if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXVII

Starlet-redSo they may not be small or jolly, but they are RED shoes for F.A., who sent over today’s About My Query post. Before I get to it, I’m putting out the call for a few more — enough to get me into February. If you’d like your query to be featured here, please email it to daphne.unfeasible@gmail.com with the subject line “About My Query.” When I receive it, I’ll email you back with a scheduled posting date, and will ask you to let me know if you change your query before then. [Update: I’ve got all the queries I need for now — will ask for more in a little over a month!]

But enough chatter! Let’s get to the query:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Housekeeper burnt to a crisp, parents vanished, police clueless. And little brother frothing at the mouth about some evil alien being responsible.

Thirteen-year-old Hazel knows no one’s telling her the truth – not the police, not the federal agents nosing around, and especially not her psychotic brother. Her scientist parents were working on some new rocket fuel chemical. Were they kidnapped because of that? Is this an international espionage case?

International, no. Interstellar, yes. Turns out there is an evil alien after that chemical. But what’s its value to him? And why are other aliens flocking to Earth, desperate to keep it from him? And why would Hazel’s kid brother know ANY of this?

Hazel is about to find out, as she’s forced into a deadly race to find something small and red and jolly. Winning that race is her only chance of saving her family. And quite a few others as well.

HAZEL WETHERBY & THE ELIXIR OF LOVE is a 71,000-word contemporary fantasy/thriller for ages 10-14. Its ending is structured for sequel potential.

I am a member of SCBWI and have attended three of their regional conferences in the past two years. This is the first work for which I’ve attempted publication.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing of your interest.


I definitely think this query does a good job of detailing the action of the plot, but it’s less effective in giving me a reason to care about the characters. How does Hazel take the disappearance of her parents? How does it make her feel?

Beyond that, there’s a few phrases that give me pause: “little brother frothing at the mouth” has me thinking of literary frothing, while I tend to focus on the term “alien being” as a single description, as opposed to “being” as a verb. As for Hazel “knowing” that no one’s telling her the truth, I think here is where you might be able to get in a little personality. Is she sick and tired of everyone lying to her? Is she annoyed? Sanguine? I’m also not certain about calling her little brother “psychotic.” He can’t be more than 12, and that’s a heavy label to put on a 12-year-old.

I do like the juxtaposition of “small and red and jolly” with “deadly race”, but I’m concerned that the pacing of your sentences — their almost staccato rhythm — is too abrupt. Not every sentence needs to be a paragraph long, but some of yours could flow better.

One sentence I definitely dislike is “Its ending is structured for sequel potential.” Blerg. I get what you’re trying to say, but there’s better ways of saying it. And we’ve talked bunches about how you have to sell one book at a time — worry about a sequel once you have an agent interested, not before. I’d much rather hear about how the ending ties things together, rather than leaving strings unraveled. “This is the first work for which I’ve attempted publication” also reads awkwardly, though I can understand that “This is my first novel” may feel wrong.

Readers, suggestions? Advice? Comments? Please chime in below.

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