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Query Saturday: GARWAF

Dear (Insert Name Here),

How is a man supposed to be a man when he’s trapped in the body of a wolf? And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation?

GARWAF (Old French for "werewolf") is a fantasy complete at 90,000 words which blends elements of Beauty and the Beast with Marie de France’s medieval lais "Bisclavret."

Lady Isabeau has been packed off to the royal court to snare herself a rich husband so she can pay her father’s gaming debts. Bored by the petty intrigues of the nobility, her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf. Isabeau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this “wolf” was once Gabriel, the king’s favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity. Trapped in his wolf form by his unfaithful wife when she learned his secret, Gabriel struggles to return to the ways of his old life at court while fighting his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

Gradually, rumors of an uncannily intelligent and mild-mannered wolf at the royal court reach the ears of Gabriel’s wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. The circumstances of the wolf’s capture and his subsequent integration into court life lead Alison to suspect that the king’s pet "Garwaf" is none other than her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect. Though her second marriage to Reynard has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king’s new pet. Gabriel, after all, is the one creature that could, should he ever return to his human self, strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

A SASE for your reply has been included, and I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
A Writer

***

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

29 Comments

  1. Erastes
    May 31, 2008 @ 05:06:12

    Hmm. Ok. The first thing I thought was “oh God, not another shapeshifting novel,” and that it smacks of Ladyhawke – but I’m actually quite intrigued by the idea. That being said however, the pitch is confusing and complicated and so I’ll just critique it as I read it, and ask the questions an editor/agent might be asking.

    her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf.

    Sounds more like he wants to kill her! I’m assuming the King knows about the wolf, but it does seem a stretch for a lady to be given such a menial task.

    Isabeau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this “wolf” was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him,

    Does she have magical abilities?

    Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity.

    This makes little sense, and you’re repeating yourself with the trials of the court life – I would revise it to simply say something like ‘the longer he remains in his wolf form, the further he strays from his humanity’ or something like.

    Trapped in his wolf form by his unfaithful wife when she learned his secret,

    What secret?

    Gabriel struggles to return to the ways of his old life at court while fighting his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

    So Isabeau did restore him? Otherwise how can he return to his old way?

    Gradually, rumors of an uncannily intelligent and mild-mannered wolf at the royal court reach the ears of Gabriel's wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard.

    He’s a man or a wolf? I’m confused. and Alison really goes for the same type, doesn’t she – her second husband is a fox.

    The circumstances of the wolf's capture and his subsequent integration into court life lead Alison to suspect that the king's pet “Garwaf” is none other than her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect.

    You’ve already said this – and I’m still confused how a wolf is integrated into the court life.

    Though her second marriage to Reynard

    Repetition

    has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king's new pet. Gabriel, after all, is the one creature that could, should he ever return to his human self, strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

    Which is what?

    It’s better than some pitches, but it reads a little too much like a blurb than a pitch. It’s not far off though, and I would probably read this book.

  2. Ardeatine
    May 31, 2008 @ 06:10:06

    Definite echoes of The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw. It made me pull that novel out again actually.

  3. Ann Somerville
    May 31, 2008 @ 07:14:06

    Isabeau was the heroine’s name in ‘Ladyhawke’ – that’s not going to impress a publisher. I don’t know why ‘GARWAF’ is written in all caps – looks like it’s supposed to be an acronym. Using ‘Reynard’ as a character name is confusing the ‘beast’ aspect of the story.

    Other than that, I’m actually quite intrigued by this and would probably buy or borrow the book based on this summary. However, if the borrowings from other creations are very strong, this will not go down well. I’m not in a position to comment on that, however.

  4. cecilia
    May 31, 2008 @ 08:11:47

    Erastes, I think I know how Isabeau might think she could restore him, if that part is true to “Bisclavret,” and she wouldn’t have to have any magic abilities for it, just his clothes. (He was a werewolf, disappeared several days every week, wife wanted to know why, he told her, and when his clothes were stolen while he was in wolf form, he was trapped in that form.)

    One nerdy comment for the author: it should be “lai” or “lay” if you’re just talking about one.

    Otherwise, this was the first query I’ve seen that I actually was intrigued by, probably because of the unusual Marie de France reference. On the other hand, too much emphasis on the heroine being bored, frustrated, and sorely tested makes it sound like it/she could be a bit of a drag.

  5. Jill Myles
    May 31, 2008 @ 08:51:38

    Hello there!

    I really like this and I think it could be great! Hell, I’d read it. ;) That being said, there are a couple of parts in your letter that made me pause, and I thought I’d highlight them here:

    How is a man supposed to be a man when he's trapped in the body of a wolf? And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation?

    Oh dear. I read somewhere (actually, most agent blogs mention this) that agents hate query letters that begin with questions. I’d remove this paragraph entirely and start with the next one.

    Someone else already mentioned the ‘lais’ vs ‘lay’ thing so I’ll skip that, but I agree with the above poster.

    Lady Isabeau has been packed off to the royal court to snare herself a rich husband so she can pay her father's gaming debts.

    Not a lot of gambling going on in medieval England, sorry. Gambling became popular in the Georgian era, I believe (though I am by no means an expert). It would be far more believable to have Isabeau heading to court at her father’s wishes or because he’s off to war/crusade/whatever.

    You don’t state that this is medieval, but given the other names in the novel, that is the assumption that I took. Isabeau is a common enough Norman name, so I wouldn’t worry about the Ladyhawke reference someone else mentioned.

    Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity.

    Delete this sentence – it’s filler.

    Gabriel, after all, is the one creature that could, should he ever return to his human self, strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

    Not a big fan of this sentence. There’s a lot of commas (and thus pauses), and you leave off with a mysterious ‘schemed so hard to gain’. WHAT did they scheme so hard to gain? I think I’d rather be told. :)

    I hope that helps – this is a really intriguing story (and I notice you call it fantasy and not romance, which is interesting) and I hope you get a lot of requests for it! I’d totally buy this if it were on the shelves.

    Good luck!

  6. Gennita Low
    May 31, 2008 @ 08:52:54

    The first two sentences are awkward and unneccessary. I would just leave them out and start your query from the second paragraph.

    I would emphasize more about Isabeau’s interaction with Gabriel and how he sees her in his wolf form. As it is, the editor might wonder how the heroine suddenly managed to know Gabriel was actually one of the knights in court since she’d never met him (not sure of this point).

    From your query, your story sounds different enough from the many werewolf stories in today’s urban fantasies. I’d definitely pick it up if it’s on the shelf.

    Good luck!

  7. Gennita Low
    May 31, 2008 @ 08:56:12

    Wow, Jill M,

    We must be drinking the same coffee today ;-). Snap.

  8. Sara Reinke
    May 31, 2008 @ 09:06:31

    I really enjoyed reading your query — thanks so much for sharing it! My only real concern echoes one mentioned above — how does Isabeau figure out he’s a man bewitched into a wolf, and not just a very clever, well trained animal? Some of the other things (a lady put in charge of a pet’s care, for example), I’d be willing to suspend disbelief on because this is a fantasy/historical, not straight historical, and because the premise is intriguing, and your pitch is really well-written.

    I didn’t mind the Isabeau/Ladyhawke inference because I do things like that, too, and offer what I call “nods” to things that have inspired me in my writing. I don’t think a publisher would balk at that necessarily, if they even catch the name play at all.

    The name “Alison” snapped me out of the story, though. Even if it was in use during the time period in which your story is set, it’s still so common today that it sounds too contemporary in the context of your story.

    I also didn’t mind the referral to rumors of the very clever wolf reaching the ex-wife’s ear. I didn’t interpret this to mean the wolf had been integrated into the court society, but rather that the King had a very entertaining and clever pet that everyone buzzed about, and that was all of the rage. Sort of like Paris Hilton’s little chihuahua, only intelligent and not paraded about in an oversized purse.

    I would watch some of the reptitious mentions, as others have noted, but otherwise, hey, you’ve got me hooked and ready to read more! Great job, and good luck submitting it!

    :) Sara

  9. carolyn Jean
    May 31, 2008 @ 09:42:06

    This sounds really cool! I would read this. I agree with most of the tightening and clarity comments above. I would add one question that arose for me, and that is how the romance plays. I think that’s important for an agent to understand. Because I’m assuming this is partly a romance between Lady Isabeau and Gabriel. I will confess that certain wolf/woman scenarios came to mind, and they were not AT ALL enticing or romantic. I might want to know he spends time out of his wolf body later, or something where you sort of manage that potential perception. I don’t think you’d be giving away any surprises to say he gets free and turns back into a man, and then maybe you just talk about things turning romantic then, and maybe some issue they struggle with around that.

    Unless I’m the only one who went there. **Mouse hovering uncertainly over SUBMIT COMMENT.**

  10. Ivy
    May 31, 2008 @ 09:56:41

    Like Ardeatine, I immediately thought of The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw.

    (Aside: Highly, highly recommend any book by Gillian Bradshaw.)

  11. Carrie Lofty
    May 31, 2008 @ 10:03:32

    No, Carolyn Jean, I thought the same thing. The opening two questions about ‘the woman who loves him’ got me thinking this would have romantic elements, but HOW that romance plays out is not addressed here. I’d want more detail about how they connect, both before and after his (eventual?) transformation. The mention of the ex-wife and her husband by name adds a bit of clutter that might be tightened. Good luck!

  12. Jill Sorenson
    May 31, 2008 @ 10:15:05

    Unless I'm the only one who went there.

    Not at all, Carolyn. If the man doesn’t inhabit his human body at some point–well before the end–how will these two get “romantic”?

    I agree that the opening questions are unnecessary. I also think most of the stuff after “dwindling humanity” is superfluous. We know there is trouble and intrique at court. The details you share are interesting, but I think shorter queries work better, and I’d rather get a little glimpse at how the romance develops. Does she fall in love with the man in wolf form?

    Even as is, this is a good query. I’d call it a winner. Tighten things up and send it in! Best of luck to you.

  13. Jill Myles
    May 31, 2008 @ 10:15:11

    Mmm, coffee. ;)

  14. Marissa Scott
    May 31, 2008 @ 10:44:30

    I like this. I’m not fond of the title… and to me titles matter, but that’s just me. I like the query, it could stand a little tightening here and there, but I like it. It is an intriguing storyline.

  15. Leah
    May 31, 2008 @ 10:51:15

    I’m just a reader, and not much into shape-shifter romances, but I liked this idea; it doesn’t sound like your typical paranormal, but rather more like a fairy tale. I would be interested in reading it, particularly if the relationship between Gabriel and Isabeau is handled well and not in a oh, gross manner (yeah, I also went there). I think it’s possible for her to like the wolf (not romantically) and, if she finds out he’s actually a person, become devoted to him a la “Beauty and the Beast” (just not the TV version).

    The only thing that tripped me up about the query was the POV. I started thinking that the story would be told from Isabeau’s perspective, but then began to wonder if it would actually be Gabriel’s or Alison’s. Isabeau just seemed to get lost somewhere. Also, aside from the fact that she’s an adulterous wife, why does Alison hate Gabriel so much, and why do members of the court dislike him? Is it just jealousy, or something else?

    Good luck with your submission! It seems like an appealing spin on a popular subject, and I bet we’ll be hearing about your “first sale” soon!

  16. » I hate blurbs
    May 31, 2008 @ 11:27:54

    […] I’m using? It’s freaking obscure enough, for pity’s sake! Check out today’s Query Saturday at Dear Author. Categories: Writing | Trackback • Permalink • • […]

  17. Tori
    May 31, 2008 @ 11:29:30

    This query was intriguing enough for me to want to read the book. It doesn’t strike me as your run of the mill paranormal. I agree with Leah-it sounds like more of a fairy tale.
    I also agree with those who said there needs to be more emphasis on the relationship between Isabeau and Gabriel. It might be worthwhile to include an extra few more lines with details about them. The last paragraph tells me a lot about the villians, but I’m assuming the story isn’t really about them. And I think the line:
    Trapped in his wolf form by his unfaithful wife when she learned his secret, Gabriel struggles to return to the ways of his old life at court is a typo. Maybe you meant to say “when he learned of her secret?

  18. Maya
    May 31, 2008 @ 11:38:49

    Overall, I’d be interested in this story. Some thoughts:

    FRENCH: I am unfamiliar with the ‘Bisclavet’ and ‘lai’ references – maybe it would be helpful to include a very brief description of content or definition?
    Unlike an earlier commenter, I didn’t get the impression this is supposed to take place in medieval England, but in France. Maybe would be helpful to specify?
    I don’t know if the average reader would know that ‘Reynard’ means fox in French. But I thought this was kind of intriguing – the hero and villain both being canines. Would seem to set them up for some type of climactic battle at the end, not to mention, since the hero’s first wife went on to this second canine that there is potential for the fox to become interested in the heroine as well.

    HEROINE: I’m the type of reader who generally focuses on the female lead’s development. Somehow, she doesn’t really move into the foreground here. It’s all about the wronged hero and the much more active sounding villainess. She is vague from the beginning (if she is quickly ‘bored’ by court intrigue, does this mean she’s familiar with court intrigue elsewhere? Because a sheltered young woman from the country would probably not be ‘bored’ by such intrigue, rather ‘overwhelmed’) to the middle (is she somehow known for skill in animal handling, to justify him being given into her care rather than, say, the king’s master of the hunt? how does she find out the wolf is human, what does she do to rectify the situation?) to the end (what role in deflecting the scheming of the villains?)

    KING: So – he knows the wolf is enchanted and content to have it that way since he thinks his favorite knight somehow betrayed him? Or he thinks his favorite knight is dead (which would explain how the villainess could have remarried)?

    Good luck!

  19. Diana Pharaoh Francis
    May 31, 2008 @ 12:55:40

    I haven’t read the rest of the comments, so this may be redundant, but here it goes anyhow.

    I’m intrigued by the idea, but this query doesn’t make me want to read it.

    Your first paragraph is more light and jokey and doesn’t seem to match the tone of the rest of it.

    Your description is complicated and too in depth about what’s least important.

    Some things to hit on:

    *Why is Gabriel turned and kept by the king?
    *Why does I. feel compelled to help them (i.e. what is their connection and how does it come about?)
    *How does the need for I. to marry wealthy complicate the story?
    *Why is she put in charge of the wolf (is it a favored position or not so favored)?
    *Does the king know G. is his wolf?
    *What secret does A. find out and that makes her turn G. into a wolf?
    *Is she a witch? Do they have reason to continue to fear her?
    *Gradually rumors of G reach A. But if she turned him, shouldn’t she know where he is? What does she think happened to him? Is there a chance he could be turned back by someone else? (why is she worried about him being discovered?

    That’s a few of the major questions. The point is, that you don’t focus on what’s important–the tensions between characters and the drama of the plot. Much of what you focus on is secondary to all of that.

    Next. Garwaf is an AWFUL title. I like that it’s old French for Werewolf, but it does nothing at all to engage your audience and worse, will likely actually make them not want to read.

    Those are my few cents worth. Best of luck. Remember that queries are notoriously hard to write. I think that this query doesn’t serve your story as well as it might.

    Best,

    Di

  20. (Jān)
    May 31, 2008 @ 13:44:20

    I liked the sound of the book too. Though like other said, gaming debts aren’t going to be common in medieval times, nor would the king assign a lady to care for a wild animal.

    The main thing that bugs me though is the title. This is a French-based romance, correct? Even though you chose an historically accurate French term, you have to think about what it sounds like to the average reader. To this one it sounds like a dog throwing up. I would not expect romance from that name, and it would make me hesitate buying it. I seriously suggest rethinking that.

  21. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    May 31, 2008 @ 14:23:22

    Maybe I’m reading off today, but I liked the first paragraph, and thought it was kind of funny. I wanted it to be even more so though, and this isn’t a funny story, so maybe the suggestion to get rid of it is a good one. The focus here is on this wolf/woman relationship, and I likewise want to know how she figures it out. Does she suddenly find him playing cards? Or is is something gross with his wolf tongue? This should be answered in a quick bite (no pun intended) in this letter.

    You sign yourself off as a writer, but do you have naything to say along those lines? In terms of your writing history?

    Reynard the fox as the second husband’s name is good.

    Jessica

  22. Angela James
    May 31, 2008 @ 14:24:04

    I don't know why ‘GARWAF' is written in all caps – looks like it's supposed to be an acronym.

    Writing a title in all caps is the alternative to italics when sending emails/letters. I get a lot of agent queries with the title in all caps like this.

  23. T.J. Killian
    May 31, 2008 @ 15:01:58

    Been done and then over done. I’d like to see more of the originality of the story, rather then you banking on the pipe-dream of riding an already over-written story line.

    If you are working on the angle of a legend – then infuse more of that. You do need to change the heroine’s name as it is so close it hurts to Ladyhawk.

    Angle this as I do see some differences, they just aren’t portrayed in a way that would make me want to read the entire manuscript.

  24. Annabel
    May 31, 2008 @ 19:21:38

    Reminds me of Gillian Bradshaw’s “The Wolf Hunt”, too. Admittedly it would be hard to avoid similarities if you’re both going back to the same source legend, but it does sound uncomfortably close.

  25. DS
    May 31, 2008 @ 22:09:01

    Loved Wolf Hunt.

    Something that puts me off the description of this book is the gaming debts thing. Maybe come up with something a little more imaginative as to why the heroine is in court? Also can’t tell in what period (or analogous period) this is set. It’s hard to imagine under what circumstances a lady would be put in charge of the king’s pet wolf. However, there might be an interesting situation if there was a hound boy involved– servants who took care of the valuable hunting hounds in a lordly household, sometimes actually sleeping in the kennel. Because the hounds were usually better housed than many low level servants, one could see the desirable side of such a job.

  26. vanessa jaye
    May 31, 2008 @ 22:23:37

    I think the query does what it’s suppose to do, make the agent/editor want to read more–ie request a partial/full. Certainly a number of commenters here indicate they’d pick up the book in the store (myself included).

    There's been several questions asked in this thread about the story, but I wouldn’t add more detail/explanation to the query, save those bits of clarification for the synopsis.

    My only concern, aside from the H being a wolf, is where’s the conflict between he and the heroine?

    The suggestions to clean the piece up a bit can’t hurt. Consider cutting the first paragraph completely, then moving the second paragraph towards the end (make it the second to last paragraph just before the SASE paragraph).

    You have one short sentence that directly addresses Gabriel's situation. I would make that your first paragraph with a little tweaking, including some indication of his possible conflict with the heroine-‘ie betrayed by one woman, can he trust another:

    Trapped in his wolf form by his unfaithful wife when she learned his secret, Gabriel– once the king's favorite knight–struggles to return to the ways of his old life at court while fighting his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

    Your current third paragraph I would break into two smaller paragraphs. The first one would end with:

    “…king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf.”

    The remaining bit could also be tweaked a bit:

    Isabeau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this “wolf” was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity.

    You could either cut ‘for this wolf was once Gabriel' or hint a bit more as to how she found out his identity. The reference to the ‘trials of court' is good, but this would also be the place to state what puts her/Isabeau in conflict with him/Gabriel; ie- how helping him is a threat to her own goals.

    I haven’t read the other titles brought up as comparison, and since we’re talking about a werewolf here, I’m will to suspend disbelief re the king putting her in charge of caring for the wolf (as long as it was set up right in the story). As a few other posters have commented this has the sound of a fairytale.

    Good luck with this one!

  27. Liv
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 12:01:49

    Where is everyone getting the mistaken notion that gambling wasn’t popular in medieval times?

    The lottery dates back to the 15th century, card games in Europe to the 14th century (much earlier in China) and dice games go back *much* further. There was also medieval horse racing – and betting on it was considered the province of the wealthy.

    In fact, the Encyclopedia Brittanica calls gambling “one of mankind’s oldest activities.”

    The numerous historical reference and many, many medieval regulations on gambling show that it was widespread enough to be an influence on society – enough of a problem in the eyes of government (including England and France) to need to be curtailed.

  28. Moth
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 13:54:39

    Author here. Wow. Lots of really comments on this. Thank you so much everyone. I know this needs a lot of work, but I’m really glad that even a few of you were piqued enough to want to read the whole thing.

    I’ve never actually heard of The Wolf Hunt by Gillian Bradshaw. I’d probably be too scared to read it now for fear it would screw up my own story in my head.

    Anyway. I’m glad Dear Author let me throw this up here and thanks again to everyone who took a look and commented. Feedback of any kind is priceless to me. :D

  29. E.D. Walker
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 19:58:33

    Author here again. :)

    This actually sold after a few revisions, and is now available from Noble Romance Publishing:
    https://www.nobleromance.com/ItemDisplay.aspx?i=173

    Here’s the “official” blurb:
    Lady Kathryn's father sends her to court to find a husband, but being penniless and disinterested doesn’t bode well for her success. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her frustration and loneliness are eased when the king charges her with the care of his newest acquisition: a wolf he and his hunters have recently captured. What the king doesn’t realize is his remarkable pet was once Gabriel, his favorite knight, cursed into wolf form by an unfaithful wife.

    The beast’s too-knowing eyes and the way he understands and responds to her every utterance convince Kathryn he is more than what he seems. Resolving to restore him, she doesn’t count on the greatest obstacle being Gabriel himself. The longer he stays in wolf form as a captive of the court, the harder it becomes for him to remember his humanity and to fight his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

    As Gabriel and Kathryn grow to care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncanny wolf reach the ears of Gabriel's former wife and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. Together, they plan to dispose of the king’s pet, knowing if Gabriel ever regains his human form he could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

    Only Kathryn’s affection and determination stand between Gabriel the wolf and Gabriel the man. But when Reynard returns to court, will Kathryn's love be enough to keep Gabriel from exacting a brutish revenge that will condemn the wolf to death?

    To learn more about this book and my upcoming releases, visit me on the web at:
    http://heirtotheunderworld.com/

    ~E.D. Walker

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