Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Agent,

In Grace, NC, everyone knows what everyone else is doing. That is until murder turns almost everyone into a suspect in UNEASY GRACE.

Taylor Markesan, former soccer star and recent new-girl nobody, and Jay Slade, loner, swim star and favorite victim of the town bully, meet unexpectedly at a high school assembly where the principal announces that a popular student is missing. Instantly attracted to each other, Taylor and Jay attempt to ignore the rumors swirling around them and concentrate on getting to know each other, but when the missing boy is found, brutally murdered, Jay is viewed with suspicion because of his family’s connection to a similar murder, and Taylor finds herself reluctantly dragged into the controversy through a series of mysterious texts that appear to provide clues linking the two crimes. Despite their growing attraction to each other, Jay can’t understand Taylor’s fascination with the murders, and Taylor can’t overcome her worries that Jay’s reluctance to confront his families past and present actions may be keeping him from facing ugly truths. When the coffin of the twenty-year-old murder victim uproots itself in a violent storm, a fire that may have been started by Jay’s brother breaks out in the middle school, and a provocative DJ with close ties to Taylor is shot, the two seniors must reexamine their views, assess their priorities and try to find a way to trust each other and unravel the complex connections between their families and the two murders.

Told in dual POV, UNEASY GRACE, a 70,000 YA mystery about hidden identities, deep-rooted secrets, and elaborate cover-ups that pits family against family, friend against friend, and boyfriend against girlfriend, is not only the story of two murders twenty years apart that have eerie similarities, but also the story of two people who try to make sense of the violence that rocks their town and their families.

A former high school English and creative writing teacher who learned much from my students about the complexities of growing up, I continue to learn through critique groups and courses, workshops and conferences offered by SCBWI, AWP, Writer’s Digest, and KITLIT College. I’ve written another YA novel as well as an MG fantasy. My work has been chosen as worthy of merit in the 2012 San Francisco Writing Contest, 2015 Rate Your Story Novel Contest and 2016 Sun vs. Snow and Pitch Madness Contests.

I appreciate your time and attention to my work. The first 250 words are included below.



He lifted the fork to his mouth hardly listening to his mother’s prattle about her happy childhood in Grace. They’d lived here now for almost ten months and all of the wonderful and charming things that had been a part of his mother’s girlhood seemed like wispy myth to him; the friends, the picnics by the river, the serenity of the moonlight were as foreign to him as life on some distant planet. 

“My friends and I loved to explore the old cemetery near Front Street, “his mother said, leaning her head back against the scratched wood of the dinning chair and staring up as if some long-ago remembrance was imprinted on the ceiling.

Jay chewed and closed his eyes against his mother’s memories, but the minute she said “friends” the image of a lifeless body, blood oozing down a pale neck came anyway. He choked and coughed unable to get the gruesome picture out of his mind. If he stayed here, he’d be sick for sure.

His brother Mike stared at him; his mother stopped talking and frowned. What could he say to them? “I need some air; it’s too d*** hot in here,” he blurted.

“Language, young man,” his mother admonished.

“Sorry, Mom,” he ducked his head to her and brushed her check with a quick kiss. “I’ll be back in a few.”

His mother pushed her arm toward Mike, her fingers circling his wrist. “Now don’t you jump up and leave too.”

Mike’s expression implored rescue.


The Agent said...

This query overwhelms me with details. I had to re-read the second paragraph twice. In a real life scenario, I would never do that. I would reject it, because it is too difficult to follow. My advice: streamline the query.

JStryker said...

Hello, S.T.P!

I was also struck by that pretty dense paragraph in the middle. You have a lot going on - great for a 70K book, but not so hot for a 250-300 page query.

Potential opportunities:

- I agree with our Agent friend suggesting to streamline. Your query has more of a synopsis feel, and I really think you're routing me through details that may be important in the entirety of the book, but weigh down a summary. You might consider asking yourself - What info NEEDS to be here? What's the main idea of your book?

- I question if you're starting at the right place in this query and are revealing too much into your book. What is the inciting incident? What starts the conflict? Is it the boy being found murdered? Carry me to that point and then cut it. :) You've just got to give enough to intrigue, we don't need every plot line.

- You have some super, super long sentences I'd recommend breaking up/editing. (Of your second paragraph, 73 of the total 223 words are contained in your last, single sentence...) Reading, even silently, is an auditory experience and I'm not getting a breath between ideas. The result is that some of your detail (still think you should consider trimming it a bit) isn't coming through. I'm skipping right over it. Try breaking up your thoughts a bit so they'll sink in more effectively :)

Things I liked:

- You have a lot of material and ideas to work with! This does read "not generic storyline." With a little polish so that the unique parts of your idea are the ones that standout, I'd consider picking this off the shelf :)

- I like that you use a tagline at the beginning. I feel this sets the tone of the query and gives an idea of what's coming next.

- Love some of your word choices/phrases in the 250 - "prattle", "closed his eyes against his mother’s memories","wispy myth."

Katherine T. said...

Your query letter has a lot of really long sentences. I suggest breaking some of them up into short, punchy sentences, and also maybe splitting up the paragraphs.

You've got an interesting story and also great use of language.


Hi there - I like the premise here a lot, but like the others, the query was a bit hard to follow. In addition to streamlining and tightening your sentence structure, you can always break it into a few easily digestible paragraphs too!

Lauri JB Corkum said...

I love, love, love the phrase "new-girl nobody". It's snappy and makes that sentence pop. I would consider beginning your query with that sentence and working the bit about Grace, NC in later. You want your first sentence to catch the agent's eye and in my oh so humble opinion, it's the one that begins "Taylor Markesan".

Susan Paxton said...

Thanks to all of you who commented. Really helpful suggestions.