Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Agent's Inbox #5

Dear Ms. Piraino,

Hammond’s a game programmer, an if/then warrior, with commitment issues. June’s a woman who enjoys sketching while nude, loves waffles, and who might be a witch. When he meets her at Ernesto's Memorial Day Moose Bash and Buffet, no one is more surprised than himself that he falls head over heels for her.

His friend, Fran, is pleased he’s finally settling down. Mel, who seems to idolize Hammond’s bachelor ways, wins the office pool by guessing the nearest date to Hammond’s first profession of love. Even his heart keeps ignoring his logical assertions about the dangers of relationships. But June helps him learn how to see the hidden truth of things. It’s not magic she says, but every moment with her is magical.

When he discovers the truth of another world that lies beyond his own, his sense of reality is upended. And now June is gone, lost to a land where magic is real, people carry swords, and fortune tellers run the local newspaper. Fran and Mel are willing to make the journey with him to find her and bring her back. But each choice they make will change them, pulling them deeper into the tangle of Summer. And every decision seems to guide them inexorably to the midsummer festival, where the magic of both worlds rests in the balance, and June is the fulcrum point.

Hammond faces a difficult calculation: he must find a way to save June, his friends, and his heart, and do it all without destroying two worlds.

SUMMER is an Adult Fantasy novel that is complete at 136,000 words.  It reflects my love of blending genres, mixing romance and comedy with magical realism and a second world fantasy setting. The book will appeal to those who love works like Neverwhere, where the real blends with the surreal, and who enjoy geek humor like The Big Bang Theory. The first 5 pages (approximately 1250 words) are included below, and additional materials can be sent at your request.

I look forward to your reply.

J. R.


I wasn’t looking for anything more than a good time, if I’m being honest. Ernesto’s Memorial Day Moose Bash and Buffet was sure to be glorious, and I drove the two hours there from Baltimore to enjoy myself. And as always, Ernesto didn’t disappoint. There was a moose-shaped cake, and a huge stuffed moose near the front gate. He had a moose piƱata hanging from the elm tree in his back yard.

There was something odd and disjointed about the combination, though. Orange with apple, coal with snow, Memorial Day with moose. But no one cared, this was par for Ernesto’s course and if the beer and brats were flowing, he could label his party whatever made him happy. Still, that should have been my first warning.

“Why moose?” I asked his lover, Rufus, as I walked up to the door. Rufus was wearing a pair of fake antlers made of felt. The brown band flattened down his dark hair.

“Rocky and Bullwinkle was canceled on this date in 1964,” he answered, and handed me a beer. Then he patted me on the shoulder and I walked into the room and looked around.

A woman I didn't recognize was standing by the food table. Her hair was curly and black, cascading wildly down over her shoulders. She had a cute little nose beneath eyes that were a dark green mixed with browns and blues. Her neck was slender and led down to a hint of cleavage, her breasts small and high, her waist narrow, and her overall shape lithe and desirable. Her summer dress was fashionably red and white, with flowers on it, appropriately short for the warm weather without being scandalously daring. She was a perfectly attractive girl, one of many in the room as my eyes scanned past her. I had seen her type hundreds of times and there was nothing remarkable about her at all.

She smiled at me.

I fell in love.

Really, it was as simple as that. I didn’t realize it at the time of course. I was still wedded to the theory that I could play it cool and take it slow, ease into any relationship and bolt when I wanted. Even that smile, that one perfect smile with its girl-next-door charm didn’t change that thought process immediately. It took the rational side of me another month to catch up to the emotional side, and slap it hard enough to serve as a reminder to not drag a** behind. I should have known, though, and been more careful. Everyone falls in love at Ernesto’s. That’s where the magic happens.

Ernesto’s parties were the talk of our group for months, and sometimes years. The Ides of March party was an experience of drunken debauchery on an epic level, with more naked bodies than a porn shoot. But it was his Medieval Mariachi event the previous summer that we discussed ad nauseam through the long, dreary fall that followed. Even his regular New Year’s Eve Extravaganza didn’t wash out the bright memory of everyone in colorful tunics and robes, and the host in his plate armor.

There was a near drowning that took place when the jousting event went badly and Sir Edward of Chamomile--Eddie Fenton, who was a manager at the local Any-Mart chain store--ended up at the bottom of the pool still strapped into his shopping cart, his chainmail weighing him down. Melissa dove to the bottom and dragged him out after cutting him free, then performed rather lengthy and vigorous mouth to mouth. A couple of beers later, and Eddie was ready to go again. He placed second overall once they fixed his cart. He married Melissa six months later.

Rosie and Charles hooked up at Ernesto’s Labor Day Lindy Hop. They were the oddest couple I had ever seen. She was a pale colored waif of a redhead with enough freckles to start her own connect-the-dots catalog company, and a temper that made grown Navy Seals cry. Her previous boyfriend had been the Navy Seal in question, and I remember stifling a laugh when I saw him standing in front of her, his shoulders slumped, wracked by sobs as she glared up at him with her hands on her hips. We never saw him again, and I often wondered where she hid the body.

Charles, on the other hand, was a quiet man with a shy smile in his dark face, and a voice as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon when he could be coaxed into talking. But both were intelligent and funny in their bookish ways, and they spent the evening telling each other literary jokes about Chaucer and Shakespeare while everyone else partied around them. They slept together in one of the spare rooms, and we watched them leave the next morning, sharing a cab. I think they moved in with each other within a week.

People get together at Ernesto’s. It was as inevitable as the return of spring each year. Even guys like me, the type of men who never stay in a relationship long and prefer to keep company with their keyboard and Netflix reruns of old Star Trek shows, could meet someone. But I wasn’t looking for it, so it snuck up on me.

I walked over to where she was and poured myself a drink from the punch bowl. The little sign next to it read “Antler-aid,” and it smelled like my grandmother’s cranberry-juice cocktails, the ones that kept her well lubricated after dinner each evening. Gran was a better drunk than my father had been, and I spent many evenings with her listening to her stories of Gramps and the war and the things they did to get by.

“I was a Foley dancer back in those days,” she would say, pausing to take a swig from her tall glass. “It was a wonderful job, and so many handsome men. I was the belle of the ball back then, Ham, my boy, and your grandfather was so jealous when he heard all the stories. Ah, but he was off fighting the war and wasn’t here, and he liked that sort of thing anyway. He was a bit of a pervy bastard, your grandfather.” Tuning her out did no good, and she always called me Ham, which I hated. I couldn’t get her to call me Hammond, though I suspect that was partially due to her continual state of inebriation.

I stood near the girl, awkwardly holding my drink while I tried to determine how to begin a conversation. The buzz of voices surrounded us, the music was playing “52 Girls” by the B-52’s, and my tongue was twisted into knots.


She opened her mouth and spoke, and the word came out as smooth and dark as tinted glass. A cool tingle passed along my spine, and I found myself staring at her incredibly white teeth as she smiled at me.

“What?” This turned out to be the extent of my conversational repertoire as I slowly drowned in the liquid pools of her eyes.

“My name. It’s June. You want to ask my name.”

“Yes. What’s your name?”

“June,” she said, ignoring my reduced mental capacity, for which I was grateful. “June July August.”


She laughed, and the room brightened, the melody of her giggle like the sun raining its shine down as it peeked out from behind a cloud. “That’s my name, stranger. First name June, last name August, middle name July. June July August.”


Becki said...


Ooh, I love the idea of bending genres like this. I really thought this was a romance until you introduce the fantasy element, and now I'm like, GIVE ME MOAR.

I'm really not sure what the second pitch paragraph does for your story. It introduces more characters we have to keep track of who don't seem to play any part in the actual plot. I also wasn't sure what the inciting incident was: when Hammond falls in love? Or when June is taken to the fantasy world?

If you can rework the query to be more about the fantasy world and how it affects Hammond, I think it'll be stronger for it! Introduce MC and Inciting Incident in paragraph 1, expand on the stakes in paragraph 2, and wrap up with that fantastic ending of paragraph 3. You'll NAIL this one. :D

I'm also a little concerned that 136,000 might be a little long for a story, even an adult fantasy. But I'm not an agent, so maybe it's totally fine! :)

Love the mention of nerdiness and the Big Bang Theory. That makes me want to read this RIGHT NOW. :D

(Also, Hammond should frequent Hammond's Candy in Denver. XD He should always have a stash of candy bars with his name on them... for luck. :P )


Wow. Seriously, wow. You're truly an incredible writer. This has an amazing literary tilt that makes me pay attention and take note of every character you introduced. The voice of your protagonist is tangible, and I love June already, just by her smile.

If I could suggest anything, it's that there might be a little too much detail. So much description of characters we haven't met, who might not serve a purpose in the novel... but then again, that description lends an air of authenticity to Ernesto's parties, so maybe it's necessary! I think it kind of depends on you and whether or not you're looking to trim words.

I LOVED June's full name. LOL.

This is truly spectacular. If you fix up your query, you've got a really solid submission, and I'm sure I'll see you represented soon! :D

Jeffery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffery said...

I wrote a reply earlier, then deleted it to make sure I wasn't violating any rules. Now that I have clarity on what's allowed, I wanted to thank you for your wonderful comments, Becki, they were very affirming on many levels. And your suggestions are very helpful and have given me some new thoughts and insights into my queries, which (once this contest is over) I hope to implement.

Really, thanks so much, I couldn't be more pleased to read such comments. I'd say more, but I don't want to overstep the boundaries of what's permissible within the contest, so I'll leave my reply at that. :)

Becki said...

Of course, happy to help! :D Best of luck!!

The Agent [GP] said...

J.R., thanks so much for participating! I was excited to dive into your story after noting that you blended a few different genres together, but your concept seemed a bit meandering. I would suggest distilling the plot arc in your query letter as much as possible comparable to the amount of page space within your novel.

I expect that Hammond, Mel, and Fran decide to follow June into Summer relatively early on (though maybe not based on your word count!) and that’s when the story really gets moving. What is the benefit of starting your story at the Moose Bash? If it is simply to develop the relationship between Hammond and June so that your audience is invested in following the trio's journey into Summer, I would suggest shifting the beginning of the story closer to the entry into Summer while creating the opportunity for your audience to see the relationship through Hammond’s eyes. This would allow you to depict more facets of their relationship from Hammond's perspective as the story unfolds and simultaneously develop the same emotional connection to your characters without stretching your plot unnecessarily.