Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Brent,

Rae July Watters wants many things--her mom’s attention, her sister’s trust, a reunion with the basketball shorts she was persuaded to retire--but most of all, she wants the seventh grade staff writer position on the school newspaper. To secure the job, she needs one slam dunk story.

Seeking inspiration in her mom’s art studio, Rae unearths a journal dated 1983, but it’s full of mush about her mom’s childhood crush, not newsworthy scandal. That is, until she finds the address of a now-defunct religious boarding school scrawled in the back.

Rae orchestrates a secret road trip to the tiny Texas town where her mom grew up. Her investigation reveals a decades-old family secret that challenges everything she once believed about faith, family, and the pursuit of facts.

Rae’s confident she can meet her deadline and prove herself as a journalist, but whether she can do it without betraying the trust of everyone she loves is another story.

THE COUNTLESS THREADS OF RAE JULY is a contemporary realistic Middle Grade complete at 58,000 words. GOODBYE, STRANGER meets A SNICKER OF MAGIC as Rae strives to find her voice in the world and on the page.

I understand that you’re interested in both literary Middle Grade, as well as realistic stories with complicated friendships and “bumbling” romance; for these reasons among others, I am excited to offer my manuscript for your consideration. I am a former sixth grade teacher and have had personal essays published in the Harvard Educational Review, as well as a smaller literary journal.

Thank you for your time.



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.

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. It was brutal for a half-day, but after three excruciating hours of icebreakers and a sloppy Sloppy Joe lunch, it was at least almost done.

Finally, at twelve-oh-five sharp, I entered my first Newspaper Club meeting. Electives would normally be last period, but someone had the right idea squeezing them into the first day schedule. 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.

I figured eleven of the people lounging around the table were eighth-graders.


Ben Lacy said...

In your 2nd to last paragraph you mention 'bumbling romance' but the rest of the query doesn't mention romance at all unless it's the mother's old childhood crush. Other than that this query seems easy to follow and well written. I am a little curious about the degree she has to go to for what I would have though would be a fairly easy to reach goal - writer for a junior high newspaper. Is there something about this particular position that makes it so hard to achieve?

The sample is well written and sets the plot up well though there seems to be a slight contradiction in the third paragraph. A school day where you did a whole lot of nothing is also brutal and excruciating. I assume that was more due to nervousness over the upcoming meeting rather than because the MC would rather be doing school work.

Good luck with your novel.

Jan Fosse said...

You've got a great opening sentence. Nice setup, and I'd love to see where it goes. Your query hints at mystery and romance, both for the MC and her mother - maybe you could go into what's to come in your synopsis a little more. Does Rae get the bumbling romance, or her mother? Clarify that and your query will shine. Good luck!

Lm Hersch said...

The premise of this is simple, but I feel like there are a lot of things I'm confused about as well. Is there a reason the school newspaper writer job is so hard to get? For a seventh grader? I remember writing for my school's newspapers and research - especially about actual stories outside of the school - would never have crossed anyone's mind. We wrote about sports, students, and sometimes something like a cool astronomical event or big city events.

Is it possible your MC could be unsatisfied with the "mediocre" school paper and want to write for the city paper? Under a pseudonym? That might raise the stakes for the character and give her a slightly more difficult-to-obtain goal (I really do apologize, but the premise that a student may find it excruciatingly difficult to get on the school paper is very difficult for me to accept).

How does she orchestrate a secret road trip? Does she go by herself? Does her mother go? Is her mother simply not aware of what she is up to?

You mention in your query, too, that there is a bumbling romance to pique the interest of the agent, yet there is literally no mention of romance at all. You'll need to include this in the query, and why it serves the plot.

Mark Holtzen said...

Hi, Nice work on your entry. I agree with the other comments mostly. One thing that threw me in the query - the road trip. Her deciding to head out on her own based on one scrawled note seems unlikely. I'd need to know more about the build up I think. Always hard to do in something as short as a query, but I did hitch on that.
Good luck!

Jamie Beth Cohen said...

I really like this. I agree with what other have said and I wonder if this might be retooled as a YA book, allowing her some more freedom and therefore higher stakes. But that said, I'm guessing you know what you're doing and this looks very exciting.

Gayleen Rabakukk said...

The first paragraph of your opening page is very compelling. Love the allusion that there may be a death because she's wearing a skirt and I think young readers will like it too.
I'm wondering what you really gain from the third paragraph? Is there any information that the reader needs? I'm partially asking because 58K seems a little on the long side for a MG contemporary.
I would definitely read more - you've done a great job of setting up a compelling mystery.
Good Luck!!!

Brent Taylor said...

I thought this query was fantastic. I really connected to your protagonist, and you set up her goals and the stakes SO clearly. If this were in my inbox, I would excitedly dig into the pages. From the sample, my one concern is that we start with a fantastic first line and then we jump into a few different thought-threads, and so the narrative voice feels a little all over the place. That being said, sometimes "all over the place" is a trademark of the middle grade voice, so I absolutely would have continued reading.