Research and Query Letters

Research for Cats in Manhattan continues. I finished a really nice bio on the protag (possible name: Marina Zarhagian), sketched a couple of others.

My main project was to get a handle on the trap/neuter/return (TNR) thing as it relates to feral cats. Feral, or wild, cats are those that can't be adopted. TNR came about when a lot of people noticed an increase in the cat population and wondered what to do about it. My basic research suggested someone going out with a wire cage, leaving some food about for the wild thing to go after, caging it, bringing it to a vet to get neutered, and then releasing the cat back into the colony (there's usually more than one cat in the feral world; think penguins and their rookeries).

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction (oof, cliche!). In this case, though, it's not strange but more complicated. And I want whatever I write to have the air of authenticity to it--as much as possible anyway. I mean, how do I know someone, somewhere who actually does this sort of stuff won't read my book? For instance, I've heard of scientists getting SF books published and then other scientists reading them. They'd get tripped up by the others, taken to task for some astrophysical impossibility (or whatever).

I'm not going to go overboard on the research, however. There has to be a point where the writer says, "Enough!" and starts to write her story. And if the information is readily available or at my grimy fingertips, then I can refer back to it; I can catch any problems in the first or subsequent revisions.

For Those Who've Written Their Magnum Opuses

I'm not at the query stage yet, but for those of you who are, I'd suggest taking a gander at Miss Snark's blog (see the sidebar for the link). A warning to those with weak stomachs: She's not called Miss Snark for nothing. And those who leave comments on her blog (referred to as Snarklings)? They can be snarky and rough, too.

As I write this, she's currently going through her 3rd Annual Crapometer (not to be confused with the Crapometer link in the sidebar; that's for Elecktra's Crapometer, a fun/interesting blog in its own right). What makes Miss Snark's Crapometer great is that it's a combo (this time, anyway) of both query letter and the first page of the novel, so you get an idea from a literary agent if the letter and the first page work for her.

Alas, most didn't work for her, although there were a few where the query sucked but the first page was pretty good. Take from that what you will. Oh, and the Snarklings get in on it as well.

Always keep in mind that this is just one agent's take on query letters: Your mileage may vary with other agents. But at least it gives you an idea if you're onto something or need to scrap the whole thing and start over again.

Read the queries and first pages. Learn. Absorb. Keep your sense of humor intact.

And, as always, keep writing!