Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Sarver,

Please consider representing my novel, THE ISLAND OF WORTHY BOYS.

Sleeping in alleys, rolling drunks, and counting on nobody--that’s how twelve-year-old Charles survives on the streets of 1889 Boston and he likes it just fine. Then Aidan shows up, an old schoolmate wanting to cut in on the profits. Not in million years. Except it turns out it’s h*** of a lot better picking pockets with a lookout, especially with one that becomes like the brother he never had.

But when they accidentally plunge a knife into the belly of a mark, they need to leave town on the double before they end up cuffed in the back of the paddy wagon.

They con their way into the Boston Farm School for Indigent Boys, only one mile out in the harbor but not a single copper on the whole island--the perfect place to hide. They pose as two orphaned brothers, Protestant just like the school likes ‘em. Charles misses the freedom of strolling the dirty Boston streets at midnight, but he’ll wake up with the roosters for chapel and fieldwork if it means keeping him and Aidan out of the Charles Street Jail. What he can’t abide is Aidan chumming around with the other boys, especially once that Irish one sniffs out the Irish Catholic in Aidan. Their orphaned Protestant brothers story, and their friendship, falls apart.

Then Boston’s Finest pay a visit to the island. When only Aidan is arrested, Charles has to decide if he will let his best friend face murder charges alone, or if he'll risk his own neck for his brother-in-crime.

THE ISLAND OF WORTHY BOYS is a 106K historical novel set at the real-life Boston Farm School for Indigent Boys on Thompson Island. It may appeal to readers who enjoy the young and indigent urban dwellers of Sarah Water’s Fingersmith and Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure.

Thank you for your consideration.

C.M.


THE ISLAND OF WORTHY BOYS

Charles Wheeler was very, very hungry.

This wasn’t the mosquito buzz of hunger that occupied most of his waking hours, his constant companion, as familiar as the one pair of pants he owned. It wasn’t the hunger that hit him like a boxing glove when he woke up in the morning, curled toward a damp alley wall, after dreaming of roasts with gravy and tarts with fruit fillings that ran between his fingers. No, this was the grinding, cramping hunger of a missed meal. Or what passed for a meal, which was anything edible he could steal or pay for with stolen coins.

A year ago, when he first started living on the streets, Charles could go for hours without thinking about food. When necessary, he could usually swipe a few apples off a cart, duck into an alley to eat them core and all, and feel full, so full that if another apple had rolled into the alley, he would have stored it in his pocket for later. But now his twelve year-old body was hungry all the time. It had grudgingly come to accept small, regular deliveries of food, but when the schedule was disrupted as it was today, his hunger blotted out everything.

9 comments:

Lanette said...

Your first paragraph of the query leads up to the story. While it establishes a good voice, we need to get to the story quicker.

I like the first page. You have done a great job establishing character, setting, and tension. I just ate, and I felt hungry reading the description of Charles's hunger. I would keep reading.

jdspero said...

I'm a Boston girl and I *love* this concept!

To streamline your query -
Perhaps include word count and genre in first line.
Also 1st para of query - How important is it that Charles hesitates to take a partner? Especially if they become good friends? The sooner you get to the 2nd para the better...

Something like:
Sleeping in alleys, rolling drunks, and counting on nobody--that’s how twelve-year-old Charles survives on the streets of 1889 Boston and he likes it just fine. But when he and his lookout, Aiden, accidentally plunge a knife into the belly of a mark, they need to run...before they end up cuffed in the back of a paddy wagon.

The next para could be tightened a bit. "The best place to hide? Thompson Island. They con their way..." something like that.

Personally, it was your last paragraph in your query that grabbed my interest most. I hope to read this book someday. Great job.

LeishaMaw said...

I love this concept. Your first 250 words grabbed me. Great job.

Your query needs to be tightened. I agree with jdspero's suggestions. Cut the the core issues more quickly and your query will sing.

I would also like to read this book someday.

dianelashdecker said...

I'm intrigued!! I like the query a lot - it made me want to read more which, for me, is a good sign since I more of a women's fiction reader. Great job.

Ravenous Rushing said...

You have a strong query and first page. There are a few grammatical issues that might clear things up a bit. I've put them and thoughts in (parenthesis)

Sleeping in alleys, rolling drunks, and counting on nobody--that’s how twelve-year-old Charles survives on the streets of 1889 Boston (COMMA) and he likes it just fine. Then Aidan (an old school mate) shows up, wanting to cut in on (his) profits. Not in million years. Except it turns out it’s (a) h*** of a lot better picking pockets with a lookout, especially with one that becomes like the brother he never had.

But when they accidentally plunge a knife into the belly of a mark, they need to leave town on the double before they end up cuffed in the back of the paddy wagon.

They con their way into the Boston Farm School for Indigent Boys, only one mile out in the harbor but not a single copper on the whole island--the perfect place to hide. (This sentence is REALLY long. I'd cur it in two) They pose as two orphaned brothers (PERIOD), Protestant (COMMA) just like the school likes ‘em. Charles misses the freedom of strolling the dirty Boston streets at midnight, but he’ll wake up with the roosters for chapel and fieldwork if it means keeping him and Aidan out of the Charles Street Jail. What he can’t abide is Aidan chumming around with the other boys, especially once that Irish one (This sentence tripped me up a bit. Instead of 'one' I think 'kid' would be a better fit) sniffs out the Irish Catholic in Aidan. Their orphaned Protestant brothers story, and their friendship, falls apart.

Then Boston’s Finest pay a visit to the island. When only Aidan is arrested, Charles has to decide if he will let his best friend face murder charges alone, or if he'll risk his own neck for his brother-in-crime.

I think the first sentence of your 250 would read better as two sentences, but that might just be me. I hope this helps.

Mike (post 26)

S.M. #12 said...

I'm not much of a historical fiction reader, but I am a fan of Sarah Waters' work, and the beautiful prose in your first 250 grabbed me and left me wanting to read more! Great writing!

As far as the query itself, I felt slightly bogged down by the amount of detail and plot. I had to go back and re-read a bit. That may be just me, though!

Anyway, you've got a compelling story here and the writing to back it up. Well done!

Judy DaPolito said...

I loved both the query and the first page, so I’m coming up with only minor criticisms and questions.

The synopsis of the book held my attention throughout, but if agents still want one-page queries it’s too long. If that rule is slipping away, you’re fine. I was pulled out of the summary by the use of asterisks in the second paragraph, though. Could you either write out the word or use a synonym? And you forgot the article before it. I was pulled out again in the last line of the synopsis when Aiden is referred to as Charles’s best friend because the previous paragraph said the friendship had fallen apart. And in your comp titles, you need to move the apostrophe in Sarah Waters to after the s. All easy fixes.

The first page held me all the way through, and I’d certainly keep reading. Hope you sell the book--I’d love to read it all.

Melissa Sarver said...

I'm a Boston girl so I love the references like the Charles Street Jail. The query needs to be much tighter, the story summed up in three sentences or so. As written, the story seems simple (two street boys lie to get into a private school and avoid the cops who are after them) and therefore for a much younger audience than I think you are intending. This seems like Middle Grade to me but your comp titles are adult. If this is adult historical fiction, the writing and the plot/conflict need to match that. I enjoyed the sample material - the build up of just what kind of hunger this boy is experiencing is very powerful.
I would not have requested the ms based on the query because it's unclear to me who the audience for this book is. Though the setting is setup are intriguing, the story doesn't feel compelling enough for me to want to read more.

Jessica Peterson said...

I think you've got an interesting concept. Your first line hooked me, but then I got to the part about picking pockets. For me, that hadn't been obvious right off the starts so you might want to clarify that earlier, maybe in your hook?

When I got to the part about stabbing someone, I was intrigued but as I read on, I kind of forgot about it until murder charges are mentioned later on. The paragraph about the school is what needs to be cleared up the most, for me.

Your 250 however, was excellent. I enjoyed it and because of that I would read on.

Best of luck! :)