Query Critique Tuesday 5/9

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.
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Nathan Bransford
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Query Critique Tuesday 5/9

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 7th, 2017, 5:46 pm

Want to see how your editing approach compares to mine?

Below is the query up for critique on the blog on Tuesday, May 9th. Feel free to chime in with comments, create your own redline (please note the "font colour" button above the posting box, which looks like a drop of ink), and otherwise offer feedback. When offering your feedback, please please remember to be polite and constructive. In order to leave a comment you will need to register an account in the Forums, which should be self-explanatory.

I'll be back on Tuesday the 9th with my own post on the blog and we'll literally be able to compare notes.

If you'd like to enter a page for a future Query Critique, please do so here.

Dear Ms. Bloom,

Stories that re-imagine or plug gaps in the historical record, and reveal the toggling between split selves (so enjoyably and poignantly done in The Royal We) have always appealed to me. When I found out about the group of Appalachian farm girls, who, unbeknownst to them, were essential elements in the creation of the atomic bomb, I applied to write a creative dissertation at the University of Tennessee. The result, my literary fiction novel A Unified Theory of Love, weds two interlocking narratives to produce an ardent quest for home and connection amidst the fallout of war.

The novel begins with a prologue set in 1943. 23 year-old Elizabeth—who had changed her name from Erzebet after fleeing Eastern Europe with her brother—is poised to enter Building 9731 at Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) for the first time. A few months earlier, she had met Carter at a Harvard dance, married him, and relocated to his hometown, which became, nearly overnight, the newly-minted city of Oak Ridge, TN. Carter leaves to fight, and Elizabeth becomes obsessed with the mysterious science behind her work in the Lab, as well as with her young brother-in-law, as she tries to rehabilitate and re-inhabit herself after years of hiding and running.

Alternating chapters follow Conway, a failed physicist fixated on String Theory, who moves back to Oak Ridge during the 2004 Presidential Election. His steel-toed privacy has kept everyone at bay until he meets a young woman, Mauna, who challenges him to open his heart to unquantifiable love. As their relationship develops, Conway grapples with his sister’s death and the subsequent estrangement from his father, as well as the mysteries behind a cache of notebooks crammed with equations and a flower-topped ring he finds in his grandmother’s basement. What he discovers will change everything he thought he knew about his family, and will help him, and us, move closer to defining the "theory of everything."

With interest piqued by recent nonfiction bestseller The Girls of Atomic City, my novel appeals to readers of Appalachian and Southern literary fiction, the science-as-love stories of Andrea Barrett, and The Signature of All Things—Elizabeth Gilbert and I even overlapped for a semester in Knoxville. The completed manuscript is about 80,000 words. It received a semifinalist nod from the Faulkner competition and was a finalist for the Maurice Prize. I have published critical articles, poems, and a short story, and am co-owner of a writing and editorial company, Bloomsday Writing (www.bloomsdaywriting.com).

Thank you for your consideration,

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Re: Query Critique Tuesday 5/9

Post by HeatherM » May 7th, 2017, 10:07 pm

In my most humble opinion, I believe the first paragraph should be deleted. I would begin with "A Unified Theory of Love, weds two interlocking narratives to produce an ardent quest for home and connection amidst the fallout of war." I do not believe an agent would care about why you wrote your manuscript. They are interested in your story - conflict, plot. Beginning with your inspiration for your writing does not convey these things.

I think the story could be interesting, but it is not readily apparent what it is about. For instance, I do not understand the connection between Elizabeth and Conway. Elizabeth is introduced in a prologue? Is she the MC or is Connor? I liked the idea of "mysterious science", but cannot see the connection to Connor's story. I'm not sure the conflict is strong enough based on what I see here. What are the stakes? And what is the "theory of everything'? I believe that is too vague, and maybe could be better defined to add a sense of vitality.

Just my two cents...thank you.

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Re: Query Critique Tuesday 5/9

Post by J. T. SHEA » May 7th, 2017, 11:42 pm

I'm inclined to second HeatherM's comments. This is an intriguing but challenging query, which possibly interests me more than the average person or agent. If I were an agent I would ask to see more, but I'm not an agent and making the query more generally accessible could be worthwhile. I'm guessing Elizabeth could turn out to be Conway's grandmother, but that could be way out. Thanks, Jessica!

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