Query Try #4! Am I getting closer?? Going in the wrong direction?
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Dear:

Spanning twenty years, Mama’s Shoes is a haunting saga of love and loss, despair and forgiveness. A cadence of female voices weaves a spell of mountain lore and secrets, defines family as more than blood kin, and proves second chances can bring happiness.

It is the summer of 1955 in the little mining town of Coal Valley, and things are about to heat up for Sassy Richardson. Sassy is turning thirteen and has been brought up on a stiff dose of Mama’s lessons on how to be a lady, even though Mama drinks beer, smokes, and dates a myriad of men. Then the day comes when a woman marches into the Cut and Curl Beauty Shop where Sylvia works, and accuses her of trying to steal her husband, and Sassy is there to bear witness. Mama’s protest that she didn’t know he was married falls on deaf ears – the mystery woman’s and Sassy’s.

In part two of the novel’s three part structure, Sylvia’s voice reveals that by the time she is eighteen, she’s buried her parents; been married for two years to Gaines Richardson – who is ten years her senior; gave birth to a daughter; and become a widow. The year is 1942, and World War II has scattered Sylvia’s hopes and dreams like the first frost. She sinks into depression no one understands, Sylvia most of all, and her life spirals out of control. She spends time in a mental institution and upon release, runs away from Coal Valley and gives her daughter up for adoption. Even though later she fights to get her back, Sylvia believes she has made her bed and now has to lay in it – she will never know love or happiness.

 In the final part of the novel, it is 1956 and Sassy has left Coal Valley for boarding school. Away from her beloved mountains, Sassy makes the startling discovery that for a time, she was her best friend’s adopted sister. She returns home and lays the truth out before Sylvia, forcing her to face her mistakes. Sylvia is finally able to lay her past to rest and find love again.

I am a lifelong resident of the coalfields of Appalachia, where I teach English and literature. I am a consultant for the University of Virginia's Appalachian Writing Project, an active member of the National Writing Project, the Appalachian Author’s Guild, and networked with Appalachian authors through my study at the Appalachian Writer's Workshop. My work has appeared in numerous publications, including A Cup of Comfort: Dog Lovers II and The Literary Journal of the Virginia Writing Project. I won first and third place in the 2010 Appalachian Author’s Guild Short Story Contest.

Mama’s Shoes is my 103,000-word debut novel. I would be delighted to send the manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time.

Rebecca Elswick

 

 

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  • I have been out of town and now I'm back and ready to attack this beast again! I can't believe that you would take the time to help me with your wonderful critique. The explanations I think are so clear, I see now are not.

    Let me explain a few points about the book that maybe you could help me explain, or tell me if I don't need to mention it at all. The book is in three parts.It also has a brief one page prologue(1940)  that shows a 16 year old Sylvia hanging her wedding dress next to the dress she wore first to her mother's and then her father's funeral; putting on her first high heels; and walking away from the mountain where she was raised. Then Part I is 1955. It is told through the eyes of 12 (almost 13) year old Sassy. They are living in the town (Coal Valley) that Sylvia so desperately wanted to leave. Sassy knows her father died in WWII, but she knows nothing else of her mother's past. However, her budding adolescence makes her question Mama's lifestyle. By the end of part I, Sassy is confused about the future. She is torn by the opportunity  to leave Coal Valley for boarding school or stay at home with Mama. She has also met her first true friend, who she much later discovers is her adopted sister.

    Then Part II is 1942- 1945. This is told in Sylvia's voice and her friend Madge's voice. Madge runs the beauty shop where Sylvia trained to be a beautician and helps Sylvia get through the birth of Sassy, her post partum depression, and her stay in the mental institution because Sylvia's husband is away at war. Sylvia and Gaines (husband) send letters back and forth which establishes their love and their dreams of the future. It also traces Gaines tramp through Africa and Europe. (I researched this part carefully)

    Sylvia has just gone back to work and is working through her depression when she gets a telegram at the beauty shop that Gaines has been killed. She also has met a kind and handsome man who has come to Coal Valley from a Penn. steel co. She begins to lean on him when Gaines dies. Then she receives a "last" letter from Gaines. A soldier he was with at his death sent it on to Sylvia. This destroys her and is how she ends up in a mental institution. (Madge covers it up by telling everyone she is in the hospital in the next town with influenza)

    When she gets out, The handsome man she met is still around and he falls hard for her and also the baby. He wants them to be a family. He takes them to Pittsburgh to meet his family. Sending a telegram that says, "Am coming home. Bringing the woman I love. And baby."

    When he is killed in a car accident on the way home, and Sylvia is severely injured, she gives the baby to the nuns at the Catholic hospital. The man's mother shows up and asks Sylvia if the baby is her sons. Even though Sylvia denies it, she wants to believe a part of her son is alive and it is she who takes the baby. She gives her to her daughter to raise, who has just had twin girls and lost one. That is why Sylvia is later able to convince 5her that Sassy did not belong to her son and get her back.

    Part III of the novel is 1955-56 and we find that Sassy did go to boarding school but not with Aunt Hat in Washington, but to northern VA with her friend Kitty Martin. In this final part, we hear Sassy's voice again and Sylvia's. We see Sassy growing up and Sylvia getting into a dangerous relationship that brings the town sheriff into the picture. When Sassy is out of school for the summer, she first goes home to Pennsylvania with Kitty for a visit. It is here that she discovers pictures of the daughter they briefly adopted. It takes her some time to put it all together, but a visit to Kitty's grandmother helps her put the last piece of the puzzle in place. She returns home and confronts Sylvia and they are both able to come to terms with the past.

    The book ends with a brief epilogue. It is 1960 and Sylvia is hanging her wedding dress next to the dress she wore to Sassy's graduation. She is marrying the town Sheriff and is happy at last.

     

    So???

  • I really like what Sarah wrote.  

    one exception "Then the day comes when a woman marches into the Cut and Curl Beauty Shop where Sylvia works, and accuses her of trying to steal her husband."   you need to say something like ..her mother Sylvia.  Since she has never been mentioned before, it looks like you just forgot what your characters name is .

  • Rebecca- you have added a nice tight view of Sassy at 13.  Now it's time to subtract the things that aren't working.  If this were my project, I would restrict the query to this:

     

    Spanning twenty years, Mama’s Shoes is a haunting saga of love and loss, despair and forgiveness. A cadence of female voices weaves a spell of mountain lore and secrets, defines family as more than blood kin, and proves second chances can bring happiness.

    It is the summer of 1955 in the little mining town of Coal Valley, and things are about to heat up for Sassy Richardson. Sassy is turning thirteen and has been brought up on a stiff dose of Mama’s lessons on how to be a lady, even though Mama drinks beer, smokes, and dates a myriad of men. Then the day comes when a woman marches into the Cut and Curl Beauty Shop where Sylvia works, and accuses her of trying to steal her husband.

    It will take several startling discoveries for Sassy to come to terms with Mama's own harsh teen years.  Death, an early marriage, a war and a breakdown carved her into [applicable description here.]

    Bio graf... [end]

     

    And then stop!  The agent doesn't need to know the other info--yet.  Provoke her instead to request the pages, and let the story unfold in the way you intended readers to see it.

     

    S.P.

  •  

    Actually I think I liked query 3 better, but we are onto 4 now so I will comment about that (most of the problems I have with 4 are not present in 3, which is why I like it better) 

    “In part two of the novel’s three part structure, Sylvia’s voice reveals that by the time she is eighteen, she’s buried her parents; been married for two years to Gaines Richardson – who is ten years her senior; gave birth to a daughter; and become a widow. The year is 1942, and World War II has scattered Sylvia’s hopes and dreams like the first frost. She sinks into depression no one understands, Sylvia most of all, and her life spirals out of control. She spends time in a mental institution and upon release, runs away from Coal Valley and gives her daughter up for adoption. Even though later she fights to get her back, Sylvia believes she has made her bed and now has to lay in it – she will never know love or happiness.”

    You can cut this paragraph drastically…

    In l942, eighteen year old Sylvia is an orphaned widowed mother.  She believes she will never know love or happiness (again?).   As Sylvia’s life spirals out of control her depression lands her in a mental hospital.    Upon her release she gives Sassy up for adoption and leaves Coal Valley. Or  Upon her release she leaves Coal Valley and give up Sassy for adoption.

    For the purpose of the query we don’t need to know how long she was married, her husband’s name or that he was older than her, because, well he’s dead.  We also don’t need the part about WW2 since you don’t mention it again. (in q3 – you say that WW2 has reached her town – you don’t here, so it is irrelevant)

    “She sinks into depression no one understands, Sylvia most of all” 

    This statement might make sense in the novel, it doesn’t in the query.  She is an eighteen year old who has lost her parents, lost her husband and is alone to raise a child…how could anyone not understand why she is depressed? 

    Is part 2 of the novel a flashback?  If it is in the novel, and you did it well, that’s fine, but don’t do it in the query.  It’s confusing.  Start out in l942, move to l955 and then end the query in l956. (as you did in q3)

    This is a query not a synopsis, don’t tell the agent that…

    “She returns home and lays the truth out before Sylvia, forcing her to face her mistakes. Sylvia is finally able to lay her past to rest and find love again.”

    Now the following part made me say WHAT?

    “…gives her daughter up for adoption. Even though later she fights to get her back, Sylvia believes she has made her bed and now has to lay in it – she will never know love or happiness.

     In the final part of the novel, it is 1956 and Sassy has left Coal Valley for boarding school. Away from her beloved mountains, Sassy makes the startling discovery that for a time, she was her best friend’s adopted sister.”

    Don’t put here “later she fights to get her back”, put that later.

    Okay, now bear with me, I am an attorney and I might have a problem with this that most people might not, who knows what an agent will think.

    Let’s assume that it is 2011 for a second.  Getting a child “unadopted” is not an easy task.  Here you have a mother who willingly gave her child up for adoption and the adoption was actually finalized because she had an adopted sister.  Weight would be given to the fact that she was in a mental hospital, how much weight would be determined by whether her stay was voluntary or through committal.

    Back to l955:   so here with have a single mother (give her credit for being the natural mother) trying to get a child away from her adoptive parents, and yes they are a couple because in l955 unless you were really rich, really famous, or really powerful – single people did not get to adopt children. So her getting her child back would mean the child has no father.   Add to that the fact that she was in a mental hospital, and in l955 no one cared how she ended up there, back then crazy was crazy.

    However, if she stole the child back, say so.

    What does the 1st  paragraph have to do with the 2nd and 3rd?

    1st paragraph – Sassy sees a woman confront her mother over an affair with her husband.

    2nd paragraph – Sassy is born and given up for adoption

    3rd paragraph – Sassy finds out that her friend used to be her adopted sister.

    See they don’t tie together.  The 1st paragraph is the beginning of an interesting story.  Sylvia is confronted over sleeping with a married man, not even her own daughter is convinced she didn’t know his marital status.  You refer to the wife as “mysterious woman”, why is she mysterious, certainly it is not her identity because Sylvia is quick to say she didn’t know he was married, so she must know who the woman is talking about.  Granted we do know that she dates more than one man, are we to believe that she applies the I didn’t know he was married argument to all of them, explaining why this woman is mysterious?

     

  • Hi, Rebecca! I hate to be the one who steps on your petunias, but it's too long! Yikes, it's over 400 words. With one read through, I was in a whirlwind with character switches.

    I know that you have changes in the POV in the novel, I'm just not sure how to play it into a query. Queries can be tricky. But...

    I wouldn't give away all of your goodies in the query:)

    I'm getting more of a synopsis feeling when I read it. Keep your chin up!:)) Let's see what the other ladies have to advise.

    Anyone else, whatcha say?