Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent,

When Heather was four, Ayi gave her the Chinese name Hai Yan--Seagull--because seagulls are strong and fly in the face of storms. Now Heather’s strength has failed.

After twelve years, her family makes an abrupt move to America from Tianjin, China. She’s not only leaving her home, but Ayi, the Chinese housekeeper who raised her, who taught her to cook. Heather knows her mom’s to blame for the move--she hated everything about China, especially Ayi.

In China, cooking was Heather’s passion. Now in limbo at her grandmother’s house in a middle-of-nowhere farming town, she can’t even pick up a spatula. Even when her inability to cook seems tangled up in her mom’s decision to take off--possibly forever--Heather still struggles to even chop an onion.

Writing poetry about her life in China provides some comfort. As she writes, she uncovers long-buried memories that might help her not only reconnect with her mom, but reclaim her wings. Maybe even her spatula.

SEAGULL RISING is a 74,000-word contemporary YA novel written in a combination of free verse and prose similar to Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere.

I lived in China for eight years and my recent move back to the United States was the inspiration for this novel. I hold a BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Children’s Literature, and I’ve been a member of SCBWI since 2007. I’ve included the first page of my novel below, as per your submission guidelines.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Give me a well-sharpened knife. I can devein a shrimp in less than five seconds, and mince a stalk of jiucai, piling it in a mound of green shards as if it’s gone through a food processor. But when I drop the knife and face my life, I wish I were as good with a needle: as good at repairing as I am at cutting apart.

Ayi and I stand elbow-to-elbow at the kitchen counter making jiaozi, Chinese dumplings. Looking at us, anyone would think this was a regular day, because making dinner is something we’ve always done together. Ayi talks as she rolls out small rounds of dumpling dough with a short rolling pin. Her flour-coated hands work to a rhythm. I nod to the sound of her voice, to the familiar rise and fall of her speech, the tones that make the Mandarin language sound like a song. What the casual observer can’t see is how my smile is stretched, how Ayi has to keep blinking to keep tears from her eyes. This is not a normal day. I am reminded with every stroke of my knife, with every pump of my heart. The knowledge hangs over my head like a guillotine ready to fall.

This is my last night in China.


The Agent said...

From your query, I don't get the sense that anything actually happens in your ms. Also, you introduce too many characters right away without explaining who they are. Jandy Nelson's book is a very daring comparable; what drove that book was the voice and few agents are going to take a chance that yours can deliver the same.

Sample Page: Intriguing. I probably would have read a few more pages to get a better sense of your writing.

Adam Heine said...

I like the Chinese culture aspect of this. I really get the sense that you know what you're talking about.

I think the second paragraph makes a stronger hook, honestly. And beyond that I agree with The Agent: I'm not sure what actually happens in the book. At the moment, it sounds like it's all struggling and remembering. What does Heather actually DO? What is her (concrete) goal and what happens if she doesn't achieve it?

I like the writing of the sample page a lot. My only comment there is I wondered if a native Mandarin speaker would think Mandarin sounded like a song, or if that was just a Western-minded thing.

Sara said...

While your query manages to convey who your character is and the struggle she's facing, I still have no idea what actually happens in the book. There were some lovely touches there, but I think you need to delve a little more inside the plot. What does Heather actually do? Also, you introduce the character of Ayi by name, but I don't think you need to since it seems like she won't have much contact with Heather for most of the book.

Sample Pages: I liked the voice a lot, your writing has a kind of lyrical quality to it that I love. Good luck!

Ru said...

"Give me a well-sharpened knife. I can devein a shrimp in less than five seconds, and mince a stalk of jiucai, piling it in a mound of green shards as if it’s gone through a food processor."

I love this - it makes your main character seem immediately competent. You have set a great scene.