Friday, February 10, 2012

QUERY-palooza: Day Five

I used to choose the winner of today's query critique. Here it is:

Dear Agent,

I read on your blog that you’re actively looking for historical fiction and books with a sweeping, saga-length scope, and I hope you will consider YOU CANNOT KILL A SWAN, a historical saga set during the Russian Civil War and early 1920s Manhattan. Good start!

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice. By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother. But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a cousin, and a band of friends, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America. Why was she left behind to fend for herself? When you say her cousin is her soul mate, do you mean they are romantically involved? That’s the impression I get. Does that mean Ivan is her baby’s father? The only thing missing in this paragraph (besides considering my previous questions) is Lyuba’s personality and emotions. The story set up is excellent, but who is Lyuba and why should I care if she escapes? How does she feel about being left behind? What is her agenda beyond survival (if anything.)? What is she willing to do to survive/get what she wants? If you give me a little bit of her emotional state of mind and what makes her tick, a reader can relate to her and start championing her story.

As Lyuba runs for her life from during (Need to delete from or during) the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born. The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal. Ok, you answered my questions about Ivan. Is he her first cousin? Forgive my ignorance here, but was it common in Russia during this time period to be swoony with one’s cousin? If so, rock on. If not, consider second cousin and state that here to overcome any immediate “eek!” response from readers.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller. Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest. And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after. Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting? Wait a minute. She is traumatized and scarred in a way that keeps them from being man and wife? That goes beyond the being abandoned by mom and aunt that you’ve told us about. This is good stuff and will help your reader identify with Lyuba. This goes in your first paragraph about her. How did she become an unwed mother? What did that do to her?

I have a BA in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with a focus on 20th century Russian history.

I would be happy to provide a synopsis, a partial, or the complete manuscript. (You don't need to say this as it's a given.) Attached please find the first chapter. You may reach me at [phone number] or You need to give the word count. Most writers give the word count with the title. If you're uncertain whether your word count falls in acceptable parameters for your genre, Google it and proceed accordingly. Too long or too short can hamper your ability to get requests. 

 Great job! Just a little work uncovering the heart of Lyuba and you’ll have a stellar query to send. Best of luck to you!

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Carrie-Anne Brownian

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  1. Ivan isn't her cousin at all. Her younger cousin is one of the members of their band. She and her cousin are left behind because her mother (whom she doesn't have the closest relationship with) decided to immigrate first with the aunt, and the others would later join then or be sent for, as was common when families immigrated.

    Lyuba gets trapped in a relationship with Ivan's best friend Boris, whom her mother has always preferred, after intending only to create a charade to make Ivan jealous and apologize for dancing with a shallow woman she can't stand. Boris later turns abusive and gets her pregnant after getting her drunk. He abandons her to go to America before she goes into labor, and later comes back twice. Ivan has raised her daughter as his since the night she was born, and won't hear of giving her up to Boris, who claims he's repented. Neither man will go down without a fight.

    1. Lol. Well, that clears up the cousin thing! I think you might be well served to rework that sentence in case an agent makes the same mistake and thinks "a cousin" modifies Ivan. Love the sweeping saga feel to this story!

  2. I thought Ivan was the cousin as well. :)

    One other suggestion - I THINK you want emigrate instead of immigrate. I think emigrate is going to another, & immigrate is coming in from another country.

    Good luck with it - sounds like you've got a good story on your hands :)

  3. I agree with C.J. I wanted to have a personality detail that made me want to root for your MC from the get go. Your story sounds like it has some very intriguing layers.


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