Showing posts with label literary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literary. Show all posts

First Impact: TALIHINA GRACE by Randal J. Brewer

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have a query letter for a commercial literary novel. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

I wasn't sure if these were part of the
query, or here just for me. If the
former, write it in paragraph form and
round the words to the nearest 1,000.
Talihina Grace - The hard place no one plans for and the person that meets us there.
93,451 words/complete
Commercial literary fiction

Make sure line breaks between the
paragraphs make it into your e-mail.
After Yola Hernandez kills her abusive boyfriend in a sudden rage and flees in a panic, she finds herself stranded in a small Eastern Oklahoma town with nothing but a new name and a young daughter. It’s a temporary stop; just a place to hide and save a little money before moving on; not a good place to become connected to the people, and not a good place to fall in love.

You should mention the name of the
town in para 1. It's not clear this is
the same town Yola's in.
Vivian Greene has moved from the city into her grandmother’s mountain home and opens a café in Talihina. Her pending divorce feels like freedom to her, but has placed her teenage daughter in the same unhappy situation Vivian once lived through.
Cale Williams has tried to fill the void left by his wife's death by working, raising twin boys, and pastoring a small church, but the arrival of two new women in Talihina has thrown off his careful balance. He is attracted to Vivian, but conflicted by his position as her pastor and the proper counsel he should be giving her. He is equally conflicted, perhaps even tormented by the visions he has of the beautiful and secretive waitress at Vivian’s café whom the folks of Talihina know as Teresa.

See here for why I cut this. And you
can talk about future novels if/when
the agent considers representation.
I have no writing credits or education to offer other than a time as a sports editor for small local newspapers. I am self-taught, and Talihina Grace is my debut effort. I am very proud of the result, and the sequel (Talihina Hope?) is underway. I plan to make these the first of many future novels.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this letter and for your your time and consideration,
Randal J. Brewer

Adam's Thoughts
The meat of the query, the story, is not bad at all. It shows me you can write, and it sounds interesting.

I want a little more though. Maybe connect the three characters sooner (for example, you could tell us Yola is working at Vivian's cafe in Yola's paragraph, maybe). And I really want a sense of the plot. This is a good setup, and I would read the sample pages, but I still don't know what happens. What compelling choice do these characters need to make?

Writing a query highlighting three different characters can be difficult. So another thing you might consider is sticking to a single point of view and focusing on fewer characters.

Lastly, in your submission you said that TALIHINA GRACE has already been self-published. This is something you need to mention in the query. Rachelle Gardner wrote a post on this topic that you definitely should read. I don't know whether it will hurt your chances (probably depends on the agent), but if you don't tell them up front, your chances will still be the same and the agent might be upset you didn't tell them. No need to risk that.

What do the rest of you guys think, about the query in particular?

Books I Read: Les Miserables

Title: Les Miserables
Author: Victor Hugo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 1862
My Content Rating: PG cuz people die

Jean Valjean is an escaped convict, recaptured in a small French village for stealing from a bishop. But when the bishop vouches for him, even gives him more than he stole, Valjean devotes his life to helping others. His sins catch up with him, however, when a relentless police inspector named Javert comes looking for him.

No, I am not going to summarize everything. This is a big, freaking book!

Besides, Jean Valjean's story is the one I really love. But it took me four months to read this book, because of the loooong descriptions of Waterloo, the history of convents and Parisian sewers, the social development of French street urchins, etc, etc (etc).

Not that these descriptions were bad or even boring. It's being forced to study 50 pages of history -- even interesting history -- before being allowed to get back to the plot. If you love France or history or 45-page diversions about criminal argot, then you definitely should read this.

You should probably read it anyway, but enter with patience. If I had to read this in high school (as a lot of my friends did), I would have hated it forever. I'm glad I read it now, though. It was worth it.

Books I Read: Favorites of 2010

I know it's a bit late, but here are some of my favorite books I read last year. A few I've talked about before. Those have just a brief summary and a link to my original post on the topic, but there are a couple here outside my regular genre(s) that I wanted to point out.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mark Haddon, 2003, Mystery/Literary
An autistic teenager investigates the death of the neighbor's dog and ends up learning secrets about his parents he was never meant to know. Read more...

Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner
F.X. Toole, 2000, Short Stories
A collection of stories drawn from the author's experiences in the world of boxing. Now I don't like boxing, and I don't normally like short stories, but I really enjoyed this book. The trainers and fighters in this book are smart, showing that boxing isn't just about hitting the other guy until one of you drops. It's about strategy, timing, knowing where and when to do the most damage. As Toole put it, "Boxing is like chess with pain."

Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, 2008, YA Science Fiction
Do I really need to talk about this book more? It's awesome. Worth all the hype (the two sequels are pretty good too). Read more...

Mistborn trilogy
Brandon Sanderson, 2006-8, Fantasy
In a world where the nobility exhibit super powers just by ingesting metal, a small band of thieves sets out to do the impossible: start a revolution among the commoners, and overthrow the immortal tyrant known as the Lord Ruler. Read more...

Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment
Ella deCastro Baron, 2009, Memoir
A collection of stories, poems, and essays that serve as an ironic resume of experiences one wouldn't normally tell a potential employer. Ella is a first generation Filipina American who writes about her struggles with faith, prejudice, eczema, death, miracles, and more. I'm biased, as Ella is a good friend of mine, but there is a lot here to make you laugh and to make you think. I was most moved by the story of her friend Emilia who died of cancer, and Ella's struggle to trust a God that didn't answer our (because I was there too) repeated prayers for her to be healed.

 So tell me, what were your favorite reads of 2010?

Books I Read: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Genre: Mystery (sort of...more like literary)
Published: 2003
Content Rating: R for language

Chris Boone is an autistic 15-year-old living with his working class father. When the neighbor's dog is killed, Chris decides to find out who is responsible. In the process, he learns things about his parents he was never supposed to know.

I'm not normally a literary kind of guy (you may recall the literary genre loses points with me),* but I loved this book. I read it in like 5 days which is some kind of record. I loved the mystery, even though the book's not really about who killed the dog. I love the methodical, logical way Chris went about it.

For that matter, I love the methodical, logical way Chris thinks period. He has a near-perfect memory and likes order. If he sees 4 red cars in a row on the way to school, it's a Good Day. He can explain the Monty Hall problem with complex combinatorics and a diagram that's simple to understand. He reasons that if there are aliens, they would be totally different from us and might use something like rainclouds as a spaceship. Almost every other chapter is an exploration into one of these (mostly very interesting) digressions.

And craftwise, this book is genius. It does nothing normal. The chapters are prime numbers. Every few pages has some unimportant diagram (though it's important to Chris).

And not a single description is given of the other characters feelings. Chris doesn't understand tone of voice or body language--he doesn't even look at people's faces. He simply records what people say, word for word. And yet we are given enough context, and the occasional telling gesture, to feel what the other characters are feeling.

As a writer, I'm in awe.

* Then again I loved Life of Pi, so maybe I'm kidding myself?