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Query Saturday: No. 5 Phantom Warriors

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?

***

Dear Editor,

Devotion to duty, loyalty and fidelity are the trademarks of Roarke "The Iceman" Campbell, Commander of the Special Ops Team Phantom Warriors, in the year 2244. He is cold and calm under fire and has never wavered from a mission no matter the difficulties or possible outcome. At least, until his icy shell is thawed by F.A.W.N., a breeder in the enemy’s elite Esalen Center where his mission has taken him in deep cover.

This is the premise for my recently completed novel, PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN, a 74,000 word futuristic romance novel that takes the reader from the shores of Vancouver to the heart of the UIS breeding program in Big Sur spanning the years 2244 to 2246.

Roarke has always lived for his duty to his team and country. When a plot to overtake their neighbors by the U.I.S. Board Of Directors is discovered, and he is chosen to infiltrate the enemy and strike at the heart of their plot, he accepts the dangerous assignment and the changes it will bring with the reputation he had earned. Dispassionately and objectively, he endures a long uncomfortable training and permanent physical changes. His mission undercover leads to an encounter with a woman who would test all his beliefs of personal freedom, duty, and honor.

F.A.W.N., a class A breeder and citizen of the U.I.S., has never fit in with her society. She is gentle and loving with her charges in the nurseries where she was assigned while waiting to be called into breeding service. She is uncomfortable with the values that she and all citizens have been taught since childhood but she knows of no other life. When she is called into service and selected to breed the Chairman of the Board’s heir, she is sent to the Esalen Center where she is instantly attracted to one of the elite Centurion guards.

A little about me. I am a Bakery/Deli supervisor for a grocery store chain where I have worked for almost 25 years. I began writing almost accidentally when I discovered fan fiction and was tempted to try my hand at telling one of the stories that crowded my imagination. Several of the other authors encouraged me to enter one of the contests at Romance At Heart magazine. I won the first one I entered with my short story called GUARDED HEARTS in January 2004. PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN is an expansion of my third entry into one of Romance At Heart’s contests.

I expanded PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN with the intention to submitting it for publishing. It is the first of a four book series. I would be pleased to send you the completed manuscript at your request. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,

***

Interested in participating as an author or an aspiring author? Send your query to jane at dearauthor.com. All queries are kept confidential.

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

15 Comments

  1. Erastes
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 06:50:37

    It’s an interesting premise and the query starts well and in a good order, with a teaser, then description of the book.

    However it tends to go downhill from there, in my opinion. You aren’t telling us any more than we already know, there was no need to go on about the characters and their motivations and traits, you’ve pretty much already covered that in the first paragraph. Tell the agent/publisher what the book is ABOUT and what conflicts and resolutions come about.

    I’d miss off fan fiction, and the personal information about your work and the length of time you’ve worked there. It’s irrelevant. Stick to writing credits, and if the competition is the only one, that’s fine, it’s a good one, stick with that.

    I’d also miss out this:

    I expanded PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN with the intention to submitting it for publishing. as that’s self evident.

  2. (Jān)
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 08:12:43

    The idea is decent for a sf novel but to be honest I’d probably not read it in a romance because of the implications of rape that it sets up in my mind. I don’t want to read about a future like that in a genre I read for comfort. It actually recalls a really upsetting short story from one of the Dangerous Vision anthologies were women are literally treated like cattle, kept in barns for breeding and sex only. *shudders* But there are lots of people who would find the premise interesting.

    One thing that jumped out were the names you used for the characters. I realize no one owns names, but when I read Roarke I think Robb. I can’t think of anything else. You’d have that shadow hanging over your story for a lot of readers.

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 09:03:22

    This storyline definitely caught my eye, although I can see where Jan has some doubts regarding how it would fit into romance. ‘Forced’ mating/breeding can be tricking in a romance, but it’s not impossible.

    IMO, it’s short, sweet and to the point, and yeah, I’d be interested in reading more.

  4. Laura Elliott
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 09:18:29

    I would definitely read this story. I think you could work on the query letter a little more. The opening paragraph needs to be shorter. For example He is cold and calm under fire and has never wavered from a mission no matter the difficulties or possible outcome. You can put a period after mission and the meaning of the sentence stays the same.

    I didn’t like how the synopsis ended where it did. F.A.W.N is sent to breed an heir and falls for Roarke instead. Then what? I don’t know enough about the world you set up to see how that would be a problem. I think you need a few more lines explaining the obstacles they must face because of their love.

    I suggest cutting the personal information down to two sentences. Don’t bury the contest results at the end of the paragraph. Put it first so it stands out. Then have one sentence about what you do for a living.

  5. Keishon
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 09:19:24

    As a reader, the hook was missing. I read the whole thing and I kept tripping over the word “breeder” and thought “ick”. Also, I thought the plot sounded quite vague, not enough details. There was a lot of “what the heck is that or what the heck does that mean” type of questions while I was reading. You said it was a romance and I wouldn’t have gleaned that fact on my own without you mentioning it because it reads more like a SF novel.

  6. Devon
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 09:23:18

    I’d be interesting in reading more, definitely. The premise has possibilities for being really intriguing and different.

    I don’t know about the paragraph with the bio. Is that really necessary? That’s a real question. I’m not sure what needs to be included in a query, if they want to know anything about you yet. You have a paragraph about the hero, one about the heroine…maybe the third should be about them both? “Sparks fly, but first they have to overcome…” Yadda, yadda, that kind of thing?

  7. Julie Leto
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 09:44:27

    The first paragraph is pretty good. A nice start. But if you’re going to use acronyms, let the reader know what they stand for. It’s distracting otherwise (or take them out and save them for the synopsis.) I, too, was distracted by the name Rourke. JD Robb sort of owns it now, particularly in futuristic romance.

    I’m not big on the whole breeder thing, but only because it’s not explained…and probably can’t be in a query unless you can do it in a sentence. “Because of the plague that sterilized millions of women, the U.I.S. instituted a breeder program to ensure the continuation of mankind and FAWN is the…” or some such. It just gets that squick factor out of the way if it is explained with a good reason.

    If her name is an acronym, does that mean she’s not human? That obviously can’t be…but it is distracting.

    Same everyone else said on the personal bio information. Cut it down to only the writing-related aspects. I agree with Laura–contest stuff first. I’d probably drop the part about other authors encouraging you. It implies you only did it because of that. It’s bolder to say, “I decided to expand it…” Just my two cents.

    I love futuristic romances, so I would be complelled to at least take a look at a few pages…and that’s really what you want an editor to do, isn’t it!

    A big pat on the back for putting yourself out here.

  8. Darlynne
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 11:29:05

    I agree with the previous assessments about acronyms and the use of Roarke (there’s no getting around that one, sorry). The meaning of F.A.W.N. is particularly important: are all women in the breeding service classified as FAWNs or is that an acronym for one woman? The latter could become fairly complicated if you populate the story with other female characters from the service. Not to belabor the point (although I am) the use of “Fawn” as a woman’s name conjures an image of a docile, doe-eyed, Bambi character that would have me running in the other direction.

    As a reader, I would be interested enough to take a second look, provided the subject of the breeding service was handled well. Not sure what that means exactly, but you are leading with a difficult idea (think “Handmaid’s Tale”). Huge points to you if you can carry it off.

    Finally, and this is admittedly picky on my part, but using “elite” to describe both the Esalen Center and the Centurion guards is one elite too many.

    Best of luck to you.

  9. Jill Myles
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 11:32:22

    I think this one has a lot of potential. That being said, the first two paragraphs were extremely confusing. You might try and take them out entirely (with the exception of the mention of the year 2244 perhaps – stick that in another paragraph).

    Picking through the rest:

    Roarke has always lived for his duty to his team and country. When a plot to overtake their neighbors by the U.I.S. Board Of Directors is discovered, and he is chosen to infiltrate the enemy and strike at the heart of their plot,

    This is vague. What neighbors? What plot? You mention plot two times, but never describe it as anything but ‘plot’.

    he accepts the dangerous assignment and the changes it will bring with the reputation he had earned. Dispassionately and objectively, he endures a long uncomfortable training and permanent physical changes. His mission undercover leads to an encounter with a woman who would test all his beliefs of personal freedom, duty, and honor.

    A lot of this is unneccessary – I’d remove the ‘disapssionately and objectively’ for starters.

    What changes will it bring with the reputation he has earned? Less gloss, more detail pls!

    F.A.W.N., a class A breeder and citizen of the U.I.S., has never fit in with her society. She is gentle and loving with her charges in the nurseries where she was assigned while waiting to be called into breeding service. She is uncomfortable with the values that she and all citizens have been taught since childhood but she knows of no other life. When she is called into service and selected to breed the Chairman of the Board's heir, she is sent to the Esalen Center where she is instantly attracted to one of the elite Centurion guards.

    Fawn’s name really bothers me. I thought she was a robot at first. And again, I think you are giving the reader too much of the wrong stuff. The first three sentences could easily be boiled down into one. Fawn is a gentle breeder who is uncomfortable with her society’s values, etc. Also…at the end, I hope that is Rourke she falls in love with? :)

    A little about me. I am a Bakery/Deli supervisor for a grocery store chain where I have worked for almost 25 years. I began writing almost accidentally when I discovered fan fiction and was tempted to try my hand at telling one of the stories that crowded my imagination. Several of the other authors encouraged me to enter one of the contests at Romance At Heart magazine. I won the first one I entered with my short story called GUARDED HEARTS in January 2004. PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN is an expansion of my third entry into one of Romance At Heart's contests.

    Delete everything except for the phrase where you mention that you won a prize. Congrats!

    I expanded PHANTOM WARRIORS: ICEMAN with the intention to submitting it for publishing. It is the first of a four book series. I would be pleased to send you the completed manuscript at your request. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

    The first sentence is obvious, so I’d remove it. :) I think you should keep the second one in, but perhaps couch it with ‘Phantom Warriors stands alone, but can easily be expanded to a four-book series.’

    Hope that helps – I actually really like this idea a lot (and hey, I got to the end of someone’s query, so bonus there!). The whole ‘slavegirl’ thing is one of my favorite tropes (I know, I know) and since it’s a romance, I’m going to assume that the rape scenario doesn’t happen, so it doesn’t bother me. :)

    Good luck with your query!

  10. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 11:53:21

    First, I’d like to say that I’m not an expert at these things at all, so these are just the thoughts of a reader and aspiring author, reading this for the first time.

    Overall, I think the world and the plot has great possibilities, although I also thought of the possible “ick” factor. I like Julie’s possible explanation, however, and would be okay with that.

    Sentence-by-sentence, however, the whole thing is filled with so many terms stated so quickly, that I found it rather confusing.

    The first sentence: It is capitalized as though his official title is “Commander of the Special Ops Team Phantom Warriors” which is VERY long and not quite as clear as it could be, I think. If it would still be accurate, I think it would be clearer to say that he is “commander of the special ops team, Phantom Warriors.”

    When you mention F.A.W.N., I, too, was wondering if this referred to a human, or a robot, or some sort of strange futuristic machine that melted icy shells. (Granted that last possibility seemed a bit too far-fetched, but I don’t think you want agents having those thoughts run through their mind.) I think those two sentences could be written somehow… perhaps, “He begins to lose his always-cool-under-fire reputation when he meets Fawn,” or “His perpetually calm and cool demeanor is finally ruffled when he meets Fawn.”

    Next paragraph: It struck me as odd to move to this info, and then back to the plot. I’d either start with this, or scoot it down to the end, so the plot elements stay together.

    Third paragraph: This has several places that made me say, “Huh?” 1: When a plot to overtake their neighbors by the U.I.S. Board Of Directors is discovered… (Their neighbors? Who are they, and why are they important? And who is the U.I.S.?) 2: …the changes it will bring with the reputation he had earned. (How does he know it will change his reputation? It might be more effective to state exactly what changes he foresees happening.)

    Fourth paragraph: This is long, but it doesn’t really explain or tell very much. I think it would be nice to read a more concise explanation of who she is and how she is uncomfortable. If the Esalen Center is important, than explain what it is, otherwise I think the name should also be left out, because it raises another question. (What is that?)

    But THEN, I’d love to see some mention on when or how she and Roarke meet! What does she think when she meets him? (Or is he the guard? It sounded like he had a more prominent role than that.) Or what is the conflict between them? Do they end up working together? Do they fight each other for the whole book until the end?

    I hope something in here is a help to you. And congrats on your book!

  11. Janine
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 14:02:16

    I really liked the opening line of this query and thought it was quite intriguing. I liked the fact that you bring across Roarke’s internal conflict in the first paragraph and make it clear that his thawing could compromise the mission he is dedicated to.

    Like others here, I also had problems with the name F.A.W.N (both the acronym and the Bambi associations that it has). It conjures the image of a gentle creature, and since you also tell us that your heroine is gentle and loving, it feels a little repetitive to me. Does F.A.W.N. begin to discover that she possesses hidden strength as her relationship with Roarke develops? If so, it would be good to mention that because it would make the character of F.A.W.N. seem more multi-dimensional.

    I agree with Darlynne that this premise is reminscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Since this is a romance, I think that it might be good to make it clear that your book isn’t bleak like Atwood’s. Perhaps it might help to include a sentence about the romantic and joyous feelings that Roarke and F.A.W.N. experience in one another’s company (mentioned in the context of the plot or conflict). I also think that Julie Leto’s suggestion of briefly explaining the reason for the breeder program is an excellent one.

    Although I agree with much of what other commenters said, I was enjoying this query pretty well until I reached your bio. The mention of bakery/deli supervising seemed so unrelated to anything that it pulled me out. So I too recommend dropping that.

    Those are my thoughts, and I hope they are helpful. Good luck to you!

  12. carolyn Jean
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 14:02:22

    This is intriguing! Congrats on the award, and having the balls to put your query up. I hope you’re not daunted by the responses. There are so many writers here on these blogs, and everyone has ideas of what they’d do. And I think you have a great setup with some tweaks needed.

    Like others, I would not have your heroine be so docile and vaguely accepting of this program. ‘All she ever knew’ is not an excuse. I think in this genre, she needs to know in her heart it is awful and be fighting against it, even if she is the only one. There is an episode of Angel, season one, where a bunch of women from another dimension are enslaved in some way, and their leader is totally forward thinking on it being bad. You might look at that. Because the heroine must be heroic in some way, even a bit of a warrior. Maybe she has some plan to blow the place up or something…if only…

    Also, I agree the implied rape thing gets you into trouble here, but knowing that, maybe you could work around it. You might actually look at Keri Arthur, not that she’s doing what you are, but she has un-icked her freak breeding plotline–to some extent, at least. I’d find another word, too. Maybe you can model it more on the Nazi pure race program, or make it more of an arranged mate thing than a cattleyard feeling thing. Frankly, I too was icked out by The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Anyway, my big advice also would be to start with the heroine’s reality in the query, not the hero’s. In a way, you could look at the hero as the solution to the heroine’s problem, and we should get the problem before the solution. Here is the line that sings and turns the plot:

    “…she is sent to the Esalen Center where she is instantly attracted to one of the elite Centurion guards.”

    This is where it gets interesting. Then let’s hear about dutybound fellow and his conflict. But the heroine needs to have a hand in saving herself, too.

    Anyway, great job. Good luck!

  13. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 16:36:07

    I agree that this one has a lot of potential! The breeder idea doesn’t bother me (it confuses me, but it doesn’t bother me) and neither does the name Roarke. I was reminded more of Top Gun (Iceman) than JD Robb. Same goes with F.A.W.N. It’s OK for a woman to be soft and gentle, IMO. But what, exactly, is she?

    I think you have an interesting premise, but the query raises too many unanswered questions and isn’t succint enough. Good job and good luck!

  14. DS
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 16:57:34

    I wouldn’t be interested in this as SF. The name F.A.W.N. connected to breeder who was also some sort of child care worker makes me cringe. I had to look up Esalen Center because it was vaguely familiar and had a hard time associating what I read with the proposed story. Maybe you should make up an organization rather than using a real one— unless this is a political statement of some sort?

  15. Ann Bruce
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 22:04:33

    As a reader, this book wouldn’t interest me because I prefer old-school SF (and a heroine with an acronym for a name doesn’t work for me), but it sounds like you have several potential buyers here.

    As for the query itself, I’d combine and shorten paragraphs 1, 3, and 4 into two, which can be easily done because you repeat a few details (e.g. you mention F.A.W.N. is a breeder twice). Paragraph 2 should come after the entire story blurb because it disrupts the flow of the query.

    I’d also combine paragraphs 5 and 6 and drop the informal tone (“A little about me”) and personal information (unless you’re a NASA engineer writing a romance about a rocket scientist, your day job isn’t relevant data).

    Good luck with the book!

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