Friday, November 22, 2013

Agent-Author Chat: Monika Verma and Alexa Donne

I can't tell you how excited I am to welcome agent Monika Verma of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and author Alexa Donne back to the blog. I say back because Ms. Verma and Ms. Donne connected right here on Team Krista during "The Writer's Voice" last May, which means that this installment of "Agent-Author Chat" represents a direct success story for our team. Woohoo!

Check out Ms. Donne's fabulous entry (which was previously titled FUTURESHOCK), then hop back over here to learn how everything came together.

KV: Ms. Donne, how did you first come up with the idea for FUTURE TENSE?

AD: No joke--I had the idea in the shower. This was in the Spring of 2012 and I was taking a second crack at a YA dystopian I had abandoned after NaNo 2011. I was supposed to be brainstorming for the dystopian, and a stray thought flitted through my head—people always ask “if you could meet any historical figure, living or dead, who would it be?” Well, what if you WERE the historical figure? And, and… you’re famous because you become President! First female President of the United States! And then I thought the deliciously awful twisty thing (which I won’t reveal), and FUTURE TENSE was born. It may be the most productive shower I will ever have in my life.

Then, when it came to developing the idea (outside of the shower), I was a huge fan of the show Jack and Bobby on the WB, which is how I landed on the Presidential future and YA setting. I love the idea of following a teen character who is destined to become not only famous, but hold the highest political office in the land. I’m also a Doctor Who fan… and who doesn’t want a young, cute, dorky Doctor-like character showing up and taking you on adventures?

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?

AD: I didn’t write my query until I was done with the “draft zero” of the book. I did, however, write my “hook” (which became the first paragraph of the query) during the writing process, mostly because I was really excited about querying/entering contests and I am incorrigible.

I went through two iterations of my query--the first one I used for Pitch Madness, but didn’t send it to any agents via traditional querying. I waited until I did some more revising, and then I entered The Writer’s Voice. This is where I got my second and final version of my query, via mentorship with you (Krista). The advice I received from several sources, including a friend that works for an agency, was to throw all my best hooks into my query. So query #1 gave away a major spoiler, for a reveal that doesn’t happen until you are about 80% into the book. But the query felt very kitchen sink, I think, and Krista worked with me to rein my query in and focus on the personal and romantic conflict. So query number two teased the suspense, but did not give away the ending. I was so happy with this query (which better reflected the tone of my book), that I used it for all of my traditional querying--I sent it to approximately 19 agents. The only thing that changed mid-way through was I tweaked my YA book comps.

Format-wise, I shied away from a personalized query that drops the book title, genre and word count up front, and instead dove right into the characters/conflict/stakes. I prefer this format for a number of reasons, but partly because I know when I'm looking at a query, my eye jumps to two things first: first paragraph (hook) and then down to second to last paragraph, where I hope to see all the book details. I sound like a sycophant when I personalize my queries, so unless an agent specifically said they like to know why you’re querying them, I didn’t personalize. I also am a big believer in dropping your book hook immediately, in paragraph one. Some agents only read your first paragraph before deciding to read on. So make it good.

KV: Butting in to say I appreciate the plug. If I participate in “The Writer’s Voice” next year, I’m definitely pointing prospective teammates to this post:)

So how did Ms. Verma come to request your manuscript?

AD: Monika voted for me during The Writer’s Voice. She was one of two agents that voted, so she got a partial. A few days later, she upgraded her request to a full.

KV: Ms. Verma, when you saw Ms. Donne's entry in “The Writer’s Voice,” what caught your attention?

MV: I’m a big fan of contemporary YA, time-travel stories and all things British, so this entry was tailor-made for me. I was also struck by how strong the voice was, and I could tell right away that the author had a sense of humor. These are all things I’m on the lookout for when I read submissions.

KV: You and Ms. Donne ended up working through several rounds of pre-offer revisions. How do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

MV: I always want to be confident in my ability to sell a book before I offer representation to the author, and much of the time that means working through some revisions before making things official.  In the same vein, I like to make sure that the author and I are on the same page regarding revisions before she or he signs on, just to avoid any snafus down the road. Some authors have a particular vision for their work, and if it turns out that my vision differs from theirs, it’s best to find that out early.

KV: Obviously, these revisions met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about FUTURE TENSE?

MV: I love that the protagonist is strong, smart and unapologetic about her decisions. I also very much appreciate that while there is a romance storyline, it isn’t front and center; the character’s decisions about her future and her friendships take precedence. I laughed out loud at certain lines when I first read the manuscript, and I still laugh when I read them now, several drafts later. Finally, I love that the story embraces high school nerd culture and celebrates it.

KV: Ms. Donne, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

AD: Relative to my query, I have few regrets! I made some missteps with my first query, but I didn’t actually send it to anyone (outside one contest). Even though I wanted to query, I sat on it--something was niggling at me that it wasn’t The One. I’m glad I waited and got help in The Writer’s Voice. It was meant to be! Once I was ready, I queried smart--in small batches and using Query Tracker to keep track of things--and got a good number of requests.

As far as my manuscript is concerned, probably the only thing I would change is I would have made the harsh edits I ended up making to my first eight chapters earlier than I did. A few of my passes from agents remarked that it was slow to start, and later I fixed that. However, que sera--things happen the way they happen, and I’m happy with it!

KV: Ms. Verma, what querying tips do you have?

MV: The best advice I can give authors is to be clear and concise. As an agent sifting through queries all day, I want a query to provide all the basics about the book--synopsis, genre, similar titles, author bio--in an easy-to-digest way, but to also pique my interest and make me want to read more. I would also recommend checking out agent bios and wishlists, and adjusting your submission list accordingly. I personally like to hear about what inspires authors to write about whatever they choose to write about, whether it’s a love for the genre, personal experience etc.

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

MV: There are tons of great tips floating around on how to ace your query or pitch an agent, but with YA it all comes down to the voice. If I read a submission and can immediately relate to the protagonist (as I did in this case,) I’m likely to keep reading regardless of any other factors. Focus on the voice and the rest will follow!

AD: Be brand-minded, marketing savvy, and gather as much information as you can about the industry before, during and after you write. Write what you love and are inspired to write, but be smart: mindful of trends, how to package your book as well as you can (title, query, comps, etc.), your public persona. Agents will appreciate and respond to someone that shows knowledge of the market, which means read as many YA (etc.) books as you can, use great comps in your query, and understand how your novel will fit into the current marketplace. Make yourself the ideal client--a great writer, who can write hooks that can sell, who is flexible but passionate (so you’ll work with your agent/editor to make changes… but you know when to stick to your guns), and is constantly working to improve your craft. This means dealing well with criticism (get some honest, borderline brutal critique partners!), and editing smart and well.

Oh, and rejection isn’t personal--really!--and is par for the course in any creative industry. If you think of the whole querying/agenting/revision/submission process as an adventure, the knocks are easier to take. It truly only takes one yes.

Thank you, Ms. Verma and Ms. Donne, for these insightful answers. I got to see a lot of this unfold behind the scenes, and I'm SO thrilled the story had a happy ending.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Humanitarian Aid for the Philippines

My grandfather was born in Manila in 1922. He joined the United States Merchant Marines in the late 1930s, then transferred to the United States Army just after the start of World War II. After the war, he moved to the States, where he met and married my grandmother, the blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter of a pair of Danish immigrants. (In a roundabout way, their story inspired Steve, now known as THE REGENERATED MAN, as my grandparents faced mountains of prejudice in the early days of their marriage.) 

In other words, I feel connected to the Philippines and the people who live there. I always want to help people whose lives are touched by natural--and not-so-natural--disasters, but this is different. These people are MY people. Even though most of my grandfather's family immigrated to North America several decades ago, I probably have third and fourth and fifth cousins still living in the Philippines. Which is why I plan to donate to the relief effort straightaway.

I know how you donate to a relief effort is a very personal decision, but if you've been looking for a reputable charity, you might consider LDS CharitiesThey bring clean water to small towns and villages in developing countries, provide neonatal resuscitation training to doctors and nurses in these same nations, and supply food and vaccinations to those in need. They also provide disaster relief through their Helping Hands initiative--you may have seen their bright yellow shirts around--as well as the Humanitarian Aid Fund, which you can donate to directly by clicking on that link. Because they cover their overhead with other funds, 100% of your donation will reach the survivors in the Philippines.

I don't always like the Internet, but at times like these, I'm glad it gives us the capability to reach across the world and help those in need. Feel free to link to your favorite disaster relief organizations in the comments!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mr. Cusick's Winners!

If you were following along with the contest last week, you probably already know that Mr. Cusick asked for two 50-page partials from the first half of the entries:


He'd also like to see the fulls of two of the second-half entries:


Congratulations, winners! If you haven't already sent your requests, please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for submission instructions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Last but not least, a huge thank-you to Mr. Cusick for sharing his expertise with us, and a huge thank-you to all of you for entering, critiquing, and reading along. I've already scheduled another round of "An Agent's Inbox" for the end of January, and I might schedule another for sometime in December (if I can get on top of my own revising and critiquing), so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Go, Go, Go!

And we're off! Check out the entries, then leave some feedback in the comments if you feel so inclined. (ENTRANTS, PLEASE REMEMBER TO CRITIQUE AT LEAST THREE OTHER ENTRIES!) And I'm sure this goes without saying, but please keep your comments constructive (i.e., not rude or mean-spirited). If you want to think like The Agent, you might consider the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?"

I'll announce Mr. Cusick's winners and prizes at the beginning of next week, but until then, have at it!

(Also, just so you're aware, I always take out profanity when I'm formatting the entries. In other words, any asterisks you see in the entries are mine, so you don't need to point them out to the entrants. I just prefer to keep things as PG-rated as possible on the blog:) )

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Mr. Cusick:

I’m submitting this story because from what I read you like mystery, humour and fairy tales. My story has all three.

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE MISSING BEARS is a 425-word picture book mystery for ages four-and-up. This story takes place after Goldilocks initial encounter with the Bear family. Goldilocks arrives for breakfast and finds the house empty. Cast into the role of detective, she must discover what folded pyjamas, a broken beehive and a recipe for porridge have in common if she has any hopes of rescuing her missing bear friends.

I hold a diploma in Professional Writing from Grant MacEwan University. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and The Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

Thank you for your time.



Goldilocks stumbled up a familiar scene, but this time she had an invitation to breakfast.

“Baby Bear. Mama Bear. Papa Bear,” she called.
No one answered.

Strange, thought Goldilocks.  She slipped inside to investigate.

In the kitchen a pot of porridge bubbled. Mama’s bowl was in pieces.
In the living room the TV blared. Papa’s chair lay on its side.

Upstairs their rooms were clean, too clean. Even Baby Bear’s pyjamas were folded neatly on his bed.

Doubly strange. Goldilocks knew something had happened to her bear friends. 

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.



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.

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Mr. Cusick,

First, congratulations on your publishing success!  I love that your writing inspirations included both classical and modern influences.  My inspirations were similar as I folded history into a contemporary story.  ENCIRCLED is a 97,000-word YA Contemporary Fantasy, where a dash of magic and a love deeper than darkness put a new twist on the historical mystery of the disappearance of two English princes.

Sixteen-year-old Elisabeth Bell Pierce is hiding her broken heart and disfigured face at Bell Hall, the crumbling English castle she inherited when her mom died.  While her father, a fanatical historian, excavates the grounds to unravel the ancient mystery of the Lost Princes, Elisabeth searches the gloomy corridors for relief from her heart's perpetual darkness.  But when she discovers a secret passageway that leads deep beneath the castle, Elisabeth learns she isn't the only person hiding at Bell Hall, and that darkness itself may be her best chance at relief from her scarred past.

Bewitched to live in endless night until his stolen kingdom is restored, Richard of York, Lost Prince of England, is still faithfully awaiting a rescue that's never come--until now.  In their shadowy haven, Elisabeth's scars and Richard's tragic past fade, and together, they remember what it is to be alive.  But as her father digs closer to unearthing England's greatest secret, Elisabeth must find a way to hide Richard forever, before her father reveals him to the world--because not everything that's lost wants to be found.  

I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Utah with degrees in English Literature and Theatre.  My love affair with British history began in the seventh grade, when I stole my social studies textbook for some light summer reading, and got hooked on kings, castles, and betrayal. 

I have included my first page below, and would be happy to send more upon request.  Thank you for your time and consideration.



The smell of hot metal and the tang of blood were overwhelming.  My labored breath was harsh in the crushed space.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  I focused on the tempo against the too-still dark.  A small sound joined in.  Plink.  Plink.  Plink.  In-Plink-Out-Plink.  I tried to slow my racing pulse to its time.  In-Plink-Out-Plink.  But each throbbing beat pounded in my head, where a torturous pressure was mounting.  I pushed the wet tangle of hair from my face and twisted, but couldn't right myself: I was upside-down.  I craned my head to the right, a slow motion trip to hell.  My breath caught in my throat and its comforting rhythm died.  I licked my lips and tried to find my voice, but found my hand first, and pushed at the quiet form next to me, my seat belt catching and straining to keep me still.

"Momma," I croaked out in the barest whisper, the night shattering into pieces around me.  She didn't answer.  I found her hand and held it in mine.  I thought it twitched a bit.  Just a bit, but I felt it.  A thin beam of moonlight broke through the window and flitted over her haunted face.  Her fingers whispered over mine, and then her eyes opened--the grey-brown irises wide against pain and darkness.  Her lips moved soundlessly and a dull roar started in my head, the scream of blood and fear.  And then her hand went still.  A tear rolled to the tip of my nose and clung on for dear life, frozen.  I stared into my mother's empty eyes and wished to be somewhere, anywhere but here. 

And then I was gone.

An Agent's Inbox #17

Dear Mr. Cusick,
I recently read your interview with KidLit network where you mentioned you'd love to see something "scary in a fresh environment", and your example was very close to my MG urban fantasy (kid trapped in a cave). Hopefully, you'll find DARCY DARKLING AND THE FORGOTTEN CITY to be what you're looking for.
Twelve-year-old Darcy is bored of her city, with its high walls, fake grass and a whole lot of sameness. That is, until she finds a secret tunnel leading to an abandoned underground city. Every night she sneaks away to explore more of the winding tunnels and empty streets of The Forgotten City.

Her very own secret.

The underground seems empty at first, but the creatures who live in the dark don't appreciate a little girl poking her nose in their business. They don't trust the "sun-dwellers," a.k.a. humans. But Darcy refuses to stay away. She belongs to the dark, whether they like it or not.

When the creatures push her too far, Darcy gets lost in the labyrinth of tunnels and doesn't make it home by sun up. Now the humans know she's missing and they're coming after her--into the underground.

Because of Darcy, the forgotten race of goblins will come face to face with humans for the first time in two hundred years. An old feud turns into a fight over a girl who belongs nowhere and everywhere at once. Half human, half goblin.

DARCY DARKLING AND THE FORGOTTEN CITY is complete at 45,000 words. Thanks so much for your time.


The best place in the whole world is a mile below my feet.
Damp sludge drips from the stone walls of the underground tunnels, surrounded by darkness so thick it's like a living, breathing thing. There are new adventures everywhere. Every turn is a new secret waiting to be uncovered. I've found my share but I plan on finding a whole lot more.
Too bad I'm not supposed to go there, and if I was ever caught I'd be a lot worse than grounded. So right now I'm stuck above ground, in my boring apartment, doing my boring homework just waiting until I can sneak back to the tunnels.
It's my secret. No one can keep me away, not even Mom.
“Darcy!” Mom calls.
“What?  I’m doing my homework, just like you said.”
She walks into my room carrying a pair of muddy tennis shoes. “Explain to me how these got so dirty.”
Whoops. She wasn't supposed to find those.
I shrug, playing it off. “I was playing bee with Joe.”
I hold up a Frisbee. Lucky for me it’s got some dirt on it too. Otherwise she might suspect I’m not telling the truth.
“Leave it to you to find the only dirt in the whole city."
Here we go.
"Why do you think they did away with those parks I played in as a kid? They were dangerous. Stick to the astro-turf, okay?"

She says it so serious that I can't help but roll my eyes.

An Agent's Inbox #16

Dear Mr. John Cusick:

Twelve-year-old Maya didn’t know she was born on another galaxy until the day she makes a near-death escape from Earth in a giant avocado.

When a man named Gorak arrives on Earth to catch Maya, she dodges him by slipping into an avocado spaceship. She plops out on Pralayan, a galaxy where humans inhabit many of the planets. Maya finds out she has a twin sister, who has been enslaved by Gorak on Pralayan, and now Gorak needs Maya to complete his evil experiment to live forever. Maya’s sense of safety on Pralayan and her hope of finding her twin both dwindle when Gorak returns to Pralayan from Earth. Now Maya is shipped off to Navkaalam, a guarded planet for Pralayan’s human kids.

On Navkaalam, Maya befriends two boys, the fainthearted Yani and the half-plant-boy named Dhroon. But Maya’s connection with her twin runs much deeper than she imagined. Her dreams are haunted by the pain her sister feels, and the scar on her palm burns and leaves her longing for her twin. When she uncovers hidden symbols of a fiery eye, she is convinced it will lead her to her twin. Despite her fear that Gorak would show up any time and snatch her up, Maya and her friends set out to uncover the powerful secret behind the fiery eye symbol. But Dhroon goes missing, and Maya and Yani steal a space vessel to search for him, only to find out it’s a trap by Gorak to draw Maya out of Navkaalam. Their space vessel crashes on a planet where Maya spots the mysterious fiery eye, an energy source from outside our known universe. Now Maya must find a way to fend off Gorak so she can save Yani, and unite with her twin sister.

THE FIERY EYE is a 51,000-word middle grade science fiction. My story will appeal to readers of Karen Sandler’s TANKBORN and Dan Krokos’s The Planet Thieves.

Your interest in a fast-paced story set in an original science fiction world has compelled me to query you. This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your consideration.



Chapter 1: The Glowing Man

Maya dug her hand in the seat of the police cruiser until her fingers found the coin. A quarter. She eyed Officer Mike, who was busy pulling into the driveway, before she drew the coin out and stuffed it in her pocket. Backseats of cars were the best places to find loose change, and police cruisers were always loaded. Unless, Maya thought, you got in one with hard plastic-molded seats instead of the smooth black leather. Tough luck then.

Officer Mike opened her door. 

Maya hopped out. The key chains on her backpack jangled like rusty cans.

“Do you ever take that thing off?” Office Mike asked.

“Never,” Maya replied. At least never in daylight. Why would she? Everything she needed she carried in her small canvas pack. A roll of watermelon bubblegum, two pairs of clean socks, and loose paper clips. Seventeen old key chains she had collected over the years. They didn’t make for stealthy exits but she hated making silent entrances where no one looked up or noticed. Everyone heard her jingle-jangle when she walked.

“Where was she this time?” Mother stood on the porch, her arms planted on her hips.

“Same place. Today she was napping on that unmarked grave,” Officer Mike said, as he urged Maya up the gravel driveway toward the house.

“I don’t know why she wants to run away,” mother said. “Go inside and wash up,” she ordered.

Maya stomped inside. The screen door slapped shut behind her.  I wasn’t running away.

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Mr. Cusick,

I read in an interview on Middle Grade Ninja that you are interested in stories set "in our contemporary world with a sci-fi or fantastical twist." My YA magical realism novel THE ART OF BREAKING, complete at 90,000 words, is exactly that.

When rule-breaker Luca Grable drowns at seven years old, she doesn't go to heaven. Instead she becomes an imaginary friend. But when her best-friend-from-life Katie Tayloe is unable to get over her death, the Council of Imaginaries breaks its own rule and assigns Luca to Katie. And the girls spend the next decade growing up almost like nothing ever happened.
But now the council is considering a new rule that will terminate their friendship on Katie’s eighteenth birthday. If they move forward with The Grable Clause, Luca only has a month left before she never sees Katie again. And with her crush Wes Burnley suddenly able to see her after she saves his life--and the chance at a once-in-an-afterlife romance within her grasp--Luca is too caught up in trying to have a normal life to notice that the Imaginary world is breaking apart around her. Or that it’s all her fault.
Luca must learn what it means to be a true friend, or risk the lives of everyone she loves.
THE ART OF BREAKING will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere.
I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. My adult magical realism romance, LOVE AND CUPCAKES, will be released in January 2014 from Swoon Romance. For the past ten years, I have worked as a marketing copywriter, proposal editor, and graphic designer.
Per the contest guidelines, I have included the first 250 words of the manuscript below. Thank you for your consideration.



The rules of summer were simple--only one ice cream sandwich per day, no swimming without appropriate supervision, and always be home before dark. On the day Luca Grable died, she broke all three. The first two were acts of seven-year old rebellion. The third was an unintentional side effect of drowning in her best friend’s pool.

But even dying couldn’t keep Luca from growing up. It was one of the perks of becoming an Imaginary friend instead of going to heaven. She got to keep aging along with her best friend as long as Katie needed her. And there was nothing her mentor Math could do about it, no matter how late she was for their weekly meeting.

He could, however, put her on bathroom duty. Again.

Luca checked her watch as she hauled a** the last few feet to the entrance of Imaginary House. Ten more minutes and not even being a few months shy of legal age could save her from scrubbing toilets and bleaching tile grout every Saturday night for the next month.

She flung herself through the front gates, gripping the smooth metal bars for balance, and shot up the sidewalk. The house cast dozens of crooked shadows on the lawn from the various additions that jutted out at odd angles from the main building. A few younger Imaginaries chased each other around the half-acre of thick grass, using the shadows as safe zones. Their laughter pierced the air. Their knees were stained with grass and dirt and remnants of melted chocolate.

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear John Cusick,

Belinda Gallagher is mere months away from aging out of the Georgia foster care system, when a seductive and terrifying woman claiming to be her mother arrives to take her home. And introduces herself as Lilith, the Queen Succubus Extraordinaire.

Belinda isn’t totally surprised by her demonic genetics, since strange things were always happening around her, like her ex-boyfriend being hit by a car seconds after she imagines it. But she is surprised that her new home is Limbo, a place where the dead work off their sins, which looks very much like the suburbs. Despite living in a mansion (gardener included) and having all the trappings of the perfect life, everything is far from picturesque. Lilith has plans for world domination and insists her daughter learn how to be a proper succubus via regular visits from Lilith’s demonic sisters. Goat intestine for breakfast, then school at a prestigious Christian academy, followed by lessons in seduction, deception, and how to crush a person’s soul are not the standards for normalcy.

As Belinda tries to suppress her demonic urges (worst superpowers ever), she struggles to keep up the appearance of an average suburban teenager. The more she rebels against Lilith’s sinister ways, the harder it becomes to hide the evil lurking under the surface. And keep Mommy Dearest from destroying the world.

BELINDA LIVES IN LIMBO is a 90,000 word YA paranormal novel, and potential start of a series. Fans of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER will appreciate Belinda’s inner battle.

I graduated summa cum laude from the Savannah College of Design with a degree in Motion Graphics. I designed and produced the trailer for the award winning novel The Technologists, written by Matthew Pearl, and published by Random House in 2012. I have published an ongoing fiction novel on Wattpad, which has drawn in a significant amount of readers and has over 35,000 reads.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,


I don’t belong here, but everyone thinks so. County Corrections Orange looks particularly right on me. I have that “damaged goods” look. Perhaps at one time I had potential but now that I’m wearing this jumper that works nights as a traffic cone, I’m just another poor miscreant on her way to a life of crime. Here is the secret though: I never had potential. At least I never had potential to do any good.

My probation officer babbles about what happens now that the judge has signed off on my community service, something about counseling and mandatory court dates. I’m hardly listening. Three more months and I won’t have to deal with the Georgia judicial system anymore. My probation will be up and I’ll be free. She swiftly dismisses me, having about fifty other juvenile delinquents to speak to. Docile, compliant Belinda Gallagher is the least of her worries.

The air outside her office is stifling, rife with teenage breath and youthful angst. None of us want to be here, but we’ve all done something to deserve it. Now, I’ve done plenty of bad things in my life but, for the first time, I can say that I actually am innocent. Mostly.

I navigate my way through the endless hallway. It’s littered with girls wearing the exact same outfit as me. We are a sea of highlighter orange. I finally get to the locker room, change quickly, and then exit the building to meet my ride. 

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear John Cusick,

Thank you for considering my 193 word picture book for ages 2+.

As a young child embarks on an outdoor adventure--pup tent, pajamas, crackling campfire, lantern and teddy bear (Grizzly in the story) in hand, the thrill of nature's nighttime elevates the child's imagination. The backyard campout becomes The Adventures of Wild Eyed Slim and Silver Dollar City. Told through the eyes of the child, this sweet story places the child and his companion bedtime bear in the midst of the excitement.

I look forward to your review and critique.


One starry night
Not so long ago
I had just finished my beans
And tin cup of joe
I played my harmonica
And warmed my bones by the fire
The wolves howled in unison
Like the Tabernacle Choir
When suddenly...
The earth beneath me
Began to shudder and quake
And in my cowboy boots
I started to shake
It was Wild Eyed Slim
And his band of renowned
Riding into the night
They'd been run out of town
A rootin' tootin' cowboy
A desperado if you will
With a bounty on his head
"Wanted" just like Buckskin Bill
I tied up my horse
And jumped into my tent
Pulled the flap closed behind me
And under the blanket I went
I steadied my hand
And reached for the light
I shined it on Grizzly
And gave them a fright
Their spurs jingle jangled
As they galloped away
Old Grizzly and I
Had just saved the day
I rubbed the dust from my eyes
And reclaimed my campsite
Silver Dollar City

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear John Cusick:

Obsession reigns in ROYAL TRIAL, a 85,500-word YA novel that combines dangerous friendship with madness, opulence, intrigue, and--of course--sword fights. 

King Andonel of Danri inadvertently banished his childhood sweetheart, Lena, five years ago. Though returning to Danri means certain death, Lena’s obsession with getting revenge on Andonel drives her to surreptitiously return. Within two days, she's committed treason, created a national crisis, and rejected the king’s marriage proposal. Andonel repeatedly attempts reconciliation, but he is thwarted again and again by his scheming council. Convinced that Andonel has set her up to die, Lena attacks him, adding another treason charge to her already-marred record. Humiliated, Andonel allows the council to charge and try her, not realizing they have already decided to sentence her to death and depose him if he tries to interfere.

I am a debut novelist, and I currently volunteer as an assistant for Brenda Drake. I have taken creative writing classes and work in the writing program at the J. Reuben Clark Law School. I thought you would enjoy ROYAL TRIAL because of your preference for vulnerable villains and bad decisions made with the best of intentions. Both of the protagonists suffer from terrible decision-making skills, though the male protagonist always does so to help someone else. Also, my villain is very much a relateable, likeable individual who is arguably the most sympathetic character in the book.

Thank you for taking the time to review my query. Should Royal Trial spark your interest, I would be delighted to send my manuscript for your consideration.




The market had always been loud. Now it was deafening.

Lady Lena Zan Aurin skidded to a stop, paralyzed by the cacophony. Although she vaguely acknowledged the flashy new shops, she struggled to reconcile the market she remembered with the tumult around her. Her thoughts were as frenzied as the shoppers that scurried from stall to stall.

Taking a deep breath, the slender nineteen-year-old clenched her fists and drifted through the bustling multitude with an uneasy familiarity. Her dark traveling attire, bulging knapsack, and five-foot frame let Lena blend in with the unusually large crowd. Andon must have--

No. She wouldn’t even think that name. Not yet.

Lena tried to distract herself with the wares of the many vendors, but to no avail. The scene was much too odd for her to feel entirely at home.

Home. That made sense. Lor and Alessa would hide her until she’d exacted her revenge. But everything else had changed. They were probably gone, too.

No, she couldn’t think like that. They would never abandon her.

Lena strode in the direction of the Zan Aurin manor, as eager to reach her old home as the insatiable crowds were to buy the merchants’ wares.

“Delicacies and pastries sold here!” The smell of caramelized sugar and yeasty dough wafted by.     

“Fresh fish, caught in Da’an Sea!” Pungent brine and oil assaulted her, salty but familiar.

“Fine cloaks and gowns of all fabrics! Furs from the north!”

“A necklace for you, Your Ladyship?” The appeal rang out close by. As the blood drained from Lena’s face, one of her hands instinctively flew to her neck where a delicate silver necklace hung beneath her tunic and the other grasped her short sword.

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Mr. Cusick:

Bulldozers crouch outside Emerson Elementary, as if they long to eat the school in one gulp. It’s up to fifth grade history buff George Furst and his friends to save the not-quite historic building from demolition. George has no clue how to organize a fifth grade full of crush-obsessed, experiment-exploding hamster haters into a protest, but unless he unites their class against the powerful Board of Education, George and his friends will be THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY (18,000 WORDS) is a middle grade novel-in-verse. Its ensemble cast is as diverse as the dishes at a Fourth of July picnic, but when George and his friends stage a revolution, the entire class is part of the fireworks. I hope you will consider this manuscript for representation.

I have a BFA (Dramatic Writing) from NYU. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is drawn from my 20 years in education, including classroom visits as a longtime poet-in-the-schools. My work for children has appeared in Highlights. Poetry credits include literary journals, a first-place chapbook, and two poetry anthologies (as editor and co-editor). Currently, I am editor of the art and literary journal Little Patuxent Review. I also blog about arts education at, where I am active in the Poetry Friday kids’ lit blogging community.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


First Day
By Rachel Chieko Stein

We only have 180 days
at Emerson Elementary.
When this school year ends,
I will have spent one thousand days
in this building. I want a thousand more
so I’ll never have to say goodbye
to friends I’ve had since kindergarten.
I wish Emerson could be my school forever,
but everyone’s talking about plans
to tear the building down.
It’s going to be like we were never here.
I wish fifth grade wasn’t such a tornado,
whirling and spinning,
everyone scattered in different directions,
our school gone, an empty space
left behind.

By George Furst

My name is George Washington Furst.
Don’t laugh. My parents are History teachers.
They met at George Washington’s house.
Not while he was living there, obviously.
The house is a museum called Mount Vernon.
Vernon is also the name of our cat,
who lives with me and my mom.
My dad doesn’t live with us.
He moved out, took half the furniture,
and left the cat, so probably
we won’t visit Mount Vernon
on my birthday like usual
because nothing’s like usual.
If George Washington’s house
is still standing after 250 years
why demolish Emerson?
It’s the only place I have that never changes,
every year the same blue chairs,
beat-up desks and blackboards.
Maybe if I run for Class President,
I can explain to the teachers
that our school could last another 200 years.

An Agent's Inbox #10

Mr. Cusick,

Your reputation, catalog and wealth of experience have inspired me to reach out to you for possible literary representation. Your perspective as an author, educator and agent is invaluable. Most important to me, however, is the passion we share for children's literature. Although your personal website doesn't list PBs as desired projects, I see that they are acceptable here and via the Greenhouse Literary Agency submission process. I am, therefore, pleased to present TRAINING ACADEMY AT PARKSIDE ZOO, a 585-word humorous picture book with series potential.

The animals of the Training Academy have one save the human race.  Although discouraged by the silly behavior of the zoo's visitors, the animals rally to teach simple life skills and help people become productive members of society; a quest that is tougher than it sounds…especially for animals suffering from delusions of grandeur.

I hope that you will enjoy the quirky twists in TRAINING ACADEMY AT PARKSIDE ZOO, which is highly dependent on illustrations for comical value. I have added art notes for clarification purposes only and am anxious to embrace an illustrator's interpretation. I seek a full service partner who can facilitate every aspect of my career; my projects range from PB to YA. I am an educator and have been published in regional and national magazines, am a member of SCBWI and plan to attend its International Winter Conference in NYC in February.
Thanks for your time.


Wallace Owl was president of the Training Academy at Parkside Zoo.
Every day, he recited the mission over the intercom while the other animals followed along.

"Good morning, everyone. Please repeat after me!" Wallace said.
"As a member of the Training Academy.......                                     
I promise.........
to help our human visitors........
learn the skills needed......
to survive out in the world."

Wallace visited the animals to evaluate the training program.

His first stop was the chimp enclosure.

"How's your project going?" he asked Papa Chimp.

"See for yourself. We can't teach them a thing!" he said. "They just scratch their armpits, jump up and down, and yell, oo, oo, aah, aah. They're out of control!"

Wallace took some notes and headed off to visit the reptiles.

"What's with these silly peek-a-boo games?" he asked. "They keep popping their heads in and out of their collars."

"Don't ask me," said Latimer Turtle. "Scares me to death."

"They don't even try to blend in," said Milo the chameleon.

"At least they don't stick their tongues out at you all day," Reginald Lizard said. "How rude!"

Wallace got similar reports from the birds and water animals.

"All they do is balance on one foot,"  said Marisol Flamingo. "I've had it with their shenanigans."

"Just look at those teeth," said Cedric Shark. "They're terrifying."

Even the king of the jungle couldn't get through to them.

"They just stare at me," said Nigel the lion. "I get no respect!"

Wallace could see that they were discouraged.