Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #8

Dear Ms. Melissa Sarver:

Fifteen-year-old Marissa Martin dreads the day her telepathic powers develop...until Hurricane Katrina slams the coast and drowns New Orleans. Now stuck miles away from her dad who refused to evacuate, Marissa waits anxiously for him to contact her through telepathy. Just her luck, the only voice she finally hears crying for help isn’t his: it’s a woman who somehow knows her name.

Then to add to the crazy that has become her life, Marissa bumps into Jake. Not only does he have intense blue eyes that bore into her, but he’s also a telepath with a direct link to her dad’s thoughts--and to hers. Even though that terrifies her, she needs Jake to help rescue her dad. Together, they race back to New Orleans and the crushing reality of her post-Katrina home, a warzone they’ll be lucky to survive. They must dodge dangers Marissa never imagined while confronting the shocking discovery that her dad stayed behind to save her mother, the woman who walked out on them years ago. The same woman Marissa has been hearing in her head. Now, Marissa has to learn to trust the mother who abandoned her, the woman who couldn’t handle her own telepathic powers, before she loses both of her parents for good.

Complete at 72,000 words, CRAZY DEEP combines a real-world disaster with a bit of telepathic romance to create a unique contemporary story.

Originally from Louisiana, I now live in central Pennsylvania where I teach composition and American literature courses at Lycoming College. Writing has become my way of returning home through such publications as Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke (LSU Press, 2009) and a more recent article on post-Katrina New Orleans detective fiction published in Clues: A Journal of Detection. I am an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this submission. If you are interested, I would be delighted to send additional chapters for your perusal.

Sincerely,
M.H.-L.


CRAZY DEEP

Robert Frost was wrong. My world didn’t end in fire or in ice; it ended in water. It still covers streets, houses, the playground near my house. Even the massive oaks that line City Park are broken. Damaged, all of it. Lost in the muddy cesspool that taunts me on the TV screen as I sit safe in my aunt’s living room, hundreds of miles away.

“Eighty percent of New Orleans has been inundated with water since the levees broke four days ago,” the news anchor announces from his Atlanta newsroom. He’s perfected his disturbed look--eyes slightly crinkled, head bent a touch to the right.

The image on the screen shifts from him to the city that used to be home. The camera inches closer. Closer. I catch my breath, wait. It stops just short of Vicksburg, my street. But I no longer have to see it to make it real. That’s not why I lean in, hope for a glimpse of my house. As much as witnessing the damage leaves a hollow crater in my chest, none of it compares to the most important thing I’ve lost: Dad. He may still be in that house, the one standing in ten feet of stagnant water.

Panic squeezes my throat closed. Because even if I could go back there and look for him, “there” is gone.

7 comments:

tomalanbrosz said...

The first line is a good hook, but "dreads" and "develop" don't quite match tenses. Maybe "will develop?" The exact form depends on if this talent is something she already has that she doesn't like, or something she's waiting to get that she's "dreading."

I'm assuming she inherits this from her father.

Break up the query paragaphs into shorter chunks. "Now stuck miles away" can be a new paragraph, and the second paragraph could be broken into at least three. Agents like short paragaphs and lots of white space.

Your excerpt is good writing. When does the telepathy come into the story?

Rosalyn said...

I really love the 250 words here--the writing is smooth and pulls me in (esp. the reference to my favorite Frost poem!)

The query, to me, didn't feel quite as polished. Too much is going on in the second paragraph. I would streamline the different plot threads to just focus on the most important one (finding her dad). I also don't think you want to give away the mystery of the woman too soon, as this is part of what entices readers (and agents) to read on. Maybe you can simply say that she and Jake have to find her dad--and solve the mystery of the woman whose voice she hears.

One small question: why is she terrified of needing Jake to help find her dad? Because he can read her thoughts? Or because she finds him attractive?

Connie Mayo said...

It threw me a bit that there is a fantasy element here (telepathy) along with Hurricane Katrina. I guess I am used to fantasy elements being in unfamiliar/futuristic settings. But I think I could get used to that in the book after reading for a while.

In your first sentence, you seem to be indicating that Marissa's powers are due to arrive because she's at an age where that is supposed to happen in her telepathic family? (I'm thinking of the excellent movie Sky High!) But I had to stitch that together myself, and I wanted to know more about that before you proceed to Katrina.

I didn't like the phrase "the crazy that has become her life" for reasons I can't come up with right now. And there are some words that push toward melodrama - terrifies, shocking discovery, never imagined - I want to hear a little detail here rather than be told that there is some unimaginable bad stuff.

But on the positive side of the scale, great concept, love the title, and killer first two opening lines of the 250 words!

S.M. #12 said...

I absolutely loved your first 250. You pulled me in with that line about Robert Frost. The imagery (great use of the word 'cesspool'!) was so powerful.

And I can see how a fantasy element (Marissa's telepathy) would work so well with your beautiful writing.

The query itself felt a bit jumbled. With 'dreads the day her powers develop'...I wanted to understand how she knew she was going to get these powers. It was frustrating not to know. I also didn't get a very good understanding of who Jake was (aside from a telepath). Polish up this query a bit and you'll get your work noticed more easily!

Anyway, you have a wonderful concept and your writing is fantastic. I'd read this book. Good luck to you!

-S.M. #12

Jessica Peterson said...

I loved your query and I loved your 250. I felt your query was well-written, clear, and didn't leave me with any questions. The only part that bothered me was the very first line, due to the inconsistent tenses. Although I had no issues while reading it, I might have to agree with one of the comments that perhaps you might want to keep the part about the mother a secret for now.

Nonetheless, I think it was fantastic and I would love to read it.

Best of luck!

Riley Redgate said...

I want to read this. Very, very badly.

I realize this is not helpful, but there you go.

I guess I'd agree with the comments about streamlining the query's second paragraph. "Dangers she never imagined" and "shocking discovery" are a little unnecessary; I'd give details of the dangers and omit the discovery phrase entirely.

Other than that, this looks fantastic. Best of luck.

Riley

Melissa Sarver said...

Though I'm wary of the paranormal aspect of this ms, and the query could use some tightening (paragraph 2), I was curious to read the pages and they did not disappoint. Great first line, good pacing. You bring us right to the emotion of the situation and the anguish of the character without even knowing her - and without being over the top.

I think you could write a stronger first line for the query. The ellipses make for a weaker statement right out of the gate.

Comp titles?