950s, children born with severe facial deformities or those horribly disfigured by fire or accident were often institutionalized in a facility equipped for their care…” You can almost hear the “dum dum!” Though I think you want to specify the name of the asylum, otherwise, it dilutes the tension.

In the next paragraph, I’m confused as to why you’ve chosen to misspell “disfigured” in your title. The pronoun “dys” makes me think dystopian, which this is not. I think you can also remove “a novel”, since you’ve already told us it’s a mystery, and skip right to what it’s about. But here’s my next question: is it indeed about the murder of Vernon Hanford, or is it about Earl McGowen. and the choice he’s forced to make? Earl’s side of the story is certainly detailed more, though I think you can go even further in explaining the “choice that rips at his conscience” — it seems to be more than just his verdict, and I’d like to know more about that. What is the “sacrifice”?

As an author seeking a professional relationship with an agent, I would definitely delete the last two paragraphs — they don’t put you in the best light as a potential client. Instead of telling an agent what you’re not, tell me what you are — unpublished author is fine, but leave it at that. And don’t suggest I go Googling your name to find out about your Google-ganger. If you have a website, share the link, otherwise, skip it.

Readers, other thoughts?

Photo above by Flickr user Ferny71, used under a Creative Commons license.

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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3 Responses to “About My Query: DYSFIGURED”

  1. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    I agree–Earl is the MC, yet we don't get to him until paragraph three. I am more interested in WHAT EARL wants, WHY, and who/what is in his way (CONFLICT). I presume that will inform us how he got pulled into the Vernon situation–did he try to get out of it? Did he know this was a no-win situation but couldn't ignore his conscience and empathy for an abandoned, disfigured child-now-man?

    There is some suggestion that Vernon may have killed himself and framed the orderly to "punish" those responsible for his years of neglect and abuse–do we get his POV, too, or is this information Earl learns as he juries on the case. How?

    A juror isn't meant to be an investigator–I think is actually discouraged from doing anything related to the case in the outside world–even talk about it, suggesting Earl might be a rebel and/or so moved by the case he breaks the law and risks his own freedom to learn more. Is that why it's relevant we learn he's a member of high society? The potential fall is greater and/or he has access to people/information the other jurors don't? Otherwise, a juror is the least active choice for an MC–he sits and listens all day to the people who are actually doing stuff. That would be really hard to pull off in an interesting way in a 75,000 -word novel.

    And totally thought this was dystopian, too, because of the misspelling. The second paragraph was jarring because I had to readjust my thinking so abruptly about what kind of novel I was reading about.

    That's horrible about children abandoned to asylums simply because of disfigurement. That information is compelling enough to make me want to know more and see some justice for all those children, too! Good luck!

  2. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    For your bio paragraph, it would be helpful to know if you are a lawyer, or have served jury duty, or have a family member who was relegated to an asylum (I hope not), or some other related information that suggests your authority on this topic or why you chose these people and this scenario, etc. Or the writing organizations you are a member of, that you are in a critique group, something of that nature is helpful, too.

  3. callen Says:

    I think with subject material that is so dark and gripping, you could really create a stronger hook in the first paragraph. I actually thought we might be hearing a non-fiction or a memoir query during the first paragraph, so I would like to find out right away that it's a mystery.
    I was a little confused as to why Earl would be convicting an innocent man because the second paragraph leads me to think that the orderly was a nasty abusive guy. Also, how did Earl come to be on this jury? I would have though that he would be excused during jury selection because certainly the potential jurors would be asked if they had any personal experience with the demographic involved.
    I agree with Daphne and Rebecca that I'm not sure what the mystery is… is it how Earl avenges/accepts his past or is it the events of the orderly's abuse and Vernon's murder? I would suggest letting one plot line take center stage in the query while still mentioning the other pertinent information. Or clarify if there are two equally important plotlines running parallel throughout the book.