Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #25

Dear Secret Agent,

During Taylor Schuman's freshman year in high school, she exposes a secret that unravels like a snagged thread on a prom dress. Taylor's crushing on her BFF's stepbrother Kyle. Though he barely speaks to them, Taylor hopes he'll ask her to homecoming. One tiny problem--Kyle has a girlfriend.

On the hunt to find the perfect outfits for Spirit Week, the girls discover Kyle's mother's obituary in the attic. It says she was in a coma for a year before she died. That's weird, because they were told Kyle's mother was killed instantly in an automobile accident. Trying to get Kyle to notice her, Taylor shows him the obituary. Tension builds, more like an explosion goes off when Kyle realizes his father lied to him. Except his father's an attorney--he wouldn't lie. A trip to the library isn't exactly the dream date Taylor envisioned, but searching for the truth reveals that Kyle's mother wasn't the only one who died in the accident. After further digging, the pair discovers the identity of the survivor from the other car, Taylor's blind next-door neighbor. Taylor is shocked to learn that she was pregnant at the time of the accident and wants to know who her child is. Taylor uncover a new secret, a hidden adoption, and confronts Kyle's father about this adoption. She knows he's lying and she has the paperwork to prove it. She must decide whether to tell the truth in order to help her neighbor find her child, at the risk of losing her friends and destroying a family, or stay silent--which Taylor isn't prone to do.

A SPECIAL SOMEONE is a young adult mystery (70,000 words), a story that deals with complex issues: death; friendship; and why do parents lie to their children? I am a member of the Society and Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Thank you for your time and consideration.



It was my freshman year in high school when I exposed a secret that unraveled like a snagged thread on a prom dress.

“Are you sure your mother wore mini skirts?” I asked.

Malorie and I ran up the creaky staircase into her attic, a dark, traditional jumble of junk. We were on a mission to find disco outfits for Spirit Week. The 70’s were weird. I couldn’t picture my mother wearing a short skirt, too revolting, given her current uniform of black sweatpants and baggy men’s shirts.

Taylor, I’ll take this side,” she pointed her finger across the room “and you look over there.” We started moving boxes off of boxes.

Hidden behind luggage, I found a bin filled with sporting equipment. “Cheerleading tryouts are next week,” I said, smiling down at Kyle’s old Pee Wee football helmet.

“Are you nervous?” Malorie stopped to glance at me then tucked her curls behind her ears.

“What if I don’t make it?” The unknown frightened me.

“You’ll make it.”

More than anything, I wanted to believe her. More than anything, I wanted Kyle to ask me to homecoming.

I worked my way over to the back corner and noticed a wedding dress hanging from one of the rafters. The garment’s gorgeous details shimmered in the dim light. As I pulled the gown toward me the fabric, at the bottom caught on something. I tugged carefully, trying to free the delicate material. When I lifted one side of the dress up, I discovered a large wooden trunk with brass fittings.


Ellen Rozek said...

I love the first paragraph of your query, for starters, but I feel like the second gets bogged down in a lot of back story. It feels like the action turns into a lot of, "And then they did this, and then this happened." Also, if you could split it into two paragraphs, it might seem less like a giant wall of text and be easier to read.

From there, I would take out the phrase, "The unknown frightened me" in your sample, just because we can see that thanks to the dialogue. Also, the two redundant "more than anything" lines in the next paragraph aren't really working for me. I'd take out the first one and say, "I wanted to believe her, but more than anything I wanted Kyle to ask me to homecoming." Prioritize. Show us what matters more to your character.

Final paragraph, take out the comma after the word fabric. I think it makes for an awkward pause, and it doesn't really need to be there.

Hope this was helpful!

Kelley said...

The story line sounds great. I feel that the query comes out more like a story than an overall summary of the book. It's like there's too much description when all we need are the 'meat and potatoes' of the story.

There isn't a transition between your first sentence and the comment about mini skirts. You might want to try and relate the two so that its more 'seamless'... no pun intended.

But the story does sound interesting.

Mark Fenger said...

I agree with Ellen on the query. You get caught up in too many details, it became a bit confusing to me toward the end because there was so much information packed in there.

The opening page is good, I'm getting a feel for the characters. Your hook hasn't really sunk in yet, but I get the feeling it will over the next few pages.

Lori M. Lee said...

The first paragraph is great, but then you lost me.

"One tiny problem--Kyle has a girlfriend." - I'm not sure this works since it becomes pretty clear that there's a lot more than one tiny problem standing in her way.

The second paragraph reads more like a synopsis than a query. It's jam-packed with information that we don't need to know yet. Do we need to know about the hidden adoption? Or that his father is an attorney? Or that she has paperwork to prove the father's lying? What is the story REALLY about? Focus on that.

I really liked your excerpt, especially the "more than anything" line :D

Leigh Ann said...

I agree with all the previous commenters - tighten up this query. Less words, more impact.

I've read that in the last paragraph, you shouldn't enumerate the themes, etc. that the book deals with - the agents and the readers can figure that out from the rest of the letter, hopefully. :)

Hope this helps! Best of luck! :)

Emily said...

Query: I would either separate the first sentence from the rest of the first paragraph or change it. It doesn't go together.

The second paragraph is very confusing. A lot of plot elements are jumbled up together and are not flowing in a way that makes sense.
After she finds the obituary you could have something similar to "When Taylor shows the obituary to Kyle he is furious at the lies his dad told him. Hoping to get some alone time with Kyle, Taylor offers to help him find the truth." Then they go to the library. of course word it how Taylor would say it.

You go from mentioning that someone else died in the accident (I thought she was in a coma? Was there still an accident?) but then talk about the blind neighbor who's still alive. Why doesn't she know who her child is? Did the child go missing after the accident? Why would Taylor lose her friends if she told the truth? The truth about Kyle's mom? or where the baby is? I'm confused.

Sample: I agree with the above comments. I like the sample, especially when she smiles at the sight of Kyle's Peewee helmet.

Jo said...

Just commenting on the query- it is very long. It reads almost like a synopsis more than a query. You need to tighten it up. One way to do that is to focus in your main characters and central conflict. Kyle and Taylor should be the focus. You can mention the neighbor as a part of the mystery, but throwing in so many details just makes it more confusing and less clear. Is the conflict a)Taylor's crush b)that Kyle's father hid something or c)the mystery of the neighbor? Obviously they all relate, but you've got to zoom in on the conflict that is your hook. Try reducing the crush part to one sentence and having it lead into the mystery. Be more vague about what they discover along the way (again, this is a query, not a synopsis). Intrigue the agent so that they have a reason to request more! Good luck ;)!

Perri said...

I like the voice in both the query and page. It feels very genuine and YA to me. The story sounds interesting, too.

I agree that the query reads too much like a summary. It feels like a mini synopsis minus the last big secret.

The first part, about the mother's death is intriguing enough, I think. Also, I am not sure about the line about lawyers lying. It feels a little flip... or naive depending on how it is read.

scubasteve4 said...

I agree that the query reads too much like a synopsis. Try and get down to what's at the heart of your story.

I like your voice in the first pages. Great job there.

Watch out for using this line in your query and opening of the book: unraveled like a snagged thread on a prom dress. Once is great. Twice is a bit much. Good luck with it!

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

My only comment is about the first page. I noticed because I do this too. You write: “Taylor, I’ll take this side,” she pointed her finger across the room “and you look over there.”

I know you are trying to tell us the MC's name because it's first person, but that doesn't feel like a natural way to tell us. Most people in the same room with each other don't use names, unless they are trying to get someone's attention. We don't have to know the MC's name right off the bat if we can relate to her and have other details about her. I think you do a great job of giving voice and info (her mom's sweatpants/baggy shirts, smiling at the helmet, cheerleader, afraid of the unknown) and that's more important to me than her name.

Lora R. Rivera said...

Query: I agree with the comments here that it's too long, detailed, and ultimately impossible to digest at a quick glance. You'll want to boil the story down to its essence. I jumped to the bottom for genre and was surprised to find that this is a mystery. Seems more like a contemp. And I agree that usually it's best to stay away from enumerating themes in a query.

I do like the lead-in sentence, but I didn't realize it was verbatim the opening line.... Remember that queries don't have to start where the book starts and vice-versa.

Good characterization in this opening. I want Taylor a bit more focused. Her brain seems to be jumping around trying to fill the reader in on back story about mom, Spirit Week, cheerleading, kyle, prom, homecoming... I almost think Malorie should say the bit about cheerleading, then "Are you nervous?"
Is Taylor the kind of girl to stop what she's doing and worry about not making tryouts? Or is she the type to shrug, her mind preoccupied with Kyle. I want a clearer sense of her.

I think you've got a great start and I'm definitely interested in what they're about to discover. Good luck!

Melanie Stanford said...

The first paragraph of the query make it seem like the secret she exposes is her crush on her bffs stepbrother. I'd cut that line completely and put the fact that Kyle is her crush somewhere later- around the library date or something. I agree with everyone else- condense and cut. Even little things like "Tension builds, more like an explosion goes off" That didn't make sense to me. And the line "Except his father's an attorney- he wouldn't lie" are you being serious there? I loved the "unravels like a snagged thread on a prom dress" but I don't think it should be in your query if it's your first line. Actually, I'd cut it from the book because it doesn't flow with the dialogue. It's almost like a teeny prologue.
Cut "The unknown frightened me." If you feel you need a tag, use a facial expression or something her body does to show her worry.
I felt like the line "More than anything, I wanted Kyle to ask me to homecoming" had nothing to do with cheerleading or searching through the attic. It seemed to come out of nowhere. And the "as I pulled" sentence is awkward. Try something like, "As I pulled the gown toward me, the bottom of the fabric caught on something."
Sorry- I hope I don't sound harsh. I think you have a great story going here with all the uncovered secrets. It sort of reminds me of the movie Now and Then when they spend their summer chasing these clues to solve the mystery (without the adult characters obviously). The query just needs to be tightened.

The Agent said...

R.L. - The first line of your query is really good, but you abandon the "secret" for the less interesting crush angle. It doesn't matter to the plot whether she has a crush on him, so I wanted to know right away what the secret was. There are a lot of details in the 2nd paragraph that don't need to be there. Stay focused on the mystery. Also, a quick note on the writing sample - their parents would not have gone to high school in the '70s. It would have been the '80s or even very early '90s if they had kids in their early 20s. Remember your audience was born in 1993-1997 - and that's if your novel is published this year.

Robbin L. said...

Agent - got it! Dump the romance subplot in the query and focus on the mystery. I can do that :) Thank you so much for the 70s tip. I will fix that!

Everyone, thank you so much - I've learned a lot! This experience has been invaluable.