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Writing - The Spinster and the Raincoat

I was writing a Query letter recently.

Ah. Right. There may be some people reading who don’t know what a Query letter is. Or even just ‘some people reading’ :-). So for those who may not know, a Query letter is the letter (one page, in the region of two hundred and fifty words over which the writer sweats and curses more than their one hundred and fifty thousand word book) a writer sends to a potential Agent. The idea is to convince the Agent that this writer and this book are the two things the Agent has been missing all their lives. Until now.

No. It doesn’t always work :-).

Anyway. I was writing a Query letter recently. It’s an evil thing, the Query. But there it is. I was writing one. You are indeed allowed to feel sympathy for me :-P.

So there I was. Writing this Query. Now, there was one element of the Query, a fairly important one, that I put in at a later stage than I could have. And one of the people I asked to look over the Query before I sent it out loved the late positioning. And one hated it.

People (and yes, Agents are people, even though we sometimes might think of them as demons from the very depths of hell :-P) are like that. Different :-). And bless 'em, every one. And I mean that, quite genuinely and sincerely.

Which (and the back of the hall heaves a sigh of relief) brings me to the point of this posting. If indeed it has a point. And the point isn’t Queries. Although it might be.

Consider Miss Jane Marple (if the name doesn't ring a bell, you really, really need to read more Agatha Christie :-P). And Lieutenant Columbo (in the season 12 episode ‘Undercover’, Columbo is asked what his first name is. He rather emphatically answers "Lieutenant").

Now, when Miss Marple gets involved in a matter, the pattern is reasonably consistent. It generally involves shadows, or perhaps night. There will probably be a scream, and something will get broken. In the morning Lady Constance will be missing. Is she dead? Is she in Bognor? Nobody knows. Though, no doubt, Miss Marple will. Eventually. And, probably after revealing some key clue that was never mentioned up ‘til that point, that the reader could never know or use, will reveal that Lady Constance was never Lady Constance at all. In fact, the parlour maid was the real Lady Constance all along. Or something like that. It will, of course, take a whole book, or perhaps a movie or a television episode to find out. Miss Marple will know all, and the reader or viewer will spend their time running to catch up.

On the other hand, when the Lieutenant (played so well by Peter Falk – may he rest in peace) gets involved, things are rather different. No shadows. If it’s night, the desk lamp is on. If something gets broken, it’s probably the poor victim’s neck. And about the only thing we don’t know about the killer is his or her Social Security number. We, secure in our greater wisdom and knowledge, will then watch the dear Lieutenant (for a guy who solves a complex murder every week to still be a Lieutenant is rather puzzling) pick and stumble his way along the path to a destination we have already visited. Visited, had lunch, put our feet up on the couches and stolen, er ‘borrowed’, the monogrammed towels. We don’t have to run to catch up, we’re ahead of him. We’re smart. We Know (and if anybody wants to see a view on some of the most famous detectives in literature, I commend the ending of 'Murder by Death'. An excellent movie in my poor view).

I co-wrote a book once. My co-author (a very special friend – anyone who can spend years writing with me without us killing each other is special indeed) is American. I – well, like they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. But I’m not American. When I wrote, I wanted to drop little hints here, a small clue there – and only much later the thing to which they related. Without ever mentioning the hint back in Chapter 2. My co-author, bless her heart for putting up with me, was much more of the school that wanted to explain things up front, to avoid confusing the reader. So is it an American thing? Is it an ‘it’s complicated, but sort of British’ thing? Is it a me thing? A you thing?

I’m damned if I know. I don’t even think there’s an answer. Like a trucker called Charlie said – ‘ jus’ two answers, an’ both of ‘em wrong.’ So there. I admit it. I’m wrong.

But I’m still keeping my Query :-).

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