Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Ms. Testerman,

Greetings! I am seeking representation for my YA contemporary novel, UGLY STICK.

Seventeen-year-old April Somerfield is a shy, self-loathing misfit who would blend in with the wallpaper, if only the wallpaper were a little less attractive. April's life is even more frustrating when she compares herself to her gorgeous, confident mother Diane, and her cute, feisty best friend Ani. Nowhere is April’s ugly-duckling status more obvious, though, than at Prescott High School, where she is surrounded by overachievers like the practically perfect Vivienne.

When a project for school sends April on the hunt for her mother’s mysteriously missing high school yearbooks, she and Ani discover a big family secret. It turns out that being touched “with an ugly stick” is a surprisingly literal occurrence in April’s family tree. A midwife’s vengeful curse of ugliness has been transferred from mother to daughter for over two hundred years. However, nobody else in April’s family has had to live with the curse in the age of digital photos and Facebook…so when she seizes an opportunity to get even with some cruel gossip by passing the curse on a little early, April must decide if becoming beautiful on the outside is worth giving up the truly beautiful person she would otherwise become.

UGLY STICK is complete at 50,000 words. I have included the first page below, and I would be delighted to share the manuscript with you. I look forward to a reply at your convenience. This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your consideration!

Best regards,
J.G.


UGLY STICK

“And now for everyone’s favorite part of Honors English…” Ms. Kearns intoned with a grin, “example reading!”

Judging by the apathetic classroom reaction, “favorite part” was a bit of a misnomer. Ms. Kearns was a brand-new teacher, fresh out of college, and she had a remarkable way of pulling our class into engaging discussions of Shakespeare, Shelley, and even Dickens--my personal favorite. But nobody really liked example reading, the Russian roulette of criticism, especially on a Friday afternoon.

My personal dislike of the practice was entirely selfish. I hated having anyone but my best friend Ani or my parents read my stuff, even though if somebody asked me what I did best, I would probably, hesitantly answer, “Writing?"

Example readings were anonymous, but whenever the other two dozen students in my class looked over a work, they picked it to pieces. I usually remained silent, jotting down notes. Invisibility was a trait I had perfected in my first two years at Prescott High, and junior year would be no different.

Ms. Kearns passed out print-outs of the example. “This was one of the prompts from last week about different storytelling lenses--imagining you were writing the introduction to your memoir.”

My ribcage seized as I recognized the first few lines on the page. She’d chosen mine. For Heaven’s sake, why?

I had known it would happen sooner or later--Ms. Kearns always gave me high grades on my essays and papers. However, I had never gotten up the nerve to tell her that having my own work critiqued would be the emotional equivalent of trimming my toenails with a paper shredder. I inched lower in my seat, praying that my face wasn’t as red as it felt.

9 comments:

Karen Akins said...

This sounds so cute! Love the title.

You probably don't need to give her mom's name in the query. I definitely think 3 proper names in a query is the max I'd use.

The only thing I was a little bit confused on is what it meant to "pass on the curse a little early." You say it's transferred mother to daughter, so my initial thought was, "Wait...so get pregnant?" lol I don't think that's where you're going with this.

In the second paragraph, I'm not sure what "example reading" is and why it's to be dreaded. Her description of "the Russian roulette of criticism", while colorful, doesn't really help me. I think you could cut some of the specifics of the assignment. I like the voice. I'd definitely keep reading.

Ninja Girl said...

I love the title as well! Nicely done there, and the story sounds interesting. I think there are too many names in the first paragraph. It gets a little confusing with April, Diane, Ani and Vivienne. I'd probably consider taking out the mother's and friend's name, leaving it just "when she compares herself to her confident mother and fiesty best friend." It would read a little smoother and keep the focus on your MC. Also, I may be wrong, but I don't think you have to say it's a simultaneous submission. The excerpt was great. I'm already loving April, and you ended it just right, with the teacher about to read her work. Loved the "trimming toenails with a paper shredder" line :) Great job.
Ninja Girl

Kelley said...

I am a fellow Contemporary YA writer and like this a lot. I think it's a good twist on the 'teenage girl not feeling good enough' story.

I agree with some of the previous comments, especially the 'pass it on early' part.

And...I have to argue that being beautiful on the outside doesn't mean your ugly on the inside. So the last line makes me think of all the beautiful looking people I know and how wonderful they are as people. Unless there's a twist to the story that says you have to give up your good personality if you want to become beautiful. And if that's the case then her mother would be a bad person? Maybe I'm reading too into this :)

LOVED the first 250 words. Love the MC already. We're all been there. I would keep reading for sure.

Karen lee Hallam said...

I found reading this first page, clear and crisp- perfect. The toenail shredder did get a rise out of me. Love it. I like the mc already as well.

Maggie Hall said...

I love the idea of this! I was a little confused in the query, though, when her gorgeous mother is mentioned then it comes out that ugliness is a family curse...I think I understand after reading it a couple times that the curse goes away (or is somehow passed on in a way other than mother to daughter?), but I might clarify that. Also, if it were me, I'd only name April in the query, and not the other characters.

I liked the sample page, but to me it felt like kind of a lot of telling-rather-than-showing about her shyness. But I'd read on! :)

Jessica Love said...

This sounds really cute! Great original concept and good voice!

Like the comment above, I was a little confused by the gorgeous mother and the ugliness curse. I went back several times to read over it to get clarification, so you may want to make sure that is nice and clear.

I wasn't in love with the opening line being from the teacher and then the second paragraph being all about the teacher. We don't get to the MC until the 3rd paragraph. I'd love to get right into her right away!

Good luck!

Kate Schafer Testerman said...

This is cute, though I have to admit the tone and the voice make me wonder if it shouldn't be middle grade instead of YA. She doesn't *sound* like a junior in high school.

I'd want to read more to see if my initial reaction is correct, or if it's just a matter of a different tone between query and manuscript.

As for the sample, I'm always a little leery of MCs who are writers, but I'm hoping that it's not a major plot point.

Hope Roberson said...

Congratulations and good luck!!

Inky said...

As the proud manuscript mama of this one, I want to thank you all very, very much for your feedback! I've already been able to look at my submission (particularly the synopsis of my query) with fresh perspective. It's so easy to miss the things that make sense to oneself as the writer but might not translate to the reader without certain blanks being filled in.

Thanks again to all of you, and best of luck in the future!