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  1. #1
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    Query: The Killing Past

    Hi all,

    I haven't been as active on this board as usual for the last several months because a lot has been going on...among other things, grinding through the revisions to my latest novel. Just about time for querying so I'd be interested in your thoughts regarding the following. (I've also submitted it to Query Shark to see if I can get Janet Reid's comments.) Go nuts!

    Dear ___:

    Jina was beaten by her father and raped by her teacher; Birk’s mistake cost his younger brother his life. Both drifted into empty lives as mercenaries, but after years in self-imposed purgatory, they finally got a break - someone magically erased their memories. Now, as they’re trying to start over, the lost memories threaten to return and ruin everything.

    In THE KILLING PAST, Jina and Birk find they can’t remember who they are, or why they’re working with two men named Carnahn and Tegar. The four follow obscure clues – a journal in code, a cryptic sketch, a legendless map – hinting they’re royal agents trying to prevent a bank robbery.

    When they’re ambushed by the robbers’ allies, however, they realize that they are not royal agents at all, but the robbers themselves. Worse, they were really hired to assassinate a king, and their employer is a diabolical werewolf.

    Jina and Birk recoil from the choices made by their former selves, but the spell fades, the group’s old identities resurge, and Carnahn and Tegar challenge them to finish the job. The old burdens of regret and pain will drag them back to their lonely, amoral lives...unless they find in each other the strength to leave their pasts behind.

    Then they just have to face a suicide mission or the deadly repercussions of betraying a monster.

    THE KILLING PAST is a 90,000-word fantasy-suspense novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    JH



  2. #2
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    Whoa, John, so much information. Maybe too much. I read this a couple or three times, and I still don't know what the story is about. Jina and Birk lose their memories, they think they're royal agents, then they're robbers, then they're really assassins.... It's too much to follow. Some vague phrasing doesn't help:

    memories threaten to return and ruin everything
    the spell fades
    old identities resurge
    challenge them to finish the job
    burdens of regret and pain
    face a suicide mission


    There are some interesting elements here, and no doubt your story holds them all together, but your query isn't doing it justice. Maybe if you narrow the scope, focus on Jina or on Burke as the main character and then tell us, What is his/her goal? Who or what stands in the way? What are the consequences of failure?

    A query should pique interest without raising unintended questions. Sometimes we cram so much into it that the reader—who knows nothing to begin with—becomes overwhelmed by a sense of "WTF is going on here?" That, as we know, is query fail.

    Keep at it. Simplify. You'll get there.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Frank Baron's Avatar
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    I agree with jayce, your chops show but there's way TMI. And I'd find a way upfront to indicate the genre, or at least allude to a fantastical element. The werewolf reference comes too late. By then, I was picturing (or trying to picture) a rl setting.

    Also like jayce, I've seen enough from you to know you've got the right stuff.

  4. #4
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    Hey John,

    Your first sentence is quite heavy in that it has beating, rape and death. There's Jina, then there's Birk. I don't know how they know one another.

    Anyway, it's likely to be a good read. Agree the query is TMI. The elements you want to impart just keep coming at me. Oh, they are this and this and this happens and then there's a werewolf too. It's a lot to sort through. I have to think on this because I believe you do have the "write" stuff.

    For what my opinion is worth, good luck, Claire

  5. #5
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    I knew there was something amiss about the query, but as so often happens, when you write it you're too close to see it. Thanks, everybody - I'll take another look at this and see which elements can be pared out.

  6. #6
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    Okay folks,

    I pared down the elements and tried to make the references clearer (without thereby throwing more confusing facts into the query). Would be interested in your thoughts in general, but also particularly about the second sentence. It's a long one and I'm on the fence about including the clause about attraction between them. The problem I see is that if I don't put that in, the reader may be distracted wondering (a) are they already in a relationship when the story begins and (b) is the relationship that develops a romantic one or something else. On the other hand, of course, I'm wondering if the sentence leaves the reader tired - a readability issue. Does the query communicate that they're becoming romantically involved without the express reference?

    Also, jayce, do you still feel the references are too vague? Thanks particularly for pointing out the "finish the job" issue. I looked at that a lot and realized that, while I think it's pretty clear what it refers to (killing the king), the real problem is that I hadn't clearly tied Jina and Birk's dilemma to the issue of whether they would participate in the assassination attempt. Think I fixed that with changes to the next sentence. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. Y'know.


    Dear ___:

    Guilt, abuse, and rape drove Jina and Birk into empty lives as mercenaries, but they finally got a break - someone magically erased their memories. Shorn of those old burdens, attraction grows between them and they sense a chance to build a better life together. Unfortunately the memories of their terrible pasts return to plague them, and now that chance may be ruined.

    In THE KILLING PAST, Jina and Birk find they can’t remember who they are, or why they’re working with two deadly killers named Carnahn and Tegar. The four follow obscure clues hinting they’re royal agents trying to prevent a bank robbery. As the “agents” pursue their quarry, however, they realize they aren’t royal agents at all, but the robbers themselves...and they’re not robbers, but assassins, hired by a diabolical werewolf to kill the king.

    Jina and Birk recoil from the choices made by their former selves, but the memory spell fades; the group’s old identities resurge; and Carnahn and Tegar challenge them to finish the job. Old regrets and pain threaten to drag Jina and Birk back to the lonely, amoral lives of hired assassins...unless they find in each other the strength to leave their pasts behind.

    THE KILLING PAST is a 90,000-word fantasy-suspense novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.
    Last edited by John Hawkwood; 12-18-2011 at 06:18 AM.

  7. #7
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    Sounds like an interesting story, John H., except for the werewolf part. But then I'm just not into vampire sagas and such.

    There are indeed diabolical humans out there, y'know.

    *_*

  8. #8
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    Guilt, abuse, and rape

    That's how you want to start a Q letter? I don't think so.

  9. #9
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    Hmm...you think it's too off-putting? I had been thinking about replacing that with a general reference to troubles in their past, and then down in the body of the letter clarifying that it was Jina's memories of her rape and Birk's guilt over causing his brother's death that might push them back into their careers as assassins. Hmm hmmm hmmm.

    And Kitty, there's plenty of diabolical humanity in there for one book. The big bad needed to be stepped up a notch. Also, this is actually intended to be part of a series, with the first book (or at this point, probably prequel) being my book about the werewolf himself, so he's integral to the plot although appearing here in only a couple of short scenes.
    Last edited by John Hawkwood; 12-18-2011 at 11:00 AM.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Lea Zalas's Avatar
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    John, I would start with your second paragraph. You need to bring in they're working for a werewolf no later than the second sentence.

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