Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Sarver:

Thank you for considering my 54K YA magical realism, PLAY FOR PANIC.

15-year-old Sami does not know her extraordinary piano skill stems from her belonging to a rare pedigree of elite artists…until she takes a magic potion to become good at something else.

Transplanted from NYC to Mom’s boring hometown, Sami goes to a new school where sports = popularity. Too bad Sami’s a music girl above all and a klutz overall. So she takes Aquamarine--a magical sports drink--to make the volleyball team. But when she sits behind the keys after acing the serve and spike, she discovers Aquamarine has obliterated her artistic skill.

Will she honor her bloodline and reclaim her music? Or will she continue taking Aquamarine and rule the school--winning more games, more friends, and more fun? The right choice is unclear, and could bring traumatic aftershocks to her family.

Turns out, Mom’s “boring” hometown is plagued by an ancient rivalry with a deadly past. After learning a shocking family secret, she realizes Mom had an ulterior motive for moving back home. How far back do the secrets go?

PLAY FOR PANIC stands alone, but with series potential. As a former high school teacher, I hope to inspire young readers to be themselves, fearlessly. My novel CATCHER’S KEEPER is now a quarter-finalist for the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Thank you so much for your time.



When Mom moved us from Manhattan--my heart’s pulse--to her tiny hometown of Whitehall, I promised myself that would be the last decision someone else made for me.

The dreaded day begins in a haze of grey stillness. Where’s my vibrant soundtrack of honking cabs and rumbling busses? As I force down some oatmeal, the squish thunders in my ears. The mountain breeze sings through the drafty window, while outside a lark chirps free-style jazz.

Mom skips into the kitchen in her flannel nightgown. “Oh, Sami! Your first day as a Railroader!”

There goes my appetite. After rinsing my bowl, I pull on my backpack--while Mom chirps on like that maddening lark. I endure it, but dig my heels in my black Uggs when she offers to walk me to the bus stop.

“Mom, I’ve been on public transportation since birth. Remember? I can find my way anywhere in NYC by subway. By myself.”

“Yes, sweetie. But you’ve never been on a school bus.”

This is true.

“I think I can handle the bus stop,” I say thickly.

But outside, confronted by cool air that smells like newly fallen leaves, I question whether I can handle anything about this town. Nothing makes sense. The corner where Dad told me to wait is just a sorry pad of crumbling cement. This is no bus stop. Where’s the bright signage? Where is everyone?

Then--a tap on my shoulder. I spin around, a gasp in my throat.


Lanette said...

I'm not sure what it is, but there seems to be something missing from your query. While I like the uniqueness of the plot, it seems a little thin. There might be so much more to your novel, but I don't see it until the last paragraph, which doesn't seem to connect well with the rest of the query.

The writing in your first page is solid, and you have a good voice. My only quibble is this is a fairly standard opening-- move, new school. I think if you find a more unique beginning, you will nail it because your voice and writing skills are strong.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about starting with the summary sentence in the query, but I think that's a matter of taste. And overall, I think the query needs to be tightened for clarity. After reading the whole thing, I get that she's an extraordinary pianist who takes a magic potion that makes her an athlete, but it needs to be clearer at the beginning:

Transplanted from NYC to Mom's boring hometown, 15-year-old Sami (last name?) discovers her piano skills are unappreciated at her new sports-crazy school.

Then magic is introduced like it's normal. How does she get a hold of this magic drink? How does she know what it will do? And if her family is all musical, why did they live in a town dedicated to sports?

Finally, the stakes are a bit confusing. I want to know what the rivalry is. Is it sports against music? That would be really intriguing. Since you don't say, it leaves the reader--or agent--to come up with their own ideas.

I think this premise has a lot of potential. I just want to understand it better.

I like the writing in the first page, although you might consider a word other than "skip" to describe her mom coming in. There's definitely tension in this first page and a good dose of teenage angst.

Good luck!

Carla Luna Cullen said...

I really like the premise here, although I was confused as to whether Sami's extraordinary piano skill was based on talent or magic. I would also caution against using phrases like "ancient rivalry," "deadly past" and "shocking family secret." These catchphrases are used so much in queries that they tend to lose their punch. Maybe you could focus on a few specifics.

For the first 250, I enjoyed Sami's voice and wanted to read more. However, I'll echo what Lanette said above: this is a very standard opening scene. Waking up, having breakfast, and getting ready for the first day of school are common, and some agents prefer first pages that start in a more unique way. Could she already be at school, or at least on the bus?

Anonymous said...

I'd start the query with the second paragraph ("Transplanted from...") which gets right into the meat of the story.

The "ancient rivalry" part seems tacked on, and I think it's possible to carry the query with just the main conflict--the choice between being a musician or an athletic star. A subplot (or two) is okay in the book itself.

I like the theme, since most people don't have choices on talents laid out for them as simply and bluntly as this.

Your opening sentence in your sample is good, and I like the second paragraph, which indicates a person who tends to think in terms of music and sounds. Not sure a "squish" can "thunder."

Watch for things like "thickly" and "a gasp in my throat," which lean to cliche.

Good ideas here!

Anonymous said...

My biggest note would be to cut ALL the rhetorical questions from your query. They don't add anything to it, and by changing them to a statement instead of a question, I think it could add some punch.

Overall, I love the voice here and the story is definitely intriguing! Good luck!

Entry #20

Jessica Peterson said...

I agree that starting your query at 'Transplanted from NYC...' would be a better hook, especially since the part about the magic potion comes up later. For me, I'm not sure what's so important about making the choice between music and sports. When you get into family secrets and mom's ulterior motive, that drew me in a bit more. I think the issue with the query is that it seems like there are two different issues. So is the story more about the sports/music dilemma, or the mom's background? I think if you chose to focus on one of these, the query would be stronger. That being said, it still sounds like an interesting concept.

I thoroughly enjoyed your 250!

Best of luck. :)

Melissa Sarver said...

It's a unique idea but the query left me a bit confused and underwhelmed. I'd skip the second paragraph altogether. I personally hate rhetorical questions so I'd recast those as statements that tell us what the central conflict is. How early on does she find out about the ancient rivalry? I hope very early in the story - the idea of her losing her musical talent because she drinks a sports beverage doesn't sound like enough to hang a novel on - especially YA (it feels younger).

In your first 250, the parents talk to her like she's a young child. I'd like their dialogue to be more believable and not as exclamatory. I love the description of Manhattan as her "heart's pulse." She says "The corner where Dad told me to wait" but there wasn't a dad in this scene and it was mom who told her where to wait for the bus. The last line came on abruptly and not so much in a suspense-building way. Maybe there's a more seamless way to work this into the prose.