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Query Saturday: No. 6 To Tempt a Demon

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,

To Tempt a Demon is a paranormal romance set in present-day Chicago. Complete at 92,000 words, To Tempt a Demon features fallen angels, demons, magical relics and a shape-shifting rock and is suitable for several lines, in particular, Dorchester’s Love Spell.

Archeology student by day, exotic dancer at night, all 29-year-old Lexie Harrison wants is to be left alone to complete her PhD and get the hell out of Chicago. Her problem? A dark angel who insists she rejoin the human race and a destiny that threatens to topple her carefully balanced life.

Fallen angel Simon St. John desperately seeks reentry into Heaven. He is convinced he must train, mentor and guide the unwilling mortal to fulfill her destiny. His dilemma? Not only is the woman destined to the save the world dangerously intoxicating, she doesn’t care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space. Simon would rather fight a legion of demons.

The conflict between Lexie’s desire to be left alone and Simon’s insistence that only through her renewal of faith can he be redeemed put their two strong personalities at odds. She hates that he challenges her lonely heart to feel and in return, she shakes the foundation of Simon’s own desires.

If trying to find their own way isn’t enough, they must fight against a power hungry demon seeking to gather enough power to shift the balance between good and evil. And they must fight against a passion for the other that is forbidden.

I am an active member of my local RWA chapter and have published an action/adventure romance set in Earth’s future with New Concepts Publishing, LLC. I’m excited about the possibility of working with you and hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

***

Interested in participating in Query Saturday? 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

30 Comments

  1. Lorelie
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 10:34:34

    she doesn't care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space

    Huh? Angels and demons and space?

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  2. kyra heiker
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 05:50:35

    Too much information and detail! I want only a general hint of what’s coming, enough to tempt me to read the book–I don’t want to know everything in advance; I want it revealed in the story.

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  3. Tracey
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 06:35:51

    Archeology student by day, exotic dancer at night, all 29-year-old Lexie Harrison wants is to be left alone to complete her PhD and get the hell out of Chicago.

    Archeology student by day and an exotic dancer by night, huh? Aside from the fact that this reminds me of the movie Flashdance (“She’s a welder by day and a dancer by night!”), I’d like to know a couple of things:

    1) When does she do her homework?
    2) For that matter, when does she work on her thesis? I’ve known students going for their Masters’ Degrees and Doctorate Degrees. Theses take months, even years of work. And if she’s stripping by night, I question whether she’s got the time for research and writing.
    3) When does she SLEEP?

    Fallen angel Simon St. John desperately seeks reentry into Heaven. He is convinced he must train, mentor and guide the unwilling mortal to fulfill her destiny.

    Right away I’ve got problems with this. Fallen angels are, by definition, demons. I don’t object to demon Simon wanting to go back to Heaven–I imagine wanting to and not being able to would be a hefty punishment of the fallen angels–but a demon should not be trying to guide a mortal to fulfill her destiny to save the world. Unless he has some pragmatic, selfish reason for wanting her to save the world, I’m not going to believe that he’s a fallen angel at all.

    Not only is the woman destined to the save the world dangerously intoxicating, she doesn't care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space.

    Question–what’s sucking the human race into deep space? An instant black hole? Dark magic? Cthulhu and company?

    And if Lexie the Protagonist doesn’t care about her main problem in the novel–why should I care about whether mankind gets dragged off into space in defiance of all physical laws? Maybe she’s right and there isn’t any threat. Maybe it’s an illusion or a lie caused by Simon or some other demon. And if she’s wrong and the threat is real and she still doesn’t care–why would I read about someone so indifferent to the rest of humanity?

    Bottom line: the hero has to have a problem, and the hero has to care about the problem. If the problem doesn’t exist or the hero is indifferent to the problem, you risk losing the readers. Apathetic people are a dime a dozen. The heroes are the ones who care, and do something about it.

    Also, “destined to THE save the world” is a bad typo.

    The conflict between Lexie's desire to be left alone and Simon's insistence that only through her renewal of faith can he be redeemed put their two strong personalities at odds.

    How is her renewal of faith going to save him? Not to mention–redeeming a demon? I thought that one of the basic principles of most religions was that demons don’t get redeemed. Ever.

    ***

    Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book?

    No. It sounds like bad fanfic, and I would stay away from it.

    What would you change to make it more appealing?

    1) Make the threat to humanity more explicit in the query. The writer may know what happens in the book; the editor doesn’t. Saying that humanity is going to be sucked out into space is not enough, because that’s not a threat within anyone’s experience. Say how it happens, and why. It would also be nice to blend physics with the magic and miracles and make the magic and miracles look more plausible.

    2) Tell what Lexie has to do to save humanity. “Renewing her faith” sounds dull and passive rather than interesting and active, and I much prefer interesting, active heroes.

    3) Eliminate many of Simon’s positive qualities. He’s far too virtuous. I should NOT be reading that he’s a fallen angel and wondering, “Why did this guy ever fall in the first place?”

    4) Lexie has to care–if not about her destiny (and I can understand her not believing in that automatically), then about her world–her friends, the things that she likes, the people and things that she values. “Leave me alone, I don’t give a damn about the rest of the world” doesn’t fly. As presented in the query, Lexie comes across as apathetic…and that makes me apathetic toward her.

    ReplyReply

  4. Kristen Painter
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 07:33:58

    Hasn’t this book already been written?

    ReplyReply

  5. CM
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 08:26:10

    I feel like there may be a bit of underspecificity going on here.

    Things like: insists she rejoin the human race — Wait a sec. How exactly is she not a member of the human race? I really don’t understand. Do you mean, “Lexie is too busy with archaeology and stripping to have time for friends and luv?” Or do you mean, “Lexie is part of an archaeological cult looking for the ark of the covenant so she can scour the unworthy from the face of the planet?”

    Or she doesn't care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space. I don’t know if you mean that literally–she’d be perfectly happy pursuing her archaelogical studies with everyone dead–or if this is just a figure of speech. I don’t know if you’re trying to tell the reader somewhat obliquely that the demon plans to kill everyone off, or if you’re trying to say in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that she’s pretty oblivious to the people around her. When you’re writing a paranormal that’s about fate and destiny and all that stuff, keep in mind that we really don’t know what you mean, and so what you might think is a cute metaphor comes off as completely baffling. The image I have in my mind is Simon walking up to Lexie and saying, “Yo, help me, or humanity will get sucked into space.” And she says, “Ho hum. Not interested.” (Now, if she said, “Wait…. does that include my research advisor? YES!!!” That would be funny.) I suspect this is not what happens in your book, and so you need to really spell out what’s going on.

    As an aside, I question whether Lexie really has to be stripping for cash. Why is she so hung up on getting an archaelogy PhD, such that she’s willing to abandon everyone else? If she wants it because she wants an archaelogically related job, my experience is that she can generally get a TA-ship at her university–and if she can’t, she’s pretty much screwed as far as getting an archaelogically related job in the future. Being a TA doesn’t pay really well but it pays enough. And since she doesn’t care about anyone and wants to get the heck out of Chicago, her expenses are low and her desire to maximize time spent doing things that get her out of Chicago is high. If nothing else, if she cares so much about being left alone that she’s willing to sacrifice the whole human race, I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t just take the full amount of graduate student loans available from the federal government rather than waste valuable time stripping. In all honesty, it feels to me like you threw in the stripping thing to add heat to the book without thinking about whether it was otherwise consistent with Lexie’s character.

    (But I disagree with the person who says that you wouldn’t have time to strip–of course you would. If you wanted to. It’s not like you can’t get a PhD and hold another job. People do it all the time. I just question whether Lexie could consistently be so focused on her PhD that she won’t help Simon, and yet willing to take the time to strip. It doesn’t make sense to me that a highly focused misanthrope would waste time stripping in order to get money that she could get other ways.)

    I think it’s an interesting idea, but the hook might work a little better if you left out the extraneous details and focused on the impending threat to humanity, why Simon needs Lexie to stop it, and why Lexie’s not getting involved.

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  6. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 08:52:46

    I agree with CM’s comment.

    I think it's an interesting idea, but the hook might work a little better if you left out the extraneous details and focused on the impending threat to humanity, why Simon needs Lexie to stop it, and why Lexie's not getting involved.

    This is my take on it.

    The fallen angel seeking redemption could definitely appeal to me but it would depend on how it’s done. Too many stories I’ve read regarding demons & angels take potshots at my personal beliefs and those books I don’t finish. But I’ve definitely read some that I’ve adored.

    Not to mention-redeeming a demon? I thought that one of the basic principles of most religions was that demons don't get redeemed. Ever.

    Just my two cents, Tracey, but for fiction, as long as it’s not written in a way that mocks or insults my personal faith, I can enjoy fiction that twists basic principals…provided there’s explanation on why/how it happens, the worldbuilding is believable and the characters themselves are appealing/believable/etc. Basic principals of biology tell us that vampires & werewolves don’t/can’t exist, but I sure do love writing and reading about them. :)

    Back to the initial point of the post, the idea has appeal, but there is some confusion. The ‘rejoining the human race’ thing makes the heroine sound like she isn’t human. If she’s just reclusive or withdrawn from people in general, then I think that should be made a bit more clear.

    Simon sounds interesting. I love watching some bad soul get redeemed through the power of love. ;) Isn’t that one of the most appealing things about romance?

    But there are a lot of similar storylines. The query itself is going to have to really shine, and the story come with something new and fresh if it really wants to grab attention.

    Bear in mind, this is coming from somebody that sucks at writing queries.

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  7. ChopedLiverz
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 09:08:44

    My problem isn’t with query itself, but with concepts. Student/dancer – cliche and improbable. Have you actually spoken to any archeology graduate students? They are sad, sad monkeys. They work all the time, no fun.

    Fallen angel – cliche.

    The setting – seen it before, over and over, and over…

    You have a very good voice and nice command of the language. I can tell from the query. You’re probably good enough to break in. Now, be original enough. Find something odd and spectacular and uniquely yours.

    ReplyReply

  8. lisabea
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 09:19:05

    Well, er, I kinda liked it. If we can buy the idea that vampires, werewolves and space aliens exist in our romances, why can’t we believe this girl can dance occassionally? It is fiction, right? And fallen angels? That’s so hot. It’s a smidge Meljean in the Angels and Demons good vs. evil, but this is the first Query Saturday that has grabbed my attention.

    Who cares if a story line has been done before? It’s how well it’s done that matters.

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  9. (Jān)
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 09:27:50

    The letter read to me like an overly long book blurb. Is it supposed to?

    It does seem like a lot of people have been writing books like this lately. What really sets yours apart? I don’t get a feel for that.

    Tracy, this is a fantasy, and the author may define the elements within as she wishes. It doesn’t have to meet the constraints of your reality, just of the worlds (s)he builds.

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  10. Jen
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 09:45:48

    I also liked it. Like some of the other commenters, I’m skeptical about the exotic dancer thing, but I really like the idea of a demon hero seeking redemption. That said, I wonder about the “renewal of faith” that you mention- is this meant to be an inspirational ending? As a non-religious person, I avoid inspirationals, and if I saw something about faith on the back cover, I’m likely to put the book back down. If it is meant to be inspirational, maybe you should make that theme clearer; if not, change the wording to avoid alienating people like me.

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  11. Leah
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 10:41:30

    I kinda doubt that the book is an inspirational…I expect that iy would be a hard (maybe impossible) sell in that market. But she could renew her faith without a lot of doctrine…. On the one hand, I don’t generally read the paranormal/uf genres, but I liked the movie Constantine, so I might give this book a try….if Lexie wasn’t a stripper-by-night. That’s kind of cliched and overly sensational. If I was a geeky misanthropic archaeology grad student (I did do my MA in history, and I am a geek), I would not go strip, where I had to deal with people (and people not necessarily at their best) all the time, regardless of the money. I might even try to get an assistantship where I washed, conserved, labelled and catalogued artifacts all day, rather than deal with a bunch of students as a TA. I like the idea of redemption and coming out of oneself to save mankind, however. Best of luck to you!

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  12. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 10:50:19

    I agree that it sounds like a Meljean Brook novel, but not that the idea is cliched. I think this is a spot-on query. I’m clear on the conflict and have just enough details on the characters.

    As a person who worked all through college (not as a stripper–ha) I also find this part absolutely believable. And I admire a hard working, even overburdened, heroine. A lot of women can relate.

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  13. Darlynne
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 11:38:09

    This is the first query I’ve read that interested me enough to want to purchase the book. Confusion about motives, etc., aside, the writing and energy were sufficient to warrant a second look.

    Strangely, the first time through I read “dangerously intoxicating” as “dangerously intoxicated,” which fit with Lexie not caring about mankind while she’s swinging from a pole in a strip club. Guess that will be one less obstacle for the characters to overcome.

    Good luck.

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  14. Maya
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 11:52:46

    i didn’t get the archaeology part. if the subject is significant – why is there no mention of how it plays a role in the plot? if it’s not – why stress that point?

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  15. Jia
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 11:56:26

    As previous people have noted, one thing I’d like to suggest is to watch certain phrasings – “rejoin the human race,” “deep reaches of space,” etc. Since this is a paranormal, those things can be taken very literally. Because in SF/F, those things are possible depending on how you construct your novel’s world. I could be mistaken but I have a feeling that’s not the case here and these are just examples of hyperbole. If so, then the language needs to be tweaked because such literal interpretations can be confusing and distracting.

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  16. Erastes
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 12:06:16

    A dark angel who insists she rejoin the human race and a destiny that threatens to topple her carefully balanced life.

    Why does Lex need to rejoin the human race? I’m confused.

    The first three paragraphs are ok, but after that it all gets a bit repetitive, spend the next 2 or 3 paras to explain the plot, not giving woolly hints. Check your spelling and punctuation too. Get several people to proof read it.

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  17. Chantal
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 13:46:29

    If that came across my desk I would want to read the full MS, or at least the first three chapters.

    Does it sound good enough to make me want to read… sure. It is good enough to publish… don’t know yet.

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  18. DS
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 13:56:20

    Tha shape shifting rock intrigued me, I like archaeology; but the stripper at night is just– trite. Ditto for the demon/fallen angel hero.

    This just looked to me like an amalgamation of books I have read or (for the most part) passed up in the past few years. Nothing (except the rock) seemed fresh.

    Too often supernatural creatures are written not all that different from Regency rakes or SEALs or Cops. I want supernatural heroes (or heroines) to be other than human (and I mean alien rather than immortal or able to start fires or turn off their lights with their mind).

    As for the connection between the world of the author’s book and the real world– Chicago is the home of the Oriental Institute, but I associate it more with Egyptian and Mesopotamian archaeology rather than biblical. Or maybe the demon has nothing to do with the heroine’s archaeological studies? That seems unlikely.

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  19. Jill Myles
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 14:11:55

    Well, I like the plot! But I’m biased to archaeology and fallen angels and stuff. Cough.

    That being said, a stripper-by-night heroine is a bit of a hard sell for me, because she doesn’t start out as sympathetic. I wouldn’t mind if she was working at McDonalds or a nursing home or whatever, but stripping automatically puts odd connotations in my brain.

    Also, the ‘sucked into space’ and ‘rejoin the human race’ things really threw me off. Is she a space alien? Or holding herself apart from the human race?

    Cause a stripping space alien isn’t all that cliched…

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  20. Bev Stephans
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 14:43:24

    As a reader, it grabbed me. It will be interesting to see if it gets published. The whole ‘fallen angel’, ‘stay away from me’, ‘I don’t care if the world goes to Hell in a handbasket’ intrigued me.

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  21. carolyn Jean
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 15:52:33

    I think this is intriguing, specifically because of the conflict (3rd para), which for me was the good part: Simon must mentor and guide an unwilling mortal he’s also attracted to, convincing her to save the world when she couldn’t care less.

    I’d lead with that. And then I’d condense and fold the details about stripper-student-doesn’t give a damn-Lexi in after that. Those details are much more interesting when you have that mentor/unwilling student setup going on.

    Like some others, I got confused about space and “rejoin the human race.”

    Also, I wondered if her study of archeology, which deals with perished peoples and societies, has anything to do with why she doesn’t care about the human race. That would be kind of interesting. Maybe too much for a query though. But I’d be interested if there is some reason for her disposition.

    Good luck with this!

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  22. Marianne McA
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 15:57:31

    Yes, the shape shifting rock is what makes me want to read the book. (What does it shift into? A rock can hardly become sentient… It’s a lump of quartz, a granite boulder, a multi-facteted diamond. Enquiring minds.)
    Apart from that, I’m less sure. If I leafed through the first chapter, and the theological system underpinning the book was internally consistent, I’d buy it. But if it’s half-baked – and it’s not obvious why in a universe in which a God exists a human must save mankind – that would put me off.

    And just a question about the title – is the hero a demon?

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  23. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 18:01:57

    For starters, I must admit I’ve always had trouble suspending disbelief when it comes to saving-the-universe stories, especially when one creature has the ability to do so. That said…

    I was lost at the phrase “insists she rejoin the human race” (second paragraph), since no mention was previously made of the heroine not belonging to the human race. From there, I got more lost. I suspect much of my confusion was the result of somewhat careless grammar and syntax; both need to be cleaned and tightened up for clarity’s sake.

    Back to the storyline. Who or what precisely is this woman? How did she get from being a Major Cosmic Player to a cynical student and stripper? How could such a lowly creature as a fallen angel have the ability, or be expected to have the ability, to restore this Major Cosmic Player to her original position? Why would he even be entrusted with such a task — one on which the fate of humanity hinges?

    All in all, this query seems to raise more questions than it answers. The plot is intriguing…but the more outlandish and complex a story’s premise, the more holes appear that need to be filled. Make absolutely certain the internal logic governing this fictional world is airtight. Otherwise, it could be a hard sell.

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  24. Laura Elliott
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 18:32:06

    I found this query to be confusing. If I think the author can’t articulate what the story is about, I probably wouldn’t read it. For example:
    A dark angel who insists she rejoin the human race
    She’s not human? How is getting a PHD not part of the human race?

    Not only is the woman destined to the save the world dangerously intoxicating, she doesn't care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space.
    What exactly is her destiny? Why does the world need saving? What’s the threat? Is sucked into space literal?

    I think this query needs to be rewritten. Cut everything that sounds like a cliche. Good and evil, save the world, reluctant hero, St. John, fallen angel.

    The first paragraph should explain why the world needs to be saved. But there’s hope, it the form of a single individual with a special prophecy.

    The second paragraph should be about the heroine and a good reason why she hates the world.

    Then explain the angel’s mission. Instead of a fallen or dark angel which is overdone, maybe he’s a probationary angel. Or angel in training.

    Try to highlight what is different about your story and leave out the cliched parts. As other commenters noted, it sounds like this story has been told before. What makes your heroine so special to have such a powerful destiny? What makes your hero so special to get such a hard assignment?

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  25. Susan/DC
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 19:25:39

    If I read this on a back cover, the whole stripper thing would make me put the book down immediately. It always seems such a trite male fantasy to me, as if the author couldn’t or wouldn’t figure out a less cliched way to show that the heroine is both gorgeous and somehow transgressive. As for the PhD, my husband has one, and while it’s possible to work part-time while taking classes, when the time came to write his dissertation he had to quit to focus full-time on the writing. Not to mention that research for a PhD in archeology requires research which probably requires fieldwork, which probably can’t be done in a Chicago strip club — now if she was getting her PhD in sociology, that might be another story . . .

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  26. Shannon C.
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 20:41:07

    Most of my problems with this query have been addressed already. It feels a bit cliched, and I’m not sure I’d pick it up, especially because of the stripper bit. But I did like that Lexy was 29 and going for her dissertation, instead of, like, 23 or some ridiculous age that’s not terribly plausible.

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  27. Virginia DeMarce
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 23:38:03

    Laura Elliott wrote:
    She's not human? How is getting a PHD not part of the human race?

    My husband said that living with me from 1965-1966 when I was completing my dissertation had a great deal in common with rooming with a zombie.

    I really would like to read about the shape-shifting rock, though. I have been unhappy for two decades that Ann Maxwell abandoned the Fire Dancer trilogy before the crystalline computer finished putting itself back together.

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  28. Laura Elliott
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 10:16:39

    Laura Elliott wrote:
    She's not human? How is getting a PHD not part of the human race?

    My husband said that living with me from 1965-1966 when I was completing my dissertation had a great deal in common with rooming with a zombie.

    I guess it depends on the field. My fiance is getting his PHD and has to talk to many people on a daily basis. Conferences, other experts, companies, teaching undergrads – he had to become much more social than he was used to.

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  29. Sue
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 22:05:09

    Wow! This was fascinating in so many ways! I’m totally interested by the comments based on some tongue-in-cheek comments in the query. For example, the reference to her not being human. She’s as human as the rest of us. Er, or those that aren’t vampires, werewolves, etc. :D The phrase refers to the fact that she doesn’t like the human race – hence the statement she didn’t care about them begin sucked into space. In other words, the last thing she wants to do is be responsible to protect the human race. Nope, she’s not an alien or non-human at all.

    The stripper angle? That’s is such a minor, minor point. She’s only a stripper, actually, she’s not a stripper, she’s a belly dancer – does the seven veil dance and all and that is only one time then, frankly, she’s never there again. Her archeology background does, however, feature quite a bit more.

    Now, Simon. Well, yes, he is a fallen angel and yes, they are often referred to as demon’s and again, yes, God said they can’t ever go back to Heaven. But as was pointed out, my world is fiction and I’m thinking if, even a fallen, does enough good deeds, why couldn’t he be? I mean, if Angel can get his soul back and so on?

    Thanks so much for all the comments and of course, big thanks to the ones who said they’d read it and that it intrigued them! The full has been requested by a major publisher on the basis of the query, so who knows, maybe it’s time will come soon and you can! :D

    Thanks again! I loved all the comments!

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  30. Ann Bruce
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 09:38:53

    Jen – “renewal of faith” is off-putting to some religious people, too.

    Not to mention-redeeming a demon? I thought that one of the basic principles of most religions was that demons don't get redeemed. Ever.

    I’m not going to add a lot to the discussion, but, uh, what about Hellboy? Spawn? Some of my favorite storylines (usually comic book ones) are demons who fight against their nature and their blood. It’s easy to be good when you’re never tempted.

    And if Simon isn’t too angsty, I might pick up this book, despite his redundant surname.

    Ann…who’s desperately awaiting “Hellboy 2″ and hopes they don’t run out of money before the climax like in the first movie.

    ReplyReply

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