Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Melissa,

Jack Straw’s father is dying.

It’s the summer of his 14th year, when Jack and his father discover a body in Mespat Cove. The body is a time bomb, a wellspring of death waiting to be unleashed upon the world. It carries an incurable virus, which quickly sends Jack’s dad into a coma. If that wasn’t bad enough, the sheriff then accuses Jack’s dad of murder, as the body was that of an old enemy.

It’s rumored the victim had been living next to the water in an old van, which meant he would have been exposed to the virus at dangerous levels. Determined to prove his father’s innocence, Jack returns to Mespat Cove with his buddy Joe. While searching the van for evidence of habitation, they get into a confrontation with the dead man’s son. They end up in the water, where they’re sucked into a whirlpool. After a near-death experience, they find themselves on the treeless world of Galanthia.

There, Jack learns, is the cure that will save his father’s life. It lies within the mist-enshrouded valley of Okenwode, as does the promise of trees for a dying world. But according to Marko--Galanthia’s wizened but sagacious leader--no Galanthian has ever set foot within its borders. A man named Belas has seen to that, a fallen Druid h***-bent on keeping the valley’s treasures out of reach to all. Long before Jack’s arrival, he surrounded Okenwode with Red Widow spiders the size of men, rendering it impenetrable.

There is only one way to breach the Red Widows. Jack must decipher a key left for him by Fengilly, a mysterious figure now long gone. Fengilly predicted Jack’s arrival, and claimed the key was meant for him and him alone, that only he could solve it.

Who was Fengilly? Can Jack believe the legend that surrounds him, or is it all nothing more than a fanciful tale, as many Galanthians believe? It seems Jack has little choice. The cure that can save his father’s life lies within Okenwode. To reach it, Jack must decipher Fengilly’s key and put it to the use for which it was intended. If he fails, his father will die.

The Key to Okenwode is a YA fantasy complete at 114,000 words. I believe it will appeal to fans of The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, and Not a Drop to Drink (a wonderful book!) by Mindy McGinnis.

I’ve won several awards in the annual Boise Weekly Fiction 101 contest, ranging from first place to honorable mention. I’ve led several writers’ groups, and have studied under award-winning author Alan Heathcock and Bram Stoker nominee David Oppegaard.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Jack Straw never thought of himself as lucky. For one thing, he’d been born with a birthmark on his chest in the most unfortunate of shapes--that of a heart. His mother told him it was a sign that he’d been blessed, but Jack knew better. It was a curse, pure and simple--the curse of the unlucky, which was the worst curse of them all. A line ran up through the birthmark at a forty-five degree angle, exiting the top of the heart and ending in a triangular point just below his collarbone.

It was no wonder, then, that they called him Cupid. The first time he heard that word was at the Dooley Lake municipal pool. He had removed his shirt, baring his skinny four-year-old chest for all the world to see, along with the birthmark like a vivid purple stain. Someone called him Cupid, which quickly turned into Stupid Cupid, a nickname that stuck. Whenever his mother was out of earshot, the other children would chant those two little words in that sing-songy, thoughtless manner particular to cruel children throughout history.

One day his mom bought him a cherry sno-cone at the concession stand. It was a typical summer afternoon. The blue water dazzled in the sun. The clean scent of chlorine hung in the air, along with the high, bright sounds of children splashing and playing. He was wandering along near the kiddie pool, slurping away when an older boy grabbed the sno-cone from his hand.


Anonymous said...

I stopped reading in the middle of the second paragraph. The hook is okay--that Jack's father is dying--but in books, a lot of fathers die.

The next paragraph gives us interesting information about why he's dying, but I feel like the writing is quiet and understated, which somehow masks what is otherwise really interesting information.

There is, to me, a conflict in tone: sci-fi, fast-paced ideas conveyed in an almost literary manner. I think your writing is beautiful, but I wasn't sure the tone fit the conflict.

Patrick said...

Sounds like a fun story.

I think the biggest thing going against you in the query is the length. It should probably be about half as long. I know, it sucks, but by my research we often have little more than 20 seconds of an agent's time. You need to make it pop.

I hope this helps.

black cat said...

Really liked the first two paragraphs of your 250. I felt a bit disorientated with the third--are you describing a day in the present or going back to when his birthmark was exposed?

The length of your book might be an issue as well.

I liked the hook/first line of the query, but then got a bit confused while reading the query--had to stop and reread a few things. Perhaps it just needs shortening up and sticking to the bare minimum, while still including the necessary info and hooks.

good luck!
Ann Noser

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

Thanks Ann! It's very helpful...good luck to you also.

Jaime said...

I agree with one of the commenters above regarding the length of both your query and your novel. The query reads more like a synopsis; the important bits are there (dad's ill, the cure lies in another world, tension, etc.), but they're surrounded by more info than we really need. And everything I've read regarding word count states that there's more wiggle room with fantasy, but anything over 100K for a debut author is a tough sell.

Considering your word length and the opening page, I'm wondering if your novel starts in the right place? Is the birthmark important enough to warrant a whole page of discussion? Jack's father is the focus of the query, so why are we starting with the mother?

I'd cut down the number of named characters and places in your query, as it's a little overwhelming.

All that said, what's currently your query reads like the good beginning of a synopsis, so I wouldn't trash it altogether.

Elizabeth said...

I think your query started out with a bang (about the ticking time bomb) then it started to read a bit like a synopsis. Cut, cut, cut! :) I really think you could just delete the whole of the second paragraph and go right into what the MC must do to save his father's life (second para). I think you have an excellent hook here and great stakes. For the third para go into the obstacle of the key. Any thing else at risk besides his father's life? If so, mention that in the last sentence.

I think the writing is really good in your first 250. My only complaint is that you start right off the bat with background without first establishing setting. Maybe put that further down? This might just be me but the paragraphs seem a little long too. Shorter paragraphs are usually more pleasing to read. Since your book is over 100K there might be some words you can stand to lose.

Julie C said...

Interesting premise. I've heard with query keep it to three characters, with that in mind it should be easier to tighten the query,

In the 250 I see a lot of unnecessary words throughout that would tighten 1st sentence 2nd paragraph could read - It was no wonder they called him Cupid.

I'd edit so that each sentence was was tight and crisp as possible!

Best of luck

Julie #14

Kara Reynolds said...

I'm going to have to agree with others in saying that the query is too long. However, I think your stakes are stated nice and clear at the end, which is great. A lot of people make that part too vague (I've been guilty of it myself).
I would strongly advise shortening the query, thus proving to an agent that you can write succinctly enough to justify those 114,000 words of novel.

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

Thanks everyone! Your comments are very helpful.

Melissa Jeglinski said...

Query. First, it's just too long. Three to four paragraphs max. Get rid of first line; fathers are always dying in books. Get to the conflict asap and let me know what the book will actually be about. Fantasy can be longer but I would recommend 90k max for this genre. There's also no reason to let me know you liked another author's book, especially if I don't represent her or the book.

Pages: There's something interesting about your voice but I think the book starts off in an odd way. They called him Cupid might be a more interesting first line; then go into the birthmark a bit and why he thought it was unlucky.

Overall: I am one for more action in an opening but I would read on because it's a little different for me. Still, the word count would be a problem for me.

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

Thank you for doing this. It's extremely helpful to see the unfiltered reaction of a real agent to our queries. I am taking your comments to heart in my revision.

L. Gaon said...

I agree that the query read too long. But, I like the 250, your voice and enjoyed your part about the special shaped birth mark. It's something that I would think many kids could identify with -- something that stands out and makes a kid feel different. Would you ever consider the name of your book Stupid Cupid instead?

Good luck with this.

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

L. Gaon,
Ha ha! No, I wouldn't change the name! But that's not a bad name for a MG book, perhaps. The Okenwode part plays a huge role later...but of course you can't know that from the query and first page.
I appreciate you catching the birthmark making a kid feel different angle, and frankly I'm surprised more people didn't catch that. This same theme is well-mined later in the narrative.
All of this is an interesting exercise of feedback versus artistic vision. When should we listen, and when should we say "I'm ignoring that feedback, as I know which path this story takes, I must hold true to that path." For example, I should listen to "your query is too long". But should I listen to "I want to see the fantasy world right away, on page one"? No. And as the creator of this story, only I know why that is.
Now my job is to earn interest from the reading public (including agents).
Thanks much for the feedback,