Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Ms Johson-Blalock,

I see that you are currently seeking contemporary young adult fiction and that you have a special interest in unreliable narrators and stories with a psychological focus. My manuscript may be of interest to you. CROSSROADS (69,000 words) is a contemporary young adult novel with elements of suspense and romance. 

When fifteen-year-old Bliss Peters moves to a new town to live with her dad’s new girlfriend and daughter Paige, she thinks it could be a chance to start over. Always the overweight girl, she resolves to lose weight, believing this will be key to her transformation. But what starts as determination soon becomes a dangerous obsession. 

Paige Doyle is fourteen and a popular, talented dancer. She had the perfect life until a tragic accident and her dad wound up in prison. More than anything, Paige wants her family back together. But the intrusion of Bliss and her father sets Paige off on a spiral of destructive behaviour and she’ll stop at nothing to drive them out.

When sixteen-year-old Gretel Le’s brother is killed in an accident, she is left to pick up the pieces. Forced to put her own needs last, she cares for her alcoholic mother and young sister. When she receives an email from a mysterious admirer, she finds a confidant, friend and potential love-interest. But is he who he says he is?

Making use of different formats such as emails, food logs, letters and newspaper articles, CROSSROADS is a story about three teenagers whose lives become linked through family, tragedy, secrets and lies. I am a clinical psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent issues.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration



I had that sinking feeling all through French. And as the minute hand crept two minutes, then three minutes past one, I knew it was going to happen again. As soon as Mrs Kingsley dismissed us, I hurried out of the classroom and down the hill towards the Year 10 area. Why did she always let us out late? And why did the language centre have to be at the opposite end of the school?

The common room was basically deserted with only a few students milling around the lockers, and none of them were Taylor and Jess. At my locker, I stalled, pretending to reorganise my books and folders, all the while looking over my shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jess’s long brown hair or Taylor’s black hoodie that she was forever getting dress-coded for wearing. After five minutes I had to admit it. They’d already gone. I could have walked around the school looking for them, but I hated walking around by myself, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. 

I grabbed the Jane Austen novel from my bag and slunk down the corridor towards the girls’ toilets. I went into the far left cubicle, sat down, and opened my book. Soon, I was transported to Emma’s world of glamorous balls, matchmaking pursuits, and misunderstandings with eligible bachelors. It seemed more real to me than my boring life where nothing ever changed. 

The bathroom door opened and noise from the yard outside floated in.

‘Thank God we escaped,’ came a familiar voice.


Audra Coldiron said...

I was into poor little Bliss who it sounded like was heading toward anorexia, and living with perfect Paige who will stop at nothing to drive her and her father out was not going to help anything, but then came this next paragraph that didn't seem to have anything to do with the other two. I had to re-read it all to make sure I didn't miss something. Your last paragraph cleared it up that they will all be related somehow, so maybe you could put that bit first.

Also, from your query, I wondered if Paige's tragic accident somehow landed her dad in prison. I had to re-read that sentence a couple times. If they are unrelated events, you should make that clearer.

In the writing sample I really wanted to know which of the girls this was. I know it's only 250 words, but perhaps you could work it in earlier somehow.

Good luck with it all. I'm sure as a clinical psychologist you'll always have lots of great material to draw from.

Tabitha Bird said...

I liked Bliss and even Paige, but I found this query a bit too choppy. I had to go back and reread it a few time to try and work out what was holding these character together. My concern is that I don't get an idea of whose POV the story is on from the query. Who's story are we following? I am unsure who the main character will be from the query.
I agree with the above comment. I bet you have heaps of real life material to draw from and I thought it was great that you mention what you do in your query. All the very best!

Amber Hall said...

I would start your query with "Since you have a special interest in unreliable narrators and stories with a psychological focus, my manuscript may be of interest to you" because you identify that it's a contemporary YA in the next sentence. And these details might catch the agent's eye faster :)
Also, I'd be wary of ending query letters with a question. It used to be really popular, but I've seen several agents say (on Twitter) that this isn't a great way to end queries anymore. It might be better to say something like: But he's not who he says he is. Or: But maybe he's not who he says he is. Or even better, clarify what you mean by this.
I LOVE that you're using different formats to write this book! And the concept is really interesting. Good luck!

Valerie Bodden said...

Hi J.C. I love your introduction of the characters in your query--they all sound unique and intriguing. But I agree that it's a little hard to follow how Gretel Le is connected. I know you don't want to give too much away, but it might be nice to just give a hint of what links her to the story of the others, who are clearly linked by the relationship of their parents. Also, I'm not quite sure what the stakes are here--what happens and what do they stand to lose? While I'm guessing this is a character-driven story, I think it'd be nice to get at least a glimpse of the story that these characters are part of. I love the idea of telling the story through multiple formats. I also get a feeling from the format of the query that the book may be told from multiple points of view--if that's the case, you may want to mention it.

In the first 250, I felt a little lost. I'm not really sure what "that sinking feeling" refers to, and it's never really cleared up. Since the character obviously does know what the feeling is, it feels like we're being kept in the dark just for the sake of keeping us in the dark, if that makes sense. The introduction of Jess and Taylor also threw me, since I don't know who they are yet--I think just a brief indication would help orient us a bit more into the story. After re-reading it a couple of times, I feel like maybe the narrator has been ditched--and if that's the case, I'd really like to get more of how she feels about it, through internal thoughts as well as external body language, etc.

But I'd keep reading to get to know your characters!

Judy DaPolito said...

The three girls described in your query letter sound like characters I'd like to spend time with, but I'm wondering which one of them is the primary character. If all three have equal weight in the story, I'd like to know how they're balanced and brought together. The connection between Bliss and Paige is clear, but how does Gretel fit?

You've made me empathize with the character (I'm assuming she's Bliss) in your first page. She comes to life right away, and I definitely want to go on reading.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock said...

Thanks for your query, J.C.! You got off to a great start with the personalized opening. And I was very intrigued by all three characters' individual story lines. What was missing for me here is how these stories intersected. You don't want to make the query too much longer, but I really wanted some more information about the connections between the girls--in Paige's paragraph for instance, I wondered if Bliss's father and Paige's mother were involved? But then I didn't know how Gretel fit in at all. You're almost there!