First Impact: DEAD RECKONING Query by Aline Carriere

We're still low on submissions for First Impact. I'm happy to continue this feature as long as there's interest, but if there isn't, I'll just drop it. To get a critique, send it to Details here.

August's winner, and recipient of a 10-page critique from agent Tricia Lawrence, is maine character!

This month, anyone who shares their thoughts in the comments is eligible to win $10 for Amazon/B&N or a 20-page critique from me. Your comment doesn't have to be long, just useful!

A big thank you to Aline for submitting the query for her novel, DEAD RECKONING. (You may remember reading the first page here).

Remember all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it. Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

Dear Agent,

The middle of this paragraph feels
like telling to me. I say get to the
story, so we can see what Anne does.
When eighteen-year-old Anne Davis, is captured by pirates, she may be a victim of circumstance but she refuses to be a victim, and. She uses her wits, sex and sense of justice to navigate and survive the treacherous world of 18th-Century piracy, become a legend and find love. Based on the story and characters of TREASURE ISLAND, woven with the lives of actual pirates, my historical erotic adventure novel DEAD RECKONING is complete at 75,000 words.

The 2nd sentence here moves too fast
for me. A lot of events appear out of
nowhere (it feels like).

"With her own crew": Is she a
pirate now?

The end of this gets vague (for me)
and telling again.
Both attracted to and repulsed by the brutal Captain Flint, Anne finds her place aboard the pirate ship Walrus, until she refuses to kill and is marooned on Treasure Island. Following her rescue by the Hispaniola, Anne returns to the sea with her own crew after making a rash and heartfelt promise to a young boy to bring his father home. She embarks on a star-crossed journey across an ocean, through two trials, an execution and to the brink of death, with joy and bitter loss as her life careens out of control and she travels towards her destiny. DEAD RECKONING is a character-driven story of choices, calculations and chance, as Anne decides whether to return to her life of privilege or forge her own future.

I'd cut the first two sentences, unless
you got pro rate (5+ cents/word) for
one of those markets.
I have been writing professionally as an attorney for twenty-years. Recently my stories have been published at Suspense Magazine and in the Elements of Horror anthology. Additional stories and essays may be found at

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Aline Carriere

Adam's Thoughts
A love a good pirate story, and there are a lot of elements here that I love, but I think you might be trying to cram too much into the query. For example, the query lists a lot of exciting things -- two trials! an execution! near death! bitter loss! -- but without context, it's just a list.

Like if I were talking about Pirates of the Carribean, I could say, "To save the governor's daughter, Will Turner must commandeer a Navy vessel, outwit the pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, and face a crew of the undead before they sacrifice the girl he loves."

OR I could say, "To rescue the girl he loves, Will Turner seeks help from the thing he hates the most: a pirate. But as he tries to stay one step ahead of the Royal Navy, and the pirate who's supposedly helping him, he discovers there's more pirate in his blood than he would like to admit."

Okay, so it needs work, but do you see my point? A list without context is not as interesting as a character with a goal and an arc. It's not enough to say what Will does (seeks help from a pirate) and learns (that he is a pirate), we have to know why it matters (because he hates pirates). You can even skip things (the undead crew) for the sake of focusing on the main arc and why it matters.

I know it's not the best example, but I hope it's helpful. I bet somebody else can give you better advice in the comments.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

It's great to see the query for this, after having read the pages!

I agree with Adam about adding emotional stakes (Adam, those are emotional stakes!! LOL) to the query, rather than relying on telling the plot and hoping that resonates. Things like "refuses to be a victim" and "refuses to kill" jump out as great internal motivations - and WHY did she make that heartfelt promise? Get at those details, make the query turn on them, and you'll be putting the heart of your story on the page.

Best of luck!

Steve MC said...

Woot! I won! Many thanks to Adam and Tricia!

(Sits back in chair, straightens lamp.)

For this query, the only thing I could see to fix were the verbs in "as her life careens out of control and she travels towards her destiny." "Careens" is great, but then "travels" is a step down in gear, so maybe "sails towards" or "is thrust towards" would keep the momentum up.

On the rest, I agree with Adam on all the points he makes.

Matthew MacNish said...

I wish I had more time to help today, but this phone will not stop ringing! Good luck to Aline, and congrats to Maine Character!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yep, Adam pointed out everything i was thinking as well. I think you need to concentrate on the 4 Cs more: character, conflict, choice and consequences. If you can really drill it down to those four things, i think you'll be in a better position.
Also, YAY pirates!!

Sid Gopinath said...

I am hopefully speaking on behalf of many when I say that I love this feature! I am kind of swamped, especially around this time of year, so I personally cannot send anything in. However, I love reading other queries and seeing the critiques. It would be awesome to even continue this on an "as-they-come" basis.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Adam and all for your insightful and useful comments, especially re: plot points v. goal and story arc, and focusing on what the story's about rather than the plot.

Thanks again.

CourtneyC said...

Adam, your points about taking a list of actions and turning it into a character arc were query letter advice ever! I'm a new fan!