Out of a desire to document my quixotic querying process, here is an example of the query letter I have been flinging at agents, along with the first five pages of This Red Business.
INSERT PLEASANTRIES HERE. This Red Business features Pumpkin the Badger and the Chickenshits, a band of misfits trying to keep their family together in a fantasy inspired by the American Frontier on the eve of the Civil War. My name is Joe and I have both OCD and ADHD. I received my ADHD diagnosis a month or so before finishing this book and it would not exist without that diagnosis. This Red Business, an accessible genre-blending fantasy, is a standalone novel with series potential and is comparable to Kings of the Wyld and Gideon the Ninth. It contains neurodiverse characters and LGBT+ characters and themes.
KINGS OF THE WYLD meets OVER THE GARDEN WALL (I usually shuffle between a couple of other options here like GRAVITY FALLS or THE MANDALORIAN), in Sasquatch country. On the night before she is hanged, Pumpkin the Badger, an animal cursed with sentience, receives a letter from her old cult leader, revealing his ties to evil dragons and threatening the territory she loves. Pumpkin jumps into action, breaks free from prison by selling her soul to a sinister fairy, and returns home to reunite her family of retired adventurers. Through grit, research, and violence, the Chickenshit family punches through the cult ranks in a desperate bid to stop a Second Dragon War.
Pumpkin the Badger is a female North American Badger granted sentience against her will. Struggling with her sense of self her whole life, Pumpkin makes the latest in a long line of bad decisions and sells her soul to a fairy in order to escape prison, reunite her family of retired adventurers, and stop a spiraling cult leader she used to follow from twisting her mother’s legacy to his own devious ends. With her claws and a fairy-granted pistol, Pumpkin contends with an intelligent velociraptor and a motley band of misguided cultists. Along the way, she comes to terms with her past and strives for self-acceptance. If she fails, the Free Territory of Ascham will fall to the uncaring reptilian greed of giant dragons.
In the grim darkness of the far future, Joe Parrino wrote two novellas, three audio dramas, and numerous short stories for publication by Black Library, all of which earned out. Joe is also a proud member of SFWA. Joe lives and writes in the American Pacific Northwest with his family. A former Pinkerton, Joe has lived in four countries across three continents and has even been declared a Master of Science by the University of Edinburgh in International Relations. When not writing, Joe can be found skulking through the rain-lashed forests of the region. Like the elusive Sasquatch, Joe enjoys reading, occasionally traveling, and other assorted activities.
Cell 13, Cell Block Spiders, Number 1, No Return, Prisonisle, Ascham
The Hour of Crumbs on this Swine Thrift’s Night, the Year of Coin Harvests, MGRC 05,26
Pumpkin the Badger’s paws shook with fury, her claws digging into Red Royal’s letter. Five years of lies, of blind devotion and manipulation by the cloven tongue of a Divvil, to take the fall for that windmeffer, only for him to sell Ascham Territory out to the godsdamned dragons, brought Pumpkin rage and sadness both. Queasy, drunken butterflies danced a merry jig in her gut. Fear stabbed its claws deep into her heart. All this time, Red had claimed to know her mom, with the tall tales painting her a god, rather than the boring article rife with flaws and full of love that her dads had built.
From deep in her throat, through sharp clenched teeth. a hiss escaped. Pumpkin’s mind raced, settling on the vague outline of a plan, a job, something to move her forward. The goal was easy, stop Red. The particulars would need working out. Break the job into small little chunks, then one paw in front of the other, just like anybody. Step one: leave prison. That how was easy. Aunt Mary brought that along with Red’s letter then left the badger some time alone. An hour she’d begged Aunt Mary. An hour she’d spent angry and heartsick. The poor elf was probably safer that way, even Pumpkin had to admit. Summon Abdielle, The Grey Lady, fritter away Pumpkin’s soul and buy herself a way out of No Return, the brooding, lichen-stained and water-fouled prison of the Free Territory of Ascham. Too bad, Pumpkin reflected, she’d miss her hanging tomorrow, the just rewards of a committed revolutionary. The Screws had probably needed to build a gallows sized to fit her four foot, stocky frame. Or maybe they’d just shoot her. The next part of the plan would be trickier, get her family back together. Pumpkin knew she couldn’t stop Red on her lonesome. Too many followers walked with the man, chanting lying hymnals to Whissen Foss, so-called “God of the Frontier.” Meffing tall tales.
The badger squared her shoulders, studied the pattern in her head and in her hand. The lines were simple, the script even more so. Quick scratches of her claws dug into the filthy flagstones, carving away gunk and etching bright lines into the damp, made the circle. Next came the tools, easily found. A cold iron dagger for the shedding of blood and the tempting sweet soul. Hopefully, Pumpkin’s rotted, hollowed-out soul held a little sugar left. The dagger was easily found, a shanking shiv, buried in the moldy hay. Then beneath the window, Pumpkin gathered a breath of wind, tasted the oncoming storm, and swallowed the green-gray third moon, Triste the Penitent. From without keening wind called to the fae and tendrils of fog, gifts of twelve-cursed Squid, rolled through the bars and caressed the badger’s scars. Pumpkin spat into the middle of her little circle, marking the seal before rolling up her sleeves. One paw in front of the other, little Pump. That’s all she had to do, just like anybody.
Pumpkin the Badger swore herself to the fairy woman. By fell act and by fell deed, the former woodland creature bargained away her soul in exchange for earthly freedom. Blood dribbled down her paws, twining with falling ash and embers as the ancient parchment dissolved into the air. Pumpkin’s prison-crafted knife, cold iron and cruelly barbed, fell into damp moss, wet reeds, and drenched stones. Rain pattered against a now glazed window. Thunder peeled without the ancient brooding prison of the Reek. Deep red velvet curtains, moth-eaten, and patchily threadbare, blew in a spectral breeze. As the fairy’s toehold in This World grew, the supernatural shaped reality, bleeding into the rank prison cell.
White hands, corpse hands, with fingers made from dead snakes, drew the curtains wide revealing fog-shrouded, deep moorland beyond. The fairy’s head emerged on a neck too long and nimble to support such a wee thing, almost bird-like in proportion. Deep black sockets served for eyes in an ashen face, down a pale neck past a tight-boned grey corset all draped in dust and spiderwebs, a tall, impossibly thin frame wrapped in silken shadows and starlight. Hips flared in a parody of health instead of the scarecrow-thin rest of the fairy, flowed down a bustle into a skirt of spider-laced silks.
“Abdielle,” Pumpkin whispered. Thunder pealed at the name. Somehow the fairy became more substantial, as The Other Side bled into This World, refashioning her squalid prison cell into the neglected halls of an abandoned hunting manse. Wood creaked beneath Pumpkin’s feet, darkened floorboards untouched by rain or wind, but bitterly cold. All about the walls, where scratched prison stone should be, were mirrors, pitted, tarnished, broken, dusted things. No longer alone, Pumpkin stood with one of the Fair Folk’s Gentry, a creature literally crafted of myths and legends.
Outside, Pumpkin heard the distant barking of hounds within the storm. A cacophony of calls. Hound was on the hunt, which gave Pumpkin only a little time to get the deal done.
Abdielle smiled at Pumpkin the Badger.
A black tongue flicked out from between the crooked ivory needles in a mouth too wide for such a fair face.
“Say it,” Abdielle urged, need bleeding through every harsh wisp of breath. Fog swirled in through the windows, now wide open. Alien stars of cold blue flame shone from a heaven made as much of velvet as empty air, as much of storm-tossed sea as sky.
“Lady of Moon and Mirrors,” Pumpkin declaimed as the wind tore at her throat, brought blood droplets splattering to the floorboards. The hungry wood drunk the puddles dry with no trace.
Four fingered hands, limp serpent fingers caressed Abdielle’s throat and face. The smile grew to a leer. Abdielle’s tongue flicked around thin black lips.
“Dame of Silence and Silver,” Pumpkin cried, tears now streaming from her beady amber eyes, caught in the black and white fur around her muzzle. Unseen claws tore at her voice box, rasping her Aschamii accent still further, from breathy threat to cold-blooded murder.
Gravity shifted and the fairy flew for the badger, arms outstretched, dark sockets creased and smiling with unlight. Pumpkin’s ears flicked in the gale, notches and holes to commemorate those early attempts to escape. Just before Abdielle touched Pumpkin, the badger spoke again.
“Duchess of the Grey Moors!” This time the words rattled from chattering sharp teeth.
Gravity slammed back into place. The window shattered back to its frame. Curtains hung limp and a pale woman in a pale dress, void black hair hidden beneath a prim and proper bonnet blinked coal-black eyes at Pumpkin the Badger. The tips of her elven ears poked through the bonnet and almost seemed to curl at the ends. The woman’s fine and regal dress settled slowly back into place.
Furniture and warmth now filled the room, but beneath it, beneath the balls of her paws, Pumpkin still felt cold, hungry wood beneath her feet waiting with a vampire’s predatory patience.
“Thank you,” Abdielle said into a cup of tea.
Undimmed by shit, rank destitution, mold, and decaying stonework, the narrow prison cell was suddenly full of the cloying scents of ancient roses, bright tobacco, and fallen leaves. An unfamiliar and unwelcome scent to cap off Pumpkin’s long day spent doing nothing but staring at the same stone walls for hours on end, waiting to die.
“Is this a dream?” Pumpkin asked the fairy, feeling stupid. Hunger gnawed at the badger’s stomach, a tiny, rumbling growl to join the one that started in her throat and ended at her teeth. Without conscious thought, a growl slipped through her pointed teeth, shudders wracked the starved, shaggy, patched and tattooed frame of the woodland creature.
Awaiting death and allowed privacy before the morrow, nothing broke up the monotony that foretold last day. Without tobacco, without weed, without any of the countless drugs she’d snorted, injected, smoked, and drank, the stench stabbed into her brain. Keep your head in the game, little Pump. Focus on the meffing fairy.
Abdielle said, prim, self-impressed, and self-important. “I assume that by your word and deed to summon me to this present circumstance, that you wish to enter a deal?”
Pumpkin meant to respond, opened her mouth to do so, but Abdielle raised a forestalling finger, tattooed with scales and the tips of the fingers stained and bloated with fresh blood.
“I know you,” said Abdielle, standing from a rocking chair, the cup of tea forgotten and shattered on the floor. This was a catastrophe, the opposite of a miracle.