I recently attended a writers workshop on crafting the query letter and was amazed at the amount of feedback on what seemed to me a straightforward thing.
my bad side is the story of a woman defined by a moment she can’t remember. Deirdre,orphaned in her infancy, feels haunted by the death of her mother, she and her toddler sister Crystal trapped with the body for days. She fights against the image as she matures, struggling to find her direction and independence.
“Paint a picture,” one instructor insisted. “It’s just like a movie trailer.”
“So it’s a good idea to include character quotes?” A small voice replied (not me).
“No! Don’t do that! That’s bad.”
Now in her 20s, Deirdre studies to be a veterinarian and works at the Pittsburgh Zoo when she comes to own an abandoned exotic cat, Apollo. Deirdre starts a pilot school program, with Apollo as the main attraction, which, although initially successful, leads to a child being bitten and Deirdre having to flee to New York. She moves in with her sister and attempts to reconnect, but finds her immured in alcoholism with her boyfriend, Derek, a fire fighter who lost his company in 9/11, and thus bonds violently with her around their shared traumas. Deirdre becomes isolated and makes a sudden turn from working with abandoned animals to the escort industry and then performance sex. A shooting forces her to leave the city and embark on a journey with Apollo to the barren landscape of Newfoundland where she is forced to confront her fears and loneliness.
Requirements include: word count, genre, tone and ‘comps’ or comparable works, preferably films.
This 100,000-word work of literary fiction, a cross between Thelma & Louise and Taxi Driver, begins at the moment of the shooting and follows Deirdre in her journey to the north, using flashbacks as a primary structural element. Deirdre’s beauty and eroticism are central themes as well as her realization that, like her sister, she is not in search of understanding so much as is building barriers against what might be next, believing that she has nowhere to turn except within herself.
I was confused by the comparative aspect, thinking that using film titles wasn’t appropriate in the literary world. I was wrong. “It’s the story. Tell us the story!”
My writing focuses on thought process – akin to James Jones or Cormac McCarthy – capturing moments in a character’s mind while also giving the reader the latitude to bring their own perceptions to the work.
“Who do you think you are comparing yourself to Cormac McCarthy?” The instructor demanded. “That’s a pretty big name, you know.”
Like George Costanza, I didn’t have a good comeback, and now I wish I had been a little quicker. “This is your chance.” (Or is that as bad as “Well, the jerk store called and they’re running out of you“?)
After completing my degree in Literature and Film, I moved to Paris to write my first novel and have traveled extensively to enable my development as a novelist. Most recently, I have taken part in several Unterberg Writing Workshops (2005-09) in New York.
I’ve worked through 30 drafts of this thing now. Another 5 and I might be there.