Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Gabrielle Piraino,

Since you stated on the DeFiore & Company website that you’re interested in fantasy with strong world-building, and spunky, stubborn characters who don’t do what you expect, I think you’d appreciate CURSE OF THE NINE-TAILED FOX, an 87,000-word young adult fantasy novel inspired by Japanese mythology. Fans of Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas will enjoy this story. It’s a stand-alone with series potential.

Seventeen-year-old KUROKO, a fox-spirit with a gift for snarky insults and secret yearning for companionship, steals from the Goddess of Foxes to survive in the gang ridden slums of Itazura. Caught red-handed, the Goddess sentences Kuroko to death. When HIKARU, an arrogant male warrior blinded by revenge, tries to kill him, a mysterious power saves his life.

Unable to kill the irreverent thief, the Goddess of Foxes curses Kuroko and orders him to retrieve her katanas from the Underworld. If he refuses, the Fox Goddess will rip his soul from his body and turn him into a mindless servant. He’ll need every wily sleight of hand and thieving trick he has up his sleeve to steal them. 

On the path to reclaim the katanas, Kuroko falls for Hikaru--the first man he’s ever had feelings for in his entire life. At the same time, lonely Kuroko forges his first friendship with SUSANOO, a devious god with a penchant for pranks, laughter, and cunning games. After a stinging betrayal, Kuroko faces an impossible choice. If he doesn’t steal the katanas, he’ll lose his soul and become a mindless slave to the Goddess of Foxes for eternity. If he succeeds, he risks losing the first person he’s ever loved.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,
A.L.


CURSE OF THE NINE-TAILED FOX

If I’d known from the start that home was a feeling instead of a place, I could’ve saved myself years of suffering. But a wise-a** once said--like the stupid prick knew the secrets of the universe at the ripe old age of nineteen--“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

Uh huh. Sure.

As a fox-spirit who spent the first seventeen years of my life hated by the rest of my kind, who grew up in the slums of Itazura with hunger for a friend and violent street gangs for enemies, I knew firsthand those words were a steaming pile of cow dung. The journey sucked, and from where I stood, the destination wasn’t much better.

I scrabbled along the rooftops of the palace, hurling myself from one red, shingled awning to the next. There was nothing elegant or graceful about the way I skittered across the roof like a demented crab. My black fox ears twitched backwards, listening to the pursuit of thundering footsteps, and my bushy black tail lashed to keep my balance. It wasn’t exactly easy to scale a five-story palace in the heart of winter, with a layer of ice covering everything, snow numbing my face, and nothing but a dirty, tattered, threadbare kimono to keep myself covered.

The snowy courtyard blurred twenty feet below me, and my heart rose into my throat with every jump. Even though I slipped and slid my way across the icy surface, and nearly fell to a snowy death with every other step, I couldn’t stop the wild grin from stretching my cheeks too tight.

I’d just snuck into the sacred palace of Inari Okami, Goddess of Rice, Fertility, and Foxes and stolen a jade figurine worth at least 100 gold kaiki. Even though I couldn’t count high numbers without an abacus, I’d memorized the currency. Each silver taihei coin was worth twenty copper maiho, which meant one gold kaiki coin was worth twenty silver taihei and forty copper maiho. I had no idea how the exchange worked, but it meant I’d be able to live in luxury for the rest of my life with 100 gold kaiki.

I cackled and clutched the treasure to my chest. Suck on that, self-centered, horrible excuse for a goddess. I didn’t think of it as stealing. I’d simply taken what I deserved, because she sure as h*** wasn’t using it. I mean, the thing had dust on it. Dust! Why did she need a five-story palace ­filled with priceless works of art that she never saw, while kitsune starved and struggled to survive in the slums of her so-called “blessed city of Itazura?” The lady had an ego large enough to feed all of us homeless orphans if she ever bothered to notice we existed.

While I cradled my expensive figurine like a babe, the chilly wind tore through me with the force of a thousand blades. My teeth chattered, and my entire body throbbed with shivers, but I felt more alive than I had in months.

With this, never again would I have to fall asleep at night with hunger cramping my belly, ensuring I never had a full night’s sleep. With this, never again would I nearly freeze to death in my lame excuse for a hut, with its tilted, termite infested walls, broken windows that dumped snow all over me with every gust of wind, and patched-up roof that poured rain on me with every storm. With this, never again would I sleep on a pile of miserable straw crawling with lice, and the gods knew what else, while shivering in the winter and boiling in the summer.

With this, I would finally have a life, instead of the piece of crap existence I’d been stealing, clawing, and fighting to survive day to day.

My nose quivered. I recognized the palace’s bushi, the royal samurai, by their smell. The scent of polished steel and ginger, of old blood and leather. Each noble samurai had at least four tails. They looked unfairly warm in their yoroi armor, the tiles of linked gold metal leeched of color by the white winter air. Their katanas, the long-curved swords easily the length of my torso, and wakizashi, less threatening swords the size of my arm, remained sheathed at their waists, but for some reason they thought it would be smart to wave their spears at me. The naginatas never came close to my tail, the pointed tip quivering at the end of a bamboo staff with a red ribbon, and did more to knock them off balance than to knock me off the roof.

“Stop, thief!” one shouted. “If you do not--s***.” I heard a very pleasing thump, the clatter of claws grinding against ice and stone, and the sound of a fading shriek as the bushi fell off the roof.

I counted on one of my hands and snickered. One bushi down, three to go. 

The other samurai decided to focus their attention on not dying instead of shouting useless threats at me. Unfortunately for them, their heavy armor weighed them down. Fortunately for me, my kimono could barely pass as a table cloth, and let me fly like the wind. At least ten feet of distance separated us, and none of them had managed to close that distance by even a few inches.

The torii gates, carved of bamboo wood in the shape of an enormous entryway and painted blood red, loomed ahead of me, separating the inner courtyard of the palace from the white outer gates. The rest of the city spread out in a tidy grid of streets and buildings, like the patches of a quilt behind a veil of white, fluffy snow. My heart pounded with excitement. If I made it to those torii gates, I could vault over the walls of the outer courtyard and lose the bushi in the city. I’d be free, and then I’d be rich. I salivated thinking of the kaiki the jade fox would bring me, fantasizing about the heavy, delicious clink of the golden coins in my coin pouch.

At that precise moment, as if to remind me of my lowly place in the world, my tiny straw sandals caught on an uneven tile, and I pitched forward.

Did I say fly like the wind? I meant tumble down the awning like a bird with a broken wing caught in a cyclone.

The bushi skid to a halt and watched me fall, snickers and guffaws falling out between their panting breaths.

S***, s***, s***. Keeping the jade fox tucked under one arm, I flailed my other hand, legs, and tail, clawing for purchase. Sparks flew as my jagged talons slid across the icy red tiles of the awning. My dirt encrusted nails cracked, and I hissed as blood welled to the surface, leaving a very clear trail of red down the roof. By curling my toes into the awning, I managed to slow my mad tumble to a helpless slide, but then my tail was in open air, and then my feet were in open air, and then I made one last helpless grab at the awning before the rest of me flew into open air.

And then I fell twenty feet to the snowy courtyard below. I closed my eyes and curled into a protective ball. There was a flash of white, a searing pain in my arm, and then everything went dark.

16 comments:

RobRoy McCandless said...

I really love your query letter, it laid a nice base for reading the work. I love Japanese mythos and fantasy, so this was right up my alley, and “fox-spirits” sounded like a fascinating basis for a story.

I was thrown off almost immediately by the asterisks in “wise-a**”, especially when you immediately followed with “prick”. This is doubly confusing later when you do the same for “h***” and it actually took me a few moments to decipher that one, again taking me out of the story. The other four instances of “s***” are doubly jarring, because again, I have to stop and decipher, and given the fantasy setting, they seemed anachronistic. I understand this is meant to be “young adult” but this isn’t working for me. I’d suggest you spell out your swears, remove them altogether, or come up with some alternative words that don’t have to be coded.

You have some lovely illustrative language when we get to the character herself, but this is followed by a lot of telling that isn’t necessary. The “100 gold kaiki” is enough for us to know the figurine is worth something, but the short lecture on exchanges removes us from the characters actions of leaping along the rooftops in an attempt to escape her pursuers. The information is better conveyed later, when she’s thinking about not being hungry or cold. That’s a much better indicator of worth, and character background.

The character’s physical description is something of a mystery. I went in thinking she would be more fox-like, especially with the ears and the tail. But when there is the mention of a kimono she’s wearing, I had a sense she was more humanoid. There is no specific problem here, given the short glimpse here, but I mention it because this will need to be solidly sorted out for your readers to understand.

A bit of a nit-pick, o-yoroi armor was used during the Heian period, around the 1100s, but because it was boxy and heavy, it was mostly used by cavalry and mounted archers, rather than foot soldiers, who would have favored the do-maru. You mention the presence of the paired swords, katana and wakizashi, which came into fashion around the 1500s, so by this time samurai would have been wearing either kozane (scaled) style armor or tosei-gusoku made with iron or steel. As this is fantasy, you can certainly pick what armor and weapons you like, but someone with a passing knowledge of this stuff will likely be taken out of the story.

I love how the description goes into how the samurai smell, which would be very distinct. This is a lovely touch of worldbuilding.

Naginata are not spears, they’re polearms. They would not be made with a bamboo shaft, but wood or metal.

Torii gates would also not be made from bamboo. They would be wood or stone.

Overall, this was a very exciting opening, and it left me hungry for more about this character and this world.

Ali L. said...

Hi RobRoy!

Thanks so much for your comments! I'm glad the query caught your attention. Unfortunately, I didn't put in those asterisks, the blog owner decided to include them I suppose for the curse value. It's spelled out entirely in my ms. :)

Wow, thank you SO MUCH for the information about the weapons and armor! I thought I did my research, but it wasn't good enough. I'll have to buy more books from Barnes & Noble on culinary and samurai history of Japan haha. I'll definitely take your advice on that!

I'm so happy you enjoyed it! ^_^

RobRoy McCandless said...

Thanks Ali! Krista reached out to me to let me know she had added the asterisks. Sorry for the confusion.

No problem. I've been interested in Japanese history for a long time now, and as a boy, especially the samurai "stuff"! I recently finished a historical fiction about Tomoe Gozen, so I'm reasonably up on my arms and armor. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. I don't know everything, but I can at least point you in the right direction!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Yep, the asterisks are mine. They're scattered throughout all the entries. But never fear! I've warned Ms. Piraino that I've inserted them, so she'll know that the curse words appear normally in your manuscripts.

Ali L. said...

Hi Krista!

Wonderful! I hadn't even thought of that, thank you so much for letting me know! I understand you want to be respectful to the audience, and I hadn't even considered that when I submitted it to you.

I'll definitely email you, RobRoy, thanks so much for the offer! (If you don't mind, that is). What's your e-mail address?

Elisa Stryker said...

I remember this query! Glad to see it here :) You've worked on it since I last took a look at it and I think it works well.

You already know I love the comps and the premise for the story. The pages themselves were even better. I would read on for sure. I liked the world building your incorporated into the story.

RobRoy McCandless said...

Hi Ali -

You can reach me at robroymccandless@gmail.com.

Happy to help!

VV said...

You already know how much I LOVE this premise. I’m so excited to get a sneak peek.
QUERY:
Normally I’d suggest not to use such a well-known book as a comparable but paired with Naruto, it works well. The first paragraph hooks me right away. I love “snarky insults” and the introduction to this Goddess. Now the last sentence is what I’m unsure of. Is Hikaru ordered to kill Kuroko or is he blinded by revenge? Did Kuroko do something to Hikaru to want him to take revenge on him?
Second paragraph: Perfection. Though, I would mention Hikaru was ordered to accompany him.
Third Paragraph: Those STAKES are so nicely seasoned. Great! Overall, I think this query is amazing, and it definitely captures my attention.
FIRST PAGES:

The first para had me smiling already. Maybe consider replacing “like the stupid” to “as if the stupid”. Also, the names of the coins—should they be italicized?
“While I cradled my expensive figurine like a babe, the chilly wind tore through me with the force of a thousand blades.” Maybe consider splitting these two sentences up. It’s packing two metaphors/similes in one sentence.
I loved the descriptions of the soldiers—the smells he was able to pick up on. So cool. I would however break up how many weapons you describe right away in one para. Maybe start off with two, and later on you can introduce another weapon just so it doesn’t feel like you’re listing them out.
Anyway, overall, I loved this so much. His voice is just wow. I like the snark, the easy humor, the ease in which you introduce some of the world-building and like I said this entire premise is gold. Best of luck!!

Ellie Firestone said...

As you probably already know, I love this :) My one possible nitpick is that the "stinging betrayal" mentioned in the last paragraph is a little vague. Could you say who betrays him? That's really the only thing I can think of to improve, though. Awesome job!

L.A. said...

I agree with Ellie, you could probably make 'stinging betrayal' a little less vague. Other than that, it looks great!

Ali L. said...

Awh, thank you so much for the love everyone, I really appreciated it! I took the advice about the query and altered it a bit (making it clear Hikaru was forced to try and kill him / accompany him) but I'd like to keep the betrayal vague, that way you're not sure if it's Susanoo or Hikaru. ;)

Becki said...

Ooh, I loved this! I've seen you posting on tons of Twitter events, and I recognized this instantly! Being able to put a query letter / first chapter to the story was fantastic. :D

The query was very solid! I'm not sure you're supposed to capitalize the names of your characters when you introduce them in a query; pretty sure that's only for a synopsis. And (this might have been intentional) you missed the author bio paragraph. Even if it's just writing credentials like you've done NaNoWriMo, you should have SOMETHING about yourself to show the agent you're human. :)

The sample pages were amazing!! This sentence: "Unfortunately for them, their heavy armor weighed them down. Fortunately for me, my kimono could barely pass as a table cloth, and let me fly like the wind." OMG. I laughed out loud. The voice in your novel is incredible, and you get a real sense of Kuroko's character. :D

If there's one thing I can suggest on the sample pages, it's to cut back on the telling. I got a lot of information about his world, which was cool, but it all seemed to be TOLD to me, not shown. You showed me he was impoverished when you mentioned his ratty kimono. I didn't need to be told he was poor over and over after that; I got it! :D So if you could rework certain areas to fix the gushing of information about the world Kuroko lives in, I think that would make these sample pages MUCH stronger. :)

That said, OMG LOVED the Japanese culture you wove through here. I just got back from Japan a few weeks ago, so this book was incredibly visual to me. We visited the temples and saw the jade statues and people in kimonos and the torii gates. All AWESOME details that you don't usually see in western novels.

Amazing job!! :D :D :D

T.S. Liard said...

OMG, Kitsune!! I've been working on an ms with one. Love to see someone else diving into them as well. I loved your first pages. The MC's voice for me drew me in. And you captured the kitsune wonderfully.

For me, however, I struggled a bit through your query. I almost felt as if you were introducing too much information (too many characters to be more specific). Even more specific: " At the same time, lonely Kuroko forges his first friendship with SUSANOO, a devious god with a penchant for pranks, laughter, and cunning games. After a stinging betrayal, Kuroko faces an impossible choice."

So, what does SUSANOO have to do with the overall story, and who causes the stinging betrayal? This is where for me, I felt it became information overload. Prior to that everything is great. And great stakes.

Jessica said...

I recognize this entry too!! I'm glad I get to see more of the first page :)

Query:

Overall I like it, but it gets a bit muddy toward the end. How does Hikaru save him? Talks her out of killing Kuroko? Suggests the katana quest? What kind of revenge is Hikaru wanting? Also "caught red-handed" makes it sound like the goddess was caught, not Kuroko. "stinging betrayal" in reference to Susanoo is also vague, but it doesn't tell me WHY this is related to Hikaru. I'm tempted to suggest taking Susanoo completely out, and focus on Kuroko and Hikaru.
Logistically, names are not capitalized, and book titles are (even for comps).

Pages:
Very visual!! I felt like I was there. But there is an awful lot of telling going on. I struggle with this too, but I feel like a lot can be woven in more organically. Also, one suggestion is to start a bit earlier, when he's actually stealing the statue. I feel like a lot of telling problems can be solved that way, because we'll be in the moment with him, watching him steal something important.

Other than that, I think it's great!! Let me know if you ever want to swap sometime :)

Ali L. said...

Thanks for the fantastic comments everyone!

The Agent [GP] said...

A.L.: Thank you so much for participating! I think you have a great start here and I was really engaged by the tone of your letter. I personally love to see the title, genre, and word count right at the beginning so I can quickly determine how much interest I have in the project right from the get-go. Regarding your comps though, it would also be useful to know why fans of NARUTO and ACOTAR might also like CURSE OF THE NINE-TAILED FOX--be specific! In the summary section, there were a few suggestions that I had as well: consider specifying Kuroko’s gender earlier, note what Kuroko is stealing, be sure to clarify which characters you’re referring to (there was some confusion about Kuroko vs. Hikaru at the end of the first paragraph), and tell us why the Fox Goddess won’t simply turn Kuroko into a servant in the beginning (i.e., what's the use in giving him the opportunity to retrieve her katanas?).

Regarding the first 1250 words, you created a great narrative voice and by jump-starting your novel with an action scene, the pace is already quite high. This is a great literary device and you used it extremely well. That being said, I would suggest that you take a closer look at the writing and the world building that functions as the foundation for the rest of your story. Terms like kitsune, torii, bushi, etc. are likely going to be new to your audience (or at least some of them), so while they would be typical for your character to use the words regularly, make sure that you’re introducing each new term with a quick definition/description so the readers aren’t stumbling over them or being disengaged from the narrative with questions. Is everyone in your universe fox-esque? Or just some characters? Do they walk on two feet? What is the significance, if any, of having more or less tails? You might answer these questions within the novel at a later point, but it would be great to see them as each new idea/character is being introduced.