Author Topic: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query  (Read 309 times)

Offline Nicholas_Sheppard

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VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« on: November 28, 2021, 05:06:32 AM »
Hello everyone.
This manuscript is a third of the way written, with the rest mapped out, and I want to start crafting the query early. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Dear,

Variations on a Theme is an 80,000 word work of literary historical fiction.



Danny O’Neal is an English Professor in his early sixties, whose students would be astonished if they knew the kind of life he’d led at their age.

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy on the make.

Decades later, a respectable academic, he is tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, one undergraduate, then several more, begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys. Danny, who dislikes such revisionist attacks on the lives of historical figures, and believes it is important to separate the art from the artist, is cagey about this new mindset.

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. As the scope, and disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Danny begins to reassess his cavalier attitude toward his past. Soon, he is preoccupied with re-writing key scenes of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his assumptions, that he was never harmed, that he had agency, and that it was ‘a different time.’ Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past.

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Jon Banville’s Ancient Light, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. I am a previously published novelist.

Offline susan-louise

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2021, 01:17:13 PM »
Hello everyone.
This manuscript is a third of the way written, with the rest mapped out, and I want to start crafting the query early. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Hi there. I really like the way you incorporate Wilde's backstory into Danny's journey.  However,  as you are a published novelist (congratulations!) used to querying, I'm wondering if you see the same problem that hit me ?   This  smacks of a synopsis, rather hooking me with tension, making me wonder what will happen next.  There's too much telling and not enough tantalising, giving a taste but not the entire banquet.  It was only towards the end of the query that I glimpsed the plot which is probably a red flag. Perhaps this is because although you have mapped out the entire novel, you’re still writing it?   Much as I adore anything connected with 19th C lit, you're not drawing me in.  Sorry.  The first sentence needs to be as taut and seductive as possible to make me (and more important, an agent) read on.   For what it's worth, paragraph 4 was the strongest part of the query (as I suggest below). So here are some areas that may benefit from further thinking.  Hope it all helps and good luck! 

Dear,

Variations on a Theme is an 80,000 word work of literary historical fiction.  (I'd be inclined to move this info to the end of the query, where you have the comps and bio)

Danny O’Neal is an English Professor in his early sixties, whose students would be astonished if they knew the kind of life he’d led at their age.   (This has the potential to draw me in, but doesn't.)

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy on the make.   (This query can't accommodate backstory...that's for the synopsis)

Decades later, a respectable academic, he is tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, undergraduate, then several more, the students all begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys.  (He sounds like a chronically insecure academic but I'm not feeling anything for him as a character) Danny, who dislikes such revisionist attacks on the lives of historical figures, and believes it is important to separate the art from the artist, and is cagey about this new mindset.   (I get his obsession with Wilde, but have no sense where this is going.  He is an academic highly protective of his research thesis..why is he "cagey" about this new mindset?  Or do you mean hostile towards?  Sceptical of??  )

The next para seemed to follow an entirely diff story - so it disconcerted me.  We have a scandal in which he was involved as a youth.  That said, it's more interesting than his egocentric pique with the students.  Perhaps you can do more with this, even open the query with it, while setting the context for his academic insecurity?

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. As the scope, and disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Danny begins to reassess his cavalier attitude toward his past. (Despite the overly long sentence, you finally arouse my curiosity - but what is this "cavalier attitude"?  At this point, I'm still not identifying with  Danny's character or his past.)Soon, he is preoccupied with re-writing key scenes of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his assumptions, that he was never harmed, that he had agency, and that it was ‘a different time.’ ( We have a laundry list of things going on here which does little to advance the query.) Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past.[/color]  At last, as a reader, I sense the thrust of the novel but the general challenge you articulate isn't compelling.  Yet I can see something intriguing with the blurring of lines between the life W lived and Danny's.   I feel sure there's something amazing here that you just have to tweak and coax out into the open,

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Jon Banville’s Ancient Light, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. (comp titles in Italics) I am a previously published novelist
« Last Edit: November 28, 2021, 02:46:49 PM by susan-louise »

Offline Merry

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2021, 06:10:38 PM »
Danny O’Neal is an English Professor in his early sixties, whose students would be astonished if they knew the kind of life he’d led at their age. I think this would be more attention-grabbing if you gave a hint of what kind of life he actually did leave. As is, this doesn't really tell us much.

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy on the make. I agree with susan-louise about this paragraph. It is probably enough to nod to this in one brief sentence.

Decades later, a respectable academic, he is tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, one undergraduate, then several more, begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys. Danny, who dislikes such revisionist attacks on the lives of historical figures, and believes it is important to separate the art from the artist, is cagey about this new mindset.

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. As the scope, and disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Possibly a dumb question, but what does "tutorials" mean in this context? Danny begins to reassess his cavalier attitude toward his past. Soon, he is preoccupied with re-writing key scenes of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his assumptions, that he was never harmed, that he had agency, and that it was ‘a different time.’ Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past. I agree with susan-louise again here on all counts. The end of this last paragraph is where I start to feel like I have a grasp on what the story's about, and where it starts to feel more compelling.

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Jon Banville’s Ancient Light, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. I am a previously published novelist.

Offline rivergirl

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2021, 09:48:35 PM »
Dear,

Variations on a Theme is an 80,000 word work of literary historical fiction.



Danny O’Neal is an English Professor in his early sixties, whose students would be astonished if they knew the kind of life he’d led at their age.

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy (I don't know what this is. :emb: If this is a British expression, you might pick another word so its not lost on your American agents) on the make.

Decades later, a respectable academic, he is this present tense bothers me. How would you feel about getting rid of the "Is". Decades later, Danny finds himself a respectable academic on the verge of publishing.... tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, one undergraduate, then several more, begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys. Danny, who dislikes such revisionist attacks on the lives of historical figures, and believes it is important to separate the art from the artist, is cagey about this new mindset. This last sentence feels weak to me. You've essentially told us he has a difference of opinion with his students when the reader is looking for real conflict

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. I feel an awesome hook in here somewhere instead of the vague one above As the scope, and disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Danny begins to reassess his cavalier attitude toward his past. Soon, he is preoccupied with re-writing key scenes of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his assumptions, that he was never harmed, that he had agency, and that it was ‘a different time.’ Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past. interesting and unique premise

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Jon Banville’s Ancient Light, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. I am a previously published novelist. name your book and its successes

Offline Nicholas_Sheppard

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2021, 05:49:40 PM »
Thanks to all three of you for your insightful comments. I've made adjustments, feeling it still needs a bit of backstory / context, and given it hopefully some warmth and brevity.


The students in Danny O’Neal’s English lectures would be astonished if they knew the kind of life their professor had led at their age.

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy on the make.

Now a respectable academic at King’s College London, Danny is adored by his students for his wit and breezy attitude to essay deadlines. He is tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, several undergraduates begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys. Danny does his best to preside over these spirited discussions, wary of such revisionist takedowns of historical figures, and believing, in the words of Wilde, that ‘the one charm of the past is that it is the past.’

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. As the disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Danny is soon preoccupied with re-writing key chapters of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his cavalier assumptions, that he was never harmed, and that it was ‘a different time.’ Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past.

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Fallout, by Sadie Jones, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. My debut novel, Broken Play, was published by Eunoia Press in 2018.

Offline susan-louise

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2021, 11:31:28 PM »
Thanks to all three of you for your insightful comments. I've made adjustments, feeling it still needs a bit of backstory / context, and given it hopefully some warmth and brevity.

Hi Nicholas,  the opening sentence is so much better!  But I'm sorry, the query still isn't drawing me in, and I want it to because I love anything connected to 19th C lit.  For me (the reader) the real hook of your interesting novel lies in the final para.  Perhaps tightening para 2 (and culling some of the student details) while highlighting the compelling challenge Danny faces in para 4 (reconciling past with present) might make it more engaging. 


The students in Danny O’Neal’s English lectures would be astonished if they knew the kind of life their professor had led at their age.

Growing up in the English Midlands in the 1970s, Danny quickly became aware of the effect his androgynous looks had on those around him: from young girls in high-rise shorts, to quiet labouring men. Danny made his way to London, drifting between trysts, a rentboy on the make.

Now a respectable academic at King’s College London, Danny is adored by his students for his wit and breezy attitude to essay deadlines. He is tutoring a paper on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the topic of a book he is soon to have published. To his chagrin, several undergraduates begin to criticise Wilde as ‘problematic,’ and an abuser due to his encounters with teen boys. Danny does his best to preside over these spirited discussions, wary of such revisionist takedowns of historical figures, and believing, in the words of Wilde, that ‘the one charm of the past is that it is the past.’   (I can vividly see this as a reader, but it's overloading the query with detail)

At the same time, he begins following news coverage of a historical scandal involving a ring of British politicians, a scene he was briefly involved in during his promiscuous youth. As the disturbing truth of the investigation becomes clear, and troubled by the views expressed in his tutorials, Danny is soon preoccupied (obsessed might be stronger?) with re-writing key chapters of his biography of Oscar Wilde, and reliving scenes from his youth, wrestling with his cavalier assumptions, that he was never harmed, and that it was ‘a different time.’  This is a very long sentence!). Unsure how to frame his literary hero, and realising his recollections may be of use to the investigation, Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past.   (As a reader, I want a glimpse of what is truly at stake. I'm guessing his literary integrity?  I'm sure it's all so much more gripping/dramatic in the novel, which is what you have to convey to the query, in my opinion.

Variations on a Theme may appeal to readers of Fallout, by Sadie Jones, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. My debut novel, Broken Play, was published by Eunoia Press in 2018.  (Titles in italics)
« Last Edit: December 05, 2021, 12:04:37 AM by susan-louise »

Offline godisjealous

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Re: VARIATIONS ON A THEME - Query
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2021, 08:09:15 AM »
Hi Nicholas. I really enjoyed the first few pages of the AI Abe Lincoln story. You're a good writer. But I don't understand why you keep writing these massive queries. Keep context and backstory to one sentence at most. Seriously. Please resist the urge because you are writing a synopsis, literally. When you write a query, you should connect two points with a straight line. Aim for a 250-word query or less. Brevity is the soul of wit. Because your query loses my attention. Consider scrapping everything and starting over with your paradoxical theme that has great potential: "Danny must finally decide how to balance the present and the past." Perhaps begin the query with it?

Best of luck.