Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #7

Dear 'The Agent',

BRYNNA'S HEART is my debut YA contemporary novel with first-person narration, alternating between the two protagonists, Brynna and Beckett. It is complete at 95k words.

Beckett is a nationally-ranked high school football star with a successful future just begging for him to arrive. But then he meets this girl…and she is pretty and funny and amazing and everything a girl should be and everything he ever wanted a girl to be. Only he meets her in the hospital where she is recovering from her 6th open-heart surgery. Adam introduced him to Brynna. Adam is Beckett’s first friend after moving to Mentor, Ohio from Northern California. Adam happens to also be Brynna’s very best friend since preschool. So this is the girl Adam never stops talking about.

Beckett’s mother believes he is throwing away his future by choosing to be with ‘this girl’. Beckett must convince her and everyone else otherwise. Brynna must learn to trust Beckett because sometimes people do stick around, even if you get sick. Adam must learn to share his best friend while letting go of the love of his life.

And one night, their lives will change forever. Brynna’s heart fails. As they wait for a heart, the news of the accident travels fast. Miraculously, and with many deciding factors involved, a heart becomes available. Tragically, it is from someone Brynna knows. Her friends are being wheeled into the ER downstairs, one by one, from the car accident. Adam was in one of the cars.

I am highly qualified to tell this story because, like my protagonist, I grew up with congenital heart defects. It was trying to be a teenage girl with an 8-inch jagged red scar running down the middle of my chest. I know exactly how it feels to be a teenager in the hospital and many of the scenes ooze with memories from my life. I am a national in-demand speaker and writer for the American Heart Association and other non-profit organizations. I am a current SCBWI member.

I am happy to share my manuscript with you.



I had this dream that I was lying in bed, half-naked, with two good-looking boys on either side of me. As a 17-year-old girl, that’s a fairly decent dream to have.

Only…it wasn’t a dream. It was real.

And the two good-looking boys were Carter and Adam, which is totally gross because Carter is my brother and Adam is my best friend. My bed was actually a hospital bed and my half-nakedness was due to the fact that I had changed from my cute pajamas to an ugly hospital gown. Us long-term kids are allowed to wear our own PJ’s unless we are having a procedure done.

And you know what? Heart surgery sucks. This I know. In fact, I am a bona fide expert. I can tell from the look on Dr. Ingraham’s face, as he slides closer to the ultrasound screen, that I am going to need another surgery. Mom is standing behind him, forcing a smile as if to tell me everything is copacetic. She is grinding her teeth and her eyes are glassy which tells me otherwise.

I feel tears begin to well in my eyes. Why do I have to cry? I just can’t blink because tears will fall and everyone will know I am scared. Don’t blink. I rub the back of my hand against my nose to stop the drip. The plastic tube scratches the inside of my nostrils. Stupid oxygen. All around my room is the evidence that I am sick. Again. Monitors are everywhere; machines are beeping; tubes connect me from my IV to the bags of fluid hanging from metal poles.


Leigh Ann said...

The voice in your query comes through loud and clear. I like it, and because of that I really want to see you tighten up that query! It feels like an info dump. What do we most need to know about your story? Less is more, as long as we know the very basic stuff.

Loved the first page, consistent voice with the query, which was awesome. One nitpick - there are different verb tenses between the first few paragraphs and the last two, which looking back I see was intentional and correct, but is a little confusing to me.

Hope this helps! Best of luck! :)

amber said...

Is this story told from different perspectives? It must be. It's a little jarring that the query is from Beckett's perspective adn the story starts with Brynna. It's not awful, it's just odd. Otherwise, I think the writing is clean and well done. Nice job!

Mim said...

I think the idea of your story is good. I'm assuming too different perspectives, but your query letter focuses mostly on Beckett, when the story opens on Brynna. If she's going to open the story I'd change the query to focus on her, and her point of view.

I like the opening and the voice you have there could help your query letter be stronger. If you do it from Brynna's perspective you can set up her past, then introduce Adam and Beckett. Then cut to the part about the heart transplant.

Right now your query has too much information in it. Also trim back the part about your history and tighten it up to sentence or two not an entire paragraph.

I like the sample. I'd keep reading it. Good luck!

Melanie Stanford said...

This sounds like a heart-wrenching, tearjerker of a story, and I like that, I already feel the emotion. But I agree with the others- shorten your query. It doesn't need so much.
Loved your first paragraph- a good way to draw us in. Hate the word copacetic though- personal preference.

Laura C. said...

Overall, I liked it. Though I'm not a big fan of contemp, it seems your characters are struggling with real life-and-death situations and not hormonal angst.

However, I think your query is too long. The second, third, and fourth paragraphs need to be tightened. I think Beckett's mother can be cut.

In the 250, I was very intrigued by the beginning, but I wondered if dangling sex was a trick to get the reader intrigued. It reminded me of some novels that start with action followed by two or three chapters of backstory, and I'd read on in yours with some trepidation.

Also, I'd change 'copacetic' to something simpler.

Good luck!!

erica and christy said...

I knew your story was written in 2 povs, because you said that in the first sentence, but I was still confused when the query was primarily in Beckett's pov and the first page was Brynna's. Also, your sentences in the query are so short and choppy, it doesn't have a great flow.

Try to cut some of the information (I wouldn't put any of it from Adam's pov or what the stakes are for him) and read it aloud to make sure it flows well.

Also, 95k words is pretty long for a contemporary. Of course, I haven't read your work, but just from this I would wonder right off why it's so long. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

Krista V. said...

The query didn't quite work for me. I didn't think the second paragraph had a lot of voice; it was just a laundry list of events: "First this happened, then this happened, then this happened." The third paragraph felt like it was wrapping up the summary, but then the summary went on. And I thought that fourth paragraph made the whole thing come across a bit too much like a soap opera. It just seemed a little too coincidental, you know?

On the flip side, I thought your bio paragraph was awesome. How cool is that to work with the American Heart Association? Shows an agent that you have some promotional power, which is always a good thing.

Because of the bio paragraph, I probably would have read the excerpt if I were an actual agent, and while I thought the voice was good (I especially liked Brynna's use of the word "copacetic," even though I have no idea what it means; just seemed like she would, having spent a lot of her life in hospitals), it just didn't really catch my attention. Totally a personal preference thing - not necessarily anything you need to or even can fix.

Best of luck with this. I can tell this manuscript is near and dear to your heart - no pun intended:)

Anonymous said...

These comments are great! Very helpful. I'm not sure if we are 'allowed' to comment on our stuff so I will reply as anonymous. I originally wrote the whole manuscript from the boy's POV - which is why my query keeps coming out more from the boy's side. I also wrote the whole manuscript from the girl's POV (Yes, the whole story). I felt there were important scenes from each but I think - if I were to go by my gut - I am very partial to the 82K Beckett POV manuscript. But I am glad to have feedback on everything. It is helpful. And thank you to everyone commenting on all the submissions for making the comments helpful, courteous and properly constructive. You all are great support.

The Agent said...

M.M. - I agree that from the query, it looks like we are only going to get Beckett's POV. To me, however, Adam seems like the most interesting character. He loves Brynna and has been watching her almost-die for years, and then his new friend Beckett comes into town and gets to be with her instead. Then, it seems, he dies, and poetically gets to save Brynna's life. That's so tragic! I wish I could hear from him and would be more interested in this story if he was the focus.

Since two people brought it up, I just want to say that I also hate the word "copacetic" just on a personal level, but you should leave it in. Teenagers should know what that word means, and if they don't they can look it up.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. Agent! I love you. I feel like I got a punch to the a good way, like a wake up call. I wrote all these side scenes in Adam's POV just to develop his character in my mind but after reading what you wrote, I almost wonder if my focus was indeed Adam the whole time. The story focuses on the deep relationship between Beckett and Brynna and how they must deal with extraordinary feelings, circumstances, etc. But Adam struggles with being happy for her and hurting so bad. Adam is also annoyed with himself for actually liking Beckett as a cool guy & awesome football player. And it's not really a love 'triangle' because she doesn't love him in that way (ever). It doesn't help that towards the end, Adam and Claire (Brynna's sister) spark a little something after all these years of just hanging out. Wow. So even if nothing comes from this...your one paragraph to me helped tremendously. Thank you.
(and who knew the poor word copacetic brought out such feelings) ;)

Leigh Ann said...

Just want to go on record as saying that I LOVE the word copacetic. I think it makes the character sound interesting. :)

Anonymous said...

Also like the word copacetic in a YA:) Are you going to rewrite it from Adam's POV then? Sounds interesting! I like alternating voices too, though. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

no, i don't have to rewrite it. I've already written Adam's scenes. it's a matter of revising. it comes out better alternating the two boys' narration. starting and finishing with Adam. and of course, i just made myself cry by reading Adam's last scene. :( though the book closes in a way that leaves options.