Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #16

Dear Ms. Martindale,

I am seeking representation for A DIFFERENT WINTER, a character-driven YA novel complete at 51,000 words.

When sixteen-year-old Rebecca's busy father dumps his family in Mallorca in the fall of 1974, she must cope with her ill-equipped and hard-drinking mother, an international school full of strangers, and to top it all, learn Spanish.

She is unimpressed by the prospect of another new adventure until she sees Luke, a popular boy with a girlfriend of his own. Determined to get his attention, Rebecca fights off her debilitating shyness to dive into student life. She even joins the first cheerleading squad in Spain.

As each new venture draws her out of her shell, Rebecca slides further from the volatile situation at home. She takes frequent refuge with Katie, an Iowan with a foul mouth and a big heart, and who knows Mallorca like a native. Through Katie, Rebecca befriends Manny, a young Mallorcan fisherman who seems to enjoy an idyllic existence.

When her little brother is injured while under the care of their inebriated mother, guilt and anger consume Rebecca. Then, she inadvertently causes Luke's expulsion and deportation. She flees to the north end of the island, where Manny shows her that his life isn't very different from her own.

I have pasted the first 250 words of A DIFFERENT WINTER below. I hope you will ask to see more. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Mallorca - 1974

We'd hardly arrived, and my parents were arguing in the bedroom. Dad's calm voice intersected Mom's shrill protests. Somewhere in the mix I heard, "New start," and "Time to think.”

"I hope the neighbors don't understand English," my sister Lori said with a smirk as she curled on the sofa with an airplane magazine.

My little brother Michael seemed oblivious to the noise as he rummaged through Dad's suit pockets, probably looking for foreign coins.

I skirted the mound of suitcases in the living room, opened the balcony door and stepped into the heat. Flamenco music filtered from somewhere below, almost obliterated by the hiss of sand pulled to sea by the surf. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the classical notes, if only to drown out my parents.

Dad finally came outside and leaned against the railing. As usual, he hid his impatience behind a serene expression and a freshly lit cigarette.

Inside, the sound of colliding dishes punctuated Mom's side of the argument. She wore her emotions on the outside and dishwashing was always a clear indication of her mood. When she was in good spirits, she sang above the gentle clink of cutlery against crockery. When she was pissed off, plates crashed together like cymbals.

Dad squinted against the sunlight and took a drag on his cigarette. He rubbed his chin with a knuckle and cocked his head at the door. "Don’t worry, she'll get used to this. She always does."


Alex said...

There are some contradictions in the query. Being unimpressed by the prospect of a new adventure and fighting off a debilitating shyness don't say the same things.

There are also too many names to keep track of in the query. You're know all your characters but no one else does. I would also try to find the crux of the action in your query, it comes off a bit flat and reads like a synopsis. What is at the peak of your story arc where is the conflict?

I Liked the writing in the 250 and the description of the parents fighting and how they act afterwards though we don't get a strong sense of how Rebecca feels about it all.

I say the query needs lots of work but I enjoyed the 250 and would read a little further to see where it goes.

Anonymous said...

Although I don't disagree with the previous commment, I love the setting and the reality of the 250 words.There was something about it that I found compelling and I would want to know more about this girl and her family. I would want to read it.

Cortney said...

Sounds like a good story. A few suggestions:

In a query, focus on the main character, what her goal is, and what the setback to that goal (or main conflict in the story) is. I agree with Alex, there were too many characters to keep track of. I'd suggest tightening your query and making it one to two paragraphs. Also, I had no idea where Mallorca was, and by the third paragraph I was like, wait, when did she go to Spain? We don't need a summary of the story, just enough to peak our interest. :)

About the excerpt, I like where it started, it drew me right in. But it's hard to follow so many characters all at once, before we as readers are attached to the protagonist. I'd stick to just having Rebecca hearing her parents fight and introduce the siblings even a few pages later. Your writing is great, I would keep reading!

Robin Weeks said...

I think the basic idea sounds very fun. Foreign country, girl struggling to find her place in a dysfunctional family, boy troubles. All good.

My main issue with the query is that I can't tell what the main conflict is. Is it adjusting to Mallorca? Trying to win Luke? Finding romance with not-so-different Manny? Getting her mother to sober up? Maybe all of these things are important, but pick one--the most compelling one--and focus your query on that. Bring in the others only if necessary.

I liked the beginning of the sample, and you have a great start on setting the tone... but I've heard my parents fight before, and no matter how often it happens, no one is oblivious or blase. Parents fighting is crisis time for kids. At least that's my experience. I'd love to see more of the tension felt by the children.

Good work!

Krista V. said...

The first question I found myself asking was, "Why is this set in 1974?" and I never really came up with a satisfactory answer. None of the plot points seemed 1974-specific. I'm sure there's a good reason, but I wanted to see that reason highlighted a little more in the query. Otherwise, I'd probably rather read about a family that moves to Mallorca now (but that could just be me).

The only other thing I thought the query was missing was an overall plot arc. You gave us a very detailed sequence of events (which is good), but I didn't really get a sense for how they were all going to come together. I don't think you have to tell us how the novel's going to end or anything; I guess I'm just saying I wanted a clearer picture of Rebecca's goal and/or character development.

As for the excerpt, I thought you did an excellent job of introducing us to a lot of characters in a way that gave me an underlying sense of their personalities and the family dynamic. The voice also fit the tone of the query very well. I did want something a little bigger to happen, but then, that's probably because I'm used to reading more commercial fiction. Your writing is smooth and easy to read, and that's always a plus:)

Best of luck with this. I hope Ms. Martindale falls in love with it (and if not her, then someone else).

Escape Artist said...

For me, I probably wouldn't have quite so much happening with everyone around the MC. I'd probably pick a few things and hear more of her thoughts. What is she thinking about where she finds herself? What's inside her?
: )
Also, I myself wouldn't say character driven novel in the first line of your query.

Taylor Martindale said...

I like this premise, and I have a personal connection to Spain, so you definitely had my attention. I did have a few moments of confusion, though. For example, are Luke and Katie both Americans too, and if so, is there an American community there? Also, what is the central conflict? We know there is trouble at home, and clearly some trouble with Luke, but what is the crux of the novel? Another thing I wonder is why this book is set in 1974. Is there something about this year in particular that is integral to this book? Unless it the year is truly foundational, I typically recommend that a novel take place in more or less present time. I am definitely interested in the setting in particular, though, so I would continue reading.
Thank you for participating in this Agent’s Inbox!
Taylor Martindale
Full Circle Literary

Sandra Cormier said...

Thank you all for your great input! I can see I have to work on that query some more and I already have a few ideas to bring out the central conflict.

Ms. Martindale, I'm glad you have a soft spot for Spain, because my fond memories of that place as a teenager compelled me to incorporate it into my writing. The 70s angle plays a part in the plot, mostly because of the political and cultural changes going on at that time, but it isn't absolutely necessary.

Krista, thank you so much for allowing me to participate in a fun, challenging and informative exercise. Kudos to you!