Sunday, October 17, 2010

Query Critique #11

Query #11 - Zooks

Dear Ms. Agent,

DEATH AT THE DRIVE-IN is a slice of Billie Jenkins’ life. When she loses the lease on her Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, Billie’s tempted to go into her usual shut-down mode. Like she did two years ago when, out of loneliness, she invented a son. Without income and a cast and crew depending on her, Billie must find a new theatre and write a new hit play that won’t require expensive sets and costumes, or she risks losing her beloved log cabin and defaulting on her student loans.
The "slice of life" comment doesn't add anything to the query; I recommend cutting it.  Try to put so much "punch" into the first sentence or two that the reader can't stop reading. "Shut-down" doesn't really seem like the right term for inventing a son--as a psychologist, I have to say we have a few "stronger" terms for it. The "student loans" thing throws me on her age--it makes her seem like she's in her 20s, although I surmised from the "decades since she dated" mention below that she's much older. 
When Billie Jenkins loses the lease on her Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, she’s tempted to escape reality for a while, like she did a few years ago when, out of loneliness, she invented a son. With a cast and crew depending on her, Billie must find a new theatre and write a new hit play that won’t require expensive sets and costumes, or she risks losing her beloved log cabin.

An amateur sleuth, Billie’s frustrated when the cops refuse her help in solving a local murder. One mention of her psychic visions and they scurry, but when a body from a cold case appears in her backyard, they’re all ears. In all this turmoil, Billie realizes her accountant, Emmett, is sweet on her. She’d like to let him know the feeling’s mutual but doesn’t remember how; it’s been decades since she dated.
Since you mention that there's a "local" murder, this might be a good place to establish the setting (e.g., rural North Whateverstate). Avoid clichés like "they're all ears." I feel like this paragraph is a bit unfocused--it's like you're simply listing the different aspects of the story, rather than weaving them together. 

After a local murder, the cops refuse to take Billie's psychic visions seriously--until a body from a cold case appears in her backyard. And when her newly-widowed sister arrives, Billie suspects her of killing her husband. In all this turmoil, Billie realizes her accountant, Emmett, is sweet on her. She’d like to let him know the feeling’s mutual but doesn’t remember how; it’s been decades since she dated.

Just when Billie thinks she’s getting her life under control, the death toll mounts when her newly widowed sister arrives. In touch with her inner detective, Billie knows something’s fishy when her sister reveals she scattered her husband’s ashes before the funeral. When Billie suspects her sister of murder, her need to solve the mystery intensifies.
Cut clichés like "getting her life under control," "the death toll mounts," and "something's fishy." I moved the part with the sister up to the previous paragraph--let's keep all of the dead bodies in one place.   

A number of my short stories (or excerpts of other novels I’ve written) have been published, and a humorous play I wrote was recently produced. Am a member of SCBWI. I was recently a guest on LTV’s The Play is the Thing and discussed my various writing projects.
Make this more specific. Name the magazines or anthologies you've been published (just the magazine/book names, not the dates or the short story names), so the agent can go and find the pieces if s/he chooses.
My short stories have been published in XXX, YYY, and ZZZ, and the ABC Theatre company produced my play, NAME OF THE PLAY, in the summer of 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, and I was recently a guest on LTV’s The Play is the Thing. 

DEATH AT THE DRIVE-IN is 56,000 words of quirky women’s fiction that I believe will appeal to readers of Carrie Fisher’s writing.
I think you've picked a good comp--this does have a Carrie Fisher-esque feel. But my biggest concern is that, at 56K, this is novella length, not novel length, which means that many agents won't be interested. Most chick-lit is in the 80,000-110,000 word ballpark.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

XXX XXXX

3 comments:

Nicole MacDonald said...

Agree with the comments, my first thought was that Billie's middle aged till I saw the student piece. But I LOVE that she has a log cabin - I want one!!

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Zooks said...

Thanks so much for the critique. I really appreciate it. Your points are good and I'll heed your advice.

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