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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Query Workshop 13--And Jakob flew the Fiend Away

Title:  And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away
Genre:  Historical fiction, Bildungsroman

Jakob DeJonghe can think of nothing but revenge when the Nazis coerce his father into suicide and his little sister mysteriously disappears the day before Yom Kippur.  The situation in occupied Amsterdam soon worsens, with increasingly restrictive laws and barbed wire around the Jewish Quarter.  Jakob is determined to do something, anything, to fight back and be the master of his own destiny, just as his heroes the Maccabees did in ancient times.

While en route from Westerbork, Jakob finally takes action and jumps from a death train.  As he’s fleeing to safety with a broken foot, he’s found by four young resistance fighters and taken to a safe house.  Even though Jakob has been left with a permanent limp, he’s still determined to defend his country and track down the men who killed his father.

His dream comes true when he joins a resistance group specializing in assassinations and sabotage. But when he runs into Rachel Roggenfelder, a beautiful, spirited young woman, on one of his missions, he starts to feel the slow reawakening of emotions he thought he’d buried.  As much as he tries to deny it, he can’t stop thinking about her, even during the dark days of the brutal Hongerwinter. 

After being recruited into the Princess Irene Brigade and made a real soldier, he bumps into Rachel again.  Finding his dream girl again seems like a dream come true, but soon another separation looms.  While Rachel is an ocean away in America, Jakob is called to a tour of duty in the Dutch East Indies and begins the painful process of relearning how to be a part of humanity in a shell shocked postwar Amsterdam.  Only this time, love and not hate carries him through.

And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, a historical fiction Bildungsroman spanning the years 1940-46 and set in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies, is complete at 120,000 words.  It will appeal to fans of World War II-era sagas such as Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge and Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

I have a BA from [redacted] in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

Thank you for your time and attention.


Charity Bradford said...

The first thing I noticed is this is too long to all fit on my screen. Just means we need to tighten up a bit.

This actually reads more like a synopsis than a query. You take us step by step through the story. With a query you want to pin everything down in 200 words and about 3 paragraphs. Those paragraphs are your advertising to entice an agent to read your story. Concentrate on just the main character, the overall big conflict, and the choice he has to make by the end.

This is what I see here:

Character--Jakob DeJonghe, a Jewish resistance fighter during the Nazi regime

Conflict--inherit with just mentioning Nazis and war

Choice--not sure. Kill the men responsible for his father's death? Find his sister? There doesn't seem to be a this or that kind of choice.

It looks like there is a good story in here, you just need to highlight the main points and leave the rest for the reader to discover while reading the novel.

Your credential list is a plus for this kind of novel.

Carrie-Anne said...

My earlier versions of the query were three paragraphs, but at least one person at Write On Con suggested I put some more emphasis on Rachel, since she seemed to be a fairly important part of the story. At its essence, it's the story of a teen boy becoming a man (hence the Bildungsroman designation) during the war years, plus the first postwar year. He wants to revenge his father's killers, but the story doesn't entirely revolve around that, and it continues after he finds them. I think the underlying, core plot is that he becomes very angry and bitter after his father's murder, but then gradually lets down the walls around his heart and rediscovers his capacity to love someone else.

Charity Bradford said...

I see. I've always heard the query should concentrate on the first 50 pages of your novel. This story is obviously a big one, with many conflicts and choices throughout. The hardest part is letting those go until the reader gets to the story itself. Trust me, I have the same problem with my story.

Maybe you need to work in more about his anger and then mention how the only thing that can heal his heart is love or something. An agent might be disappointed if you make a big deal about Rachel and then she doesn't show up in the first three chapters or so they ask to read.

Huntress said...

Way too high word count. This is more like a synopsis than a short, to-the-point query letter. Try cutting about 150 words.

In each of your paragraph, pick out the words that you cannot live without, the essentials to the story. Discard or heavily edit the rest.

When the Nazis coerce his father into suicide, Jakob DeJohnhe can think of nothing but revenge. In Amsterdam, conditions worsen and Jakob is determined to fight back. Just as his heroes, the Maccabees did in ancient times.
The above word count is 37. Compared to 73 words in the original version. I took your words and rearranged them, cut and mended.

Try this with the other paragraphs.

I enjoyed the premise, very interesting. I’d read on to discover more.

Mark Koopmans said...


Without reading the other comments, here are my thoughts:

I lived in Amsterdam for three years and enjoy reading anything WWII, so this story appeals to me on many levels.

The query does seem long (I'm #21, and am in the same boat :) Perhaps work through it again and keep only the "hooks."

Also, sorry to be picky, but this jarred me... can he *flee* to safety with a broken foot... perhaps a different word?

Good luck :)

mshatch said...

I think Huntress has the right idea. There's lots of stuff you don't need, like the fact that Rachel is beautiful, spirited, and young. If she arouses feelings in him, we know she's special. We don't have to be told.

Focus on the three c's: character (who Jakob is at the start and how he meets Rachel and begins to changes), conflict (how his hate and need for revenge cannot co-exist with the feelings he has for Rachel) and the choice he makes to "relearn how to be a part of humanity in a shell shocked postwar Amsterdam. Only this time, love and not hate carries him through."

Hope this helps :)