Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #83


A Place to Call Their Own
LGBT/Historical Fiction
56,000 Words
 Query:

A Place to Call Their Own is a completed, 56,000 word novel in the Historical Fiction/LGBT genre.  The bulk of the novel takes place from 1866 – 1868 in the State of Kansas near the Osage Territory. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. 
A Place to Call Their Own is framed as a 1910 recollection.  Gregory Young and Frank Greerson are released from military duty in the summer of 1865.  After returning to their childhood homes, Frank and Gregory set out for Kansas to find their claims. Once Frank and Gregory find their claim, they encounter common obstacles to life on the Kansas Prairie in 1866:  Native Americans, tornadoes, wild animals, mild weather, and extreme weather.  They help neighbors build cabins and barns and harvest crops.  Frank and Gregory are successful in their first full year on the farm, but run into more obstacles during their second full year. 
When a prairie fire destroys not only their crop but also takes their neighbor’s lives, Frank and Gregory are instructed to find their son’s (James Nordhuff) aunt.  The aunt’s last known location was in Denver City in the Colorado Territory.  Although they have no more cash savings due to putting it all into the farm that season, Frank and Gregory decide to take eight year old James to Denver City to fulfill his deceased parent’s wishes.    They are saved when Mrs. Young, now Mrs. Harley, shows up the day after the fire to give Gregory his fair share of the sale of the family farm back in Carroll, Iowa.  William and Viola Harley have sold the farm in Carroll, Iowa and are heading to Southern California where the warmer weather will be better for Viola’s condition.  The main part of the novel ends with Frank, Gregory, and James following William and Viola Harley north to catch the Santa Fe Trail west to the Colorado Territory and Southern California, respectively.  In the epilogue we learn that Frank passes away peacefully in the company of his son, son-in-law, and grandson.
First 150 Words:
“I’m going to Kansas and you can’t stop me,” Frank Atchison Greerson said to his father.
“Well, let me clear the dishes.  You children come into the kitchen and help me this morning,” Frank’s mother, Emily Greerson said aloud to the grandchildren.
“Yes, let us help you,” Pauline Greerson, Frank’s sister-in-law volunteered.  Pauline shot Frank’s sister, Esther, a look that prompted Esther to leave the table in silent, but obvious, protest.
Frank’s father, Paul Greerson, glared at his brother, Paul, Jr.
“Let’s go make sure the calves are doing all right this morning, boys,” he said to his sister’s husband and Gregory Young, both of whom were frozen in fear at the table.  The other two men didn’t need a second invitation to leave the breakfast table.  As Gregory Young stood up he glanced across the table at Frank.  Frank nodded his head slightly to indicate to Gregory it was all right for him to leave the room with everybody.

8 comments:

T.J. said...

A Place to Call Their Own is a completed, 56,000 word novel in the Historical Fiction/LGBT genre. The bulk of the novel takes place from 1866 – 1868 in the State of Kansas near the Osage Territory. It is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Hi :) This should be at the end of your query :) Also, leave out the planned trilogy.

A Place to Call Their Own is framed as a 1910 recollection. Gregory Young and Frank Greerson are released from military duty in the summer of 1865.

My brother in law is a published author, and I once had his agent take a look at my query for a different book. His words? The first line is deal breaker. You have to pull the reader, in this case the agent, with your very first sentence.

Much of your query reads like a synopsis, instead of a query. Don't give away the farm, but use as a sales pitch to entice the agent to read more :)

This sounds like an very interesting idea! We don't hear, or read, much about the gay community one hundred fifty years ago and the hardships they faced in addition to simply trying to survive!

First 150: Many agents/editors have stated repeatedly not to start any MS with dialogue. You have a wonderful idea! Be strong and let your characters pull in a reader with their actions and emotions first :)

Carrie-Anne said...

As a passionate writer and reader of historical fiction, this seems really, really, really short for a historical, particularly for a historical spanning a few years. I like your concept, though the query reads more like a synopsis. Can you flesh out the most important, pivotal, hooking events and build the query around that? I'm sure there's a great query waiting to be rewritten to convey what a unique concept you've got.

Ellie Heller said...

First, I love the premise of this, the setting, the GBLT genre, the idea of 'escaping' to the west.

However, you have WAY too much information in this query. Think back of book blurb. You need to introduce the main characters, show the conflict which starts the story in motion and leave the question on how the conflict will be resolved up in the air to 'hook' the reader. A query should NEVER be a synopsis and tell everything which happens in the story. You should ONLY need to name the main characters unless there is a specific nemesis who is a large part of the story. Focus on what happens in the first third of the book, what conflicts are set up, what 'fate altering' events occur and put that in there. From what I've seen the general rule is no more than THREE paragraphs, short is good.

A Place to Call Their Own is a completed, 56,000 word novel in the Historical Fiction/LGBT genre. The bulk of the novel takes place from 1866 – 1868 in the State of Kansas near the Osage Territory. It is the first book in a planned trilogy.
Move this to after the meat of the query. And phrase the trilogy as 'has series potential', the book should stand on its own and not need other books to complete the story arc.


A Place to Call Their Own is framed as a 1910 recollection. Gregory Young and Frank Greerson are released from military duty in the summer of 1865 . After returning to their childhood homes, Frank and Gregory they set out for Kansas to find their claims.
Here you need to tell us a bit about each, help us start to like/emphasize with them.
Frank Greerson, released from the confederate army and unable to endure a life without his lover Gregory Young, heads out to Kansas to build a new life fighting the elements, the animals and the natives. They've settled in when their obligation to their neighbors to deliver their now orphan son to his aunt sends them trekking across the new territory.

Oh, wait, ... this story isn't a complete story arc? (just finished reading the synopsis/query). Hmm.. I think you might be better served writing all three parts as one story rather than breaking it into three parts. Just a thought.

First 150 Words:

Okay, reading this I'm wondering what age your main character is? Since we don't hear any previous discussion he's sounding like a petulant teenager here. Think about how to phrase this. Simply removing the 'and' might work.

And, wow, this is a lot of names! Just a sec, let me make a couple of suggestions here:

One thing you need to look at, and it is a common novice mistake, is writing out every bit of the dialog. This is one time when telling is okay, since we don't need to hear every word between every person.

“I’m going to Kansas and you can’t stop me,” Frank Atchison Greerson said to his father.

Frank's mother, (knowing the shouting match, sensing the argument... your phrasing) declared she needed help in the kitchen with the breakfast dishes, which had all the womenfolk joining her. At a glare from his father the his brothers and brothers-in-law headed out to the barn. As Gregory Young stood up he glanced across the table at Frank. Frank nodded his head slightly to indicate to Gregory it was all right for him to leave the room with everybody.

Trimming it down you can put more of the argument/discussion in your first fifty and draw people in. Hope this helps!

cstuarthardwick said...

I would begin with the MC and the challenge he or she faces.

Also, I believe this is short for most genres, and I would not mention the trilogy. I have seen many, many agents refer to this as presumptuous.

Jane Ann McLachlan said...

Comments of A Place to Call Their Own. This query sounds a little flat. What is their overarching goal? What are the stakes if they fail? What or who is threatening their success? For example, in Brokeback Mountain, their goal was to find a way to love each other, what prevented them was the culture they lived in, and the stakes were life and death.Tell us what they HAVE to do, and WHY they have to do it.

Lara Schiffbauer said...

I agree with much of what has been already noted. I didn't make it all the way through the query because of the sheer amount of info packed inside. It appears you wrote a synopsis, which while similar to a query, the purpose of the two are very different.

Over in the sidebar Deana has a link to Query Shark and that is one of the best places to gain understanding about what works in a query and what doesn't.

I think you have a very interesting premise, but right now the conflict and stakes are hidden under too many words.

Leslie Karst said...

Query: This seems more like a synopsis than a query--too much plot and not enough excitement to engage a potential agent. Also, I would start with the second para. and give the info in the first para. a little later. You repeat the phrase "Frank and Gregory" a lot; try to change it up with something like "the two men."

Since this is a LGBT book, you should talk more about that issue. As the query reads, it takes a while to even realize that they've staked a claim together.

1st 150 words: No need to explain everyone's relationship to each other at the very beginning. Delete "aloud"--it's the only way something can be "said."

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