Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXVIII

January 22nd, 2010 • Kate

gladiator-sandal-1-24-07Shoes fit for a Greek Goddess for C.C., who’s query is the subject of today’s post. I know these “as always” reminders get repetitive, but thanks for remembering that the point here is to provide constructive criticism for the author, give your honest opinion about the query, and suggest ways you see of improving it. With that said, let’s get down to business!

Dear Ms. Schafer-Testerman (and which, if either, would you prefer to go by if not both? I’ve always been curious)[Ms. Testerman, since you asked!],

Greek geek Jessa Whitley gets the coolest chance-of-a-lifetime summer school trip to Greece and plans to become immersed in Greek mythology. Finding out she’s part of that mythology? Not as cool.

So far her trip has included: one uber-creepy stalker guy, a bizarre vision-inducing experience with a statue, and an attempt on her life that would’ve been successful had it not been for Paul. He just so happens to be Apollo personified and tells her she’s Hercules incarnate- less Kevin Sorbo and more Twelve Labors. Since the last person to hold the title kicked the bucket, its Jessa’s turn to fill those shoes.

Jessa bails— Texas and her normal life never seemed so attractive. But Paul follows her home, assigned the task of assisting Jessa in figuring out her new powers. He also helps to solve her cryptic, oracle-like visions of the Apocalypse. With the god of Death hunting her, along with every other daemon of the Underworld, she can use all the help she can get. But the god of the Underworld takes matters into his own hands and tells Jessa part of the truth in hopes of destroying her. She can still have her normal life. All she has to do is kiss her superhuman bad ass daemon slayer identity goodbye, which includes Paul and pretty much the rest of the world. Being the savior to all humanity totally isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

I’m an active member of the SCBWI, North Texas RWA and DFW Writers’ Workshop, which hosts the annual DFW Writers’ Conference in Dallas, Texas. The full manuscript of MYTHIC, A YA fantasy complete at around 70,000 words, is immediately available for review at your request.

All the Best,

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of ancient-myths-in-modern-life stories lately, and whether that’s the result of the popularity of the Percy Jackson books, or just a cyclical thing that happens, I like it. That said, however, since there are so many of these manuscripts out there, much like in other paranormal subgenres, it really needs to pop to keep my attention.

This is close, but not quite there.

I think you tried to put too much information into your first sentence: “Greek geek Jessa Whitley gets the coolest chance-of-a-lifetime summer school trip to Greece and plans to become immersed in Greek mythology.” That’s three versions of the word “Greek,” or a derivation of it, plus “geek” to confuse us. I’m also not sure that it works as a sentence. If you take out some of the adjectives — “Jessa gets the coolest summer school trip to Greece” — it seems to be missing something. Maybe “Jessa gets the chance of a lifetime to take a summer school trip to Greece.” Or maybe not, but something is just a little off. Also, is her plan to really to become immersed in Greek mythology, or in the study of it?

Moving on, I think you should clarify if Paul is the “uber-creepy stalker guy”. I love that you’ve flipped things on their head a bit and made Jessa the reincarnation of Hercules, pretty much the buffest of the buff Greek gods, instead of a vampy female goddess of love. That said, while the Kevin Sorbo reference works for me, the show went off the air in 1999. Even putting aside the fact that it may take as much as two years to get a novel from manuscript to book, your intended YA audience of 13 to 18 year olds now would have been between 2 and 7 years old when “Kevin Sorbo as Hercules” meant something. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive about the timing. What do you guys think?

I’m also a little confused about how Jessa got to be Hercules incarnate. Was she born with it, and it’s taken Paul this long to find her and tell her? Did something recently happen on the trip that revealed things to her? Or did Herc just sort of get zapped into her when his old host body died?

The next paragraph totally loses me. I feel like you’ve moved from Greek myths to generic save-the-world stuff. I’m not asking for an exact retelling of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, but saving the world from daemons is pretty common stuff in YA right now. What makes your novel stand out?

Your credits and closing paragraph are fine. Readers, how would you help C.C. refine her query to keep and catch an agent’s attention? And how excited are you for the remake of Clash of the Titans? (Although there could be more Pegasus in the trailer, if you ask me.)

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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13 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXVIII”

  1. Tara McClendon Says:

    I think CC has a great start to the query. The three Greeks in the opening sentence popped at me, as did the Percy-Jackson vibe. I think for a while the PJ vibe is going to be hard not to get with mythological stories.

    In the third graph, the last three sentences really caught my attention. It pointed to the conflict and consequences in a nice, concise way. The earlier sentences in the graph bogged me down a bit. Perhaps because they offer general information, telling rather than showing.

    Best of luck.

  2. Corinne Says:

    I actually really liked this query – it has voice and a couple of unique aspects. I, too, loved the idea of a teen girl incarnation of Hercules.

    I was slightly thrown by the way she starts off disliking what's happening, but apparently doesn't want to give it up with the choice between that and saving the world.

    I agree that the daemon aspect risks getting a bit generic. Similarly, when you talk about her bad-ass daemon-slaying self, the first mental image I had was of your basic urban fantasy heroine. It took me a bit to connect it to her Hercules identity.

  3. Becka (Fie Eoin) Says:

    First – I love anything Greek-inspired, so this story is right up my alley, and I hope you get it published so I can read it!

    Second – I have to agree that the first sentence didn't do it for me. "Greek geek" made my brain read "greek greek" and tripped me up a bit, and on the whole the sentence seemed too long, like you were trying to pack in too much information at once. However, I really love the rest of the paragraph. I think even just taking out "Greek geek" would work since you say it's the chance of a lifetime for her to immerse herself in mythology. Anyone who wasn't a Greek geek wouldn't think of it as the chance of a lifetime.

    Is the stalker guy Paul? Or is it Hades? I kinda got the impression later in the query that Hades may have been stalking her even before she had her vision and found out who she was.

    He just so happens to be Apollo personified I would take out the "just so" and it will read a little smoother. And I agree with the Kevin Sorbo comment. I'm of age to know what you are talking about, but I really don't because I never watched it. I would also change "shoes" to "sandals". Greeks wore sandals, and I just think that would be a fun way to say it 🙂

    I agree with Tara that the third paragraph is a little long and bogged down. I think even chopping a couple sentences, like "which includes Paul and pretty much the rest of the world" could help. Maybe "But the god of the Underworld takes matters into his own hands and tells Jessa she can still have her normal life, all she has to do is s kiss her superhuman bad-ass daemon-slayer identity goodbye". I think it will be assumed that Hades telling her this would be in his benefit, so you don't need to mention that he's trying to destroy her.

    Good luck with it – and if you want a fan right now let me know 😛 I really want to read it now!

  4. Abby Stevens Says:

    I don't think she needs to mention it's a summer school trip at all. She could just say school trip. Or just a trip. I feel like some of the sentences move too slowly. And it kinda reminds me of Buffy, which may or may not be a bad thing. 🙂

    And by the way, I think the Kevin Sorbo Hercules thing is okay. If I read it and didn't know who he was, I'd like him up.

  5. Abby Stevens Says:

    Grrr, that would be LOOK him up. Liking him up would be a whole different story!

    Nothing worse than making a spelling mistake on an agent's blog. 🙁

  6. ChristaCarol Says:

    Hey, thanks for some great suggestions, guys! And Abby, it's funny you mention that, because at workshop this week when someone asked if it might be too close to Percy Jackson, I was like "Well, it's more of a Buffy meets Hercules thing." And then realized I should maybe put that in the query? Plus, there's a big romance aspect to it between Jessa and Paul.

    To answer your question Kate about the becoming like Hercules thing, in a long winded way of course: In this world, there can only be one demigod at a time with powers. Sure, gods sleep around so there are half-mortal babies all over the place, but only one can be called to be the Hero and if they die, someone else is up next. I'm wondering if I should mention her father in the query? Hephaestus, god of fire (and ugly, I might add, hah!).

    That's always the hardest part, picking out the most vital, important bits of your book and weaving it all together to make sense in a short query. Thanks for offering this opportunity on your blog, Kate, it really helps!

  7. Brigita Says:

    I like the query, it certainly got my attention from the start.

    But what I feel is missing is the explanation why Jessa becomes Hercules incarnate. Also, are the stalker guy, vision-inducing experience and the attempt on her life connected with that? A few more details about that would probably help strengthen the conflict.

  8. allreb Says:

    I like it a lot! Definitely something I'd pick up.

    That said, I get kind of bogged down in the very detailed third paragraph summary. I think tightening that up would smooth things out very well.

    I also am pro-Kevin Sorbo comment. The intended reader for the *book* might not get it, but the intended reader of the *query* seemed to. *g* Actually, for me that comment really solidified the tone: it's funny, but not campy. (In other words, it's a funny line for a fun book — but that the book won't have a Kevin Sorbo-level of ridiculousness.)

  9. Sam Says:

    Perhaps "Kevin Sorbo" could be replaced with "sword and sandals"? That still implies a certain level of camp-ness, without being too specific.

    Also, this bit needs some clarifying:

    "But the god of the Underworld takes matters into his own hands and tells Jessa part of the truth in hopes of destroying her. She can still have her normal life. All she has to do is kiss her superhuman bad ass daemon slayer identity goodbye, which includes Paul and pretty much the rest of the world."

    It initially read to me as "All she has to do is kiss goodbye to the identity and the creepy stalker she didn't want anyway", so I didn't get a sense of the stakes Jessa faces until "the rest of the world" – perhaps that could be reworded/shifted up in the paragraph? Maybe something like: "The god of the Underworld lets Jessa in on a secret. She can say goodbye to her powers and to Paul – as long as she's willing to say goodbye to the entire world, too"?

    All up, though, it sounds like a fun read. Good luck!

  10. Jamie Harrington Says:

    This query kind of rocks. I agree with Kate that it could be tightened, but I think if CC just read it out loud she'd catch all that. Another story comp for me though would be Oh. My. Gods. By Tera Lynn Childs…

    Um, but any mention to Sorbo Hercules is a good one because we all KNOW who that is… so I say leave that part 🙂

  11. callie Says:

    I didn't know who Kevin Sorbo was. Never heard of the guy. (Just referencing the last comment :))

    I like a lot of the suggestions here and I think you have a great concept for the book. Again, I'm going with what a lot of other people said, but I LOVE the idea of a female reincarnation of Hercules.

    I agree that the first sentence needs some re-working.

    Also, you have such a cool idea for a story. I have no idea how else you would get it in there, but the second I heard, "finding out she was part of that mythology? Not as cool" I thought of Percy Jackson, which you probably want to stay away from.

    I'd try to figure out some way to leave that sentence out and jump right into the reveal that she is a female Hercules. That itself makes such a strong statement that it totally knocks the Percy Jackson thing right out of our heads. If I'd read that first I might have never made the comparison.

    When you say "the last guy kicked the bucket" I'm thinking Hercules himself. That doesn't make sense though, because why would it take this long for him to be reincarnated? Is there anyway to clarify that a bit?

    Since YA and romance go together like PB & J, I'd play up the thing between Paul and Jessa more. It doesn't have to be a lot. Maybe just an extra sentence thrown in.

    Lastly,I'd leave out the "being a savior to all of humanity" line. Obviously it's fine if that happens in the book. That's what these books are for. You have a fun, unique take on it that sounds like it will work really well. That said, I'd still leave that line out of the query. The whole "this person is the only one who can save humanity" is borderline cliche. I'd focus on the more unique aspects of your character and her conflicts.

    Hope this helped. The book sounds great! If you have a Facebook or anything promoting your book, I'd love for you to add me. You can just type Callie Forester in and I come up. Best of luck with this!

  12. ChristaCarol Says:

    Thanks so much everyone, I've got a lot of ideas now to go forward with the new and improved query. You all rock.

  13. Elyse Says:


    From my point of view your query doesn’t do the job it is supposed to which is introduce us to the MC, the conflict and opposition, the genre, hint at the outcome and show us the tone/voice of your work.

    My response to the first paragraph is why is her being a part of Greek mythology not so cool? After all she loves Greek mythology. You tell us she is not happy with being a part of it but not why. So right away I see no real conflict in this book.

    In the second paragraph I get confused because I don’t know why or how she became Hercules incarnate. So I am pre-occupied with questions that you don’t answer. I don’t think the Kevin Sorbo reference works – not for me.

    I have some questions about the third paragraph also. I am not sure why she is bailing. She still will be Hercules even in Texas and Paul seems to be the only one who can help her so why not stay in Greece? Why is the god of death hunting her? Is that part of the Hercules myth? If so I don’t know it and other readers may not. Also why wouldn’t a Greek geek be excited to actually be part of a Greek myth? And lastly she wants out of being Hercules the god of the Underworld will tell her how to get out – where’s the conflict? Looks like there’s no conflict to me.

    So my problem is not with your voice, but that I am not sure I believe your MC, I have questions about some plot points and I don’t see a conflict to carry the book. And of course this is just my take on it and my taste.

    I hope it helps.