Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Ms. Gref:

Germany, 1148. A young woman seeking sanctuary is murdered near the abbey of St. Nicholas. Struck by similarities between the victim and her own dead mother, Eva von Hirschburg, a fiery teenage noblewoman, partners with a peace-loving monk named Brother Clement to find the killer, but the two clash when Eva suspects Brother Karl, a disturbed young man that Clement wants to protect.

As she investigates, Eva is courted by the charismatic Friderich von Starkebr├╝cken. At first Eva rebuffs him, convinced he is only looking for an indiscretion. After days of verbal sparring, reluctant dancing, and thwarted kisses, Eva relents, but Friderich wants Eva to give up what he believes is a dangerous obsession with the murdered woman. Is Friderich trying to protect Eva or is he trying to protect his childhood friend Ragenard, a dark knight with violent tendencies?

Eva cannot capture the killer alone, but trusting the wrong person could prove deadly.

A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN (60,000 words) is a historical mystery for young adults, a medieval Nancy Drew with the lush, sexy feel of Anna Godberson's The Luxe. This book could be either a standalone project or the start of a series. I am writing you because I read several online interviews in which you said you were actively seeking YA and enjoyed stories that went deep into character, time, and place. The first 250 words of the manuscript are below, per agent's inbox guidelines.

I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and the North Carolina Writers' Network. As a developmental psychologist, I have authored/coauthored numerous academic articles and an adult nonfiction book under my maiden name (Knickmeyer). As a child, I lived in Germany, where I decided I wanted to live in a castle, wear silk brocade, and dance on floors strewn with lavender and hyssop.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




Germany, June 1148

Soon they would be safe. When she reached the abbey, she would find an advocate, a protector, someone who could convince him to acknowledge his son. Her arms tightened around the baby nestled in her cloak.

She lost her heart at fifteen when he followed her into the churchyard and, with burning eyes, demanded a kiss. Two years later, despite everything, she loved him still. In her dreams, she savored the saltiness of his lips and felt the weight of his body as they lay on his cloak, the night curled around them like a raven's wing.

A whistle sounded in the distance. The young woman's head jerked up. She knew that tune, his favorite hunting tune. It coursed through her veins like ice water. How had he found her?

She ran but stopped after a few seconds. She could not escape him that way. He would strike her down from behind; the baby would be thrown to the ground, his skull broken.

She would reason with him. She would promise to run away. To go where nobody knew them. She would not endanger his prospects. But he would never believe her. Not now.

Tears streamed down her face. They would hide in the woods. A ridiculous notion. He was an expert hunter. He would find them. She could picture his knife slicing her baby's throat, feel the blood on her hands, taste the screams in her mouth.

She saw only one choice.


Jenni Enzor said...

I love historicals! There's not a lot of medieval stories set in Germany, so that immediately intrigued me. That being said, I think there's a few things that could be stronger. I don't think you need to state the date in your query. It'd be better to start with your protagonist's name. I thought the second sentence (which should probably be your first sentence) was a little long and hard to understand. You need to start with her name, then go on to describe her.
I had a strong reaction to your second paragraph. She "rebuffs him," "thwarted kisses", "relents" etc., made him sound like a bit of a stalker. I am sorry, but I would not want to read about a girl who falls for a guy who doesn't respect her boundaries (perhaps I'm misreading this, but this is how it came across to me.) That put me off a bit from your story.

Your first page also confused me. It sounds like this is a prologue of the young girl being murdered. But I would be more drawn in if you started with Eva, who we know will continue throughout the book, to build sympathy.

I hope my comments are helpful!

MeriAnn said...

Very interesting story line. Just to add to ideas already presented, I think there are too many names within the query letter itself. I think you can cut out a lot of the names and reduce some of the confusion by sticking with Eva as the main introduction.

Sarah said...

I've read all 20 entries and this was definitely in my top three. I agree with MeriAnn's comment about the query: I think there are too many names. The first paragraph was brilliant and kept me reading, but by the end of the second I was quite confused. Is there some way you could cut down on the number of people you mention?

As for the first 250 words, I thought they were wonderful. I was a bit confused in the first couple of paragraphs (I usually am when starting a new book) but by the end of the sample I really wanted to read more.

Good luck with this; I really enjoyed reading it!

Rebecca Kagan said...

I'm intrigued and would love to read more, even though it's not my usual genera. I already feel connected to the young woman in the prologue, and wonder what will happen to the baby.

In the query, I believe you could dispense with the last line about your childhood.

Good job and luck in the contest.

Emily Gref said...

Hi R.S.,

Medieval mysteries are totally something I'd be into, so kudos on the compelling premise.

You have a bit too much happening in the query - there are way too many names being thrown about. Between the query and the first 250, I also feel like there's no mystery left to solve -- it seems like Ragenard is the most likely candidate. Obviously this could not be the case, but it immediately makes me write off Brother Karl. There should be ambiguity, even at the query stage.

For that matter, I almost always recommend against prologues. Witnessing the victim's death works well on-screen because viewers only need to watch for about a minute, but on paper you need to grab attention and keep it. When you start from the POV of someone that immediately dies, that only means you need to grab someone's attention AGAIN in Chapter One, and it almost certainly isn't going to be as tense and exciting as the prologue. Don't hobble yourself - start from the POV of your protagonist.

I hope that helps, and wish you the very best of luck.

All the best,