Wednesday, August 3, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear Ms. Nelson,

A decade after September 11th killed her voice teacher and her opera career, a still-traumatized soprano returns to Mendocino, where her rekindled passion for music threatens her relationships with her husband and son.

MENDOCINO MUSIC, upmarket women’s fiction complete at 96,000 words, explores the sacrifices necessary when talent pulls in one direction and love in another. New Yorker Marina Bridgepoint and her teen-aged son Jimbo move to her childhood home when her husband’s job sends him to Hong Kong. The aging church choir director who first nurtured Marina’s talent pulls both Jimbo and Marina into the world of music, and Marina finally grapples with the trauma of 9/11. Marina’s prodigious talent tempts her back into the world of opera, though her son’s growing ambitions as a jazz trumpeter may be sacrificed to his mother’s dreams. Through it all, the stresses of long-distance marriage threaten her relationship with her husband. Though Christianity shapes several of the secondary characters, this is not a work of inspirational fiction. Like Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, the novel examines the tensions which arise when a talented mother and her precocious and equally talented child pursue their competing interests. Mendocino Music does not have the absurdly comic tone of Semple’s novel, but shares its fascination with the deep bonds between mother and child.

I have published a 2,500-word story entitled “Knitting,” in the anthology, The Adventure of Creation and have written extensively for local charitable organizations. I am passionate about vocal music, though do not sing opera. This is my first novel. 

Thank you for your consideration. 



Walking away, walking towards. Maybe that was wrong. Marina was cowering away. The thought of actually desiring something enough to move towards it was so foreign now.

Behind her rose the steeple of the Mendocino Presbyterian Church, a white landmark on the windy, damp coast. Further back and across the highway stood the shabby little house she’d grown up in, her suitcases and her son Jimbo’s now adding to the clutter. Their brownstone in New York was a continent away, sublet to strangers. She walked away from it all, pulling her cashmere close. Even her sweater was out of place here in the land of fleece. Her sister Connie, walking with Jimbo just in front of her, looked completely at home. Connie had never left Mendocino, and still ran the hardware store the two sisters had inherited from their parents.

Mendocino wasn’t the sunny California New Yorkers imagined. Today, the fog hung low to the ground, flattening the light. Once it lifted, she and Jimbo and Connie would be able to see the Pacific, but now the grasses in the meadow across the street only hinted at the wilderness of cold salt water just beyond the town.

She and Jimbo were supposed to be on the other side of that ocean, living with James in Hong Kong while he opened a new office for his New York law firm. They’d told their friends they’d be leaving New York, and then Marina had failed in Hong Kong.


Leslie S. Rose said...

I love your choice of Mendicino with all its atmosphere and textures for a setting. Hooray for a story where the arts play a featured role.

Laura Moe said...

I agree with Leslie in lauding you for featuring the arts. The arts make us humaan.
In your query the books you list as comparison seem spot on, and having the 9/11 connection will fascinate readers.

in your sample, i think the first sentence of the second paragragh is a better place to start. The fragmented first paragragh didn't draw me in.

Overall, good submission.

JFC said...

As a new parent, I'm intrigued by a story about the tension between one's dreams for oneself and those for one's children. Kudos on the setup for this domestic drama!

I like all the elements of the story, but I feel like I want to know a few more specifics. Phrases like "the trauma of 9/11" and "the stresses of long-distance marriage" feel generic. I'm sure Marina's trauma and stress is unique in some way, and I want to feel more connected to her through that.


Janice Sperry said...

September 11th didn't kill anyone. It was the terrorists. The way you worded that sounds strange. How would the death of her teacher destroy her opera career? Couldn't she just get a new teacher? It wasn't clear at first that her childhood home wasn't in Hong Kong. Why didn't she just go to Hong Kong with him?

There is some really great stuff in this. I feel like if you separate the second paragraph into two paragraphs, it will read easier.

Patricia Nelson said...

This is really intriguing! I'm dying to add more women's fiction to my list, and I love the setting and the conflict here. One thing that's tripping me up is the comps: keep in mind that your comps should address tone, not subject matter/theme. Think of it as: "Fans of ____ would be fans of your book." There's a wide swath between Maggie Shipshead and Maria Semple, which means I'm confused about where this falls. (It sounds like Maria Semple might not be the right comp, based on how you back away from her in the next sentence?) I'm also not sure about the sentence "Though Christianity shapes some of the secondary characters, this is not a work of inspirational fiction" - if this is important enough to mention in the query, I'm wondering if the book might in fact be too religiously focused to work in the secular market, and it's hard to tell from what's here.

The query sounds enough like my kind of thing to merit an extra-close look at the sample, though. Here, the first page gets off to a bit slower start then I prefer, but I do like the writing (and as I mentioned, I'm very hungry for upmarket WF), so this is a case where I would want to take a look at more pages to see where the novel goes from this point.