Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #21

Dear Agent:

Set in a cult in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, IF I PROMISE YOU THE SUN is a YA love story wrapped in a gothic sci-fi thriller. Told in alternating points of view, it is complete at 93,000 words.

Sixteen-year-old Eve Thomas doesn’t mind that no one is allowed to leave Nova Vita, an Amish-like religious community that rejects most technology and has perfected solar power. Except for the OCD and tics linked to her photographic memory--and the occasional bout of wanderlust--life in her mountain home is paradise.

But when her little brother shows signs of a genetic disorder the cult won’t treat, Eve questions her religion’s reliance on God and its refusal of the modern world. As she searches frantically for a cure, Eve has no idea that an eighteen-year-old boy named Mana Aquino has been watching her.

A migrant worker brought by the cult from the garbage slums of Manila, Mana is determined to kill the cult’s leader--the madman who used his sister as a human sacrifice and treats all migrant workers like slaves. He just can’t seem to get anywhere near his prey.

After Mana learns about Eve’s powerful memory, he offers to sneak medicine to her brother, if she’ll serve as his human camera, gathering information that could ruin the bishop. If Eve can bring herself to trust Mana and accept his offer, she’ll commit a crime that will destroy the only home she’s ever known. If she says no, her beloved brother’s as good as dead.

I hold an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University, am a member of SCBWI, and have published several reviews of children’s books in The New York Times.

Thanks so much for your consideration!



Dying children can’t shock me.

Whether I’m stabbing them with a kitchen knife or they’re burning in a house fire. Whether it’s me or a disease or a natural disaster doing the killing. It happens every day in the dark corners of my obsessive mind.

Mama and I wrestle my sister into the kitchen chair so the medics can find a vein and fill a vial with her blood. Restraining a furious six-year-old is no easy task.

“Let me go!” Theresa shouts, bucking like a wild animal under our hands.

I gasp for breath as her bare foot wallops my gut.

“Theresa Marie Thomas, you cooperate right now,” Mama says in a voice that could freeze the sun.

Once the needle’s in, my sister’s limbs relax and her hazel eyes widen. I let out a long breath as we all stare at the thin red stream shooting up into the glass--it’s too beautiful for anyone to take away.

Every child in Nova Vita is being tested for an illness so rare, we’ve become famous for it. And everyone who tests positive will die. Bishop Conner asked researchers from the University of Virginia to study us, as long as they don’t interfere with our beliefs. This year, we’ll know ahead of time who we’re going to lose.

After we let Theresa go, I avoid Mama’s eyes and mouth a prayer, then tap the back of the chair four times. Not because I want to, but because I can’t stop myself.


MR said...

This is interesting. I love the use of religion in novels (because it always stirs the pot), and this is a clever use of religion v medicine.

I'd try and not "tell" as much about the illness in the second to last paragraph of your 250 words. If you could "show" how it's affected the dying children instead of just telling us that "whoever gets it, will die" it would be more effective.

But, overall, very good start and I would totally read this book! :)

Kathleen said...

I like the query and the pages. I agree to show more how the disease is played out in the children. I'd request more pages if I were an agent. Good luck!

Mike M said...

YA and 93,000 words will have you out before you start with a lot of agents.

MVB said...

Your query does a great a job of showing the dual POV, which is not easy to do. It's a very clear query and it sets up the stakes very well. The only phrase I find slightly awkward is 'Except for the OCD and tics linked to her photographic memory,' though I can see why you need to put in something about Eve's photographic memory at that point. Perhaps you can make it a little smoother.
I found your premise very interesting though the opening lines of your page threw me a little. At first I thought Eve and her mother were actually killing her little sister and I had to reread it to work out what was going on. I wonder if you need the first few lines. Perhaps you could open with 'Mama and I wrestle my sister...' In any case, I would still like to read on. Great work!

Rosalyn said...

I thought the query was very strong, and the writing is powerful. A couple of things threw me:if there are human sacrifices, why does she think her religious group is so idyllic? Does she not know? Or she's been conditioned to see it as good? Along the same lines, the opening paragraph or so confused me. Does she really kill children? Why? Or is it all in her mind? And why doesn't it bother her, if it is real? The lines are memorable, but they were a little off-putting for me.

Laura Moe said...

The Amish aren't known for being particularly violent. Perhaps compare the cult to another group? In the Blue Ridge area thee are snake handling cults.

Your opening line in the sample is great. Creeped me right out.

Angie Azur said...

I agree with Mike M - 93K is a little high for YA -- can you cut it by 10,000? I think if you query with 83K you'll get more hits.

How can you do this? Well, this might be 3 chapters. If your chapters are around 3k. Are there any chapters that don't really move the story forward, or can be cut down to a few sentences and put into a previous or after chapter?

I think this is an interesting idea…and cutting it down might tighten it up a bit too.

SA said...

I love the stakes! Sounds like there is a genuinely interesting conflict for Eve, and it's great that you capture that in the query.

Your pages are solid, I'd read on.

Secret Agent said...

Cult book? I’m yours. However, I think your first paragraph would be better at the end of your query as a wrap-up statement instead of an introductory one.

Eve’s motivation is perfectly laid out, as is Mana’s. The convergence of world views is evident and interesting and makes me want to read more. I'm also very interested in the idea that Eve's strength (her photographic memory) is also her weakness (OCD and tics.)

Is Eve lead to a place of eventual questioning of her society? Because of the set-up I assume so, but I would be interested to see that reflected at the end of the query.


I love your opening line. It’s shocking, disturbing and so interesting! The rest of the sample doesn’t disappoint, either.

HLDavis said...

Thanks so much to everyone who left comments. I really appreciate the feedback. And thanks so much to Secret Agent for the incredibly careful and detailed critiques on all of these entries. Your time is appreciated!! --Heather