The Saturday Slash

Axe2 clip artMeet my Hatchet of Death. This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot me an email.

The first line of a query is your hook, and it really needs to work. You want it to punch your reader in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you’re looking for query advice, but are intimidated by my blade, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey – the query. My comments appear in blue.

As the daughter of a doomsday prepper, Mara has always been raised to prepare for the end of the world. Brought up with a basement full of canned goods and an exit strategy, Mara has retreated into herself, friendless and anxiety-ridden. She is in the midst of planning her escape from her family when tragedy strikes and her father is killed in an accident. I feel like there’s the smallest bit of disconnect b/w her anxiety, and retreat into self and a plan to escape from her family. Wouldn’t the anxiety be worse if she were out in the world on her own? Maybe some more about what is the inciting incident that drives her to make the decision to leave her family would help explain this.

Clinging to her remaining parent, Mara agrees to one of her mother’s crazy plans–to move to a luxury survivalist condo, 100 feet below ground. So, they’re rich? While Mara only promises a month’s trial, she is surprised to find a place to belong there. Welcomed by a religious youth group and a close new friend, Mara acclimates to her surroundings, but still feels the pull of the real world above ground. In what way? Again, I feel like the idea of this girl who has lived such an alienated life doesn’t parse with a pull from above. What about the real world calls to her? After a terror attack, the leaders of the bunker prepare to seal off permanently from society–Mara continues to contend reads awkward with her anxiety while trying to figure out how to get outsame comment But there are secrets lurking above the surface that threaten her family and everyone else underground. I think we need to know more about what those secrets are, and how an isolated Mara would become aware of them. This last line might be too much of a tease.

With the complicated questions of faith and fabulism of A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS and the survivalist family dynamics of EDUCATED, GIRL UNDERGROUND is a 67,000 word contemporary YA novel that explores faith, mental illness, American extremism, and the need for belonging with a touch of magical realism. See, I never would have guessed there was any magical realism involved at all. How does it fit in?  Mara’s journey will resonate with readers looking for an unconventional heroine and a setting they may have never seen before (unless they read this article:https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich).

I am currently the head librarian at an independent school in northern New Jersey and a former intern for the Bent Agency. I belong to and am an active member of a large network of independent school librarians who I see as an ideal marketing opportunity for this book. My writing on my personal experiences with mental illness has been published on The Toast and School Library Journal, and other work on parenting has appeared on LitHub and the Washington Post. I look forward to sending you the manuscript upon request. Absolutely dead bang-on bio. Nice.

I think your story sounds great and that Mara sounds like a fabulous character, but some of the bridges need to be built in the query yet, such as why she wants to leave her family and what is drawing her to the real world. Also – is she attending school and leading a somewhat normal life in the midst of prepping? Or is she entirely hermiting with the family? Knowing this might help answer my first question. Also, I wouldn’t have guessed that the family was super rich, until I got to the line indicating that. It might be good to allude to sooner.

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