Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #24

Dear Agent:

When Katherine Brandt, newly nicknamed Sparky, comes to America in 1938, her dearest wish is to become a real American girl. Before she can realize her dream, though, she’s going to have to learn the ins and outs of the unusual town and group of friends she’s joined.

Sparky is taken under the wing of Cinnimin Filliard, the youngest child of the man who helped the Brandts immigrate. Cinni teaches Sparky a thing or two not only about American life, but also the strange town she’s come to. Cinni and her friends look, act, and talk like they’re at least five years older, all because of an esoteric, radical secret society of sorts that has been passed down for over a thousand years.

Sparky will do almost anything, as she navigates her way through American life, to become a real American girl and stop giving herself away as a greenhorn. Anything, that is, but compromise her faith. Will she ever be able to pull off being Sparky to her friends while remaining Kätchen to her family and staying true to her values?

THE VERY FIRST, a work of YA historical fiction, is complete at 43,000 words. The first in a series spanning 1938-41, it also works as a standalone. Thank you for your time and consideration.




In the year 233 of the Common Era, a girl child whose name had been lost to the many succeeding generations who followed her teachings was born in present-day Holland. For hundreds of years, the details of her life and the teachings and rituals she prescribed for the total liberation of the human race were passed on by means of chanting, singing, and word of mouth, mostly by women, her direct descendants, who passed them on in Old Dutch. When the Dutch people began slowly to evolve into speaking Middle Dutch, the Old Dutch information was passed on along with Middle Dutch chants and songs. The same thing happened when the nation began to speak modern Dutch, bit by bit, slowly. It became a highly esoteric path to follow, loved and cherished by everyone who was brought up to practice it but fully understood by very few. Only the most devoted few, even among the missionaries who went to distant lands to spread the word and to give new names to the woman who had started it all, knew the innermost secrets of what became known in America as WTCOAC, We the Children of Atlantic City. That was not the original name of the set of teachings, but they thought it came mighty close to what had perhaps originally been called We the Children of Amsterdam City.

The woman who had begun this became known as WTCOAC Woman. According to what had been passed down, it all started in 245, when she was twelve years old.


Unknown said...

All in all, it's very effective. I get a good perception of the book without getting distracted in meaningless detail. I do get a bit lost in character soup, what with the Cinimin, Cinni, Sparky, Katherine, Brandt Family thing, (and I didn't know what Kätchen was... Katherine perhaps?) but other than that, it's concise. However, there were a couple things I wanted to know more about. First, where was this family from? If her family and culture are so important to the book, you should mention it right up front. Also, you throw out the radical secret society thing, and then leave it so it's lost. Until that point, I wasn't seeing where this was different than other immigrant stories. Then you never develop the idea, so it gets lost.

I'm sorry, but here is where you lost me, and I think it's because you're including a forward. I don't know the agent protocols on forwards (they aren't like prologues), but I'd leave it out. In fact, as most people I know skip right over forwards, you may want to totally leave it out until you're in talks with an agent. If your story doesn't hold up without this forward, then you've got some information flow problems in your manuscript you need to look at.

The thing is, this isn't the story. This is the start to a history book. As someone who's read a history book or four in my time, I was able to skim through it, but I don't think a teen is going to read that and then continue on. They'll skip it or put it down. And more importantly, an agent wants to see the book itself. The writing here is good, but it's not your story.

Dana said...

Your query made me want to read your story. You did a great job of selling your idea.
I agree with the S. Kyle that your first page is too much history. I am sure you think it's important to explain, but find another way to tell only the most important historical aspects.
You've got a great story. Good luck!

Michael G-G said...

I for one am interested in historical stories and this time period. However, I wasn't sure about the introduction to the "secret society." It seemed it was there because paranormal is "in."

I agree with the previous commenters. This type of dry prologue is not going to get people to read your story. Start with Sparky herself, not what happened thousands of years ago. If that age-old stuff is important, weave it in in bits and pieces during the narrative.

Write Life said...

Do not begin your pages with a 'forward'. You lost me immediately with that.
Your query, I feel, needs the 'spark' of your character. As it sits now, it feels flat.
This would be a very emotional piece, I'm sure, but I'm not getting the turmoil of the new immigrant trying to fit in. I know you will with a little tweaking!
Also I would question the word count. 43,000, is a little on the low side for YA.
Best of luck.

The Agent said...

This has potential, but I'm having a hard time finding the story within this query. What is the novel about? Aside from the main character's growth and development, what external plot points occur? I think you need a bit more detail. I'd also like to know how old Sparky is, and to caution you that at 43,000 words you are pushing the low side of YA fiction. The storyline makes me wonder if this might not be more of an MG book?

The opening paragraph is just too long and bulky. Endnotes or historical asides, maybe, but this definitely isn't part of your story. We need to get to know the character herself, not the historical backdrop.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback. Perhaps calling it a secret society isn't the best phrasing (it's not paranormal at all and the first draft was completed years before the paranormal fad started!). It's more like a life philosophy/quasi-religion that informs their views and explains why they're come off as being a fair bit older than their true ages. It actually originally was intended as a spoof and satire of sorts of modern preteens and teens, with a bit of deliberate unreality to underscore the element of spoof. Later on I came up with this idea of an old radical quasi-society to explain what this behavior was ultimately rooted in.

The foreword is only two pages and ends by introducing the second protagonist Cinni, the descendant of the society's founder and the 12-greats-granddaughter of one of the neighborhood's founding mothers. Then there's a brief introduction where the now-aged female characters get together to make an oral history and book about their young lives, and finally the meat of the story begins. Perhaps I could include some of the foreword as pages in a book they look at later, and only start with the pertinent information about Cinni being descended from this woman.

I've also considered pitching the four books in this introductory series (I have three other series with these characters, and those books are longer) as novellas.