Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Secret Agent:

Thank you for judging this contest! BROTHERS INCORPORATED is a MG novel, complete at 46,000 words.

Tyrell Kobayashi’s runaway imagination convinces him he’s about to win the fifth-grade Invention Challenge, but his dream pops when the judge picks another student’s entry. After Tyrell throws away his crazy drawings in disgust, his uncle Jim secretly salvages them and builds a working prototype as a present.

Tyrell’s invention, a Rubik’s Cube-like gizmo with a secret internal compartment, generates a huge buzz at his school. Tyrell, uncle Jim, and two friends decide to start a company to make the product, borrowing heavily to finance the mountain of expenses. They land a meeting with the judge of the Invention Challenge, who’s the president of a major toy company.

The president loves the prototype and starts partnership discussions to manufacture and sell the toy. But eight weeks later, he abruptly cuts off negotiations without explanation, and stops returning phone calls. Soon afterward, Tyrell struggles to breathe when he sees mass-produced copies of his invention at a toy store.

Tyrell and Jim must find a way to prevail over an unethical businessman and his deep-pocketed company, or lose everything they have and more. How far are they willing to go?

BROTHERS INCORPORATED is a completed MG novel at 46,000 words. I believe it will appeal to fans of Frindle, Danny: Champion of the World, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

As for me, I’m a crossword puzzle constructor published in the NY and LA Times, holder of eight US patents, and a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.



Tyrell Kobayashi sat in the roasting-hot King School gymnasium with a hundred other fifth-graders and their families, all dressed in their Sunday best for the year-end ceremony. I’m going to win the Invention Challenge, he thought. I spent hundreds of hours on my entry--no, a MILLION hours. Winning this contest will fixify everything!

Principal Blockard stood on the elevated stage behind a rickety podium, and crinkled a sheet of paper. She cleared her throat and said, “Third place goes to…”

Tyrell balanced on the front edge of his metal folding chair, his heart pounding so hard it threatened to hammer its way out of his rib cage. He crossed his fingers so hard he could almost hear them break into a hundred pieces each. Wait, he thought. Unbreakable bones, now THAT would be a cool invention! An uncrackable skeleton would make you a real-life superhero! You’d be more undestructible than Superman! More unvincible than Batman! More unvulnerable than…

“Andre Brown,” said the principal. A small group of people exploded in whoops and hollers around a short, sweaty boy in the back left corner. A light smattering of applause trickled through the room, deadened by the sweltering summer day’s blanket of stagnant air.

Tyrell slumped down in his chair. He didn’t think it was possible for his heart to beat even harder than before, but there it was, thumping a thousand miles an hour. What just happened? Surely Ms. Blockard had meant to say, “Tyrell Kobayashi, the dictionary called and they want to show your invention under the word ‘aweshakening’! We’re going to feed you grapes and fan your face like one of those lazy old sheet-wearing fatsos from like a hundred years ago! You’re going to be a billionaire, so your mom and you won’t have to move next year back to Braxtonville, where everyone hates people like you!”


Michelle Mason said...

I love your first 250 words. The voice is great. The only thing that confused me was his disappointment over not being announced at third place. I'm wondering if that should say first place or if I missed something there. Otherwise, it's very strong and makes me want to keep reading.

As for the query, I think you could tighten it up. For example, his imagination obviously isn't runaway if the invention is so great a toymaker steals it. You can just say: "When Tyrell Kobayashi loses the fifth-grade Invention Challenge, he throws away his crazy drawings in disgust. His uncle..."

I don't really understand from the description what the invention does. I picture a Rubik's Cube, but what does the secret internal compartment contain? What does it do? And if the toymaker judged the contest, why doesn't he already know about it? If there's something sinister here where he already planned to steal the idea because he discovered it in the contest, you should mention it.

You also can drop "struggles to breathe" so that it's just "Tyrell sees..."

Why will they lose everything they have? Legal costs? Make the stakes clear.

I think your first 250 words are strong enough that an agent might request regardless, but a tighter query can only help. Good luck!

The Agent said...

This is an intriguing (and very original) premise, though I think you could tighten the plot summary down to the essentials. Just give enough of the story to hook the reader in. I question the fact that his uncle is the one that makes the gadget--couldn't Tyrell do that himself?

I liked the opening paragraphs a lot, until I came to the last one, which jarred me. I didn't understand why all was lost after 3rd place, and something about the narration didn't have the same fluidity and ease that the early paragraphs did. I would probably read on a little further to see what happened next.

Anonymous said...

I love your idea and I think kids would really enjoy reading it.
You may want to consider limiting your query to just two paragraphs dedicated to describing your story.
I agree with the others - did you mean 1st place? If not, describe this better so the reader can understand what you want to say.
I think that it is pretty cool that you have invented things - this gives you great insight into Tyrell.
Good luck!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Just wanted to pop in here and say that this was one of the few entries I remembered after I'd finished posting them all. The concept is fresh, and the voice, especially in the pages, is definitely middle grade. The whole thing drew me in.

But like several others have mentioned, I didn't understand why he was so upset he hadn't won third place. Seems like he would have dismissed that easily, a lesser mortal filling one of the lesser spots beneath him.

Jeff Chen said...

Thanks so much for the great feedback so far! My intention was for Tyrell to be desperate to win something, anything, so just hearing someone else's name deflated him. The next paragraphs are about him realizing this means he won second... or even first prize. I'll definitely figure out how to address this comment and all the others in my next edit.

And to the Secret Agent, should you want more: I promise you, I work harder than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. I've been at this for 1.5 years now and have three trunk novels, this one, three in progress, and I'm always working on more. I intend to build a writing empire that dwarfs the British at its height. Minus the oppression and cruelty, that is.

By the way, I'd love to add another critique partner, especially someone steeped in MG. It would be great to hear from you if you're interested in exchanging full manuscripts on a regular basis!

Thanks again to Krista and the Secret Agent for putting this on!


Janet Johnson said...

I really love this premise. I think middle graders would love the idea of inventing something and starting their own business. Plus you write well, and it moves along and is easy to follow.

I think you've gotten some pretty good critiques, so I don't have a lot to add. The query could definitely be tightened as the others suggested by focusing on the most important and cutting things like "runaway imgination" and "struggles to breath."

One big question I had in this was where his parents are. Is Uncle Jim his guardian? I know you can't get it all out in the 1st 250, but right now he feels parentless to me, particularly because you mention "other 5th graders and their families," but say nothing about Tyrell's family.

And I'm wondering about the borrowing money. You say "they," but kids can't really borrow money. So is it all on Uncle Jim? (Perhaps this is why I wonder if UJ is the guardian.)

Finally, the making up words (or are you meaning him to just be making mistakes?) bothered me. It just sounds a lot younger than 5th grade to me.

Still, these are all nit-picks. Like I said, I love the premise, and overall, very well written.

Best of luck with this! I hope to see it on the shelves someday.