First Impact: TALIHINA GRACE by Randal J. Brewer

— December 19, 2012 (10 comments)
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?

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  1. Your intro says first page, but this is a query, right?

  2. All right. So now that I've read it, it's clearly a query.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't really work for me. I mean, I do agree with Adam, there's some great writing here, but the structure of the query is trying to cover too much, and I end up lost and confused.

    I had to read it twice to figure out Teresa was also Yola, but Adam's correct it would help if you mentioned her job in the first paragraph.

    In fact, I would suggest you focus this query only on Yola and her journey. The most important part of a query is to introduce a sympathetic character, so that the reader will care about their story as the conflict and all that is revealed.

    There's nothing wrong with multiple POVs in the book, and they're pretty common in literary stories of this kind, but mention it briefly in your housekeeping paragraph, after your word count, rather than filling up your query by describing the other POV characters so much.

  3. I was hoping to get to this before Matthew weighed in as he's pretty much an industry expert. Sigh. What he said.

  4. HAH! Michael!
    And yes, i agree with Matt and Adam. I do think 2 POV queries can work (i'm biased in this, though, in that i've done one and it was successful) but i don't know if you're quite there with this one.
    I really feel like all the importan info conveyed about Cale can still be shown through Yola's POV. And if you stick with only her POV in the query, then it'll be easy to clarify the conflict, choice and consequences, which i think are a bit muddled as it is now.

    But yes, like Adam said, it seems to me you have the skills to pull it off.

    Good luck!

  5. I agree with focusing on one character. I'd focus this on Yola, since her hook is the strongest (murder!), and then since she works for Vivian and knows Cale, it can all be tied together through her.

    But overall it seems like an interesting story!

  6. I agree with keeping 1 POV. 2 maybe, but there are 3 here. I don't think you need Vivian at all.

    I think this query would work with either of the other two. Nevertheless, I really liked the first paragraph about Yola, and I would suggest following with her POV. She did not mean to fall in love with a pastor, especially not the one that's dating(?) her boss.

    The conflict is great what's missing is the choice Yola needs to make.

  7. Okay, so I'm going to be the odd one out here and say that the very first line threw me off. You dive straight into Yola murdering her boyfriend. Abusive or not, a murder up front, when I have no emotional attachment to the character, doesn't generate any sort of sympathy.

    I agree you need to stick to one POV and simplify the information you are trying to get across as I found the query fairly convoluted and I had to read it a few times to make sure I understood what was happening. If I was an agent, anything I had to read more than once would be an automatic 'no'.

    If you stick with Yola as your POV (and I think she is the better choice because she has more secrets and intrigue) I would just allude to something in her past. The meat of your story is once she arrives at Talihina, not her history.

    I agree with Patchi regarding the conflict - it's all here, we just need the choices and stakes spelled out a little more clearly.

  8. Definitely need more plot and events. As it is, it could be a very good short story, so I'd like to know how the tension increases and what events bring about the choices.

  9. Agree with the above comments, and also would like to add: where is the fantasy? So far this sounds like a drama only, with no sense of the world being anything other than normal rural Oklahoma.

    Good luck!

  10. Oops! My bad. This isn't fantasy, but commercial literary fiction. Copy/paste error. Sorry :-(