New query for The Devil You Don't Know

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Terry Towery
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New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Terry Towery » April 8th, 2010, 5:56 pm

I posted an earlier version of this a couple of months ago and got some excellent feedback from you guys. I re-worked it and thought I would post a rough draft of the new version. I'm not wedded to it, and I certainly welcome your input and criticism.
Thanks guys.
Terry


Dear [AGENT],

When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother. He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.

Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.

One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane. She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls.

But this one is different.

Within hours of the call, Michael loses his job and eighteen years of sobriety. Two days later, his eight-year-old son is killed on the highway in front of his home. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable.

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s purpose in life, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil. As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story.

Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier.

My first novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW, is complete at 120,000 words.

As a career journalist, I have received several national, regional and state awards for writing, reporting and design.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[usual contact info redacted]

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Holly
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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Holly » April 8th, 2010, 7:08 pm

Hi, Terry. I really like your query. It makes me want to read the novel.

I counted 320 words, so you're within the 250-350 word limit that Nathan Bransford recommends.

I'm not an expert, so please take my comments with that famous pound of salt. My two questions: you have a lot of paragraphs instead of the standard three or four. I don't know how much that matters. And second, I would name your newspaper and some of those awards on the real letter.

Good luck!

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Brian_H » April 8th, 2010, 7:53 pm

Terry,

I am not an expert on how to write a query, but I'd like to offer my opinion.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts, let me make a general comment, please.

To me, it's not really clear what the main plot is. Based on your title, the "two sides to every story" reference, and Micheal's attempts to "unveil the truth", I assume the child is not the second coming; there is a lot going on in this query, however, and I may have missed the main focus? I would go ahead and spell it out a bit more so dummies like me and the semi-interested agent don't have to think too hard about what he/she is reading about.

That said, I'd like to drill down and offer specifc advice.


"When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother. He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.
Frankly, I think this condensed intro is much more attenton grabbing and will sell the whole "fighting for his redemption" theme you mention later. I'm not a huge religious buff, but it sounds to me like the God I know wouldn't be too angry at a kid who's trying to save his mom by beating off an abusive husband/father.

Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.
Go Sox. Okay not really advice, just poking fun at you.

One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane. She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls.

This part feels a little off. For some reason the disgraced part feels clunky to me. Even if the nun is disgraced, I doubt she'd introduce herself that way. "Hi, I'm a disgraced nun. Will you meet my 15-year-old?" My point being it shouldn't be part of Micheal's reason for hanging up on her. Also, I'm not sure some of these details you give add to the query. For instance, is Saturday important? What if you said something like:

Part of Micheal's job if feilding crazy newsroom calls, so when a nun calls and asks him to meet her 15 year old son, Jordan Crane, Micheal chalks it up to yet another nut job lookijng for attention, and gives her the number to the [insert name of paper here Tribune, Sun-times, Daily Herald].

But the caller was no nut. Within hours of Micheal's dismissal his life takes a violent turn for the worse. After losing his job and eighteen years of sobriety, Micheal's eight-year-old son is run over and killed right in front of him.
Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable.

A Dead body opening his eyes might not be the best choice of words. I see Dawn of the Dead every time I read that line, which I don't think is your intent. Is the kid alive again, or some kind of zombie monster? Also, "unthinkable" carries a negative tone to it. Maybe impossible?

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s purpose in life (calling?), she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil.[\color] But Evil takes many shapes, and As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story.

Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier."


The last paragraph has two seperate issues in my mind. 1. unveiling the truth. 2. Finding redemption. I'm not sure what one has to do with the other based on what you've told us, so I don't think they should be lumped together. Since he's already rooting out truth in the last paragraph I'd probably drop or minimize that from this paragraph and focus on the more interesting (in my opinion) issue of having to attone for his murder. Maybe something like this wraps it up a little better:

Dispite having his doubts, Micheal is lured into helping the boy by the promise of redemption; though first he must face the consequences of his childhood actions, and the father he killed decades earlier.

Sorry if I've been overly critical. Please use or ignore my comments as necessary.

Here it is without my comments and with a few changes to punctuation:

When Michael Reed was nine years old he killed his father with a Louisville Slugger. Forty years later Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well, and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.

Part of Micheal's job if feilding crazy newsroom calls. When a nun calls and asks him to meet her 15 year old son, Jordan Crane, Micheal chalks it up to yet another nut job lookijng for attention and gives her the number to the Tribune. But the caller was no nut. Within hours of Micheal's dismissal his life takes a violent turn for the worse. After losing his job and eighteen years of sobriety, Micheal's eight-year-old son is run over and killed right in front of him. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the impossible.

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s calling, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the good news and defeat Evil. But Evil takes many shapes, and as Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story. Dispite having his doubts, Micheal is lured into helping the boy by the promise of redemption; though first he must face the consequences of his childhood actions, and the father he killed decades earlier.
It always seems impossible until it's done.

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Terry Towery
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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Terry Towery » April 8th, 2010, 9:04 pm

Thanks for the feedback, you guys! I really appreciate it.

Brian, I think you hit the nail on the head. There's so much going on in the book that it has proven very, very difficult for me to boil it down into a simple hook. The more I try, the more convoluted it becomes. I just finished a massive revision of the manuscript and it's now pretty much ready to go. I mean, if adverbs were people, I'd be a serial killer! You would think I could capture some of the manuscript's essence in a query, but so far no such luck.

It's quite frustrating!

Thanks again,

Terry

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Quill » April 8th, 2010, 9:36 pm

Terry Towery wrote:
When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother. He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.
I like it.

Omit ", took away."
Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.
I like this, too.
One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane.
Agree with others that "disgraced" should go. Also omit "Crane."
She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls.

But this one is different.
Omit.
Within hours of the call, Michael loses his job and eighteen years of sobriety.
Good because it is intriguing.
Two days later, his eight-year-old son is killed on the highway in front of his home. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes,
I like what is happening, but it is too jarring a shift. It doesn't follow up on "within hours of the call." That's dropped apparently and then you launch into a major plot twist without any preamble. And forgive me, I had to re-read previous sentences to find Jordan. He didn't seem significant then, and now he's a major player...
Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable.
I think I know what you are doing, trying to emphasize the event, but how it's put seems like an author aside. Integrate with the previous sentences, where the emphasis -- and clarity -- is needed.
Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God.
I like this.
Michael’s purpose in life, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil. As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story.
How about "another side to the story."? And this is a good place to end.
Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier.
Omit.
My first novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW, is complete at 120,000 words.
Ouch on the 120K, and good luck!
As a career journalist, I have received several national, regional and state awards for writing, reporting and design.
Omit the "design" unless you can say why it is relevant to the current project.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[usual contact info redacted]
Again, it does sound like an interesting story you've written.

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by KellyWittmann » April 8th, 2010, 10:30 pm

There's so much going on in the book that it has proven very, very difficult for me to boil it down into a simple hook.
Terry, whenever I feel that way as I'm trying to write a query letter, I try to shift my thinking from the protagonist's actions to his feelings. This is a query letter, after all, not a synopsis. The agent needs to get the big picture, of course, but you don't want your query to be a list of events.

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by gonzo2802 » April 8th, 2010, 11:26 pm

Hey Terry, I really like the premise! Sounds like a book I wouldn't mind reading. Here are a couple of my suggestions.
Terry Towery wrote:
Dear [AGENT],

When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother, not He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.

Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois. (I like it!)

One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane. She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls.

But this one is different.

Within hours of the call, Michael loses his job and eighteen years of sobriety. I think these events are probably compelling tension inside the story, but I don't think they're necessary to the query. Two days later, his eight-year-old son is killed on the highway in front of his home. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable.

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s purpose in life, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil. As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s there are two sides to every story.

Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier.

My first novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW, is complete at 120,000 words. You don't mention what genre you believe the story falls under. It sounds to me like possibly a paranormal suspense, but I'm not positive that ultimately you weren't going somewhere else with it.

As a career journalist, I have received several national, regional and state awards for writing, reporting and design.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[usual contact info redacted]

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by christi » April 8th, 2010, 11:38 pm

Terry Towery wrote:
Dear [AGENT],

When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother. He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.

Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.
(I think this is too much backstory. I'm sure it's all terribly important to the story itself, but not in a query letter. It should go 'Dude hears another nut on other end of the line at newsroom central. Weird stuff to resolve. Craziness. OMG, does he solve the problem? Tune in next time in the manuscript you want to read SOOO bad!')

(With that in mind... ACTION!) * * * (Michael Reed's taken some pretty crazy calls at the newsroom before, but...) (and maybe go with) (when a disgraced nun spouts ... *insert nuttiness*)
One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane. She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls. (way too vague, bestie. Combine what you're going for here with the next line)

But this one is different.

Within hours of the call, Michael loses his job and eighteen years of sobriety. (This makes it sound like crazy lady is to blame or her questionable son) Two days later, his eight-year-old son is killed on the highway in front of his home. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable. (and this makes his son sound like a zombie. It actually makes Michael sound afraid of the idea of his son resurrected.)

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s purpose in life, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil. As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story. (Too bland, in my nutty opinion. Try more action-y: ...defeat Evil. Michael accepts the miracle, but doubts the source. Soon he suspects nothing is as it seems... or something like that. You're the writer, dangit! I'm just the annoying sideshow.)

Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier. (I don't like the question, honestly. It's too vague. Does redemption equal the truth? And face the consequences... you mean punishment? Didn't he already spend a lot of years hatin' on himself, living in his own hell of alcohol abuse? And should he be punished for... okay, right. I guess I shouldn't go there... :-) Personal stuff eeking out.)

My first novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW, is complete at 120,000 words.

As a career journalist, I have received several national, regional and state awards for writing, reporting and design.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[usual contact info redacted]
Before you get all 'OMG I SUCK' or even 'You hag!' at me, I'm just trying to help, TT. can I call you TT? *giggles at self* I love your story idea and I believe with every ounce of my soul that you will succeed. But to do that, a rockin' query will really help. I didn't want to rewrite it for you since I've learned that's rude to do *apologizes again to people I did that to* so I tried to point out where improvements could be made. Remember I'm not entirely sane, so you're welcome to (and probably should) completely ignore me.
Would you sign my story for a Klondike bar?

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Terry Towery » April 11th, 2010, 8:53 pm

Thanks for the great feedback! I appreciate it.

And Christi, you know I wuv you. :)

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Brian_H » April 12th, 2010, 1:46 pm

Oops; thank you Christi for politely informing me I was being rude. I've been out of the loop for a while and didn't realize I was breaking etiquette. Sorry Terry if I offended in any way. Obviously with your credentials as a writer you'd know what works better than I, and any suggestion I made in terms of rewrites were only meant as general ideas. Please forgive my misstep; in the future I will refrain from rewriting anything.

Sincerest apologies,
Brian
It always seems impossible until it's done.

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by christi » April 12th, 2010, 8:04 pm

Brian -

I wasn't referring to you at all. I hadn't even read your suggestions. I was just holding my red pen back since I got an earfull once from someone who took great offense at someone rewriting their work, so I try really hard not to do it anymore. I fail sometimes :-) But I try.
Would you sign my story for a Klondike bar?

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Brian_H » April 14th, 2010, 7:25 pm

I didn't mean to imply that you were refering to me directly, or that I was in any way offended. Like you, I did not know that was rude and your comment helped me see the error of my ways. My appreciation was genuine. :)

I can certainly see why it could be considered rude for people to rewrite something, I just never considered it from that perpective before. Like my sig says, I'm pretty much a dopey simpleton that "speaks" without thinking.
It always seems impossible until it's done.

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Terry Towery
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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Terry Towery » April 14th, 2010, 7:50 pm

Well, I hate to butt in here, but I appreciate any help I can get.

I took no offense, Brian, and I'm sure Christi meant none. Both of you were helpful to me, so there. Everyone is happy.

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Ghost in the Machine » April 15th, 2010, 4:54 pm

Hi Terry,

I’ve read all the feedback and would like to add my two bits. But first, I’m fascinated by this discussion on feedback etiquette. If rewriting portions of someone’s query is rude, then I must be public enemy number one. Like Brian, I understand how this could be taken badly, but gee-whiz guys, this forum is called ‘feedback’, not ‘please limit your comments appropriately so not to be offensive’. I’d love to know what post Christy is referring to. PM? Hint, hint. I think rewrites are a fun exercise. Can I jump into someone else’s writing style and give them a word, phrase, tone, or even pacing that inspires them for the next version? But it’s a slippery slope. You might sway someone into a query that doesn’t match their book’s style. And that’s not a good thing.

Okay, back to Terry.

First Impressions: Cool story. After reading the feedback, I have to play devil’s advocate. I like the ‘disgraced nun’. It’s different, plus it puts a question into my head. This lady was a nun, but she did a big no-no. So is her child blessed by God, or an instrument of Satan?

This query is well-written, but longish. Pick out the most important stuff.


When Michael Reed was nine years old, he killed his alcoholic father with a Louisville Slugger. He did it to save his mother. He had no way of knowing he was too late. Months later, his mother took her life and along with it, took away most of young Michael’s soul.

I like this first paragraph, the details ‘alcoholic’ and Louisville Slugger’ are terrific. You could tighten up the middle with “He did it to save his mother, but was too late. She took her life and along with it, most of Michael’s soul.”

Forty years later, Michael has built a good life for himself in spite of his past. He’s quit drinking, married well and fathered three children. He’s now city editor at a daily newspaper in downstate Illinois.

One Saturday, Michael takes a call from a disgraced nun who insists that he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane. She won’t say why and Michael chalks it up to yet another in a long line of crazy newsroom calls.

But this one is different.

Here’s a way to tighten these up to a single paragraph.

Now sober, married, and the father of three, Michael relishes being (name city)’s editor of (insert newspaper’s name here). Except for the occasional crazy call. Prime example: A disgraced nun who insists he meet her son, fifteen-year-old Jordan Crane.

Now is the above an offensive rewrite or a valid suggestion? In any case, it suffers from fragmentitis so even if you like it, it needs work.


Within hours of the call, Michael loses his job and eighteen years of sobriety. Two days later, his eight-year-old son is killed on the highway in front of his home. Within seconds, Jordan Crane arrives on the scene and places his hands on the child’s body. When the dead boy opens his eyes, Michael finds himself face to face with the unthinkable.

This is exciting. The tension is building and the pace is picking up nicely. But there is a weird gap. His loss of job comes out of the blue with no explanation. It’s jarring. There needs to be a transition between the crazy nun’s call and him losing his job. I also agree with another commenter on the last part. Is the boy magically okay or a spooky zombie?

Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus Christ, returned to establish the Kingdom of God. Michael’s purpose in life, she says, is to help Jordan proclaim the Good News and defeat Evil. As Michael uses his reporter’s training to root out the truth, it becomes obvious that there’s two sides to every story.

Again, I suggest finding a smoother transition. Something along the lines of “Michael doesn’t know whether to rejoice or find an exorcist. To make matters worse, Jordan’s mother claims her son is Jesus . . .”

Okay, that was a bit flippant, but I hope you get the idea. The last part about ‘two sides to every story’ is general. Say exactly what you mean by the two sides or omit this.


Can Michael unveil the truth and find redemption at last, or must he face the consequences of his childhood actions? The answer comes from the unlikeliest of sources -- the father he killed decades earlier.

The first sentence is too general. Try being specific. Something like: Is Jordan Jesus, Satan, or just the victim of his mother’s insanity? The second sentence is intriguing.

I hope this was helpful. This type of story is right up my alley.

Ghost in the Machine

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Re: New query for The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Skyhawk » April 16th, 2010, 5:00 pm

Wow! I came here to post something and for some reason clicked on yours. What a story! I can see a great film coming from this. I envisioned for a breif moment that the main character was you---the author--- a friend of Bill's turning his story in to a novel! That's not my business though!

I love the plot except for the Jesus Christ thing. That's when it got a little...let's just say we need to have an imagination. Personally, I prefer stories a little closer to what may actually happen. I'm also Jewish so perhaps that has something to do with it! How about just an angel? I've actually met at least one of them!

As for the quality of the "Query", I think it's great and just spent half the morning arguing with my mentor/editor about how tight my Query should be and how I can put 52 years into one paragraph. A tall order and quite ridiculous she replied, sorta, but now that I've read yours, perhaps I'm putting too much expectation on myself although my new Query is based on two that were posted here and considered to be perfect both which explained plots in one paragraph.

So in the spirit of "tight"...that's going to be a matter of opinion which will vary widely. I believe the more we leave to the imagination, the more hungry they will be for more. But I don't put my words where my mouth is because I have diarrhea of the word! It works well for the book but not for proposals!

Great plot. Great Query. Well written in terms of comprehension but don't go by me, I'm a twisted, ex-mobster ex-P.I. recovering drug addict who barely got through Junior High School and can hardly spel. Like my mentor continues to remind me, "everyone has an opinion and if you keep listening and don't go with your heart and gut, you'll be back on dope in no time!"

But then again, that just HER opinion...

Bottomline...NEVER QUIT TERRY...YOU ARE A GREAT WRITER!

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