Thursday, May 30, 2013

Agent-Author Chat: Marietta Zacker and Kristin Rae

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but this installment of “Agent-Author Chat,” which features agent Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt Literary Agency and author Kristin Rae, was worth the wait. I’m so thrilled to share the story of how they came to work together.

Ms. Rae’s answers will appear in orange, Ms. Zacker’s in blue. I also asked Ms. Rae to share the exact responses she entered in Ms. Zacker’s query form, since I figured those would be helpful for those of you who are gearing up to query Ms. Zacker. Those responses are directly below, and then the interview itself is below that. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself: A sociology major from Texas A&M University, I started writing my first novel during my graduation ceremony and realized too late I may have studied the wrong thing. I’m from Houston, Texas, and travel as often as I can afford. This story was inspired by my own trip to Italy. I'm an active member of SCBWI.

Why did you choose to submit to us? Your client list is amazing--I've been following Hilary Wagner's blog since before her first book came out, and I adore her.

Title of manuscript: IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN

Genre/Age group: YA Contemporary

Word count: 80,000

Sum up your manuscript in no more than three sentences: When seventeen-year-old Pippa Preston ditches her summer art program abroad, she sets out on her own in hopes of falling in love with an Italian, but the road to amore gets detoured when she's torn between a sexy local and a hunky American archaeology student. As she explores the famous cities of Rome and Pompeii, Pippa must sort out her feelings before her parents figure out where she really is, ending her short-lived dream of independence.

What would your main character say to us on behalf of your work? "When in Rome..."

KV: Ms. Rae, how did you first come up with the idea for IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN?

KR: When my husband and I went to Italy with friends in 2009, I knew it would make a great setting. But it wasn’t until 2011 after I read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins that real inspiration struck. I thought, what if Anna ditched the school and did her own thing instead? In ITALY? And I like summer books, so setting most of the story in the seaside villages of Cinque Terre (my favorite place I’ve ever been) was a no-brainer.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

KR: I didn’t write the query until my manuscript was in the revision stage and I really believed I had something that might go somewhere. I wrote a couple drafts of the story blurb part on my own before I sent it to my critique partners to tear to shreds (which they did), and worked in their suggestions with each round of tweaking. There must have been over twenty versions of it before I had one I was relatively pleased with.

I won a query critique from a published author in a blog contest and she was the one who helped me structure it. Her tips really helped me smooth things out, and I knew her own query had worked, so I listened!

KV: What was the hardest thing about writing your query? What was the easiest?

KR: I had a hard time working in my character’s voice. Trying to jam 300+ pages of story into one paragraph while demonstrating personality?? It was torture for me.

The easiest thing was picking comp books to give agents an idea where I saw my book fitting in the market.

KV: Ms. Zacker, when you first read Ms. Rae’s query, what caught your attention?

MZ: Kristin’s writing. No doubt about it. She trusts her characters to tell the story she must tell, the one she so clearly sees playing out in her head. That and “When in Rome…”--I knew Pippa before I received the full manuscript and once I did, it was clear that Kristin knew her inside and out.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN?

MZ: Kristin’s writing. Oh no, too repetitive (albeit factual)! Kristin gives readers the opportunity to experience her characters’ emotions rather than tell you about them. She also plotted her story carefully and struck a very nice balance in her pacing of the story. The storytelling is phenomenal (she transports you to wherever her characters are) and when you reach the end, you simply want to start all over again.

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Rae’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

MZ: It is scary for me to answer this question because, admittedly, my journey with IF ONLY was quicker than with most. However, I have to give credit to Kristin for writing such an irresistible story.

Having said that, her writing combined with sheer great timing made it possible for me to read it as quickly as I did (emphasis on the writing!). I try very hard to be very respectful of the fact that people are waiting on my responses, but sometimes I am pulled away from what I want to do every minute of the day (read!) to take care of issues that simply can’t be put off. The true answer to your question is that it varies quite a bit and silence on my part should never be taken as a lack of interest. It is true that files sometimes sit for longer than I want them to (without me opening them even to glance at page 1), so there is no easy answer to your question except to say that my response time is ‘as quickly as possible.’

KV: Ms. Rae, what tips do you have for fellow writers as they work on their queries?

KR: RESEARCH. I think too many people just throw queries out to any agent that’s open, when it’s really important to research exactly what each agent is looking for. Query agents that have holes in their list that your book fits into.

I also think sometimes it’s tempting to try to talk yourself up and highlight how many blog or twitter followers you have, but the query is the space to pitch your book, and it’s a very small space that’s not to be wasted!

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Zacker. What query-writing suggestions do you have?

MZ: Kristin hit the nail on the head. I care about the writing (and the illustrations) most. Yes, of course, the creative plays a major role…eventually. However, what brings us together are the words and images, so that’s where you need to focus your energy. Presumably you have already done so with the project you’re presenting; now you’re simply shining a bright light on it.

Also, when you hear ‘do your homework,’ that means beyond looking for addresses and lists of agents, try to find the people and places where you would say, unequivocally, “I would want to partner with that person and agency because they will understand me and my work.”

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

KR: Don’t give up and complain you couldn’t do it. If it’s in you, you can get there. It takes a lot of HARD WORK!

MZ: Understand that this is as a process not very different from applying for a job--and one that you want to turn into a career. Approach it with the same kind of focus and energy you would any other prospective venture of that magnitude. If that’s where you are, then you have an idea of the path to get yourself there and that path’s first stepping stone must be a commitment to your writing and your artistry.

Notice that for me it’s a commitment, not simply a desire. That commitment is loaded, so the stone must be mighty strong. However, once you’ve stepped on it with conviction, the rest will probably lead to twists and turns (some unexpected), but it will get you where you want to go. As for encouragement: please note that Kristin and I came together via the almighty slush (but do note that she followed her own great advice!)

Thank you, ladies, for these responses! And for those of you who are as excited about IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN as I am, you should know it recently sold to Bloomsbury and will come out next spring! I. Can’t. Wait.

Have a great weekend, all. If you’re at BEA, please leave an update! :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"The Writer's Voice" Results, 2013 Edition!

"The Writer's Voice" wrapped up last week, and for the second year in a row, Team Krista won! We ended up with 30 total votes, but even cooler than that, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY TEAMMATES landed at least one vote. I call that a smashing success!

#1: DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER Sarah Davies, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Mollie Glick, Christa Heschke, Caryn Wiseman, Catherine Drayton, Suzie Townsend, Holly McGhee, John Rudolph
#2: MYSTIC COOKING Catherine Drayton, John Rudolph
#3: THIS IS HOW IT ENDS Mollie Glick, Christa Heschke, Monika Verma
#4: WISHING Ammi-Joan Paquette, Christa Heschke, Caryn Wiseman, Monika Verma
#5: WATER LILY Ammi-Joan Paquette, Mollie Glick, Christa Heschke, Monika Verma, John Rudolph
#6: LUMINARY Tina Wexler, Monika Verma
#7: THE EXTRAORDINARY ART OF FALLING Christa Heschke, John Rudolph
#8: FUTURESHOCK Mollie Glick, Monika Verma

DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER, WISHING, and WATER LILY also picked up behind-the-scenes requests from Red Ninja and Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. Woohoo!

Don't miss "The Writer's Voice" Twitter Pitch Party going on TODAY. Random agents will be checking out the pitches on the hashtag #PitMad until 8:00 p.m. EDT (or 5:00 p.m. PDT), so come up with those 140-character-or-less pitches quick!

Last but not least, a huge thank-you to everyone who entered, everyone who commented, the agents who voted, Kimberly for taking care of all our technological hiccups, and especially my fellow coaches, Cupid, Brenda, and Mónica. I couldn't have asked for a better bunch of bloggers to work with (alliteration intended). Thanks for putting up with me and my speed-reading:)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Agent Round Begins NOW

"The Writer’s Voice” is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes, Mónica B.W. of Love YA, and me. We based the contest on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us selected projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages and coached the talented writers who wrote them as they polished their entries.

And TODAY we get to post our team members’ finished entries on our blogs!

Thirteen amazing agents are going to read these queries and first pages, then vote for their favorites this Thursday and Friday, May 23 and 24. Each vote will count as a partial or full request depending on how many votes the entry receives. If an entry receives 1 or 2 votes, those votes will count as partial requests. If an entry receives 3 or more votes, those votes will count as full requests.

Our thirteen amazing agents:

To read the other teams' entries, please use the following links:

Lastly, cheerleading is allowed, but only until Wednesday! We want to leave the comments free for the agents to vote on Thursday and Friday. (Also, we will only allow, well, cheerleading and/or positive feedback. Please don’t critique the entries before the agents vote. On the flip side, please don’t try to convince the agents that they want to vote for one of your favorites or, you know, threaten to douse the agents in silly string if they don’t vote for your critique partner. This is a silly-string-free site.)

Happy reading!


Genre: MG adventure
Word count: 69,000


Eleven-year-old Liza, daughter of a cruise ship captain, may be obsessed with the bestselling Pirates and Princesses series, but this has no connection to her suspicions that Henry Weston, the Sapphire’s new guitarist, is a bona fide scallywag schooled by Blackbeard himself. Liza’s aunt Mel sees in Henry only roguish handsomeness, a rawther lovely British accent, and charm more sparkly than the ship’s million-dollar jewel exhibit--which Liza’s sure he’s after. After all, nothing says pirate booty like crown jewels from every country in the Baltic.

Mysterious meetings in Denmark, too many “band practices,” and alleged tampering with the security cameras have Liza convinced her suspicions are correct, and there’s nobody to help stop the heist except Tilly, her friend-of-the-week, and Liza’s iguana Iggy, who can’t do much because--well, he’s a lizard. Yet Liza is determined to save the ship and her aunt from the clutches of dread pirate Henry.

When she fails to turn up a wooden peg leg or, at the very least, a blood-tinged cutlass, Liza and her imagination have a tearful face-off with real life. But not before she makes a mistake more epic than the iceberg that sank the Titanic and ends up literally hanging for her life.

Maybe adventures are best left in novels.

First page:

Only one obstacle lies between me and the front-most tip of the ship. I grasp the handle of the wooden sword hanging from my belt. A brigade of bloodthirsty pirates I can manage. Even an ultrasonic super villain with x-ray vision. But these two gangly man-boys from the theater playing basketball on the sports deck? My dad would ground me for a week if I maimed any member of his crew.

The briny sea air whips at the rolled-up maps under my arm. I take a deep breath and nod to the neon-suited ladies from Kids Club circling the jogging path. I may need witnesses if this ends ugly. Having just raced through the ship--using only practical shortcuts such as the grand staircase banister--I’m not at my best. These guys could have an edge.

I unsheathe my sword a few inches, ready to draw should they dare strike first, and walk through the game. One of the players stops the ball with two hands, then cradles it under his arm. The other looks at me with raised eyebrows and a half-smile. “Oh. Are we in your way?”

With the quickness of the finest swordsgirl on these high seas, I withdraw my weapon. Its blunt but intimidating tip hovers between them and me. And they have the nerve to laugh.

“I’ll have you know,” I say in my deepest and fiercest belly voice, “I have a ship to save today, and no swashbuckling scallywags are going to stop me.”

Team Krista #8: FUTURESHOCK

Genre: YA science fiction thriller
Word count: 74,000


Grace has her life planned: get elected senior class president, get into Harvard on a scholarship, go to Yale Law School, and change the world. With the election right around the corner, she doesn't have time for any distractions, including the overeager new kid Colin, even if he is kind of cute (and also kind of a stalker).

After a mega-embarrassing mishap at a party, Grace discovers time travel is real. Colin is a time agent on vacation and her ticket to adventure--experiencing the fall of the Berlin Wall, spying on J.K. Rowling while she writes Harry Potter, meeting Jane Austen.

With a newfound penchant for fun and maybe-kinda-sorta feelings for Colin, Grace begins to imagine a new future for herself. But when she loses the race for senior class president, Colin finally tells her the truth. Not only was Grace not supposed to lose the election, but she's destined to become President of the United States. He came back in time to meet her, and now her future is in jeopardy.

But Colin's time agency will protect her timeline at any cost. Their methods are questionable at best (memory-altering drugs that make you a suggestible zombie, no thanks), and Grace must choose between the life she’s always planned and the one she never expected. But Grace must fight the time agency in order to have a choice at all.

First page:

"They can take our freedom, but they can never take our French fries!"

If there had been a desk in front of me, I would have smacked my head against it. Repeatedly.

The auditorium erupted into cheers, a decidedly uncommon occurrence for Dresden High's student council candidacy announcements. Usually, students simply said what position they were running for and why people should vote for them, to weak applause or the occasional overzealous "Yeah!" from the stoner kids in the back.

Apparently, all it took was a twinkly-eyed quarterback running on a French fries platform to get people enthusiastically engaged in student government.

I had to use all my strength to unclench my jaw. My fists, however, I kept balled at my sides, so that I wouldn't try and wring anyone's neck. I wasn't usually this tense, but there was something about pretty-boy jocks reducing student government to a popularity contest that seriously irked me.

Said jock extraordinaire, Jake Carlson, gesticulated wildly at the crowd to keep cheering and ended his brilliantly puerile campaign speech with, "So if you vote for me, everything will be awesome, and you can have all the French fries you want!"

Head. Desk.

Before I could engage in any more imaginary stress relief, the student council adviser, Ms. Jefferson, nodded at me to go up to the podium despite the fact that the crowd was still whooping, catcalling and clapping. Jake, for his part, was encouraging them by way of a dramatic reenactment of last week's game-winning catch.



Team Krista #6: LUMINARY

Genre: YA fantasy
Word count: 91,000


Seventeen-year-old Caya Filar, like everyone else in her city, sees only in grayscale. Colors exist as magical energy, once worked by Luminaries like her father. But colors became something to fear when a prince, terrified of the magic he couldn’t see, slaughtered the Luminaries and stole the king’s throne.

Now little better than an outcast, Caya steers clear of the king's guards. She knows they’re eager for any excuse to brand her a Luminary and execute her, whether she can see color or not. And there’s no chance of leaving the city with guards patrolling the walls, murdering anyone who tries to flee. Keeping her head down, she works in a shop to feed her family--at least until the shopkeeper's son proposes. His respectable name might help her overcome the stigma left by her father's Luminary magic.

If only the stone in her engagement ring had stayed gray.

First page:

Every day as I left for work, Avara tried to make me feel guilty. It was our daily routine. Socialites don’t work in shops--not even former socialites. Never mind that she only ate because I was earning a wage.

I kept my head high and my shoulders back as I made my way to the grand foyer, waiting for her usual sound of disgust. Sure enough, I was only about halfway down the curved staircase when it came. “Stubborn as ever,” she said softly, leaning against the doorframe of the parlor, arms crossed over her stomach.  

“Not stubborn.” After months of the same argument, my voice came out flat and disinterested. “Just not in favor of starving to death.”

“You’re making things worse. You have to see that.”

“Yes, because so many people were clamoring to marry us before I took a job.”

She glared at me. No matter how many times I used the line, she had no response. Yet she still picked the fight, pretending nothing had changed in the six years since King Elun stole the throne.

The uprising happened the night of Avara’s debut ball, ruining her plan to be betrothed by midnight. She’d known Elun’s guards were coming for our father, hunting down anyone who could see the colors of magic. But all she’d cared about was getting a ring on her finger, no matter the cost.

If she hadn’t argued for so long, we probably all would’ve gotten out of the city alive.

Team Krista #5: WATER LILY

Genre: YA science fiction thriller
Word count: 90,000


Sixteen-year-old Sadie Vonner has spent her life training to be a Reconner, an elite agent who scours Earth’s rapidly rising seas for resources. She’s had a clean record since the accident that killed her best friend Brandt, and if she can put the past behind her and make rank, she’ll be able to explore the drowning land outside Water Lily, her floating seaborne city.

But then she finds the note.

Written by Brandt the day he died, it leads to a series of puzzles he hid throughout the city and raises questions about the circumstances of his death. Desperate for answers, Sadie risks her shot at Reconner to play a final round of their childhood treasure-hunting game. But she’s not the only one looking for the trail’s end.

Complicating the search is Emery, the frustrating boy with the strange accent, who insists he can help solve the riddles, but as they grow closer, she suspects he’s hiding something. There’s also Brandt’s brother Morgan, a powerful city officer and violent alcoholic who threatens Sadie’s father if she doesn’t deliver the final clue. As Morgan stalks her every move, Sadie questions just how much he knows about Brandt’s death.

When Brandt’s clues indicate that he might be alive, Sadie must decide how far she’s willing to go to learn the truth. Following his trail outside the walls of Water Lily means severing ties with her home, but it’s the only way to find the final piece of the puzzle: Brandt himself.

First page:

“They’re back,” someone whispers.

My classmates press their faces to the windows, fingertips smearing the glass as they stare out at the endless ocean.

“They’ve been gone for weeks,” Roger says. “I thought they were dead.”

My hands curl around the edge of the desk, which is something of an antique--the trees that made it are extinct. “The Reconners?” I ask. No one answers. My classmates are more likely to talk about me than to me.

I jump to my feet and join them, squinting through the smudged glass at the tiny brown-clad men and women on the sea below. Their hovercraft slows as it approaches the city, and the sun glints off the weathered tarp strapped to the cargo-hold.

They found something.

Grabbing my communication tablet from my desk, I dash past gray-haired Professor Wright, who’s nodded off mid-lecture once again, and duck into the nearest stairwell. It’s already flooded with a sea of people trickling down to the deck, but I swim through them, determined to grab a piece of the Reconners’ latest find.

Excited chatter fills the air as we spill onto the sunbaked deck, and I squeeze through the thousands of citizens until I find a spot where I can breathe. The wind whips my dark hair into tangles, and I pull strands of it from my mouth, tasting salt. My heart marks the seconds as they tick into minutes, but then, finally, the portal door opens.

Team Krista #4: WISHING

Genre: YA contemporary fantasy
Word count: 76,000


Seventeen-year-old Mona Mayhem wants to be the first of many generations to venture beyond her enchanted family orchard and the evergreens that fill her with an endless supply of magic. She hopes that after leaving for college, her magic will stay home and she won't be a freak anymore.

To finance her new life, Mona sells her magic. People buy it to change themselves: new noses, smaller feet, bigger boobs. Then ex-con Buzz Morelli buys a new face to break parole. He robs a bank and a young boy winds up in a coma. Mona resolves to travel to the hospital a hundred miles away to fix the boy, but first she has to get through Buzz, who wants another new face. Mona manages to escape with the help of Buzz's inscrutable son Leo, whose motives are as confusing as the attraction growing between them. But as the consequences of leaving pile up, Mona finds that fixing her mistakes--and even staying alive--will not only hinge on trusting Leo, but learning to love herself.

First Page:

The man sitting across from me on the faded motel bedspread wants a complete overhaul. New nose and chin, brown eyes to blue, different color hair. He also wants new fingerprints, which means he must have gotten into something deep. New fingerprints are steep.

“I always thought I'd look good as a blond.” The man runs a hand through his graying hair. “Can you do it, Genie?”

He has this weird way of jutting his chin forward like a chicken on the last word of his sentences, so Genie comes out pretty strong, which ticks me off. I hate it when people call me that. My name is Mona, and I'm not a genie.

I'm about to bite his head off when Dad, who's sitting next to me on the couch, jumps in. “Of course she can, Buzz. But fingerprints'll cost you extra.”

Dad's the one who started calling me Genie, and while I'm not crazy about it, I shouldn't complain. It draws the clients, after all.

“What? I'm already paying you too much. She's a kid,” says Buzz.

“I'm not a kid, I'm seventeen.” This guy is a real charmer. Where does Dad find these people?

“A kid who can change your life,” Dad says. He squeezes my knee and glowers underneath a pasted-on smile, telling me not to wreck it. He's right, I shouldn't be so defensive. But I'm tired and I have a calculus test in the morning. Let's get on with it.

Team Krista #3: THIS IS HOW IT ENDS

Genre: YA contemporary
Word count: 71,000


The girl in Dr. Blumenthal’s office is broken.

She wasn’t always broken, of course. Just over a year ago she was a hopeful ninth grade student looking forward to four years of adventure with her new best friend. But that was Before.

Before her best friend committed suicide. Before she found the diaries. Before her whole understanding of the past became a confused and jumbled mess.

Unable to articulate all that has happened, the girl offers up a leather-bound journal as evidence. The journal contains a series of diary entries written by two girls, Jessie and Annie. Their words and memories have been woven together to tell the story of a tumultuous year--a year of betrayals, boys and bullying.

One of the girls will not survive the year. The other will become the wounded girl in the doctor’s office. Only the journal will reveal which girl is which.

First page:

"I understand you've been through a traumatic event. That you've lost a friend?"

The doctor clicks her pen and looks up at the girl in front of her. This is her last appointment of the day. A new patient. She glances down at the notes from the referring doctor: Recovering from the suicide of a close friend.

The girl is raw, all naked pain and wild eyes. She clings to a thick leather book as though it is a lifeline, her knuckles white with the effort to hold on. When she speaks, her voice is rusty from disuse.

"'s" The girl squeezes her eyes shut. There is so much to say, but no words. Within her boils an angry ocean of fear and regret and hot, hot pain, but none of it makes it to the surface. It eats her alive from the inside.

The doctor reaches for the book, and the girl's fingers tighten around it reflexively. She has laid herself bare on these pages. Laid both of them bare. To surrender it now feels like a betrayal.

The moment stretches between them. The doctor takes in the girl's hunched body and wills herself to slow down. "I want to help you.”

The words are scary to the girl. They hold the promise of hope. She is no longer sure she believes in hope. Or that she is deserving of help.

Team Krista #2: MYSTIC COOKING

Genre: Upper MG fantasy
Word count: 78,000


At fourteen, Lailu is the youngest chef to graduate from Chef’s Academy in over three hundred years, and she’s not about to let anything get in the way of her dream: opening a high-class restaurant that specializes in cooking mystical beasts.

With her new steam-powered stove, Lailu is positive her restaurant will be a huge success. Sure, she had to borrow a ton of money from Mr. Boss, the meanest loan shark around, but she knows her profits will more than make up for it. Unfortunately, her obnoxious school rival Greg decides to open a competing restaurant, and with his charm, good looks, and aristocratic background, he soon has a full house--while Lailu’s place remains a dining graveyard.

When Mr. Boss pushes up the due date of Lailu’s loan, she realizes she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Lailu has battled dragons, krakens, griffons, and all sorts of delicious and dangerous beasts, but she’s never faced anyone as ruthless as Mr. Boss. With her deadline approaching, she’s forced to turn to the one person who can help. Obnoxious or not, Greg is almost as good a chef as Lailu, and it will take all of their combined skills to get her out of the stew she’s in. After all, Mr. Boss always gets what’s owed to him, one way or another.

First page:

Lailu flipped a large chef’s knife end over end, scowling at the row of onions pinned to her far wall. She could have taken on another kraken or even a hydra right then, but this waiting--this waiting was killing her.

"Don't worry," she told her remaining batch of onions, "it will only hurt for a second." As she selected a sweet yellow one, the bell above her front door chimed.

Lailu whipped around eagerly, the onion toppling to the floor. She straightened her fluffy white chef’s hat. “Welcome to Mystic Cooking. Our special today is…” Her eyes flickered to the man looming in her doorway. "Oh. It's you."

For all that she was barely over five feet tall, Mr. Boss, “call me Victor,” was not much taller, but his back was straight, and his cane seemed more like a threatening prop than a tool. He looked like he might be in his sixties or seventies, his long gray hair streaked through with white and oiled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. She'd heard the rumors, of course, that he was actually two hundred and six and that he bathed in the blood of young dragons every month to slow his aging. Lailu wasn’t sure she bought that; she knew how hard it was to kill a dragon.

Mr. Boss glanced at the line of onions pinned to the wall, then turned, taking in the spotless and very empty dining room. “Busy, I see."


Genre: YA historical fantasy
Word count: 67,000


As the son of Death, Moriarty was raised believing in the beauty of ending a life. Then he takes over his father’s work and finds that ripping souls from mortal bodies is nothing like the stories that populated his childhood. It’s violent and bloody, and with imperialism, labor strikes, and people's revolutions leaving corpses around the world, Moriarty can’t find anything to love in his new work.

Until he meets his next victim: Rocsanne Vetrario, the bold, bohemian daughter of Venetian glaziers. Instead of ending her life, Moriarty accidentally saves it, thus kindling a friendship that tumbles into love amid the canals of 1890s Venice.

But their summer together shatters when Moriarty learns that Rocsanne’s stepmother Lavinia is on a crusade to recover the lost secrets of Venetian glass and its power to bestow immortality. When Lavinia discovers her daughter’s romance with the soul collector himself, she threatens to kill Rocsanne unless Moriarty helps her retrieve a piece of the legendary glass. 

Surrendering the glass will give Lavinia control over Moriarty and his work, but if Rocsanne dies, he’ll lose her forever to the afterlife. With Lavinia holding Rocsanne hostage on the cemetery island of San Michele, Moriarty has to choose between his own freedom and the only girl who ever loved Death.

First page:

The first thing he noticed was the rain.

Moriarty had never felt rain before. It didn’t rain in the Greylands, nor did the brushed-black sky wink with tiny pinpricks of light, like jewels floating in a glassy lake. Even the sky itself was new--there was no sky in the Greylands.

But the rain was the first and most marvelous thing--the way it felt against his skin, each drop unexpected and ephemeral. 

Yes, Moriarty decided. I like the rain best.

Hector hadn’t told him about the rain. But Hector had hardly told him anything about the humans, or mortality, or the work he’d be doing, the work that used to be Hector’s. Though they had never discussed it, Moriarty had always known that someday, Hector would grow weary of soul collecting, and the work would pass to him. Father to son.

He had not expected it to be this sudden.

Moriarty looked down at his hands. In each, he clutched one of Hector’s two parting gifts, the only tools of his trade. The first was a heavy brass compass with a blank face and a black hand, shivering but steady as it pointed him ahead into the night. Pressing the face once had brought him to mortality, and twice would take him back to the Greylands when he was finished. The second was a colorless glass amulet streaked with red, which Hector had promised would keep him invisible to all humans but the one he sought.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Introducing Team Krista 2013! (Plus a Few Thoughts on the Entries)

And here's my awesome team (in alphabetical order)!

Alexa D. and FUTURESHOCK (#19)
Catherine Lo and THIS IS HOW IT ENDS (#136)
Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, and MYSTIC COOKING (#35)
Jenny Kaczorowski and THE EXTRAORDINARY ART OF FALLING (#41)
Jerilyn Patterson and WISHING (#94)
Jessie Oliveros and A PRETTY PIRATE PICKLE (#14)
Laura J. Moss and WATER LILY (#127)
Mackenzi Lee Van Engelenhoven and DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER (#124)

with Ashley Turcotte and LUMINARY (#3) as my alternate

That gives me two MG projects and six YA projects, with a YA alternate. Interestingly, that breakdown matches last year's breakdown almost exactly (though I did have a few adult projects on my team last year as well).

To be honest, I found redeeming qualities in a lot of entries (though I did spot problems, too). In the end, it came down to my personal tastes, which is what it's always going to come down to. Hopefully, you'll find an agent--and especially an editor--whose tastes will match your own, but if you don't, there's always the next manuscript. That was my mantra for so many years: "There's always the next manuscript" (assuming, of course, you really want to go traditional, which, admittedly, not everyone does, and that's okay).

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I am in NO WAY an expert on queries, the market, or publishing in general, so please take all these thoughts for what they are--my thoughts. These are just a few of the things I noticed as I whittled down my list, and they say a lot more about me than they do about any of the entries.

A few things that stuck out to me as I was reading through the entries (in the order that I wrote them down):

1. There was a lot of fantasy in this group, and the queries didn't always match the first pages. A lot of the summaries seemed to describe high fantasies, but when I got to the pages, they were obviously set on our world, in our time. That disconnect was jarring and made me worry that the writer didn't really know what they were writing.

2. The plot points in a query need to build on each other. This is especially true for contemporaries. Real life is something we can all relate to, but contemporary stories still need to have an inciting incident, rising action, a climax, and a denouement. Of course, you don't need to summarize all of these plots points in your query, but you do need to show a strong cause-and-effect relationship between the events you do mention.

3. It was weird when a query would summarize the whole plot in a few sentences at the beginning, then go back and summarize it again in another two or three paragraphs. I know some agents and industry sites encourage writers to develop loglines, but I don't think you're really supposed to squish loglines and queries together. (Some queries do start off with taglines, one-sentence (or less) hooks of the sort you might see on book covers. I'm not a huge fan of these, either, but at least they flow a little better with the query itself.)

4. Several of the entries suffered from what I call the bait-and-switch. The queries described one project, and then the first pages seemed to start another. This is related to point one above, but it's not restricted to fantasies. You want your query and first scene to flow together. Readers should be able to immediately see how they relate.

5. Some concepts blended fantastical and normal elements for no apparent reason, and I had a hard time getting excited about those. That's mostly just my own personal preference, though I do think everything in a query--and a manuscript--should serve a specific purpose. If you can't show how the pieces fit together in the query, then it makes me think you haven't put them together in the manuscript very well, either.

6. I noticed a lot of ghosts and a surprising number of werewolves in this batch of entries. That's not necessarily good or bad; it just means you're going to have to compete directly against all the other people writing about ghosts and werewolves, so your project has to be that much better.

7. I came across several well-written projects that I actually loved; the only problem was that they were several years too late. In one case, the premise was too similar to a recently popular book (and movie), and in several others, the genre was off. It's all but impossible to sell a dystopian right now, but then, you wouldn't want to launch a dystopian series at the moment, as it would look kind of derivative and probably not sell many copies.

That's it from me! What stood out to you as you perused the entries?

Friday, May 3, 2013

"The Writer's Voice" Blogfest

“The Writer’s Voice” Blogfest is live! Over the next week, we coaches will review your queries and first pages, and if one of us wants you on her team, she’ll leave a comment on your post that says something like, “I want you!” If more than one of us wants you, you’ll have to pick which coach you want to work with. (We’ll give you more instructions on this next week, depending on how things pan out…)

For more information, including a timeline of events and a list of this year’s participating agents, check out this post. In the meantime, feel free to hop around and play along with these not-quite-blind auditions!

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Last but not least, a quick shout-out to Kimberly Chase, our gadget wizard while Brenda’s out of town! Now you know who will swoop in and save the day if we have any technology malfunctions:)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"The Writer's Voice" Lottery Is Live!

Welcome to “The Writer’s Voice” 2013! To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions: First, it must be COMPLETE, POLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the following genres:

YA fiction (all subgenres)
MG fiction (all subgenres)

Also, YOU MUST HAVE A BLOG TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS CONTEST, as we’ll be building our teams via “The Writer’s Voice” Blogfest (which starts tomorrow). You don’t have to have a blog this moment to enter, but you will need to create one by tomorrow if you win a spot in the blogfest (which is what today’s Rafflecopter lottery will determine).

For more information, including a timeline of events and a list of this year’s participating agents, check out this post. Then feel free to enter the Rafflecopter lottery anytime between now and 9:00 p.m. EDT!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Last but not least, a quick shout-out to Kimberly Chase, our gadget wizard while Brenda’s out of town! Now you know who will swoop in and save the day if we have any technology malfunctions:)