Query + 500 #3

Query:

Pastor Bill Hanlin turns away from his faith the day God turned His back on him. As the balance of power between good and evil shifts, shadows hover pass sunset. A murder of crows tries to drive him off the road. And when a stranger, only few can see, turns out to be a demonic being, Bill realizes maybe he’s to blame.

Old journals, left by previous church pastors, reveal the secret to Somerville—the town established as a refuge for hurting Christians. Bill’s denial of God has fractured the protective shield placed on the town. As the cracks widen, the evil episodes become more frequent. Soon Bill realizes he needs to step up and become the man of God his town needs him to be.

As Bill stands firm, willing to return to his roots, he finds a truth that could destroy him. He must decide whether to look past hurts and recommit to his faith, or turn his back on God for good and allow the darkness to prevail.

ANGEL ON THE WALL is a spiritual thriller complete at 70,000 words.

I hold a degree in theology and lived the life of a pastoral team for ten years with my husband. I have won contests with previous pieces as well work as a freelance writer.

Chapter 1

When he awoke this morning, the day held promise.  After driving into the city to pick up donations for his charity, Bill planned to meet some old friends at Moxie’s for lunch. Armed with a mug of strong black coffee, he settled in for the drive to the city, but realized too late the directions to the warehouse were back at home. Having missed not only his appointment for the donations, but as well his lunch date, Bill found himself driving mindlessly for hours hoping to see a familiar landmark. Instead what he found caused him to flee in desperation.

The business sector Bill found himself lost in was full of dark and dingy alleys, surrounded by graffiti covered warehouses. Overflowing garbage bins, and cardboard box houses which lined the sidewalks cluttered the streets that he traveled. Double locking his doors, Bill drove carefully through the streets in search of the warehouse he was seeking. After a mindless tour of what had to be considered the ghetto district, he found himself with the options of two dead-end streets, one on his left and the other on his right. Straight ahead a deserted street had been blocked off by yellow police tape. He turned towards the right in hopes of being able to turn around and continue his search.

As he slowly drove down the dead-end street looking for a side entrance he could pull into, Bill noticed a man lying on his side, covered in blood. He pulled over and he ran to the man, trying to assess any damages as well as any danger that could possibly be still lurking in the area.

Kneeling down, carefully of not placing himself in contact with the blood on the ground, Bill gently eased the twisted body onto the cold cement road and tried to find a pulse. With his focus solely on the man, he didn’t notice as an arm reach out and grasp his elbow.

Startled, Bill jerked his body backwards while gasping for breath.

“Paper.” The injured man barely managed to whisper.

“Pa…per.” The man whispered again while trying to lift his upper body off the ground. His hand was still attached to Bill’s elbow but was slowly losing its grip.

Bill just looked at the man unsure of what to do. The man was unconscious and as he sagged back to the ground, Bill pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911, urging the dispatcher to have the ambulance arrive as soon as possible.

The grip on Bill’s elbow loosened and the hand fell away. Curled up in the palm was a torn piece of paper. The paper, crudely folded, revealed a set of numbers and a phrase that made little sense. Not thinking anything of it, Bill casually placed the paper in his jeans pocket and focused on the man before him.

The ETA from the ambulance was five minutes. Bill looked at the area around him. He was standing in a narrow alley that ended at a brick wall. He noticed a slight opening at the right side of the wall, perhaps another narrow alley, Bill surmised. Litter covered the ground, papers, magazines, newspapers, cans and empty fast food containers. There were no doors in the alley, and nothing to indicate how the man came to this place, or why he was in this condition.

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10 Comments so far
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This doesn’t appeal to me personally because of the religious tone… but I think it might be a good story for the right audience. :)

[Reply]

I didn’t read the query because I know I’m not ready for critiquing those yet. But here are my comments on the first 500.

I think you can cut the first paragraph and start with where he is discovers himself lost with dead ends all around him. I was put off by the “flee in desperation” line in particular in the first paragraph.

I like the “double-locking his doors” line. It gives me more of an image and feel of how he’s starting to get worried. I would take out the “what had to be considered” and just leave it as ghetto.

“An arm reached out” made me think someone else was there trying to hurt him. I didn’t connect that it was the man’s arm, especially when Bill’s attention is on the man…so wouldn’t he see the man’s arm reach up while he’s trying to take the pulse.

Also, I thought he would call 911 as soon as he saw the body, like when he is putting the car in park. He’s an upstanding citizen so it seems like this would be an immediate reaction, then when the man’s arm juts out he could drop the cell or something.

I think it is intriguing…It makes me want to know more about the paper and what is written on it. It just doesn’t quite suck me in from the get-go.

Thank you for sharing your work…I hope my comments will help!

[Reply]

This sounds like an intriguing story. My writing is secular so I’m not sure how well this fits your genre, but I’ll bet there’s a demand for something like this somewhere. Check your writer’s Market, the AAR website, Query Tracker and P&E to find agents dealing with the genre.
I agree that you should cut the first paragraph and hop straight into the action. And I’d like to know what Bill looks like and maybe what the weather is like outside.
Good luck with this book!

[Reply]

My changes based on the comments provided – I would love your feedback. Thanks!

Chapter 1

Bill found himself lost in a dark and dingy alley, surrounded by graffiti covered warehouses, overflowing garbage bins, and cardboard box houses which lined the sidewalks. Double locking his doors, Bill drove carefully through the streets in search of the warehouse he sought.

As he slowly drove down a dead-end street looking for a side entrance he could pull into, Bill noticed a man lying on his side, covered in blood. He immediately pulled over and he ran to the man, trying to assess any damages without thinking of any possible danger lurking in the area.

Kneeling down, carefully of not placing himself in contact with the blood on the ground, Bill gently eased the twisted body to lay flat onto the cold cement road and grabbed his fist, searching for a pulse. The man’s hand uncurled and inside the tight fist was a torn piece of paper.

Focused on finding a pulse, Bill jerked his body backwards while gasping for breath when he heard a tortured sound escape from the bloody lips of male.

“Paper.” The injured man barely managed to whisper.

“Pa…per.” The man whispered again as he tried to lift his upper body off the ground before he sagged back unconscious.

Bill just looked at the man unsure of what to do. He searched his pocket for his cell phone to dial 911, only to realize he left in the SUV. The man was unconscious, so Bill ran back to his vehicle, grabbed his phone and as he ran back to the man on the ground, he dialed 911 and urged the dispatcher to have the ambulance arrive as soon as possible.

On the ground, Bill noticed the torn paper that had fallen. The paper, crudely folded, revealed a set of numbers and a phrase that made little sense. Without thought, Bill casually placed the paper in his jeans pocket and focused on the man before him.

The ETA from the ambulance was five minutes. Bill looked at the area around him. He stood in a narrow alley that ended at a brick wall. He noticed a slight opening at the right side of the wall, perhaps another narrow alley,
Bill surmised. Litter covered the ground, papers, magazines, newspapers, cans and empty fast food containers. There were no doors in the alley, and nothing to indicate how the man came to this place, or why he was in this condition.

[Reply]

BIG mistake to read this before going to bed…

I swear the guy on the ground was gonna attack him…and I jumped! Thanks a lot.

If you wanted a reaction girl…you got one.

[Reply]

oh I see the revised stuff now…. Yeah I like first part with with the arm up….blah blah…it scared me…..

I say I liked it..however….NOT BEFORE BED..

[Reply]

This is definitely interesting. My own writing, and most of my reading, is secular, so I won’t comment too much on the plot, but that’s no reason I can’t do line edits.

I agree with pretty much all of Joyce’s comments.

In the revised version, you have the phrase from the bloody lips of male. I suspect you left out at least one word, but I’d also like to recommend that you not use “male” or “female” in noun form to describe a human pretty much ever, unless there’s a very good reason that your point-of-view character would be thinking that way. If he were, say, a medical examiner, he might become so used to that mindset that he would see an injured person and think in such terms, but most people don’t.

I’d really like to see more of Bill’s personal reaction. What shows us that it’s him telling this story? How is the narrative different from a straight, objective report because he’s our POV character?

I definitely like the double-locked doors – much better than just telling us, “He was nervous.” It would be great to see more of his thoughts and feelings. He’s in a scary part of town, feeling uneasy enough to double-lock his doors, and he’s just noticed a guy lying there bleeding! This is a great opportunity for you to make the reader feel something through the character, and thus identify with him. Show us that this FREAKS HIM OUT. I see the selflessness in his action, but there’s no need to tell us outright that he’s not thinking of possible dangers to himself when he rushes to help. If he bolts from his car to the man’s side, not looking around anxiously or anything like that, we’ll know that he’s being selfless. And I’d especially like a line of dialogue – or at least thought – as soon as he sees the man. Maybe the pastoral equivalent of, “Holy s**t!”

Overall, I’d consider slowing things a bit so that the reader can discover shocks like this along with the character. I’d also like to see something on what Bill is doing here. Maybe at the beginning, you could have some note about why he needs to find the warehouse or where he’s going next: The sooner he picked up that load of cans for Feed the Flock, the sooner he’d be at home with that lovely stack of library books. Not only would something like this establish an interest/hobby for Bill, but it would help to make the soon-to-appear bloody guy a real shock. (Also, in the unrevised version, you mention “donations for his charity.” At the very least, his charity needs a name. These are his thoughts, after all! I just made up “Feed the Flock” – though there may well be something with that name out there – but I’m sure you can come up with something.)

This is Bill’s story, and it will be much more interesting for readers if you let him tell it. I don’t mean to put it into first-person, but think about when a movie follows someone around. It’s “he,” not “I,” but you still get lots of emotion and expression. You get all that PLUS, because you’re writing a novel and not a screenplay, you can show us his thoughts! (I never get over how awesome that is. Aren’t writers lucky?)

I’d really recommend including the phrase that’s on the paper. Bill knows it now, so readers should, too. It would also make things that much more interesting. You might say something like, “The paper, crudely folded, was scrawled with a list of numbers and the words Dogs, all dogs except the third. What? Never mind. Not important. Without thinking, Bill shoved the paper into his pocket and focused on the man in front of him.” (Obviously, this nonsense phrase is probably different from yours.) I particularly would not let him do this “casually.” I doubt he’d be doing anything casually just now.

Line/copy edits (for revised version):

1. First sentence: I’d cut “which lined the sidewalk,” because he’s already “surrounded.” Also, graffiti-covered is hyphenated, as is double-locking in the next sentence. You might also cut “he sought” at the end of that paragraph, as he’s already “in seach of” the warehouse.

2. First sentence of the next paragraph: I assume you mean a side exit, not entrance, and I would cut the “he could pull into,” because the reader can guess that’s what he means to do. In the next sentence, I’d cut the second “he.” There are a couple of other sentences where I’d cut extra uses of “he,” too.

3. First sentence, third paragraph: You have Kneeling down, carefully of not . . . I think the “of” is there by mistake, and I would also remove “down,” as there’s really only one direction you can kneel from standing. :) I’m also pretty sure most roads are not made of cement.

4. When he looks for his cell phone, I’d say he had left it in the SUV rather than he left it. Because the story is written in past tense, anything written in plain past is taken to mean it’s happening right now, whereas adding “had” makes it a thing that’s already happened.

On the query:

1. In the first sentence, if Bill turns away from his faith during the novel, I’d make both of the verbs present tense; if it’s before the novel, I’d make them both past tense. The rest of the paragraph is a bit confusing.

2. Second paragraph, first sentence, I’d say “a town” rather than “the town.”

3. In the third paragraph, you might be a little more specific about the “truth” Bill discovers. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to imagine something that would make a pastor consider as an option “turn his back on God for good and allow the darkness to prevail.” You don’t necessarily have to say what the truth is, but maybe a mention of how/where he discovers it, or a hint about its nature?

Anyway, you definitely have tension with this plot. If you can make the story personal so that readers identify with Bill’s struggle, it could be fantastic. :)

[Reply]

Okay, already help some with query, so I’m going into the 500 words. And I do like this. I want to read more. :)

When he awoke this morning, the day held promise. After driving into the city to pick up donations for his charity, Bill planned to meet some old friends at Moxie’s for lunch. Armed with a mug of strong black coffee, he settled in for the drive to the city, but realized too late the directions to the warehouse were back at home. Having missed not only his appointment for the donations, but as well his lunch date, Bill found himself driving mindlessly for hours hoping to see a familiar landmark. Instead what he found caused him to flee in desperation.

The business sector Bill found himself lost in was full of dark and dingy alleys, surrounded by graffiti covered warehouses. Overflowing garbage bins, and cardboard box houses which lined the sidewalks cluttered the streets that he traveled. Double locking his doors, Bill drove carefully through the streets in search of the warehouse he was seeking. After a mindless tour of what had to be considered the ghetto district, he found himself with the options of two dead-end streets ( PERIOD, DELETE REST OF SENTENCE one on his left and the other on his right.) Straight ahead a deserted street had been blocked off by yellow police tape. He turned (DELETE towards the right) in hopes of being able to turn around and continue his search.

As he (DELETE slowly drove INCHED HIS WAY)down the dead-end street looking for a side entrance he could pull into, Bill noticed a man lying on his side, covered in blood. He pulled over and he ran to the man, trying to assess any damages as well as any danger that could possibly (SWITCH—STILL BE) be still lurking in the area.

Kneeling down, careful(DELETE ly of) not TO placE himself in contact with the blood on the ground, Bill (DELETE gently IT SHOWS WITH EASED THAT IT WAS GENTLE) eased the twisted body onto the cold cement road and tried to find a pulse. With his focus solely on the man, he didn’t notice as an arm reach out and grasp his elbow.

Startled, Bill jerked (DELETE his body) backwards while gasping for breath.

“Paper.” The injured man barely managed to whisper.

“Pa…per.” The man whispered again while trying to lift his upper body off the ground. His hand was still attached to Bill’s elbow but was slowly losing its grip.

Bill (DELETE just) looked at the man(,) unsure of what to do. The man was unconscious and as he sagged back to the ground(,PERIOD) Bill pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911, urging the dispatcher to have the ambulance arrive as soon as possible.

The grip on Bill’s elbow loosened and the hand fell away. (AFTER HE BECAME UNCONSCIOUS? WOULDN’T THAT HAPPEN FIRST?) Curled up in the palm was a torn piece of paper. The paper, crudely folded, revealed a set of numbers and a phrase that made little sense. (Not thinking anything of it, WITH LITTLE THOUGH,) Bill (DELETE casually MOST LY WORDS ARE NOT NEEDED) placed the paper in his jeans pocket and focused on the man before him.

The ETA from the ambulance was five minutes. (DID DISPATCH TELL HIM THIS? MAYBE HAVE A CONVERSATION HERE.)
Bill looked at the area around him. He was standing in a narrow alley that ended at a brick wall. He noticed a slight opening at the right side of the wall, perhaps another narrow alley, Bill surmised. Litter covered the ground, papers, magazines, newspapers, cans and empty fast food containers. There were no doors in the alley, and nothing to indicate how the man came to this place, or why he was in this condition.

(THERE IS A LOT OF TELLING. BILL IS NOTICING QUITE A BIT. I WANT TO HAVE SOME EMOTION. SHOW ME WHAT’S TAKING PLACE. IS BILL SCARED? IS HE SAD? INSTEAD OF LITTER COVERING THE GROUND AND THEN THE DESCRIPTION, MAYBE HAVE THE MAGS AND PAPERS BLOWING IN THE BREEZE OR HEAT COMING OF THE PAVEMENT. I WANT A SENSE OF TIME OF YEAR.)

[Reply]

You guys rock! Thank you! I’ll be back with my edits.

[Reply]

Third Draft :) Thanks everyone for your help on this. You’ll see I changed this quite a bit from the previous versions.

“Having a GPS system that actually gave the right directions would be helpful” Bill muttered as he slowly drove down a street filled with graffiti-covered warehouses. According to the GPS unit, the building where the supplies for Outreaching Hands, the charity he ran, was located was directly in front of him, at the end of this dead-end street. The same street he had driven up and down four times now. The only problem with that though was there was no building in front of him, just an empty lot.

What he wanted to do was pull over to the side of street and figure out the piece of garbage his sister had bought him for Christmas. At the time she had claimed that the GPS would be a lifesaver with all the trips he took to the city, he couldn’t wait to tell her just how wrong she was. Instead he pulled a u-turn and drove back out the way he came in. There was no way he would stop his car for a second longer than necessary in this neighborhood. Despite the deserted feel to the street, with all the cardboard homes that lined the buildings, Bill had no doubt that the moment he stopped he would find himself in a crowd of one too many.

The street Bill turned down appeared to be no worse than the other. It too was full of graffiti-covered warehouses. The only difference was the overflowing garbage bins that cluttered the sidewalks.
Double locking his doors, Bill drove carefully down the streets, hoping that against all odds, the warehouse he sought was on this street instead.

Bill heaved a huge sigh after he glanced at the clock on his dashboard. Even if he did find the warehouse, it would be closed. It was now five in the evening, and he had been driving mindlessly through these streets for over two hours. Any other person would have stopped, found a pay phone and called for directions. Not Bill. After having lunch with friends, Bill felt confident he’d have no problem finding the warehouse. While it might have been a new company he was dealing with, it wasn’t the first time he had arranged a pickup in this section of the city. Now he was ready to just hand over the useless expensive toy to the first homeless person to flag him down seeking a donation.

He was ready to give up and call it a day. With his blue-tooth hooked in his ear, Bill began to dial sister when he noticed a man lying on his side, covered in blood. He immediately dialed 911 instead. After giving his location and informing them that he was a certified in first aid, he ran to the man.

Careful to not place himself in contact with the blood on the ground, Bill gently eased the twisted body to lay flat onto the cold cement road, grabbed his fist and searched a pulse. The man’s hand uncurled and inside the tight fist was a torn piece of paper.

When the man uttered a sound from his cracked lips, Bill jerked his body backwards, startled.

“Paper.” The injured man barely managed to whisper.

“Pa…per.” The man whispered again as he tried to lift his upper body off the ground before he sagged back unconscious.

The paper, crudely folded, revealed a set of numbers and phrase that made little sense. 12 97 SP and the phrase ‘fear the forgotten’. The numbers looked vaguely familiar to Bill, but unable to pinpoint why, he placed the paper in his jeans pocket and looked down at the man on the ground.

Bill heard the 911 operator speak in his ear and inform him the ambulance was five minutes away. Bill looked at the area around him. He was standing in a narrow alley that ended at a brick wall. With the sun setting, shadows crept along the walls, which added to the unsettled feeling Bill felt. A gust of wind swept along the sidewalk, tossing shredded papers and old newspapers into the air. A foul smell permeated the air, which forced Bill to shudder from the rank odor as it enveloped him with its rancidness. Bill looked around him and assumed the stench came from the full green garbage bin that sat at the end of the alley.

Bill heard voices drift up the street, carried along from the wind that continued to dance around him and the unconscious man on the street. His first thought was he left his unlocked vehicle alone. His second thought was that they were nasty sounding paramedics.

[Reply]

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