Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear Ms. Piraino, 

I read on your bio that you are an avid baker/cook and hoped I could offer you some baked goods (home made from scratch of course) as well as a good story! I am seeking a home for my YA urban fantasy BONE CONJURER.

Wake is a new drug that allows users to connect subconsciously in the Nexus in the best role-playing-game ever made, but no one knows it’s been engineered by witches to harvest souls.

Alice Dahlin is drawn into the Nexus by a foster boy, Dar, who uses the drug. She inadvertently learns, when Dar is shot, that she can raise the dead. There are several problems with having this power but of the utmost importance is that she’s not powerful enough to bring back the person’s soul with their body. Dar is dying and Alice needs to find out what she is--a witch or a necromancer or both--to save him.

In order to control her power, Alice must face her birth mother and a coven of witches. To save Dar and her adopted family, she will have to walk the veil between life and death in the Nexus. Along the way she’ll have to face a sensual warlock from her past and the reason why she was given up for adoption. She may be the key to preventing a coven war that’s been brewing for centuries.

BONE CONJURER is complete at 78,000 words and will appeal to fans of A.G. Howard’s SPLINTERED and Rin Chupeco’s THE BONE WITCH. I have been published previously with BLUE MOON (2012) by Crimson Romance and THE CATALYST (2013) by SilverTree publishing. As an adopted Korean American it's a topic close to me but, of course, I can't resurrect the dead.




I’ve brought my murdered mother back from the dead for about thirty seconds and yet I freeze at the sight of students gathered at the exit of the school. There are only about two dozen hostiles between me and freedom. Senior year and I still haven't mastered the anxiety that creeps in my stomach at the possibility of making small talk or worse hearing the whispers.

I wait for a sarcastic quip about my spinelessness from the young man’s voice in my head that I’ve heard for six years--ever since the night Mom died. Why his voice started to speak to me I still don't know but I've come to rely on him sometimes. Mom didn’t remain alive, thankfully, because really how would I explain that whatever came back wasn’t her? But, the voice doesn’t say anything. I haven’t heard his voice in two whole days.

Friday any week of the month is a reprieve, drinks all around, fling your messenger bag anywhere kind of affair. The spring winds are hinting at summer in late April. It’s my senior year at J.A.S. High (colloquially pronounced Jazz by all the students) and the sun bakes on my dark head of hair while sweat beads on my forehead. My Dad’s black Ford Explorer sits by the curb, engine idling and he’s searching for me in the crowd. It’s the day. The night my Mom died and I know that’s why he’s here to pick me up.

Williamsburg is a small town so everyone who doesn’t know I’m adopted gets the picture as soon as they see James Dahlin. He has seal brown hair, sometimes tanned skin and tall build. My almond eyes, ebony hair and distinctly shorter frame are clearly not Caucasian. It’s funny that my Mom died six years ago but the town they still talk about my adoption like it’s a plague they can catch. 

I hike my bag on one shoulder and march straight through kids and parents. I don’t care if I knock someone’s pack, step on shoes or whack someone with my long braid of hair.

“Hey, Alice.” Trina’s voice stops me mid-step and I glance back.

“Hey,” I say cautiously, as I rack my brain thinking of a reason she’d want to talk to me. It’s certainly not for my fashion advice. I mentally go over my outfit of choice: black leggings, striped skirt, tank top, leather jacket and tall boots.

Trina made the Varsity Cheer team this year but not the captain’s position. Only seniors have that honor of taking the stressed out, jumpy skinny girls to state meets. I’m a senior and the only achievement I’ve made is not killing the perky girls who get in my way.

“Is that your Dad?” Trina eyes my Dad, who’s walking purposefully towards us.

Dad’s hair, flecked with gray, is so unlike my own black. His tall build towers above most of the students and he holds a bouquet of flowers.

Without waiting to answer, I shove past but it’s not fast enough. Dad hands me the flowers, “Happy start of break, doodle bug.” The nickname for my constant drawing has stuck to this day. He doesn’t give any indication of his emotions; just that pleasant smile and easy manner.

“Thanks.” I inhale the sweet aroma of the blue and yellow flowers. Most girls might be embarrassed their Dad is picking them up but I don’t care.

“Mr. Dahlin?” Trina asks. Her brows rise in an innocent, pretty way.

“Yes.” Dad smiles and spreads his hands apologetically. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring flowers for all the almost-graduates.”

Trina giggles as if it were a very high compliment.

“It’s nice to meet you, I don’t see you around much, I’m Trina Sullen,” Trina says and looks at me.

I shrug, wondering why she even cares.

“My Mom wanted me to ask if you’d want to sign the campaign we’re starting for cheer this fall at the junior level. I think juniors should be able to be elected as captains. And we’d require mandatory drug testing--this whole Wake rage is getting out of control.”

I roll my eyes. If my Dad thinks this is worth his time, then I’ve got to find a new father. Although she has one point. Wake usage has been running rampant in Williamsburg and the cops are up to their teeth in paperwork over it. The big towns with big guns tend to over look us and the local police force like it that way. They won’t admit they can’t handle this new drug that causes people to see “heaven” or whatever their version of heaven is.

“Tell your Mom thanks for thinking of me. Send over the papers to our house if you’d like and I’ll be happy to read up on it.” Dad gives her his polite smile but moves me towards the car. Thank God.

“I never made the connection before since Alice doesn’t frequent the gym hall much. Your wife’s picture is still up there,” Trina continues, oblivious. Or overly confident, either one is getting me annoyed. Now I understand why she wanted to talk to my Dad--to get in her jab about my dead mother. I keep my eyes down.

Dad’s jaw tenses and he moves slightly to block me from Trina.

“If Alice hasn’t spoken any further about that, that’s her choice. Have a good day,” Dad replies firmly. He puts a hand on my shoulder and I scuttle towards the car. Whispers trail us like smoke.

The car door shuts and seals me off from h*** for at least the next two and a half days. I slump in the seat but I can’t bring myself to be upset with him. He didn’t do anything wrong. This day has got to be hard on him too. The car glides from the curb towards our house, on the other side of town.

“It’s a small town, honey. People like what they can hypothesize about. There are five other adoptive families in our neighborhood and more are fostering kids every day,” Dad says. 

“Then ,an become Wasters too,” I mutter.

“What?” He gives me a sharp frown.

“Wasters--people who pick up other people’s trash like foster kids, adopted kids. Kids no one wants.”

“Oh, Alice, you put too much credence into names. We are not “wasters.” We do not take in discarded children. We wanted you…and Maddie and Dar.”

I don’t doubt my adopted parents wanted me but it doesn’t dispel the unease of gossip; gossip about Dar the young man who shouldn’t still be a foster and Maddie, the girl who killed Mom. I can’t stand her name.

That night lives forever in the dark corners of my mind. And so does the face of Madeline Horton, the girl responsible. That night Mom drew the door shut with a rattle of the padlock but no click. That night Maddie came out with a pair of scissors. That night she told me to let go. I never should have let go.

A horn honking blasts me back to the present. Maddie’s been in White Bend psychiatric facility for years now but I never visit her. Her insanity plea still stands but for a child of eight to have stabbed a grown adult there is something deeply disturbing.

Dad still has foster parental rights to her but the social workers mandate what happens to her at the Moment. He’s had his share of hardships being around Maddie but I know he thinks Mom wouldn’t have given up on her.


Ali L. said...


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!

Ellie Firestone said...

Your concept and story sound AMAZING, but I think the query doesn't quite do it justice yet. There are several conflicts introduced at once -- the coven war, Dar's death, the sensual warlock -- and it all gets a little hard to follow. I'd recommend picking one of those conflicts and building the rest of the query around that. That way, you can develop that one conflict further, and have space to give more information about Alice and the Nexus.

Arkvander said...

This sounds like a really interesting idea, but I agree with the previous comment above about your query's first line, I would definitely eliminate that. It really doesn't have anything to do with the query and almost comes off as artificial. If you can't think of anything personal to say, then its probably best not to say anything and just jump in.

I like the query, but you've got a lot going on at once. I guess what I really need to know is what all this means for Alice? What will it mean for her that she might be a witch or a necromancer? What are her personal stakes. Since she is our window into this world, I want to know why I should care about her specifically. Also definitely mention Dev is the foster brother, not just child.

Pages: I thought you did a good job introducing your protagonist and setting up her "day in the life" as it were, while at the same time giving us some crucial backstory and character details. You also got the mention of the drug in there which was a must, so nicely done.

Becki said...


I definitely agree, the baked goods bit is a liiiittle creepy. I totally know it's meant in the best, well-intending way possible, but you don't know the agent, and she doesn't know you. That's an offer you make to neighbors, not someone you're potentially entering into a business relationship with. :/

I love the idea of your story!! The drug is very creative, and bringing witches into a role-playing game scenario is incredibly unique. :D I think that hook line could be rephrased to be more succinct, but otherwise, solid intro!!

The second paragraph is a little confusing. We don't know enough about the Nexus for it to be referenced so casually, and I want more information about why Dar is shot, and how Alice finds out she can save him. :) The pitch is great, so if you nail that second paragraph and rephrase the hook, you'll be golden. :D

And your credentials are really great! Is Alice Korean? If she is, you should totally mention this is #ownvoices. That would really help lend an air of authenticity and diversity to your novel. :)


"There are only about two dozen hostiles between me and freedom." That line made me laugh out loud!! It's zingy and enticing and perfect as an opening line. I'd reshuffle that first paragraph to have that line first, then follow with the raising the mother from the dead and other credentials that prove she shouldn't be scared of high schoolers, but she is. :P

The insight into a Korean adoption in a small white town is really vivid and eye-opening. Love the internal monologue from Alice's POV, and how her outcast status (self-perceived or not) affects her personality!

I also adore her dad's nickname for her. :D

Although Trina flirting with a grown man is a little creepy. I'd rework some of her comments to be more charismatic than flirtatious. It's just weird to me when high schoolers flirt with adults. >.<

And Trina's comments about Alice's mom don't really seem "jabbing" to me... More like curiosity, maybe trying to butter Alice's dad up with some flattery (which is still creepy, but not outright mean). After all, she didn't say anything BAD about Alice's mom. Just that her picture was hanging in the gym. Maybe it would make the insecure Alice cringe, but I don't think it'd be enough to rattle her dad, who seems like a pretty level-headed guy. Something to think about. :)

Also, it only just occurred to me during their car conversation that the dead mom might not be Alice's biological mom. We know she was an orphan, but I feel like some clarification that it's her adopted mom would be useful! Also, what's the scandal around her mom's death? Just because they adopted a Korean child? Or did she die some other way, like maybe with Wake? Details like this would help ground us to the story and Alice's plight! :D

Although, OOH. With the information about her mom (sorry, I'm commenting as I read chronologically), I TOTALLY get it now. Makes much more sense. To avoid the confusion I initially felt reading this chapter, you may want to consider dropping hints about how her mom REALLY died during the conversation with Trina. Maybe she wrinkles her nose and tells Alice, "Yeah, well, be careful around the scissors. You don't want to end up like your mom." Or something. Then when she mentions her mother to Alice's dad, his tensing would make sense; Alice has already been taunted by this girl once. :)

Overall, your writing is awesome! The story is engaging, and the characters seem great. With a little background development, I think this will be a really solid story!! Nice job! <3

Bound said...

Thank you all for the helpful advice!! I can definitely clean up areas and make it clearer what's going with the whole adoption thing and also the stakes! I appreciate everyone's time to critique!
Also yes I am sorry haha I wasn't trying to be creepy to ms. Piraino - I actually did have a positive response from another agent when I opened with baking as a common interest but I totally can see that it comes off as bad and perhaps too personal :) thanks again to everyone!

The Agent [GP] said...

E.F., thank you for your interest and participation in this contest! I would love to know more about how the various elements of the world are connected, since it’s somewhat unusual to see elements of both science fiction (VR role-playing games) and fantasy (witches and necromancy). Without understanding the connections between the two, it was hard for me to connect with the concept of your story, though I was extremely interested in the individual elements. However, I wasn't personally engaged by Alice’s narration and characterization as it felt too trivial in conjunction with the plot as described in your query letter.

N.B. I agree with the other participants' comments on stepping over the line of professionalism with familiarity, but it personally didn't bother me. Scratch muffins for all!