Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #25

Dear Agent:

During the first few weeks of her freshman year, the dead just won’t leave Becky alone.

She’s always seen them, and has managed to tune them out, or at least hide from them. Since she started high school, though, they’ve been more insistent--appearing repeatedly and unexpectedly, making eye contact, asking questions.

It’s bad enough that Becky’s only friend has lost interest in her, leaving her to fend for herself against a dismissive mother and abusive brother, and that her name has been scrawled in a bathroom stall on a list of “Ugly Freshmen.” So, when a spirit pounds Becky’s bedroom door, calling her name, demanding she come out, she breaks, realizing that the dead have conspired with the living to hijack her sense of safety and self-worth.

Becky is only one of the desperate souls who have called this house home during its one hundred-year existence--souls like Charles, who isolates the family he builds the house for at the beginning of the century, and Barbara, whose husband is taken prisoner during the war in the Pacific; like Lester, an unemployed loser who prefers MTV to social interaction, and Preston, an unfulfilled public employee who hosts punk-rock shows in the house’s basement. They can help Becky reclaim her life and correct her trajectory, but only if Becky is willing to face her fears of both the living and dead and take back her sense of self.

Alternating between five perspectives and time periods, FRIDAY NIGHT AT HUMBLE HOUSE (literary fiction, 104,000 words) tells the story of these characters and the house that shaped them. As they search for meaning in their tangled lives, they will affect each other in ways they could never understand--and will never know.

For twelve years, my nonfiction has appeared in several print and online music magazines. Since earning my bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College, I have taught literature, writing, and journalism to high school students in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. I received my master’s degree in 2014 from DePaul University’s School of New Learning, where I studied writing, editing, and publishing, and have applied what I learned to my classroom ever since.

As requested, I have pasted 250 words of my manuscript below. Thank you for this opportunity and I hope to hear from you soon.



Becky McLaughlin – September 21st, 2011

“Sir,” it invaded her subconscious, a voice like a blade of grass tickling her ear. "Sir, you're not allowed to sleep in study hall."

Becky emerged from limbs that crissed across her desk and rested her chin on a bare, freckled wrist. It took two seconds for her to identify the blurry silhouette hovering above her as Mr. Stucor, her study hall teacher. "Sorry," she said, unable to correct his mistake, uncertain how.

"Sir?" someone whispered behind her. "Oh my g**, did he just call her sir?" One snicker sparked another until laughter bubbled all around Becky, circled her until she swore she heard someone say, "Well, she does sort of look like a guy."

The laughter echoed in her mind, disrupting the small, unprotected piles of self-confidence she had been storing there. Did he really think I was a boy? she wondered. Am I dressed like a boy today or something? To distract herself, she fixed her gaze on the shallow trough on her desk where a pencil or pen is supposed to sit; some artist, who had carved "F** U" into the resin, said what she couldn't.

She felt her phone purr silently in the thigh pocket of her pants. With a sly, subconscious motion, she crammed her hand into her pocket and tucked her phone in the nook of her palm. After poking the touch screen a couple of times, she read a triptych of texts from Frances:

"someone wrote something in the c hall bathroom about u”


Tom N said...

Sounds like a fascinating ensemble.

I'm wondering if this is YA?

From the query and opening I didn't get a clear sense of the narrative arc or the goals of the main character.

I felt somewhat puzzled by the juxtaposition of the opening line in the query, that the dead bothered her for the first several weeks of high school. Then in the the next paragraph we learn that they have always been around her.

The interactions among the living and dead seems to offer lots of tremendous story possibilities. The line that they would never know how they affected each other seemed like it might constrain the emotional impact of their effects on each other.

Ellen Mulholland said...

First of all, I love this title!

Next: I agree this sounds more like YA Fantasy, but that's not a big issue to deal with right now (unless you decide it is YA; in that case, 104,000 words might be long).

Query: I'm intrigued enough to want to read more. I'm leery of five POVs, however. I'd delete: just from the first line; comma after them in next para; though in next sentence.

When you mention "house" for the first time in the third para, I'm confused. Maybe that needs to be threaded into the first para. Is the house the high school?

250: "Sir." The word invaded her...
Do you mean criss-crossed her desk?

Hats off to multiple POVs and time periods. I'm very curious about this story and you pull that off. Wow, I can barely manage one POV!

Good luck!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

In the query, I don't understand why the spirit pounding on her door is her breaking point specifically when it feels like she's dealing with worse. I'd also like to know what breaking means. It could mean anything from yelling to institutionalization. Likewise, I don't know what take back her sense of self means, You've created a lot of sympathy from me for her. I'm already rooting for her to do well. Your cast sounds interesting too.

This query doesn't sound like literary fiction to me. It sounds like ya paranormal. Your word count is high for that genre. If it's not ya, your query probably should focus on some of the more adult elements rather than so much of Becky's school life.

The first line really confused me. I wasn't sure who was speaking, being spoken to, or even if the voice was coming from a physical person or ghost. I think beginning a book with a confusing moment is not a good idea. Why not something else than waking up? Waking up is kind of dull. Something with ghosts, maybe?

The Agent said...

I like how you show us how old Becky is and the genre in such a short first line! (but it could also be college just a bit more would be helpful here - as in 16-year-old Becky...)

I really like your second paragraph - and I'm super intrigued to see where you take this.

While the next paragraph is interesting - it does make the query feel a bit long. I'm not sure you need it.

Great title though! I'm eager to read on, even though 104,000 is a bit longer for a YA novel. You might want to call this a paranormal story or YA Fantasy too.

The text:

I don't follow this line: "Becky emerged from limbs that crissed across her desk and rested her chin on a bare, freckled wrist." - what exactly is happening in this sentence? Re-work.

There's something about the text here that feels a bit clunky - "invaded her subconscious" could just be: "the voice was like a blade of grass tickling her ear" - "laughter echoed in her mind" and "small, unprotected piles of self confidence" I would try to simplify your text a bit to: "the laughter she heard chipped away at her self-confidence"

I would likely keep reading a bit because the concept interests me, but right now the writing feels like it could be stronger.