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Before writing novels, Steve Stratton was awarded a Green Beret, worked in White House Communications, and spent time in the US Secret Service. That varied experienced proved to be the perfect background for writing his acclaimed Shadow Tier military thrillers.  Stratton's first novel, Shadow Tier, was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Military Writers Society of America.  The story follows an Army Special Forces leader who sets out on a mission to avenge his parents after they are attacked by members of a Mexican drug cartel. Stratton followed up with the equally well-received sequel, Shadow Sanction.  The third book in the series, Caribbean Harvest will be out in late 2024.  

He is also releasing the prequel, A Warrior’s Path, through SilverBack Publishing – an intriguing new outfit specializing in novellas.


Stratton was kind enough to share the query letter that landed him a three-book deal with Force Poseidon, a publishing house focusing on military-themed works.


Dear Force Poseidon,

I am a US Secret Service, White House Communications Agency and Army Special Forces veteran.

I am seeking representation for my 100,000-word thriller, Shadow Tier. This fast-paced story dives into the dangerous world of drug cartels and tells of a man who has been pushed to the edge to seek revenge.

A family vacation in Mexico ends in death. Army Special Forces leader Lance Bear Wolf’s parents are killed attempting to save lives. To avenge his parents, Wolf targets a Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant and his sadistic sister Eliana Cortes.

The US and Mexican Governments are powerless to help. Wolf, a Crow Indian by birth, starts his own covert guerrilla war, attacking the cartel with help from family and teammates. In the depth of his darkness, Wolf attacks sites in Los Angeles creating an all out war between the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels. But revenge comes at a high cost to his friends as a cartel assassin speaks his language of death. The cartel’s Mexican government insiders label Wolf a terrorist. The FBI leads a multi-agency investigation taking Wolf to the brink of losing everything, before the President forms Shadow Tier, a new covert unit built from special operations National Guard and Reservist personnel.

Their mission, to take the fight across the border to the Sinaloa Cartel. Wolf lets go of his need for revenge, and in the end, he saves Eliana and his own soul.

Thank you for your consideration. I have attached a copy of Shadow Tier for your consideration.


Steve Stratton



Lina Chern has won widespread praise for her Edgar and Lefty nominated debut, Play The Fool.  The mystery follows a cynical, shopping mall sales girl and tarot card reader, who’s world is upended when a tarot reading gone wrong reveals the death of her best friend. I recently heard Chern read at Noir at the Bar and was immediately pulled in by the strong sense of voice. In addition to several awards nominations, the book earned a starred review from Library Journal for its “delicious blend of suspense and madcap humor.”


Chern has kindly shared the query that landed her an agent for Play The Fool, which was originally much longer and titled Hot Streak. She also shared some information about her publishing journey. Like most of us, Chern started by googling sample query letters and various “do’s and don’ts” lists, trying to craft a pitch based on those models. She was also a Pitch Wars mentee, which connected her with celebrated mystery writer Kristen Lepionka, who now runs a query-help service for writers, and literary agent Ernie Chiara.  Chern recommends a very useful query letter guide by Kristen that Ernie features on his page.

Here's the letter:


Dear Ms. MacKenzie,

Thank you for requesting my Pitch Wars manuscript HOT STREAK. Complete at 99,000 words, HOT STREAK is a standalone mystery with series potential.

For cynical tarot reader Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. But when a tarot reading gone wrong reveals her sly goth friend Marley’s murder scene behind the mall where they both work, Katie’s razor-sharp instincts are put to a deadly test.

Hot on the trail of the small-time suburban mobster Marley was dating, Katie starts stacking up clues: a stolen bag of cash, an old high school yearbook, and a cheap locket that may hold the key to Marley’s murder. Jamie Roth, a soft-spoken local cop, is skeptical of Katie’s breakneck DIY sleuthing, but her oddball energy draws him in, and soon the pair can’t stay away from the case—or each other.

But the truth has deadly consequences, and Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crosshairs of the mobster’s second-rate crime crew, as well as a shadowy organization pulling strings behind the scenes. Now Katie must use her street-smarts and her inner Strength card to get all the facts to fit, or risk losing everything she’s worked for—her newfound confidence, her budding romance with Jamie, and even her life.

My crime fiction has been published by Fahrenheit Press and Mystery Weekly. Other work appears in the Marlboro Review, the Bellingham Review, Rhino, the Collagist, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and the Coil.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Lina Chern

For writers, some novels instantly invoke concept envy.  You hear the three-sentence pitch and think d*mn that’s a brilliant idea, I need to read it/wish I’d thought of it/ wonder how she came up with it.  Iris Yamashita’s City Under One Roof is one such book. The debut murder mystery is based on a real remote Alaskan town where every resident lives in a single apartment building connected to the rest of the world by one narrow roadway.  In other words, the detective, witnesses and possible suspects are all virtual co-inhabitants.


The Barry-nominated debut won considerable praise. The Washington Post and Book Riot called it one of the best thrillers of 2023, and Reader’s Digest dubbed it one of the best fiction books of 2023. Yamashita just released a sequel, Village in the Dark, which has been equally well received.


Yamashita was kind enough to share the query letter she used for City Under One Roof (originally called Rabbit Hole, Alaska).  In addition to changing the titled, she later switched the setting from a real village to a fictional one.  The letter puts her writing skills front and center and, of course, highlights her incredible qualification: an Oscar nomination for screen writing. I really like how this pitch quickly sets the scene and pulls the reader into the book’s moody atmosphere.




On a fog-draped highway of Southeast Alaska, a lonely tollbooth station marks where two lanes narrow into one. The road continues almost warily, into the mouth of a dark tunnel carved into the side of an Arctic mountain. This two and half mile artery is the only road connecting the world to the town of Whittier. All 160 full-time residents live in one concrete, high-rise building known as the Begich Towers. 


It is in this surreal city where a gruesome crime has taken place. A severed hand and foot still in its shoe are found washed up on the shore of the bay, and this is how Detective Cara Kennedy finds herself in Whittier on the wrong side of the rabbit hole on a case that no one wants, investigating a body that no one is missing, stuck in a place where no one wants to be.


RABBIT HOLE, ALASKA is a female-driven mystery. The narrative is told from three separate points of view—Amy Lin, a Chinese-American teenager who first discovered the body parts (the Rabbit); Cara Kennedy, a detective from Anchorage who has tragically lost her family in a manner that makes this case personal to her (Alice); and Lonnie Mercer, a woman with schizophrenia who keeps a pet moose named Denny and wears a different colored beret every day (the Mad Hatter). Answers will be difficult to find in this place where people are as icy as the weather and everyone has something to hide, including Detective Kennedy herself. While the central mystery will be resolved by the end of the book, what happened to Detective Kennedy’s family will be left open for a possible trilogy to complete.


I am an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter seeking to make a leap into prose fiction. I was hired by Clint Eastwood to write the Japanese perspective of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The film, “Letters from Iwo Jima” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I was also hired by Disneyland International to conceive and write a 30-minute stage show called “Out of Shadowland,” with music written by Tony Award-winning composer, Jeanine Tesori. The show is currently running at the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. I am also a member of the Screenwriting Faculty at the American Film Institute Conservatory.


Thank you for your consideration.


Iris Yamashita

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