Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Query Quagmire #2

TITLE: Through a Dark Wood Lightly
GENRE: MG Fantasy

To whom it may concern,

As an immortal magician of "The Circle," Servais le Roy is accustomed to secrecy, following clues and international intrigue, yet after pilfering a cryptic message from a suspect, he's completely flummoxed, left wondering--

"Who is Max Brighton?"

Young Max is an eleven-year-old, wanna-be stage magician who spends his days practicing tricks out of manuals, constructing his own props and dreaming of traversing the globe with real magicians. He is most enraptured by the myth of a secret organization made up of master magicians calling themselves The Circle, rumored to have Harry Houdini in their ranks. While attending the International Magician's Convention in Las Vegas, Max discovers how true The Circle really is when he's attacked by a sinister villain named Francois Charbonneau whose intentions for him are cloaked in mystery.

Max is forced to stop Charbonneau on his path to resurrecting the darkest sorcerer of all time, the Russian mystic called Grigori Rasputin, and follows clues to unearth a mystery decades in the making. All that Max knows about magic is tested as he navigates a complicated world of long dead magicians, a headquarters set beyond the realm of time and the reasons of why he was targeted at all.

Combining elements from Flights, Chimes and Mysterious Times with classic magic craft and history, THROUGH A DARK WOOD LIGHTLY would also appeal to fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
I am currently a stay-at-home father for two boys under three with an English degree and dreams of becoming a full-time author. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Prologue: Paris

Blood red neon splashed the street.

Atop the roof of one side, Servais le Roy watched the slim figure exit a building and walk up the sidewalk. Midnight merrymakers were out in force, weaving along the streets of the seedy Parisian district, but that slim figure, a kid named Balor Dullahan, stood out with his shiny leather clothes, tight as plastic wrap.

He smiled and bobbed his bleach blonde head to the music drifting from the clubs. That smile didn’t fool Servais. Dullahan’s easy grin was a mask for a monster.

Servais tweaked his handlebar mustache and then stood up, unfurling the black cape over his tuxedo. He bent his knees, crouched down, and pushed up off the ground. He sprang into the air and flew upward, feeling the cool wind rush against his face as he rose higher and higher.

Soon he was more than a hundred feet over the city. The black cloak spread out around him, stretching to four distinct points against the inky sky, resembling a shadowy monarch.

Far off in the distance, the Eiffel Tower sparkled like a midnight beacon as Servais sailed over the old world Parisian buildings like an enormous labyrinth of avenues and roads. He spotted Balor walking down a narrow alley. Servais sped forward through the air, far ahead of Balor’s path, and landed on a side street. He peeked around the corner and saw his target headed toward his spot.

Servais put his hands near his mouth and whispered, “Somnus.” A purple mist blew into his waiting hands and he cupped it like a ball. With a sharp motion, he thrust his arms out and willed the mist to travel across the street and hook onto the far building. It became tight as a tripwire.


  1. The first line, "Blood red neon splashed the street." drew me right in. The remaining 250 words plopped me straight in Paris and excited to read more. Intrigue, fantastic characters, a mystery that includes magicians, and I am hooked. If I were the lovely Ms. Danielle Burby I would ask for this manuscript NOW! (I am obviously not Ms. Burby, but best of luck with that)

    In my humble opinion, I felt the hook entry of the query did not quite capture the strength of this writers ability, but close. I know, not a bad problem at all. It may have been because in the first sentence my eyes kept turning the le into i.e and so I believed that Servais was "known as" Roy. Silly, but I read it a few times to be certain. You might consider the use of a capitalized L, or an accent mark. But my confusion could have simply been because it was wedged between "The Circle." in quotation marks, that was followed by an unfamiliar (yet super cool) first name, and the last name could have been a first name. Do you feel you need quotation marks to describe The Circle? You did not use the quotation later, and it was clear to me The Circle was an organization. It could smooth the transition. But this is your clever writing, and your character's name, so it is your choice if that is something you want to adjust. And to be clear, the "le" did not bother me a bit in the manuscript. Perhaps because my brain had taken time to figure it out.

    I also wondered if the "secrecy, following clues and international intrigue" was strong enough. Maybe "deciphering clues" and switch the clues to be the last on the list so that it leads into the issue of the cryptic message. I love the line "Who is Max Brighton?" I want to know too!

    My last comment is on the next line. I wondered if "Young" was needed before "Max" He is 11 years old, so that is already clear. Unless it is what Servais calls him, I am not certain it is needed. I hope this helps and that my opinion is received in the respectful manner that it was intended. I appreciate your talent and wish you all the best.

  2. In your query, I would delete the "dreams of becoming a full-time author". I think everyone who queries has that dream.

    I love your 250 words! It sounds exciting and fun for an MG novel. I'm just wondering if your story shouldn't start with Max, since he's the main character, instead of Servais. But since it's written so well, maybe it's a small matter. Good luck!

  3. My thoughts are that the first paragraph and following "Who is Max Brighton?" can be cut immediately. They only confuse things rather than set tone/tension.

    I also agree that that 'young' can be removed when speaking of Max. It's repetitive, and when dealing with the brevity of queries, every single word must serve a purpose.

    That said, the musical element to this is so intriguing and I love your comp titles! This premise sounds right up mu alley!

  4. This is a really fun concept! It definitely fits the current MG market nicely. One piece of advice as you structure your query: I spent much of my first read of this query wondering when and where the story takes place. It isn't immediately apparent that this is a fantasy set in the real world rather than a fantasy set in an entirely new world or even that this is historical rather than contemporary. I like to see that information immediately so I can cut to the chase and concentrate on plot/conflict/stakes/characters as I read the body of the query. I also like to get a sense of word count so I know whether the manuscript is an appropriate length.

    This is a fun query and I find your writing strong. I am concerned, though, about the fact that you start both the query and the manuscript with an adult character. That's an immediate red flag for me when I'm reading a children's book--the focus should always be on the kids.

    In general, I don't like to see a prologue when I'm reading a query because prologues tend to be very different in writing and tone than the actual manuscript. Even if you do have a prologue, you should skip directly to the beginning of the first chapter in the pages included with your query. It will give the agent a clearer picture of what to expect.

    This really does sound like so much fun, though. You should definitely query me and include the first ten pages (of the first chapter) in the body of the email. querydanielle@nelsonagency.com

  5. Great concept here and I was intrigued by the query, though some basic information was missing such as word count. I also wondered how the title related to the initial locations mentioned as setting in the query. Finally, the stakes were unclear to me and I wasn’t sure why Max would be forced to stop Charbonneau.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of prologues. I feel a story starts where it starts and any information in a prologue could be feathered in as backstory as we experience the actual beginning of the story. That’s a personal preference, though. Some agents have very strong opinions about prologues and it would be good to know how the agents you are querying feel about them in your research before submitting. The result, though, is the introduction of an adult and not the protagonist of your story as the main meat of your query.

    In your sample, there are a few filter phrases that could distance the reader from what your POV character is experiencing (eg. feeling…, saw…) There’s also a bit of pronoun confusion making me pause to make sure it was Balor that was smiling and bobbing his bleach blonde head.

    The imagery, though, and the concept are very fun. I’m not hooked but I very much hope this story makes it.

  6. Sorry to be so late with this.

    I'm in the midst of planning my own MG book set in Paris, so your premise definitely got my attention! There are a couple of things I'm not clear on, the first being when the story is actually set? Sometimes it feels like it's modern-day, but then the query mentions Houdini as if he's still alive. You may want to drop in a mention of the year or at least the era in the opening of the query.

    I'm also having a little trouble buying that 11-year-old Max is going to single-handedly defeat an evil international cabal, but I think it might help if you added a realism filter to that part of the query - just a quick mention of Max trying to get an adult to listen to him before realizing he's on his own, or something like that, would be enough.

    "...Servais sailed [over the old world Parisian buildings] like an enormous labyrinth of avenues and roads." Did he, really?

    "Servais tweaked his handlebar mustache and then stood up, unfurling the black cape over his tuxedo." And this is the moment I knew we were going to be in for a fun ride. :) I look forward to seeing it on the shelves one day.

    Good luck!