Monday, February 22, 2016

Skipping Stones And The Silver Strike

Age and Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Word Count: 82,000


Sue, the only survivor of a wagon train attack, is taken by a horseman to the Land of Many Waters. She must decide whether to put aside her own grief to become the replacement daughter for a grieving mother, or wander as an orphan alone in the wilderness mourning the loss of her massacred family.

Geum Song Ban, a scholar wishing to experience the ways of the West leaves his native Korea to become a stowaway on a ship bound for California. When he rescues a tiny Chinese girl from China Town gangsters, his choices are to stand against the certain retaliation, or flee with the girl into the California desert.

First 250 Words:

Ma set such a store by reading and ciphering. Now Ma’s dead, and reading and ciphering aren’t much use to a person when they’re dead. Pa’s dead too, and Pap. Nearly everyone who came west in the train is dead, I reckon. Some of them aren’t dead yet, but they will be soon enough.

I don’t know about Gershom. He was cracked on the head and went rolling yonder, blood spurting.

There’s no time for worrying now, no time for anything except walking and walking, fast as all lightning, to wherever ‘tis they’re taking us. I’ve never walked so fast in my life. I’ve never seen anyone walk so quickly as these savages. I swear we covered as much ground in half the time as a six horse stage.

Pap was going on most days and nights since we left home about meeting up with savages. Seemed the more he talked about it, the more he seemed to relish the prospect. But he don’t relish it none now I reckon, with his innards all torn out and frying in the sun. Ma she tried to hush him, telling him his carrying on and storytelling was scaring the children. But he never cared, just countered the prospects of meeting up with some was mighty high in these parts. He described all kinds of tortures and mayhem the savages set to committing on any fool person blamed enough to be caught out in their territory. 

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  1. Query: I'm missing the hook in the first sentence, the thing that sums up the entire story. Some call it a tagline. Just one or two sentences.

    While your first and second paragraphs give good descriptions of your protagonists I don't have a clear picture of them together. Maybe a sentence regarding their meeting and the journey they take. I love your title, so how does it fit?

    250 words: I do like the voice.

    Well done.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment.

    This type of query doesn't employ a hook at the beginning. When a ms has multiple story lines and main characters, it isn't in its best interest to use the type of query used for genre fiction with a simple boy meets girl-boy loses girl-boy finds girl again plot. Historical fiction is much more involved, therefore I use a query just detailing the first chapter setting up the story.

    There is no picture of them together. Their stories parallel time and place, they don't do anything together. They meet through mutual friends in the second half of the ms, and their stories continue with reference to each other as it occurs through the actions of their friends.

    Skipping Stones is Sue's Niimiipuu(Nez Perce) name given to her by the horseman who rescues her and takes her to live with his aunt. The Silver Strike is the name of the fine gambling establishment Kim(Geum Song Ban) opens after discovering a silver vein near Virginia City. It is in The Silver Strike where Sue and Kim meet.

    Sue befriends a Metis girl who has also lost her parents. Sue becomes as a big sister to her and they travel and have adventures together. When their adventures take them to Virginia City, they visit The Silver Strike where they meet Kim, and where they meet Kim's partner, who happens to be the girl's father, thought dead long ago in the wilderness. This happy reunion and the subsequent developments is where interaction between Sue and Kim take place. They aren't lovers or best friends. Sue has a Mission Indian boyfriend, and Kim has a Cornish girlfriend, each couple faces their own problems including issues of faith and racism.

    I hope I have answered your questions. Please feel free to ask more questions.

    I value your feedback.

  3. Hello!

    Query: First line, give us some small indication of who your MC is. How old, for instance. "Wagon train attack." Who attacked? " taken by a horseman." This is passive voice, and you most definitely don't want it here. We need to know who the horseman is. "A [description] horseman takes her..." Description= I'm assuming a member of a Native American tribe, and if so, you should say which tribe. "Sioux horseman," for instance. After that, I'd say something like "When they arrive at the Sioux village, Sue [sorry for the pun] soon realizes the reason she was spared: so she could serve as a surrogate daughter for a grieving mother. She must decide whether to accept this role, or risk dying alone and brokenhearted in the wilderness."

    Next paragraph...I see no way that this relates to the first. Is Sue the Chinese girl? If so, how did she end up with Chinatown gangsters? You have to let us know what the connection is.

    250: Strong voice. Why is she thinking about reading and ciphering? It has nothing to do with anything going on in the scene, so I'm ungrounded.

    The dry delivery of these images with this voice really works for me. "rolled yonder, blood spurting [I'd add "all over the golden prairie grass" or something to heighten the image]. It's dangerous to open with this backstory like this, but it can work, as long as you keep it succinct and let the voice work for you - because character development like that does heavy-lifting pacing-wise. I think you're almost there, but it needs some work. I like the character development of her not showing open emotion about all these horrible images in her head, or her situation, but I do want her to be pondering why she was spared, where she's going, what will happen to her, etc. I also want to feel her discomfort more, because that sort of walking is going to KILL her feet and body (although you said horseman took her - I get no hint of this in the 250).

    Also, I need a couple details about the scene, what she sees/what's going on around her.

    Thank you for your entry!

  4. Thank you so much for your comment.

    A query has to be succinct and to the point. It can't be bogged down with minor details. When you start adding names of tribes and places and names of people, it's too much information. It makes the query lengthy and confusing. Her age is never mentioned in the ms, so it can't be mentioned in the query.
    I'm sorry I can't use your suggestion that Sue soon realizes why she was spared, because she doesn't find out why. The horseman is not the one who spared her, it was the band who attacked her wagon train. He rescues her from the attackers who have taken her on the forced march. It is a common theme in captive narrative memoirs of this era that the person who is taken captive is the only one of their party left alive. The captive has no idea why they are chosen to be taken while the others are killed. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it(to us doing the research, I'm certain they knew what type of person they were looking for), sometimes it is a girl, sometimes a boy, sometimes a young mother with a baby. Some of them were sold into slavery, others were taken into the tribe to live as one of the People. Since Sue is rescued from her captives by the horseman, she has no way to know why the captives took her.

    The next paragraph is about Geum Song Ban. It has nothing to do with Sue, which is why she is not in it. Sue is not the Chinese girl. SKIPPING STONES AND THE SILVER STRIKE has two main characters, Sue and Geum Song Ban. It follows their parallel lives, each in their own chapters, until they meet up in Virginia City in the second half of the ms. They meet through mutual friends, they don't have a story line together.

    250 pages: She isn't thinking about reading and ciphering, she is thinking about her mother, who she just saw being hacked to pieces. In her shock and bewilderment she is relating what is happening and her scattered thoughts reflect the blunt horror of the incident and how her mind is trying to cope in order for her to function.
    All of the things you asked for, where she's going, what happens to her, are addressed in the next pages of the scene including her talking all about her bleeding feet, since the captives have taken her shoes.

  5. Your query is intriguing but for me it lacks a closure letting me know the relevance of these two characters, their roles with each other or how they are similar/different. Why are their stories being told? Whether it is the story of overcoming adversity, language barriers, survival or the need for affection, the theme of the lives would be a good angle to add in the next paragraph.

    First 250
    The dialogue is riveting and well done with the dialect but the scene feels very one dimensional because I can't get a sense of where she's walking to... Her eyes never pan across a dusty landscape, she doesn't stumble over rocky terrain, or notice any of her surroundings. Readers may benefit from being grounded in the scene to be able to accompany the character.

    Best of luck!

  6. Thank you so much for your comment.

    Yes, I see what you are saying, I will take your suggestions and the suggestions the others have made under consideration. It is difficult with a ms like this, with two separate main characters, to perfect a query that does justice to both. This is more than Historical Fiction, it is Literary and has components of Magic Realism, so I have been attempting to showcase the main thrust, without overloading it with too much information. Otherwise it becomes confusing. This query has been pared down with help from beta readers' suggestions. Now I can use all the suggestions provided here as well to hopefully enhance it.

    250 words.
    This is only 250 words, it's just an excerpt from the first scene. It isn't the entire scene, the last paragraph you see isn't even a full paragraph, it's cut from the remaining sentences.
    In the ms, this scene includes all the things you have asked for, so the reader should be grounded and feel what the character is going through, complete with terrain, stumbling and bloody feet.
    As we follow along with her, we experience her fear, shock and bewilderment as her narrative is a running commentary of what is happening both physically and mentally to her. She describes how the attackers pulled her from her hiding place beneath the wagon, and how the other captives in the walking party are being treated by the captors. It builds to a final overload of emotion when after she is rescued by the horseman she faces the shock and horror and rages at these circumstances completely out of her control. She confronts the horseman and demands answers to her questions. His response shows her the futility of questioning what was, and to look instead to her future survival.


  7. Query: I’ve seen in your other comments that this is story with two parallel storylines that do not really intersect. You might do better to state that in the query. As it stands, it sounds like you’re presenting two completely separate stories, with no information about why they would be together in the same book. I don’t have a “big picture” understanding of what kind of book this is, though I do feel like I understand what is at stake for each of the two characters.

    First 250 Words: Good voice in this excerpt. I’m assuming this is Sue. She seems exceptionally calm given her situation, but otherwise I am engaged by wondering how she ended up here and what will happen.

  8. Thank you so much for your comment.

    I understand what you mean and I appreciate your suggestions.

    I think it's more she's in a state of shock than that she's calm. She's experiencing that robo-mechanism where her brain is forcing her to behave in a way that allows her horror and emotion to catch up with reality. Otherwise she'd just be in hysterics and that wouldn't help her survival.(Haha, or give me anything to write.)

  9. Looking over all these excellent comments made me reread my query.

    Now I can see why there may be confusion with my query. What is posted above is not the whole query that I submitted. It is only the middle two paragraphs. The first introductory paragraph is missing, and the last summation paragraph is missing.

    I don't know why this would be, or if it has affected my entry in any way. I hope not.

    Here is my entire query entry as I submitted it, if anyone would care to take a look.


    SKIPPING STONES AND THE SILVER STRIKE is an 82,000 word novel set in the 1800s following the adventures of Sue Fletcher and Geum Song Ban.

    Sue, the only survivor of a wagon train attack, is taken by a horseman to the Land of Many Waters. She must decide whether to put aside her own grief to become the replacement daughter for a grieving mother, or wander as an orphan alone in the wilderness mourning the loss of her massacred family.

    Geum Song Ban, a scholar wishing to experience the ways of the West leaves his native Korea to become a stowaway on a ship bound for California. When he rescues a tiny Chinese girl from China Town gangsters, his choices are to stand against the certain retaliation, or flee with the girl into the California desert.

    Recently I've seen several agents say they're searching for works about people of color and interracial relationships. Such themes of diversity are explored in this manuscript.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    1. Janis:
      Neither of your added sentences alters the comments or the outcome. They neither add nor detract from the query. Your motive here is to get the crux of your story across. The diversity of your characters is clear in the paragraphs presented.

      Thank you for your participation in Son of a Pitch. Your dedication and hard work, your willingness to take suggestion and criticism are an example of your courage. I've no doubt that you will your achieve all your goals!


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