Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Jeglinski,

I hope you’ll enjoy THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE, my 78,000 word YA magical realism. Like Katie in Amanda Sun’s INK, my main character finds his way through strange circumstances and complicated relationships.

Life as a sick kid gives Evan plenty of time to perfect his aquarium and exactly no experience talking to girls. His rare liver disorder hasn’t flared in years, though. He’s tired of his hovering mom and a best friend expecting him to collapse any minute. Evan wants to break free from all the restrictions.

When he takes a few drinks on his eighteenth birthday, the morning-after stint in hospital h*** isn’t a big shocker. But in his vivid dreams, this jerk from the party dies in a car crash, and Evan kisses the weirdest girl at the funeral. The memories haunt him, until the nightmares come true. Five days later.

Evan worries the visions could be illness-induced delusions. But a hurricane barrels toward his Florida town and threatens his aquarium, the friends and family who’ve always protected him, and the girl he may be falling for. If he really can drink and dream the future, maybe this time he can change things for the better, even if it wrecks his liver and his mind.

In THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE, the unstoppable ticking clock of Mandy Hubbard’s YOU WISH meets the wry humored male protagonist of Holly Black’s WHITE CAT.

I have a BA in English and an MEd in English education from the University of Florida. My article on writing instruction was published in the NCTE journal Notes Plus, and my short story “Regeneration” received honorable mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. I’m also the critique group leader for my local chapter of the SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Hanna Park closed at dusk, but the loose chain on the staff gate never stopped us from sneaking in. The park’s dense forest secluded the beach from the traffic on A1A and the condos farther south. Colton and I followed the trail toward the ocean. His narrow flashlight beam bounced on the sand.

“Happy Birthday, Evan.” Colt clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Want me to make everybody sing?”

I grimaced. “Let’s not broadcast it.”

No one except Colton even knew it was my birthday. These beach parties were just a regular Saturday night thing. I’d told my parents we were headed to see Old School at the dollar movie. I wouldn’t have minded going there instead, but I decided turning eighteen deserved at least a symbolic celebration.

We reached the top of the dunes. The usual jumble of bodies circled the bonfire down the beach, and a bad playlist blared from mini speakers. A shadow shaped like Colt’s girlfriend broke away from the group and started toward us.

“You hunting something in particular tonight?” Colt flipped the handle to me.

“Not really. Go on, I’ll catch up.” I grabbed the light and waved him off. Colt came to these parties for the people. I went for the salt water.

“You sure you’re feeling alright?” He cracked his knuckles and eased down the dune, closing the distance between him and his girl. “We can still make it to the movie.”

“I’m fine.” I raised my eyebrows and kicked off my loafers.


Anonymous said...

Your middle paragraphs especially interest me. Drinking and dreaming the future, while wrecking his liver? I love the concept and the stakes are there.

The first paragraph confused me. The first character you mention isn't from your own book. I think the INK comp works, perhaps better than the WHITE CAT one, but I would include it at the end, not at the beginning.

I'm also not sure how much of the second paragraph you need. It sets the stage, but I was expecting another Sick Kid story, not the magic realism it ends up becoming. Talking to girls has no relevance to what you present to us, and I actually think you can do without the aquarium as well (hurricanes are scary enough--we don't need "will destroy aquarium" as stakes).

Get to the really interesting stuff quicker, and I think you have a killer query.

A small thing on your pages for now: I thought Hanna Park was a name when I first read it. Just something to think about when choosing your first words.

black cat said...

I agree with the last commenter, that including the comparison to another book with the paragraph that discusses this later on would be less confusing.

I actually LOVED that you included the aquarium bit in the second paragraph, and guessed that the bit about the hurricane threatening it implied how much it had come to mean to the MC.

The first 250 really jumps right into the action--good plan.

The second paragraph of the query was perfect.

I got confused in the third. Here are some suggestions, based on where I had to reread to comprehend.

But in his vivid dreams, A jerk from the party dies in a car crash. THEN Evan kisses the weirdest girl at the funeral. THESE CONFUSING/DISTURBING/SOMETHING memories haunt HIM UNTIL the nightmares come TRUE--FIVE days later.

I hope this helps. This sounds like a really interesting premise. said...

I think it's okay to start with a comparison, but it does sound a little like you are starting your explanation, so the reader stutters a little. I like the concept. I think the aquarium motif is probably good in the story, but not so much for the query. I would change both words of "bad playlist." Not sure what the "handle" is or what tone is set by him raising his eyebrows.

Laura Moe said...

I found your query too vague and uninteresting, but your sample engaged me. I like the interplay and voice between Evan and Colt.
Good luck!

Kara Reynolds said...

I think the conflict of being able to see the future after drinking (and having a liver disease) is really fascinating. That hooked me! I'm with the other commenters, though--the query is a little too confusing. While you have a really unique idea, I'd be afraid an agent might judge your writing harshly because of it (especially those who don't request pages with the query letter). "The memories haunt him, until the nightmares come true." is a particularly vague sentence. There's 2 clich├ęs, and we're not being told anything from them.
Good luck to you! I'd read this book :0)

Unknown said...

I found your premise interesting, though I will admit the query confused me for a bit. I caught onto the main idea: boy drinks to see the future, though it may destroy his already diseased liver. However, if that isn't the main idea, then your query was more confusing than I thought.

I found the writing sample to be very good. Some micro changes would be as follows:
1. A playlist won't blare from the speakers, but he may be listening to a particularly bad song.
2. Is there something abotu Colt's girlfriend that makes her shadow stand out from all the other teens?
3. When his buddy questions whether he's feeling well enough would be a good chance to introduce the reader to his illness and his frustration with their hovering. It wouldn't take much.

Unknown said...

Like the others, I found your premise really interesting. I would put all the comps together in one place, be that the first or fifth paragraph.

I might also think about cutting "I hope you'll enjoy" and making that a little stronger and more positive.

I wonder about the importance of the aquarium as it plays through the query. Are they especially rare fish? Why would a hurricane threaten them?

GREAT first few paragraphs, though. Good luck!

Spike Taterman (M.P.) said...

The query starts out well, then quickly digresses. We begin with Evan's condition and his lack of experience talking to girls, but then we get the hovering mom, etc. I suggest you pick one thing and drive it home.
SECOND PARAGRAPH: This left me confused. Was the party in Evan's dream, or was there a jerk from a real party that he dreamed about?
THIRD PARAGRAPH: "If he really can drink and dream the future, maybe this time he can change things for the better, even if it wrecks his liver and his mind."
I have to say, this premise might be a hard sell! What publisher would want to convey such a message?
CREDS: "In THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE, the unstoppable ticking clock of Mandy Hubbard’s YOU WISH meets the wry humored male protagonist of Holly Black’s WHITE CAT."
This makes no sense—you are comparing two things that are unlike to one another, a ticking clock to a character.
There were a few things that snagged me. I thought the shadow-girlfriend thing was distracting me from the narrative. Also, "Colt flipped the handle to me."
Handle of what? I don't get it.
Best of luck..and with that, I am done critiquing all the other 19 queries that are not my own! (insert sigh of relief here).
Spike (Key to Okenwode guy)

TS Liard said...

Most of the other critiquers hit what I would have said. But I would also add that you should take extraneous words out such as "exactly".

I have to agree with Spike, you open the critique making a comparison between strange circumstances and complicated relationships. That set me up to read the query in a certain way looking for complicated relationships. Then your second paragraph goes into how Evan is tired of all the restrictions on his life due to his disease. I love the second part especially the hovering parent. My suggestion would be to focus the paragraph so you start off mentioning how tired he is of the restrictions so I know what the paragraph will be about. Then the rest falls in great. Move the INK comparison down below.

As for the first 250: I am a little lost with the light and the handle.

Overall, love the query. Awesome stakes.

TC said...

The idea of this book is very engaging and the stakes are easy to grasp. I was a little curious as to why he would assume it was the alcohol that makes him dream the future (as opposed to just some sort of latent ability that's suddenly come to does he know it's the alcohol, specifically, that does the trick?)

Your 250 pulled me right in. One of the other comments mentioned being confused about the "flipping the handle" part, and I agree. The only other thing that I'd point out is that the query makes Evan sound like a bit of a shut-in (no girls, aquarium, hovering mom) and then the excerpt makes it sound like he goes to these beach parties all the time.

Melissa Jeglinski said...

Query: Well, thanks for starting with a title that I represent, it shows me that you did your research on me and that means a lot! I don't think you needed the other comparisons later because you did a good enough job in letting me know what kind of story to expect.

Page: Give the park a different name that's not a girl's name because I was utterly confused. But otherwise, I liked your page and getting immediately into some action.

Overall: a very interesting story concept; nothing I've seen before. Nice job.