Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #7

Dear Ms. Sarver,

Please consider representing my Young Adult historical adventure. BEYOND THE CASTLE WALLS is set in late twelfth century England and is complete at 71,000 words.

Fifteen-year-old Marguerite de Courcy believes she is her parents' only daughter, but when her father is murdered her mother reveals the existence of Marguerite's twin, Marie. Torn between pity for the sister who was exiled from her family and jealousy of the stranger who may usurp her place, she rides to Canterbury to bring Marie home. But Marie isn't there. Marguerite must follow her to London, and the perils of the road increase when she discovers she's being hunted by her former betrothed, the Earl of Felgor, the man whose treachery caused her father's death.

I took courses in medieval language, literature, and history at Indiana University. A grant from Culture Works, a local arts agency, allowed me to visit Canterbury and London a few years ago. I'm an active member of SCBWI and a reviewer for childrenslit.com, a subscription website for teachers and librarians. My story "The Fairy Godmother's Trial" appeared online in the September 2011 issue of Enchanted Conversation and a medieval story, "John's Bluff," took eighth place in the Children's and Young Adult category of the 2011 Writer's Digest competition.

Many thanks for your time and consideration. I love Jessa's voice in INSTRUCTIONS FOR A BROKEN HEART and the intriguing concept and fine detail of THE LOST GIRL. I'm enclosing the first 250 words of my novel, and I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,
J.D.


BEYOND THE CASTLE WALLS

Silburn Castle, Kent
July 26, 1199

Marguerite de Courcy pressed her forehead against the trunk of the tallest apple tree and beat her fists against the bark. I am not ready. I’ll never be ready.

All too soon her father and her brother Hugh would ride back from the siege of Winham Castle. With them would ride Robert Severin, Earl of Felgor. And when he arrived, her freedom would end forever.

From the top of the tree she’d be able to see if he was coming. She pulled off her shoes, her stockings, and the gauzy veil that covered her long, red-gold braid. The last time she’d climbed, she’d torn her stockings on a dead twig and suffered Hertha’s fury.

She hitched up her skirts and tied them with the silk cord that circled her waist. If only all she need worry about was the housekeeper’s anger. Being married to Earl Robert would be torment of a far worse kind.

She caught hold of the lowest limb with both hands. The familiar feel of rough bark between her fingers spurred her on, and she wedged her bare right foot into the space between trunk and limb. From there she climbed, making sure to keep her skirts away from ragged wood, moving easily from branch to branch till she reached the last one she trusted to hold her weight.

The sun shone high above, illuminating the western road before it wound up a hill and lost itself in the distant forest.

8 comments:

Jenna Lehne said...

I think the synopsis portion of your query is a little too short - your bio is just about as long.

I'd like to know why Marguerite keeps looking for Marie after London. If she was just doing it out of pity's sake, couldn't the initial search be enough to satisfy her? I want to know why she decides to keep searching.

The Earl of Felgor made me perk up my ears (or eyes). Could you expand on his treachery? How did he cause her father's death? Is he an expert tracker, and that's how he's finding her so far from home?

The writing sample paints a vivid picture - I could see her climbing the tree in my head. I'm not a historical buff, but if I knew more about the plot I'd probably keep reading :)

Good Luck!

JL
#29

Laura Edwards said...

Excellent query. Concise and to the point. Also, love the plot. I would request this in a heartbeat.

Carla Luna Cullen said...

I love historical fiction, so you've got me hooked right there. However, I'd like to see a little more detail in the synopsis part of your query. How would Marie usurp Marguerite's place? Why does Marguerite feel the need to follow Marie to London? Does Marguerite have a specific goal/desire, other than trying to find her sister?

Your bio is very impressive. For the last paragraph of the query, with your comp titles, I'd suggest including an example of YA historical fiction, or even YA fantasy set in a medieval time period, to give me an idea of other books like yours that are already out there.

Amy W said...

This query is tight and sharp. I am impressed that you have visited the very places that you have written about. Your bio is well-written and to the point. Nice job!

#19 A.W.

Connie Mayo said...

I'm an HF fan so I just had to jump in here. I agree with previous posters about the proportion between the story description and the bio. I also was a little confused about your mention of the two books in the last para. You love elements of those books, but you don't actually connect them to your books. Is your book like those books? If so, I think you should be more direct - usually done something like "my novel may appeal to readers of XXXX".

In terms of the story description, I want to know more about Marie - she is intriguing to me but all I know is that she isn't in Caterbury (and so how does Marguerite know to go to London?). It seems like you have described an interesting setup but stop describing before some really interesting stuff starts happening.

Good luck, fellow HF-er!

Jessica Peterson said...

I was surprised by how short your query seemed. I kept reading, expecting more, but then it jumped right into your bio. With your query, I didn't feel like you'd laid out the stakes. I have an idea of what the story is about but I was left wanting more in order to make a decision about it. Also, I had to reread the line where you mentioned the books you enjoy. I felt this was a bit odd thrown in there as it's usually a comparison.

Your 250 was excellent! Your writing is very strong and I enjoyed it. I would definitely keep reading.

Best of luck! :)

Elizabeth said...

I'm a fan of smooth, beautiful writing, and you definitely have it here! I also love the promise of mystery.

I like that your query focuses on the main plotline without meandering all over the country, so to speak.

I agree with the other commenters:
1- Why does Marguerite feel compelled to pursue Marie? Why were they separated at birth? Is Marie in danger? I think knowing a bit more about Marie and why Marguerite would risk a dangerous journey to find her would help me care more about the story. I think answering these questions at least a little would help lengthen your query.

2-Why did she break off her engagement? He sounds like a major creep, but weren't betrothals almost as big as the actual marriage ceremony back then?

3- What was Marguerite's "place," and how would Marie usurp it? Is she royalty, and Marie the older twin?

Again, I think it's a simple matter of adding a few details to know more about the background in the query letter, and we'll be drawn in.

I'd want to read more! :-)

E.D.
Post #6

Melissa Sarver said...

I love how concise and tight your query is. It's a bit confusing when you say when she got there Marie wasn't there and then she "must follow her to London"??? Unclear that Marie was heading to London (and why?) Feels like Marguerite is spending the whole novel riding all around England looking for her sister. (is she?)

The major piece your query is missing and I HOPE your novel isn't missing is romance/love interest. Historical fiction can be tough in the YA market, especially when it doesn't include magical realism, so it must include love interest.

Your opening material is nicely paced and well written. I'd personally like the tone to be a bit darker, the descriptions richer, in order to truly be for the older audience and not Middle Grade. But I'm interested in reading more and it's a very nice start.