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Author Topic: Contemporary MG Query  (Read 244 times)
weestro
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« on: October 12, 2017, 07:47:54 AM »

After thirteen-year-old Nita Simmons bombs a piece for her middle school newspaper, the story is retracted and Nita becomes the source of a running “Fake News” gag at school. She can deal with the jerks at school, but now she’s in jeopardy of losing her coveted membership to the Junior Journalists Club. The principal is warning Nita to be more careful with her words, so when Nita's elderly neighbor—who also happens to be the town's most notorious criminal—decides he wants her to tell his life story, she’s not exactly feeling up to the task.

Everyone in Crawford knows Mr. Earl Melvin spent nearly twenty years in prison for a terrible crime. But to hear him tell it, they got it all wrong. Reluctantly, Nita agrees to read her neighbor’s memoirs—as he calls his pile of notebooks. What she reads is stunning, and soon her journalistic mind is clicking, even as her confidence is at an all-time low. Nita knows she can't do the story, but no one said she couldn't do some research or conduct a couple of interviews.
 
Nita finds that her neighbor's apartment holds a vault of knowledge, his cooking delicious, and his guitar playing magical. The more she gets to know the man on the other side of her wall, the more she believes in him, and the more she believes in him, the more stunning she finds it that an innocent person could spent nearly seventeen years in prison. So when Mr. Melvin offers up one last piece to his puzzle, Nita has to find the strength to get past her retraction, the courage to overcome her fears of failure, and the words to get Mr. Melvin’s story right once and for all.

Complete at 43K, THE MELVIN MEMOIRS is a middle grade story of facing fears old and new.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2017, 10:48:08 AM by weestro » Logged
Drachen
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2017, 03:11:47 PM »

Queries are written in the past tense even if the story is in present tense.

After thirteen-year-old Nita Simmons bombs a piece for her middle school newspaper I had to read this a few times. I thought she'd bombed something to have a story to cover. I got it on the 3rd read, but it still doesn't really work. Can you say specifically what her mistake was? That would be a significant improvement., the story is retracted and Nita becomes the source of a running “Fake News” gag at school. She can deal with the jerks at school, but now she’s in jeopardy of losing her coveted membership to the Junior Journalists Club. The principal is warning Nita to be more careful with her words, so when Nita's elderly neighbor—who also happens to be the town's most notorious criminal—decides he wants her to tell his life story, she’s not exactly feeling up to the task.

Everyone in Crawford knows Mr. Earl Melvin spent nearly twenty years in prison for a terrible crime. Again, be specific. Generalities won't sell agents on your ideas. But to hear him tell it, they got it all wrong. Reluctantly, Nita agrees to read her neighbor’s memoirs—as he calls his pile of notebooks. What she reads is stunning, and soon her journalistic mind is clicking, even as her confidence is at an all-time low. Nita knows she can't do the story, but no one said she couldn't do some research or conduct a couple of interviews. You're leaving a lot out. There's a lot of filler, but no specifics.
 
Nita finds that her neighbor's apartment holds a vault of knowledge, his cooking delicious Grammar, and his guitar playing magical. Grammar again. The more she gets to know the man on the other side of her wall, the more she believes in him, and the more she believes in him, the more stunning she finds it that an innocent person could spent nearly seventeen years in prison. Really? I mean... really? This is America, right? Innocent prisoners are executed every year, possibly every month. Everyone knows they're innocent. There's PROOF they're innocent. Is she really that naive? So when Mr. Melvin offers up one last piece to his puzzle, Nita has to find the strength to get past her retraction, the courage to overcome her fears of failure, and the words to get Mr. Melvin’s story right once and for all.

Complete at 43K, THE MELVIN MEMOIRS is a middle grade story of facing fears old and new.


There are a lot of cliches and filler sentences in here that don't do much to advance the plot. In the end, I don't really get what the story is about. If this query is taken literally, the plot is about a girl doing research for a story because she screwed up another story. There's no conflict, no stakes, no obstacles to overcome. You can't seriously intend to ride her past failure as the only obstacle to her success for an entire novel, can you?

As I said in the LBL, there are a lot of instances where specifics would help. There's also a lot of repetition and unnecessary information in there which you could cut to make room for those specifics and a bit more indication of the plot.
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Munley
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« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2017, 06:34:26 PM »

It didn't sound to me that she's so naive she has no clue that innocent people ever land in jail and even get executed, but more like her being  so struck by the experience of getting to know someone that happened to, that she feels more compelled to tell his story.  If that's what you meant, maybe you could make that clearer.

I think you have a really interesting situation here, but maybe the query should spend less space on what's going on at school and focus more on her and Earl, with much more specific detail. It's hard to understand what she finds so stunning in his notebooks with no idea what she read.

Sample revision:

After Nita Simmons bombs a piece for her middle school newspaper by getting some facts all wrong, she becomes a laughingstock at school and struggles to hang on to her coveted membership to the Junior Journalists Club. But a chance to redeem herself comes when Earl Melvin, her elderly neighbor and the town's most notorious criminal, asks her to write his true story. He claims that the eighteen years he spent in prison were due to being wrongly convicted.

Nita agrees to read Earl’s pile of notebooks.What she reads is stunning, and soon her journalistic mind is clicking, even as her confidence is at an all-time low. Nita knows she can't do the story, but no one said she couldn't do some research or conduct a couple of interviews.
 
Nita finds that her neighbor's apartment holds a vault of knowledge, his cooking delicious, and his guitar playing magical.
[Replace the crossed out stuff with some specifics about the crime and maybe why it couldn't have been Earl who committed it.]

The more she gets to know the man on the other side of her wall, the more she believes in him, and the more she believes in him, the more stunning she finds it that an innocent person could spent nearly seventeen years in prison. So when Mr. Melvin offers up one last piece to his puzzle, Nita has to find the strength to get past her retraction, the courage to overcome her fears of failure, and the words to get Mr. Melvin’s story right once and for all.




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weestro
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« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2017, 08:47:09 AM »

Drachen, Munley, thank you so much for your time and suggestions. Maybe I'm getting on the right track here?

After Nita Simmons flubs a piece for her middle school newspaper, she becomes a laughingstock at school and risks losing her coveted membership to the Junior Journalists Club. All she’s ever wanted to do was be a journalist, but she’s about to quit the paper and take up quilting when Earl Melvin, her elderly neighbor and the town's most notorious criminal, offers Nita his story—a pile of scrawl he refers to as his memoirs.   

What she finds is not violence but a tale of secret love and heartbreak in the Virginia back roads. Nita, still reeling from her retraction, is astonished that no one’s ever questioned such injustice in her own town. Sensing both his redemption and her own, she talks her editor (and favorite teacher) into giving her another shot and convinces herself that she has the guts to take on such a story. Then she digs into the research, getting to know her neighbor along the way. She learns how Earl Melvin was nearly lynched before his arrest and then interrogated for over thirty hours before confessing to raping a white coworker. Nita interviews the prosecutor’s son, who recalls the lingering Jim Crow laws of the sixties and the trial that stuck with his father. How Earl Melvin’s own victim professed her love for him at sentencing.

The story goes viral. The local news comes calling and the interviews roll in. It’s Nita’s dream come true. Only it doesn’t feel that way. She’s been too involved with her story to notice that her friend is coughing harder and moving slower, how his tall frame has withered before her eyes. It isn't until he's in the hospital that Nita realizes she has one last interview to conduct, off the record. And it might just be the hardest of all.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2017, 01:13:22 PM by weestro » Logged
jcwrites
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2017, 09:28:22 AM »


Queries are written in the past tense even if the story is in present tense.


Huh?
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keirarose
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« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2017, 01:27:32 PM »

I think this is much better with the few  changes I have suggested.

After Nita Simmons flubs a piece for her middle school newspaper, she becomes a laughingstock at school and risks losing her coveted membership to the Junior Journalists Club. All she’s ever wanted to do was to be a journalist, but she’s about to quit the paper and take up quilting when Earl Melvin, her elderly neighbor and the town's most notorious criminal, offers Nita his story—a pile of scrawl he refers to as his memoirs.   

What she finds is not violence but a tale of secret love and heartbreak in the Virginia back roads. Nita, still reeling from her retractionI would use a different word here, like maybe "failure", is astonished that no one’s ever questioned such injustice in her own town. Sensing both his redemption and her own, she talks her editor (and favorite teacher) into giving her another shot and convinces herself that she has the guts to take on such a story. Then she digs into the research, getting to know her neighbor along the way. She learns how Earl Melvin was nearly lynched before his arrest and then interrogated for over thirty hours before confessing to raping a white coworker. Nita interviews the prosecutor’s son, who recalls the lingering Jim Crow laws of the sixties and the how thistrial that stuck with his father. HowEven Earl Melvin’s own victim professed her love for him at sentencing.

The story goes viral. The local news comes calling and the interviews roll in. It’s Nita’s dream come true. Only it doesn’t feel that way. She’s been too involved with her story to notice that her friend is coughing harder and moving slower, how his tall frame has withered before her eyes. It isn't until he's in the hospital that Nita realizes she has one last interview to conduct, off the record. And it might just be the hardest of all.

« Last Edit: October 13, 2017, 01:29:28 PM by keirarose » Logged

When you believe, it will come!
deutschlandchick
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« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2017, 07:46:48 PM »

it's so hard to write a query letter! man! I feel your pain! mine are never up to snuff...here are my thoughts on yours...

while I like the concept, I think it needs to be way tighter...more focused...to the point...I know, I know...you say: whaaa?! I truly feel your pain! love and peace!
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Munley
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« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2017, 08:14:33 PM »

I think your latest version with K's edits is much more focused and interesting with the specific details you have added. Nice revision.
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Curious Author
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« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2017, 11:02:10 PM »


Queries are written in the past tense even if the story is in present tense.


Huh?

Queries can be written in present tense. In fact, both of mine have been written in present. Most samples that I've seen use present, too.
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mgmystery
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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2017, 07:46:55 AM »

It's my understanding that queries should always be in present tense.

I like the premise here. It's really great for coming of age MG. The big worry for me is there seems to be no push back from the adults in Nita's life. It's reality that people are convicted for crimes they didn't commit, but I always find it shocking, and I think it would be even more so with a crime you were personally familiar with. More important than his possible innocence for a kid is the fact that the (small?) town has tried and convicted him in their minds. I think parents and mentors trying to keep her away would be an important conflict.
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Munley
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2017, 08:21:18 AM »

It's my understanding that queries should always be in present tense.

I like the premise here. It's really great for coming of age MG. The big worry for me is there seems to be no push back from the adults in Nita's life. It's reality that people are convicted for crimes they didn't commit, but I always find it shocking, and I think it would be even more so with a crime you were personally familiar with. More important than his possible innocence for a kid is the fact that the (small?) town has tried and convicted him in their minds. I think parents and mentors trying to keep her away would be an important conflict.

This crossed my mind too. In your first query version, is sounds like Nita does more than just talk to him over the porch railing, that she goes into his house. Seems to me that her parents would object to that, or even her talking to him on the porch when they are not present.

You can probably get around this somehow, but it has to sound feasible.
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