Thursday, June 14, 2007

Face-Lift 355


Guess the Plot

Suffer the Witch

1. A theology student who's also a sorcerer is in danger of being expelled--unless he can find a way to bring peace between the Christian God and the old Roman gods.

2. The Democratic National Committee Chairman had earned his place at the top of the food chain. There was no burden he wouldn't bear, no company he couldn't force himself to keep. That is, until he found himself trapped on a Lear jet with the Democratic frontrunner.

3. Bitsy Binter finds a magic book and decides to become a witch. Will her garden club friends still want her around when they see the size of her dahlias? Or will what she can do for their husbands make up for everything?

4. "My mother's coming to visit!"
"Can't you get a decent job?"
"Aren't those storm shutters up yet?"
"When I think of all the men I could have married!"
Mort Gumpler's wife, Pootsie, is an irritation, but she's worth six million, so he's willing to . . . Suffer the Witch.

5. Winters were long and hard, but it turns out that witches burn even longer than oak wood in the fires of Turner Hall. The villagers will survive until Spring!

6. If there were ever a time to keep her mouth shut, Beryl knew this should be it. But she can't resist telling her mother-in-law what she really thinks of her while she's lying in a coma. Then she learns her MIL was faking it for the insurance. And Beryl will pay for what she said. Oh yes.


Original Version

Dear Agent:

SUFFER THE WITCH, set in the Roman Empire in 304 AD, is an historical fantasy with romance elements.

To save his church when Emperor Diocletian's Praetorian Guard marches against it, Tory, a 17-year-old theology student, exposes a secret that turns the Church against him: He is a FireMage, a sorcerer. [He immediately turns the hypocritical, ungrateful Church elders into goats.] Absolution may be had -- for a price: by fostering peace between followers of the old Roman gods and the new Christian one.

Tory: "Okay, you followers of the Roman gods, line up over here on my right. And you Christian God followers, get on my left. Good, now I want you all to walk toward each other and shake hands. Good, good . . . Hold it, three pumps only, then release . . . Whoa, no wrestling, just . . . Hey, what's with the swords?! No Swords! People! Shit."

Tory's accomplice is Jerel, a 20-year-old mercenary who cares little for religion or politics. They meet in the aftermath of battle, in the Persian legion where Tory takes refuge after fleeing the Church. [Is it the Church that offered him absolution if he mended the Roman/Christian dispute? If so, shouldn't The Church be letting him get on with it instead of hunting him? And if not, how does he know absolution is available?] Neither expect the searing soul-bond that ignites between them, but Tory quickly embraces it, desperately needing the security it promises. Unable to deny the emotional connection, Jerel agrees to join Tory's crusade. Old prejudices, however, keep him from fulfilling the physical commitment Tory so clearly desires. [I'd hardly call being into babes a prejudice.]

Their path leads them deep into the catacombs of Rome where Christian refugees plot their own retaliations against Emperor Diocletian and his caesar, Galerius. [Unfortunately, Diocletian and Galerius are also plotting the refugees' deaths, in the arena--and they've got lions.] To the Sibyl of Apollo who lays an impossible prophecy at their feet. And to a waking Mount Vesuvius where the WorldFire burns, FireHounds await release, and pagan prophecy and Christian canon converge.

Their success hangs on sacrifice. On Jerel's ability to surrender soul and self to Tory. On Tory giving up craft and soul to the gods both old and new. On Diocletian abdicating the imperial throne, and Galerius ceding control of a divided empire. Only then can a new age in Rome begin. [It'll be a miracle if even one of those things happens.]

SUFFER THE WITCH, complete at 90,000 words, is my first novel-length fantasy, although several of my fantasy/SF short stories have been published in royalty-producing anthologies and for-pay magazines.

Thank you for your consideration.


Notes

Is Tory the witch in the title? Is he called a witch in the book? Can a guy be a witch? If not, who's the witch?

The last two plot paragraphs are lists. Consecutively, it's annoying. Change one so it has some elaboration or just dump the second one.

It's not clear what the plan is, or how success depends on all those occurrences. How exactly do they intend to unite followers of Roman and Christian Gods? If the key lies in the Vesuvius/pagan prophecy/Christian canon reference, perhaps devote that paragraph to that alone, and leave out the catacombs and Sibyl.

52 comments:

pjd said...

GTP #2 is sublime.

It took me a long time to stop reading Tory as Troy. Greeks, Romans, whatever. I don't like the name for the hero of a quest set in Roman times. (Maybe because the only Tory I've ever known was the mother of a preschooler.)

Wish I had more to offer, but this whole thing just doesn't float my boat. Sorry.

ME said...

To the Sibyl of Apollo who lays an impossible prophecy at their feet. And to a waking Mount Vesuvius . . .

On Tory giving up craft and soul to the gods both old and new. On Diocletian abdicating the imperial throne, and Galerius ceding control of a divided empire.


Maybe this is a style thing, but it seems like bad grammar to me.

Absolution may be had -- for a price: by fostering peace between followers of the old Roman gods and the new Christian one.

A colon may be used to separate two main clauses if the second clause develops, details, or amplifies the first clause. And a main clause is capable of standing alone as a complete sentence. But this, by fostering peace between followers of the old Roman gods and the new Christian one. doesn't stand alone as a complete sentence.

I'm a little rusty on my Greek myths but did you mean the Sibyl of Cumae or the oracle of Apollo or am I just unaware of the Sibyl of Apollo?
This might benefit from a "one-sentence-plot" treatment.

Anyone??

dancinghorse said...

Tory? Jerel?

Those names say "genre fantasy" to me, not "historical fantasy."

I'd suggest some in-depth research on names and naming conventions in the late Roman empire.

I once provided a romance writer with a solid rationale for a Viking heroine named Tiffany, but as they say: Kids, don't try this at home.

Marissa Doyle said...

You're right, Me. And strictly speaking, Apollo's oracle was the Pythoness. But if we're still in Italy, I'd say go for the Sibyl at Cumae.

Name-wise, I suppose you can squeak through with Tory if his name was Hector or something, but not really. Latin nicknames didn't take that form. Not sure about Jerel--do you have a source for it?

Corrector of Grammar Snobs said...

A colon may be used to separate two main clauses if the second clause develops, details, or amplifies the first clause. And a main clause is capable of standing alone as a complete sentence. But this, by fostering peace between followers of the old Roman gods and the new Christian one. doesn't stand alone as a complete sentence.


You are thinking of a semicolon. There is no prescription saying that an independent clause has to follow a colon. It's used for lists. That should tip you off.

phoenix said...

Author here. Please keep the comments coming. It really helps me know where readers may get tripped up!

Witch - yes, can indeed refer to male or female; in fact "male witch" is the preferred term over wizard, warlock, etc.

Tory - Roman males and females took derivative forms of Victoria (Latin origin), Roman goddess of Victory

Jerel - shortened admittedly from Jerrell, the variant form of the Hebrew Jeriel (from biblical times), meaning "vision of God" (Jer = "of God")

Sibyl is what the Romans called the Greek "Oracle"; Apollo retained the same name in both Greek and Roman pantheons, and there is a Temple of Apollo in Rome; The Oracle of Delphi and the Sybil of Cumae are just two of the most popular sybils/oracles. Pretty much anywhere there was a temple dedicated to Apollo there were priestesses prophesying.

I've done my research, but if something's not making sense, I need to know. Don't be shy (as if you minions could ever be!).

Love the GTPs. What mood-enhancing chemicals do some of you take to come up with these things? And where can I get a supply? :o)

Dave said...

The etymology of "Tory" dates from 1566, "an outlaw," specifically "a robber," from Ir. toruighe "plunderer," originally "pursuer, searcher," from O.Ir. toirighim "I pursue,"
In other words - anachronistic for Roman times. And it's unisex being either male or female where latin and Greek require masculine and feminine names.

Jerel is another matter - it's Scandanavian and it's a male name. And if it's a girls name, some source says it's Jewish. So it is only half anachronistic.

As we all know - Julius and Julia are male and female in Latin and Roman. It is the "us" and "a" endings that give a word it's sex, plurality and lots of other attributes.

These two names would be comic in a historical context.

Dave said...

oh my, I hear the author diggin in and defending those names.
Let me remind you of these "Roman" names:
Pseudolus, Senex, Domina, Hysterium, Erroneous, Marcus Lycus, Miles Gloriosus, Gymnasia, Fertilla, and (the absolute silliest reason for any name) Tintinabula.
Well, it's OK with me.

pipsqueak said...

So I'm confused on the messages here. It sounds more complex than a first or second reading of the query would let on.

The theology student, Tory, is kicked out of his own church for being a FireMage, even though he saved the church from destruction.

His quest is to earn absolution from that self-same church that discriminates against him for being something he can't un-become.

Fulfillment of the quest requires that a straight man turn gay. And it requires Tory to give up being a FireMage. And it requires a career dictator to give up all his power, willingly. Does it require water to stop being wet, or gravity to stop making things fall?

I'm having a difficult time understanding if you've got a social agenda with this set of "lifestyle changes" your characters have to make to enable the quest to be completed. I am hoping that these are all "leaps of faith" to fit in with the theological rather than social aspects of prejudice and faith.

One other thing that's unclear to me from the query is what is really at stake for the characters. What does Tory lose if he doesn't complete the quest? What, besides Tory, does Jerel lose if he abandons Tory's quest? Is eternal damnation involved? You mention souls, but it's unclear what that means in the query when you're juxtaposing pagan and Christian beliefs.

Anonymous said...

These two names would be comic in a historical context.

But not as funny as Dave's comedy of errors with apostrophes ...give a word it's sex. Give a word it is sex???

Undercover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lzqrvxp said...

You're going to reconcile two real, contradictory religions by inventing one that includes things like a FireMage?

...good luck with that.

BuffySquirrel said...

Poor EE. So misunderstood.

Anonymous said...

If you have to explain how fitting and great the names are, they're just not working. I have a sense that you forgot the trademark symbols after FireMage FireHound etc. Very annoying typogaphy and overall more like Saturday cartoon stuff than anything I'm familiar with in Roman or early Christian magic traditions.

The big fat deal with the "searing bond" has me saying "oh, please."

I'm confused about the setting. From wherever to Persia, Rome, and then Vesuvius, which I believe did its big kaboom about the year "O" and wasn't much trouble for anyone 300 years later. Very jet set lifestyle for those times, especially as the soldiers of Rome were pretty much expected to stay in their foreign posts until their 30s.

You seem to have one of those wrenching gay coming out romance historic fantasy stories with a lot of theological stuff thrown in, too. Very fraught. Too fraught for me, thanks. This is where I make the usual suggestion that you repeat "Focus and Coherence" about a thousand times and then revise.

Plus there's the problem that everybody knows the Christians weren't interested in "peaceful coexistence with Roman gods", they got busy with their own violent purges and book burnings as soon as they had the power, hence the temples were broken, the Empire fell into ruins, nobody knew how to make the plumbing work, and Europe had the Dark Ages to enjoy. So your guy is supposed to accomplish this great deed we already know never came to pass.

A less ambitious goal would perhaps suffice, especially if it's really about the "searing bond".

Elissa Abbott said...

I'm not sure it's valid to call the Roman gods "old" and the Christian god "new." The Christian god is, of course, the same as the Jewish god. This was particularly important this early in the history of Christianity, when many following "The Way" as it was known, were Jewish and still identified themselves as Jewish. Few would try to argue that the Jewish god was a newcomer to the heavens.

writtenwyrdd said...

Besides the names that don't fit the time, I found the plot elements to be confusing. You give more weight to the "soul searing bond" than to the activities which reconcile old and new religions. I would recommend that you pick the historical fantasy plot elements and give us more about them (as in, what's the motivation, what are the consequences for failure, etc.)

The line about J surrendering his will to Tory is to my mind, squicky. As a woman, though, I don't think I am your target audience, necessarily.

Anonymous said...

I agree the query needs work, those lists reworded, etc. But I'm not sure why everyone is so down on the plot elements. I was intrigued with the idea of Vesuvius somehow being the force behind the social change, and the FireThings tying into that.
Nor would I get all upset over the names if I liked the story. Sounds interesting to me.
-mb

Anonymous said...

The line about J surrendering his will to Tory is to my mind, squicky. As a woman, though, I don't think I am your target audience, necessarily.

If we're correct that the two MCs are both male, it's as squicky or maybe even more squicky for guy readers.

Please, no more comments about colons or even semicolons until we clear up the gender issue!

AmyB said...

I'm all for gay romance--one of my favorite fantasy books, Swordspoint, is centered around one--but "soul-bond" is a romance/erotica trope I've never felt comfortable with. I'd much rather see the characters actually fall in love than to be forced into it by some sort of destiny/prophecy thing. It makes for awfully fuzzy consent. And since we know Jerel is unwilling, the bit about their success hinging on "Jerel's ability to surrender soul and self to Tory" comes close to sounding like Jerel has to submit to rape in order to save the world.

Author, my guess is that is not what you intend. My guess is Jerel is actually gay or bisexual but denies it because of the "prejudices" you mention, and his journey is about accepting his true nature, not about being a straight man forced into gay sex. If that's so, I suggest making it more clear in the query. If not, I'm afraid I'm squicked!

Anonymous said...

In other English-speaking countries, a 'Tory' is the common name for someone who supports the Conservative party.

And, I'm sure I can't be the only one who also thinks "Tori Spelling" when I read the name.

So, to me, your main character is either a elderly stick-in-the-mud (sorry to you young, hip Tories; I'm sure you're out there but I just haven't met you) or a young, blonde, Hollywood actress. It puts me right off him as a theologian, FireMage, or gay guy.

Anonymous said...

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Dave said...

Since I went to a school with nuns, brothers and priests (Roman Catholic), I can invent a Zues, Vulcan, Apollo, Jesus, Mary mythology (and the implied gayness) that covers what the author has here.

As for the fledgling Catholic Church throwing out the guy who just saved them as a heretic - been there, done that. Anything the Church didn't like or want was subject to a Council that declared it heresy. The first occured in Nicea in 325 AD. Although mostly remember for the Creed and the Arian Heresy, In addition, the Council did separate Passover from the new Church's traditions to cut the link with its Jewish roots. That started the shameful rhetoric of blaming the Jews. Also, the Church did try to rid itself of Meletius (not the father of the coffee filters BTW) who wouldn't grant absolution to certain sinners, a break with Petran tradition.

So I don't think that a prior council, never publicized, to put down the old Roman god of fire with a gay wedding and pronouncement of heresy is too far fetched. Firemages in Vesuvius sound like fun and the early Church would definately declare a firemage heretically pagan and quite possibly stone him/her/it to death. And that is after he/she/it saved their sorry asses from barbequeing in hot lava.

Most important in all of this, is why are readers doubting all this plot stuff? It's the names, they aren't Roman, Greek or anything colloquial. Once a reader starts doubting, then the plot falls apart.

And to anonymous, at 11:34pm, my "its" can be mistaken, my eyes can be tired and you can bite me!

Anonymous said...

Why not 'end-run' the problem by making Jerel a brutal eunuch? While you're at it, make Tory a werewolf and change the Romans to toga-zombies. And add sharks.

phoenix said...

Thank you all for some very good comments. I see that my query has some misleading elements that I need to attend to, and I would appreciate any insight into helping resolve.

Most especially pipsqueak's concerns that this is agenda-driven. Ouch. If conversion of straight to gay is implied, I need to rework that. It's a coming out of someone reluctant to admit he's gay, as amyb suggests. And it's more along the lines of today's definition of slash romance -- male/male love story written by a woman for a predominantly female audience. This is a pretty respectably sized market right now. Good discussion about this subgenre at http://www.romancingtheblog.com/blog/2007/06/05/two-for-the-price-of-one/

Also, First Kiss #2 at http://evileditor.blogspot.com/2007/04/first-kiss_28.html is when Jerel has his breakthrough. But, of course, the query won't include that bit...

Historically, the "career dictator" does indeed voluntarily abdicate the throne to go into retirement as a gentleman farmer. The empire is sprawling, his economic reforms are working, and except for the pesky religious persecution thing, the empire is pretty solid. He's not ousted, he simply steps down at the top of his game. The question historians have is "Why?". Similiarly, when his "vice president" (who is the real instigator of the religious persecutions) steps into power, the first thing he does is confirm the division of the Roman Empire and stop the persecutions, seemingly against character.

Vesuvius erupted again in 304/5. It would have been nice if the big boom correlated, but the 304 eruption was big enough to serve my needs. But will people automatically think Vesuvius only erupted once and my dates are out of whack?

The Persian army is actually fighting on Latin soil, so I need to make more clear that this isn't quite as jetsetting as it may sound.

304-312 was a turning point in the relations between the Christian religion, the Roman religion (Mithaism) and all the mystery religions of the time. If the query implies that the "peace" is a lasting one and goes against how history eventually plays out, I need to work on that as well.

The Christian God of the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish God, but Christians added an element that was hotly debated by theologians for several hundred years: The concept of the Holy Trinity: Are they separate or all the same aspect of the one God? This was part of what caused schism in the Church and divided Rome from Byzantium. If they are the same aspect, then the Christian and Jewish God are not the same, hence the Christian God that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a "new" God on the scene.

I get I need to put more consequences and plot specifics into the query. And change my MCs' names. Any suggestions for how to handle the above are greatly appreciated, from don't discuss X in the query to, yeah, drop in a sentence about X for sure. I'll defend my research, but I'm all ears when it comes to execution!

Rei said...

One idea: Ditch "fire mage" (or worse, FireMage -- that looks like it's begging to have a registered trademark symbol after it ;) ). Be more artful in your description of the term. How exactly do his powers work? Does he gaze too hard at things and they burst into flames? Does he have a staff that he taps on the ground, causing fire to erupt out?

Yes, "fire mage" captures the main point more concisely, but what it captures is the cliche, fantasy-trope "fire mage" image. You want to give us some specifics that help us step into this person's shoes. What you don't want to give us is something that seems both cliche and out of place, which is what the term "fire mage" does.

Just my 0.16 bits. :)

Evil Editor said...

Why don't you just call him a witch? He's a witch in the title.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and about that title...doesn't seem to have much to do with what we're talking about, does it?

Hmm, Phoenix, I wasn't worried about the dates, etc. because I latched onto the description of "historical fantasy," which to me means, it's kindasorta set in history but liberties have been taken. So I'm assuming some inaccuracy is involved, and it wouldn't bother me. If it is historically accurate, that might be useful to state.

I have no useful advice about naming characters. I have been known to call all my own characters by initials for the first three drafts until my critique group goes nuts and I have to break down and think up names. It's not my strong point. Good luck!

-mb

Dave said...

This requires a bit of religious philosophy.

Theologically speaking, it's not so much the split of early Catholicism from Roman Paganism around 305 AD, but the split between Judaism and Catholicism that provides the political backdrop. The "Firemage" type of religion (whether or not it's Mithras or Vulcan) and the Roman and Greek Pagan religions were multi-theistic. Judaism and Catholicism are Monotheistic. So the early Catholic Church didn't have as much trouble with pagan sacrifice as it did with Judaism.

The "conquest" of Catholicism over Rome is the conquest of The One God over the many. Catholicism looks forward to an afterlife where most of the pagan gods didn't. That's the "appeal" of Catholicism over paganism.

The huge problem of separating Catholic tradition from Judaism is greater. Both religions are monotheistic. And in many, mamy matters, Catholicism echoes Judaism, however the big split is over the Trinity.

The God of Abraham, is a god of vengeance and judgement. Many times he pronounces laws and judgement on the Jews. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ or Redeemer, is a god of love and justice. He is the son of the God of Abraham. He is also equal and coexistant with the God of Abraham. We call the God of Abraham - Father. We call Jesus - Son of God. The Spirit is the love between them, a love so strong that it becomes a third part of them. These three parts are not only equal but only one. It's like seeing three sides of the same object. The object is one but the aspects different. This is a belief system so complex, that philosophers and metaphysicians never attempted it before.

Now that having been said, (and that is hard philosophy to truly understand), the fledgling Catholics must pull away from Judaism. The central celebration of Judasim is the flight from Egypt - the Passover. The new religion subsumes this physical act, Jesus becomes the light that guides and leads Catholics not from slavery in Egypt but slavery to sin and death in hell. The resurrection of Jesus implies life after death. That afterlife is different than anything that went before. If you read the Easter Liturgy, the death and resurrection of Jesus is declared as the new passover. Catholics no longer celebrate the Passover of the Angel of Death in Egypt, but the harrowing of Hell and the conquest of death by Jesus. Death no longer held dominion over mankind and had been replaced by life.

That is a huge change in religions. And it occurs against the backdrop of a politically faltering Roman Empire.

Now I can give you some advice:
The fall of Rome is secular, it's not religious. Roman emperors (as gods and such) lost political power for secular reasons. The fledgling Church happily threw out the old gods with the old Roman Empire. They kept the trappings because that unified the world.
The fall of the old gods - Roman and Greek - the Pagan gods - is due to monotheism replacing pantheism. The resurrection of the dead is the prime mover for this. This, according to historians (all Catholics) is minor. When the Emperor of Rome as god falls, pantheism falls with him. That's why it is essential for Constantine to adopt Catholicism some years later.
The split from Judaism by Catholicism is the main backdrop for all the change. That is what history remembers. That is memorialized with the first Council, the Council of Nicea.

So there is your historical backdrop for a secret ceremony by a firemage. Your story must end with history not being changed. That's why the firemage is declared heretic and pagan dog.
That's why their love cannot be accepted by the Church, etc.

Your story is about the firemage, his lover and their actions. It is not about the fall of Rome or the rise of Christianity. It's the same as the novel Ben Hur, where the story is about Judah Ben Hur and is set against the ministry, death and resurrection of the Christ. Rome is your backdrop, the story is about your characters.

Can I call him Titus and not Tory? And Julius, not Jerel.

Titus discovers a prophecy in the Temple of Apollo that predicts the release of firegods from Mount Vesuvius. Together with his reluctant lover Julius, Titus must complete an ancient, pagan ceremony to save the world while Diocletian plots and Christianity rises.

Kings Falcon said...

Pheonix, it could be a great story but I think the summary/query wanders too far which has caused all these issues/questions.

Tory is on a quest to save a world that wants to destroy him and his lover.

You give us sound bites - ex: "Tory, a 17-year-old theology student, exposes a secret that turns the Church against him: He is a FireMage, a sorcerer" and lists but not real details.

In the example above, how does his saying "I'm a firemage" save the church?

Boil the plot down more:

From Ms. Snark: as a starting point

Tory is the MC, he wants X.
Y is the antagonist, he wants Y.
Tory and Y get together and all L happens.
If Tory suceeds than C, if not then D.

What does Tory want? Why is he trying to wake the worldfire or firehounds? Or is he trying to keep them asleep? How does his relationship with J help or hurt this quest? Who's the antagonist?

Right now, you have Tory must choose between surrendering his power and his potential lover or saving the world. Humm. . . Let's guess which choice he has to make.

Beth said...

Your story is about the firemage, his lover and their actions. It is not about the fall of Rome or the rise of Christianity. It's the same as the novel Ben Hur, where the story is about Judah Ben Hur and is set against the ministry, death and resurrection of the Christ. Rome is your backdrop, the story is about your characters.

That is exactly it. What I felt lacking in this query was the human element. Stories are about people, not events.

pipsqueak said...

Thanks for clearing up that Jerel is actually a gay man denying his true feelings. That was what I was hoping, but I wanted to point out that it was unclear to me, particularly when combined with the other aspects of quest fulfillment.

I have never heard of the "slash" subcategory. Are women really interested in men getting it on with men? I suppose that would make sense. On many levels, I guess.

Bernita said...

The Old Testament title does not enhance your Romanesque fantasy.
Regardless of accuracy, the word "witch" is perceived by the general public as female.

December/Stacia said...

*shrugs* I think it sounds pretty awesome, myself. The query needs some polish but I'd request pages if it were me.

phoenix said...

EE and minions, you guys are the best! Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to provide some truly thoughtful advice. I shall mull and compare, then mull and compare some more, and then revise.

If you think of anything else before the weekend or the next author's sample takes your attention, circle back!

Anonymous said...

And it's more along the lines of today's definition of slash romance -- male/male love story written by a woman for a predominantly female audience.

Technically, slash fiction is a form of fan fiction that puts established characters (usually both male) in a sexual relationship that didn't exist as part of the original canon. It is said to have begun with a Kirk/Spock pairing.

takoda said...

My eyes were so glazed over, and not in a good way. Not only from the query, from the comments too.

I agreed with Beth:

That is exactly it. What I felt lacking in this query was the human element. Stories are about people, not events.


The first line of your query was about Tory, and I wanted to read about him. He sounded heroic and tragic in the first sentence, then you lost me.

And the last paragraph...Their success hangs on sacrifice. On Jerel's ability to surrender soul and self to Tory. On Tory giving up craft and soul to the gods both old and new......

gives me nothing. I want to know more about these two interesting people. How do you write it? I don't know. But that's want I want to read. Their story, set in the backdrop of-yanno, all that stuff you mentioned.

And I think I want to know up front how many liberties you've taken with the facts. Since it's a world I don't know much about, but I want to learn from you (the author), I need to trust you. Like the Apache story a few postings ago. I trusted that author, and I knew whatever liberties were taken probably weren't earth shattering.

You're such a great writer, Phoenix. I'm sure this book is written very well. It's just not coming across in your query.

Cheers,

phoenix said...

Thanks, anon. The fanfic aspect was indeed how slash began. That definition has changed in recent years as the category has evolved, which is why I prefaced it with "today's definition of slash."

pacatrue said...

Technically, slash fiction is a form of fan fiction that puts established characters (usually both male) in a sexual relationship that didn't exist as part of the original canon. It is said to have begun with a Kirk/Spock pairing.

Ah, so that's why Kirk always called McCoy "bones". It's a verb, not a noun! Previous relationship. I wonder if Spock was jealous - in a completely logical way.

Anonymous said...

ok, well, yeah, sorry but I'm pretty squeamish about any novel wherein the world will be saved only if the author, er, protagonist gets laid.

and yes, if you start talking about Vesuvius, the BIG eruption of Pompeii fame is the one that'll come to mind. Nobody remembers a list of lesser eruptions of the world's volcanos. You might be better off to invent an imaginary volcano and use it to blast an imaginary island to smithereens. You've already messed with the religions etc so much, your credibility probably won't be damaged by phony geography.

Jeb said...

"Viking heroine named Tiffany"

LMAO [repeat]

All pieces of a story should support each other to make a richer story. These names are sawing the supports right out from under you. The names make me suspect, rightly or otherwise, that the rest of the tale will be equally ill-considered. Does Latin even have the letter 'Y'? What's wrong with, say, 'Torus and Jurilus'?

No matter how you justify them to yourself, these names would kill the mood instantly. Time after time, you'd have to keep wooing the reader back into the book with better-than-average other elements. Why set yourself up for a harder challenge when explicating the plot is tricky enough?

There has been good advice shared in this comment trail. Go away and sleep on it all for a week or six, and then reflect on what the story you REALLY intended to tell is, and pare away all the unnecessary distractions.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty squeamish about any novel wherein the world will be saved only if the author, er, protagonist gets laid.

Yeah--like the last book in that Pullman trilogy. And the protags there were, what, 12? 13?

Yuck.

Anonymous said...

So is it basically gay toga porn? If so, I'd mention that and cut the theological stuff. Gay priests making out with unwilling religious youth are not too high on anybody's hero list these days. If you want to sell a story about the religious issues, you'll probably do better if you cut the must-get-laid and "searing bond" stuff.

All the hoo-ha about "slash fiction" makes my eyes glaze over, it's the sort of lofty prattle one hears in grad school, but in the real world of readers shopping at B&N or Amazon, does it mean anything?

I keep thinking of these guys hiking from here to Persia and back in their sandals and I'm wondering, well, is that 300 pages of slow blistered slogging scenes or does he skip from the start of the trek in one scene to arrival at the destination in the next? And why Persia, anyway? Did you not know Bhuddism was getting its start there at about this time? Or do you work that in? And what about the Zoroastrians?

Bernita said...

All the hoo-ha about "slash fiction" makes my eyes glaze over, it's the sort of lofty prattle one hears in grad school,in the real world of readers shopping at B&N or Amazon, does it mean anything?

Anon, the "readers shopping at B&N" are not, however, the customers at the moment.
Agents and editors are. So the reference might well be helpful to the query.

phoenix said...

One more plea for help, please.

Feedback seems to be that most people are thinking this is porn or erotica, and that getting laid (though several people have mentioned "rape") is the ultimate goal for these guys despite one of them being at first reluctant.

How do I best get across that this is romance? Hero/heroine romances often have one party reluctant at the beginning and the story is the journey to realizing that they belong together. And they generally hook up physically along the way. My guys don't even kiss till about 90% into the book. Their emotional relationship has to deepen that much. A romance requires an obstacle to the couple's love.

Help me discover how to get across the obstacle in this case is internal -- the guy not ready to accept his true nature. I tried to set up the romance arc in that 2nd 'graph, but obviously it's not working. How could I rewrite it to better get across that theme?

Anon 10:47: Buddhism started about 800 years earlier than this setting. Yes, Zoroastrians, as well as other mystery religions such as Manicheism are dealt with; just easier in the query to focus on the biggie: Christianity (I really have learned that much at least about query writing!). And I do need to fix that they are never in Persia -- they're fighting in the Persian army on Latin soil, a couple of hundred miles from Rome.

Thanks for sticking with me on this, minions! I know it's getting old...

Evil Editor said...

For one thing, you could change SUFFER THE WITCH, set in the Roman Empire in 304 AD, is an historical fantasy with romance elements.

to

SUFFER THE WITCH, set in the Roman Empire in 304 AD, is an historical romance with fantastical elements.

phoenix said...

Thank you, EE! I have considered having two versions -- one emphasizing the fantasy aspect, the other the romantic aspect, depending on who I'm submitting to. Maybe that's why the focus seems off in this one, trying to be all things and not doing justice to any...

I appreciate all the help in getting me to wrap my head around this. It's all so extraordinarily clear when I'm looking at someone else's work :o)

writtenwyrdd said...

I think EE's version is better, but I still have my doubts because this is a fantasy, not historical fiction. Of course, maybe that call depends on how much of the story involves "fantastical elements."

Anonymous said...

Maybe it would help to review conventions of the Romance genre, then go to the snarkives and read through the crapometer again, so you can compare good & bad Romance hooks vs good & bad Heroic Fantasy hooks vs Total Genre Confusion hooks. Agent X also reviews hooks.

takoda said...

Hi Phoenix, I copied this from Wikipedia's description of Brokeback Mountain. I liked how the focus is on the characters. I hope it helps....



After sunrise Ennis del Mar, traveling with only a brown paper bag in hand, is dropped off by a truck driver in a rural town. Waiting outside a trailer office to seek employment, he sees Jack Twist arrive, also looking for work. Ennis and Jack are hired by a gruff sheep rancher (Randy Quaid) in Signal, Wyoming, to herd sheep on nearby Brokeback Mountain. One of the men stays at a base camp, preparing meals, while the other watches after the sheep from a pup tent higher up on the slopes. They meet only for meals at the base camp, where they gradually become friends as the meals turn into long talks over whiskey. After one night of heavy drinking, a tipsy Ennis decides to stay at the base camp and sleep fireside instead of returning to the sheep. During the cold early morning hours, with campfire out, an audibly shivering Ennis is invited by Jack to sleep in the tent. After a while Jack draws Ennis's hand inside his pants. Although initially surprised, Ennis goes along with Jack's actions, resulting in an abrupt sexual encounter. They both insist the next day that they "ain't queer"; however, over the remainder of the summer their emotional and physical relationship deepens.

ME said...

Don't want to question your research, but wasn't Rome quite accepting of male/male relationships at that time? I've heard it was pretty mvch de reigueur for men of means or status to have a boy toy. (Not that a mercenary falls into that catagory)And I would think the theology student would have more of a struggle with the relationship than a mercenary, presuming Tory having been indoctrinated in that good ole fashion guilt at which the Church is so adept.

Tory quickly embraces it, desperately needing the security it promises. Unable to deny the emotional connection, Jerel agrees to join Tory's crusade.

The above passage added to my confusion of who was dominant and who submissive.

:)

Anonymous said...

People have wrtiten PhD dissertations and published whole books on "Roman sex." The Greeks & Romans portrayed lots of various activities in art and literature. They were well traveled agriculturalists, their religion included a remarkable collection of "fertility cults". What the actual practices were, nobody knows.

The Greek/Roman traditions of sex in art are the inspiraton behind that infamous modern gay toga porn genre. Just take the censor thing off your internet and start googling "bacchus" and you'll see what I mean.

The Jewish diety is distinguished by not having a body, among other things, so religious art in that tradition distinguished itself by not portraying sexy figures. Until the Renaissance, but that's another millenium and one can argue those are all portraits of Roman dieties, anyway.

Whether the early Christians behaved the same or different from Romans in bed, who knows. Maybe the Christians were just more secretive about sex. Maybe the Romans never actually got laid, they just looked at sexy pictures and liked to imply they were always busy in the sack. Only the art remains and there are important cultural and theological reasons why the art would portray sex differently in these traditions, regardless of prevailing practices.

None of that really matters for this guy's story, because it's all busy with FireThings and two guys on a hike to Persia and their get-laid-to-save-the-world dilemma. Plus, a volcano.

Not a query snob said...

I've been away for a bit and just saw this Face-Lift. I hope the author will be back to these posts because, as a query, I have to say I like it. It's one of the better formatted hooks I've seen in a long time on this blog.

People here have mentioned the snarkives, the crapometer, the formulas, etc. And the author sounds confused about what's really missing. Well, what is missing?

Maybe it depends on which formula is used. Maybe not.

The Character/Motivation/Goal formula is spelled out in the first paragraph.
Character - Tory's a witch in a religion that doesn't tolerate them.
Motivation - He wants absolution
Goal - To foster peace between...

That's clear to me. It's different, not your same-old.

Then comes details. It's a romance, so the romance formula has to be addressed. Characters come together, but something has to keep them apart somehow for 300 pages. OK, done.

What stands in the way? There's the first list, but it's not listy feeling - it's written well, and hints at some pretty exciting stuff.

What has to happen in order to succeed? OK, another list, but it gets the point across.

And the consequences? Or else that new age in Rome we all know about, won't come about.

What's the quibble? The query satisfies it all. Maybe a couple words here and there could be changed to address any potential confusion.

Author, I think people are having a hard time with the storyline itself, not the query, and they're beating up the query because of it. But that's taste. I'm with the crowd that thinks its kind of awesome sounding. Sounds like it has some depth to it. But yeah, do change the names.