Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Agent,

My 93,000 word manuscript titled THE CERITH FLOWER is a layered, lush and immersive fantasy. As you're open to acquiring adult fiction in this vein, it might be a good fit for your list.

Symphony's nightmares never fade. In an alternate earth of hunter-gatherers, hooded predators known as poachers troll the forest each night in search of human skins. Moons ago, they took Symphony’s mate as one of their victims. Now they steal her one and only friend. Symphony isn't capable of handling another loss. There are no tears left in her to shed. So she doesn't cry--she fights. Ignoring her elder’s warnings, she runs after the poachers to save her friend, a forbidden act given its certainty of death. Her path leads her to the Kid: a mute recluse and inventor with a history of violence; a man who Symphony finds together fascinating and frightening. After all, he almost killed her the first time they met; and he owes penance for that near-fatal incident. Symphony needs a skilled tracker--one crazy enough to join her suicide mission. As the two misfits journey through an unforgiving landscape, for Symphony, what began as a quest to save a dear friend could end in something entirely different--a dark love that could break her once and for all.

THE CERITH FLOWER weaves elements of suspense, romance, and folklore into an upmarket fantasy. Aimed at fans of Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS or Jemisin's THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY, the work explores what it means to be human through one woman’s quest to heal her heart. It won the Pg70Pit writing contest for voice under the code name, "Only then I am human," as well as the Pitch to Publication contest in November 2016. I studied creative writing at the Humber School for Writers and obtained an interdisciplinary PhD from York University. My recent publications include short fiction in Firewords Quarterly, (forthcoming April 2017), in addition to nonfiction essays on posthumanism and surrealism, both topics that influence my storytelling.

The first 250 words of my novel are pasted below. I’d be happy to send you the full manuscript and/or a synopsis upon request. Thank you for considering my work.

Kind Regards,


Only fools would look forward to dancing by dark when death stalked the forest. Symphony of the Cloud People shimmied up an oak tree, the calluses on her feet pushing on knobs and joints in the bark. She had no intention of participating in the festivities--not now, nor during any nightfall. She settled into a fork, mindful of sharp twigs, and leaned back to catch her breath. The others wouldn’t find her. Not this high. Weighing little more than seven stone had its advantages. Only Ethon dared climb higher, though that had more to do with his wiry build than his weight. Symphony, on the other hand, was the thinnest woman in her tribe and had the upper body of a twelve-year-old girl. This hadn’t stopped their scout, Yanik, from giving her two extra tents to carry to their new campsite, but Symphony had learned long ago to swallow her complaints. Sore muscles were better than pity.

She shrugged off the straps of her rucksack just far enough to dig into a side pocket for a bandana. Tucked within the folds was a methoxy leaf shaped like a teardrop. Symphony licked her lips. She needed this. Closing her eyes, she stuffed the weed into her mouth, mashed the veins into a pulp, and swallowed. She wrinkled her nose at the aftertaste and waited. In no hurry, she was content to loll against the oak for as long as it took the drug to enter her bloodstream.


Dane! said...

Hi C.T.!
Not to hyperbolize or anything, but the tone of both your query and excerpt are really immersive. They work as hard as the characters and conflict to lure me in as a reader, then really tangle me into the story, and I really appreciate that. Here are a few other comments...

The Query...
Your query is quick and to the point, which I think is a real asset. You don’t mince words in your intro, and it leads me to your hook really effectively.

I feel like it might work better to jump right into the conflict instead of starting with “Symphony’s nightmares never fade.” Because you don’t mention her in the next sentence--and because I’m not sure if her nightmares are literal or figurative--I feel like it throws me off as a reader.

I think the tense in “Now they steal her one and only friend” is a little confusing too. Maybe “Then they stole her one and only friend” or something like that? It makes me wonder if her mate and friend are the same person, though that might just be my brain being weird.

Could you cut “There are no tears left in her to shed?” The next sentence does it for me.

Is Kid the skilled tracker Symphony needs? How can you make that clearer? Because it seems like you’re about to introduce a third character, but then say there are only two misfits.

I think that chunking this into a couple more paragraphs would help us see the individual parts of this--the past, the present, the future--more clearly.

The Excerpt...
You paint a wild scene here! I really found myself immersed in it. Before you get to Symphony, though, could you describe more of the ceremony and festivities? The dance? It’ll help set the scene even further.

I feel like mentioning Ethon and Yanik this early on is a little confusing, though maybe they pop back into the story shortly after this. Either way, I feel like my brain can only take so many characters at once, especially if they’re only mentioned to help explain Symphony’s weight.

I love the description of eating the leaf--the pacing is just right and helps me experience along side her.

Hope this helps! Good luck finding an agent for this!

alexandraovery said...

I also love the worldbuilding you've got in the query, which is very strong. The only thing I'd maybe change is the very last line of the story para, you could try to make the stakes a little stronger and clearer. Instead of mentioning the dark love, maybe mention what she stands to lose?

The opening is also strong, with great worldbuilding sprinkled in it :)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

This story sounds so interesting! I love so many of the elements you're including here, and I think I find some of the story's voice sneaking through into the query, which is always a good thing. Like the poster above mentioned, I definitely feel like the end of the query could be a little stronger, because all I thought was...why is the love dark, and why could it break her. I'm not seeing it in the query, and while you may not want to give away that much, you've gotta give us a hint. :)

As for the page...WHAT an opening sentence. Such a strong hook!

Ohhh...what did she just take? I'm so drawn in already, and I love your main character's personality. You do such a good job of painting a clear picture of some of the world with just these two paragraphs. I do feel that the first chapter can probably be split somewhere for pacing, but that's a small observation.

Thanks for sharing!

Kenneth W. Barber said...

I really like this. I would suggest, as was already suggested, cutting the nightmare sentence. It just doesn't do it for me. There are no tears left to shed seems a bit cliche, maybe reword it. As far as the excerpt is concerned, it's a strong first 250. I think you perhaps waste too many words on describing how light Symphony is. I understand her slightness from being built like a twelve-year-old boy. I get that the Kid is the tracker she seeks, but it's not readily apparent. Perhaps you could make this a tad more clear. I like the world building. I think that a bit more description of the festivities would be called for. I want to know what it is about them that disinterests her. Overall, I like this query and the first 250 words are engaging and make me want to read more. What is that drug!? Great job.

The Agent said...

It's great that you have the word count and genre right up front! I'm not sure you need "layered, lush and immersive" - one or two of those words are probably enough and I'd rather see it used in the following way "The Cerith Flower is a 93,000 word novel set in a lush fantasy world." or something like that. There's a difference between saying "my novel is lush and immersive" and saying my novel is set in a lush and immersive world...

I'm a bit confused by your use of the words "alternate earth" does Symphony know she's in an alternate earth? If not, then use that as a description of your novel but not in the query itself. Also, does Symphony live in the forest? Or are her nightmares of the forest? Or of the alternate earth? I'm confused.

Though I am intrigued by a fantasy world of hunter-gatherers and poachers - could be interesting, and the idea that they seek human skin is creepy. There's definitely something here but your query needs to be re-organized. Aim for three paragraphs - the first to tell us the setting and the problem. The second to tell us the conflict and what the main character decides to do about it - the third paragraph to tell us the consequences of that decision and the conclusion. (There aren't hard a fast rules but a general guideline) and I think that the long paragraph you have here could be rewritten that way and be much more effective.

Your comp titles are good and I like the idea of suspense, romance and folklore. I'll keep reading to see what the writing is like.

The text:

The writing is strong and I'm intrigued. I want to know what cloud people are. The descriptions are well wrought and I have a great sense of place. I'd definitely read on.