Wednesday, July 29, 2009

29 Query Contest

CHECK MATE, 82,184 words, Romance with suspense, paranormal, and comic elements. Since my heroine is an exotic black, white, apache, Filipina, add multi-cultural.

Dear Ms. Meadows,

A guy can write romances. I did for NBC years ago.

A brilliant soldier in her early thirties, Bekah Carthage commands everything except a love life. An explosion robs her sight, but leaves her with a vision of a dog trapped by the explosion. Now kicked out of the Army, she struggles to understand her visions. She rescues and adopts the dog.

Before she can leave for the States, she’s captured. An unlikely hero, Jimmy, who teaches Unexplained Phenomena at NYU, and runs a paranormal op for the government, rescues and recruits her. He harbored a huge crush on her when they played chess in high school. Both chess masters now, mating is inevitable.

Love arrives after a bumpy ride. Together and apart, they confront assassins, pick up two zany computers who claim to be alive, and figure out how she saw the dog.

Sincerely yours,

Sunday May 4th Baghdad 1202 hours

Rebekah glanced back at the sweaty-balled men following, trusting her. The morsels of hot dust painting her lungs, tasted like death, her death.

Thank God, it’ll be mine alone. In maybe, ten minutes.

Plodding forward, she closed her eyes and “saw” a doomed sniper on the cratered street, no equipment necessary, no instructions supplied. Unexplained phenomena or hunches were her calling card. Nine minutes.

Sprinting ahead to scout, she rounded a building. A raven pushed off a putrid cardboard box, spewing soda and cigarette-butt slurry on her uniform. Disgusting. She shook her head; too soon for an improvised explosive device. Seven minutes.

Superstitious, she plucked a moment, rummaging through memories of her multi- racial history for a remedy to the feathered apparition. A blackbird pie might work, if only she could stop time, and knew the recipe. Five minutes.

Her dad created this mess, by ramming through the U.S. Senate, a bill eliminating age, sex, and talent discrimination in the military.

“Talent? . . . Three minutes,” she panted.

She couldn’t afford love affairs for her now ending career, sexism being alive and sick. Two minutes.

Tomorrow, she’d turn over a new jock-strap, God willing.

Doing whatever she wanted, she took point by the front door. No minutes.

“Fall back, now.” Running, she watched the slowest soldier flop over the courtyard wall one stride away.

Didn’t hear the explosion. Pieces of flying building pounded her armored suit. No pain. Eyesight: gone. Senses: collapsing. With one last desperate grab at brain function, she “saw” a pup trapped in an oven, then nothing.


  1. Your first two sentences seem a bit confrontational. If you'd like to emphasize your skill in writing romance, perhaps save that for the bio paragraph at the end, and be wary of the tone.

    Unfortunately, I'm not hooked by that paragraph. Your first sentence made me think immediately that this was a romance. However, aside from the mating, this doesn't sound like a romance to me, but something more along the lines of Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown, with a bit of paranormal thrown in.

  2. The query seems unfinished. You mention having been employed by NBC, but the query lacks a bio (and it seems like something you'd want to emphasize).

    The line "She rescues and adopts the dog" feels tacked on. It interrupts the flow.

    I did like the rest of your first paragraph though.

  3. The very first line in your query really put me off. I had to keep reading in order to determine whether or not it was a line about the character or the author. Once I figured out that it was about the author, I honestly thought it came across as arrogant.

    I kept reading the 250 words (sorry, I can't stop once I start) and agree with Beth. This doesn't seem like a romance at all. Also, the quotation marks around "saw" are weird and pull me out of the story.

    Last comment, what is a "balled" man? If this is supposed to be "bald" and you've made a typo in your first line, I'd stopped reading.

  4. The query seems very much focused on informing the agent and thus missing the emotional components one needs to be interested. Especially if it is going to be a romance it is vital to make the agent feel the emotion in the story. Otherwise (s)he will doubt that you are able to write emotions in the novel itself.

    Also, isn't it a bit coincidental that Jimmi and Bekah were at the same school, even in the same chess club?

  5. Not hooked. For one, your first two sentences would have made me stop reading right then and there if I was an agent. But the rest of the query felt like a list of things that happened and I didn't get a good sense of the protagonist's voice.

  6. Almost hooked. I like the style and aplomb of your opening line and it makes me want to read on. But then I'm not feeling the romance part. Are you a romance novelist? I need a title and word count, too. Agree with playing up the NBC bit. Let us know in the closing paragraph.

    The concise style of your writing doesn't read like romance. But I like it.

  7. I'm okay with your "A guy can write romances" opening, but I thought it was actually the beginning of your pitch, and was momentarily confused by the second paragraph, where you actually begin your pitch. How about adding to your second sentence, "I did it for NBC" with some more details about that experience (what you wrote, when you wrote it, etc.)?

    Also, you don't give any other information about yourself or your novel after the pitch. What is the genre of the book and how many words is it? What professional writing organizations do you belong to? What personal experiences do you have that you drew on to write this story?

  8. Thanks so much for the excellent comments. It seems from reading above that the 1st 2 lines of the query were chopped off.
    They said "CHECK MATE, 82,184 words, Romance with suspense, paranormal, and comic elements. Since my heroine is an exotic balck, white, apache, Filipina, add multi-cultural.

    On my next try I'll drop it down to the end and form actual sentences with it.

  9. Not hooked.

    You start out the query with a confrontation, and do nothing to back it up. Okay, you wrote romance for NBC. What shows?

    The romance theme is lost here. It sounds like the entire conflict is based around finding the dog from her vision. That doesn't sound like the basis of a novel. A short story maybe, but not a novel.

    There is no word count provided, and it doesn't sound like a romance.

    I'm curious how she functions as a blind chess master.

    I went on to read the sample, and was turned off in the very first line. Sweaty-balled men. Um. No.

    I've never had a raven or any bird spew soda and cigarette butt slurry on me - don't they usually fly off well before then? And I imagine a bird would be even more skittish in a war zone.

    I am completely baffled at a woman fuming over her love life and sexism when she's in a situation like that.

    If this is a romance, you have to think of your target audience.

  10. Query: I liked everything except the 'mating is inevitable' line. Ew. :P

    Snippet - confused, but hooked.

  11. The title and word count is included above the salutation. It needs to be in the body of the letter.

    I think you need to back up your information about NBC. I agree that this doesn't read like a romance, but I really like the concept. You definitely have a strong, independent female lead and I would read on.

    Oh, but the "sweaty balled" yuck!

    Good luck!

  12. I would also read on even after your query that needs work. I agree with most of the above comments except the first line. Arrogant, or not it carried me through.

  13. I couldn't get past "an exotic black, white, apache, Filipina, add multi-cultural". From there I skipped to the partial and tripped over "sweaty-balled". I did skim the rest but it felt disjointed and confused and the voice was cold and unemotional. I'm afraid I'd pass on this.

  14. I was turned off before the Dear Ms. Meadows. First, I think it comes off as amateur when a writer puts the exact word count in a query. Just round off to 82,000. Second, you capitalized romance. Third, your heroine is black, white, Apache, Filipina? What? I don't go around describing myself as German, British, and Native American.

    Still, I read the beginning of your query. I might have been a little interested if this was a story about a guy who writes romances, but it's not. I didn't finish the query.

  15. I stopped reading the query at the sentence about rescuring a pet: where, how, why? What does this have to do with the rest of the paragraph?

    Later on, I see the image of the pet, but doesn't seem to belong there.

    I wasn't hooked, but intrigued by your credentials, so started to read the excerpt.

    What is sweaty-balled?
    How can she move forward and even sprint with her eyes closed?
    How do sense collapse?
    What's it like to go blind?
    Show us instead of telling us.

    Good luck with revisions...

  16. The first bit is a little off-putting. It's prematurely defensive, I think, and while the author probably *has* heard that men shouldn't write romance... I'd also like to hear more about the work the writer did for NBC, in particular, which shows.

    I also found the specifics of the character's heritage an odd thing to mention, as well as the exact wordcount. Round up. It's okay. I'm not going to do a wordcount check if I request the book, and I won't scold anyone for being off. (Unless it's by hundreds of thousands, and then we'll all have a talk about honesty.)

    This doesn't look like a romance query. I'm not feeling the emotional connection between these two characters, and mating is probably one of the unsexiest words to describe sex. Also...chess. Sorry, it just isn't one of the things that makes me think, "Wow, these two are meant for a lot of snuggling!"

    This query needs more emotion, stakes, and conflict. I'm absolutely cool with characters being blinded and falling in love, but this isn't hooking me.

  17. I'm new to query writing and have learned so much. Many thanks.

    I'm amazed at the huge investment in time and precision Jodi is using to help us. I guess the only way to return the favor is to thank her when our novels get published, and we should pat each other on the back too for using the skills we already have to spot something(s) that might help our fellow writers.


  18. Below is the result of your suggestions. This new improved version isn't for Jodi because that wouldn't be fair, but is for anybody still critiquing. Please replace the query portion with:

    Dear Ms. Agent,

    Check Mate is a romance with elements of intrigue, the paranormal, and comedy, complete at 82,000 words.

    Tomboy, trash talking, Bekah, driven by immense talent won’t let men get close for fear they’ll screw her out of a career as an officer in the Army. When she loses her sight and her job, everything changes. A philosophy to grow the talents God gave her drives Bekah. Bandages wound around by her head in a hospital bed, she discovers an unusual ability. Sometimes her inner vision is more than just imagination and day dreamscapes. She tests her newfound ability by rescuing a pup she sees trapped in the rubble of an explosion. She resolves two things: find a man, with a good heart, who might love this mess of a woman and develop her new talent to become useful again.

    The answer to both her problems comes in one gorgeous package. Jimmy wasn’t always so sexy. Back in high school on the chess team, the nerd crushed on Bekah, while she crushed him at the chessboard. Now, he runs the super secret agency OTTS, dedicated to developing the paranormal. She is the perfect recruit, and besides, he’s a senior master at chess now, and it’s time he dole out a lesson or two. A series of girlfriends, keep his interest in her limited to revenge and work. Perhaps her talents include reading minds, because he can’t buy a game. He becomes frustrated in more than one way, as his old feelings creep back. He vows to win her heart, harness her talent, and marry her.

    She found her man, but first things first. If she can’t use her talent in a productive way, no amount of back rubs, kisses, or any other loving inducement will make her happy. She separates from Jimmy to sort out her thoughts and conquer demons with just a little help. Jimmy talked her into taking Dick, short for Dickhead due to his grumpiness, now her pink pocketbook computer, along for support. Dick is supposed to report back to Jimmy’s laptop, the trying to slim down to notebook computer, named Holly, who thinks she’s Audrey Hepburn. But, who is reporting on whom? Sparks fly as Dick and Holly discover they need to be together. They plot to get the two stupid humans to bond. Bekah soon realizes she can’t live without Jimmy or his help, and in a twist, they discover her visions tie inexorably to the pup she rescued from the rubble.

    Many years ago I wrote and contracted with NBC for my romantic comedy, Lilly Ho. The screenplay never got out of development, due to my “other” bill-paying career. Now, I’m a full time writer. I enjoy weekly sessions with a great group of authors. I look forward to an opportunity to work together.