Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #22

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA contemporary thriller, THE LAST AMENDMENT, complete at 64,000 words. Framed around society’s festering racial divide, THE LAST AMENDMENT addresses the struggle many people still bear when dealing with race. It’s a story proving that the measure of one’s character is found in the heart, not skin, as the bond of brotherhood restores faith in a time of conflict.

War zones, firing squads, border disputes, bounty hunters, POW torture; all things found in a war movie. But for Barrington Prep seniors Ryan Taylor, Cooper McGill, Marcus Williams, and Michael Villalobos, that was last week. With graduation looming, they’d rather focus on their studies. But since Congress passed the last amendment to the Constitution, splitting the United States into three nations--New America for whites, Luther for blacks, and the Estados for Hispanics--life has become a constant struggle. Lately, though, it’s been hell.

It all started when, without warning, New America’s radical President-elect, Joe Lannister, authorized military strikes against both Luther and the Estados, sending the continent into chaos. Rather than deportation, Marcus (who is black) and Michael (who is Hispanic) are forced into a detainment camp for minorities. After a month of mental and physical torture, Ryan and Cooper help them escape and together, set off to get them home in a world lost to bigotry and fear. Their two-thousand-mile journey through and around said war zones, firing squads, and bounty hunters is colored by the personal pressures brought to bear on all of them in this new world; an experience that will haunt one of them forever.

I have been writing for twenty years, mostly made-for-tv scripts/screenplays and the occasional blog contribution. I also teach writing workshops for at-risk kids, many coming from diverse backgrounds. This story is inspired, in part, by them as a reminder that we, as a society, are better off when we embrace our collective differences.

At your request, additional materials, including the full MS, are available. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your generous time.



A layer of fine soot, fine as gun powder, covers the south-facing windows of the classroom. The window in the upper left corner has cracks etching from top to bottom, spiraling in parts like a spider web. The dust softens the images beyond the window, like looking through cheesecloth. The blue sky is silent, for a change.

In the distance, behind rolling foothills and a line of lush pines, black smoke spirals hundreds of feet into the air in a tight column. Burning tires maybe; nothing burns darker than a pile of tires. The smoke dances with an occasional flicker, putting me into an early-morning trance.

I’m still staring at the dancing smoke and gently rubbing the three-inch scar on my forearm when Marcus thumps the back of my head. He leans up to my shoulder before I can turn. “Hey Ryan, you okay, man? It’s only first period and you’re off in la-la land.”

I wake from my self-induced coma and scan the room to make sure our teacher didn’t see me disengaged. Barrington Prep Academy, Colorado’s most prestigious school--according to their brochure--takes a strict line against daydreaming, what my history teacher calls the rotting of our minds through fabricated imagery. He doesn’t get out much. Nobody really does anymore.

I’ve known Marcus for five years. Like me, he hails from the Denver suburbs. We’ve bunked at Barrington since freshman year, when we both realized that neither of us was likely to attract a better roommate.


Staci said...

Wow. Bravo you for taking on such a controversial topic! While I, personally, enjoy novels like this that force me to confront difficult social issues, I get the sense that many in the publishing industry are risk-averse. I like that you include your experience working with racially diverse youth to establish your credibility on this topic. I wonder if you can beef that up even more? Maybe include how long you've been teaching and the nature of your interactions.

I like the clarity of the first paragraph in your query letter. I think it sets the right tone and hints at more than a basic thriller. I wonder if you can include some comps? Reading the QL and first 250, I got a feeling of Red Dawn in a racially segregated world. Not sure if that's the direction you're heading.

The plot timeline laid out in your second and third paragraphs were a little unclear. Maybe something like: "Graduation looms for Barrington Prep seniors RT, CM, MW, and MV, but it's hard to focus on their studies. Since Congress...."

I suspect it is only the limitation of 250 words, but I'm a little unclear in your novel opening whether the Last Amendment has been passed yet or if that is the inciting incident we will see in the coming pages. It might be helpful to make that distinction in your QL.

Good luck to you!

Cody Delperdang said...

Appreciate your comments...will definitely look at clarifying some things in the query. FWIW, my editor also said it has a Red Dawn feel to it!

Susan Paxton said...

A 64,000 word novel doesn't seem to be long enough to address all of the issues you bring up in your query and I think the next to the last paragraph in your query sounds a little preachy.
In the first 250 words, I'd skip the first three paragraphs and start with the

The Agent said...

The first paragraph intrigued me a lot. But once the query hit the dystopianish split into three nations part, I lost interest. Just not for me.

Jessi said...

I thought your query really picked up in the second paragraph. I particularly liked the juxtaposition between a war movie and a prep school.

Angela D'Ambrosio said...

I would cut out the first paragraph and add the housekeeping: genre, title, word count for the end. Your second paragraph does a good job of showing us what to expect without having to spell it out.

Also, I think this would be considered a dystopian instead of contemporary.

Your first 250 does a good job of setting the scene. Watch your word repetition, you use "fine" twice in the first sentence.

Congratulations on your novel, especially tackling heavy subject matter!

Candace Davenport said...

I was intrigued by your query, but thought it a little heavy with details which took away from your premise. But I loved the description in your 250- enough that I would want to read the book had I just read the 250 by itself. I think your writing is very good- flowed and painted great pictures.

My book is also about racism, but not overtly contemporary as yours. Mine is done as a fantasy, with one race enslaving another. A 16 y.o. from one race gets sent to live with the race that's enslaved. Same issues, but allegorical to today's race issues, (especially BLM).

Good luck with your book. YA needs these type books to get them thinking beyond what they see on TV.

Jessica Martin said...


Great title. I thoroughly enjoyed your query and first page. You have a commanding style of writing and I don't have anything on your query -- it worked for me.

Two comments on your first page. First, I will echo another comment before me. I would watch the repetition of "fine" in that first sentence. It's too stylistic for a first sentence. Second, I like the surety of the voice and that measure of world-weary (fitting here), but I don't love that first line of dialogue. "La-la land" feels like something an older character, not a young one would say.

Best of luck!