Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Ms. Sarver,

After being captured during a brutal raid, the future wavers tenuously before Britta Magnusson. Thrust into the midst of an unfamiliar world, she must rely on her stubborn will to survive.

The novel THE LAND OF MANY WATERS (89,300 words) is a story of survival and acceptance set in the 1860s when tensions run high between the native people and newly arrived settlers. After a harrowing raid in which her family members are killed, Britta finds herself at the mercy of a Dakota warrior named Ohitekah Chayton. The longer she remains unharmed, the stronger her will to survive becomes and she slowly learns to accept her place amongst the native tribe. Yet will all of the Dakota people accept an outsider as one of their own? And can Britta ever replace the wife Ohitekah Chayton lost to the white man's sickness?

THE LAND OF MANY WATERS tells the story of a woman who learns to stand up for herself and stay true to her heart, no matter the opinion of a majority of her peers. After perusing your agency's website and reading a few interviews online, I thought you might be interested in a story of women's fiction placed in an historical setting. You also stated you "love anything that teaches about anohter place and time through the lens of the character", something I feel my novel accomplishes. My story takes a sympathetic view of the plight suffered by Native Americans during westward expansion. Most human experiences are not a simple matter of "black and white". Many shades of gray color any man's existence, such as Ohitekah Chayton. A complexity Britta learns to understand and respect. Subtle shifts in language help reveal the changing of a biased mindset and the customs of a world lost are embraced by an outsider.

I graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College-Chicago where my major was Fiction Writing. I was employed for a time as sports reporter for Star Publications in Chicago's south suburbs where I covered high school basketball, baseball and softball on a strict deadline. I am currently working on my next novel.

I have added the first 250 words of the novel below as per the contest guidelines. Please let me know if you would like me to send a detailed synopsis and/or any chapters. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
L.S.E.


THE LAND OF MANY WATERS

The cloudless sky stretched endlessly toward the horizon and it seemed as if a thousand ships might easily glide along the smooth, blue surface. Britta Magnusson paused uncharacteristically in her chore and stared longingly, the two heavy buckets of fresh milk nearly ripping her shoulder joints from the sockets. She was remembering her own journey aboard ship. The sailing had been anything but smooth and the sea water had certainly not sparkled in hues of such a heavenly blue, but a longing persisted just the same. Shaking the momentary nonsense from her head, she resumed at a weary trudge toward the farmhouse skillfully constructed of sturdy timbers.

Beyond, and to all sides, stretched the green-gold waves of the field. The healthy crop of corn undulated in the early morning breeze, reminding Britta yet again of her voyage to America ten years ago.

The memory was more than bittersweet since she still longed for the Swedish landscape, the patchwork quilt of wheat and yellow-flowered rapeseed fields. She yearned for the gently rolling hillsides of the Magnusson farm and the mild climate which made snow a rare treat in winter unlike the windblown blizzards which were the norm for the Minnesotan plains. Neither did her former home at the southernmost tip of Sweden endure the sweltering heat of mid-summer. A heat she now toiled in under the August sky. Wanting to wipe her perspiring brow, Britta was forced to refrain since she had no free hands and she continued to daydream about days gone by.

7 comments:

Lanette said...

Hey crit partner!

Your story is an interesting one, but you're not showing much of the plot in the query. You've focused too much on theme. Having read your novel, I know that while theme is beautifully woven through it, the story is told well through the eyes and actions of Britta. That needs to be shown more in your query.

The first 250 words really showcase your writing. The details put us right there with Britta, and we get a sense of her character.

Guzin1 said...

Hi L.S.E.-

Query: I'm not sure I'm getting a true sense of your novel from this query. It's too wordy and the hook (woman settler taken by warrior) gets lost in your description. Instead of telling us what about the sympathetic plight of the Native Americans or the grayness of human experiences (both of which most would agree with anyway) why not show us through the conflict Britta faces, etc. I think you've got a great story to tell but it's not really shining through on your query.
Also, I saw a typo in your Sarver quote.

250: I know this is a personal thing but I find it hard to get started on a book that begins with a lot of description or recalled memories or days gone by. It doesn't feel like she's doing anything. I need conflict and angst or some tenseness to keep me in the pages. I'm sure it's coming (brutal raid) but I like a sense of foreboding.

Again...that's just me. Good luck!

Guzin

Riley Redgate said...

Hey there!

Here are my thoughts:

------

After being captured during a brutal raid I need more detail here so we can set the scene. What type of raid?, the future wavers tenuously before Britta Magnusson. Thrust into the midst of an unfamiliar world pretty vague description -- it'd be helped if we already knew when/where we were, but we don't have that luxury. Make sure to set the scene before falling back on this type of loose description she must rely on her stubborn will to survive.

The novel THE LAND OF MANY WATERS (89,300 words) is a story of survival and acceptance cut set in the 1860s when tensions run high between the native people of where? and newly arrived settlers. After a harrowing raid in which her family members are killed, Britta finds herself at the mercy of a Dakota warrior named Ohitekah Chayton. This is where your query should start. This is the information we need. The longer she remains unharmed, the stronger her will to survive becomes and she slowly learns to accept her place amongst the native tribe. Yet will all of the Dakota people accept an outsider as one of their own? And can Britta ever replace the wife Ohitekah Chayton lost to the white man's sickness? Not a fan of rhetorical questions. There's always the danger that someone can come up with sassy answers to them in their head. Besides, if you phrase these differently, you can set them more solidly as plot points, and hopefully expand on them -- because right now I'm not getting enough story out of this. And this is the part of your query that is really "query material" -- the meat, the plot, whatever you want to call it.

THE LAND OF MANY WATERS tells the story of a woman who learns to stand up for herself and stay true to her heart, no matter the opinion of a majority of her peers. After perusing your agency's website and reading a few interviews online, I thought you might be interested in a story of women's fiction placed in an historical setting. You also stated you "love anything that teaches about anohter place and time through the lens of the character", something I feel my novel accomplishes. My story takes a sympathetic view of the plight suffered by Native Americans during westward expansion. Most human experiences are not a simple matter of "black and white". Many shades of gray color any man's existence, such as Ohitekah Chayton. A complexity Britta learns to understand and respect. Subtle shifts in language help reveal the changing of a biased mindset and the customs of a world lost are embraced by an outsider. I would cut this entire paragraph. It's all tell, and when you have 250 words to catch someone's attention, you need to be all show.

I graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College-Chicago where my major was Fiction Writing. I was employed for a time as sports reporter for Star Publications in Chicago's south suburbs where I covered high school basketball, baseball and softball on a strict deadline. I am currently working on my next novel. cut this, too; none of it is relevant to this particular book.

I have added the first 250 words of the novel below as per the contest guidelines. Please let me know if you would like me to send a detailed synopsis and/or any chapters. cut Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
L.S.E.

Riley Redgate said...


THE LAND OF MANY WATERS

The cloudless sky stretched endlessly toward the horizon and it seemed as if a thousand ships might easily glide along the smooth, blue surface. Britta Magnusson paused uncharacteristically this is a jarring adverb to have in your first paragraph of ... well, characterization. I'd cut it, because if this is an uncharacteristic action, we should learn that soon through how she acts and what her interior thoughts sound like. in her chore and stared longingly, the two heavy buckets of fresh milk nearly ripping her shoulder joints from the sockets. She was remembering her own journey aboard ship. The sailing had been anything but smooth and the sea water had certainly not sparkled in hues of such a heavenly blue, but a longing persisted just the same. Shaking the momentary nonsense from her head, she resumed at a weary trudge toward the farmhouse skillfully constructed of sturdy timbers this strikes me as a POV break. Is this really something she'd think about a place she's familiar with?.

Beyond, and to all sides, stretched the green-gold waves of the field. The healthy crop of corn undulated in the early morning breeze, reminding Britta yet again of her voyage to America ten years ago.

The memory was more than bittersweet since she still longed for the Swedish landscape, the patchwork quilt of wheat and yellow-flowered rapeseed fields. She yearned for the gently rolling hillsides of the Magnusson farm and the mild climate which made snow a rare treat in winter cut unlike the windblown blizzards which were the norm for the Minnesotan plains. Neither did her former home at the southernmost tip of Sweden endure the sweltering heat of mid-summer.I'd join this to the next sentence with a comma A heat she now toiled in under the August sky. Wanting to wipe her perspiring brow, Britta was forced to refrain since she had no free hands and she continued to daydream about days gone by. The phrasing here -- through most of the excerpt, but especially here -- feels relatively stiff and expository. Right now it just feels like you're telling us various facts about her, which creates distance for the reader.

You've got a lovely turn of phrase, but I think you could really dig us deeper into your character's emotions if you took out the passivity and narrative distance in the excerpt. The query, I think, just needs reworking in general -- I'd take a look at QueryShark and some other query sites to see how plot-based and to the point a successful query typically is.

Very best of luck,
Riley

Jessica Peterson said...

I have to agree that your query left me wanting more. When you got into the third paragraph, I got a better sense of what your story is about. If you could convert this information into showing instead of telling, I think it would make a huge difference.

Your 250 were beautifully written but they didn't really draw me in. I couldn't really get a feel for what the story was about or where it was going. And when I ran across the word 'uncharacteristically', it kind of made me pause. I agree with the post above that I'd rather learn this through her actions later.

Best of luck!

Katrina S. Forest said...

The first paragraph of your query reads a bit generic for me. I feel like it could apply to anything -- historical, fantasy, even science fiction. I like the idea of starting with your mc's specific problem. What is her place in the tribe, exactly? Does she want to leave or would she rather stay? I'm unclear on her goal.

I think your query also spends a little too much space praising the story. IMO, one sentence to state why your novel matches an agent's specific interests is sufficient. After that, you can move onto your qualifications and actually combine the last three paragraphs of the query into one. The line, "Please let me know if you would like me to send a detailed synopsis and/or any chapters," also seems unnecessary. You obviously are willing to send those things or you wouldn't be here. :)

On the first 250 words, I think you could start with something more exciting than her staring at the horizon and reminiscing. She doesn't have to have a blade at her throat, but she should have a problem of some kind. Maybe the cows aren't doing well, or she has an argument with a friend, something like that. Just my thoughts. Best of luck!

Melissa Sarver said...

Perhaps because I've been reading so many YA queries here, the beginning of your query felt like you were pitching a dystopian or fantasy YA novel! I really enjoyed the opening 250 you included but the query didn't tell me enough about the story. It told me what you hoped and thought your novel had accomplished and why you wrote it. You need to tell me right away that this is a work of historical fiction about. I had to read the first sentence of your query three times to understand its meaning. This statement - "is a story of survival and acceptance set in the 1860s when tensions run high between the native people and newly arrived settlers" - is too vague and talking around the story instead of giving me the details of your story. Also, you state twice that the protagonist was captured in a raid. I didn't feel overall that this query pitched the novel you've written. Think about your proposed audience and try and use comp titles or authors for your work.