Deep in the Query Trenches

After 17 months of hard work on my most recent MS, The Obsidian Pyramids, I sent out my first round of queries seven weeks ago; four rejections so far, but I’m still waiting to hear on four others. I also decided to enter #QueryKombat last minute. We’re supposed to hear who made the cut (64 out of 428 entries will make the tourney) next Friday.

I’ll try to keep track of my query adventures here, starting by posting the current version of my query and the first page of my MS (this is essentially the submission to #QueryKombat).

Query:

Dear [Agent],

Twelve obsidian pyramids have stood since before memory, conferring arcane powers upon those who seek them out. Most who pursue them become Endowed, acquiring one of twelve special abilities. But a few unlucky initiates are instead marked – physically and spiritually – as Accursed, and are treated as little more than animals, thought to possess stained souls.

Alaeric Helskor is one of those unlucky few. After years traveling lost and alone, he’s visited by a mysterious shadow-woman who grants him the unique ability to temporarily siphon Endoweds’ powers – but only after he’s slain an Endowed of matching ability. Promising him redemption, she convinces him to travel to Lake Celes, where a self-proclaimed prophet named Ben Tobagho has taken control of ancient ruins that contain the secrets of the pyramids and their creation.

After an Endowed poisoned his daughter years ago, revenge sparked in Tobagho’s heart; he now plots the destruction of the pyramids and the end of the Endowed, playing on the fears and jealousy of normals – men and women who’ve never visited the pyramids. When the shadow-woman prompts Alaeric to steal a mystical artifact from within the ruins, he quickly makes himself Tobagho’s enemy.

As Tobagho’s vitriolic message spreads and his power grows, Alaeric becomes caught in the middle of the ensuing war between Endowed and normals. To save the pyramids, and the shadow-woman who granted him his powers, he must expose Tobagho as a fraud. But the prophet holds all the cards, and Alaeric must decide if redemption is worth his life.

THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS is a 110,000 word adult high fantasy that melds the western-style setting and innovative magic of Brandon Sanderson’s THE ALLOY OF LAW and the morally flawed yet likeable characters of Scott Lynch’s THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES.

I work as a portfolio manager for Crabel Capital Management, and I earned my B.S, M.S., and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Marquette University. My greatest writing influences include Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,
Kevin Indrebo

First page:

Alaeric pressed his body against the rock outcropping that concealed him, fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword. He controlled his breathing, keeping it slow and calm. The eerie silence of the late afternoon was loud in his ears.

Below, the woman who’d been tracking him picked her way along the gully. Her blood-red hair stirred as a slight breeze picked up, and she glanced around, eyes wide and alert for anything – not the look of someone who assumed she was alone. Days since he discovered her, this was the first time he’d managed to gain the advantage and get a good look at her.

She was quite striking. Beautiful, even. She wore tight, black leather pants and a matching jacket, with a small bedroll strapped to her back. She walked with an otherworldly grace, one that made her appear out of place among the stunted plants and rocky, dry terrain. Like a thorny, vibrant flower in a dying, unkempt garden.

A Dancer. No doubt about it. She floated over the uneven ground Alaeric had stumbled and struggled his way through a few hundred heartbeats earlier. A high-level Dancer, at that. Too high for Alaeric to sense how many pyramids she’d seen.

This complicated things. For a time, when he first noticed the signs, he’d wondered if he was imagining the woman’s presence in his wake. The djinn knew he was having a fuck of a time distinguishing real threats from fake these days. But even when he’d convinced himself someone was tracking him, he’d still held out hope it was a simple brigand. Simple, but persistent. Alaeric may not have looked like much of a target, but out here, in the lonely and vicious Miraji Desert, some folks were desperate.

The Epic in Epic Fantasy

A few weeks ago I had the flu. I had it bad. I get sick somewhat frequently, partly because I fly a lot, partly because I drink too much and that probably weakens my immune system I can only assume. But I haven’t had the flu much since I was a kid. This was definitely the worst I’ve had it since I turned 18.

I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days except to go to the bathroom. Could almost eat nothing.

It was also hard for me to sleep during the day, feverish and sweaty that I was. Fortunately, I had one little piece of luck on my side. Something that made it easy to get through. OK, not easy, but possible. I was reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer (Stormlight Archives 3) at the time.

Now, I read a lot of big books (I love big books and I cannot lie). Epic fantasy has always been my thing. I used to go to the bookstore and randomly choose books from the fantasy section based on which one was the thickest.

But I’m pretty certain this is the longest book I’ve ever read. Over 450,000 words. More than 1200 pages in hardcover with basically no margins. That’s about four Kevin books in one.

The final sequence, which involved about a thousand threads converging on each other in an epic confrontation, was the equivalent of a normal-sized novel. And holy shit was it emotionally exhausting.

It was incredible, and the only bad part about it was: I was sad it finally came to an end. 450,00 words and I wanted more immediately.

I want to be able to write like that. To create something so epic, so gripping, so dramatic, an epic fantasy reader can read the longest book she’s ever read and think it was too short.

But I can’t. Or at least, I can’t imagine ever getting to that level. I’ve learned more from Brandon than any other author, and I think a lot my strengths as a writer are similar (though not as good by any means) to his. To do what he did in this book, though? I just can’t imagine ever having that ability.

But it doesn’t mean I won’t try. I just finished the fifth draft of my seventh novel, The Obsidian Pyramids. Shortly after publishing this post, I will be embarking on one of the scariest, most painful, frustrating experiences a young(ish-in-a-way) writer can have. I will be sending out the first round of queries.

Pray for me. If you do that sort of thing. I’d say have a drink for me if not (or if so!), but I will be having plenty for myself this weekend, so I think I have that covered.

Writing Other

After a holiday break (with a bit too much drinking, if there is such a thing), I’m back at editing my WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids. With some helpful feedback, I’m pushing toward the fourth draft.

One of the comments I received was a request to add a POV for one of the secondary characters. I was hesitant at first, but I’m giving it the old college try, and I think if it works, it can solve multiple problems with the MS.

As a quick aside, one of the things I’ve discovered about myself as a writer over my last two novels is this: I enjoy writing women characters much more than men. Am I good at it? Ha, lol, probably not. Though I do personally feel like my ladies are better than the boys, I’m very much a dude, and I probably don’t get it.

In my previous book, Daughters of Darkness, most of the characters were women. I was scared, figuring I would fuck it up, write ridiculous, unbelievable, or offensive characters. But I was pleased with how it turned out (even if lit agents seem to disagree with me). Now, as I look to add this new POV, I’m faced an even scarier proposition: writing the character I understand the least, and probably will get horribly wrong, forever shaming myself…

A popular, charismatic dude.

Seriously, I have no idea how these people work. I’m an enginerd, and I’ve recently learned that I’m probably mildly autistic. I have a PhD, I write algorithms to trade hundreds of millions of dollars in institutional money, but ask me to initiate a friendly conversation at a bar/party/whatever, I’m like, uh… I don’t… what?

So getting inside the head of this magically (in a literal sense) charismatic guy  is daunting. Fuck, even writing him from other character’s perspectives was scary and hard (and I’m not sure I succeeded).

I figure I’ll do what I always do in these situations: focus on the magic. Royne is a Charmer, which means his magical ability is to instinctually understand what other people want to hear, how to stroke their egos, how to connect with and impress them.

We’ll see how it goes.

No NaNoWriMo For Me

I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year, for the first time in several Novembers. Personally, I always looked at NaNoWriMo as a cute little thing, something to talk about on social media a bit. I’ve never been a fast writer or a binge writer, so I never came close to winning.

But I’ve also never (at least from a certain age) had a problem sticking with my writing and getting to the end of the draft, even if it took a little time. When I’m writing a first draft, I write six days a week, skipping very few schedule days during the drafting process. It usually takes me 5-6 months to produce a first draft in the range of 100k-120k words.

Last year, I made a mistake by forcing myself to start writing on Nov 1st. I clearly wasn’t ready, and should’ve spent another month or so on pre-writing. A mistake that’s led to more needed revision on the book – I’m currently finishing up the third draft. I’m trying to take my time and make sure I don’t rush things. Quality over speed for me these days, even if I feel a little impatient now and then.

For everyone that is participating, good luck this year and have fun.

 

A Million Words

I’m currently finishing up the second draft of my current WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids, still working to get better, still struggling to work through rejections and stay positive. I recently remembered the old adage, the first million words is practice, and I figured, once I hit a million words, I’ll magically become a great writer, yes?

Seems like I should be getting close, so I decided to run the numbers and see where I am.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a short story, but I used to do so more often, before I got into writing novels regularly. I don’t think I have copies of them all, so I just have to guess at how many words these count for. I’m going to say 50,000 total, though that might be a little conservative. But we’ll start there.

Current total: 50,000

My first attempt at writing a novel came when I was a senior in college. It didn’t go well. I stopped after 20,000 words and didn’t attempt another novel for almost 6 years.

I have three other unfinished novels, none of which I’ll ever return to. In more than one case, leaving the project was me acting strategically rather than simply quitting, so I think I should be able to count these in my total. My estimate is that those four incomplete projects account for about 75k words.

Current total: 125,000

Then we have my completed novels:

  • The Doorway: 105k
  • Starcatcher: 160k
  • The Book of Terrors: 180k
  • Wizard’s Curse (YA): 50k
  • Blood Price: 115k
  • Daughters of Darkness: 115k
  • The Obsidian Pyramids: 105k

 

Final total: 955,000 words. So close!!!

Review Roundup 8/17

Historically, I haven’t written a lot of book reviews, but I’m trying to get myself to do more. I’ve read some good books and some bad books recently; here’s a roundup of the reviews I’ve given on Goodreads lately:

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – 4/5 stars

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – 2/5 stars

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin – 4/5 stars

Control Point by Myke Cole – 1/5 stars

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig – 2/5 stars

Next Round

Finally, at long last, the wait is over. It’s time for…

The next round of rejection. I mean querying.

I’ve spent the last couple months working on more edits for Daughters of Darkness (after several months of writing the book I’m now calling The Obsidian Pyramids), and I’m finally ready to send out the next round of submissions. My changes to the query were minimal, but I think it’s clearly stronger than the previous versions.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s the body of the query:

 

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family by harboring a failed assassin. After years of struggle to prove their love and commitment to the empire, Iris and her mother have nearly erased the family’s tainted past. Then Iris’s mother murders her daughter’s groom on the couple’s wedding day.

When Iris flees the scene, she’s accused of conspiracy by Empress Elena Flora, a woman with little sympathy left for the LaRose family. But Iris won’t believe that her mother is truly guilty – an imposter must be responsible. Faced with execution, Iris’s only option is to lie, claiming she can bring the imperial guard to her mother.

Her lie buys her just enough freedom to seek the hidden killer, but when answers prove difficult to find, she turns to the most unwelcome of allies: Violet Zino, a brash and charming pirate who can access the criminal underground.

As new assassinations threaten the stability of the empire, Iris and Violet uncover clues that lead them to a shadowy group called the Daughters of Darkness, women who plan to destroy the empire by replacing the empress with a saboteur. Now Iris must choose to risk her life and her freedom to save Elena Flora, or watch as the empire she loves crumbles.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, complete at 112,600 words, is high fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks and The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, as it shares their adventurous tone and touch of irreverent humor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

It’s a bit longer than I wanted – and quite a bit longer than the first draft – but I think this is the best possible version.

So I’m off to put together and send out those submissions. Then on to the initial reading of the first draft of The Obsidian Pyramids. No summer vacation for his writer.