Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Ms. Testerman,

I’m seeking representation for THE GEARS OF WAR, a 60, 000 word YA steampunk set in fantasy versions of China and Japan.

Ever since his sister died in an airship bombing raid, Kiyoshi has been keeping his grief-maddened mother stable by masquerading as the dead girl, clothing and mannerism including. When his mother unexpectedly dies, he’s left a very gender-confused teenager.

Determined to find the man within himself, Kiyoshi heads to the war front as the pilot of a mechanical steam weapon. His plan is hindered by a samurai who, believing that Kiyoshi is a girl in disguise, is intent on protecting ‘her’ from both the enemy and their fellow soldiers’ attentions. Kiyoshi is unable to discern if the attraction he feels for the samurai is real or a product of the years he spent pretending to be a girl.

Kiyoshi soon learns that the enemy has been sacrificing their own people to animate war golems with their souls. He meets a runaway golem on the battlefield, a former human girl named Jiao who managed to free herself from the magic that keeps golems bound to obey their master.

Together they embark on a quest to find a dragon to grant their deepest desire. Jiao wants to be a human girl and Kiyoshi is starting to think that’s what he wants to be, too.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Every morning, Kiyoshi rose from sleep as a boy with messy hair, a slim frame and, usually, an urge to pee.

Every morning, he rolled up the futon and knelt before the shrine honoring his sister’s memory, gazing at her sunny face and burning incense for her. Aiko, the name on the picture said. Aiko, meaning beloved. Beloved of an entire family, jewel in the eyes of her parents and role model in the eyes of her little brother.

Every morning, he brushed his long hair until it lay straight and still against his back, dipped fingertips into bowls of cosmetics to outline eyes and lips and slid into one of his sister’s kimono.

Every morning, Kiyoshi entered the kitchen as a dead girl.

“Aiko!” her mother said, waving her chopsticks. “You’ll be late for work again. Hurry and eat.”

“Yes, mother. Sorry.” Aiko’s lips were always quick to smile with infectious cheer; they spread now in sheepish apology and the smile was returned.

Kneeling at the low table across from her mother, Aiko began her assault on the feast spread before her: miso soup, steamed rice, a rolled omelet, a bowl of fermented soybeans and various pickled vegetables. She ate as if to fill a bottomless hole, wielding her lacquered chopsticks like a weapon to slay her breakfast.

“Eat, eat,” her mother said. “You’re a growing girl and you have a day of hard work ahead.”


Ninja Girl said...

This concept is very interesting. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. For YA, the gender bending might be a little risky, but it is definitely intriguing. This sentence--"When his mother unexpectedly dies, he’s left a very gender-confused teenager."--is a bit awkward. I think you should keep the focus on the mother--"When his mother unexpectedly dies, she leaves a very gender-confused teenager behind."--or something like that. The first 250 were great. My favorite sentence was "Every morning, Kiyoshi entered the kitchen as a dead girl." Short, snappy, and told you the hook right there. Like I said, this might be pushing the limits, especially for a young audience, but everyone says YA is constantly pushing boundaries. Good job.
Ninja Girl

Karen Akins said...

Steampunk set in China and Japan. I. Am. Intrigued.

In the query, you focus on a samurai in the third paragraph, and then drop him when you switch to his interaction with Jiao.

I liked your voice in the first page. I'd definitely read on.

Kelley said...

I really like this. I'd totally read it. I hope the younger generation would too.

I would define 'the dead girl' in the first paragraph as his sister. It shows that he doesn't just pick a random dead girl to pretend to be.

Otherwise I wouldn't change anything.

I'd definitely read on.

Ninja Girl said...

Oh, and I love the title! And also, after reading my comment again, I hope it didn't come off wrong. I love the idea here and the writing. We ninjas are all about pushing the limits. Plus, it's asian steampunk. How can you go wrong? Just wanted to clear that up ;)
Ninja Girl

Krista V. said...

Like several others have mentioned, the world and concept are compelling. You've put such a unique spin on several popular themes and settings.

I did think there was a bit of a disconnect between the two halves of the pitch. One minute Kiyoshi is the pilot of a mechanical steam weapon, and the next he's gallivanting across the countryside with a runaway golem on his way to find a dragon. How does Kiyoshi go from being trapped inside a machine during all the battles to fraternizing with an enemy soldier? If you help us make that logical jump, I think this will be pretty much perfect.

As for the first page, I can't think of a single thing I'd change. Sure, you could probably tweak this a bit, but I loved the repetition in the first few paragraphs, and that last line - "Every morning, Kiyoshi entered the kitchen as a dead girl" - takes the cake. I'm very much impressed.

Good luck!

Tara said...

Wow--your query blew me away. What a concept! And the sample page is pretty excellent as well. My only question is whether 60,000 words is enough to contain what sounds like an epic story.

I hope I get to read this one day--good luck!

Kate Schafer Testerman said...

Very intriguing! I've never seen anything like this, and that alone is notable. That you've created a character that a reader immediately feels for, and is drawn to, is further testament to your creativity.

Specifically, I'm so attracted to the story of a boy disguising himself as his dead sister to to help his mother. However, I worry that this is really just the set-up to the story -- that the plot really begins when Kiyoshi heads to the war front. Which is fine -- bringing in the samurai to further confuse Kiyoshi plays directly on the same conflict from the beginning, and is likewise appealing.

But then you bring in golems and magic and dragons, and I lose a little interest. I'd probably want to read more anyway, but I worry that this is one of those novels that I love right up until the paranormal element is introduced, and then it loses its appeal to me. I'd have to see.

Kali said...

Thank you all for your help. I'll be sure to tweak the query a bit more before I start sending it out.

Ms. Testerman's concern is a valid one, too, but to find out if its an issue I'll need to find a beta. I'm way too close to it to see if the shift to the paranormal elements is jarring or not. I'll get right on that beta-hunting.


Lori M. Lee said...

Hi A.L. I love, love, love the premise. It's fascinating and not like anything I've seen before.

If you're still looking for a beta, I'd love to offer :D

Hope Roberson said...

Congratulations and good luck!!

Karen Akins said...

Congrats, Kali! I noticed over at the Secret Agent contest on MSFV that the Agent (Amy Boggs) said she is looking for steampunk set in unique locations/circumstances. I immediately thought of your story. :)