- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 04 2011
By repeated request we’ve started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we’ll just have to see. We’ve received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.
For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.
And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.
I know that for the workshop some will be using different methods of sending the query, but I am still going to remind you to use a greeting and the agent’s name whenever possible.
Forty-eight hours into their Moroccan vacation, Julie’s best friend walks out of their hotel room and disappears, leaving only a terse note apologizing for, but not explaining, her behavior. Exhausted and furious, but habitually dependent on her friend, Julie waits as requested.
Indentations are not necessary in paragraphs if you are using extra lines between paragraphs. In other words, there’s no need to indent here. [Though the indents do not appear here, they appeared in the original query.]
I like this opening. It definitely grabbed my attention.
Several days pass and Fay doesn’t return. Julie’s anger turns to worry; worry turns to fear when Julie realizes she is being followed. Then, a vicious attack meant for Julie kills an innocent woman. Julie bolts.
Still good. I’m still reading.
She has learned enough snooping through Fay’s luggage to guess her destination is a remote village called Taghabene. Convinced that Fay is heading into danger and fueled by the adrenalin rush of fleeing her attackers, Julie hurries south.
And still good. I’m still reading.
Fay has, however, already left Taghabene for a settlement in the desert. Julie hesitates. A heart defect keeps her dependent on regular medication and she’s unaccustomed to strenuous exercise, but no one else knows where Fay has gone. Only Julie can warn her. She has to risk her health or know she has failed her best friend. So Julie follows her into the black desert.
I think you need to explain first that Julie arrives in Taghabene only to discover that Fay has already left, and show a bit of her investigation as well as the atmosphere of the novel. How does she find out? How does she get to Taghabene? What’s it like there for her? I know it sounds like I’m asking for a lot, but I honestly think it’s a matter of reworking one sentence: “After a hot and dusty journey in the back of a jeep, Julie arrives in the small village of Taghabene, only to learn that Fay is gone. The room where she was staying has been abandoned and the only thing left behind is a map that shows…” See what a difference that makes? We get a sense of atmosphere and a bit about what Julie is doing and it doesn’t add that much more to the query.
The heart defect is where you start to lose me. For some reason this feels like a stretch to me, like you’ve tossed something into the story because you realized you need additional conflict. What kind of strenuous exercise is she getting and what happens to make Julie feel she needs to warn her? Why does she think Fay is in danger? Is it just the one attack? This is one of those incidents where I feel like I missed a paragraph or two that was supposed to take me to this point.
I also have a hard time buying that Julie has to warn her or risk her life when Fay has clearly abandoned Julie. Again, I’m not quite understanding what has these two young women traveling alone through the desert. And how did Julie figure out where Fay went when you said earlier that no one knew?
The rough terrain and extreme temperatures weaken her. She becomes disoriented and blunders into a military patrol on the Algerian border. Julie is locked up – along with Fay and three Moroccans. Too late she learns Fay’s objective. Her resentment at Fay’s betrayal, her sprained ankle, even transfer to a secret prison deep in the Sahara becomes inconsequential: Julie has only twenty-one pills, twenty-one days until her heart will beat out of control. All that matters is escape. Pooling their meager possessions, the captives pit their wits against the Moroccan army and the black desert in a fight for their lives.
Suddenly this story has taken a 180-degree turn for me. Originally it was about Fay mysteriously leaving and suddenly now it’s about Julie. I think you need to define Fay’s objective earlier. The sprained ankle kind of made me laugh. Really? She’s trekked through the desert alone, she’s been attacked, she’s seen a woman killed, she might potentially die, and yet she’s upset over a sprained ankle? I would also suspect that they are in danger of dying because they’re being held hostage, not just because her pills might run out, but maybe I’m wrong. I feel like you’re scratching the surface here, but I’m missing the real depth of the story.
Overall I think you started off well, but it just didn’t carry through for me. The query left me with more questions than answers and made me feel that there are a lot of plot points in your book that aren’t really working. I also didn’t get any real sense of your characters, and in women’s fiction especially it’s about character and the personal journey she’s going through. Julie comes across to me as someone I don’t get. You briefly mention that she’s dependent on Fay, but to me she just seems kind of ridiculous. I guess I don’t see enough of a reason for her to be tracking Fay or looking for her; I don’t see what leads to each new decision.
I also felt that this went from a woman’s journey to a military book, which took it in an entirely different direction for me. It might work if I had some sense of it coming, but as it’s written here each new step, the medication, the military, just feels like plot points are dropping in from nowhere and not really connecting.
THE BLACK DESERT is a 95,000-word work of women’s commercial fiction.
This is fine, although I don’t love your title. It doesn’t say women’s fiction to me.