Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #3

Dear Agent Inbox,

All Annabel does is lie. To her family, her friends, herself. It’s not her fault. There’s a voice in her head--she calls him Dodge--and he tells her what to do. To steal, to hurt, to lie. Desperate, the adopted seventeen-year-old checks herself into a mental institution. She needs to get rid of Dodge, now, before he ruins her chances of a swimming scholarship, having friends, staying sane. Only Dodge is just as determined to stay as she is for him to go. 

As her doctor leads her through different therapies, and Annabel tries to navigate her relationships with the other inmates, she seems to be getting worse, not better. In regression therapy, Annabel discovers her birth father was a serial killer. She writes therapy letters to him, but they’re not supposed to be sent. Only they are, and her father writes back, telling her there’s a man called Dodge who tells him what to do. He reveals his last victim has never been discovered, and that Annabel holds the key to where she is. But to find out, she must delve into the part of her she is terrified to look at: the heart of who Dodge really is.

LETTERS TO A SERIAL KILLER is a YA contemporary written with elements of psychological suspense in a semi-epistolary style. It’s complete at 55,000 words.

The full manuscript is available at your request.

Best wishes,


I am a liar.

That’s what they say. The only time I’m not is when it’s raining. It drums on the ground, pattering like footsteps. It drowns out the noise in my head, the voice that snakes in every time I’m not looking. Liar, liar, liar. You’re just what they think you are. Today it’s raining and I don’t have to listen. I settle on the wet grass, open my mouth, let the raindrops fall like drips of quiet onto my tongue.

‘You look like a drowned rat.’ Luckily, this voice isn’t the one in my head.

I keep my eyes closed, continue to soak myself. ‘Hey, Danny.’

The grass crinkles as he sits down. ‘Want a coat?’

A smile tugs the corner of my mouth.

‘Your lips are blue,’ he says.

I grin.

His rough hand takes mine and he pulls me up. I open my eyes just as he does, and it’s like the world swooshes by on a swing. I put my palms on the ground to steady myself. The sky presses grey above us, but it’s the only thing that holds me together. That, and Danny.

‘Class started already.’ He wipes strands of soaked hair from his eyes. ‘We need to get inside.’

No one else is outside on the fields today. Everyone stays away from me. I pull my knees up and wrap my arms around them. ‘I’ve got to decide today.’

His eyes glisten, but I can’t tell whether it’s the clouds overhead casting shadows, or he’s upset.

‘Don’t look at me like that.’ I get to my feet. He stands with me, oak strong and the most solid thing in my life. ‘You don’t even know if they’ll accept me yet.’

He huffs out a breath. ‘You’re right. I don’t know.’

We walk towards the school, hand in hand. The building looms like a prison. It’s full of chatter, busy students, teachers teaching. People not like me. People judging. The wind gusts its secrets past me.


Sheryl Witschorke said...

I really like this premise. It has the potential to be very Dexter-like. The opening paragraph of the query really drew me in, but then my interest faded a little so I think it could use some tightening when you describe the part about Annabelle's dad and the connection to Dodge. Also, maybe don't refer to others in a mental institution as inmates. They aren't incarcerated, just in need of help.

As for the pages, I think you should show, not tell, how Annabelle is a liar. Redo the scene so that we, the reader, see how she is lying to Danny. I also think Dodge should be guiding the scene from the get-go. Only my suggestions.

Good job!

Jessica said...

What a chilling premise! I was hooked immediately, but as Sheryl suggested, my interest waned a bit as I read on. I think it's because there's a lot going on in the query (and the book I'm sure!). Maybe you can fiddle around with the second paragraph? Cut the first sentence and say something like "to make things worse, Annabelle finds out her dad is a serial killer?" Something to ease the reader into the idea of the letter writing and Dodge as connected entities.

I hope that helps! Good luck!!

Erin Craig said...

What a groovy plot! I want to

Like the commenters before me, I felt the opening paragraph of the query was very strong and that the second could use some tightening up.

In your first page it was a little unclear if she doesn't lie on days when it rains or if the rain simply drowns out the voice in her head.

Really great premise though! I'm intrigued!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I like this. I would agree with the others that using the word patients would be better than inmates.

The sample paragraphs confused me a little when I first read them, but the second time through, I liked them a lot. Maybe work on clarity?

The Agent said...

I'd like to know in the first sentence or two that this is a YA novel - nothing here tells me that yet. I'm not sure about "adopted seventeen-year-old" I think I'd like to have this information moved up earlier, as in: "All 17-year-old Annabel does is lie." And find a way to tell us she's adopted in the next line. How does she check herself into a mental institution? Where is her social worker or foster family in all of this? Isn't she under age?

In your second paragraph - I'm not sure of your use of the word "inmates". Though I am intrigued by the idea that her father was a serial killer.

So, while I was a bit turned off by your first paragraph because I had a lot of questions, plus I feel the market is a bit saturated with mental health books, I am definitely intrigued by the psychological suspense angle and I would probably keep reading to see how everything is handled in the actual text itself.

The text:

"That’s what they say." - who says? and maybe it's stronger if you just say "I'm a liar." and skip this next sentence.
"The only time I’m not is when it’s raining." - not what? better to say: "The only time I'm not lying is when it's raining" - but that totally made me ask why?
Say: "Rain drums on the ground..." - not "it"
Revise to say: "Today it's raining so I don't have to listen to the voice"
I like the idea of "drips of quiet"

So far I like the interaction between her and Danny - I'd read on.

I do also wonder if this story is "own voices" in any way and what experience / expertise you might have with mental illness, because the risk of writing a book with this theme is the challenge of getting the representation right. By the ending, I would definitely keep reading despite some of the reservations I have above - it seems like there is good potential here.

Jennifer K. said...

Very chilling! I got a little confused in the query - the connection between Dodge and her father wasn't as clear as I would have liked. I think either make it clearer if it's really important, or leave it out. Nice job!

Fiona McLaren said...

Thank you everyone for your kind critiques, and the helpful thoughts, insights, and observations you all made. I'd especially like to thank the mystery agent for taking the time to help educate, and will learn a lot here to apply to my novel. I also hope everyone does very well!