Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Gabrielle Piraino, 

Seventeen-year-old Sasame will do anything to get rid of the undead mutants that threaten her city. She kidnaps those immune to the virus for her agency, who claims they're creating a stronger antidote.

For two years, she carried out her missions believing every word her boss told her. All that is ruined the day she meets Konan at the summer festival. At first, she avoids him. Her boss has strict rules against relationships. Yet Konan's determination intrigues her.

Sasame pretends this new friend of hers isn't a big deal, but her boss isn't happy with the rumors he hears about his precious hunter. He forces her to watch the slaughter of another hunter's girlfriend.

Leaving the agency isn't as easy as putting in a two-week notice. She'll become a target if she disobeys. Or she can kill her biggest distraction--Konan--to prove her loyalty.

IMMUNITY HUNTER, a YA Dark Fantasy novel of 85,000 words with series potential, shows the struggle of teens surviving in a post-apocalyptic city as seen from six points of view. As a film student, I understand the importance of characters in a story. From a small cast of friends to a large world, a story cannot live without the characters breathing life. Though IMMUNITY HUNTER has the ensemble cast close to that of the A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, it tells a story that will appeal to fans of THE WHITE RABBIT CHRONICLES by Gena Showalter and AN ENEMY series by Charlie Higson.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, 
E.M.S.


IMMUNITY HUNTER

A cool wind blows between the tall buildings of downtown swirling my hair around my face. There's not a car, person, or stray cat in sight. The dark-haired boy with his eyes glued to the small screen of his phone almost trips over the curb. Walking these dark streets alone this late looking down at a phone is just dumb. Forget sneaking. Short of yelling his name, he's not going to notice me. This will be an easy hunt.

I walk up behind him and jab the spikes of my brass-knuckle-shaped stun gun into his ribs, the power up as high as it'll go. His phone drops to the ground as his body stiffens. Now he knows I'm here.

Maybe his brain will fry before his eyes bulge out. On second thought, The Organization wouldn't appreciate me tampering with their new "blood donor".

A swift kick into the jagged-brick wall and he's knocked out cold leaving a small blood stain behind. Hopefully, the impact of his head slamming into the concrete doesn't kill him. He's still breathing--for now.

"Idiot. Pay attention to where you're going."

The distant rumble of a truck engine gets closer and a few blocks in front of me headlights turn onto the street. Using both hands and every ounce of my strength, I grab him by the foot and drag his limp body into the alley next to us before we can be spotted. I sit on the dirt-covered concrete beside him, stun gun at the ready in case he wakes up.

Right on schedule, the extraction team shows up in an ambulance to collect the victim. Two men, dressed as paramedics, climb out of the front seat and rush over to me and the unconscious boy. Within seconds, they're gone. Another name crossed out of my notebook. The Organization is now one step closer to finding a stronger antidote to the Konadai virus. They better be happy. I've been with them for two years now and they always seem to need more donors. It's starting to wear me down, but I can't stop now. It doesn't matter; the immune are put to better use this way.

"You did well, Sasame."

I spin around to see an Insider, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, standing behind me.

"I know, thank you," I say.

There's no need for her to watch me tonight. I did my job. I remove my backpack, unzipping it to put my stun gun inside. She vanishes before I look up. Freaking snitch.

Insiders watch all of the Hunters, but I seem to be their favorite.

I sling the backpack over my shoulder and walk out of the alley. Tonight's mission has gone even easier than I expected.

* * *

It's only another mission, I tell myself as I try to sleep. I stare at the ceiling fan spinning on low. There really isn't a need for the fan as the air is cool, but normally its sound comforts me. Tonight is different. The blades of the fan turn to knives. Blood rains down on my face and the screams of my victims pierce my ears. My eyes shut and then open them again. No blood or sharp blades, only the whirl of the fan. Tomorrow will just be another "mission".

The sound of Lynn talking to her husband, Brock--my substitute parents--reaches me through the wall from the hallway bathroom.

"I pulled some strings and got the perfect mission for Sasame," Lynn says over the sound of water running in the sink. "She's going to Summer Fest to meet teenagers her age for some much-needed interaction."

Lynn's squeaky, high-pitched voice is like nails on a chalkboard. It sounds like she has had the same cold for years.

"Your mission sounds more like a scheme," Brock says. He's right, this is a scheme to get me to act "normal" around other people. I'm seventeen, not twelve. I don't need to make friends. Besides, the people in this city don't need to know who I am. My job works better when I spy on a smaller group instead of trying to mingle with serval thousand. If they want me to go to that festival then I'll go, but there won't be any mingling.

Since I doubt I'll get to sleep anytime soon, I toss the purple, diamond-patterned comforter to the other side of my bed and walk to my laptop on the desk. The bright screen burns my eyes but I power through it. I have no idea what I'm searching for, maybe a way to avoid this so-called assignment to go to the festival. The Organization won't appreciate that if they have anything to do with Lynn's plan.

Ever since my parents disappeared, The Organization that I devote my loyalty to was kind enough to give me replacements. Not that I need them, I can take care of myself. Nothing comes up in my mindless internet surfing. I slam my laptop shut, climb into bed, and throw the covers over my head.

The walls are so thin in this townhouse, I'm surprised they've never heard me scream into my pillow at night. Tonight, I put the pillow over my face to block out the sound of them talking.

* * *

From human to Okamikiin, everyone is laughing and stuffing their faces with fried food. The bright sun makes the early evening warmer than usual. I had spent most of the day trying to decide if I want to go to the festival or pass on this ridiculous ploy. After a little persuasion from Lynn, I end up caught in the middle of a crowd of happy people.

Everywhere I turn, the faces of strangers bombard my vision. As I try to push my way through, they all become a blur. They are random people who couldn't care less about me being here. Soon my head starts to spin like I'm trapped. All I can see is a kaleidoscope of colorful clothing. The thick smell of greasy food clouds my nostrils. My breakfast starts to reappear in my throat. I've never been good with large crowds. They make me nervous. Lynn knows that. The Organization knows that. It's in my profile, for crying out loud.

My aching head isn't making this any better. Searching for a place of peace, the restroom sign glows like a beacon of hope. I make my way inside and move straight to the sinks. In the handprint-smeared mirror, I stare at the girl I've become, wearing makeup for the first time in days and her lips pulled tight in response to the squeaky laughter of children and their mothers’ catty gossip echoing against the concrete walls. Why are they so happy? These people act as if our lives aren't in danger. Maybe we are alright and I'm the one freaking out over nothing. But the growls echoing over the wall late at night are a constant reminder.

I dip my hands into the cool running water, splashing some on my face in my attempt to wash away my daunting secrets. I'm not ashamed of who I am, but I'll be shunned from society if anyone finds out. The water runs down my round cheeks dripping from the end of my chin.

I can't stay in here forever. Then again it's not like anyone is missing me outside. I head toward the doors, my red high-heeled boots clicking on the linoleum floor.

9 comments:

Ellie Firestone said...

I quite like this! It's an interesting take on the whole "undead mutant killer" thing.

One thing I would say is that the mutants themselves don't really seem to be part of the story. The query seems to imply that the main conflict is between Sasame and her agency. That's probably fine, but a few more hints about how the undead mutants are affecting Sasame's life would be welcome.

On a sentence level, I think you could replace "All that is ruined" with "All that is changed." "Ruined" doesn't make as much sense in the context.

Ali L. said...

Hi!

First of all, I LOVED the hook in the first line of your query! It had me sitting up in my chair to pay attention haha. I LOVE the Bone Witch by Rin Chupoce (favorite read of 2017 so far!) and I like that you use it as a comp title.

However, I must say, the first line made me cringe haha. When addressing an agent, I've heard they like the query to be personalized, but with regards to what they represent in the industry and how it works with what you're presenting / similar titles / authors they represent, not personal interests. It's a sweet idea, but offering to cook for them could give the wrong impression haha.

Question: in the query, it says she raises Dar from the dead, but he doesn't have a soul. Does that make him a zombie? Does he have free will, or is he just a walking corpse? Also, if they've only just met, it seems weird she'd go to such lengths to save him. What's the emotional connection between them? If he's one of the main characters, really amp up the character relationships in the query letter to get the agent to care about their relationship, too. (Okay, after I read the pages, I realized they were adopted siblings. DEFINITELY include that in the query, it packs an emotional punch).

Hmmm. The last paragraph feels rushed. Currently, the only conflict we have is the main character coming to terms with her power and trying to save a boy we don't know much about. At the beginning you mention the drug, but then it never comes into play in the query. Does she want to stop the drug forever? Does she want to confront the witches who are stealing souls? What's at stake for her if she fails? Those are all important things to consider in the query. :)

Love, love, LOVE the first line of your pages! Great hook. The pages were really strong, especially the way you managed to sneak in backstory without info-dumping. I didn't get that Trina and Dahlin weren't friends at first. Is there anyway to include animosity between them, maybe show how she makes Dahlin nervous or anxious with visceral responses? But WOW, I freaking loved it, and I want to read more! Great job!

Ali L. said...

Hi! I'm so sorry, my comment posted on the wrong query / pages. I'll post my comments on your work below.

The hook of your query grabbed my attention and held it, but the last two paragraphs felt very vague, and very empty. Is there anyway to include more of the main character's stakes / conflicts / what's keeping her from reaching her goal of eliminating the mutant threat? You've gotten straight to the point, but at the moment, we don't have an emotional connection to Sesame or Konan. Can you maybe spend a sentence describing each of them? I think it'd really take the query letter over the top. :)

PS: I'd have the last paragraph of the query be the first. It paints a pretty good picture of the background of the world and sets up the setting. And great comp titles!

I like the opening scene (wow, talk about dark!) but I think you should work on the first sentence to make it a stronger line / hook. Wow, I love the way she takes out the victim quickly but agonizes about it later. The imagery is great - the fans as blades, blood dripping from the ceiling! Very strong pages. I like Sasame's anxiety, it makes her very accessible to the reader.

Becki said...

QUERY:

Ooh, LOVED the hook line! But you kind of lost me with the second sentence; kidnapping strangers isn't the way to get me sympathetic to the MC... Maybe if you add information in that paragraph about WHY she's desperate to clear the city of mutants? Make it personal, so I understand her reasoning behind acting terribly later. :)

I think you can combine paragraphs two and three to make it one, and that'll leave paragraph four with a bigger punch. But I really loved the overall pitch; you state the problem VERY clearly at the end, and that leaves me dying for more!! :D

Your last paragraph is really well written! Initially, I was like, omg 6 POVs?? But then I remember the Raven Boys, and that has tons of POVs. And it's beautiful. So clearly it can be done well, and I'm sure you nailed it!!

I'd love to see an author bio paragraph, even if it's just a sentence, but you definitely talk about yourself as a film student, so I could be satisfied with that too. :D

FIRST PAGES:

While the action is really well-written and extremely engaging, I'm wary about starting your MC off with a kidnapping like this. Yes, unlikeable MCs are awesome, but there has to be SOME quality we appreciate, be it hunting bad guys (AKA Dexter) or showing restraint around children or silently regretting every action against this poor boy. Something to make us sympathetic to Sasame's plight. Does she really enjoy stealing innocent people off the streets? Are they innocent at all? We need these details to orient ourselves in this jarring scenario.

I think you can avoid this problem if you bring the virus into things earlier. Maybe as she's digging the knuckles into this kid's back, she's thinking, "It's for a cure. It's for a cure." That'd show us some regret about what she has to do, but also show us she's strong enough to do things most people won't to save everyone. :D

In the second section, are they "substitute parents" or adoptive parents? Because I'm not sure what substitute parents are... :/ But I love the moment of humanity Sasame has when she's lying in bed! Perfect way to add a touch of sympathy to what she's doing. :)

Also, Sasame says in one paragraph that she'll go to the festival if they want her to, but she won't mingle. But then in the next paragraph, she's researching ways to NOT go. Why would she agree so easily if she's just going to defy them later?

And ah, there's the explanation of "substitute." Although I feel like "replacement parents" might be a better term for it. Still, LOVE the idea of the Organization replacing parents as if they're broken laptops. XD

The festival seems a little random towards the end, too. So far, we've heard Sasame say exactly one line, and it wasn't very nice. I would love some scenes that give us a better sense of her character and what, exactly, she does for a living, rather than a fun festival that's more for the other people than her. :D

Otherwise, this is a really solid piece!! Your writing style is very easy to read and understand, which is perfect for a commercial novel. And you've got a really awesome concept here; I just want to see more of the Organization by 1200 words. :) Great job, and keep writing!! <3 <3

Elisa Stryker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elisa Stryker said...

Thanks Becki for taking the time to read over my entry. I'm glad you enjoyed it so far. I moved one of the paragraphs from the first scene (where she says her agency always needs more donors and it's wearing her down) up to the end of the first page so it can be seen sooner. I thought I gave a hint towards why she's doing what she's doing and that she's not 100% on board with it all in the first scene but I guess not.

Sasame isn't supposed to be likable--at first anyway. She's the opposite of Konan. She's cold and angry, he's warm and neutral. She has no one; he has a lot of friends. They change each other. But I left all that stuff out because this isn't a romance (and she doesn't actually admit that she likes him until the end of this book).

I did have a line in the query that said: "those things killed her parents leaving her alone and angry" but after much revision, it no longer fit.

Again, thank you for all the helpful comments.

Becki said...

Of course, happy to help!! It's all just my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. :P You're the writer; you have to do what's best for your story!

BW said...

You've got a really great premise here and the threatening presence of the agency really hovers over the reader well in the first pages. There's a real sense that Sasame is trapped, but perhaps doesn't know what she wants instead.

I think that for the sake of keeping the query as sharp as possible, you can afford to cut the paragraph: "Sasame pretends this new friend of hers isn't a big deal, but her boss isn't happy with the rumors he hears about his precious hunter. He forces her to watch the slaughter of another hunter's girlfriend."

I enjoyed the first pages, but I think I'd have preferred more of a build up before Sasame goes to the festival (also, what's the festival for?). I think it jumped a little too quickly from one scene to the next. Maybe even just having her spending longer on her laptop - showing us her interests, her thoughts, maybe what she looks up and why - would be enough grounding.

Also, I'd voted for 'Immunity' in your poll on Twitter, but this name makes more sense now I've read this!

Good job on this :D

The Agent [GP] said...

E.M.S., thank you for your entry in the contest! The summary in your query letter could have been more robust and further demonstrating the world building in your novel if you included a few more details. There were a bunch of interesting facets that I would have preferred to be developed further: what caused the apocalypse, how are the undead mutants involved in the events, where in the world does the story occur (considering the ambiguous ethnicity of the characters’ names), and whether society is entirely based on the strength of these agencies?

I personally don’t connect well with alternating viewpoints, and the speed at which the narrative switches scenes in the space of the first 1250 words was too snappy for my taste. Further, it may be easier for your audience to keep track of which protagonist is at the helm if you adjusted the narration to a third person POV. With further character development and a better sense of world building, this query would be a much stronger candidate.