Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Query letter #14: fiction

[This letter was sent to me with no line breaks and no paragraph indentation. I'm giving the author the benefit of the doubt - the internets could have taken away the line breaks - so I've inserted line breaks. But, author, if you didn't put them in originally, you need to - or you need to indent paragraphs.]

Terra Australis Templar

This completed story is in the style of an archaeological adventure with a hefty splash of mystery, historical speculation and a satirical view of a misplaced Englishman in The Land Down Under. It is the tale of the mis-adventures of Peter Wilks, a modern day remittance man and history student from Britain, who finds himself deeply mired in historical controversy, archaeology and the sordid politics that infests the halls of Australian academia. Especially so at Skaze University [don't use itals for the name of a place] in Queensland, the tropical paradise of the ‘dry continent’. Where Peter has been posted, serving as an exchange lecturer in the Commerce Faculty. A strange placement for someone who’s specialised in medieval history and the crusades and he only took it to avoid sharing the fate of his doctoral supervisor. Poor old Bartleby the former head of the medieval history department at Portlee University upset a competing academic with interesting connections to a research lab and now resides in a ‘secure facility’ with padded rooms and only occasionally thinks he is the ‘Great Rhinoceros’. [This paragraph is incredibly dense. My eyes got tired halfway through. Break it up.]

So Peter finds himself in the land of sun sand and surf, not such a sorry fate you’d think? However Peter’s new vice chancellor thinks he’s a spy for a rival (only partially true), his fellow staff at the commerce faculty treat him with all the regard and friendship of mouse in a room full of cats. As for the students, all the reruns of Aussie soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away on British TV were not enough to warn him of their bizarre behaviour. [You've moved into the realm of recounting the story, when what I need is a pitch - you need to give me a reason to read the story, not tell me everything that happens.]

So [second para in a row to begin with 'So'] in this Stalinist atmosphere Peter is understandably wary when Vice Chancellor Adams gives him the task of checking out a development site for any ‘archaeological’ significance in the wilds of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. What ever is he to do? What does he know about the aboriginals or colonial Australia? They didn’t cover any of that in his undergrad classes about the Middle Ages. Thank flipping heck for a convenient phone call from a dubious old Aussie friend Sid who has him heading off to the farthest corner of the Australian continent. Sid needs help sorting a problematic archaeological excavation on the rugged coast of the Kimberleys, and gives an iron clad guarantee of surf sand and bikinis!

Peter arrives to find that the claims of Sid though substantially true are also completely misleading. While his site surveyor Yvette Lampie is blonde and unbelievably attractive in that tanned Aussie way [you've just lost most of your potential female readers], she has no intention of donning a bikini and going swimming, well not yet anyway. Then there is the local wild life, a myriad of fanged, clawed, venomous and sharp toothed Kimberley creatures are really keen to make his acquaintance. If that were his only problem it could almost be bearable for the spectacular Kimberley scenery or the delights of its seafood. However the more he uncovers on the site the more perplexing the evidence becomes and the stranger Sid behaves towards his old ‘mate’. To add to the difficulties of an increasingly perplexing excavation, that may throw into question the date of the first Europeans in Australia, Peter has to contend with an escalating series of crises; important finds go missing, a voyage journal in latin [you italicised a previous proper noun but didn't put a capital letter on this one?] exists where it shouldn’t, not to mention a treasure trove load of possible fakes that can’t be, disreputable scavengers, nosy government officials and a conveniently available wealthy benefactor. All these serve to create the strangest excavation Peter has ever been on. When hints of a hidden castle and tomb arise Peter has only the dubious loyalty of a disgruntled Lampie to depend upon as he races to solve the mystery of Father Joachim’s journal before its secret is seized, pillaged and lost forever. To succeed all Peter and Lampie have to do is trek through a hundred miles of the roughest terrain on the continent, avoiding crocodiles, snakes and gun toting goons, then win the second siege of Mt Gibraltar. [I am overwhelmed by detail now, and still have no idea what this story is really about.]

The basis for this story is the continuing controversy surrounding who could have landed in Australia before the Dutch or Captain Cook. Then the story supposes that a historically recorded pillaging expedition of the Crusaders along the Red Sea in 1183 AD, could have if given the right circumstances and incentives, made it across the Indian Ocean and landed on the north western coast of Australia. [What does this have to do with the story you just described?]

I would be happy to send you a selection of the chapters or the completed manuscript

Regards Author G

(Please note this book is finished, edited, and is 165,000 words in total)

Overall: fail. That was not a query letter, that was a synopsis with a 'Regards' at the end. And it was a confusing synopsis at that. There is just far too much detail here. If you need to take this many words to tell me what your story is, you don't know what your story is - and that's one reason why writing a query letter can actually help your storytelling, because it forces you to think about what your story really is and who it's for.

What you haven't mentioned: who's your reader? What, actually, is the genre? And the word count should have come in the body of the letter.

1 comment:

Brendan said...

It was all the Australian stereotypes that got me.