Query Critique #3

Submitted Query: 

Four high school students, the very best of friends, are driven apart when something they do goes terribly wrong.  Forty years later, tragedy brings them back together again. I like the second line, it raises my eyebrows, but I think you can tweak the first sentence to make it more streamlined. 

On a Dark Desert Highway is about teenagers in 1970 and adults in the 21st century, plus lots of music references. Lots.  It’s a bit A Visit from the Goon Squad, and a bit The Interestings except it all takes place in Los Angeles.
Rock music permeates the novel from the opening with “War” by Edwin Starr to the closing with “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel.  <<Not the right place for this information.

Four high school seniors – Allie, Dermot, Sara and Robert – hang out in Dermot’s garage listening to music and getting stoned. This could be tweaked a little to make it stronger. Maybe: High school seniors Allie, Dermot, Sara and Robert hang out in Dermot’s garage listening to music while getting stoned. Sara and Robert are a couple, and Allie is convinced that she and Dermot should be a couple, too, but Dermot resists, leaving Allie with a life-long yearning for him. <<I’m not sure the purpose this information serves in telling us the plot. It feels more like backstory and isn’t necessary right now. I’d cut it. Their big adventure comes at the end of summer – they will drive across country together to take Dermot to NYU. <<I think THIS is where your query actually starts. SO maybe combine the first sentence of this paragraph with this information about taking Dermot to NYU. Best friends Allie, Dermot, Sara and Robert drive across country to take Dermot to NYU. But on the first day of the drive, in the twilight (and stoned), Dermot crashes into two people trying to get across the desert road. When I read crashes, I think they hit another vehicle. But then I see they are trying to get across the desert road and that makes me think maybe they were walking. I think using another word other than crashes (plow down maybe?) might be a better fit here. Stoned, he He doesn’t stop. And this ends their friendship as they all part ways that evening.  <<This last sentence needs more oompf to drive home the impact. Clearly, they killed two people. I’d end this paragraph with them separating but show us their emotional parting. 

There never is the big “on the road” adventure that Allie craved and in fact she may never see any of her friends again. I’d cut this and just start your next paragraph here, but try to flow into the future a bit smoother. Forty years later, the harm caused that night still haunts Dermot, even though he’s a massively famous rock star.  Allie – happily married and with two kids – is a music supervisor for TV shows.  She follows his career but has never tried to contact him. <<tie it back to that night — the painful memories of that night won’t let her (or something)  She has also lost touch with Sara and Robert. Only a second tragedy brings some of them back together again, when <<insert details here>>.  Did they receive a phone call from the dead? Did Sara or Robert die? Is someone blackmailing them? What’s the main plot that moves the novel forward page by page? Give us a hint of that here. There are no stakes in this query the way you’ve presented it. What happens that causes this tragedy and what happens after they get back together? Those are the questions you need to answer.

The novel is told in alternating chapters:  the kids in 1970, Allie and her life with husband and children, Dermot’s interview with a Rolling Stone reporter, and a few interspersed “Allie Oops Music Blog” segments, in which Allie talks about specific songs in ways that reveal her life and her opinions.  This needs to be included with the book details, which I’ve done below. 

The novel ON A DARK DESERT HIGHWAY is a <<insert category and genre>> complete at , is about 70,000 words told in alternating timelines: the kids in 1970, Allie and her life with husband and children, Dermot’s interview with a Rolling Stone reporter, and a few interspersed “Allie Oops Music Blog” segments.  <<I’m torn between whether or not this is too much detail to include or not. The novel that got me my latest agent is told in alternating timelines and you can refer to it here under Agent 3 to see how I handled it. The idea is to be detailed, but not go into too much detail. and includes a playlist of songs; 80 songs are referenced by the characters.  Not necessary to include. 
Besides being obsessed with whatever the song “Hotel California” means, I lived that life in 1970 and used a lot of my memories, and those of my friends, for the scenes set in that year.  (Fortunately, we never killed anyone.) Humorous, but unnecessary. Keep it about your book. Fans of A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD and THE INTERESTINGS will enjoy ON A DARK DESERT HIGHWAY. 

A high school English teacher, I have a Master’s in writing from California State University Northridge (1989) and had six several short stories published in early 90s, in various literary magazines.  Then I got married, had my son, worked, etcetera, came back to writing in the new millennium and had several short stories published in online lit mags.  Oh, and I teach high school English, so that’s fun. And keeps me connected with teens. You’ll notice I streamlined your personal information here to keep it simple.

Thanks for reading this far and I would be happy to send you some or all of my manuscript if you are interested. While humorous, don’t do this. As QueryShark said, the only way to end your query is by saying: 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Writing queries is hard! I love the premise you’ve established, you just need to flush out some things. If you go with the traditional query letter, remember HOOK, PLOT, STAKES. Make those stakes high (yet attainable) and you’ll keep the reader interested.

What Are Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.