Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Ms. Sarver,

I'm seeking representation for my contemporary YA ghost story, NO SUCH THING.

It’s easy to overlook an old house being reclaimed by the woods; it’s a common sight near Candor, North Carolina, where seventeen-year-old Virginia “Dare” Cleaster lives with her family. But on a sweaty summer night, Dare and her ex-boyfriend Bobby unintentionally wake something sinister that’s been dormant in the crumbling Waters residence for years, and it refuses to be ignored.

Dare doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the tragic spirit of Atheleen Waters appearing to her all over town quickly changes her mind. As Dare and her friends are drawn into the mystery surrounding Atheleen’s life and untimely death, it soon becomes clear that she isn’t a troubled apparition seeking closure. She’s a twisted killer driven mad by love, and death hasn’t made her the least bit remorseful for her crimes.

Now Dare must figure out how to lay her powerful spirit to rest before Atheleen can add to the body count she began over a hundred and fifty years ago.

NO SUCH THING is complete at 60,000 words. It’s a blend of Saundra Mitchell’s Shadowed Summer and Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, and will appeal to older teen readers who enjoy ghost stories.

Per the submission guidelines, the first 250 words of NO SUCH THING are below this letter. I’d be delighted to send you a partial excerpt or the full manuscript on request.

Thank you kindly for your time and consideration!

Best regards,


When I was little, I believed in everything. I thought aliens, Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, and even the cartoon mascots from cereal boxes were out in the world somewhere, driving cars and wearing suits to work like men I saw on TV.

I had a big imagination because I lived in a small town where most of the men I knew didn’t even own a suit.

The two men sharing a booth in the old café were as well-dressed as they came in Candor. Nothing too fancy, but at least they wore neatly pressed uniforms.

As I watched from behind the counter, wiping crumbs from the surface with my rag, the sheriff stared down at his untouched plate of bacon and eggs. He poked them with his fork as if expecting them to spring to life and attack him at any moment.

“Somethin’ wrong with your food, sir?” I said. My voice carried across the empty room. The sheriff and his deputy were pushing the limits of common courtesy by keeping us open past eleven-thirty on a Friday night.

“Huh?” Sheriff Thompson grunted, looking up.

I weaved between tables with practiced ease to reach their window-side booth in a flash.

“Look. I know the bacon’s probably too crisp for most folks’ taste. But if you don’t want it, I’ll eat it. Mr. Forrester’d be happy to make you somethin’ else.”

I gave them a smile and tugged my apron down. It stopped several inches above my knees, but it was still longer than the skimpy cutoffs I’d worn to my shift.


Lanette said...

Usually, we're supposed to start a query with a hook, but I like how you captured us with your voice and lead up to the hook. I also like the fact that this isn't the typical ghost story of the deceased seeking resolution.

The writing has a sense of calm before the storm. Even though you start with a bit of backstory, you immediately weave it into the current scene. There's no tension in this page, but you have a nice voice, and I would read on to see if it picks up.

Anonymous said...

I like the opening to this query. It gives a great sense of the setting, although I think the second sentence could be tightened a bit. I'm not sure you need "in the crumbling Waters residence for years" since you already set the scene for them to go into an old house. The phrase "being reclaimed by the woods" is a much stronger image.

I love that the ghost is out for death. I want to know more!

As for the first page, I like the opening, but the transition between the second and third paragraphs is a bit abrupt. The scene itself isn't too exciting at this point. I'm wondering why it's starting where it is, but I'd still read on to find out.

Good luck!

Guzin1 said...

Hi S.M.-

This is exactly the kind of story I gravitate to. It doesn't hurt that I grew up in a small NC town, either. I haven't read the two books you referenced in your query but I will.

Query: I would drop the first line and jump to the second paragraph. Other than that it really pulled me in. Right away I got a Anna Dressed in Blood feel and that's a good thing :-) I would definitely want to read pages.

250: Didn't disappoint. Love your voice and I had a sense the next 250 words were going to explain why the sheriff seemed so out of it.

Great job!

Anonymous said...

Dump the first line of the query and start right in with "It's easy to overlook..."

The rest of the query is nice and tight.

The excerpt: you're writing in first person, so be careful that the narrator voice is the same as the main character's.

In the dialogue I'm seeing a "small-town waitress" personality, so things like "pushing the bounds of common courtesy" and "weaved between tables with practiced ease" sound a bit off-key.

Nothing serious, just keep an eye on it. I know how hard it is to keep the author's personality and vocabulary from sneaking in on a first-person narrative.

Anonymous said...

I second the ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD feel -- as I read the query, that was the first thing that popped to mind. (And I LOVED that book!)

The only thing I'd mention is that the voice in the first 250 sounds a little old. The first 3 paragraphs are great, but then the way the descriptions are worded she starts sounding more like an adult than how a teen would sound. But that could just be me!

Good luck!

Entry #20

Elizabeth said...

Wow, what a fabulous twist..the ghost killer. Very awesome.

I agree with the others that you have a great voice, especially with her Southern accent. I liked how you captured the small-town feel by saying the sheriff and deputy should have left way earlier. So funny.

I had one confusion. You mentioned the two men in neatly pressed uniforms, and then you referenced the sheriff and his deputy. For a minute, I thought they were two different sets of people. :-)

I loved your beginning about how Dare believed in all the imaginary creatures of childhood and tied it right into the present. Nice.

I also agree it sounds a little older in places, but I have the same problem, so I understand how hard it can be.

Just a couple of extra things:
1- I think you could tighten the second paragraph of your query. In fact, you could start with the sentence, "On a sweaty summer night, Virginia "Dare" Cleaster and her ex-boyfriend Bobby unintentionally wake something sinister that’s been dormant in the crumbling Waters residence for years, and it refuses to be ignored."

Such a great line, and then you could weave in the details of location later on.

2- I would like to get just a sense right at the beginning of the story of the "ghostly atmosphere." Was there a reason the deputy and the sheriff were there so late at night? Is that unusual? Would she be worried about it? Just a small hint that something's going to happen that's out of the ordinary.

Really fabulous entry. I'd love to read more!

- E.D.
Entry #6

M H-L said...

I would definitely read on, especially because I love ghost stories and yours sounds promising. Your query is nicely written, as are your first 250. But I was confused by her tugging down her apron since she chose to wear skimpy cutoffs--conflicting message.

Jessica Peterson said...

Your query was certainly intriguing! I think you'd have more of a hook if you started with 'On a sweaty summer night...' I am curious as to why Dare is with her ex-boyfriend though. The rest of the query was great, you've really got me hooked. I want to know what happens in your book!

Your 250 left me with a few questions. I have to agree with some of the previous comments. There was a disconnect between the second and third paragraphs. It was such a jump, I almost felt like something had accidentally been erased. I also thought the two men in uniforms were a different couple of people and not the Sheriff and his deputy. And if I didn't know this was YA, I would have imagined Dare as an older, maybe even middle-aged woman, probably just because of the waitress stereotype paired with her language.

Otherwise, you've got my interest and I would read on for sure.

Best of luck!

Mim said...


I think you have got a nice tight query, with a great concept for the novel. There is a lot tension promised in the story, which is great.

In the first 250 I felt a little confused as we went from her thoughts to her suddenly appearing in the diner, maybe something happens to pull her attention back to her surroundings, so the reader doesn't feel jarred in the rush. Otherwise, I think it is nice tight writing, and I'd read on to find out what happened.

Good luck!

MC #24

Melissa Sarver said...

I think this is a great query - tight and specific. There wasn't a place where I stopped reading, just read straight from beginning to end and wanted to read pages. I know what the setting is, who the characters are, what the conflict is, and you've written it all with an element of suspense and intrigue.

The first 250 are close but could be tightened - I love the line about the men in her town not owning suits. That says it all. But the transition between that and the next paragraph is jarring because she's telling us about her childhood thoughts and then switches to two men sitting in a booth. Be careful with so many one-sentence paragraphs. After those first two you should break it up with something longer so story doesn't feel like it keeps stopping and starting.