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Query for 'Crosswinds'
April Brown
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 6:52 PM
Terra has built a past on the ancestors of cultures from around the world. Her collections from recent trips bring little comfort in the frozen Vermont winter. On a trip to Arizona, in a tiny village cluster, her past sneaks up on her. If she doesn't find, and face who she is, Terra, like the village, may lose the future.

Her old life, on the outside looking in,turns upside down, when the mother of two orphans-to-be begs her to take themas her own. Her mind is still on preserving the stories of this multi-cultural village, and she doesn't realize the impact of her chosen daughter.
Jaci wants her and the children gone,and the village scattered to the winds.
Terra, fearful of losing the children she has come to care for, must save the village to save the children. She prepares to meet with the tribal council,headed by grandparents of both Jaci and Shanna, the village school principal. Her only hope is her knowledge of the cultures she has studied and visited. Artifacts,so faithfully labeled, catalogued, and preserved may be the answer. Time is limited, as the tangled rifts in the community threaten to tear it apart, she must piece them back together one by one.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 10:17 PM

Forgive me, but I’m going to be a bit brutal. The problem is that you know the story, so what you say is meaningful to you. But you need to begin looking at the work as a reader, one who knows only what the words have told them—from their point of view.

Terra has built a past on the ancestors of cultures from around the world.

Terra might be a name, but it could also mean the planet Earth. And my guess is that most agents will assume you mean Earth, initially. If so they’re confused from the start.

But assume the name was Betty. Does it help? No, because we don’t know what you mean by “built a past.” It doesn’t matter if you clarify later, because there is no second first impression.

• Her collections from recent trips bring little comfort in the frozen Vermont winter.

Trips to where? Collections of what? Are we talking archeology or shopping? You know, but the reader has no context. We don’t know why she feels she needs comfort, or how whatever she brought from wherever she went might give comfort.

I could go on, because it continues, but the problem, in all cases, is the same one: Your reader has no context. And in writing, context isn’t just important, it’s everything. Assume I write, “I’ll always remember that time in China, when Charlie had that thing with the chicken. We all laughed, but the chicken will probably never be the same.” Does it mean anything to you? No, because you don’t know Charlie or what happened.

Part of the problem is that you’re trying to give a synopsis, and do it in 200 words. It can’t be done. After all, if you could meaningfully tell me the plot in so few words it wouldn’t be much of a story.

Instead of focusing on plot, focus on what the story is about. By that I don’t mean the plot, but the thrust of the story, which might be learning to trust, growing up, or even be careful what you wish for.

Try this trick: Describe the book in two sentences, the first declarative and the second a question. For example:

Zack, along with an ailing hooker he finds by the side of the road, discover an ancient spacecraft, whose cargo of what appear to be floor tiles has taken over their kitchen and their life, and now has transported them to a primitive world, where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Will Zack and Ada, survive long enough to win the war, figure out what’s actually going on, and visit the world of the builders of that ship?
- - - - -
Yes, it’s a bit convoluted for a sentence, but it does define the thrust of the novel. And from that, a 250 word blurb can be built.

Is there more to the story? Sure. I left out the other main characters, and lots of stops and events along he way. But all that simply supports the primary goal, which is to learn what’s really going on.

You might want to spend some time on this site: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ Lots of query help to be found there.

You might also want to read a few books on the fiction writing process. Lots of them include hints on how to write a query.

April Brown
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 6:26 AM
Thank you for your response.  I have spent a lot of time on query shark.  In fact, I modeled this query exactly on the one that she said got a perfect change in just one revision.  So apparently, studying other people's queries doesn't help me.  I wish it did.

This is the sample one I modeled it on.  If you can tell the difference you are welcome to.  I can't see a difference other than names.  http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2011/10/212.html

Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:59 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90

Hey April,

Reading your query here and looking over the one on queryshark the big, big thing you're missing I think is relevant, relatable detail.

Your model opens with:  "Felix Ramos had always dreamt of working in space, but a journalism degree does not an astronaut make."  First, we have his childhood dreams, something the reader can immediately identify with.  Who hasn't had such dreams?  Then we get his journalism degree, he's college educated, but his degree was not practical, at least at fulfilling the dreams in question.  Again, this is extremely relatable for a whole bunch of folks working in fields other than what they majored in college in.  And also we have a glimpse at the protagonist's emotional life.  Longing, dreams, regret, even a sense of humor at his own expense.  That's a hell of a lot, really, for just one sentense.  A very good opening for a query.

Now you:  "Terra has built a past on the ancestors of cultures around the world."  My first thought is, "Huh?"  I'm kinda baffled at what any of this brief sentence is supposed to mean.  How does one "build a past?"  You see how kookie that sounds out of context?  Well, for me and anyone reading your query, there is no context other than this sentence.  The first sentence of a query has to, first and foremost, create a context for the rest of the query. 

And what are "ancestors of cultures?"  I mean, a person can have ancestors because a person has parents.  Cultures don't have parents.  Do you mean "ancestors *from* cultures?"  But that doesn't really help the sentence make sense.  April, what meaningful information can someone glean from these crucial opening words of your query?  Unfortunately, you have two confusing turns of phrase in your opening sentence and little else.  No telling detail, no emotional impact, no sense of who Terra is other than some kind of traveler?

Second sentence:  "Given an unlikely opportunity to fulfill his childhood fantasies, he leaps at it, unknowingly launching himself into a place balanced predcariously between tedium and terror."  You see how this sentence launches itself from the ground established in the first sentence?  Felix has been disappointed by his prospects of fulfilling his dreams, but now there's an unlikely opportunity!  So of course he "leaps" at it.  "Leaps" is a passionate verb, propulsive, and suggestive of leaving the earth with echoes of "...one giant *leap* for mankind." 

Personally, I'm not too keen on "a place balanced precariously between tedium and terror."  "Precariously" seems a little redundant, calls attention to itself as superfluous adverb.  And "tedium and terror" is vague, for my taste, but it does obviate the next paragraph because I want to know what "tedium and terror" we're talking about.  And, here's the crucial bit, the very first sentence of the next paragraph explains exactly that.  See what I mean? 

You now:  "Her collections from recent trips bring little comfort in the frozen Vermont winter."  Collections of what?  The only noun other than Terra in the first sentence is "ancestors."  So, I'm having to *approximate* what you mean, which is deadly for any query.  I have to guess and figure, well, she prolly means Terra to be some kinda archeologist or ethnographer and the collection is, I dunno, artifacts or something.  Not good.  Don't make the reader guess.  Not in the query.

Also, there's a scatter-shot quality to the details already.  Remember how the other query's second sentence built upon the first?  Here, "frozen Vermont winter" sounds really arbitrary.  Unless I've been to Vermont, all I have is a generalization in my head after that phrase.  And what does the time of year or the bad weather specifically tell me about your book or your protagonist?

You then write: "On a trip to Arizona, in a tiny village cluster, her past sneaks up on her."  More random detailes that tell us nothing about Terra.  And "village cluster" is an odd phrase--why not just "tiny village?"  Your query at this point needs some serious message discipline.  You can't afford to leave your reader guessing so much.  Your book can be mysterious and oblique, but your query cannot afford to be either.  It's gotta deliver the goods immediately. 

See, if you're gonna tell me "her past sneaks up on her" I need to have a clue what that past could possibly be beforehand.  And if her past sneaks up on her, then I'd guess she has been running from her past in some way.  Perhaps that's what you meant by "building a past"--she's building a false past to cover something she wants to disown in her memory.  If that's the deal, then wonderful!  Who doesn't have things they'd rather forget?  Just tell us so.

The job of the first sentence/paragraph of your query is to make the reader care about your protagonist--enough to keep reading the query.

You go on:  "If she doesn't find, and face who she is, Terra, like the village, may lose the future."  April, this is so vague.  I have no way of guessing what the heck you're talking about.  No idea what danger the village is in.  No idea what Terra's problem is and no idea how her "past" or the "self" she inexplicably cannot face is going to impact anything at all. 

In your opening paragraph of this query you've told me nothing I can hold onto about your protagonist.  You give me seemingly random details and then you just tell me that whatever-it-is is a really big deal and involves the fate of an entire "village cluster." 

By the time you get to "Her old life..." in the second paragraph, I should have a fair idea what that life involved.  I should be invested at least that much in Terra's reality. 

The rest of it, as Jay said, boils down to plot summary.  I think you would do much better to tell us what Terra is like as a person.  Tell us what her plans are and then you can tell us how those plans get hijacked.  Don't bother with telling us what the book is about.  Tell us what *Terra* is about.  Tell us why we would want to read a book about her.  That should be easy.  You've written a whole book about her.  Why do you love her so?

Good luck with this. 

April Brown
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 9:41 AM
I don't think I'm going to get it.  I had some other stuff in there, and was told elsewhere to take it out, as it wasn't relevant.  Here is the original, that I do have labeled a synopsis.  I hadn't looked at it in over two years until a week ago.

Terra, a cross-cultural journalist living in Vermont, has always felt alone, and abandoned.  Her latest assignment collecting stories in what should be the warmth of an Arizona winter; she faces her fear of building a family in the chill created by economic distress and despair within the village.

The village elder, Ke-ama, watches Terra, and guides her through the story collecting process.  While doing so, Terra must stand up to Jaci, granddaughter of the tribal council leader, who desperately works to force Terra to take two cross-cultural orphans, and leave the village to its fate. 

Terra won't abandon the children who have no family, and no future, as she feels she was discarded.  In order to keep them, she must find a future economic source for the village, while maintaining its cultural past within the confines of the present, in the village she has come to call home.

Terra learns the history of the village, and its members, including the missing ones, in order to better understand how to help them.  Most of the village wants to stay, though some aren't so sure. 

In the end, Terra is able to help the community create a nearby satellite community of former village members who will build a solar panel production company; and a travel agency, networking communities online to help save the indigenous history of people around the globe.  Their hope is to find lost members, and bring them back to their roots, and combine what histories they have into a workable current whole person and community.

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 8:20 PM
Joined: 2/15/2013
Posts: 11

I agree with the others - sounds like she is collecting stories in the second version, but the first sounds like she is collecting people - think Bill and Ted's excellent adventure  (maybe I'm dating myself here).  Also, why wouldn’t the people want to be rescued?  Why would Terra feel the need to rescue them and protect the orphans? Couldn’t she just take the orphans and meet her goals that way?  Is Jaci the orphan’s original mother?  I don’t really get the connection there.  It would be helpful to say this is a post-apocalyptic or dystopian world where states become independent countries somewhere in the beginning, .  Good luck to you and I would love to see any updates on this. 


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