Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Ms. Piraino:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present this query and the first 1,250 words of my completed fantasy manuscript THE FORGE OF HEROES. I was very excited to hear that DeFiore & Company were open to new author submissions and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

In FORGE OF HEROES, Upinde always thought he would train and serve as an Askari warrior to protect the Sa’mor kingdom, from any aggression. But when he’s ordered to flee from unknown invaders and seek aid from traditional enemies, everything he’s believed will be called into question. He travels across the border with two companions to a land where they could all be killed out of hand. Even if they find shelter, treachery will still strike at them and events will conspire against them. Without courage, conviction and quick wits, Upinde and his friends will die, leaving Sa’mor to burn under the invaders destructive slaughter.

With so many lives on the line, Upinde has no choice. Taking up the challenge will cost him dearly as he puts his life, his duty and his very honor on the line. Will he turn into the thing he hates to save the land he loves?

Similar in scope and scale to Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord and Saxon stories, FORGE OF HEROES is written within a realistic world with fantastic elements over a series of installments.

Following, please find the first 1,250 words of the 106,000 word manuscript. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on its potential for publication.

R.M.


THE FORGE OF HEROES

Upinde strained his eyes but couldn’t see any bodies. Across the valley, perhaps a mile from where they hid, dark smoke streamed through the open main gates of the Askari Caverns. The gray and black tendrils were the only obvious sign something was wrong. The lack of guards or people in and out of the gates wasn’t unusual, but the smoke was as good as a horn’s warning. 

For a fire in the Caverns to create so much smoke unchecked, hundreds would have to be dead.

“It’s burning? Our home?” Pinna Mar asked. “Was it an attack? Why didn’t Mani Haldor know about this?”

Upinde shot him a withering look. They were hidden in a copse of bushwillow trees and thorned scrub across the valley from the entrance and the nearest likely threat, but that didn’t make them safe. Even though Pinna was only an aspirant, he should know better than to start talking until they were certain they couldn’t be seen or heard. Under Upinde’s harsh gaze, he closed his mouth. After a moment more Pinna lowered his eyes. Upinde motioned his five companions back down the hill and into cover. The six sa’mori slid back from the grassy crestline, staying belly to the ground, to not give away their position.

Upinde ignored the others for the moment. He moved to check the leads and hobbles on the two pack wildebai they’d stashed in the small copse. The animals chewed the tall, yellow grasses and snorted, but otherwise made no fuss. They’d left another ten of the pack animals, the goal of their journey, penned at an unmanned farm near the entrance to the valley where they had first seen the smoke. The farm doubled as an outpost that shouldn’t have been abandoned--another sign things were not as they should be.

Upinde pulled the leather thongs on one of the tightly bound packages, and dropped it to the ground with a rattle of wood and metal.

“Where were the patrols?” Pinna whined as the other sa’mori gathered in a loose circle together. “Where was the defense? Why weren’t the gates shut? Where are the Askari?” His voice rose in a panicked, whispered stream. His eyes cast desperately about to each of his five sa’mori brethren in turn.

Upinde bit down an angry retort. He patted wildebai's rough main of black hair, careful of its short horns.

Pinna asked the right questions, but at the wrong time. The young sa’mori caught Upinde’s gaze and peered down at him, searching for an answer. His broad shoulders twitched nervously under thick, corded muscle. For all his size and strength, Pinna was the youngest aspirant warrior in the group. It would be a year or more until he trained and matured into a proper adept like Upinde. It would be several more years before Pinna could even be considered for an Askari warrior. Under other circumstances, Upinde would have sympathized. He could sense the same pangs of chaos and fear at the edge of his mind that Pinna was now giving voice.

Pinna wasn’t wrong, but this wasn’t the place to ask what couldn’t be answered.

“Be still,” Felis Kit told Pinna, cutting through Upinde’s thoughts. “We can only deal in the now. Upinde has the command. He’s an adept.”

Upinde turned around slowly from the two packages on the ground. He was trained, but not experienced--not for this. To buy time, he looked at each of his five companions, reading the emotions on their faces. Upinde finished by looking at his second, Ramuh Pam. Her cold, calculating gaze caught his and stopped him. She was also an adept, older than Upinde and with more experience. She’d actually stood a watch with an Askari patrol. She could easily take the command.

For a silent moment Upinde wished she would.

Instead, Ramuh nodded at him to continue. Upinde felt his heart sink and his mind steel. It was his job. He had been tasked to succeed or fail. If he fell, she would take over, and not before.

This is only supposed to be a supply run, Upinde thought. A little small group command training. We’re not supposed to fight.

He drew a deep breath and held it for a moment.

For any obstacle, start at the beginning, Upinde told himself. The words echoed in the voice of Calin Eer, one of the Caverns’ Askari masters.

Upinde took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

“I’ll give you my thoughts,” he said. “Then we’ll make a decision--together.”

Pinna stared at him, waiting for more. The young man wanted something that would make logic from this chaos. The other four sa’mori nodded their heads in agreement, as if Upinde had given them an order. Ramuh watched him from where she leaned against a bushwillow tree.

“We assume the worst,” Upinde told them. “One of the border nations has invaded and attacked the Askari Caverns--our home. Either the Ruska or the Vik. It doesn’t matter which. A large force would be needed to overcome the...the defenders, and they’ve done that.”

Friends, teachers and brethren, you mean, Upinde translated in his head. Don’t think of them now. There’s nothing you can do for the dead.

He swallowed and went on.

“Those who survived the attack are now prisoners, here or on their way to be sold as slaves.”

“What good does that do us?” Pinna interrupted. “We’re not Askari! We should run...retreat.” He looked to the others for support. “We should find an Askari patrol and report this--let them handle it.”

Pinna’s eyes were wide, the whites showed all around his deep brown in near panic.

He’s not a coward, Upinde reminded himself. He’s young and he’s scared. Stick to the problem. That’s where we’ll find the solution.

“A rearguard may have been left to hold the Caverns,” Upinde told them.

“Two adepts and four aspirants against an army?” Pinna asked.

“Not an army,” Felis corrected.

“Upinde just said--” Pinna began.

“A large force would have patrols,” Upinde cut him off to explain, “and a guard outside the Caverns’ entrance. We’ve watched for an hour and there are neither.”

“So, there’s no one?” Pinna asked. A note of hope crept into his voice. “They’ve come and gone?”

“As Upinde said,” Argona Vis spoke up for the first time. He rolled his own shoulders to loosen them and emphasize his point. “We assume the worst.”

“What’s that?” Pinna asked.

“This is the first stage of a war of conquest,” Upinde said. “If they hold the Caverns, they mean to use them for an attack on Mani Haldor.”

Upinde stared at Pinna Mar and let the implication sink through his panic. If they took Mani Haldor, the entire kingdom would fall.

Pinna Mar slowed his breathing. He blinked his eyes as if he was waking up from a dream. His big shoulders lifted and sagged in a silent sigh. The panic that had been on Pinna’s face melted away into resignation. 

Upinde was satisfied. Pinna had remembered who he was and remembered his duty. Even aspirants were expected to take up spear and shield if the call came.

“We’re the only ones who know this attack has happened,” Upinde told them. “We’ll need more than kukri knives.”

8 comments:

Drayton Alan said...

I was impressed with both the query and the story. A number of questions are raised in the opening paragraphs I want an answer to. Also, I feel a nice tension developing between the characters and suspense that something big is about to happen.

RobRoy McCandless said...

Thank you Alan!

Arkvander said...

I think your query is on point - you clearly lay out the stakes for your MC and the consequences in a clear and concise manner. I also like your opening to the agent, very professional.

Pages: I must admit, fantasy is not my genre of choice, so take this advice with a grain of salt. I don't really see a lot happening in your first 1250 words here, we get some introductions to what I assume are the primary players in your work, but I don't feel like we get to know any one of them more than the others. I feel like there should be more focus on Upinde and making us connect to him. But you manage to get some good world-building in, and I know how hard that can be in the first pages, so nicely done. I also would like to see a little more happen, but again I realize this is a very short space.

Becki said...

QUERY:

Fantastic opening!! Very professional, yet personal at the same time. :D It's obvious you did your research. :)

The pitch paragraphs are good, but kind of vague. I want specifics!! What does he believe that's called into question? What treachery strikes them? What exactly does he do, beyond using quick wits, to salvage the situation? Clarify this stuff, even if you have to add another paragraph, and this will be perfect!!

An author bio would also be really nice at the end, even if it's just one sentence of your writing credentials (a conference you've attended, completing NaNo, publishing online, etc. Anything helps!).

But overall, awesome job! Very professional. :D

FIRST PAGES:

I really love the action of Upinde and the fire, and how they creep towards it so cautiously!! But I would love to see more of Upinde's internal thought to make it more real. You're fantastic with description and anchoring us in a visual area, but I'm not getting much of Upinde's character from this. Some thoughts running through his mind would really help us understand who our MC is!! :D

Ah, once Upinde does start thinking, BAM! I'm totally engrossed. He's trying so hard, and I love how his second refuses to take command even though she could. And I love Upinde even more for rising to the challenge! :D

And WOW, love the ending of this. I'm sure it's not the ending of the chapter, but ooh, so great. The characters in this are incredibly vivid, and the way they interact is very realistic. I love the terrifying reality of their home destroyed, and how even Pinna calms down enough to recognize the fight isn't over.

AWESOME job. This is a really solid sample of your writing!! Can't wait to see what happens with it! <3

Audrey Dion said...

I love fantasy, so your entry is my cup of tea, for sure! I'll split my comments up:

Query:
Your query is solid and piques interest, but suffers from vagueness. These phrases stood out: "from any aggression," "all be killed out of hand," "treachery will still strike at them," "events will conspire against them," "courage, conviction and quick wits," "taking up the challenge."

If you swapped these phrases, which could apply to any book, out for things unique to your book, you'd give an agent a much better idea of what makes your manuscript the one they want to request. Your stakes are too vague at the moment - make the danger specific. Who is treacherous? Is it his best friend? Even better! What are the events conspiring against them? Give us a teaser! Does he have any unique skills above general warrior stuff? Display them! What will be his biggest challenge? Put the grabbiest, juiciest info out there!

1250:
Ooh, drama and tension are there in the first paragraph, well done. Your writing is really excellent, great description. I will say that starting with the smoke and the conversation between the warriors doesn't give me a clear reason to root for any of them, particularly. There are stakes, but why do we want the main character to win? Why is he likeable? I'd say Pinna is a good chance to show something sympathetic about Upinde, something that makes us realize he's not just competent: he's good.

All in all, very strong, and I enjoyed it. Best of luck!

Ali L. said...

Hi!

In your query, I'd watch how many proper pronouns you put out there. World-building's important (especially for a fantasy) but too many names can be confusing for the Agent. Also, right off the bat I noticed your genre / age category / word count are missing. Don't forge to include those!

I feel the character himself isn't very clear in the query (give us some specifics into his character!) and I'm unclear on his specific goals / obstacles / stakes are clear. Try to clarify to take the query over the top!

I'd make the sentence "A fire in the caverns to create so much smoke..." the opening line of your pages to create a great hook and create automatic tension in the scene.

You create a very clear character in Upinde, great job!

I know you're trying to build up an epic fantasy, but there's a lot of info-dumping in the beginning that took me out of the story. I would try to sneak it in through character development and action. There's a lot of build-up but not a lot of action in the beginning scene. I'd try to get to the action a lot sooner to keep the reader's attention.

Great job, and best of luck in the contest!

The Agent [GP] said...

R.M., thank you so much for entering the contest! The summary of your novel left a lot to be desired: I didn’t have a strong understanding of the world you were building, although the reference Cornwell was useful in regard to positioning your novel. Because I didn’t have a solid understanding of the history of the region and what Upinde would have considered normal, I couldn’t grasp the ramifications of him leaving Sa’mor and looking for aid to help prevent the invaders from taking control on a deeper level. In your sample material, you introduced a lot of new terms and facets FORGE OF HEROES, but they weren't described or introduced to your audience in a effective manner. Because these details were missing, it was hard to fully engage with the story and connect emotionally with your characters. However, with further development in your world building, this story would be much stronger.

RobRoy McCandless said...

Thanks everyone for taking the time to read my work and provide me with such excellent comments. I really appreciate the effort that everyone went into to give me feedback and criticism of this work.

Thank you especially to Ms. Piraino in taking the time to read so many of these queries and provide clear and concise responses, specific to the works.

Thanks so much to everyone!