Wednesday, July 29, 2009

32 Query Contest

When twelve-year-old Carlos makes a wish to be a man, a masked swordsman who calls himself The Fox appears from the nineteenth century to help.

In I AM THE FOX, a completed 40,000-word middle grade, reality-based fantasy, almost teenage Carlos is the man of the house for his mother and eight-year-old brother. After Carlos sees a young boy almost killed on the street, then he knows he must take action so his little brother is not lost. He can’t sleep that night and watches The Adventures of the Fox on TV. He makes a wish to be like this man, able to help others in need. When he wakes up the next morning, The Fox appears in his bedroom and agrees to help him become a man.

My writing-related experience includes: living and working in New York, including at Metropolitan Hospital, where one of the characters is taken after being hit by a truck; publication of a short story in the University of South Florida’s writing journal, PALM PRINTS; fiction awards from the National Writers Association and the Florida State Writing Competition.

Thank you for your consideration.



Word on the street: My eight-year-old brother is joining a gang.

I took to the New York streets to stop him, zigzagging around shoppers and food vendor carts in Spanish Harlem. The aroma of toasted tortillas and roast pork filled my nose. My mother bought me a pork-filled quesadilla once when she had extra money. How good it tasted.

No time to think of food now no matter how empty my stomach. The wind howled in my ears and nipped at the back of my neck. I zipped up my Jets jacket and pulled up the collar. I had a hunch where Manuel might be and headed in that direction.

My feet stiffened on the cold cement, but I raced across the cracked sidewalk. I’d accepted a mission and would not stop. Three years ago my dad abandoned us and I took over at age eleven as the man for the family. That made Manuel mine to find.

Soul, salsa, reggae, and rap music tumbled from windows above and blasted from cars alongside me. The “you’ll-grow-into-these jeans-and-jacket” my mother bought me made me feel small and skinny. Small or not, I could run fast enough to catch Manuel and teach him a lesson, even if I still hadn’t figured out how to handle the bullies at school or throw a fast ball.

My heart thundered and my lungs ached. I dashed around the two-for-one evening

gowns and overcoats that hung on racks, the bins of herbs, pots for potions, and other

magical items.


  1. Your pitch paragraph is a little dry: this happens, then this happens. But the plot sounds intriguing,so I'd read on.

    First sentence is very good.

    How do feet stiffen on cold cement? That image is not one I can visualize.

    I like the background and details, and how Carlos interacts with his surrounding. I'd read on.

  2. The plot reads very much like the old kung fu films. Try to focus on what's unique about your story. Show the emotional feedback of Carlos' favorite TV-character coming to his rescue. And doesn't Carlos wonder why? What will the Fox gain by helping him? What might Carlos loose?

  3. You lost me at "reality-based fantasy."

  4. The query begins well and the story idea is interesting. I'd fit the writing-related work experience in earlier in the letter or leave it out. The writing sounds oddly formal, "How good it tasted" and the whole food dicsussion off-track when he is frantically trying to stop his brother joining a gang.

  5. I like this, but something about the first sentence's stucture seems off. The "to help" at the end seemed tacked on.

    And then you basically repeated that same thing in the rest of the letter- you've only got one page to grab them- don't repeat.

    But I still read the first page because I like the premise so much. It still felt off to me- you say the aroma "filled" your nose as if this was in the past, but it seems it should be immediate. First tense is usually immediate.

    I think you have a great idea- i'd work on the delivery.

  6. I would need more in the query to hook me. So what if he becomes a man? Then what? What is the conflict and consequence of him becoming a man?

  7. I like the concept, but the writing doesn't seem quite there yet. The query needs to be clear about how the younger brother may be "lost," because as phrased it sounds like he'd going to get run over by a car or something. We need to know a little bit more about the Fox, too; I picture him as like Zorro, but I don't know if that's right. Also, if the Fox is a TV show, how is he coming from the 19th century? If he's not real, he can't come from the past.

    Love the first line in your excerpt. I don't understand how his feet can stiffen unless he's barefoot. Avoid having hearts thunder and lungs ache. That's really cliche.


    I like the idea, even though my eyeballs kept going back to 'reality based'. I got the idea this is a fantasy...

  9. I like it. The first sentence is extremely solid and hooks me. I agree about reality-based fantasy but you can change that easily. I'd also adhere to what others have said and give a snippet of a clue as to the stakes. I don't think the hospital job is relevant. If you spent years playing the role of Zorro on TV, maybe. The writing creds should stay though.

    As for the opening 250--very solid. I'd read further.

  10. I think becoming a man is not a strong enough premise, you need a bigger hook. And do you mean literally, physically a man, or just acting like a man? I think this is about saving his brother--focus on that. Right now your query is too dry and straightforward, but when I glanced at your writing sample, it's got lots of sharp, concrete images and strong writing. Bring that into your query! Use some of that same language and style to show us Carlos and the problem with his brother.
    Not hooked yet on your query, but hooked on your 250-word sample!

  11. The first sentence of your book should be the hook of your query. It's so much more direct and to-the-point than the paragraph you use to say the same thing in the query.

    His brother wants to join a gang; he wants to stop him. Pow. That a TV superhero appears to help him do it...that's cool. but the query shouldn't end there, because then everything's okay. We need at least one more sentence to show that the superhero isn't going to be able fix things for him.

    One other thing that bothered me: I work with a lot of gang kids, and I've never had the situation where it was the younger brother who got into the gang, and not the older one. The eight-year-olds usually get in because they imitate their big brothers or cousins. So that's something that I'd expect to be explained convincingly in the book.

  12. For the most part this is well written. I'd just watch the repetition on "become a man"- I saw it more than once here. Also I'd tighten this down. "the Fox appears in his bedroom the next morning" would halve the last sentence.

    I'd also change "reality-based" to "contemporary" since this takes place in modern times.

  13. This is very picky, but I read that Carlos is 12 in the query and in the 250, you say that his dad left 3 years prior when he was 11. That would make him 14. Did I miss something?

    Also, in your 250, your writing is very detail oriented, but you completely lose your sense of urgency. If he's running to save his brother's life, he's not going to be thinking about pork-filled quesadillas no matter how hungry he is.

    Good premise and I like your writing. Just needs a bit of tightening.

  14. Hmm. I just can't get Zorro out of my head. Is this a Zorro retelling? I'd like to know more about Carlos' mentor, the Fox.

    I mostly liked your snippet. As others have pointed out, the feet stiffening on the concrete bothered me. There were a few other word choices and sentence structures that gave me pause as well. I think I'd read another page or two because your book sounds interesting, but I doubt I'd request a lot more.

  15. Your opening sentence in the query interested me right away, but the second paragraph needs tightening, not enough excitement.

    Your beginning sentence promises excitement and adventure, but the rest falls short with ... too much about food and surroundings. Good luck.

  16. Blogger died on me when I tried to post my comment so I'll try again.

    I'm aware that 'Zorro' is Spanish for 'fox', so the masked swordsman called The Fox from the nineteenth century made me wonder if this was intentional. So I was hooked enough to read on. Unfortunately I found the voice rather uninteresting. I think the premise might have potential but I didn't get to the end of the query.

  17. I didn't understand until I started the sample pages that the danger of Carlos's little brother being lost was actually Carlos's little brother joining a gang. The event and danger -- a young boy nearly killed and Carlos's little brother -- didn't connect for me.

    Also, watch the almosts there. Almost teenage (preteen) and almost killed.

    The query goes from Carlos deciding he must take action to...sleeping. (The inability to, but regardless, sleeping comes right after the decision to take action.)

    Tension is lost because the Fox appears and agrees to help Carlos become a man -- and save his brother, I expect. But because the Fox appears to help, that means Carlos doesn't have to do anything except work hard, I expect, and then go save the day. What complicates that? That, alone, isn't a very exciting story. This has the potential to be a lot more.

    The pages say three years ago, at eleven, he took over as man of the family. That puts him at fourteen in the story, which is teenaged, not almost teenaged or twelve.

    Also, with so much focus on food, the sense of urgency to save his brother is lost.

    Not hooked. Sorry.