Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #3

Dear Ms. Smith,

My Skiing Sister is a contemporary YA novel of 70,000 words.

On the mountain, eighteen-year-old Toby feels like he’s king-of-the-world. This spring trip, he plans to make his break from family duties and enter his first-ever Giant Slalom ski race, hoping to win a medal and his dad’s attention.

But fate has other ideas, what with snowstorms, his high-maintenance sister, Clare, and a hot snowboarder named Sam, who switches to skis to win the race medal and Toby’s heart. Toby wonders if it’s possible to finish ahead of her and still keep her in his life.

On vacation, he struggles to free himself from the Clare Code that governs him the rest of the year. Rules like “Never turn your back at mealtime” and “Know every ingredient on every menu or you’ll be calling 9-1-1.” He loves his sister, of course he does, doesn’t he spend half his time running after her? But Clare…well, she has to wear just the right kind of shirt or she freaks. She names each one, like they’re actual people. And Al Capone may not do her shirts, but Lindsey Vonn definitely waxes her skis.

Toby can’t turn his back on her--he’s the family go-to guy for her constant health and behavior issues. Without his protection, she could hurt herself. And if something bad happens to Clare, Toby’s world would break.

I am a member of SCBWI, Heartland Writers For Kids and Teens, and participate regularly in workshops and critique groups. I edited The Mirror, an international newsletter for families affected by the chromosome condition dup 15q (the condition affecting Clare in My Skiing Sister) for six years. My articles have appeared in Exceptional Parent magazine and the journal Advance. Two of my short stories have been published in anthologies, one of which received the Second Place Award.

I seek your representation because you express interest in seeing books with underrepresented characters. One of my main reasons for writing My Skiing Sister is that siblings of children with serious disabilities so rarely get a voice in literature.

I include the first 225 words of my manuscript following this query. Thank you for your consideration.



Part I:  Trail Map

The skier's code clearly says:
*Always stay in control.
*People ahead of you have the right of way.
*Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
*Always take precautions to prevent runaway equipment.
*Observe all posted signs and warnings.

I follow this code. The problem is, in my life, no one yields to me. It doesn't matter whether I'm uphill or downhill. The posted signs and warnings aren't the mountain's, or even my parents', but my sister's. Who's only a year younger than me. Yeah, I pretend I'm free to do whatever like other eighteen-year-old guys. But deep inside I know better.

Any time I try to do things my way, follow the rulebook the rest of the world uses, she cries foul. I've learned if you can't beat 'em, join ‘em. Learn their ways.

Here's my list for playing on Clare's team--the only way to win in my family:
*If you show her how to do something, get it right the first time. There're no do-overs. She'll do it that way forever.
*Don't try to make her lighten her load--she must always carry Cookie Monster, Apartment For Rent magazines, Car and Truck Guides, key chains, her snap chain wallet, Little Golden Books, other beanie babies, Motown CDs.
*Avoid lines. She doesn't wait well.


Susan Oloier said...

Okay, your YA novel appeals to my heart. I have two sons, one of whom has a chromosomal condition. I love how the voice of your character shines through in your query. I would, however, like to see that Toby's sister has a condition earlier in the query. I was a little shocked to find this out toward the end of the letter (though pleasantly shocked). Maybe say that one of Toby's family duties is to watch out for his sister who has dup 15q (but say it in a way a lay person will get it).
Your sample: love, love, love how you start out with the rules and parallel skiing to Toby's life situation.
My only other suggestions with the query is to polish it up a bit. The commas threw me a little, so I reread the letter a second time.
Wishing you the best in the contest!!!

Megan Reyes said...

I think “hoping to win a medal and his dad’s attention” is a great line showing us Toby’s motivation. I wonder if it might work like this too “hoping to win a medal… and his dad’s attention.” Winning his dad’s attention seems important and the ellipse makes it stand out a bit.

I’m curious where he met Sam “who switches to skis to win the race medal and Toby’s heart.” This might imply that she’s already won the race. Maybe “who switches to skis, HOPING to win the race medal… and Toby’s heart.” Yeah, I know, I’m a bit ellipse happy. :)

The third paragraph really confused me. I don’t understand what the Clare Code is or how it rules his life. As I read down further, I realize it’s referring to his sister’s medical condition. But when you say Clare is “high maintenance” in the 2nd paragraph I’m picturing a stuck-up, rich girl… that kind of HM. You’ll need to make it clear you’re talking about her medical condition.

Again, I think her “constant health and behavior issues” need to come up a bit sooner in the query, not the 4th paragraph if it’s a major conflict in the plot. And you mention its one of the main purposes why you wrote this book, so it should probably be highlighted much more in the query.

Overall, I think you probably have a sweet, heartwarming novel. But I’m having trouble understanding the plot. Toby goes on vacation and wants to win a ski race in order to please his father. Then he meets Sam… enter love story… so is his sister just tagging along the whole time? Also, how old is Clare? What happens to them after the race? Is the story over or is there a lot more afterwards (if so, mention some other plot conflicts).

At first, this story sounds like a “boy-meets-girl” but really it sounds like the focus is much more centered around Clare and her medical needs. Perhaps the query should lead with this. :)

Samantha Sabovitch said...

In the query, I'm confused about Clare. Is she just high maintenance or does she have a specific disorder? I would say what it is straight out in the first paragraph. Otherwise, I'm rather confused and maybe even put off a little bit by how Toby feels about her. He almost comes off as unsympathetic.

For your 250 words, I don't think this is a proper first page. It's not a compelling hook because it's world-building rather than an introduction to the character's struggle. Better would be to have a chapter where you introduce Troy, show a struggle with his sister, and sprinkle "the rules" throughout.

Your premise and reason for writing this story are sound, and I wish you the best of luck on the project.

Meradeth Houston said...

I am going to agree with the others here and note that saying up front that Clare has a chromosomal condition would really help, and would also up the tension in the query--something I felt lacked a little while I read it. I was also a little thrown by the line "And Al Capone may not do her shirts, but Lindsey Vonn definitely waxes her skis." I get what you're trying to say, but I'm not sure this was totally necessary. Also, I thought Sam was a guy during my first reading :)

In the excerpt, you do a lot of telling. I love the lists, but I wonder if there's a way you could better show that no one yields to him?

Melinda said...

I agree with the other comments that the order and the focus of the query seems off. You need to lead with and explain the sister's condition right from the beginning. I'd also like to know why Toby has the most responsibility for his sister, rather than their parents. Especially since there's only a year difference in their ages and I assume they knew she had the condition since birth. Is it just that he feels responsible, or are the parents not competent for some reason?

I like starting with the skier's code and the paragraph that follows, but I'm not sure about the Clare code list. Perhaps if it was cut down into shorter phrases like the skier's code it would seem less 'telly' and would help you get to the story quicker.

Noelle Henry said...

I love the idea behind this one and all the opportunity for real, layered conflict surrounding a boy who loves his sister despite her disability and yet, in some ways resents her as well. I also love the fact that you're concentrating on boy POV, as there are so few books that do.

However, I don't think your query gets to the heart of the stakes that I'm sure you're book possesses. I didn't realize that Clare had a disability until your bio paragraph...I just thought she was high-maintenance = selfish brat. Her condition needs to be highlighted up front. And then, I'd suggest taking some time to really pare down the conflict & stakes of the book a bit more...peel back all the outside stuff and get to the heart of what Toby stands to lose, because although you're telling me his world would break if something happened to Clare, you're not showing me how.

You've got a great premise and a great opening hook, I just think the query could use some refining.

Bridget Smith said...

This query is pretty well composed, in terms of flow! I’m not in love with the title of the manuscript: it doesn’t tell me very much about the book. It also illuminates something that I’m seeing in both the query and the sample: this book is about Toby’s story, right? So then why is the focus on Clare? She’s clearly an important figure in his life, but I have more sense of her personality than his at this point. You’ve got some fabulous details describing her, but Toby is only sketched out in terms of other people. I’d like to know more about him.