Wednesday, July 29, 2009

35 Query Contest

Dear Mrs. Meadows,

In the middle of the 13th century, when men would go to war over
questions of faith, five brave women set out on a pilgrimage as
perilous as any crusade. To save the life of the unicorn who had
walked in Eden before humanity’s fall, they seek to return to Eden
confident that the fruit from the Tree of Life will restore him to

Each has her own reason for attempting this. Gwenaella, a scholar,
must keep a promise to a sorceress at the peril of her soul. The Lady
Élise would prove her worth to her betrothed. Adelie, a beggar, wants
to do this holy deed to find a place within society. Galiana, a
prostitute, hopes to undo a life of sin. Kavundi, an ascetic, joins
them at the command of her goddess. With them travels a unicorn,
Britomar, who hopes to save her father’s life.

Their journey takes them across Europe, the decaying crusader states,
a decadent Caliphate, war torn India into the mountain kingdom of Lo
Mantang. The danger increases with every step that brings them closer
to the Himalayas. Kavundi must surrender her asceticism, Adelie
abandons her faith and the dream of a place within society, Galiana
sacrifices her beauty and one of her arms, and the Lady Élise lays
down her life, so that Gwenaella might stand before the Tree of Life.
There she is faced with the choice to take its fruit to the ailing
unicorn, or to her beloved who lies dying. Gwenaella finds the
courage to choose the unicorn, keeping her promise, and is rewarded
with the restoration of her beloved to her by the touch of a unicorn’s

The novel was a quarter finalist in the recent Breakthrough
Novel contest. In their review of the complete manuscript,
Publisher's Weekly wrote: "A sprawling, advantageous effort similar
to, and obviously inspired by, Tolkien’s “Lord of Rings” series as
well as the “Narnia” books” and “this is a solid mystical adventure
that will interest readers from start to finish with its likable
protagonists and constant twists and turns."

Complete at 144,000 words, The Garden at the Roof of the World will
appeal to adult readers of many tastes.


Gwenaella was the first to receive the call to serve the unicorns, and
she alone received hers from the first woman herself. It began for her
the day after she scrambled over the convent's wall, clutching the
manuscript her dear love had given her in their tryst under the fig
trees. She never would have given into its urgency had it not been for
this gift she carried, the embrace she imagined she still felt, his
promise of marriage and his kiss.

Gwen clutched the manuscript to her bosom as she pulled herself up the
rose covered trellis. Years of use by other students had provided a
thorn free path that she'd learned for her weekly trysts with
Guillaume. She pushed herself up another rung and slid the book onto
the top of the wall then pulled herself up besides it. She forced
herself to lay still, to quiet her breathing. Below she could hear the
soft crunch of a foot on the path along the wall. One of the nuns must
be patrolling for students like her, trying to avoid punishment for
leaving the convent. Guillaume's gift would doom her to dual
punishments, as not only would she be obviously guilty of leaving the
convent, but also of possessing a romance. She smiled at this, for
Guillaume had written this romance specifically for her. Reading this
would be worth any penance.


  1. Wow...that's a lot of characters. Because you list all of the characters with equal weight, I'm not sure who the POV character is. Right now, I'm assuming that you give equal POV weight to all five (possibly six, including the unicorn) characters in the text, and that is a bit much. If that is not the way your book is made--if you tell the story primarily from one of their points of a view--indicate this was a stronger focus on one of the characters.

    Your pitch also reveals everything about the plot. In general, I find that I'm more enticed to read on when the pitch ends as a question.

    The PW Review indicates twists and turns, but I didn't see that in the plot pitch.

    144,000 words seems like a bit much to me.

    While I like the idea of travelling around in medieval Europe to save a unicorn, the length of this manuscript and the lack of focus on one character leaves me afraid that this manuscript is going to be an epic fantasy that doesn't develop any emotional connection with one character.

    In skimming your page, it seems as if Gwenaella is your POV character. Perhaps your query should show that more?

  2. I like this query. I think it is well written.
    I have some confusion over the unicorns--at first I assumed that there was only one unicorn alive on Earth, and it needed saving. Then there was a second unicorn traveling with the characters.

    I don't think you need the last sentence. Wondering what that character decided would make me want to read more.

    But I do think that I would read more. Consider me hooked.

  3. Not hooked. The query is fine but I got really lost in the third paragraph where you start listing the transformations that each woman goes through. I'm not sold on the first page either. It feels a little wordy and it brought me out of the story several times.

  4. A lot of different characters, a bit confusing, but sounds good!

  5. The query letter hooked me. I love historicals as well as paranormals, and the travels that these five very different women engage sound fascinating.

    The first line of your opening lost me, though, as the tone is distancing. Your first paragraph is all telling. I was drawn in by the second paragraph, when the action starts.

  6. I decided to act like some agents, who are very busy, and make a partial form letter and then personalize it. I’m in this contest because I have difficulties writing queries, so my simple critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not going to address grammar or style, because, usually the agents don’t and you know who you are. I know what I like and am not sure of, so . . . I'm hooked. I like the idea of the women on a quest together. Your 1st 250, got me into your world, I'd read on.

  7. I'm partially hooked. Is there some urgent reason to save the unicorn (other than to be nice?) I need to feel the stakes here a bit more. I agree with some of the others that the third paragraph might not be needed. I was a little confused about the other unicorn coming on the journey to save her father's life. Is her father the same unicorn they're all trying to save?

    I liked the sample page and would read on.

  8. Sorry... I'm not hooked.

    I think my problem is unicorns, like fairies, are an immediate turnoff.

    The other thing is 144,000 words seems like a lot - even for fantasy.

  9. The query letter should focus on one of the main characters and the unicorn, possibly detailing the crisis point at which that main character decides to leave everything familiar behind.

    I congratulate you on the wealth of sensory details in your snippet. You have hearing, touch (the lack of thorns) and internal sense (trying to quiet her breathing). Not enough writers include such details at the start.

    Possibly the word tryst(s) didn't need to be used twice in such a short snippet, since it's an unusual word for us. But maybe that's just me.

    Mark in the Seattle area

  10. I was intrigued with the mention of 13th century in the opening line. Then I read that Gwenaella was a scholar and you lost me. I guess it's easier for me to get my mind around unicorns easier than it is a woman in the 13th century being a scholar. I was also confused because I thought the quest to save the unicorn was because it was the last one and then the daughter unicorn comes along.

    I think your contest information gives you creditability and your entries are well written. Maybe it's just a genre that I don't grasp.

  11. I liked your query well enough to read your first page, though I was confused by the second sentence of the first paragraph. It take me a moment to realize the 'him' you were talking about was the unicorn. I didn't like the "seek to return to Eden" part. Maybe it's because they're really not 'returning', they're searching for it.

    Regarding your 250 words. I liked them well enough to read on, but you used the word 'herself' way, way too much.

  12. I wasn't hooked by the query. The first paragraph had me but the second introduced too many people. I skipped to the partial but didn't get past its second sentence. Sorry.

  13. I really like the first line. It's clean and puts me right into the setting. The second sentence, while I like unicorns, is a bit confusing. I'd go for more direct statements, with fewer asides. Perhaps something like, "To save the life of a unicorn, they seek the Garden of Eden in hopes a fruit from the Tree of Life will restore him."

    The next paragraph is way too full of names. This is a quest story, and I know every character has her reason for joining the quest, but I think this needs focus. I'm totally not going to remember all these names.

    It looks like one of the main conflicts you've chosen to mention is Gwen's choice at the end: unicorn, or beloved. So perhaps focus on her journey, and that choice. (And don't give away the ending.)