Classic Query Finalist #1: Ask the Dust

Yes indeed: the long wait is finally over.  The judges have read the queries and counted the votes, and we can now proudly showcase the results of our Classic Query contest!  We’ll announce our two finalists first, followed by the grand prize winner at the end of the week.

Here is our first finalist, whose powerfully written query grabbed our attention from the get-go:


John Fante
1 Underrated Author Ln.
Long Beach, CA  90807

January 29, 1938

Mr. Donald Maass
President, Donald Maass Literary Agency
121 West 27th St.
Suite 801
New York, NY  10001
Dear Mr. Maass:

I’m seeking representation for Ask the Dust, my 48,000 word literary novel.

The self-proclaimed “great Arturo Bandini”, a starving writer living in a dusty, Depression era Los Angeles, should be working on his next masterpiece.  Instead, he’s spending his time wandering alone in his neighborhood and praying to his onetime publisher’s picture for fame, fortune, and love.

It’s during one of his many walks he meets Camilla, a beautiful Hispanic waitress. He loves her instantly; she hates him in the same amount of time.  But the great Bandini won’t be deterred.  He senses some lust mixed in her disgust.  When one of his rambling, personal letters to his publisher is picked up as a fiction piece, Bandini uses the advance to woo Camilla.  Yet all of his fantasizing has made him impotent in real time, and she finds him pitiful.  He’s driven to self-loathing, to praying to the God of his youth, to sleeping with broken women, and to simultaneously abhorring and craving the source of it all.

Eventually, Camilla comes to him whenever the man she truly loves denies her.  Her sporadic visits are followed by feverish creativity for Bandini, and he completes his first novel.  However, Camilla’s unrequited love for her ex is destroying her.  She’s slinking into something beyond depression, and Bandini is set on saving her from it.  With his novel’s advance in hand, he hopes to rescue his muse and thereby his livelihood.  But Los Angeles and the surrounding desert is known for eating things alive, and the great Arturo Bandini’s dreams are no exception.

On a professional note, my short story, “Alter Boy,” was recently published in The American Mercury.  I’m also looking forward to the release of my first book, Wait Until Spring, this coming year.  I thank you very much for your consideration.  My manuscript is available upon request.


John Fante


John Fante… or should we say, Brooke Fossey!

In every line, it’s clear that Brooke has studied the art of the query: it is succinct, professional, and well-formatted (NB: John Fante would have used this block-style business letter format back in 1938, but for those of us living in the digital age, dates and physical addresses are no longer needed.  Don’t include those in an e-mail query.)  However, what most drew us to this query is its provocative, powerful language: “broken women,” “a starving writer in dusty, Depression-era Los Angeles”, “lust mixed with disgust”, and the desert that eats dreams alive – these and other phrases conjure a vivid, visceral image of the novel’s bleak setting and tone, all while describing the plot and characters in just a few short sentences.  This query is a terrific example of how to accomplish a lot in a very limited space – and we are so proud to show it off!

So while Brooke is polishing her own, original query letter for a critique from Donald Maass, stay tuned for our next amazing finalist on Wednesday – and maybe pick up a copy of Ask the Dust while you’re at it.  We hear it’s an incredibly underrated classic!

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