Query Letter 4B - an appraisal

I'm back posting this to create a link in my sidebar. This is the original query getting partial and full manuscript requests.

"Why, Grandmother, what big teeth you have?"

"The better to eat you with, my dear."

There are times when the wolf disguises itself in the clothing of an innocent grandmother. Then there are times when the wolf has always lurked inside the old woman's mind.

Twenty-one-year-old Jena Polsen feels she has stepped into a fairy tale world as she journeys toward Clare's house so she can take care of her sick grandmother. The trail, her life, up to this point has not been a peaceful one during her stay in the drug rehabilitation clinic after stealing the mayor's car. Still, Jena hopes this opportunity will prove that she can pursue a law-abiding life. Unfortunately, several people have gone missing in the neighborhood including a young man related to her new parole officer. It does not take long for the accusations against Jena because of her criminal record. At the discovery of a bone and a journal at the house, she wonders if something strange has happened inside her grandmother.

An inner guilt over a past incident has created a dark personality in Clare after her recent collapse from a mild stroke. Only on those blood-specked journal pages does Jena soon learn about the beast wearing the mask of her grandmother.

Query letter 4B

For those readers who are new to this blog or haven’t stopped by my more active site, The Surly Writer, then you may not know that I am currently going through the submission process for my manuscript, “Our Perfect Thorn.” The process had been a slow one as I perfected my dreaded nemesis: the query letter. I had gone through many drafts and received the standard form letter, or no response at all. Then Query Letter 4B appeared.

I love this letter. Once I switched over to using this one, I’ve gotten responses even from agencies where they have said in their submission guidelines that they don’t respond to queries they have no interest in. I have even read a rejection where although they could not handle my current manuscript, they encouraged me to send them other projects in the future.

Anyway, I am eagerly sending out my query letters. I am still receiving so many encouraging rejection letters . . .

It seems like a paradox. An encouraging rejection letter? It’s like having the dentist say he is going to give you a painless root canal. Yet I believe this is the reason I haven’t gotten upset over the rejections. When I keep getting the same “Although your premise/story/project/idea is fascinating/interesting/fascinating/interesting . . .” or “your work shows promise,” I can’t really get upset over the letter. I believe the best one was, “I found your writing shows promise. Unfortunately, with the state of publishing today, I must concentrate on projects in which I feel deeply passionate about . . . ”

Taste is subjective. I realize this. I would not want an agent who does not feel passionate enough to take on my project. So I nodded my head, understanding her position concerning my manuscript, and moved onto querying the next person.

I have gotten requests for three-chapter partials and for the full manuscript.

This has my nerves in a tizzy, especially when they ask for an exclusive. I never quite know how to respond. Do I give the simple “Thank you - here it is?” Or do I put more into the letter? What should I include that hasn’t already been discussed in the original query? I’ve mainly kept the emails short, hoping they believe jitters have me being unintentionally abrupt. This is half true. I get the shakes when I read, “Thank you for your query. I/We would be happy to look at your project.” My heart starts thumping faster. My mind is running in circles as I read their requirements on submitting. My body wants to drop on all fours as I make low growling noises for no reason at all.

What to do? Does anybody have advice on this? An article? A link? Or maybe share what you have done? I’m kind of lost on this part.

Idea Page

I would steal Marty away.

The doctors laughed about my ideas. Laughed about my stone while my son moaned in pain with all the plastic tubes attached to his vital organs. Marty has spent months with these so-called ‘great minds of medicine’ as they had prodded and poked and conducted research papers about his condition. My son reduced to a shriveled lab rat in a white-walled cage as those witch doctors had attended their seminars and preached about their latest findings while hoping to become nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I asked them again what they were doing to help my son.

“There is nothing we can do but make him comfortable during his last days.”

“Even with all of our technological advances, we’re discovering new diseases daily that are beyond our knowledge.”


They wanted him to die. They asked, twice, if I would sign over Marty’s remains for study. I bloodied my knuckles on both doctors overeager faces. They filed restraining orders. They complained about my erratic behavior with my exwife Pam, suggesting my presence might be detrimental to Marty’s well-being.

Pam had called me today. I had told her about my stone. She had said she had agreed to the doctors/butchers’ suggestions. She had threatened, “Graham Baxter. If I see you anywhere near that hospital, I will call the police!”

Why won’t anybody believe me? The stone made dead flowers blossom. It gave my old dog Miter the use of his bad leg. It has even brought statues to life. The hospital staff has seen it work. I had strutted through the corridors and shouted for the nurses to come witness the miracle. I had placed the stone on Marty’s chest. He had opened his eyes for the first time in two weeks. Giggled. Then he had slipped back into his dreamless black void when I snatched the stone from the covers and struggled with the guards. I had run away before the sheriff showed up.

I figured out how the stone worked. It transferred life from one object to another. The first time I had bled over the stone, cut my hands on the barbed fence when I had snuck into ol’ man Sumter’s junkyard searching for the streak of light that fell out of the sky. Drunk and a little high, I had stumbled down Hanna Mill Road with the glowing stone I had found in the rusted carburetor. I had laid the stone in the flowerpot, drank one last beer, and took a nap on the kitchen linoleum. When I woke up the next day, a flower had sat inside the pot. A freaking flower from a black thumb gardener! I could not even grow weeds around my double-wide trailer.

If I gave a little life to the stone, a little life it gave to someone else.

There was something else that I needed to tell you. Something else Pam had said in the phone call. The medical insurance was running out on Marty’s life support. She had to buy the cheap-ass stuff. Neither of us could afford to pay the bills from our own pockets. Hell, Pam worked two dead end jobs while living with her parents, and her family was still getting evicted by the landlord. Me? I worked under-the-table. Not a decent job around for a man convicted of beating his exwife’s lover into a body cast. Three times.

Pam had told me that when the insurance ran out, she would have the doctors turn off the life support.

I would take my son away tonight. But first I needed to give life to the stone. It could not be mine, because I needed my strength to carry Marty from the hospital.

The life would have to come from someone else.
What you have just read was an idea page. This is one of the many processes I use to understand a story I want to work on. Basically, I sat at the computer and focused my mind on nothing except this one thought:

A moral choice based on whether you would save one person by killing another, and have something involving the supernatural with walking statues.

Think of the idea page as a conversation I had with my main character. I wanted to know what his life was like. He told me the very basic elements of how he was feeling, what dilemmas he faced, and a course of action he was going to commit. In this process I also learned his special voice, his driving force in the story, and other characters. Often, I will use this page as a foundation to build a story. Here is another example. For the manuscript I am currently shopping around for publication, I used these thoughts as a base for the storyline.

What if I took the fairytale, “Little Red Riding Hood,” and broke down the plot? A wolf disguises itself in the clothes of a grandmother. But what if I modernized this? What would happen if the wolf were more metaphorical? It could be the beast of our vices: greed, jealousy, lust, and obsession. The characters could even take on the beast’s personalities: foaming at the mouth when giving in to a drug addiction, a gang laughing like hyenas when they surround a victim, and the grandmother’s glowing yellow eyes when she hides dark secrets . . . etc.

The idea page might be longer than a page, or might even be shorter. It could come from a random short story, a dream, or something I might have seen or heard. It could consist of only the main character, or multiple characters. It could be anything that gets the main story out of the head. Since I have the idea page ready involving Graham Baxter and his stone, here is the expansion of the story so far. I’m not so much worried about grammar and punctuation. All I want is a beginning I can work with.
“Burp! Koff-koff.”

The cold night made the warm beer taste better, as I stared at the can’s picture of rounded snowy mountains and the rushing train speeding off as if those metal wheels aimed for my drunk ass. Doubted anyone would miss me if I died. I, sure as hell, knew my exwife Pam would not shell out a dime for the funeral. I might even be doing the world a favor. There would be less of me to place in the pine box.

Yet what about Marty?

I took a last swig before crushing the empty can against my forehead. Then I threw the crushed aluminum against the tree on Gary’s property as it rebounded into the pile of cans my neighbor saved to collect his nickels down at the recycling plant. My fingers reached under the lounging lawn chair. The next beer pulled out the plastic ring and fizzed when I ripped off the tab. My thumb rubbed against the water beaded on the can as I imagined the train whistle and the whoosh of steam from the pipe. The closest railroad crossing was at the other end of Hanna Mill Road, near to the dairy farm and old fort. Wondered if any trains would be running this late at night? Wondered if I should smoke another bowl of weed before going over there and laying down on the wooden ties? I could lay down and close my eyes and not feel a thing.

Think about how Marty would feel.

Yeah, I could not forget him. I could not take that route of wanting to escape my problems on those rusted tracks. He needed me. Marty had no one else now after his own mother signed those permission papers. Damn her!

The phone rang. I could hear its beeps through the open kitchen window. I placed my hands on the armrest and lifted up to spy the time on the microwave. 12:15am. All of my drinking buddies would be down at Sumter’s Pub and Junkyard too wasted to dial my number. Pam. Her shift ended at midnight at the all-night diner. She had wanted to talk with me about something for the past week. Not really caring what she had to say to me now as the answering machine switched on.

“Hello? Graham? Are you there? Pick up the line. I know you’re there. I have to talk with you.” Two minutes of silence came through the line. “Fine. Be an arrogant prick. And you wonder what happened to our marriage--” Beep.

The machine always cut her off before she could go into her full rant as my arm pulled back and then swung out over my head. The full beer sailed above the double-wide trailer to smack something with a ping on the other side. Probably hit the truck on concrete blocks. I messed up the front axle when Gary and I went off-roading down at the track designed for the dirt bike races. For the past week I was angry with myself over that, and I was angry with Pam over those papers.

Damn the doctors! They were the ones who pressured Pam to do it. Claimed it would be for ‘the good of all humanity and the medical world’ crap if she gave her permission for Marty’s body to become dissected for research study. MY BOY WAS NOT EVEN DEAD YET! But those butchers had already made up their minds. He was a shell of a seven-year-old with an illness causing his organs to “hiccup in spasms until sections failed to receive needed blood and began to die off.” Or so the doctors had attempted to dumb down the explanation for us country hicks. I might not have a degree in medicine. Yet when I see my son strapped to the hospital bed, bouncing in and out of comas, with the monitoring machines fastening their octopus arms of tiny plastic tubes and wires to his body, I could not give a rat’s ass what was wrong. All I wanted to know was what they could do to make things right inside my boy.

“There is nothing we can do but make him comfortable during his final days.”

“Even with all of our technological advances, we’re discovering new diseases daily that are beyond our knowledge.”

They could shove that bull at someone else. If I were a billionaire, they would be falling at my feet trying to help my son in the hopes I would hand over a large donation to open another hospital wing. Dirt poor guaranteed the lowest, cheapest care given that would keep the medical staff from getting sued for malpractice. I fell into the latter category.

My fists pounded on my legs. “HACKS! LIARS!”

Scratching paws sounded against the door along with one plaintive whine. My shout must have woken old Miter. I unwrapped the baling twine from around the armrest and tugged, pulling the other end tied to the trailer door. It opened wide and I waited, listening to his clomps of aged feet. My eyes watched his shadow created from the moth encrusted outdoor light as the bloodhound dragged himself down onto the porch. He had arthritis in all his bones, but worse in the right front leg. The joints stiffened harder than any of my sculpted statues.

Old Miter shuffled sore legs over to the second lounge chair beside me and flopped to the side to get in it. His breath huffed and watery eyes closed. His chest rattled when he breathed, stuttered in short wet rasps as his tongue licked his runny nose in an unconscious habit even during sleep.

Too old. The dog got too old too fast. I could still see him romping through the yard with Marty two years ago, trying to nip at the frisbee my boy held in his teeth in teasing, as I had sat in the bed of my pickup and whacked at the large rock slab taken from the job site. My chisel had hacked off the large chunks. My sandpaper had smoothed the rough areas. Whack! Pam had lounged on the same chair Miter curled in now, as she sipped her Gatorade and flipped through those stupid celebrity magazines. Out the corner of my eye, I had caught her lifting the magazine at me and scrunching her face as she imagined her surroundings dwelled on that glossy page: the mansion, the intellectual athletic son already flocked by admirers, and her sugar daddy who already signed her name as the sole beneficiary on the will. Never mattered to me if she imagined her husband as a movie star. If it made her moan in bed, then so much the better for my sex life.

Lights flashed along the road. Gary never left Sumter’s P&J before closing time, and even then he usually slept on the bar floor until the old man rolled Gary out onto the sidewalk in the morning. The headlights aimed my way. Damn. Was it Sheriff Penghal? Last time the stupid prick drove up here, he had heard about a fight at the convenience store. Figured I had to be the culprit. He was wrong, but it did not stop him for busting me for disorderly conduct on my own property when breaking glass bottles with Marty’s baseball bat.
I sniffed at my clothes and my hands. The weed still smelled strong in the air. There was no way I could hide it from him this time.

The wheels squealed down the ruts along the road, bouncing mercilessly and not caring about the occupants inside. It could not be the police cruiser. I had never made the sheriff that pissed at me, not even when that son-of-a-bitch Mike Larsen stole my wife away. Speaking of sons-of bitches, I now recognized Larsen’s beat-up blue car doing its jiggle shakes toward the trailer. It pulled within the pool of light, Larsen’s face screwed into a mask of anger as he gripped the steering wheel and swung his junk around so the car faced the road back out. When making the turn, I caught Pam’s expression as she sat in the driver’s seat clutching the door and dash to keep from slamming her face into the side window. Annoyance, worry, and maybe a touch of fear dwelled on her lined brow.

What did she do now?

Pitch Paragraph Contest - Theme is Luck

The good people hosting the Book Roast blog are having a pitch paragraph session on Tuesday, March 17. Since it is the official St. Patrick’s Day . . . uh . . . day, the theme is Luck.

That’s right. Craft a pitch paragraph (real or for fun) within 75 words featuring this theme and post it over there. The judges are several blogging editors who will choose their favorites among the entries. Share in the day of fun from 7am to 7pm Eastern Standard Time. Then, afterward, go out and get your drunk on.

Hm? Yes, I do plan to submit a pitch. I just don’t know which one. I spent the whole weekend making reserve posts for my more active blog, The Surly Writer. Then I spent the rest of the time coming up with pitches. I did not want to change the pitch for the manuscript that I am currently submitting to agents just to fit these guidelines. So I am freestyling with several works-in-progress.

Anyway, I have several pitch paragraphs that I must choose from and I will post them here for everyone to see. Come Tuesday, I will make my decision.
Pitch paragraph 1: Stanza - 78 words (need to cut out three words)

Blue Triage: Being a fan of this band can kill you, but at least you’ll die famous.

Trevor dreams of becoming an idolized rock star. He buys picture frames for the paparazzi photos of him lying in the toilet next to a whiskey bottle. Suffering from writer’s block, his luck changes when a lyrical roadie overdoses - leaving behind hit songs. Overcome with greed, Trevor begins killing other musicians. Yet his band mates become suspicious of their sudden fame.
Pitch paragraph 2: The Stoneman - 75 words

Graham has found good fortune not within a four-leaf clover, but inside a stone. He lifted his Coors beer at the heavens in prayer and the glowing rock came down. It is a miracle for his critically-ill son since the stone gives life to anything it touches, although someone else’s life has to end for it to work. A life for a life is the moral choice Graham must make in this suspense, The Stoneman.
Pitch paragraph 3: Scary Darling - 75 words

George has the greatest job. He works near the Broadway star, Mabel Durhan: a temperamental singer at odds with a rival actress. When Mabel wants her competition to disappear, it is his lucky day as he demands for her undying love in reward for his help. Yet Mabel marries a Broadway producer instead. So George has to remind her that it is a bad idea to renege on a deal made with the Grim Reaper.
Pitch paragraph 4: The Tragedy of Paul Gruyna - 75 words

Monique cannot believe her luck when Jeff agrees to have all-night sex with her. The opportunity to murder the man who killed her sister is making Monique all giddy inside. Yet when wiping the blood away from his tattoo, she realizes that she had killed the wrong man. Instead, this is Jeff’s twin brother, Paul. Now Monique must hide her secret from Jeff who begins to fall in love with her during his investigations.