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Query Letters…oh my!

Have I mentioned how much I don’t like writing query letters. I really don’t. I have done my homework–read books, participated in contests, I have a critique partner, posted in forums…seriously, I’ve done it. So, what’s my problem. There are three things that every query letter should have:

1. Who is the protagonist and what do they want?

2. What does the protagonist have to do to get it?

3. What happens if they don’t?

I can see these things in other queries–no problem. But when I write my own, I tend to be very vague. I don’t mean to be, but there is a fine balance between enough information and too much information.

I’ve recently started reading this book called “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. If you are a writer (of any type of story–novel, screenplays, whatever) then you NEED this book. I think I read the whole thing in one sitting. Now I’m going back to put it into practice. One thing he states right up front though is that I should have written the logline/query BEFORE ever attempting to write the book. Until he said it and explained the reasons, I never would have thought to do this.

So, why do it this way? Because we as writers, get very attached to the scenes we write in our books/screenplays. If we attempt to do this before a single scene is written, we stand to look at the whole thing as an idea–that idea is our logline! If there are holes and problems in the logline, then there will be holes in the novel. How much easier is it to fix two sentences over hundreds of pages?


Anyway, I am posting my newest query attempt. Feel free to critique.

When seventeen-year-old Tessa Chase agrees to go to the Peddler’s Fair in her small town, she hardly expects to stumble across a dead girl—or bump into the Guardian angel at her feet. Then she rests her hand on the angel’s arm and her ability to feel the emotion of others is kicked into overdrive. It’s hard to scream for help when she doesn’t even know how it happened or when the boy is invisible to everyone else.

This is Tessa’s first meeting with the Guardians, hunters dedicated to finding fallen angels and sending their souls to heaven. It’s also her first encounter with John, an angel whose slightest touch feels both dangerous and exciting—and makes her so dizzy she can’t see straight. In less than a day, Tessa is pulled towards John with a vengeance when he saves her from being crushed by a bookshelf and later when a fallen angel attacks her. But why would the Fallen be interested in a girl like Tessa? And how is it possible for Tessa to see them? The Guardians would like to know…

Tessa must uncover the secrets to her ability and the reasons she can see what she shouldn’t before she is chosen as the next victim.  But the clock is ticking and by the next new moon another girl will die.

October Memoir and Backstory blog challenge

Year 16: Dan nursed his wounded leg for an entire day, but nothing made it feel better. When his son walked in through the front door he hadn’t expected much, but John was smiling. It was so rare to see that smile on his face any more that it completely caught Dan by surprise.

“Hey,” he said. “What’re you up to?”

“Nothin’.” John brushed his hand through his hair until it stuck in every direction. It was dark, but when the light hit it, it looked liked copper. He shoved his hands in his pockets, the smile still evident on his face.

“You look happy.”

“I kinda am.”

“Oh no. What’s her name?”

John squinted at his dad. “How did you know?”

“It’s always a girl.”

“Hey, Dad?” John rested his hand on his dad’s shoulder. It was very warm and took away the ache in his shoulder almost instantly. “Never mind.” He removed his hand and Dan felt the pain return. He looked at his son and shook his head.

Year 17: The forest was supposed to be a surprise. John hadn’t even thought to bring his epi-pen. He was wearing long pants, shoes…nothing was supposed to happen. When the bee landed on his arm, it was so sudden, so unexpected that John didn’t even move to shoo it off. It stung him and within seconds John’s eyes fluttered closed.

It was just as he knew it would happen. He sensed his slowing heart, the accelerated rise and fall of his chest. It wouldn’t be long. His last thoughts were that he didn’t cry out. Not once did he call for help. He lay in peace and silence, with only his own mind keeping him company. There was no one to hold his hand, no one to say his name. He was alone.

There were feet pounding the distance and then stopping directly by his head. A muffled scream. Hands pawing at his clothes. Cries for help.

Through dry lips, he muttered one word: “Tessa.”

October Memoir and Backstory blog challenge

Year 12:

“We don’t have to do this. ”

“Yes we do.” Dan’s hair was slicked back and he was wearing a crisp collared shirt. Carole’s death had done something to him. It brought him back to a son that no longer wanted him.

“Don’t you think I’m getting a little old?” John twisted in his chair. Every one of his limbs twitched uncomfortably. He had been inside all day. What he really needed was a run, not a slow leisurely walk with the pretense of getting free candy.

“You’re short. No one’s going to say anything.”

John wasn’t worried about what other people would say. He didn’t care about any of them anyway. But his mind felt too tight, like a rubberband stretched beyond its capacity.

“Go change.”

“I don’t want to wear that costume.”

“Then you should have picked one out when we were at the store. You get what you get now.”

John pulled the costume over his clothes. “Seriously? A jail bird.”

“Well,” his dad shrugged. “You know what they say.”

John felt the heat rising in his cheekbones. He had gotten in more fights that he could count. In the beginning, everyone said it was a product of what he was going through. They said he’d get over it. They never said when it would happen.

October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge

Year 10: The beeping machines marked every passing second as another moment lost for Carole Warren. Her chest rose and fell in an automatic sort of way, controlled solely by another machine connected to her fragile body. The accident Carole had been in, had done her the worse possible injustice–allowed her to live in a dead shell.

As John walked into her  hospital room, he passed his sleeping father. There was a car magazine on the floor by his feet.

John found the brush beside her bed and began stroking the long brown strands of hair that had already started looking like a brillo pad. The routine hadn’t changed in eleven months: school, hospital, and sleep. When he finished brushing her hair, he started to clean her room, discarding food wrappers–anything to forget why this day was so important.

Eleven months and Carole hadn’t changed at all. The doctors had given his dad a pile of papers that sat on the counter untouched for months. Today, they were placed in a file at the hands of Carole’s doctors. Already, several tubes had been removed from her body. The rest would be gone within minutes.

Carole’s pale face was thinner than John wished to remember. Her body had withered until her skin hung loosely on her fragile bones. She was so still. So peaceful.

But she wasn’t peaceful. She was trapped. That was why John had pushed those papers at his dad last week. It had been too long. Everyday, John wished he could place his hands upon his mom and heal the wounds that ran too deep. It wasn’t fair.

The nurse came in first. With a clipboard in her hand, she began moving amongst the machines, writing things down. The doctor came in next.

Dan stirred in his seat, eyes wide. His hands clutched at those of his wife as if the doctors had come in for him and not her.

The doctor spoke, but nothing made sense. Tears streamed his father’s face. John didn’t know what to do. Should he be standing? Sitting? Holding his mom’s hand? Touching her face or her hair? No one was telling him what he should be doing and so he stood to the right of the bed, opposite his dad, stiff and numb. He nodded in a timely manner so that the doctors knew he was listening even if he wasn’t. One, two, nod, one, two, nod…

His breath hitched in his throat. He leaned against the bed for support. The doctor unplugged the first device and the steady beeps turned into one long whine until it turned off altogether. Her chest stopped rising and falling. John reached for her hand. Had it already begun to cool?

With a sigh, all of the forced air left her body.

Both the doctor and the nurse left the room. Dan stifled his sobs into his wife, but she made no move to comfort him.

John leaned forward, touching his mom’s mouth and then kissing her lightly on her cheek.

He left the room and no one moved to stop him.

October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge

Year 9: John stared out past the window, marveling at how the rain pelted the side of the house in an almost rhythm. The dirt driveway was one large puddle now. His mom was two hours late.

John had noticed the hour the moment it past, but his dad had just begun pacing. His footsteps were hard and deliberate, keeping their own rhythm on the linoleum floor–clap, clap, scrape, clap, clap, scrape. The heavy lines around his eyes were more deliberate.

The news had said the storm would hit tomorrow. His mom had planned for it to hit tomorrow. Even John’s school had it scheduled as a day off already. But the weather was an unpredictable thing and John knew at the first clap of thunder that it would come early. There was no light mist as warning of its early arrival. Only the sudden rush of water that hadn’t let up since this afternoon.

John measured it in buckets–as in the amount of buckets he’s had to dump from the leak in the roof over the kitchen. He counted five already. That’s four more than he’s ever dumped in a single day. And it was far from over yet.

Dan went to the front door and looked out again. Huddled under the short awning was the stray dog John loved as his own. Dan usually kicked it if it got too close to the front door. He stared at it as if he was trying to remember what to do with it, then held the door open wide, grabbed it by the scruff on its neck, and pulled it in.

John felt his mouth fall open. His dad left the room and returned with a towel. He dried the dog until it was fluffy.

“Thanks,” John mumbled and then sat on the ground so the dog would know what to do.

Dan’s eyes burned looking at his son. His feet shuffled uncomfortably before he picked up his pacing again.

The soft, glow of headlights illuminated the dark interior. Finally, thought John. His dad sighed a breath of relief. There was a knock on the door.

It wasn’t his mom.