Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Ms. Kate Schafer Testerman,

Sixth-grader Abegale Anton-Shale has to take care of everything around the house, since her dad died and her mom is always busy working, or with another boyfriend. Her brother, Jeremy suffers with asthma more and more, leaving her alone and scared. Abegale finds the green medicine book and magic cards her grandmother left behind before disappearing in the Andes Mountains, with clues to a plant that may help him. Abegale is reminded of her own healing gifts, and becomes determined to set out where Nam left off.

A relentless crow and woodland deer, guide Abegale back to her grandmother’s abandoned cottage in the woods, where she witnesses intruders torturing the geese and ducks to produce foie gras. She hatches a plan to rid the town of the new occupants. With the help of her best friend, Stephanie Ruiz and her new neighbor, and “more than a friend” Daniel Sheng, they bring the township of Three Points together with a petition, before things get worse, and wreak havoc on the environment. Soon the mystery of Abegale’s grandmother is revealed, and how she wasn’t that far away after all.

ABEGALE FORCE is an upper middle-grade mystery with supernatural elements, complete at 80,000 words. It is the story of one girl’s journey to speak out about the cruelty she witnesses and stop the environmental impact her town faces. She rediscovers who she is, in a place where the ordinary world becomes extraordinary.

In writing this manuscript, I drew on my studies in herbalism, nutrition, and The Tarot, as well as my work as an artist and my experience as a parent of middle-graders.

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,


I’ll never get to Maiden Villas before Stephanie gets back. I have to find out what Mrs. Egremony meant saying, “Your Grandmother Rose is far--but near?”

I take a deep breath, and push on my pedals to make it up the last of the hill to Ridge Road, racing like a firebird on my bicycle; I named Phoenix.

Mrs. Egremony is Stephanie’s new landlady. She seems nice, I guess. But now she tells me, she knew my Grandmother Rose years ago--before she disappeared--and before I was born.

Nam vanished in the Andes Mountains three years ago, searching for herbal remedies with the Quechua people. The police never found her; so I guess there’s always been hope. I’ve always had hope.

I turn right onto Ridge Road--a crow swoops in front of me, and squawks, piercing my eardrums; I swerve my bike, hit a rock and fall facedown, into the asphalt rubble.

A car is coming. I turn, lifting my head and see Mr. Miller--Mrs. Egremony’s henchman--in his rusted brown pickup truck. He pulls up next to me and leans out his window.

“Are you alright Abegale?”

“Yeah--I just scraped my leg.” I jump up, dusting the crumbs of blacktop off. I look over my bike for damage and get that feeling someone is watching. When I turn around, there’s that crow again, just staring from the tree branch--I’m betting it’s the same one.

“Are you on your way to see Stephanie?” Mr. Miller asks.


Anna said...

I was enjoying the opening paragraph of your query, and then you seemed to leave her poor asthmatic brother behind in favor of some birds. Is he not as important to the story?
I wonder if you could have started your story in a different spot. It feels like you are setting us up for the good part, but it's taking a bit of time to get there.

Karen Akins said...

I'm going to be honest...not hooked by your query. I can't figure out what the true conflict is. Is it the need to heal her brother or saving the environment? And I didn't realize there was a mystery with her grandmother until you told me in the last sentence.

I'd also watch your commas in your query. You don't need one after deer or gifts for starters. I'd also drop this paragraph (or at the very least the part about being a parent): "In writing this manuscript, I drew on my studies in herbalism, nutrition, and The Tarot, as well as my work as an artist and my experience as a parent of middle-graders."

Also, you could drop Stephanie and Daniel's last names (or names entirely...there are a lot of proper names in your query). I also balked at the 80K word count for a MG. I'm sorry. I feel like this is very negative.

As for the first page, it kind of threw me a bit because after the very fantastical query with woodland creatures and cottages, I was expecting a different world. Not blacktops and bikes.

I'm sorry. I'm just not hooked.

Jeff Chen said...

I think it's an interesting premise: "Girl with naturalistic interests finds missing Grandma's log, sets out on quest to find secret cure her asthmatic brother." I like this as the center of the story!

I'm not as wild about the rest of the query - it could be I don't follow how everything pieces together. The query reads more like a synopsis to me, and I started to skim as I got into the second paragraph since I lost track of what was happening. Even re-reading it a few times, there seemed to be several non sequiturs.

Could I suggest retooling the query to focus on Abegale and her brother (if that indeed is your intended heart of the story)? The rest of the second paragraph feels to me like it's filled with secondary characters and plot, and waters your premise down.

Perhaps a "word diet" would help streamline the query. The purpose of a query is to simply hook the agent's attention (not summarize the book), so I'd suggest trying to rewrite the query in 100 words. If you had such a constraint, what would you spend your valuable words on?

Last point on the query - I would much prefer not knowing how the mystery unfolds. You have to do this in a synopsis, but in a query, I think the most important point is to make the agent want to read on. If you spill the beans, what's left to read about?

Re: word count, I agree that 80K is a bit on the high side, but the bigger issue I think an agent would point out: if your query meanders, is your writing going to as well? Just my opinion, I think you can cut down your query into something more succinct, and can probably get your manuscript down to a more average MG word count too.

Finally, I like how you end your writing sample. Abegale looking up at the strange crow that's been following her - now that's interesting! I felt that the first couple of paragraphs had too much backstory for my taste, and would have much rather you started it right with Abegale on the ground, eyeing the crow.

Best of luck!

Ninja Girl said...

I think there's a lot of potential here. The story's there and obviously so is your passion for the story, so all you have to do now is find a way to focus the query. I do like the idea of the lost grandmother, the search for the cure for brother's asthma, and the supernatural elements. I like the idea of a MG age girl standing up for what she believes in. Now, the query just has to read snappier, more hook-y (yes, I just made up that word) to keep people engaged. The writing, however, I thought was spot on. Even if I was thrown by the query, I found Abegale and her predicament instantly engaging. The missing grandmother and the creepy crow, I loved it all. The query just needs a bit more focus. Good job.
Ninja Girl

Krista V. said...

I agree with pretty much everything that's been said. I, too, wondered what the bigger conflict was, the search for a cure for Jeremy or the scouring of Three Points (if I may borrow a chapter title from THE RETURN OF THE KING). If they're interrelated, you might want to show that a little better. (Also, the Andes Mountains reference confused me. Are we in South America? If not, you could probably just say the grandma disappeared and not mention where, just for clarity's sake.)

As for the rest of the query, I'd cut everything but the first sentence from the third paragraph and stick that sentence at the beginning of what is currently the fourth paragraph. Personally, I like hearing a little bit about the writer, even if it's not as big or important as "I am a NYT-bestselling novelist."

As for the first page, I wasn't convinced that this was where the story needed to start. I didn't get a sense of where she was headed or why. You might think about starting with the scene in which she discovers the medicine book and magic cards, since that seems to be the story's inciting incident. (And if that is what she's off to find, then you might just let us in on that a little quicker.)

Good luck with this, K.L.H. Abegale sounds like just the sort of MG character I like to read about. And I love the title:)

Kate Schafer Testerman said...

I'm afraid I recognized this from my own query pile, where I recently passed on it. I'm afraid I was confused by what this story is about -- is it Abegale's search for a cure for her brother, following her grandmother into the Andes, or something about the local geese and ducks? There's so much in the query -- and yet all none of it is fully explained -- that I'm left guessing, and not in a good way.

Karen lee Hallam said...

Thanks for all the comments and help. Yes. Kate. I think I got your response from you the same day as this contest went in.
I've clarified this query a great deal.
Back to work. Thanks all. Lots of fun!