Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Katie Shea,

From Krista Van Dolzer's blog (Mother. Write.) and the Donald Maass website, I learned you are seeking realistic YA, character-driven stories. The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is a 77,000 word, young adult, coming-of-age story with a rock-climbing female protagonist.

After a climbing accident in Ecuador, a sixteen-year-old uber-nature girl is forced to abandon her California mountain home to live with her grandparents in Detroit. Rock climbing meets Walk Two Moons in this story about love and loss, and discovering that home can be somewhere very different than where you started.

I have a master's degree in social work and over ten years experience working with children, teens, and families. I co-edit the SCBWI-MI newsletter and contribute to the YA Fusion blog with a group of YA authors. The Art of Holding On and Letting Go won first place in the 2011 Chicago North RWA Fire and Ice contest. The Hunger Mountain literary journal published my children's story, The Power of Butterflies, in April 2012. This story was a finalist for the 2011 Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing.

The first page of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is pasted below. I appreciate your time and consideration.



Part I: Ecuador

It was the second day of qualifying rounds, and I was up next.

My teammate, Becky, stood next to me. She had climbed earlier, but fell off a hold a few feet from the top.

“You’re lucky your parents aren’t here,” Becky said. “Mine are making me way nervous.”

“Just don’t look at them before you climb,” I said.

My parents never made me nervous, but there was something freeing about being here by myself, as a serious competitor, and not as the daughter of top mountaineers Mark and Lori Jenkins.

“At least your parents have a life,” Becky said. “My mother would never leave me alone in a foreign country.”

Mom hadn’t been comfortable leaving me either. We’d debated our plan for weeks, but in the end, I had insisted. Mom should go on the Chimborazo expedition with Dad and Uncle Max.

“I’m fine being here with Coach and our team,” I told Becky. “Besides, my parents will be back by the finals.”

“What if we don’t make it to finals?” Becky said.

I arched an eyebrow at her. I didn’t know about Becky, but I would make it to finals.

“Cara Jenkins,” the announcer called, “age sixteen, from California, the United States of America, los Estados Unidas.”

I stepped away from Becky, shaking off our conversation. I took a deep breath, twinkled my fingers, and scanned the route.


Rebecca said...

I feel like your query was so short, that I really didn't know much about your story from it. It would be helpful to name the characters and actually show the reader how Cara goes from rock climbing in California to living with her grandparents. What happens in Detroit? Does she like her grandparents? Does she meet interesting people while staying there? What happened that forced Cara to leave her home in the first place? I would assume that you're trying to keep the word count down for your query letter by shortening the paragraph about your story so you can keep the paragraph about all your writing credentials. In my opinion, I would rather read more about the story than your credentials. Perhaps just pick a few to keep. For example, "I have a master's degree in social work and over ten years experience working with children, teens, and families" is probably not necessary.
I did enjoy reading the first page and could already feel the world you created from those first 250 words. It sounds like it would be a good story, one I would definitely be willing to read. Also, I love the title!
Good luck!

Janelle said...

The writing in your 1st 250 is nice, clean, crisp & tension-filled with lots of great telling. There's also great characterization with the detail of Cara arching her eyebrow and thinking that she *knows* she's getting to finals. It sets up the fact that she's going to have the accident, but doesn't overdo it & give it away.

I agree, the query could use more meat about the story. It feels more like a log-line + credentials at present. This sentence--"Rock climbing meets Walk Two Moons in this story about love and loss, and discovering that home can be somewhere very different than where you started."--also really threw me structure-wise. It's a nitpick, but I would set up the preceding words as a list: "love, loss, and discovering..." I read it as a compound sentence with a wrong-tensed verb the first time.

Again, really admired the writing and would keep reading based on your first page.

Suzi said...

I would agree that you need more information about the actual story. Who is the love and what is the loss she is facing? I would also try cut down on the paragraph about yourself. With just a glance it seems as long as the story information--which is the important part of the query.

A rock climbing girl--cool.

Good luck.

Tess Sharpe said...

This seems more like a 35 word hook, rather than a query. The general rule I follow is 150-200 words for the summary. Who is this character? What does she want? What's standing in her way?

The writing in the excerpt is crisp and flows well, but I would hesitate in comparing a YA to WALK TWO MOONS (which is a brilliant book) but is pretty firmly in MG territory.

Escape Artist said...

Too much about you in the query. What's the story about? Okay we get that there's a move and rock climbing, but what happens in your story!
You need to tell us more. : )

Lori L. Clark said...

My comments are about the query, it's an interesting subject. I read a ton of YA and don't remember reading any about a rock-climbing female (or male for that matter) protag.

The nitpick I have is with the 2nd paragraph. "After a climbing accident in Ecuador, sixteen-year-old Cara Jenkins is forced..."

I had to read pretty far into your first 250 words to even figure out what the main character's name is.

You've got a great premise here, just add some meat to the query letter.

I do like the first 250 words of the story -- the key is just getting the agent to want to read that far.

It sounds like a great book!

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! You're right - I have a longer version of the story summary, but for whatever reason I went with more of an "elevator pitch" this time. But yes, I see, since this agent isn't requesting a synopsis yet, more story info in the query would be helpful.

Jodi R. said...

I agree with the comments about the creds being longer than the summary. I loved the sample, the voice and premise (what we know of it, anyway!). We learn a lot about Cara from that rasied eyebrow!

Good luck!

Jodi R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melinda said...

I agree with the others that we need more about the story in the query. Even if the agent is requesting a synopsis, I would still include more detail. The agent will read your query first and may not bother to read the longer synopsis if the query doesn't intrigue them.

The first page is mostly fine, but a little of the dialogue/back story about the parents felt forced to me. I would rather feel more of her tension/nervousness/excitement about the climb in this moment instead.

It's Estados Unidos, not Unidas.

I love the title, and think the rock-climbing angle is a great premise.

Susan said...

I haven't read the other comments, so I'm adding mine with the hopes they won't be too repetitive.

I really like the premise, but I think your query is lacking specifics. I need to know the character's name and a few more details about her and her conflict in order to be drawn in.

The first 250 has potential, but what it lacks is setting. It says at the top we are in Ecuador. Without that, I would not know.

So we've got a rock climbing competition in Ecuador. Those two facts alone make this a very exciting and exotic setting. But none of that comes through in this excerpt. You have the potential to use your setting to place us in the story right away and get us excited about being there.

Janelle said...

Wow, I was really tired yesterday. I meant there was great *showing*, not telling, in your 1st 250.

Janelle said...

Wow, I was really tired yesterday. I meant there was great *showing*, not telling, in your 1st 250.

Katie Shea said...

Rock-climbing female protagonist!? How cool! But you need to tell me more about this novel! What happens? What is the conflict? You are a good writer, but your query must have more depth to it. Also, wouldn't hurt to mention the main character's name in the query. It will make it more personable.