Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Agent,

Here is what Dexter Gallagher knows regarding firebirds--

1. They are mythical creatures, and therefore do not exist.
2. Because they do not exist, they can't set bullies’ hairs on fire (even when they deserve it).
3. They definitely do not turn into beautiful, affectionate girls at night.

So when a firebird follows him to school one day and proves all of the above, Dexter is terrified. And he’s in for another shock: his long-absent father’s a warrior from Faer (a land not-so-coincidentally known for rare firebirds) and he’s resurfaced to take custody now that his mother's passed away. And that means Dexter and his firebird are moving to a fairytale land of magic and (spoiled) princesses and witches.

But there’s a lot of things they don’t mention in the travel brochure. Like crazy seeresses, or wolves made of ice, or large amorous frogs. There’s an awful Snow Queen who needs the firebird to find Faer’s most powerful sword, and she’d kill to get her hands on both. And in between fending off ogres and icemaidens, and finding friendships and first loves in the oddest places, Dexter’s realizing you don’t need to be the hero stories say you should be, to fight for the things that matter most.

FIREKEEPER is a 69,000-word upper middle grade fantasy set in a cocktail of re-imagined fairytales. While I've neither successfully cast a magic spell nor rescued a princess from a very high tower, I've been mistaken enough times for a witch that I feel more than qualified to write stories involving them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The firebird sat atop an old-fashioned mailbox at Dharma Downs Lane. Rather than retreat to the safety of nearby trees and rooftops as any sensible animal would have done, it drew itself up, as regal as any queen, and waited for the shades to attack.

The shades in question were already closing in, and assuming frightening, monstrous shapes. Some took human form, with long sharp claws in place of hands. Others took on semblances of wolves and bears and strange winged creatures; black eyeless silhouettes with teeth.

The firebird chirped a warning, but the shades paid little heed. So it sighed--a resigned, I-really-did-warn-you-about-this-you-know sigh--and glowed. Its feathers, a variety of yellows and reds and oranges tipped with a subtle silver shimmer, flared. Its majestic tail fanned out like a vestal train, whipping at slow, concentrated intervals. Despite its bravado, it had a wide-eyed curiosity about it suggesting it had not been a firebird for very long and, if the shades had their way, would not be one for much longer.

The nearest shape reached out for the bird, claws extended and sharp. It was promptly engulfed in an angry red blaze.

For one brief second the firebird reared; smoldering, ardent, angry. In the next it shifted and lengthened, beak and wings giving way to limbs and legs.

Now a young girl crouched; comely, naked, and still angry. Feathered crown had given way to a spirited mess of hair that lashed around her body like coiled firelight.


Sharon Bayliss said...

Hi E.C.,

I enjoyed the voice in your query. And it sound like a cool story, the line about large amorous frogs made me smile. I'm like....what? :) I recommend adding Dexter's age to the query somewhere. The fact that he his firebird turns into a "beautiful, affectionate girl at night," makes me think that this might fit better as YA. If there is an important romantic component, it might fit better as YA than MG.

I had a little bit of trouble grasping the scene in the first 250 words. I think it was the "shapes". That was a little vague, I couldn't visualize what was going on very well. I'd love something more concrete.

Best of luck!!

-Sharon Bayliss

Kelley said...

I'm having an issue understanding what the conflict is from the query. You tell us that he's fighting for the things that matter most. What are they? Who are you fighting?

I like the start of your query. It's different and catches our attention.

I do really like your voice but I think you have to tell us what actually happens. The Three C's Conflict, Character and Choice.

The writing is really good for the first 250. I do wonder as Sharon does if it might be better suited for YA...

Good luck!

Tory Michaels said...

I actually have to disagree with the comments about not understanding where the conflict is. You could definitely highlight it a bit more, but to me it reads like Dexter's doing a coming of age thing, battling evil critters and trying to stop the Snow Queen from getting the firebird/taking the sword.

The problem, for me, is the entry. Are you writing from the perspective of the firebird? Is it an actual, sentient character over the course of the book?

I love your descriptions and it's great to start with a bit of action, but why is this scene there? Is the protagonist going to come on this scene and see the firebird?

I'd definitely read on a bit longer to see if/how you introduce Dexter.

Anonymous said...

I love the opening of the query with the 3 numbered statements. It is different and set a fun tone. Shouldn't the next sentence say "disproves" rather than "proves" though? I get that the conflict involves fighting to protect the firebird.
I was a little put off by the line,"a fairytale land of magic..." which sounded kind of cliched to me in contrast with the unique, creative tone elsewhere in the query and first 250. I like the phrase, "cocktail of re-imagined fairytales."
I love the "bio" at the end; very cute!
I found the first 250 intriguing; I love the image/character of the firebird. Beautiful. In the 3rd to last paragraph, is it supposed to say "shade" rather than "shape"?
I assumed that in this introductory chapter, the firebird is the MC, but that in subsequent chapters it will be Dexter. (?) The first 250 drew me in, more so than the query.
Like others, I'm wondering if this is more YA than middle grade, with the firebird transforming into a naked girl at the end. I think the writing has a more sophisticated tone than bulk of the query. But that's just my 2 cents, and I am NOT an agent.

The Agent said...

I love the opening of your query: it's funny, full of information, and makes me learn more about your story. Viewing your query and opening paragraphs together, though, I do have some concerns about your story.

The big question: How old is Dexter, and for what age group is this story intended? You say this story is "upper middle grade," but you start your query off with talk of "beautiful, affectionate girls at night" then go on to talk about "first love," and your opening paragraphs include details about "naked, comely" girls. There is a big (implied) disconnect here! Yes, middle grade novels can deal with issues of romance, but they tend to be of the sweeter, more innocent and awkward variety: hand-holding, first kisses, and the inevitable embarrassing stories that ensue. Your story is coming across as more of a young YA... and the differences in narrative voice between MG and YA are crucial.

Also, this is a minor quibble, but your second paragraph should probably open with: "So when a firebird follows him to school one day and disproves all of the above..."

My concerns aside, I would read on to see a little more of your world building and characters.

Hayley Sommers said...

I kept thinking of Harry Potter when I read this. Liked your descriptions and voice. Sounds like a fun read. I don't think you need "Even when they deserve it."
Bullies always deserve it.

Rin said...

Thanks for all the input, guys! Yeah, it should have been disproves - was too excited copying and pasting I might have deleted something when arranging the words on email.

The problem I had with YA versus upper MG was that everyone who read it when I stated is as MG suggested I should make it YA, and everyone who read it when I stated it as YA said I should make it MG instead.

So that was confusing for me - I decided in the end to just look at my MS, and I knew it was upper MG. There is a naked girl and crushes involved, but the romance doesn't go beyond the innocent, and the 'naked' aspect of the girl is used mostly for humorous effect. :)