Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Jeglinski:

I am contacting you because in an interview in Women on Writing, you said you are looking for something fresh with a great voice. In Breakfast With Neruda, eighteen-year-old Michael Flynn of Rooster, Ohio, is spending his summer cleaning up the high school--his community service sentence after being expelled near the end of his senior year for hiding explosives in his locker. He had planned to blow up his now ex-best friend’s car, but that plan backfired, costing him a friendship, a girlfriend, and his high school graduation. But these are the least of his problems.

Only Michael’s immediate family knows he lives in a 1982 Ford LTD station wagon he calls the Blue Whale. That is until Shelly Miller, a mysterious girl also working off community service, catches him sleeping in the Whale on school property one morning.

One of Michael’s secrets is he chooses to live in his car rather than with the uncontrollable filth inside his mother’s home. Michael’s half-brother Jeff has already moved out, and his half-sister Annie now lives on the back porch.  Michael fears Children’s Services will find out and place Annie in foster care, making his mother’s already tenuous grasp with reality more precarious.
Michael’s other problem is he has no idea who his real father is, and his mother won’t tell him.  With Shelly’s help, Michael discovers answers to the riddles in his life.

Breakfast With Neruda is contemporary YA of approximately 72,000 words, and the novel will appeal to fans of John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson and David Levithan.  If you imagine a twenty-first century Huck Finn meeting a hard edged Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, you get a sense of the dynamic between Michael and Shelly.

I have more than twenty years as a high school teacher/librarian and have had poetry and prose published in anthologies and journals including Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Devices5AMThe Cleveland Plain DealerThe Book Report, andWomen’s Words, and hold an MFA from Goucher College in Creative Nonfiction. Over the years I’ve honed my speaking skills by presenting at educational conferences and poetry readings, and I’ve done standup comedy, so having a platform which includes public appearances does not scare me. Working with high school kids requires bravery, a sense of humor and flexibility.

I hope you enjoy the first page of Breakfast With Neruda and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
Pablo Neruda

The hallway is dark, and looks abandoned except for the clanging of metal against tile. Earl, the head custodian, fills a giant bucket near the janitor’s closet. He looks up at me, nods, and keeps filling the pail.

“How come it’s so dark in here?” I ask.

“We all look better in the dark,” Earl says. He laughs and reveals a gold front tooth. He’s a raggedy guy of about sixty who always has a cud of tobacco in his mouth. “Power’s still out from the storm.”

“Oh yeah,” I say, nodding, pretending to know anything about the power outage. It had stormed as if the apocalypse arrived last night. I hold out my hand. "Michael Flynn, reporting for duty."

"I know who you are.” Earl shuts off the hose and looks me over. "Listen, kid, I know what you did to get stuck here all summer, and I don't put up with any crap," he says. "We clear on that?"

"Yes, sir," I respond.

He wheels the bucket into the hallway and I follow. “First thing you’re gonna do is start cleaning out the lockers.” He snorts. “Kind of ironic for you.” My face reddens, and Earl gestures to the end of the hallway. “Start at that end and work your way back. Take a big trash can with you.”


Laurie Dennison said...

Wow, you've got many elements to amp up the tension here! Michael seems like an intriguing MC, and I really enjoyed the first page.

I think my biggest question is how the explosives relate to the plot elements in the second and third paragraphs. I want to know what led him to take such a drastic move, but I feel like the meat of the plot rests in what happens after. I'd just like to see how they connect.

I really enjoyed it! Best of luck to you!

Nicole said...

I love your title and the premise sounds powerful!

In your query, I'd love to know just a bit more about the role Shelly Miller will play in Michael's struggles. Without the additional sentence about Michael not knowing his father (this seems important to Michael, but away from the more central conflict about his mother and Child Services for the sake of the query), perhaps there's room to allude to Shelly's impact on Michael in just a few more words.

The work sounds great and the first 250 are engaging to read! Best of luck.

Julie C said...

I'm intrigued with the premise and was drawn into reading it by the line: twenty-first century Huck Finn meeting a hard edged Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, you get a sense of the dynamic between Michael and Shelly.

In the first 25o I really liked your description of the janitor. I did stumble though over the word anything in the sentence: pretending to know anything about the power outage.

I think it means he didn't know about the power outage so I would get rid of that word.

Best of luck!!!

Laura Moe said...

Thanks for all the comments so far. I've been expecting a royal shredding.
Laurie, you find out later in the chapter that Michael brings fireworks to school to blow up Rick's car because he stole M's girlfriend, but these particular fireworks resemble dynamite, and he created panic when one fell out of his backpack.

Nicole, yeah, I'd like to allude to Shelly more in the query because she is a big catalyst for Michael's pursuit of finding who his father is. Writing queries is hard. I'd rather write another novel!

Julie, yes, I hated the same sentence.

Overall thanks. Page one may north be as bad as I thought it was.

Ann Noser said...

I adore Earl already! Your 250 is strong.

I found your query quite interesting. It was only the paragraph about your experience that I found a tiny bit confusing. One example: why is 5AM in italics and green? :) That may be just a computer glitch--I make such glitches at least 20 times a day. haha

This premise sounds promising. I like the elements at play.
Best of luck-
Ann Noser

Elizabeth Stoever said...

Great job on the query! I like the serious issues involved with your story. The only thing I would think about getting rid of is the part about Huck Finn and Elizabeth Bennet. I had a hard time picturing this and I have heard you're supposed to stray away from comparing your book to classics. I did the same thing.

I think your first 250 is strong too. The janitor already seems like quite the character!

Laura Moe said...

Ann, funny how 5AM showed up green. It's not green on my PC. Thanks for the comments.
Elizabeth, I kind of added the Huck Finn and Elizabeth Bennett at the last minute. And yeah, I don't think it works. Michael and Shelly are their own people.

Earl is based on a real custodian I worked with years ago. He was a grouchy curmudgeon who I adored. In college a prof once told me be "nice to the custodians and secretaries; they're the ones who really run the place. " and he was right. I always brought in home baked stuff for them.

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

An interesting premise. It's refreshing to see a non-dystopian story that doesn't involve paranormal romance or vampires. I think the query, however, should leave out the entire first paragraph. Start with the second, because it's more interesting that he lives in his car. That's your hook.
"One of Michael’s secrets..." just say “Michael prefers the car over the uncontrollable filth…”
BIO: I have more than twenty years "experience"
Also your public speaking talents don't apply here. Tell us your writing creds.
The sample started off too slow for me. Condense, tighten, get to the action, whether physical or emotional.
Best of luck,
Spike (M.P.)

Kara said...

I really liked your first 250. As far as the query goes, I would recommend giving us a stronger sense of the conflict and stakes. Solving the "riddles in his life" is pretty vague.
Lastly, don't forget that in Pride and Prejudice, it's Bennet with a single T at the end. Don't let people doubt that you actually know your comps.

Melissa Jeglinski said...

Query: I really like the premise but each paragraph can be trimmed to get to the meat. Get to the point a lot more. Even your bio is a bit long-winded. Keep to facts.

Page: Good opening and it flows well. I'm intrigued and would want to read on.

Overall: Even though I think the query maybe tells me a lot but not enough in a way, I'm still intrigued. It's a different story. It stands out. I'd read on.

Laura Moe said...

Thanks for all e comments. Writing a query is MUCH harder than crafting a novel. Almost the difference between a short story and a novel, where in a story you have no room for long boring passages.

L. Gaon said...

I'm hooked after the first paragraph of your query. I like the premise. Sounds like one messed up 18-year old and I want to learn more about him. I like how you describe your bio too. I like your voice in the first 250 - how it opens with the dialogue. I'd definitely keep reading.

Good luck!

L. Gaon said...

I'm hooked after the first paragraph of your query. I like the premise. Sounds like one messed up 18-year old and I want to learn more about him. I like how you describe your bio too. I like your voice in the first 250 - how it opens with the dialogue. I'd definitely keep reading.

Good luck!

Laura Moe said...

Thanks again to Ms. Jeglinski and everyone else who provided comments.