Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Miriam's Slush Week entry

by Miriam

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:
 
(Dear Agent:)

I would like you to represent, The Price of Blasphemy, a complete 62,000 word work of up-market fiction and social realism.

The novel is told as a first-person narrative, throwing the reader into the tumultuous mind of Richard Bunbury, a charismatic and volatile agnostic who is determined to live a simple, Monticello-inspired lifestyle by operating a charity that aims to impede America’s divisive nature.

While living in Washington D.C., Richard falls in love with Dawn, a devout Christian attorney who specializes in non-profit law. Incompatible faiths eventually create a fissure between the unlikely pair. Dawn begs Richard to convert, but he refuses, arguing that her God, if he exists, is passive and weak. Angered and outraged by Richard’s blasphemy, Dawn abruptly brings the relationship to an end. When the fury caused by his broken heart mixes with his preexisting (yet dormant) mental instability, Richard lashes out, which results in disastrous and shocking consequences.

Beginning with the murder of an imaginary homeless man and progressing to leasing, insuring, and converting dilapidated Bible Belt churches into satanic places of worship, Richard is out to prove his theory that God is passive, while exploiting the Christian religion in order to acquire his personal Monticello. As Richard Pavlovian-ly predicts, the rural communities of North Carolina unknowingly facilitate his scheme with their helpful acts of arson, but as Richard’s sanity continues to crumble, his plan gets sloppy. Richard fails to account for the media’s outrage and the anger of the local townspeople, causing the reader to learn that drawing the ire and contempt of a pious following carries a steep price.

The Price of Blasphemy explores themes of love and inhumane manmade divisiveness. In the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, The Catcher in the Rye, and Fight Club, this novel is deeply probing and begs the question: Which is more godly, faith or love?

My book will be of broad public appeal in that it offers the fervor of controversy, true love, and a fragile protagonist who is a talking looking glass, representing the society of yours and mine. Our readership will vary from those with an appreciation for a touching story with clean, fluid prose, to those desiring to relate to a voice that shares feelings of isolation and an uncontrollable instinct to self-destruct.

This is a multiple submission. If you are interested in reading the manuscript, I would love to give you the exclusive opportunity over an eight week period. Thank you for taking the time to help me pursue my literary endeavors.

(Closing, Author's Name)



(Dear Agent:)

I would like you to represent (This is an awkward opening. I prefer something more artful. Like Jane, I think that opening a query with “I” is not a good idea unless you’ve got a really eye-catching sentence that will get my attention – e.g., “I am a serial killer.” Or “I know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.”) The Price of Blasphemy, a complete 62,000 word work of up-market fiction and social realism.

The novel is told as a first-person narrative, throwing the reader into the tumultuous mind of Richard Bunbury, a charismatic and volatile agnostic who is determined to live a simple, Monticello-inspired lifestyle by operating a charity that aims to impede America’s divisive nature. (This sentence is wordy, overstuffed with adjectives and tells me very little; I am not at all drawn to Richard from this description.)

While living in Washington D.C., Richard falls in love with Dawn, a devout Christian attorney who specializes in non-profit law. Incompatible faiths eventually create a fissure between the unlikely pair. Dawn begs Richard to convert, but he refuses, arguing that her God, if he exists, is passive and weak. Angered and outraged by Richard’s blasphemy, Dawn abruptly brings the relationship to an end. When the fury caused by his broken heart mixes with his preexisting (yet dormant) mental instability, Richard lashes out, which results in disastrous and shocking consequences. (This is overwritten and full of throw-away hyperbole. Instead of a straightforward description of the plot, there’s too much emotional editorializing about motives. Less is more when offering plot summaries.)

Beginning with the murder of an imaginary homeless man and progressing to leasing, insuring, and converting dilapidated Bible Belt churches into satanic places of worship, Richard is out to prove his theory that God is passive, while exploiting the Christian religion in order to acquire his personal Monticello. As Richard Pavlovian-ly predicts, the rural communities of North Carolina unknowingly facilitate his scheme with their helpful acts of arson, but as Richard’s sanity continues to crumble, his plan gets sloppy. Richard fails to account for the media’s outrage and the anger of the local townspeople, causing the reader to learn that drawing the ire and contempt of a pious following carries a steep price. (Right about now, I’m really lost. The premise comes across as far fetched and the themes raised seem impossibly ambitious. Nothing about the writing here makes me think the author will be able to pull off something this complicated.)

The Price of Blasphemy explores themes of love and inhumane manmade divisiveness (Another throwaway phrase. Awkward and clunky.). In the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, The Catcher in the Rye, and Fight Club (As a rule, comparing one’s work to canonical titles is a recipe for disaster. You’re setting yourself up against very stiff competition and stacking the cards against yourself from the get-go.), this novel is deeply probing and begs the question: Which is more godly, faith or love?  (Frankly this makes the book sound high minded and deadly boring. Let your reader decide what the issues. If you’re a skillful enough writer, your agenda will be inferred instead of hitting the reader on the head with a skillet.)

My book will be of broad public appeal (I’d rather know what particular audiences this might appeal to because there is no such thing as a work of literature that everyone loves) in that it offers the fervor of controversy, true love, and a fragile protagonist who is a talking looking glass, representing the society of yours and mine. Our readership will vary (do you mean “range"?) from those with an appreciation for a touching story with clean, fluid prose, to those desiring to relate to a voice that shares feelings of isolation and an uncontrollable instinct to self-destruct (this sentence lacks effective parallel structure).

This is a multiple submission. If you are interested in reading the manuscript, I would love to give you the exclusive opportunity over an eight week period. (I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me they are going to give me a deadline for something, I’m already moving on to the next thing. It’s okay to tell me the material is out with other agents but how about “I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing from you.”)  Thank you for taking the time to help me pursue my literary endeavors.



(Closing, Author's Name)


Thanks very much for participating in Slush Week!

8 comments:

  1. I'm beginning to see a trend here:

    Less is more. Don't attempt to throw my thesaurus at you. Succinct explanations yet broad strokes relating to plot.

    I'm loving slush week. Please, oh please say you'll do it more often!

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  2. Well ... it's the most ambitious one so far, you have to give it that.

    I'd be tempted to ask for a chapter, just to see a story of a simple, volatile, charity running psychopath who wants to mend a broken America via agnosticism and Satan worship.

    Books should be provocative, but they've also got to be coherent, and that's just flinging darts all over the map.

    The best word, by the way? The best word in that query letter is 'insuring'.

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  3. Thank you Miriam for commenting. I agree with anonymous, can we pa-leeeeeze do this more ofen?

    Thank you author for submitting, good luck on your book.

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  4. So far we've seen queries that understandably would make the slush pile. (Sorry!) I think it would be just as important to see a few queries that are well written and would pique enough interest that an agent would ask for more!

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  5. Anonymous 12.19, I think that's a good point, but it's not the point of this exercise. The genesis of this competition was precisely to see a random sampling of the slush pile, rather than particularly good or bad examples. It's nice seeing things that haven't been selected as extreme examples, and that don't really have anything egregiously wrong with them. The problem with the first three, particularly, is that they are 'meh' rather than anything that would make you run for the hills. And that's a useful lesson - if you're an aspiring author, your enemy isn't 'awful' it's 'meh'.

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  6. You know what? This could work if the author's willing to take her suggestions, even applying them to the book. If this was in the vein of say "The Heretic's Daughter" then the author may have something. Religous fanatic carves a path of destruction. And still the woman he desires doesn't want him. I say desires, because after all is said and done, if he realizes he really didn't love her but only desired her then that could start his moral re-birth.

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  7. I have a hard time with Bunbury as the protagonist. How many books have had a nutbar as the figure the author might want people to identify with?

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  8. 'How many books have had a nutbar as the figure the author might want people to identify with?'

    [insert Ayn Rand joke here]

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