Query Letter Help

I decided, as a way to get me back to writing my WIP, to write a query letter.  Or at least the barebones of a query.

If you want an agent, as many wannabe writers know, you have to write a query.  (In the U.K., I think it's referred to as the cover letter.  Same idea, though.)  So, how do you distill the essence of your 80K novel into three paragraphs?

Answer: not easily.

This thread at the Absolute Write boards helps by giving you 3 questions to answer:

1. What does your protagonist want?
2. What does s/he have to do to get it?
3. What happens if s/he fails to get what she wants? (the stakes)

Pretty good way to take those first tentative steps, hmm?  :-)  I thought so, too, but I was having trouble using that with my current WIP.  It takes place in 1942 Los Angeles.  The main character is Viv Cambridge, a woman who has "run away" from her blueblood mother.  (There's bad blood between them.  That was a joke, son, as Foghorn Leghorn would say.  Well, anyway...)  She's an editor at a crappy small publisher, lives in a house with a starlet who thinks nothing of bringing home "strays," women who've been kicked out of their homes, and is a witch-in-training, to boot.

That last, the witch-in-training bit, is a way for Viv to get back at her mother.  But I'm not going to say how in this post.

Back to topic.

Those initial 3 questions just weren't working for me, because I start off with Viv saying she's pissed off at her mother for various reasons.  What the hell agent is going to want to read pages if I say something like, "Viv wants to live a normal life," or "Viv ran away from her blueblood mother at the tender age of 26"?  (Well, the last one is true, but it won't draw in agents.  I mean, did it draw you in, dear reader?  No, I didn't think so.)

But then the OP of the thread qualified those questions: go for the bigger goal.  This works for me, dear reader.

The answers to the questions are:

What does Viv want?  To save Kathleen

She's the latest stray (magical).  Viv needs to save her from her brother, who's trying to kill her (yes, he's magical, too).

What does Viv have to do to get it?  Spirit Kathleen away from the starlet's house

What happens if Viv fails? (the stakes)  Viv, the starlet, and Kathleen will die

and who knows who else?

Viv's big problem is that she has a hatred against Japanese Americans (due to something that happened in her past), and after she accidentally gets rid of Kathleen's glamour (she's erected a veil to disguise the characteristics of her face), Viv has to deal with the fact that Kathleen is...a Japanese American.

How does deal with that to get to the point where she's helping Kathleen?  I have a few twists up my sleeve.  ::cue wicked laughter::

Is writing a query easy?  For most people, no.  But the answers to these questions - including the qualified ones, which are talked about in this post of the thread mentioned above - may help you cut through all the flotsam and jetsam that are your twists and subplots.

And that's what you have to do: Get it down to the essentials and build up (somewhat) from there.