Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #23

Dear Wonderful Agent Willing to Participate in this Contest:

My middle grade novel A Sketch in Time will be published in May 2012 in Catalan by the Barcelona publisher Cruïlla. I am eager to secure representation so that I may also publish in the U.S., and I am hopeful the novel will appeal to you. Set in contemporary Barcelona and in the Catalan countryside of the 1930s, it blends historical fiction and time-travel adventure.

Micah hates Barcelona. He hates that he has to go to school in a foreign language--who’s ever even heard of Catalan?--and he hates how nearly everything is different here. He can’t fathom why his parents dragged him and his seven-year-old twin brother and sister on this so-called adventure of a year abroad. But the difficulties of adjusting are nothing compared to the adventure that begins when his sister finds an old pen that draws windows into the past, and Micah and his siblings tumble into 1938. Suddenly in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, they face hunger, violence, loss and the tragic bitterness of their great grandmother.

I wrote A Sketch in Time while living in Barcelona, and it is grounded both in my experiences as an American in that city and as a member of a large Catalan family with many stories of the Civil War. When not on sabbatical abroad, I am an Associate Professor of English at Bucknell University, where I teach young adult fiction and Victorian literature. I have published an academic monograph, Excavating Victorians (SUNY 2008), and several articles, many of which address themes of time in literature. I am also a member of SCBWI.

The manuscript is complete at 54,000 words. I would be happy to provide some or all of it for your consideration. While A Sketch in Time can stand on its own, I have also written the first few chapters of a sequel, which I hope to finish in the next few months. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Wishes,


One: Celia’s Picture

“Hide this!” Celia tosses something onto my bed and scurries away.

“Where’s the pen? Ce-li-a!” Jamie punctuates each syllable with a shove. “It’s not yours!”

“I found it!”

I pull my door closed to dampen the sounds of the scuffle and look down at an old fashioned pen and small bottle of ink. Where did she get these? I tuck my book under my arm and pick up the bottle. Crusty black ink flakes away from the lid and drifts onto my bedspread like black snow.

When I grasp the pen, its sharp tip stabs into my thumb. I shift my grip to the carved metal handle that encircles the smooth wood of the pen. It settles into my hand, heavy and balanced, poised for the page.

“Micah!” My mom wants me to brush my teeth, but if I hurry, I can try out the pen.

“One sec!”

I set the pen and ink bottle on my window sill and open my book to the blank back cover. The stopper comes out of the bottle with a gentle pop. I dip the pen and then study the drop of black ink quivering on the nib. It looks alive. When I press the pen to the page, the ink spreads into a circle, sinking into the imperceptible layers of the paper.


Jenny Kaczorowski said...

This sounds great. Your sample is beautiful & very well-written. I like the sibling dynamic and the foreign setting. You clearly have the credentials to write this story, and based on what I've read, you executed it very well. Congrats and best wishes for your project!

Michael G-G said...

I like the idea (I love foreign settings!) and the query is well-written. (It's also great that the novel is being published in Catalan!!)

The first 250 is also well-written, but I was a little lost initially and only on a second reading came to understand that Micah was overhearing his sister and brother squabbling. I wonder if you shouldn't ground us in that reality first, something like "Micah stopped and listened to the ruckus coming from his sibling's bedroom..."? (Although, seeing your skill with words, I'd bet you could come up with something immeasurably better than that!)

I enjoyed this. Good luck with it!

The Agent said...

Great query, and nice presentation of the external circumstances involved with the project.

The paragraphs were intriguing also, though I didn't at all get what was going on at the beginning (I read another commenter's note that other siblings were squabbling before understanding myself that that was what had happened). The rest of the paragraphs are very well rendered, and based on that I would read on further.

Mandy P.S. said...

I thought this was fantastic, both the query and the excerpt. You write extremely well, though I agree the beginning could use some clarification. Once I got to the paragraph, "I pull my door closed to...", things clicked and flowed beautifully.

I would recommend finding someway to clarify in the excerpt that Micah is male. We totally get that in the query, which is why I wasn't lost, but if I had just started with the page I would have been confused. Yes, Micah is traditionally a boys name, but recently I've seen it used a lot as a female name (most noticeably in Syfy's Warehouse 13).

But that's my only nitpicky thing. Otherwise I think its great. And I'm a sucker for a time travel story.

I'm completely hooked. I'd keep reading.

Suzanne Warr said...

I love the premise, and the fresh, open voice of the narrator. Other commenters have covered how confusing it was to begin the story in a blank box with random dialogue, but even this bumpy beginning can't detract from your story for long. I would definitely read on, and hope I'll get the chance to do just that!

I do have one nit-pic on the query, which I only bring up because I'd hate to see the query shot down over something so simple. He doesn't 'go to school in a foreign language', he goes to school in a foreign country where he has to speak a foreign language. A small thing, I know, but something you might want to fix before sending this out. Best of luck!

Jeff Chen said...

I love the premise, well done! I also thought your last paragraph was the highlight of a generally well-done query / sample. It really grounds me in the scene, and makes me wonder what's going to happen. It would be even better if it didn't just spread into a circle, but perhaps an irregular pattern?

I wonder if people will confuse the title with A Wrinkle in Time?

I liked the writing sample quite a bit, but think that it could be tightened for clarity's sake. I was a bit confused at what was going on there in the scuffle.

Finally, I think the query would be more powerful if you got to the heart of it premise more quickly. The idea of a pen that can draw windows into the past is exciting! Why not put that right up front? I think it would give you a better chance to hook an agent's interest.

Good luck!