#36 Query Corner – “The Holy Shuriken” (And a discussion about Content Warnings)

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

When 16yo Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests, her first night studying abroad, she believes God is calling her to stop human trafficking. [Language and mature themes]

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:

The querier had a great blurb — but not quite a query. It’s a decent length, but I streamlined it a bit anyway, cause I can’t help myself.  Feel free to take or ignore these suggestions as you see fit.

  1. It’s got almost too much flavor-text for a query – make sure you focus on the main character’s stakes.
  2. Having the protagonist and the target have 2 syllable names starting with R is a little confusing.
  3.  You never need to mention how little experience you have.

The author, Phil Gross, and I had another discussion about adding an actual content warning to the query letter itself. As a condition for sharing his query with you, he asked that I include both his name and his website: PhilGrossAuthor. He clearly doesn’t shy away from accountability.

His proposed note: “CW: the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking is mentioned, but neither described, detailed, nor portrayed. There are also brief instances of graphic violence.

My reply was to add it to the stats paragraph and to lead with that so that agents and publishers could self-select if the story was for them.

I haven’t seen it done explicitly as such. I have seen themes and such added to the stat paragraph. As such, I’d probably not call it a content warning, but list it. If you can find something that is evocative on the graphic violence as a comp, that might be helpful

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. It combines the absurdist humor of [Something], with the graphic action of [Soemthing else]. OR This irreverent romp should appeal to fans of X and Y. THE HOLY SHURIKEN contains references to the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking is mentioned, but neither described, detailed, nor portrayed.

I’ve been in panels that discussed YA After Dark and agreed with the panelists. YA doesn’t need to be sugar-coated. Dark themes can help people of all ages who are dealing with abuse/etc know that they’re not alone, and model ways to (or not to) cope. Dark themes can help people who haven’t suffering learn empathy.

If you are comfortable with the aforementioned subject matter, read on.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

When sixteen-year-old Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests on her first night studying abroad in Cancún, she believes God is calling her to become His holy warrior. [Wow. That’s a set-up.]

In order to prove herself a worthy ninja and end the demonic intrusion, Renee begins an eager hunt for the demons’ source. Brother Owen, her mysterious adviser, claims that ‘demons are attracted to great sin.’ Renee tracks down a terrible sinner, charismatic teenager Reuben García, a human trafficker who needs help exorcising a demon. [I’m getting either con, delusions, or a Buffy vibe here. And I’m not sure which!]

Repulsed by Reuben’s line of business, Renee plots to murder him. Her grand scheme: make it look like an accident while they play Ultimate Frisbee. With her life and soul on the line, Renee must come back from the edge and remember mercy (even for Reuben!)—or become the radicalized, violent ‘hero’ she’s come to idolize.

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. THE HOLY SHURIKEN contains references to the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking, but such content is neither described, detailed, nor portrayed. The novel also includes brief instances of graphic violence. [Well worded. Tricky note]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q36


You can see how his voice comes through strongly and can get a feel for the story and the tone, but could stick closer to the stakes, instead of fleshing out the whole world.

Some comps, even stylistic ones could strengthen the query.

My Revision:

Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

When sixteen-year-old Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests on her first night of study abroad in Cancún, she knows what she wants to do with her life.

In order to prove herself a worthy ninja and end the demonic intrusion, Renee begins an eager hunt for the demons’ source. Brother Owen, her mysterious adviser, claims that ‘demons are attracted to great sin’. Renee tracks down a terrible sinner, charismatic teenager Reuben García, a human trafficker who needs help exorcising a demon. 

Repulsed by Reuben’s line of business, Renee plots to murder him. Her grand scheme: make it look like an accident while they play Ultimate Frisbee. She risks her and her friends’ lives because she believes God has called her to be Reuben’s executioner. With her life and soul on the line, Renee must remember mercy (even for Reuben!) — or become the radicalized, violent ‘hero’ she’s come to idolize.

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. It combines the absurdist humor of [Something], with the action-packed adventure of [Something else]. OR This irreverent romp should appeal to fans of X and Y.

I write from my home [in/near place].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Q36


Let’s all wish the best of luck to Phil! For those people out there who need this story.


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

3 thoughts on “#36 Query Corner – “The Holy Shuriken” (And a discussion about Content Warnings)

  1. Ninja Jesuits?
    1. Ninjas are nasty people, for sale. Think Mafia.
    2. Um, is this like the SEAL team of I think they were Jesuits in the mid-seventies Tom Robbins “Another Roadside Attraction”?

    Like

    • I think it’s rather obvious from the query that the “ninja” description is coming from a 16 year-old girl. If she watches too much anime, that’s going to be the comparison that comes to her mind first.

      And I didn’t think the Mafia was for sale. Aren’t they all about loyalty?

      Like

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