Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #19

Dear Mr. Cusick:

Roger McGillicutty, 12, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he’s unexpectedly transformed into a five-foot praying mantis!

His parents seem to be coping with it fairly well, and his dog Lou is okay with it, but how will the rest of the town of Highland Falls handle it?  Roger has school on Monday, the carnival’s coming to town next week, and his Little League team is playing their biggest rival Centerville next Saturday.  Being a giant bug will seriously cramp his style!

Or maybe not.  Something changes when Roger uses his new insect abilities to perform a spectacular rescue of his classmates from a broken Ferris wheel.

Roger McGillicutty: six-legged freak, or superhero?

Roger’s story takes off from the famous beginning line of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and then flies in an entirely different direction.  Behind the adventure and the humor is a story about accepting who you are--your talents and limitations--and learning how to make the most of it.

ROGER MANTIS is a middle-grade fantasy, complete at 35,500 words.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
T.B.


ROGER MANTIS

As young Roger McGillicutty awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Aw, geeze! he thought.

There was no mistake about it. The drapes in Roger’s bedroom were closed, but the Saturday morning sun was shining brightly outside and the drapes glowed, illuminating the whole room.

Roger stared at his hands, which had been replaced by vicious yellow hook-like claws at the end of big, spiky green arms. Clumsily, he kicked off the covers using a lot more legs than he used to have, and looked down at himself.

It was worse than he thought. He was lying on his back, and below his shoulders his middle was now a hard, skinny green cylinder leading down to where four long, spindly jointed legs wiggled aimlessly at the ceiling. Past the legs was a long, greenish-yellow wormy-looking thing that was apparently his butt.

Roger’s freaked-out brain suddenly remembered that this was called an “abdomen” on an insect, and that his middle part was called a “thorax.” Stuff that was still stuck in his head from that insect chapter last month in his hated seventh-grade biology class. Well, at least “abdomen” was a better word than “butt.” As Roger looked at his...abdomen, it squirmed and bent as though that end of him was waking up separately.

“Eww! Gross!” he said. His own voice startled him. It was a little buzzy, like his art teacher Mrs. Clancy, who talked through her nose.

13 comments:

Author Amok said...

I love what you did with "The Metamorphosis." Great idea! (Also loved the pun in your query "and then flies in an entirely different direction.")

nwharrisbooks said...

Very intriguing story. I like the hook. I think the first 250 need some polish. Seems like that opening line has a little to much of a "telling" feel. I'd just jump straight into Roger's mind and let us discover he is an insect as he discovers it. Like he wakes up groggy and tries to shove his feet into his house slippers but they don't fit right. Slowly build up to it until he looks in the mirror--and wham, hit us with it as hard as it hits him. Should be a shock to the reader as well as the character. Hope this helps. Love the story :-)

Molly Shaffer said...

I love the concept! I could see my son's reading this. One of the hardest parts of writing is showing. I have to watch how often I tell what the character does instead of show it. My editor told me to think about it as a scene in a movie. What exactly do you want the picture to look like in the reader's mind? Seriously though, your concept is rad!

Rena J. Traxel said...

Great query! I second what's been said above. From your query I see this story will have some humour in it. You can really play up the funny as he discovers his new body at the same time as the audience. I think he would have stronger reaction to discovering he's an insect. You are telling us he is freaked out but you aren't showing it. I would expect him to scream or panic. Maybe jump into his head and tell us what he's thinking and feeling. I would skip the sleeping and light part and jump right into him trying to get out of bed. Maybe he gets trapped or whatever leaving the reader wondering what's going on. Anyways I do love the concept!

Anonymous said...

The second comment cracked me up because, of course, that telling-not-showing opening sentence was Kafka's. There is some conriversry about the translation (mostrous vermin or gigantic insect?) as well as other things lost in translation, like alliteration. Anyway, just found it funny that Kafka tells.

Suze said...

I love that the first thing he thinks when he wakes up is, 'Aw, geeze!'

I also really like the name Roger McGillicutty. Very lyrical and immediately evokes the sort of zaniness this book likely entails!

Jessi Esparza said...

Very intriguing concept. The query certainly captured the humor in the tone. One critique about the query. The line "Something changes when Roger uses his new insect abilities to perform a spectacular rescue of his classmates from a broken Ferris wheel." despite seems a bit vague. You illustrate exactly what the situation is, but what changes? Roger's opinion about being a giant insect? Does something physically change? Or is it his outlook on life? Does the town not accept him at first, as that is one of his initial worries, but after saving a few lives, now they do?

Your writing was very direct, which came off more witty than outright funny, which is very cool. I especially liked the last line about his teacher.

susanbishopcrispell said...

The voice comes through very strong in both the query and the 250 words. And it's great. For the query, giving a little more detail on what specifically happens to Roger when he saves the classmate might help give a better sense of what he's dealing with throughout the story.

The humor in the 250 words fits well with the age group and it feels like it would be a fun read. I wonder though, if Roger would be a little more freaked out about being a bug instead of remembering his science lessons? I love that part, but think maybe we need to get a sense of his "freaked out brain" first. As a reader, i want to live that freak out with him.

Jennifer Park said...

Your query is very strong, with both humor and voice. The first 250 could be polished a bit. I think there could be a better reaction to Roger finding out he's a giant bug, and build it up more so that we find out along with him, as earlier comments stated. Sounds like a really great story!

John C. said...

Hi T.B.,

We considered ROGER MANTIS for the Greenhouse Funny Prize this year, and it came *so* close! My biggest concern was whether this concept could carry an entire novel. METAMORPHOSES is, after all, a short story, and one I can't see young readers being familiar with. While I felt editors would get a chuckle out of this idea, I wasn't sure kids would be as involved. Further, to me, Roger's dialog doesn't feel quite natural. For instance, "Aw, geeze!" (even in internal monologue) feels a bit overly-childish and presentational, rather than something I could really hear a kid saying to himself.

-J

tomalanbrosz said...

Thanks for all the great comments, and special thanks and appreciation to Mr. Cusick!

To make this book work at all, I had to do two things.

First, I had to dial back the natural responses to this situation. In real life, poor Roger would probably have gone catatonic, or ended up in a tree in Chapter Two with rifles pointed at him. Not the fun book I wanted. You want depression and miserable death, stick with Kafka.

So I put Roger in a small town where most of the population seems to be unusually resilient about Roger becoming a giant insect. "Yes, it’s strange and a bit scary, but it is our Roger after all."

So, yeah, nobody is as freaked out as you'd think they'd be, but for comedy that often helps. It's why Herman Munster went to work with a lunch pail instead of being burned up in a windmill.

The second thing I had to do was crank the period back to the late 70s (another two paragraphs would have flagged this). The book's necessary local isolation would have fallen apart immediately in a world where everybody on two legs (or six) has a cell phone with a camera and internet access.

So the kids are a bit "dated" and more like the kids in the books I grew up with.

One of my inspirations for this book was Zilpha Keatley Snyder's "Black and Blue Magic," where a boy finds himself with wings. Harry Houdini Marco's signature exclamation was "For Pete Squeaks!" Roger's is "Aw, geeze!"

There are five chapters of "Roger Mantis" at my website, linked above (hit the "My Books" link). You can check out how well it holds up.

Thanks again to all!

Suze said...

The second thing I had to do was crank the period back to the late 70s (another two paragraphs would have flagged this). The book's necessary local isolation would have fallen apart immediately in a world where everybody on two legs (or six) has a cell phone with a camera and internet access.

'So the kids are a bit "dated" and more like the kids in the books I grew up with.

One of my inspirations for this book was Zilpha Keatley Snyder's "Black and Blue Magic," where a boy finds himself with wings. Harry Houdini Marco's signature exclamation was "For Pete Squeaks!" Roger's is "Aw, geeze!"'

I dig. I get what you're doing and I can 'hear' it. Keep on keepin' on.

Suze said...

Also, I loved Z.K. Snyder's 'The Changeling' as a kid. Didn't read 'Black and Blue' but if an author's looking for influences, they could certainly do worse than Snyder.