Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Mystery Agent,

Twelve-year-old Cassie can hear music emerge from almost every person and thing in her tiny mountain town. Old buildings creak out history, songs sizzle up while folks cook breakfast, readers flip pages to a beat at the town’s bookstore, and the winds whisper their own special sounds--and carry a little extra magic. But even with magical music, when the fireflies disappeared ten years ago, they took Firefly Mountain’s visitors, income, and hope with them. A school assignment spurs Cassie and her best friend, Bard, to more closely investigate the vanished fireflies, and she learns some secrets are stealing her town’s perseverance--and her mom’s song and joy.

As the town’s hope dwindles, its music starts to dim. The problem is, music generates more magic, but Cassie can’t figure out her own song. If only Cassie’s sound were a bold and spunky fiddle like bookstore owner Mrs. Anne’s, high energy banjo like her father’s, steady drumbeats like Bard’s, or loyal bagpipe like her dog’s, maybe then she’d be able to solve this mystery and her mom’s problems. When everyone’s pain deepens under new development plans, Cassie must uncover a family secret and find her own sound to try to set everything right again.

Complete at 33,000 words, THE SOUND INSIDE is a middle grade novel with notes of magical realism that will appeal to fans of Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic and Cynthia Lord's A Handful of Stars.

I am a former public school teacher and an active member of SCBWI, a critique group, and have participated in Julie Hedlund's 12x12 and Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo/Storystorm. I have multiple picture book manuscripts completed and additional middle grade projects in progress, if interested.

C. F.


I swing my foot across the dirt-coated path into a rock, sending it skittering ten feet to the side, like a piano player’s fingers across the keys. The rock’s song crescendos and clunks into a huge sneakered foot, which belongs to my longest (both in time and in height) friend, Bard.

“Why’d it have to be us, Bard?”

Bard shrugs. He shifts the rock with his toe until he’s satisfied with the angle, then sails the rock ahead, making me run for it.

I lunge to trap the rock under my shoe. Almost. It scoots just ahead of my toe onto three other rocks with a tap-tap-tonk like they’re clapping because I missed.

I huff and wait for Bard to catch up. “Why did we have to draw the missing fireflies as our report topic?” I shudder as I remember drawing the slip of paper off the teacher’s desk. “Scientists can’t even figure it out. So they want to put all the pressure on two kids to write a report with no answers out there? Where’s the logic in that?”

He quirks his mouth to the side and sighs. Bard doesn’t talk much. Or at all. Not since the accident three years ago. And it’s okay. When you’re best friends, you don’t always need to say everything out loud.

His always-steady beat matches his footfalls and I wish for my own song to join in. But I only hear the echoes of a whole lot of unanswered questions.


Anonymous said...

I really loved the concept of this, like a lovely magical spin on synesthesia. I did think the query was a little disconnected. If the main character hears all this music, and music makes magic, then why doesn't the magic stay?

I found the writing nice, but the plot grabbed me more than the pages. I think the opening could have started with a stronger first line, especially with the great concept you have to work with! I'd actually really like to have read more though. I think it has a lot of potential.

Sheryl Witschorke said...

I really like this premise! It has so much potential, but I got lost with the fireflies. I'm not sure I buy into why they would be so important to a town without a little more background in the query.

As for the pages I think you missed a great opportunity to show the reader how she hears music in everything by using Bard. He doesn't speak, but what if he radiates a melody the mc can hear? And that's how they communicate? When he's sad, it's a sad melody. When he's anxious, it's a frenetic one. It would be a nice added element if she could "hear" people and objects alike.

Deborah Drick said...

I love the opening of your story, particularly how you attach music to it.

I think your query is a bit scattered, and tough to follow. You might want to cut the sentences down a bit and offer a clear sense of what her issue is and what the consequences are.

I would read this story. :)

DD ~26

alexandraovery said...

The idea behind this is so great! And I also think your comp titles seem to hit right on what you're going for.
I had a similar problem that the query felt a little disconnected. We started with the music, which was great, and then the fireflies but then it veered into something about her mom and then the town as a hole.
Maybe just try to find a way to connect those together a bit more?
I like that there are lots of different aspects to the story, but maybe focus on only one or two of them for sake of clarity in the query?

That said, it looks so interesting! Good luck :)

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I like the concept. I like the stakes. The bit about her mom losing her song really strikes home with me.

The query strikes me as a little scattered. I presume Cassie is unique in her music hearing, but maybe she's not since the town can't collect tourists despite its magical music (which suggests tourists hear it too)? Then I don't quite see the link between the town losing its music and Cassie not being able to find her own song. Why is the latter so serious? Can Cassie not do magic if she can't understand her own music?

Two lists of different sounds in one query might be overkill for me. It feels superfluous.

I like the last line of your sample, but I wonder if beginning with kicking a rock and a semi-exposition-dump flashback about drawing is really your best possible hook. I also don't see a connection between a bouncing rock and fingers across piano keys. They seem like completely different motions to me.

Jennifer K. said...

I think the concept of music in everything is beautiful. I do think the query could be tightened more - there is too much description which makes it hard to take in the stakes. I also think the opening could start somewhere else with a little more punch. With a few tweaks, I think this could really sing! ;-)

The Agent said...

I'm really looking for Middle Grade and I love magical realism, so I would be drawn in right away.

However, as I started reading the query I had a lot of questions - I wasn't sure about your use of the word "emerge" here - right away it made me wonder how the music "emerges" from each person (through their ear? their arm?) rather than focusing on the idea that this is a little girl who hears music wherever she goes. But I do like the next sentence a lot and the concept. I was a bit confused by your mention of fireflies, because here I thought we were talking about music - unless you say outright that the fireflies have the most spectacular music of all and that's why, when they disappeared, they took all their hope with them and the only one to notice was Cassie - or something like that. It seems to me that there should be more of a connection mentioned between the fireflies and the music. I'm also confused as to what you mean by "her town's perseverance" - usually perseverance is mentioned in the face of some specific obstacle but here I'm not sure if you mean perseverance as in what's keeping the town alive, or what's keeping the town from disappearing entirely? I'd consider rephrasing. And the mention of the mom felt like it came out of nowhere because it's the first time the mom is mentioned. I feel like too many things are happening in this paragraph and it's not clear how they are all connected.

In the next paragraph - I'm still a bit confused. I thought the fireflies took all the hope with them? Did they take all the music too? But if music is generating more magic...something here is confusing. Ah! Okay, so Cassie's goal in the book is to figure out her own song? Every person and object in the town can sign except Cassie? Is that what's going on here? But why does she think figuring out her own song will enable her to figure out everyone else's? Especially if she's the only one that can hear song in the whole town? And why does everyone's pain deepen because of new development plans? I don't think you mentioned anyone being in pain until now.

However, the comp titles here are fabulous and your word count is spot on, so I might be tempted to request more pages to see if the text itself explains some of the confusing phenomenon above. That's what I'm thinking so far!

The text:
I found your first sentence confusing - there was too much going on, the foot swinging across a dirt coated path, hitting a rock and then your comparing it to a piano didn't make sense and felt like a mixed metaphor. It might work better if you tell us what Cassie hears when she kicks a rock with her foot. The next sentence tells us that the rock actually is making a sound, but the first sentence didn't explain that. I'd rather just see it say "the rock clunks into the foot of my best friend Bard" - I would get rid of the "longest (both in time and in height)." I feel like you're trying to do too much in these first two sentences and it's not exactly working.

I'd like to see you explain more about what Cassie hears as she traps the rock again and scoots ahead, and then explain for us further the strong contrast between everything she can hear DESPITE her best friend's silence. She can hear him even though he doesn't speak? And while I like the idea of their project, and I'm intrigued by your mention of the accident, I do want to know right away what happened - what kind of accident? What happened to him?

So, just like Cassie at the end of the text here, I have a lot of unanswered questions and I think I'd need for them to be answered before I'd read on.

Thanks so much for sharing this with me and I hope my comments are constructive!

- The Agent

Jessica Gorbet said...

Cool concept. In your query, I really like your examples of people’s songs here (fiddle, banjo, drumbeats, bagpipe). They’re vivid and provide great insight into Cassie’s gift.

I do think you could better connect the first and second paragraph. Just an idea here, but you could cut the last sentence of the first paragraph and add in something about the new development plans (so you’re linking the vanishing fireflies from ten years ago to new plans which are further exacerbating the problem). And if you want to keep the assignment/further investigation by Cassie, that could get worked into the second paragraph because it’s more in-line with her needing to find her own sound.

On your opening page, I’m in. Cassie seems perceptive and accessible as she observes Bard. Love the sounds and noises, of course. Love that line about best friends not needing to say anything sometimes. Just one small suggestion: I would consider cutting “ten feet” in that first line. I’m not sure you need it and it feels overly specific here. Otherwise, I’m sold.

Best of luck, C.F.

C.F. said...

Thank you all for such amazing feedback! It's helpful and encouraging.

(And thank you to the agent for spending so much time on everyone's posts and offering such awesome insights!)