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Wednesday Liveblogging: Query Me This

So, today I’m launching a new “feature” on this blog: Wednesday Liveblogging. Every Wednesday, come Hell or high water (but possibly not Boot Camp) I will spend a full eight hours liveblogging. Hopefully it will give me a lot of accountability, without having quite the paralyzing effect that trying to write a full story while blogging had.

Today I’m going to work on something strictly for funsies. The Public Query Slushpile is running an experiment called Query Me This. It’s basically an invitation for writers to send in query letters and five pages in answer to the following prompt:

Our protagonist has found evidence that the government is being lured into war. If the country engages in the conflict abroad, its military will not be able to deal with an imminent invasion by a rival nation. The problem is that the source of the information is a double agent, and our protagonist is being set up to cause the war he/she is trying to prevent.

I have to admit, this prompt didn’t really grab me until I started thinking of it as a concept for an alternate history novel. And where do all the hottest alternate history novels go? That’s right, baby. World War II.

Writing a query for a manuscript that doesn’t exist obviously gives me a lot of leeway. Still, there are a number of things I really need to know about this fictional book. What are the major conflicts between these nations? Why is our protagonist in a position to affect them? What’s his (or her) relationship to the double agent? Why does he trust this person, and what will the eventual betrayal mean? Also, how alternate am I going with this history? Are the events of the novel basically the only departure from known history, or am I dealing with a truly different world?

1:47 PM: And so we begin. Well, truthfully, we began about half an hour ago, and have been struggling with WordPress’s not-so-hot editor for the iPad ever since.

2:00 PM: I’ve been doing some research to try to determine what my conflict would be. Originally I wanted to do a war between Britain and America, weakening both before the Third Reich went on the move. But I honestly couldn’t come up with a reasonable reason for hostilities to exist between these nations, not without grafting on a more alternate history than I was really interested in.

So, I turned my attention to Russia. It’s easy for those of us in the Western world to sort of forget it, but in WWII the Russians were really up against it. America and Britain both lost around four hundred thousand soldiers; in contrast, the USSR lost somewhere around nine or ten million.

And, looking at the history, it wasn’t hard to find a place where the history could be just a touch alternate, with a big effect. My query will focus on the Russian-Japanese conflict along the border of Manchuria in 1938-39.

2:40 PM: Ok, scrapping that idea. Because that history? Isn’t exactly alternate.

2:52 PM: Mark: a fountain of all knowledge military and historical. I’m back to my original idea, Britain vs. America.

2:59 PM: Ok, I have my villain and my protagonist. The former: Miss Moneypenny. (Ok, not Moneypenny exactly, but a selfless secretary working for MI6 and spending her free time fantasizing about our villain, a sort of evil James Bond.)

3:51 PM: An extremely rough draft:

Working as a secretary for the Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 6 isn’t exactly glamorous. But Dilys Dalrymple is happy to do it. After all, she’s the only one who knows how to keep MI6 running smoothly. Plus, it keeps her close to the object of her affection, MI6 agent Max Law.

When Max uncovers a plot by America to take over the far-flung jewels of the British Empire, Australia and India, Miss Dalrymple is eager to get him whatever resources he needs to prove his theory. But is Max really serving queen and country? Or is he working for another government instead?

There are several problems with this, which I won’t go into in their entirety (like the fact that it’s not even clear this is WWII). But the main thing I want to talk about is the similarity to James Bond.

Let’s just say that this is not a project I would pursue as a real book. James Bond is old enough, and iconic enough, to have generated plenty of homages and parodies… and I think these are legitimate works. This idea of mine, though, doesn’t seem legit, at least not yet.

To me, the thing that makes a movie like Austin Powers legit is that it is both closer to, and farther from, the original source material. It is closer in the sense that it is 100% a James Bond story, twisted sideways. It borrows heavily from the Bond trope, including villains with overly elaborate schemes and women with overly suggestive names. And it is farther from the source in the sense that it is in an entirely separate genre, humor rather than action. It is James Bond with a single interesting twist.

Whereas my query here is James Bond with a slightly murky, uninteresting twist. What if James Bond had started in 1943 instead of 1953? Not so interesting. What if James Bond were evil? Interesting, but coupled with the other twist it’s a touch murky and hard to defend. Also, this would remain in the same genre as the original Bond, and that, too, is hard to defend.

What would a Bond novel look like with Moneypenny as the protagonist? This is both the most interesting, and most legitimate twist I’ve got. While it doesn’t place the book in a separate genre, it has the potential to hop it over to a different subgenre, the cozy, funny women sleuths subgenre. If I were going to write a book like this in real life, that’s the twist I would need to concentrate on. (Actually, I sort of already did that with the novel I’m currently shopping, which is a hard boiled detective story from the secretary’s point of view).

All this being said, as an exercise I think this is just fine. I may try to push my characters farther afield, into an area where I would consider them legitimate and original, or I may just leave it as is, since this is for nothing but fun.

4:50 PM: Short break to catch up on a few blogs and such.

5:26 PM: Back. What I really need now is more specifics; the current graphs are just a bunch of generalities.

6:39 PM: Leftover chicken pot pie for dinner. Mega-yum.

There’s a part of me that wonders whether the other people doing this exercise are taking as long as I am. I’m starting to come up with something decent here, but it’s been kind of a long road.

7:28 PM: Okay, this still needs polish, and it’s a bit long for a real query letter, but here’s a draft:

Dear Mr. Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 75,000 word alternate history suspense novel, (Title Here). Set in the days just before World War II, it follows a lowly MI6 secretary who learns that her country is being lured into war with America in order to weaken it before the coming German invasion.

Playing Girl Friday to one of Britain’s most clandestine secret agents isn’t exactly the glamorous life Dilys Griffin hoped for. Most days, she spends more time locating cuff links than saving the world. But Dilys wouldn’t trade her job for anything. After all, she’s serving queen and country, as any Briton should. And there are those times when she’s almost sure that her employer, Agent Maxwell Lloyd, is looking at her with more than professional interest.

When Max disappears while on assignment, Dilys defies MI6 protocol to go after him. She follows him to India, where she learns that he was killed. Heartbroken, Dilys recovers the last dead drop Max made before his death: photographs showing America mounting an invasion force to wrest India from the British Empire.

Pursued throughout the back alleys of Bangalore, Dilys will have to use every trick she ever learned from Max to complete his last mission and bring the photographs to light. But everything is not what it appears to be. The photographs are doctored. The invasion is a lie. And the man Dilys loves is not only not dead–he’s not even British!

(Title Here) could function as a standalone, or could anchor a series in which Dilys serves her government as a spy throughout the events of World War II.

Previously I was a story writer for the popular online game City of Heroes, known for its intricate plot lines. I studied writing at Florida State University.

Thank you for your consideration,


7:32 PM: Well, it needs work, but that will stand for the moment. Now I need to write the five pages that would accompany this letter in a query. Ideally, it’ll be a complete scene… not because it would need to be for agents, but because this is a fake thing, for funning around on the Interwebs, and a full scene would be most entertaining for people to read.

8:47 PM: The scene is going fairly well. About half a page in, and the voice is decent.

9:18 PM: All right, I think that’s it for the night. I’m about halfway into my five pages and going strong. Does anyone have an idea for a good title for this fictional book? Titles are not my strongest point.

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