Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Agent:

Fifteen-year-old Samantha Young has nowhere to go when her father, a Chinaman, perishes in a blaze that consumes their dry goods store and leaves her an orphan. So when the richest man in St. Joseph, Missouri, offers her lodging in his hotel, she takes it. Only it’s not a hotel, it’s a brothel.

When he attempts to test out the goods, she bashes him with a scrubbing brush. Now she faces the noose. The law in 1849 will not side with a Chinese girl, even if she killed in self-defense.

She flees west with Annamae, a runaway slave. They disguise themselves as young men and join a trio of cowboys bound for the California gold rush.

Samantha’s father died before explaining why he gave his westward-bound business partner her mother’s jade bracelet. If Samantha can keep up the boy act, not easy for the demure and somewhat squeamish violinist, she might avoid capture long enough recover the only thing that remains of her family. Maybe even discover why her Father wanted to move them out to barren California. But when she falls in love with one of the cowboys, the act begins to crumble.

GOLDEN BOYS is an 80,000 word historical YA novel that follows Samantha’s journey from girl to adult (with a stint as a boy) through the frontier of a changing society.



They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. Now his face wears the mask of surprise that sometimes appears at the end: his eyes bulge like quail eggs, his mouth curves around a profanity.

The brush is fused to my hand and I shake it several times before it drops. It clatters beside the dead man’s head.

I shiver in my nakedness and notice the blood speckling my arm. Reality begins to smother me as the grandfather clock tolls ten. Does killing a man who tries to assault me count as murder? For me, it probably does.

The law in Missouri, in 1849, does not side with a Chinaman’s daughter, even if my Father died in a fire just this afternoon...

9 a.m. I strap my violin across my back then heft the pink conch shell, the one from the curiosity shop in New York. Father listens to it every night so he can hear the Pacific Ocean. I set it back down harder than I should.

I pass through our tiny living space to the shop in front. Father’s cutting fat quarters from the calico, his scissors snipping in precise increments.

The wood floor creaks as I sweep by the sacks of coffee and tea stamped with the word “Whistle.” Father does not look up from his work. When I reach the wooden spoons, he says, “Don’t forget your shawl.”

I slow and consider going without so I don’t ruin my exit. But it wouldn’t be proper.


Kelley said...

This story sounds VERY interesting. I really love the first 250 words. I was slightly confused that we had gone back in time but I think it would be much clearer in a different format.

For the query I wouldn't mention the father is a Chinaman. It slows us down and we find that out when you explain that Samantha is a Chinese girl later in the query.

Good luck!

AllieS said...

I really liked the query apart from two things. First, like Kelley said, the Chinaman part slows me down. Second, the reference to the jade bracelet and Samantha's father's desire to move to California seems to come out of nowhere. Other than that, it's pretty tight.

For the sample, I loved the first line...but then I was completely thrown by the change in time. It doesn't work for me, since the reader is trying to get a grip on the story in the first page, and you start talking about that morning all of a sudden. You could at least make it clearer that that is what's happening. Also, you say "Father listens to it...", though you've established that he's dead, so shouldn't it be "father listened to it"? Like I said, it's confusing. Otherwise, the concept is cool and the query is good!

Marisa Hopkins said...

As soon as I read Chinaman, I thought of the Gold Rush/railroad era and wondered if it was a CA-set historical - the word itself didn't throw me, but I also grew up in that area, so maybe it's just more familiar. But as you do mention she's Chinese later in the query, it seems you might not need it. I think the last paragraph of your query sounds *really* interesting and I wonder if you might be able to bring a little of that mystery/romance into the first or second paragraph, and give us a few more details of how her act begins to crumble, because this sounds like it might be a major part of her story, and I don't quite have a sense of what this could mean for Samantha.

I agree with AllieS about the time change in the sample. I wasn't quite grounded enough to understand what was going on. Love your descriptions - very vivid, and I definitely think your story sounds interesting!

Patrick O'Leary said...

Not a bad premise. Westerns aren't my favorite genre, but so far it sounds interesting.

But I think the main problem with the query is it starts too soon. Maybe start with your third paragraph, because everything before it is background. Maybe something like "Fifteen-year-old Samantha Young was on the run for murdering the man who tried to rape her. But the law in 1849 didn't side with a Chinese girl for killing a white man. So she flees west with a runaway slave named Annamae. In order to hide from the law, the girl pass themselves off as boys." This gets us into the real heart of the story faster. Because it sounds like your real story is what happens when they get to the West.

It also gives you room to talk more about what her real problem is. Is it what to do about falling in love when she's supposed to be a boy? Or is it something to do with the jade bracelet? Either way, I think that's where your central conflict is, and where we see the real stakes for her.

As for the sample, I'll agree the transition could use work. At least off-set the "9am" on it's own line, maybe even a different font. That will help the reader see it's a time jump, rather than just a memory.

Anyway, it looks okay, but I don't think I'd be asking for more sample. Then again, I started this saying I'm not a fan of Westerns, so YMMV. Best of luck.

Julia K said...

I loved your query. It made me want to read on and on. I liked the voice and initial conflict in your 250 but felt a little confused. Is 9am going back in time? Is her father still alive or is it the next day and is she just remembering?

Anonymous said...

Multicultural in the same sentence as cowboy? I love it already! Maybe you can handle the confusion with the time in a prologue. I like the voice very much.

Anonymous said...

So many YA fiction premises don't grab me,
especially ones in the "modern style," where
subjects are sensationalized. I like the tone
if this story very much. In the Old West violence
against minorities, women - and men - was par.
The voice of this character rolls with the punches,
brings the experience of a woman, and an outcast,
and a runaway, a murderer with a lot on her mind,
to life: in just the preoccupied manner she would
have been experiencing.

I'd need to read more to see where the author is
going with the time-jumps and stream of conciousness,
but many worthwhile reads begin in a disjointed way
and are explained and organized more transparently

I'm willing to give this author the benefits of the
allowing my curiosity to win here....

(sorry for typos, poor grammar, sentence structure
in my part. IPhone is a double-edger)

Jack T said...

I hope that publishers can look into their crystal ball and see the eventual end of paranormal YA stories because to me, they're getting tiresome, not to mention, depressive.

Historical fiction is timeless, and this story presents a new twist on the gold rush - from the perspective of a chinese girl and runaway slave; So I love the premise and would be very interested in seeing what happens, particularly with the love story. Typically, parent/child relationship are portrayed as Mother/Son or Mother/Daughter but hardly ever Father/Daughter like Golden Boys - I think you have something fresh on your hands. I wasn't confused by the time change. The important thing to accept is that it's a time change. Good luck with it!

erica and christy said...

I think the idea is pretty cool, congratulations! Sort-of Mulan meets 19th century America. :)

I wasn't confused by the time change, but I did wonder why we need it. My preference would be to start with the murder and weave the backstory in gradually while still moving forward.

Also, "my Father" should be either Father or my father. Good luck!

Hayley Sommers said...

This grabbed me right away. Do you have the first few chapters posted anywhere I can read?

Wasn't confused by time change, did agree that the romance aspect could be emphasized more in query.

I personally love a good travel adventure, and I really like the idea of an Asian girl with a black girl making their way through the hostile frontier/country.

The Agent said...

I appreciate your attention to detail in using the term a "Chinaman," but you should establish that this story is set in 1849 before you start throwing that kind of language into your query. Some readers of it may attribute such language to you, the author, rather than to your world building. As it stands now, we don't know the period in which your story takes place until the second paragraph, and while that might not seem to be a big deal, your first paragraph is the one that sets the stage.

Your initial setup, that Samantha must escape a murder charge so she and her slave friend disguise themselves and join up with cowboys, all sounds great! But then you introduce what feels like an entirely different story, that of chasing down her mother's jade bracelet and figuring out why her father wanted to move to California. If you want to include these story elements in your query, try integrating them earlier while you are still setting the scene. They feel added on and a bit jumbled at the moment.

Lastly, the voice in your opening paragraphs is strong and compelling, but it feels a bit contemporary to me. I would need to read more to establish whether or not this tone works for your setting, but my initial response is I wouldn't know this takes place in the nineteenth century if you hadn't gone out of your way to say so. Consider a more organic way of establishing the period, rather than stating it outright. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I find the dual status of the heroine's father (both dead and living)in the opening narrative quite enthralling. It both vaults the reader into her frenetic state of mind after enduring the morning catastrophe as well as conjures the mutual regard expressed between father and daughter. This kind of opacity regarding past and present invites a delightful tension to the tale. I am also enchanted by the Shakespearean device of a disguised woman who braves the West in her minority status.