#10 – Back of Beyond

Here’s a pinata for you to whack.

That is all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Doctor Query,

Back Of Beyond (98K words) is historical suspense that follows the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of Argentine president Juan Peron.

We want to know title, genre, word length, and whether or not it is complete (it is, yes?) but the second part of your sentence is unnecessary, since you give us that information in the next paragraph.  By the way, historical suspense is not a genre.  Better would be:

Back of Beyond is a thriller, complete at 98,000 words.

(We get that it’s historical as soon as we read the name Peron.)

Agent Kurt-Gustaf von Arnheim goes to Argentina to persuade the CIA’s chosen candidate to oppose Peron. This will be von Arnheim’s last job. He’ll use the bonus money to buy land to replace his family’s vineyards lost behind the iron curtain.

In Buenos Aires he befriends fellow vintner Enrico Freiberg, Argentina’s chief spy catcher and a key player in the army’s plot to remove Peron. Von Arnheim is drawn into the military plot as well as the competing plots of the communists and the Catholic Church. He becomes everyone’s target: the church group dupes him into an attempt to assassinate Peron, the military wants him as their conduit to the CIA, a bomb-throwing courtesan is enamoured with him, and a fanatical Peronista simply wants him dead.

When the military coup fails, the CIA fires von Arnheim. He threatens to write a tell-all book. The CIA assigns his termination to Angela Abruzzi, their top contract assassin, not knowing von Arnheim is the man she loves.

As in the novels of Ken Follett, Len Deighton and Alan Furst, Back of Beyond follows documented events with multiple threads converging at the end.

My time in military intelligence, clandestine activities, and special operations gives me insight into the details of spy craft. I am an active member of the -XYZ- Writers Association and a winner in their 2009 fiction contest.

Thank you.

This is a good, basic query.  If an agent is interested in this type of story, he might request some pages.  After that, it’s all in the writing.

I don’t love the title — it sounds a bit comedic, and as though it takes place in a backwater, which Buenos Aires is most certainly not. What was that other title you had in mind?

Do not query until you have finished writing, rewriting, and polishing!

That is all.

Doctor Query


#7 – Quest For Justice

Dear Dr. Query,

I am currently seeking representation for my completed 110,000 word historical fiction, QUEST FOR JUSTICE.

That’s long for today’s market.  Losing some words would up your chances of representation.

Peter Royer, a young attorney, stumbles onto a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln en-route to his inauguration in 1861. When Peter’s friend is arrested for being the ringleader of the plot, and is then murdered, the circumstances persuade him that his friend was framed.

En route has no hyphen.  No one’s going to dismiss your query for this, but you may as well get it right.  Check every word for correctness.  It shows that you can manage to get through a few paragraphs with perfect spelling and punctuation, and that bodes well for the 100,000 words to follow.

Encouraged by both his fiancé and a Kant-quoting German émigré, Peter embarks on a quest for justice that takes him from the docklands to the mansions of a pro-secessionist Baltimore during the final days of antebellum America.

I see you’re avoiding names here, perhaps for simplicity.  It works okay with Peter’s friend and his fiance, but “Kant-quoting German emigre,” while evocative, is quite a mouthful.  How about naming the fiance and emigre?  Something like: “Encouraged by both his fiance Buttercup and Johan, a German emigre he met at the pub, Peter embarks on a quest for justice that…”

But Peter is ill-prepared to face the would be assassin: Henry Gambler, a mysterious man who once escaped a near-hanging and has resurrected with one thing on his mind: revenge. As Peter and Henry duel each other in a race against time, he becomes infatuated with the glamorous daughter of the city’s most prominent judge, a man also seemingly implicit in the assassination plot.

I think the name Gambler is a little too coy.  Unless of course he’s a historical character, and that’s his real name, which would be pretty interesting.

If you escape it, it’s of course a near-hanging.  If it were a hanging, he’d be dead.  Lose the near.  You like hyphens, don’t you?

“Has resurrected?”  I don’t know what this means.  I think you mean has been resurrected (can one resurrect oneself?) but that sounds too much like Jesus, so you should just come up with a less dramatic word. Resurfaced?

“Duel each other in a race against time” — do you mean a literal duel?  Confusing.  How can he become infatuated in the middle of a duel?  Too many adjectives.  Strip this down.  You’re telling us more than we need to be intrigued.

It’s implicit in your sentence that you mean complicit here.  Look these two words up in the dictionary and learn the difference.  This is your assignment!

Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing America as the country speeds towards war, Peter learns the real meanings of justice, a just society and what it takes to be a just person. This crystalizes when Peter discovers that he alone has the means to save a great man, but that doing so would come at a terrible personal cost. Finally defeating Henry Gambler during a dramatic train ride and saving the president of the United States leaves Peter Royer a nearly shattered man, but with his last ounce of resolve he tries to salvage his engagement and prepare himself for the unknown future.

You can delete this whole paragraph.

While the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 is one of the great tragedies of American history, almost forgotten are the rumors of a plot to assassinate Lincoln in 1861. Historians have long been divided on whether this Baltimore plot really did exist, and drawing on real-life characters, the existence of an early machine gun, and surprising coincidences and relationships between real-life figures, I have written a historical fiction that presents a possible scenario for this earlier plot. This is my first novel.

“A historical fiction?”  Try a book, a story, or a novel.  Don’t tell us it’s your first.  If it weren’t, you’d be mentioning the others.  (And that doesn’t count the ones in the drawer.)

Included in this email are the first five pages of the novel. I’d be glad to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Fascinating historical incident.

Your query is way too long.  You use four paragraphs to tell me the plot; make it one or two.  I like the paragraph about the actual historical background.

Do you have any training in history?  If so, you can tell us that.

Can you distinguish it from similar books already out?  I trust you are aware of last year’s well received “The Baltimore Plot” by Michael Kline?

You don’t need to offer to send the ms.  We know that.

Title is a little bland.

Good luck!

That is all.

Doctor Query