Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Ms. Shea:

I am a published non-fiction author seeking representation for my novel, Sparrow Migrations, a braided narrative of five ordinary people transformed by an extraordinary event--the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash--and by each other.

This unpublished novel was a semi-finalist (top 1 percent) in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. In a review of contestant manuscripts, a Publishers Weekly reviewer said: “The plot lines are sophisticated, the characters intricately drawn, and the book has a remarkably strong voice.”

I’m querying you after discovering An Agent’s Inbox contest. I’ve spent the last year strengthening the manuscript, and am ready to try my luck again. I hope you’ll consider me as a client.

But first, consider the sparrow.

Robby Palmer certainly does. And the pigeons. And especially, the geese. Aboard a sightseeing ferry with his parents, Robby, a 12-year-old with autism, witnesses the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash and becomes obsessed with the birds blamed. His obsession provides a precarious perch from which he ventures, for the first time, beyond the bunker of his brain to form real-world relationships.

Consider the future.

Deborah DeWitt-Goldman ponders it constantly. Half of a power couple at Cornell, she and husband Christopher are trying to escape their infertility struggles when Flight 1549 plunges into the icy river. As they await rescue, Deborah most fears being denied motherhood. In fact, like the plane, all her life expectations are poised to splinter.

Consider the truth.

Brett Stevens is cowering before it. A preacher’s wife who’s hidden a secret for years, she’s aboard the ferry, too. Caught by a TV camera as her incredulous daughter Amanda watches at home in Pennsylvania, Brett must weigh the consequences of being true to herself against the risk of losing Amanda.

Straddling commercial and literary fiction, Sparrow Migrations is 78,000 words. Publishers Weekly called it “a book brimming with humanity and grace.”

A professional journalist for 20 years, I’ve published nonfiction (Road Biking Michigan: Globe-Pequot Press, 2005) and essays (Chicken Soup for the Wine Lovers Soul, 2007) and am the mother of a child with autism. You can find out more at

This is a simultaneous submission. You will find the first 250 words requested below. I’d be happy to send more pages. I look forward to hearing from you.



January 15, 2009

Robby stood on the deck at the very point of the ferry’s bow, chin resting on the rail, absorbing the steady low vibration of the engine. It was quiet out here, soothingly so. His parents were in the cabin, saying the 20-degree weather was too cold for them. Even though it was cold, Robby preferred the nearly empty deck to the warm cabin filled with jostling, oblivious people, talking loudly on their phones, talking to each other, talking, talking, talking. His parents had deliberately chosen midafternoon for this sightseeing excursion around the island of Manhattan, before the skyscrapers disgorged their thousands of commuters onto the outbound ferries. For a kid like Robby, unfamiliar places and surroundings threatened an inherently vulnerable comfort zone. It was better to go now.

His headphones helped, too. The giant kind that looked like earmuffs. Most kids he knew wore earbuds and wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair like his. But Robby didn’t care what others thought. When he picked them out at Radio Shack, his mom hesitated. “What about these?” she said, showing him a package of the little tiny white kind he saw around the necks of all the other kids at Charles A. Lindbergh Middle School.

They wore them around their necks because it was against the rules to listen to headphones during the school day. Robby differed that way, too, because he wasn’t actually listening to anything. He cut off the wires after opening the package.


Susan said...

At first glance, I thought the query seemed a bit long. But it is beautifully written, so you may get away with it. I especially love the repetition-- it has a rhythmic, poetic quality to it.

Robbin said...

I’m drawn to Robby Palmer and his innocence, his autism. The outside world doesn’t always understand autism, especially older children. Children can be cruel, which makes me want to root for Robby. The query has too many characters for me to follow. I’m not sure how they all relate to one another, but I’m intrigued by Robby. The scene opens up with Robby standing on the deck, while his parent stayed in the cabin. Right here is where I would stop reading. Why would Robby’s parents allow him to venture out of their sight? They don’t seem like responsible parents. Your writing credentials back-up your beautiful prose. Good luck!

Mary Vettel said...

I'm with Robbin on this. When I read that he was alone at the bow of the ferry and his parents inside I did a double-take. Maybe that's me being an overly protective parent, but it took me out of the story. I think the world was captivated by this miraculous Hudson landing, and that should bring you a lot of readers. I'd like to read more. Good luck.

Melinda said...

A few comments:

--Your first sentence says 'five ordinary people,' but you only describe three within the query. Are there two other POV characters that aren't mentioned here? Are they family members of these characters?

--I'd like to know more about Brett Stevens' secret. Compared to the other two, her paragraph is extremely vague. I'm thinking it might have something do with her being on the ferry that day, but this isn't clear.

--The query is a bit long, and I think you could at least cut out the third paragraph that mentions why you are querying, as this isn't really necessary.

--RadioShack is one word.

--I enjoyed the paragraph about the headphones/earmuffs, but overall this page didn't feel like the voice of an autistic child. Maybe it's meant to be more of an omniscient POV, which doesn't usually appeal to me. I'm curious enough to read a few more pages though.

Valerie said...

What an interesting and beautiful idea for a story! Your writing is smooth-- my only advice would be to move the second para and condense it into your bio para at the end, and cut the third altogether.

Robby is a strong character to open with--I was pulled in immediately. I would love to read more with him. I could immediately picture him standing on the ferry with those big headphones on!

I agree with the other commenters who requested you include all five characters in the query.

Good luck!

Cari said...

Thanks for the comments so far, all. The five characters are all mentioned by name - Robby, Deborah, Christopher (her husband), Brett and Amanda (her daughter). Christopher and Amanda don't get much detail, but they are POV characters. Robby is the protagonist with his own plot line, Deborah and Christopher share a second, and Brett/Amanda a third. Since it is a long query already, maybe I need to take out the "five" rather than try to flesh out Christopher and Amanda further?
Thanks again.

Write Life said...

Hi! I loved your writing sample!
Regarding your query, I thought there was too much off the top about you, and the past history of the novel itself. I don't think you should include details of strengthening the manuscript over the last year. It's not necessary.
It's been my experience that an agent wants to get to the story itself as quickly as possible.
Keep it brief.
Yours, although beautifully written, was too long in my opinion. Save the bits about the contest and comments until the end, and do choose one if you'd like to include a quote. Perhaps, two is too many! Good luck. It sounds lovely. I have had some experience with autistic children and their view of the world is an interesting explore. Wishing you the best. : )

MO Min Pin Rescue said...

Your credentials are there, and your writing is good. Your query could use some tightening up. Agents are busy and are interested in what the book is about not what other people have said about it.

Perhaps starting your query with a hook to get the attention of the agent. There's an awful lot of "stuff" to wade through to get to the meat of your query.

The only other thing about your writing itself is why is Robby being ignored by responsible parents?

Just my 2 cents and good luck!

Katie Shea said...

Something different in the query pile. The title is a little weak, but the plane crash is certainly something I can relate to. The first thing that worries me about this book is the structure, which is so important in non-fiction projects. Writing seems well done, but I must be blown away in order to see more.

Cari said...

Dear Katie - thanks for your thoughts. Wanted to confirm this is fiction. You told #12 you're keen to take a second look, so I'm going to try to blow you away now w/2 more grafs illuminating the relationship btwn 12-y-o Robby, the protagonist w/autism, and his mom:

Still on the ferry:
Robby felt the crowd of passengers press in behind him and his prime vantage point in the bow, cell phone cameras extended. Among them was his mother, Linda, her anxiety kindling as she tried to anticipate his reaction, eager to take up her position as a shield between Robby’s unpredictable temperament and the expectations around him.

But this time, Robby’s mother needn’t have feared. For some reason, this most unusual disruption of a floating airplane didn’t twist and kink the rope lines of routine that belayed Robby through the day. Instead, Robby mirrored the rest of the crowd, leaning over the deck, straining to better see the looming white nose of the plane, his eyes widening as passengers emerged, lining up on the wings, shivering in the cold air and cold water, arms wrapped around their life-jacketed chests, wondering if this was how it would end for them, there in the icy Hudson River, minutes from the New York shoreline.

Thanks again for your review.