Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #28

Dear Ms. Smith:

Kendra feels like she has her life figured out, as much as 6th grader can, anyway. She can't have a dog, but she can volunteer at the animal shelter. She has a "special" hand, but she has her hoodies with nice deep pockets, and when things get to be just too much, she gets a strawberry-blended lemonade from Starbucks and she deals. So when her parents move her from Seattle to rural California, where she has no friends, no animal shelter, it's too hot for hoodies and the nearest Starbucks is 30 minutes away, her parents finally cave on the dog situation. She adopts Nigel, a big white pit bull with freckles on his nose and an unhealthy fear of cats. And he's perfect. She teaches him to sit. He teaches her to swim. And he comes with a trainer, Teo, who might be Kendra's first, real two-legged friend. Thanks to both of them, Nigel's just overcoming his doggy depression when Kendra sends off for his license. 

That's when she finds out that a breed ban has been proposed. If it passes, all pit bulls will be deemed dangerous dogs, and they'll be rounded up and euthanized.  She tries to register Nigel as a cattle dog, but her next door neighbor has already seen him, and she's the one behind the ban. It doesn't matter that Nigel doesn't have enough prey drive to chase a tennis ball, and he's only dangerous if you're allergic to slobber. Her neighbor will make sure Nigel gets counted.  Her parents want to help, but between the move and her sister's issues, it's clear to Kendra that they won't take on the town for her. The only other person who cares enough is Teo. But if he speaks out, he could be rounded up and rehomed for completely different reasons.

Kendra thinks maybe it's time to take her hand out of her pocket and do something.

Talk to the Paw, a middle grade contemporary manuscript, is complete at 44,000 words. I have been published in Relevant Magazine and Nintendo Power Magazine, and am a member of SCBWI. I have pasted in the first 250 words, below.



Slow down when you hit the gravel, I reminded myself. Some lessons stick with you. The first day I started volunteering I was nervous, just like today, and didn’t realize that a bike tire plus speed plus gravel meant spending your whole first day with funny red spots all over your face--not to mention the occasional embedded piece of rock. The dogs didn’t care, but I kept trying to hide my face in the recesses of my hoodie. A face is a hard thing to hide, so today I hopped off my bike and walked--okay, I kind of ran--with it to the front of the building. I locked my bike to a rack and hurried up the dusty front steps.

“Is Snoop still here?” I asked as soon as my face was in the door.

Elise was working the desk today. She gave me a sympathy smile.

“No! Really?” I slumped into a plastic chair, still breathing hard. I’d been so sure. How could they not want her? I would want a dog just like Snoop. I mean, how could they resist stuff like, Snoop’s been looking for her forever home after losing her family in a house fire. She loves kids, cats, and bunnies, but growls at the color blue. She had a great bio. And that family seemed so sure they wanted her.

“She’ll be glad to see you, though,” Elise said, trying to encourage me. She nodded back toward the dog room.


Melissa said...

The first paragraph of your query sucked me right in. I loved the voice, the attitude, the way you give enough information but not too much.

Then the second paragraph made me stop and go, "Uh-oh, this might be preachy."

My family does pitbull rescue, so I can definitely appreciate the issue, but be careful not to come off as teaching kids a lesson, because kids can sense that a mile away and they hate that.

That said, I might be reading too much into that second paragraph.

In regards to the sample page, you've obviously volunteered in a shelter before, because yes, pretty much the first thing anyone says when they come in is, "Is 'so-and-so' still here?"

With the writing itself, I think you could tighten up the language. Some of the sentences almost seem like run-ons, but overall, great job and I'd keep reading.

Christine L. Arnold said...

I think your query is great. You set the stakes up nicely - and I'm really intrigued about what's going on with Kendra's hand! You give her enough characterization without overloading us.

Your first page is good, too. Voice is spot-on (sorry, didn't mean that as a dog pun haha). I'd read on to see what happens.

Natalie Rompella said...

Query: I love this premise--it will resonate with lots of kids. 250: You start with the bike accident--is that relevant to the story? It sounded like her hand may be an issue--not sure if her face also was? What caught me up was her q: "Is Snoop still here?" and then the sympathy smile. It was confusing what that meant right away--did she want him still there to play with him or did she want him gone? You have a strong voice and think this would be a fun read.

Karen Clayton said...

Love the title and first two sentences of your book really hooked me and made me smile. I needed that smile today too.

Anonymous said...

In general, I'm more of a cat person than a dog person, but this story drew me in and I'd definitely keep reading. I like the author's voice--the line "he's only dangerous if you're allergic to slobber" made me smile.

Meg said...

This sounds like fun story. Like Melissa mentioned, as long as you don't get too preachy about the topic of breed specific legislation, I think this would be a great read for kids.

I loved the description of Teo "who might be Kendra's first, real two-legged friend," but wasn't really sure what you mean by he could be "rounded up and rehomed for completely different reasons."

Niki Moss said...

(Quick disclaimer—I have intentionally not read through any of the other comments before offering my own. I didn’t want anything to influence my perception. So if I repeat what others have said, I apologize. But at least you'll know that particular thing stood out to more than one person, right?:) )

I loved the first paragraph of your query! It drew me right in. It gave me a nice feel for the potential voice and tone of the story. Kendra had me hooked already, and I was excited to read on.

When I came to the second paragraph though, I took a quick step back. This line in particular, “If it passes, all pit bulls will be deemed dangerous dogs, and they'll be rounded up and euthanized,” gave me the vibe that this could quickly devolve into a moralistic “issue” kind of story. After reading through the query a couple more times, I really don’t think that’s the case. You have some very nice characters here, a loving relationship with Nigel, a budding friendship with Teo, and some strong inner and outer adversities to overcome. I’d be willing to bet the story itself doesn’t revolve too heavily around the pit bull issue itself. (Of course, I could be wrong.)

Perhaps if you had simply worded that one sentence differently, I never would’ve flinched. Something along the lines of: “If it passes, Nigel may very well be taken away from her.” Or, you know, something less preachy to that effect. You’ve already pointed out that Nigel is a pit bull, and you would still be stating that there has been a ban on his breed, so if anyone is particularly interested in that issue it’s still there—just less in their face, if that makes sense.

Other than that one sentence that halted me so abruptly, there were only two other things about the whole query I wasn’t sure of:

1) The part about Teo being “rounded up and rehomed.” Even after multiple reads I have no idea what this means.

And 2) “Her parents want to help, but between the move and her sister's issues, it's clear to Kendra that they won't take on the town for her.”—What issues does her sister have? And I didn’t even know she had a sister until I got to this point.

I’m not sure you really NEED to mention the sister in the query. We have such precious little room to fit everything in on that one page. Rather than trying to introduce another character, you might instead simply state that the parents would like to help, but with everything else they have going on, it’s clear to Kendra, etc, etc…

VERY nice query though! I hope to get the opportunity to read this someday!

First 250 Words:
The ONLY thing I have to comment on in your opening sample is this:
“The first day I started volunteering I was nervous…”—you might specify where she’s volunteering (…started volunteering at the animal shelter… or whatever).
If I hadn’t already read the query, I would probably have stopped and reread that opening to see if maybe I’d missed something. Even knowing from the query where she volunteers, it still gave me a momentary hitch. In my mind, I think I was associating the volunteering with the bike riding for some reason, and I was trying to figure out how the two things fit together.

Otherwise, excellent beginning; I really like Kendra. Well done! And good luck!

Ru said...

Oh my gosh, I love this premise so much.

My suggestions are to tighten up the query a bit -- it reads a little long, and yet there are two unanswered questions I think you need to hint at a little more. One, what is the deal with Kendra's sister? You would think parents would stop their kid's pet from being euthanized, so you need to give us more about why the parents can't help. Two, we need a little bit more about Teo. Like the other commenters, I'm really confused about the "rounded up and rehomed for entirely different reasons." I thought maybe you were hinting at immigration status, but then I thought comparing a human to a pit bull was a little tacky (and tacky is not quite the right word).

Good luck, it sounds like an awesome project!

Bridget Smith said...

I love the premise of a quiet girl coming out of her shell to advocate for something larger than her, and I think you’ve done a great job depicting Kendra as the kind of girl who both needs that and can be that. She seems like a great character!

However, the second paragraph makes me hesitate. I know this is a realistic issue, and one that a kid would realistically get involved in, but I worry that the book could turn out to be too preachy on the issue of pit bulls. Much like MG readers, I don’t want to be lectured at even when I agree with the issue at hand. This might not be a problem that’s reflected in the book, but in that case, you definitely don’t want the query to suggest it!