Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #19

Dear Ms. Melissa Sarver,

My blind date at age sixteen didn’t have to tell me I was ugly. His silent action of massive distance between our two bodies as we walked into the restaurant screamed he was embarrassed to be paired together. During dinner when he moved to a different table to sit alone rather than next to me, I had a choice to make. To believe I was ugly. Or rise with courage.
Ms. Sarver, I would be honored to have your representation for my issue-based book, WHITE BEES. Written like a novel, WHITE BEES is a 97,000-word young adult memoir.
WHITE BEES braids together the emotional complications of bearing a bilateral cleft palate, the medical attention needed to correct it, and the optimism vital to climbing above it. This is a story about scars and how to wear them. Opening on my first day of high school, WHITE BEES--a title derived from observing the flight of snowfall--taps into the universal theme of searching for inner beauty, despite the conflict of a world overrun with the ideal of perfection.

WHITE BEES parallels my life growing up and the life of my protective older sister, Jeannie. I endure being bullied, the sting of prank calls, and multiple surgeries. Jeannie dates, models, and competes in pageants. I hide my private conflict deep inside, where all my dark days are held in quiet reserve waiting for freedom--and the pain is worth it for the Junior Prom fairy tale ending that comes at the age of seventeen, just before a late winter storm.
My publications include over fifty articles for Deseret News,, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Box Elder News Journal. Deseret Digital Media presented me with an award for excellence in writing regarding my contributions. I am a frequent motivational speaker to youth groups on the topics of overcoming challenges and the power of one positive person to change the course of a life for good.

Thank you, Ms. Sarver, for your valuable time and consideration of my memoir, WHITE BEES. I look forward to hearing from you.
My mother has loved me from the very start.
She has only ever seen me the way God does, and that has never changed. I must have felt her faith as she took me in her arms the day I was born and looked upon my tangled face and into my new, blue eyes with courage and complete understanding--knowing the road ahead would be laced with trials and mixed with grace.
Above my basement bedroom, I heard Mom opening and shutting cupboard doors, the weight of her feet flexing the creaky floor in the rhythm of a new morning. I turned my head and inhaled the worn scent of my blue pillowcase, a faint blend of hairspray and salt water. My first day of high school wasn’t supposed to start this way--the same way all of my other school years had started. I tucked the warm blankets beneath my chin and wondered how I would fit in with the thousand new students I was about to meet. The boys would undoubtedly look at me, turn away, and think, Oh! That girl’s face! What’s wrong with her? My chances of feeling accepted and finding dates would vanish as first impressions materialized, and instead, I would be left with a familiar feeling of rejection. I pulled my right leg to my chest and hugged my knee, then dropped my hand to trace the inch-long scar on my ankle from an IV I’d had as a new baby.


dianelashdecker said...

Wow....amazing story. i might like it better if it was written as a memoir instead of fiction. I was drawn in right away with sympathy and respect.

Ru said...

I think this topic sounds really interesting, but I'm left a little confused by your query.

"Ms. Sarver, I would be honored to have your representation for my issue-based book, WHITE BEES. Written like a novel, WHITE BEES is a 97,000-word young adult memoir."

I kind of don't know what this means. I assumed it was a memoir when you started the first paragraph with a story about yourself, so is the manuscript written like a memoir (clearly about you), or is it written like a novel (about a fictional character, but you drew from your own experiences for the inspiration)? If the first, clarify. If the second, I'd take out the first paragraph and make the whole query sound like fiction.

Hope that makes sense :)

Anonymous said...

Hi A.W. Your story sounds so good and I hope there is a future audience for it. Like the above posters- I was confused about the genre. Is this a memoir or a novel? I think it'd be stronger as a memoir and it seems to be so through your first 250 as well. Nevertheless, good luck with this!

Entry #29

Jernae Kowallis said...

I echo the previous comments to this. But, I wouldn't say I'm confused. I understand what you mean when you say it's a memoir written like a novel. However, memoirs are traditionally written in a story-type format, so the explanation that it's "written like a novel" isn't necessary.

Although the "hook" is extremely intriguing, I'm not sure it sums up the novel - which is what hooks should do. You present a problem, but not the center problem of the memoir - which is, YOU had to find beauty in yourself. So, close, but not quite.

The setup following the hook, should also focus on the main "character" or YOU, and your world (ie, your relationship with Jeannie, how you felt about yourself as a child -- maybe you never realized your physical appearance until HS, the love you got from Aunt Cheryl) which you touch on a little more in the second section of the setup.

NOW, the conflict needs to be stated, and the consequence. Now, this is kind of a basic format for Fiction queries. And I feel you sort of have some of these things stated in here, but we barely hear about the "consequence" or "resolution."

I would also say that the title only needs to be stated once or twice - not to be overstated, as if to say, "please don't forget my name!"

That being said, I'm sure it sounds almost negative, but it's NOT! I think that the goal of this memoir is perfect for this day in age where every girl looks at herself and sees the one thing that makes her imperfect, ugly, and undesirable. And with the media shoving early sexuality down their throats, this is the type of story that needs to be told - how to find beauty from within, and realize it ourselves.

Jessica Peterson said...

Jemae said it perfectly. This is the type of story we need for young ladies under the strong influence of the media.

I'm not sure if the query rules are different for a memoir, but I felt like I wanted more paragraphs like the first. I think if you style the rest of your query 'like a novel' it will be more captivating. I was also kind of thrown off by how many times you mentioned the title.

Your 250 was good but didn't have me hooked as much as your query did. If you could inject a bit more tension, I think you'd have a homerun for sure. Otherwise, your writing is beautiful! Best of luck!

jackie bey said...

Great concept! I think inspiring the younger generation, specifically young women, is crucial in changing the perception of what defines beauty. I also think the title is really cool.

Misti said...

In an image conscious world, your story must be shared with the countless women and teens that struggle to navigate within a world demanding impossible standards for inner and outer beauty. Many voices from this new generation are speaking out, letting it be known they will no longer accept air-brushed, starved, and shallow stand-ins as a representation of the beauty of women. Your memoir should proudly join this cause.

Melissa Sarver said...

I wasn't confused by what you are writing - a memoir - but like someone said above, you don't need to say "written like a novel." Also confusing to say "my issue-based book" which does imply you've written a novel. I'm also not sure "YA memoir" is a category. You can just say you are writing a memoir that will appeal to teenage and adult readers alike - and name some good comp titles or authors. (not sure if WONDER would be a good comp - similar subject matter but a Middle Grade novel...could use it but also come up with some memoir comps. Maybe Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy? )
Your opening line to your query is powerful but I don't think you need quite so many lines to follow - just one powerful. The following paragraphs can be condensed into one. You've presented the setup and your internal conflicts and struggles clearly with good specific examples. Is there one major event that acts as the climax of the memoir? Does it end on a hopeful note? What can readers take away from reading your story? The query needs some kind of conclusion or indication of what the payoff is.
I love the first line of your 250... but I would delete the second paragraph and go straight into the present scene of your mom upstairs and your worry about starting high school.
Yours is a powerful story; if written well and if you work on growing your platform this could find a home in the marketplace. Memoir is a very glutted area of the market so it must stand out in all ways.