Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Agent:

Eleven-year-old Isaac Sanchez hasn’t exactly had an ideal childhood. His father died before he was born. His mother left him with his grandparents when she remarried, and he hasn’t seen her since. He is small, practically friendless, and bullied, but he is also smart, self-reliant, and has never lost his sense of humor. When his mother comes back into his life and begs for another chance, he is forced to start again in a new city with his mother and two half-sisters whom he has never met.

Luckily, he has help in the form of an old copy of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Isaac finds hope within the pages of Principia when he realizes that his life is eerily similar to Newton’s. Believing that he has found his destiny, he decides to follow in Newton’s footsteps in every way possible. The lessons he learns--of projectiles, pet mice, and especially people--enable him to come into his own and find his real place in the universe.

I am seeking representation for DISCOVERING ISAAC (30,000 words), my contemporary middle-grade novel about finding the courage to choose one’s course in life. Although secondary to the characters and plot, DISCOVERING ISAAC contains sneaky lessons on physics, history, biology, and living with little sisters, as well as epigraphs from the endlessly-quotable Isaac Newton.

My semi-relevant publications include a story in the children’s magazine The Friend (February 2011) and a collaboration with Ally Condie (The Moms’ Club Diaries, Spring Creek Book Company, 2008. It didn’t sell quite as many copies as Matched.) As for irrelevant publications, I am the author of several papers in some of the nation’s top chemistry journals and a 200-page doctoral thesis on molecule-based magnets. (It’s as riveting as it sounds.) You can rest assured, however, that the science in my manuscript is sound.

Thank you for your time and your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you and would be happy to send more at your request.



Isaac Newton: “For the natural days are truly unequal, though they are commonly considered as equal, and used for a measure of time…”

Isaac Sanchez: People may tell you that all days are equal. Those people are wrong.

It’s not often that a kid can tell you what was the worst day of his life. Or the best day, for that matter. Sure, we can all name some incredibly rotten days (like the one where this story begins) and some pretty great ones (like when Grandpa took me camping and I caught five fish and roasted thirty-six marshmallows).

For most kids, though, the absolute worst or best day is harder to decide. But not for me. I can tell you without a doubt what was the worst day of my life, and I can also tell you that without that worst day, the best day of my life may never have happened. And without a famous scientist, an old book, and a couple of rodents, I might have totally missed out on my real place in the universe.

But that’s already confusing. Let’s start it nice and simple. I hate baseball. I hate the silly stirrup pants. I hate the way the bat almost rips my arms out of their sockets when I swing and miss. I hate the cold fear that runs through my body because I’m scared of being hit by Every. Single. Pitch.


Dee said...

Awesome! I love the sneaky bit about science (not sure an agent would care or not, but I'm not an agent so that doesn't matter.) I love the premise, You provided some great contrasting elements- good day/bad day, etc. The length of the query seemed about right! Overall it is fantastic! I really can't gush enough. Probably not the most helpful, but really this is great! I also think the power of choice is a great lesson- espcially if it is woven nicely into the story. Great effort and best of luck!

Marisa Hopkins said...

Reading the query, I thought the idea sounded interesting, but I wasn't sure of the voice. If felt a little dry. In your sample, Issac's voice is strong and likable, and I would *definitely* keep reading to find out more about his worst and best days.

You mentioned that he hasn't had an ideal childhood, but what is Issac's ideal childhood? I think setting up his desires in the beginning of the query will connect us to Issac, and connect us further when we learn what about his life keeps his desires from being met.

Maria said...

I LOVE this premise. 1st paragraph of query didn't grab me but the second did.

Voice in the story feels a little essay-ish, like the part about "without a famous scientist, old book, couple of rodents. . .place in the universe."

Tricia said...

I like the quote from Newton followed by one from Sanchez. Nice touch and assume you've done that throughout.

I think you could trim the bio a bit. Simply say on the science end you wrote for such and such, and on the children's end, you wrote for such and such.

staceylee said...

Query is a little "telly" instead of showing us (he is smart, he is small, he is self reliant, etc.) "The lessons he learns--of projectiles, pet mice, and especially people--enable him to come into his own and find his real place in the universe" - what exactly does he learn and how? I personally never thought about days being equal or telling people that they are. I think the common wisdom is just the opposite; some days are good, some are bad. I love first person though - I can hear Isaac's voice/personality. Thanks for sharing.

A.E. Martin said...

I also agree that the query is more telling than showing and I did not really get an idea of what's at stake for Issac, what is the conflict that your story centers around? It doesn't present enough depth and conflict to draw me in, though it does sound like a nice story of a boy's discovery of himself. For a novel though, you need more.

erica and christy said...

I thought the query was great and made me want to learn more about Isaac and his science fascination. The first page didn't grab me, though. If I were a kid, I might be a little thrown off my Isaac referring to himself as a kid, saying "rodent" instead of "pet mice" or something, and finding his place in the universe (since we don't know why he'd be thinking about that at this point). It's just my opinion, but I'd really like a reason to care about what his rotten day looks like before I need to know the other stuff (I know a bit from the query, but not from the page).

But maybe I'm just mad because I'm a baseball lover. ;) (kidding, of course)

Anonymous said...

I like the query. If I had seen this description of a book when my son was the right age, I would probably have bought it for him. I like the idea of the little, nerdy, unfortunate kid finding guidance in science and a scientist. Cool! I also like the opening quotations from both Isaacs.
However I agree that much of the first 250 words sounds like an essay and didn't grab me. My instinct would be to start with "I hate baseball." Or maybe just start with the worst day of his life. Start with that action and let the reader see for him/herself why and how it is the worst day for Isaac and what the worst day sets in motion. I think your idea is appealing. I would just suggest a different starting point.
That's my 2 cents for what it's worth. Good luck!

The Agent said...

Your query will become a lot stronger if you get into specifics. Why is Isaac practically friendless? Why does his mother suddenly come back into his life? How is his life eerily similar to Isaac Newton's? What is the destiny that he finds? Right now, your query presents the scenario that your main character has problems, he discovers Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, he solves his problems... but what happens? What is the specific conflict he must overcome?

In the last paragraph of your query, don't apologize for your publications -- don't say "semi-relevant" or "it didn't sell quite as many copies," or (perish the thought) "irrelevant publications." You've been published before! That's relevant, and awesome! Be proud that you can demonstrate your previous experience in publishing works for children and the sciences.

In your opening, Isaac's voice sounds more like an adult looking back on his childhood than like a kid. It's also a bit "Here's what I learned," when really, I'd rather just start your story. Isaac's opening line that "People may tell you that all days are equal" doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me (I've never heard anyone say that), so perhaps your story begins instead with a line like "I hate baseball."