A Meandering Mini Rant About Queries

Gen. Stonewall Jackson

As many of you may have noticed, I didn’t finish the A-Z challenge. I’m going to finish the topics I had chosen, but there may be some pauses along the way, such as today. My next post will be on J, which will be General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. So much has been written about him I didn’t feel like I could add anything of interest, but I had just finished reading “Beloved Bride his collection of letters to his wife. They show how utterly devoted and madly in love with her he was. He felt so very blessed to have her in his life, but also they showed a very normal side of an extraordinary man. He wishes he were home to help work in their hothouse and get plants ready for her garden. He loved tending the garden with her. He tells her to sell the house and give as much of the money as she can to the Black church they helped found. He’s afraid with the deprivations of war, donations will stop and it will fail. In one letter, he chastises himself for being late with a tithe to their pastor that is meant to support the Black Sunday school. He was late due to a forced march by his army when they arrived just in time to help turn the tide at the first Battle of Manassas where he earned the name “Stonewall”. The letters reveal a complex man with many layers, like an onion. The best kind of character and person.

In the end, I decided to focus on how he maintained a positive attitude in life though he was one of those men who seemed born under a black cloud of grief and misery. It would mean doing a bit of research just for a blog post, but it may be of interest to my readers because one of my main characters serves under Jackson.

I will finish reading Personal Recollections of the Civil War By One Who Took Part in It as a Private Soldier in the 21st Volunteer Regiment of Infantry from Massachusetts by James Madison Stone today. Isn’t that a title for the ages? Stone is a bit biased in some of his reporting, but it’s a good diary. For instance, I had to go back and look up the results of Second Manassas as he made it sound like they had won the battle. I thought, “Am I finally losing my mind?” From his point of view, his company made a heroic effort at Stone Bridge and that’s a victory. They deserved to feel some measure of pride, it was dearly bought with heavy casualties.

The main value of this diary is small details I have been able to glean from it. The Union army took over Patterson Park in Baltimore to train at one point. I needed the name of a park in Baltimore and had been unable to find one with reference to Union soldiers, so that fell happily into my lap. It wasn’t a big deal, but it’s one of those bits that add richness to a story. He describes a friend leaning exhausted against a tree, safely sheltered from Confederate fire. A bullet strikes the tree and his friend falls down dead. He was killed by the concussion. A scene based on this will make it into the book. It’s too interesting not to use it. Mostly, it’s little things, camp life, wounds in battle, deaths, how the soldiers felt going into battle that will be picked up here and there. I will read an entire diary covering four years for maybe a dozen tidbits. But, more than that, it helps put me in the minds of the people. The language and syntax start seeping in so they become more a part of me as I write The Rain Crow.

And so it goes with the dozens of other diaries, journals, and collections of letters. Seriously, I have over 600 books on the Civil War.

Hopefully, readers will appreciate the effort that’s been put into it to make it not only an enjoyable read, but as accurate as I could make it while keeping in mind it’s a work of fiction. My friends at TheLitForum have suggested I keep a bibliography so readers will know what books I called on. It will be an extensive list, but perhaps a necessary one. There will be people who say, “That never happened.” I’ll have to have something proving this is what “that” was based on, once again keeping in mind it’s still a work of fiction.

And that brings me to the rant of the day. While I have always enjoyed history, I would never in life delve into so many archives, diaries, letters, journals, memoirs, military reports, congressional records, and biographies if not for The Rain Crow. My brain feels like it’s going to explode at times. Reading the manumission laws of South Carolina was somewhat interesting, but holy crow, my head.

A lot of writers say, “Oh, I don’t care if I’m ever published. I just write because I love writing.”

I love writing also, but I want people to see the product of my groanings and sighings. I want an agent to be named at a later date to fall in love with it and say, “I really need this book and Law do I hope she has another one planned.” (Unless the agent is from the south, she or he probably won’t say “Law”.)

I’m on the last bit of Rain Crow now. It will end up at about 180,000 words by the time I finish the First Manassas Battle and wrap up the heroine’s journey. Then it will be going back to start the bloodletting and word massacre with the word-by-word examination of what works, what doesn’t, and what can be stronger or disappear altogether.

I have a high fantasy that needs to be reworked because an agent (I will sing his praises unto my dying breath) finally sent me some comments on what didn’t work. I had umpteen requests for fulls and then got the passes. Several agents said to keep them in mind for my next work, so I know they liked the writing, but something wasn’t working. Thank you, Jesus, someone finally told me.

Fantasy. No big deal. A writer makes up their world. It’s all in their head.

Not really. I researched A LOT even with the fantasy.

At a conference, I was at a private party the historical author Jack Whyte also attended. We holed up in a corner, drank and talked history for about an hour if not more. Sarmatians, Celtic burial mounds, the Norse, Roman cavalry tactics, military medicine through the ages. You name it, we discussed it. I knew the things he was talking about because I wanted the battle scenes and the armies in my fantasy to be realistic. One of my cultures was loosely based on ancient Celts. Who knew you could make armor from horse hooves? The Roman historian Tacitus did and described how the Sarmatians did it.

It was fantasy, but it was heavily researched fantasy.

So, you have a finished book, dear author. You’ve done everything you can to make it the best you can. Maybe you’ve researched your details. You’ve definitely polished it to a high gleam. You’ve had beta readers go over it with a fine tooth comb. You’ve listened to it for cadence. It sings.

Oh, but that isn’t the end. Now you must write a compelling query. Hie thee off to Query Shark with you.

We won’t even discuss the synopsis.

You spend weeks, maybe months perfecting the query and synopsis. Off to the query trenches with you and lo, what happens? In many cases, nothing.

Nothing, you say?


Nothing happens because a great many agencies have a no response means no interest policy.

Wait, so this book that I have spent A LOT of time and effort and money on researching and making it the best I possibly can isn’t even worth a cursory, “Not for me”? I won’t know if the agent received the email. I have to assume they did. A few agencies, praise the Lord, have an automated response letting you know it’s been received.

I understand agents are busy and this is just the way the world is. Your game, your rules. I can deal with about anything as long as I know the rules. I’m not ranting at agents or the publishing industry, but it makes me sad.

At times it feels like when you get all gussied up in your best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress, get your hair and nails done and the guy shows up to take you to McDonald’s for their buy-one-get-one-free special. You think, “I shaved my legs for this? The least he could have done is take me to Whataburger.”

I very, very seldom post about agents or publishing unless it’s something positive, so please forgive this foray down a slippery, corduroy road. Agent Jessica Faust made a youtube post about no reply means no interest recently and I debated on responding even though I was going, “You tell ’em, girl”. Everything she says is true. Will it change anything? Doubtful. Still, it was nice to know someone gets it. I’m sure she’s not the only one, but with the number of no response policies, sometimes I wonder. So, thank you, Jessica. I don’t drink wine, but I did have a Shiner Bock and played my theme song in your honor.


  1. I know everyone in the publishing industry is very busy, but honestly, how much time can a copy/paste rejection take? It’s just for our piece of mind. I don’t think this is asking for too much.

  2. Julie, I look forward to the trickle of letter posts. I’m learning heaps (although I am in awe of your research – I thought I went heavy on the research but you have proved me wrong).

    I’m hitting the query trenches again later this year and am dreading the NORMANs. I’m sure agents wouldn’t like editor NORMANs…

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