QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

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GeeGee55
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QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by GeeGee55 » September 22nd, 2010, 5:30 pm

Well, no luck with the other versions of the query, so here's a new version:

Dear Agent Person:

When his eleven-month old son dies on a hot spring day in 1938, Gus Kelman ignores his grief and goes to work chopping wood. His wife, Rebecca, remains in bed, unable to eat or speak. As the weeks pass, Gus immerses himself in his farm chores, partly to avoid thinking about his son's death and the role he played in it, partly to coax his wife to go on with her life. As Rebecca's depression worsens, this shy young man, desperate for help, approaches new neighbours whom he's never met. They take Rebecca into their home. That night, alone in his farm house, he tears the grimy sheets from his bed and burns them. Still, Gus isn't a quitter. He continues to struggle to repair his marriage while trying to save their farm from failure.

I saw on your website that you enjoy historical fiction and I thought my manuscript might be of interest to you. SPIRIT HILL is complete at 65,000 words. For three generations my family have been farmers in Saskatchewan, giving me access to authentic details about this time period.

Transition magazine has published three of my short stories. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada. Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours truly,

GeeGee

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Quill
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by Quill » September 22nd, 2010, 6:57 pm

GeeGee55 wrote:
When his eleven-month old son dies on a hot spring day in 1938, Gus Kelman ignores his grief and goes to work chopping wood.
Does he bury his son at least? Sounds like on a hot spring day a baby dies, and his dad goes straight to work on the wood pile. Surreal.

Also, a bit odd to read "hot spring day" and wondering if that was a day on which the family goes to the hot spring, to bathe.
His wife, Rebecca, remains in bed, unable to eat or speak.
Here, too, awkward. Sounds like the wife was in bed when the child died, on a hot spring day (maybe she was ill that day?) and then remained there. Didn't even get up to make sure the infant was really dead.
As the weeks pass, Gus immerses himself in his farm chores,
This doesn't feel like it advances the plot. As written you have Gus going to work chopping wood, followed by Gus immersing himself in farm chores (like chopping wood, I presume). Do you see how it feels redundant?

partly to avoid thinking about his son's death and the role he played in it,
Ditto here, he chops to avoid grief and does chores to avoid...grief.
partly to coax his wife to go on with her life. As Rebecca's depression worsens, this shy young man, desperate for help, approaches new neighbours whom he's never met. They take Rebecca into their home.
Why do they take Rebecca? Did he ask them to? Don't be shy, say that. Say he asks them, instead of he approaches them. Be direct.

That night, alone in his farm house, he tears the grimy sheets from his bed and burns them.
Grimy? Why? From what? The laundry hasn't been done lately nor bathing? Then say it, I suggest, don't have us guess.

I would be more dramatic if he burned the sheets off his son's bed. Then we would know he is getting somewhere.

Instead we are left wondering if he'll be sleeping on the bare mattress and getting that grimy, and how this actually figures into his salvation, if that is to be had.

Is it his bed or his and his wife's?

What is the significance of this act?
Still, Gus isn't a quitter.
What would make us think he might be a quitter? What does it seem he might quit? His marriage?

We need more info to flesh out our perception of this situation and these characters. It is such skin and bones it is coming off as a parable, a poem, a tragic vignette.
He continues to struggle to repair his marriage while trying to save their farm from failure.
Why is the farm in danger of failure with him doing his workaholic thing there? I picture him working around the clock.

I saw on your website that you enjoy historical fiction and I thought my manuscript might be of interest to you. SPIRIT HILL is complete at 65,000 words. For three generations my family have been farmers in Saskatchewan, giving me access to authentic details about this time period.
What is the crux? What is the main conflict? It sounds like little more than a downbound train going round the bend. What makes it something we would want to read? What are the juicy aspects of your story that make it entertaining, interesting, educational, or however it is special. What is special about your tale?

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wilderness
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by wilderness » September 22nd, 2010, 7:45 pm

GeeGee55 wrote:
Dear Agent Person:

When his eleven-month old son dies on a hot spring day in 1938, Gus Kelman ignores his grief and goes to work chopping wood. How did the child die? His wife, Rebecca, remains in bed, unable to eat or speak. As the weeks pass, Gus immerses himself in his farm chores, partly to avoid thinking about his son's death and the role he played in it, partly to coax his wife to go on with her life. This is too coy. What was Gus's involvement in his son's death? This is an important plot point. Does Rebecca blame him? As Rebecca's depression worsens, this shy young man, desperate for help, approaches new neighbours whom he's never met. They take Rebecca into their home. For good? Or will she return to their home later? That night, alone in his farm house, he tears the grimy sheets from his bed and burns them. Agree with Quill -- not sure what the grimy sheets or the act of burning them should show us. Still, Gus isn't a quitter. He continues to struggle to repair his marriage while trying to save their farm from failure. There is a lot of emotional distance in this query. Make us see it from Gus's POV (assuming the book is from his POV). What is he doing to help Rebecca and save his marriage? What is he doing on his farm? We didn't even know it was on the verge of failure. Be really specific so we feel like we know exactly what the stakes are and really care about what Gus will do.

I saw on your website that you enjoy historical fiction and I thought my manuscript might be of interest to you. SPIRIT HILL is complete at 65,000 words. For three generations my family have been farmers in Saskatchewan, giving me access to authentic details about this time period.

Transition magazine has published three of my short stories. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada. Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours truly,

GeeGee
Nice start, but I think the main problem is too much distance and not enough clarity about the plot. Good luck!

sgf
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by sgf » September 22nd, 2010, 8:01 pm

Hi GeeGee,

I'm just going to focus on the plot summary part of your query, since the rest seems OK.


When his eleven-month old son dies on a hot spring day in 1938, Gus Kelman ignores his grief and goes to work chopping wood. I thought this opener could use some tightening. "ignores' didn't quite seem like the right word-- if he was ignoring his grief, wouldn't he be going on with life as if his son never died? I think "deny" would be a stronger word. While I like the idea of providing the specifics of what he does to deal with his grief, I thought that chopping wood, by itself, wasn't enough. Another option could be to describe what he does in terms of something more positive, such as ".. he ignores (or denies) his grief by immersing himself in restoring his dilapitated farm."

His wife, Rebecca, remains in bed, unable to eat or speak. I think you need to be more concise here. Unable to eat or sleep, taken literally, would mean she'd have to be hospitalized in a week.

As the weeks pass, Gus immerses himself in his farm chores, partly to avoid thinking about his son's death and the role he played in it, partly to coax his wife to go on with her life. As quill mentioned there's some redundancy in here from what was said in the first sentence. More importantly,i think you have a potential hook hidden in here! What was Gus's role in his son's death?!?

As Rebecca's depression worsens, this shy young man, desperate for help, approaches new neighbours whom he's never met. Sorry, but I found this part confusing. I wondered who "this shy young man" was. If it's Gus, maybe just use his name. If it's not, I wondered why he was desperate for help, and it wasn't clear that "new neighbours" referred to Gus and his wife. Also, if you mention that they're new neighbors, mentioning that he never met them is probably unnecessary.

They take Rebecca into their home. I think here you want to somehow better convey that Rebecca moves out of the house to stay with the neighbors, leaving Gus alone (if that's what happens). Otherwise, I'm not sure mentioning that they take Rebecca into their home for a night is important.

That night, alone in his farm house, he tears the grimy sheets from his bed and burns them. I like this detail, but I think you need to add something to it to show how this act serves as a turning point in his life.

Still, Gus isn't a quitter. He continues to struggle to repair his marriage while trying to save their farm from failure. I never got the impression that Gus was a quitter in the first place. Consider giving examples of how he tries to repair his marriage, and what sort of things happen that get in the way of the farm being successful. These details, to me, would be more important than him tearing the grimy sheets and burning them.

Hope this helps. I think this query could be improved by more directly stating the conflicts that Gus faces, and showing how he faces them.

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wordranger
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by wordranger » September 22nd, 2010, 9:56 pm

GeeGee:
Like someone else said, I'm kind of wondering if there is an underlying conflict that you are not stating. I started getting interested when the wife went to the house of the new neighbor. Is there something significant about that? Do they relate to the conflict somehow? I just feel like the one point is missing that might make me want to read more.

Granted, this is not my genre, so I may be looking for a conflict or action scene that just isn't there, but I think the "Hook" of your story may be missing.

Good luck!
Words are your friend.
Don't be afraid to lose yourself in them.

Jennifer Eaton, WordRanger
My Novelette LAST WINTER RED will be published by J. Taylor Publishing in December, 2012

Take a Step into My World and Learn From My Mistakes http://www.jennifermeaton.com/

clara_w
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by clara_w » September 23rd, 2010, 3:31 am

As others have said, your hook is definetly missing. A great advice someone here on the forums gave me is: Be specific. What did his son die of? Why does he burns the sheets? And so on. Being specific doesnt mean detailistic, specificity is filling us with entertaining details that helps us relate to the plot.

I agree with sgf, your hook is definetly on the role he had in his sons death, you should start your query with that.

Good luck!

GeeGee55
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL- revision posted

Post by GeeGee55 » September 26th, 2010, 9:15 pm

Thanks to everyone. NOW I remember why I dislike writing queries. I cannot summarize to save my soul. Anyway, here goes another try:

It's the spring of 1938. Gus Kelman lives with his wife, Rebecca, and their son on a remote farm in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province known for its extreme weather and its tough, self-reliant residents. When the baby dies, Rebecca falls into a depression so severe that Gus walks to the new neighbours to ask for help. They take Rebecca into their home and care for her, leaving Gus alone to manage his wife's chores and his own. He believes he has failed his wife in so many ways: the farm is almost bankrupt, he brought in outsiders to help her with her grief, and he didn't save their son. But outwardly, he remains stoic, hoping that when Rebecca comes back they can forget the past and their lives will return to normal.

I know this needs a wrap up but am I on the right track?

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oldhousejunkie
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL- revision posted

Post by oldhousejunkie » September 27th, 2010, 3:45 pm

Hello fellow historic fiction writer!
GeeGee55 wrote:Thanks to everyone. NOW I remember why I dislike writing queries. I cannot summarize to save my soul. Anyway, here goes another try:

It's the spring of 1938. Gus Kelman lives with his wife, Rebecca, and their son on a remote farm in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province known for its extreme weather and its tough, self-reliant residents. When the baby dies, Rebecca falls into a depression so severe that Gus walks to the new neighbours to ask for help. They take Rebecca into their home and care for her, leaving Gus alone to manage his wife's chores and his own. He believes he has failed his wife in so many ways: the farm is almost bankrupt, he brought in outsiders to help her with her grief, and he didn't save their son. But outwardly, he remains stoic, hoping that when Rebecca comes back they can forget the past and their lives will return to normal.

I know this needs a wrap up but am I on the right track? I think you've stumbled into synopsis land. I'm still perplexed about these new neighbors. Why would he go to them if he's so self-reliant? Why would they take in his wife in the midst of the Depression? (Well, I don't know if there was much of a depression in Sasketchewan.) But anyhoo, she's just another mouth to feed, so I would like to know about their motivations. I'm still not convinced of the plot line. What's the crisis? You kind of just let it taper off to 'well they hope they can forget the past, etc." If this is more of a character driven novel as opposed to a plot driven novel, you might want to see if there are better ways to tackle this query.
Keep trying! And best of luck!

GeeGee55
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by GeeGee55 » September 29th, 2010, 11:45 am

Thanks, Oldhousejunkie. There are not a lot of historical fiction writers on this site. You've chosen the correct verb in stumbled lol. He goes to the neighbours because everything he has tried to do has failed and he fears for his wife's life - it's definitely a hard thing for him to do as men in those days thought they needed to appear to be in control, self-reliant. The neighbours take her in because that's what people did in the 30's. There are stories about young men riding the rails, who would stop in a town, knock on the door of someone known to give out food, and receive a loaf of bread or a piece of meat, just to keep them going. People were more trusting of strangers back in those days, I guess.
The story is definitely more character driven, so, yeah, finding it difficult to fit into a template and..no cat-eating space monkeys in it, lol.

I came to a realization when doing this that - trying to do this makes me unhappy. So, I'm going to quit trying to market this novel and get writing something new. Perhaps apply to a mentorship program that's available where I live.

I checked out your blog. I love the old fabric appearance of the background and I can see you've got lots of good ideas for posts. Thanks again, for your comments and good luck with your own writing.

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oldhousejunkie
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Re: QUERY - SPIRIT HILL

Post by oldhousejunkie » September 29th, 2010, 11:53 am

GeeGee--

Thanks for the compliment on my blog. It's all my outlet for all of my randomness. I'm still shocked that I have followers. :-)

Writing queries is so difficult...it took me a solid two weeks to whip my into shape. And while most of the feedback here is good, it's hard to sort through all of the opinions. I actually chose one commenter who was really involved, and went off the board to revise it with just that person. It worked out very well.

So don't give up! My book is sort of a half in half---part character driven, part plot driven. It's hard to strike a balance, so don't get down.

And I'm glad someone out there is not writing about cat eating space monkeys.

Best of luck to you!

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