Tuesday, June 4, 2013

We interrupt our writing tip marathon to join a Query Kombat critque session...
I present my Query Kombat entry that didn't make it past the first round, but I love it just the same!
The Chippewa River in Eau Claire, Wisc.
How to Date Dead Guys Query  

College sophomore Emma Roberts struggles to follow her mother’s sage advice:  don’t sleep around, don’t burp in public, and don’t tell anyone you see ghosts.  Even so, when she gets blamed for cute classmate Mike Carlson’s drowning, Emma turns to witchcraft and a mysterious Book of Shadows to bring him back.  Under a Blood Moon, Emma lights candles, draws a pentacle on the campus bridge, and casts her spell:


“Oh moon, upon me shine—

Give back his life, instead take mine.

Send back his heart, return his breath.

Please release him from his death…”


The river rages up to claim her, but she escapes its fury.  As she stumbles back to the dorm, a young man drags himself out of the waters and follows her home.  


But it’s not Mike.  Instead, Emma brings back other drowning victims from the dead:  Sam—a pre-med student who jumped from the bridge, Steve—a young father determined to solve his own murder, and Jake—a frat boy Emma can’t stand…at first.  As she delves deeper into the seductive Book of Shadows, her powers grow.  But the river is stronger, reclaiming Sam and ripping Jake away just as her heart finally wakes up.  Will witchcraft be enough to save her when she meets Steve’s killer?  And will she ever see Mike again?


HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS’ protagonist is a cross between Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic in Ghost and Willow’s transformation from bookworm to witch in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Inspired by the controversial Smiley Face Murders theory, this book should appeal to paranormal fans of all ages. 

For several years, I’ve written the monthly Pet Vet column for the Post Bulletin newspaper.  Last fall, I published an article in RunMinnesota magazine.  This spring, I have articles in both the DVM360 journal and The Wagazine.


How to Date Dead Guys - First page

Dead people don’t scare me.  At least, not as much as live ones do.


No ghostly apparition could ever intimidate me like the gum-smacking, hair-tossing leader of Saint Katherine’s Highschool of Hussies.  She would even interrupt make-out sessions with her jock boyfriend to hurl insults in my direction. 


“What are you staring at, loser?  Are you jealous?  Poor Emma, you’re so ugly and pathetic, no guy will ever want you!”


Now a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I still hear her jeering voice in my head.  When someone tells you you’re worthless enough times, you start to believe it.  That’s probably why I’m failing at my hopeful plans for college:  to be happy, confident, and make loads of friends.  Basic things that everyone else on campus can do with ease—like making small talk at keg parties—paralyze me with fear. 


But when the ghosts speak, they don’t frighten me.  I only worry what will happen if my mother finds out.  So I keep my mouth shut.  And I stay in my room. 


Except tonight my roommate wants me to go to some hot guy’s cookout instead of spending the evening rereading Anne of Green Gables on my futon. 


At home.  Where I’m safe. 


Where nothing bad can ever happen.


Unfortunately, my roommate never takes ‘no’ for an answer. 




  1. I'd like to ask a question of those into NA who wander here:

    It's said that NA is just "sexed up YA", but that's NOT my book at all.

    How do others feel about NA?

  2. As to your first comment, no I think the "NA is just sexed up YA" is becoming a bit of a trope. That said, NA is still very new as a genre and hasn't fully found it's legs. I think it will be a lot more than sexed up YA, but it will take time to get there.

    As for your query and first page. I love the concept and the query has great voice, however it reads more like a synopsis than a query. While i have a good clear idea of what your protagonist wants, and the conflict she encounters while trying to get it, I'm not seeing the stakes. What happens if she never finds Mike, or if these raised dead continue to walk the earth?

    Also some tips on the query, try to avoid questions, they often get ignored and don't really add mystery to your query it often just adds confusion. I'd recommend not quoting something from your book in your query either. I've seen a lot of agents say they want to read those quotes in your book in context not in your query.

    I love the voice in the first 250, and I love your opening two lines. There are however a couple of things in there that don't read NA and threw me out of the story. Her right off the bit reminiscing about her high school nemesis is more YA and without knowing much about your character it through me for a loop and made me go wait, is she in High School or college right now.

    The second is the line about worrying about what will happen when her mother finds out. Again this is a YA mentality. NA is about the freedom of college and independence from the parents. So I'd think she'd be more concerned about her roommate or other college friends finding out not her mother.

    Other than that I really like this. good luck as your pursue this project. :)

  3. Okay, I can't answer your question very well Ann; I'm not into NA literature very much so I can't reply with any sort of expertise. My impression is that it's just adult fiction that isn't written in a very demanding style. Is it really a useful distinction to make from "regular" fiction? I'm not being rhetorical, I just don't know. Mind you, my real love is SF, which does not tolerate adulthood very well at all. Arguably most SF is NA. So I could be very biased there. Ignore all that really.

    Okay: my query feedback:

    The query feels very detailed, which might be using up space that you could be spending on other things? My instinct here is that you might want to play up the "conflict" between her and the river; you mention it once but it only really took on significance in my mind when I thought about it for a little while.

    The dialogue from the bitch girl seemed like it could be more bitchy. The first half is great; very realistic. Second half, if I was insulting people I think I could do better than that. Especially if I was making out with somebody at the time. Can you make the Queen B more of a B?

    I want to know where this conflict with the room-mate goes. I also want to know why she prefers ghosts to live people. That's a fabulous character trait. Every shy kid is going to be seeing themselves in this girl. NICE one. I think this is potentially a great strength of the book. Could that irony come out in the query a little more?

  4. I like this query, but I'm wondering a couple of things. First, why would she be blamed for his death? I'm not seeing the connection to that based on the fact that she can see ghosts but doesn't tell anyone. Also, it's gutsy putting that spell in the query... I don't know if it will hurt or help you. Also, the 1st para seemed a little generic... as in, what about this stands out? But as soon as I got to the part of all the people she resurrects, I was hooked. I just wasn't right from the start.

    I loved your 250! My only nitpick is the lines, "But when the ghosts speak, they don’t frighten me. I only worry what will happen if my mother finds out." If her mother finds out what? That the ghosts speak? That they don't frighten her? Based on your query, I thought her mom already knew that she sees dead people. So I'm not sure what exactly she's worried about her mom finding out.

    Oh, and there's an actress named Emma Roberts so I don't know if you want to use that same name (especially since she's in her early 20s.) I immediately thought of her when you used the name.