Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Gabbie,

Thanks so much for doing this, I hope you find some great prospects. And I look forward to your feedback, whatever it may be!

When Mike Temple hears the voices of the dying in his head after eight years of silence, he fears this time his secret will destroy all he holds dear.

Everything is fine until his student, Aiden Stoute, stops showing up for high school. Always eager to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, Mike bypasses protocol and visits Mrs. Stoute at home to demand why she isn’t concerned with her son’s education. Upon arriving Mike finds Mrs. Stoute dying from cancer. Aiden suspects her hospice nurse, Elizabeth Black, is 
speeding up the process. Having recently lost his own father to cancer, Mike believes Aiden is just grieving--until he hears Mrs. Stoute’s dying voice in his mind confirming Nurse Black’s murderous intentions.

A devastated Aiden is h***-bent on revenge against the shifty nurse. Meanwhile Mike suspects Black is connected to the return of his supernatural condition, because the only voices he hears now are her
patients. And they tell him she’s killing them too. Now Mike and Aiden must join forces to stop this secretive woman’s murderous spree before the voices drive Mike insane once again.

THE LAST DOOR ON THE LEFT is a 75,000-word thriller/suspense novel in the vein of Ruth Ware’s IN A DARK, DARK WOOD with a paranormal twist. I am the son of a Hospice nurse, and I used my family’s familiarity with the subject to craft the story details. Last year I attended both DFWCon and Writers Digest Annual Conference in NYC and plan on attending both again this year.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



There was nothing strange about the day, other than it was, for lack of a better word, strange. Mike Temple had been more than patient with his students, and yet Aiden, who's behavior was always impeccable, seemed to have taken advantage of his good graces. His phone was out yet again.

“Aiden, bring it to me.”

The boy grumbled something incoherent before laying the device on the desk in front of him, face up.

Mike held his gaze a moment. He didn’t want a confrontation, and trying to confiscate it might lead to a screaming match with a student. The kid was 
edgy enough as it was, beads of sweat glistened off his head from across the room.

Ignoring the slight, but making a mental note, Mike turned and addressed the class. “I know you are all anxious because we’re one day closer to the day the state sees fit to--God help us all--release you into the world. But I just wanted to quickly go over something. It doesn’t really have much to do with civics, though I wish I had known this when I was your age.”

“You are our age!”

The class prickled with laughter.

Mike grimaced. Next year he was coming in with a full beard; cover up some of his boyish features. More than once some of the faculty had mistaken him for a student. Could he help it if he looked young for twenty-seven? Though, he couldn’t let Mackay get away with it. He hated this part.

“Dylan, maybe if you learned when it was appropriate to speak and when it was appropriate to listen you’d have a prom date by now.”

A loud round of “Ohhhh’s” rose from the class as Mike glanced at a couple of the girls, smirking to each other. He didn’t like embarrassing the students, but sometimes it was a necessary evil of the job. It was like they said in grad school, if you don’t drop the hammer at least once in a while, they’ll walk all over you.

Dylan, his face beet red, slunk into his seat. Mike turned away, embarrassed himself, his gaze landing on Aiden again. He was eyeing his phone like a piece of candy. The screen was lit, but Mike couldn’t see the notification. And Aiden hadn’t picked it up. Yet. Mike pushed down the urge to snatch it from his desk and pour through every text.

“Look, you guys are graduating in four months. I know it seems like forever but it is really very little time. By a show of hands how many of you have applied to college?”

Almost all of the twenty-five hands shot up.

“Okay. Now how many of you think you’re prepared? That you’re ready for whatever is thrown at you?”

Almost all the hands went up again.

“Are you about to tell us college is a waste of time?” Kevin asked.

“G** no. You’re going to face things you’ve never dreamed of in college, and you need to prepare yourselves.” He glanced at the clock. Only a few minutes left. He could fit this in, it was important enough. Movement on the left side of the room caught his attention: Aiden typing another furious message on his phone. Mike sighed. Why couldn’t he have been a teacher in the seventies?

“I don’t expect you to answer so I’m not even going to ask. Let’s just assume all or most of you have sampled alcohol at some point before today.”

A collective round of groans passed through the students.

“I know, I know. But listen, I don’t care you’ve taken a drink or two or ten. I don’t care you’ve gone to your parent’s liquor cabinet, popped the back off with a screwdriver, stolen a bottle, then replaced it with colored water and tapped the nails back down with a rubber mallet so no one will hear you at two-thirty in the morning.”

The class regarded him.

“Okay so maybe that last one was just me.”

A few laughs bubbled up.

“As Dylan pointed out, it wasn’t so long ago I was in your position. But what I never considered was the level of access I’d have in college. The funny thing about high school is most of the time you really have to work for your booze. Really work for it. At least I did. I had to be meticulous, finding out all my parents’ secrets, coming up with creative ways to find sources. The point is, in a way I earned it. Maybe it’s been like that for you too. College is completely different. There it flows like water.”

“Sounds like you were a straight-up alcoholic, Mr. Temple,” Cole said, leaning back in his chair. “Ever bring a little drinky-drinky to work?”

Mike wanted to wipe the indignant grin right off his face but ignored him instead. “Temptation can be a powerful motivator. When there are no consequences, when everything is easy. Be. Careful.”

“The only thing I’ll be careful about is not to fall off when I’m doing my keg stand!” Cole yelled to a couple of cheers from his classmates.

Cole’s parents ran a successful travel agency--which, in the short time he’d been in Hawksburg, Mike had learned was a prominent staple of their town. They were probably one of the most respected families around. Did he expect Cole to be anything other than an entitled a**? Mike glanced at the room.

The students had stopped interrupting; only because they were hoping for some sort of scuffle worth recording. Half of them had their phones in-hand, watching Mike intently. But not Aiden, his device was back on his desk.

“I’ll be honest with you. I let temptation get the better of me. I thought I could handle it, and it turns out, I couldn’t.”

Some of the students shot glances at each other.

“What happened?” Lavarius asked, leaning forward.

“I’m not going to go into detail, but it wasn’t pretty. Things got bad for a while. It was a dark time.” Mike stared into the distance, images gathering at the edges of his memory. If he didn’t reel it in he’d say something he’d regret.

“Did you hurt someone? My grandpa had a problem with alcohol, he took it out on my nana. She ended up getting a restraining order,” Hannah said.

Mike watched the young lady in the back row for a moment, his heart going out to her. How much damage had witnessing those events done? “Nothing like that,” he said, gathering himself. “The only person I hurt was myself. By not paying attention to how bad things were getting. It was only by some miracle I figured it all out. I just don’t want all of you to go through the same turmoil.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m never taking a drink,” Hannah replied.

“If he thinks we’re not drinking in college--” Gabriella whispered to Marie a little too loudly.

“I didn’t say that.” Mike sighed as Gabriella snapped to attention. “Look, what you do when you’re out there is your business. Most of you are already eighteen, you can do what you want. Go nuts.”

“Thank you,” Cole said, taking the opportunity to stand up in front of the class as if he were about to make an oration. “You heard the man, do what you want!” he announced. He turned back to Mike. “Hey Mr. Temple, got a pick-me-up?” He winked.

The class snickered.

“Sit. Down, Cole.”


Gea said...

I think the premise of your story is intriguing, and I really enjoyed the voice in the pages. I'd like to make several suggestions though.
It's important to mention that Mike is a teacher before you say that Aiden is his student.
The sentence: 'Upon arriving Mike finds Mrs. Stoute dying from cancer' disrupts the flow of your query imo because it abruptly changes focus from Aiden to Mrs. Stoute. I think keeping the focus on Aiden will work much better here. 'Upon arriving, Mike finds Aiden caring for his mother who is dying from cancer.' or something to that effect.
'...until he hears Mrs. Stoute’s dying voice in his mind confirming Nurse Black’s murderous intentions.' I'm confused. Is Mrs. Stoute no longer able to speak? Does she communicate with Mike telepathically? I think this needs to be clarified.
'...because the only voices he hears now are her patients. And they tell him she’s killing them too.' Yes, you really need to make this clear. Does Mike hear the voices of people who are in a coma? How does it work? Because if they are all still alive, they can just tell him this using speech, not telepathy.
And finally, I think your background as a son of a Hospice nurse is very relevant to the story and needs to be mentioned. But I'm not sure you need to say anything about the conferences you attended. Unless there was a contest and your work won an honor at one of them.
PAGES: I love the humor and the interaction between Mike and his students. But I wonder how much of it is truly relevant to your story. The only parts (based on your QL) that seem to fit are of Aiden texting and being distracted. The college pep talk and jokes are nice, but they feel like fillers. I'd suggest you read over the opening once more and remove everything that doesn't advance your story. Your focus should be your MC and the inciting event, which should've already happened or, at least, started. And according to your QL it's learning what's going on in Aiden's life.

Bound said...

I like your query but I might refrain from calling the agent by a nick name unless you know her personally. Maybe you do! I think the query is concise and gets to the point pretty quickly. I love the premise and the title, it sounds like a great horror movie.

The pages I didn't get sucked in right away. I don't recall having a high school teacher even discuss drinking in the class room or giving a personal anecdote...I think your writing is good but the content didn't pull me in like I needed to keep reading to find out about the main character, etc. Maybe try to start the story with more of an immediate threat or tense situation? =)

Becki said...

Hi, Eric!! :D


Oooh, love this. I wonder why... :P

So, in paragraph two of the pitch paragraphs, I'd definitely recommend you mention Mrs. Stoute passed away. It's not really clear. Also, when you say, "Voices drive Mike insane once again," you're mentioning he went insane before. Except you don't tell us how he became sane again, so it just opens more questions. I'd delete that for the query and leave it with "drive Mike insane."

Also, "hospice" doesn't need to be capitalized. :D

Otherwise, this is a really solid query!! Love your bio and credentials, and the comp title is beautifully done. Nice job!!


Ah, great first paragraph! You grounded me right from the start in what's happening in this scene. Nice job!!

I also LOVE that he considers whether or not it's worth it to physically take the phone from Aiden. That's a very logical thing to do; pick your battles. Makes Mike incredibly realistic that he decides to let that one slide, even after a defiant act from Aiden. :D

Love the internal thought after Dylan calls him out on his age, although I think it went on two sentences too long. Kind of ruins the punch of the next line. Can you condense that paragraph a bit?

LOL about the liquor thing. The way they stare at him after that comment is priceless. XD

And AAAH. The way you bring temptation into it, and how easy it is to fall prey to your vices. OMG. Beautiful foreshadowing for the rest of the book. <3 <3 <3

I'd love to know what state Hawksburg is in. Glad you mentioned it right in chapter one, but I still need more geographical context.

And I feel like Hannah wouldn't call her grandmother "Nana" in front of the class. She's 18. She'd say, "My grandma" the way everyone else would. :P

Otherwise, AWESOME job. You got a lecture in without making it preachy, and fixed all the problems of the previous draft. :D The only problem I have with this now is a personal preference, which is that I'm still not convinced a school lecture is the best way to hook a reader right away. You hint at problems with Aiden, but we don't get too much excitement until later. Still, this is definitely a personal choice, and whatever you decide to do is perfect!

Nicely done!! :D

Ali L. said...


Ooooh...right off the bat, I'd be careful addressing the agent with such familiarity. Maybe stick with "Ms. Gabrielle Piraino" or even "Ms. Piraino." Don't forget, the query letter's meant to be a professional business letter / pitch. Also, try to personalize the agent's interests to your story. Explain why you think it would be a good fit! It also shows the agent you've done your research.

Hm. Since you switch back and forth between Mike and Aidan's perspective in the query, it's hard to tell who the main character is. If they're both main characters, try giving them each a few sentences describing their character / their goals/ what's at stake, then use the last paragraph to show how they tie together in the overall plot. That being said, I love the premise and the stakes!

Great hook in the opening line of your pages. Also, you do a great job of using visceral responses to show a character's mood. Ouch...I don't like how Mike uses public humiliation to keep the kids in line. I'd be careful with how you word that - it might turn off an agent because it kind of makes him seem like a bully. Also, is this a private school? If not, it's not very realistic to only have 25 kids in a class (in a perfect world it's preferable, but the number of students in a public school setting had nearly doubled that number. I know because I have a lot of teacher friends who complain about the number of students versus lack of resources all the time!).

Wow, you've done a great job with setting up the main character. I feel like I know Mike already! He clearly cares about his students, but has a hard time juggling his teaching responsibilities. I want to know about Aidan and his mother and read more about what happens with the nurse! Great job!

The Agent [GP] said...

E.W. thank you for entering this contest! It was great to see another thriller in the entries! Your letter was fairly strong but there were a couple points that could have been stronger. When you lead into the summary of your story with “[Mike’s] secret will destroy all he holds dear,” I would love to know exactly what that means. Is it simply because the voices in his head will cause him to go insane (as you note at the end of the summary), or is there even more to the story? With such an open-ended question, it’s also important to know how many fantastic elements will crop up throughout the story: is it simply Mike’s ability to hear the dying, or is Nurse Black slightly more nefarious than your average human? If so, the recipient of your letter should know.

Further, I had a lot of questions about how Mike inserts himself into the life and situation of the Stoute family--it seemed more than presumptuous and I wondered how realistic Aiden's reaction to his teacher becoming more and more involved in his mother’s health and wellness was. Mike's relationship with his students also seems too friendly, especially noting his diatribe on alcohol in class with his underage students (editors can be finicky about elements like this). Lastly, all of your characters could use more development. Mike and Aiden were a bit two-dimensional on the page and I wanted to see more of their emotional state instead of so much dialogue that didn't apparently connect with the summary. Overall, a good start but consider each element of your novel and really dig in and try to evolve this novel to the next level.