Query: The Remnant: revised

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elbowpatch
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Query: The Remnant: revised

Post by elbowpatch » July 2nd, 2012, 11:53 pm

To the Forum readers: I thank you in advance for any comments. I'm particularly worried about my format and the section titled Style. The query appears below

I am writing to inquire if you would be interested in representing THE REMNANT, an 82,000 word novel of historical fiction.

The historical facts: In the 1530s at the height of the Protestant Reformation, militant Anabaptists seized control of the city of Munster. The Catholic bishop responded to the coup by laying siege to the city. The sixteen month brutal siege further radicalized the Munsterites who proceeded to introduce community of property, forced polygamy, and a messianic monarchy bolstered by naked prophecy, bizarre rituals, and frequent executions. In the summer of 1535 the bishop's forces pierced the city walls and exterminated all the Anabaptists.

The fiction: A small group of Anabaptists escaped the city. Traumatized by their defeat, the survivors developed the belief that in the 33rd year of each century an opportunity arises to bring about the messianic age and that in order to seize that opportunity they must incite the war of Gog and Magog. The sect, which named itself the Remnant, has fomented chaos for the last five centuries as it has striven to bring about Armageddon. While the members of the Remnant have successfully hidden their nefarious actions from most of the world, a small organization known as the Seekers has been hunting them since the sixteenth century.

The novel: When Hoffman College student Jimmy Naylor, overcome with a sense of the divine, delivers a naked sermon from the rooftop of a hotel, the Seekers suspect that Hoffman, a small institution of higher learning in rural North Carolina, might be the Remnant's secret base of operations. The Seekers race to uncover the Remnant's plot. In the meantime four characters arrive at Hoffman, unaware that the college is really the secret base of the Remnant. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations, and the discovery of putrefying limbs-- at first baffle these four characters, but soon all four get caught up in the conspiracies of the Remnant and the Seekers.

The style: In my more hubristic moments, I describe THE REMNANT as the abandoned love child of The Da Vinci Code and Moo raised by Dos Passos’ 1919. It is a pastiche of standard narrative, newspaper articles, history lectures, and both real and invented sixteenth century sources. While the novel is accessible to readers who know little about sixteenth century Europe, it also contains many inside jokes that I hope will amuse the cognoscenti.


The author:(Stuff about me, mostly that I'm a history professor with a number of academic publications)
Last edited by elbowpatch on July 16th, 2012, 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Mark.W.Carson
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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by Mark.W.Carson » July 3rd, 2012, 10:54 am

Sadly, this format is likely to get an immediate deletion without notification.

I would recommend you stick to a query format that has a known track record of working, starting with a hook, and then going into the short explanation of the story, major characters, their struggle, and components of plot.

From there, you can branch into a bit more detail about the work, and then lastly, a small blurb about you as the author, and the reason why THIS agent is getting your query, other than having the title of Literary Agent on their card.

I am sure there are those more qualified than I to give a more in depth critique. However, this way will probably not be read.

That being said, your hook, though a bit rough, is pretty intriguing, making me want to read more. However, I would avoid using the description of the other books you believe this may be similar to IN THAT STYLE. It is all right to compare your work to others, perhaps, so long as you are clear, and not simply saying "This is like Dan Brown, only my way is really cool."

Also, while off topic, I am not sure that the newspaper articles, etc would work for me, but it still sounds intriguing and I wish you success.

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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by rstearns » July 3rd, 2012, 11:42 am

I agree that from blogs I've read, agents and editors seem to prefer the traditional query format. If you wanted to go that direction, you could combine the facts and fiction into a great introduction to the piece. The part that really sells it is the "novel" section, though. I'd want to read more about that. Who are the other four characters and what were they trying to do? What happens to get them involved?

Also thank you for helping me out with mine (so you know I'm not an expert!).

elbowpatch
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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by elbowpatch » July 6th, 2012, 5:03 pm

Thanks for your comments.
Here's the easy fix, (thanks rstearns). I could write the query letter from the perspective of a character, but since I have more of an ensemble cast, I feel it wouldn't really convey the sense of the book. I'd appreciate anyone's thoughts on this.

I am writing to inquire if you would be interested in representing THE REMNANT, an 82,000 word novel of historical fiction.

In the 1530s at the height of the Protestant Reformation, militant Anabaptists seized control of the city of Munster. The Catholic bishop responded to the coup by laying siege to the city. The sixteen month brutal siege further radicalized the Munsterites who proceeded to introduce community of property, forced polygamy, and a messianic monarchy bolstered by naked prophecy, bizarre rituals, and frequent executions. In the summer of 1535 the bishop's forces pierced the city walls and exterminated all the Anabaptists.

The premise of the book is that a small group of Anabaptists escaped the city. Traumatized by their defeat, the survivors developed the belief that in the 33rd year of each century an opportunity arises to bring about the messianic age and that in order to seize that opportunity they must incite Armageddon. The sect, which named itself the Remnant, has fomented chaos for the last five centuries as it has striven to bring about the end of days. While the members of the Remnant have successfully hidden their nefarious actions from most of the world, a small organization known as the Seekers has been hunting them since the sixteenth century.

The novel begins with Hoffman College student Jimmy Naylor, overcome with a sense of the divine, delivering a naked sermon from the rooftop of a hotel. Hearing of this revival of Munsterite practices prompts the Seekers to suspect that Hoffman, a small, and quite bad, institution of higher learning in rural North Carolina, might be the Remnant's secret base of operations. The Seekers race to uncover the Remnant's plot. In the meantime four fish out of water characters arrive at Hoffman, unaware that the college is really the secret base of the Remnant. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations, and the discovery of putrefying limbs-- at first baffle these four characters, but soon all four get caught up in the plots of the Remnant and the Seekers.

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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by Mark.W.Carson » July 7th, 2012, 5:09 pm

Elbow,

You are not your character. Do not do it in first person. You are the author. The rules for a query are pretty set nowadays. You should follow a standard query format unless directed otherwise. The best way would be to follow an agent's website, or guidelines on their blog. Each query should be directed to a particular agent, though the bulk of the information can and should stay the same.

Sure, using a purple parchment paper dipped in cologne/perfume makes you stand out, and that 1/100 chance that an agent finds it whimsical is great, but most will shred that on delivery. If you send it in email, they will likely delete without reading past the first few sentences.

Agent are super busy, and hyper critical. Their job when reading through this is to narrow down choices. Give them a reason and you will be cut from the pile.

The word count is at the end. HOOK THEM. Don't ask if they are interested in line one. TELL THEM WHY THEY ARE INTERESTED OR SHOULD BE. That is your goal. Come at this like you are pitching them. You are.

Go read some good queries on Nathan's blog, or other places. Don't start with a premise, or a synopsis. That comes later.

Third person, who, conflict, why.

Start with the main character or group of characters. Don't tell them about the history. They don't care. You are the historian. They are the person with 800 more emails to go, a ringing phone, and a client who makes them money who wants to meet for drinks.

I hope this does not sound as harsh as it can be taken, but if you don't move in the right direction, there are bridges you can burn quickly from agents who will see they already rejected you.

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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by cheekychook » July 7th, 2012, 6:06 pm

While your book sounds intriguing and your word count is right in line with where it should be for the genre, you're still not getting your story across well with this query.

You can either open or close with the title/word count/genre and the fact that you're seeking representation---agents are split as to whether they prefer to see that info at the beginning or end of a query. What's important is the meat of the letter---the few paragraphs that concisely convey the plot, tone and style of the book. This is what needs work.

I can not emphasize this enough. DO NOT give back story in a query (or all at once in your manuscript)---it's known as an info dump and is never well received. And never, ever tell the agent what the premise is. All of the information is significant and relevant (and the way you've written it shows that you can write) but you need to figure out a way to integrate the most pertinent bits of information into the query so that you are showing what is going on, rather than telling it and you need to describe your characters more.

In this current version very little is conveyed as to the the story arc, what happens during the book, or even who the main characters are. These are deal breakers. Agents and editors want to know who and what the story is about---that's essential information. Do yourself a favor and read some final versions of queries that have gone through the full revision process a number of times. See how other people have manage to summarize their story in a few paragraphs and make the hook of their novel obvious. Then try again. Write in 3rd person omniscient, regardless of what pov you've used in your novel. A query should read like a back of the book blurb. Enough information to intrigue the reader, tell them the most important details (who and what the book is about) and leave them wanting to read more.

It's clear from your query attempts that you can write. Don't sell your book short by sending out a query that doesn't accurately reflect your story or you ability.

Good luck with the next draft. Post it here for more critique when it's ready.
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LurkingVirologist
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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by LurkingVirologist » July 12th, 2012, 6:28 pm

Echoing what people have said above - you have an interesting premise, but I have no idea what the actual story is about, and no sense of the characters. Backdrop and setting do not a compelling story make. You explicitly state that you're aiming at a Da Vinci code vibe, but to give a cross-media example, did you see Oceans 11 and Tower Heist? Yeah, they were basically the same kind of caper flick, except one of them made me want to bash my head into the seat in front of me and cost my buddy his movie choosing privileges FOR LIFE.

Hook us with the inciting event and characters first - then trickle in just enough historical detail to get a "huh - I didn't know about that, I wonder what..." Naked guy screaming about jeebus on top of a hotel? awesome. kidnapped cow? WTF - ok, I'll bite. Mysterious sect? Why not.

Remember -the historical accuracy is only the polish. It's the cherry on top. People went crazy over DaVinci Code (YMMV), even though most of it's historical speculation was bollocks. If you make stuff up out of whole cloth, and it's compelling, you just relabel it fantasy and you're good to go. When it first started the X-Files was great, not because it was believable in the slightest, but because the characters were fantastic and you had to keep watching to find out what the bloody hell was coming next. That's your aim point.

I'm looking forward to seeing your revised query.

PS - It just occurred to me that you've actually set up your query like the abstract for an academic paper (in my field it's typically BACKGROUND - STUDY DESIGN - RESULTS - CONCLUSION with a 250 word limit). My experience in academic writing has been great for learning precision of language and narrative flow, however, the big difference is that for an academic paper there's a built in motivation to read it - you need to know the data. Thus, you're expected to provide context before your deliver your punchline. My sense of query letter writing is that you gotta swing first and swing hard, then toss in just enough follow-up to prove that you can go the distance in your full ms.
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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by elbowpatch » July 15th, 2012, 10:44 am

Thanks Cheeky, Mark, Lurking, and R,

Here's the revised version:

Overcome by a sense of the divine, Hoffman college student Jimmy Naylor steps out of the shower. Oblivious to the fact that he is naked and dripping, Naylor climbs to the roof of his Strasbourg hotel and shouts prophecies at the tourists stumbling out of bars and bistros.

A Naked Prophecy in Strasbourg.” The headline strikes fear in the heart of the Portly Man because naked prophecy was a hallmark of the Anabaptists of Munster, a radical sect who over four hundred years ago seized control of the city of Munster and established community of property, forced polygamy and a messianic monarchy bolstered by bizarre rituals, frequent executions, and, of course, naked prophecy. Historians claim that the Anabaptists of Munster were all killed, but the Portly Man knows that the myth that some Munsterites escaped, named themselves the Remnant, and have been trying to incite Armageddon in order to bring about the messianic age is true. He knows this because he is one of the Seekers, a small organization that has been hunting the Remnant since the Sixteenth Century. The Portly Man and his fellows Seekers will use every tool at their disposal to investigate Hoffman College, which just might be the Remnant’s secret base of operations.

One unwitting tool is Prof. Ben Israel, a freshly minted Ph. D. who researched the myth of the Remnant for his dissertation and who just began teaching, not so coincidentally, at Hoffman College. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations and the discovery of putrefying limbs--baffle the young academic until the Seekers reveal themselves to Ben and try to recruit him. Shocked and dismayed to find out that he had been a pawn of the Seekers for years, Ben hesitates joining the Seekers in their hunt, especially since he has trouble accepting that the Remnant really exists and that this mysterious sect is hiding in a small and really bad college in North Carolina. His unwillingness is only magnified by his self-realization that he would make an abysmal spy since he can’t keep a straight face when lying. Ben reluctantly agrees to gather intelligence for the Seekers, but with a dark foreboding that his foray into this shadowy realm of plots and counterplots will not end well.

THE REMNANT is an 82,000 word novel of historical fiction.

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Re: Query: The Remnant

Post by hagenpiper » July 17th, 2012, 7:03 pm

elbowpatch wrote:Thanks Cheeky, Mark, Lurking, and R,

Here's the revised version:

Overcome by a sense of the divine, Hoffman college (Would it not be Hoffman College <-- compound proper noun?) student Jimmy Naylor steps out of the shower. Oblivious to the fact that he is naked and dripping, Naylor climbs to the roof of his Strasbourg hotel and shouts prophecies at the tourists stumbling out of bars and bistros. (It might be a stronger hook as a single sentence - a single idea. People step out of the shower feeling divine all the time -The Old Spice guy, for example, but not everybody shouts prophecies naked from the rooftop. So if you combined those independent clauses into a single compound-complex sentence - it could be extremely effective. Might even blow away the Old Spice guy. Maybe I'm wrong - wouldn't be the first time.)

Overcome by a sense of the divine, Hoffman College student Jimmy Naylor steps out of the shower and climbs naked to the roof of his Strasbourg hotel and shouts prophecies at tourists stumbling out of bars and bistros.

A Naked Prophecy in Strasbourg.” The headline strikes fear in the heart of the Portly Man because (a) naked prophecy was a hallmark of the Anabaptists of Munster, (an ancient and bizarre religious sect). a radical sect who over four hundred years ago seized control of the city of Munster and established community of property, forced polygamy and a messianic monarchy bolstered by bizarre rituals, frequent executions, and, of course, naked prophecy. (<-- save the details. The agent isn't invested enough at this point to care who exactly the Anabaptists were, and the details will probably translate in their brains like "stuff, stuff, stuff"). Historians claim that the Anabaptists of Munster were all killed, but the Portly Man knows that the myth that some Munsterites escaped, named themselves the Remnant, and have been trying to incite Armageddon in order to bring about the messianic age is true. He knows this because he is one of the Seekers, a small organization that has been hunting the Remnant since the Sixteenth Century. The Portly Man and his fellows Seekers will use every tool at their disposal to investigate Hoffman College, which just might be the Remnant’s secret base of operations.

Who is main character? The naked prophet or the Portly Man?

One unwitting tool is Prof. Ben Israel, a freshly minted Ph. D. who researched the myth of the Remnant for his dissertation and who just began teaching, not so coincidentally, lecturer at Hoffman College and Remnant aficionado. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations and the discovery of putrefying limbs--baffle the young academic until the Seekers reveal themselves to Ben and try to recruiting him. Shocked and dismayed to find out learn that he had been a pawn of the Seekers for years, Ben hesitates joining the Seekers in their hunt, especially since he has trouble accepting that the Remnant really exists and that this mysterious sect is hiding in a small and really bad college in North Carolina. (<--- you're trying to narrate the story.) His unwillingness is only magnified by his self-realization that he would make an abysmal spy since he can’t keep a straight face when lying. Ben reluctantly agrees to gather intelligence for the Seekers, but with a dark foreboding that his foray into this shadowy realm of plots and counterplots will not end well.

THE REMNANT is an 82,000 word novel of historical fiction.
I know I chewed this up pretty hard. Bear with...

First off - I'm not an expert at this. That said,

Theory: Don't introduce the story to me; introduce me to the story. Resist storytelling and try talking plot. Pure plot.


1.) Exposition. I need to know three things in paragraph one. A. Who's the main character? (the only person I care about right now.) B. What happens to him one day - from his perspective - that kicks the story off? ( In other words, don't tell how the story begins, thereby introducing the story to me, but tell me how it begins for the protagonist, thereby introducing me to the story. Talk plot.) C. What does must he do, and what are the stakes should he fail? (In other words - give me someone to root for and a reason to root - a reason to care if he succeeds or not.) Will the Remnant shoot his mom if he fails to comply? Will they publish embarrassing photos he took of himself with his cell phone while partying with prostitutes in Las Vegas last summer, thereby threatening him with losing his tenure? What compels this guy to act?

2.) What kind of Rising Action do we have? What kinds of things does the main character do to achieve his objective as stated in paragraph one? Who or what stands in his way? What kinds of complications does he face? What kinds of strategies does he employ to overcome them. Notice I'm sticking with "kinds of things". Sabotage, spying, researching, travelling, sleeping with the enemy, masquerading as a fairy godmother. "Kinds" of things. That introduces me to the rising action, gives me an idea of the "kind" of entertainment value your story offers.

3.) Climax/Crisis. Show the arc the story - what kind of character development I can expect? When what catastrophic thing happens, (and here you can be a little more specific) what dilemma does he face? Reinforce the stakes and I should find myself flipping to the synopsis.

Again, I'm no expert, but that's my take on it.

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Re: Query: The Remnant: revised

Post by elbowpatch » July 17th, 2012, 8:06 pm

Thanks Hagen,

I see your point, but my main trouble is that I don't have a main character, I have an ensemble cast and my action occurs in the 1530s and the 2000s, so I could describe the story from the perspective of Ben Israel or the Portly Man, or the student who gets recruited by the Remnant, but that really wouldn't convey what the book is about. If anyone has any suggestions on how to write a query letter for a book without a main character I would love to hear them. Hypothetically speaking how would George R. R. Martin have written a query letter for Game of Thrones?

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Re: Query: The Remnant: revised

Post by hagenpiper » July 17th, 2012, 8:58 pm

elbowpatch wrote:Thanks Hagen,

I see your point, but my main trouble is that I don't have a main character, I have an ensemble cast and my action occurs in the 1530s and the 2000s, so I could describe the story from the perspective of Ben Israel or the Portly Man, or the student who gets recruited by the Remnant, but that really wouldn't convey what the book is about. If anyone has any suggestions on how to write a query letter for a book without a main character I would love to hear them. Hypothetically speaking how would George R. R. Martin have written a query letter for Game of Thrones?
Martin?? He would state his name, then describe his breakfast.

But yeah... I see your point. And better you than me. :mrgreen:

How about this. Have you mapped out your plot on a traditional plot diagram? That's where I would start. Find every point where the events of the past cross the events of the present. Note them. Then the hard part. Perhaps squeeze a whole plot in per hero per paragraph. But stick with the plot as tightly as you can. Transition between these paragraphs using the points you found on your diagram so the three paragraphs flow together nicely. Now for the super hard part, can you leave each main character hanging at his "crisis/climactic" point, so that it (if you're lucky) hooks the reader three times, leaving them wondering how exactly these three storylines collide? Then consider the paragraph at the beginning of the message I'm responding to now, and put some of that concise language into the very last paragraph.

Maybe your hook should have to do with the events of the past chasing/following/occuring simultaneously??? with those of the present. Or postulate something grand, "if only one could step in two times and act in three?" It's not my story, I can't help too much there, but that kind of 'twilight zone' grand idea to hook the reader in while giving you some flexibility with the traditional expectations of a query letter. Make it clear in the hook that this is not your average story.

Does that help?

Better yet? Have you written a synopsis? 1-3 pages? It might help a lot if you posted it. Give us an idea of what shape of the story is.

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Re: Query: The Remnant: revised

Post by elbowpatch » July 18th, 2012, 4:08 pm

Thanks to everyone for slapping me around a bit. I need it.

Here's the revised version with less flab and more explicit stakes. I'm not sure about the last sentence.

Overcome by a sense of the divine, Hoffman College student Jimmy Naylor steps out of the shower. Oblivious to his lack of clothes, Naylor climbs to the roof of his Strasbourg hotel and shouts prophecies at the tourists stumbling out of bars and bistros.

“A Naked Prophecy in Strasbourg.” The headline rouses the Portly Man from his lethargy, for naked prophecy was a mark of the Anabaptists of Munster, a radical sect who seized control of the city and established community of property, forced polygamy and a messianic monarchy bolstered by mystic rituals, theatrical executions, and, of course, naked prophecy. Historians claim that the Anabaptists of Munster were all killed in the 1530s, but the Portly Man knows that the myth that some Munsterites escaped and have been trying to provoke Armageddon is true. As a Seeker, he must find The Remnant, as the Munsterites call themselves, and stop them or else the world may undergo another cataclysm like The Thirty Years War. Since World War II the Seekers have not found a trace of The Remnant. Now that he has a solid lead, the Portly Man will use every tool at his disposal to investigate Hoffman College, even when his fellow Seekers start to disappear.

One unwitting tool is Prof. Ben Israel, a freshly minted Ph. D. who studies the myth of the Remnant and who just began teaching, not so coincidentally, at Hoffman College. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations and the discovery of putrefying limbs--baffle the young academic. When the Seekers try to recruit him, Ben has trouble accepting that the Remnant really exists. Despite Ben’s disbelief and his self-realization that he would make an abysmal spy, he agrees to gather intelligence for the Seekers, but not without a dark foreboding that his foray into this realm of plots and counterplots will not end well.

THE REMNANT is an 82,000 word work of historical fiction that intertwines events in the 1530s and the recent present. It is narrated from the point of view of multiple characters including the kidnapped cow.

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Re: Query: The Remnant: revised

Post by hagenpiper » July 18th, 2012, 6:54 pm

elbowpatch wrote:Thanks to everyone for slapping me around a bit. I need it.

Here's the revised version with less flab and more explicit stakes. I'm not sure about the last sentence.

Overcome by a sense of the divine, Hoffman College student Jimmy Naylor steps out of the shower. Oblivious to his lack of clothes, Naylor climbs to the roof of his Strasbourg hotel and shouts prophecies at the tourists stumbling out of bars and bistros.

“A Naked Prophecy in Strasbourg.” The headline rouses the Portly Man from his lethargy, for naked prophecy was a mark of the Anabaptists of Munster, a radical sect who seized control of the city and established community of property, forced polygamy and a messianic monarchy bolstered by mystic rituals, theatrical executions, and, of course, naked prophecy. Historians claim that the Anabaptists of Munster were all killed in the 1530s, but the Portly Man knows that the myth that some Munsterites escaped and have been trying to provoke Armageddon is true. As a Seeker, he must find The Remnant, as the Munsterites call themselves, and stop them or else the world may undergo another cataclysm like The Thirty Years War. (didn't affect the whole world.) Since World War II the Seekers have not found a trace of The Remnant. Now that he has a solid lead, the Portly Man will use every tool at his disposal to investigate Hoffman College, even when his fellow Seekers start to disappear.

One unwitting tool is Prof. Ben Israel, a freshly minted Ph. D. who studies the myth of the Remnant and who just began teaching, not so coincidentally, (cut that) at Hoffman College. The strange goings on at Hoffman--which include cow kidnappings, group hallucinations and the discovery of putrefying limbs--baffle the young academic. When the Seekers try to recruit him, Ben has trouble accepting that the Remnant really exists. Despite Ben’s disbelief and his self-realization that he would make an abysmal spy, he agrees to gather intelligence for the Seekers, but not without a dark foreboding that his foray into this realm of plots and counterplots will not end well.

THE REMNANT is an 82,000 word work of historical fiction that intertwines events in the 1530s and the recent present. It is narrated from the point of view of multiple characters including the kidnapped cow (cut).
You have indeed simplified it. There are grammatical mistakes you will see when you come back to it. The three characters are more tightly related now. "or the world will undergo another cataclysm" could be less vague. "Intertwines events of the 1530's and"... the 20th Century? the 1990's? Something better than "the recent present".

It's on the way. If it were mine, I'd rewrite it again tomorrow from memory, while picturing myself standing before a conference of agents - just to force myself to be ultra clear. Compare the two versions - maybe fuse the best aspects of both versions.

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