Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #24

Dear Ms. Scuito,

I hope you will consider representing DIVE SMACK, my young adult thriller, complete at 82,000 words. I am pleased to be part of this amazing contest offered by author Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat).

Every family has its secrets; diving into his own might get Theo killed.

Seventeen-year-old Theo Maddox lives the perfect ruse: captain of the high school diving team, great friends, killer grades. But at home, Theo resides under the watchful eye of his father--head psychiatrist at the state facility--a man who uses wealth and manipulation to ensure his son’s obedience. Not to mention the respect and admiration of the people living in Ellis Hollow. For as long as Theo can remember, that’s the way life has been. Him, his dad, and the two little pills he’s given at breakfast. All Theo’s has to do is tolerate his dad’s weekly talk sessions, and he’s home free.

Until a family tree assignment at school forces Theo to question things he’s been conditioned to forget. Like the house fire he survived as a child, the sting of his mom’s abandonment on the same night, and the lack of extended family to which he never gave much thought or consideration. So the unexpected return of his paternal grandfather should be a boon--the long lost branch of the Maddox family tree. But within minutes of their first meeting it’s clear his grandfather has a separate agenda. Covert and suspicious, he begins dropping hints about Theo’s parents that reveals a horrific past. Theo begins to question the purpose of the medication he takes daily--especially the new pill that’s been filling his head with freak-outs and memories in dizzying bits and flashes. Not to mention what, if anything, his dad’s ambitions had to do with his mom leaving. Just when Theo is ready to face an ugly truth, his grandfather vanishes. One day before he plans to reveal the biggest family secret of all. Theo elicits the help of his friends in putting together the clues his grandfather left behind. What they discover sets Theo’s seemingly perfect world on fire--literally. He has to act fast. That night. Before anyone else he cares about disappears at the hands of a father who is far more disturbed than patients he treats.

I am a member of the SCBWI, and hold a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. I have included the first two-hundred-fifty words as a sample for this contest. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

All my best,


My dad once told me it was Mom who started the fire that took away everything, including my memories. Then she split. End of story. Not like dwelling on that now will help me nail my approach. I have a plan: get in, get answers, and get out. Fast. Before Dad has a chance to turn the tables on me. I’m way overdue for what he likes to call our “talks.” Air quotes needed. But today, I intend to pull a switcheroo that puts him on the receiving end of the shrink’s couch.

Adapt or perish.

That’s what my Sociology teacher said about survival of the fittest this week. And it makes sense, in theory. Truth is taking control isn’t my strong suit. Especially with Dad. Most especially when it comes to Mom. Which is why the tiny hairs behind my neck stand like soldiers as I approach our kitchen, anticipating Dad in his usual spot. Waiting for me. I exhale hard, the way I do before every big springboard dive, then plow forward into surprise.

Our enormous kitchen is empty, and the only trace of Dad is his black leather briefcase, left saving his place at the table.


Every morning, for as long as I can remember, he’s been in here. That’s our routine: me, Dad, and the two little pills I take at breakfast. Give or take the occasional hiccup his work presents. Then he leaves me one of his notes.


K. L. Hallam said...

Really like your opening sentence. I think it's very strong. And I'm very curious to read on from here. Good work. and best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey D.B,

I love the character voice, it comes off as really sassy and by the end of the 250 words I was left wanting more, which is a great sign.

The whole watchful father/mysterious psychiatrist concept also sounds amazing and I'm intrigued by what DIVE SMACK has to offer.

One of the things you could possibly adjust is the query length. The 'ideal' query length tends to fall around the 250-300 word mark. I'm guessing yours is well over 400. This led to it feeling like more of a short synopsis in places instead of a 'blurb', which is a shame as the novel sounds great!

All the best,


Andrew said...

Wow! Great opening!

R.F. said...

Your concept is intriguing, and I love the title. It sounds like a solid YA thriller. The voice in your first paragraphs also really got my attention. I would definitely read on. I agree with an above comment about the length of your query. That second descriptive paragraph is a bit long, and I believe it gives away too much information about the plot.

Best of luck!

Alison Miller said...

You had me with the first line of your query! This sounds like something I would love to read. My only (very nitpicky) issues include the length of the (I guess) third paragraph of the query. There's A LOT in there. Not that that's a bad thing, but I wonder how far into this story you've taken me - with so much information, it almost feels like you've left me hanging right before the dark moment. And a query should be more about that fist third (I usually gauge it with 100 pages of my YA stories). And this may be what occurs in the first 100 pages so feel free to ignore me. :) But I am intrigued. And I would definitely read this! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The first line pulled me in! I am really intrigued by the premise and love the voice. Looking forward to seeing this published so I can read more. Good luck!

Amy said...

Excellent intro. I am already intrigued and honestly annoyed that I can't read more. Theo is a unique character and your portrayal of him feels honest from the first lines.

The query is a little long for my taste, but you hooked me. Isn't that what counts most?

Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Great start! If this isn't picked, there is no justice in the world!

Nikki said...

Love the voice in both the query and the first 250 words. Especially lines like :Air quotes needed.

I agree with the others that the 3rd paragraph could be tightened up a little, but it didn't stop me from wanting to read more!

Ara Grigorian said...

Excellent! The query and the first 250 should do one thing only: incite me to want more. And I do!

Your one liner in the query is masterful.

The synopsis is thorough and I understand what's at stake. I read the other comments. Maybe it is a sentence or two longer than conventionally expected, but honestly, I kept on reading because the plot was engaging.

As for the writing, there is rhythm to the writing that flows. And the reader wants to read more. Your main character sounds fun and intriguing. Critical since I am bout to spend a handful of hours with him and his story.

Well done!


Anonymous said...

I think the query is really strong and compelling, and definitely makes me as a reader anxious to find out what will happen next.

I really liked the writing style in the first 250 words. The voice is very clear and defined, and I'm completely hooked in and wanting to read on. I think the subject matter would appeal to both guys and girls.

Agent Sara Sciuto said...

I was excited when I saw YA thriller as that's something I'm looking for right now. However, right after that my thought was--agh!--this is a really long query. Keep in mind that the purpose of the query is to inform the agent of the basic info about your project--genre, word count, target audience--so we know if it's something we could represent; and then to share a BRIEF pitch or description of the project so we know generally what the story's about and what the main conflict is going to be. This isn't the place for a lengthy plot description. Your goal with the query letter and your pitch/description is just to pique the agent's interest and make them want to read your sample pages. Keep the description to one (best) or two short paragraphs. In this case I read the first paragraph of description but skipped the lengthy second one and went straight to the sample pages. it's all about the writing and that's what agent's want to get to as long as the description sounds generally appealing.

For the sample pages, I was a bit turned off by all the mentions of the MC's parents in the beginning. Keep the focus on the MC--he's who readers need to connect to in these crucial first pages. My favorite part was the last lines of the sample where he says his morning routine is dad giving him two little pills, except for today he's not there. That's really interesting! I would start your first chapter there and turn it into a great live scene.

Anonymous said...

As a sixteen year old reader, I stumbled across the link to this contest. And from what I've read, this is just my kind of book! :)

Suzanne Warr said...

I love the voice and premise--gives me delightful shivers and really builds sympathy for this poor kid! I do think both the query and the first pages could be trimmed down, especially the query. Your first line is great, but the next bit feels like it's holding back and goes on too long. As for the first pages, I'd rather have the info woven in as he lives than piled up front. Show him gathering himself--his nerves, mental prep, like before a dive--just briefly, then show the shock of Dad not there, and the sinister briefcase and missing two pills. You're nearly there--it just needs a little massage!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read the rest. Someone get this girl a contract!

Unknown said...

Great, taut writing. Your sentences are lyrical, your pacing established. You've also captured that mix of confidence and questioning inherent in adolescence, and of course magnified in this scenario. I am intrigued by the premise and the potential mine you can find in the intersection of broader YA themes of alienation, isolation, and finding one's moral compass.
One of the axioms of filmmaking is "show, don't tell" and I think you have that opportunity here--characterizing the father with details like the pills and briefcase rather than overt exposition. It seems like this novel could be rich in setting as well, which will aid in portraying both the father's constructed world and the son's burgeoning world.