Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #36

Dear Agent,

When her best friend's house is threatened with foreclosure, ten-year-old Annie Jenkins is full of ideas to save it: selling her appendix on eBay, winning the lottery, facing down the bankers…anything to keep Jason from moving.

Problem is, Jason's out-of-work dad blows up at the smallest things. One little trip to the ER, and they're grounded from each other for two weeks. Still, Annie is determined.

So when she tracks a lost treasure to Jason's backyard (smack dab in their turkey pen), she's certain it's the answer to all their problems. Now all she has to do is convince Jason to ignore his father's short fuse and overcome her own paralyzing fear of turkeys. It should be a snap. But when her plan goes terribly wrong, Annie discovers there are worse things than your best friend moving away.

THE PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY FRIENDSHIP is a 41,000-word contemporary middle grade novel about the stickiness of friendship. Fans of Beverly Cleary's RAMONA and Megan Macdonald's JUDY MOODY will appreciate Annie's spunk.

I am an active member in an SCBWI-sponsored critique group, and have a BA in English and an MA in French literature. Thank you for your time and consideration on this multiple submission.



Annie eavesdropped from the top of the stairs. Her brother Matt and a friend droned on about healing plants for Boy Scouts. That'd keep him out of her hair.

She tip-toed down the hall and peeked in her mom's room. Busy with bills. And Kate was out of the house. Perfect.

Still, to be safe, she sneaked the phone into the hall closet where her sister's faux fur parka would muffle the sound. She speed-dialed 7 and let it ring once, then hung up and called again. Their secret code. It rang twice before Jason answered.

"It's me." Annie was all business. "I've got a body count."

Jason hedged. "I don't know. My parents are talking to this lady, and…"

"Jason, you're ten. Find a way. This is important." Without waiting for a response, she hung up.

Jason wouldn't find a way. Annie knew. She'd just have to go to his house and get him, like usual.

After listening at the door for several seconds, she slipped out of the closet and replaced the phone. Silently, she extracted the pre-packed bag from under her bed then ran down the stairs.

"I'm going outside, Mom!" She bounded out of the house before her mom could protest and ran smack into Kate.

"Watch it, squirt!"

For a split second, Annie thought she might escape her sister's usual torment, until Kate's mouth twisted into a grin. "Where are you going, anyway? To your boyfriend's?"


Michelle Mason said...

I really love the title and premise of this story. The query itself is very strong. I like the detail about her fear of turkeys, and I definitely want to find out how things go wrong.

The sample is also very good. The only thing I noticed is that you identify Matt as her brother in the first paragraph but don't say Kate is her sister in the second. I briefly wondered whether Kate was another sibling, a babysitter, etc. Other than that, everything is great. I want to know what she has planned!

Ru said...

I think this sounds very cute. One thing - "Now all she has to do is convince Jason to ignore his father's short fuse and overcome her own paralyzing fear of turkeys."

I'd maybe tweak that line and make it a little quirkier. (Like, "Never mind that as far as Annie is concerned, turkeys are the most terrifying and gross creatures on earth" -- or something.) I think more detail about her fear would help. It's just a somewhat serious line right after a suggestion that she sell her appendix on eBay (which is really cute, by the way).

Jackie said...

Great query, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE your title!
Your first page drew me in. This sounds like something my kids would enjoy reading.
Well done!!!

Virginia said...

I really like that you're writing for this age group. The query seems strong to me. It's short and pointed and gives a good idea not only of the story but also the voice and the main character's personality.

I like that you open with a really timely issue--foreclosure--but quickly frame it in kids terms.

I also like the title and your use of the word "stickiness" in that sentence.

For the first page, I was confused by the "healing plants" reference. I suspect the reference doesn't matter much, and you don't want the reader confused from the get go, so maybe something familiar like "camping."

I like the business about sneaking into the closet to make the phone call. I also like that we're already learning about Jason's character from Annie.

I agree with the other reader that I wanted to know who Kate was sooner. The image of her mouth "twisting" into a grin gives a really good sense of her character.

Write Life said...

I've seen this before, and I think you've been doing well with this. I have no doubt that will continue!
Good job! I thought it was wonderful.

Jess said...

I have to say, I like this excerpt more every time I read it. And the query seals the deal! Very strong query, in my opinion :) Best of luck!

Louisa said...

Ahh I recognize this! The title definitely draws me in. I don’t really have much to comment on here because the query and sample 250 words are pretty polished and flows well. Well done.

The only thing that made me stop and think was when you said Annie bounded out of the house then she ran into Kate. Is this in the hallway, in the doorway or on the porch? I know it’s silly detail, but I imagine Annie running into her sister before she can escape her house.

The Agent said...

I've already had this one in my Inbox, but I think both the query and the opening paragraphs feel really strong and right on target for an MG project. I might prefer to wait on introducing the older sister, letting us get to know Jason and Annie first, but overall it's a strong effort and great premise.

gretchen said...

I, too, think your voice is spot on for MG. I love how you work in the details of the dad's anger issues and her paralyzing fear of turkeys! So middle grade!

I also love the ease with which you added backstory into the writing sample without making it obvious. I felt a strong sense of who these characters were and what they wanted from page 1.

Nice job! Can't wait to read more.

Jeff Chen said...

This is one of the strongest I've read so far - great work! I was immediately struck by the ease at which the query and sample flow. The setup is really interesting, and I'm very impressed at how you've managed to work in her voice into the query without making it sound awkward or forced!

In the interest of constructive criticism, I'd offer up a few thoughts. I think it would be great it you could keep your first paragraphs to just Annie and her covert call to Jason. The second sentence is one of the few that felt like it jarred me out of the fun experience. The mention of Kate is a bit distracting too - maybe you could leave it until the very end of these 250 words to introduce her?

Why is Jason speed dial 7, not 1 or 2? I think you're trying to show how important Jason is to her, but it gives me a mixed message.

I wonder if Ramona is too young for an accurate comparison? It may be that I just re-read one of the early Ramona books, and although the spunk seems similar, she's in a very different age group. Is Cinderella from Cinderella Smith a better parallel? Or Ellie McDoodle?

That said, these are minor points, and I really enjoyed your work. If there's any chance you'd be interested in trading critiques, I'd welcome that (my entry is #12)!

jeffchen1972 (at) gmail (dot) com