Query Letter: How Black is the Shadow

I’m in the process of writing my query letter for How Black is the Shadow. I’d appreciate any and all feedback. If you have none, I hope the letter at least makes you excited to read my next novel. Here you are:

Dear Agent:

When Kat’s brother falls through the ice of a frozen river, she vows never to return home until she can find a relic to bring her brother back to life.

Devastated, Kat leaves her farmhouse in the dead of winter with a head full of fireside stories to guide her and a horn of her brother’s ashes to keep her company. Despite her stubborn attitude and sharp tongue, Kat earns a spot in the house of a king by saving the eldest prince from his servants’ treachery. The prince turns out to be a prick, but Kat finds a sorceress and a famous warrior to aid her as she investigates her stories of rebirth. However, Kat soon discovers life in the castle is but a series of plots and counterplots. Of all the lords and ladies Kat meets, the majority will betray or desert her in the end.

Although a peasant girl when she starts chasing after legends, Kat grows into a sorceress worthy of legend. All she wants is a normal life with her brother and her family, but the road changes her. She must become something more to revive her brother and avoid the nobles’ destructive ambitions, because they won’t just sacrifice Kat for their betterment, but anyone so long as they take power.

HOW BLACK IS THE SHADOW is a 130,000-word high fantasy novel. It combines the deceitful, history-rich environment of A Song of Ice and Fire with the individual experience and personal quest of recovering what was lost of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

All the best,

Andrew Layden


A Few Days in Montreal

What did you ask Santa for this Christmas? I asked for a trip to Montreal and since I was a good boy this year, Santa obliged. Lucky me!

I’m not much of a patriot and Europe has always seemed a better fit for me. The architecture, the food, the culture. I can’t get enough of it. However, the price tag on a trip to Europe is a bit too much for me. Montreal is the closest I can get, so I decided to go for just three nights.

The first night was a bit of a throwaway. After a long bus ride, all I wanted was a long rest. But before that I trudged through the snow to La Banquise for some poutine. The walk was terrible, but the poutine was worth it. Also, I’m an idiot and could’ve taken any method of transportation. Regardless, there were several styles of poutine to choose from and incredibly friendly wait staff, which is surprising for a restaurant that’s open 24/7. I expected more tired eyes and empty voices, but spirits were high and the smiles were wide. So if you’re in Montreal, make sure to stop there at any hour of the day or night.

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The next day, I set out, on foot once again, to see Old Montreal and the Contemporary Art Museum. Contemporary art is weird, but even the most conservative among us can find artwork we admire. I’ll show you some photos, but the exhibits are bound to change by the time you get there.

Old Montreal, however, will not change. The neighborhood prides itself on its past. St. Paul Street is especially nice. It has the warm architecture and skinny cobblestone roads of Europe with a myriad of quaint shops, cafes, and restaurants you might expect to find in France. Whether you have a specific place in mind that you want to visit in Old Montreal, the neighborhood is still worth walking around.

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I ended the day with dinner at O Noir. As the name might suggest, I ate in complete darkness. Not only this, but the waiters were blind. It was a phenomenal experience; as difficult as it was enjoyable. Without your sense of sight, you cherish every bite.

The next morning took me to the Montreal Fine Arts Museum. If you don’t like contemporary art, the Fine Arts Museum is a better choice. You have popular artwork from Monet, Bruegel, Picasso, Rembrandt, and so on. The main exhibit when I visited was Robert Mapplethorpe. I’d show you photos, but his art mainly concerned homoerotic themes. They’re powerful photos, but I’ll let you Google them on your own. Here are some other photos instead.

After my time at the museum, I headed to Mont Royal Park. The mountain from which Montreal gets its name is a beauty. During the winter, you can crosscountry ski to the top, but if that’s not for you, you’ll have to climb the stairs. Get ready for a workout. It’s all worth it, though. The view is astounding.

All that walking got me hungry, so I descended the mountain and made my way to Schwartz’s Deli. If you don’t know what to get, ask for a medium smoked meat sandwich. Medium doesn’t denote size, but how lean your meat is. Trust me, you want a little fat on it. It’ll melt in your mouth. But be careful. It’s hard to bite off a small piece of the sandwich because the rye bread can be a little stubborn. You’ll eat the whole sandwich in a matter of minutes and then you’ll sit there crying with mustard and grease on your fingers, wishing you took your time. That was my experience anyways. Schwartz’s sandwiches are as good a reason as any to convert to Judaism.

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By the time I got back to my hostel, I was hungry again so I headed out to Yokato Yokabai Ramen House. I’m a ramen fiend, and tonkotsu, my favorite ramen broth, is Yokato Yokabai’s specialty. You could also get a miso broth if you wanted, but why would you do that? Exactly. You know, when people eat ramen, they often complain about how salty it is, wish there was another egg, or wish there wasn’t any seaweed. You can control all of that on your menu. All you have to do is write in your level of saltiness and your amounts of seaweed, egg, and so on. Soon enough, you get a personalized bowl of rich, heavenly ramen. You might have to wait outside for a little bit, but the food is worth the wait.Image result for yokato yokabai

On my final day, I only wanted to relax with a cup of coffee and a tasty pastry. There’s no better place to do it than Maison Christian Faure. Located in Old Montreal, this patisserie is led by a French-trained professional who is an absolute wizard with his pastries. You can get brunch if you like, but I recommend asking for a pastry. They’ll bring out a plate of what looks more like artwork than food, and then they ask you to make a choice. It’s absolutely impossible. So if you pick more than one, who can blame you? I picked two. They’re not exactly cheap, but go ahead and live a little. You won’t regret it.Image result for maison christian faure

A Letter From Defeat

Defeat handed me
A letter; corners neat,
Skin pale, body
Trim. On the back,
A seal with the letters FU
Pressed hard
In black wax. On the front,
My name, dead
Center. No loops, no frills,
No flourishes. Just cold,
Black type.

I threw the letter
On a fire and delighted
In its crackle.

Putting Putin in His Place

As a Slavic Studies major whose thesis paper concerned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s utilization of voting to pacify his people and subvert democratic mechanisms, I hope you’ll grant me a bit of higher ground on this argument.

CIA reports show that Putin’s administration has meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, which resulted in the election of Donald Trump. In response, President Obama has instituted new sanctions and pledged to undertake certain covert operations (probably cyber in nature). Putin, however, has merely shrugged off Obama’s actions because president-elect Donald Trump has praised Putin consistently and called Russian intervention in the election ridiculous. It is important to note that Donald Trump has called Russian intervention ridiculous prior to intelligence briefing, so it is both possible and extraordinarily likely Trump will change his mind in the coming weeks.

Regardless, who can blame Trump for denying Russian intervention? If Trump delegitimizes the election, he delegitimizes himself as president. It’s only fair that Trump deny what the CIA highly believes is the truth. Yet, if he is to follow along this line of rhetoric, is it wise that President Trump remove sanctions from Russia?

New leadership has always been a chance for restoration in relations. A Trump administration that removes sanctions from Russia would certainly ease tensions and perhaps allow for more unilateral attacks on ISIS, healthier trade, and easier flow of action and information between countries. Such conditions are especially beneficial to Russia whose economy has plummeted as a result of the sanctions. Surely it’s no wonder Putin supports Trump then. But the US does certainly benefit as well. The success of one nation does not have to come at cost of another.

Even so, it’s important to remember why these sanctions have been placed on Russia in the first place. Sanctions punish Russia for not abiding by democratic norms established here in the West. Punishment is especially necessary when Russia’s actions affect other countries like Ukraine in 2014 and the US now. Certainly we have no right to call ourselves the perfect model of democracy, but we have the right to act autonomously. Violation of this right has repercussions. Trump should not forget this.

Thus, I do not find it particularly bad that Trump wipes clean the slate of sour relations between the US and Russia. I only hope the next time Putin acts contrary to our established norms, Trump defends our ideals and condemns Putin’s actions. Anything else would indirectly approve of Russia’s course of action and in no way should we approve of the manipulation of democracy.