Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Query Ninja - Smurfette's Laugh

Yep. It's Query Ninja time. I'm thinking I need a pithy theme song or something. Like instead of "It's Business Time" by Flight of the Conchords, it could be "It's Ninja Time."

Humor me.

Anyway, if you're new to the whole Query Ninja thing, you can check out Da Rulz here, and the past two episodes here and here. If y'all are nuts enough to keep sending me queries, I might just have to put in a sidebar or something.

Daring, aren't I?

Anyway, here's the query, courtesy of the fabulousness that is Tres Smurfy BT.

Dear Fabulous Agent,

Lusted after, abused, haunted, and with family and friends dying around her, Smurfette is starting to think being a pioneer was a bad idea.

From England to the virgin soil of Smurfland in a cramped sailing ship. Harassed aboard and ashore by the first smurf and by the spiritual leader of their group, both who have problems keeping their thoughts pure when it comes to young smurflings, Smurfette struggles to find true love, and her place in the new village.

Hostile cats, smurfy superstition, and cartoon legend collide in an atmosphere charged with unbridled lust and misplaced passions. Searching for respect from Papa Smurf and company, Smurfette’s only hope is an old black smurf.

With settings reminiscent of 'A Kingdom for the Brave' by Tamara McKinley, but with the passion of 'Madame Bovary' by Gustave Flaubert, 'Smurfette’s Laugh' has a ready made audience of slacker readers looking for a fast paced read set during early Smurfland settlement.

I sharpen my writing skills in the short story markets, with pieces published at venues such as Smurf & Smurfling, Smurf to Smurf, and Yellow Smurf.

I’m studying for an Advanced Diploma of Art in Professional Smurfing, and I’m an active member of the Australian Smurf Writers Association. For more information please visit or contact me directly.

Yours truly
Tres Smurfy BT

Smurfy, isn't it?

I hope y'all don't think I'm being redundant here, but I'd like to invoke the Church Lady Rule again. There's a heckload of stuff going on in this query, what with all of the smurfish lusting, the haunting, and the dying going on. (We're here to mourn the loss of Brainy Smurf at the hands of Azrael the cat. Let us bow our smurfs and smurf.)

Anyway, there's so much going on here that I end up feeling a little overwhelmed. You've told us bits and pieces about each element in the book, and I'm sure they're so awesome that they're just smurfy, but I don't feel like I know enough about any of them to tell for sure. For example, you mention hauntings and legends (MadLibbed as "cartoon legend"), but then you don't tell us anything about those elements. Rather than telling us a little about a bunch of things, maybe focus on a couple of things that really rock.

And that means the Church Lady Rule.

The main question is what sets you apart from all of the other sweeping historical epics set in 1980's Smurfland. Based on what we know from the query, this seems to be the legendary haunting bit. There are plenty of epic passion plays out there, but how many epic passion plays can you name in which the Ghost of Thundar the Barbarian keeps popping up?

I dare you to come up with one. I DARE you.

Whatever element you choose, whether it's this one or some other bit of awesomeness that we don't know about yet, it's just a matter of weaving the elements together into the query in a way that feels natural. Smurfette moves to Smurfland; she's threatened by the passions of two very threatening Smurfs. And then the hauntings begin, and...
She's blamed for them and accused of Smurfcraft? Uh... witchcraft?

She's threatened by them, and one of the bad Smurfs may be the only one with the ability to save her?

She's so intrigued that she follows Thundar into the wild and meets the old black Smurf, not realizing that the bad Smurfs are following her?

Something even more Smurfishly awesome?

I don't know where your story goes, but hopefully you get the idea. Take the passion elements you have in the query, add the complication of the Church Lady element, and stir it all up.

And then there's the old black Smurf, who potentially has the solution to Smurfette's quest for respect. I think that if you're going to bring up a character like this, you've got to bring it back around to Smurfette before you close out the query. The book is about HER choices, right? HER adventure. So what is Smurfette's reaction to the potential solution? What potentially keeps her from taking the solution, running with it, and living happily ever after?

I think if you could just tighten the focus a little, this query would be just smurfy. But it's time to open comments up to the rest of you peeps. What words of wisdom do you have for Tres Smurfy BT? Bring it on!

And mucho thanks for sending in your query. You rock the casbah!


MeganRebekah said...

Your posts always crack me up! Keep 'em coming.

Smurf on!

Kelly Polark said...

Great smurfin' advice!

BT said...

I'm considering scrapping my current adult historical in favour of writing a children's book - it makes so much more sense ;c)

Thanks heaps for this QN, much learned and, now, much work to do.

Focus, pick one or two major things and work everything around that - gotcha.

Barry Napier said...

You could totally use "Business Time". But please, for the sake of comedy, keep the "business socks" line.

Mariah Irvin said...

Now I wish I had a finished query to send you!

I will now sing "If I only had a query" to the tune of "If I only had a brain."

PJ Hoover said...

I'd be sold on it as soon as I saw the word Smurf.

K.C. Shaw said...

Excellent advice as always! I feel the sudden urge to rewrite all of my queries, even ones for books I've trunked.

Anonymous said...

I've read query blogs until I'm smurf blue in the face, but for some reason, your madlibs make much more sense to me. Perhaps it's because I can see the actual query bones under the fun fluff. I'm not sure why it's working, but it is! Keep it up!

And I'm big into The Humans Are Dead. Rock that binary solo!


Jamie Eyberg said...

Smurf-tastic advice. You got your smurf going on that one. I mean really, what a smurfing awesome idea.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

maybe a book about the other girl smurfs that were banned form the village? And what kind of smurf is smurfette that she abandoned her girlfriends :)

Ray Veen said...

I'm kind of out of touch with all things query-related, but it seems like every one I see lately has an element where the writer compares their book to something already published. Is this a new standard or something? Are agents asking for that nowadays?

It seems risky. And space-taking-ey.

I'm also wondering where the word-count and genre bits are. Are you omitting them, Mrs. Harris? Or is that no longer pertinent information?

BT said...

Big V - I was advised to include the comparison bit and I left out the genre naming bit for similar reasons.

The books I mention are in a similar genre and the query and synopsis should paint a clear enough picture for the industry professionals to make up their own mind where they want to place it.

Word length is a good question though. And where should it go if it is included?

Carrie Harris said...

Thanks everyone for the silly comments and laughs. ;)

BPV: That's a good point. I think you've got to pick carefully when you're comparing yourself to other books. I did it in my query, but I also had critique partners who suggested it in the first place so I knew it was a good comparison. It didn't hurt that Agent Kate represents the author I used as a comparison, either.

I can't believe I forgot to mention the word count! Yes, Tres Smurfy BT, it should be in there! I usually put it shortly after the title is mentioned, but maybe other people put it different places?

Davin Malasarn said...

Tres Smurfy BT,
Thanks for volunteering your query! I think, along with the comments Carrie made, that simply working on your sentence structure will clarify things significantly. You've loaded up the beginnings of sentences before you get to the standard subject, very, predicate portions, and breaking up those sentences will help things flow. You're doing a good job, keep at it!