Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #17

Dear Ms. Gref,

At great risk of losing everyone she loves, Hania must decide if she is willing to help bring back hope to those around her.  I am reaching out to you, Ms. Gref, at Lowenstein Associates for assistance in publishing my recently completed manuscript. I am drawn to you as an agent because we enjoy reading similar books and I often find myself laughing out loud at your blog.  My book, The Heart Song, is a young adult fantasy novel complete at 87,000 words. It is a stand-alone book with series potential, featuring a strong female lead and Native American folklore and practices.

After running from her past for 400 years, Hania, a Golem, discovers that someone she once knew is responsible for the lack of hope and compassion in America.  She must decide if she will open her painful history and draw from her experiences during the Trail of Tears and World War I to fight her way back to finding her self-worth.  With her unusual companions--a snarky New York run-away, a free-spirited musician from Denver, and an elderly medicine man from Moab--she embarks on a quest to defeat, Halleck, a leader set on controlling mankind through his army of Seminole warriors.

Native American folklore has been a passion of mine since growing up in Bicknell, UT, the desert heart of the trilogy.  An avid reader and storyteller, I have a Masters Degree in Business Administration, am a member of the League of Utah Writers, and contribute to numerous literary blogs including Write from the Mountains. 

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 



I was breaking and entering, but I didn't care.  I stood quietly in an alley behind the village shops in downtown New York City.  I was amazed at the size of this bustling city. Coming from a small community farther west the lights and movement of the city overwhelmed me.  Listening closely for any sound or movement, I reached out and turned the knob to the back entrance of a barber shop.  It held fast.  I removed a small metal knife from my front pocket and placed it quietly into the lock.  Moving slowly and precisely I slid the pick up and down until I found the correct grooves and all the pins clicked into place.  Turning the knob I pressed on the door.  It made a light squeaking sound as it slid inward.  I looked around once more, before I stepped into the shop and closed the door quietly behind me.

Grabbing clippers from the desk I moved to the sink at the back of the shop away from the windows and leaned my head over.  I shaved my hair down nearly to my scalp leaving dark, shiny black hair covering the sink, counter and floor.  When I finished I stood up and looked in the mirror. A man peered back at me, but I still could feel the woman inside.  Missing her already, I ran my hands over the top of my newly-shorn hair and watched loose pieces fall to the floor. I realized that I didn't even recognize myself anymore.


Martha Mayberry said...

Query: I think it would be helpful to explain what a Golem is. Maybe put your MC in a more active light overall. When characters are discovering and deciding things, it’s less exciting than when they’re part of the action. For stakes, it would be good to tell the reader what will happen if she doesn’t stop Halleck; controlling mankind is vague and I’m unsure what this means.

Your 250: I notice you begin many of your sentences with “I”. Consider shaking it up. You’re missing commas after: west, the lights; up and down, until; knob. Consider livening up some of your sentences. For example, “It made a light squeaking sound as it slid inward,” is telling us, which puts distance between the reader and your story. Instead, it could read: The squeak as it slid inward pierced the night. I jumped. This shows and pulls the reader in.

Best of luck with it!

Jenni Enzor said...

I think a fantasy based on Native American folklore sounds really intriguing! Your query didn't grab me, and I think it was more like a synopsis, telling about the events, but without a sense of the who the character is or her main conflict or goals. I also agree that you should explain Golem.
I agree with what Martha said. There's too much telling, but that can be easily changed as she suggests. I'd also be careful about describing every step she's taking. It's more important to give us tension through the whys of what she's doing. You leave that till the end of this passage, but I think if you could bring her motives in sooner and give meaning to the action, it would make this scene more tense.

Rebecca Santelli said...

I agree with Jenni that a fantasy based on Native American folklore is novel and interesting and I've seen many agents looking for young adult novels that draw on more diverse cultural backgrounds. That being said I was confused as to how being a Golem fit into the story since Golems originate in Eastern European Jewish culture. It will be interesting to hear what Ms. Gref thinks, but I often see agents stating that they want business-like letters that get quickly to the synopsis - based on that I'd suggest starting the query at Sentence 4 (My book...). Re your first 250, I understand that cutting-off your hair can be a powerful emotional experience, but I wanted to get to know the main character a little before this and as others have said it needs to be more show less tell - like we were viewing the action through a videocamera on our MC's face. Good luck with the book!

L.L.M. said...

Query: The first line doesn't hook me. Most books are about the hero or heroin losing someone or something close to him/her. The stakes of lost "hope" doesn't grab me either. There should be a hint of what will happen the protagonist fails.

I smiled when I read the bit about you laughing out loud at the agent's blog, but if you aren't going to open with it I would move the personalization (and the information about the manuscript itself) to the end with the bio. That way it doesn't interrupt the tension you'd build with the first sentence, as it does now.

Firstly, what is a Golem? Is it the creature from Jewish folklore? If not, a brief explanation would help. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering how all of this ties into Native American tales. And if it IS from Jewish folklore, the curiosity is a good draw, so mention it either way.

What about her past is Hania trying to get away from? Is it a person? Something she did? A lot of people want to forget the bad things that happened in their lives, but what about her past poses a threat to her present and future? As it reads right now her main challenge is accepting what happened. Then, out of left field, we have an antagonist introduced with his heart set on world domination. Nothing connects the self-discovery with preventing Armageddon, it reads as two different story lines.

In general, double check comma placement. Some are missing, other people pointed them out, and there are a few extras that aren't necessary. Example: The one before Hania's name in the first sentence, and the one before Halleck's name in the last.

First 250: Most of the sentences start with I. Switching that up will prevent the voice from becoming repetitive and monotonous. There's passive voice. Not a lot but in a few places. Example: "It made a light squeaking sound" would be stronger as "It squeaked as it slid."

Phrases like "I was amazed" tell the reader what the MC is feeling instead of showing us through her action, her body language, etc. Things are a little stagy: I reached, I turned, I stepped, I looked. Addressing the showing will help with this. "I tried the knob" "The door eased open".

By the end I'm wondering why she had to break into a barber shop to cut her hair instead of doing it at home or a friend's house or the bathroom at Target. This in intriguing, and I'm curious as to what part the shop has to play.

I haven't gotten to know this MC as who she is before she makes the change, so it isn't as drastic and intense as I'm thinking it's supposed to be. Perhaps back up to her decision and why, or maybe even her state of mind as she makes her way to the shop.

All in all, the premise intrigues me. Glad to see a fantasy based on Native American folklore.

Best of luck!

Ben Spendlove said...

The plot summary in the query is that one paragraph in the middle, and it leaves me wondering a few things. First, what exactly is a Golem? How do those unusual companions fit into the story? How could an army of Seminole warriors possibly control mankind? It sounds interesting, and I have a feeling the answer to that last question would make me more interested.

The main thing about the first page is, as has been mentioned, overuse of the pronoun "I". How you fix that is up to you, of course, but it helps me to imagine what I'd be thinking if I were in the narrator's place. I'd be noticing things about the alley and the bustling city, perhaps thinking how different it was from somewhere out west. But I wouldn't be thinking "I'm noticing that this alley is damp." It would just be "this alley is damp. This city is huge." Of course, those aren't the best sentences, either, but you get the idea.

Good luck!

Emily Gref said...

Hi M.E.B.,

While it sounds like you have an interesting premise, I'm not totally sure what the hook is. How does a Golem from Jewish mythology fit in with Native American folklore and history? What does Hania's self-worth have to do with her discovery that America's lack of hope and compassion? What does "lack of hope and compassion" mean, here?

I'm sure how all these elements come together, or who Hania is, or why Halleck is trying to control mankind with Seminole warriors.

I had difficulty connecting with the sample - as others mentioned above, a lot of the sentences start with "I" and have the same basic structure, which gives it a kind of choppy, plodding rhythm. LLM above has some good suggestions regarding this, so I won't repeat them here. :)

Hope this was helpful, and best of luck.

All the best,