Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #6

Dear Agent,

The Sunday morning after her boyfriend rapes her, sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper is evacuated from her home because of a wildfire she believes they set. 

As the October flames threaten Orange County’s prized gated community, Audrey attempts to make sense of their relationship’s descent in pyromania and abuse by recalling her early summer weeks with Brooks--a charming but reclusive eighteen-year-old volunteer firefighter, scarred by his older brother’s alleged suicide, now facing the blaze. To understand his biggest lie, Audrey must return to his first.

The fire and assault aren’t all that’s demanding Audrey’s attention. Her thirteen-year-old sister fainted during her morning’s ballet audition--an audition Audrey walked out on three years ago--and their mom refuses to accept the blame Audrey thinks she deserves. Audrey must not only reconcile Brooks’s facades, but also her own. Like how she hasn’t allowed herself to dream since her rash departure from ballet and refuses to vocalize her grief.

Confession: Brooks isn’t the only liar in the relationship.

It only complicates matters that Hayden--her sappy AP psychology partner and the dude she unfaithfully kissed last week--is stuck with Audrey for a hike to the flames. In the glowing foothills, Audrey must shatter Brooks’s fictions, as well as her own, and acknowledge the truth of what’s happened--last night, last Thursday, and when Brooks was only eight--regardless of the waiting red and blue flashing lights.

SPARKLERS is an approximately 70,000 YA novel told in a single day in the vein of Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY and Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Though I’m a southern California native with far more firsthand experience with wildfires than I’d prefer, I recently graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Literature and Creative Writing.

I’m thrilled to share SPARKLERS with you!

Thank you for your time and consideration,



The morning after I lose my virginity, I wake to knocking. My mom and dad’s alarm clock reads 5:22 am. It’s Sunday. More pounding from downstairs and I wonder if it’s Brooks. No. He’s probably still at the party, passed out on a couch, or maybe even nursing his final beer.

This thought enables me to move.

I jump from the bed, Mom’s caramel afghan around my shoulders. The room tilts. My hips ache, and there’s a raw throbbing between my legs. I might still be drunk. I might only be hung over. I need to shower. Need to go back to bed.

I pull aside the curtains. It’s still dark, but porch lights and streetlights and brake lights and red and blue lights illuminate the dense smoke that hazes the street. Our pepper tree whips in the October wind, spraying leaves on the police car idling at my mailbox. A man shouts. The lashing gale takes his words. The doorbell rings—once, twice, three times.

Move. I need to move.

I drop the afghan, run downstairs, and yank the front door open to smoke and two cops. One is talking. My dad’s old In-N-Out shirt sticks to my back. I’m not wearing a bra and rum laces the spit beneath my tongue.

“Mandatory evacuation,” the older cop says. “The fire is approaching the bank’s ridge.”  

The younger cop lowers his chin. If he were a friend, I’d think he’s about to hug me, but instead he coughs and says, “Miss—”

“Brooks said it isn't that bad,” I say.


Luisa Perkins said...

There's a lot to like here. It sounds like a great story, but I found the query super confusing. I love the premise, however, and the action starts right away.

Unknown said...

I like the page, it really draws in the reader. The query says she was raped but the first sentence sounds like it was consensual sex so maybe look at how you want it worded. Is your main character the only one who is at the door besides the cops? Where are her parents? Did they not hear the doorbell? I'd add them in, even if they're only calling from the top of the stairs or something. I also thought the query was confusing. What is your main character's goal? Is it revenge on Brooks? Focus on one plot point. In your first sentence the line: she believes they set. Who is they? Start your query with a hook, I'd leave out the sister and ballet part because it's too much. Remember, you want main character's goal, the obstacle they are facing and what happens if they don't achieve their goal. I'd request more pages despite the confusing query and I love the title although it seems to convey more of a happy tone than I think you want. Good luck!

HLDavis said...

I like the first 250--it is clear and compelling, but the query has way too much going on and is pretty confusing. I agree with the previous two comments. Is the story the rape and pyro-boyfriend or the sister and the audition? The addition of the sister really threw me. Maybe focus on the main plot and leave the rest out of the query. Plenty here that is intriguing. Good luck!

Carolee Noury said...

HME, this story has so much potential. The premise is fascinating and clearly there are pressures from many sides on your MC. Also, your writing voice is strong and is certainly on its way to superb!

Your opening line is wow! Attention grabbing for sure. I recommend saying her BF's name there, though to offer clarity through the rest.

I'm not sure what "October flames" are right away. I'd suggest removing the October for clarity.

Also in the second para, the phrase "their relationship" dangles because it's not referring back to the earlier part of the sentence. In this case I'd say their names instead.

Your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs could use some tightening, clarification, and could be more direct. I was confused by some of the shifts.

Specific query related questions I had:
--Is this telling things in order?
--Which boy is the boyfriend/rapist?
--How does she respond to being raped, because it seems like she's just moved on from it.

The sample:
In the first paragraph "mom and dad's alarm clock" confuses me. Why is she in her parents' bed?

This sentence, "It’s still dark, but porch lights and streetlights and brake lights and red and blue lights illuminate the dense smoke that hazes the street," is choppy. I like the imagery, but I think you could give a more powerful effect with less words.

Something like:
The darkness is fractured by the foreign lights of police cars... or something like that. Give us a sense of the extraordinary instead of streetlights (ordinary) and I think the effect would be more powerful.

The last 2 sentences confused me.

There's so much good to this story I kept reading. I think with some fine tuning, you'll have an amazing novel.

Best of luck with this!

Sean said...

I like your writing style and the first 250 words, but the query needs some polishing. I think you could cut a lot of the subplots and supporting characters you mention. Focus on the MC and Brooks, since that seems to be the main conflict and characters that push your story forward. Also, let us know your MC's central focus. What's her main goal and what stands in her way? It sounds like you have a lot of great ideas and characters, but I think you can narrow the focus in the query. Don't reveal everything, just the main, important plot points that make your story great. I like the first 250, so I'd suggest focusing on the query.

Sara said...

I really enjoyed what you have so far. I agree with taking the sister out of the query; it pulled me from the flow. But your writing is great and it's an intriguing story line. Good luck!

Unknown said...

The first line of the query was definitely attention-grabbing, so good job there. I was immediately drawn in. It sets up the tension between her and her boyfriend.

A few things. “because of a wildfire she believes they set” was a bit confusing. I’m assuming you mean her boyfriend, but if the fire takes place “the Sunday morning after” he raped her, then what is she still doing with him? The next paragraph talks about Brooks—is this her boyfriend or a different boy? Because the sentence before is referring to her relationship with her bf. And “Audrey must return to his first?” is also unclear. His first lie?

I think there are just too many characters introduced in the query. Her boyfriend, Brooks (who might also be her bf?), her sister, her mother, and then Hayden.

I love the idea of a novel told in a single day. Very interesting! I think you probably have some great conflict happening, but I think your query is introducing too many plot threads at once. Choose just or two of the biggest conflicts to highlight. Make sure you include what’s at stake for Audrey. What does she lose if the conflict isn’t resolved?

Good job with the first 250. You put us right in the action!

Jo said...

I like the opening sentence of the query (I think sexual assault is something that needs to be dealt with more maturely in literature, especially since it seems to be a trend in pop culture to gloss over it), but I think you're introducing way too many characters as the summary goes on. It would be to your benefit to streamline it and focus on the main points. A lot of it seems to just detract from the main plot.

I do like your bio, and how your experience ties into your novel.

Your first 250 is gripping, and gets straight to the point.

Secret Agent said...


I really love the first two paragraphs of your query. They are intriguing and immediately set the stakes very high for Audrey.

You completely lost me in the third paragraph. When you’re talking about rape and arson in the previous paragraphs, a failed ballet audition falls immediately flat and removes all momentum. Can you incorporate some other symptoms of the mom’s and sister’s issues?

I would lose the word “Confession” in the fourth paragraph. It doesn’t flow with the tone of the query. And honestly, the sentence stands stronger without it.

In the fifth paragraph, I was confused when you started listing the timeline of “last night, last Thursday…”. Could you specify the situation in question instead of the day/time? For me, that does two things, it reminds me of the stakes and it leaves me with a clear picture of the story you will be telling in your book.

Also, titling isn’t something authors need to loose sleep over since publishing houses almost always change titles, but SPARKLERS doesn’t feel like the right title for a project with these heavy themes. It feels too light and happy. The phrase “October flames” at the beginning of your query is unexpected and arresting and I highly recommend this as an alternate title.


I love the opening pages. You set up the story beautifully! And the fire is completely scary!