Wednesday, July 29, 2009

5 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Rappaport,

Because you recently stated on your blog that you're interested in urban fantasy which is not vampire/shifter-oriented, I'd like to offer my novel RITES OF CLAY for your consideration. RITES OF CLAY is an 85,000 word urban fantasy drawing heavily on Mesopotamian history and mythology. It placed first in the Paranormal category of the 2007 Golden Gateway contest and has been requested by Ms. Hwang at Berkley.

Nintila has a secret: she's got the heart of a war god woven into her soul.

She also has a problem: someone is trying to set Him free. If she can't find a stolen cuneiform tablet before its new owners decipher the spell it holds, the bloodthirsty war god Nergal will turn the world into his own personal battlefield.

Nintila's boyfriend, Jase, is no help. Jase doesn't believe in war gods or hellhounds or four-thousand-year-old spells.

Her immortal ex-lover Anashte, on the other hand, is all too helpful. Formerly a warrior in Nergal's army, Anashte led Nintila astray once before. If she trusts him now, will he betray her again?

I am currently an RWA member, and in the past, have participated in the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Below you will find the first 250 words of RITES OF CLAY. Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you.


Bonnie Johnston
(writing as Daria Drake)

A person who has nothing cannot let go of anything.

—Sumerian Proverb

Love and war. Passion and pain. Sex and death.

In my first life, I was a priestess of Inanna, one of the world's original goddesses of love and war. I should know better than anyone that you can’t have one without the other.

I snuggled closer to Jase and inhaled until my lungs went taut—salt and musk, the faint spiciness of cedar soap, human scents to soften the dry, overpurified air whispering through my apartment. I let myself relax, lying as still as I could manage. Sex was one of the few things that soothed the perpetual ache of the keshda behind my navel, and I didn't want to wake it again.
After four thousand years, you'd think I'd be used to carrying around that sizzling knot of stolen power.

"Beautiful," Jase murmured, kissing my elbow. "I missed you."

"Mmm." I frowned and made a show of chewing on my lower lip, as if I was thinking hard. "What's your name again?"

"It’s that word you were screaming a minute ago."

"Right." I grinned. "How was Bhopal, Faster?"

That bit of wickedness earned me a kiss so deep and slow I thought I might melt into a puddle and drown in myself.

"Brought you something." He vaulted out of bed and the sheets followed him. The drag of damp cotton over my swollen nipples sent echoes of pleasure reverberating through me.

I propped myself up on my elbows, watching him rummage in his suitcase. Naked as a Greek statue, the contours of his tall, tightly-muscled body were more exquisite than anything Praxiteles had ever sculpted. Jase was smart. He was rich. And he was the most fun I'd had in bed since the Renaissance.

I had no idea why I wasn't in love with him.


  1. I liked the query, and the first 250 words hooked me. I especially like that you aren't writing about the same vampire/werewolf/hybrid thereof that every other urban fantasist is.

  2. Personally, I think you should start with the pitch. I'd rather hear the pitch, then make the connection with Mesopotamian history, than be told it's linked with Meso history and then hear the pitch.

    I like the query, and am going to read the pages, but I think it would be better if you give just a tiny bit more of the plot. Perhaps tell me how the problem affects Nintila: if the God is released, will he take over her body? Will he kill her? What happens to *her*?

    Onto the pages...

    I'd start with 'In my first life..', not the Love and war bit. she four thousand years old? Like, physically, her body is that old? I didn't get that from the query. I'm starting to get confused.

    I liked the last line of the page...but I think I'd pass. There seems to be more of a focus on erotica in this one than I'd thought from the query, and I don't usually prefer erotica.

  3. Hooked. Sumerian is a great mythology and not used very often in fiction. Also, the details provided in the query are enough to make me want to read more. Personally, I'd put the first paragraph after the paragraphs about the book.

  4. Totally hooked. I'd request this in a hot minute.

    It took a little bit to get into your query and you might consider putting the information about the book (non-plot) after the hook. The 250 were fantastic! Your MC's voice radiates from the pages. Actually, I'm kind of annoyed that I CAN'T read the rest.

  5. UHOH. Wrong agent name. :]

    Query: Yes, hooked.

    Snippet: Not my thing, but otherwise, I'd say hooked.

  6. Snappy and punchy, with a strong voice and the promise of much dramatic goodness to come. I want. :D

  7. I noticed the same thing that Megs did with the wrong agent name, but I read through.

    The query hooked me. I like how it's NOT standard urban fantasy, but using the term urban fantasy is a little misleading since the first page seems a little headier than what's the norm. That said...

    I'd ask to see more. I thought the writing was solid and the flow was great.

  8. Wasn't hooked.. in fact, a little confused. Perhaps focusing more on the story and conflict rather than the type of book it is would make it stronger?

  9. Query - high personal and larger stakes hook me. I would reorganize the letter so that you start with the story. I know we are supposed to personalize queries as much as possible, but I think the paragraph could go towards the end of the query.

    Excerpt -- this is too heavy on the erotica for my tastes, but I know there is def a market for it. I iike some sex in anything I read but I like it to come after I feel attached to the characters, but this is probably just me.

  10. This was a good query and the first 250 words made me want to read the rest. The way you set that second sentence of the query apart 'Nintila...' is very effective, as is your last line of the 250 words.

  11. To those commenting on the wrong agent name: Actually, if this were going to the agency this would be correct. Jodi Meadows reads slush; she is not an agent. This question came up on the agency's blog a few months ago.

    That said...

    I loved this query and opening. It's strong all the way through, and I can see why it was already requested.


  12. Great query. Good 250. Like other commented the sex scene right at the beginning threw me off a bit, especially since you categorized this as UF and even most romances I've read don't start this way. However, that last line drew me right back in. I would keep reading.

  13. I'm a fan of a female protagonist, especially one in a position of strength without needing a knight in shining armor. On that premise alone and the strength of the opening 250, I'd be happy to read more!

  14. The query was initially giving me the impression that Nintila was a normal woman, except for the heart of the god. Then we came to her immortal ex-lover and I realised that she must be old and immortal too. I'd prefer if you made this a bit clearer in the query. And why is she immortal? Because of the god's heart? I think it needs a few more details to flesh it out.

    And speaking of flesh... I was a bit surprised that you started the book with a sex scene. I thought it was good, I'm just wondering if that might put some people off.

  15. Hooked on the query. Hooked on the sample page. Would definitely read on

  16. Not bad.

    I honestly don't care where the information paragraph goes. I actually prefer title, wordcount, and genre at the top, but whatever a writer chooses, it's not a big deal to me. If I need to skip down to the bottom and read that bit first, it's not exactly difficult.

    I like the first line of the blurb. I'm intrigued. The next part shows the complication nicely, along with a plan to put things right. I like the stakes, but I want more *personal* stakes for Nintila. Aside from her living in the world and that's where she keeps her stuff...why does it matter so much to *her* that the war god stay locked up? An ancient oath, perhaps?

    Watch out on the Capitalized Pronouns. Someone is trying to set Him free, but in the same paragraph, we have lowercase his own personal battlefield. (Also watch out for scaffolding. "Own" can be removed.)

    I think Jase isn't doing enough in the query to deserve a mention, let alone his own paragraph. Anashte...I'm torn. On one hand, that promises some kind of romance; on the other, he might be unfocusing this query letter.

    The writing in the sample page is very nice. The voice shines through. But after the query letter we just had, which promised lots of war and explosions, the post sex scene is a little unexpected and perhaps misleading.

    If this was in my slush inbox, I'd have definitely made it to the sample pages, but I probably wouldn't request, based on the beginning.

  17. Boy, it's hard to follow right after the agent's comments, but I'm obeying the rules and critiquing anyway! *grin*

    "Mesopotamian" had me hooked right off, but the query was tight enough anyway to have snagged my interest. Love the title, btw.

    I have a personal pet-peeve concerning sex in novels. I like it, I write it, and I'm annoyed by those who complain about its "necessity." My only demand on other authors is that the sex be meaningful to the characters and the situation. No Harlequin for me.

    So, that said, I found the opening scene just peachy. I'm willing to allow an author the time to flex the literary muscles in an opening scene. There's no need to bombard the reader with all the information on the first page. This is well-written; I trust you'll get to the meat of the story soon enough. Just wish I could read it all now!