QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

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GeeGee55
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by GeeGee55 » March 2nd, 2010, 8:55 pm

REVISION TWO

Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, in a remote farm home in the drought-stricken north of Saskatchewan, Gus and Rebecca Kelman's baby dies. Rebecca cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband could have walked away from the grave and back into life that continues as usual. How can he tend the animals and worry about the crop when their son is gone?
She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. When Gus reaches out to her for comfort, she is caught between her need to protect herself from a new pregnancy and another possible loss, and her knowledge that without intimacy her marriage will not survive.

My literary novel, Spirit Hill, is complete at 65,000 words. I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Yours truly,

Me

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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by Serzen » March 3rd, 2010, 10:39 pm

GeeGee55 wrote: In the spring of 1938, in on a remote farm home in the drought-stricken north of Saskatchewan, Gus and Rebecca Kelman's baby dies. Rebecca cannot find the will to leave her bed, she wonders how her husband could have walked away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. How can he tend the animals and worry about the crop when their son is gone?

She can't bear to be touched--not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow: no more babies. No more pain. When Gus reaches out to her for comfort/,/ she is caught between her need to protect herself from a new pregnancy and another possible loss, and her the knowledge that without intimacy her marriage will not survive.
Everything looks pretty clean except the last sentence. It's a little long and I'm drawing blank on how to rework it at the moment. I've looked at it four times in two days and still can't put my finger on it. :\ I know that the last comma needs to be nixed but I haven't touched it yet in hopes that another clause might jump out at me. In all honesty, you can probably actually keep the first comma and maybe clear up some niggling issues with the length of the sentence if you go ahead and drop Rebecca's name during the second paragraph. Let us look at how it might read:

When Gus reaches out to her for comfort, Rebecca is caught between her need to protect herself {from a new pregnancy and another (possible) loss} and the knowledge that without intimacy her marriage will not survive.

The stuff in braces and parentheses are contenders for cutting, but it's a judgment call. Certainly long sentences were common enough in turn of the century English and, honestly, lonely farms in the far north in 1938 were lucky to be as "up to date" as 'turn of the century' implies. If it fits the style of the narrative, well, you'll know before I will.

Hope it's useful.

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #1

Post by johydai » March 3rd, 2010, 11:08 pm

REVISION #1

My sister remarked to me that after so many versions, the query must feel like word hash. Yes. Yes, it does. Is this version any better? (Just for those of you who wondered. Life in the cities was very different from life on the farm in 1938. In the city there was electricity and telephones and cars and yes, access to birth control, even though it was illegal and not commonly discussed. Rural areas had none of those luxuries and it was a two-day ride in a wagon to get to a town with a drug store. In the earlier 1900's it wasn't uncommon for families to include ten children, by 1938 that number had dropped quite substantially.)

Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, Thomas Kelman, eleven months, dies in his parents' isolated farm home in northern Saskatchewan. His mother, Rebecca, cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband, Gus, could have walked away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. In this wild and remote country what that means is no more sex. Gus seems to accept the situation, at first. But, Rebecca soon realizes that somehow she must find the courage to overcome her fear or her marriage will not survive. [This is practically told in a passive voice. Maybe changing this to active voice would make it more interesting and fun to read. I think the "No more pain" should be removed. I think any parent who has lost a child knows it is painful, and we get that she's in pain with lines such as "cannot find the will to leave her bed", so you don't need it there. The line after that one, "no more sex" can also be removed. The "no more sex" is tied to the "no more babies". Your query's body needs more spice. It just sounds like a sad mom and a husband who are at different stages of mourning.]


My literary novel, SPIRIT HILL, is complete at 65,000 words. One of the themes it explores is how what is tragic in life does not cancel what is beautiful. [Delete the second sentence here]

I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. More recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. [Just say "Thank you for your time and consideration", it sounds slightly better that "to consider my work."]

Yours truly,
Your name here, and that's all.

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Ryan
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by Ryan » March 5th, 2010, 2:15 pm

Hmmmm. I'll reread more carefully over the weekend, but my initial thought is that the newer version is toned down almost too much. Not sure what you need to add back in, but it's just a hunch that one or two more lines could add some detail and punch. Much much tighter and to the point than the original though. Maybe post this version elsewhere to see what people think.
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Erica75
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by Erica75 » March 5th, 2010, 11:44 pm

You have A LOT of suggestions here. Don't forget that your first versioin just needed a little tweaking - don't make so many changes that you lose your own voice in it. One comment I do want to add is that I felt like in the first post on this thread, you had an added hook that Gus feels that something he did may have caused Thomas' death. When I read that, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I was disappointed that it was taken out later. I may have misinterpreted it, but if this is explored in your book, I'd leave it in the query. It sounds like you have a great story. Isn't writing 300 words a nighmare sometimes?
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GeeGee55
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by GeeGee55 » March 7th, 2010, 8:02 pm

To those of you who have come back to this page more than once to try to help me thanks so much. Erica thanks for the reminder that all the comments can distract me from the original goal. And, I don't know - nightmare is such a strong word - on second thought, yes, yes, it is a nightmare.

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Ryan
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by Ryan » March 8th, 2010, 11:12 am

I posted the first draft and the latest revision so it will be easier to compare. For these ongoing threads, this format could help. Scrolling all over the thread to see the original and the latest revisions gets tedious.

I think adding back a little of Gus's problems would help. He's hurting too, but just in his own way. I like this line: "She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically." Nice.


Original Draft
A baby…dead and buried. A marriage…silent and shattered.

That’s the concept behind my completed novel, SPIRIT HILL, which contains 65,000 words.

In the spring of 1938, Thomas Kelman, eleven months, dies in his parents' isolated farm home in northern Saskatchewan. Paralyzed with grief, his mother, Rebecca, cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband, Gus, could have walked away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. In this wild and remote country what that means is no more sex. Gus will just have to accept that their marriage will never be the way it was.

Gus immerses himself in the daily chores of the farm he and Rebecca operate for his widowed mother who now lives in New York. He worries about the drought, about armyworms, about his mother surviving with no income from the farm, and about the undeniable fact that his wife doesn't love him anymore. The one thing he can't allow himself to think about is his son's death and the part he played in it. Still, a life of hardship has taught him not to quit while he's down. He has a plan to save the farm and his marriage, if his wife and Fate will co-operate.

I belong to a local writers group and have published three short stories in Transition magazine. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada. I was awarded a $500 President's Scholarship on entrance to the program. This is my first novel.
Latest Revision
Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, in a remote farm home in the drought-stricken north of Saskatchewan, Gus and Rebecca Kelman's baby dies. Rebecca cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband could have walked away from the grave and back into life that continues as usual. How can he tend the animals and worry about the crop when their son is gone?
She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. When Gus reaches out to her for comfort, she is caught between her need to protect herself from a new pregnancy and another possible loss, and her knowledge that without intimacy her marriage will not survive.

My literary novel, Spirit Hill, is complete at 65,000 words. I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.
My love of fly fishing and surfing connects me to rivers and the ocean. Time with water reminds me to pursue those silly little streams of thought that run rampant in my head.
http://www.withoutrain.com/

CafeCliche
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #2

Post by CafeCliche » March 8th, 2010, 12:01 pm

This is fantastic. I would add a colon after "unspoken vow" ("She swears an unspoken vow: no more babies") just to make it flow a bit better, but you've done a fantastic job of boiling your novel down. I want to read your book when it comes out!

GeeGee55
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by GeeGee55 » March 8th, 2010, 10:00 pm

Testing to see if I can figure out how to use the quote feature:
Ryan wrote:I posted the first draft and the latest revision so it will be easier to compare. For these ongoing threads, this format could help. Scrolling all over the thread to see the original and the latest revisions gets tedious.

I think adding back a little of Gus's problems would help. He's hurting too, but just in his own way. I like this line: "She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically." Nice.

Original Draft
A baby…dead and buried. A marriage…silent and shattered.

That’s the concept behind my completed novel, SPIRIT HILL, which contains 65,000 words.

In the spring of 1938, Thomas Kelman, eleven months, dies in his parents' isolated farm home in northern Saskatchewan. Paralyzed with grief, his mother, Rebecca, cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband, Gus, could have walked away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. In this wild and remote country what that means is no more sex. Gus will just have to accept that their marriage will never be the way it was.

Gus immerses himself in the daily chores of the farm he and Rebecca operate for his widowed mother who now lives in New York. He worries about the drought, about armyworms, about his mother surviving with no income from the farm, and about the undeniable fact that his wife doesn't love him anymore. The one thing he can't allow himself to think about is his son's death and the part he played in it. Still, a life of hardship has taught him not to quit while he's down. He has a plan to save the farm and his marriage, if his wife and Fate will co-operate.

I belong to a local writers group and have published three short stories in Transition magazine. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada. I was awarded a $500 President's Scholarship on entrance to the program. This is my first novel.
Latest Revision
Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, in a remote farm home in the drought-stricken north of Saskatchewan, Gus and Rebecca Kelman's baby dies. Rebecca cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband could have walked away from the grave and back into life that continues as usual. How can he tend the animals and worry about the crop when their son is gone?
She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow. No more babies. No more pain. When Gus reaches out to her for comfort, she is caught between her need to protect herself from a new pregnancy and another possible loss, and her knowledge that without intimacy her marriage will not survive.

My literary novel, Spirit Hill, is complete at 65,000 words. I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. Recently, I earned a post-graduate certificate in Creative Writing through the Humber School for the Creative Arts in Toronto, Canada.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

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danielsmi
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by danielsmi » March 10th, 2010, 4:29 pm

[quote="GeeGee55"]THIS IS THE NEWEST REVISION, #3 - do not scroll down

Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, a baby boy dies in a remote farm home in drought-stricken northern Saskatchewan. His father, Gus, immerses himself in his daily chores, caring for his beloved horses, worrying (worrying, distracted, or concerned?) about the absence of rain. (The one thing/ cut) he can't allow himself to think about is his son's death and the part he played in it. The infant's mother, Rebecca, cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband could walk away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow: no more babies. As their (once-happy/cut) marriage begins to crumble, and it seems the farm will fail, Gus and Rebecca must put aside their private agonies and work together to survive.

My literary novel, SPIRIT HILL, is complete at 65,000 words. I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. 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,

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StayPositive
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by StayPositive » March 10th, 2010, 11:51 pm

GeeGee55 wrote:THIS IS THE NEWEST REVISION, #3 - do not scroll down

Dear Agent:

In the spring of 1938, a baby boy dies in a remote farm home in drought-stricken northern Saskatchewan. His father, Gus, immerses himself in his daily chores, caring for his beloved horses, worrying about the absence of rain. The one thing he can't allow himself to think about is his son's death and the part he played in it. The infant's mother, Rebecca, cannot find the will to leave her bed. She wonders how her husband could walk away from the grave and back into a life that continues as usual. She can't bear to be touched, not emotionally, not physically. She swears an unspoken vow: no more babies. As their once-happy marriage begins to crumble, and it seems the farm will fail, Gus and Rebecca must put aside their private agonies and work together to survive.

My literary novel, SPIRIT HILL, is complete at 65,000 words. I have published three short stories in Transition magazine. 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
-

One of the difficulties I'm having with writing the query is trying to make it sound interesting and it comes off sounding like a romance which it isn't, it's a love story, a story about a marriage in trouble. Another difficult thing about the story being character driven is having to pull back out of the characters and figure out what happens in terms of action, weird, I know. But any and all comments are very appreciated.
You have provided the background, all the things leading up to what appears to be the start of the story. You then say:

Gus and Rebecca must put aside their private agonies and work together to survive

You've hooked us in to the "private agonies" but what then? Being kind, the story could spring into deeply moving treatment of:
- their inner struggles which explode into more pain but eventual reconciliation
- the harsh climate/geography that creates a do-or-die calamity which they overcome

Being less kind, the backstory may just be introducing a hand-wringing set of clichés that could echo too many books/films/tv shows.

I think you need to show/tell the passion underneath the story. Is this an Oscar winner or a straight-to-DVD melodrama? Either could still be successful, but the Oscar would go to the story that really grabbed our attention and/or our heart.

All the best.

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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by GeeGee55 » March 11th, 2010, 8:55 pm

The pages are what they are, the best I could make them. And I was trying to make something beautiful. I wonder if anyone produces their first movie or book or whatever thinking it will grab an Oscar or a Pulitzer. I don't know. Does anyone intend to be cliche? w A writer that lives in my province was quoted as saying that he wrote a YA novel his first time around - not on purpose. In other words he was shooting for something more but that's where he ended up. And after a while he was ok with that and has been quite successful in that category. So, thanks for your comments, StayPositive. Quite thought-provoking. I'm afraid queries are hard enough without having to inject passion into them. Thanks to everyone for your assistance.

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danielsmi
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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by danielsmi » March 12th, 2010, 2:45 pm

GeeGee,
I think you are correct in that what you have is what you wrote. I like to think (in my little fantasy bubble) that prospective agents are giving you the benefit of the doubt that your novel is written well and is a good one and that they are perusing queries to see if it is a topic they can sell. With that in mind, my goal is to get them to request some pages so that they can be 'wowed' by the manuscript. Getting them to request pages is the tough part. I am confident you will find a match for your novel, just realize that literary fiction is a tough sell. I too live the nightmare. Besides, if your entire novel could have been summed up in a short paragraph it would not be a novel. Keep plugging away and best of luck!!!
Daniel

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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by henyad » March 12th, 2010, 6:40 pm

Consider opening your query with a strong hook. The way you have it now, the sentences are cumbersome. I don't think we need to know everything right of the bat.
The following is my suggestion:

Gus immerses himself in his daily chores. The one thing he can't allow himself to think about is his son's death and the part he played in it.

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Re: QUERY: SPIRIT HILL - Revision #3

Post by ryanznock » March 29th, 2010, 1:16 am

GeeGee, the current revision works for me, and I definitely get the vibe of, as you put it early in the thread, a 'love story,' not a 'romance.' I would consider danielsmi's suggestions a few posts up to tweak some of the language, but the heartbreak comes across strongly in just a few sentences, so I wouldn't recommend weighing down the query with a big explanation of the plot. Then again, Nathan Bransford's recent advice made a good point that specific is better than general, and "work together to survive" is rather general.

You mentioned in the first post your concern about pitching a character-driven novel where there's not much event. So what does happen in the book, plot-wise?

Again, you've got a solid query in my opinion, and I'm already intrigued by it.

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