Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Agent's Name,

I am a writer of literary fiction who recently received a fellowship to Ragdale to work on a novel-in-progress about a family of downwinders in northern Arizona. I noted from your list for this competition that you represent literary fiction.  I would like to present to you my completed novel, a dark literary work that could best be described as Crime and Punishment in first century Palestine.

Didymus wants to forget his father sold him into slavery for the price of a broken donkey and a few coins. He wants to erase his memories of murdering his abusive master to escape to freedom. And he succeeds. Almost. After ten years of struggle, he has reinvented himself into a successful caravan driver in Tiberias.

But when his business partner, Nathaniel, acknowledges he's revealed Didymus' crimes to a man named Jesus of Nazareth, Didymus realizes the secrets in his past could destroy the life he has so carefully crafted. If Jesus turns him in to the Roman authorities, he faces arrest and crucifixion. He will do anything--even kill again--to prevent that gruesome fate.

He pursues Jesus from Capernaum to Jericho to Jerusalem. But he never expects to fall in love with the mysterious Tabitha, a former leper who claims she was healed by the Jewish prophet. Now he must choose: lie to the only woman who has ever cared for him, or risk losing her forever by telling the truth.

THE BLOOD OF A STONE is complete at 95,000 words.

I hold an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and am the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. My short fiction has won awards from Writer's Digest National Writing Competition, Wind Literary Magazine, New Millennium Awards, and the Dallas/Fort Worth Writer's Conference, among others. Other short pieces have been published in print and online.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Per your guidelines, the first 250 words are pasted below.

Best Regards,



The red-bellied spider crept out of the crevice in the wall, picking her way carefully over the rough-hewn rock. This was her domain. The trench between the stable wall and the hillside had been filled with trash and debris, providing a ready breeding ground for her insect prey. Spinning out a slender thread, she dropped perilously close to a thatch of tangled black hair.

The hair belonged to a boy who was oblivious to the danger lurking above. Last week or two weeks before that--he didn't know the exact date--he had reached the age when most young men seek a wife. But this man-child was not destined to marry. Didymus was a slave.

Balancing his bare feet on a mound of rotting fruit, Didymus squeezed deeper into his hiding place where he could watch the argument between the Nabataean and Nathaniel unobserved. His master, the Nabataean, wanted Nathaniel to travel to the great city of Petra to purchase a pair of camels. It had been almost a year since Didymus's father had sold him to the camel driver for the price of an ancient donkey and a handful of coins. The other slave, Nathaniel, had become Didymus's only friend and a shield from the Nabataean's abuse. Now the master planned to send Nathaniel away. Fighting back his fear, Didymus strained to hear their discussion.

Nathaniel didn't raise his voice--he would never do that to their master--but he was angry.


amber said...

You've got a very long first graph, which then leads into a long query. Can you shorten it up? You're looking for about 500 words total.

Your credentials are impressive, but I feel like you have to sort through them to get to the goods. The story, while NOT my cup of coffee, sounds well written and well founded.

The excerpt: I love starting with the spider -- very original and fresh -- but I think you need to have a bigger reveal when you change perspective.

Tracy said...

I would cut the first paragraph and move the genre to the end. Why? Well as nice as your personalization is, its not that personalized. It's kind of a you represent this so I'm showing it to you. They know what they represent. Obviously you're hoping they'll represent you. And the rest is just telling about your story without showing. Let your mini-synopsis do that for you. So cut all that and you'll have an easier time.

I also agree the POV shift is jarring. To the point that I would have stopped reading there. Maybe make the prologue just that one paragraph of spider POV and then the first chapter starts with Didymus's POV. Agents consider most prologues unnecessary anyways. So be careful that yours isn't one of those. They'll see that word and alarms will go off. Be wary.

Ru said...

I would tighten up the line: "business partner, Nathaniel, acknowledges he's revealed Didymus' crimes to a man named Jesus of Nazareth"

to "Nathaniel reveals Disymus' crimes to a man named Jesus of Nazareth"

Also, I think comparing your manuscript to Crime and Punishment is a big mistake. No matter how good it is, it's not going to be as good as that, and now you've raised expectations too high.

I like that you end with Didymus' big conflict at the end, but I am curious whether it could be clearer that the "truth" he is referring to is his killing-Jesus plan or his murderous past.

I would maybe add some detail to bolster the claim that ten years later, the Romans would care at all whether a successful caravan driver previously murdered someone (or rather, that some random person has accused him of murdering someone). Was his master a Roman citizen? Someone who had political or economic power? Was the murder so memorable that anyone would currently care? The way it's phrased in the query - "if Jesus turns him in to the Roman authorities" - reminds me too much of our modern legal system where that sort of allegation would be taken very seriously. Without additional info, I'm not sure it would have been the case in first century Palestine.

Overall, I think it sounds interesting. Feel free to disregard all my comments. :)

Kate Larkindale said...

I think your query is a little too long, and opening with both bragging about a fellowship you received, and comparing your book to a classic, is not a good idea.

I'm not a huge fan of prologues unless they are 100% essential. This one confused me because it began in the POV of a spider, then without warning changed into the POV of a boy. It was jarring. Always a good idea to stick with one POV only.

Jo said...

Like others, I was immediately put off by your comparison of your work to Crime and Punishment. The rule of thumb is to always let a work speak for itself. I generally even frown upon comparisons in commercial fiction, and I find in literary fiction it's even more pretentious. I'd also suggest tightening your bio. You have noteworthy accomplishments, but writing so much about your self makes me wonder if you're trying to make up for your work. I had no problems with your novel description. If you lead with it, this query would be certainly be effective for the right agent.

Melanie Stanford said...

I didn't mind the Crime and Punishment reference, although I hated that book so I would stop reading right there. A "broken donkey"? What's a broken donkey? As opposed to a wild donkey? Or as opposed to a donkey that is fixed?
I was also turned off by the fact that Didymus is pursuing Jesus. To what, kill him? This could be just me, but you're going to turn off a lot of people if that's what your book is about. I would get rid of any prologues. Agents in general hate them. If you need what's in the prologue, make it your first chapter.

Linda Wilt said...

I think that your query labors long in the bio paragraph. I would skip the last sentence, at least.

As for the first 250, I liked your writing. It was easy to envision, and the POV shifts that others have mentioned didn't bother me. It is a literary work, after all. I'm not sure if it's my cup of tea (biblical fiction), but it is well crafted, and I enjoyed the scene.

The Agent said...

J.L.G. - "Crime and Punishment in 1st century Palestine" is a very cool concept. I would definitely leave this in, but move it to the end of the query instead. However, I would not label this as "literary fiction" since that is a reality-based genre. This would be an alternate history, which unfortunately I do not represent. "Jesus" as a character, and religion in general, is a turn off for me. When querying other agents, remember to focus on the plot of the novel and to keep the query short - 3 paragraphs tops. I also agree with the others that the bio is too long. An MFA and a fellowship are good to include, but I don't need to know the individual publications your work has appeared unless they are big names. Good luck!

Jeanne said...

Dear Agent and everyone who commented,

Thank you so much for your feedback. This has been very helpful.