Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #22

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

After reading your page under the Liz Dawson Associates website, I was excited to learn you are interested in thrillers/mysteries, contemporary romance, and young adult. I have a manuscript that fits all three descriptions, titled OLD MAN BOONE, of roughly 75,000 words.

In OLD MAN BOONE, anything is better than living with a lying, cheating, no-good father--even living in a town with more horses than people. Still, sixteen-year-old Hailey Johnston suspects her life is over when her divorced mother moves them to Clearmont, Wyoming.

The rural town looks more promising when Josh Turner, gorgeous star athlete, asks Hailey out. He’s the guy every girl dreams of, but his ex-girlfriend is the stuff of nightmares. Once Hailey sees Josh and his ex getting cozy in the hall after school, she doubts his feelings are genuine.

The bugs in her locker and rattlesnake in her backpack have psycho written all over them, and Hailey can only assume Josh’s vindictive ex is the culprit. Things take a strange turn, however, when Hailey’s little sister claims the rumored town phantom--the ghost of Old Man Boone--is following her. When her sister wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, claiming someone is lurking outside her window, Hailey realizes the danger is real. Before Hailey can solve the dilemma, her sister disappears one stormy winter night without a trace.

To save her family, Hailey must put her doubts aside and trust Josh. Working together is the only way they will survive the snowstorm that spirited away her sister and defeat an unexpected villain.

OLD MAN BOONE was greatly influenced by my own experiences as a youth, when I moved to Clearmont. Though the plot is made up, many of the details of the town and rural society are true. I recently e-published my first novel under the penname Liz McCraine, and am preparing a second for publication later this year. While my adventures self-publishing have been invaluable, I want to follow a more traditional route with OLD MAN BOONE. Pasted below are the first 250 words of the story. The completed manuscript is available at your request.



Things could only get better.

Hailey stared out the window at dull valleys overflowing with gray-green sagebrush and felt the familiar hot rush that came just before an onslaught of free-flowing tears. She swallowed, forcing down the sob threatening to burst free. It would do no good to cry. She’d already spilled a million tears, but it hadn’t changed anything.

This was hard for all of them. But whatever their troubles, they were in this together. The three of them. They had survived the upheaval of the last six months, and they could survive the next six. They were making a fresh start in a new place.

“What do you think?” Her mom, Ruth, glanced over from the driver’s seat, a hopeful expression on her too-lean face. The weight loss from everything that had happened over the last six months was evident in her hollow cheeks. The gray hairs at her temples were new, too.

Hailey knew her mom was doing her best to find the positive in a bad situation, and it was because of her example that Hailey found the strength to calm the gush of bitter emotion.

She summoned a small smile. “It looks like it could use a few more people, Mom. Maybe even people like us.”

The creases on her mom’s forehead smoothed. “Good!” She smacked the steering wheel enthusiastically. “I wholeheartedly agree. Why don’t you wake up Sarah? We’ll be at our new home in no time.” She stepped on the gas.


J.L.R said...

Hello, R.C.! Congratulations for making it into the contest! First off, I really like the opening. It tells the agent that you've done your research while also telling your word count right off the bat. You also have a clear and concise voice throughout the query letter. However, at the end I become a bit confused. Is it the snowstorm that took her sister, or is it the ghost of Old Man Boone? Or both? "The snowstorm that spirited away her sister", although a beautiful sentence, makes me think the snowstorm took her, even though you were hinting at Old Man Boon earlier. You may want to make this more clear. Either way, your story seems like a great read. Best of luck!

Unknown said...

Love the concept! Your 250 are also really great. I just have a few suggestions:

When personalizing your query letter, I suggest mentioning an interview that features the agent or comping a book you read that the agent reps that's similar to yours. Not only does this give you great insight into the agent's tastes, it also shows the agent you did your research (since everyone is bound to read her page on the agency website).
In your query, I think you can delete "one stormy winter night." It's a detail I'd rather read in the manuscript, but it seems unimportant in the query.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I found your writing (both query and 250) very strong. This is something I'd like to read! It reminds me of Kim Harrington's REMEMBER ME, which I just read and really enjoyed.
However, I think you may want to reconsider the title. While your writing drew me in, I typically wouldn't be tempted by a YA book of that title. It just doesn't ring YA to me.
The other issue is that your first scene is set during a car trip, which is often considered an overdone way to start a book. You've written it well, but I wonder if there might be a better place to start. Without reading more, I'm not sure where that might be, but it's food for thought.
Good luck!

Valerie Bodden said...

Hi R.C. You have some great lines in your query that really pulled me in: "more horses than people" and "have psycho written all over them," especially. That said, I did wonder about having so much information about Josh's ex, if the story really revolves around finding her sister. I understand that it sets up why it's hard for her to trust Josh, but I wonder if that information could be condensed a bit so you would have more room to expand on the paragraph about the search for her sister. I'd like to know a little more about why Hailey is so quick to believe her sister's claims about the phantom. Also, I didn't quite understand how Hailey and Josh ended up in the snowstorm and what exactly the threat is--the elements, the phantom, both?

The voice in your first page really stood out to me--loved your first line and its contrast with her about to cry. It also gives some great hints at the backstory without getting bogged down in it. The one thing that tripped me up is that she gives her mom's name--usually we just think of our mom as "mom," so giving her name seems like an authorial intrusion to give the reader information that we can learn more naturally later. And the line "it was because of her strength that Hailey..." read a little awkward/tell-y to me. I think you might be able to show Hailey calming the gush of bitterness--and we'll see that it's because of what she sees in her mom.

I would definitely keep reading! Nice work!

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock said...

Thanks so much for your entry, R.C.! I appreciated your personalized opening, as well as your straightforward explanation of your experiences with self publishing. I think you have some good info in your query, but I would rework it to bring the primary storyline into focus. Hailey's sister's disappearance is the main event; the romance element is happening around it. Queries usually don't need to be chronological; zero in on what's most important. And this is such a common error that I almost hate to point it out, but since it might be beneficial for others reading in--the agency is Liza Dawson Associates, not Liz. I would never reject for something like that, but it does pull my focus the tiniest bit, and if you can avoid that, all the better! Best of luck to you.