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Pick Your Poison

March 31, 2011

Last week and a little this week I sent out some queries.  If you remember my entry from the 22nd or so, I had a couple different ones.

The one I sent out first was the “Chick Lit” Version:

Dr. Emma Earl has it all: a great new job, an apartment with her best friend, and her first steady boyfriend.  Then she gets the last thing she wants:  a suit of magic armor that makes her a superhero known as the Scarlet Knight.

She soon finds that being a superhero isn’t fun like in the comic books.  Being Rampart City’s savior means prowling the city’s dark alleys all night, facing death a half-dozen times while pummeling criminals to a pulp, and then getting home at five in the morning with only a body-length bruise as a reward.  Which then means ingesting copious amounts of Red Bull just to keep from falling asleep at her desk and some serious bags under her eyes.  Even when she goes to the opera with her boyfriend to relax for a couple of hours, her arch-nemesis the Black Dragoon shows up to wreak havoc.

After this Emma also realizes that being a superhero means choosing between her duty to the city and the man she loves. A Hero’s Journey is a 100,000-word novel that follows Emma as she becomes the hero she was meant to be.

No success with that so far.  The other night I came up with a more straightforward version, the “Straight, No Chaser” Version:

The last thing Dr. Emma Earl wanted was to be a superhero, but when an ancient evil threatens the world, she’s the one who gets the call.  Soon enough she’s getting a crash course in what it takes to be a hero.

In a cavern below the museum where she works, Emma finds a suit of magic plate armor created by Merlin the wizard thousands of years ago.  With the armor she can deflect bullets, jump long distances, and turn invisible, but the greatest threat is within.  To defeat the evil Black Dragoon and save the world, she must first tame her inner demons by reliving her most painful memories—the night when her parents were tragically murdered.

A Hero’s Journey is a 100,000-word novel about how you need more than magic armor to be a hero.

I probably won’t have any success with that either.

So then there’s also a revamped “Insane Rant” Version:

You know why there aren’t masked vigilantes in real life?  Because that job would really suck.  Think about it:  long hours, no pay, and the possibility of getting killed every night.  Only a crazy person would do that.

Dr. Emma Earl is very much sane, but she doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter.  The evil Black Dragoon nearly killed her and now he’s taken one of her friends hostage.  The only way to rescue him is to put on the suit of magic plate armor she found beneath the museum where she works.  With it she can deflect bullets, jump really far, and turn invisible, but there’s a lot of drawbacks that come with it.  For one thing, it means the Dragoon is trying to kill her with his own set of magic armor—complete with claws that could slice an elephant in half!  For another, it means she might have to turn her back on the man she loves so that she can save the world.  No wonder no one else wanted the job.

A Hero’s Journey is a 100,000-word novel about learning what it takes to become a hero.

And for the hell of it, here’s the Chapter 1 I’ve included with some of the Emails:

Chapter 1

As she mounted the steps to her dream job, Dr. Emma Earl’s main concern was not tripping over her own feet.  She kept her eyes down on her size-15 flats, making sure she didn’t get them tangled and wind up falling on her face.  First impressions came only once and she didn’t want her new coworkers to think she was stupid and clumsy.

She made it to the top unscathed and recognized the man waiting for her as the same Dr. Ian MacGregor who had conducted her second interview.  If she hadn’t recognized his face, then his Scottish accent would certainly have jarred her memory.  “Ah, good morning, Dr. Earl.  Here early on your first day even.”

Emma needed a moment to remember that she was Dr. Earl now, the title sounding so strange from someone else’s mouth.  “Yes,” she managed to get out.  As she felt her face turning red-hot, she summoned the courage to add, “Am I too early?”

“Not at all, lass.  I like employees who are punctual.”

“Oh.  That’s good.”

“Now, why don’t we go inside and I’ll show you around?”

“Shouldn’t Dr. Brighton—”

“He won’t mind.  Trust me.”  Since Dr. MacGregor was the head of the geology department, Emma had no choice but to take his word for it.

She hadn’t visited the museum in four years, but it looked relatively unchanged.  They walked around the ticket line, into the Great Hall.  At one end of this hall was the longest-running exhibit of the Plaine Museum, the skeleton of a mastodon named Alex for Dr. Alexander Plaine, the museum’s founder who had discovered the mastodon in Ohio and brought it back to his native Rampart City.  At his own expense he built the museum around this so that the city might have an institution dedicated to knowledge and learning to rival Paris, London, or any other major European city at the time.

Emma knew this story by heart—she had read Dr. Plaine’s biography when she was three—but didn’t mind hearing it again from Dr. MacGregor.  They paused in front of Alex while Dr. MacGregor told the story in his charming Scottish brogue.  He finished by saying, “No one expects you to be a tour guide, but it’s always good if you can point visitors to the right place.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ve been coming here since I was a toddler.”

“Ah, so you’ve probably memorized every inch of the place then, have you?”

“Not quite, sir.”

“No need for that ‘sir’ stuff like we’re in the military.”

“Sorry, Dr. MacGregor.”

“You can just call me Ian, lass.  You mind if I call you Emma?”

“Yes—I don’t mind.”

“Excellent.”  He indicated the sets of double doors behind her that for the moment were closed.  “Those are our temporary exhibits.  Right now we’re winding down the ‘Wonderful World of Ants’ one.  The kiddies really seem to like that.  We’ve also got the ‘American Pirates’ one going on.  That’s a pretty popular one, might keep it for a while longer if we can.”

“What about that one over there,” she said, pointing to the left.

“Oh, that.  Bloody mess is what that is.  Supposed to be something called ‘Egypt’s First King’ about this Karlak II bloke.  Except over on the trip here, the freighter carrying most of the artifacts sank.”

“The captain scuttled the ship, didn’t he?” Emma said.  “I remember reading about that in the newspaper.”

“Quite right, lass.  They say he went nuts and destroyed the boilers.  No one is quite sure why.  We’ve been trying to sort things out with the Egyptian government.  As you might imagine, they’re a bit annoyed that some of their relics are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.”

“That’s awful,” Emma said.

“Yes.”  Ian shook his head and then smiled.  “But that’s for the lawyers and Anthropology to figure out.  None of our concern.”

He led her over to the staff elevator behind Alex.  She resisted the urge to wave goodbye to the mastodon as she had done when she was a little girl; back then Alex had been her closest friend other than Becky Beech, his constant presence so reassuring, especially in those dark times after her parents had died, when the rest of the world had seemed to be in flux.  That the mastodon was still here after everything that had changed in her life made her smile as she had back then.

The staff elevator wasn’t much different than the regular patron elevator, except that it had more buttons.  These went from the fourth floor executive offices all the way down to something labeled as the “Sub-Subbasement.”  Ian hit the button for the third floor for the department offices.

The corridor was a dingy white, some of the lights flickering overhead.  The tiles were scuffed and in some places chipped from repeated use and abuse.  She wondered when the department offices had last undergone a renovation; probably long before she was born.  Still, this didn’t dampen her enthusiasm as she followed Ian down the corridor, past frosted glass doors with labels like, “Metallurgy Division” and “Gemstone Division.”

They finally stopped at the door marked “Meteor Division,” Ian opening the door for her.  The state of the office prompted Emma to gasp, though she managed to stifle most of it.  Piles of books and journals took up the worktables and the desk in the room was nearly invisible from the amount of folders and loose papers burying it.

“I’m afraid your predecessor wasn’t the neatest sort,” Ian said, which Emma took as quite an understatement.

A door to the left opened and out of it stumbled an old man with wild white hair, at least a three-day growth of stubble, and the bulbous red nose of an alcoholic.  If these signs weren’t enough to indicate the man had a drinking problem, the smell of his breath was almost enough to make Emma gag.

“What’s going on here?” the man said.  “Who the hell is this?”

“Hello, Walter,” Ian said.  “This is Dr. Emma Earl.  She’s your new researcher.  We discussed this on Friday.”

The man’s watery gray eyes narrowed at Emma, who took an involuntary step back.  “This girl is the one you’ve hired?  Has she even finished high school yet?”

“Dr. Earl has a PhD in Geology from Berkeley.  She’s more than qualified for the position,” Ian said.  The iciness of his voice prompted Emma to take another step back into the doorway.  “The director and I think she will be a welcome addition to our team.”

“Is that what we’ve come down to now?  Hiring pubescent girls and calling them doctors?”  The man shook his head.  “Good thing I’m almost to retirement.”

With that, the man turned and slammed the door to his office.  Emma stood in the doorway, barely holding back tears.  Ever since she’d enrolled at Northwestern at age fourteen, she’d been the butt of jokes for being a kid.  She had hoped things might be different here, but clearly that wasn’t the case.

Ian put a hand on her shoulder.  “I’m sorry about Dr. Brighton.  He used to be quite the scholar back in the day.”

“Yes.  I’ve read some of his papers,” she said, her voice quivering slightly.  “They were very good.”

“He hasn’t been the same since his wife died.  Won’t be much longer now until we have to put him out to pasture.”  Ian smiled at her.  “He shouldn’t give you too much of a problem, though, so long as you don’t bother him.  If it gets to be too much, you just come and see me.  My office is right at the end of the hall.”

“Thank you, s—Ian.”

“You’re welcome, lass.  And good luck.”

He left her standing among the ruins of the office.  With a sigh, she began cleaning up the place, wondering if her dream job was becoming a nightmare.


I really like the Quick Query feature on Query Tracker.  Makes it a lot easier to send these things, and it addresses it for you, so it’s their fault if you send an Email and it says Mr. instead of Ms.  Woo hoo.  What I don’t get is why they limit it to 10 Emails a day for Premium Members.  You think a Spambot is going to pay $25 to send a bunch of Emails?  Really?  If I pay $25 I should be able to do whatever the hell I want!  Consarnit!

On a side note I think I’ve sent every project I’ve ever queried to Kristen Nelson because I read her blog a few times.  Form rejection every single time.  I think her intern hates me.

Don’t forget tomorrow is the first Friday Flix!


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  1. The “rant” version certainly has a lot of voice!

    If you go with the second, I think it’s good, except for this bit: but it can’t protect her from the inner demons she’s run from most of her life.

    It is important, but hanging there by itself, so it seems to disrupt the flow…any way to connect it to the rest?

    Good luck!

    • It’s too bad the voice in the Insane Rant isn’t the same one in the story.

      I thought that sentence connected to the one after it. You know, inner demons and then talk about reliving the night her parents died, which are the inner demons. I can probably make that clearer.

      Incidentally the scene where her parents died is one of my favorites. I like how it turned out. I get a little trippy because it’s like she’s watching all of this as like a ghost but then at the end, after her parents are dead, she becomes visible and in comforting her 8-year-old self finally overcomes her psychological pain. One of those happy accidents I should blog about at some point.

  2. Insane rant version all the way! I love it!

    And thank you for your kind comment on my blog. It’s so encouraging to hear people liked my story 🙂

    Have a great day!

    ~ Bess

  3. I like your story thus far. Personally I like all of your query letters but I’ve no idea what an agent is looking for in them :/ Maybe the lady over at queryshark could help. Janet Reid seems kind of mean though and I’ve often wondered that if you got a query perfect for her then it might annoy another agent who wanted something more standard.

    • Maybe I should query the 8th one first: that one has a vampire in it! Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just being blackballed? I mean I don’t think my ideas are much worse than anything else out there, but I haven’t even got a nibble. Starts making me think they put up signs in New York saying, “No Rogue Mutts allowed.”

  4. I’m not sure what to think about query letters anymore; I agree with Michael that getting it right for one may get it wrong for others. I thought the chick-lit one was the best, especially because I don’t think there’s a lot of chick-lit/superhero literature out there and that might be a market you want to try for, just like everyone’s pitching YA stuff right now, you could reinvent chick-lit the way Twilight reinvented vampires. Maybe re-cast Emma as a Bridget-Jones/Sex&The City superhero?

    Just a thought. I liked the chapter. BTW, I wish-listed all your books on my Kindle and will be getting to them as soon a I finish “Oliver Twist.” So you’ll be getting the Rum Punch review treatment eventually. Better not get all Franzen-y.

    • You know, after I read this “After the Golden Age” book and went over this query, I thought, “Why didn’t I make this more chick lit?” Except the obvious problem is I’m a dude and I’ve only read one book that could really be described as chick lit and don’t even watch “Sex and the City” reruns that are so ubiquitous these days. Though that’d make a great high concept pitch: It’s Sex and the City meets Batman Begins!

      All my books on Kindle, that sets you back what, $4? That’s not even half a Franzen download I bet. You can’t even get a coffee for Starbucks at that price! I think that should be my sales pitch.

  5. I really dig the ‘Rant’ version as well! Nice voice and fun.

  6. I really like the third version. The rant version makes me want to read the book.

  7. Lisa Potts permalink

    Well, I agree that the rant version is the best as far as voice, but I’m not sure it would garner the same reaction from an agent. I hope you don’t get discouraged too quickly. Give it some time.

  8. Well there I sent out like 8 of the Rant Version. The Straight No Chaser I sent earlier was already form rejected.

  9. Still like the chick lit version the best.

    Good on you for biting the bullet and doing this!

    And yeah, I’m pretty sure I got a form rejection from Kristin too, though I think from memory one of our Crusaders is repped by her, so she does say yes sometimes…

  10. Rant version is 0-1. I feel strangely vindicated by that.

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