Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #5

Dear Ms. Jeglinski, 

Seventh-grader Rae has several problems. There’s her humiliating, botched try-out for the middle school newspaper. There’s her sister morphing into a boyfriend-hiding, b-word calling teenager. There’s her mother, Austin’s Feminist Jackson Pollock, withdrawing further into her art studio every day. And now there’s her mom’s hidden childhood journal, reeking of mothballs and a secret.

Through the journal’s entries, Rae catches a glimpse of an ebullient girl growing up in small town Texas who is nothing like the melancholy woman her mom has become. The jarring revelation on the last page leaves Rae with a ton of questions and a lousy feeling in her gut, which can mean only one thing.

Rae’s found her lead and, with it, a chance to redeem herself as a journalist and salvage her writing career. 

As her investigation unfolds, Rae confronts the truth about a religious boarding school called the Rebekah Home for Girls, her mother’s conservative upbringing, and her own changing opinions on faith, family, and the pursuit of facts. Rae knows she can prove her writing chops, if only she can unravel the story in time.

THE COUNTLESS THREADS OF RAE JULY is a contemporary realistic Middle Grade complete at 53,000 words and a simultaneous submission. Summer Mitamoto’s sincerity in THE THING ABOUT LUCK meets Mo LoBeau’s pluck in THREE TIMES LUCKY as Rae struggles to find her voice in the world and on the page.

I am a former sixth grade teacher and a member of SCBWI. My personal essays have been published in the Harvard Educational Review, as well as a smaller literary journal. I really appreciate your honest candor and industry knowledge, and have learned a lot by reading blogs on which you’ve been interviewed. I am grateful for this opportunity to offer my manuscript for your consideration.

Thank you for your time.



Fact: The last time I wore a skirt someone died. I put one on to visit Dad’s Aunt Ethel who was sick with pneumonia and by the time we got to her house, there were ambulances in the driveway. Aunt Ethel was fine but her neighbor, Mr. Weatherwood, was not. Tripped bringing Ethel a pot of matzo ball soup, bless his heart.

Needless to say, I had mixed feelings walking through the doors of Lamar Middle School in a black cotton skirt and grey Beatles tee. But when your sister is sixteen and gorgeous, and tells you to wear a skirt “because only twelve year old boys wear basketball shorts and not the cool ones,” you tuck your blue mesh gently into the back of your sock drawer and hope for the best.

The first day of seventh grade was a whole lot like the first day of any other grade, which is to say we did a whole lot of nothing. That a half-day could drag on in such a way did not bode well for the year ahead, but after three excruciating hours of icebreakers and a sloppy Sloppy Joe lunch, it was at least nearly done. Finally, at twelve-oh-five sharp, I entered my first Lamar Lookout meeting. It felt like reaching the surface after sitting too long at the bottom of a pool: my heart raced, my fingers felt pruney, but I could breathe.


Laurie Dennison said...

I think this is a fantastic query and opening page. I loved the first line of the sample. My only concern was that I had to re-read the first paragraph of the query for clarity, but otherwise, this is awesome. I would keep reading! Best of luck to you!

Waugh Wright said...

"botched try-out," "boyfriend-hiding," and "b-word calling" all might cause the reader to stumble a bit the first time reading through. The story sounds like it might be really interesting, but I can't tell if it's light in tone (opening of query) or dark (reading mother's journal, tragic history of mother). I've had 7th graders who would say "bless his heart," but the agent might not have.
I've seen interviews with several agents/editors who don't like stories that open on the first day of school.

CHadge said...

I really liked the details in your first 250, and last line about sitting too long at the bottom of a pool. I enjoyed the tone of the voice here too, though I agree with Waugh about the "bless his heart" bit. Overall your query made me want to read more.

Good luck!

Ann Noser said...

LOVED the first sentence of the 250--and the final comparison to a pool.

The first paragraph tripped me up a bit, some things were mentioned earlier, and the phrase "Austin’s Feminist Jackson Pollock" threw me as well--but I'm not widely read in feminist literature, so that may be my lack of knowledge.

Best of luck!

Laura Moe said...

I love Rae, and the opening line of your sample is top notch. She has a great voice. I think middle grade readers would enjoy this book.

Kara said...

Aww, the line about tucking her beloved shorts back into the drawer was so sad! Nice to have an emotional suckerpunch right in the beginning. Way to go!

Lori said...

Your query letter is intriguing, although I definitely agree with other commenters about ditching the "bless his heart" phrase. I really like the first line of your sample and Rae's voice. She sounds believable that she is a middle schooler. Just a nit picky thing here - I was taught in a journalism class that the spelling is lede.

Good luck with this. You're on to something.

Kiri Jorgensen said...

I sense a strong voice here, but be careful leading into the story with backstory. I'm thinking you might have a better start as she enters the Lamar Lookout meeting. That's where HER story begins. The other, very interesting and possibly important tidbits, can be woven in later. Nice job!

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

Overall this is a strong opening, but the flow is slightly off. I think the problem might be I got snagged up on “boyfriend-hiding”. I’m not sure what that means. As for a great hook, you are almost there, but not quite. Maybe just start with “Rae has problems.” Then a paragraph break, with the list of her problems. Work in the 7th-grader angle elsewhere.
PARAGRAPH 3: This confused me—was this the “one thing” from the above paragraph? If so, make it clear by keeping the paragraphs together.
PARAGRAPH 4: In time for what? Although you are close, the stakes are not clear. What will happen if she doesn't achieve this?
Good bio and closing, I like how you worked the personalization into the closing here.
Overall, this is one of the better queries I've seen here (and yes, I'm including my own Okenwode one). The length is just right. All it needs are a few tweaks.
SAMPLE: I sense great care has been taken with this sample. Every word has been measured, yet there are still a few tiny glitches. The first sentence is so good, it needs to stand alone in its own paragraph. Then break, and begin the rest. And why complicate things with the matzo ball soup episode? Maybe the aunt is a character who shows up later. If not, I suggest keeping it simple and just saying “by the time we got there, she was already dead.” I didn't follow the “blue mesh”, so that slowed me down, as did “icebreakers” and “Lamar Lookout” meeting.)
Best of luck,
Spike (Key to Okenwode guy)

N.H.G. said...

(Thank you to all for the thoughtful reading and feedback! I will definitely take your comments into consideration.)

Melissa Jeglinski said...

Query: The story is very interesting but the query itself reads a tad slow. I'd rev it up a bit. MG can be serious but it also has to be exciting enough to capture a younger reader's attention. I'm wondering what adventure this character will have. I'd love for things to be happening to you MC not just learning what happened to her mother.

Page: You have a great way with words, I just wasn't sure this voice read young enough to me. But that would be something I'd have to discover as I read on.

Overall: I'm compelled by the writing but not quite sure if this is MG enough for MY tastes but I'd be compelled to read more. nice.