Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

Sarah Lowe knows the labels: ADHD, Asperger syndrome, autism. Words pasted on kids who don’t fit inside neat little boxes. Labels that don’t belong on her son.

Except not many nine-year-olds crawl under the table and whimper like a dog when they’re upset. And most of them don’t come unglued over a too-thick cucumber slice or an overdone cinnamon roll. Maybe her son isn’t just quirky, and maybe finding the right label will make life easier for him. And her.

Sarah dives into a complicated new world of doctors and therapists. She embraces every tool they offer--from swings to timers to lessons in self-control via race car driving--to help her son navigate life’s ups and downs.

But experts aren’t cheap, and Sarah’s husband is convinced she’s looking for problems where none exist. Sarah’s still not sure what she believes, but figuring out how to help her son is worth any cost. Even if the price is her marriage.

Complete at 88,000 words, SMALL THINGS is a work of women’s fiction that will appeal to fans of the character-driven narratives and flawed protagonists of Kristina Riggle and Jodi Picoult. Small Things is my debut novel. In my current role as a respite caregiver for children with special needs, I work directly with children on the autism spectrum and their families.

Thank you for your consideration.



Sarah stepped into the hallway and smiled: coffee and cinnamon. Michael was doing his best to bring some happy to this birthday morning.

He stood at the sink washing strawberries when she entered the kitchen. The rising sun framed in the window behind him bathed everything in golden light, like something out of a fairy tale. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed the back of his neck. "Good morning, Prince Charming."

He returned her kiss with a more heated one. "Prince Charming, huh?"

"Yep. Even if you have been stealing strawberries meant for your son's lunchbox."

He grinned and popped a berry into his mouth. “I thought I’d take Aiden to school today."

Her eyebrows shot up as she filled a mug with steaming coffee. “Maybe I should call you Super Dad.”

“I figured Super Mom deserves a break on her birthday."

Sarah groaned. “Do you realize I’m officially closer to fifty than twenty-one?”

“And even more beautiful than the nineteen-year-old girl I married.”

“I think you’d better get your eyes checked, old man.”

Michael wagged his finger at her. “Watch who you’re calling old, missy!” He chopped a cucumber into thick, uneven slices.

She winced. "I can do that."

"That's okay."

"It's just," her gaze drifted to the pile of cucumbers, "He likes them cut a little thinner." 

The shrill beeping of the kitchen timer pierced the air. 

Michael's lips tightened in a thin line and he set the knife down. "Fine. I've got to get the rolls out anyway."


AlisonHammer said...

Love the query—it got me hooked from the start.

And also love the first page—can't wait until this is published and I can read the whole thing!

A few things that really stood out to me:

The line "...bring some happy to this birthday." Love it.

Also the switch from adoring husband to the cold response and the tension built over a thing as simple as the cut of a cucumber gives such great insight to the characters and the dynamics between them. Very real and relatable.

Can't wait to hopefully read more!

BRM said...

Hi H.S.,

Great conflict and riddled with tension! You have a lovely writing style that will hook any reader.

However, I almost want this paragraph sooner:
But experts aren’t cheap, and Sarah’s husband is convinced she’s looking for problems where none exist. Sarah’s still not sure what she believes, but figuring out how to help her son is worth any cost. Even if the price is her marriage.

It nails the stakes so concisely and is so powerful! I'd love to see this earlier on in the query.


Unknown said...

You have an awesome query and it's obvious from your bio that you know this topic well.

I really like the first 250. I was hoping things weren't "all cheery" and I'm glad you got to it within the first page.

Good luck!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

What a great opening scene. I loved the contrast between their playful banter and the sparks of tension that popped up when the conversation shifted toward their son. It felt so real and so perfect.

That said, the first time I saw your first page on the screen, my initial thought was that it looked choppy. It doesn't read too choppily, but I couldn't help but wonder if the scene would be even better with the introduction of some interiority. If we're in Sarah's head throughout this scene, then we should be in Sarah's head. Of course, you might try playing with it, and it might turn out terribly (in which case this will more than work as-is). Just something to think about.

Good luck to you and SMALL THINGS!

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock said...

Thanks so much for your query, H.S.! I really like the specificity that you include with the son's symptoms and treatments, and your closing paragraph is excellent. I would rework the query, though, to better highlight the stakes. It seems like the real conflict isn't with Sarah and her son's diagnosis, but rather between Sarah and her husband. I would feature and articulate that more strongly. I also share another commenter's love for the phrase "bring some happy to this birthday morning."

Judy DaPolito said...

Your query got my attention as it drew me in first with her child's problems and then with her marriage issues. And your first page did its job of making me want to go on reading. The details of the couple's affection for each other were just right to establish their closeness, and the crack in that affection came through clearly. But the way the wife referred to her age made me stop and figure out just how old she was.
It was a clever device, but I'm not sure you want to distract your reader's engagement that way.