#31 Query Corner – Life From The Opposite Side

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

LIFE FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE: FROM SOCCER MOM TO ADDICT AND HOME AGAIN is a memoir about a life torn apart, lost, then picking up the pieces.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Life From The Opposite Side sounds like a fascinating journey. But, that reads like a blurb — lots of trope phrases, few details. My suggestions:

  • For queries, plot matters.
  • Avoid high level descriptions-instead, be specific when detailing decision points.
  • Personally, if I don’t have a personal connection to the agent, I don’t try and stretch for one, or state the obvious (i.e. My genre is on your wish list) and just skip that portion. But some agents really do like it, so that part is up to your discretion.

Queryist’s Original:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna’s 15-year marriage crumbles in a single night (why?), she is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. When she meets Micah on a dating website, (don’t start 2 sentences in a row the same way) she becomes trapped in a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse. Will Glenna find the strength to get away before she loses everything she holds dear? (Very TV guide, little feel for the voice of the story)

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
Q31


My Revision:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband 
(cheating on her/discovers he’s gambled away their life savings/abusing her for the last time? Or is he the one who abandons her?), she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage, and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel wanted, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna begins to lose herself. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life, and that of her sons
 (or lose them to CPS? her ex? to drugs themselves??).

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q3
1


The queryist was pleased with my suggestions and after another round of revisions, here’s the final (for now at least) draft.

The Final Query:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband cheating with a younger woman, she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel loved again, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm, and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna loses her way and everything she holds dear. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life and the lives of her children.

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q31

It sounds like Queryist 31 has come a long way. Thanks to her for sharing her very personal story, of both her downfall and her growth. Best wishes in the query trenches!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

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Yes, You Can Be a Writer –Even Without A Visual Imagination

Not everyone has a visual imagination.

Apparently, there are many of you out there who can ‘see’ the story in your heads like you’re watching a movie.

Not me.

I know I’ve addressed this before, but until I started writing and talking to other writers, I’d always thought that was figurative. Not literally what was happening in other people’s heads.

I think my imagination is more story-board, sketches, and background plotting. Just like much of my writing is in my main character’s head, much of my imagination is… well… in these almost famous words

“I read and I know things.”

-(not quite) Hermoine Granger

It’s hard for me to describe my imagination to you visual people. I like to say that my imagination is more “conceptual.” Even in my dreams.

When dreaming (or novel plotting) I don’t SEE the color green, I just know that the wall is green. If a person in my dreams is walking out the door — I can know where they’re going and why and how they’re feeling… But, the figure is more of an outline sketch. Not quite a shadow.

I read ridiculously fast — some of it is probably skimming, but I spent several summers playing with a ‘learn to speed read’ kit my grandmother had. I read for the plot, I dive through dialogue.

If I hit dense description? It slows me waaaaaay down.

Game of Thrones, anything with complicated battle scenes, very lyrical and densely described worlds. My brain just doesn’t process those at the same rate.

Luckily for me, this doesn’t mean I can’t picture images in my head, but it takes a lot of focus. And I’m still not 100 percent sure it’s not me reading the image’s “legend” to know what color goes where. (All of this is probably a minor form of the condition: aphantasia.)


Today, I ran across a friendly blogger who took it as a matter-of-course that writers can visualize plots like movies. And I had to correct him, despite agreeing with the rest of his post.

He replied, accepting that not all writers were that visual. But, he went on to say that he was, because he plays D&D and writes fantasy.

Worn stop sign, in front of trees, a solid white wall half hiding a brick building.
Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

Uh. Hard stop there.

Oh, honey.

I create worlds and cultures and windswept plains. I build trade routes, and religions, and nations. And I play D&D every month.

Not having a visual imagination doesn’t keep my imagination grounded, by any means.


But, occasionally I need a crutch. When I need to describe a person or place, I’ll google image search until I find something that feels right for my world or my characters. I mean, isn’t that what Pinterest is for?


Do you have a visual imagination? Let me know!

If not, how does your imagination manifest itself for you?

Dealing With The Emotional Roller-Coaster of Being A Writer

Being a writer, especially one with internet access, can be a complete roller-coaster of emotions.

Of course, we knew before we begin dreaming of writing that book reviews could be the height of joy or the depths of crushing blows. But, it used to be that you’d only see the professional reviews and could ignore them if you wanted.

Nowadays, it would be better (and less distracting) if writers only knew what people thought of their writing when they had the energy and focus to go look, and prepare to improve their craft.

NOT distracting them from what they’re in the middle of.

NOT when they’ve had a rough day of writing and feel like maybe they should throw the towel in.

NOT when life is dragging them down, and the internet’s nasty review is ready to kick them when they’re already down.

But, when you’re a writer, there’s so many other things that can bring you up and crash you down.

In the past week? I’ve been all over the place. Often on the same day.

My most recent roller-coaster of emotions

UPS:

Last week? I entered an overnight flash fiction contest — and WON! Well, I won a free book and bragging rights, but it’s still something.

DOWNS:

Then I got home to find heavy feedback from my mentor.

When I reread the passage? I couldn’t believe I’d sent that to her. I’d remembered the passage having been edited and being dark — yes. But, a rather different flavor of dark.

I dragged my feet getting back to those edits.

BOTH:

The next day, a dear writer friend, with a story pitch that harkens to one of my favorite moves, announced that she’d been offered representation by an agent.

She’s worked hard, reworked her novel, and dealt with some setbacks. I was so proud and excited for her.

But?

I was also jealous and frustrated to be stuck in revisions. Again.

Writing Requires Resilience, Persistence, and
Perseverance

Resilience

the capacity to recover from set-backs. Like facing that scene and editing it into something I can be proud of and eager to show my mentor.

Like recognizing my jealousy and longing to be at the same stage as my friend whose most recent query netted her an agent. And accepting the fact that I want to make my novel better before I enter the query trenches again.

Persistence

firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty. I keep writing and putting my work out there.

For that flash-fiction contest? It’s usually posted on Fridays, and open for submissions on Saturdays, for 24 hours. So many times, I’ve created an entry, and then forgotten to post it. But, I still keep my eye on it, and still draft up entries on Fridays.

For my writing? After reading my writing and recoiling in horror, I let that settle in me for a bit. After a day or so, I cracked open that manuscript to see what I could do. And revised it, until I was something I was happy to share with my mentor.

But you know what? I think I can do better. I’m going to edit that chapter again.

And for querying friend? I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait to be in her shoes again. I know I’ll be ready to put myself back out there, when my time comes.

Perseverance

persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

My win? It took a bit to get there.

I tried to post from my phone, but it wouldn’t let me. I tried again hours later, and still nothing. I borrowed a friend’s ipad, logged into an incognito window, and finally managed to get my 100 word entry entered.

Several finalists were announced, and the judge asked for input. No one voted for mine. A couple people wanted me to explain in.

Despite the lack of votes and assurance, I found comfort in making it to the finals, and despite all odds? I WON!

As for my writing. I’m going to keep at it. Querying when I can, polishing the rest until it’s something no one can resist — and they start begging for more.

And for my writing friends? I’m going to be there to celebrate their wins, share their writing with the world, and lend an ear whenever stress or setbacks send them reeling.


What sort of emotional roller-coasters have you been on lately?

Do you ever worry you won’t be able to handle it, when your writing gets popular? 😉

Author Spotlight: Danielle Ackley-McPhail

  • an award-winning author, editor, and publisher with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry. Her passion is creating, whatever form that may take. Currently, it means she makes books, flavor- infused candied ginger, and costume horns.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle is an award-winning author and editor who has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, seven solo collections, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats.

Danielle, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Ooh…tough call. Something equine related…a unicorn or Pegasus or hippogriff…but not centaurs… people are not pets. I’ve always loved horses and mythology both so I can only imagine combining those two loves. I mean, cats are already magical and I have three of those, so time to branch out, right? For now, I content myself with turning real horses into fake unicorns with judicious use of polymer clay 😉

My first favorite animal was the unicorn. In fact, my mom still tells the story of my first time at the zoo, calling out for the “unis!” I’m not sure I knew what horses were.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I hear this a lot from other authors, but it is true for me as well. I started out with poetry. I think that is because at a early age our focus is suited to writing something short and moving and fun. It doesn’t feel so much like work. It isn’t always good, and it isn’t always easy, but we have the attention span for it.

As I grew up, though, I transitioned to short fiction. Partly that was due to English class, but also because I read so voraciously that my mind was never satisfied and so often when I ran out of book and didn’t have something else to read I would continue the story in my head (of course, writing myself in as I went.) It did wonders for my creativity and storytelling skills. Not so good for getting a good night’s sleep (mostly I did this when I went to bed at night.

The older I got the more fiction I wrote and less poetry, right up until I graduated from college.

Unfortunately, I had gotten so use to writing for assignments that I found without that incentive I wasn’t writing anymore. I tried having a friend give me assignments, but she was not a speculative reader. She tried…it didn’t go well, so instead I found a writers’ site online and hung out there. They did two themed contests every week and that was decent motivation. The prize was a free month of AOL. Eventually I became a volunteer (free AOL every month!) and that lead to me writing my first novel, Yesterday’s Dreams.

At first it was all teen angsty type stuff, but eventually transitioned into speculative fiction. Mostly fantasy, then, but now I write most speculative genres to one degree or another, from urban fantasy to military science fiction and most points in between.

I’ve definitely had my poetry phases, but I’m pretty sure I started off with fairy tales. And we all have those supportive friends who promise more than they can deliver. I’m so glad you found a home for your writing and that you’ve gotten to branch out, wherever your interests lead.

What do you like to read?

See above. LOL… I love anything with a speculative bend. After all, real life is all around me, why would I want to escape to there too? Give me new worlds to explore, or new dimensions.

Of course, I have to admit that my guilty pleasure is romance, speculative or otherwise. Now…this is definitely not meant as an insult, but mostly these are easy reads. If they are straight-up romance there aren’t even any tricky details to keep track of, just the journey to the happily ever after. Some of the paranormal romances, particularly by Sherrilyn Kenyon or Patricia Briggs, require you pay close attention, but your basic Harlequin of any assortment doesn’t. That means several things to me: I can relax and enjoy a good tale without having to think too hard; and I also won’t be confusing what I am reading with what I’m writing, if you know what I mean.

Sherrilyn Kenyon was my gateway drug into paranormal romances, but I’d argue Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series is more straight urban fantasy, with a strong romance (Anna, I’d categorize the other way). But yes, I definitely understand the appeal of a light book that’s a quick read.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

“Write every day.”

Sorry…I don’t roll that way. It would be great if I could, but there are
too many demands on me to let me fall away into my own worlds every day. I want to. There are times I need to, but it isn’t happening. Does that mean I’m not a “real” writer? Does it mean I’m not serious?

Heck no! I’m just busy!

I have a crazy number of books to my name for someone who doesn’t write every day. Not bragging, but they are there. I am up to six novels (you can find her published list here on Amazon) (Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn (co-written with Day Al-Mohamed)), five collections (A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Transcendence, Flash in the Can, and Eternal Wanderings (a novella turned collection)), and two non-fiction books (The Literary Handyman and The Ginger KICK! Cookbook). My stories and poetry also appear in about fifty or sixty anthologies. Of course, I’ve been at this professionally for over eighteen years.

Would I be more productive—and perhaps even more successful—if I did write every day? Very likely, presuming the muse cooperated all the time. But I have to accept that life just won’t let that happen, so I build my career slow and steady, like most other things!

You’re not the only one. I think most of us agree that life comes first, but writing is a big priority.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Everyone needs an editor!

I have been writing forever. I am a professional editor. I still make mistakes. I still have blind spots, there is no one who does not need at least one other set of eyes. See, what most people don’t take into account is that as the author, I know what I intended to write. And as far as I know, I did, because when I am reading over that story or novel my mind is filling in the gaps on the page. My understanding of the story inhibits my ability to notice what I forgot to say. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t find any of the mistakes—I’d be a piss-poor editor, if that was the case. But I can guarantee I won’t find all of them, and neither will any other author without someone else’s help.

Now as an editor I would say…follow the darn guidelines! There are standards out there for a reason. If the publisher doesn’t have guidelines posted, look for what is standard. The more difficult and annoying your submission is, the more inclined an editor is to put it down as not worth the time.

Regardless of how well written it is. And I’m not just talking about formatting here. I’m talking about basic details! Be professional. Include your contact information, title, pen/proper name, and word count at the top of every submission…even if you know the person you are submitting to!

It is not just about professionalism, it’s about respect and not giving an editor any reason to pass on your story. After all, at the very least it is pretty darn hard to pay you or even accept your story to begin with if we don’t know whose story it is or how to contact you!

It’s so true. So often, writers — especially starting out — focus too much on their art and aren’t as comfortable with the business side of things. Details matter!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

I have two things I would love everyone to know about right now.

The first is a new release. My first solo fiction release in at least five years, (remember the part about life and the muse cooperating…that). It is
called Eternal Wanderings, the novella-turned-collection I mentioned above.

This is a the start of a series related to my Eternal Cycle trilogy of novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Today’s Promise.

The original trilogy is urban fantasy based on Celtic mythology…basically Irish elves in New York City fighting evil demigods. Eternal Wanderings literally takes up where the last book left off. Kara O’Keefe—the protagonist from the original series—runs away with a Romani caravan. Well, not really runs away, but she does start traveling with them to fulfill a vow she made in the novels, and to continue her journey of self-discovery.

(Don’t worry, you don’t have to read the three novels to enjoy the novella! I make sure to recap the relevant details and the story stands well on its own.)

In the novella we follow a few tertiary threads that weren’t fully wrapped up in the novel and we also explore the culture and beliefs of the Romani people. A very difficult thing to do when trying to remain respectful and accurate, but necessary because of things set up in the novels (written well before concerns over cultural appropriation became as widespread as they are now.)

This novella is intended to be the first in a series of on-going tales. In fact, the subtitle is The Continuing Journeys of Kara O’Keefe. By the end of the tale she gains a new quest that will take her across the world and back again, a journey I cannot wait to make.


The second thing I’d like to mention—and here I should add, “Now for something completely different!”—my publishing house, eSpec Books, is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund three science fiction books. We have already met our base goal, so the first book, In Harm’s Way, is funded.

Project image for In Harm's Way - The Defending the Future Series

This is the eighth book in the award-winning Defending the Future military science fiction anthology series and all the stories are based on the theme of rescue and recovery. It contains stories by Brenda Cooper, Bud Sparhawk, David Sherman, Robert E. Waters, Jeff Young, James Chambers, Lisanne Norman, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher M. Hiles, Eric Hardenbrook, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Right now we just UNLOCKED the second book, Footprints in the Stars, a traditional science fiction collection with the theme of the discovery of evidence of other life in the universe and how those discoveries impact humanity. We aren’t talking first-contact (or even twelfth) this is about the first confirmation that we are not alone.

And can I tell you, our authors came up with some amazing approaches! This collection will contain stories by Jody Lynn Nye, James Chambers, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward, Judi Fleming, Russ Colchamiro, Vincent Collins, Bryan J. Glass, Gordon Linzner, Ian Randal Strock, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

I won’t tell you how far we are from unlocking the third book, Robert Water’s single-author collection, Devil Dancers, let’s just suffice it to say we need the help of every sci-fi fan we can get to make all these books happen. We have just under two weeks, and there are loads amazing bonuses and pledge rewards to be had!

Anyone interested can check it out here on Kickstarter!


To learn more about Danielle’s work, visit http://www.sidhenadaire.com!

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For her publishing company, check out ESpec Books or on facebook.

And for her craftiness: Horns and Ginger Candies

Make Endings Ring True – A Spoiler-Free Ode To Avengers: Endgame

Whether you’re writing a stand-alone novel, an 7 book/tv-season long show, or a 22 movies long franchise, you’ve got to get the ending right.

All the endings right.

Otherwise? Your readers or viewers will feel cheated.

So, every novel, episode, and season needs its own arc with a solid ending. But? The serieses that linger in people’s hearts and minds are often the ones in which the overarching themes and goals are wrapped up the right way in the last book.

Of course, that’s not saying you can’t set up a new story arc in that last book/episode/movie…

What type of ending you need depends on what sort of story you have, but you’re going to need at least 2 of these ingredients.

The 5 Ingredients Of A Satisfying Ending

Plot goals achieved

This is the easiest one to accomplish. You’ve set out to complete a mission, a goal, and you’ve achieved it.

We’re going to get that boy. We’re going to find out who gets to sit on the Iron Throne. We’re going to find out how to defeat whatever big-bad the universe has cooked up for us this time.

Sometimes, there’s a twist. Maybe you find what you thought you wanted isn’t satisfying. It’s okay to change goals in your story, as long as it makes sense for the world and the characters. It still counts.

Personal Growth

Remember that twist I just mentioned? Most stories have at least one character that’s going to grow and change. Sometimes they have to mature. Sometimes, they suffer traumas that they need to work through. And sometimes? They’ve got to accept themselves, before they can become the person they were always meant to be.

When we see a character learn the true extent of their capacity for compassion or greatness, it’s… it’s like a warm tasty pie. Delicious and warm and filling.

Relationship closure

Many stories keep us going with relationship issues. Be they friendships, rivals, family, or romantic issues. The ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, but it should have some sort of closure, even if it’s simply a character recognizing that they don’t need the other character any more.

But making amends, getting that happily-ever-after, or even, getting that nod of approval from a mentor, those are the things that can give us a solid ending.

Thematic

Getting more esoteric, let’s talk about themes. Many themes are relationship based — family, trust, love. But not all. Faith, justice, and freedom can be themes.

These endings have to be carefully done, or they can read like a morality play. But, like Sam on Mount Doom, loyalty and perseverance can pay off.

Sacrifice

It’s hard to find a good ending without some sort of sacrifice — or at least some solid compromise. The greater the odds, the more the characters have to suffer and pay to achieve the ending. If the success at the end comes too easily, the reader will feel cheated. Like the odds weren’t as tough as they were told. The challenges were too easy for the characters.

And sacrifice can be used as a symbol of … well, many things. When Gollum leaps into the lava, we lose Smeagol, who had been fighting so hard to do what’s right. When Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web passes, it’s her gracious way of accepting the inevitability, and nature’s way of bringing in the new generation.

Sacrifices should follow the theme and rise to the level of the stakes.


If you can weave together plot goals achievements, personal growth, relationship closure, thematic ties, and sacrifice, readers should be able to appreciate your ending. Even if it makes them cry.


Are there any other ingredients you appreciate at the end of your stories?

What story do you think has done it the best?

(Please, don’t give any Endgame spoilers or current Game Of Thrones spoilers until AFTER May)