Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Agent:

Precocious Patty may be hearing impaired, but the child can still hear. And the topic is usually about her notorious family, about her. "Odd ducks," "one straw short of a haystack," those are the nicer observations. We won't mention the cruel ones. The truth is they are naïve. They are uncivilized. They are an Oklahoma family adjusting to 1970s California culture shock (shocking the culture, is more like it). Meet the Austens.

The family of six moves frequently, into both the L.A. ‘hoods and the barrios with less than spectacular results. When they move to an affluent town up the coast, Patty thinks settling among her own race is the answer to conformity. Not so. In scenes best described as Beverly Hillbillies Gone Bad, her family's unsophisticated ways clash with old-money privilege. And Patty's well-earned spot in regular schools is about to unravel when her pretentious teacher uses her hearing impairment as an excuse to get rid of her.

The narrator is adult Patty who, while in the hospital after back surgery, believes she's landed in the very place that accepts her--the psych ward.

In order to convince the counselor by her bedside that she might be weird and not crazy, she divulges life in the Austen household. Unfortunately, for Patty, confession may be good for the soul, but lousy for talking her way out of the psych ward.

PSYCH WARD, a spotlight of my achievements, commercial fiction (99,000 words) is about a tight but dysfunctional family, adversity, and some crazy animals. Think "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" meets "Forrest Gump."

This novel reflects my own experiences growing up hearing impaired and has enabled me to write with authenticity about my protagonist. I've had numerous publications in various print and web magazines, including excerpts of my novel.

Thank you for your consideration.


PSYCH WARD, a spotlight of my achievements

Maybe it was our vehicles still in the driveway Sunday mornings, or our Southern accents, or my eleven-year-old brother Eddie digging in the trash and peeing in the hedges, or maybe it was our pigeon trapped in her hair, but the neighbor at our door had all the look and mannerisms of someone who wasn't here for a social visit.

"Get it off," was what she said when I opened the door.

I stared at her, better not approach it.

"The dirty bird." She flailed her arms. "Get it off."

Before I could make any moves in her direction, our dog Dorky bounded out of the house and jumped and ran circles around her as if she were playing keep away with the bird. Gerber flapped his wings for balance, peered below at Dorky, and did a pigeon equivalent of a ha-ha-you-can't-get-me squawk.

The lady squawked, too, and Dorky barked. And jumped. Gerber flapped his wings. The lady flapped her arms. The lady jumped, flapped, squawked, barked and ran in circles, and I thought it was funny and slapped my knee and laughed. The lady did not mimic any of my motions. What a letdown.

"Who is it, Patty?"

I didn't answer; I didn't want to interrupt the show. Mama came to the door exasperated and apologetic and shooed the bird away. Dorky ran off after it. The lady demanded to talk to our mother. Mama shook her head and sighed deeply.

"You're the mother?" the lady spat. "No wonder."


Nicole Steinhaus said...

T.S., What a great opening. I love the eleven-year-old peeing in the bushes and the complete chaos that ensues in just the first 250 words. I want to read more!

What confuses me, though, is in the query, you state that the narrator is "adult Patty," but in this opening scene she clearly is not adult. If it's a flashback, I'm not sure I'd start out that way. (Take this with a grain of salt, because I have no idea where your story goes, and how.) But I really do like this voice.

About the query: I would stay away from phrases like "in scenes" and "the narrator". Imagine your wording being more like you would see on the back of a book.

Hope this helps! Good luck!

Susan Fields said...

If the book is narrated by adult Patty, I think I would start the query that way - with Patty in the pysch ward trying to convince the counselor she's not crazy by telling her about her childhood. Then give us a brief overview of that childhood. I wasn't sure about calling her "Precocious Patty" at the beginning, that kind of threw me off right from the start and doesn't seem to add anything. This sounds like a fascinating story and I really enjoyed your sample - best of luck with this!

Elaine said...

I totally agree with Susan- I think the fact that "Precocious" has to be capitalized makes "Precocious Patty" seem like a nickname rather than just an adjective. The book I might compare it to (without actually having read yours) is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. It seems like exclamation points might be appropriate when the lady is flailing her arms. I like the title and the idea of pairing it with a subtitle, but based on what I've read, I'm not sure this is the best subtitle. Is Patty's well-earned spot in regular *schools* or regular *classrooms*?

But these are all very minor things. Great premise, great voice, great idea! I'd ask to read more if I were the mystery agent. :)

Krista V. said...

To be honest, I have no idea how to write a query for a frame novel, but I'm not sure that this is the best way to do it. I think I'd like to know the frame of the story - that Patty is currently an adult and that she's telling the story to her counselor in the psych ward - from the get-go.

As for the first page, both the voice and the scene drew me in. I did trip a little over the line "I stared at her, better not approach it," just because I thought those two thoughts would work better as separate sentences, but that's a really small thing. I'm already on Patty's side:)

Good luck with this! (Oh, and I probably ought to mention that I adore the title, especially "a spotlight of my achievements." It seems to match Patty's voice perfectly.)

The Agent said...

I'm more interested in Patty's age in your query, than in her title of "Precocious." In fact, I'd much prefer your showing me exactly how she is precocious than your telling me.

After reading your query, I'm left asking what the central conflict of your story is. Is it Patty's effort to reconcile herself with her family's weirdness, or her struggle to retain her place in school, or her attempt to convince the counselor that she is sane?

Also, you should list the names of the publications in which your work has appeared, if you'd like this credit to stand out in your bio. Let us know where we can find your work!

Your first paragraphs immediately draw me in with a hilarious episode, and while I am confused by the focus of your query, I would likely read a bit more to see how this opening scenario resolves itself.