Read a sample from Lark’s Song

Lark’s Song is a novel-in-process by Philip S. Wenz, Firebird Journal’s editor. A “reader’s draft” — a draft ready to send out to friends and associates to read — was completed in April, 2019. Based on input from readers, the novel is being revised by the author. Meanwhile, marketing efforts are ongoing.

Preliminary marketing of a novel involves sending a short “query letter” to publishers and agents to see if they would like to learn more about the work and possibly publish it or, as an agent, represent the author to publishers. A typical query includes the letter itself plus a sample from the novel — usually the first few pages — along with some biographical information about the author and some other basic information.

This post contains the Lark’s Song query letter and a link to the first few pages of the novel. My general biographical information can be found on my about page, and information specific to writing this novel at the end of the sample.

The following clip from that “author’s bio,” explains how I came to write the novel.

My immediate impetus for writing Lark’s Song was the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. For me, that was the final straw in a series of sickening events that began well before the Sandy Hook massacre and continue unabated to this day. Shortly after Las Vegas, I began work on Lark’s Song, my first work of fiction. 

QUERY LETTER 

Dear (Publisher or Agent),

You will want to find a top-tier publisher for my timely, relevant novel Lark’s Song. The book explores the issue of gun violence in America, challenging the reader to consider the personalities and thinking of its “pro-gun” and “anti-gun” protagonists. The plot’s denouement, approached with the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy, moves its audience well beyond the simplistic “good guy/bad guy” stereotypes that muddle our national gun discussion.

Lark’s Song is a tale of a school shooting incident at a fictional community college in the made-up town of Oklahoma Prairie, Oklahoma. The narrative recounts the confrontation between a disturbed young man, Perry Withermore, who carries a rifle to the college to avenge his expulsion from its choir, and a self-appointed “good guy with a gun,” student Rick Armstrong, who tries to stop him. The ensuing shootout is the principal event and climax of the book. 

But Lark’s Song is really the story of the shootout’s perpetrators and victims who, through circumstances not entirely of their own choosing, happen to be at the school — Oklahoma Prairie Community College (OKPCC) — when the incident occurs.

 It is the story of the recent high school graduate Lark Bixbie, a gifted young singer who wins a music scholarship to the prestigious Wordell Hollywood Institute in Los Angeles — but chooses to remain in Oklahoma Prairie, where she was raised, to care for her sister who unexpectedly succumbs to a serious illness. Lark joins the OKPCC choir, and falls in love with its thirty-something director, Norm Coleman, who is separated from his wife. Lark and Norm have an intense affair, during which he writes an original piece of music, “Lark’s Song,” for her to perform. Together, they begin work on “Lark’s Suite.” 

 Contrasting Lark’s artist’s story is that of the other protagonist, Rick Armstrong, a young man raised in Oklahoma Prairie’s gun and hunting culture. As a high school student, Rick’s primary goal is to become a U.S. Army Ranger so he can protect innocent Americans from their enemies — and impress his father and uncles, who are retired soldiers. When an undetected heart condition surfaces to frustrate Rick’s ambition, he is at a loss for what to do with himself. His comparatively sophisticated and urbane girlfriend, Brandy, comes to his rescue, guiding him to OKPCC where he can keep his hero/good guy hopes alive by preparing for a career as a forensics specialist — a “crime fighting detective,” in his words.

Things are on track until Rick’s uncle Jeremy, a National Rifle Association member described by his sister (Rick’s mom) as “a piece of work,” convinces Rick that he needs a gun to defend Brandy and his own mother and sisters from “Mexicans” and “nut jobs” — and sells him a used Glock pistol. Still trying to be a good guy/hero, Rick begins to carry the gun around town, and frightens Brandy when he threatens to flash it at some rude young men to teach them a lesson in manners. Brandy confronts him about his behavior in no uncertain terms, and he stops carrying the gun. But he winds up taking it to OKPCC on the morning Perry Withermore, the “bad guy with a gun,” shows up brandishing his rifle and looking for Norm Coleman. Rick and Perry shoot it out in a chaotic and deadly scene. The results render some of the survivors worse off than those killed.

 An important subplot is the friendship between Lark and Brandy, the latter of whom works for Lark’s mother at a title company. Lark is an anti-gun pacifist, while Brandy, who is from an army family, loves the hunter and would-be soldier, Rick. Brandy is unsure sure what she thinks about guns or gun control, and her beliefs evolve over time. The two young women air their thoughts and feelings about the topic over coffee prior to the shootout, and at Brandy’s house in its aftermath.

The aftermath is a critical part of the story — it explores the effects of the shooting incident on the survivors and, to some extent, their families. Ultimately, the possibility of healing is raised and explored. It is left to the reader to determine how to prevent the wounding in the first place. However, it would be impossible to conclude, based on story, that we can reduce gun violence by arming more ordinary citizens.

 Lark’s Song is graphic and hard-hitting, and loaded with plenty of sex and violence. Both are graphic, though neither is gratuitous. More importantly, it is loaded with plenty of love and redemption. As well as teaching through the actions, words and destinies of its characters what I consider an obvious lesson — Thou Shalt Not Kill — it opens the possibility of an end to our gun madness and the salvation of our deteriorating society.  As I said, Lark’s Song is timely, relevant — and necessary. 

If you would like to see more of Lark’s Song, please contact me at your earliest convenience. 

Thank you for your consideration of this work,

Philip S. Wenz 

Read a sample from Lark’s Song

My Bio 

As the child of separated parents, I was raised in a variety of circumstances. That upbringing, in turn, prompted me to play many roles in my adult life: carpenter, architect, administrator, teacher, and writer. Of my diverse experiences, my boyhood exposure to Colorado’s hunting culture, my later conversion to “pacifism,” and my work as a writer are the most pertinent to the creation of my current novel, Lark’s Song.  

My father gave me my first real gun (a .410-gauge shotgun) when I was six years old. I frequently hunted with him and his male friends, and enthusiastically shot numerous wild animals and birds. I understand the psychology and camaraderie of hunting, as well as the sentiment that guns are necessary for the defense of oneself, one’s family, and the nation. My father and stepfather were on the front lines of the Korean and Second World Wars, respectively, and I grew up expecting and wanting to be a soldier — duty, honor and adventure called. 

However, in my late teens, I had a change of heart, and began a long process of disavowing violence in all its forms. Reason told me that there could be no winners of a nuclear war, and I protested against America’s foray into Vietnam. At the age of eighteen, I shot a duck and, picking up its still-living body, I admired its superb design and beauty and asked myself why I would hurt such a creature. I decided to stop hunting and gave away my guns. 

I began writing, intermittently, after college. My early efforts coalesced in the form of Adding to a House, a nationally distributed book on building home additions published by Taunton Press in 1995. I continued to write and publish articles in the construction and design fields, including authoring several courses in building and green architecture, until my retirement from building and teaching in 2005. For the past 13 years, I have written a syndicated newspaper column called Your Ecological House. It was published, for a time, in the San Francisco Chronicle and many other papers throughout the country. Originally, the column was about homes and how they could be “greened,” but it has evolved into a series of environmental articles that focus on climate change and the environmental crisis — many of which are republished here. (I have also self-published an online book called Your Ecological House.)

Over time, I realized that out of the hundreds of books I’ve read in diverse fields ranging from architecture to science to history and politics, it is mostly fictional stories that have stuck with me, have remained in my memory — undoubtedly because of my emotional connection to the characters. Facts and arguments come and go; Hamlet, Old Yeller, and Scout and Atticus Finch go on living in my mind. I had always wanted to write fiction, and when I realized that stories are what move us, I was determined to start. 

My immediate impetus for writing Lark’s Song was the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. For me, that was the final straw in a series of sickening events that began well before the Sandy Hook massacre and continue unabated to this day. Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, I began to write Lark’s Song, my first work of fiction. 

Read a sample from Lark’s Song

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