Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #32

Dear Agent:

Title: Dylan
Category and Genre: Literary Fiction/Magical Realism
Word Count: 70K

Most everyone in the family calls Dylan “slow.” Worse, his abusive mother claims he’s wicked. He might not think fast, and it takes him awhile to form the words he wants, but Dylan has magic. He can spin marbles from oyster shells, and whip up Chicken Alfredo by tapping his thumbs together. In fact, he hopes to be a famous chef someday and put his magic to good use. Right now, the only one to appreciate his supernatural abilities is his loving uncle and caretaker, a disabled Vietnam veteran. When Uncle Jim dies, Dylan’s Aunt Agnes sells the house the two lived in, and ships Dylan off to an adult boarding home. There Dylan meets an equally gifted but troubled young lady named Liona.

With a rocky beginning, Dylan finally finds a friend in Liona whose mind-reading abilities makes it easier for him to communicate. Just when he settles into his new life a precious gift from his deceased uncle is destroyed. Despondent, Dylan flees to the beach and the oyster beds where he feels most at home, and where his magical empowerment comes from. His old Vietnamese friend, Tim Lan offers him a room in his shanty in exchange for his magically-made pearls. Dylan is tormented by the suspect requests of Tim Lan, for the old man takes his pearls to town and they mysteriously disappear. He’s muddled by his feelings for Liona for he’s never had a girlfriend before. His nightmare ensues when his drug addicted mother, who had once washed her hands of him, returns to exploit his gifts. He’s never stood up to her, and he risks losing everything he’s worked for--his relationship with Liona, with Tim Lan, and any hopes of independence--if he lets her destroy him.



By the time I was eighteen I didn’t care what Aunt Agnes said about me. I was happy. I had the two things that I needed most. Uncle Jim, and magic.

“He doesn’t connect the dots right,” Aunt Agnes complained to my cousin Shirley the night she drove me and Uncle Jim home from my graduation ceremony. My cousin always sat in front whenever we went anywhere. Shirley looked over her shoulder at me and scoffed while Aunt Agnes kept talking. “He can’t carry on a civil conversation. In fact, I don’t know if he is past the third-grade level of reading.”

I rolled my eyes. But Uncle Jim growled and then went into a coughing fit. He didn’t say anything though. How could he? He was facing the back of the van sitting in a wheel chair behind me. Once we got home, Aunt Agnes lowered the lift, and Uncle Jim steam-rolled into the house. I followed him inside with Aunt Agnes at my heels. Uncle Jim threw his baseball cap on the couch, and grumbled something fierce, maneuvering his chair through the litter in our living room. I could see a fight coming because Aunt Agnes and Uncle Jim fought a lot. Usually about me. I appreciated his support, but I didn’t like him yelling. The noise reminded me of my mother and the wicked years. I dodged into my room and waited for Aunt Agnes to leave, holding my hands over my ears until the front door slammed.


Tom N said...

Dylan seems like an appealing character. However, I couldn't quite figure out what he wants or is trying to achieve. Avoiding being taken advantage of?

In the query: 'abusive' is a loaded but vague term. Can you give us a sense of the nature of her mistreatment of Dylan?

At first I though Aunt Agnes and Uncle Jim were married to each other, but when she left after dropping off Jim and Dylan I took it that they are siblings.

Dianne Gardner said...

You're right! I've included this line to explain better what Dylan wants.
He’s never stood up to her before but the time has come to be his own person, otherwise he risks losing everything he’s worked for - his relationship with Liona, with Tim Lan, and any hopes of independence - if he lets her (his mother) destroy him.

Kim Long said...

I love magical realism, but I'm not sensing from the query or sample that this is it. Magical realism is world-wide, while contemp fantasy would be if the "magical" ability applies to just one person or a few, etc., and not really known to others. This could very well be magical realism, but I'm not getting that impression.

The query also reads a lot like a mini synopsis. I think you can introduce Dylan, his main problem, and then get to the conflict and skip over the world description so that we care about Dylan and the journey/quest involved.

I like the 250, but I don't like it here--in the beginning of the book. I think we need to see Dylan doing something, not having his family telling us about him, if that makes sense. It's more telling than showing, and I think if you start with showing how Dylan is treated, it would really pique the reader's interest.

Only my two cents. Good luck!

Danielle M said...

I really like Dylan as a character - I can honestly say I've never seen a character like him before.

I would recommend trimming your pitch - right now there's a lot of info in there I don't think we really need, and it's cluttering up the meat of the story. For example, I would remove the piece about Dylan wanting to be a chef - he doesn't go to chef school, so it feels a bit out of place. I would also try to condense the part about Tim Lan, since it sounds like the mysteriously disappearing pearls aren't the final confrontation - Dylan's mother is. (could be wrong though, since I haven't read the story - take with grain of salt)

Agree with other commenter that I thought Jim and Agnes were married until the end of the second paragraph.

For the 250 words - where does Shirley goes in the third paragraph? (Could be addressed in the next para, but in this one you've stated that Agnes, Jim and Dylan all come inside). I'm a description nut, so I'd like to see a bit more on what the house looks like - right now, all I know is that there's "litter" on the floor and a couch, but you could tell us a lot about these characters just by what's in their living room (or even what car they drive).

Best of luck - I love the premise, and I'm excited to see you take it forward!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I feel a lot of sympathy for the character from the query. I don't really understand the mysterious pearl man thing though. Why does that bother Dylan so much? Does he connect people disappearing like his uncle died?

I think his magic may not be subtle enough for the magic realism genre. I mean, being able to create alfredo out of nothing sounds pretty world-changingly powerful. Who wouldn't value free food? Why isn't he trying to conquer world hunger or something?

I like the sample, but the character doesn't seem as beaten down as I expected from the query. I'd expect him to be more people pleasing or fearful. Something that makes it clear his uncle is the only thing standing between him and despondency.

If you haven't read it, you might like a book called bone gap.

The Agent said...

The only thing missing for me here is the age of your protagonist. Am I to assume that by Literary Fiction/Magical Realism, and your comp titles (which are great!) that you mean this is an adult title? I only ask because I could see Dylan as a teen, so it would be helpful to know his age.

Your second paragraph is intriquing as well. This certainly feels fresh. I would like to know a bit about you - is this based on any personal background or experience?

I'll definitely read on to see what the voice is like.

The text:

Great first line! And now I know he's 18 (though I'm still guessing this is an adult novel, not a young adult novel? It could still go either way...)

This is well written. I would definitely read on. Your voice here in the story is stronger than it was in the query letter! You might want to try and fix that so more of your solid voice comes through in the query letter as well.