Wednesday, July 29, 2009

46 Query Contest

Dear ms. Meadows,

My completed 110,000 word soft sf novel THE WAN is about a failing human colony marooned on a distant world ruled by the Wan, many-formed fungus-based creatures that communicate by feeding each other bits of their own flesh. It’s similar to the surreal imagination of Cory Doctorow's work, it has the easy reading and engagement level of Stephanie Meyer's the Host.

Ing, former biologist, was infected by the alien Wan fungus many centuries ago, when she first arrived from Earth. To save the humans from extinction, she wants to convert every man, woman, and child into a deathless Wan. Firdaus, deposed ruler of White City and devoted father of ten, desires nothing more than to be reunited with his children, but feels compelled to thwart Ing's coldly logical plans. Slavegirl Frog, used, maimed, and discarded by Ing, vows to save Firdaus and avenge herself on Ing.

The alien fungus turns out to be less tame than Ing thought: the Wan's once-in-a-millenium nature of reproduction threatens to destroy all human life on the planet. Firdaus has to choose between transforming his beloved family and people into cadaverous toadstools, or watching them all die in a planetary holocaust– unless he can come up with a third solution.

In December 2008, I won Best New Writer and Best Overall Short Story in the annual Paul Harland Contest with my story Satyricon.

I'm a long-time member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Online Workshop and founded a private novel workshop.

Below you find the first 5 pages of The Wan. I'd be happy to send you the complete manuscript.

Thank you for your consideration and time,


Chapter 1

Ing licked the sheen of moisture seeping down the cave wall. It tasted of slick obsidian with a coating of sour chalk and brine. The exact place she marked yesterday.

Her companions shuffled their feet and whispered to each other, apparently unaware of the importance of the occasion - and not doing what she'd told them to a dozen times before. She wanted to ream out their sorry asses, but she knew that would only make things worse. How did it go again? Praise first, then reinforce the commands.

"Good work so far, guys. They saw you, they sent out a hunting party. You remember what to do next?" she asked.

Harpa nodded, but she didn't quite believe him. A man of many promises and few results. Tembo shrugged. In spite of the highly reflective whiteness of his face, she couldn't see his expression well enough in the cave's semi-darkness. With a sigh, she broke off two ringfingers – again – and fed them one each. Their stances righted as the knowledge sped through their bodies.

"I lead him off," Harpa said.

"I lure the others away from the leader when he follows Harpa."

Finally. "Good," she said. "Now off you go. I can smell the hunters coming."

They loped off, two dancing white outlines in the gloom.

She groped along the rough stone of the cave wall until she found the smooth track through the thicket of stalagmites, a natural path between the stony teeth on the cave floor. The perfect spot for an ambush.


  1. Can I just say...blecch? I mean, I was so grossed out by the idea of the Wan and the woman feeding her two goons her ring fingers in the opening I was done.

    As to the have three characters you're trying to follow. Pick one plot arc and stick to it. THe only person who's goals/risks we know is Ing, and she feels like the villian of the story. For 110,000 words it seems like you should be able to give us a better story hook to draw us in.

  2. The query is too complicated. I'm not hooked, I'm more confused. The writing seems good but there is a definite icky-ness going on that I can't get over.

  3. Not so hooked. I think you should focus more on Ing and the human aspects of the story in paragraph one because the many-formed fungus-based creatures just don't interest me.

  4. Creepy... but I would ask for more. The query intrigued me.

  5. I stopped reading in the first paragraph because...I hate to say it... I'm not interested in fungus.

  6. Not hooked. Sharing bits of flesh is a turn off, even if they are a sort of fungus. And a big issue in the query: who is the main character? Who do we care about? You start out talking about Ing, who sounds like the bad guy. Show us the protagonist first, then being in Ing.

    This doesn't sound like soft sci-fi, not with the stakes you set up here. It almost sounds like a horror and sci-fi cross.

  7. I didn't like in the query that you start by making similarities to other works that are likely wishful thinking and which I can't evaluate.

    Additionally, when you get to the story part (2nd para) it's too confusing. The goal of converting into a Wan seems more of something to avoid.

    I'd suggest starting with the dilemma--there's going to be a planetary holocaust, the only option seems to be immortality through becoming a (what? a cadaverous toadstool? sort of a Sophie's choice, and not much to hope for. Instead of keeping the 3rd solution secret, hint at it, because without it there's nothing to keep us reading).

  8. A lot of typos: Ms. isn't capitalized, you need a semi-colon or conjunction in the last sentenced of the first paragraph, you're not consistent with book titles (your own is in all caps, but the Host isn't--and the article isn't capped). That immediately turns me off.

    I didn't realize until the second paragraph that the Wan are infected humans, not a separate alien race. the second paragraph further confused me because you give me three characters...which is the main one? Which is the POV character?

    Third paragraph: where did the holocaust come from?

    Regardless of the poor grammar and confusing query, I would read on because I *do* see connections between this and The Host.

    Not bad. Breaking the ring fingers is an attention-grabber.

    I wish even more now that the query was clearer. Is Ing going to be the main character throughout? If so, why all the other characters?

  9. Not hooked. This kind of grossed me out and, despite there being a holocaust on the horizon, I find that I don't really care about the characters (probably because I don't get much more than the barest of facts about them).

  10. Uhm, I thought the query wordy and too boring. It was too much work to get through. I'd shorten it, cutting it to the quick, and spice it up with some conflict.

    I didn't read on due to time.

  11. I'm pretty sure saying your work is as engaging as Stephanie Meyer's isn't going to get you very far. Even if I did give you half a point for referencing The Host rather than Twilight. =) I'd have been happier if you said fans of The Host might like your book too.

    Really, though, I'd cut the whole first paragraph and find another spot to slide the word count in near the end.

    As to the sample... I thought it was pretty interesting and I'm curious to see where it was going. But I don't think the line about breaking her fingers off would have made any sense whatsoever without reading the query letter first. At minimum, make it clear that she's breaking off her own fingers, because I stopped and started rereading to see if I'd missed them coming across a corpse or something. People usually don't snap off fingers with only mild annoyance. Just saying, "she broke off both her ringfingers," rather than saying she broke off two of them would have clarified a little for me. I'd obviously still be going, "Huh?" but I'd read on trying to figure out why she did that.

    Also... I don't think I'd call it soft sf, but just science fiction. At minimum, I'd write the words out.

  12. I'd read on because the story concept seems unique to me (though I'm not too familiar with sci-fi.) While reading the query I was wondering what was threatening extinction. Also, I'd stick mostly to one character in the query.

    Good luck with this!

  13. A few different characters are given equal importance in this query, so I had trouble deciding whose story it is. Consider focusing on just one.

    While the fungus is an interesting's fungus. I'm sorry. I just can't get into that.

    People licking cave walls also gives me the willies. No matter how good an idea something is, I'm still just human and things that gross me out gross me out. I'd pass on this.