Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

I am seeking representation for THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING, upmarket women’s fiction dusted with magical realism and complete at 88,000 words. As you reference that you are looking for #OwnVoices manuscripts and women’s fiction I thought my book, with a protagonist who deals with similar mental health issues to mine and comes from a similar past to my own, might be a good fit for your list. The book is written in the vein of THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE in that magic highlights the challenge of finding yourself in the wake of dysfunctional family. Readers of Joanne Harris and Alice Hoffman will also enjoy the irrepressible magic in this novel.

Willa Waters, (Middle Willa), mother and wife, has long fled her childhood country home. Desperate to stitch together the happy family she didn’t experience growing up, she represses memories of her abusive childhood to focus on being a loving wife and mother. Instead she finds herself obsessed with bleaching bathrooms and military style bed making in an effort to order her world to such an extent that she hasn’t time to think of the past. That is until the magical garden from her childhood reappears.

As the garden begins to regrow her current house transforms into her childhood home and her carefully ordered life is ripped apart as she is transported back to country Boonah where she grew up. The garden also confronts her with Little Girl, her eight-year-old self and Silver Willa, her one hundred and three-year-old self.

With the help of Little Girl and Silver Willa, Middle Willa begins to face and believe some of her childhood memories and, with the help of a counsellor, she decides to confront her father. But the healing process is halted when her father calls Willa a liar and his version of events from the past implicate that Willa wasn’t abused but gave consent. When Middle Willa’s gravesite is found by Silver Willa, it appears time is running out for Middle Willa to challenge her father and change her future choice to end her life. If Middle Willa rejects the truths her other selves bring about her innocence her father’s lies will destroy her hope, her chance for healing and her future.

THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING is set in Boonah, Australia, where I reside, and draws from my own experiences of healing from trauma by nurturing and embracing the little girl I once was. This is a story of hope for readers who have faced trauma and are now trying to reconnect with their identity and worth. As a winner of the March 2016 Pitch to Publication Twitter contest, this novel has benefited from working with professional editor Sione Aeschliman. My writing has appeared in Mused Literary Review and MOPS Australia, among other markets. The first fifty pages of my novel are attached as a word document to this email as requested.

My sincere thanks for your consideration,



Willa Waters



The ocean arrives in a box.

Moon sees it in my backyard, so do I. The cardboard is soggy where it sits in the dirt, dead leaves clinging to the sides. A white card the size of postcard is stuck on top. Waves that look a bit like storm clouds are drawn in swirls on one side; the blues and greens like bruises. On the other side in loopy handwriting it reads, 

One Ocean: Plant in the backyard.

Dig too deep and the roots suffocate. 

Too shallow and the roots won't anchor. 

Standing over the box, I scratch my head, look over my shoulder and then stare at the box again. Mango Girl, my mango tree, stands behind me. Watching too. I tuck the card inside my dressing gown and underneath my vest close to my skin where you should keep all special things. My breath curls in the cold and I watch the curls as they make shapes. 

“You can be my friends, shapes,” I whisper. “Cold-shape friends.”

There's no address, no stamps, no name on the box at all. The string falls off without much help. A bit of help. Okay, I pulled. 

What kind of ocean arrives in a box? You should be able to collect oceans. That’d be some kind of magic job. That's what I told Nannie the other day. Then you could pour one into a jar and take it home.


Unknown said...

How absolutely delicious! The verbs are what grabbed me, beginning with "dusted" in your query. Also, the fact that you've made yourself open and vulnerable makes me NEED to read it.

H.S. said...

What an arresting opening! I love the idea of an ocean in a box and the language is beautiful and dripping with voice.

Your query is well-written as well, but it feels a little long to me. Your last paragraph seems to overlap with your first and I think you could merge these two paragraphs. I feel like you could cut a fair bit from your second paragraph as well and begin with the return of Willa's magical garden.

I can't wait to meat the three Willa's and learn their story! Good luck!

AlisonHammer said...

I love the first line. The whole first page really grabbed me and made me want more.

I do think the query can be a bit simplified. I wouldn't call out that her mental health issues are similar to yours in the first paragraph, I would save that for the paragraph where you talk about it taking place in Australia where you live.

I also wouldn't introduce the idea of 'Middle Willa' at the point where you do in the query, I would maybe save it for after you introduce Little Girl and Silver Willa.

good luck—the story sounds really interesting, I would love to read more!

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock said...

Thank you so much for your query, T.B.! It's very strong--I have a real sense of what your book is like, and your concept is unique. I do think you could tighten the query. I love how personalized the first paragraph is, but I would shorten that sentence about why you're querying me and move it to the end of the paragraph so as not to get in the way of your lovely comps. I think the second and third paragraphs are excellent, but the fourth paragraph could be shorter and a little less specific. And one teeny thing--the last line says the first 50 pages are attached; make sure to delete/adjust that depending on the agency requirements. I don't think that I'm the perfect agent for this book, only because I rarely consider anything outside of the strictly realistic realm. But you're clearly a lovely writer, and I do think there's an agent out there for you!