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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Query - A Borrowed Hell - take 3

   
Author Topic: Query - A Borrowed Hell - take 3
Eliza C
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After much agonizing and about a thousand more versions, here's what I hope might be a last revision. Any comments much appreciated. (Contemporary adult fantasy novel.)

A car accident forces July Davish to dive for safety, but he lands in a place that’s far from safe—the nearly deserted San Francisco of an alternate world. Cryptic and enigmatic, the dozen people living in Coit Tower are more disturbing than the empty city. Worst is Bill, who threatens July, warning him to get back to his own world and stay there.

July wakes in hospital with a broken wrist and head-injury. He brushes the experience off as a dream but continues to pass out, dragged back to that world each time. When Bill scribbles a threat on July’s cast that returns with July to his own world, it’s evident that this is no dream. Continually torn from his own reality and the woman he loves, July wants to end the bizarre world-hopping his unconsciousness brings. Bill has proved insane and his threats have escalated to physical violence; July must escape that world or die. Offered a way out, he’s ready to say yes to anything—until told that this world is venue for him to relive the worst of his childhood memories. By confronting the neglect, drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide in his past, he can leave and not come back. But those memories have been pushed to an attic in his mind for good reason. July’s not sure his sanity can take reliving them, not even to get back to a life he finally wants.

July accepts the challenge, though he may live to regret it. Failing to face his past will trap his consciousness in that world forever. Bill assures him the threat is real. And Bill should know—it happened to him.

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MattLeo
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I've been noodling about this query for some time now. The story sounds interesting, but something about the query doesn't quite grab me.

One of the problems is the name of the protagonist, which if you read the query quickly (as query letters are read) leads to confusion (e.g. "Worst is Bill, who threatens July").

I also had to read closely to figure out the set-up; often the quick reading gave me the wrong impression as here:

quote:
Continually torn from his own reality and the woman he loves
On close reading it is clear that the woman he loves is in the "real" world, but I first took it the other way. That's because I'm expecting you to set up some kind of dilemma for the protagonist, whereas you're just reinforcing the obvious. We can assume that July would prefer to live in the real world with everyone he knows rather than a deserted universe inhabited by a bunch of strange misfits. Bringing his girlfriend into this only confuses matters by attempting to gild the lily.

It's not at all clear why Bill warning July to get back to the real world should be disturbing, which adds to the difficulty I had making out what this query is saying. This obscures what sounds like an interesting twist at the end of the query, the suggestion there might be more than there seems to be to Bill's antagonism. However the lack of clarity in the nature of the Bill's antagonism. Maybe it would make sense if instead of "warning" Bill to go home, he made Bill feel unwelcome and insecure in other-SF.

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JoBird
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I'm no expert on query letters. In fact, I've never written one. You could call me uneducated on this subject, and I wouldn't disagree.

So, now that I've given full disclosure, and we realize how worthless my advice is I'll give it: rewrite your query, it's not working.

Below, I've made a modest effort at describing why I feel that way.

***

quote:
A car accident forces July Davish to dive for safety,
What I have to say here might sound dumb, but it's what I think. The word dive is awful close to the word drive . It's used in a sentence talking about a car accident. A casual reader runs the risk of misreading the first time, and getting confused.

A car accident made him drive for safety?

Clearly, that's not what you've said. But the fact that someone could come away thinking that probably, in my humble opinion, means that you could open better.

quote:
but he lands in a place that’s far from safe—the nearly deserted San Francisco of an alternate world.
So, now that the reader is sure you meant dive they get to this part. Hmmm. This is also confusing.

Let me try to explain what I mean. Okay, so a guy is in a car accident. He dives for safety. I'm thinking you mean that literally, like he dives out of the open door of the car that's about to, I don't know, roll off the side of a mountain, hit an eighteen wheeler, or crash into a billboard, whatever. The point is, the guy dives out of the car.

And ends up landing, after the dive, in an alternate world, a deserted San Francisco? What a scene shift. Just when I've solidified that he dives from a car accident, instead of driving from one, I suddenly have to swallow that maybe he didn't literally dive from the car accident. Maybe the author is catering to a certain poetic license.

End result, I'm confused, and less interested.

quote:
Cryptic and enigmatic,
You bet. Cryptic and enigmatic, indeed. That serves to hammer in the feeling that I'm experiencing. What I mean is that it works to accentuate my confusion rather than alleviate it.

quote:
the dozen people living in Coit Tower are more disturbing than the empty city.
This I like a lot. A dozen strange people. A location. Very mysterious, makes me want to know more.

Instead of starting with all the stuff that came before this, why not just try to hook with your high concept, and then get into this stuff?

Your high concept, as I see it: After a car accident, July Darvish finds himself alternating between two worlds. One is home, filled with love, and all that is normal. The other is strange, filled with danger, and all that he'd like to run from.

...or something like that. The point is, keep it simple, and direct.

quote:
Worst is Bill, who threatens July, warning him to get back to his own world and stay there.
This confuses me. Reason: I'm not sure if Bill is threatening July, or warning him. A threat is mean. A warning is somewhat neighborly. I don't like threats. I appreciate warnings.

Unless someone warns me to leave . . . or else. That becomes a threat -- the person is warning me about what he will do to me if I don't comply.

Regardless, how does Bill threaten July? What is the threat?

quote:
July wakes in hospital with a broken wrist and head-injury. He brushes the experience off as a dream but continues to pass out, dragged back to that world each time. When Bill scribbles a threat on July’s cast that returns with July to his own world, it’s evident that this is no dream.
Not sure what I think about this part for a query letter, so I'll limit my commentary here to this:

July should wake in "a" hospital, or "the" hospital, as opposed to "wakes in hospital".

quote:
Continually torn from his own reality and the woman he loves,
I would drop this part.

quote:
July wants to end the bizarre world-hopping his unconsciousness brings.
I would drop the following: "his unconsciousness brings."

quote:
Bill has proved insane and his threats have escalated to physical violence; July must escape that world or die. Offered a way out, he’s ready to say yes to anything—until told that this world is venue for him to relive the worst of his childhood memories.
Suggested change:

"Bill has proved insane and his threats have escalated to physical violence; July must escape that world or die. Offered a way out, he’s ready to say yes to anything — even if it means confronting the darkest recesses of his own memories."

quote:
By confronting the neglect, drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide in his past, he can leave and not come back. But those memories have been pushed to an attic in his mind for good reason. July’s not sure his sanity can take reliving them, not even to get back to a life he finally wants.
Suggested type of change:

"He must confront the neglect, drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide of his past. But those memories have been pushed into hiding for good reasons. July isn't sure that his sanity can hold while reliving them, and he might be right."

quote:
July accepts the challenge, though he may live to regret it. Failing to face his past will trap his consciousness in that world forever. Bill assures him the threat is real. And Bill should know—it happened to him.
This is odd. Earlier, I got the impression that he would die, and now I'm getting the impression that his consciousness will be stuck in the other world forever. I think that should be cleared up.
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Corky
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What I can't figure out from the query letter is who offered July the way out?
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mayflower988
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This is something small, and I'm certainly no published author, so take it with a grain of salt: I was a little tripped up when I learned that July is a man. I guess I was thinking how May and June are girls' names, and I drew the conclusion that you were being a little creative and using July for a girl. (I didn't consider that you were being a lot creative and using it for a guy!) :)
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Eliza C
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Thank you all for the comments. All very helpful!
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mayflower988
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I forgot to mention this - "A Borrowed Hell" - great title! The title alone would make me pick up this book and look at it!
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Eliza C
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Thanks mayflower!
To all - I worked on a brand new flash piece this weekend and some e-mail return crits. Ran out of time to do some return crits here, but will get to that this week. Thanks to everyone for their input.

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kaylen
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This part confused me the most:
quote:
Offered a way out, he’s ready to say yes to anything—until told that this world is venue for him to relive the worst of his childhood memories.
Just be plain about it.. in order to stop dimension-hopping (or whatever you called it), July has to confront his deepest, darkest fears. Leave the specifics up to imagination.

The only reason I'm reiterating what JoBird said about that part of your query is because that's the point where I lost interest, and only because your meaning wasn't clear. In a query, it seems like a lot hinges on being immediately clear. Otherwise, I think the story's pretty darn interesting. I'd pick it up for a read. (:

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