Thursday, October 20, 2011

Query #37: "The River" by Anonymous

This query is from an anonymous author for the novel The River. Thank you, Anonymous, for the honour of allowing me to work on and post this!

~~~~~~~
ORIGINAL QUERY

When Brad Lucas agrees to join his business partner, Dean, on a fly-fishing trip in the wilds of Northern California, the last thing he expects is to come face-to-face with Bigfoot.

While wading across the river, Brad sees a hulking shape emerge from the forest shadows. He retreats, loses his footing, and the current swallows him. Fighting for breath, he glimpses Dean snapping pictures and laughing. A thundering boom overwhelms the gorge. More gunshots follow. Brad clings to a boulder as Dean’s screams cut the white noise of the river and the wind.

It’s the summer of 1999, the height of the dot-com bubble, and Brad has just made a fortune selling the company he started with Dean in college. Over the years, their odd, antagonistic friendship, fraught with competition and scandal, has deteriorated. Before Brad embarks on a new life with millions in the bank, cocksure Dean lures him to a secluded fishing club to perpetrate an elaborate hoax.

Now a man in a Bigfoot costume lies dead at the river’s edge, Dean is face down in the gravel, and a tobacco-chewing methamphetamine addict who isn’t in on the joke has a rifle aimed at Brad. Not only must Brad save himself, he must determine if Dean is worth saving as well.

Structurally, the book starts in medias res, tells Brad’s story (whose mother is more interested in her German Shepherd than her son), then Dean’s (whose father plays a softball game instead of witnessing his son’s birth)—the tension mounting until the two meet. Ultimately though, this is Brad’s story. After seeking love and affirmation, and mostly finding frustration, he perseveres and stands up to the people who don’t always have his best interest at heart. THE RIVER comically and tragically captures an America rife with greed and deception at the close of the millennium. It has a similar sensibility to Norman Maclean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT and shares the man versus man, man versus nature themes of James Dickey’s DELIVERANCE.

THE RIVER is literary fiction, complete at approximately 82,000 words.

~~~~~~~
GOBLIN-EDIT

Brad Lucas just made a fortune selling the company he and business partner Dean started in college. Their odd, antagonistic friendship has deteriorated, but Brad agrees to one last fly-fishing trip before they go separate ways. The last thing he expects, however, is to come face-to-face with Bigfoot.

Wading across a river, Brad sees a hulking shape emerge from the forest. He loses his footing, and the current swallows him. Fighting for breath, he glimpses Dean snapping pictures and laughing. Then a thundering boom overwhelms the gorge. More gunshots follow. As Brad clings to a boulder, Dean’s screams cut the white noise of the river.

Now a man in a Bigfoot costume lies dead at the river’s edge, Dean is face-down in the gravel, and a methamphetamine addict who wasn’t in on the joke is aiming his rifle at Brad. Not only must Brad save himself, he has to decide whether Dean is worth saving too.

THE RIVER captures an America rife with greed and deception at the close of the millennium. It has a similar sensibility to Norman Maclean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT and shares the man-versus-man, man-versus-nature themes of James Dickey’s DELIVERANCE.

THE RIVER is literary fiction, complete at approximately 82,000 words.


Have any thoughts about either the original or the re-written query? Please join the discussion in the comment thread!

Also, I'd be delighted if you would please help draw more commenters to the site by mentioning this post to your online friends. Thank you!

10 comments:

  1. What I thought was done well:

    This sounds like a fun book!

    The second paragraph is one of the more exciting ones I've read in a query. You do a fantastic job of painting a very tense moment vividly. The first paragraph is also great--a sharp introduction to the story's inciting incident.

    What I thought could be improved:

    Jumping to backstory in the third paragraph strikes me as problematic because it interrupts your powerful story momentum. I didn't want to bloat your first paragraph--which is very strong and sleek--but the first paragraph is where the backstory has to go. Adding it later kills the query's wonderful tension.

    I also think the final paragraph has too much "telling" in it, whereas a query letter should try to "show" all the important information. You obviously have a richer story than you can fit into one short blurb, but that richness is better left as a pleasant surprise for the agent/editor who requests pages. I think the extra verbiage only weakens the query.

    What I think remains to be improved in the edited query:

    Probably you could introduce the backstory a bit more smoothly than I have done here. Your original query did a good job of making me think, "Hey. Dean's a bit of an asshole." I'm not sure my revised version accomplishes that as well.


    Best of luck with this! Again, this sounds a great book with both an exciting plot and some nicely-juicy deeper themes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you could turn "The last thing he expects, however, is to come face-to-face with Bigfoot" into something like "The last thing he expects is to be the butt of another one of Dean's jokes" or something. Bigfoot need not be mentioned until we get to the dead guy in the costume.

    ~scott gf bailey

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks so much, Goblin! I love your take on this. It's great to get an 'outside' perspective from someone who hasn't read any of the novel. You really paired it down to the core. Dean certainly is an asshole, so I will work on making sure that still comes across. I really appreciate your help.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great idea, Scott. Thanks for the suggestion -- the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I didn't find this query to be either clear or compelling.

    First, I would suggest you don't use "The last thing (character) expects when he (action) is ..." This seems so trite and formulaic. And it tells the reader how he or she should or must feel.

    The first time I read both the original and the goblin edit, I didn't get that Brad was taking pictures of the main character as the main character falls into the river in surprise or fear.

    I had to re-read to get that the "thundering boom" isn't thunder but is a gunshot.

    If the bigfoot sighting is staged by Dean as a joke on Brad, why does Dean get shot? The meth addict "isn't in on the joke", so does this mean that the meth addict really believes he shot a bigfoot? This might engage me more if it were clearer and more direct.

    Why did the meth addict shoot Dean? Why would the meth addict want to shoot Brad? This doesn't make sense to me. If I stumbled upon a bigfoot menacing two humans, I'd shoot at bigfoot and then tell the humans that I'd rescued them.

    As a result, the implication seems to be that not only did Dean set up Brad to scare or humiliate him, but someone else is trying to kill both of them. Huh??

    The "just" in "just made a fortune ..." is unnecessary.

    Why is the word "cocksure" needed?

    I don't see how their past figures in to this, or why it would be needed in this query.

    This doesn't seem to be the main conflict in the story. It seems more like a small incident before there is a bigger struggle between Brad and some other person or persons???

    The last paragraph is unnecessary. It is the author telling the reader of the query letter how he or she should feel about the story. I would guess that an agent would be put off by this, and this is likely to be far more damaging than helpful.

    GLJ

    ReplyDelete
  6. GLJ: Thanks very much for taking the time to comment on what didn't work for you. I'm sure the writer finds that very enlightening information!

    However, could you please add specific details on how you think this query could be improved? For writers, purely negative reactions are of limited usefulness; constructive feedback is much more valuable.

    Thanks!
    ~ Query Goblin

    ReplyDelete
  7. Query Goblin wrote:
    GLJ: Thanks very much for taking the time to comment on what didn't work for you. I'm sure the writer finds that very enlightening information!

    However, could you please add specific details on how you think this query could be improved? For writers, purely negative reactions are of limited usefulness; constructive feedback is much more valuable.

    Thanks!
    ~ Query Goblin

    I always try to be helpful, but I don't know if I can provide specific suggestions since I don't know the story. So my comments were mostly pointing out things that confused me.

    My main difficulty with the query is that I couldn't figure out what the conflict was. There is implied tension between Dean and Brad. The bigfoot incident seems to be Dean trying to annoy or humiliate Brad, I think. But Dean getting shot? I had no idea why this happened or whether it was a major part of the story. And there is another force at work, since Dean AND the fake bigfoot are both killed. To me, this reads as a sequence of random events.

    And the part about this being a tale of greed? I don't have a clue how greed ties in.

    So my main reaction is that I don't feel I have much of a sense of what the story is about. It feels like the reader has been given a small glimpse, but without information of how it ties in to the story as a whole. I certainly don't get the impression that this is a story of bigfoot hunting. Yet this aspect is the only part that made any impression on me.

    GLJ

    ReplyDelete
  8. I appreciate your thoughts, GLJ. I think the main purpose of a query letter is to entice an agent to request pages, not to try and answer every question about the novel. I chose this scene -- the hook -- hoping to pique an agent's interest (Agent: How is the author going to pull off a story with Bigfoot in it? How did we get here? What does Bigfoot have to do with the overarching story and themes? What happens next?). The shooting of 'Bigfoot' is a frame. The novel pretty much starts with the incident and then delves into the characters and what brought them there, their motivations. It follows the rise of a dotcom company and the people who founded it...it tries to capture an America rife with greed and deception at the close of the millennium. Then we see the aftermath of the shooting. I would be interested to hear if folks here think the query still works given this additional information. Maybe I have focused too much on the hook? Thanks, the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I hope my comments were helpful. I tried to post a response to the Query Goblin's preceding post, but it never appeared.

    Yes, you should not and cannot answer all questions about the story. I wasn't trying to say that. My point was that I don't get a sense of the main conflict. The query reads like a series of events, but I didn't see any connection between them, at least not a strong or coherent connection.

    I doubt your book is about bigfoot. You say it is about greed and deception, and that's fine, but such broad and vague information doesn't make me curious and tells me little about your story.

    I could guess from the query that the shooting was a frame up, and you confirm that. But isn't what happens after that the real conflict? The shooting seems to be a preliminary event. For example, that would be like summing up the movie Jaws as "man takes job as sheriff on island where he feels like an outsider", which is correct but not really the main conflict. Being an outsider causes him difficulty in persuading the locals to take action, but is not the real drama.

    GLJ

    ReplyDelete
  10. I completely got that Dean and Brad go into the mountains where Dean is playing a joke on Brad. The methhead comes out of nowhere and shoots the guy in the Bigfoot costume. Now Dean and Brad are being held prisoner by the methhead dude. Adventure(!) goes on from there. All of that was clear, at least from the Goblinized version.

    ~scott bailey

    ReplyDelete