Friday, February 13, 2015

Query Blog Hop

Hi blogreaders!! In case you are wondering what this is all about, this is simply a post for contest feedback. To the givers of feedback, thank you so much! Please be entirely honest. I appreciate it.


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA historical fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and titled THE RED AND THE SCARLET, which I have pitched as Les Miserables meets Mulan with a bounty-hunting Jo March as the heroine.

Eighteen-year-old mercenary Fyr has desperate aspirations. One: To keep her sickly brother Asaan alive after they escape racial massacre with only each other. Two: To get revenge on the one man she remembers taking part in the killings. And three, to fulfill an alleged prophecy she's stumbled upon.

The pseudo-historical script promises a supernatural race called "The Blue People" will conquer her native land. As a devoted sister and scarred survivor of near genocide, Fyr isn't about to let that happen, even if it means facing pirates, a tsunami, and her own arrest.

When Fyr and Asaan are arrested, by the same controversial politician she's vowed to kill, her plans are brought to a screeching halt. But instead of prosecuting the siblings, he invites them into his world. Trapped in the nobility's glittering society, Fyr's criminal dreams and her ideas about "Blue People" quickly become synonymous with scandal. She must fight self-doubt, racism, and a growing affection for her former enemy if she's to keep Asaan alive and safe, and escape before the Blue People attack.

THE RED AND THE SCARLET is a novel about siblings, culture clash, natural and political disasters, and pseudo-history. It is set on a fictional Slavic and Asian continent in the Napoleonic Era, and has sequel potential.

My name is Rachel Stevenson, and I am the winner of three Scholastic Gold Keys and two honorable mentions, all for science fiction and fantasy, and of a handful of local awards for short plays that were performed in my home city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Thank you for considering my work!


First 250:

When Fyr was struck, and Vladyslav scarred, the world was shivering.
            A blanket of clouds lay across the trinity of nations, and fingers of chill dragged into hearts and bones. Windows were shut, as were jackets. The breath of a hundred furnaces and the smoke of a thousand lungs rose to mingle with the skies.
            Nevertheless, a handful of bourgeoisie gathered outside the Vlalonnan King’s palace, hoping to warm souls and fill their purses. Ignoring winter’s slaps on their cheeks and voices, they sang.
            They looked up expectantly at the massive windows, where they hoped to see the king deigning to pay them mind, or preferably, cash. Instead, a snowflake drifted from above to their feet, as if a promise.
            And their ancient carol soared to mist-dusted rooftops, where relentless wind snatched and swept it south to the Grassland Reserves, where “savages,” the tribal Yihhe, lived.
            The same clouds hovered in their sky, but different joy in their hearts. One that gloried in their enemies’ disfigured heads, once unfortunate Vlalonnan pilgrims, staked around the camp.
            Yihhe children, free of chores, ran out shrieking to catch snow in outstretched fingers and dark lashes. Fyr, about eight, stood on the edge of her people’s territory, daring to poke toes past the invisible boundary, near the dreadful heads. She glanced at them curiously, balancing her infant brother on her hip.
            While the other children held the bodiless things in fearful reverence, Fyr was grateful to them. From them had come the book in her hand. 


  1. Hi, Rachel!

    Query: Nitpick--"which I have pitched as" is a little weird for wording in a query letter. I would just go with, "which is Les Mis meets Mulan," etc.

    For your summary, I'm having a bit of trouble connecting everything. Points "one" and "two" are connected and make sense, but then "three" seems thrown in out of the blue (pardon the pun). Where did this prophecy come from? Was it part of the genocide? Was it sitting on a library shelf that she meandered past one day? Or is it something that everyone knows about? It doesn't seem to have a connection to the massacre's aftermath, resolution of which sounds like the core conflict.

    Also, be careful of lists. That's an agent pet peeve. (Oft repeated by the Query Shark.) I'd leave out the part about pirates, a tsunami, and her own arrest unless you can make it clearly and directly related to the core conflict and stakes.

    Your third summary paragraph is gold. It's got everything there: This terrible politician she wants to kill, getting drawn into a world she wants nothing to do with, and the rock/hard place she's trapped between to stop these "Blue People." And you've made the stakes clear.

    Your first 250: Your first sentence is quite poetic, but it's got too much in there that the reader doesn't know yet. I'm aware of who Fyr is from the query, but what does her being struck mean? You haven't answered that in the first page. And who is Vladyslav? He's not mentioned at all in your query. I would recommend cutting the first sentence and starting with the second one. It's descriptive and atmospheric and sets the stage clearly.

    Nitpick: I'd turn "a snowflake" into "snowflakes," since I'm trying to imagine a crowd of people all just watching one snowflake fall down, and it's more comedic than sad.

    "...near the dreadful heads." What is that? Heads on pikes? That's the only thing I can think of. Your "...bodiless things..." makes me think that's the case, so I will just recommend coming out and saying it at first.

    The rest is melancholy and haunting, in a good way. One writer to another, I imagine you know what I mean. ;)

    Good luck with your pitch!

  2. Hi Rachel, returning the favor :)
    Query - I love this - I have pitched as Les Miserables meets Mulan with a bounty-hunting Jo March as the heroine.
    The paragraph after that could be tightened. You could make it short and snappy, to keep the voice you showed in the first paragraph. Instead of 'racial massacre with only each other' try 'after a narrow escape from racial violence' Or 'narrow escape from genocide, where their tribe/village/town was massacred.'
    This man who took part in the killings - that is vague. Maybe - take revenge on the murderer.
    I liked the rest of the query.
    The first 250 flows well. It has a poetic feel to the narrative, which I envy. I could so easily picture the scene you were describing.
    Excellent premise, by the way.

  3. I loved the first sentence of the excerpt. It was an excellent way of describing the world around the characters. (Just out of interest) What plays have you written? (I'm a theatre geek.)

  4. Just a couple of quick questions. What is the "alleged prophesy that Fyr stumbled upon"? I don't see it mentioned later. Who is Vladyslav? How does he/she tie in to the story?
    Otherwise, I loved your query and first 250. I feel like I am there. You paint a great scene.

  5. You had me at Les Mis + Jo March!
    I would read the crap out of this on premise alone :)

    A few thoughts:

    Your query really came alive for me in the third paragraph. I wasn't as keen on the first two paras, though I do think you should note the genocide backstory, and that she's an 18yo mercenary. But the "desperate aspirations" phrasing reads a little telly, and aspiration that I think is the really interesting one is the politician killing bit (which you mention anyway in the third para). Also, I know that some agents shy away from anything they think is overly focused on "prophecy" so you may want to consider keeping mention of that to a minimum...

    In terms of the first 250, your writing is just gorgeous. Lyrical and atmospheric. Love it.
    That said, I think that for a first 250, I'd like a little more focus on Fyr and not the town she's in. I was pretty confused by the first line, and like the others, agree you could start with the next. But yeah, I'd like more Fyr!

  6. Your writing is lyrical and beautiful, but your story is mostly in omniscient POV until the last sentence when we hear about the MC. I'd say show us her in sentence 1 and let us hear her voice, her goals, her obstacles, and stakes.

    Good luck.

  7. Hi,

    Here's a few suggestions. Cut extra wordage. For example: "To keep her sickly brother Asaan alive after they escape racial massacre with only each other." Escaping implies it's with each other. To keep her sickly brother Asaan alive after they escape the racial massacre of their village. In the next sentence I would cut"'she remembers." The prophecy line at the end of the paragraph is too vague. I take it, it refers to the Blue People in the next paragraph.

    After this I'm a little confused -- the Blue People aren't the ones doing the racial massacring? Which makes it seem like there are two antagonists- whoever killed off her people and these Blue People who haven't even appeared yet.

    Right now there are lot of plot points mentioned but not tied together. Who is killing her people and why? What are these dreams? You mention Fyr dreams but don't elaborate on how they tie into the plot.

    If the Blue People don't appear in this story until the end, maybe leave them out.

    "My name is Rachel Stevenson, and I am the winner of three Scholastic Gold Keys and two honorable mentions, all for science fiction and fantasy, and of a handful of local awards for short plays that were performed in my home city of Tulsa, Oklahoma." I'D CUT OUT THE PART ABOUT YOUR NAME. THEY CAN SEE THAT BY THE CLOSING. (I'm not shouting. Just trying to get the words to stand out.)

    As for the 250, I think it starts out a little dull as we don't get a sense of personality from the MC. I think it would come off better if given from the POV of Fyr. If it seemed more like she were living it, instead of standing outside of it all. The first sentence is interesting, but the rest is too distant.

    I hope this helps.

  8. Hi!

    I liked your pitch sentence of Mulan meets Les Mis. I liked that it summed it up nicely. I got a bit confused in the query on point 2. I don't understand why she wants to kill the only person she can remember from the slayings. And I thought you'd come back to that, and you never did. So why is it in there? I also wasn't sure about point 3, because as someone else mentioned, where did this prophecy come from?

    I also thought the second paragraph was a bit too much. It needs to be tightened, reduced, or eliminated. I think getting arrested comes after tsunamis, so the ordering of her consequences felt off to me. It is the third paragraph where you lay down the real conflict and what's at stake, and I'd focus there.

    I'm going to be really honest about the first 250. I was so confused with all the names -- which I don't know how to pronounce -- that I couldn't really get into it. I wonder if you need ALL of them. Maybe ease us into the world a little bit more without all the proper nouns of every tribe, place, and land. I found the first few paragraphs poetic and beautiful, but they told me nothing. I don't want to be introduced to a land or place in the opening of the book. I want the character.

    And I don't get that until later down, but by then, I'm so bogged down with who's who, and where's what, that I'm lost already. I wonder if you're starting in the right place. I mean, here we read that Fyr is 8. But the query says 18, and this is a YA fantasy. So I'm not sure why we're with an 8-year-old. Maybe this is a prologue? Either way, I'm not sure it starts in the right place.

  9. Hi, Rachel! Here are a few thoughts (and as always, please remember that this is merely my inexpert opinion!).


    -The first sentence of your query feels very long to me. Just as a quick example, breaking it into 2 and/or cutting some of the wordiness could make it pop more: "I am seeking representation for THE RED AND THE SCARLET, a YA historical fantasy complete at 84,000 words. It's Les Miserables meets Mulan with a bounty-hunting Jo March as the heroine." (Love the bounty-hunting Jo March line!)

    -I'm not entirely clear on the "pseudo-historical" aspect. Is it a forged script? I'm thinking this is a fantasy so the Blue People are real, but maybe it's a fantasy solely due to the fictional continent/alternate history angle.

    -Why the change in construction in the second paragraph of the query? Going from One: and Two: to And three, was a bit jarring and I'm not sure if that is intentional or not.

    -I think you are definitely doing a good job of conveying your premise and enough of your plot to interest without being too much of a synopsis. I would just try to tighten a bit and try to minimize any unnecessary wordiness.


    -To be honest, I'm not digging the first sentence. Reads more melodramatic than enticing to me.

    -What POV is your novel written in? You start here in an omniscient and then narrow in on Fyr. I've seen similar structures in opening before (this actually reminded me a lot of the "a wind blows..." openings of the Wheel of Time books), but personally I don't enjoy it. I think it creates a lot of distance instead of enticing the reader in.

    -The shift from the palace to the grasslands was confusing, which I think is also tied in with the POV here. Also I got caught up on the "the same clouds" idea, because clouds aren't like the sun or moon--they're close enough to the ground, that's it's really unlikely the same clouds are actually above both places. I know that sounds like a minor thing (and it is!), but it really threw me off and made me stop reading to think about, which I think would be Bad News for an agent.

    -Your writing is very beautiful and your imagery is vivid. I really liked the sentence about Fyr and her toes poking over the invisible line of the heads. A bit grotesque and edgy in a good way, and I do want to know more about the book!

    -I did wonder about having her brother on her hip and one sentence later a book in her hand. I know it's possible to hold a child and a book at once, but mentioning them both without relation to the other made me, again, stop to think about it.

    I hope that was at least a little helpful. Good luck with your project!!

  10. Wow. This sounds amazing. I need to read this!

    For consistency’s sake, I think it should be, “And three:”. Either that, or change the colons after “One” and “Two” to commas. I’d also strike, “As a devoted sister and scarred survivor of near genocide.” We already know this about her. Starting with, “Fyr isn’t about…” strengthens the rest of the paragraph.

    Also, I’m confused by your use of the term “pseudo-history.” You say this is a novel about pseudo-history, but how do you mean? Maybe it’s best to leave this part out?

    I also think you could leave out, “My name is Rachel Stevenson, and...” Just start with, “I am the winner of…”

    Your first 250 sets a definite mood, and I like it, but it seems a bit overwritten. I’m not sure a jacket can be shut. Fastened, but I’m not sure shut is the right word. I love the image of the world shivering.

    Good luck! :)