Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #2

Dear Agent,

When eleven-year-old Avery Mann is tricked into freeing a murderous raven from Wonderland, he discovers the creatures of our dreams and nightmares really exist. Unfortunately, some of these beings, like the Wicked Witch of the Midwest, want to transform our world into a twisted fantasyland. 

Protecting reality from the villains who want to tear it apart was not on Avery’s summer-to-do list. However, it is his fault that the world is about to end. So Avery sets out to throw a flying monkey wrench into the bad guy's plans. Turns out the first step is freeing the Wicked Witch of the East from Dante's Inferno. If he succeeds, he’ll protect his family and friends from a nightmarish future and get to finish reading his Ultimate Spider-Man collection. But a lot can go wrong in the eighth circle of hell.

THE UNBELIEVABLE MISADVENTURES OF AVERY MANN is a 70,000-word, middle-grade contemporary fantasy.

I am an award-winning writer in the role-playing game industry and an active member of the SCBWI. I also have a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a focus on children services and literature. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Number one on my summer-to-do list was: AVOID TROUBLE.

This applied especially to my arch-nemesis from school, Maxine "The Wild Thing" Lopez, and my older brothers (a.k.a. the Sinister Six).

Of course, when bad luck follows you around like a herd of black cats busting mirrors and spilling salt shakers, this becomes easier said than done, which was why I was laying low in the middle of Kensington Park. Its walled garden might not be as remote as Superman's Fortress of Solitude or as concealed as the Batcave, but it made the perfect sanctuary. It also smelled a lot better than the bushes behind Ms. Crabtree's compost heap--my previous hideout--which required the use of nose-plugs.

Best of all, neither Maxine nor my brothers would be caught dead in a flower garden, which meant I could read comics and practice magic tricks in peace.

A church bell rang in the distance.  

Noon on the first day of summer vacation and not a sign of trouble. Not the Sinister Six. Not Maxine. Not--


A piece of paper flew into my face.

"Gah!" I yanked it off me, ready to rip the thing into subatomic particles, but the word, "Magic" caught my eye and I shoved the flapping flyer against the ground.

Madame Magpie's Magic Shoppe Grand Opening!
Incredible magic tricks, strange curiosities, and much more!
All customers get a free token for our fortune-telling machine. One lucky winner will receive a $100 gift card!


Kimberly VanderHorst said...

Okay, I just love this. Voice, humor, and an intriguing storyline. Love the quirkiness, love how immediately I was pulled into the story, and the sense of foreboding the magic store flyer gave me. Because mysterious magic stories in middle grade novels almost ALWAYS lead to trouble. ;) Well done! I'm sure others will have helpful suggestions, but I'm too fond of zany and unusual to be unbiased here. Good luck!

Kathleen said...

Oh, this is an excellent query and pages! I'm so interested in this. I love the MG voice and the query made me laugh out loud with the flying monkey wrench line. The only issue I have with it is that it might be too long for a MG, especially one that has a younger main character. Maybe take a look at dead weight words like just, really, that, ing words, etc to get rid of unnecessary words. Otherwise, if I were an agent, I'd request this ASAP. Good luck!

MVB said...

Hi JM,

I think you've done a great job with a concise and clear query. I am a little baffled as to how freeing the Wicked Witch of the East from the 8th Circle of Hell will solve the problem. It sounds more likely to make it worse. You have many different references, Wonderland, Oz, Inferno, nightmares, Avery's superheroes and I must admit I am curious to see how well they merge.

I enjoyed your opening page. The voice is quite light and humorous and I'm wondering how that will develop with some of the darker aspects of the Inferno and the murderous crows. Anyway, I'd certainly be interested to find out... Great work!

Sara said...

I really enjoyed both the query and first page. You do a great job with bringing out Avery's voice and making the reader connect with him. I do agree with Kathleen that it might be a tad too long for a MG novel. I would definitely want to read more!

Melissa Mires said...

You nailed it character, conflict, and stakes are very clear good luck!

CherylAnne Ham said...

Yup, I agree with the others. This sounds super fun, and the writing pulled me right in. I'd definitely keep reading!

My only suggestion (aka tiny nitpick) concerns the 3rd paragraph of your opening page. Immediately after 'but it made the perfect sanctuary' I wondered what was so special about the park. It was enough to pull me out the story for a moment. You answered my question in the following paragraph, but I wonder if it might flow better if you switched those lines around.

Ex (with some liberties taken): ...but it made the perfect sanctuary. Neither Maxine nor my brothers would be caught dead in a flower garden, which meant I could read comics and practice magic tricks in peace.

The park also smelled a lot better than the bushes behind Ms. Crabtree's compost heap--my previous hideout--which required the use of nose-plugs.

Best of luck with this story!

Joseph Miller said...

Thanks all for the kind comments, they really made my day.

Also, CherylAnne, thanks for your suggestion, I like switching those sentences around a lot. Good call. ;)

As for the length, I know it's a bit long. I've been trying to get it closer to 65,000.

On the bright side, my beta readers have almost all said it reads really fast.

Best Wishes,

Laura Moe said...

JM, the only thing I would add is which awards you have won.
Great query and sample, though. The pace is just right.

Agent said...


I really enjoyed your surprising word-play within your query. Phrases like “Wicked Witch of the midwest” and “throw a flying monkey wrench” popped and added whimsy to what seems to be a surprisingly dark storyline.

I’d be interested to know who tricks Avery into freeing the murderous raven. I don’t need much more information here, but a little more set-up would be nice. I don’t want to think of Avery as gullible or stupid from the beginning. Is he seeking approval? A friend?

The fact that this seems to be an Oz/Dante’s INFERNO crossover is a bit confusing to me. Are these the only worlds you pull from? If not, I think you could benefit from mention of another world. Either way I’m intrigued, but it gave me pause because the source material is wildly different. There is also the issue of how familiar eleven-year-olds will be with Dante’s mythology. Yes, it’s become part of general culture, but it’s very grown-up material.

Are “The Sinister Six” actually six brothers? It’s almost completely clear. :)

I’m sure this is addressed in subsequent pages, but it might be nice to see on the first page how trouble seems to find Avery. That’s a pretty tall claim for a boy to make and I’m sure it has some comedic implications.

Really, though, I liked your first page a lot. Your writing is strong and your character is immediately likeable.

Thank you for letting me read your work.


Joseph Miller said...

Dear Agent,

Thanks for your comments, I'm glad you liked the first page and you found Avery likable. I like him, too. ;)

As for your comments about the query, I just received some great critiques over at WriteOnCon and realized I needed to add the elements you mentioned to the query. I've got a new one which I hope works, if you'd like me to share it let me know.

To answer your questions:

1) The Wicked Witch of the Midwest tricked Avery into meeting the raven and the raven talked him into letting him out of his cage (he's quite the silver-tongued bird).

2) Yes, there are multiple worlds at play in the story. One of the main ideas behind the book is that all the characters, places, and things ever imagined by mankind really exist in other dimensions and can cross over into our world.

3) Avery does indeed have six older and annoying brothers. Not really sinister, but Avery exaggerates things... just a bit.

Best Wishes,

Joseph Miller said...


I thought about mentioning winning an Ennie for writing, but only role-playing game geeks know what that is. ;)

Best Wishes,