Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Agent,

Please find enclosed the first 250 words of PLAYING PREDATOR, a steampunk New Adult retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” with dark romantic elements. It will appeal to fans of steampunk authors Gail Carriger, Kady Cross, and Meljean Brook, and to readers who wish to see more diversity. The estimated word count is 85,000.

Scarlett Zhou vows to save her virginity for marriage. Haunted by the sexually-transmitted disease VAIN, which killed both of her parents, Scarlett studies at Sylva University with the hopes of researching for a cure. While she is determined to stay pure throughout her academic career, one wolfishly handsome professor, Jude Tanner, sees her virginity as a prize to be won. As much as Scarlett denies his advances, he knows that she is not as innocent as she seems. When Jude catches Scarlett violating a university policy, he makes a deal: she can choose to stay a virgin until marriage, or be expelled from Sylva University and become his slave.

Of course Scarlett chooses the former, and despite their growing friendship and common goal to find a cure for VAIN, Jude tempts her and slowly gnaws away her innocence. Will Scarlett be able to honor her parents’ deaths by remaining a virgin and finding a cure? Or will she succumb to her love and lust for Professor Tanner and become his slave?

I am a published writer specializing in speculative fiction with people of color, as demonstrated by Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction (2014), and in gothic romance, as shown in the anthology Darker Edge of Desire (2014), in which my short story, “Devoured by Envy,” was praised by Publishers Weekly as the “most Gothic of the successful stories.” I am also an active member of the BDSM community in San Francisco, and a biology major at UC Berkeley--two very different experiences that have lent inspirations to the subjects and setting in my novel.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.



Chapter One--Deathbed

My mother did not want me to tell her good-bye. In her last moments, she refused to have me by her deathbed.

“Please,” she implored my father with the labored rise and falls of her chest, “take the children to the cellar.”

“Scarlett! Teddy! Hurry along now!”

“No!” I clutched my mother’s thin hand as I collapsed to my knees. I took no heed of the blue veins that bulged along her fingers, of the shadows staining the hollows of her eyes, nor of her parched, papery lips. She was immortalized in my memory with her midnight tresses, the flush of her fair skin, and the warmth of health blooming in her smooth, supple palms.

“Mama, I don’t want to go! I want to stay with you!”

Mother gasped. A bead of sweat rolled past her temple. She pressed her free hand to her throat as she coughed, lurching on her back, the final minutes of her life forcing spasms along her spine.

Baba yanked on my shoulder. He held my little brother, Teddy, by one hand.

“Scarlett, time to go! Down to the cellar.”

Turning a deaf ear to my screeches, he slung me over his broad shoulder, as easily as a burlap sack. He whisked Teddy and me out of the bedchamber to the kitchen. Coriander and ginger scented the air, and darkness slammed above my head. With the snap of the lock, Baba trapped my brother and me among the sacks of flour, rice, and dried fruit.


Luisa Perkins said...

Your query is super intriguing! I've written a LRRH retelling myself, so I'm already a fan. Your first 250 words felt a little too lush and slightly overwrought to me, although the action is compelling. I'd keep reading.

Kathleen said...

Interesting take on LRRH. I have a retelling too and mine is nothing like yours (which, I suppose is a good thing). I love your descriptions, very literary feel to them.

I'm curious about the sexually-transmitted disease, how has it affected the rest of the population? Is it a pandemic? I'd request more pages if I were an agent. Good job!

Carolee Noury said...

A fascinating story world, J.W. I love the immediacy of the first 250 words--emotion, thought, action, scents even. Well done.

--I'm not sure how this is a retelling of LRRH, but that could be because I haven't read the original.
--Mentioning your comps are steampunk authors is helpful, gives me a sense of what's coming
--Q: Why is it an estimated word count? Almost sounds like it's not done. (If you're rounding up, I've read to just put the rounded number--agents get that--to keep from giving the impression it's not done yet.
--Q: Why must she save her virginity to avoid VAIN? (Maybe specify that it's impossible to protect against? And why couldn't she get it from her spouse?)
--What is VAIN? (deadly STD is clear, why it's capitalized is not, etc.)
--Jude comes off as an ass. It's hard to see him as someone who'd make her have feelings (beyond sexual) for him. Specifically: he sees her V as a prize to be won, he gives her an ultimatum via blackmail. (I'd start off this story hating him and would have a hard time being won to her feelings for him, unless he changes dramatically)

Also--I'm not clear why he made that specific deal. It seems more like he'd tip it in his favor.

Also, the pitch/synop gives us insight into her and his motivations. That didn't work for me. I like it from her perspective with suspicions, not with knowledge that seems to come directly from his mind too.

Your publishing credits are impressive. That would definitely make me want to read your work with an eye toward your track record, making me think you'd be easy enough to work with even if the MS wasn't quite there.

In the sample, two tiny things:
She addresses her mother as "mama" and then calls her "mother" in her thoughts right after. Mildly distracting.
"as easily as a burlap sack"--overused, something fresh would go a long way with that.

I enjoyed the sample. Your writing is strong and clear. Not an NA fan, but I'd consider reading this if Jude felt like a love interest I could get behind or an antagonist we (protag and I) could hate.

Best of luck to you!!

Rosalyn said...

I think the premise sounds fun. I love Gail Carriger, nice comp author. I also agree with the estimated word count, and the voice of the opening section didn't quite match the slightly ironic tone of the query.

I'm also confused by the deal--it doesn't seem to be a choice. Why would she give up her goal for two unappealing options?

That said, I would keep reading.

Laura Moe said...

What a great premise for a novel. Your query is just great.

The sample, however, needs work. Your opening felt overwrought and laced with cliche. Pare down prose.

JW said...

Thank you so much for all of these feedback, everyone! Absolutely helpful, and I'm incorporating a lot of these into my MS. :)

Secret Agent said...

Immediately, I’m concerned about comparisons to Marissa Meyer’s SCARLET. Little Red Riding Hood set in a cyborg/futuristic world. I'm sure the book differs, but the pitch sounds close enough that it makes me nervous. Reworkings of classic fairytales are selling well right now, but this one is too close to SCARLET in set-up for me to bite.

And, unfortunately, though NA tends to lean more towards the sexually explicit than YA, the BDSM tones in this book aren’t something I would represent.

I apologize, but I didn’t get to your sample writing. The query was enough to decide I’m the wrong agent for this book.