Taking It Up a Notch


Yeah, right.

Anyway, I’ve finished reading The Bone Trench out loud. That took nine days. This weekend, I reworked a query letter and wrote a new synopsis, one page. These two documents have now been sent to my paid editor Gretchen so she can work her magic.

I don’t want to burden you with the entire documents. But here’s the opening to the synopsis:

It’s been said the role of the modern book is to start a conversation. In America, a major conversation is coalescing around mass incarceration and the criminal justice system. The Bone Trench asks—with scandalous irreverence—what would Jesus say in such a conversation?

This is from the query letter:

The Bone Trench features Jesus but is hardly religious. Mother Mary is a fantastical Mother of God, but her desire to be a better mother is universal. The historical truths at the heart of the novel are all too real—my desire to explore America’s repeated willingness to use prisoners for profit was triggered by my own family’s checkered history with prison management and convict leasing.

My experience has been that Gretchen can take a query letter up a notch or two, so I’m excited to see what she does with what I’ve sent her. Until then, I could be researching appropriate agents, but one of the main questions I’ve asked Gretchen is, what genre book is this?

I’m open to suggestions, and to help you along, here’s the opening:

The trench in Union Avenue wept.
At the bottom of the dirt trench, hemmed in by its steep, slick walls, Cat Thomas dug a path for a new distribution line, finishing what the backhoe had started. Cat’s nose twitched with the smell of Mississippi River muck. Sweat stung his eyes, and a blister between his thumb and forefinger tugged and burned. The Memphis Power Company worker hated this part of his job: the damp trench, the earthen walls clawed by the teeth of the backhoe, the wiggling earthworms sliced in two. Ignoring the traffic noises drifting from above, Cat slowly found the rhythm of his shovel and worked in the June heat the way he’d always worked, with muscled shoulders and a head full of replacement thoughts: his wife’s wobbly smile when she announced the coming of a child, the cold one waiting for him in the refrigerator at home, whether the grit-and-grind Grizzlies would ever win it all. Caught up in his own world, Cat rent the ground. Until his shovel scraped a human skull.

Thanks for following along my journey.

criminal justice system, mass incarceration, prison reform, querying, the agony of query letters, The Bone Trench, working with an editor, writing a synopsis, writing the perfect query letter

Comments (8)

  • You’ve hooked me! It’s not historical, I guess, because of the refrigerator, although it still could be, depending on what year the story is set. Is it realistic or a mystery?

    • How cool! The story is set in “modern day Memphis,” but Mother Mary’s visions take her back in time to when the people in the trenches died. So there’s a lot of history in it about slavery and convict leasing and indentured servants and sharecropping. It’s also realistic, except for the fantasy elements.:) Even Mother Mary’s personal history is based on actual Marian sightings around the world. It’s not a mystery, though I do hope the plot carries the reader strongly through the story. That’s the $64,000 question: what is this thing of which you’ve written?

  • Wow. So much more compelling now. And still so very relevant. I hope the next phases go quickly and well for ypu

    • I’m glad you think so, Joe. I’m so close to it that sometimes I do all this work and wonder if it shows at all. I’ll even go back to earlier versions and compare them to see if this one is substantially different. It’s definitely been a process.

  • It could be a genre bender – how about a speculative fiction/mystery? Great opening!

    Thanks for telling us how long it took you to read the novel out loud. I was wondering.

    • Thank you so much for reminding me of the speculative fiction genre. I think that fits it–I researched this once and for got it . . . . So glad you like the opening. My voice got hoarse but I made it through!

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